Monday, November 30, 2009

Getting Married in Japan Part 7 - The Toastmaster...

From my earlier posts, I think you can see that considerable planning needs to go into a wedding here in Japan . But not only is the preparation phase dealt with very carefully, it is also of high importance that the actual event goes smoothly. I will deal with the program and events for the wedding reception and the planning of that more in detail in an upcoming post since there are quite a few amusing stories in that as well.

But this time, I thought I should discuss the role and responsibilities of the toastmaster during a Japanese wedding reception. Well, in terms of role, there is basically no big difference compared to a toastmaster at a European wedding reception; they are the ones making sure that the speeches and events fit in well in the program, and are in charge of making sure that things go somewhat according to plan.

For a Swedish wedding, this is not an extreme challenge since time does not need to be so strictly managed and there is a lot less risk of offending anyone by mispronouncing the name or having the order mixed up and making relative X hold his/hers speech before the much more important relative Y. As you can understand, it’s much stricter in Japan …

This area was probably the one where me and Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman had the most arguments (thinking about it, this was basically the only area of friction) since she was very concerned about things going correctly according to Japanese customs so none of her more traditional and conservative relatives would be insulted, while I wanted to have it in a relaxed and personal way. The difficulties we had was in finding a middle ground in this and also how to solve the language problem since the guests would be a mixed bunch of Japanese and English speakers with quite a few not bilingual, requiring either a bilingual toastmaster or a translator to one of the languages.

Most people in Japan probably use a professional toastmaster/MC since that gives some assurance on things being managed professionally and with a minimum of mistakes. The toastmaster/MC would then be exclusively committed to that role and would not participate in the overall dinner and merriment. I was very resistant to the idea of having a professional toastmaster and especially the one bilingual American MC they had available annoyed me with that "HEY EVERYONE LET’S HAVE A GREAT WEDDING, MY NAME IS HARRY" faux-foreign style that some of you fellow foreigners who have lived in Japan might understand (it’s foreign, but packaged in a way that makes Japanese more comfortable with it, but makes the non-Japanese crowd feel awkward). Not to mention that it would cost a significant amount of money (around $2,000 USD…).

Since things were reaching the desperate stage and we needed to decide how to deal with this. After asking around among some of my bilingual friends here who I thought might be up to the task, but considering that these friends live in Japan and know how a wedding here works they also knew what kind of pressure this would mean, and as a result; they politely declined (just enjoying the party probably was a lot more appealing to them).

In the end, I turned to my good old friend Mr. Politician who was coming for the wedding, all the way from Sweden, and used to public speaking. In the normal Swedish way he accepted the task with honor, mentioning who he had been the toastmaster at some weddings in Sweden previously and was very honored to be asked and gladly accepted... I believe that he probably thought it would be a fun and relaxed task...

However, after waiting a few weeks after having him accept the task and making sure that it would be too late for him to turn back on his promise, I started to gradually reveal the extent of the task before him...

I am not sure on how he reacted to the stuff we mailed to him in advance to allow him to prepare for the task at hand; the time schedule charts in excel, down to individual minutes, and long strings of text that it was VERY IMPORTANT that he read exactly as they were at exactly the right time. To solve the issue of translator, with a non Japanese speaking toastmaster, we simply assigned that to The Boy, who I perceive as a cross between my son and an immigrant worker I can abuse. He only needed to follow the toastmasters lead, so the work was considerably lighter.

One of the first things I did after my friend arrived in Japan was to take him to the wedding planner for a detailed review of the activities and his tasks during the reception together with the wedding planner. During the two hour long meeting where all details and events were discussed, my friends face got gradually whiter and whiter as the extent and responsibility of his task sank in, with a tight time schedule to manage, Japanese names to remember and things he needed to take care in, to not risk offending any conservative Japanese family member.

With the risk of ending this post with a little anti-climax, in the end, he passed it with flying colors and managed to keep a nice balance between Japanese time keeping and Swedish informality, making both sides of the family very happy with the event. But at the end, he looked completely exhausted and mentioned to us that "this isn't like a Swedish wedding at all, now I know how it must feel to be the MC of a royal wedding in Sweden...".

So yeah, if someone asks you to play toastmaster at a Japanese wedding, consider it very carefully before you accept...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

...someone's going to have a great Christmas...

Ok, sometimes I do miss the "genuine" Christmas atmosphere of the old country with the Christmas markets, cold, snow and cosy darkness...

But then I remember the cold, the snow and the depressing darkness and when weighed against such wonderful Christmas accessories available here in Japan, such as the ones in the picture; Christmas robber/wrestler/rapist mask and singing hand puppet, Japan isn't too bad and some friends and family in the old country will be able to share in this Japanese Christmas joy.

But no, since my bro got the Raindeer mask last year, the Santa won't go to him...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Treat them well and you can reap magical rewards, but anger them...

Earlier today we had an e-mail and Internet blackout for a few hours, which of course can cause almost panic-like uproar in an office environment. The "I like to wash my hands before I take a dump" IT guy was running around like crazy and even though he pretended to be stressed, I suspect that he basked in the attention he was getting since people were calling his name and wanted to know why it wasn't working and wanted him to fix it. Some people in my vicinity even chewed him out for not fixing it, even though the problem was on the site of our Asian IT overlords in Singapore and completely out of his control.

At 16:34 the mail started working again and I found two mails of particular interest when I finally got it working again, the first one was sent out at 14:35 Japan time and stated "The Internet and E-mail seems to be down, but we are working on restoring the connection as soon as we can and will let you know as soon as things are working again".

The second mail of interest was sent out at 15:52 Japan time and stated "The Internet and E-mail function has now been restored, we apologize for the interruption". Those IT guys seem to think that they can get away with anything...

I also thought that I should elaborate a little on my view on the IT guys. Basically, I see them as the leprechauns or house gnomes of the office. Funny to look at and entertaining in small doses, but hardly something you want to spend any longer time with. If you treat them well, they can show you incredible wealth and benefits, but anger them and you have to suffer their mischief, just like the people of old used to think of these creatures.

I'm currently pretty friendly with them which results in me getting some nice benefits snuck to me before other people, and any computer problem I have is usually fixed quickly as long as I pretend to not notice the BO and the IT guy laughing at all the wrong places and at very non-funny jokes. But I have also seen the people who have angered them and how, all of a sudden, busy they can be with other stuff if it's convenient leaving you hanging for hours and then simply saying "I dunno what the problem is, you have to wait"...

Treat them well and they are harmless, but do not anger them...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We're happy and energetic!!

Just a little while earlier, our company executed a survey on a local Japan level towards all of the employees on the theme, "what do we need to do to become the number one company" and true to form the "number one" was not limited to our particular business, just generally best company *ever*. The survey consisted of some pretty dull open ended questions.

Earlier in the week we received an analysis and compilation of the results of the survey. The answers had been grouped into different categories and ranked. To my disbelief I noticed that "to be a company that deliver results" had received 4 votes out of our approximately 200 employees here in Japan and was in the bottom of the ranking, by far overpowered by such important things as "being full of energetic and happy employees" and "being able to trust other employees".

Sometimes I just wish I was one of them and wouldn't get so annoyed by things like this...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yes, another men's room story

Seen today in the office shared men's room (where an alarmingly high percentage of my posts seem to play out):

Our IT-guy, true to form of all IT people I have ever known, is a little greasy, has a vague hint of BO and laughs at all the wrong things but is, when all is said and done, a nice harmless guy who mostly manages to stay away from the insanity on the sales and marketing front. As I was walking into the men's room to ease my bladder (without farting) I see the IT guy washing his hands very carefully and thoroughly by the sink, and after drying his hands in the horribly inefficient blow-dryer he turns around and walks decisively into one of the toilet booths…

The question that comes into my mind is how dirty must you be if you feel the need to wash your hands before you go take a dump?

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's not you, it's me

At the moment, I am a relatively free man inside the corporation. I have been relieved of most of my peons and now basically have only one and he is being fired in slow motion. For me, this is more comfortable because I don't have to consider other people as much and I see no value in itself to sit on top of a big pyramid in the organization chart since my work now is best done if I have complete oversight and control myself.

I do however interact a lot with most departments in the company, both as support but also sometimes in a mild steering way (i.e. I don’t boss them around aggressively, but I do have some control over the direction). This works pretty well most of the time and I have good relations with the people. However, recently I have been working more closely with the finance department, something that I find pretty uninteresting, but there is stuff that I need to make sure is done correctly. The finance manager is a nice guy, but not very decisive and since a few weeks ago I started notice how one of his peons was starting to try to attach herself to me in terms of work. She started asking me questions directly on what to do and started reporting stuff to me first, bypassing her boss.

This is the version of infidelity inside the corporation and I can't pretend that I was completely innocent myself, I did play along to some extent. Nothing too serious though, but I had her do some work for me without me asking her boss, but no large important things, just some small menial tedious work I didn't wanna do myself and she volunteered. So maybe we "fooled around a bit" in boss - subordinate way, but I'm now worried that I might have created expectations in her that I can't meet. So recently I have been trying to cool things down, always refer her to her boss and not have her do work for me, however boring it might be, but I am not sure that the signals have gone through.

Maybe I should sit down and have a talk with her and do the “look, it’s not you, it’s me, you do great work. Sure it was great when you helped me and did that boring and tedious work for me, but I just can’t see another peon in my life right now, I have too much stuff to do on my own. Besides, your boss is a nice guy, what would he do without you?”.

Corporate life is difficult...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mummies, mass murder and pseudo-science! Top 3 Cults of Japan!

Since my previous list of top worst image characters of Japan proved to be such a roaring success I thought I should provide you all with another ranking of a very similar subject: cults.

If you start looking I’m sure there’s plenty of freaky cults out there and please let me know if there’s one out there that you think could provide me with some entertainment and maybe be a candidate for an updated list at some point. The criteria I have used here is to have a cult that for one reason or another has made an impact on the mainstream news.

No. 3 Aleph – Aum Reloaded

To have Aum Shinrikyo on the list is a no brainer I think, but this once evil and dangerous cult has now degenerated into something more pathetic. After the horrible subway sarin gas attack and the subsequent dismantling of the cult, spiced up with good 'ol guru Shoko receiving the death penalty as he's gone completely over the edge flinging his feces around him as he talks jibberish naked in his cell (yeah, he's gone from dangerously insane to outright loon-crazy) the cult has been struggling. However, the cult did not completely die after the incident, although it obviously lost members and financial assets pretty radically. What makes this amusing is how some PR genius in the cult realized that “hey guys, maybe the name “Aum” has too much negativity now, let’s change the name” and the cult officially stated that the sarine attacks had been misguided and disowned former guru Shoko Asahara (but yeah, basically only the mass murder of innocent people, otherwise they still think he’s an all right dude) and changed the name to Aleph. And yeah, for some reason this great PR coupe didn’t create the boom that they expected, but I’m sure they’ll be back in the media later on!

No 2. Life Space – Return of the (Dead) Mummy

This cult was relatively benign, at least compared to Aum/Aleph and without having studied the details of their teachings, I believe that they originated from Sai Baba's new age mumbo jumbo and the cult leader had the pseudo-India cult leader look down pefectly. They were a pretty small cult and hit the news when a member had fallen sick (to be fair, it was an elderly person if I’'m not mistaken) and the cult had refused (probably with the consent of the patient) to get her the proper modern care that could have saved her. Instead the cult chanted and was going to save her through faith and their own interesting treatments. To no surprise the patient pretty soon passed away, but it's here where things took a turn to the bizarre. Instead of accepting that the individual had passed, the cult insisted that she was just recovering in a coma and would wake up very soon if they could just continue their “care”. This “treatment” carried on for considerable time and by the time police had been alerted to strange on-goings and odors and intervened at the apartment, the "sick" cult member had reached a stage of mummification…

Still, the cult would not acknowledge that she was actually very very dead but insisted that she could wake up any second. If I remember it correctly, the guru got a light prison sentence and the cult fell back into obscurity, but they should be credited with putting mummies on the news!

No 1. Pana Wave Research Institute - Whiteout!

This was a really hard choice, but from a personal stand point I do have to admit a weakness for sci-fi cults based on pseudo/bogus-science. I mean, who doesn't have fond memories of something relating to Heaven's Gate and Scientology? Some people probably would argue that a real cult should have a real bearded guru in the top and while I can understand that sentiment I do not completely agree. A large cult like scientology and smaller more radical ones such as Heaven's gate has shown that even the guru or fervent preacher deal is not the only route a cult can take these days.

Pana Wave hit the news some years ago as they were traveling around Japan in huge convoys with their white vans, cars and trucks and randomly (to an observer, internally I'm sure they had perfectly “logical” reasons) set up camps in the country side and only ventured outside dressed in white contamination protection suits, complete with goggles and facemasks. They put up huge white sheets around the areas where they performed their “work” – exactly what they were working with is still a bit unclear, but it seems like it was connected to saving the world from certain destruction (I do that every day so I know it can be tiring).

For a while they were regulars in the news as they moved around the country and made people highly uncomfortable with their mysterious activities. But it does seem that the cult was relatively benign and they were actually out to save the world and not to bring about its destruction… To my disappointment, the cult has been very silent recent years and since the founder and leader (a woman which is nice for a change) passed away a few years ago it is possible that the cult will fall into obscurity again.

Recently there has been few cult news here in Japan, but I'm sure something really bizarre will show up sooner or later, it always does...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The one who dealt it…

Last week we had a manager's meeting of quite some significance since we are starting to solidify the plans for the coming year. The plan was for all the department heads to outline the general direction and strategy for the year ahead. In addition to the big shots quite a number of related staff was also present due to the importance of the discussion.

Just as the meeting started and Mr. Shachou was introducing the outline of the overall company strategy for 2010 and he was launching into a passionate speech about how we need to create better teamwork, someone in the front row let out a loud fart that echoed in the meeting room, but the cramped room made it impossible to locate the culprit. Mr. Shachou looked a little confused for a quarter of a second after which he continued his speech. As I looked around the room, not able to contain my giggling I noticed that I was the only one. Everyone in the audience managed to keep faces of stone.

I’d like to think that someone made a little rebellion to some bullshit in the presentation in his own little way, but it might just have been the bowels…

(Oh yeah, and the image is great, I got it off a real site you can check out here, no need to be shy about it!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I do feel a bit gay actually...

Now, I should start things off by saying that I'm a pretty regular guy who is not overly concerned with my appearance, I'm not particularly a slob, but you can hardly call me metrosexual either.
A little while back I got an offer from the hair salon I use in conjunction with my birthday where they offered me a free "scalp cleansing" the next time I came in for a haircut. I was going to ignore this since I'm happy with my scalp as it is and don't particularly want it cleansed. But when Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman saw the postcard with the offer she convinced me to use it since "You'll really like it, it's almost like a massage".

With nothing to lose, since it was for free, I told the salon that I wanted to use the offer when I booked a time last weekend...

Now, as it turns out, a "scalp cleansing" consists of looking at my hair roots through some special type of "hair camera", getting some stuff massaged into the hair for 2-3min and then sitting in one of those machines that are used for perms for 10-15min with a towel wrapped around my head. It made me feel extremely unmanly. In conclusion, I won't advice you against doing this, but know what you will be exposing yourself to before you take up on an offer like this..

Monday, November 16, 2009

I quit quitting!

As I have mentioned a little earlier, for more than 15 years now I was a user of the Swedish snuff tobacco called "snus". Not only was I a user, I was a pretty heavy user and the volume of nicotine I put into my body was probably equivalent to that of a "one pack a day" smoker. I will in no way try to claim that this snus is good for the body, but since the nicotine is directly adsorbed into the bloodstream through the gums and not through inhaling smoke, it does have the benefit compared to smoking to not subject the body to the nasty by-products of smoking such as tar.

However, a health problem a few months ago, forced me to see the doctor and the verdict was pretty harsh. The doctor told me that to get rid of my problem, I needed to quit the nicotine since it had a very clearly proven connection to my problem. With some active encouragement from Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman who saw an opening to get rid of a habit she dislikes, I did decide to kick the habit. I did take my time quitting, gradually cutting down on the dose week by week until, after around 3 months, I had completely kicked the habit. Probably due to the gradual reduction in nicotine I didn't really have any big difficulties in this.

I did not expect miracles, but I had read some stuff about people stating how their everyday health had been positively affected by quitting nicotine, in terms of having more energy, sleeping better and things like that, so I did have some expectations on feeling better. The original cause for quitting did heal but other physical effects were mostly of the negative nature; I felt like I had less energy, I was more sleepy and generally things were more boring without snus in my life. Ok, the original problem did heal completely with no risk of returning, that much I need to concede and I do save considerable amounts of money since importing the stuff started to cost quite a lot of money after the Japanese authorities realized that they should tax it… But even several months after quitting, when the nicotine dependence should be well out of the system, I did not really feel any different, just more tired and dull.

So, I made my decision, I quit quitting! I’m getting right back at it where I left off. Ok, the volume I am restarting the habit at is extremely small, but still.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Will the real Japanese sports drink please stand up?

One of the more predictable things that a new comer will make fun of when arriving in Japan fresh off the banana boat is the name of the sports drink called "Pocari Sweat" and how they will try to convince the locals how unappetizing it sounds to drink something called "sweat". Sure, I had the same reaction many many years back, but after all the years here now, I've become numb and now it's just a sports drink that is useful for sports or when the body needs to be replinished due to some earlier drinking activities.

Pocari Sweat has held a pretty firm grip on the sports drink market since the 80's but the number two is the dink "Aquarius" which Coca Cola Japan are marketing since quite a few years back. Both of these taste basically identical and also Aquarius also chose to utilize primarily blue and white with an arc around the name. Without being an insider in the sports drink market, it seems pretty obvious to me that they were trying to steal a little share from Pocari Sweat by tapping into the brand awareness of that drink. For many years, these two have been the primary drinks for the casual sports drink market. The other day, as I felt the hankering for some sports drink and purchased what I believed to be Aquarius through a vending machine, I realized that instead I had gotten a newly launched sports drink, somewhat cumbersomely called "Kirin Loves Sport" launched by Kirin Beverages, the drink tasted exactly the same as Aquarius and/or Pocari Sweat and also were using white on blue as the primary colors and using an arc like shap close to the logo.To further shake things up, I found myself in a convenience store recently where I found and purchased a new drink, very straightforwardly called "Sports Drink" launched by some local smaller player. The drink tasted exactly the same as Aquarius, Pocari sweat and/or Kirin Loves Sports and they had chosen white on blue as the primary colors and an arc around the name to add some flair.
To help the consumers of Japan reading this page, I thought a brief review on these drinks could be helpful to guide you in your purchases:

Pocari Sweat: 5 - Slightly sweet but not overly so
Aquarius: 5 - Slightly sweet but not overly so
Kirin Loves Sports: 5 - Slightly sweet but not overly so
Sports Drink: 5 - Slightly sweet but not overly so

Pocari Sweat: 5 - Good combination of blue and white and an arc to add some flair
Aquarius: 5 - Good combination of blue and white and an arc to add some flair
Kirin Loves Sports: 5 - Good combination of blue and white and an arc to add some flair
Sports Drink: 5 - Good combination of blue and white and an arc to add some flair

Value for Money
Pocari Sweat
: 5 - You get a decent sports drink

Aquarius: 5 - You get a decent sports drink
Kirin Loves Sports: 5 - You get a decent sports drink, but they added 55ml for the same price, but you don't really get the same brand value as the veterans
Sports Drink: 5- 5 - You get a decent sports drink, slightly cheaper but you don't get the same brand value compared to the other ones.

For some reason, I personally prefer Aquarius and purchase that when available, but that is actually not based on any rationale or real affection to the brand or anything now that I think of it. I wonder if there are any people confident that they could taste the differences in a blind test of these drinks...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All aboard the CC train!

I think I have earlier talked a little about corporate mail culture and how this can sometimes take amusing shapes. One very useful function for mails is how easily a CC "carbon copy" of the communication can be sent out to people who might benefit from getting the update. To say that this function can be abused is no understatement as well and it can at times take ridiculous proportions. Let me give you a real life recent example.

An e-mail was sent out from some logistic people regarding a special shipment of products concerning both our QA, regulatory and marketing people in addition to our logistics. The mail is addressed to me and another person at the European site and has around 4 people cc:ed that I do not know who they are. However, when replying, I need to involve our local Japan people, so in addition to doing a “reply all” I also add 4 people of my own. The cc train is now up to 8 people.

The other person who was in the "to" line and at another site also replies and he adds an additional 6 people I have no idea who they are; we are now up to 14 people in the cc train.

The person who sent the original mail sends out another mail to confirm and check that everything has been correctly understood as in the earlier communication. She does a "reply all" and then for good measure seem to add another few people giving a record ~16 people cc:ed in the mail. I reply back with "This is ok for Japan" and did consider to trim the cc field a little, but hey, someone made the judgement that they would benefit from the information so who am I to argue?

The more the merrier I guess...?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crash course in mastering corporate communication visuals!

For some reason it seems like illustrations and how pictures can be used to convey messages across cultures has been a topic I touch upon from time to time here. One reason is of course that my good friend Martin has this as his profession and is something that he constantly works with.

But this time I thought I should, completely for free, offer everyone some instructions on how you can become a master of utilizing images to reinforce the message in a corporate communications environment. In fact, the images you need to have available at your disposal are very few and if you use them correctly you can become a master of internal communications, the medium would most likely be some form of coporate intranet or newsletter. I will now show you the four images that you need to master and instruct you in the proper use.

1. The Trophy
The Trophy is a very powerful image and should be utilized in cases when a big tender has been won or a significant objective achieved. As a concrete example the trophy could be used to illustrate an article with the heading “Norwegian subsidiary breaks sales record”. The image can be used with or without hands holding it, hands are preferably included since it also gives an image of teamwork.
2. The Handshake
The handshake is also a very powerful tool and should be used when you need to illustrate something related to teamwork, it can be used for both internal situations when illustrating some work that is conducted across the company and can also be used to illustrate external teamwork with another company, research site or similar. For rare cases it can be used to illustrate large sales deal, but only if the trophy has been used very recently and is best not used.

3. The man climbing a graph
Another very useful and powerful image to be used when illustrating something in progress where the final result is not yet known (but the trophy would likely be used) but to show how hard people are working and how they are heading for success. A concrete example could be to use it in an article discussing how the Iceland subsidiary has made an ambitious plan on how to start marketing canned whale meat and how the company supports this. Please note that this picture needs to be of a man, a woman cannot be used.

4. The Computer
The final image you need to master is the computer, this is the jack-of-all-trades for you, you can use that to illustrate all the things that do not fit any of the images above. It can be used for all those "rental car provider has changed" and "please use this travel agent" or "new meeting tools available" or whatever you can imagine, just use the computer image.

These are all the images you need to master and remember that everything is progress and that there is no such things as negative trends!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pissing on the parade...

The other day I talked to one of the sales reps, a Japanese guy about my age, I'm a personal friend with since earlier, and he was extremely happy as he told me that he had a few weeks earlier had a cancer screeing test that gave preliminary positive result and he had been going for a few more in-depth tests the last weeks but had earlier in the day received the final result that the initial test had given a false positive and that he was perfectly healthy.

He was positively beaming as he told me how he felt like he had gotten a "new lease on life". After listening to this for a while I replied back "well, that’s great you know, but if you think about it, nothing really happened and you’re actually just as miserable as you were three weeks ago" as he had been pretty miserable and fed up with work. It was like a cloud passed over his face as his beaming smile turned into a concerned frown and I walked away to get myself another cup of coffee humming a merry tune to myself.

I actually didn’t mean to ruin his joy, I was just trying to help him get things in perspective and I did feel slightly bad for pissing all over his little parade…

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A postcard from suburbian Tokyo

Ok, for the first time ever, let me introduce an accidental guest blogger here on the page. I mean "accidental" since he wrote it as a comment on this post but I thought it was too funny and insightful to be hid away just in the comments, so after getting the agreement from my man Chris, here it comes in full glory:

"My next door neighbor murdered her husband 15 years ago by poison* and everyone seems to know it. She has a English Juku next to my Eikaiwa and she has never once...not one single time mumbled a word of English.6 years and not a peep no matter how simple mundane or insignificant the occasion. She has ice water in her veins. She looks at me like she wishes I were dead and my School was burned to the ground.He was creamated and the oldest daughters claims of knowing about the poison were never followed up.She still gets student....but then do

The chiropractic clinic 2 houses down has had 2 seperate people fall into a roadside river and die (1 drunk old man who used to yell and scream and make a fuss. He was too old to beat down and then 3 months ago a woman going to the supermarket behind my house fell and died at the same spot in the river) This is at the edge of the driveway to the clinic. I can't believe anyone still goes near there? The city rigged up a small cable to block people from trying to step over that river from the corner of that driveway which is about 2 dead people too late.I was asked after both incidents...weeks later to recall where I was on the evenings in question.

I wonder if they asked my other neighbor...across the street and about 8 houses down...the Yakuza lieutenant who rolls in a Benz but has old school type vibes (in a good way) He always say's "Chris subarashi" when he sees the Christmas lights display and he is the most normal of all my neighbors. Or did the cops ask the laundrymat across from Yakuza that has no customers except for tattoo sporting Yaks getting their shirts pressed?Or the REALLY creepy old lady directly across from me who teaches Japanese tea ceremony and once told an adult student of mine that I had a black aura and she should stay away from me (thanks creepy cult member neighbor lady)If you wanted to be a serial killer Japan would be the place to be. These cops are fucking clueless,old or indifferent."

*Note: Just in case this person actually knows English and is cyberstalking Chris and is looking for people to sue for slander, I would just make it clear that it's obvious that Chris is joking here and that it's so clear that he really doesn't mean that anyone murdered anyone, why would anyone murder anyone in the first place, doesn't really make sense

Friday, November 6, 2009

One of those dull posts about blogging

To be honest, keeping up the blogging now for soon three years is a little up and down. A couple of months ago I felt like I had gotten into a bit of a rut. The visitor number was flatting out a bit and the number of comments posted were also decreasing and people were coming in through the same searches and through the same sites. Basically nothing much was happening for a month or two and it felt a bit dull.

As a blogger, one thing that makes it fun is when I see someone spending a whole day reading through my blog post by post and I can just assume that the person is enjoying it since considerable time is put into reading it all.
It’s also fun when you see a new place linking the blog and/or commenting on it on their blog/homepage (like My Man in Abiko and Karen did way back in the day).
It’s fun when you can be a part of inspiring someone to start writing a blog of their own (thinking of Bizarro Salaryman in Germany who should post more and have a lot more readers, and the pleasant Californian Nikkei).
It’s fun when someone mails you a question or just a greeting (thinking of Ms. Picnic girl who was trying to set up her boyfriend for a romantic picnic in Tokyo and the guy who triggered the whole serious “looking for a job” post earlier).
It’s fun when you find out you have readers from places you wouldn’t really expect it (thinking of Ms. Aethist black woman who has a serious blog about race, religion and more lighter topics like child abuse)
It’s fun when you notice a ton of readers hitting the page hard due to putting a link to a post on their front page or finding out that the site features my “getting married in Japan” series (brothers and sisters are always welcome around, regardless of skin color!)
It’s fun when you see some new people commenting on posts but also always fun to see the regulars commenting (thinking particularly of Chris and the Penguin here)

As long as any of the above is happening it’s fun to keep it up, since I’m not doing it for the money, but yeah, with almost 500 pages of text now if copied down to word maybe I should start to more seriously considering trying to have an actual book made at some point (hey, anyone who has any tips and advice, let me know!).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Corporate games

Life in the multi national corporation can sometimes be a bit tedious, but there are games that can be played to liven things up and make it more entertaining. One of these is playing "meeting tag", this can be done both an international or national level and the more people that are involved the more fun it gets. To start a game of "meeting tag", a discussion topic is required, this must sound attractive enough to get the interest of the people you want to involve in the game.

The starting player throws out a question "in order to solve the urgent issue of (whatever you think will gather interest) I would like us to have a telecon, I propose (here you suggest one or two dates and times) to discuss this, please let me know your availability". Then the game starts for real and in most cases you will have one or more parties replying back “I cannot participate during that date, but if we can move it to (another date and time) it would work”. The game is in motion and the person who has to suggest alternative dates is the one who become “it”. In the most extreme cases, I've seen games going on for over a month without the meeting actually taking place and I've even seen meetings where the topic has mutated due to changing circumstances with some players giving up and new players coming in.

The most devious move you can do in a game of “meeting tag” is the “propose and decline”. It consists of the person sending out a suggested date and then, when everyone has replied back positively, to completely reverse the stance with a “I just realized that I have a scheduling conflict” and then either proposing another date or taking the cowardly way out with a “please go ahead without me”. I have even seen the latter move been done by the person who called the meeting in the first place. But it’s all in good fun, it's all a game in any case!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to know if your partner (the word "partner" used here to save me the trouble of specificying gender) is trying to murder you for money

After a few stale weeks in the Japanese news, some pretty entertaining news have emerged. Ok, "entertaining" is perhaps not the right word, but odd and slightly bizarre are probably more suitable, and as if that wasn't enough, the whole ordeal played out here in my own hood of Ikebukuro.

It actually starts out as a pretty sad classic lonely hearts racket run by a 34 year old woman laying her traps on Internet dating sites and then milking her victims for all their worth, which could be somewhere between $10,000 up to $100,000 USD depending on the victim in questions gullibility and financial assets. The woman apparently is a chubby (but buxom apparently) woman who targeted sad lonely men in their 40's and up claiming that she wanted to marry soon.

Then recently two of her "victims" actually realized that she was ripping them off their money and independently filed charges against her which obviously made the police come in. Now, things could have ended there if it wasn't that some quick work from the Tokyo PD (probably with some help from Piipo-kun) revealed some other victims who had transferred large sums to her account and then very unfortunately had passed away in "accidents or maybe suicides" where they had taken some sleeping pills, pills that for some reason were the same type as the woman received by presecription from a doctor, and then a fire had started in their house in which they failed to wake up in time to escape due to the sleeping pills, claiming their lives. At the moment it looks like at least 4 of these "accidents" have happened to her benefactors, making her actually look pretty serial killerish...

But yeah, this isn't particularly fun really, but what I found really amusing was, as I was watching the news earlier and they interviewed one of her victims whom she had received quite substantial amounts of money from and he told the tv crew that after one visit from her to his place he had noticed that all fire detectors had been removed from his apartment. He only noticed this after her arrest, but it looked very much like he was all set to be the next to go... After seeing the news, I took the rounds around the place to check that all our fire alarms were in place so Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman wasn't planning anything.
So, to everyone reading this blog who either lives with a partner (look, writing partner saved me the trouble of writing out "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" and it also allowed me to keep the gender open as to not offend any of my gay readers who are very welcome here) or have someone coming around from time to time, make it a habit to check that the fire alarms remain up in the ceiling where they should be and if they're gone, maybe it's time to consider your routes of escape...

Monday, November 2, 2009

The image characters we rely on for protection

As I previously, tongue-in-cheek, did the ranking of the top 3 worst image characters in Japan (here) I didn't really think much about it and aimed for a entertaining slant for the post. However, as I the other day noticed the official image character of the Japan fire department, I figured it is time that some serious critical journalism takes a good look at some of these characters that represent official authorities that we depend on in our daily lives. I think it is fair to say that, as a Japanese tax-payer, I should be able to put much higher expectations on such characters than those developed for commercial purposes. If you are a faithful reader you already know that I am unreliable and extremely slow in following up on earlier promises, but it is my intention to follow up other areas and investigate their characters further on as well.

The characters that are the focus of my investigation this time are Kyuuta, representing the Tokyo Fire department, and Piipo-kun, representing the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, very important tasks as you can easily understand.

Kyuuta - Protecting you from fires

This is the official character of the Tokyo Fire department and information about who he/she is and what its objectives are is very difficult find which raises the questions "what is it Kyuuta doesn't want us to know?". But yeah, after the whole Keisei Panda backstory mess, it can be a relief to have a character without a ridiculous backstory. In fact, the whole Kyuuta feels a bit amateurish and underdeveloped actually, the name comes from the final "9" ("kyuu" in Japanese) in the Japanese "911 number"; 119, and the red color of his clothes shows that he's a firefighter and the color of the helmet is for water, to extinguish the fires. The antenna can apparently flash when he needs to go extinguish a fire, but he doesn't seem to have any other biological means of making noise than his/hers mouth. I do find it pretty cowardly that they haven't assigned Kyuuta a sex, call it a boy or girl and then live with it.
(Also, introducing here for the first time the "character rating scale 1-10, 10 is the best")
Cuteness: 2
Freaky backstory: 1
Educational: 4
Creepiness: 6
Total Verdict: 3 - All in all a pretty lame character and it's pretty obvious that it was primarily made to get kids to remember the 119 number, but that's no excuse to make a half assed attempt. I would advise them to hire Sanrio and have a proper character assigned to the job, it is hard times and we can't afford to keep lame characters afloat just for the sake of it. That he has his own theme song that is extremely lame doesn't really help his case either (listen here).

Piipo-kun - Protecting the streets

Unfortunately the Tokyo PD saw the lead of the fire department and decided that they could not let themselves be seen as sloppy and not dedicated, and they created their own character. The official explanation to the design was "we took some cute characteristics of animals and used them when we created the character". One of the better things with this character is that he, as well, do not have a bizarre backstory. He does have a family however, but they are not much featured and are just serving as props in his adventures. The basic concept of Piipo-kun can be summarized in one word: "surveillance". His ears are large so he can hear what you are talking about, he has an antenna so he can react quickly to any of your sudden movements and his eyes are large so he can see what you are doing. The name is an amalgam of the English words "People" and "Police".

Cuteness: 4
Freaky backstory: 1
Educational: 3
Creepiness: 4
Total Verdict: 4 - I find this character slightly more likeable than Kyuuta, but not by much. The main redeeming feature of this Piipo-kun is that he at least is slightly cute and even if he is surveying my every move, he doesn't seem like he would pose much of a fight if it came to that.
Addition: After some more research, unfortunately I found out that Piipo-kun as well happens to have his own theme song... Not sure which one is worst, but I think this one is slightly better than that of Kyuuta since the katakana Japanese-English at least makes it amusing. Subject yourself to the song at your own risk here (click the link next to the flash icon)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

How it is to be a salaryman

As a part in my much appreciated series of tv commercials that realistically reflect how it is to be a salaryman here in Japan I post this great new commercial. Sure, the previous one is still relevant for the good days but this one actually more properly reflects how a normal day plays out...

But hey, it's a national holiday on Tuesday here in Japan!

(Ok, for those really curious, the commercial is for a law office and they're playing on a copy of "typhoons can happen in your personal life, what is important is what you do when it has blown over")
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