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.

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!

Port Wine Bar

I’ve always liked port wine, but especially since I’ve been to the center of the port wine world, Porto itself, in 2015. I’ve always had one or the other bottle of port wine in the house since a couple of years already.
End of 2016 I moved to my current place and I always was aware that there is kind of a dead space under the kitchen counter’s living room side. What to do with that space? I’m not sure why I needed two years of living with that dead space to come upon the idea to make a bar out of it! So, here is Regina’s bar 😉

A special note belongs of course to the small but fine collection of port wines! It was and still is fun to go port wine hunting in Yokohama and Tokyo. Bigger wine shops mostly do have some port, but usually only of one port wine house. The most readily available port wine in Tokyo is Sandeman ruby and white, but as you can see, my bar carries at the moment only one bottle of Sandeman ruby 😉
One shop in Shibuya carries Niepoort, another shop at Tokyo station has Taylor’s, a shop in Shin-Yokohama has Ramos Pinto. Another shop close to Yokohama station carries Taylor’s as well. The 2004 Fonseca vintage I have for quite a while already and I’m planning to drink it for a special occasion ;-), the Messias and Bulas I bought online. I am quite amazed that you can actually find so much port in Japan when you go looking for it 😉 You will also notice if you know something about port that I have a preference for tawny port 😉 The three bottles with a 10 on it designate 10 year old tawny. 🙂 But of course I’m not saying no to any other form of port. (The main variants of port are ruby (stored in metal tanks before bottling), tawny (stored in wooden barrels before bottling), white, vintage and LBV (late bottled vintage). There is also rose and reserve as variations of ruby, but I never had either of those yet and haven’t found them in Japan).
While I have a preference for tawny port, I have not yet crowned a personal favorite brand.
I’ve come to like my little bar and the port hunting trips and shall indulge myself now and then with my half glass of port in the evening. And one day I shall return to Porto and not only visit the town again but also make a tour down the precious Douro valley where the stuff hails from.
Cheers!

A Company has a Social Task

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

The Trouble with Sports

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

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

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

The End of an Era

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

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

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

Paying for Energy

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

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

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.

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! 😉

Attitude

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

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

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

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

The Dumbness of the Masses

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

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

That Thing About Trust

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

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

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

That Thing About Collaboration

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

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