The Bus Is Late!

I don’t even remember the occasion anymore, but recently I was at some other office of ours and then went home to do home office for the rest of the day at around noon. I didn’t have the bicycle with me either due to rain in the morning, but when I arrived at the bus stop the sun had come out and it was relatively hot. Who rides the buses of Yokohama around noon? Mostly elderly people and mothers with pre-school children. A bunch of us waited at the bus stop and waited and waited and no bus was in sight. Some of the elderly people started grumbling and mumbling, unhappy about the bus’s delay.
It finally showed up, about fifteen precious minutes late. One old gentleman was bawling at the bus driver “you are late!”.
A super young guy sat in the bus driver seat, maybe 22 or something like that and an elderly bus driver approaching 60 stood next to him. The situation was thus clear, that this was the first or one of the first rides of the young guy and he had a teacher with him. The young guy looked very tense and stressed.
When the bus sat in motion the teacher bus driver turned around, took his hat off and bowed deeply to the bus customers apologizing for the delay (without giving a reason) and stating that we were 16 minutes late.
There was more disgruntled mumbling from some of the elderly passengers.
The teacher bus driver then turned around and continued his explaining to the young apprentice. At the next bus stop the show repeated itself in the exact same fashion, ranting elderly people boarded the bus and the apology followed with hat removal, bowing and the announcement that we were now 17 minutes late.
The whole scene highly bemused me, though I think I was the only one having fun. The young driver and his teacher stood there in shame and the elderly folk in thundering anger. It sometimes ain’t no fun to work in the service industry in Japan! Why the heck are those elderly folk so angry about the bus delay? You’ve got all the time in the world! I don’t think you have any telecons to do when you get home 😉 But that’s Japan for you, the promise of service was broken and the poor drivers experienced a wave of disapproval. I hope the young kid didn’t quit, but then again it’s not common or easy to quit your job in Japan 😉

Japan Writers Conference 2017 Report

It’s been a while since I attended the Japan Writer’s Conference, but since it happened in Tokyo this year, I was able to go for one of its two days.
It was great to meet some old friends and acquaintances.
The seminars were a pleasure to attend and a nice distraction from the day job.

The first seminar I went to by Marie Orise dealt with the “downdraft” and the “updraft” of a work of fiction. The downdraft is the first draft, the updraft is the refining, self-editing part of the fiction writing process. Marie made a poll concerning who has more trouble getting the story on paper and who has more trouble refining it. The audience was divided nearly fifty-fifty. I definitely belong into the category of finding the updraft harder to do. I have no problem at all getting a story written. But then refining it, oh my, what an act.
Some hints from Marie what to look for in the updraft were:
If something doesn’t “spark joy”, delete it.
Delete mundane details, no matter how much you like them.
Sometimes it helps to keep the three unities of theater in the back of your mind: The unities of action, place and time and to streamline your story with their help.
Always ask yourself what you want to say, how much of it and in what order.
I shall keep on struggling with the updraft and thanks for the tips, Marie.

Hans Brinckmann did a great seminar on how he turned his WW2 memoirs into two publications and it was fascinating to listen to his memories of when he was a twelve year old boy in Nazi Germany occupied Holland. It’s been a while since I listened to an eye witness report from WW2.

SciFi trilogy author Eli K.P. William’s topic was author voice and other voices like the narrator’s or the characters’ voices in a work of fiction.
Especially since I’m writing in a foreign language, I think it’s difficult to acquire a distinctive author’s voice. I was especially grateful for Eli’s tips on how to make your different characters sound less “the same”. His suggestions were: make “rules” for each character what kind of words they use (e.g. Someone has a Scottish accent), major characters have “dialogue tags” (e.g. Someone says “Oh Lord” all the time and you know it’s that guy speaking and you don’t need an “Z said” so often.), vary the rhythm of speech, imagine characters voices in your head while you write and edit, never let your character say something that’s obvious to the others present (also known as the “as you know, Bob” phenomenon. ) though sometimes this is very tricky, when you have characters explaining essential plot things to each other.
Let’s see if I can implement that into my future stories 😉

The last seminar I attended was on how to get an anthology together. Susan Laura Sullivan and Suzanne Kamata presented their long journeys as anthology editors and I admire the persistence and stamina they had in putting these anthologies together. I especially liked the cover of Susan’s anthology. That’s one nice display of muscles which I’d like to have 😉

The evening dinner had a special feature to offer too, five writers, including the author Peter Marsh, performed songs for a musical Peter wrote. Now that’s something you don’t get to hear or see every day! Congrats to a great performance!

Even though the next Japan Writers Conference will be held in Hokkaido, I hope to be able to attend!

Six Years Later

Today is the 11th of March and it happens to be a Saturday, which is the usual day for my blog post. It feels kinda weird to ignore the date and to post happy heavy metal memories from the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, so I shall post them next weekend instead.

The Great East Japan earthquake happened at 14:46 six years ago and I was just in the Lalaport Yokohama shopping mall today during that time and was pleased that the moment did not pass by unnoticed, but that Lalaport made an announcement and conducted a minute of silence. Most of the people in the busy mall observed the minute, myself included, and it was touching and spooky at the same time to have most the people around you stop walking and close their eyes.

Six years ago our lives here were shaken up and about 18,500 people, including those who are still listed as missing, have died, mostly from the tsunamis that followed, not the actual quake.
It’s quite unbelievable that it happened already six years ago. It was a Friday and I got stuck in the Tokyo office I worked at at the time until 1 in the morning, because also in Tokyo buildings shook massively and all train services stopped for a while.

The wounds of the earthquake and tsunami are bad enough, but what will remain with us for many decades to come is the crippled and melted-down Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant.
Six years on, they are trying to send robots into the melted down chambers to see what’s going on there and to maybe figure out a method how to remove the nuclear mess, but even the robots’ circuits get fried after two hours in radioactivity that would kill a human in two minutes. Nobody knows yet what will become of this stuff and how to deal with it and this story will continue beyond our lifetimes.

I am not categorically against nuclear power but the lessons learned must be: do not build nuclear power plants on the ring of fire next to the ocean……..
I hope that the remaining nuclear power plants in Japan will never get online again. In wikipedia it says that there were 11,450 aftershocks until March 2015… We still get the occasional aftershock in the region. In the meantime it rattled massively in Kyushu last year. On average there is a small quake in Tokyo that you can feel every month. I’m not even tweeting about small earthquakes anymore, it’s a part of life here.

I only hope the Fukushima region does not get hit by a big one in the next 50 years or so that would crumble those concrete chambers where the molten nuclear fuel sits… what a madness.
Still, my opinion from six years ago remains the same, the world cares/cared too much about Fukushima and not enough about the 18,500 who died and the hundred thousands of lives that got destroyed by deaths of loved ones and by displacement because of the nuclear disaster.
My thoughts go out to the victims and to those who were left behind alive but forever damaged.

Back to the Coin Laundry

I haven’t been to the coin laundry in many years, but throughout October I have to visit that old institution, because my old washing machine didn’t do me the favor of holding out for another few weeks before moving to my new place.
The plan was anyway to get a new washing machine and to commence the old one to the washing machine graveyard, but I had hoped to be able to work with the old one until the move. The 11 year-old beast started to leak from the bottom in August and leaked ever more and there came the point when I thought it would be better to turn to the coin laundry rather than risking a flood in my old apartment.

Last time I’ve been in a coin laundry in Japan is some ten years ago or so!
I was kinda afraid there aren’t any coin laundries left but far from it. Internet search revealed several in the vicinity of my old apartment and the closest one is only five minutes by bicycle.
Looks like coin laundries won’t run out of business in Japan because there are a) washing machines for futons and other big stuff and b) probably unmarried elderly men who frequent these establishments.

The guys I saw in the past three weeks in the coin laundry all look kinda shady! Lol. I wasn’t aware that there are so many shady men around here. One or the other of them looked rather unwashed himself, kinda rare in Japan, but hey, at least he is washing some of his clothes once in a while.
Behind my immediate neighborhood is a collection of so-called “danchi”. Simple apartment blocks built in the sixties, seventies or eighties and now their rent is dirt cheap considering their age. And apparently single-looking elderly men live in those apartments who don’t have washing machines. I got one or the other strange look. What’s that foreigner woman doing here in our domain??? Lol. But other than that they ignored me and left me alone.

One week there were also two women in the coin laundry, quite young, and I wonder how they fit into the coin laundry picture.
Anyway, tomorrow will be my last round in the coin laundry, next weekend is the move and after that I will have a fine, nice, new washing machine and won’t have to drag my dirty clothes around anymore, very happy about that!
Due to the move, by the way, the blog will be paused next weekend. I’ll be back here in November. Cheers!

My Friends’ Account of Kyushu Earthquakes

The island of Kyushu is a good 1000 km away from Tokyo and the trouble there has so far no influence on us here in the Kanto area. However, I have a special relationship to Kyushu, since I studied at the University of Kyushu in Fukuoka for a year and two months with a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education. I have come to love Kyushu a lot and the great time I had there was one of the factors for why I thought to want to live in Japan for a longer period of time.

I still have two close friends in Kyushu, one is living in Fukuoka, one is living in a town called Isahaya in Nagasaki prefecture. I am in frequent mail and also phone contact with them now.
Isahaya is only 85 km west of the epicentre of the quakes in Kumamoto, if with water in between, the Isahaya and Shimabara bays. Fukuoka lies 120 km north of Kumamoto.

My friend in Isahaya has two small children of 4 and 2, a boy and a girl. They are yet too young to understand what’s going on but were panicking and crying when the first quake hit out of the blue on Thursday evening local time. It shakes heftily in Isahaya, but so far there is no damage to houses or people. Funnily, I “fled” the great East Japan earthquake of 2011, commonly known here as 3/11 because it happened on the 11th of March, to Isahaya and stayed a week there with my friend, who was pregnant at the time.

My friend in Fukuoka has more trouble despite being farther away from Kumamoto. Also in Fukuoka there is no house or people damage yet, but… My friend has two boys of 12 and 10 years and those two know what’s going on. It shakes frequently all over Japan, but it’s the first bigger quakes experience for the two boys. While the older one plays it cool, the younger one is freaked out. There have been over 250 quakes since the first one on Thursday night, many of them big. On Friday night, the younger boy was sitting in the bathtub when it shook again more significantly. He panicked, jumped butt naked and dripping wet out of the tub and ran crying through the apartment looking for his mother. His older brother, still playing it cool, is now teasing him with that… the poor kid! My friend has her hands full with getting the boys under control.
Then, last night, there was a huge quake of more than 7 on the Richter scale at around 1:30 in the morning. My friend was still up and scared, but guess what, the two boys slept (thankfully) through that one!

So, even where there is no destruction, people are stressed, on edge, and kids get traumatized.
I dearly hope that things calm down quickly now in Kyushu so that people can start taking care of the damage and move back to normal, but alas, they are predicting some sort of spring storm for Kyushu tonight with heavy rains and high winds, what will make the situation for many much more miserable. I hope the storm is not getting too bad and that the shaking finally subsides and that Mt. Aso doesn’t freak now too. Mt. Aso is one of the many very active volcanoes of Japan. Even before the quake it was puffing along and you were not allowed to get within a mile of the crater. I’ve been at the crater during my student times, but got sick from the sulphur smell after five minutes and stumbled gasping down the mountain…
We truly are sitting on the Ring of Fire here, yes, we all know that, but nevertheless it’s hard when we get so many reminders of just how alive the Earth under our feet is, which, by the way, makes Japan also a very beautiful place. I hope my lovely Kyushu will calm down soon!

The Sad Bench

Whenever I’m working in my “main” in Shibuya, I’m passing by this bench inside Shibuya station, in the hall between the Hikarie building and the entrance to the Fukutoshin and Denentoshi lines.

Behind the bench is a “hole” to the outside but it’s still protected from rain. This bench serves more or less three purposes and they reflect some aspects of the Japanese society.
In the evening, the bench is often used by “rich” but exhausted shoppers, who are coming out of the Hikarie building with its shopping malls. They sort through their shopping and rearrange it to protect it from damage during the crowded subway ride ahead.

In the morning though, when I pass it going to the office before the shopping mall opens, it’s frequented by “the working poor” homeless people who use it as a resting point. These kind of working poor people have lost their homes and they might sleep outside or in manga cafes if they have the money and who are desperate to “look respectable”, since they have jobs or are hunting for them. You can identify them as homeless though by their amount of luggage in form of rucksacks and often used plastic bags, not the fancy paper bags you receive when you shop inside Hikarie.

Since the station is frequented by guards who shush them away, they cannot make the bench a more permanent spot of residence but wait there until the town starts with its business and they can join in on the hunt for a job and a better life.
A third “group” using that bench is the heartbroken. I have seen several young couples sitting on that bench who looked like they were breaking up with one of the two crying.

The working poor homeless people and the couples breaking up make it a quite sad bench and for me it has become a symbol for being lost and lonely in the jungle of a big city. Notice the empty cup ramen next to the bench that surely one of the working poor homeless people left behind.
If I were a poet, I’d write a poem about that bench, but so it’s become a blog entry. Either way, the contrast between rich shoppers and the working poor remains.

Work Hard – Play Hard

I love living in Japan, otherwise I would be here for fifteen years already, but there is one thing that I really really think the Japanese have to learn – to take “longer” holidays. I work at a non-Japanese company but of course I have mostly Japanese colleagues. I think we have 5% or so non-Japanese staff. Those 5% are from all over the world, many Germans of course, but half of our non-Japanese staff is from somewhere else.

The tendency is still that the Japanese staff take off a day here, a day there, a long weekend here, an extension of a few days to the three one-week company shut downs we have, at most a week in between, at most. I was on holidays two and a half weeks in winter, I will be on holidays two and a half weeks starting from coming Wednesday.
I am sure that I will again hear comments when I announce Tuesday night, see you next on 17th of August as I did last winter of “leaving too early” (I’m taking one and a half weeks off before the week the company is closed, I did so in winter, I will do so now) or “yaccha ikenai yo” = “you can’t do that”. Yes, I can.

I did it before, I will do it again and it’s no big deal at all. Also the Japanese colleagues could do it, but they don’t. There is still such a big stigma on enjoying yourself, on having fun, on doing what you wanna do, it’s so sad. Very very slowly it is changing, but way too slow. The main excuse for not taking longer holidays is “that it would cause meiwaku – inconvenience to your colleagues”. That’s of course nonsense, see to it that you have a proxy and be their proxy when they wanna go on holidays and what’s the big deal? But “abandoning” your “oh so important” job for two or three weeks is just something “you don’t do”. It’s one of those senseless dogmas in this society that hinders people from doing what they want to do.

We foreigners are “allowed”, sort of, to take holidays “since we need to go ‘home’ from time to time.” It does not even matter that I’m not going “home” most the time. I’m a foreigner and it’s our custom to take long holidays, so I am allowed to do it.

I wish, oh wish, the Japanese would claim that right for themselves as well instead of going on these four day “refresh” vacations. You just can’t forget about work and recharge the batteries within 4 four days.
Well, I shall continue to be a “role model” of work hard – play hard and keep on encouraging my co-workers. I hope that by the time I retire, I will have seen one or the other of them taking two weeks off in a row!

And by the way, my summer trip will take me to Europe. Wacken heavy metal festival first, then a few days Barcelona, then a week in Portugal for one more heavy metal festival in Vagos, the rest sightseeing in Porto (oh port wine, I’m coming!) and Lisbon. Cheerio!

Expats Who Should Stay Home

I’ve been living in a foreign country for some 15 years now, which means I apparently like it. Usually, when you live and work or study in a foreign country, you become more tolerant, more open, more relaxed about things and realize soon how much easier it makes your life to be tolerant, open and more relaxed. Some people however are foreign-experience-resistant, despite having the privilege of that experience.
During my job, I am often confronted with one or the other of those foreign-experience-resistant persons. Although living aborad for several years, they prove change-averse with neglegible to zero consideration for their surroundings, their own behavior and the subtle or not so subtle signs of the behavior of others.
They import all their values and habits. It does not matter to them where they live, they just plant themselves into this other society and cause heaps of horror.

I am German, so I naturally know a lot of German expats, but the same is true for some candidates from other countries.
The foreign-experience-resistant Germans are super direct, super rude, annoyingly loud and impatient, always talk, always complain, are notoriously unhappy and no matter what you do, they stay that way. They are completely oblivious to the fact that Japan is a high context culture and they themselves come from a low context culture, despite attending such seminars.
They just don’t get it that many things in Japan are done indirectly, that politeness is an inherent part of the culture, that patience is a virtue, that there are times when you should shut up, and that complaining is not considered „cool“.

I am just amazed at how blind these foreign-experience-resistant Germans are. They just don’t get it. They don’t see the slight or not so slight frowns of their Japanese colleagues, they cannot „read the air“. (reading the air, kuuki wo yomu, is an essential thing in Japan. You walk into a room and read the air = the mood everyone is in etc.)
I am also loud, I talk a lot and I’m direct etc. but if I wasn’t able to read the air, I would have left Japan in frustration a long time ago. I cannot help wondering how those elephants (or bulls) in a china shop, to use a German expression, manage to survive even three years on a foreign assingment here or anywhere else. Of course those people leave in frustration, because they didn’t manage to export their values to the foreign country, were not accepted here, and everybody is happy when they’re finally going home, oh what a surprise.
What do they do? Just a few examples: talking endlessly in meetings, unable to wait for ten seconds to give their Japanese colleages the opportunity to speak. Complaining about EVERYTHING, e.g. their (usually very favorable) working conditions, that they cannot get product XY instead of enjoying the ludicrous variety of products available here, the high prices (they earn more than any local), that people don’t respond to them the way they expect them to… the list is endless.

Of course living in Japan has ist downsides as everywhere else and sometimes some Japanese traits drive me nuts too, but I am driven way more nuts and up the wall by those change/learning/foreign-resistant blockheads and I have one big message for them: Stay at home and don’t bother us here with your unwanted presence….

Japan Writers Conference 2014 Report – Day 1

This year’s Japan Writers Conference (JWC) happened in Morioka in northern Japan on the 25th and 26th of October. After being unable to attend last year (I was in the UK at that time for the World Fantasy Convention) it was great to see some old friends as well as make new ones.
Since several conferences/festivals happened in Morioka that weekend, we had a hotel shortage problem and I ended up staying at an old but cozy ryokan some 25 km south of Morioka in a place called Shiwachuo on the Tohoku-Honsen train line. What a nice, sleepy hinterland town 😉
Trains went only once per half-hour and I missed one on the first morning, which resulted in arriving 20 min late for the first session.

Karen McGee talked about the Writer’s Bookshelf.
Since I missed the first half, this is only a partial report. What books do you need/should you have on your bookshelf concerning craft, reference books etc.
Some new tips for me were (aside from e.g. Stephen King’s “On Writing”, or “Self editing for fiction writers” etc.:) “The 10% solution”, “Reading Like a Writer”, in the craft category, and in the reference category: “The Way Things Work”, and “The Negative Trait Thesaurus”.
As for Internet sources: “Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus”, specialist forums like e.g. the “locksmiths forum” (who know a lot about locks) are a good address for information and if you search for settings try: “YouTube real estate videos”

Next I “snuck” into the closed poetry analysis session of David Gilby. (Thanks for letting me hang out!).
Three poets read and discussed their poems and it was quite an intense critique session.
Also as a prose writer you have to choose your words carefully, of course, but as a poet even more so.
There were several deep dives into the meaning of words during this session, leaving me with the re-realization that words are incredibly ambiguous and it’s very hard to convey what you mean to others. Even if you try to be concrete, it’s damn hard to be. And: the more concrete you are, the better. Further: avoid cliches at all costs. Both issues are very much true also in (long) fiction and this session was an excellent reminder of the trouble with words.

After lunch in the university’s canteen, I digested villains.
Hugh Ashton gave a great talk on villains.
Sometimes villains can be abstract things (like “fate” in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), or internal (“The Killer Inside Me” – Jim Thompson).
Your “usual” villain though is the antagonist who drives your hero nuts.
Very often you can trace their villainy down to one or two or more of the seven deadly sins (except for gluttony and sloth maybe, but it’s now tickling me to explore how a sloth villain would behave, (not the cute animal of course)).
Another thing you need to take into account is to make your villain likeable = to give him/her some redeeming qualities so that the audience can identify with him/her. They need a motivation and a schtick or a habit.
The same is of course true for heroes, too smooth and “good” heroes are boring, they need something bad about them too to make them interesting.

We explored a couple of popular and widely known villains under the 7 deadly sins aspect.
Lady Macbeth – her candidate of the 7 deadly sins is envy, her redeeming quality is that she develops a conscience
Hannibal Lecter – pride. He’s a true psychopath, but he can also be kind and considerate, and is very smart
Jame Gumb (the other villain from “The Silence of the Lambs” who skins his victims) – lust. There is nothing redeeming about him, but at least an attempt at explaining why he is a monster
Iago – envy. A smart, intellectual villain who uses stealth, not violence
Goldfinger – avarice. But he’s got style and black humor
Professor Moriarty – pride, the “Napoleon of crime”, high intellectual abilities, funny and sinister, camp and clever.
Next up we did a little exercise in which we created our own little villain in pairs of two, which was great fun.

I don’t write YA (and have no desire to do so) but nevertheless attended Suzanne Kamata’s session “YA or Why Not”
We took a look at some examples of YA books and the floating boundaries to “normal” adult fiction (without even touching the new thing in between: the “New Adult” category (where the protagonist is in his/her early twenties)).
One characteristic of YA is that the book stays on story, without wandering off, but the same is true for a lot of (adult) genre fiction too.
One book we looked at was originally released as “adult” fiction, sales were disappointing – now, with a fresh “younger” cover, they try to re-market it as YA. Thus are the politics of the publishing world.

The last session I attended that day was Bob Tobin’s – the Courage to Write
In my personal case, I do not need the courage to write (I do that quite voluntarily all the time) but I am in dire need of the “courage” (or rather the energy) to market my stuff.
Bob gave a few nice hints about how to deal with your worries of rejection, being laughed at etc.:
e.g.: write down the things you are worrying about and literally throw them into the garbage bag, or if that is not enough, rip them up and flush them down the toilet.
Caution vs courage, if caution is 1 and courage 7 on a scale, where are you and what do you need to do to move more into the courage direction?
Ask yourself what stops you and try to silence your own critic. (You are likely your worst critic).
Stop comparing yourself to anyone else and don’t go to “pity city”.
Create a (supportive) community – without jerks in it.
How to react to feedback: If you get bad feedback from a person you respect, ask him/her to tell you more details. If the feedback comes from someone you don’t respect, disregard it, because they don’t understand you and your work (easier said than done). Always say thanks and don’t argue with people who give you bad feedback.
Write about what bothers you most, be it jealously, fear or being ridiculed… That frees you up.
It was a nice motivational session, which we all need sometimes in the hostile publishing world 😉

Read my report on the sessions of the second conference day next week.
And here is the link to the conference video shot and edited by Tom Baker

Niijima Travel Report – Part 1

Short summer holidays only for me this year due to work issues and so I went off to yet another island. Japan has 7000 of them, so there’s still a lot to explore. Just joking, the figure 7000 includes all sorts of tiny uninhabited rocks like some of those in the photos you will find on flickr.
This time my target was the island of Niijima, some 200 km south of Tokyo and one of the Izu island chain. Formerly I have been to the biggest of them, Oshima, home of Godzilla, and Hachijojima. A thousand kilometers further south, are the wonderful Ogasawara islands.

Niijima lies between Oshima and Hachijojima and can be reached via the jet ferry, if it runs, that is… We had typhoon 11 of 2014 crossing Japan on the weekend before I was scheduled to leave and even though Tokyo and its islands were not in the direct path of the typhoon, we had very high winds and lots of wind means high waves.
I had, luckily, planned a normal weekend at home, before heading out to the island on Monday. Of course I frequently checked the homepage of the ferry operator, Tokai Kisen, and on the Saturday and Sunday there were zero jet ferries going and even the normal ship did not sail. I was actually not expecting to be able to get to the island on Monday. My ferry was the noon one leaving Tokyo at 13:10, and after getting up, I checked Tokai Kisen’s homepage and there were signs saying, depending on the weather we might not go. I called them and the dude on the phone said, the morning ferries had left Tokyo port. Well, um, eh… that means I better go to the harbor, right?

The ferry was almost full and off we went. Even in Tokyo bay the waters were choppy and outside Tokyo bay of course even more so. The jet ferry travels at around 70 to 80 km per hour and rises above the waves on its wings. That had the nice advantage of avoiding up and down movements, but you still see the up and down from your window and the impact of the waves makes the boat jolt as if someone boxed it from the side. It’s rather unnerving and the sounds are scary too. Water is hard at 70 km per hour… An elderly lady behind me was sighing and pressing a handkerchief to her face the entire time not looking very happy. I was a bit apprehensive, but did not feel sick or anything. The ride took about three hours. We passed Oshima and Toshima to our right and both islands were huddled in clouds. Especially the cloud over Toshima looked like a giant Cthulhu-like beast intending to swallow the island. This cloud hugging phenomenon would continue the entire week.

At first the ferry goes past the goal, making a brief stop at a smaller island south of Niijima called Shikinejima. Then it goes back past Niijima and we landed in its northern port.
There my landlord waited for me with a car. We also picked up a family. This family turned out to be not guests but the landlord’s son, his wife, her mother, and two young children of 5 and half a year. I was the only guest of the place that night, since several people had cancelled, unable to come with the ferries over the weekend.
There are two main settlements on the island. The northern one called Wakago and the bigger one called Honso.

Niijima consists of two mountain areas much like Hachijojima with a rather flat plain between them. Again in a copy of Hachijojima there is an airport on that flat part, if a tiny one. Regular (smaller) passenger jets can fly to Hachijojima. To Niijima the biggest planes are small propellor craft with up to twenty passengers only, which leave from Chofu airport in the greater Tokyo area.
I had dinner with the family then and it turned out that my plans to explore the island via bicycle were no good. There is a tunnel through the biggest mountain connecting Wakago and Honso and it prohibited to walk through it or go by bicycle, only by car or bike.
The hotel has the incredible custom to let its guests borrow their cars and they offered me to drive around with their little Daihatsu Move.
I explained my driving status and experience and the landlord offered, well, I can drive you around a little bit on Tuesday morning and then you can decide whether you dare to drive the Daihatsu or not.

After a sweaty night, the air conditioning in my room was out of order and I slept with the door and window open, an electrician came at 8 in the morning (!) and started to work on my air conditioning while I had breakfast. Then, the landlord ushered me into his big Toyota Granvia and brought me up a small and very serpentiny bad, small road to the highest spot from where you have a nice view of Honso settlement and the islands Jinan and Shikine and the southern mountain.
Next we drove around that southern mountain, when it started to rain. He drove then through the “jungle” at the foot of the southern mountain and said, oh there is a well in here, you wanna see it? Sure. So he entered a tiny dirt path, not realizing that there were some drainage gates at the side of the path. The left tire broke in there and we almost got stuck and the landlord forced the car out of it and blew his front left tire in the process. Kya! I took some pics of the well while he phoned the garage, then we turned around and hobbled back onto the road.

Torrential rain started and we waited for a while, but then he drove on somehow and we crept to the garage, which was luckily only a a kilometer or so away. Now I know what it’s like to drive with a blown tire. I shall refrain from doing so if I can avoid it! At the garage, they changed the tire within ten minutes and off we went again towards home, passing by the most famous beach, Habushiura, on the eastern side of the island.
We were back home already at 11:00 in the morning and I sort of had no choice, go by car myself or be bored to death in the Wakago settlement, which sports two tiny supermarkets and a shrine, a temple and a school. Well, there is a beach and a harbor, but that’s it. Island life!

So, some minutes later I sat behind the wheel of the little Daihatsu and off I went.
At first through the long tunnel where you are not allowed to walk or bicycle. Well, the tunnel is some three kilometers long, I can understand that you are not allowed through the tunnel without a motor under your butt.
I went to the most famous beach again, which is rather close to the tunnel to relax from scary driving! Lol. The tunnel is rather new by the way, about ten years. Some thirteen or so years ago when the volcano of nearby Miyakejima decided to become active, several local earthquakes accompanied the activity. Acording to the landlord, they crumbled the old seaside serpentine road around the mountain. After that, the city of Tokyo decided to invest into that tunnel.

I walked a bit up and down the surfer beach, which is a total of seven kilometers long, until the next massive shower came down, which I sat out under a picnic shelter.
On went the car journey to Honso and the main ferry terminal past the only two traffic lights of the island 😉
There are several attractions close to the main ferry terminal. Another beach, more for young children, then a rocky beach, good for snorkeling and shore climbing. Further an onsen with a foot bath, and a real bath under fake Greek ruins, in which you are supposed to wear swim suits. That’s rather rare for onsens, but since it’s visible from the road, it makes sense to have people wear something, not that the drivers are plunging down the cliff distracted by naked people ;-).

Next to the Greek onsen is a big rock that has some World War Two ruins to offer, after a bit of a hazardous climb. Up is much easier than down as I noticed yet again. But since I am writing this, I survived the climb 😉
During a rest at the foot bath, I was the only one who noticed another guest of the premises. A rather big rat rushed around 😉 It was too quick for a photo. After this break I went on by car, still following the bigger, two lane roads and rounded the island once. Beyond the tunnel, in the smaller north of the island and “close to base” I decided to get a bit adventurous, thinking I could still walk back to the hotel in case something happens, like putting the car in a ditch! So I drove a small curvy road down to a “secret” beach, that the landlord had recommended. Thanks to no oncoming traffic, I got down the road quite fine and was rewarded with an amazing lonely and utterly beautiful beach, whose pics you can find here. At first I was completely alone there, then a small group of elderly people showed up for five minutes and two surfers, who tried their luck, but rather unsuccessfully, with the waves breaking too close to the shore.

Luckily, I had no oncoming traffic on the way back up either and got more adventurous and drove up a mountain road in serpentines in the hope for a good view, which I got 😉


The road is a cul de sac (I found out later it was actually the start of the old road around the mountain leading to Honso). Just before the end where you have to turn around, a big, at least one meter long, if not longer, brown snake crossed my path. I noticed her in time and could break and she vanished unharmed into the woods, unfortunately too quickly for a pic.
The car mountain climbing accomplished, I rode back down to the hotel, pretty damn proud of having done my first island exploring by car. More to follow 😉

The twisted logic of the Japanese Service industry

While buying a new computer is no big deal at all, i found the service discussion that went on yesterday between Biccamera and myself quite interesting.

Time is money as we all know. Every computer in Shibuya’s Biccamera had an advertisement shield on it saying we install stuff for you for 1500 Yen. I asked the lady who was helping me about it and said it would take an hour and dragged me to the cashier. They sent me with my new computer (a pretty, red Toshiba Dynabook with Intel Core i7 by the way) to the service counter where the endless explanations started.

It took me a while to get it what the nice, young but not English speaking guy at the service counter meant. The essence of it was: well, you have to become a member somewhere and the first two months of membership are free, but then you pay 940 yen per month for “service”. (Service in terms of trouble shooting etc.) If I subscribe to this thing for an initial 1500 yen, then they pre-install the thing for me, the Windows 8 and also MS office.

If I don’t become a member of this thing, installing Windows costs 3000 yen and MS Office another 3000 yen. I protested that after e.g. 10 months of membership in this service package I have already paid 9400 yen. Oh, you can cancel your membership a day after you become a member, the guy said, then you only pay 1500 yen and get the stuff installed. If you cancel your membership until the 10th of August you only need to pay those 1500 yen and we install the stuff for you.

Interesting. Let’s just try this for the fun’s sake. I filled out a ton of documents (of course, there are always a ton of documents…) and left my computer in their care and had dinner in the meantime in MacD (I shamefully admit) in the same building. When I returned to the service counter an hour later, my new computer was all installed and pretty. You can ask them much more, by the way: to set up mail accounts and anti virus and what not. But that of course takes more time.

But, I had eaten and someone else installed my computer for a mere 1500 yen – I was satisfied, time was saved and I went home.
What I find fascinating is this slightly twisted stuff that you subscribe for something to get its benefits and then you unsubscribe and the guys at Biccamera advertising that openly.

It reminds me of a story I read about those bloody, hotly disputed Senkaku islands. Japan and China both claim they are their nation’s territory. I read an article some time back from a British journalist who visited the islands. You are not allowed to visit them for political reasons or to make an official report about them. But you can get near them on a fishing boat if you claim your official purpose is a fishing trip.

This is what the journalist did. He hired a fishing boat, they went to the island and he took photos and stuff. The Japanese captain of the boat then insisted, however, that they have to fish. Of course he knows as well as anyone else on board that this fishing business is just a cover-up and lame excuse, but he stuck to the rules and made the people on board fish and they towed some catch back home.

The tiny example of the computer service and the bigger example of the Senkaku island visit show so nicely how this society works. There is a lot of regulations and you have to stick to them, but it’s no problem at all to find whatsoever ways to maneuver around them and people are getting very inventive doing that.

My 1500 yen did not pay the salary of the service counter dude, but I guess he is measured upon how many contracts he manages to send to his bosses. So he finds the slightly sleazy way of suggesting to me to subscribe and unsubscribe the day later. It’s beneficial for him and for me, if not for his company maybe, but who cares.

I love this kind of stuff, tiny loopholes for big and small things 😉 I shall unsubscribe from the PC trouble shooting service next weekend 😉