Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A dignified life

It never goes wrong... Every time I get some well deserved vacation, my body decides it's time to relax and let that nasty cold in, full blown. Somehow, my work stressed body has been keeping the germs at bay, but completely surrendering and giving in as vacation approaches.

This means that I have spent the latest days down and out in pretty high fever, receiving palliative care from the always lovely Ms. Sunshine, begging to be put out of my misery. Not only has this resulted in a pretty uncomfortable and miserable couple of days, but has also resulted in the cancellation of a minor vacation trip. Although I think my body will have recoved to the extent that some travel will be possible from tomorrow, so the vacation will not be completely wasted at least.

This year's new year's celebrations will be more leaning towards the Japanese style of celebration, something which I have actually never really experienced before. I have been told that there will be no champange.

For all of you out there with no specific plans for the new year's eve, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend watching either the original "Planet of the Apes", "Road House" or "Next of Kin" together with a big fat whiskey. Something that sounds very appealing to me in my current condition...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to you all!

Today, I was thinking of posting something about how Christmas is celebrated in Japan with all the fried chicken, romantic dates and all that stuff, but I can't really be bothered. Then I was going to post about how immensly annoying it can be to take one day off from work and be met by over a hundred e-mails in the inbox on Christmas Eve when I get back in the office, but I can't really be bothered with that either.

So instead I will just wish you all a very merry christmas and if any of you are still not in the proper Christmas mood you can always listen to the wonderful Christmas song here and you are sure to get in the Christmas mood in no time!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

This one's pretty awesome too!

As a follow up to my much appreciated series about supervillains with awesome names I would like to follow up he "Awesome Threesome" with the "Awesome Android". He is genuinely awesome and the fantastic tag team he has with the Mad Thinker gives a synergetic effect to the awesomeness!

Truly awesome!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

That time of year again!

Yep, it's that time of year again... The "bounenkai" season, the last stretch before the new year's break. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, this would be the year when we didn't go all out drinking, trying to forget the year... After all, at the new year's party we all were happy and toasted to the new year that we hoped would bring plenty of joy and good news...

But it wasn't to be this time either... Once again we are planning our events to forget about the year that has been here in Japan. As corporate Japan is drawing to a close, restaurants all across Tokyo will be packed with Salarymen desperately trying to forget the year that has been and early 2009 they will once again huddle together to drink to the new, and surely, better year that lies ahead of them.

Thankfully, this year I think I only have to do this deal three times with three different groups, an improvement from earlier!

(On my way home today I, for some reason, started listening to :Wumpscut: and "Soylent Green" on my iPod and about 2 minutes into the song I realized why this music is more suitable for young finnish people with a desire to shoot up their school than salarymen and quickly changed to a The Cure cover album featuring crappy German goth artists, in the end I settled with the Parappa the Rapper soundtrack and felt good about it. Is it only me who think that that car song is funky?)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The "Gyaku-Gire" technique

Now, this is not a unique Japanese technique, I’m sure, but just the fact that it is usual enough to have an own name makes it very useful to know and something to strive to master. The basic premise of a good "Gyaku-Gire" (逆切れ) is to be unjustified angry at someone who has a justified beef with you and it is often utilized in the work place. Directly translated it would mean something as “inverted anger outburst” (Ok, I’m sure there’s better alternatives out there, but whatever).

Let me give you an example here of how this can be used in the corporate setting:

Peon A (being pissed angry that the report he was promised is over a week delayed): Where is that report? You promised me it a week ago and I’ve seen nothing!?
Peon B (being very well aware that he should’ve done it but has spent his time reading up on horse racing online instead) What?! If that report is so important you shouldn’t have asked me, because Peon C asked me to compile data for him and his project (this hasn’t been done either, but the general thinking is to set Peon A and C against each other).
Peon A: (Successfully Gayku-Gire:ed into submission, anger gone): Oh… Ok… Can I have it by next week then?
Peon B: (Impatient) I’ll try.

Also, I have a real life true example of a very successful Gyaky-Gire from a supervisor to a subordinate, one which I aim to utilize someday too:

Peon A: (Angry, tired and pissed off about workload and other team members not pulling their weight) I’m really tired, I’m doing this and that, you need to do something!
Boss A: (Sudden outburst of anger, almost shouting) How do you think I feel?! I’ve been dead inside for a year.
Peon A (Successfully Gyaku-Gire:ed into submission, speechless): Oh, ok… I’ll get back to it then…

Friday, December 12, 2008

All your US Navy base are belong to us

Recently I had my first excursion to a real life US military base here in Japan. Not any base, but the largest base in Japan; the Yokosuka navy base. It was an almost surreal experience, as me and Ms. Sunshine merrily walked from the station to the actual base and as we gradually got closer, signs, menus etc. started appearing in English and not only in Japanese. It felt a bit strange to see a noodle ship with the menu items rudimentary laid out in English and posts for apartments in the usual Japanese style, but all in English.

After being roughly told off by men with guns to wait a few meters away from the entrance we waited for our military friend to pick us up and guide us through the necessary paperwork needed to gain entrance to the base. Fortunately, since the US has not yet labeled Sweden as a part of the axis of evil and Japan is a close strategic military ally we could quickly go through the process and avoid being sent to Guantanamo. My key concern at the base was to avoid being shot by any of the military personnel since, even though the base is located on Japanese soil and lies under Japanese law, the US military has jurisdiction over any crimes committed by military personnel on the base, which theoretically means that I could have gotten the New York style Haitian immigrant treatment without any repercussions to the shooters if they were smooth enough.

The actual base struck me as remarkably unremarkable, it looked less than my expectations of a military base and more like an immigrant heavy suburb to Stockholm, minus the graffiti and with only white buildings. Somewhere around my fifth question to my host regarding under which conditions the guards would actually shoot at me and what actions on my behalf could get him court-martialed (since we were allowed in under his responsibility) Ms. Sunshine started to get worried about what I actually had in mind to do and stopped any further inquiries into this fascinating subject.

As we reached the on-base shopping center and our main destination things started to get surreal for real. It felt like we had been dropped in the middle of a boring small US shopping mall and not like we still were in Japan at all. Moving around the area were mostly western people with just a few Japanese people and at the entrance of the store they had even brought in one of those huge cumbersome and defect prone US style soda machines and as added measure, it only accepted US dollars.

As we entered the store, the illusion was complete. The nowadays familiar Japanese brands were nowhere in sight and the selection of everything from candies, clothes to DVD movies were the same as we had been in a US store. Even the Japanese brands they did carry were obviously “imported and then exported back to Japan” with English packaging. Since we usually do not have this kind of access to western product brands and also adding that the prices were both cheap to begin with and also tax-free, a minor shopping spree was initiated. The most prominent and important purchase was probably the full set of Arrested Development DVDs since my previously bought pirated copies were wearing a bit thin.

I guess this is the closest you can get to a day trip to the US here in Japan and it was an interesting experience.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sir, we have a problem!

The morning started out pretty reasonable, a little hung over from the company event the day before, but not too bad. I just had started my morning routine of checking the Swedish newspaper online while starting my first cup of coffee to later move on to the night's harvest of mails from head office and late workers who sent stuff after I had gone home.

All in all, it seemed set up to be a manageable day in the office. Then Neurotic peon (an older Japanese guy who is very friendly and nice, but has a tendency to worry too much...) approaches me and, with fear in his voice, talks about a big problem that has occured and that might impact our customers. I have to give it to him, he built it up pretty well and had me worried, he also spread the word to include some other managers in the company, so we were a respectable bunch in the room when he was going to explain the problem in question. In my head, the Problem was now of epic proportions and we were all similarly worried.

So, neurotic peon lays out the problem, explain his action plan to lessen the damage and since the problem came from him solemnly offered to take the responsibility in form of bonus cuts. It took me a great deal of time to understand the problem since I couldn't really find this epic problem in the detailed material he had prepared and when I finally did it was a huge anti-climax.

This epic problem turned out to be nothing more than a minor nuisance. He had discovered a virus on his USB memory stick and might accidently have infected some computers at our customers when he had picked up information with it. A pretty harmless data mining virus to boot and any half-decent virus software would've killed it immediately. Nothing to be excited about and a nuisance at worst, assuming the computer in question actually didn't have any anti-virus software (and if that is the case, they probably have a number of viruses already and are under constant supervision by batallions of north korean hackers). The result of the meeting? Nothing really, it basically ended with me giving him the advice to get a decent anti-virus software on his computer, more for his own sake than for anything else.

Well, I shouldn't complain. It's better that they hype things up than doing it the other way around and calling an actual huge problem "minor".

Sunday, December 7, 2008

At least they're trying...

In Japan, you get pretty much used to excellent service in shops and stores. The clerks are friendly and attentive to what you want and do their best to assist you. This is probably always the single largest culture shock that strikes me when I get back home or basically anywhere outside of Japan.

I remember last time when I was back home in Stockholm and a clerk in a clothes store was bothered that she had to hang up a private phone call because a customer happened to want to pay for the stuff he wanted to buy...

That said, there is one chain store in Japan that has a habit of making me very tired every time I go there. The store is called Geo and does the rental video, selling used games, DVDs and CDs thing. As far as general selection and such, the store does a pretty good job, they have most of the stuff and the prices are, maybe not the cheapest, but pretty reasonable. Their main problem lies in the staff. Don't get me wrong, they are trying, they are trying very hard, but I think there's a fundamental problem in the raw material. I am not sure if it's deliberate recruiting or if it's some other factor that drives it, but the clerks there seem to consist of pretty pure Otaku's. They basically all wear thick black glasses, their hairstyle is the basic "let it grow and then cut it a bit myself" fashionable style and they carry themselves with the posture of someone who spends most of his free time crouched in front of a 14" tv watching Gundam and some anime porn to spice things up a bit.

But, yes, there's women working there too! Some relief you might think, but no, they seem to be from basically the same school as the guys over there.

They do try their best, I have to give them that. They're not rude or anything, but they just can't get anything right. Everytime I go there, there is something that they get mixed up or they get confused and I have to stand around with a patient smile waiting for them to sort out the mess they created for themselves. By now, I now what to expect from that place so I just smile and wait patiently.

My advice, you live close to a Tsutaya? Well, stick to that one then and stay out of the Geo!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's grab a cab!

When discussing about Japanese taxis, there are both good things and bad things with them in this country. My obvious frame of reference is from my home country Sweden, but from my travels I have come to the conclusion that Europe and the US do not differ so much.

So, to the good things. Taxis are plentiful here and you very very rarely have to wait long for one or call and reserve one, even very early mornings I have easily managed to get a taxi without much wait at all just outside my door. So availability is a definite plus, also, they're reasonably priced here as well, you don't have to give away your first born for a 30min ride somewhere.

Well then, what's the problem you may think. You see, taxi drivers in Japan are usually completely ignorant about the city they live and work in. Throwing out an address will just yield a blank stare and unless your destination is, or is very close to, one of Tokyo's more famous landmarks, the driver will most likely stare at you for a bit waiting for you to give him more instructions and if he doesn't receive it he usually starts driving in the general direction hoping that the issue will resolve itself at some point. It usually never does, so therefore I always bring with me print out maps of the destination nowadays to make sure I don't get stuck in endlessly driving along small streets.

But, assuming that the taxi driver actually knows the destination, then the next inevitable question will come from him: "Which route do you want to take?". Now, I know that this is meant as a service and to avoid customer complaints about detours and stuff later on, it still never fails to annoy me. Since I'm lacking a drivers license and therefore have no idea about the fastest way to drive places I just lamely throw out a "I leave it up to you" after which I usually have to agree to a number of suggestions before we finally get the show on the road.

Just recently I took a taxi and had, as I had learnt the hard way, brought a printed out map since he gave me that blank stare when I told the destination. Then this older gentleman peers at the map for a good minute and then picks up a huge magnifying glass to read the map. Considering the size of this thing I was amazed that he had vision enough to actually drive a taxi... He did get me to the destination though I should mention to his credit, eventually.

Also, a common characteristic for Japanese taxi drivers is that they are almost exclusively male and based on my observations I would estimate the average age to be around 65 years old, and this includes the 20-something driver who drags down the average radically. I remember how he enthustiastically told me how much he loved the Swedish pop group "Atomic Swing" after I had mentioned that I was Swedish... It's a hard life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A philosophical Essay: What is hell?

Different cultures and religions have different definitions of hell. The commonly and probably most widespread image of hell is the classic image of a hot and burning hell, an image that came out of Europe and Christianity during the 1400th century*.

However, in other cultures, such as the viking culture in the cold north where I am from, hell was not seen as a hot place, but rather an ice cold frozen place.

In conclusion, when you look at it more closely, you can see that hell is often interpreted as the opposite of what is seen as desirable. If the cold is seen as something negative, hell would be imaged as a cold place and the contrary for cultures that are more exposed to heat. Very interesting and something to reflect upon.

I, as of today, have a new definition of hell that I would like to share with you all: Hell is the 6 hour Shinkansen train ride from Fukuoka to Tokyo, stuck in the smoking car.

* Source: This is not really a fact or anything, I just made it up on the spot.
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