Monday, September 27, 2010

"Autumn Equinox Day" - As accurate as always!

Last Thursday was a holiday in Japan; "The Autumn Equinox Day" which officially signals the change from Summer to Autumn. I never ceases to amaze me how accurate this day seem to have been the last years (at least as far as my feeble mind can recall...).
Last Wednesday we had 31 degrees celcius with high humidity, quite hot and miserable. On Thursday and the official coming of Autumn, it turned to 21 degrees celcius and quite chilly overnight.

At least this hopefully means that the miserably hot summer of 2010 now is finally over!
(Ok, I admit it, I couldn't come up with an amusing picture that illustrated this somewhat dull post, so I went with Christian comics; can never really go wrong with that...)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Difference Between K-pop and J-pop in Pictures

In recent years, there's been quite the boom of korean pop artists here in Japan and the whole K-pop phenomena. First I was going to write a lengthy academic post discussing the differences between K-pop and J-pop and do an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each, but then I realized that this is probably best illustrated for you with pictures.

First, let's see a representative example of a J-pop girl's group...

Then, let's compare it to the most recent K-pop stars here in Japan; "Girl's Generation"

Of course, it would not be fair to not make the same comparison between boy groups either, so find a representative example of a J-pop boy band...

Which you can compare to a typical K-pop example...

The above comparison should provide all the information you need to understand the differences between K-pop and J-pop!

(To help you out a bit; in J-Pop, the girls look like kids and the boys look like girls!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buying a house in Japan Part 8 - The LOAN!

(Go here to read up on the story so far)

Having found the perfect place for the Salaryman family and sitting down in the office of the real estate agent to start getting the purchase in motion, there was the slight issue of the loan we needed to take...

Basically we sat down and needed to fill out about hundreds of pages of forms to declare our intent to buy the house. Also, we needed to, within a few days, make a cash down payment of about a million Japanese yen (roughly $10,000 USD) which would not be returned in case we changed our minds our wanted to cancel the purchase. "Fair enough" we thought since our intent would withdraw the house from the market and make sure that it wouldn't be snatched up form under our noses.

Now, the only issue we faced was to secure the finances we needed to actually buy the house (generally, you need to cough up between $300,000-500,000 USD for a decent new house in the Tokyo area). Since we, the Salaryman family lacked the means to buy the house with cash, taking a loan was the only feasible option, and this is where all the hilarity started...

I had done some basic research on loans and stuff before we ventured out on this whole house buying adventure and was aware that most Japanese banks require the person to have "permanent residence" visa status and that a few banks might grant a loan even if that's not the case. I also knew that a number of other more exotic options existed that had no Japanese visa demands, like taking a loan from a non-Japanese bank etc. It should also be added that I didn't have permanent residence status at this stage, but was not particularly concerned about getting that with ~10 years in Japan, stable job, Japanese mother and Japanese wife.

Sitting down with the sales representative, we explained our situation and asked about his advice for getting a loan secured, something which he was more than happy to do since the money would end up in his company (likely with a nice commission for him as well for making the sale). After a few calls and a few solid "no, not unless he has permanent residence status" and some "we would need to look into this more in detail" that might take more time than we had to get the purchase done by the time we wanted, one of the largests banks here in Japan; the Mizuho bank stated that "we can grant the loan assuming that this person has filed an application for permanent residence".

With Mrs. Sunshine coming from a family with quite a few of the male members working in the banking sector and considering the stability of Mizuho, we decided that that would be the best option for us to go. The only problem was that we needed to get the visa submission in within a few days (yep, hadn't done anything really to prepare...)...

Coming up next: Visa applications, shady lawyers and massage parlors

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Romasophie - Healing and Spanking in perfect harmony!

The latest years, Japan has been relatively calm on the "bizarre cults" side of life. Last year, I did a quick review of some of the more exotic cults out there in Japan (check it out here) but since then, it's been very quiet.

However, last week a new and quite interesting little movement calling themselves "The Romasophie Association" (check them out here in Japanese) made the news. It's not easy to understand what they really try to be about, but it seems to be some mix of healing, "energy manipulation" and some anthroposophy thrown into the mix as well on the spiritual side, but mixed with a bizarre imagery of miniskirts, Mexican wrestling masks and tight tops. Somehow it seems like they managed to turn this into a minor business with seminars, lectures, books, videos and bizarre festivals combining female wrestling, interpretive dance and spiritual talks. Quite a riot it seems.

This little cult came into the news spotlight after some pretty heavy-handed spanking abuse of a female member got revealed in their little cultish collective. The leaders of the cult are husband and wife team (see the picture) the Iwazawa.

Apparently the cult's little collective gathered some notoriety in their neighborhood as their cult member (primarily females it seems) stood out a bit in their colored tights or miniskirts.

As far as abusive cults go, this one seems quite harmless, they didn't gather more than a handful of members and did the standard routine of getting their member to donate their money to the "movement" and getting their members to do the chores for them, doling out punishment when things weren't done the "right way". The somewhat harsh spanking which forced one of the members to seek medical attention seem to have been a slight miscalculation on the Iwazawa's part as things started to come apart from there.

In the big book of Japanese cults, the Romasophie movement will not be more than a short parenthesis perhaps, but a slightly colorful and amusing one at least, so if you are feeling a bit down, please enjoy a little interpretive dance, Romasophie style here!

Monday, September 20, 2010

...and let that be a lesson to you all!

Ok, last Friday the trial of Manabu Oshio for that whole sordid affair involving a dead hostess, ecstasy and very dedicated managers (catch up here), finished up.

So yeah, he ended up with 2 years and 6 months in the slammer, don't know the correct terminology here, but it was judged that he had supplied the girl with the drugs and that she might have been possible to save if he had called an ambulance immediately.

Let that be a lesson to you all. I estimate that it will be very difficult for him to try and re-enter the world of Japanese entertainment, maybe he should write a very emotional book, do some talkshows when he's out and see if he can fool anyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't make her cranky, you wouldn't like her when she's cranky...

Most of the time Baby Sunshine is a little angel of a baby, but when she gets cranky, she transforms into something completely different ...

So far she has managed to scare of the baby-loving and always pleasant Mother-in-Law, from babysitting her, after a one-to-one 4 hour bout of savage crankiness, especially since the mere sight of a nipple made of artificial material (not attached to a boob at one end) seem to be one trigger of the transformation. She has agreed to babysit her as long as one of her handlers (i.e. me or Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman) is around to control her, which, mind you, kinda defeats the purpose of "babysitting"...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Alienization of the Japanese people

I can fully understand how Japan is perceived as an exotic country, especially from the viewpoint of a non-Asian country, and it's of course true that there are some interesting peculiarities in Japanese customs and culture. However, if given some thought, I'm sure that this is true for most cultures, although the international exposure of local oddities is probably much lower than for the Japanese.

But at the heart of it all, Japanese are people like any other once you get through the cultural barriers. This might be easier said than done since it is difficult without strong knowledge of the Japanese language. Something that I do find extremely annoying though is when people, either knowingly or due to ignorance, throws gasoline onto the fire to reinforce how alien and different the Japanese are from everyone else in the world...
Of course, in the world of business and corporate stupidity, due to trying to compress everything into an executive summary that ends up saying nothing at all, this can take pretty interesting forms.

In a recent Japanese healthcare market report from a US company I looked through in work, I found the below description on Japanese patients and their views versus physicians:

"The situation is sustained by the Japanese beliefs in conforming and an unwillingness to question seniority and/or implied authority. The honorific term for a medical doctor, “sensei”, is the same as that used for a teacher, and presumes that as the trained expert, the doctor knows best. Patients are extremely unlikely to dare to question the treatment their physician has decided upon. In many cases, similarly, the doctor feels under no obligation to explain even the basics of the treatment or regime they are prescribing, and may not discuss possible side effects." .
Like most things like this, the text takes a basis from reality, although an outdated one (not taking into account that Japan, Japanese people and the culture has changed in the last ~15 years), a misunderstanding of the word "sensei" (very common and it's not as fantastic to be called a "sensei" as some people might think, you could be the expert in building Gundam models and be sure to find someone that is impressed enough that they label you a sensei) and simplifies thing into pure stupidity.

My favorite part is how the text boldly states that “(The Japanese patients) presumes that as the trained expert, the doctor knows best”. I wonder how society works outside Japan if people do not presume that a trained expert knows best? In the West, when riding an airplane, does this mean that all the passengers question that the pilot knows best? Just because he/she is a trained expert it doesn’t mean that that persons judgement should be trusted?

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any problems with people poking fun at some of the more interesting oddities of Japanese culture (or Swedish for that matter, plenty of material there too), but these broad generalizations based on outdated stereotypes that I sometimes come across in business oriented material really annoys me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mutual Assured Descruction - Breaking the Balance in Commuting War

As I have talked about in a previous post (see here), on the commute there are always a bunch of familiar faces and I have at least 3 people or so that I see every morning, taking the same train as me from the same station.

I would assume that we are all familiar with each other's faces, but we don't really acknowledge each other since we are just taking the same train and for all I know, we have nothing else in common. I also switch a bit exactly which door I take into the cart (although I do ride the same cart every time) depending on the number of people queuing, so I mix things up a bit. We do compete for the same coveted positions (to sit from the start is not realistic to hope for) in the train, but we stick to the rules of war as governed by proper commuting etiquette.

However, I am now starting to fear that I have shaken the foundations of this tender balance. There is this woman I often see in the mornings (basically every day), nothing particular, a normal 30 something woman heading in to Tokyo for work in the morning, I would assume. The other day I ended up next to her on the train, standing in front of the seats (if you remember my old chart, it would be color coded blue). Due to some minor unbalance in the crowding, we were both basically standing in front of the person sitting down (me slightly to the left and her slightly to the right), but unusually enough, the person sitting down got off at the next station, very unusual since it's not a commuting connection point. As the man got up to his right I saw the opportunity and quickly and gracefully poured myself down in the seat (perfectly coordinated)
I believe that my action was fair and didn't constitute a breach of the commuting code since it wasn't really completely clear who was standing in front of the man and therefore would have first dibs on the seat. Also considering that we both (at least, I assume as much) healthy adults and that the general "women first" protocol does not apply to the commute. But as I sat down and briefly looked up, I was met with a very hostile killer glare from my female commuting friend...

I followed the proper rules of engagement as no force in form of pushing was used, and I even confirmed with a few female colleagues that the commute is a gender equal struggle, but I am worried that I have now created a new enemy combatant who I will need to watch out for every morning from now on...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It is now safe to go out into the water again!

Ok, the results came in during the afternoon here in Japan and current prime minister Kan will remain in control of the DPJ party for a little longer, nowadays anything more than one year is almost comparable to being Eternal Leader in North Korea.

This means that the risk of getting that Ozawa, reeking of the arrogance the way only an old school Japanese politician can, has blown over for now. Tonight, the Salaryman household can sleep peacefully.
(please observe how I skillfully avoided making any lame puns based on Kan's name, f.i. "Kan do" or "Yes we Kan" etc.)

One point to Arnie

'Ol Schwarzenegger visited Japan yesterday and met with Prime minister Kan (Kan's reign of terror might be over in a few hours though when the DPJ Chariman election gets settled...) and without any insight or real knowledge of his work as Governor of California I must say that he displayed some real class.

When asked by a reporter, while walking to his car, what his stance was on the upcoming DPJ Chairman election he quite strongly, in an annoyed voice answered "I don't want to get involved!" (hey, I don't either!). Then a follow up question from a report as he was disappearing away from the cameras "Will you be back?" was answered with a intimidating "I'll be back!".

I thought the display of humour was quite classy. One point to Arnie and while he might not be a great governor, before you complain too much, take a look at Ozawa...

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Client always comes first!

After a year of silence, the trial of actor/singer Manabu Oshio has now gotten started for real. Those of you who either follows the news in Japan or my blog might remember the two big celebrity scandals of last year; former teen idol Noripi getting caught with amphetamine and this actor/singer Oshio having a small Ecstasy party with a bar hostess who ended up OD:ing on the stuff and he, fearing for his future career, called his managers instead of the ambulance. You can catch up on the details here.

As the trial now is going ahead at full steam, the details are now getting revealed and it's pretty amazing to hear about the dedication that some managers here in Japan seem to be showing to their clients. It seem like the development over time looked something like this:

6PM - The girl is getting a bad reaction from the Ecstasy and loosing consciousness (according to his own witness, Oshio performed first aid to try and save her, but didn't call an ambulance)

7PM - Oshio calls his manager to tell him that a girl has died and that he needs help

~8PM - Oshio's Chief Manager and assistant manager arrives at the flat, seeing the dead girl and together with Oshio they decide to have a little meeting to plan out the approach, when asked why Oshio didn't call an ambulance he replied that it would ruin his career if it came out (yeah, I think so too)

9PM - The dealer and a friend of Oshio's also joined the gang (5 living men and one girl now in the flat), the friend arrives on the scene and is the first one to actually call for an ambulance

In the meeting around 8PM, they first discussed a plan A that would entail:
"Chief Manager brought a girl over and had sex with her and then she died" - Conveniently this story doesn't feature Manabu at all, and apart from the hideous insult to the sexual performance of the Chief Manager, they decided to ditch that plan since an examination would show that it was indeed Oshoi who had sex with the girl before the problems started...

Then they moved to plan B
"Oshio had sex with the girl but then he had to leave for work and Chief Manager came and found her dead"
Unfortunately also this plan fell on the fact that the building had a surveillance camera and the story would fall apart upon closer examination.

When the ambulance finally was called about 4 hours too late, Oshio made a quick exit but telling his managers to come up with an alternative plan that would not include him doing anything bad. As now is clear, they did not have enough imagination to do this and now they are very actively witnessing against Oshio. Although guilty of unethical and immoral activities they are not on trial for any criminal charges since the drug was not supplied by them.

The take-away from this? I need a manager with the same dedication as these guys! Ok, they did roll over in the end, but that they even discussed that one of the manager's should take the fall is pretty impressive stuff. I guess they realized that the business might dry up a bit if the key money maker ends up in jail...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

You're taking this too far!

Over the last year, I have seen my little "boom" of Chinese style chili oil filled with pieces of chopped garlic, red peppers and other yummy stuff grow to a national boom and had to live through a nationwide shortage of the stuff. (see my other posts on the subject here)

Now, I'm not shy on using the stuff and am willing to try and pour it over most edible things (often to Mrs. Sunshine's annoyance as she believes that I'm ruining the flavours of her cooking, while I argue that I am enhancing it), but this latest thing I just saw is pushing the boundaries...

It's basically a baguette style bread, filled with bacon and cheese (so far ok) but now they also decided that it's a good idea to bake in this Chili Oil mix into the bread... Maybe it's just me being European and having a different relationship to bread and all, but to me, this is pushing things way too far...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fancy some dead animals in a basket?

Recently a new restaurant court has opened in central Shibuya (you know the area with the big crossing that everyone seem to call "The Times Square of Japan"), the place labels itself as a "Meat Dish Theme Park" and "Old Japan Town" having restaurants focusing on meat dishes and having a rustic image based on old pre-war Showa atmosphere and decoration.

Since Show-retro is a bit of a fashion since a few years back and not that exciting and the restaurants in the place all seem to serve pretty basic Japanese food it's nothing that I find that exciting or interesting although it could be fun for tourists who are tired of eating fish in Japan. You can find info in Japanese here on the place.

What I find particularly great here is the fantastic image that they used to promote the place! As you can see below, it's basically a basket full of something that looks like dead animals judging from the lifeless eyes, including a pig, chicken, cow and horse (for a while I thought it was a kangaroo though) in the same basket. This is what informative illustration is all about!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Buying a house in Japan Part 7 - The Decision!

I know that I'm not keeping up this great series very regular, so just go here to get the recap and your bearings on where we are in our house buying endeavours!

After several months of scanning the Internet and going to check out houses, we finally managed to find a house that looked basically perfect. One of our biggest requirements, and also hurdle, was our wish to have a decent sized living room where we could fit in a nice big corner sofa and also have some room for the baby to play in. Most of the houses we saw were of decent size in terms of sqm, but usually had a quite small living room (~15-20sqm or so perhaps).

Before we went to see the place we had quite high hopes since we had seen the layout, knew the location, price and all of it seemed to meet our initial requirements, so the deal breaker would be if the distance to the train station would be misleading in the papers or that the designer had been drunk when choosing the color schemes etc. in the house.

As we met up with the in-laws, who joined in for support, and discussed our strategy, we decided to use English as much as possible when expressing our opinions on stuff to not give away too much to the sales rep (who we correctly assumed wouldn't be able to understand English). This was probably good in theory, but practically completely unnecessary since even a deaf sales rep would be able to read our reactions as we enthusiastically checked out the place and found it to be basically perfect and what we had been looking for since several months back and almost given up on.

After seeing the house and sat down with the rep, we quite quickly made it clear that we wanted the house (note to self; next time buying a house, trying to negotiate price before saying "it's great, we want it!" might give a stronger position for negotiations). For obvious reasons, the rep was more than happy to sell us the house, but also needed to get things put in motion for the huge loan that we needed to take, as well as a down payment of 1 million Yen (~$10K USD) in cash within a few days... The down payment we could scavenge up without too much effort.

Coming up next; the LOAN

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Look carefully, it just moved!

I don't think any real elaboration is needed for this, this is an actual card I received from a good Japanese friend who recently moved with his family to a new house. The misuse of English is beautiful in it's simplicity!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The one and only Anpanman!

I think it comes as no surprise that the Japanese in general are very fond of cartoon characters (in case there is any doubt you can take a look at my previous investigations into the subject here).

The country is full of these more or less crappy characters, most of which are very local in nature and of limited interest, but there are a category of more popular characters. Without any form of survey, investigation or real knowledge behind it, I would go as far as to say that the leading characters in Japan are (in no order of importance):

  • Hello Kitty

  • Pooh
  • Doraemon

  • Anpanman

  • Miffy

  • Doraemon

  • Pokemon

Common for all of the above is that they are all more than just a merchandising decoration even if their origin differs (e.g. Doraemon was a comic from the start, Hello Kitty was invented as a "cute" mascot, Pokemon started in the video game series). But you can find everything from toys, cartoons, comics and video games featuring these popular mascots these days.

Although you could likely segment most of the above according to popularity in age, boys vs. girls, tweens, "grown" people etc. there is one of these who have a unique position in the Japanese market. Of course I'm talking about the one and only Anpanman. Anpanman and his stooges completely dominate the character market for the younger ages (say 2~5 year old toddlers). I find the character disturbing in many ways and for a grown person it is hard to see the appeal this surreal character and his buddies hold for the toddler, but his grip is extremely strong. In fact, on of our neighbors have a daughter around a year old, who has yet started to speak except for one word; "Anpanman!", which came before "mommy" or "daddy".

I fear for the time when Anpanman will casts his spell on Baby Sunshine...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Medical Doctor working in a Corporate environment is like an actress starting to do porn

This post might not be of much interest for you without any interest at all in the health care industry, overseas or in Japan. But since the blog is so fragmented anyway you just can skip it if you're not interested.

Outside of Japan, thinking of Europe and the US, it is not extremely unusual to have full blown certified medical doctors leaving the patient treating setting of hospitals and clinics, going into corporate jobs full time, putting their skills to use in the field of sales and marketing. Just in my company I know quite a few working in central functions (and a few working locally in their country subsidiary). It is usually seen as somewhat impressive and these M.D.s are not perceived as failures or "traitors" for leaving the call of healing for the call of selling and making money.

However, in Japan, it is extremely unusual to have a certified M.D. taking a job as a corporate man, working extra as some form of consultant is perfectly ok, but not going full time Salaryman.
The other day I talked to a Japanese friend and former colleague from the consultancy. His father is a quite respectable hospital manager and certified M.D. of a quite large hospital in south Japan and apparently he often gives his opinion of corporate M.D.'s; "An M.D. who doesn't work in a hospital or university is mentally unstable, has some form of complex or did something really wrong so he couldn't work as a doctor any more. Never trust such a person!".

The view is similar to that of an "actress" going into porn, taking a step from a revered and perceived classy profession down to something somewhat similar but dirty and only about the money. In Japan, M.D.s are treated with such respect that it's hard to imagine why anyone would leave that position to go down to the dirty squabbling and bargaining of a corporate Salaryman.
So, if you have any M.D. friends gone corporate outside of Japan, please feel free to retell this little anecdote and make sure that they are aware how they would be perceived if it had been in Japan!

(Bonus points if you can identify the medical procedure in the picture!)

Friday, September 3, 2010

I think this is very suitable for a little girl!

Another minor issue of conflict in the Salaryman household is the dresscode of Baby Sunshine. In a brief moment of fatherly affection, I purchased the really cool dress she's wearing in the picture here, just as a temporary break from all the pinkness, strawberries and cheerful dresses.

However, I'm being met with some resistance from Mrs. Sunshine who doesn't think it's a suitable dress for a girl of her status, while I think the Skeletor vibes gives her a intimidating and powerful look which is just what she might need to dominate any other babies into submission!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Largest number of people by end of life wins!

I would think that in most western cultures a funeral is a quite private affair and a place where the family, closest friends and sometimes a few close work colleagues say their final farewell to the deceased. With the exception of royalty and celebrities this is probably the normal route on guests to a funeral.

In Japan, things are quite different though... First I should probably say that I am in no way an expert on Japanese funerals and my competency is basically limited to me participating in one funeral and not much else here in Japan so I make no claims to any detail knowledge.

Here, funerals are not the same intimate family affairs, in fact, the more people you can gather up at the funeral the more important of a person you were. A year or so earlier, the mother of one very important customer (a quite influential local health care bureaucratic administrator) passed away quite suddenly at a respectable age of ~80 something. From work, me and a few other colleagues had a relatively close working relationship with this man, and the company had worked with him since many many years ago, but for obvious reasons, the relationship was limited to work and not involving his mother.

However, due to the close relationship between this man and our company, it was deemed suitable that a bunch of us attended the funeral and in Japan, this is a quite speedy affair with the funeral taking place just a few days after the death. In this case, with the death taking place on a Thursday evening and a funeral hastily arranged for Saturday morning, this meant that I had to get my sorry ass on one of the first bullet trains in the morning into the countryside of Japan to attend the funeral of a person I had never met, had no relation to but still needed to attend to represent the company and show our support to the son, our customer.
As the family were a bit of local VIPs in their little town, everyone and his aunt attended the funeral, including a large number of people in the same position as us. From my western perspective, I found it a bit awkward to say my final goodbye's to this person (yeah, they also did the open coffin deal) who I had never met before and I wasn't really sure whether to say "hello" or "good bye" as I did my turn passing by the coffin and laying down a flower that had been given to me by some official in charge.

I don't think that this really was in my official job description to attend assorted funerals... But I guess the view is a bit different here in Japan, the more people you can scavenge up for the funeral, the more important of a person you seem like, so I took one for the team I guess.

Unless Mrs. Sunshine and Baby Sunshine will keep my dead body locked up in a mummified state to milk the retirement money I hope that they will throw a funeral that will put that of any Pope, Emperor of Japan and/or Michael Jackson to shame with a number of random people who have never met me and couldn't care less attending!
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