How to not Behave on an Airplane

I had horrible neighbors on my latest long haul flights from Tokyo to Frankfurt and back in September.
To Frankfurt my neighbor was a guy of about 30 and an American.
First of all he kept on messaging with probably his girlfriend, since hearts flew around. As the plane was about to lift off, I said, “excuse me, Sir, but I think it’s time to switch to airplane mode.” He gave me a devastating look, finished his message, then switched to airplane mode and thrust the phone into my face. “Here you go.”
Pfff. Five minutes later he says. “I usually hate it when people tell me what to do, but I respect it that you had the “guts” to address a total stranger about this.” Um, what? He tried to engage me in a discussion about that non-airplane mode was allowed for a while but now it’s restricted again and blah. Then he kept quiet. Later on he fell asleep while I was standing (because of my back) and working on the computer. He kinda woke up, grabbed the water bottle that lay on my seat, probably thinking it was his and put it into his lap. Uh?
I sat down again and next he jerked around and poured cold coffee all over my seat and my pants. I got the cabin attendants to help me with wipers and what not. He looked around irritated, then ignored the fuss and did not even fuxxing apologize. Great, thank you.
Last but not least we had seats at the kitchen section where you can prop up your legs. He did so too, but with his shoes on and that’s how the wall looked like by the end of the flight… (I took the pick while the dude was on the loo)

On the way back to Tokyo I had an about 70 year-old Japanese woman sitting next to me. It was a night flight, but I cannot sleep on planes and as usual was working on the computer. They turned the cabin light off and I switched on my individual light. “NO!” The woman barks at me and points at the light. Jeez, okay, okay, I put it out again. Then she calls the cabin attendant and tells her to tell me to turn off my computer because it’s too bright. Cabin attendant: “Um, no, I cannot ask her to do that. Why don’t you use the mask you were given?” Woman: “I can’t have that thing on my eyes, it’s too warm. Ask her to turn off the computer!”
The cabin attendant comes around to me. Unfortunately there is no other seat available, maybe I would work in the kitchen until she has fallen asleep? That was fine by me, because it gave me another opportunity to stand (I can’t sit for long because of my back). The cabin attendants were then all super nice to me, giving me juice and chocolate and thanking me constantly for being so cooperative. I had to move from the middle kitchen to the back once, because they laid a completely drunken guy onto the floor of the middle kitchen after he barfed around (hopefully not onto his neighbors………) and I was happy that I only had a bitchy old woman for a neighbor and not a barfing dude who can’t hold his liquor… when I eventually returned to my seat, the nasty old woman was asleep.
Such are the joys of long haul flights! Ahhhhhh… I’ll have another one next week, but it should be the last one of 2018 😉

Iceland Report – Part 5

Whale Watching and Some Other Comments
On my last day in Iceland I had prebooked a whale watching tour in the morning and the plan was to do some last shopping in the afternoon and to pack the suitcase. 
I did whale watching in New Zealand and in Japan at the Ogasawara islands. Both times were very successful with several whale sightings and seeing rear flukes when the guys set out to dive. Luckily the sun shone even in the morning, but there were strong winds. Strong winds = waves, baby! I went to the harbor and the boat didn’t look very big.

At the check in they asked me if I wanted sea sickness pills. Okay, lets take them, the tour operator must have a reason for offering them for free! There were maybe twenty people on a boat that could accommodate 50, so that was a good number. Among them was a group of 6 Chinese adults, the rest was European or American. Out we went, and my it started rocking. At first we went fast and I stayed below deck because of the spray. When we slowed down, I went on deck and stayed there for the period of whale watching time. Three of the Chinese went on deck for five minutes, then one man was getting sick and reached for the barf bag. After that none of the Chinese was again seen on deck 😉 It did rock pretty badly and it was impossible to catch the moment of the only whale we saw surfacing on camera.

It was a minke whale apparently and it swam with the boat for a while but presented only its back and some spouting and no rear fluke for diving either. From that point of view this was the least successful whale watching I attended so far. Which is okay though, since I was very lucky the other two times and its animals and they don’t show up when you want them to. Another two people reached for the barf bags apart from the Chinese and also I had a moment of feeling not so super well, but the tactics to look at the horizon worked for me and I didn’t get sick. I went below deck again for the fast boat ride and splashes when we returned to the harbor and found the Chinese sprawled and looking not very good over a group of benches below. Poor guys and girls! I admit, I was happy to be back on firm land and promptly went back to my dear Harpa again for my chocolate croissant and tea 😉 After that a final round of shopping and bag packing and that was it. 

Despite the shitty hotel and the ridiculous prices, I thoroughly enjoyed Iceland and greatly recommend it as a destination (if you have the money). I wonder how long the Iceland boom will last. Since it is now the main source of income for the place, I hope for them it will. Apart from the unfriendly hotel staff I did not encounter a single rude Icelander, all the restaurant and tour staff were very friendly and welcoming. 
Looking at the barren landscapes it really makes me wonder what life was like there a hundred years ago and before that. The funny guide of the lava cave tour said we Icelanders have basically been starving all the time before roads and planes came to the place. They lived off fish and sheep. They ate everything of the sheep, head, feet, innards, balls and all. There is a cold water shark species living around Iceland. It has no kidneys somehow and its blood and meat are poisoned. If you let a dead shark rot for a bit, the poison becomes ineffective, then you dry the meat somewhat and eat it. It apparently tastes as disgustingly as it sounds. How desperate for food do you have to be in order to find out how to make this shark meat somehow edible? The vikings who settled there were tough brothers and sisters. Then the cold in winter and the dark. It’s dark for 21 hours a day in mid winter. It never really really gets warm. Would I want to live there? No thanks. But is it beautiful? Oh yes! I am wrote my report on the plane back to Tokyo, moving from 64 degrees north to 35 degrees north and half around the globe. Even if it’s a bit hot in Japan in the summer, my, do I prefer my lush sub-tropical islands in the south that burst with green and woods and oceans you can get into without dying of hypothermia after five minutes! 😉 Cheers! 

Iceland Report – Part 4

Blue Lagoon and Snaefellsnes Peninsula
On my Blue Lagoon day it was raining in Reykjavik in the morning, oh what a surprise 😉 I went again to the Harpa, which had become my favorite hang out spot. The Harpa is the concert hall of Reykjavik, built during bubble times and quite an impressive building.
I checked it out on my first day and also watched the comedy show there about “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. They had a nice cafe where you could get a chocolate croissant and a cup of tea for “only” 10 USD. Then it was time to board my bus to the Blue Lagoon. I had decided to try out that tourist trap on my first day in Reykjavik, looking for short stuff to do in afternoons. I also wanted to compare it to the plenty of Onsen (hot spring) I know from Japan. Not a single Onsen in Japan though costs 100 USD to get into… yes, ladies and gents, that’s the price of the Blue Lagoon. And not in a single Onsen in Japan do you have to wait for 45 min to be let inside despite having a reservation. It’s funny also that you have to go inside in a bathing suit instead of naked. Well, thus it’s easier to mix the boys and girls. Of course I didn’t bring a bathing suit, but you could rent one for 7 USD. Not that bad considering the other prices. 

Your 100 USD ticket to the Lagoon contains a towel, a free first drink and a free face mask. Nevertheless, 100 USD, you gotta be kidding me. What I liked about the place was its size, the pool is pretty damn big, and also the water temperature of only 38 degrees agreed with me. Japanese Onsens always have the tendency to be too hot for me. It was nice, but it’s not worth 100 USD, which doesn’t include the 40 USD bus transfer from and to the place by the way. It’s about 45 min away from Reykjavik. After the bath, I walked around outside through blue water ponds and rivers next to the spa, which was nicely bizarre.
All in all the Blue Lagoon is, as expected, a rip off. Well, been there, done that and had the most expensive bath of my life 😉 But I also appreciated the place, since I didn’t need to shower that night in my horror hotel and could use their functioning hair dryer, hahaha 😉 
Then it was time for the last full day tour I had pre-booked, a drive around the Snaefellsness peninsula, which leads away from Route 1 and I thought it would be a bit less crowded than the main sites. That was indeed so and it was a nice ride, but the driver was rather terrible. He was telling us stories from the Icelandic Sagas befitting to the places we drove past or visited, since it was at Snaefellsness where the Vikings first landed. His stories were okay, but he was talking NON stop! I have never heard anyone talk so much in one day. His story telling style was also not the best, a bit repetitive and he kept coming back to the same points over and over. Anyway, the dude saved me a visit to the Saga museum. The sites were a bit less spectacular than the Golden Circle or the Glacier Lagoon, but nonetheless beautiful. The main mountain, Snaefellsjoekull, with a tiny glacier on top, kept unfortunately hiding in clouds.
Another famed mountain, the Kirkjufell, which was apparently used in GoT, also kept its top in the clouds.
We had rain in the morning as so often, but sunshine in the afternoon. Cliffs with hexagonal formations much like the Giants Causeway in Ireland were the highlight of the tour and great to look at, but all in all this was the least spectacular of the three long tours I made and unfortunately tainted by the endless flood of babble coming out of the guide guy.

Iceland Report – Part 3

South Coast and Glacier Lagoon
The longest trip of my Iceland visit was the journey to the glacier lagoon and back. That tour happened with a big bus and thanks to having no neighbor that was indeed much more comfortable than a smaller bus would have been, since there were long stretches of driving to be done. The tour follows the route No. 1, which is the only road encircling the entire island. It leads past the famous Eyjafjallajoekull, which erupted in 2010 causing havoc for Europe’s flights due to its ashes. I am by now to 70% able to pronounce the name 😉 

The mountain has a glacier on top and it looks quite mystic when clouds, ice and black rock mingle. We got off at a small waterfall with a camping ground next to it. OMG, nothing could make me stay in a tent in that wet and cold climate.

On the Golden Circle tour I met a couple from Spain who were planning to bicycle around Iceland within 15 days on route 1. Route 1 has 1332 km = they have to do 88.8 km in a day. OMG! I hope they are / will be okay.
The bus drove on on route 1 through the strangest landscape I’ve ever seen, a giant lava field over 50 km wide with nothing but moss covered lava. In a way it looks like one of the circles of hell. A cold desert with nothing but moss and razor sharp rocks.

Then it starts to get interesting with a speck of white in the distance, which is the goal of the journey, the many tongues and arms of Iceland’s biggest glacier Vatnajoekull. The more significant glacier arms each have their own unpronounceable name. It’s humbling to drive past this vast mountain massive and it looks like all that ice was about to crush down on you and bury you. You become very small next to this glacier. I don’t know if the glacier of the glacier lagoon is the biggest tongue in total, but it was most certainly the biggest tongue that the tour drove past… Man, this glacier is big. The photos do not express its majesty and vastness. A hundred years ago, the glacier ended in the sea. But the earth got / gets warmer and warmer and the lagoon formed accordingly.

The glacier is calving and melting and the icebergs float around in the lagoon before they drift out to sea through a small opening. It’s a bizarre and magical landscape and I have not seen the likes of it before in my life. I did a boat tour on the lagoon with an open boat and then walked on the eastern shore to the ocean. The waves and the tide break up the icebergs floating out and send them sometimes back onto the beach. The sand is volcanic ash and pitch black and the contrast of the white icebergs on it is bloody amazing too. Despite the cold, I could have stayed there for many hours, but alas, we were allowed 90 minutes before we had to go back. Of what I have seen of Iceland this was the most impressive place. 

On the way back we got into a rain shower over the lava desert. At its end is the village of Vik. We stopped there for dinner and I went down to the beach for a few moments, another black sand beach in stormy conditions with these great rock formations in the water. The rain comes sideways in Iceland, you don’t bother with an umbrella. I took it with me on the trip but did not use it, since it does not help. 

The last stop of this tour was another big waterfall with much less water though than the Gulfoss of course, and there was the option to walk behind the waterfall, but I refrained from that.
It was already 20:00 in the evening and we started the tour at 7:00 in the morning. some of the bus travelers did the hike behind the waterfall and came back soaking wet. No thanks 😉 We were back in Reykyajiv at 22:00. 
It was a long but very impressive day.

Iceland Report – Part 2

Golden Circle and Lava Tunnel
I spent my first day in Iceland exploring Reykjavik, but it’s a small city of maybe 200,000 people and there is not that super much going on there or to do. They have a few museums, but it doesn’t feel like museum time when you go to a country like Iceland. You do tours tours to the nature sites. Although, during that first day in Reykjavik, I stumbled across a comedy show of an hour entitled “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. That sounded intriguing, so I bought a ticket for it and it was fun indeed. An Icelandic comedian tells you (in English) some fun things about being or becoming Icelandic with nice sarcastic spice and it was well worth the entrance fee. But back to tours: The most common tour is the so called “golden circle” tour to the famous geyser and the Gulfoss waterfall and the Thingvellir national park. 
I did that tour on a small bus, and we started with a small crater, then a small waterfall.

The first official highlight was the geyser. The original geyser has gone dry by the way, but next to it is its little brother that spouts every few minutes. The big geyser spouted only every half hour, but was admittedly bigger. There were more people than spouts present, of course.

While we left Reykjavik in rain, we had sunshine since the small waterfall. In the sun, without wind, it actually got nicely warm, the only time it was warm in Iceland 😉 The geyser is funny but with too many tourists not a breathtaking spot. I found the Gulfoss waterfall much more impressive. Now that’s a decent waterfall, nice and big and gushy 😉

Despite all the people there that’s a sight worth seeing and the people’s noise gets drowned out by the waterfall anyway. In the distance you could spot the Langjokuell glacier, a magnificent sight in the sun and I would have loved to get closer, but that was not on the itinerary.

Next up was a short visit to some Icelandic horses, which were for a very long time the only form of transport for the locals. A farmer put “horse candy” for sale, some dry food stuff and I fed this lovely guy here and he nibbled his nuggets skillfully from my hand 😉

The last stop was the Thingvellir national park, a fantastic valley with yet another waterfall, a rift where the island is breaking apart and a magnificent lake. A beautiful day well spent with some breathtaking nature sites. 

I had wanted to do “nothing” between the prearranged long bus tours, but there is a bit too much of nothing in Reykjavic and during my first day while exploring the town, I decided to book some additional smaller afternoon tours for my days “off” and I’m glad I did so. I would have gotten bored without those activities. The first smaller trip was thus a cave tour through a lava tunnel just 45 min away from Reykjavik. That day was the weather-wise worst day of my stay. It rained the entire time, but who cares for that in a cave. It wasn’t the most impressive cave I have seen in my life, but the guide was hilarious (he had lots of funny comments and a very dry humor) and the cave was wide and not scary and easy to climb. It was a great short trip and another day well spent.

Iceland Report – Part 1

After Waken 2018 and a family visit for a few days seeing my sister and my dad, I set out again for adventure. This year the target was the fulfillment of a long harbored goal – I went to Iceland.
Before I will report on the plenty of nice stuff = the tours that I did, some general remarks of how I perceived the place. Iceland looks rich, very nice houses, well maintained, loads of new construction happening. They all must earn fortunes though, since the prices are ridiculous. A proper sandwich? 20 USD. I kid you not. A liter of water? 5 USD. I kid you not. A pizza, small salad and a soft drink at a food court like place = not a proper restaurant? 35 USD. A plate of pasta in a filthy side walk place? 20 USD.

All guides said that Icelanders hardly ever go out eating and I am not surprised. The hotels?…?? I had a lousy small room with a bed, a desk, one chair, a TV, a small open clothes rack, and a super filthy bathroom for 150 USD a night, no food included. The only thing good about the place was that is was right in the middle of town and yet quiet. The room was not cleaned during the entire week of my stay. The “room service” did nothing but empty the trash and give me new toilet paper, there was dust everywhere by the end of my stay. One guy at the reception was rather friendly, another lady was close to rude. They gave me a hair dryer that nearly exploded in my hand when I switched it on. Flames and smoke spewed out and I barely managed to switch it off before something bad happened to me.

The Icelanders are smart, they are using geothermal water for heating and showers. But the hot water in the old hotel (a building from the sixties maybe) stank so much of sulfur you could gag. The water felt soapy and was pretty disgusting. The shower was so hot it almost boiled you even at the coldest setting. And the stench… unbelievable.
All tour guides said, oh you can drink the cold water, if you let it run for five minutes. Admittedly the cold water didn’t stink, but I didn’t trust the old pipes of that filthy hotel and relied on the expensive bottled water for drinking and even for teeth brushing. The heating in my room wasn’t the best either. I had the radiator on at highest setting the whole time and it was just bearably warmish. I kept my yogurts and butter close to the window since there was no refrigerator. They didn’t change the bed sheets the whole week and I got fresh towels only once. I have never paid 150 USD per night yet for such crap. But – they can afford their shitty service, since a decent hotel costs you well over 200 USD the night and even youth hostels are pricey. They can also afford to rip people off like that because people keep coming. One guide said that in 2017 there were 2.3 something million visitors to an island with a population of 350,000 people. Wow. And they are coming for a reason, because, yes, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and stunning. 
With the amount of money I spent on tours, food and also some souvenirs, I can only afford to buy food and toiletries for the next two months or so, hahaha. But it was worth it. I wouldn’t want to miss this trip despite the shitty hotel and the horrendous costs. 
And despite the weather. I was actually lucky, since there was no long-lasting heavy rain during the three big trips I made. The only day where it rained non-stop was the day I went to the lava cave = I was inside even on the tour 😉 Also on my Blue Lagoon Day it was raining in the morning, but I was in bed 🙂 The other days were good, hardly any rain and even some sunshine along the way. Even if the sun shines though, it’s cold in Iceland. I was very happy that I dragged a winter coat along with me. Especially when there is wind, it’s quite fresh and it never got over 15 degrees air temperature. More in the range of around 10 degrees Celsius.

Despite the prices and everything, I might return to Iceland one day – in winter! 😉 Because it’s on my bucket list to see northern lights – aurora borealis one day and in winter it hardly ever gets below minus 20 in Iceland thanks to the Gulf Stream, while in other Scandinavian aurora viewing places it’s more like minus 40??? If I go in winter it will be only for two or three days though, in a better hotel also, paying the price, since in winter it’s only daylight or rather twilight from 12:00 to 15:00 – the rest is darkness. Yet unimaginable for me, but that’s what a local told me. Some pics as teasers in this report and next up will be more details about the tours I did 🙂

Wacken Open Air 2018

This year marked my fourth trip to Wacken and it was remarkable in so far as that I went for the first time alone without my trusted English buddies and oh miracle there was no rain! Zero rain, nothing, niente! Who would have thought that to be possible? Instead it was hot as hell and dusty beyond measure 😉 I suppose that ideal weather for Wacken does not exist 😉
Since I am not staying in tents under any circumstances 😉 I had chosen a hotel package including bus transfer. 
How cool that I already met two Japanese girls in havy metal gear on the plane to Helsinki, who were having the same destination. Even more remarkable was that one of the girls bought the same hotel package as myself. We shared a taxi to the hotel and thus the arrival in the tiny town of Bad Bramstedt was nice and smooth. 
The daily commute to the holy ground was a bit longish unfortunately, since the bus took an hour, partly over an hour, to get there. Also, there was only one bus to the holy ground and one bus back, no alternative, apart from expensive taxis. 
Wacken was as epic as always. The atmosphere is unbeatable (I heard Hellfest is the same or even better, but I’ve never been there yet.) Wait, there is another unbeatable atmosphere, the one on the boat (70,000 tons of metal) but that is quite a different pair of shoes. In Wacken, where 75,000 fans are gathered, it’s just the amazing atmosphere of being on the holy ground that you breathe in with the dust or drag with your boots in vase of mud 😉

Since the bus was arriving too late for some bands, I bluntly asked around on the Friday morning whether anyone was willing to share a taxi with me to get to the holy ground earlier. Turned out asking was a good idea, since I found a couple from Romania staying at the same hotel, but without the bus transfer package but their own rental car. They were so kind to take me along and I made it in time for the desired concert 😉 I saw a ton of bands of course (23 to be exact), hung out with excellent people and had a great time despite the dust and resulting nose trouble from the middle of Saturday.

My band highlights were Amorphis of course, then Alestorm and Ensiferum in the first rows (if at the side, away from the surfers), but also Nightwish was fabulous, as well as good old Judas Priest and Helloween. A new discovery was Behemoth from Poland, I have to check out more about them. It was the first time that a black metal band “spoke” or appealed to me. Then two re-discoveries, the smaller band Diabolo Boulevard from Belgium and Children of Bodom. I actually saw Diabolo Boulevard on the boat (70,000 tons) and liked them there too, but now they reconfirmed that they are worth looking into. Children of Bodom I saw once at Loudpark but they didn’t impress me so much then, this time I found them to have much more impact on me. Very interesting was Arkona from Russia, who played on the Wackinger Stage. 

I found myself rather often in the headbbanger tent and at the Wackinger stage this time. During my first two Waken tours, I hardly ever left the infield (where the three big stages are), but this time I was in the tent as much as never before. 
The busses back in the night were a bit too late for my taste, on the Friday and Saturday they only left at 2:00 in the morning, brining you back to the hotel at 3:00 respectively. (The busses to Waken left at 12:00 every day and got there around 13:00 or later, due to traffic). The busses already arrived around 1:30 though, so at least you were out of the evening cold for a while. Yes, cold! When it’s over 30 during the day and drops to 15 at night that’s cold, especially when you come from a more humid climate where it never gets much below 23 during the night in summer.
It was a great Wacken tour this year and it was interesting to experience it with the bus tour package, but I’m glad that next year, I’ll be back with my English buddies and their car, which makes you more independent. Our lovely hotel in Buesum is also closer to the holy ground than Bad Bramstedt. Tickets are ordered, hotel is booked, we are ready for the big 30th anniversary of the holy ground! See you in August 2019, rain or shine. 

Up the Mountain

I’d like to share my fascination with a German colleague (who does not live in Japan) who has been climbing Mt. Fuji ten times by now. I kid you not.
And I’ll be using his “hobby” to justify mine, hahaha 😉
So, during the months of July and August, when Mt. Fuji is mostly snow free, the mountain suffers “open season” and hordes of people are climbing it. You can climb Mt. Fuji in other months as well, but then you face snow on the top and also, the mountain huts are not open. There are several mountain huts between the 6th to 9th stations, but they only operate during those two months and if you go outside of the season, you have to do real “alpine” climbing without “help”.
So that colleague is finding some business trip “excuse” every year, comes to Japan, stays over a weekend and climbs Mt. Fuji. Usually he is taking other colleagues with him, who are more or less enthused by the prospect, but who don’t dare to decline, because the Mt. Fuji fan is high up the pecking order.

I have tried to do the Mt. Fuji climb as well, some fifteen or so years ago and it was a horror trip! 😉 There was brilliant weather in Tokyo on the day of my climb, 35 degrees Celsius, sunshine, but when the bus arrived at the fifth station at 2500 meters, where the end of the road is, there was a mighty thunderstorm. It rained cats and dogs, it was windy, it was bloody cold.
The most popular way to climb the beast is to arrive there at 22:00 in the evening, climb up during the night, be for sunrise at the top and then climb down again.
I struggled up the mountain in the dark in rain and sometimes I had the feeling the wind would blow me off the slope to an untimely death. I slipped somewhere on the wet rocks and hurt my knee and gave up at the 8th station, which is at around 3000 meters and climbed back down after the sun rose (I had a magnificent sunrise above the clouds too after waiting a few hours at the mountain hut and the weather getting better).
Apart from the physical strain – you are not alone while climbing. In July and August there is a queue up the mountain. You cannot walk your own pace, you are trapped in the path with hundreds of others in front of you and behind you.
Where is the fun in that? Once it’s quite interesting, but why do you have to do that ten times??? Every year??? There are plenty of beautiful mountains in the European Alps just around the corner for the German colleague, why climb Mt. Fuji with thousands of others once a year? It totally escapes me what is interesting and fascinating about that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Mt. Fuji, but I decided that it’s a wonderful mountain to look at because of its symmetry, you don’t need to climb the guy! Once maybe, yeah, but not ten times! 😉

Nevertheless, looking at the Mt. Fuji fan, I feel very comfortable about my own “madness”: flying around the world to see heavy metal bands, hahaha. Sometimes I have that short, brief, insignificant thought that I’m crazy hanging out in rain and vicious knee-deep mud for three days to see bands, but when I hear/see this story of the dude who flies half around the world to climb Mt. Fuji every year, I feel very sane, normal and unweird! Thanks, Sir, for making me feel good about myself. And, Oh yes, I depart for Wacken in five days! Yeah! 😉


At work I recently encountered another example for why I prefer living and working in Japan rather than living and working in Europe. In the company I work for we have a highly regulated workshop where the staff can give feedback to the manager who is supervising them. The staff fill out a questionnaire anonymously and the result is displayed via a point system. The manager fills out the same questionnaire in a self-assessment. His/her result is compared to the result of the staff people and focus points are jointly agreed between staff and manager. Then the manager leaves the room, and the staff discuss what the manager could improve concerning the focus points in question and presents them to him/her at the end of the workshop in form of suggestions that the he/she is supposed to listen to. The manager does not have to commit to picking up those focus points but most managers going through this process do so in the end.

I moderated such a workshop for one of our managers last week and thought it went pretty well. After the workshop was done I asked one of the participants, a Japanese guy in his fifties, what he thought about this workshop and his first and spontaneous comment was, “man we’re working in a good company. In Japanese companies such a feedback of the staff to the manager does not happen, at least not that I would’ve heard.” Five minutes later I asked a 35-year-old European expat the same question (who earns more than the mid fifties Japanese colleague) and got the answer, “well, the result was a bit meager for spending four hours on it.”
My spontaneous gut-feeling reaction hearing this was: you spoiled ungrateful brat!

I’m living too long in Japan now maybe, but I totally agree to the Japanese colleague who said, man, we’re working in a good company.
Yes, we are. It is not a matter of course that a company offers such a feedback opportunity, paid, during working time.
I think the attitude of the European colleague totally sucks. (The person is not German but from another European country). Europeans live in luxury and yet they are complaining, complaining, complaining. It’s always “but”… Instead of being grateful to be given the opportunity for feedback, that high earning expat whines about the result. And then, you were participating in creating that result, if you had wanted more result, you should have contributed to it!

I think that the “western” individualism is also a factor in the constant complaining about everything. “Westerners” have the tendency to look more for personal gain. The much more group oriented “Easterners” have often a more positive attitude towards the things happening around them and appreciate more what they have. What a difference – what does the Japanese colleague see: a good company. What does the spoiled expat see: we “wasted” four hours on something that is supposed to improve social interaction.
Needless to say, which attitude towards life and work I prefer.
Of course there is a lot of stuff that need improvement in Japan also, but man, Westerners: stop complaining about stuff that is in principle positive and work on your attitude.

In the Name of Detox

I was on a short business trip to Germany last month and while buying some supplies and also during common lunches/dinners with colleagues it struck me that the German eating habits are very different from Japan. Among the German colleagues there was a vegetarian, a vegan, someone who eats no carbs, someone who has gluten problems.
I’m not judging, I’m just stating facts when I say that among my Japanese friends and colleagues, there simply is no one who is a vegan, a vegetarian, eats only carbs or has gluten problems. Despite that Japanese people are generally slimmer than Germans and live longer too. So what’s going on here?
I mentioned that to a French colleague at an after-work dinner recently (who lived in China and Japan the last ten years) and he brought another interesting aspect into the story with the statement: “Yes! What happened to sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll? Now it’s “organic”, “detox”, and “xx intolerance” – How boring have we become!”
I had a good laugh at that and I heartily agree 😉

Coming to think of it, I don’t think there is a “no carbs” or a vegan among my heavy metal buddies 😉
Of course we can all do what we please and eat what we want, but lots of this “no carbs”, detox and whatever is in my humble opinion nothing but a marketing thing. In Japan we have tons of food marketing, but I have the feeling it’s “healthier”, since it focuses mostly on seasonally available products, and not so super much on trendy pseudo-health stuff. There is the mango or citrus ice cream in summer, the chestnut ice cream in autumn, the red beans ice cream in winter, the berry mix ice cream in spring and so forth, point is that it’s all ice cream and not so much business is made with the stuff being for example lactose or whatever free.
I dearly hope that Japan doesn’t pick up on the “health” trip too much, since I am convinced that humans became the dominant species of the planet because they can eat bloody anything.
Modern man has loads of allergies, myself included, if we keep on “sterilizing” our food and get ever pickier, it’ll only get worse, not better. Further, sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll might not be the healthiest lifestyle but at least it’s fun and maybe the “no carbs” and “detox” etc. fanatics need a bit more of that? Just speculating of course 😉

The Dumbness of the Masses

I’d like to pick up a bit at where I left off last week. I wrote about that moment of bondage and trust between an international group of people at the company I work for. What happened there during that business trip to Germany let me think about group intelligence and behavior. There are plenty of theories out there about group intelligence going in either direction – a group can be smarter than an individual, as well as, a group can be dumber than the individual. In my opinion it depends largely on the size of the group whether it’s smarter or dumber. In the company I work for it shows again and again that a smaller group of maybe 20 people can be smarter than the individual, but as soon as the group gets larger than let’s say 50 people, the tendency is towards dumber.
The small group of twenty that I wrote about last week excelled and got smarter than the individuals in it. We added to each other’s intelligence with our different experiences and backgrounds. But when we stood in front of the two, three hundred for or presentation, we looked dumbness in the face: the blunt stare of the herd animal in the crowd who relies on what the fellows around it do. There are some, let me call them, protestors who leave and don’t wanna have anything to do with what’s going on, but the majority looks at you with that numb stare of safety in the crowd. A thousand individuals might be smart, but the same thousand in a crowd are stupid especially if they are under some political influence. Look at the masses of people nowadays who follow asshole political leaders. Even if there is an individual intelligence that that leader is bullshit, the individual opinion drowns in peer pressure and conformity. As soon as you can hide in a group, the morale and intelligence level of the individual can sink dramatically.

The large crowd is not only dumb it is also rude.
I sit in an open plan office with 60 people, at the coffee corner everyone “hopes” that someone else will clean up the coffee machine once a week (we don’t have a “system” of who cleans it (yet)). We put candy and chocolate into the coffee corner after we return from business trips or holidays (that’s tradition in Japan). They are gone in an instant, the ravenous crowd grabs up the goodies in fear of not getting their share. Everyone hopes that the next person will empty the shredder and stuffs the last bits of paper into the full bucket until it nearly explodes. If you can hide in a large group where nobody will find out that you behaved “badly”, people do behave badly.
Unfortunately I don’t know a cure for this and the constant appeal at individual responsibility and effort is tiring. I wish we could do without “military” discipline and punishments, but unfortunately humankind doesn’t seem that evolved just yet…

That Thing About Trust

I’ve been on a business trip last week to the headquarters in Germany and attended a three day workshop of the business unit I now work for. The German boss of the unit called for “volunteers” half a year ago to work on “soft” topics like leadership, collaboration, strategy deployment and communication. It’s an interesting group from all over the world. We have members from the US, Mexico, Germany, Hungary, India, China and I’m the representative of Japan. We also have a lady from Cuba in the German team and another Chinese colleague in the German team as well, so it’s not even weird that the representative from Japan office is not Japanese.
We struggled through our workshop and came to a point where we realized that all this talk about better communication and collaboration etc. does not really mean anything, because there is an underlying issue beneath the surface and that’s lack of trust. We don’t trust the management and the management doesn’t trust us and the working level doesn’t trust each other either. So we better start with building trust, but how… we were supposed to present our results at something that we call a “town hall” meeting, meaning the management “gives info” to a few hundred people.

The first hour of the town hall meeting was boring top-down stuff about figures and business situations. The big boss who supports us said, you better stay for the presentation of the “soft stuff” group. Despite that several people left after the facts and figures were done. Then we presented out progress, more people left, then we dared it and “froze”, asking “do you think this will change anything”. People looked confused. We had a deliberate painful moment of silence and finally one of our guys said, “Is this it? Is that all? What about trust?”

We were all very dramatic about it. One of our colleagues then told a story about trust, trying to get people thinking. More people left with shaking heads. We had placed cards with questions under the chairs of people asking stuff like, “Do you trust your colleagues?” “How can we collaborate globally if we don’t even collaborate locally?” and things like that. We asked the remaining folk to discuss these questions. A few did, a few looked bluntly at the cards and talked about I don’t know what.
I hope we managed to reach a few people in the audience. No matter what, at least the twenty of us from the team had a nice “dramatic” and also “human” moment. I don’t think we’ll change too much, but at least that little team has a nice bond now. It really didn’t matter anymore where we come from and at least the few of us are beyond borders, nationalities and prejudices. It’s cool that something like that can happen in a big company and it’s cool that a few rare guys are around who allow something like that to happen (the big boss in Germany). So, all in all it was a tough but also a good week.

Writing Update

I’ve not announced a writing update in an age! So here is one. 🙂 I’m in the last stages of review for my fourth Dome of Souls novel before I will hand it over to a proofreader. Meaning the beast will come out before the end of the year, I hope. My alter ego (I’m also writing books under a pseudonym) is in the same stage with the (maybe) last installation of a trilogy. Theoretically there would be room for another part of the story, but for the moment it’s done. But back to Regina. So the fourth Dome of Souls novel: Remember when the sacked Keepers of Jeronimo left for the freshly found New Earth without telling the revolutionists back home where it is?
We are making a jump into the future again and a thousand years after the fall of Jeronimo, the Earthlings are finding their lost brothers on New Earth. However, what they find is not exactly what they imagined they would. Evil grin.

I must say I struggled a bit through the writing of this beast, since it represented the challenge of two cultures clashing and how to portray those, which is an aspect absent from the three earlier Dome of Souls novels where everything happened within one culture which was in the process of changing itself from within. The culture clash this time was of course interesting and a new aspect, but I did fight with how to, in my opinion, “correctly” portray such a culture clash. It is however a nice preparation for the fifth book, which will (finally) take us to Bahrein. I’m greatly looking forward to writing that beast and since it’s quite detailed in my mind (at least to a much larger extent than number four was when I started), I think the writing process will be quite fast and smooth for the Bahreinian one, though you never know. I guess I can start working on that beast in autumn.

Other than that there are two stand-alone novels slumbering. One has been shopped around agents already without a result, the other is ready to be shopped around with agents, but I’m not finding the patience and energy to write the agent advertising package for that one.
Both stand-alones have the disadvantage of being rather short, just 65,000 words, and most publishers want stuff that’s longer than 70,000 words. Ridiculous that a story can be judged by something like this, but…
I’ll try to send one off to a few publishers, the other to a few agents and after a while give up and bring them out myself again. Though I’m undecided yet whether they’ll be under my name or the pseudonym.
So, I’m busy as usual and my pseudonym has gotten a few fans on whatpadd, just five people or so, but nevertheless it feels good to get encouragement from people who don’t know me personally 😉
And thus the never-ending writing journey continues!

That Thing About Collaboration

In a company there are buzzwords going around once in a while, one year it’s “we need to take care of our efficiency” and everybody is talking that topic to death, next year it’s better quality, the year after its strategy and so forth. This year it’s collaboration in the area I work at. We have “collaboration days” events in the engineering area, a month later in sales, since March some initiative on a division-wide global level, trying to get 7000 people to collaborate over all continents… good luck with that!
When I look at the tiny section of 90 people where I’m working at at the moment in Japan – not even we manage to collaborate.
I don’t want to blame my male colleagues but collaboration does not seem to be their thing really, because, let’s face it, there is a constant game going on in the background of who gets promoted and gets a “career” and who doesn’t. Alliances are formed and shift, people are sidelined. For a while it’s the German expats against the Japanese local staff, then a mixed gang against another mixed gang and so forth.

It would be fun to watch if I wasn’t half a part of the silly game. I’m an outsider in the game simply because I’m a woman, and man, am I happy about that, pun intended. When I see my male colleagues at their pissing contests, I’m glad I’m not really a part of the game anyway.
I don’t think women work like that. Don’t get me wrong, the ladies can be super mean to each other but we are mean in a different way, lol.
Last week there so much of “my dick is longer than yours” going on at the office, it was fascinating. It’s exhausting and does not help the matters at hand. A bunch of alpha animals fighting for the best spot is surely not the best model of collaboration. Concepts like collaboration globally and “we are all nice to each other and respect each other” are nice, but in my humble opinion an illusion, since in the end we are all still animals and act much less rational than we think we do, which shows itself in those unnerving alpha male pissing contests… that was a little corporate working life report for a change. Cheers!

Suomi Feast 2018

It’s been a while since I went to the Suomi Feast. In the past it was called Loud and Metal Attack. I don’t know when the name changed.
One way or the other, it’s a mini heavy metal festival with Finnish bands (also sponsored by the Finnish embassy in Japan ;-)) and this year we had six of them with the headliner being Turisas.
The opening act in the cozy 800 people venue Shinjuku Blaze right in the middle of the nightly amusement center Kabukicho, was Noumena, a death metal act with a clear female vocal and a rough male vocal.

Next up was Mors Subita, the hardest and most death metal act of the evening. They had a great sound but the growling vocal was a bit too high for my taste 😉

Frosttide was more akin to folk metal. I must admit that I don’t remember much about them, sorry! 😉
S-Tool was easier to remember, since they are old school heavy metal and reminded very much of the 80ties. Some of their members seem to have migrated from Poisonblack to S-Tool. It was cool to see these 50+ guys rocking hard (at least they looked like 50+ ;-))

Then something interesting, Beast in Black, a lovely, intentionally over-dramatic power metal act. They even had a ballad and made us get out our iPhones for lights. They were great fun to watch, but again I had a bit of trouble with the too high vocals, I definitely prefer baritone or bass!

Then it was Turisas’ turn. I think I saw them for the first time in 2013 or something like that and it was nice to see them again. Even though I have not kept up with them, I knew most of the songs they played, which surprised me, nothing much new in 5 years? Or did they play the old stuff on purpose for the Japan fans? I especially like the electronic violin of Turisas, that’s an instrument you see quite rarely with a heavy metal band.

Even though there was not a “favorite” band playing at this year’s Suomi Feast, I had a great time and it was very relaxing to hear some live metal. Just was the doctor ordered 😉