Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sweden

So we've been to Sweden for a week. Not for holidays unfortunately, but for a family funeral. It was nothing sudden, it didn't come as a surprise, but still you hope the people you love will never leave, and it's heart-wrenching when they do. The far-flung family members all got together again for the first time in years, and this was fun even though the circumstances were not. I even got to meet a relative I never before knew existed.



Yes, this looks great. Too cold for me, nowadays. Borlänge train station.

I never used to have any problems with the cold in winter. In fact, I always rather liked wintertime — the white snow, the crisp air, the peace and quiet. But many years in Osaka, and six months in Okinawa must have softened me up. It was only -5 degrees and I was freezing. I will never complain about the winter in Okinawa ever again.


Now why did I ever leave Borlänge? Oh yes, now I remember: it's a small industrial town in the middle of a forest, with nothing much but trees and mosquitos to keep you company.

My employer OIST gave me another reason to appreciate them. They give you up to a full seven days of leave for this sort of occasion. Travelling from Naha to Borlänge takes three flights and a train ride, about 26-30 hours in all even if you do the whole trip in one go. Had I had just the more common three days it would have been impossible impossible to attend the funeral as well as talk things over with the other family members.



We spent one evening in Stockholm. Too cold for walking around, but I managed a few pictures before my hands started freezing solid.



Finnair is probably the most convenient way between Okinawa and Scandinavia.




Friday, February 24, 2017

Premium Friday

So, "Premium Friday" is upon us. We're supposed to leave work at three pm the last friday of the month, to (presumably) spend the time  — and our money — in shops, restaurants, izakayas and bars. The idea is the brainchild of the Japanese government and various consumer companies (The name is completely non-coincidentally similar to "Premium Malts", a popular beer).

Japanese workers spend far too much time working, and spend too little money when they don't. Premium Friday is supposed to curb working hours a little, and get people to spend a bit of money out on the town instead of saving it all for their kids' university tuition or retirement.


How is it going? The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that champions the idea doesn't even give their own employees clear permission to leave early, that's how well it's going. Some companies do give paid leave but many companies say — sensibly — that if somebody wants to leave early they can take flex-time and make it up later, or take a few hours out of their yearly vacation time.

It's too early to say, but the idea may look dead in the water. Why do they try this sort of thing? Because the long, inefficient, work hours and the unwillingness to spend have become major problems for Japanese society and economy.

The real solutions to these problems are either intractable or politically unworkable. It would mean wholesale reform of employment laws; redesign the pension and social security systems; and spread the economic and social burden on education and senior care just for a start.


That'd be a very tall order indeed. The different stakeholders all have different, incompatible ideas of how to change each of these institutions. My home country Sweden only managed to reform its pension system because of an acute financial crisis (as in "500% interest and currency in free-fall"). I doubt real reform will be possible in Japan either without a similar sense of impending disaster.

Meanwhile the clamour to "do something" is growing steadily louder. And the ministries — like every organization faced with a crisis — realize that doing nothing is worse than doing "something", whatever "something" may be. And so we get "Premium Friday". A campaign at least looks like doing something, which is better than doing nothing even if the end result is the same.

But if Premium Friday fails, the blame will at least mostly be on all those companies that wanted something done but then refused to give their own workers permission to participate. They're the ones that are forcing those too-long working hours on their employees in the first place after all.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The darkest days

We have to leave for Sweden over next week or so to attend to a family matter. Not the best time of year for visiting Scandinavia, in the cold and the dark. To cheer myself up a little, here's a few pictures from last summer that I never got around to post here.


Kobe harbour



Kawanishi warehouses. The sacks are coffee beans.



Fishing on the pier.



Shogi players near Tennouji, Osaka.



Cool Biz, Osaka.



Shinsaibashi, Osaka.



Baseball players at dusk, Naha.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter

Winter has arrived. On the mainland half the country has ground to a halt in a snowstorm. Here on Okinawa we have 14-17 degrees, windy with grey skies and rain showers. It honestly feels more like autumn than winter to me; sad and lonely, but also peaceful.

We've had a string of bad news in the family lately, and that doesn't improve the mood of course. But brooding about things doesn't help. We had to get out of the house for a while so we drove down to the seaside in Itoman south of Naha. There's a couple of good farmers' markets there, and a large beach area with a fairly good lunch restaurant.



Sun beach in Itoman.


It's not that cold, so quite a lot of people visit the seaside even now. They're walking their dogs, playing, doing sports or just taking in some fresh air and scenery.


A visitor came by as we were having lunch.


A different kind of bird. Naha airport and a Japanese air force base are both just north of here and the landing flight path goes right along the coast. Have to come here for airplane pictures one day with better weather.



A hotpot is great comfort food when you're feeling cold and miserable. A good hotpot will warm your heart and your stomach alike.

We're still worried, but the fresh air and change of scenery did wonders to improve our mood. Just like this winter weather, things will eventually pass.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Banana Desk

We had a great time over the New Year holiday in Osaka! Lots of eating and drinking of course — I gained 3kg over those ten days — but we also did a lot of errands, now that we were back in a big city again.

One of those errands was to get an extra Gerton desk leg from IKEA. I got a desk from IKEA before we moved. A cheap one, where you get legs and a surface separately and just assemble them. Mostly this desk has worked fine, except for one thing:



Banana desk.

Yes, the surface is bending, and bending quite a lot. It's in no danger of breaking or anything, but it's a bit annoying. The real solution would have been to get a solid wood surface from somewhere, but that's expensive and heavy. Instead, I opted to add a fifth leg to the desk.

It would have been easy, but IKEA is a very clever company and knows how to make things cheaper more than anybody. These desks aren't solid at all. It's a wooden frame with leg supports in the corners, then rigid sheets of laminate on the top and bottom. The box construction should make the desk fairly strong, but it means the interior is mostly filled with nothing as far as I can tell. And "nothing" is not a great material for wood screws to get a grip in.



I glued a piece of plywood to the underside of the desk, then screwed the screws through the plywood and into the desk.

The solution is to glue a wooden support piece to the bottom, then fix the leg onto that instead. I got a scrap piece of 15mm plywood at the Makeman shop in Urasoe, and cut off a 17×17cm square. Wood glue is very strong and the force from the leg is almost all directed inwards, but I figured that if the screws went in through the desk bottom it would help keep the piece steady until the glue set. With a 15mm thick board the screws stick out almost another centimeter, giving me a solid joint.



The desk with its extra leg. It still needs to bend back just a little more, but that will take some time.

It will take a few weeks for the surface to bend back fully; I've adjusted the length of the middle leg twice already and I'll probably adjust it once or twice more before it's completely level. Once it is level, though, it should be completely stable.  A fun little post-holiday project.





Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!


A happy new year from Janne and Ritsuko!


2017, The Year of the Rooster

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let's Self-Santa!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I just learned a useful new Japanese word this week: セルフサンタ or "self-Santa". That's the act of buying a Christmas present for yourself. What to self-Santa this year?


Fishing berth in central Naha.

We're going back to Osaka for the New Year holiday. And Osaka is chock-full of good used-camera stores. Camera phones suck, and I happen to have a very nice Minolta AF Macro 50mm lens from a "camera rescue". So one self-Santa idea is to get myself a small but capable digital camera. A second-hand M4/3 body such as the E-P5 would be small enough to bring every day, and I can get an adapter for the Minolta lens.

But I could also use a long lens around here. Okinawa is home to most US military bases (over 75%) in Japan. There's no lack of bad effects on the island of course — but it does mean lots of military aircraft and things to photograph. To do that you do need a long lens, so a used 300mm for my Pentax might be a good idea.

Choices, choices. I guess it mostly depends on what I manage to stumble onto while we're back in Osaka. Let the self-Santa begin!