From Vladivostok with Love – Part 4

All the Russian fans told me I should look out for the band because they would surely be staying in the same hotel as I did. So in the morning I did keep a look out at breakfast but nobody was there. I later found out that the poor guys must have left much much earlier than when I sat at breakfast at 9:30. They were going to Novosibirsk next and when I got to the airport myself the next day I saw that the flight to Novosibirsk left at 8:50. Uh… that means being at the airport before 7:30 surely. I suppose they left the hotel at 6:30 or something like that! So much for tour live. Since the Amon Amarth fan lady, just let me call her AA, promised to pick me up at 14:00, I wandered around some more, found a nice spot for a Vladivostok skyline picture and also found two more shopping centers, slowly finding out what looks like a shopping center and what not.

I confirmed already the day before that the Chinese and Koreans are coming for shopping. The rubel is apparently quite low these days, prices in Vladivostok are lower than in Korea for sure and apparently it’s even becoming attractive for Chinese mass tourism. AA also told me that the Koreans and Chinese don’t need Russian visas for Vladivostok and she does not need one either if she wanted to go there. It’s some special agreement for the Russian Far East as well as some areas in China close to the border. If they want to go to Moscow they need visas, but not for the Far East. Interesting, I didn’t know that.
I bought some souvenirs and then waited for AA at the hotel.
She was very punctual and then we drove off towards Russky island over the impressive two bridges.

At some point the asphalt road ends on Russky island and the adventure begins. We were not the only ones on the dirt path, it felt like a caravan at times. AA said this is nothing yet, in the summer there is traffic jam at these dirt paths!


There are several “parking” areas and we stopped at one with a beach and where a hiking trail starts to a scenic spot.


I was totally amazed by the amount of people there. Well, it was Sunday, but nevertheless. Much of the area is wooded, but was extremely dry and also dusty, it has been a super dry winter with not much snow even. There was actually a small bush fire a hundred meters away at one point. AA said the best time is in summer of course, when people go swimming at these beaches but also September and October, when the leaves change color.


We had a great walk and the last cliff looked really beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected adventure, that I never would have been able to do without a local and AA drove me all the way back to the hotel again. Very cool addition to an already great trip.
To say goodbye to the place, I went down to the shore once more and was in for another treat. There were several elderly men who were actually, one after the other, taking a swim in the ice cold ocean!!! Kyaaaaaaa. I was walking around in arctic gear, these guys, jump into the ocean! Air temperature was around zero Celsius and water temperature… well look at the floating ice! OMG!!!

It was my second time to Russia and both times I made nothing but good experiences. I thought also in St. Petersburg and Moscow that people were friendly, but I must give it to Vladivostok that people there were even more friendly than in the big cities. There was not one moment where I would have felt unsafe, despite the adventures in finding the concert venue. Okay, there was a shady “taxi driver” hanging around the hotel who kept on asking me if I need a ride every time I left the hotel. But even he never got rude or too close. There was less police and military around than in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is of course also less to see than in those two big cities, since after all Vladivostok is a mere 160 years old.
I wonder since when there are direct flights from Tokyo and how long they will keep those up. On the way to Vladivostok there were maybe 60 people on board, on the way back 40 people.
I can totally see myself going to Vladivostok again though if some band of interest decides to come all the way there for a gig. And even if there is no direct flight anymore, there will surely be some from Seoul 😉

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 3

On the Amorphis website it read that the Vladivostok venue was called San Remo, apparently a hotel. On the ticket I somehow bought online the venue read Submarine Club. Hm. I asked at my hotel lobby, and the guy did not speak English too well. For standard questions he could somehow answer in English, but not such non-standard stuff like whether the Submarine Club is maybe inside San Remo. He pointed vaguely into the right direction and I thought oh, heck, I’m gonna find it somehow and went looking. It said 19:00 on the paper. I was not sure whether that meant concert start or start of letting you into the hall and the hotel guy couldn’t tell me either because of lack of English. So I went looking for the venue at 17:30 and good that I did so. At a sign which read San Remo, I actually ran into the two guitarists of the band and quickly addressed them and told them I’d see them later, they greeted nicely back, then walked down the road. Good, so it had to be around here somewhere if the band members are close!
I ventured into a spooky alley and ended at a nightclub, all right, but it had another name, and the door was closed, nobody there. Some shifty looking dude wearing an indistinct hoody came out of a side door and I showed him my print out and asked where the venue is. No English really, he said, niet niet, and pointed up and right. Hm.


So I went up and right and landed on the roof of the San Remo building. It’s built kind of into a hill and you could easily walk onto the roof. some youngsters hung out there, but they didn’t look like heavy metal fans and were too young also. One kid walked into the roof access of whatever was beneath it and I thought, what the heck and followed him.

I ended in the seventh floor lobby of a super old style hotel way beyond its prime. Everything screamed seventies and that in Russian. At the reception I asked the lone lady present if she spoke English. A little. I showed her my paper and she was going, Hu? Never heard of it kind of “Hu”. She went into the office, asked someone, then came back. Go down and left. Hm.
I went down with the elevator to the first floor, nothing but a shady restaurant. Outside of the building to the left, closed doors, no metal fans. Damnit, it must be here somewhere, even the band members were around.


Under normal circumstances I never ever would have gone near such night clubs, shady hotels and run down buildings! Lol. But there I was wandering, feeling like in a Russian spy movie. I decided to walk around the complex and went up the hill again outside of the building. And there! In a corner, next to a bar, “Submarine”! Yeah!

And there were a few heavy metal looking dudes around! I approached them and felt safe, ladies and gentlemen. To “normal people” Russian dudes in leather, with long hair, beards, whatever chains dangling from their clothes look scary. But I felt right at home, lol.
I said “hi” and they immediately noticed I’m not Russian and there were actually three, four guys and girls who spoke English and immediately questions started, where the hell are you from? You came to Vladivostok for metal? Oh man! So cool! One girl had been to Europe several times, going to Amon Amarth gigs, so much appreciating I bothered to fly to Vladivostok. They were all super nice and friendly and we are all one big heavy metal family where it does not matter where you come from.
The girl who had been to Europe and I exchanged social media stuff and then she offered to drive me to Russky island the next day so that I see some more of her home town. What? Seriously? Yes, yes, no problem! Wow!
With the promise to pick me up at 14:00 the next day, we were finally allowed into the venue and since I had been early, I managed to get first row together with the other early birds.
While waiting we talked about metal of course, but also the weather for example. It’s been the warmest winter ever they said, usually in March the west side of the bay is still frozen solid and not only a little bit, zero degrees is so warm! Okay. It’s all a matter of perspective. One of the guys said, he hates winter. Uh! A Russian who hates winter! I asked another guy whether he can recommend a vodka brand to me. I wanted to buy one bottle at the airport duty free before I leave. Hm, he doesn’t drink vodka and has no clue about the stuff! There go your stereotypes! He doesn’t drink even a beer before a gig, he wants to be in full capacity of his senses to enjoy the music. Yep, same here!
One guy works for Mazda, another for Carl Zeiss, the Russky island lady and her husband are both programmers.
The gig was great, the band was in a good mood, the crowd was screaming and going nuts, not too many bands bother to fly all the way to Vladivostok, so the metal community is happy and grateful when they do come. It was a fantastic gig and I made a bunch of great friends 🙂

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 2

My driver from the Vladivostok airport into town drove like a berserker in a fat Mercedes. He spoke not a word of English but I said Germania and then he was raving about German cars, I believe 😉
First impression of the town was gray, cold, pre-fabricated high-rise buildings from the seventies.

My hotel was nice though, nothing special, but all the international standards available that a hotel is supposed to have. The room looked out over the western half of the bay and there was ice floating at the shore.


I ventured down to the shore and checked out the ice. Half the shore was a construction site, but people walked through the fences, taking a stroll, as if that was all very normal. The constructions sites were around two defunct buildings from the sixties maybe and made the impression on me as if they were permanent.
I had chosen my hotel strategically close to the venue of the concert and already found the place on that first stroll, or so I thought at the time, and was quite relaxed about that, eating dinner at the hotel’s restaurant before going to bed.

The first day of exploring: I walked down to the shore again, this time venturing further towards an amusement park by the yacht harbor. All the facilities looked very much seventies or eighties to me. From there I walked through town for about five hours with a short break for a late lunch and checked out most of the sights of the city.

The big cathedral at the central square was unfortunately closed do to repair. I counted 12 military ships in the harbor and their radar etc. masts looked like a collection of alien space ships to me.

Much like in Moscow and St. Petersburg the Second World War is quite present still in every day Russia. War memorials and eternal flames and an old submarine exhibit take you back seventy years. The submarine was interesting though, a museum part and then a “live” part where you have to squeeze through bulk heads.

Then I got a bit lost on the search for the mini funicular promised in a Vladivostok walking map I got at the WW2 submarine. I walked too far as it turned out, but stumbled across more tanks and war stuff in a park. Finally I found the funicular. It’s a two minute ride only up the hill which costs 14 rubles, which is some 30 yen. On top was a closed viewpoint but the sight over the city was okay from the side of the funicular also.

Apart from long distance trains the funicular is the only railway inside of Vladivostok, all public transport happens via buses. Those buses look old and they blast a lot of unfiltered exhaust into the air. I did everything on foot, which is okay though, since the downtown area is not that big after all. Nowadays Vladivostok has about 600,000 inhabitants. Funny thing was that I had difficulties recognizing shopping centers for what they were. Due to the cold they don’t have open inviting big entrances but there is a glass door somewhere, which leads into a foyer and then another glass door, all in the attempt to keep out the weather.
I luckily found one shopping center where I could buy some fast food lunch by pointing at pictures. Public rest rooms are also a rarity and shopping centers are your best bet for that. Then I walked back to the hotel past the Vladivostok railway station.

It is still a dream of mine to ride the trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok or the other way round one day. Without getting off in between it takes seven days. Well, let’s see! At least I was now on either end of the tracks 🙂 After a rest in the hotel I readied myself for heavy metal!

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 1

Vladivostok is surely not the most common and easiest to get to holiday destination, which is a shame actually. I thoroughly enjoyed my short journey there.

A few things about Vladivostok before the details of my trip. Vladivostok was a Chinese fishing village called Haishenwai, before the Russians seized it in 1860. China was weakened from the opium wars and didn’t oppose Russia seizing that frigid port to the north. The Russians renamed it Vladivostok and quickly developed the place to make it theirs for everyone around to see and brought people there. Nowadays more or less zero Asians are residents of Vladivostok, if in a way they partially claimed it back, but more about that later.
Even though Vladivostok is on the same latitude as Sapporo or the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean (!), winters are brutal and the ocean around it freezes. Vladivostok lies on a peninsula that sticks out into a large bay. There is ocean on three sides of the town, and, as mentioned much of the quiet bay freezes over in winter.
During Cold War times, Vladivostok was closed to foreigners, since it was and is the one and only big harbor for whatever Russian naval military forces. I wonder what life was like in Vladivostok during these dark times.

The town saw a major development boost when the APEC summit was held there in 2012. They got the two big bridges connecting parts of the city and the city to the island of Russky in the south of Vladivostok. Before the bridges you had to drive around a big part of the inner bay and go by boat to Russky island or rather don’t go there at all. They also built a giant convention center and university on Russky island and a big aquarium.

So, why go to Vladivostok? People who know me know that it’s one of my passions to travel and to combine that if ever possible with going to gigs of heavy metal bands. It came to pass that one of my favorite bands, Amorphis from Finland, was going to Vladivostok. Ha! That sounds like an adventure worth undertaking 😉 Since after all, Vladivostok is just a two hour twenty minute plane ride from Tokyo. To get a Russian visa is the biggest hustle about going to Russia, but also that is manageable, if super inconvenient.

I must admit I was quite excited about the trip, not knowing at all how much remoteness to expect. I was not majorly encouraged by the tiny propeller plane of Aurora airlines, the Far East subsidiary of Aeroflot, at Narita airport either.

Though, thanks to okay weather, the flight was smoother than expected. I think about 80 people fit onto such a plane and there were maybe fifty or sixty heading for Vladivostok. Some Japanese adventurers, but mostly Russians. Arrived in Vladivostok though I was in for a surprise. The airport immigration was swamped with plane loads full of Chinese and Koreans. Uh? What to they want in Vladivostok? My first hunch was shopping and my hunch got verified later. I shall come back to that.
They let me into the country thanks to my visa no questions asked. I waited forever at the baggage claim until I came upon the idea to walk around because some suitcases fell of the band once in a while and yes, mine must have fallen too and I found it at the farthest, darkest corner of the baggage retrieval.


I had ordered a taxi via my hotel and they were supposed to pick me up with a sign stating the hotel name, but there were only tons of Korean signs and none in western writing. I happened to arrive though, luckily, on the international women’s day, which is even a national holiday in Russia, and people were giving all women who arrived tulips at the arrivals area. I went to the side and stood there waiting and got out my phone to call the hotel, as one of the young women who gave out flowers asked me if she could help in very good English. I explained and she whipped out her phone, called the hotel and ran through half the airport for me searching for my driver, apologizing that he must be stupid and that I have to wait. Wow, so friendly! She did ask though, what are you doing in Vladivostok, with the undertone of ‘why the hell have you come here’? Lol. I explained to her about the gig and she said she’ll check out the band! Lol. Then she found my driver and off I went towards Vladivostok which is about an hour drive away from the airport.

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!

Zamami Lookouts

On day three I did the lookout route and burned through two bicycle batteries on the up and down course through the island (I got a second one as a spare from the hotel staff as a service ;-)). One of the open sea side lookouts comes with a mini tower for the whale watching season. A local sits in the tower and looks out for whales and radios their position to the whale watching boats. Some humpback whales usually come to breed around Zamami. They are around from January to April. Since it was only the first of January, it didn’t look like they had arrived yet.


On the bay side lookout I met a lady from the U.K. who is a teacher in Yamagata prefecture in the north and who escaped the snow there for some days of sunshine, only that there was no sunshine. But at least it was warmer than in Yamagata, which is drowning in snow this time of year. The lady was a muslim and wore a black veil. I wonder how the people in Yamagata react to her. I’m sure it’s not exactly easy for her to live in Japan.
After the lookout tour I had been to everywhere on the island and it is very beautiful indeed.


Is it a candidate for retirement? I haven’t ruled it out yet, despite only 600 people in the island. I “interviewed” some of the hotel personnel. Two are from Yokohama originally, one lady is from Iwate. One of the Yokohama guys is on the island for six years now and his family is still in Yokohama. Interesting. The lady from Iwate left her husband there. I don’t know for how many years. They were working over New Year, which is kind of holy for the Japanese as a family get together event, but… interesting. The guy from Yokohama who is there for six years said there is a doctor on the island on weekdays and if there is something serious, they fly you over to Naha with the “doctor heli” helicopter service. If the ferries don’t go but you must get off the island, you can charter a helicopter as well, it costs usually 90,000 yen, but depending on the circumstances they let you charter it for 30,000 yen. If five people board that’s only 6000 yen per person. The ferries don’t run on average once a month due to bad weather. Of course no helicopter flies during a typhoon either, but no planes from Naha also, so what. Hm! The island is still a candidate for retirement 😉

On my last full day I went to the pirate beach once more and to town for lunch, but then escaped back to the hotel due to rain becoming more constant. Despite the far from ideal weather and the difficulties in getting to the island, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Naha and Zamami. The latter is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Off to Zamami

I admit that the ferry ride to Zamami was a bit scary, the boat was swaying nicely and bumping hard against the currents and the swell. But nothing happened and I got to Zamami all right. Hotel staff picked up not only me but another ten guests or so and brought us the two kilometers to the hotel by car.
Zamami belongs to the Kerama island group, a collection of three inhabited islands and countless smaller and bigger rocks in between. Around 600 people live on Zamami, fewer on the other islands around it. I quickly borrowed a bicycle with battery assist and started exploring the island. There is one traffic light on the island at the port and also that one is not really needed 😉 The things to do on Zamami are diving, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, whale watching and riding around with a bicycle.

There is one general store in the main settlement with food and shampoo and the like, plus t-shirts and beach sandals and that’s basically it.
I read about Pope Francis’s Christmas address, in which he said people should live simpler lives without accumulating mundane things. Come to a small island, there you can enjoy simpler life.
I bicycled around the island for four days and did just that 😉

On my first full day on the island I headed north of the last settlement where I was staying, and there is “nothing” anymore but “wilderness”. The wilderness is still very civilized with a well maintained road that leads first to another lookout over a cliff to the north. Then a long and windy road leads to the north-eastern end of the island and on the map it promised a beach. I’ve seen quite a couple of beaches in my life already, but this one is one of the best for sure. It has just the right size, a fantastic view to uninhabited islands and rocks in the distance, great sand and a very rare feature, a small fresh water booklet that comes down from the mountain behind it. Now where do you have a fresh water booklet coming onto a perfect beach?




The whole atmosphere just shouted pirate beach to me. If I was a pirate I’d made that place my lair 😉
On top of that there is the much quieter inner bay of the island just a fifty meter walk above a ledge. If enemies come looking for you, off you go over the ridge and into a second boat in the inner bay and they’ll never catch you. What a perfect place 🙂
On the way back I rode down another path to the inner bay and came out at a cottage place, which probably only operates in summer, very nice getaway as well. Then off to another pirate cove over the wider ridge behind my hotel, a north-west facing small beach. Zamami is a truly beautiful island with lonely beaches that I suppose are not full even in high season.

On I rode to town and had lunch at a cozy little eatery, then rode again to the lookout point from the day before. There is another look out point further out, but my assist battery was running low, so kept this one for the next day. Hiding from the afternoon rain at the harbor, I finally rode home to the hotel but spotted an elderly couple nearby the hotel at a pier attempting to fish and chatted with them for a while. They were staying in the same hotel as I did and share the same hobby, they also have been to plenty of small islands already and live in Tokyo ;-). Like me they like places which are remote and lonely, I guess that’s because we live in a megalopolis of 20 million people 😉

Naha Revisited

I got up at seven in the morning to be ready for the ferry, but… at eight came the announcement that also that day all ferries to Zamami were cancelled due to the bad weather and rough seas. Hmmmmm… since I liked my room and it’s price, I prolonged my stay for another night, despite the fire alarm disaster.
So, what to do? Well, when it comes to sightseeing in Naha, the castle is a must. Of course I had been there also in the 1990ties, but it was so long ago it was worth going again. When I was in Naha in 1994 there had been only buses and lots of traffic jams. There are still traffic jams, but meanwhile Naha got a tiny monorail line that starts at the airport, goes through the middle of the city and stops at the rear of the castle.
I rode the cute monorail and wandered through the castle garden to its front in a stop and go of showers. The castle is very Chinese, since the Ryukyu kingdom was, if independent, always intertwined with China as well as Japan. Ryukyu only became Okinawa around 1870.
If you are in Naha, the castle is a must and it was bigger and prettier than I remembered 😉



After the castle visit I wandered back towards the Kokusai Douri, but the march was too long and I caught a bus back to shopping paradise.
Parallel to Kokusai Douri is also a pottery street with dozens of rather up-end pottery shops where you can get beautiful stuff, but for a price. I managed to not succumb to pottery, but I did get a bit carried away and bought more hotaru jewelry. That’s Okinawa glass art with metal inlays that looks very shiny and pretty 😉 It’s more or less the only jewelry I like, apart from silver with heavy metal motives 😉 I went hunting for the best and affordable items and indeed found some at a shop with an astonishingly friendly grandma selling the stuff. I say astonishingly because I think these sales people have to put up with a lot of shit from not so super friendly foreigners every day, but she warmed up to me when I talked to her in Japanese 😉
Next I wandered on to the Fukushuen garden, a Chinese garden close to the sea and it’s very much worth the visit as well.


Finally, I went on to the main shrine of Naha by the ocean. It was already under preparation for the big queue and festival mode of the New Year shrine visit ritual, and it was interesting to see the little booths with food being installed everywhere. Finally, another march home and I guess I walked about 15 km that day and was pretty tired back in the hotel.
Luckily no more fire alarms and at eight the next morning the good news, the ferry is going!

Stuck on the Island

It’s small island time at least once per year for me. So this time I wanted to go to the island of Zamami, about 50 km west of Okinawa’s biggest city of Naha, which is on Okinawa main island.
There are three possibilities per day to get to the island, twice with a speed ferry, once with a slow ferry. The only same day possibility was to take an early flight to Naha, then move to the port and take the afternoon speed ferry to Zamami.
I arrived in clouds and rain and went by taxi to the port, but the taxi driver was already saying, probably the ferries don’t go, it’s too choppy out there.
He was right, there was a sign at the ticket booth at the port saying, none of the ships had been going that day. Ugh… I quickly checked booking dot com and found a good priced hotel close to the port and the taxi driver brought me there.
The hotel turned out to be quite new or renovated and the room was astonishingly nice for the last minute deal price.
I had been in Naha once during my student times in Fukuoka a staggering 24 years ago. The other times I’ve been to Okinawa I only passed through Naha. Of course I hardly remembered the place. But the one place to go to is the Kokusai Douri, the International Street. It’s a pretty long shopping street and off it branch several shopping arcades as well.

The one thing I remembered about Kokusai Douri was that there were dozens of what was then called “army surplus” stores. These shops sold old military uniforms and whatever other kind of military stuff. There is a large US army base in Okinawa, which the locals hate. The US gave back Okinawa to Japan only in 1972 by the way.
These army surplus stores have all but disappeared. I found only one single lonely shop selling military clothes and gas masks and stuff like that. All the military shops were replaced with harmless souvenir shops selling tinker and food specialties. Well, I surely prefer that to the military crap.
At 2:30 in the morning that night I was woken up by a nasty alarm on endless repeat: attention, a fire has broken out in the fifth floor, please evacuate the building immediately. The recording was in Japanese and English with teeth grinding alarm sounds in between that were blasting your ears off. Since I saw nothing and smelled nothing, I was not very freaked out and took the time to put on socks, pants and two jackets before leaving the building with my purse and computer. Some hotel guests had been more freaked out than me and stood there in their pajamas freezing. It was raining again and windy at around fifteen Celsius. Three fire trucks and the police came in one mighty commotion.

At 3:30 they called the alarm off. The very nervous night manager stood in the breakfast room and thanked the guests for their cooperation and that thanks to us the fire brigade could check everything so quickly and efficiently and sent everyone except for floor five back to bed. I was on floor four of the ten story building, luckily. No clue when the fifth floor was allowed to return.
In the morning the front desk showed signs around that a guest had tampered with a fire extinguisher and the case was now investigated by the police. Oops 😉 seems like a drunken dude will not enjoy the rest of his stay in Naha.

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!

Writing Progress Report

I haven’t posted a book progress update in a while. So here is one. The fourth Dome of Souls novel is all but ready. It’s proofread, I have a cover, only thing I need to do is to format it and start the publishing process.
Under my pseudonym, I also have a cover for the latest beast and it is ready and currently at the proofreader. Once I get it back, I have to make the final changes and then that one will be good to go too.
So what’s keeping me from doing the final steps of the fourth Dome of Souls novel? The fifth one! 😉 I’m in the process of writing its first draft and it’s been going very smoothly and quickly and I’m already at 75,000 words. I expect the beast to have between 90,000 and 100,000 words in the end, so not much more to go. I’m pushing for the completion of the first draft to stay in the nice and steady creation flow it is in now. While Dome 3 = Jeronimo and Dome 4 = “title to be announced soon”, took a while to write, Dome 5 is like Dome 2 = The Anatomy of Anarchy, it practically wrote itself, because the story was all very clear in my head already.
It was and is a great pleasure to be writing Dome 5 due to this “the book writes” itself aspect. I’m at it for seven weeks now and I suppose the first draft will be finished after ten weeks or so. That would be my second quickest time ever for finishing the first draft of a novel, the fastest being and probably remaining “To Mix and To Stir”, the second Hagen Patterson novel, which took me a mere five weeks to write.
I’m always talking about the initial drafts here, the self-editing etc. process is so much longer than the first draft. “To Mix and To Stir” remains the fastest book also in the department of the overall process including self-editing, and editing/proofreading by someone else. To Mix and To Stir came out nine months after I started with the beast.
The pseudonym book coming out soon is the second fastest. Since I suppose it will be ready in January or February, it took/will take 13 or 14 months from writing to putting it out there. So far so good! I better get back to Dome 5, because I am itching to finish that first draft :-)
Dome 4 will probably come out in January or February too, once I get around to formatting it 😉 Cheers!

Hanazono Shrine Festival

There is a festival (matsuri) every day of the year somewhere in Japan, when local shrines or temples celebrate whatever they deem worth celebrating. Yesterday, I went with a Japanese friend to a festival at the Hanazono shrine in the middle of Shinjuku, called Tori no Ichi (literal translation of that is “bird market”). There are no birds around though, but small or big “Kumade” = “rakes”. These rakes are heavily decorated and come along in tiny version for 2000 yen (~ 15 Euro) to giant arrangements that probably sell for half a million yen (~ 4500 Euro). Since all pieces are handmade, there might be similar ones, but not one is completely like the other and the big ones are truly unique pieces.

Now why would you want to buy a huge, decorated rake worth 4500 Euro? These rakes are supposed to bring you luck for your business. You first go to the shrine, which is hidden behind thousands of lanterns and ask the resident god that your business shall thrive, then you go to the stalls and look for a rake of your desire and adequate to the size of your purse. You put the rake into your office or home and hope that it calls luck to your business, until you go again in November of the following year, throw your old one away and get a new one.

Not all of the rakes but many are designed around the animal whose Chinese zodiac turn it will be the next year. Since next year is the year of the wild boar, many had figures of those inside the rake.
The Hanazono shrine is not the only one with such a rake market of course, but it seems to be the biggest or one of the biggest in Japan. It’s quite impressive to walk through the rows of color explosions.
I bought a little rake off of a guy who looked like he was a hundred years old 😉 and shall hope that it will help me to sell a few more books next year 😉 It’s a bit of a funny wild boar, because it sits upright and calls luck (and money) with its paw like a “Maneki Neko” (a cat) whose job that usually is and on top of that it holds a dragon ball in the other paw (there are tons of interpretations about the dragon balls, they can represent power, water (good harvest) or simply the dragon’s treasure). Now if that maneki neko, dragon ball wielding wild boar won’t bring me luck then I don’t know what will 😉
Apart from the rake booths there are of course tons of stalls with food and sweets around to create a proper festival atmosphere. The Hanazono Tori no Ichi comes along with one other specialty, the old style Japanese version of a “tunnel of horror”. It was not allowed to film or take photos inside. This is definitely a dying art and I wonder how many performing troops are still out there. A narrator announces the weird people and monsters, then actors jump on stage performing a short act. They had a “crazy office lady” who was stapling herself with an office stapler. A group of wild guys was eating dry ice, a girl was drinking burning wax and spewing fire, a guy with a long needle through his cheek was dragging a cart around with it and the highlight was a “wild woman” who was eating live worms on stage, yuk yuk yuk! 😉 It was interesting to see this and it gave a bit of an insight into what happened at such festivals two hundred years ago.
I guess I have to go there now every year. Because I have to throw away the boar end of 2019 to get a rake with a rat, since 2020 will be the year of the rat 😉