Sunday, November 30, 2008

I bought my brother a Christmas present... you can see in the picture. He's been asking for something like this for so many years and now I finally found it, he'll be so happy! If my little niece turns out with an aggressive phobia for raindeers in her older age I think this could be the cause.

Why can't stuff like this be found back home in Sweden?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's not my fault!

After some very hard negotiations I managed to get a little space for a post on Tokyo Cowgirl's blog. It was not easy and I would seriously appreciate if you would go there and read the latest post I spent hours upon hours on perfecting!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hmmm, this isn’t really politically correct, is it…?

Japan is an island with a pretty homogenous population, I think that much is well known. Sure, nowadays there are minorities such as salarymen imported from Europe or the US , and immigrants and worker’s from other Asian countries is not rare at all. However, if you move out of the metropolitan Tokyo area it gets pretty rare and the occasional foreigner is usually someone making a living as an English teacher or such.

This means that race is not a very sensitive subject here in Japan , at least not compared to Europe or the US . The non-asian population groups are simply too small to be considered a real minority group and without any real voice. Therefore, most minor racist remarks and such that would be impossible to say in more diverse countries can slip by here without stirring up a storm. Sometimes, some racist remarks can be said by politicians and such and actually reach an international audience that can show the proper outrage, but the vast minority just kinda slips by here in Japan .

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my crib, together with the always wonderful Ms. Sunshine and was watching a music show that was going to feature Beyonce and a new single as well as the latest and greatest J-pop artists. As the artists were introduced I watched as one of the latest “humorous” constellations came out to the scene, a group consisting of some famous comedians and artists dragged up to look like black soul chicks from the movie “Dreamgirls”, with some light blackface make-up and all (watch at your own risk here). For some reason the host thought it would be a great idea to make sure that they got the chance to speak with Beyonce up front. The face of Beyonce was priceless. She looked somewhere between stunned, amused and disgusted at the same time as they were trying to speak to her in their pidgin English.

Seriously, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they would start a Minstrel Show on prime time tv here in Japan in the near future… And don’t get me started on Bobby…

(I would just like to add, in all seriousness, that I don’t believe that the comedy group had any insight at all in what they did might actually be considered offensive to black people, they just thought they were funny…)

Friday, November 21, 2008

PGF Depression

I am suffering from this now. Some of you guys reading this might know exactly what I'm talking about. I think that to readers of this blog, it has been pretty clearly established that I enjoy playing computer games. I don't personally have any issues with this and feel that it is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time and if the game is good, much more stimulating than watching tv and a movie.

After a considerable ordeal, I previously managed to get the Boy to purchase, among other games, the PS3 game "Dead Space" during a recent business trip to the USA . A game I have considerable entertainment out of. I would actually be daring to go out on a limb here and say that it delivered more gaming satisfaction than the obvious inspiration; Resident Evil 4. So for a couple of weeks, the game has kept me thoroughly entertained. However, just a few days ago, I started to realize the inevitable...
I was getting closer and closer to the end, and even though the entertainment value kept rising I couldn't enjoy it as much as I would've wanted since I knew it would come to an end really soon.

Yesterday it happened. I finished the game...The first feeling was that artificial feeling of achievement you get when you finish something that has no relevance to your actual life but still makes you feel like you achieved something significant. Then it hit me. The PGF Depression. Fellow gamers will know exactly what I'm talking about here, the Post Game Finish Depression, the emptiness and bleakness that follows the realization that: "I'm done with this, what do I do now?" when you've finished a really good game. Sure, Resistance 2 has been lying on the table waiting for my attention, but I doubt that it can fill the void in my life that Dead Space has left me with...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learn to like it!

Yes, it's time again for another one of those "Mr. Salaryman endorses" posts, so those of you looking to read about my further adventures in work and life in Tokyo will have to stay calm.

You see, it has been a long time since I heard a song that barges through my front door, rudely bitch slap me awake, tearing me out of the bed and kicks me naked out the front door, literally. But one new group and song did just that too me, you can hear and see it in the video just above here (click it now). The band is from Sweden and is made up of one member from the band Melody Club who teamed up with another member from Yvonne and Strip Music. Granted, they've only released an EP this far, but it manages to combine the pop melodies of Melody Club and the bleakness of Yvonne/Strip Music and make something new and better out of it. You should buy it, now, it's out on iTunes!

It's a really pleasant experience to be this surprised by a group on which I had no expectations at first and be completely blown away. It hasn't happened that often in my life of being musically aware. I do still remember how Tiamat completely blew me away with Judas Christ and showed that great goth can actually still be done and that there's no need to be sentimental about the Sisters of Mercy or the Fields of the Nephilim. I also remember how Ladytron completely caught me by surprise just by the time most electronic pop groups were very far entrenched in their own behinds and how Dark Tranquility showed me that there actually are really great Death Metal groups there with their great album "Haven", it did help an old electrohead like me that they infused the metal with cold synth sounds as well though. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I can't answer that

It seems like lately, corporate meetings has been on my blogging agenda (mixed up with some homeless guys and sweatpants) but my lovely company is currently in a pretty intense process trying to settle organization, budget etc. before the start of 2009.

Since this involves a lot of negotiations and discussions with our regional overlords I end up involved quite often even if it is not directly related to my marketing related tasks. This means a lot of meetings, and the worst type of them; teleconferences... I probably should dedicate another post to the horrors of telecons, but let's just say that talking over the phone is not made easier by language and cultural barriers between our office and our overlords.

The other day I participated in such a meeting, supporting my colleagues in the Quality Assurance department in which the objective was to negotiate more resources for the coming year. A highly important subject and something that also directly relates to my job since it will impact sales and marketing if they cannot do their job properly. In the beginning things were going pretty well and I felt that the negotiations were going our way. Then a question that neither me nor Mr. Shachou could answer came and we needed the QA Manager "Captain Awkward" to answer for us. The conversation went something like this:

Overlord: Ok, that sounds fine, but do you really need this particular thing since you just said that you will be doing something something instead?
Mr. Salaryman: (Silently motioning to Captain Awkward that he should answer)
Cpt. Awkward: (Silently starting at the telecon device in front of him)
Overlord: Hello?
Cpt. Awkward: (Silently starting at the telecon device in front of him, scratching his nose)
Mr. Shachou: We're here, we're just gonna translate the question so our QA manager can answer (translates to Cpt. Awkward)
Cpt. Awkward: (takes a breath and looks like he's gonna speak but ends up giving a deep sigh instead)
Mr. Shachou: (Stirring in his chair and looking around the room in desperation knowing that the time for giving a decisive impression to his direct overlords has passed)
Cpt. Awkward: (half muttering to himself in Japanese) It's not like we're just sitting around...
Mr. Salaryman: (Realizing that the farce needs to end) I think we might have some language problems here, but we got the question and will get back to you by e-mail later

I felt slightly uncomfortable sitting in on the scolding that Cpt. Awkward got after the meeting from Mr. Shachou, there's something disturbing about watching a man in his late '50s on the verge of tears due to work... The take-home message here is; whatever you do, try to give clear and decisive answers to your overlords and if you don't know the answer divert the attention quickly!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Yeah, that is a pretty infestation of them you have right there"

Now, I guess this is subjective depending on where you come from, but with my Swedish eyes Japan has a lot of homeless people. Without having any kind of scientific study to back me up or basically anything more than my own observations during the close to ten years I've been living here in Japan now, I would like to say that they can broadly be defined into three separate categories.

First we have the "normal" type, people who don't have a real place to stay, but still manage to make some money and keep themselves somewhat clean to the degree that it can be hard to spot them since they can blend in pretty good. As far as I can guess I would think that these are people that had a real work, company or such but fell on hard times and ended up on the street. Then there's the "drug abuser" type of homeless person, these are more visible and they tend to be nursing some form of alcohol and even though they are not extremely filthy and/or smelly, they usually seem to care considerably less of their own personal hygiene than the "normal" type. Depending on degree of intoxication these people can range from "no bother at all" to "highly disturbing".
But then we have the most unpredictable type, the "mentally deranged" type of homeless people. These are, as far as my observations go, people who due to some mental disorder, are not able to maintain a normal lifestyle and end up on the street and I guess in some cases any sickness they might suffer from is enhanced through substance abuse.

These type of people are just something you get used to when living in Japan, they're a regular sight in most areas and I would believe that most readers who live in Japan have their own local homeless person in their specific area.

Now, I have one of the homeless that would fall in the third category in my area. I've actually gotten a bit used to him and except for a pretty aggressive smell he doesn't seem to cause any harm and seems to be happy talking to himself. I see him on an almost daily basis and he still hasn't changed his outfit once in all that time. On my way to my commuter train I walk through a "garden path" and he has made that area his nesting ground in the middle of the houses that surround the path. He has chosen a spot where he seems to do most of his sleeping. However, just last week as I was merrily walking home from my great job and approaching his little place and getting ready to take a deep breath so I could avoid some of the odor I was suprised to see the area marked by some cones and a rudimentary "fence" closing off the area with a sign saying "it is forbidden to litter here up to a fine of 10 million Japanese yen". I assume that the family living in the house just where he sleeps got tired of having him there and called the park authorities.

But this doesn't really seem to have shaken my little friend much since the next day I saw him again, this time he had relocated 50 meters down the path and I assume that this little cat and mouse game will continue for quite some time and the authorities will have a hard time catching up on him. I'm looking forward to follow the developments in this little war that has erupted!

If you're wondering, the picture shows the hedged of area where he used to nest.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On a slippery slope...

To call me a man of strong moral conviction or a man with a very strong sense of style would be a lie. However, I have had one code which have guided me through thick and thin throughout the years, at least from my teen age days. This code of mine is simply:
"I don't wear sweatpants at home"

In sports activities there is a justified reason for the existence of sweatpants, but not in the home setting. Since I am now in a salaryman job I wear the suit at work and change to something more comfortable when I get home, but I still wear normal comfortable pants and never sweatpants. Why is this, you might wonder? I feel that starting to wear sweatpants is a slippery slope down to a place I don't want to end up in... You start with sweatpants occasionally at home and before you know it you gladly go to the supermarket in them together with a sauce stained sweatshirt and crappy sandals. There are many of them where I live and I refuse to end up like them. Now, this code of honor is something I live by and it really hasn't caused me any discomfort or trouble at all until a recent ethical dilemma.

Just recently Ms. Sunshine came with some of her wonderful gifts again, stuff that she has accumulated through her work in the fashion industry. She gave me a pair of very fancy, brand name cargo sweatpants. I tried them on and they fit perfectly, feel extremely comfortable and look nothing like the type of sweatpants that I usually hate on. In fact, I'm wearing them right now and feel very comfortable in them and somewhat stylish. However, how much I try to rationalize it, I cannot escape the simple fact: "I'm wearing sweatpants at home". But with these fancy sweatpants I feel that I can relax my rule a little bit, but I am afraid that I'm on a slippery slope down to oblivion now...

I brought up this issue and my ethical dilemma with Luke in a recent conversation, he listened carefully to my dilemma (he agrees with my basic stance on sweatpants) and gave the following advice:

1. Use extreme caution
2. Limit the times/week you wear them
3. Limit the amount of time
4. Be very careful what you wear them with
5. NEVER EVER leave the house with them on

I feel that this advice is sound and something I need to stick to in these times of temptation!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's discuss this in the meeting

I've previously discussed a bit around the long-winded meetings that is a reality in (at least some companies) in corporate Japan. But to be honest, I've just gotten kinda hardened to them and since they've become a part of my everyday work life, they just don't annoy me as much anymore since I have accepted them as a part of my reality.

However, today's meeting stunned even me. The first part of the meeting was fine, a standard corporate meeting, but then a highly important issue for the coming year was brought up and some discussion erupted regarding the feasibility of us succeeding in doing what we've committed ourselves to do. This issue was discussed for about an hour, at which point someone brought up that a meeting should be held to discuss this issue and make sure that we're all onboard with the plan.

Then the meeting turned into a meeting about this meeting with such important issues as when to have it, whom to include, whether we needed to have one or more meetings and then the dates and participant dicussion all over again, back and forth. We spent the better half of an hour in a meeting to decide on a meeting...

As the meeting kept dragging on and on I just can't see how we can make a decision together on an important topic when we can't even decide on when to have the meeting without spending considerable time on it...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Can you really do this kinda thing...?

Yesterday was "I'm your c**t" girl's final day at the consultant company since she's quitting to move on to bigger and better things, leaving Luke, The Boy, Captain Britain and the other people behind. So she's joining me in the group of graduates from the company. Yesterday the group threw together an improvised informal farewell party to send her off properly and I joined in in the festivities.

The venue chosen was particularly interesting, as a conneiseur of all things crappy I was delighted, but also surprised. Previously in the company I always ran into stiff resistance since most of the people there didn't share the same affection as me for crappy theme restaurants, but for some reason, without my active involvement, they had chosen a "Church" themed restaurant. Namely the "Christon Cafe" in Shibuya.

It was delightful, and as I have no particular love lost for organized and/or dis-organized religion in particular, the heresy of the general atmosphere of this place was wonderful. The restaurant is pimped out as a semi-church complete with crucifixes, a statue of the virgin Mary and gargoyles among other things. Also, on the menu, they actually had a dish called "Satan's seafood rice" which we obviously had to order. A place like this would probably be impossible to open in most other countries, but political correctness have not really penetrated Japan. You should go there too!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Disposable people

There are many different type of species inside the corporate environment, from the predator like managers and the back stabbing peons. One of the more peaceful and harmless species is the type known as "Temp staff". These are the people you "rent" from the agency when the work that needs to be done is so simple that it doesn't need a formal employee and all the costs in terms of benefits and insurance that comes with it. They can be fired without stirring up a fuzz, but also the other way around, if the temp staff doesn't appreciate the company and/or the work, they can often pack up and leave with a pretty short notice and just transfer to the next company that the pimping agency hooks them up with.

So, they're pretty much disposable people. In the last six months we've seen 7 temp staff coming and going for two different positions due to a number of reasons. This can make for a pretty frustrating experience since you have to go through the whole deal of making sure a new one is hired before the previous one leaves so they can teach the new one the job before they have their last day. If this is ongoing on a basically monthly basis the original knowledge of the work and how to do it effeciently is pretty quickly lost in the system...

Today, I interviewed a new temp staff together with the sales director and Mr. Shachou since the quality of the previous ones has not really been as amazing as I would have wanted and my faith in their recruiting abilities is pretty low at this point. Now, it comes with the game that you can't put too much expectations in terms of experience on a temp staff, once in a while some really good people comes by, but most of these ones chose to not work as temp staff, instead preferring the official corporate employee route.

For the person I interviewed today, I received the CV and please allow me to highlight some of the computer skill that was empasized:

Microsoft Excel: Can adjust size of letters, draw lines, adjust height of cells and rows, input figures in a form and save document.

I was a bit skeptical at first, but at least she claims to be able to save documents so I hope it'll be ok. You learn to put the expectations low.
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