Hawaiian Airlines’ Secret to Success in Japan: They Didn’t Try to Be Japanese

Untitled.jpgA few weeks ago I was on a local podcast called “Now & Zen.” The podcaster, Andrew Hankinson, created a short bonus episode because he couldn’t fit this segment in. (I’m just a damn chatterbox – can’t help it since I come from a long line of Irish talkers. 😉 ) If you’ve got 18 minutes to spare and want to hear about a great cross-cultural success story, check out this episode by clicking on the image displayed above.

© Tim Sullivan 2020

Scary Japanese Wives


After months of self-isolation, I finally had a long overdue drink with a Japanese friend at his bar last evening. He allowed only two patrons in the bar and the three of us sat on his outside deck, properly distanced. As the alcohol started flowing my friend loosened up. Out of the blue, he asked me what I thought of his wife.

My honest opinion also happened to be a diplomatic response, so I went with the truth: “She’s refreshingly straight-forward, easy to talk to.”

He then lowered his voice, looked around to see if the coast was clear (as if she were there, which she wasn’t), and said: “She’s very scary and scolds me often!”

“Well my wife is scary too,” I said empathetically. Then added, “Undisciplined idiots like us need a partner who has her shit together. Someone has to keep us in line, so we should be thankful for our scary wives.”

He drunkenly nodded and meant it. Then he asked, “Does your wife scold you, too?”

We had come this far without lying, so I stuck with my honne. “Not very often,” I said.

Surprised, he asked, “How do you stay out of trouble?”

“I’m a good boy and do as I’m told.”

This struck him as outside the realm of possibility, which is probably why he laughed. I was as serious as a heart attack. But I’m sure he didn’t believe me. 🙂

© Tim Sullivan 2020



Descriptive Nature of Japanese & A Glimpse at My Immature Side


Pictured: My son Grady almost 30 years ago making his “Michael Jordan” face.

I love the descriptive nature of the Japanese language.

Case in point: before I had ever set eyes on a termite, I learned the Japanese word “shiroari” (白蟻), literally “white ant.” The Japanese word provided a visual image of something I’d never before seen that my native language failed to do.

But my favorite word is “hanakuso” (鼻糞),  the  Japanese word for booger, which literally translates to “nose shit.” Similarly, the Japanese word for “eye discharge” is “mekuso” (目糞) literally, “eye shit,” and for “earwax” it is “mimikuso” (耳糞), or “ear shit.”

I love the Japanese language!

Being the immature old dude that I am, I still snicker every time I hear these words.

© Tim Sullivan 2020

Now & Zen: My First Podcast Appearance


I was recently a guest on a podcast hosted by Andrew Hankinson called “Now and Zen.” For anyone interested in cultural differences between Japan and the West, please give it a listen and, if you enjoyed it, a positive review.


Manly Idiots™ Who Refuse to Wear Masks


There’s a narrative in the U.S. that wearing masks is not “manly.” A friend of mine rightly points out that these guys are “idiots.”

So that’s what I shall call all the men in the world not secure enough in their manhood to wear masks: Manly Idiots™

Check out this article and decide for yourself if you are a manly (or womanly) idiot. An excerpt:

“When paired with the data on how the curve changed in response to the mitigation methods, this all makes sense—the takeaway being that face masks are likely the major determinant of how the infection spreads or slows.

“‘Our study establishes very clearly that using a face mask is not only useful to prevent infected coughing droplets from reaching uninfected persons, but is also crucial for these uninfected persons to avoid breathing the minute atmospheric particles (aerosols) that infected people emit when talking and that can remain in the atmosphere tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet,” said study author Mario Molina in a statement.'”

Don’t be an idiot. Be safe everyone.

© Tim Sullivan 2020

When I Don’t Respect Your Opinion…


Monday morning musings from my inner curmudgeon…

“I respect your opinion, but…”

Disingenuous bullshit.

Social media is the worst forum devised by man for legitimate debate. It’s an argument being broadcast with a bullhorn, “a performance,” not a dialectic to find the truth. No one wants to be publicly embarrassed so, instead of minds being changed, people just dig in harder. Nothing gets accomplished and it rarely ends well.

There are several ways to disagree:

  • Be a dick about it. (Common these days, especially on social media.)
  • Lie to keep the peace. (Not uncommon here in harmony-loving Japan.)
  • Be truthful & authentic without being a dick, a tightrope that requires skill and hearts at peace on both sides.

If someone has opinions that reflect an inconsistency with my core values then I tend to avoid the discussion since it’s a waste of my time & energy. (Case in point: If you think Candice Owens’ point of view is in any way legit, then we’ll never find enough common group to have that discussion.)

But if I DO have that discussion & think the other person’s core beliefs and assumptions are horrible, no way in hell will I say “I respect your opinion, but…”

I would be lying.

Of course, if the interlocutor in question legitimately changes my mind, then I can be convinced to respect his or her opinion.

Short of that, I respect the other person’s RIGHT to have an opinion.

But I do not respect the opinion itself.

Do you think less of me now?

I don’t care.

© Tim Sullivan 2020

Samurai Wife Is Now an Outlaw and It’s All My Fault


In a previous post, I came clean about my penchant for breaking rules, a legacy passed down from my late father.

Since publishing that post, several people have asked me how I survive in Japan, a society based on compliance and harmony, where folks tend to blindly follow rules, sometimes to a fault.

The online push-back inspired reflection, compelling me to refine how I define my rule-breaking policy: it’s not that I break rules for the sake of breaking rules; my rule-breaking is limited to what I deem stupid, meaningless rules.

George Carlin did a bit years ago on this very topic. He pointed out that some rules make perfect sense – like not sticking your head out the window of a high-speed train. Now that’s a rule I can embrace unconditionally!

But when it comes to following stupid rules, I choose the life of an outlaw. If my penchant for rule-breaking isn’t bad enough, after over three decades in the U.S., my dear Japanese wife has also turned to a life of crime.

What comes to mind is how I routinely disobey Don’t Walk signs. Not always, of course, selectively – based on prevailing conditions.  If the Don’t-Walk sign is lit but no cars are within sight, my outlaw nature won’t allow me to stand there like an idiot, and out comes my rule-breaking dark side. (My only exception is if young children are watching me.)

Early in our courtship (at the time while living in Japan), my wife used to freak out when I’d ignore Don’t-Walk signs. She was so conditioned to following rules to the letter that her instinct was to resist, even scold me. My instinct was to laugh then coax her across the street with me as her eyes darted around in hopes that the authorities weren’t watching. They never were.

When we returned to Japan last year, imagine my sheer joy when I  observed my dear wife, without any prompting from me, boldly crossing empty streets in direct defiance of Don’t-Walk signs. (My father would be proud!) And imagine my further delight in seeing so many other Japanese folks doing the same. Indeed times they are a-changin’ in Japan…for the better if you ask me! (Perhaps my hyper-active imagination is playing tricks, but it seems as though Kansai/Osaka people have similar rule-breaking tendencies as Americans.)

How does a rule-breaker like me cope in the land of compulsive rule-followers? First, like my late father, I look for a loophole: for example, if the sign says “don’t walk” then I run, which means that technically (at least in my imagination), I’m not actually breaking the rule. Second, it helps a lot to be a foreigner here, as Japanese folks kindly cut gaijin slack that they would never cut for their own compatriots. Third, many of my close Japanese friends are also rebels living on the peripheral of society, mostly musicians and artists who also reject the status quo so they tend to cheer me on. Fourth, I carefully pick my battles. And most importantly, I try very hard not to get caught.

But when I do get caught (it’s rare but happens), I apologize, bow deeply, beg for forgiveness, and move on. So far, my hosts have shown me mercy.

© Tim Sullivan 2020



How a Young Black Kid Helped Me See My Privilege

White privilege has nothing to do with guilt. It is about appreciating one’s good fortune and empathizing with people who aren’t blessed with the same opportunities and circumstances.

My personal evolution inspired by my love for an African American family.

Rules, Guidelines, and Idiots


My relationship with rules is a mixed bag. I’ve always had a rebellious streak in me, a character flaw that I blame on my late father, a chronic rule-breaker who liked to say he “didn’t play according to Hoyle.” For better or for worse, I inherited dad’s rule-breaking DNA.

And yet, as someone who once ran a factory and led a large team of employees, I understand the importance and necessity of having rules.

Hence, I am deeply conflicted.

What I really hate are stupid rules. And rules that are detrimental if blindly followed to the letter when conditions don’t apply.

A good example is the speed limit. Near my previous home in Hawaii, the speed limit of the closest highway was 45 mph even at a section of the road that was, at the time, the most dangerous intersection on the island. (Thankfully, they have since replaced it with a roundabout.) So many serious and fatal accidents occurred there over the years due to a poorly designed intersection combined with an inappropriate speed limit. Incompetence and poor judgment can be a deadly combination

So rather than blindly obey the maximum speed limit of 45 mph, I always slowed down to 30 based on the assumption that the “other guy” entering the intersection was an idiot. Saved my ass more than once.

Common sense, as uncommon as it can be, is a beautiful thing.

Truth is I am more of a guidelines kind of guy.  And yet guidelines can be just as dangerous as rules if left to the whims of idiots.

If I were king, I would impose rules on people with no common sense and leave the guidelines to the thinking people. Ah, if only I were king!

Where is this post going? Well, with Japan’s voluntary “state of emergency” officially over – and with lockdowns in the U.S. being lifted as I type this – we are already seeing the common senseless masses acting as if the Covid virus has somehow gotten the government memo and agreed to go into hibernation. How could anyone with half a brain not understand that viruses don’t follow government edicts?

Sure hope I am wrong, but the queen and I are bracing for the next wave of infections.

As the old cliché goes, I will focus on what I can control while incessantly complaining about what I can’t. (The second part of that sentence is not a cliché…yet. 😉 )

Our castle has no king, but thankfully, my queen has decreed that our family will continue to show restraint, maintain proper social distancing,  and dutifully wash our hands.

The queen has also decreed that all my readers must do the same.

Please be safe folks – don’t be a Covidiot, okay?

@ Tim Sullivan 2020

Geisha on a Bridge

As part of my ongoing quest for self-improvement during this lockdown, I’ve been trying to continuously upgrade my skills. So a few days ago, I started studying Photopea, sort of a poor-mans version of Photoshop.

Last year I photographed a cool bridge at a beautiful plum garden park here in Atami. Ever since taking this photo, I envisioned in my mind’s eye a geisha standing on it. So as part of my quest to learn Photopea, I attempted to merge a photo of a geisha with the bridge. (I also created the shadow effect, not perfect, but my first try!)

Below are just two of several versions of the edited image. One is a colored picture of the geisha with a black-and-white bridge backdrop. The other is a completely sepia version. Which one do you like best?


BaienBrdgGshaBW copy

© Tim Sullivan 2020