Travel-Inspired Tattoos

I spent 29 years on Planet Earth without ever getting a tattoo. Then, in March of this year, I took the plunge. Why? Well, for me, I was finally inspired to get inked because I had an idea that was special to me. It connected me to set of memories that I never wanted to lose and had a unique personal story involving two amazing trips that I had taken.

On the inside of my left forearm I have my last name tattooed in Hindi. While traveling to India twice in 2007, I had learned that my last name (pronounced baarish in Hindi) meant rainfall. And both times that I went, despite the fact that it was not monsoon season, it poured in Delhi. The running joke amongst my Indian coworkers and friends was that I had brought the rain with me.

Immediately, I knew that I wanted to get baarish tattooed somewhere on my body. I had several of my Indian friends in Delhi and in the States write the word on paper for me (I did not want any misspellings, or worse, a completely different word tattooed by mistake). I debated where on my body to get it, what tattoo parlor to go to and whether I should try to get back to India to have it done there.

It took me a year to gather up the nerve to get inked. Now I wonder why I waited so long. My tattoo is an incredible reminder of two amazing trips to my favorite country in the world. It immediately stirs up memories of friends, places, foods, smells and experiences. And it’s my family name, in which I take a great deal of pride.

I almost got another trip-inspired tattoo this past spring. That story is less sentimental and more comical. Though it could have been tragic. While out in Osaka, Japan one night, after several sakes and Yebisu beers, my friends and I met up with a tattoo artist. He introduced us to his friends and showed us their studio. In my drunken stupor, I actually thought it would be a novel idea to get a tattoo of the Yebisu logo. Thankfully, the studio was closing and no one was available to do the job. I dodged a bullet on that one!

Have any trips motivated you to get inked? Have you gotten a tattoo while on a trip? Do you regret that shamrock on your lower back that was inspired by a few too many pints of Guinness? Share in the comments.

Big in Japan: A Look Inside My Tokyo Apartment

This week I decided that I needed a change of surroundings, so I moved to the Nakameguro (??????) district in Tokyo. It’s a highly-respectable neighborhood bordering on the entertainment district of Shibuya (???) and the wealthy residential district of Yebisu (????). To simplify things a bit, it’s within easy striking (or stumbling) distance of the bar and club scene, yet offers all the peace and isolation of a residential area.

And, it’s surprisingly cheap, and much nicer and bigger than you’d imagine.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a two part series on the Myth of Money in Japan, which argued that Japan is surprisingly more affordable than you would imagine. The responses to my post ran the gamut from ‘You’re absolutely correct and thanks for acknowledging what I already knew!’ to ‘You’re an absolute idiot and thanks for wasting five minutes of my life.’

Hey – there’s always a critic!

Well, in order to throw some more fuel into the fire, I’ve decided to give you all a virtual tour of my apartment. Hopefully, this will help dispel the myth that the Japanese live in crowded shoeboxes that rent for thousands of dollars a month.

First of all, the renting agency is a popular foreign-friendly company known as Sakura House ( My room is located in a gaijin house (外人ハウス) or foreigner house that is aimed exclusively at ex-pats temporarily living in Japan.

Although prices vary considerably depending on the neighborhood, my current room lists for ¥83,000 a month including utilities and wireless internet. Depending on the current exchange rate, this is about $690 to $755 a month – not bad for one of the nicest districts in Tokyo.

As you can see from the pictures, it’s spacious (approximately 100 sq m), and comes furnished with a good bed and a somewhat shoddy but workable desk from which I am writing this column. However, take notice of the stone fireplace that sits behind the computer, as well as the polished wooden floors and closets.

The best part of course is the enormous picture window and sliding doors that face out towards the neighborhood. I overlook a number of traditional Japanese-style houses, and there is a Shinto temple complex in the distance.

Not bad for what is commonly referred to as the most expensive city in the world! Try finding a room this nice in New York City for less than $1000 a month.

The house itself is shared by seven other foreigners, all of whom have their own private rooms as well. In regards to common space, we have a fairly spacious kitchen, a lounge with satellite TV, two and a half bathrooms and an onsite washer and dryer.

Still not sold that living in Tokyo is prohibitively expensive? Consider the fact that the house is located only five minutes by foot from the subway station. If you’re a fan of convenience, I should also point out that the station has a number of restaurants, small shops and even a grocery store.

Now do you believe me that Japan can be bargain if you know where to look?