March 26, 2010

鹿嵐山 - Kanarase-yama

鹿嵐山(かならせやま) This little fellow is a fun quarter a day hike. It is fairly easy with only few steep rises. Allow about one and a half hours from Oita by highway; this hike is not at all convenient by public transportation. The path runs through a small range of mountains and can be entered from either of the ends.

So basically this hike is not a round trip. You leave your car to one end climb and return. However, I recommend to make it a round trip by tramping it first from end to end and then returning back by the road.

The main attraction is not the 758.1m peak. This track has to present some peculiar stone formations to the area. Fraction of the pillar stones can bee seen from the photo above.

The stone walls can be climbed and they often have ropes. But a word of warning, they are very narrow to walk on and can cause dizziness.

Perhaps three weeks more and everything will be green at this same spot. This time brownish was the dominating color.

We didn't stop to snitch someone's fruits though the photo might so suggest. These grapefruit-like balls are called "Hassaku" and are a specialty of southern Japan. An old lady who was grubbing on a crop field by the road gave them to us, saying "There's no way I can eat all of them by myself". Glad to help... The taste is just lovely.

March 25, 2010

A thought on highways in Japan

Every now and then we head on a highway to get around to our hikes. In comparison to slow and narrow country roads highways are quite convenient, I have to admit. But different from Finland, highways in Japan are tolled. I miss driving a toll free road, though in Finland we probably pay more in taxes to pay for new highways and keep old ones in condition.

The toll in Japan sums up from the distance driven. For example entering to highway in Tokyo and getting out at Oita would cost around 24 800 YEN (200 EUR) plus the gasoline from 1 228 km’s.

For our fortune the Japanese Government decided as stimulus to set a fixed rate for weekends: 1 000 YEN – no matter what the distance is. So two weeks ago on Sunday we drove from Kobe down to Oita, paying no more than 1 000 YEN.

Though the inexpensive highway tolls make many people, including me pleased, I think there are several defects in this type of economical stimulus. The core idea: make people travel on the week ends and spend money while doing it is not bad. But why it has to be by car?

Take for example the climate change that has been a recent subject of debate. The 1000 road toll incentive has make people to rush to highways; creating congestion and for sure loads of excess carbon dioxide. For instance the Osaka Express experienced a traffic increase of 40% right after the change had came in to force. I can imagine the pissed truck drivers, who previously enjoyed congestion free roads, and now are miserably stuck in the sluggish weekend traffic. But moreover, by a decision to increase individual leisure driving the Japanese Government did not have climate change as a priority.

Secondly, how can the high toll fees that applied earlier be justified? For many drivers the fixed toll fee brings drastic discounts. Considering for example, the journey from Tokyo to Oita it is now 96% cheaper to traverse. Naturally more kilometers yield a better discount. Meanwhile citizens enjoy a cut rate the Japanese Government suffers from the lost toll income. In fact the time could not be much worse as the Government could use all extra yens to deal with its government debt that seems skyrocketing.

Third, which alternatives were considered? As said, making people move is not a bad idea but how it can be enabled in a number of ways. Could a similar kind of discount or subsidy be entitled for public transportation? Bullet train trip for 1 000 would probably be too generous and only create unneeded hassle to stations. However, a subtle discount would direct a manageable amount of traffic to rails and busses. Utilize fully the public transportation and make an effort in climate change!

A Japanese coworker made a comment:
Having 1 000 yen highway tolls is linked to Prime minister Hatoyama’s and his party’s escalation.

March 21, 2010

Impressions of working in Japan: Art of stapling

'The correct way'
In every situation Japanese appear to have one correct way to do something. It shows up for example in the exchange of business cards. In Japanese daily life one can observe hundreds of things that are trained hard so that they would be performed in the right way. Other methods that can be viable are not considered eagerly but omitted easily.

Related to that, here is what happened last week at work:

I was stapling two paper sheets together. On a task so basic and easy it did not occur to me there could be 'the proper way' to do it. So without too much thought I had stapled a neat pile together.

Soon someone came to me. After staring my work for a moment she corrected, "Lauri, the staple should be affixed diagonally - not upright. The paper will tear off easily if you staple upright." What a noble advice and well justified. Diagonally that is then.

With new instructions I continued the job. A moment passed and another person came me and said, "The staple should be about 3 cm away from the edges. You have affixed them too near the corner." Er... Right, diagonally, 3 cm from the edges - that is the art of stapling.

What could be the core reason for all the rules that sometimes seem irrelevant for me? Perhaps Japanese people from their nature try to seek safety and avoid uncertainty and therefore they need heaps of guides to follow and to create predictability. One one hand, predictability is good and can be justified with many positive aspects. On the other hand, list of customs and guides is no good and leads to boringness and single mindedness.

A problem can have multiple solutions.
Same goal can be reached in several ways.

March 15, 2010

Impressions of working in Japan: Office atmosphere

The silent office
There are a little over 25 people toiling and breathing the thick air of this room. When I lift up my sight over my monitor and look around everyone appears to be working tediously.

Tapping of the keyboard and frequent mouse clicks are faint but constant sounds on the background. Printer occasionally interrupts the quiet air. The noise it produces seems unusually loud when it swiftly thrusts out a pile of A4’s.

In my mind I think: here I am sitting in an office striving to blend in and be like the people around me. Yet, the feeling of being foreign is not going anywhere. I recall the song ‘English man in New York’ by Sting. Change it to Finnish man in Oita and it’s quite a match for this scene. Maybe I'll whistle it a little... On the other hand better I'd better not.

Time to stop wondering like this. I take a breath-full of the heavy office air, lower my sight back to monitor and join the orchestra of keyboards’ and mice’s.

March 5, 2010

Impressions of working in Japan: Pay time

The way to receive monthly wage
In Finland (and probably in many western countries) receiving monthly wage is not a notable episode. For most it is simply an unnoticeable electric transaction from a bank account to another.

Not long ago I learned the custom of this Japanese company: Boss's wife, a senior of her age, is the one who literary deals out the pay slips. She strolls around the office, stops at every one's desk, says a few not so motivating words like: "Straighten your posture" and finally hands out the pay slip. The word "pay slip", can be used is in its original meaning since the paper that tells your monthly salary is indeed long and thin (around 2 cm wide and 15 long) wedge of paper.

The character of this woman, plus the fact that she is boss's wife but not employed here is what makes it even more noticeable event. Oftentimes she throws discomforting jokes to the air and everyone laughs showing both sympathy and pity on their face. This is what she said in a loud voice after we met first time:

Surename, is it really Aho?! Strange!
(after seeing a ring)
Whaat, are you married?!
And 24 years old?! Strange!
If I think of it, it seems that the one who really rules in the company is not the boss but the woman behind him, that is his wife. Somebody once said “Japan is ran by Japanese men but steered by Japanese women. There could be a seed of truth in that sentence.

March 4, 2010

Impressions of working in Japan: Sneezing

Now it is early spring. The pine trees, that Oita is full of, began to spread pollen (siitepöly or 花粉). I couldn't help noticing that many have trouble with their dripping noses also in our office.

Well-mannered Japanese carry tissue paper at all times, and visit the bathroom to discharge a nose-full of goo. So I imagined. But now it seems that people are just sneezing liquids back into depths of their noses. In other words doing the opposite of blowing. When 10 people sneeze once every five minutes it makes quite an orchestra in an office. Perhaps I could make a suggestion to place a tissue box to the middle of the office, so that everyone can have a relief.

As far as I'm concerned blowing one's nose is regarded embarrassing in Japan. And more precisely the noise it makes embarrasses not the action itself. Well, it understandable since the blowing sound may be hilarious. Yet, if blowing a nose is embarrassing, why isn't the inwards sneezing thing, I wonder?

March 3, 2010













March 1, 2010

Impressions of working in Japan: New recruits

1st of March: New recruits
March in Japan is the time of the year when companies hire new people, that is to say fresh university graduates. The company I work in recruited 11 employees at once. Out of that group there's only female. Now that is a rather male-skewed distribution, isn't it?

It's intriguing to observe the new workers on their first day. They are so diligent and careful. It doesn't matter what is asked or told to do, a firmly pronounced "HAI!" (Eng. YES!) seem to be the single applicable answer. It is untrue, but ironically, if someone would say, "Today you have to line up in front of that open window over there and jump one by one down from the 4th floor", they would do it and with their best effort like good old Lemmings. Boing!

Although in future they possibly will have specific (and more demanding) positions, right now each one of them does the same tasks e.g. inputting survey data into a database. Unlike in most western companies, there new recruits are not hired for particular jobs, instead they find their spot and field of interest by time.

Neckties little too tight, bowing to everyone and everything, a drop of sweat running down the forehead. Uncomfortable and out of course is the overall impression. Hih, just like me little over a week ago.

On this weekend they will have their first nomikai, an evening spent drinking with other employees. Nomikais are demerit for health but merit for building good relationships, it seems.
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