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.

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 😉

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!

Up the Mountain

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

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

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

Amami Oshima Report – Part 3 – Fishing Villages and Habu Snakes

On the first of January I made a bicycle day again and had a lovely time on a very fine day riding around and going critter photo hunting on the beach. I came across numerous starfish and sea urchins. The full moon for New Year also gave a wonderful display over the ocean that night.


On the second of January I thought I had to appreciate the full size of the island and rode with two busses (one had to change busses in Naze) to the southern end of Amami, a town called Koniya. The entire ride took two hours one way. One guy from the hotel said, oh in the past it took even longer to get there because there were no tunnels yet. Indeed there are several new looking tunnels close to the southern end, the longest of them 4200 meters. In nearly every corner that has decent access to the sea there is a fishing village comprised out of twenty, thirty houses, even inland there are several villages like that mostly to farm citrus fruits. Koniya turned out to be a super sleepy place, all very Showa-era. The beaches and landscape are utterly beautiful but the towns are fishing and not tourist towns, since they are too far away from the airport and in the north of the island. Closer to the airport are as beautiful beaches and landscape as well. It was interesting to see the difference of the tourist side of the island, the north, and the working side of the island far from the airport. From my island study point of view (looking for the perfect island to retire to) it was an important trip to make this bus ride to the south.

On my last half day before flying back to Tokyo and Yokohama I borrowed a bicycle again and discovered also a sleepy fishing village in the north before spending some more time at my favorite beach on the Pacific side.
One of the hotel staff was bringing me by free shuttle to the airport and we were chatting during the ride. He was in his thirties, was born on Amami but lived in Tokyo for ten years and now he returned. Somehow the conversation came back to the Habu snakes. He said that if you catch a Habu and bring it to a pharmacy they give you 3000 yen for it. Especially kids are making a sport out of Habu hunting/catching. In the past you got 5000 yen for one snake, but that resulted in too many caught snakes, so they reduced the price money! When he was a kid a Habu entered the bed room of his parents and his dad killed the beast! Kya! Last but not least he personally knows only of one guy who got his leg amputated because a snake bit him and that was an elderly man back when he was a kid. I still don’t know how to kill a Habu 😉 Personal Habu sightings during my trip? Zero 😉


It was a lovely trip to Amami and the next target is already fixed too, Tokonoshima south of Amami, between Amami and Okinawa, which is much smaller and apparently more of a “real” tourist island. Let’s see when I’ll be able to get there, not for golden week this year, that’s already booked for a bigger and more exotic island, New Caledonia 😉

Amami Oshima Report – Part 2 – Ferns and Habu Snakes

On the second day the weather was unfortunately not so nice with rain showers and strong winds which made it colder, so I was glad I booked a little tour to the so called Kinsakubara Forrest, a “virgin” Forrest that has not been once laid to waste by human hands or so they say. The forest is in the middle of the island and you are not allowed to go there by rent-a-car but are supposed to book a tour with a guide. The tour was three hours long and in the afternoon, so I rode by bus to the main town of Amami called Naze (a Japanese play on words, with different kanji (Chinese characters) it means “why” in Japanese) to explore the town in the morning. The date happened to be the 31st of December. Most shops in Naze had already closed for the New Year holidays but even if they were open the main shopping arcade of Naze made a rather sad and quiet impression on me. I found a cafe/restaurant which was very much what I like to call the Showa flair. The Showa era ended in 1989 and the cafe as well as the whole rest of the town made a seventies impression on me.

Then on to the tour which titled itself an eco tour. The guide was a bit odd, a guy in his fifties who kept on telling us how dangerous habu snakes are and went a bit ballistic on me when I asked, “come on are there really so many around here?” He snapped it was not a question of how many, I wouldn’t ask if there were bears around how many there are either (uh? I would). He pointed out sticks in bamboo holders by the side of the roads every few meters which are for killing habu and snapped, you also don’t ask how to kill the habus, you just kill them. Weird dude! I definitely need to know how I’m supposed to kill a snake with nothing but a stick! Strange guy, maybe he was tired of the question or of naive foreigners? Nevertheless, after windy and lonely mountain roads, we arrived at the rain Forrest and took a walk down a fairly wide and well maintained path (so much for the “virgin” forest. The main attraction of the area are giant fern trees which evoke a bit of a Jurassic Park flair and are very pretty indeed.



It started raining heavily during the walk and I was glad for an umbrella borrowed from the hotel in anticipation of more rain. All in all it was a very nice trip though despite rain and a weird guide.
Another story about the snakes. When the island was returned to Japan after WW2 in the 1950ties, they made a massive settling drive and tried to do something about the snakes (their bite is highly poisonous, that’s why there is so much fuss) and they introduced mongoose for a while. Trouble is those eat everything, not only snakes, but also the local black rabbit. The guide guy said that at its peak there were probably ten thousand mongoose on the island, then they started killing them again and are now trying to get rid of them entirely. The guide said ten years ago one could be lucky to see one rabbit per night tour (they are night active animals) now luckily there are some twenty rabbits again per tour. I find it funny he pulled out all those numbers but none about the habu 😉

Amami Oshima Report – Part 1 – Beaches

A Happy New Year 2018 everyone! May the Force be with us… somehow.
My search for the perfect Japanese island continues 🙂 Let me recap, my search started in 2011 and so far I have visited seven island (groups) and Amami is the eighth.
Amami Oshima (Oshima simply means big island) is actually the seventh largest island of Japan. Here is the ranking: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, Okinawa (main island), Sado (in the Sea of Japan and too cold and thus not so interesting for me ;-))and number seven is Amami Oshima (big island).
Amami has a circumference of after all 460 km, which is quite large. Yet only 61,000 people live there spread over six main settlements with the biggest “Naze”, having most of the population. The island lies between Kyushu and Okinawa and is a part of Kagoshima prefecture. It enjoys far less popularity as Okinawa, which, in my opinion is good for the island, because that makes it a fairly quiet place.

Since I had never been there before (and I’m not in the habit of making plans beforehand, I book a flight and a hotel and see what happens when I get there) I took a hotel I didn’t know where and flew to Amami airport. My hotel turned out to be a bit in the middle of nowhere but as usual that has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage was that it was not easy to get around without a car, the advantage was it was two minutes from a very lovely beach.

My first day on the island I spent bicycling with a very rusty and very basic bicycle that I rented from the hotel for free. Since it had zero gears, I had to push it up every little hill and there are many hills on Amami. 😉 I rode happily for some twenty kilometers in total nevertheless (which is a lot for me) and it was one fine day with sunshine and some clouds but no rain and lovely 17 or something Celsius. Perfect bicycle weather actually. I rode through very lonely hills with views to the sea every few meters, the East China Sea as well as the Pacific.

The best beach was at the Pacific side with magnificent views down the cost. The East China Sea side has many fjords and bays while the Pacific side is more of a straight line. Both views were utterly beautiful. A great escape from the hectic and too many people of the Kanto plain.

7040

I’m not watching a lot of Japanese TV but once in a while I watch news and the program “Close up 現代” = “close up on the present”, which describes mostly Japanese society issues or latest trends. Recently they had a program about the “lost 40ties”: people who are now in their forties and who have “failed” to find the famed “regular employment”, meaning life time employment contracts. A sub-category of those people are those who never had a regular job, and who stayed with their parents for whatever reason. The parents of these people in their 40ties are now in their 70ties – hence the number 7040. The parents are now in their pension age and it’s also the age where more and more cases of nursing those elderly happen.

They had a lady from Hokkaido in the program who is now 44. She never married, only did some odd jobs in her 20ties and 30ties, and lived with her parents. Now, being 44, she doesn’t find odd jobs so easily anymore and her 73 year old father is sick. The 67 year old mother and the 44 year old daughter care for him and live off his pension. The daughter held her personal bank account book into the camera – there were 9138 yen on it, which is the equivalent of around 80 Euro… wow…
Medical care is good in Japan, her parents might yet live another ten years, even the nursing case of her father, but eventually the lady will stand there with nothing. Parents dead, pension gone, never had a decent job, too old for odd jobs. Not enough time at the moment to learn something decent or to get into a more permanent job because she has to care for her ailing parents. What a sad life and what bleak prospects.

I’m annoyed about the parents. They should have thrown her out in her 20ties and urged her to get a decent job so that she can fend for herself, husband or not. It’s the responsibility of the parents to throw their kids out of the nest. With their selfishness or lack of consequence, they have ruined their daughter’s life in the long run.
I hope she all those other cases of the “lost 40ties” will manage to get a – late – handle on their lives…

Tokyo Motor Show 2017

The Tokyo Motor Show for passenger cars happens every two years and the last time I’ve been there was 2009 (OMG! ;-)) 2009 definitely wasn’t a good year to go to the Tokyo Motor Show because it was right in/after the financial crisis and all non-Japanese car makers had pulled out and the Japanese ones had minimal booths spending as few money as possible.
By the way, I’ve never been to the show as a private person, only when I had booth duty for the company I work for. This year I volunteered to do half a day of booth duty on the last day of the show, a Sunday and went a bit earlier than I had to to take a look around.

In 2009 there were also very few visitors, but now 2017 things have long returned to “normal” for such a show. It was well visited but not painfully crowded either.
Non-Japanese car makers have returned, but not too many actually, well, only the ones that actually have some sales in Japan.
Zero US car makers and from Europe only French and German. Peugeot and Renault were there, then Mercedes Benz, Audi, VW, Porsche (of course), BMW. The Italians = Ferrari didn’t bother.

But let’s put things a bit into perspective here. A colleague told me that for example at the Shanghai Auto Show there are 2000 exhibitors (!), at the Tokyo Motor Show there are 180… well, but one has to consider the market size of course too, 120 million, who have maybe the world’s best train system, vs. 1.4 billion people in China.
The motto of this year’s Tokyo MOTOR Show was: Beyond the Motor… eh? Interesting concept to make the motto of a “motor” show “beyond the motor”.
That topic was supposed to suggest that the car of the future is your “extended living space” where you can do something else than drive thanks to highly or fully automated driving dreams. It also had the undertone though, at least for me, that the times of the combustion engine are coming to an end. Almost everyone showed automated driving concepts and electrical vehicles of whatever sort.

I have at length described my problems with driving a car in this blog during the years when I still rode one, thus I am a front row customer when it comes to a fully automated car.
I want something like this: Once I am retired and live on the Japanese remote island of my choice 😉 I want to take out my smart phone, open an app, call/order/book a car and it comes (without driver) to my apartment at the designated time and I hop in and say: car! Drive me to the beach/the supermarket etc. and when I get off after the car has driven itself to my destination the fee for the ride gets deducted from my credit card via the app. So please, dear automotive industry: make it so until I retire! 😉

Working in Germany? No, thanks.

I just flew to Germany for a business trip and after an intense week, there is one thing I’m sure of, no thanks, I don’t want to work in Germany again.
Our working conditions in Japan are not the best in the world and yet I prefer working in Japan ten times to working in Germany and here is why.

Germany is a very individualistic place, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Whilst Germans have more holidays, get on top of that paid leave if a doctor signs a magic paper declaring you are sick, “nobody” gives a damn about you.
The person who was supposed to help me setting up my trainings on Japanese business culture over here, was busy with some customer emergency and not available, and so I stood there alone, having to organize everything by myself in a work place I am not familiar with. People saw me dragging stuff around and did not offer help. When I asked if someone could help, I got blank faces, lame excuses or was outright ignored with the result that I had to do all the crap alone.

On the last training day, I held the training in an exposed place where many people pass and three colleagues from my office in Japan walked by, who were on business to Germany as well. They saw me, immediately came in and asked if they could help.
That is why it is okay to work in Japan despite less favorable working conditions. People look out for you, people help you, without even having to ask them. Of course that happens mostly or more easily if you are part of a group.
In Germany people think in boxes and if there is something out of ones own box you very quickly hear the term, “that is not my responsibility”. I’ve come to thoroughly dislike the phrase…

Having worked in Japan for quite some years now, I have gotten used to doing what is needed, rather than doing what is in the realm of my responsibility and my Japanese colleagues do the same. Only to a certain extent of course, but that extent is so much wider than in Germany. I left the German headquarters quite sobered and it is clear to me that I don’t want to work in such a cold and impersonal environment ever again, even if there are more holidays and paid sick leave.

Public Lunch

My new office does not have a canteen and thus the employees have to resort to supermarkets, restaurants or – public lunch.
I didn’t even know before I moved to the new office that the ward offices around have canteens where anybody can go to. In the ward office you get a decent Japanese “teishoku” (rice, miso soup, one side dish, one main dish (you have the choice between meat and fish)) for 530 yen = around 5 USD.

I don’t go there very often, but sometimes I do. The clientele consists of ward office workers, some company employees like me, but also a lot of elderly people and young mothers with babies. You sort of cannot cook at home for that price considering all the ingredients, not to speak of the time it takes to prepare a meal like that by yourself.
I think it is very important to have such public lunch places especially for the elderly. It gives them a reason to get out of the house and it also provides some company and much needed human interaction, not to speak of the lovely shock on their faces to find also foreigners in the canteen 😉
I am rather sure that we pay with our taxes for places like that, but that’s one good use of taxes. May the public canteens thrive and prosper!