Skills to think with a broad mind

Students This Way: At a small temple, with a beautiful garden, in the middle of a residential area that I stumbled upon in Nagoya, Japan. The sigh says “Sutra Lesson Come This Way to Join”

Learning about Local Affairs

What I enjoy more than anything else when I visit a new place is to sit at a cafe (or a bar, a restaurant, a breakfast table, a picnic mat… you get the idea) with a local friend and just chat. I like to hear about things that matter to someone who lives there. What makes them worried, or hopeful? What gives them a sense of pride? What’s uniquely local about their experience from their perspective?

I of course like to explore, to see places and to do things. Taking in new sights and seeking new experiences are a big part of what makes travel so exciting and so special.

But often I also like to skip the seeing of places and the doing of things for a chance to spend time with a local friend, just talking about things that are part of the everyday lives of the people who call that place home.

How do today’s young people in Norway view marriage? What do second- or third-generation Japanese Brazilians in Brazil think of their ancestral home? Where do families in Greece like to go for a relaxing vacation? What do locals in this big city or that small village think of tourists?

And, I also enjoy learning about really “usual” things, like languages taught in schools, days of the week when shops are closed, where to (or not to) buy alcohol in town, how and where people like to barbecue, how to and how much to tip, what books and movies people are into… (the list goes on and on).

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I treasure the conversations that teach me that people do things differently in different places, but that there are still plenty that we share with each other despite our differences.

Ways of Life Different from Your Own

On my recent visit to Japan, I had the chance to travel down the memory lane going through old albums and boxes of things my parents kept from my childhood.

Among the things that my parents deemed too important even after twenty-plus years to throw away was this:


In Japanese schools, children learn good handwriting skills through practicing 書写 (shosha) or transcribing – with an emphasis on the form and aesthetics of the handwriting.

The above photo shows my entry to a fifth-grade shosha contest; the little gold piece of paper on the top-right corner means that it was judged one of the best. :)

While the fact that I used to have excellent handwriting as a fifth-grader was exciting, what struck me as even more exciting was the content of this short passage:


“When you travel, you can not only enjoy beautiful scenery but also learn about ways of life that are different from your own. Through such experience you gain new skills as it enriches your heart and broadens your perspective.”

It’s just some random passage used for the purpose of the contest, and I’m sure that back then the 5th-grader me didn’t think much of the meaning of the text.

But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement in an almost serendipitous way; many years later, I’ve come to learn and become passionate about the exact thing that this text was talking about.

A Good Starting Point

Following the terror attack in Paris last week, many voices online were quick to point out that most of us didn’t pay much attention to the similar attack in Beirut in the same week (or other acts of terrorism in “non-Western” parts of the world in the past months).

I don’t necessarily agree with the opinions that those who expressed their desire to stand with Paris were “misguided” or “hypocritical”: the attack in Paris was a tragedy, and showing solidarity is an important way for us to react to something as tragic and senseless as this.

But the reality is that many people (myself included) learned about the Beirut bombing after the Paris attack. And – importantly – many of us reacted emotionally to that realization, feeling the need to change our relationships with the world so that we not just talk about valuing lives equally but actually live that value.

And I think that travel (the thoughtful, respectful kind) can be a way to support such change.

Of course, it’s not going to be the only solution, but it is a good starting point, because travel opens our eyes to ways of life different from our own and broadens our perspectives. And it helps us cultivate the skills of seeing both differences and similarities among cultures, and of building genuine connections with other people.

It may be naive to believe that more people traveling the world and learning to think with a broad mind will lead to positive changes – especially given the context of our times.

But as someone who has been amazed and inspired by the power of travel, I hope that one of the ways for us to continue to stand with not just Paris but with everyone affected by tragedies and injustice around the world is to continue traveling and exploring the world, learning and gaining new perspectives along the way.

Street Art in Hamburg

A couple of months ago, I was happy to see that Hamburg was one of the cities that made the “best cities for street art – chosen by travel bloggers” list on the Kami & the Rest of the World blog.

Street art is one of my favorite types of art and one of my favorite parts of any city. When visiting a new city, I enjoy going on a stroll without any particular aim and doing a “photo walk” – which in my travel dictionary simply means walking and taking photos. Exploring the street art scene of a city, I think, is a great way to slow down and to take time to get to know the local neighborhoods and streets.

And when I moved to Hamburg two years ago, I did do a photo walk around my new neighborhood, gathering my first impressions of the area, and getting lost in the streets which were still unfamiliar to me.

Here are some photos from my Hamburg street art photo collection, including some photos that I took on that first walk as a newcomer to the city.

Hamburg Waterfront Harbor- and Water-Themed Street Art

The Elbe river and the harbor are an important part of our city’s identity as the “gateway to the world”. As such, the water- and ocean-themed murals and graffiti on our streets and in particular in the waterfront area offer a glimpse of how Hamburgers see and experience the beauty of the city.

Street art in Hamburg - Women of the Sea

Street art in Hamburg - Fish Out of the Water, Hamburg Harbor

Street art in Hamburg - More Fish and a Monkey

Street art in Hamburg - Ocean in the City

Colors and Characters on Hamburg Streets

While the river – as well as the Alster lake in the inner city area – forms what is probably the most exciting and beautiful part of Hamburg, there’s of course much more to the city and its artistic expressions.

Street art in Hamburg - Dragon Tattoo on a Building

Street art in Hamburg - Work in Progress

Street art in Hamburg - Brick Wall

Street art in Hamburg - People Power


Street art in Hamburg - Basketball Court in a Local Park

Thoughts on Responsible Tourism: Educating travelers about traveling responsibly

Responsible Tourism Educate Travelers

I’ve been a big fan of the weekly Responsible Tourism Twitter Chat (#RTTC) since its early days, as it’s an enjoyable and engaging (not to mention easy) way to find a lot of inspirations about how to travel more responsibly and how to help make travel and tourism more sustainable.

A couple of weeks ago, the theme of the chat was Indigenous Tourism, and I was part of a discussion within the chat about how challenging it can be to deal with the preconceived expectations that travelers often have about how Indigenous communities “should” be – because they often influence how tourism products are developed, based on what is considered as “marketable”.

And in this context, this question came up: Who’s responsible for educating travelers?

Many of us – including industry professionals and travelers – probably agree that we all have a role to play in promoting better education among travelers about responsible behavior, which would include things like not imposing certain stereotypes and prejudices on other countries and peoples. But are we taking this responsibility seriously? Are we doing enough?

That’s what inspired me to write this piece, which I posted on

“… This suggestion – that everyone involved in benefiting from tourism, including travelers, should be responsible for responsible travel education – probably sounds reasonable and somewhat common-sense to many people. But the reality of our industry today, I think, is that there’s still a big gap between how important we know educating travelers is and how travelers are actually getting opportunities to be educated about traveling responsibly. That said, there are many initiatives and resources – including, of course, the #RTTC – that are helping improve the status quo. Here are just a handful of examples of organizations, programs and campaigns that are aimed at educating travelers about responsible travel.” (From “Responsible Tourism: Whose Responsibility Is It to Educate Travelers?“)

The examples introduced in the above article include some of my favorite organizations and initiatives that are offering tangible solutions to key sustainability challenges facing the travel and tourism industry around the world, and I’ve also added a list of inspiring stories, blogs, and places to find more discussions on this topic.

Hope you enjoy, and please do share the link, and share your own ideas and inspirations on responsible tourism initiatives for travelers, so that more travelers will become aware of these issues and will be able to find and access solutions they can be part of.