A Company has a Social Task

I am deliberately not using the phrase “social responsibility” in the title and throughout this blog entry, because the story has only partially something to do with the well known “corporate social responsibility” or CSR.
I mean something different with the “social task” and here is what.
The story happened quite a couple of years ago, when I still did some sort of marketing for some division of the company I work for, which included organizing our booths on trade fairs.
I am no engineer whatsoever, I studied Japanese studies, English literature and dramatics… however, we had two machines on that booth, one was doing task A and another was doing task B as a consequence of what happened at machine A. I told our assembly factory so and they sent me a drawing with the two machines on the booth, but alas, without a connection between them (a conveyor belt). I picked up the phone and asked the guy in the factory who made the drawing, how the heck the product was supposed to get from machine A into machine B without a conveyor belt between them.
The dude’s answer was… “Oh, you’re right! I forgot. Okay, I’ll add a conveyor belt.”
I simply couldn’t believe this amount of stupidity. At next opportunity, I showed the NG (no good) drawing to the factory manager and complained heartily about the lack of a conveyor belt and the lack of basic intelligence.
The factory manager asked me who made the drawing, I gave him a name. He showed a pained and knowing smile and said in German: Regina, eine Firma hat auch eine soziale Aufgabe. = Regina, a company has also a social task…
All my anger puffed away and I could do nothing but laugh.
Ever since, this sentence is kind of a guiding star for me and I’m trying to remind myself of it whenever I encounter complete dumbness in the company.
Unfortunately, my patience is being tested again recently. We have not only one, but two dudes in the office who are completely useless and cause nothing but anger and frustration to everyone who has to work with them. Nobody is giving them tasks anymore, because it is really better, faster and easier if you do it yourself or ask someone else, than to try to get these two dudes of corporate horror to perform any sort of meaningful work. The worst thing about that is that one of them is even a manager and everyone around him asks him/herself who the hell made this loser a manager and why.
Anyway, I’m dearly trying to appreciate the social task of a company to keep people in bread and butter as long as possible when I look at these two guys. To have companies acknowledging their social task is also a sign for a decent civilization without harsh hire and fire. But it’s at times really hard not to lose your patience with people like that and to not get bitter about these salary thieves. Well, I shall keep on trying and recite that “soziale Aufgabe” sentence in my head as a mantra… 😉

The Trouble with Sports

Sports and I, that’s like oil and water – it doesn’t mix! 😉
I’ve “hated” sports all my life. I hated school sports from the bottom of my heart and used every excuse I could find not to go. My parents “forced” me to do some sports, at first I did gymnastics, terrible. Then I did basketball for a while, next I did fencing for a few years. While fencing was kinda interesting, what a hustle with all that equipment. My dad dragged me ice skating on weekends for some time. During some summer camp I did tennis for a few weeks.
Nothing ever “hooked” me, nothing. I always cursed the time wasted with sports, during which I could have read a book, or written a story, or watched a movie. Then I left home and went to university and felt the obligation to do some sports for “health” reasons and because sports is something everyone does. I tried Kendo, Teakwondo, Aikido and horse back riding. I never lasted anywhere longer than half a year.

When I entered the work force, I simply gave up on any sports. The only thing I did ever since I have a job is riding my bicycle. Not a fancy race or mountain bike, mind, but a “mama chari” as the Japanese call it, a normal city bicycle with a basket for your luggage. Even with the bicycle, I must have a “reason” to ride. The reason is either commuting to the train station or on the weekends doing whatever grocery or drug store or other shopping. I have great difficulties doing a bicycle ride if there is “no reward” or “no purpose”, the purpose being commute or shopping.
But, alas, we’re not getting younger and I have trouble with my back for ten years already and now I have finally reached the point of “I gotta do something” for my health and somehow move those stiffening joints.
For a year or so now I am doing daily back stretching exercises for fifteen minutes in the evening before going to bed, but that’s not enough anymore and I have the feeling I need to do more.

So, new year resolution for 2019 was “go to yoga or Pilates or something”. I managed to activate a work colleague and together we checked the Internet for a yoga studio close to work and oh miracle, we actually found a place one minute from the office.
I think we were very lucky with the place. It’s a super clean and modern women only studio and they offer yoga as well as Pilates and also have a room with a workout machine circuit. The yoga trial class we went to was excellent. I immediately liked the trainer lady. So I became a member of the studio and have already done three weeks of yoga (once a week) and one Pilates session (which was not such a hit. In the session we used the so called “spine corrector” and the prop was too small for my non-Japanese height). Last week, we also got an instruction session for the workout machines. I have never been to a gym yet, haha! I’m not sure whether I will use those machines a lot, but the yoga sessions I am wildly determined to continue. I truly hope that my back problems will get a bit better thanks to this. Maybe I should have started ten years ago, but sports and I, that’s like oil and water!

Zamami Lookouts

On day three I did the lookout route and burned through two bicycle batteries on the up and down course through the island (I got a second one as a spare from the hotel staff as a service ;-)). One of the open sea side lookouts comes with a mini tower for the whale watching season. A local sits in the tower and looks out for whales and radios their position to the whale watching boats. Some humpback whales usually come to breed around Zamami. They are around from January to April. Since it was only the first of January, it didn’t look like they had arrived yet.

On the bay side lookout I met a lady from the U.K. who is a teacher in Yamagata prefecture in the north and who escaped the snow there for some days of sunshine, only that there was no sunshine. But at least it was warmer than in Yamagata, which is drowning in snow this time of year. The lady was a muslim and wore a black veil. I wonder how the people in Yamagata react to her. I’m sure it’s not exactly easy for her to live in Japan.
After the lookout tour I had been to everywhere on the island and it is very beautiful indeed.

Is it a candidate for retirement? I haven’t ruled it out yet, despite only 600 people in the island. I “interviewed” some of the hotel personnel. Two are from Yokohama originally, one lady is from Iwate. One of the Yokohama guys is on the island for six years now and his family is still in Yokohama. Interesting. The lady from Iwate left her husband there. I don’t know for how many years. They were working over New Year, which is kind of holy for the Japanese as a family get together event, but… interesting. The guy from Yokohama who is there for six years said there is a doctor on the island on weekdays and if there is something serious, they fly you over to Naha with the “doctor heli” helicopter service. If the ferries don’t go but you must get off the island, you can charter a helicopter as well, it costs usually 90,000 yen, but depending on the circumstances they let you charter it for 30,000 yen. If five people board that’s only 6000 yen per person. The ferries don’t run on average once a month due to bad weather. Of course no helicopter flies during a typhoon either, but no planes from Naha also, so what. Hm! The island is still a candidate for retirement 😉

On my last full day I went to the pirate beach once more and to town for lunch, but then escaped back to the hotel due to rain becoming more constant. Despite the far from ideal weather and the difficulties in getting to the island, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Naha and Zamami. The latter is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Off to Zamami

I admit that the ferry ride to Zamami was a bit scary, the boat was swaying nicely and bumping hard against the currents and the swell. But nothing happened and I got to Zamami all right. Hotel staff picked up not only me but another ten guests or so and brought us the two kilometers to the hotel by car.
Zamami belongs to the Kerama island group, a collection of three inhabited islands and countless smaller and bigger rocks in between. Around 600 people live on Zamami, fewer on the other islands around it. I quickly borrowed a bicycle with battery assist and started exploring the island. There is one traffic light on the island at the port and also that one is not really needed 😉 The things to do on Zamami are diving, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, whale watching and riding around with a bicycle.

There is one general store in the main settlement with food and shampoo and the like, plus t-shirts and beach sandals and that’s basically it.
I read about Pope Francis’s Christmas address, in which he said people should live simpler lives without accumulating mundane things. Come to a small island, there you can enjoy simpler life.
I bicycled around the island for four days and did just that 😉

On my first full day on the island I headed north of the last settlement where I was staying, and there is “nothing” anymore but “wilderness”. The wilderness is still very civilized with a well maintained road that leads first to another lookout over a cliff to the north. Then a long and windy road leads to the north-eastern end of the island and on the map it promised a beach. I’ve seen quite a couple of beaches in my life already, but this one is one of the best for sure. It has just the right size, a fantastic view to uninhabited islands and rocks in the distance, great sand and a very rare feature, a small fresh water booklet that comes down from the mountain behind it. Now where do you have a fresh water booklet coming onto a perfect beach?

The whole atmosphere just shouted pirate beach to me. If I was a pirate I’d made that place my lair 😉
On top of that there is the much quieter inner bay of the island just a fifty meter walk above a ledge. If enemies come looking for you, off you go over the ridge and into a second boat in the inner bay and they’ll never catch you. What a perfect place 🙂
On the way back I rode down another path to the inner bay and came out at a cottage place, which probably only operates in summer, very nice getaway as well. Then off to another pirate cove over the wider ridge behind my hotel, a north-west facing small beach. Zamami is a truly beautiful island with lonely beaches that I suppose are not full even in high season.

On I rode to town and had lunch at a cozy little eatery, then rode again to the lookout point from the day before. There is another look out point further out, but my assist battery was running low, so kept this one for the next day. Hiding from the afternoon rain at the harbor, I finally rode home to the hotel but spotted an elderly couple nearby the hotel at a pier attempting to fish and chatted with them for a while. They were staying in the same hotel as I did and share the same hobby, they also have been to plenty of small islands already and live in Tokyo ;-). Like me they like places which are remote and lonely, I guess that’s because we live in a megalopolis of 20 million people 😉

Naha Revisited

I got up at seven in the morning to be ready for the ferry, but… at eight came the announcement that also that day all ferries to Zamami were cancelled due to the bad weather and rough seas. Hmmmmm… since I liked my room and it’s price, I prolonged my stay for another night, despite the fire alarm disaster.
So, what to do? Well, when it comes to sightseeing in Naha, the castle is a must. Of course I had been there also in the 1990ties, but it was so long ago it was worth going again. When I was in Naha in 1994 there had been only buses and lots of traffic jams. There are still traffic jams, but meanwhile Naha got a tiny monorail line that starts at the airport, goes through the middle of the city and stops at the rear of the castle.
I rode the cute monorail and wandered through the castle garden to its front in a stop and go of showers. The castle is very Chinese, since the Ryukyu kingdom was, if independent, always intertwined with China as well as Japan. Ryukyu only became Okinawa around 1870.
If you are in Naha, the castle is a must and it was bigger and prettier than I remembered 😉

After the castle visit I wandered back towards the Kokusai Douri, but the march was too long and I caught a bus back to shopping paradise.
Parallel to Kokusai Douri is also a pottery street with dozens of rather up-end pottery shops where you can get beautiful stuff, but for a price. I managed to not succumb to pottery, but I did get a bit carried away and bought more hotaru jewelry. That’s Okinawa glass art with metal inlays that looks very shiny and pretty 😉 It’s more or less the only jewelry I like, apart from silver with heavy metal motives 😉 I went hunting for the best and affordable items and indeed found some at a shop with an astonishingly friendly grandma selling the stuff. I say astonishingly because I think these sales people have to put up with a lot of shit from not so super friendly foreigners every day, but she warmed up to me when I talked to her in Japanese 😉
Next I wandered on to the Fukushuen garden, a Chinese garden close to the sea and it’s very much worth the visit as well.

Finally, I went on to the main shrine of Naha by the ocean. It was already under preparation for the big queue and festival mode of the New Year shrine visit ritual, and it was interesting to see the little booths with food being installed everywhere. Finally, another march home and I guess I walked about 15 km that day and was pretty tired back in the hotel.
Luckily no more fire alarms and at eight the next morning the good news, the ferry is going!

Stuck on the Island

It’s small island time at least once per year for me. So this time I wanted to go to the island of Zamami, about 50 km west of Okinawa’s biggest city of Naha, which is on Okinawa main island.
There are three possibilities per day to get to the island, twice with a speed ferry, once with a slow ferry. The only same day possibility was to take an early flight to Naha, then move to the port and take the afternoon speed ferry to Zamami.
I arrived in clouds and rain and went by taxi to the port, but the taxi driver was already saying, probably the ferries don’t go, it’s too choppy out there.
He was right, there was a sign at the ticket booth at the port saying, none of the ships had been going that day. Ugh… I quickly checked booking dot com and found a good priced hotel close to the port and the taxi driver brought me there.
The hotel turned out to be quite new or renovated and the room was astonishingly nice for the last minute deal price.
I had been in Naha once during my student times in Fukuoka a staggering 24 years ago. The other times I’ve been to Okinawa I only passed through Naha. Of course I hardly remembered the place. But the one place to go to is the Kokusai Douri, the International Street. It’s a pretty long shopping street and off it branch several shopping arcades as well.

The one thing I remembered about Kokusai Douri was that there were dozens of what was then called “army surplus” stores. These shops sold old military uniforms and whatever other kind of military stuff. There is a large US army base in Okinawa, which the locals hate. The US gave back Okinawa to Japan only in 1972 by the way.
These army surplus stores have all but disappeared. I found only one single lonely shop selling military clothes and gas masks and stuff like that. All the military shops were replaced with harmless souvenir shops selling tinker and food specialties. Well, I surely prefer that to the military crap.
At 2:30 in the morning that night I was woken up by a nasty alarm on endless repeat: attention, a fire has broken out in the fifth floor, please evacuate the building immediately. The recording was in Japanese and English with teeth grinding alarm sounds in between that were blasting your ears off. Since I saw nothing and smelled nothing, I was not very freaked out and took the time to put on socks, pants and two jackets before leaving the building with my purse and computer. Some hotel guests had been more freaked out than me and stood there in their pajamas freezing. It was raining again and windy at around fifteen Celsius. Three fire trucks and the police came in one mighty commotion.

At 3:30 they called the alarm off. The very nervous night manager stood in the breakfast room and thanked the guests for their cooperation and that thanks to us the fire brigade could check everything so quickly and efficiently and sent everyone except for floor five back to bed. I was on floor four of the ten story building, luckily. No clue when the fifth floor was allowed to return.
In the morning the front desk showed signs around that a guest had tampered with a fire extinguisher and the case was now investigated by the police. Oops 😉 seems like a drunken dude will not enjoy the rest of his stay in Naha.

The End of an Era

I’ve been going to the Yamaha music school for around thirteen years out of my eighteen in the greater Tokyo area. Maybe it was even fourteen years. I started out with drum lessons, which I picked up again after having gone to drum lessons in Germany for a while too. But, after two or three years, my drum teacher suddenly passed away. I think he got only around 65 years old. Next up were around seven years of vocal lessons. Last but not least, around four years of piano lessons. I just quit those piano lessons last Thursday and thus ended an era of some thirteen or fourteen years of music lessons. Wow, that’s been a long time.

Why did I quit? I quit drum lessons because the teacher died of course, but I could have gone to another drum teacher. I didn’t because of lack of practice opportunity. Japanese houses (and German houses neither) aren’t exactly large or soundproof. Going to a studio for practice is costly and also time consuming.
Singing I gave up because I cannot sing what I’d like to sing – heavy metal. My voice just ain’t made for that 😉
And now piano. Even though I have a keyboard at home and have the opportunity to practice putting the thing on low volume, the amount of practice needed to play like I imagine I want to play is so large that again lack of time is the killing factor. Writing takes the priority and I am not willing to sacrifice writing time for piano practice time.
Another thing was that the music center I went to the past two years after moving to Yokohama, is a pain to get to (train ride into the opposite direction from home after work and fifteen minute walk from the station), which contributed to the lack of motivation to go.
Well, the keyboard still stands at home and if I feel like playing, I can 🙂

Of course already new plans are in the making, not concerning music but for my not-getting-any-younger body. The New Year 2019 resolution will be to go to yoga or pilates or something like that to counter the stiffness of advancing age! Gosh, how terrible that sounds! LOL. It feels kinda odd to not have any music lessons anymore in the future, but hey, I shall of course practice something I am pretty good at concerning music and that is head-banging! 😉

Paying for Energy

I just saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie and it left me with this urge saying – when’s the next concert I’m going to? 😉 It will be only in two months when the Finnish melodic death metal act Wolfheart will come to Tokyo. When was the last concert I went to? That was German power metal band Primal Fear exactly one month ago. Before that I saw my new favorite band Insomnium, Finnish melodeath as well, in Switzerland. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie made me jittery – wanna bang my head and shout to bands I like or love! 😉 Music is one of the most powerful and wonderful things humans have invented. The energy music gives people is amazing. Music and also dance of course are much more let me call it “primeval” than reading books or looking at paintings, because they make you move. Well, not all music of course, sitting at a classical concert just listening is not very active. Such “passive” music does not appeal to me at all, I want stomping and shouting and head banging ;-). Music also brings like minded people together. It’s magic.
But: to survive as a musician or any kind of artist these days is not an easy thing (well, it has never been). Apart from the “real fans” of a band who buy CDs or Vinyls for their collections, most people use whatever streaming services (myself included). It’s quite shocking how little artists get paid per stream. This article here gives some insight in case you are interested. https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/01/16/streaming-music-services-pay-2018/

It’s the same for books of course, you need to have a hell of a lot of downloads on Kindle to put bread onto the table.
I cannot understand people who want things for free. Art, whatever art it is, gives us so much and people want it for free? If artists cannot survive by what they make with their art, then who does that help? There still seems to be this illusion out there that artists make shitloads of money. Some, very few, big names do, yes, but those people are maybe 0.1 or whatever percent of those who produce art, which is one of the greatest sources of energy and joy in our lives.
I might be writing books, but music is the thing where I get most of my energy from and I’ll hella continue to support my favorite bands by paying for what they produce and I hope others will do so as well. Go out there and pay our artists! Thanks!

Writing Progress Report

I haven’t posted a book progress update in a while. So here is one. The fourth Dome of Souls novel is all but ready. It’s proofread, I have a cover, only thing I need to do is to format it and start the publishing process.
Under my pseudonym, I also have a cover for the latest beast and it is ready and currently at the proofreader. Once I get it back, I have to make the final changes and then that one will be good to go too.
So what’s keeping me from doing the final steps of the fourth Dome of Souls novel? The fifth one! 😉 I’m in the process of writing its first draft and it’s been going very smoothly and quickly and I’m already at 75,000 words. I expect the beast to have between 90,000 and 100,000 words in the end, so not much more to go. I’m pushing for the completion of the first draft to stay in the nice and steady creation flow it is in now. While Dome 3 = Jeronimo and Dome 4 = “title to be announced soon”, took a while to write, Dome 5 is like Dome 2 = The Anatomy of Anarchy, it practically wrote itself, because the story was all very clear in my head already.
It was and is a great pleasure to be writing Dome 5 due to this “the book writes” itself aspect. I’m at it for seven weeks now and I suppose the first draft will be finished after ten weeks or so. That would be my second quickest time ever for finishing the first draft of a novel, the fastest being and probably remaining “To Mix and To Stir”, the second Hagen Patterson novel, which took me a mere five weeks to write.
I’m always talking about the initial drafts here, the self-editing etc. process is so much longer than the first draft. “To Mix and To Stir” remains the fastest book also in the department of the overall process including self-editing, and editing/proofreading by someone else. To Mix and To Stir came out nine months after I started with the beast.
The pseudonym book coming out soon is the second fastest. Since I suppose it will be ready in January or February, it took/will take 13 or 14 months from writing to putting it out there. So far so good! I better get back to Dome 5, because I am itching to finish that first draft :-)
Dome 4 will probably come out in January or February too, once I get around to formatting it 😉 Cheers!

Hanazono Shrine Festival

There is a festival (matsuri) every day of the year somewhere in Japan, when local shrines or temples celebrate whatever they deem worth celebrating. Yesterday, I went with a Japanese friend to a festival at the Hanazono shrine in the middle of Shinjuku, called Tori no Ichi (literal translation of that is “bird market”). There are no birds around though, but small or big “Kumade” = “rakes”. These rakes are heavily decorated and come along in tiny version for 2000 yen (~ 15 Euro) to giant arrangements that probably sell for half a million yen (~ 4500 Euro). Since all pieces are handmade, there might be similar ones, but not one is completely like the other and the big ones are truly unique pieces.

Now why would you want to buy a huge, decorated rake worth 4500 Euro? These rakes are supposed to bring you luck for your business. You first go to the shrine, which is hidden behind thousands of lanterns and ask the resident god that your business shall thrive, then you go to the stalls and look for a rake of your desire and adequate to the size of your purse. You put the rake into your office or home and hope that it calls luck to your business, until you go again in November of the following year, throw your old one away and get a new one.

Not all of the rakes but many are designed around the animal whose Chinese zodiac turn it will be the next year. Since next year is the year of the wild boar, many had figures of those inside the rake.
The Hanazono shrine is not the only one with such a rake market of course, but it seems to be the biggest or one of the biggest in Japan. It’s quite impressive to walk through the rows of color explosions.
I bought a little rake off of a guy who looked like he was a hundred years old 😉 and shall hope that it will help me to sell a few more books next year 😉 It’s a bit of a funny wild boar, because it sits upright and calls luck (and money) with its paw like a “Maneki Neko” (a cat) whose job that usually is and on top of that it holds a dragon ball in the other paw (there are tons of interpretations about the dragon balls, they can represent power, water (good harvest) or simply the dragon’s treasure). Now if that maneki neko, dragon ball wielding wild boar won’t bring me luck then I don’t know what will 😉
Apart from the rake booths there are of course tons of stalls with food and sweets around to create a proper festival atmosphere. The Hanazono Tori no Ichi comes along with one other specialty, the old style Japanese version of a “tunnel of horror”. It was not allowed to film or take photos inside. This is definitely a dying art and I wonder how many performing troops are still out there. A narrator announces the weird people and monsters, then actors jump on stage performing a short act. They had a “crazy office lady” who was stapling herself with an office stapler. A group of wild guys was eating dry ice, a girl was drinking burning wax and spewing fire, a guy with a long needle through his cheek was dragging a cart around with it and the highlight was a “wild woman” who was eating live worms on stage, yuk yuk yuk! 😉 It was interesting to see this and it gave a bit of an insight into what happened at such festivals two hundred years ago.
I guess I have to go there now every year. Because I have to throw away the boar end of 2019 to get a rake with a rat, since 2020 will be the year of the rat 😉

A Flash Visit to Switzerland

I’ve been to Switzerland a couple of times in the late 90ties due to business trips, but I’ve never been there privately. Because of a certain concert, I found myself flying to Switzerland over a prolonged weekend. The target being the city of Luzern. I flew to Zurich and Luzern is just an hour away by train. Some trains go even directly from Luzern to Zurich airport and I arranged things so that I’d be able to go directly.
Wherever I looked, Switzerland was super clean and seemed super rich, people are well dressed, everything is well maintained and orderly. While in Japan you have one or the other “shack” in between the proper houses and while in Germany things often look old (depending on where you go) Switzerland seemed like the land of milk and honey, or rather the land of milk and chocolate 😉

I do freely admit that Swiss chocolate is my favorite in the world 😉
Luzern is a rather small city and you can easily visit its major sites within one day, which I did. The city is one of the plenty at the Vierwaldstaettersee, whose English translation is oddly simply Lake Lucerne (while the real meaning of Vierwaldstaettersee is lake at the four wooded cities). Since the lake is rather big, it influences the weather and it was cloudy to foggy the whole time I was there. The wooden bridges over one of the rivers that feed the lake are one of the main attractions and were busy with tourists, notably the noisy Chinese tourist group type that can really get on your nerves. I guess for them Switzerland is like one giant fairy tale Disney Land. Apart from the two bridges, I liked the city wall towers a lot, which allowed you to get a nice overview over the city, but the highlight is clearly the dying lion statue, which is truly moving and sad.

On my second day in Luzern, I did a bigger tour starting with a boat ride on the lake. Since it hung in clouds and fog it almost felt like going to sea.

The boat brings you to a town called Alpnachstad and from there you can take a quite dramatic funicular railway up the mountain of Pilatus. The lake lies at a height of about 400 meters above sea level. At about 1000 meters the train broke through the clouds and the steel blue sky above you and white clouds below you were quite a sight to behold.

Pilatus itself is 2100 something meters high. At the top is a big hotel and massive viewing platforms with restaurants, souvenir shops and anything you might need. From the highest spot you have an excellent view over the Swiss Alps and it all looked pretty much like out of a picture book, especially with the ground hidden in thick clouds.

Usually I’m the ocean and not the mountain type, but that was a great sight to behold, especially also because you didn’t need physical effort to get up the mountain, just money (the Pilatus roundtrip costs over 100 Swiss francs). There were plenty of hikers around though, who did the effort to walk 😉 You then go down the mountain on its other side with two different gondolas and it was kind of sad and also spooky to be leaving the sunshine and to go back to gray and cold weather beneath the clouds.

The trip to Switzerland was short but intense and maybe I’ll be going there again for another gig some time in the future 😉

Paid Sick Leave? – Not Everywhere…

I like Japan and also working in Japan is not the worst thing in the world, but one thing really sucks… there is no paid sick leave. I am sick right now, having the shingles and I even got a doctor’s certificate stating I’m off until the 7th of November. Unfortunately that certificate is worth exactly nothing.
Of course I’ve been sick before. When you have a cold or an upset stomach or something like that you take some of your paid leave days. Once I ran out of those paid leave days when I got the flu and had to take something called “multipurpose leave”, which is unpaid. You get so and so many days of this “multipurpose leave” depending on how long you work for the company.
Now is the second time I will have to take the unpaid “multipurpose leave”. I asked our HR and the doctor’s certificate is worth nothing. It does not entitle me to any form of paid sick leave, since there is none. I would need a doctor’s certificate if I’m out for more than seven business days (so far it’s six), because apparently you can be laid off? Get a warning? Dunno… if you are absent for more than seven business days without a certificate. But under seven business days this piece of paper has zero benefit or meaning.
There is a button with “absence due to illness” in our attendance system, the mean thing about that button is that if you use it, your “attendance” sinks below 100%, which means that you get less bonus payments etc. So more or less nobody is using this button. If you are on paid leave or unpaid “multipurpose leave”, your attendance rate remains at 100%, which guarantees your full bonus payments.
(In Japan you get a base salary and a “bonus” twice a year, whose amount depends on how well your company is doing. The yearly bonus payments vary between “nothing” to up to six additional “months” worth of pay, so it can be a lot and you don’t wanna miss out on that.)
So, happy Europe, where you get paid even when you are sick. This is not a matter of course in some other parts of the world.

Shimoda Trip Report

I’m flying all over Japan for island hopping but so far I’ve never been right next door. Just 140 km away from Yokohama, at the tip of the Izu peninsula, lies the town of Shimoda and it’s supposed to have an “island feel” to it, but so far I never checked it out. So, finally, over the October weekend where even my company takes off and observes a national holiday (usually we are collecting national holidays to take them in a row in January, May and August), I went by train to Shimoda. (With the Shinkansen to Atami and from there with the Izu-kyu line down the coast to Shimoda). The ride takes only 2.5 hours from Yokohama. Arrived at Shimoda, I jumped into a taxi to take me to my hotel, which was four kilometers from Shimoda itself at the district Shiramaha that was supposed to have a nice beach. The hotel came along with a privately bookable outside hot spring and so my tattooed self could even book the onsen for later. But first to the beach. The sand was a bit crazily distributed over the beach, presumably due to the typhoon that passed through Japan the week earlier. But all in all this was a lovely beach with surfers enjoying some moderate waves.

I didn’t stay too long at the onsen due to two creatures sharing it with me, two monstrous spiders hanging at the walls. Uhhh… I was sitting in the (anyway too hot for me) water and praying the monsters would not move 😉 When I checked out the next morning, I expected to have to go by taxi back to the station to lock up my luggage to be free for exploration, but the super kind landlady of the hotel offered to drive me to the station for free. Not only that, she even worked out a plan for me what to see during the day and ended up waiting for me at the station, while I locked away the luggage and then took me to the aquarium at the very tip of the town. What a nice service. The aquarium turned out to be quite interesting and a bit symbolic for the entire rest of the town. Shimoda is what I call very “Showa”. This refers to the Showa era of Japan under the Showa emperor, who passed away 1989. The whole town and the aquarium as well were blooming in the bubble economy times of Japan in the early 80ties. Ever since not much development etc. has happened. The aquarium encircles a natural bay and the captured dolphins have the “privilege” to be swimming in actual ocean rather than a basin, but apart from that the entire facilities of them aquarium are at least 40 years old if not more. To compensate for that, they let you get pretty close to the animals.

After the aquarium I walked back to town by the sea side, discovered an abandoned hotel that you could just walk into and then boarded a tourist boat for a twenty minute ride around the harbor. Last but not least I rode with a gondola to the top of the nearest mountain from where you have a magnificent view over the Izu islands and Shimoda itself. I’ve been to several of these islands already, notably Izu Oshima and Niijima.

It was a great weekend trip, but Shimoda won’t be my place of choice for retirement plans. It’s too “Showa” and does not have the “Pacific island” feel after all that I love so much ;-). I’ll get “Pacific island” feel again over new year, when I will explore the next island(s). This time the target will be Zamami, just right next to Okinawa main island. Cheers!

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!