Osaka – 2020 has been a tumultuous year, and as it comes to a close there are many questions hanging in the air about vaccines, COVID-19 mutations and what life will look like post-pandemic. Lucky for us, this year’s “20 Questions” pieces have provided nothing but answers, the best of which we’ve compiled for you here. We may not know if 2021 will bring us any relief, but for now we can take solace in the wise words of professors, journalists, activists and even a private eye.
On advice for life …
You have written about ikigai — what is that and why write about it? Ikigai is your life’s purpose, the reason you get up in the morning. It can be something very small, like taking your dog for a walk, or your ultimate goal in life. — Ken Mogi
Do you have any examples of your own ikigai? My small ikigai is going for a run in the morning. Although I’m on the fat side, I manage to run a full marathon annually. My big ikigai is to have some kind of epiphany, when you realize, all of a sudden, a new meaning in life. — Ken Mogi, brain scientist and author, March 21
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice before coming to Japan, what would it be? When I came, Japan was a highly advanced country and India was still a third-world country that was struggling. Many Indians, myself included, came to Japan with a bit of an inferiority complex. That was a mistake. As Indians we have plenty to be proud of, and if I had to go back in time I would come with that pride in the cultural richness of India, and not with a complex about the poverty in our country. — Rev. Cyril Veliath
When Japanese people think of India, what do you think they think of first? Nowadays, many people consider India a hi-tech country. — Rev. Cyril Veliath, professor, Aug. 23
How do you deal with instances of cultural disconnect? Just play the ignorant and follow the locals’ advice — the local customs, the way of thinking. But always be vigilant and aware of a possible hidden agenda behind them. Question everything, but do it politely. — Ilgin Yorulmaz, journalist, May 9
Do you question everything? If someone tells me something and it doesn’t make sense, I want to look into it myself. It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that I like to ask questions and confirm things for myself. — Joseph Everett, YouTuber, March 28
What is the best time of the day to do yoga? Traditionally any kind of spiritual practice, including yoga, should be done at sunrise and sunset. Now our lives are so busy that it might not be possible to follow those times every day, so you could try doing it in the morning but, if not, then any other time during the day on an empty stomach. — Keerthana Mariappan, executive and yoga teacher, Sept. 13
On our environment …
You’re very involved in the sustainability movement #TrashTag. What is it? The idea is you clean up an area deserving of our attention, like a beach, park or even the side of a road, and try to take before and after shots, or even a video if you can. You upload the video or photos using #TrashTag, and you can even call out some friends to take on the challenge next. It’s really social media at its best, encouraging and promoting sustainable activity. — Dean Newcombe
What does Japan need to work on? Japan is known for overpackaging. One thing I like about the United Kingdom is that we were quick to eliminate all caged eggs from supermarkets and are the leading buyers of fair trade by far. We need sustainability to be a key factor for consumers. — Dean Newcombe, model, actor and producer, April 11
What would you love to see happen in Japan with regards to sustainability? Widen the net for engagement and input on travel and tourism by the government, local authorities, businesses and communities. Japan could be a world-leader in high-quality, post-COVID-19 travel, but it has to balance the needs of locals and visitors. So, planning must include preserving culture, tradition, and benefits to, as well as quality of life of, local residents. — Joy Jarman-Walsh, sustainability advocate, Nov. 22
On food and drink …
What do you think will be the fourth wave of coffee? Hopefully the elevation of coffee to something similar to wine or good whiskey. Farms are putting more work into growing unique coffee with distinct terroir. I’d love to see more people not just have favorite roasters or regions but also have favorite farms. — Alvin Cheung, creator and coffee nerd, Feb. 15
What’s a must-eat for you when you come to Japan? One tradition is that I always have onigiri (rice balls) and green tea when I land. Then, I have sashimi, high-end sushi and Japanese-style breakfast. Good sake bars are, of course, a must! — Katrine Klinken
Do you have any advice for young people who are having to cook more at home? All good cooking starts with ingredients. Get into the routine of planning ahead to buy quality ingredients and reduce waste. — Katrine Klinken, food writer and lecturer, July 12
On politics …
What was it like taking part in the Black Lives Matter march in Osaka? It was very empowering and reminded me that I’m not alone out here. Before we organized the march, I was feeling really helpless and lonely being so far from where I thought I could contribute. Being able to show solidarity from Japan and raising awareness here was so important. And in the moment, hearing so many Black, Japanese, white — you name it — voices chanting “Black Lives Matter,” it was so powerful and validating. We have a lot to do still, but knowing I’m not in this alone means so much. — Misty Fujii, DJ and radio host, July 26
What’s the biggest challenge to international diplomacy, and the biggest opportunity? Challenge: The “my country first” approach to a problem that really requires global cooperation. Opportunity: There is no single superpower that dominates the Earth, and that forces some countries to cooperate with others. — Jin Sato, professor, May 31
On the COVID-19 pandemic …
How has COVID-19 affected you and your creativity? I didn’t think it would change much, since I’m often shut in and working, but there are times when COVID-19 makes it even more depressing to not see anyone else. That’s when a song is born. — Cuushe, musician, Nov. 9
What is the best way to approach an online class as a teacher? Professors need to encourage the students to interact more deeply with them and use the platforms for clear communication. Professors need to be a resource for interaction and engagement, especially given the isolation some students may be feeling. — Matthew Wilson, dean of Temple University, Oct. 11
And, on dentistry …
Aside from the usual flossing, brushing and mouthwash, can you give any tips on better oral care? The best tip that I can give is brushing the tongue every day. It reduces bacterial buildup on the tongue. There’s special brushes to do it, too.
At home, do you use an electric toothbrush or an ordinary one? Actually, I use both. I use an ordinary brush for around the gums, which is a sensitive area, and an ultrasonic electric one for the enamel area. — Ayako Zentani, dentist, Aug. 8
Have you ever been asked to do something weird? Someone once wanted me to pull out his tooth to check if a mind-controlling bug had been planted in it. He believed his dentist did it for some gang members who were trying to conquer the world. I didn’t do it. Later, though, it was reported in the news that the guy murdered the dentist. — Goro Koyama, private investigator, Sept. 27
For more questions and answers from the above individuals and others, check out the 20 Questions section at The Japan Times Online. Thank you to the writers whose work provided us with the quotes in this article: Alesia Bani, Naché Buie, Dave Cortez, Matthew Hernon, Melinda Joe, Louise George Kittaka, Annette Pacey, Rebecca Saunders, Megha Wadhwa, Claire Williamson and Mio Yamada.
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