Wacken 2019 Report

My fifth Wacken trip happened without a single of my favorite bands being present, which on the one hand was a bit sad, but which on the other hand, meant a very stress free and relaxed Wacken for me 😉
The weather was actually excellent, a bit hot, but not as hot as the previous year and not as dry and as dusty either. Nevertheless there was of course a weather-happening. On the Wacken Friday they suddenly stopped the gigs of Eluveitie on the Faster stage and Gloryhammer on the Louder stage because of a thunderstorm. With security people and do-not-enter bands, they drove the entire 75.000 people out of the holy ground, Wackinger village included, and into the tent town behind the venue. They asked people to return to their cars. Since daily parking was a mile away, I decided to stay at a breakfast/coffee place while my two companions returned to our car.

It then rained about for an hour and there was some distant thunder and lightning, but the show could go on after an interruption of about two hours in total. Trouble was that a few bands didn’t fit into the schedule anymore and were sent home! One of the bands, Tribulation, was one I had wanted to see. I was disappointed of course, but had this been one of my favorite bands, I would have been devastated and gone wild. You fly all the way to Wacken and then they cancel your favorite band because of a tiny storm?!??? I surely hope that this won’t happen again next year again. I can sort of understand that the organizers are careful after apparently several accidents with fatalities happened during other open air gigs that were hit by thunder storms. But it did feel a bit like overkill to send 75.000 people away from the venue.


Other than that we had an excellent time at Wacken. The atmosphere at the festival is awesome with everyone being happy to be there. I of course saw quite a couple of bands, but I shall only focus on the highlights. Warking looked fun and I shall download some of their stuff. Jinjer impressed me very much. That lady has a roar that knocks your socks off. I will definitely check out more about them. There were of course the Powerwolf and Sabaton gigs, though that business with the two stages for Sabaton worked only to a very limited degree with the Harder stage being empty the first hour of the set…
The small highlight was Demons & Wizards for me. It was the first time to see Hansi from Blind Guardian on stage in Wacken and they even played some Iced Earth and Blind Guardian songs too. A very nice gig and a great show.

My personal big highlight though was Septicflesh.
I had seen them once before at 70.000 tons of metal and had them in good memory, and in the meantime my taste has turned ever more towards rough vocals and melodic death metal and my ears were kind of prepared more for Septicflesh. I also managed to get into the first row (for the first time inside the Headbangers Ball tent) which always has a big appeal and the gig was exceptionally good. I shall most certainly listen in to more of Septicflesh’s albums. The gig was awesome.


My fifth Wacken was great and I immediately bought the Wacken ticket for 2020, since at least one of my favorite bands will be there, Amon Amarth! Let’s see if other favorite bands will join them! It will be sad again of course to go to Wacken 2020 without my British buddies, but they can only join me every second year. Guys, see you again in Wacken 2021! But before that Wacken 2020 for me with Amon Amarth! Muahahahahahaha!

Floor Master of the Clipboard


Before I bought an apartment in Japan, I did not know of all the very important tasks that would descend upon me as one of the apartment owners in our building. After I had to serve as a house-committee-member right in my first year of residence due to regular rotation of the task among the 62 parties in the building, I had thought I’d be spared any bureaucratic nightmares for a few years, but far from it 😉 Since 1st of April, I am the master of the clipboard for my floor for a year until end of March 2020. What does a clipboard master have to do? The lady, who is the clipboard master of the whole building, is putting information from our ward office and other xyz community announcements into my post box when she gets something new. Next, I have to put it into a (provided) clipboard together with a piece of paper, where all parties on my floor have to put their stamps on as proof that they have “read/acknowledged” the contents. (In Japan, people use stamps/seals of their names instead of signatures). So what happens is that you put the clipboard in front of the door of the next person and the last one is supposed to return the clipboard to me. I have to keep it and repeat the procedure when the next information comes. So far so good. But, when I got the latest stack of paper there was something else in my post box too. The request to go around and collect 100 yen per apartment for the Red Cross. Hya! I experienced the thing the other way round of course, a neighbor coming and asking me for the donation. It happens about three or four times a year, for the Red Cross, and two or three other welfare oriented NPOs. Nobody told me it would also be my job as the clipboard master to go around and collect that money.


For a moment I was less than enthused, thinking I have no time for this, but then I persuaded myself that it was actually interesting. I know some of my neighbors, but by far not all and it would be kind of interesting to see who lives where and how they react to a foreigner collecting that stuff. So I ventured out on a Sunday evening before dinnertime and knocked on every of the ten doors assigned to me. Eight answered and handed over that 100 yen, all being very polite about it and saying the standard greeting for hard work done. Since I presumed the lady who is the clipboard master of the whole building at the moment was collecting the money, I went by her place last and she was quite enthusiastic that I had done my job. I asked her what about the two parties that did not answer and she shrugged and said forget it. She then sent me though to another lady who is the collector of the money. There the same show of politeness and bowing all around.
The thing is – had I gone complaining to the clipboard master of the house, she probably would have insisted that I collect from everyone, but since I was pro-active, shut up and did my job, I am released of the duty to try to catch the last two parties. Another observation is, such tasks are solely performed by women. In the two and a half years that I live at the place, not a single man has come around to collect the Red Cross or other donations. Who answered the door were solely the housewives or adult daughters. Still so much Japanese tradition: house /community = women’s job. Well then, I shall go collecting that 100 yen another two or three times and send the clipboard around every month until my term of duty ends.

The Bus Is Late!

I don’t even remember the occasion anymore, but recently I was at some other office of ours and then went home to do home office for the rest of the day at around noon. I didn’t have the bicycle with me either due to rain in the morning, but when I arrived at the bus stop the sun had come out and it was relatively hot. Who rides the buses of Yokohama around noon? Mostly elderly people and mothers with pre-school children. A bunch of us waited at the bus stop and waited and waited and no bus was in sight. Some of the elderly people started grumbling and mumbling, unhappy about the bus’s delay.
It finally showed up, about fifteen precious minutes late. One old gentleman was bawling at the bus driver “you are late!”.
A super young guy sat in the bus driver seat, maybe 22 or something like that and an elderly bus driver approaching 60 stood next to him. The situation was thus clear, that this was the first or one of the first rides of the young guy and he had a teacher with him. The young guy looked very tense and stressed.
When the bus sat in motion the teacher bus driver turned around, took his hat off and bowed deeply to the bus customers apologizing for the delay (without giving a reason) and stating that we were 16 minutes late.
There was more disgruntled mumbling from some of the elderly passengers.
The teacher bus driver then turned around and continued his explaining to the young apprentice. At the next bus stop the show repeated itself in the exact same fashion, ranting elderly people boarded the bus and the apology followed with hat removal, bowing and the announcement that we were now 17 minutes late.
The whole scene highly bemused me, though I think I was the only one having fun. The young driver and his teacher stood there in shame and the elderly folk in thundering anger. It sometimes ain’t no fun to work in the service industry in Japan! Why the heck are those elderly folk so angry about the bus delay? You’ve got all the time in the world! I don’t think you have any telecons to do when you get home 😉 But that’s Japan for you, the promise of service was broken and the poor drivers experienced a wave of disapproval. I hope the young kid didn’t quit, but then again it’s not common or easy to quit your job in Japan 😉

Out Now – Red Angel 42

It is done! About one and a half years after Jeronimo, the Red Angel 42 is out there in the ether. 🙂

You can order it in Kindle format or as a paperback from Amazon in the US, EU or Japan.

Earth’s controlled environment is failing, and humanity’s last hope lies with New Earth, the planet the Keepers of Jeronimo and their followers fled to a thousand years ago. One ship of the 81 that were sent, the Red Angel 42, finds New Earth and sends the happy message home once reaching orbit. Humanity’s survival is ensured, or so they think. Captain Sumari’s crew will have two years to prepare what they can for the arrival of colonists. Once planetside, Captain Sumari and his crew make contact with the descendants of the Jeronimo loyals only to discover they have no machines, no metal, and no memory of their ancestors… or Earth.
The only one not surprised to see them is a young woman named Nimo. She sees millions of people in the Dome of Souls – an entity bestowing revelations both personal and powerful to a chosen few – and so is quite open to the strangers’ arrival. Nimo quickly finds herself torn between her people and the Earthlings, and becomes entangled in the fight for survival Sumari and his crew face against the hazards of the new planet and Nimo’s superstitious people.

Red Angel 42 – Proof Ordered

The “proof” is ordered 🙂
The proof of the paperback version of the Red Angel 42 is on the way to my address and when everything looks good I shall press the “publish” button and the book will be available in a week or ten days or so 🙂
It’s been quite a journey as always. I wrote the first draft of the Red Angel 42 two years ago. The Dome of Souls novel series is running now since 2011 when I published its first volume Dome Child. The whole idea is around since a whopping 22 years now. As mentioned in earlier blog entries, the Dome of Souls story started as TV series scripts with Jeronimo – which I published in 2017, 20 years after its initial version. Looking at my old records, the Red Angel 42 is some 13 years old now. I wrote its TV series version in 2006. OMG! Time flies 😉
Of course much has changed since 2006, but the main characters Sumari, Nimo, Lavalle and the brothers Jurley and Jero already existed back then. What they do on the planet and how they interact with the locals has changed a lot though from the TV script to the novel version.
I’m very pleased to see the Red Angel’s crew and the inhabitants of Nirvana so changed and improved.
The Red Angel 42 is the one Dome of Souls novel that does not have a Dome Revelation by the way! And yet, the Dome plays (of course) an essential part in the characters’ lives.
If you look back at the Dome Child and the first Dome Revelation of good old Jove Hendricks – yes, “Nirvana” is the red planet he sees.
Then he sees another planet, a dark and sinister one, that has a ring around it. That’s Bahrein! Actually I have already written the first draft of the 5th Dome of Souls novel, which will take us to Bahrein, as hinted at in the epilogue of the Red Angel 42. Writing the Bahrein novel has been a very pleasant experience, because it was/is the one Dome of Souls novel which was/is most vividly in my head with lots of details ready. I’ll of course brood a while over rewrites and edits, but I’m rather certain that I can publish it in 2020.
But for now it’s the time of the Red Angel 42 and I’m very thrilled to be able to push the “publish” button soon 🙂

Out Soon – Red Angel 42

My fourth “Dome of Souls” novel – “Red Angel 42” will see the light of day soon.
Here’s its “blurb” 🙂

Earth’s controlled environment is failing, and humanity’s last hope lies with New Earth, the planet the Keepers of Jeronimo and their followers fled to a thousand years ago. One ship of the 80 that were sent, the Red Angel 42, finds New Earth and sends the happy message home once reaching orbit. Humanity’s survival is ensured, or so they think. Captain Sumari’s crew will have two years to prepare what they can for the arrival of colonists.
Once planetside, Captain Sumari and his crew make contact with the descendants of the Jeronimo loyals only to discover they have no machines, no metal, and no memory of their ancestors… or Earth.
The only one not surprised to see them is a young woman named Nimo. She sees millions of people in the Dome of Souls – an entity bestowing revelations both personal and powerful to a chosen few – and so is quite open to the strangers’ arrival. Nimo quickly finds herself torn between her people and the Earthlings, and becomes entangled in the fight for survival Sumari and his crew face against the hazards of the new planet and Nimo’s superstitious people.

As usual, the cover was painted by the great Naoyuki Katoh. 🙂

The previous Dome of Souls series novels are:
Dome Child
The Anatomy of Anarchy
Jeronimo

Tokyo Olympics Ticket Lottery

In May 2019, one year and two months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 there was the first chance to get tickets. A ticket lottery was held for residents of Japan. If you have an address here, you could enter the lottery.
I thought, why not, since it’s a once in a lifetime thing. You could apply for anything that there is and my selection criteria were as follows: Not on a working day – I’m not such a big fan that I would sacrifice one of my precious paid leave days for this ;-). Only during the first weekend end of July 2020, since I might be flying to Europe again as almost every summer to go to Wacken Open Air for example 😉 Heavy Metal is of course much more important to me than whatever kind of sports! 😉 The last criterion was – indoors please!!! It will be end of July – I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been to Tokyo yet in July and August has an idea about just how hot and humid it is here. I already feel very very sorry for the athletes and also the fans because of the heat they will have to deal with for outdoor sports.
So, under these conditions I checked what would be on during the first weekend: Swimming, gymnastics, table tennis, judo, volleyball, fencing, weightlifting. After discussing with a Japanese friend of mine who wanted to do the same thing as myself, we decided to skip on volleyball and fencing, due to the venues being pretty far away (Chiba etc. – it’s called the Tokyo Olympics, but not all venues are in Tokyo ;-)) So we both applied for the stuff and my friend applied for much more, independent of that first weekend and her husband did as well. Then we all waited for a month and on 20th of June was the announcements of who won in the ticket lottery.
A whopping over 7 million (!) something Japan residents from all over the country entered the ticket lottery as stated in the national news. I don’t know how large the ticket contingent for the Japan residents for this lottery was, I suppose not that large, since one big part of the Olympics is to get people from all over the world to visit the country. Thus I thought the chances to win anything in the ticket lottery were close to zero considering 7 million applicants.
On the 20th, excitement was quivering in the office, some people got mails from the system saying that they didn’t win anything. One guy got a mail that he won tickets for baseball and was pretty happy. Many people who entered the lottery, me included, didn’t get mails and were jittery as to what was going on. Arrived at home I tried to get into the website and there was a queue of over a 100,000 people wanting to do the same thing… I got in astonishingly quickly though and looked at “my tickets”. Everything was nope, nope, nope, then! The last entry – weightlifting! Ticket win! hahahahaha. Yeah! My friend and I will be going to the Olympics! 😉 I tried to pay the tickets the same evening, but 70,000 people were before me in the queue trying to pay for theirs. So I stopped and left the queue, but managed to buy the tickets the next day. My friend and her husband won nothing at all by the way. Just because there is such a hype, I am now hyped too. You could choose between official print ticket, mobile ticket and print at home. I chose the official print version, just for the sake of it 😉 Those will apparently only be delivered in May 2020.
My friend and I shall thoroughly support the weightlifters and cheer them on. One sweet spot of the weightlifting ticket is that there will be medals given out. Of course many events are “pre-rounds” without medals. But for the weightlifters there will be a winner and a medal ceremony and that’s kinda cool as well.
I don’t know yet whether I will try to get more tickets during the official ticket sales. I think they will be insane. I tried to get rugby world cup tickets in the 3rd ticket sales and it was madness with hour long queues and the tickets gone in minutes. I will take a look at the official ticket sales for the Olympics, but probably give up soon, since at least I’ve got one ticket and will see one event live on July 26th 2020. Cheers!

What You Can Do for Your Company

There is a famous quote from JFK: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. Recently I have been confronted with this idea in a more mundane fashion: ask not what your company can do for you – ask what you can do for your company.
We always have expats in the Japanese branch of the company I work for. The original idea of these expats is that they bring the expert knowledge of the headquarters into the regions and go home again after about three years. Such expat contracts are very sweet = the company pays a lot of money to these expats. They also bring other privileges with them, most notably their 30 days of paid annual leave in contrast to the 20 days of paid annual leave we get here as locally hired staff.
It happens that at the moment we have two extremes among our expats in my department, one of them is 100% doing everything for the company and nothing for himself, and one of them is doing 100% for herself and nothing for the company.
As usual, extremes are unhealthy. The 100%-for-the-company guy works like mad, he has a hundred overtime hours per month, doesn’t take all his vacation days and he is bursting with a sense of duty, a sense for helping others, a sense for “I have to save the company”. I’m always telling him to slow down and to not work so much and enjoy life a bit more, that there is more to life than work. He doesn’t really listen because it’s in his nature to want to save the world 😉
But there is also the other extreme, a woman who is 100% about herself and 0% about the company. She always looks for her advantage, her rights, her “career”, her vacation days, her workload, it’s always about her her her. Sorry to say so, but she comes across as an arrogant, egoistic bitch. It doubly vexes me, because she is a woman in lower management and does not shed a good light on women in management in general. She kind of undermines everything I fought for in my company here in Japan during the past ten years or so, since I decided to aim for a moderate career. This is the kind of expat that we really don’t need in Japan. I encountered one more person like her, another egoistic bastard some ten year ago whose arrogant guts I despised and now he got competition.
In Japan the general tendency is to do more for your company than yourself. I personally think my balance is 60:40. 60% for the company, 40% for myself. I take all my 20 paid annual leave days and I have fought a nearly 20 yearlong battle against overtime. I have always managed to stay under 10 hours of overtime a month and get a moderate career despite that. I’d say I’m taking care of my interests, but I am also well aware that it is my company that provides me with a relatively luxurious lifestyle.
The Japanese colleagues around me are mostly 70:30 I would say = 70% for the company, 30% for themselves, sense of duty and also group pressure are generally very high. There are also plenty with 80:20 or 90:10 and some with 100% for the company like that one expat colleague. The lower end: more for myself and less for the company is very rare in Japan. That’s also why that expat woman sticks out so negatively. While I have encountered one or the other 50:50 Japanese colleague, I have never encountered a Japanese colleague who is all about him or herself and zero about the company.
With the worldwide economy declining now, I think it becomes even more important to ask yourself what you can do for the company, because without it there is no bread on the table and no Norwegian Fjord cruises (I’ll do one in August). And if people like me cannot go on Norwegian Fjord cruises anymore, those people who work in that industry will get no bread on their tables and so forth, it’s all connected and egoists who think only about themselves are not what we need. 

Owl Cafe

My birthday was coming up on a Wednesday and I had no holidays to spare. Nevertheless there was the desire to do something special of course and I wrecked my brain for a while what to do in the evening, until I had the idea to go to an owl cafe. It’s been quite the fashion in Tokyo to have animal cafes here and there. It started with cat cafes and quickly spread to other animals, notably owls and hedgehogs (the latter are not native to Japan and therefore “exotic”). Actually the owl cafe boom is already past its prime and several places a friend and I checked still had internet pages but were out of business. Eventually my friend and I found a cafe relatively close to the office and made an appointment. The cafe closes usually at 19:00 but we got a special service and they opened for us from 19:00 to 20:00.
Arrived there an interesting smell wafted through the door and a staggering eighteen owls were staring at us with their huge piercing eyes. I had expected maybe six or seven birds and was surprised at the number of birds of all sizes and sub species. The room was cleverly made bigger by a huge mirror and quite spacious. At a counter the presumably owner of the shop collected the entrance fee, gave us drink packs, then explained about the owls with the help of a tiny cute guy not much bigger than a hand. If you go with your hand in front of their faces or bellies they pick at you but if you approach them from above they are okay with you touching their heads. Depending on the size of the bird having them pick at you is not a good idea. 😉
Then the exploring started with the biggest of the owls right in the middle of the room. A huge bird native to Siberia with a head almost as big as that of a human. It was also okay to touch her.


The bigger owls are the older they can get. The tiny guy will get maybe ten to thirteen years old, the huge lady might get even forty years old. It’s quite impossible to tell how old an owl is when you don’t know when she was born. And it’s also impossible to tell by her looks if the owl is a boy or girl. The owls in the shop were all between three and ten years old and have never been in the wild. They get one round of raw rodent meat per day. The portion size of course varies per size of the bird.


These owl cafe birds just hang out on their perches all day and stare around.
I’m not sure if that’s the best life ever but the cafe owner lady sure loves her birds giving them smooches before she put the birds onto our shoulders and arms.
You are not allowed to move and must hold on to the band that’s tethered to their feet in case they do decide to flutter around.
Depending on their sub species their feathers are super soft. I was not close enough to an owl before and did not know they have huge eyelids to cover their big eyes with. Some owls closed those eyelids when I stroked their heads which looked very cute. The birds make all sorts of grunting noises which was quite interesting as well. Only one made “uhu” noises while climbing around his space. Three of the eighteen you were not allowed to touch since they scare too easily but the other ones were all okay with human contact. While sitting on shoulders and arms they held quite still, but that great revolvable head moves around all the time.


It was a very cool experience to be so close up and personal with these beautiful birds and a great idea for an after work birthday experience 🙂
Thanks to fuwafuwa Café!

Kume Island Report – Part 4

On the next day on Kume island, I headed to the west coast, which promised another great beach. The promise was correct and the Aara beach turned out to be equally lonely as the east side beach of the island. It looked especially lovely from a higher vantage point when you can see the sea converging between the coral reef banks.

I drove through the main town in search for some decent souvenir and food shops, but was disappointed. While there were two, three souvenir shops, the whole “Main Street” area was run down and had definitely seen better days. I rode on towards the airport past the baseball ground where the Rakuten team usually holds its winter camp and to the only real “resort” hotel of the island. It’s at an interesting boulder cluttered beach, but also right next to the airport. Not that there are many planes, but nevertheless the fortification concrete slabs of the runway are disturbing the boulder beach.


My last full day on Kume island brought bad weather unfortunately and it rained quite heavily for most of the day. I went only for a short bicycle ride to another look out, then walked on the beach for a while in the rain.

The next morning, the Kume trip was already done. I have explored most of the island though apart from a forest stretch to the south and the north-western corner. The four hour boat ride back to Naha was nice, even though the boat swayed quite a bit despite better weather than on the way to the island.

In Naha I did some shopping and then headed to a shopping mall in order to catch Avengers Endgame. I must admit that the city girl in me highly enjoyed the shopping mall and some modern touch. While Kume has beautiful nature, the man made stuff on the island is old and run down and a bit depressing. It’s a shame actually, since the island itself is so beautiful. But then again, there are many beautiful islands in Okinawa 😉

Kume Island Report – Part 3

There was a fat thunderstorm during the night and tons of rain, but luckily it cleared up in the morning and ever more so during the day and I made best use of the fine weather with the longest bicycle tour that I had planned out. The eventual aim of the day was the northern shore of the island with a big rock formation. But the first stop was the magnificent Hiyajo Banta cliff with great views over the northern east side of the island.

From there I headed into the clouds to the Uegusuku castle ruins, which lie on the top of one of the highest hills of the island. While it was a shame that the view wasn’t so good, it was also kinda cool and mystic to be standing in the clouds.

Then I rode down to sea level again for the Mifugaa rock, which is indeed quite am impressive formation, also the grim rocks next to it, which I called the castle of the Witch King of Angmar were equally Impressive.

The long rides up the hill to the Hiyajo Banta cliff were quite hard, but luckily my bicycle had power assist. The Mifugaa rock was the furthest point away from home and I was pretty tired and hot and had a headache and feared for a while to have a sunstroke by the end of the trip. Without hat I surely would have gotten a sun stroke. As soon as the sun is out it’s quite brutal in Okinawa. After all, the island is on the same latitude as the Sahara desert… But after some rest and cooling down everything turned out to be fine. 🙂

Kume Island Report – Part 2

For the first full day on Kume island they predicted rain starting from noon. Nevertheless I rented a power assist bicycle from the rental shop when it opened at 10:00. Goal was the southern tip of the island. It started raining twenty minutes into having rented the bicycle and I thought, oh man, this is not gonna be nice. But luckily that rain lasted only for half an hour and there was no rain again until 18:00. Yeah! Clouds hung fat and dark the whole time, but as long as it wasn’t raining, I was fine with that. Very beautiful rock formations and nature at the southern tip of the island awaited and also a bunch of wild flowers.

I rode back past my hotel to the north until a shrine and scouted out the route for the next day.

Then I went back to the tatami rocks and the sun even came out for a few moments. Next to the tatami rocks is a small sea turtle aquarium which I visited. So, all in all it was a much more successful day than expected thanks to the rain being delayed and I enjoyed the bicycle tour and the lookouts.

Kume Island Report – Part 1

My search for the perfect Japanese island continued already five months after the last trip :-). Over New Year I was in Zamami, this time, over Golden Week, I decided to go to Kume island. Kume island is actually the fifth biggest Okinawa island, after Okinawa Hontou (main island), Iriomote, Ishigaki, and Miyako. (I’ve been on all of them). You can take a short flight from Naha or go four hours by ship. Since I love boats, I of course took the ship version (which is also much cheaper than flying). Because of the sailing times, and having learned from the Zamami trip, I booked two nights in Naha before and after the journey to Kume island. After a short afternoon in Naha wandering around the International Street, I had to get up at 6:30 to catch the boat to Kume island at 8:30. I was on board at around 8:00 and due to Golden Week the ship was full, which did not concern me too much though, since I stayed on deck the entire time anyway. The sea was a bit rough and the weather not so nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the four hours on the boat, getting soaked from spray a few times, lol.

Arrived on Kume island I took a taxi (yes, they even have taxis) and a Stone Age old guy in a Stone Age old taxi brought me across the island to my hotel close to the so called Eef beach, which is apparently one of the one hundred best beaches of Japan. The hotel was very simple, but had everything and was twenty meters from the beach and right next to it was a Family Mart convenience store. Nothing else needed to survive!

I wandered around the beach, before they let me check in and then found a bicycle rental too, another twenty meters from the hotel. Perfect! For the afternoon I rented a normal bicycle and squeaked with it to the “tatami” rocks, a volcanic rock formation not unlike the hexagons of the Giants Causeway in Ireland. I kinda want to see this once in bright sunshine with blue skies, but… I walked up the entire beach beyond the tatami rocks and had the beach to myself.


The houses of Kume island are mostly all a bit old and there are no high rise hotels, which of course also has its charm. But my hotel was at the main road on the east side of the island and due to the Eef beach also a major “tourist” spot, there were restaurants and bars around. Some youngsters sang karaoke somewhere until three in the morning, unlucky me that I like to sleep with open window and no air conditioning on. There are also apartment houses nearby and hm… not a good spot to have an apartment with loud tourist night life every day.

A Short Visit to Yantai and Shanghai

Yantai:
Be honest, have you ever heard of Yantai? I had not before they told me to go there on a business trip. Yantai is one of those many million people cities in China that you never heard of.
Googling Yantai revealed that it is a coastal town, even a resort town with a large beach and that it has a whopping seven million inhabitants. It’s about the same latitude as Sendai, at the Bohai strait and about 500 km East of Beijing and 700 km north of Shanghai.
There is no direct flight from Tokyo to Yantai, but interestingly there is a direct flight from Osaka to Yantai. So I flew from Haneda to Kansai international airport and then checked in for Yantai. The plane was full with Chinese shopping travelers who stuffed their trophies into the overhead bins to the point of bursting 😉 The plane was not fully booked, but well booked, it also only made a break at Yantai and went on to a place called Taiyuan. Never heard of that before either and it’s a four million people city you’ve never heard of.
The weather in Yantai was pretty bad in the day of our arrival, heavy rains and pretty cold with under ten degrees Celsius.

Yantai is an an old city and apparently has an old town, but unfortunately there was no time to go visit there due to the business nature of the trip. The place where we stayed and the place of our factory was all new and subject to city planning. There is a lot of conformity, streets at right angles, high rises for the millions of people, that look very uniform. The beach was nice, especially in the evening of the second day in Yantai when the weather cleared up and we enjoyed blue skies. It’s a north facing beach and I haven’t heard about many resorts yet with north-facing beaches. Funnily the large pier that reached into the ocean served no obvious function. They should make an amusement park out of it or something.

There was one interesting scene at the beach, some young Chinese were taking what looked like fashion photos, while old Chinese people were getting clams out of the sea trying to make a living off that. Old vs. new China, probably either way is hard to make ends meet.

Shanghai:
Shanghai has two airports, Hongqia and Pudong, much like Haneda and Narita in Tokyo. Hongqia and Haneda are closer to town, Pudong and Narita are the airports at the end of the world. We took a domestic flight from Yantai to Shanghai Hongqia. The old Hongqia airport that I knew doesn’t exist anymore. It was a major construction site when I last visited, now it’s a glitzy modern airport, which is quite well organized. A company car picked us up and drove us through a copy of the planned high rises and right angle streets of Yantai into the industrial zone where our Shanghai factory is located. Greater Shanghai has become an incredible 26 million people strong…
When I was in Shanghai for the first time in 2001 there were mostly bicycles, from 2010 onwards mostly cars and electric scooters. Now it’s only cars and electric scooters. I saw not a single bicycle around. Maybe we were lucky, but there was no traffic jam and also in Yantai as well as Shanghai there are cameras over the streets every few meters and you get flashed constantly by speed checkers, those I don’t remember from 2015 when I last visited. I think they are new and a part of enforcing stricter traffic rules to get on top of the chaos.
I am living and working in and around Tokyo since the year 2000. Tokyo has officially thirteen million people and Yokohama six million. Nevertheless I felt that Tokyo is now small by comparison.
What made Shanghai so overwhelming for me this time was the endless high rise wood and its uniformity.

There was no time to go to the Bund unfortunately, our factory and the 43 floors high hotel close to it where we stayed were forty kilometers away from the Bund. You could not see the Bund due to haze. I don’t know how much of the haze was smog how much was moisture. The air didn’t feel too bad, I have had worse air days during previous Shanghai visits. The parts of Shanghai I visited this time looked quite wealthy and very orderly to me but they were all in an “urban development” area and not “grown” over time. The long ride by car to Pudong airport for the return to Japan lead through one and a half hours of high rises. So many people, so many fates, so many trying to make ends meet. It’s quite overwhelming. It was interesting for sure to be visiting China again and I suppose I haven’t been there for the last time. The very bumpy ride back to Tokyo due to lots of turbulence took only two hours and twenty minutes. I’m sure they’ll send me there again 😉

China Visa Adventures

On Friday evening of the 29th of March my boss came upon the idea that I should join him on a business trip to China starting 9th of April in order to hold my “how to work with the JOEMs” training for our Chinese colleagues in our factories of Yantai and Shanghai. (The JOEMs are the Japanese car manufacturers Toyota Honda Nissan and so on.)
Um, sure, nice, overseas business trip is always interesting, but um, Germans need a visa for China. Dunno if I can get one so quickly, let’s try. So, on that same evening I asked the travel agent that we have to contractually use and they sent me necessary documents for Chinese visa application, which I started to fill out over the weekend.
I’ve been to China several times before, first time was in 2001 as a tourist when I visited Beijing and Shanghai doing the classic stuffs of visiting the Forbidden City and so on. Ever since I have been on quite a number of business trips to China, once Beijing, all other times Shanghai, and I don’t even remember how often I’ve been to Shanghai. For my previous position I went to Shanghai regularly once or twice a year for a yearly conference and also some trainings.
The one business trip I had to Beijing sticks out, since it was 2007, one year before the Olympics there and all the tourist street neighborhoods close to Tiananmen Square that I fondly remembered from 2001 were flattened and gone.

But back to the visa. For the previous visits, I always had ample time for getting a visa and left going to the embassy to the travel agent. It’s also been four years since I last went to China and I forgot most of how the visa application works.
This time, because time was so short, I eventually decided to go myself to the embassy, but before that I needed to get an invitation letter from our Chinese counterpart. Usually they want two weeks of lead time to issue such letters, I had two days.
The travel agency sent me only a PDF sample of an invitation letter. Upon asking whether they have a word version of the thing, the answer was no. After begging the Chinese counterpart, they made their own invitation letter. I sent it to the travel agent for check and they said it’s unusable, why didn’t you use the WORD format? Which WORD format???? You guys sent me only a PDF and then said you have no WORD . Turns out they misunderstood… arghhh. They finally sent me a WORD format, which I sent to China and begged again to fill it out. I got the new invitation letter and went to the embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday the 3rd. The lady at the counter checks everything and says. Your passport number on the invitation letter is written wrongly, we cannot accept it. Ahhhhhhhhh! Two numbers were switched around and I didn’t notice, the travel agent who “checked” the document the night before didn’t notice. They told me I have to get a new invitation letter, but at least they allowed me to fax it to them instead of coming in once more. So I rushed back to the office and begged the Chinese counterpart to issue yet a new letter. After much begging I got the third version of the invitation letter, which needed to be stamped and signed by a director, and faxed it to the embassy. They accepted it and promised to have the visa ready on Monday morning, one day before I was supposed to fly.


I am of course majorly pissed with the Japanese travel agent and they shall get a fat complaint from me after the business trip is done. They made three major mistakes, not to send me an editable invitation letter, then to claim they don’t have one, then to miss the mistake on the finished letter. What the heck are we paying them for? When I was told we cannot accept the Invitation letter by the embassy, I thought I was in Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial), lol. Brought down by bureaucracy! 😉
I find it extremely fascinating why Japanese nationals don’t need a visa to China (if they stay under two weeks). Chinese nationals always need visas to Japan. Why are the Chinese not returning the “favor” and let the Japanese into their country without a visa? Why do Germans need a visa? Anyway, another page gone in my passport now 😉 and I wrote this while sitting on the plane to Yantai.