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
April23
April30
May12
May28 – that’s the top of that particular bamboo tree, it’ll grow leaves soon!

Adventures in Cooking

Let me say this right up front – I cannot cook at all and I don’t really like cooking either, although I unfortunately like eating, 😉 I do like baking once in a while with that home bakery thing I happen to own, but cooking? Uh… So a tiny bit of positive stuff has come out of the stay-at-home because of that bloody virus, since I have expanded the number of menus that I am (kinda) cooking and I’m a tiny bit proud of myself 😉
Until now cooking meant: frozen pizza on weekdays after work, or just some toast or bagels with cheese or ham or smoked salmon and an instant soup, if always with raw salad, and fruits for desert (I LOVE fruits).
On weekends cooking meant whatever form of spaghetti, gnocchi, potatoes, or pre-cooked rice packs that you throw into the microwave and whatever sauce or curry packages that you equally throw into the microwave. Occasionally I made pancakes but that was the utmost of effort.
I’ve been a vegetarian as a student (but I always ate fish) and even though I do eat meat these days, I never cook/fry meat at home. Maybe I eat a slice of ham or salami next to the spaghetti sauce, but slabs of meat I neither buy, nor cook, nor want to. Due to all the staying at home, I grew tired of my choice of meals and browsed about in the Internet for meals that you can make in 15 minutes, since I know myself and more time investment will not (yet) be on my radar. I also bought again a (tiny, cute) rice cooker. I had one in the past, but stopped using the thing after the discovery of pre-cooked rice packs you chuck into the microwave and threw my old, clunky, huge rice cooker away when I moved last time (3.5 years ago).
So, here are some new meals I “discovered”. Variate the noodles and chuck ramen noodles into a frying pan where you cook them and add a slice of cheese to them in the end. Those cheesy ramen give a bit of a new taste and variation from the Italian noodles.

A new spaghetti variation cooked in the microwave with eggplant chucked into it and some bacon. I never, I kid you not, cooked eggplant before in my life, lol.

I do like kitsune udon and made it for the first time myself, for the first time ever buying “hontsuyu” (the soup base) and atsuage (the fried tofu) to chuck it into the soup.

And the highlight, for the first time in my life, I kid you not, I threw a piece of salmon into the frying pan, which was very tasty, lol.

I am also enjoying rice made in the rice cooker again, it does taste better and more “real”, if that’s the word, than the microwave packages after all.
So, let’s see where else my cooking adventures will take me and what else I might try. For now I am quite happy with the additions to my menu, lol, and bon appetit!

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… 😉

Bacteria – Part 4

Today I had an appointment (which was fixed a month ago) at the big university hospital I stayed at six weeks earlier, for the decision whether to do sinus surgery in May or not.
Over the weekend I debated with myself whether to go, considering the coronavirus situation, but eventually decided to get it over with.
The hospital it was spookingly empty. Next to every door of the ENT section hung a small poster saying politer than me but not less decisive (in Japanese of course): “You ain’t getting no PCR test here. If you think you have coronavirus, call the call centers and follow their guidance. Do not come here if you have more than four days of fever, cough, breathing difficulties etc. Call the centers!”
Of course it’s kinda too late to post that inside the hospital, but what else are they supposed to do. Since it was very empty, just two other people in the large waiting area, I got to see my doc after a five minute wait. After talks about my situation were done, I bluntly asked him if he is seeing any coronavirus patients and his answer was no. He said that coronavirus is handled in Japan by “internal” medicine and not ENT. He added that “internal” has a hard time, but he is actually far less busy than usual right now! Most of the operations he is in charge of have been rescheduled or outright cancelled… very interesting.
I was in and out of the hospital under half an hour, phew!
As for my personal situation: At the moment no operation is needed. Another big phew! There might be one in the future some time, since my sinuses are not the greatest, but not now. My nose is as clear as it hasn’t been in a long while 🙂 To be clear, the cancellation of my sinus operation is not due to a capacity problem, but because the sinuses are much better! 🙂
The not so good news is that the teeth trouble is far from over. Still treatment needed for numbers 4 and 5 after number 7 was pulled last month and no guarantee yet that 4 and 5 can be saved. But the nose is much better and that’s great 🙂
At last month’s check up, they also took another blood sample to make an allergy test. I was very interested to get those results, since my last proper allergy test was done a longish while ago when I was a student in Munich. On a severity scale from 0 to 6 my highest score is 2, which translates into a clear if mild allergy against cats (sniff… well, I knew that already). The same score of 2 also showed on various grass related plants. A score of 1, meaning possibility of an allergic reaction, I got for house dust, mites and some cedar trees.
Funny thing is that the grass related stuff blooms in June and July, but I never had trouble with these months yet. I always have some trouble with April and May, so those trees are worse even if I only scored 1. Thankfully all the allergies are only mild. If my sneezing and eye-itching is what you get at level 1 or 2, I don’t wanna know how bad people are off at level 6!
As far as the hospital is concerned, I am not off the hook yet. I have an appointment now for July where doc wants to do another CT scan to see how things developed and I’m supposed to finish my teeth stuff until then. So that’s the goal and I reported promptly to my dentist a few hours later when I had my appointment there. We will continue the teeth gauntlet weekly, still trying to save number 4 and 5…
But, for the first time since August last year I am not taking any nose meds anymore from tomorrow onwards, yeah!
So let me hope that the nose stays quiet, that the teeth will get repaired somehow, and that I can dodge any corona bullets! Cheers!

Japanese Hospital Life

Let’s say this right up front, I found the Showa University hospital (Yokohama branch) where I stayed for five nights because of my sinus/jaw infection to be very good.
The sixth floor was for ENT plus “general” if that’s the word, including cases of very old people who are heavy nursing cases. How do I know that? Because all doors to the sick rooms are open 24/7. The building is laid out like a triangle. On the long side are five-bed rooms, on the angle sides are four-bed rooms. At either end the angle sides overshoot the long side and there are a few private rooms, which cost 25,000 yen per night instead of 5000 yen per night, and they are the only rooms whose doors are closed. In both cases, add another ten percent VAT to the price. All beds in all rooms are surrounded by curtains. The four-bed rooms on the triangle’s flanks have a very nice star layout which gives each bed a window. In the five-bed rooms only two people are lucky enough to have a window. I heard the five-bed rooms are cheaper than 5000 Yen per day but I don’t know how much cheaper.
In German hospitals no curtains. In hindsight I find the curtains great, because they give you a bit of privacy and you don’t have to be conscious of other people seeing you all the time. If you’re really sick you wanna be left alone anyway (on my first day for example). Once you are better, you can wander around and go to the so called day-room for visitors and for using the phone or getting a soft drink from the vending machine. The day room is at the tip of the triangle. In the center of the triangle are the two nurse stations for the wards 6a and 6b.
The heavy-care rooms are facing the nurse station, and some guys had their curtains open, therefore I know what was going on there. Except for the heavy-nursing cases, everyone else was still able to walk around. Average age maybe 60 and I was the only non-Japanese I saw the whole time.
What I found remarkable is that all nurses were under 35 or even under 30. My guess is the more experienced nurses are in other floors where the patients are sicker. A few male nurses were around too, but not so many. All ENT doctors I saw were also very young, all of them under forty. Only on my first day, three doctors came by to say hello who were older and who looked like the head doctors of the ENT department. All nurses were exceptionally friendly and careful. The young doctors were eager and ready to help, only one woman among them, but better than no woman at all. The nurses make their tours with their rolling wagons crowned with their almighty computers and scan the wrist band you got before every load of medicine. You are allowed to go downstairs to the convenient store and coffee shop even with your infusion stand, but you are not allowed to go outside.
Since all sick room doors are open, you hear a lot of what’s going on. One night one of the heavy-nursing cases was screaming a bit, the guy in the next room had a bad cough. There was one sad/funny scene in the corridor. An elderly male patient sat in a wheelchair, his visiting wife by his side and a nurse. He wanted to get up. The nurse told him he can’t, he’ll break his legs if he tries to get up. Grandpa still wanted to get up until his unnerved wife told him to do the bloody hell what the nurse was saying and grandpa gave in with a grumble.
I found this mixture of exposure to what’s happening around you and the curtain shield quite interesting.
When I was admitted there were two ladies in my four-bed room, one looked like a thyroid case, the other I don’t know. Except for greetings I did not communicate with them. After two nights one lady was released from the hospital and the other with the thyroid operation was moved to a cheaper five-bed room apparently upon her request. For a few hours I was alone, but then they brought in another lady and from the next day onward we actually started chatting to each other. I didn’t catch for 100 percent what was wrong with her, some heavy case of tonsillitis where her throat swelled shut? She was very eager to get out of hospital. She had no husband around but a 15-year-old daughter who was now alone at home, and she also had to work, (as a home nursing helper) saying she had no money to stay in hospital for long… I’m sure she is insured, since everyone here is, but it costs a couple hundred USD to stay for a few days after all and that’s tough especially when you are a single parent… life is hard, being sick is even harder! I wish my room mate lady all the best and that we don’t have to return to hospital any time soon because of a certain virus for example!

Bacteria – Part 3

Thursday 27th February
I arrived at the hospital around 11:00 in the morning and before seeing a doctor you need to get your shinsatsuken first, your registration card. It does make sense though, since everything about you connects to the magic bar code on your card. I handed over my recommendation letter and waited for my card. Then they sent me to the ENT section and I waited to see a doc. My doc was rather young, in his thirties and he surprised me by showing compassion, lol. He said several times, oh my that must hurt so bad, well yes, it did. He immediately decided I have to be hospitalized and sent me to get blood drawn and to be prepared for infusion. Next came an X-ray of the chest, my lungs looked very black = clean on the X-ray. I saw my doc again and he was going, why is there no CT scan yet? Maybe we have to emergency operate! He said that to the nurses, not me. Uh? Emergency operate? That didn’t sound so good but I was too phased out to ask.

They sent me to CT scan where you have to fill out a declaration that you are okay with the scan, since the iodine whatever they are pumping into you can actually kill you in rare cases. Then I sat there and waited and my doc came along again, concerned, angry even, “still waiting?” Me, um yes. I remembered the word emergency operation and asked what’s that about. He said if the bacteria have reached the optic nerve I could go blind and we’d have to emergency operate to try to prevent that. He turned away from me and ordered the staff to speed up my scan. He stayed with me and got me into the CT room. He joined the radiologist staff in the computer room while I was being scanned. He came out and looked much more relaxed. Eye is not yet affected, we don’t have to operate, you’ll be processed now into the hospital bed and be hooked up to antibiotics infusions as fast as possible. Funnily I was not in panic mode anymore at all. Probably just too phased out. The staff made me wait a little bit for more formalities, but it didn’t take too long and finally there was a hospital bed. Temperature 38.3, pulse 106, blood pressure 165 to something, I forgot, I wasn’t doing too well…

They gave me pain meds, which also push down fever and hooked me to the infusion rack. Finally pain meds that worked! Heaven! I thought I could rest, but nope, ENT called me down once more and tears around at the nose, jabs stuff into it and I heard myself saying fxxk once, which I think doc didn’t take so well, but c’mon, this was bad. He also told me my sinus is so crappy and so clogged shut it needs to be operated. Let’s fix a date, how about 8th of May? It didn’t sound like I had much of a choice. And by the way, the teeth need to get fixed before that too… then I’m finally allowed to rest and in the evening get the second antibiotics infusion and pain meds.
What I realized when taking these meds was, there is a reason for why you can only apply them in the controlled environment of a hospital. Every time I took the pain meds, I got very hot for a minute or so a little while after taking them. At the second round of meds I suddenly broke out into cold sweat from all pores and when a nurse checked the temperature some time that evening, my body temperature was 35.8 Celsius. Wow. Chemical hammer, thou art appreciated. During the first night I had another sweat attack, and once the shivers, but by morning my body had calmed down.

Friday 28th of February
Yeah! I could open my eye again! The swelling was still awful but it was very relaxing to be able to see with both eyes. They do keep you busy in Japanese hospitals. Three times a day I had to do some inhaler stuff, which goes by the fancy name of “nebulizer”, lol. After breakfast an ENT doc sees you, not “my” doc but whoever was on duty. I was in the ENT plus whatever general ward for the not severe cases. I saw several people who looked like they had thyroid surgery. But there was an ENT room with the respective equipment on my floor so that’s where they sent you, rather than the doc coming around to see you. I got to see an ENT doc every day, also Saturday and Sunday. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So after the ENT visit on the 28th, I got my next infusion, then they sent me to the eye doc to check once more if everything is okay about my eye. They asked me all the time whether I see things double, which seems to be a sign of meningitis, meaning bacteria having sneaked to the brain.
Fever was down meanwhile, pain was bearable, they also gave me ice packs.

Saturday 29th of February
On Saturday morning a highly welcomed decision happened during the ENT morning visit. The ENT sent me to the hospital’s oral surgeon. Meanwhile the swelling was much better. I dreaded the dentist chair and there was pain again, but the dentist guy did something badly needed, he took out whatever my regular dentist had plugged into tooth number 5 and then drilled a bit and poof! I bled quite badly and spit out blood into the basin. He had popped open the abscess at the top of number five. I could feel a fat swelling with my tongue there and later how it was retreating within hours. He released the pressure by popping it open and a lot of infected goo came out too. Phew. He then showed me parts of my CT scan for the first time, the right jaw and sinus being a goo filled mess, bacteria have done their work there for more than half a year. His recommendation seemed to be to pull number 7 and 5, maybe number 4 can be saved with root canal cleaning. So that was my homework… he promised to will write a letter to my dentist with his recommendations.

Sunday 1st of March
After the popping of the abscess, things turned better quickly and by Sunday morning the swelling had very much retreated.
Also the doc in the morning was pleased and said I’d get to do a blood test Monday morning and that would decide if I could be discharged on Tuesday, meaning, if my blood test was satisfactory, I could go home.

Monday 2nd of March
On Monday morning came the promised blood taking, then, at 09:00 they ordered me to the ground floor and for the first time since admission, I saw the doc again who was in charge of me. He jabbed around my nose again painfully. There was a rest of bacteria left around the teeth, but the sinus had cleared up a lot. He said a dentist appointment on Friday would be too late, I’ll be discharged Tuesday and am supposed to go to the dentist on Wednesday, I’m supposed to call him immediately. He said that if I’m lucky and the teeth stuff clears things up, I might not need that operation in May. So let’s see what happens on the teeth front.
In next week’s blog, I’ll report a bit about life in a Japanese hospital.

Bacteria – Part 2

I thought a bit about whether to put my medical troubles onto the blog or not, but decided to do so. First of all as a chronicle of what happened for myself, second as kind of a case study, which might one day help someone with similar problems.
It’s also a “study” of actually wanting to get into a hospital and finding it difficult to be admitted. I kind of wanted to be admitted around 36 to 48 hours before I eventually got hospitalized.

My just recently reported bacteria story took an unexpected turn for the much worse.
Mid of February the front pillar of that old tooth bridge (see previous blog entry from 23feb20) was starting to act up, hurt when eating and felt generally weird and appeared even a bit loose. I asked the dentist, he wriggled around at the tooth and said hm, let’s see for another week how it behaves. Fine by me, since he was working on the other pillar of the former bridge. In dentist terms he was doing the root canal cleaning on tooth 7. Number six got pulled maybe 25 years ago. So what was starting to trouble me now was number 5.

24th February:
Number 5 started to hurt massively and the tissue around it swelled a bit. Chewing on the right side became nearly impossible.

25th February:
I called the dentist in the morning, he agreed to see me more or less during his lunch time. He took an X-ray. Same story as with number 7. At the top of the root is a pocket with bacteria, bad news, also at tip of tooth 4. Number 4 is an old crown with former root canal action, but number 5 is/was the only molar tooth on the upper right side left with a living nerve. He drilled it open and pulled the nerve, having to give me five (!) dosages of anesthetics because it hurt like hell. He stuffed medicine into the root canal and closed the tooth and sent me home.
The tooth hurt more and more during the afternoon and the face started to swell. In the evening my boss said I look cute with the fattened cheek (friendly meant joke, I laughed at it). Back home it got worse and worse and even touching the area with the tongue hurt, any form of pressure was excruciating. I took the regular one pill a day antibiotics prescribed by the ENT doc and some pain meds from the dentist which helped zero. I couldn’t sleep from the pain and it swelled more and more. At 3 in the morning I freaked out and called the medial emergency hotline. That’s a pretty cool hotline, where someone listens to your story and gives you advise and judges whether to call an ambulance or not. I told my story and the advisor guy recommended to send over an ambulance and connected me to them. For the first time in my life I had thus called an ambulance. They came ten minutes later and looked at my swollen face, checked temperature, blood pressure, listened to the story. The emergency doctor said, that at this hour the next dentist is about an hour drive away and I probably have to wait there too and that dentist will probably only give me stronger meds and that’s it. They can take me there all right, but if I can stand it somehow I should wait till the morning and go to my regular dentist. The prospect of an hour in a car and all that let me decide to hold out until morning. I asked the guy what it cost that they came to my place. Oh, the ambulance doesn’t cost anything. I was starting to get back some of the health insurance I’m paying. I dozed off at about 5:30 in the morning for maybe an hour, that was it.

26th February:
I went to my dentist without an appointment and stood at his door when he opened, my face looked interesting by now. Dentist said he cannot drill around anywhere if it’s that swollen and slabbed stronger pain meds and antibiotics into my hand. Hm… I went back home and did some home office, several phone calls with Germany, while feeling worse and worse. The new pain meds helped for about an hour but that was it and I was only allowed to take three pills a day. At 17:00 I called the dentist again, asking what to do, whether he can’t submit me to a hospital, he says he can’t, I should check with my ENT. I called the ENT and he ordered me to his practice, so I’m on the train for the second time that day despite feeling terrible. He said, okay, forget the dentist’s antibiotics, take yet other stuff that’s stronger. Not being able to sleep is no surprise, I have to be patient. It’s already 18:30 in the evening, if the yet new antibiotics work, fine, if not I should prepare to be hospitalized on Thursday. During the night fever started, I dozed on an off but got up hourly to change ice packs, the only thing that kept me from freaking out. By morning my eye had swollen shut. ENT warned that this could happen, so I was prepared and didn’t freak out over it. Fever was at 38 Celsius.

27th February:
First thing in the morning was to call the ENT and he said to come over and he’ll decide whether to send me to hospital or not, which is likely and I shall prepare and bring stuff. I rode on the train hiding behind mask and sunglasses. ENT took one look into my face and said, he’ll write a recommendation letter and sent me with it to the Showa University hospital Yokohama branch, which is luckily in walking distance from the ENT. I staggered to hospital seeing only from one eye. Luckily I didn’t have to do initial explaining anywhere, I just removed the mask and showed them my face and everyone went OMG…

Bacteria Bacteria

I am writing this in the middle of the covid19 crisis and nobody knows yet where the journey will go with that virus. While people freak out about it I personally have another nasty problem not with a virus but with bacteria. I have sinusitis now for 6 months straight going into month 7. I’ve had problems with sinusitis my entire life, which seems to be in the genes since my mother and sister also had/have the same sinusitis story their whole lives. In the past I got sinusitis two times, sometimes only one time, sometimes three times per year. I cannot remember a single year where I had zero sinusitis. Depending on the severity, it was gone after 2 to 6 weeks.
Last year in August, while on that cruise in Norway I caught another sinusitis. It went along normally and seemed to get better. Then I returned to Japan and after a week or two it got worse again and suddenly for the first time in my life it was stinking inside my nose (very yucky, I don’t recommend it). So I went to the otolaryngologist – since that’s a mouth full, let me use the German word for it, which is HNO derived from Hals = throat, Nase = nose and Ohren = ears doctor. I had seen this HNO before for my “normal” sinusitis” and he gave me the usual antibiotics and slime loosening stuff. It didn’t get better, fever went down but all the rest stayed. He changed the antibiotics. It didn’t get better. I asked him what to do, he shrugged and said I was getting “the strongest” antibiotics already.
Frustrated, I turned to the Internet and started reading stuff about sinusitis (bad idea) and got scared reading articles about fungi in the nose and what not. I went to a new HNO, that was now in October, told him my story and he did an x-ray of my head. Funnily left side was okay (looks dark on the x-ray = air) right side was “white” = stuffed with stuff. New doc ranted about former doc who didn’t even take an x-ray. New doc told me considering that whiteness it’ll take three months or so until I get better. He gave me a different set of antibiotics.
Then started two months of taking some antibiotics, stopping, no improvement, again antibiotics, stopping, no improvement… although at least the stinky stuff stopped.
HNO always gave me the same meds and did basically nothing else. In December I decided to stop going and wanted to test whether the shock of warm weather in Cambodia would help. It didn’t, so in January I went to the third HNO and told him my story. Now this guy had interesting things to say. First of all it’s unusual that I have sinusitis only on the right side. There are two popular reasons for this, it comes from a bad tooth = teeth bacteria leak into the sinuses, or “cancer”. YIKES. Of course I do not like the latter word. But, when the doc said teeth, I almost screamed. In July I suddenly had bad toothache upper right under a 20 year old crown/bridge. I went to my dentist just before leaving for Wacken/Norway. He did not break down the bridge, since I’d be flying the next day or so and gave me antibiotics (only 4 days) and pain killers. The tooth became quiet, was not ideal, but not actively hurting and I let it be.
Because what third HNO said matches with right upper side tooth trouble, I got convinced that it’s that tooth indeed. HNO said, go to the dentist first of all and treat that tooth, then we see what comes next. So this is the stage where I am now, the bridge is broken down and I had four root canal cleaning sessions already. The second was really bad and painful = indicating an infection = bacteria. The third and fourth root canal sessions were less painful = infection is dying down as it seems. HNO is curbing the enthusiasm though saying it will still take two months or so to heal the sinusitis.
He gave me new meds for “widening” the stuck canals in my nose and also, guess what antibiotics. The thing is though that the doses is not so high and I’m supposed to take them regularly for the entire 2 months, not stop and go like from HNO 2. If the tooth action does not improve the nose situation, we have to look at other options, CT scan, exclude the scary cancer option, and maybe an operation to open a “window” in the sinus to drain the goo. HNO 3 seems competent (though I thought that of HNO 2 also in the beginning) but at least he has now a plan with various options that seem valid and there was/is an inflammation at the root of that cursed tooth after all as evidenced by the dentist. I am pissed though that HNO 1 and 2 did not even come upon the idea. While we have of course majorly advanced in terms of medicine to let’s say a hundred years ago, to me the field of medicine is still one great game of guesswork. If it ain’t obvious like a broken bone we basically have not much of a clue.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that HNO3 found the reason = the tooth and that I will be rid of this darn, nasty, bothersome sinusitis by spring! There have been two, three nights already where the right sinus didn’t swell shut completely, I see light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully!

Yogini?

End of 2018 I made a New Year resolution to do something for my fitness. On the 15th of January 2019, I started courses at a yoga studio and behold! I am still at it a year later! That, for me, is an incredible achievement, lol, because I really really am not a sports person. I never saw the appeal of moving your body without need, lol. Because sports is supposed to be good for you and because sports are a major interest of my Dad, I was forced to do sports as a kid. I tried a lot of things. I started with gymnastics, played basketball, went ice skating and I did fencing for a while. So fancy! My poor dad paid for all the fencing equipment/outfit, but alas… I left home, childhood and fencing behind me and at the university I tried another variety of things from horseback riding, over Kendo and Aikido until finally I simply stopped to do anything. None of the stuff could hold my interest. The only thing I did after giving up on sports for quite a number of years was ride my bicycle, but only for a few kilometers each day back forth from the station or to go shopping over the weekend, never for the purpose of “sports bicycling”. For me the bicycle is simply a form of transport that I like with the nice side effect to get me moving and sweating at least a little bit.

But alas, around ten years ago I got a lumbago and from that point on there was a steady decline. Nowadays my lower back is a mess and the upper back isn’t much better thanks to years and years of computer / office work.
So last year I thought, if I don’t do something about the increasing stiffness and pain of my bones and muscles, I’ll end up in ever worse shape and pain in another ten years. But what to do? Yoga is very popular in Japan at the moment and somehow I thought of giving it a try. There is a quite big yoga studio just two minutes next to the office where I work at.
Oh miracle, a year later I am still at it and highly motivated to continue! Progress is very slow, after all it’s only once a week (plus around 15 min almost daily at home before I go to bed, a mix of yoga moves and lower back pain moves prescribed by doctors), to more I could not persuade myself so far, but it’s better than nothing.

There are many forms of yoga. What I’m doing is “hatha yoga”, which is “basic” yoga where you strive to achieve several “ideal” poses/forms/postures = asanas and you stretch and bend and work towards being able to do and hold these postures. It’s relatively sporty and not very spiritual, even if we chant an invocation at the beginning of the class. Also after a year I am still the worst in my class, but there is some progress! I can stretch a bit farther, there is a bit of less pain in the back, there are some shadows of muscles under the fat of the thighs!
I had hoped for a bit of weight loss, but the amount of exercise and the amount of chocolate intake have only balanced out, and I weigh as much as a year ago, but hey, at least it’s not more.

I think I am very lucky, because I found a great teacher. Hana sensei (sensei is the Japanese word for teacher) is very experienced and exerts just the right amount of motivating us and challenging us. I think a good teacher/trainer is a big big factor in any sports. If you don’t like your teacher, the motivation sinks very soon. So thanks to Hana sensei, the miracle has happened that ever since I have been fencing as a teenager, I did any kind of exercise/sports for longer than half a year!
I don’t deserve the title yogini yet, since I am not managing a single one of the ideal postures, but one day, one far day I’ll get there! Thus the New Year resolution for next year and the whole new decade is to continue with the yoga classes and to let my muscles boldly go to where they have never stretched before! And a big thanks to Hana sensei! 🙂

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 😉 
 

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!