You are here: Sayonara Japan, Hello California

A somewhat unhelpful sign in a Tokyo subway station or a profound reminder that "here - in the present moment" is the only place you are?

When I wrote my last post while on the Shinkansen, I knew it would probably be a few weeks until I was able to write another post due to our transition from Japan back to California, but I didn’t anticipate that it would be over a month and a half until I would have time to write.

I actually wrote the initial draft for this post five weeks ago while in the Tokyo airport as we were about to depart Japan for the final time as residents.

Since then, my computer time has been in short supply, but I have finally found a few quiet hours this afternoon to finish my thoughts and upload them here. Hooray!

Writing this post while about to board our flight from Tokyo to San Francisco. "You are here" is more meaningful on this map.
Writing this post while about to board our flight from Tokyo to San Francisco. “You are here” is more meaningful on this map.

In the past five weeks, I’ve had to remind myself of the very topic of this post and remind myself that for right now “here” is about being present with my family and friends, managing move logistics (including some unforeseen house repairs and “living” in eight different locations in five weeks), and prioritizing time-relevant professional activities (such as preparing for the Lean Coaching Summit that I’m presenting at later this month and other client work).

What I wrote below are my parting thoughts as I departed Japan on the concept of being “here”, plus a few additional reflections from today. I’m looking forward to getting back to writing and to exchanging thoughts with you here on this blog.

You are here.

“You are here” has been my mantra for the past month and a half as my family has been winding up our time as residents of Tokyo and transitioning back into life in Northern California.

A somewhat unhelpful sign in a Tokyo subway station or a profound reminder that "here - in the present moment" is the only place you are?
A somewhat unhelpful sign in a Tokyo subway station or a profound reminder that “here – in the present moment” is the only place you are?

An unhelpful sign?…

I laughed when I saw this sign a few weeks before we departed Japan, in its relatively unhelpful attempt to let you know where you are in the train station. There was no context to let you know what “here” was in relation to.

In contrast, the sign at the airport in the photo above at least had “here” pointing to a specific spot on the map. Without context to know where you want to go, knowing you are “here” isn’t very helpful – if it is a map or what you want to do in life.

…or a profound reminder of the value of the present moment?

More importantly, however, this sign resonated with me as an important reminder to me to focus on being “HERE” – for appreciating and accepting the present moment.

“Here” is your current condition.

You are here in Tokyo – but not for long!

I shared this photo with several friends who are were also departing Tokyo. “You are here” became our running mantra about not getting too caught up in nostalgia of the past nor too worried about logistics and the unknown of the future.

Be here now: be present and take in all the experiences, friendships, and opportunities that this unique point of in time – of actually being in Japan –  offers.

There are blog posts that I have been wanting to write, emails that I have wanted to send, and plans I’ve wanted to make for the summer and beyond. But besides the critical plans and logistics that have need to be be addressed, I have tried to stay focused on the now and having experiences that only this point in time allows.

So, writing blog posts have taken a backseat, but I now have a great list of topics to keep me busy with posts for awhile when I am able to get back to writing. Stay tuned!

Time-perspective orientation

This sign indicating that “you are here” reminded me of element of my undergraduate honors research called “time perspective orientation” that was created by a Stanford University professor of mine. If you are interested in learning more, you can read about the concept of time perspective and take an online version of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.

A key tenets of time perspective orientation is that we all have preferences on how we manage our concepts of time: past, present and future. The challenge is how to navigate when we use different time orientations and in what context.

Being present oriented (being “here”) doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to what needs to happen in the future, nor that should we ignore memories of the past, but when we put too much emphasis on the past or future, we miss out on experiencing the NOW. It’s about flexing and balancing your time orientation.

Being “here” in my final days in Japan

In my final weeks in Japan, I have tried to live by the “you are here” mantra and live up life in Tokyo to the fullest.

Personally, I have spent time with Tokyo friends and my family, explored the city, and showed off our “hidden” spots to long-time friends who snuck in a visit two weeks before we moved.  If you ever have a chance to visit Tokyo, let me know and I can share our list of favorite restaurants and sites!

Professionally, I also continued to take advantage of as much learning and continuing to build connections in Japan as time allowed. Some of the many things that I did in my final weeks in Japan – and will write about in future posts include:

  • Spending the day with a Tim Wolput – who I met through this blog – for gemba visits to local Tokyo government office and a dry cleaner to learn about their application of kaizen and Lean principles (the day before the movers came to pack up our apartment!).

  • Leading a tour to the town of Ashikaga to learn about how the entire city and over 150 organizations in the town use 5S and Lean principles to manage and improve their operations.
  • Making pottery with my friend and mentor Isao Yoshino in a town outside of Nagoya.

  • Ordering my professional “hanko” (personal signature stamp) and shopping for many darumas that I can use with clients and others back in the U.S.

“Here” becomes “there”

While I continue appreciating being “here” in my present life in California, I am also looking forward to having more time reflecting on the past and the experiences that I had while living in “there” in Japan. I am also looking forward to upcoming experiences in the future!

As I find more time to write and reflect in the coming weeks and months, I will share posts about many of the interesting site-visits and interactions I had in Japan in the past few months, reflections about 18 months of living in Japan, and other leadership and Lean musings.

Sayonara for now. It’s time to get back to being “here” in California.

Thank you for being part of my experience in Japan and for reading this blog!

Sign up below to be notified when I publish new posts, and please leave comments and questions in the section below.




Katie Anderson
About Katie Anderson 109 Articles
Lean thinker and coach. Passionate about developing people. Healthcare change agent. Living in California again after 18 months in Tokyo. Writing about lean and leadership.
  • Zuhara Chavez

    Great post Katie!, Wish you all the best back in Usa, hope I get a chance to meet you in the future. Im really looking forward to read more about your experiences. こんにちわ from Japan!

  • Charles Intrieri

    “Here”, to me, means being in the moment: some call it the NOW. It is all we have for now. We can’t relive the past, or know what the future will bring. Live in the NOW, this moment that I am writing my comments here. Great post, Katie. It isn’t easy to always live in the NOW because you were not taught to do so all your life. When I meditate, I stay in the NOW, and try not to think about anything. I agree, ” appreciating and accepting the present moment.” I do not know where you live in California, but I live in the Central Coast: Paso Robles, CA. We have a Lean Forum at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. I am a Cal Poly Small Business Development Consultant working with start up companies.

  • Hi Zuhara – It was great getting to meet you when you were in Tokyo and I’m happy that I was able to help facilitate some introductions to you down in Kyushu. Please stay in touch and best wishes as you finish your degree!

  • Thanks Chuck – I’ve been learning a lot about being “here” in the present moment from my parents, who have used mindfulness-based meditation for decades. Thanks for your comments. Please put me on the distribution list for the Cal Poly Lean Forum. I’d enjoy coming down to meet you in person and connect with others on the central coast. I appreciate all of your comments on my blog over the past 18 months!

  • Zuhara Chavez

    Sure I will! , thank you again Katie for the best wishes!
    As I go further on the topic certainly the topic of “being present” resonates even more, its interesting you mentioned mindfulness-based meditation on the comment above, it is something I’ve been working on from a couple of years to now still a newbie but I am so pleased to heard and read about its importance from other Lean practitioners. kudos!

  • Pingback: Year End Review: 2016 – Reflections on 18 months in Japan and returning to the U.S. – Katie Anderson()

  • Pingback: Japan Gemba Visit: Lean Thinking in Government – Part 1 – Kaizen, Kaikaku & PDCA to improve customer service – Katie Anderson()

  • Pingback: Returning to Japan – What questions do you have? – Katie Anderson()