Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not so smart now, are we?

When iTunes got updated and added the “Genius” function I was very skeptical in the beginning. When I tried it out I just assumed that the service would be incapable of providing me with a reasonable playlist based on the song I had chosen, but to my surprise, this was not the case. Genius actually kinda worked, of course the selection hasn’t always been completely flawless, but it usually selected songs and groups in the same genre and style as the song I had chosen.

So, Genius has become a tool I’ve gotten used to and frequently used, that some of the more obscure groups and songs are not available is a fact that I am reconciled with. However, yesterday I got a hankering to listen to some nice melodic electro-pop and selected one of my favorite obscure Swedish groups Daybehavior and their song “Superstar” fully expecting that genius might not work with that specific song, but it did.

However… The resulting playlist is an abomination! The picture is an actual screenshot of what the resulting playlist ended up as, a mix of some of the most embarrassing songs in my iTunes library, freely mixing Europe and “The Final Countdown” with Nirvana and “Take on me” by A-ha (I don’t even want to mention that I secretly kinda like T.A.T.U.). The only song that can be even thought to be remotely related to the Daybehavior song is the Depeche Mode song that turned up in the playlist. I have a pretty substantial iTunes library of over 10,000 songs, but this time Genius took a great song as a base and then reached down in the gutters of my collection and decided to put them all together in one nasty playlist.

No, I didn’t listen through the playlist, I gave up somewhere near Nirvana…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Largest mobile phone strap bundle at the point of death wins!

In Japan, basically everyone has a strap attached to their mobile phones, more than anything this is highly practical. When you need to pull out the phone, you just grab the strap and you're ready to go. However, some people put in a great deal of effort into the selection of the mobile phone strap while some people obviously don't.

Personally I proudly have a Hello Kitty strap and I've probably worked my way through at least 8 or so up until this point, the current one is Hello Kitty as an onsen boiled egg from Niigata, courtesy of the always wonderful Ms. Sunshine. I also very remember back in the day when I was a fresh face at the company and the very hardcore old fashioned sales manager had a Cinnamoroll strap and got visibly embarrased when I started commenting on it.

However, today at work I encountered a giant bundle of a mobile phone strap collection. One of my colleagues was gonna show me some pictures involving babies on her mobile phone (the baby happened to belong to "I'm not gay" guy in case anyone is keeping notes) but I couldn't even see the pictures out of the fascination of her absolutely huge collection of mobile phone straps. It made me feel pretty inferior with my meager lonely strap... The picture here is the real monster. I was a afraid to touch it in case it would bite my hand, but for you dear reader, I took my chances to show you this giant among mobile phone straps!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Time to get political!

As you may have noticed, I have stayed away from politics to as large extent as possible, not because I don't have any opinions, but more because that this little blog is focusing more on funny little incidents in Japan and the corporate environment I'm festering in.

But now with the US election coming up with Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin and all those people I feel that I should comment since this upcoming election will have reprecussions all over the world.

I think my stance here is best expressed by Tiamat in the video above!

Friday, October 24, 2008

An honorable death?

I freely admit that I'm not really providing you people with the latest news from Japan and news and other items often nest themselves in the back of my head and slowly move forward to in the end manifest themselves in this little blog.

You see, about a month ago there was an incident in Osaka where a fire started in a building with a video booth shop in it. As a Swede, these type of establishments are very much connected with the red light districts and has an overall seedy image and I don't think I hardly ever even has seen one until I came to Japan. Also, after the home video became widespread I think most of those places dissapeared since people could now get their regular porn fix in the privacy of their own homes and the few remaining establishments must have catered to that crowd of people that for some reason got a kick out of going outside for their porn fix.

However, not so here in Japan, I don't know how many such establishments there are in the Ikebukuro area where I live alone, but I would guess that at least 50 is not a bold estimate. In the local restaurant and nightlife area they are a common sight nested in between the bars, the restaurants and the places that provide recommendations to the bar/hostess bar/sex club scene. Looking from the advertisements and signs it seems like they very much target the salaryman crowd, perhaps they like to "take a break" there before going home to the wife and kids in which watching porn has proven to be to difficult.

Now, in the Osaka fire, something around 7 men were caught in there, couldn't escape and died from the smoke and the fire. In Japan, such an event is of course nation wide news and it was the headliner news on basically all the news channels. The peculiar thing that I noticed was that no names were given... If a similar accident had happened at, say a department store, they would list the names of those who expired in the fire, but nothing such for this event. I am not sure on whether this was because the relatives that didn't want to have it blasted all over the news that their husband/brother/child frequented such establishments or because the tv companies decided that keeping it a little more discreetly would be the best route. In any case, it's a tragic event and nothing to joke about really.

Personally, I have never visited one of these places, but I do admit to a general curiousity of how it works, how the rooms look and how the service is, it wouldn't be to "use the facilities" but more to see how one of these places actually look like. However, the thought of being in a room where hundreds and hundreds of people have been sitting jacking off is less than appealing to me (do they clean the walls too?) so I decided to outsource it. For the bargain sum of 2000 yen plus expenses covered, The Boy will visit one establishment on my behalf and provide me with some pictures and a report. The current timeline for this project is in two weeks and I will happily report back to you so you can decide if it's worth taking a look.

I did clearly state that I could provide no insurance for him in the case of a fire, but I could approach his mother and tell her that he visited at my request which I'm sure she wouldn't believe in any case...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just because I asked...

Sometimes in work related functions, after a day of meetings, I end up at dinners with colleagues from other countries that I might have nothing in common with privately and working in different countries and functions, not much in work either.

This can sometimes be pretty painful, but during these occasions I usually put on my mask of sanity and appear to be a normal reasonable guy as far as they know. However, often times these type of dinners can be filled with awkward silences as people realizes that they actually have nothing that they want to talk about with the persons in the neighboring seats. This usually triggers an attempt from me to start a conversation, and if I for some reason or other happen to know that Ms. X next to me has a hobby of gardening/skydiving/stamp collecting I throw out a question something in the vein of "I've heard that you are interested in gardening/skydiving/stamp collecting? Isn't it difficult to (something with whatever limited knowledge I happen to have of the subject)?" looking suitably interested (with great effort).

There have been several occasions when this has actually worked and the person has answered the question in a reasonable way and an overall bearable conversation starts up around the table. But there have also been times when the whole plan has backfired at me and the person interprets my questions as a genuine interest and starts to explain, at length, gardening/skydiving/stamp collecting to me, without anyone else jumping in to help take some of the weight of me as conversation target. These are the occasions when I sometimes has had to, with great effort, surpress the urge to interrupt the person and very clearly say "Look, shut up! Just because I asked doesn't mean I care!". But I'll guess I'll deal with the fallout of that if it ever comes to it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Partners in crime

For one of our ongoing projects we are working together with another company since our products go hand in hand, so we have a common interest in working together. That is all fine and well and something that most people working in a corporate environment have experienced I would think. So far our cooperation has gone relatively well, but a change of management in our partner company made things a little difficult for us.

First of all, their willingness to invest money significantly decreased, but that is something we can work around, but more importantly they did a organizational reshuffle and our main speaking partner since many years got moved away, against his will, to a smaller and insignificant department to await retirement. However, since no replacement has been put in place, he has remained our speaking partner until early this week. Mr. Slick, as we can call him, is a pretty sly guy and his default work _expression is a sly grin and he has a habit of leaning towards you when he speaks, saying something and then giving a little theatrical laugh before returning to the default grin and casually leaning back.

In this meeting he brought along his replacement, let’s call him Mr. Grim. He had a completely different personality, the default work _expression seemed to be a frown and sitting straight backed without moving an inch either back or forth. It was clear that Mr. Slick had the upper hand on Mr. Grim as he was instructing him on what had gone on in the past and who was important and not, showing of the grin and the theatrical laugh on many occasions while Mr. Grim looked grim and nodded slightly with his head in response. On several occasions Mr. Slick also scolded Mr. Grim when Mr. Grim had some minor objection to our plans or some suggestion for a change to which he looked even grimmer and nodded. Seeing these two guys bouncing of each other was pretty entertaining, to the degree that I got so enthralled in observing them interact that I forgot the topic on several occasions…

I will miss Mr. Slick and his slyness which came in very useful on several occasions and as long as he was on my side I appreciated it (I wouldn’t if I had been more on the receiving end of his schemes and plots). I also remember fondly the time when we had reached a significant step in the project and he brought me and a colleague out for dinner and the restaurant was some special “member’s only” bar in which girls in bunny suits walked about smiling with no specific purpose while normally dressed waitresses were serving us food and drink. Perhaps he’ll take me there again to that secret place as a final event before he fades into corporate oblivion…?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cho Cho Train!

For once, I'm not complaining about the weather! Japan is actually pretty pleasant at the moment, sure, the hint of the coldness of winter has started to creep on us, but on a sunny day it can be very comfortable outside and I gladly sleep with my window open, occasionally woken up by the sound of police or ambulance sirens in the crime infested hood that I call my home.

Lately, there has been plenty of sunny days with clearly visible blue skies and the occasional day of rain hasn't been that bad and very few typhoons approaching Japan so far. Not much to complain about, you would think...

Well, as much as I theoretically enjoy this break beween the heat of summer and the cold of winter all is not well! Something is taking the current climate as a cue to blossom and infect the air with some kind of pollen causing me to go into pretty heavy bouts of sneezing, runny nose and eyes so red that it's hard to see any traces of white in them, that I keep scratching them might not really help that much either.

Sure, there are allergy medicines out there that works pretty well, but the trick is to start taking them before hell really breaks loose, but since my memory does not seem to function for more than two months at a time I keep forgetting that this will happen every year...

In spring, when a large part of the Japanese population are suffering from hayfever due to pollen flying around I'm usually completely fun and can smugly enjoy how stupid some of the heavy sufferers look in their huge goggles and face masks, looking like they're just about to rob a convenience store or so, but just when they are getting fine something else decides it's time to blossom and puts me through the same ordeal.

Now, I'm aware that the face masks and the goggles might actually work in keeping some of the worst stuff out of your systems, I cannot bring myself to wear any of that stuff... On the good side, it'll all be over soon enough when we enter the harsh and unfriendly Tokyo winter with umbrellas in the snow and all other things that it brings with it...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A serious house on a serious earth

Judging from my previous post, it might seem like life in Tokyo is just fun and games, but I can assure you that this is not the case!

Recently I also had to visit one of the saddest places in the whole of Tokyo metropolitan area, a truly bleak and depressing place; the immigration office. Their homepage kinda refelects the general atmosphere of that place. Thankfully, through use of agents and stable visas, I haven't had to visit this place so often, but it is a truly depressive experience to go there.

First of all, the place is inconveniently located quite far off from the nearest train station, demanding a bus ride (I never ride a bus in central Tokyo otherwise!) with people trying to hand out advertisements for overseas phone services targeting us poor lost souls here in Japan.

To be fair, the building looks decent enough both inside and from the outside, not particularly rundown or anything, but nothing fancy either. The first challenge is to try and find the right desk for the particular errand you are there for which is not the easiest thing and the information service is usually not of the particularly friendly type. Last time I was there I asked for information about the documents for applying for permanent residence and was met by a cold "why? It's not given out to anyone you know" by a person who knew nothing about me or my current status in Japan. I restrained myself from saying anything nasty and just said "just give me the papers, please" which she eventually did, looking very offended.

Then you are ready to enter the heart of darkness, usually the place is packed with people from many different nationalities. Some of the people that stands out particularly are the imported asian girls that work in the "entertainment" industry, usually escorted by a particularly seedy looking older Japanese man and dressed up ready to hit the streets the moment they get their stamps. I always thought that it would make sense to leave the mini-skirt and high boots at home for this visit, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Then there's usually also the tragic scenes taking place with people for some reason being denied a visa or something, crying and desperately trying to plead with the clerks at the desk to no avail as they just push the button for the next number in line. As far as I've been told, they also house a small jail on the premises for those cases that needs to be shipped out urgently, but for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, I have never been put there.

This time I just needed some minor stamps for a small thing, but regardless you are put on wait at least an hour until they take pity on you and press your number... For some reason this time I had a clerk that actually seemed to be capable of a little emotion and a vague hint of friendliness as I got the things in order and could continue salarymaning about.

Those foreigners living here for sure know what I'm talking about and if you're planning to come here for a longer stay you will experience this for yourself. If nothing else, it is an interesting experience...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tokyo Game Show 2008

Through some careful and sly manouvering, yours truly managed to squeeze in a visit to the Tokyo game show held in the huge "Makuhari Messe" convention center in Chiba this weekend. Although Ms. Sunshine couldn't be less interested in games, she kept herself entertained in the close by shopping center while I went to check out the latest games that will be hitting Japan in the future.

The event is an assault on the senses, with blinking lights everywhere, huge crowds of people, that range from looking ordinary to a quite large number of Akiba-kei (Akihabara style) Otaku people of both sexes, and constant noise from music, games and ongoing panel discussions at the different companies exhibition booths. However, since my patience for waiting in lines is pretty limited I didn't bother to stand in line for the hours needed to actually try out any of the games for 5 minutes, but just walked around the hall and checked out the ongoings.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game show is also the large amount of "cosplayers" that this event attracts and who hang out in the area connecting the two main exhibition halls. However, even a geek such as me cannot identify more than a few of the game characters that they are dressed up as. This is a disturbing fact as it is, that a large number of grown men and women go through the time and effort to create costumes that look like cheap plastic versions of their favorite video game character, but even more disturbing is the huge lines of otaku with expensive camera equipment that are lining up to take pictures of these people. I found it more entertaining to take pictures of the lines and the people taking the pictures since it's such an exquisite opportunity to chart the fashion culture of the Akiba-kei.

Oh, and yeah, I'm sure that you are all curious on what amazing games will await in the coming months and I am more than happy to share some of the highlights with you! We can all look forward to another amazing installment of the "Cooking Mama" series and also another, amazing I'm sure, "Gundam Musou II" game... Seriously, those type of games are what's wrong with Japan today, at least they're gonna release a new Puzzle Bobble game, but what we really need is a real remake of the original Puzzle Bobble game!

In any case, I'm probably going to go to the 2009 event as well, and I'm seriously thinking of participating in the cosply fun and I'm sure I could get the Akiba-kei people line-up for photos if I come dressed as the coolest game character ever; the Prince of Cosmos!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The peon of my peon...

After a pretty rough day, which ended with me having to lecture the president about the necessity of having a defined role and purpose before we recruited people and just not recruiting random people and then think of what to do with them, I feel pretty exhausted.

The topic arose since a new person was pretty recently recruited into my department, so far he seems smart, has experience and is a reasonable person, but I was against the recruitment from the beginning. Not because of any issues with him, his experience or personality, more due to the lack of value versus benefit of recruiting another person into my department. In the end I relented and agreed to have him hired under the condition that I didn't have to look after him and train him, so he is reporting to one of my team members.

Just recently in a conversation with Luke from my former company, I explained the situation to him and the conversation went something like this, as always, please feel free to act out the scene with a pet, colleague or casual sex partner:

Mr. Salaryman: So he's basically reporting to one of my peons.
Luke: Oh, so you're not his direct boss?
Mr. Salaryman: Yeah, that's right.
Luke: (Triumphantly) So that means that he's your grand-peon!

"Grand-peon". Let that new word sink in a bit. This one needs to get in the dictionaries ASAP!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oh, come f**king ON!

In a recent post, I discussed a bit on the plight of the "announcer" in Japan, something to which a person calling himself "Colin" had a pretty insightful comment. With the aim steadily focused on the future, I won't dig into the exact details of that post or anything, anyone interested can simply go back and read it.

That said and out of the way, this post is more generally about Japanese "comedians" and more specifically about the comedian going under the name "Dandy Sakano". Now, for those of you living in Japan and/or following the Japanese media, you already know that most of the mainstream comedians that do the circuit in big Japan tv shows have a gimmick or a gag that is extremely simplified and basically repeated ad nauseum until their time has come, the public has grown bored with them and a new fresh "talent" takes their place.

I'm sure many of you can throw out countless of examples of "comedians" like this, but coming to my mind immediately are "Tetsu and Tomo" with their annoying "何でだろう?” ("why is it like that?" ) song, Kojima with his speedos and "関係ない”("What's that got to do with anything?!") thing and "Neko Hiroshi" with his thing that I never figured out what the hell was so great with him!

However, what most of these "comedians" have in common is that the thing they do is usually a little bit amusing, perhaps not to the degree of getting primetime in every f**king tv-show, but at least have a little novelty value.

But, whichever way you look at things and twist and turn, this cannot be said of "Dandy Sakano" (WARNING: Painful video if you click that link!). His "thing" was basically saying "ゲッツ!" ("Get's!") in Japanese English and pointing his fingers as guns in front of him while being dressed in a silly yellow/golden suit. For some reason this caught on and people all over Japan started saying "Get's!" and doing the gesture when they managed to get/win something. This was horribly painful and for this reason I have difficulties looking back at the year 2005.

Then, the inevitable happened and his act was growing thin (it took the general population a good six months to realize this, it was thin the moment it started as far as I'm concerned...) and he faded out for television to do the local circuit where all these washed out comedians end up in the end. New, and less annoying, novelities took his place in the entertainment circuit and all was well.

I had basically forgotten about this horrible act and basically written it off as one huge communal mistake by the Japanese population at large best forgotten. Then, without any warning, he makes a comeback in a tv-show just last week! Same f**king yellow suit! Same f**king lame "Get's" gag! What the hell is going on here?! Usually these type of celebrities go out of fashion and stay out of fashion. This is a major paradigm shift in the world of Japanese comedy and I'm not sure I can take it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Stop the presses!

Hot news from Japan, just in from the evening news broadcast!

In Yokohama, someone had made graffitti on a JR train covering an entire car. The police are currently actively looking for the suspects who might be foreigners since "From USA to Japan" was written at part of the train.

A minute of footage was dedicated to showing people working hard on cleaning up the car.

...where I come from this would hardly warrant a small notice in the local crappy newspaper, but here in Japan, it's primetime news.

Mr. Salaryman here, making sure you stay connected with the important news here in Japan as they break. I will provide you with updates on this case as they come in!
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