Would Have

So, I thought there’d be no more “would have” about my summer holiday, but now there is. Originally I would have gone to Europe this summer, but that was cancelled quite a while ago. Then I booked two weeks in my beloved Okinawa… I would have flown to Naha today, but… on the 31st of July the governor of Okinawa declared a prefecture wide state of emergency, asking people to stay at home as much as possible. And that for at least the period of August 1st to August 15. My plan was to go to Okinawa (main island this time) from August 2nd to August 15th. Aaaaahhhhh!!!! Okinawa has currently 300 active cases (adding 200 in the last four days…) with 1.4 Mio inhabitants, while the prefecture where I live, Kanagawa, has 400 active cases with 9 Mio inhabitants, and that despite being right next to Tokyo with its now 3200 active cases.
It’s not forbidden to fly to Okinawa, but I’d just feel so awkward to be frolicking about during a state of emergency and the request to stay home. So yesterday I spent the morning with cancelling everything and luckily my hotel was super nice and let me cancel for free and it also looks like I’ll get most of the money back for the flight.
So what to do with my precious two weeks off in this very volatile atmosphere? I’ve booked an apartment now for 4 days in Kanazawa on the Japanese sea side where I’ve never been to before and will probably, hopefully go there tomorrow. Let’s see what happens! Stay safe everyone! And wear masks please!

Temple Mania

The number of tourists to Japan reached a new record in 2019. I found on some website that it’s been 32 million visitors. By comparison, in 2020 only 8.6 million came to Japan and in 2003 it was only 5.2 million. Not all of those millions are tourists of course, there are plenty of business trip people who have no time for sightseeing, but every single one of the millions of tourists goes to Kamakura!
There is a whole historic period named after the area, from 1185 to 1333 – the time of the Kamakura Shogunate. You can read all about it on Wikipedia etc. Fact is the place breathes history and has myriads of temples and shrines of offer, of which some 25 make it onto tourist maps. I have been to Kamakura (of course) during my very first visit to Japan in (OMG) 1993, when there were probably only 2 million or so visitors coming into the country and then again some time around 2005 with my sister (on a rainy day and we saw nothing much more than the great buddha statue). Ever since I have not been to Kamakura again, scared off by the horrendous number of tourists walking through the small town.
Now it happens that my current apartment is only 50 train minutes from Kamakura and I thought, hey! It’s the chance of a lifetime to explore Kamakura in detail, while there is an entry ban to Japan for 129 countries during the corona crisis.
So far I have been to Kamakura four times and I intend to go another two times or so, since on one trip I manage only 5 to 6 temples and shrines due to heat and rain 😉
There is also a reason for why the place is so full of tourists, because, yes, it is bloody great 🙂 If you like history, temples and shrines, Kamakura is the place to go.
It’s all quite stretched out and you are walking a lot, but you can also take some buses which run frequently through the town.

On my first visit I did the “main” route with a side kick to the great buddha statue, which is at Kohtoku-in temple. Then on to the grand Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, on to Kencho-ji temple, Meigetsu-in temple and Engkaku-ji temple.
On my second trip I walked through the so called Kanazawa Kaido area with the Eragaten shrine, the Kamakura shrine, the fantastic Zuisen-ji temple, the Sugimoto temple, the Jomyo-ji temple and the other gem of the Hokoku-ji temple.

Trip three brought me to two temples of the Kita-Kamakura area that I missed on the first trip, the Tokei-ji and the Jochi-ji, then down towards the coast to the famous Hasedera and the much less visited Kosoku-ji. The fourth trip brought me to the Jufuk-ji and the Eisho-ji and another highlight, the Kaizo-ji, then to the two big shrines of Zeniarai Benzaiten and my favorite shrine, the Sasuke Inari.

What’s left to explore will be the shrines and temples of the Zaimokuza area, which I will target in August or September.
During the four trips in June and July some temples were virtually deserted, some had a few Japanese visitors and also the occasional foreigner who lives here, but no comparison to the busloads of tourists that usually flock the place. While it is hard for the local businesses to do without those busloads, I can firmly say that I’m greatly enjoying the place without them 😉

Discover Your Neighborhood

I’m a bit at a loss at the moment as to what to write for the blog. World events are crazy… Japan, at the moment, seems like a happy island of calm with only some 18,000 coronavirus infections and a thousand deaths. Even if there is a gray zone and there actually might be more cases, this is nothing in comparison to many other countries.
What’s happening in Trumpfuckistan is beyond any words, that country is so sick on so many levels and yes, black lives do matter and the biggest virus of the country, agent orange, or as I like to call the creature: the orange fart face, just please please please has to go at the end of the year. Crazy many cases in Brazil, despite a hefty lockdown so many cases in India, the UK the worst affected country in Europe… but alas, their idiot government made them leave Europe…
And then the arctic is on fire and climate change rambles on. We are expecting a record summer in Japan too with “temperatures above normal” for the three months of July, August, September.
I had wanted to fly to Europe in August as usual and me idiot booked and payed for a flight in February, now I’m trying to cancel and maybe get some money back… all events (festivals) are cancelled and oh, yes, crazy Japan would not let me permanent resident back in anymore at the moment if I left the country, because I don’t have a Japanese passport… thanks for taking my taxes and all but granting no re-entry.
Money… there are salary cuts and we have shut down days at the company, usually Fridays. We are all doing the work of five days in four and get less money for it, but hey, at least I still have a paying job for now.
Which brings me to the good part and the title of this blog entry. I now have three day weekends and ever since our lockdown ended, I’ve been making use of those and done day trips around the Kanto region, so far mostly Kanagawa, where I live. It’s awesome. I’ve come to love my three day weekends and those day trips to places close by that I haven’t visited in years or not at all.
I’m posting pics on twitter and Facebook with a two week delay to make sure I didn’t catch anything at place x or y and that it has been safe to go there. But this is probably just over-caution, since our virus cases are pretty damn low and everyone is taking care. Everyone wears masks, always and there is hand sanitizer at every shop or museum or restaurant or whatever it is.
I’ve been to Enoshima = at the beach the first weekend after the state of emergency ended. Then for the first time ever I went to Mt. Takao and I loved it there, why the heck have I never gone there before?? 😉 I’ll definitely go there again in autumn/winter, when there is less humidity in the air and the view will be better. I’ve been to Hakkeijima Sea Paradise for the first time in some 15 years or so. It’s great to discover the beauty close by. I hope I can travel far away too again in the future, but for the moment, I am enjoying the little gems next door and there will be more to write about soon 😉
Take care everyone, stay safe, wear masks and let’s try to make the best out of it!

Bamboo Magic

Due to all the staying home and home-office as well, I had the opportunity to study the growth of bamboo this spring. lol. This is mostly a photo protocol rather than a blog entry. Bamboo grows so fast it’s incredible. You can virtually stand next to it and watch it grow. You can read all about bamboo in wikipedia, so I won’t repeat that here, but did you know that bamboo is not a tree but a grass? 😉 And a bamboo “tree” can live up to 120 years, but does all its growing in the first 60 days it said elsewhere.
Since the stuff is not growing where I grew up in Germany, to walk through a bamboo forrest always and still has a certain “wow” effect on me. The thing is though, you have to maintain a bamboo forrest in order to be able to walk through it. If you don’t then there is no walking possible 😉

In the park where all the following photos have been taken, a caretaker sees to it that things are not getting out of hand. A few meters down from the bamboo grove are some other trees and a bamboo shoot peaked out between them, but the caretaker ripped it out soon, otherwise, I suppose the bamboo would have taken over that tree grove. One way or the other, bamboo is a very “cool” plant from the European perspective and thanks to the enforced home-office and my walks to the park during lunch break, I documented bamboo growth for the first time in my 20 years in Japan 😉

April 10

April 17
May28 – that’s the top of that particular bamboo tree, it’ll grow leaves soon!

To Close or not to Close

I find it interesting how my local shopping mall struggles with the best method to close or not to close which kind of shops during these lockdown times.
There is of course the directive and the necessity to keep food shops open, especially those with fresh produce. In the rear of the LaLaport Yokohama is the Ito Yokado department store with three floors, ground floor is a huge supermarket, and floors 2 and 3 are for clothing, stationary, kitchen items, etc. I go to this supermarket usually on Saturdays to refill my stocks for a week. Other than the Ito Yokado, there are about 50 to 100 other shops in the mall.
For two weekends before our official state of emergency was announced, the shopping center closed down on weekends on a voluntary basis in order to reduce large gatherings of people. The three floors of the Ito Yokado stayed open and awkwardly some restaurants were open, but not the ice cream shop for example. Next to the Ito Yokado is also a food court with a MacD and other fast food stuff, which also remained open.
Then came the official state of emergency and the mall closed down apart from Ito Yokado, a drug store and two other specialty food shops (which were closed during the voluntary shut down). On the first weekend after the state of emergency was declared, also floors 2 and 3 of Ito Yokado were roped off. They closed the food court as well, put all chairs and tables to the side, and put socks and underwear into the middle of the food court while at it’s far end only MacD remained open for take out.
Yet another weekend later all the socks and underwear had been moved to their original floors again and Ito Yokado had open in its entirety. Chairs were back in the food court, if roped off and MacD was still open for take out. Yet another week later, the food court was empty of chairs and just remained an open space. Yesterday they had an “event space” there with pottery items. What a hustle for the poor Ito Yokado staff having to re-arrange everything every week!
There is also no logic as to which specialty food shops are allowed to open and which not. Why is Kaldi (coffee and import food shop) allowed to open, but Tomiz (baking goods) and the Okinawa and Hokkaido food shops must close? All three have some perishable produce to offer but are shut down. I especially missed Tomiz, since I have rediscovered baking (as so many other people these days).
I wonder how we will get out of the closure of all these shops. Once they are reopened, there’ll be a run on them! Well, let’s see what happens. My only hope is that they all can reopen and have not gone broke in the weeks and months without customers. If I can’t to go Okinawa, then at least I wanna be able to get my Shikuwasa juice and the Chinsuko cookies… The first “round” of the state of emergency ended on May 6 but was extended to May 31. Despite that there were two additional shops open yesterday, the ice cream parlor and Tomiz! So, luckily I could get some of those wanted baking items 😉
Let’s see what will be open next weekend as the chaos continues… 😉

You Have Been Assimilated

Last week, I had an eye-opening experience about to just what extent I have been assimilated into the high-context society of Japan 😉
The situation: I was attending a global telecon with people from Malaysia, Germany, France and Hungary and one of the presenters was presenting something that did not agree with me at all. I found this person’s (German) approach completely naïve and insensitive of other non-European cultures.
During the telecon I said nothing but emailed the organizer (another German) after the meeting with a hearty complaint about the stuff we had heard. The German organizer then wrote back to me angrily, why the hell I didn’t say so during the telecon and why I am bothering her now “offline” with my complaints. Oops… The thing is, I did things the Japanese way.

My intention: I did not want to destroy the harmony of the telecon, I did not want the presenter of nonsense to feel hurt. I did not want the presenter of nonsense to lose face in front of the other participants. So I chose the (in Japan totally legitimate and correct) way of contacting the organizer offline and expressing my concerns about what had been presented to us. This is how things work here! Lol. You deliberately talk offline to people behind the scenes – that’s called “nemawashi”. You keep the peace in front of everyone, you see to it that nobody gets hurt, loses face and that the harmony of the group is not destroyed. That’s the high-context approach. In the ideal case then, the meeting organizer gives a message to the presenter of nonsense, he/she corrects it and all’s well, everyone’s happy and nobody lost face.

Not so with the German presenters and organizers – they want the direct approach, they want the confrontation in the telecon, they want discussion in front of everyone. It does not even occur to them that there are other ways of communicating, because they don’t know about them. They are now pissed about my offline approach and think of me as an intrigue spinning, back-door using bitch who’s crossing people. LOL

OMG… this is how wars happen, ladies and gentlemen! This is how cultures clash! And I, after 20 years in a high-context country have been assimilated and act the Japanese way. The big thing is that only people like me get aware of this completely different way of handling things. The Germans who have never left Germany are not aware of the “nemawashi” style. In turn, the Japanese who have never left Japan are shocked to death by the direct way of low-context culture confrontation.
It’s the job of people like me, who were raised in one culture and are now living in another, to explain to either side what’s going on! Not easy, but I’ll continue to do my best 😉 

Keeping it Together

The best way to know what people are made of is to see how they behave in a crisis. The current Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, showed us what he was made of during a press conference the morning after the wonderful Shuri Castle of Naha, Okinawa burned down for yet unknown reasons. You could see the shock, anguish, sorrow and distress on his face, but he kept it together, chose the right words, gave the facts that were known and the conviction to do whatever possible to rebuild this icon of his prefecture. There was a lot of dignity, integrity and decency that could be felt even through the TV. I knew about him, but never really “bothered” before. But his speech left a very strong and positive impression on me.
His name is Yasuhiro (Denny) Tamaki and there is a lot special about him. First of all, he is a “ha-fu” = a “half”, the Japanese expression for a mixed race person. He was born in 1959 on Okinawa Main Island. During that time Okinawa was under US rule. The US only gave back Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
According to Wikipedia he never met his US marine dad who left Okinawa before Mr. Tamaki was born. His Japanese mom raised him as a single mom. As an adult, he apparently tried to locate his father, but was not successful.

I can guarantee you that he was bullied, especially as a child, being teased for having an American dad, who left his mom after an adventure, affair, or whatever they had. I guarantee you that also as an adult he has faced scorn and discrimination. But now he is the Governor of his home island. That is quite a remarkable career to make.
In our mad times of clowns, madmen, narcissist and assholes as politicians, it is very refreshing to see that there seem to be some decent guys around still somewhere. Tamaki-san is, needless to say, the first and so far only “half” who is a prefectural governor in Japan. I hope he remains the great guy he seems to be and that he does good by his home island. And I hope that the Shuri Castle can be rebuild quickly and I’ll surely visit it again.

Shuri Castle, Naha, Okinawa in Dec. 2018

Country of Choice

I have a Japanese heavy metal fan friend who has fallen in love with Finland. She took a break from her job and has just been there for two months living off her savings. She posted about her last day in her apartment in Helsinki and that she doesn’t want to come back to Japan but to stay in Finland.
I understand her soooooo well. I fell in love with Japan quite a while ago. At first I traveled for two months around Japan during university summer break, then managed to get a stipend for a year. When it was time to return to Germany after that stipend, I cried and wailed at the airport not wanting to go back.
I lived in Germany for another five years paying loads of money for flights back to Japan. Then in the year 2000 came the opportunity for a job in Tokyo. I moved here and never came back. Next year it’ll be twenty years that I’m living in Japan, twenty-one in total, counting in that one year with the stipend.

It’s not possible to describe what it means to fall in love with a country. There are a hundred reasons and none, just like with love for a person, it just happens. It’s of course not always been easy and no place on earth is perfect. But reading about my friend’s wish to stay in Finland, reminded me very strongly of how privileged I am to be able to live in my country of choice. It also doesn’t matter if there are earthquakes and typhoons, or in Finland’s case if it’s bloody cold and dark in winter ;-). When you love the place, you are in for the whole deal and accept it.
It’s easy to forget what you have when it’s around you every day and it’s good to be reminded once in a while of that and to cherish it. Here’s to the next twenty years, Japan! And I hope my friend can realize her dream of living in Finland. 🙂 They surely have excellent heavy metal music there 😉

Typhoon 19 2019

We have lived to see another day after the worst typhoon in 60 years to hit the greater Tokyo area and after that the north of Japan.
Typhoon 19 was quite the monster. The worst about it was the rain. We had “ridiculous” amounts of rain with a meter of water coming down in Hakone within 48 hours. Japan is 70 percent mountains and a quite wet country. We have thousands of rivers coming down those mountains. Most of them are small and short, after all no place in Japan is further than 150km from the ocean. The bigger of those rivers have extensive “flood areas”, sports fields and parks, because we already know they flood in spring when the snow melts in the mountains and in autumn when the typhoons come. They talked plenty about the previous worst typhoon record holder for Tokyo from 1958, where over a thousand people died. We have come a long way since that. Warning systems are much better, many rivers are better fortified and so on and so forth. The death toll is currently at 74 I think and might still rise, but it will not go into the thousands.
There are plenty of warning levels for rivers, the worst one is level 5 – overflow = it’s too late. I have lost overview over how many rivers flowed over, getting into inhabited areas. In Tokyo the notorious Tama river did that as well as the Ara river to the north. The Tama river is the boundary between Tokyo and Kawasaki, which is wedged between Tokyo and Yokohama. The Tama river has a huge flood zone, and swaps into it all the time, but that it really overflowed and entered residential areas is a while ago I think.
I live next door to the Tsurumi river, but on a hill and am save from flooding. Actually the Tsurumi river also overflowed, but that’s not even counted, because it did not do damage to residential areas. It flooded the sports park next to the Nissan Stadium, where the rugby match Japan vs. Scotland happened as scheduled less than 24 hours after the storm was over.

The sports park is about one and a half kilometers from where I live. In this picture the main point is not the stadium in the back but note the (deliberate) different height of the dam. Beyond the higher part of the dam the river swapped over into the pond and sports park behind it.

I wonder how long it will take for the sports park to drain and become usable again. A week later it was not flooded anymore, but still closed.

In this picture – do you see the brown line at the wall? That’s how high the water rose for this little river that feeds into the Tsurumi river.

I’m actually amazed that the water level had gone down already that much some 16 hours after the storm. It was a blessing that the Tsurumi could escape into the sports park, that took a lot of pressure off the river and prevented it from doing worse things the remaining 14 km until it reaches the ocean.
As for myself, neither my apartment nor me suffered any damage, knock on wood. The typhoon season is not over yet, it usually stops end of October for Japan, but next year the whole show will start again. This one got so fierce and big because of lingering heat over the Pacific with greetings from global warming. As mentioned before it will happen again and more often in the future and I would like to put climate change deniers right into the path of the next typhoon, without shelter of course…

Of White, Black, Gray and Brown Companies

I have another typhoon aftermath story. It ran also in the Japanese news, but I’m not sure if it was translated somewhere or otherwise broadcast. After the typhoon 15, which happened on a Sunday night / Monday morning, there was huge train chaos in the greater Tokyo area due to tracks having to be checked for damage, cleared of debris and so on and so forth. More or less all trains of the greater Tokyo area were delayed a bit or a lot. Trains are the main form of commuting to work here, luckily! Other countries can only dream of the incredible train network that we have.

So Monday morning, millions of people were trying to get to work somehow in the post-typhoon chaos and someone tweeted the following, which was then retweeted more than 20,000 times it seems. “White company: You can take off”. “Black company: Get to work!”. “Gray company: No instructions.” “Shit company: Decide by yourself”.
It should be noted here that the “white” company that says you can take off, of course means “you can take one of your precious few annual leave days today.” It does of course NOT mean, that you get a day off “for free”.

What struck me about this message though, and I have discussed and confirmed this with several Japanese colleagues, is that let’s say 15 years ago, there have been only two kinds of companies. Black = get your ass to work! Or gray = no instructions (which also means, get your ass to work).

Society is changing! Yeah! There is now more than black and gray, there is also white and shit! lol. The white needs to be given a hug though and a pat on the back, despite the worker having to take a day of his/her annual leave, because it does mean a slight shift towards taking off becoming more acceptable. Some companies (like the one I work for) are even so white that they have a home office system. My boss actually emailed everyone of his team on Sunday night, that we can take off or work from home. Trouble with that is you need a computer, and me idiot left it in the company on Friday night (I did this before, I’m not learning from lessons learned! Well, it’s because the computer is still quite heavy and I’m not dragging it around with me if I can avoid it).

The “shit company”, means that they are shifting responsibility from management to staff and many don’t like that. I suppose the person who tweeted that little story works for what he/she perceives as a “shit” company, which leaves the decision to him/herself and loads of people are quite allergic against responsibility as I have experienced in my working life on countless occasions.
Nevertheless, I want to see this positively. First of all I am lucky enough to work in a white company and second, hallelujah, there are now white and “shit” companies in Japan! We can to be proud of that emerging bit of work-life balance and the existence of white companies! 🙂

Typhoon 15 Hazards

There are usually between 20 and 30 typhoons in the Pacific each year and the Japanese don’t bother with naming them, but just give them numbers. Many typhoons don’t hit the greater Tokyo area but of course some do. During the night of the 8th to 9th of September typhoon 15 made a direct hit and shook the 20 to 30 million people in its path. The dude hit during the night and the 30 million didn’t get too much sleep, myself included. Wind and rain were magnificent and something kept banging outside my bedroom, but you don’t have much choice but to ignore it, since those were winds you don’t want to go into in your pajamas. We had winds in Yokohama of up to 150 km/h and in Chiba prefecture of up to 200 km/h. After dozing on and off and finally getting up, it turned out that the banging close to me was an old (and empty) plastic drawer box that I use as a bag stand when locking my front door.

It had been literally shredded by the wind, all three drawers were torn out, one was gone completely and the other two were in shreds. I found the missing third drawer at the front of the house later. It had flown from west to east around the north side of the building. Wow.
During the night my apartment’s front door got sucked in and out due to wind force and I feared it would be torn out of its hinges. Exactly that is what happened to one half of the massive wooden entrance door of the apartment building. It lay toppled on the ground the next morning.

They always make a fuss about typhoons but sometimes it is justified. It surely was in case of typhoon 15 of 2019. I can only imagine what hurricane Dorian must have been like in the Bahamas. That was loads more powerful than our typhoon 15. You are utterly helpless while the storm is going on and can do nothing but hope your roof stays over your head, which it didn’t do in the Bahamas… Only two people died due to typhoon 15 and there were some 50 injuries. How much worse is the yet unknown death toll and damage in the Bahamas.
While Yokohama was fine, two overland electricity masts and countless smaller ones were torn to the ground in Chiba causing power outages which are still not repaired for some 130,000 people a week later.

Then the trains on Monday morning – one big mess. The JR lines had estimated to be running again starting from around 8:00 (they usually start around 5:00), but my homeline finally resumed service at around 11:15. I did go a bit later to the train station and only waited for about half an hour in the brooding after-typhoon heat until a cafe opened, which usually opens at 7:00 but managed to open at 10:00 on that day. So I had a good time at the cafe with breakfast and tea, but plenty of people were stuck outside in the heat, lining up for trains and being squeezed half to death in completely over-crowded running ones. Apart from Chiba, the train situation calmed down during the day, but millions of people had a quite shitty Monday morning. I have no doubt that the typhoon situation in the Pacific and the hurricane situation in the Atlantic will worsen in the coming years thanks to global warming. Also in Japanese TV they said in the evening, our typhoon 15 was so severe, because of “higher than normal” ocean temperatures which fuel the winds. While Japan is a rich place and can take it (for the moment), the Bahamas or other countries are not so well off or prepared. There will be “fun” ahead, no doubt.

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 😉

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.