Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Typhoon addendum

So we survived our first typhoon here in Okinawa intact. It was — and is — quite a strong one, but also fairly small, and it veered off enough that it didn't hit the main island directly. 

Our cellphones alerted us with a flood warning along the coast in mid-afternoon. A couple of evacuation notices followed — just invitations to evacuate for those that wanted to. The weather grew worse, and when we went to bed by late evening it was obvious even to us that going outside would be reasonably stupid. But there was never any danger indoors. We went to sleep with the sound of the wind howling outside.

There never was much reason to worry, of course. Okinawa gets a few typhoons every year, so buildings and infrastructure can handle it just fine. When Ritsuko went to the supermarket in the morning, people were loading up on snacks, beer and awamori, clearly focused on making the best of an evening spent at home, not worrying about the typhoon.

We still had strong gusty winds early this morning, though it calmed down a few hours later. A few residents were outside picking up fallen leaves and branches as I was leaving, but mostly people were getting up for another weekday at work or school.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Typhoon #18

We got our first typhoon here in Naha. As I write this around lunchtime, typhoon #18 is south of the main island, and the weather is still fine, with a breeze and scattered rain showers. But it's a small typhoon with a strong center (50m/s winds with up to 70m/s gusts) so the conditions can turn ugly very quickly.

Typhoon #18 at lunch.
As a result OIST has suspended operations today. While we could have gone to work as normal this morning, the buses and monorail have already stopped running. Most shops are closing already as well.

It doesn't affect my work a lot. I just logged in remotely and working as usual. A lot of other staff can spend the day at home preparing for the typhoon, and researchers can surely keep themselves busy writing papers and grant applications.  But I know that this is a major problem for some people.

The facility management division people have been running ragged clearing the outside and shoring up buildings with sandbags and tarps. Lab 4 is currently under construction, so the area is stripped of vegetation and the red soil laid bare. If large amounts of that soil runs out into the Onna bay, that would kill the local wildlife and ruin the fishery and seaweed business.

Some research labs also need special contingency measures. Some labs have long-running experiments that need attention. There are labs with tanks full of zebra-fish, nematodes, fruit flies or various kinds of plants, and they all need food, water and constant care, typhoon or not.  So while most people stay away from OIST today, others have been coming in — no doubt equipped with instant ramen and sleeping bags — and will spend the typhoon caring for them.

Power cuts are not likely here in Naha. But we still bought some water bottles, and we've made sure we have everything we need for at least two-three days. We're as prepared as we'll ever be.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Everywhere you go here, people are wearing colourful short-sleeved shirts called "Kariyushi". They're similar to Hawaiian Aloha shirts, but dressier, with an upright collar and often more muted, abstract designs, and they're worn buttoned up, not open. The name "Kariyushi" means happy or joyous. And I love them.

Me, in my newest kariyushi shirt. I don't think I'll quit my day job for a modelling career just yet.

In the 1970s a hotel association designed Hawaiian shirts with Okinawa-inspired designs for hotel staff and guides to wear. They proved quite popular, and started spreading beyond the tourism industry. In the 1990s an association trademarked "Kariyushi wear". To call it "kariyushi" the shirt must be sewn in Okinawa and "promote Okinawan tourism" - meaning, I guess, no tacky patterns, logos or things like that. The shirts quality and their image improved, and people started wearing them for "casual Friday" and other informal situations.

The kariyushi shirts got a lot of national exposure in 2000 when world leaders wore the shirts while attending a summit in Okinawa, and the shirt got another push when it was promoted nationally as an alternative to suit and tie for the very successful "Cool Biz" summer campaign. You can see cabinet ministers attending meetings in kariyushi shirts every summer.

Former prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Mekere Morauta. Koizumi always rocked kariyushi shirts; current prime minister Abe, on the other hand, just looks sad and a little lost, like he misses his tie.

Shirts are available at clothing stores and department stores in a large range of designs and fabrics. A cheap shirt might cost a few thousand yen, while a formal one made from Okinawan fabric can easily cost twenty thousand yen or more. During summer (April to November) they're worn everywhere in Okinawa, including the Okinawa government assembly, government workers, bankers and regular office workers; from young fashionable women to old Pachinko-playing guys. Many companies have their own special designs for their customer-facing employees.

A lone salaryman nursing an Awamori in Naha. He likely came here straight from the office.

The shirts are considered formal wear. Not only are they fine for banking and office work; people wear them for weddings and other formal occasions. There's even black unadorned shirts for funerals. They're so common that when you see a guy in a suit in the summer, he's probably here on a business trip from outside the island.

Office workers waiting for the bus.

I really love these shirts. They're cool and lightweight during summer. They'll dry quickly when you get caught in a sudden rain storm. And while the patterns are colourful patterns and the style is relaxed, they still manage to look neat, even proper. Much better than a rumpled suit jacket and soggy see-through white shirt with sweat stains.

They're the perfect working clothes for the hot, humid weather here in Japan, and I can only hope they will one day become as accepted on the mainland as here in Okinawa.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Naha! Internet!

We've arrived, settled in and I've started working. Lots of things to write about, so I'm just going to summarize briefly.

We finally got internet! A 1Gb fiber connection straight into our apartment. The installation was far more involved than I thought; three people and a lifter truck that laid fiber from the nearest substation along the telephone poles to the building, then in through the telephone conduit.

Laying down fiber along the telephone poles, then in to the house.

Now we have a fiber connection in the hallway and a router for the network and IP telephone. I get about 350-400Gb/s to Tokyo from here, with 40ms ping time. Not bad for an island out in the Pacific ocean.

A view from work as I was leaving for home.

We got here Tuesday last week. A lot of our luggage was plants, since we couldn't send them with the moving company. We sent the larger plants by post. Amazingly, all but one seem to have not only survived, but are actually thriving in our new, little garden. My coffee plant already needs a bigger pot.

The apartment really exceeds our expectations. Airy and light, with high ceilings. Really easy to live in. We're in central Naha, with four supermarkets and one department store within easy walking distance, but the neighbourhood itself is very quiet. The tiny garden in the back really adds a little extra. Perfect.

Our things arrived over Wednesday to Saturday, with the stuff from Osaka delivered Friday. Now it's one week later, we've actually managed to unpack, assemble and install everything. We're still picking up a couple of storage boxes, a kitchen cabinet and a carpet for my desk next weekend. But other than that, we're all moved in.

Nice café just a stone's throw from the apartment. A bit expensive, but really good when you want to sit for an hour or two. There's power plugs, wifi and big tables for laptops and notebooks.

I finally got a standing desk. Adjustable legs and a big desk surface, and a high chair for sitting down without adjusting the desk. All from IKEA, and works perfectly. The only downside is that the surface is too thick for the clamp on my small vise. Have to find some solution to that. I also need a carpet to avoid floor damage.

My half of the bedroom. The standing desk works great, and the high chair is comfortable when I want to sit down.

We had a lot of paperwork to do at city hall — formally moving in, registering our new address and parking space, get certificates of residence, register an inkan, updating my residence card and My Number card and so on. I thought I'd spend the rest of the day chasing documents from counter to counter.

Instead the information desk took all our documents and directed us to a counter, where a clerk looked it over and told us "This looks fine. Welcome to Naha! It will be about two hours; if you like we can call you when it's done."

We went to lunch, came back two hours later, and after just a few minutes the phone calls and our number comes up. Everything was done. Simple. Easy. Quick. When I later went to the police to change the address on my driver's license the experience was much the same. No waiting around, no stress, no running in circles.

Naha city hall.

The weather is more pleasant than Osaka so far. It's cooler, and there's usually a breeze to keep the edge off the heat. We can normally keep the windows open instead of using the air conditioner. But it's very humid on the other hand; mould is a constant worry, and drying laundry takes forever. We got a dehumidifier for the bedroom this weekend; see if it improves things a bit.

And sudden rainstorms (called "squalls" here) are common. The first day here we had four quick rainstorms in succession — one with thunder — in between clear blue skies. I got caught out in one, and was completely soaked. It can go from sunny to wall-of-water in a minute or two. Twenty minutes later it's clear and sunny again. The weather forecast is not terribly useful here.

Naha monorail station in Omoromachi. There are several malls and other stores around in the area; great when you're moving in and need things for your new place.

The supermarkets have a whole separate section for things designed to kill insects. Cockroaches of course, but also ants, moths and other bugs. The apartment came with insect traps in every corner and mesh screens on every window. There is good reason for this; we've had a couple of cockroaches visiting us so far, and something has already taken nibbles off the leaves of my coffee plant.

Naha is hilly. It's also fairly hot during summer, with lots of rain, sudden squalls and high humidity. There's also a lot of traffic. Which all means it's not the ideal place for a bicycle. Nevertheless, biking has apparently increased the past few years, and it's not uncommon to see bicycles as well as bike shops in the city. I did bring my bicycle; we'll see how much I'll actually use it.

Student on a bike passing by while they were installing the fiber for us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On our way

So, we're finally leaving for Naha. That typhoon I was so worried about? It has been very obliging so far. We feared it would head straight to Okinawa or Osaka, but instead it stopped on Monday morning, turned, and has been on a slow walkabout around an empty patch of ocean ever since.

Typhoon #10, from Saturday lunch up until Wednesday at 9:00.

Our things managed to leave Osaka in time for the planned delivery date, and our flight this afternoon should be right on time. Good typhoon, have a cookie.

Our biggest problem, believe it or not, has been the house-plants. We have a number of plants that we really like — my sort-of-bonsai and my coffee plant among them — but the moving company doesn't accept plants. They don't want people to complain if they die, and I can understand that. The parcel services accept plants — but only for corporate customers. Again, I suspect they just don't want the inevitable complaints.

The post office, on the other hand, has no problem with plants. We simply take the small ones in our bags, and send the large ones in the mail. Not the kindest way to treat the plants of course, but it's just for a couple of days. And we would have thrown them away otherwise, so if they die it's not the end of the world either.

I've changed the design here a little, by the way. I had a pile of custom CSS that was becoming impossible to maintain. Now I just use one of the standard templates. I'd still want to tweak the colours a bit, but this will do for now. Next up Okinawa!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Typhoons, Typhoons, Typhoons

We have had a very quiet typhoon season this year, with nary a single storm hitting the mainland or Okinawa. But now that our things are loaded on a freighter bound for Okinawa, and our flight to Naha approaches, this suddenly happens:

Typhoons #9, #10 and #11.

Yes, we suddenly get a traffic jam of three — count them, three — typhoons all jostling for space. Typhoon #9 is moving straight north towards Tokyo; Typhoon #10 is south of  Honshu and aiming southwest towards Okinawa (that's rare), and #11 is going on an odd clockwise tour of northern Honshu and Hokkaido.

All three are bad news, since they'll disrupt flights across the country. But #10 is especially worrisome:

Typhoon #10. Yellow dot is Naha, red dot is Osaka.

The moving company already informed us that the freighter will be delayed — they're understandably not going to sail through a typhoon — and we probably won't get our things on the 26th as planned. It'll mean a couple of nights with no mattresses or bed sheets, no kitchen stuff and no furniture. Or, more likely, another couple of nights at a business hotel.
If we even get to Naha, that is. If we're lucky #10 will veer south and off into the Pacific, but it might take a westerly course and landfall on Okinawa right around the time we're supposed to fly. In which case we won't make it there by the 25th to sign the apartment contract and register at the city office, and our tight, carefully planned schedule goes right out the window. No car in time for the start of my new job, for instance. The move could have started out better.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All boxed up

It's midnight and the moving company will pick up our stuff tomorrow. We've finally finished packing. Our home has turned into a sea of boxes.

Boxes, boxes everywhere.

At least we have the good fortune to keep the apartment here in Osaka. We don't need to pack everything, and we'll still have some pots and pans, furniture, fridge and washing machine around when the moving company leaves. And a good thing it is, since we don't actually leave for Okinawa ourselves until the 24th.

We've been making a schedule of things to do during the move. Changing your residence is fairly easy, but there's a fair amount of paperwork involved. The crucial step is actually submitting the moving-in notification (転入届) at the city office and getting an official address. Everything else — get electricity and gas, register your name stamp, open a local bank account, buy a car, get internet — really depends on this one step.

It's not difficult; you just need a corresponding moving-out notification from your previous place, and a signed contract for a place to live. But there's a pile of things to do right after the submission, and the new appliances, our things from Osaka, and various company people will arrive in the middle of it; we had to draw a flowchart to make sure we could be at all the places we need to at the same time.