People | 20 QUESTIONS

Nemo Glassman: Bringing that extra variable to Japan travel

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Name: Nemo Glassman
Age: 39
Nationality: American
Occupation: Boutique travel, events and business consulting
Likes: Delicious food
Dislikes: Airport security lines and sea cucumbers


1. What first brought you to Japan? I studied aikido in high school and was always interested in the traditional culture of Japan and the language. When I was in college I had the chance to visit with my roommate and see his brother who was teaching English with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme in Shikoku. A year after graduating college I found myself in Saga Prefecture listening to the mad monsoon rains and incessant cicadas as I got ready to embark on my own teaching experience with JET. That was in August of 2002.

2. Did anything shock you when you first arrived in Japan? I think it was (and is) mostly having my ideas of logic and worldview being challenged daily in ways that I couldn’t expect or predict. I’m not sure if I would say shocking … although now that I think about it, encountering the game known as kanchō (a prank where one person puts both index and middle fingers together and pokes someone in the butt as if they are giving them an enema) that is popular with pre-schoolers and elementary kids was certainly shocking in every way.

3. So you were kanchō-ed? Nothing could have prepared me for such an aggressive goosing from a 5-year-old laughing maniacally in self-satisfaction at having successfully ambushed me with the kanchō … yeah, that was shocking for sure.

4. What led you to start giving personalized, guided tours? In 2008, I moved to Kyoto to work with a company restoring the old machiya townhouses into luxury lodging — leaving the interesting architectural elements while making the spaces more comfortable and accessible for people seeking that bit of local authenticity in their Kyoto experience. We also offered cultural programming, which was aimed at unpacking as much philosophical and conceptual access to the arts in shorter sessions for our guests that didn’t have the time to spend a lifetime pursuing mastery. Out of this experience came the initial structure and concept for my Japan travel perspective and, eventually, the founding of Plus Alpha Japan as an experiential bespoke travel service in 2010.

5. Could you define the phrase “plus alpha” to someone who doesn’t know what it means? In Japanese, “alpha” is a way to describe the variable element in an equation, and purasu arufa (“plus alpha”) is often a way to refer to an undefined variable that modifies any known or defined situation or dynamic.

6. How does that concept relate to life overall? I take it to be a nice way of discussing the human experience, and also to describe the moments that I most appreciate about my time in Japan. Maybe it’s that indescribable thing or imperceptible space between the perceptible moments that can make something as simple as a bowl of tea into a profound perspective of the universe.

7. What’s one secret tour guides never tell their customers? Itineraries are a nice place to start, but the best moments aren’t planned and require an openness to spontaneity to be realized.

8. Do you ever get asked the same questions over and over? Yes: “Where are you from? Why did you come?”

9. What are the challenges of running your own company? There are constant challenges in myriad ways, not really sure where to start!

10. Are there rewarding parts to determining your own schedule? Getting to play golf with my friends on weekdays.

11. Do you have any tips for travelers visiting Japan? Get lost somewhere and try a local ramen or gyōza (pan-fried dumpling) place.

12. Where is the most underrated place to visit in Japan? I’m not sure that it’s underrated, but I always enjoy Kanazawa.

13. What are the books about Japan that everyone should read? “Kyoto: A Contemplative Guide” by Gouverneur Mosher, “Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan” by Alex Kerr and “Dave Barry Does Japan” by Dave Barry.

14. What’s your favorite Pokemon? I don’t know if I can even name one!

15. Do you collect anything? How many of a thing make for a collection? I like watches and antiques.

16. Do you have any hidden skills or talents? I secretly think I’m great at karaoke.

17. What do you do to relax or unwind? Golf and spend time with my close friends.

18. When you cook, what’s your specialty dish? Tacos!

19. What’s your favorite Japanese sweet or snack? I like the gummies at the convienience stores — guilty pleasure.

20. Have you ever successfully gotten something out of a claw machine? Noooo!

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