Thursday, November 25, 2021

We Got Pumice

Okinawa is full of pumice. 


Pumice floating along the coastline.


When and where it shows up depends on the tide and the currents. Here a current is depositing more pumice along the Onna coast. The gray rocky streaks on the beach is more pumice deposited during earlier high tides.

Pumice is volcanic rock that's created during eruptions. Magma deep underground is under high pressure and can hold a lot of dissolved gases, like a bottle of soda. During an eruption, the rapid pressure drop forms gas bubbles in the lava, and it creates lava foam. When that foamy lava hits cold water, it solidifies rapidly with all those bubbles still trapped inside, and creates a sponge-like rock that's light enough to float on water. 

 


A piece of pumice, about 2cm across.

 


I cut through it with a hobby knife (carefully; it breaks easily), then smoothed the surface with a file. I tried using sandpaper, but the pumice removed the sandpaper, not the other way around :)

 


A macro shot of part of the surface. The smallest visible holes are very roughly 10µm across. It's like a sponge of silica glass.
 

An underwater eruption near Ogasawara created a lot of pumice in August. That pumice has been drifting along the ocean currents until it started washing ashore along the Okinawan coastline two weeks or so ago. These pictures are from around Onna beach, just next to OIST (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology) where I work(*).

As you might imagine, a harbor full of floating rocks means fishermen can't take their boats out to sea, and a beach full of grey, abrasive pebbles is no fun for the tourists coming to swim and relax in the sun. Even if you clear the beach, the next high tide just brings in more of the stuff.

 


Pumice deposited on a beach by the waves.

 


Not everybody has a problem with pumice-strewn beaches.

It's not all bad, though. Pumice is light and breakable, so it will turn to sand fairly quickly. And it can be useful; large chunks are popular for skin care — they're an excellent natural file — and smaller pebbles are great for improving drainage in potted plants and the like. So many people have tried to sell this pumice online that Mercari — the most popular online marketplace here — have a temporary ban on pumice sales on its platform.

The video below is really crappy quality, but you can hear the sound of the rocks rubbing against each other as they're rocked back and forth by the waves:


* I mention OIST — Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology — because I've realized that they, like many organizations, subscribe to a service that alerts them for any mention of them or their research. Furthermore, the public relations department has to actually read anything that crops up, in case it's important. 

So, if you have a blog, Youtube channel or Twitch stream and would like a few more viewers, just gratuitously mention a few big, public organizations. Hi Micheal!


Saturday, October 30, 2021

Anguish and Serenity

The definition of anguish? Sitting in a car with your lower jaw full of pain, on the way to a hospital for a root canal.

The definition of serenity? Sitting in a car on your way back, root canal over, and realize that not only is the massive pain of the last few days completely gone; so is a low-key discomfort you've had for weeks without even realizing it.

 


After the successful root canal we felt like celebrating a little. This is Kumari Nepali Dining restaurant in Naha. It's a good place for lunch on a weekend.

I am immensely grateful for the existence of dentistry in general. I'm all for dental care in the abstract. And I know dentists are fine, upstanding people that do a world of good. But actually visiting a dentist is one of my least favorite activities of any kind.

Fortunately, modern dental treatments are far less uncomfortable than in my fevered imagination (or my distant childhood). My molar had gradually cracked under an old filling, infecting the root and finally killing it, at which point the infection spread to the lower jaw. I'd felt something was off for weeks at least (and, really, much longer). The acute pain probably started with the spread of the infection. 

 


Makeman is the major local DIY chain on Okinawa. The logo and character is famous; enough that Americans apparently refer to it as "the monkey store".

 

As the tooth was already dead, the dentist could remove the filling and trace the cracks down through the tooth without even a pain killer. I only needed a shot to remove part of one root that was still not completely gone. Modern tools and techniques are really gentle, and his bedside manner was immaculate: he explained each step as he was doing it and paced the work just right. In the end I never experienced any actual pain, and my anxiety melted away within the first ten minutes.

And for all that people complain about facets of living in Japan, I've yet to meet somebody who doesn't appreciate how good and how inexpensive a dentist is here. Dental care is a normal part of the regular health care system. An examination, x-rays, CT-scan, medication, and the actual root canal the next day cost me a total of about 6000 yen. That's about 50 dollars or 460 Swedish crowns. I'm not complaining.

 


Naha at sunset. It's a picture of an upside-down reflection in a canal, flipped to look like a straight shot. It makes a neat effect.



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Summer I: Air B&B and an Ebike

It was a very different summer than usual this year; I imagine it's been the same for all of us. No long-distance travel, just staying close to home. This summer was especially, shall we say, fascinating here in Japan, what with our — as it turned out — highly temporary leader Suga telling everyone we need to strictly enforce social distancing and restrictions, while simultaneously allowing the largest sporting event on the planet to go right ahead. Oh, and we should absolutely spend money at restaurants and shops, but not actually go there and spread any vidus. Without belabouring the point, let's just say the official response to the pandemic has been less than wholly coherent, thought-out or guided by research and knowledge.


A fairly typical Okinawan single-story concrete house. Why concrete? Because between 90%+ humidity, mold, typhoons and termites, wood will rot or get destroyed very quickly, especially with modern building designs. Traditional wood houses fare better but still need to be constantly renovated.

We decided to rent an Air-BnB house in Yomitan over the Olympics, fairly close to OIST where I work, and blessedly far away from cities and crowds in general. But it wasn't just to get away from people; we also wanted to experience what it's like to live in an Okinawan concrete house, and what it's like to live in a semi-rural area like this. 


One big combined living room, kitchen and tatami room, then a couple of bedrooms off to the side. Not actually that big but it feels open and roomy inside.

 

A terrace and a view overlooking the ocean. Could be worse.


This area is a mix of concrete homes and small apartments, with the occasional traditional house sprinkled among them. Very bucolic.


The house itself was a great experience, and it has made us reconsider living in a rented apartment. Yomitan was — as we thought — a bit too rural for our taste. It's beautiful and quiet, but you need a car even just to get to the supermarket.


Not every building is as picturesque of course.

 

Walk a couple of blocks, turn a corner and now you're out in the Okinawan countryside. Nothing around but you, fields full of sugarcane and the occasional snake. City life it isn't.


Just your typical rooster on your typical castle ruin. Going running in Yomitan is never boring.



While Yomitan is rural, it's not some screaming, hollow wilderness. It's a village of 40 000 people after all so there's lots of good places to eat around there. This is Oasis Thai, one of the better Thai restaurants I've been to in Japan.


One fun thing was that the central parts of the island became accessible to us. It was quick and easy to go visit the Nakama, Henoko or Nago areas that are usually just too far for us to go all the way from Naha. We're absolutely going to take another roadtrip or two up that way this winter.


Busena.



Busena.

While we were there, I still went to work most days. But now, with only about 12 km to work, I could take my electric bicycle. Back in 2019 I wrote about my experience with rental ebikes in Naha. I loved them enough that I finally bought one for myself: the Tern Vektron S10.


The Tern Vektron


The Tern Vektron S10 looking all suave and dashing under an overpass in Naha.

This is a folding bicycle with a motor and battery package from Bosch. Why folding? Because we have no place to store a regular bicycle indoors, and on Okinawa anything left outdoors will rust within months. With a folding bike I can take it up the elevator and stash it in a corner of our entrance. I got it at Ebike Okinawa, a specialty store in Naha.

This is a great bicycle, and, I think, the best vehicle I've ever owned of any kind. Folding bicycles are always a compromise between being good at being a bicycle on one hand, and being good at folding small on the other. The Vektron is very much towards the good bicycle end of that range. It's comfortable and it rides very smoothly even on rough terrain on the wide tires, and it's stable and responsive at any speed I've managed to take it (38km/h according to the speedometer). It doesn't feel like a folding bike at all.


 
I'm preparing to leave for work at OIST (picture by Ritsuko). This is what the bike was made to do. The side bag swallows my backpack with all my work-related stuff in it, and the solid baggage rack holds a water proof bag with a change of clothes, running gear and a towel. Yes, the helmet is kind of dorky, but better a dork than a paraplegic.
  

It's not a sport bike of any kind but it is unsurpassed for commuting, running errands and exploring. The frame and components are strengthened to handle the extra power and weight from the motor assist. With the rear rack, a side bag and a basket I can easily bring my backpack, camera and a bag full of groceries. People use these bikes (or the non-motorized Verge model) for week-long bike touring trips.

Japanese rules for electric assist bicycles are simple and — I feel — very well thought out. The motor can give you up to 200% of the power you produce up to 10km/h. That maximum percentage drops as you speed up until it reaches 0% at 24km/h, at which point you need to pedal entirely on your own to go faster. 

This makes all kinds of sense. An electric assist bicycle is supposed to be a bicycle after all. This way you get plenty of power at low speed to help you get started, to get you up hills, and to push against a strong headwind. As you get up to cruising speed the assist drops, and when you want to go fast you do it completely on your own power.

 


The bike folds up fairly well and it's stable when folded. With that said, it's not exactly tiny, and at ~22kg it's a heavy, chunky thing to handle when folded. I can get it into the trunk of our car but it takes some effort, and it does take up most of the space.


It fits neatly into our hallway with room to spare. But again, it's a chunky piece of gear; we'd have trouble fitting two of them here.

The Bosch system is really smooth. The motor is completely quiet — I can't recall ever hearing it — and the assist is so well done you don't actually notice it activate at the lower power settings. The lowest "Eco" mode only helps you get started, then compensate slightly for the drag of the mid-mounted motor (the pedals still have to spin the motor when it's turned off). The bike just feels like a regular bicycle that's unusually easy to get rolling.

The "Tour" mode is the normal mode on the bike. Getting started is easy, hills are smooth and the bike feels quick and light. With the "Sport" mode you start to notice the assist; it reacts fast enough to your input that you feel the assist kicking in, and steep hills become easy. The "Turbo" mode gives you maximum assist.


Waiting for the rain to stop, somewhere in Naha.

In practice I spend 95% of the time in Eco or Tour. The motor is connected to the pedals so it benefits from switching to lower, slower gears just like you do, and Tour is plenty even for hilly roads. I use "Sport" only for really steep hills, and that's sufficient even for hills so steep I start to worry I might tip over. You gear down to the first or second gear and slowly but steadily climb it with very little effort. I never use Turbo in practice.

You can use the bicycle with the motor turned off. It's a good bicycle on its own, but the battery and motor does make it heavy, and you have a certain amount of dynamic drag from the motor as you pedal. At higher speeds you don't notice but at low speeds you do. If I wished for any one thing, it would be a way to physically disconnect the motor from the pedals when needed.


A view of the eastern side of the island, from a tiny gravel road at the top of a steep ridge. There is no way I'd find myself here either by normal bicycle or by car.

A couple of other minor issues is that while the matte black paint is really cool it does scratch easily. Also, it's not very nimble when folded. The folding process itself is simple once you get the hang of it, but it's fairly bulky with the weight and the relatively large wheels. Rolling it into the apartment or loading it into the car is OK, but I would not want to roll it over any longer distance. I'd never take it on the subway or anything like that.


Ice coffee and an affogato at Pipeline Coffee in Ginowan.

This bicycle has been a game-changer for me. I don't necessarily go very far, but it's so easy and convenient to take the bike instead of the car when I run errands, and it's a great vehicle for exploring areas in Okinawa. For destinations within 8-10 km it's frequently faster than the car, and that's before you spend time looking for a parking space when you arrive. Buying his bike has been one of the best things I've done.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Build your own Computers!

Building your own computer is fun! I've been doing it off and on for 30+ years. As a student in the 90's it was a good way to stretch my budget. Today I like selecting the exact parts that go into it, and I enjoy putting it together.

What's more, building a computer is easy. I really mean it; a new computer is a total of about nine parts, case included, and the only tool you need is a Philips screwdriver.  Mostly things just snap or slot into place, with no way of doing it wrong.

And we have the internet to help us out. It's full of Youtube videos, forums and blogs that can help you answer every question, from what parts you should get to the finer points of installing your operating system.

Here's an overview of what goes into a desktop computer:


All the major parts that go into a computer. Laptops, tablets and smartphones all have basically the same organization, but most components are integrated instead of being separate in order to save space and reduce cost.

The CPU is "the computer". Everything else is just there to help it do its job. It needs memory for running programs and processing data. It needs storage — today usually an SSD (like a USB stick but much faster) — where you install and save stuff so it doesn't disappear when you shut it off.

The CPU gets really hot, so it needs a cooler to keep the temperature down. This is usually a fan with a heatsink that bolts on top. And often (but not always) you need a separate graphics card that generates the graphical output  you see on screen.


Here's my motherboard, an AsRock Taichi X570. If you think it looks, well, colorful, that's a current trend. A lot of home PC builders like to bling out their computers, so parts are full of LEDs and cool-looking designs. You have to pay extra to get a motherboard without it. Me, I don't mind either way.

At the top you can see the four slots for memory. Below that is the large square CPU socket. To the lower right you have three PCI connectors, were things such as a GPU is connected. The panel of connectors to the left will be exposed outside the case and give you networking, sound output, USB connections and so on.

You mount all of this onto a "motherboard". A modern motherboard comes with a lot of things already built in: sound, network hardware, sometimes also Wifi and Bluetooth and more. When I was young(er) you often had to get all that as separate add-in cards. Things have gotten easier.

This all goes into a case, together with a power supply. With the motherboard in place you can connect all power cables, fans and the outside case ports (this can be fiddly and take a lot of time if you want to make it neat and clean). Finally you install an operating system (I'm partial to this one) and you're done.

 
My storage is an SSD (solid-state drive - think really fast, big USB drive) that connects to the motherboard with an M.2 connector. The M.2 connectors sit underneath a panel on this motherboard. The drive is the small narrow board sitting at an angle in the middle of the picture. When you close the cover it's pushed down and held in place by a cover screw.

Later, you probably want to go into the settings on the motherboard and change a few settings that will make your machine a good deal faster — again, there's lots of information and friendly communities on the net that are happy to help you.

All parts come with detailed instructions, and include all the things you need. The Noctua CPU fan I got, for instance, comes with a tube of thermal paste (you add a drop on the CPU to make a better heat connection with the cooler) and a long, thin screwdriver to reach the holding screws when you install it.


The CPU is in place. This is really easy: you lift up a latch (the metal stick next to the socket), drop in the CPU — it goes in with no force at all — and close the latch again. Just make sure the CPU is the right way up; there's a triangle mark next to the socket, and a triangle mark on the CPU. Match them up and you're fine.

Easy but nerve-wracking. The CPU has about a million (OK, about 150) tiny, soft metal pins on the back, and if you bend one of them you might permanently break the CPU. And if you break it, you broke what may be the most expensive component of your computer. Be very careful.
 

So, why, exactly, would you want to do this? You can go buy a computer, bring it home and start it up in minutes. Why bother?

Is it cheaper? Yes, to a point. If you're building a really cheap system you probably don't save much. For a high-end computer you can potentially save a fair bit. But that's not the main reason to do it.

You get the freedom to choose the exact parts that *you* want, and set it up the way you like. You can find a prebuilt computer with about the same specs as my new one. It may be about the same price or perhaps a bit more expensive. 

But it will have slower memory. It will have a cheaper, noisier cooler that might not be able to cool the CPU enough to let it run at full speed. It will have a cheaper-looking case with noisy fans and worse airflow. It will have a slower, smaller SSD for storage. When I build my own I get a faster, higher-quality computer for less money.


The memory is in place on the lower right; look up in the motherboard manual what sockets to use, then simply push the sticks in until they click. The gigantic thing in the middle is the Noctua air cooler, two radiators with a fan in the middle to push air through it. There's just barely space enough to fit it on the board and into the case. But it is very efficient and very quiet.


 

But the main reason, for me, to build computers is that it's fun. It's fun to read up on the current state of the art; it's fun to pick and choose parts; it's fun to plan the build. And it's really fun when it starts up the very first time without breaking anything. It's fun.

This is really no different than spending time and money to customize your car, or plan your autumn wardrobe, or hunt for rare commemorative coins. It's a hobby, and doesn't need any justification beyond the enjoyment we get from doing it.


Here's my finished computer mounted in its case. A 16 core 5950x CPU, 32GB memory and 1TB SSD storage, running Ubuntu, in a low-key case. The GPU that sits below the cooler is my older RX570; I'll probably upgrade in another year. This is very understated by the way; many builds are much fancier than this.

Do I, strictly speaking, need this? No, no more than anybody needs a fancy car, or sports bicycle or a Gucci bag. I do want it, though, and I enjoy both building it and using it.

If you want to get started, you don't even need to build a full desktop. If you just want to dip your toes in the water, you can get a "barebones"-style device: a tiny PC with a motherboard, CPU and cooler already installed. You just add memory and an SSD and off you go. 

They are really capable machines that easily handle web browsing, office work and light gaming. You could use one as network storage for your other computers. I use an ancient one as a web server and backup storage. And they're so small you can literally mount them on the back of your monitor (they usually come with a mounting bracket). This is an AMD CPU-based one from ASRock I'd love to have for myself. 

If you want to know more, I would start with r/buildapc. It's a Reddit community dedicated to building PCs with literally millions of members. They are friendly and helpful, and there's a great Wiki with lots of information. They are focused on gaming PCs, however. If you're looking to do something else you need to take that into account; they will tend to recommend very fast (and very expensive) graphics cards you don't need for instance. You can also search Youtube for "build a PC" and get lots of good videos. Here's a shorter video, and here a longer one, but there's just lots and lots of them out there.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Win some, lose some

Japan has finally joined the developed world in offering a decent amount of mobile data at a not-ridiculous price. We just switched this month to an IIJMio plan with 20G data per month for about 2600 yen. Even better, as before the unused data will carry over one month, so in a while we could potentially use up to 40G in a month if we had to. 

This changes everything, as they say. 20G is enough that I don't need to know or care exactly how much I use every day. No pressure to find and use some dodgy public Wifi whenever we go somewhere, and I can tether my laptop to my hearts' content. I might even get a Spotify subscription now that I could actually use it away from home.


About as close as we got to other people. It's a nice place for a quiet holiday.

We spent the last few days of Golden Week at a small hotel in Onna. It's pretty secluded, and there's not a lot of people around. The natural beach is too shallow and rocky to draw many people (but is great for watching marine life), and we had a room with a kitchen so we didn't even visit the restaurant. We spent the last three days literally cooking, reading and taking long walks on the beach. The cliche is real.


No underwater camera this time. I did manage to capture this cuttlefish (or squid? Not sure) in the shoreline with my usual camera. This area is pretty great for casual marine life observation.

Alas, no silver lining is ever without a cloud. My phone decided to die on me while we were away. I've ordered a new phone (a Nexus 5) and it should show up later this week. Meanwhile I'm without a phone. I'm sure it's good for my moral fiber or something but it is also bloody frustrating. At first I got the urge to check it maybe every fifteen minutes or so; I've mostly lost that reflex now.

Worse, I realize now how dependent I am on that phone. I couldn't log in to my Google account (or to my work account) since I need my phone for 2-factor authentication. I can't use PayPay to pay for stuff, and I can't use Line to stay in contact with people. I can't record my running sessions, or check the weather, listen to podcasts, find a recipe, look up a Japanese word, read the newspaper...


The last (backed up) picture from my phone. At least the breakfast was delicious.

On the bright side, I did have plenty of time to read. Specifically, I read "Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir (of "The Martian" fame). It's difficult to say much without giving away the plot, but if you like your science fiction properly sciency — if you enjoy, say, Dragons Egg, or The Martian, or anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov — then you'll probably love this one. Expect lots of danger and close escapes, vaguely plausible future science, and some instantly likeable characters. It's a fast, engaging read; perfect for a few summer days at the beach or by the pool. Do read it.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Zero To Coffee

I have a coffee plant. I've had it for about 7 years and it is now chest-high. Two years ago it bloomed, and shortly after it produced a few green cherries. 

 


My coffee plant is a little worse for wear. A typhoon will do that to you.


But a typhoon almost killed the plant — we were travelling and the plants were all outside — and it nearly killed the plant. This is why it looks so bare and lopsided; it lost most branches in the typhoon.

 


You get these delicate, beautiful white flowers along the branches for just a few days. Each flower is blooming for perhaps only a day or so. My plant doesn't really have the strength to put out a lot of flowers, but the ones I do get are beautiful.


Amazingly, it recovered and last spring it once again put out a few beautiful white flowers for just a week or so. A couple of weeks after the end of the bloom it produced about a dozen cherries. They have been maturing over winter and I harvested them a few weeks ago. In all I got 11 cherries. This is fine; I'm just happy the plant is alive and able to produce any at all.

  


Each flower site will bud a few cherries like this. They take about 8-10 months to turn red and ripen fully.


The coffee "bean" that we use is the seed of the coffee cherry. There's a couple of ways to process coffee, but the most common is the "wet process", or "washed coffee". There is also a "dry" or "natural" process; and a "semi-washed" process but wet process is most common.  

 


My bountiful harvest! 11 cherries.


You dump the cherries in water and remove any floating ones (I don't; I'm not willing to lose 2 out of 11 beans); remove the skin and most of the pulp; ferment for 24-36 hours to make the remaining slimy mucilage easy to remove; wash; then dry for at least a week. I've checked out several web pages and videos, but the best one is this: How To Wet Process Coffee

Wash and depulp

 


You remove the skin and pulp. Inside you find two stones like this. You can see that they're still coated with a slimy, tough mucus-like substance. The fermentation lets enzymes from the skin dissolve the coating. You can use the pulp to make tea if you like.


We wash the cherries and remove the pulp. Normally you do this with a machine, but as I doubt Ritsuko would agree to getting a coffee depulper for a total of 11 beans, I do it by hand. You effectively lightly crush the cherry so the skin and flesh splits open and you remove the seed inside. Each fruit usually has two seeds each; if you only have one that makes it a "peaberry". Peaberry coffee is beans that were a single seed. I got a total of 24 beans (I think two of them had three beans).

Ferment

The pulp is gone but the seeds are still covered in slimy mucilage. Wash them, then leave in water for a day or a day and a half. Enzymes from the skin will break down the slimy mucilage so we can easily wash it away.

Wash the beans a few times, rubbing them together to remove all the gunk left on the surface. I should have left them to ferment another half a day I think; there was still a bit of mucilage stuck to them at the end. I guess that makes this a "semi-washed" coffee.

Dry the beans

 


Dry beans. They're coated in "parchment", a dry shell similar to the shell of a peanut or pistachio.


The beans need to dry for at least a week in an airy place. Real coffee producers dry them on a fine net or cloth suspended above ground in the sun. I just put them on a clean tea towel and make sure I rotate them every day.

Dehulling and Roasting

 


I manually cracked open the parchment with my fingernails and removed the bean. With a bigger harvest I'd need a better way to do it. One way is apparently to stuff them into a hose or inner tube, then roll and crush them from outside.


The beans are dry. They still have two layers outside the bean itself: the silver skin and the parchment. The parchment is like a woody shell outside the beans itself, and we need to remove it before we roast. There's various ways, from specialized machinery, to using a bicycle inner tire. For 24 beans, though, the easiest way is to just pry open each bean with a thumbnail then remove the bean itself.

 


Green beans. If we let then sit they'll slowly turn light grey, which is how you usually see them if you buy unroasted beans.


The final amount is 2.6g of green coffee. That's not a lot. These beans are small and have fairly low density as they've grown near sea level. That means they'll roast really quickly. I knew that, and I still managed to over-roast them a little; it went so fast towards the end. We got 2.0g roasted coffee beans in the end. I let it sit for 3 days to degas a little.



Roasted beans. A bit dark for my taste; they're small and light so they went from a light roast to this in maybe 20 seconds or so.


Enjoy our Coffee

 

We've ground the coffee. It's a small glass and it's close up, so it looks much coarser than it really is. Still, a better grinder would have been nice to have.
 

 

Time to enjoy the fruits of a year of (very little) work! But how do you even brew 2g of coffee? Carefully, is the answer. I ground it medium:ish with my crappy manual grinder into a clear glass, then poured 34g of water just off the boil on top for about 1:17 coffee to water. That's a bit more water than I usually use, but will help discern the flavours in the cup. After a couple of minutes I poured it though a fine sieve into an espresso cup (then split in two so Ritsuko could also taste).

 


A well-deserved cup of coffee.


How did it taste? Surprisingly good! It's not bitter, there's a fair amount of body, and quite a bit of sweetness. More of an earthy coffee rather than a floral one. I'd be happy to enjoy a full cup of this coffee if I could. I don't know the species, but the balanced flavour and lack of aftertaste makes me think this is Arabica, not Robusta.

Finally, just as I was preparing the coffee, my plant has put out a new round of flowers. It seems I'll get to enjoy another cup again next year!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Not Going to Osaka

I'm not going to Osaka. I mean, I'm not going to lots of places — Kuala Lumpur, Borås and Adis Abeba to name a few. 

No, this is more specifically not going to Osaka for Golden Week, like we did last year. We had planned a two-week holiday at home in Osaka. We'd take care of some errands, go walking around town, cook and generally just relax. COVID, and Japans lethargic approach to it, effectively put a stop to that today.

 


A Shisa lion at Naha airport

Japan has overall managed to keep cases fairly low. This has really mostly been through the willingness of the Japanese public to go along with voluntary restrictions, and a general sense of caution even when the government does something headlessly dumb such as campaigns to promote domestic travel and eating out last autumn. Those campaigns caused the previous surge in cases.

We now have another surge, and this time it's different. Cases in Osaka has risen to over 1000 per day, and Okinawa is not much better off. Tokyo is reporting fewer cases, but they are also testing a lot less. The rise this time has been far more sudden and more dramatic than previous surges, and restrictions doesn't seem to even slow the rise.

One reason is a sense of virus fatigue. Very understandable; I feel it too. But another reason is that apparently 90% of new cases now is by the British strain; a strain that is more contagious, and more dangerous if you catch it. Several areas are now at the limit of what hospitals can take care of and there's no drop in sight so far.

Will vaccines help us? No. Japan doesn't have the vaccines we need. They've so far vaccinated a fraction of the medical workers (around 0.8% of the population), and they're talking about possibly vaccinating the most vulnerable elderly by end of June. That seems unlikely. Why doesn't Japan have vaccines? Good question.

One answer is that Japan didn't seem to have entered any international cooperation agreements and was very slow ordering vaccines from foreign makers. And that, in turn, seems to have been due to some nationalistic desire to have a domestic vaccine. Which is not forthcoming, as domestic makers have been hobbled by a lack of funding the past decade or so, and never stood a chance to create a vaccine in time.


Life goes on. Tourists still visit. And as Ritsuko says, we're lucky to live in a place pleasant enough that people are willing to risk travelling in a pandemic just to come here.

So, it looks like we will spend Golden Week during another emergency declaration, with a more aggressive virus and no relief in sight. And that, frankly is better done on Okinawa than in Osaka. At least we can get outside into quiet areas without people here on the island. In Osaka we'd be stuck at home.