Monday, May 31, 2010

Crash Course in Tokyo Commuting - Counter Terrorism Tactics

I think the diagram above (click to enlarge!) I have made for your benefit is quite self-explanatory, but to give you non-Tokyoites a little insight in how to approach the Tokyo rush-hour.

I think that this can also help explain why a slightly longer commute can sometimes be more tolerable than a shorter one. The close you get on the train from the starting station, the higher chances for landing a seat in a green or blue area where the situation is tolerable. However, getting on a station in central Tokyo for a 5-6 station commute can make it impossible to escape the red danger area (which I can guarantee you is quite uncomfortable even for 10-15min!).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Buying a House in Japan Part 3 - Building from scratch or buying finished

Ok, so just to quickly recap the events here for those who are too lazy to go back and check the earlier posts in this series.

Basically, the Salaryman household had at this stage decided to A) Purchase a free-standing house and not an apartment/mansion and B) To look outside main metropolitan Tokyo for this.

The next critical question that appeared was how to approach this, basically the three choices of 1. Buying a used house (to possibly renovating depending on the state of it), 2. Buying a lot of land and then having the house built, or, 3. Purchasing an already (or almost) finished new house to move in our meager belongings to.

At the onset, we did not rule out any of the options, but after viewing quite a few used houses and not finding anything we really liked, we mostly set our focus on the latter two options. The obvious appeal of buying a lot of land and then contracting the building of the house to a company carried with it the very attractive options of being able to fully customize the layout and everything related to the house (for me, crawlspace and a Gary Heidnik style torture dungeon were pretty high up on the wish-list to give it a bit more of an unique flavour).

For a little while we basically pursued this path (or somewhere in-between, where some customization was possible) but after realizing that this would first of all take considerable time (several months since the house did, for obvious reasons, not physically exist when we would start) and also endless meetings where materials used etc. would need to be discussed, priced and decided upon together with the architects and the construction company. Not to mention that the culmulative knowledge of house-building and proper materials for such between me and Mrs. Salaryman basically is close to the freezing point... Also,the fact that Mrs. Sunshine's brother was simultaneously pursuing this house-building path and that his project had been dragging on for over a year just further discouraged us.

In the end, we decided to go for purchasing a finished house for immediate moving in, and to depend on more knowledgable family and friends that the house would be solidly built with no cheap stuff.

Ok, so far I don't think this has been very entertaining, but now the scene has been set for some of the more interesting challenges we were facing when moving forward with this!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

...following up on "The Cove" - the true barbaric nature of the Japanese revealed!

In 2009, the documentary movie "The Cove" exposed the barbaric slaughter and ritual killing of (mostly) innocent dolphins in the seemingly peaceful town of Taiji in Wakayama prefecture... The movie captured the hearts and minds of audiences all across the world and was recognized with an academy award for the story it told.
Now in 2010, a Mr. Salaryman Films production will once and for all expose the true devious nature of the total population of the Japanese... Mr. Salaryman Films proudly announce the imminent release of the shocking and moving documentary...

(Hey, hey, hey! Calm down, I never even saw the movie and I'm not encouraging the killing of dolphins and/or whales here! If you still don't get it, read this )

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can you show me your umbilical cord stump collection?

I think I'm jumping events a bit here in this new great series, but if I don't write it now the memory will grow cold and stale in my head.

Since I now am the father of a little future Office Lady, considering that little baby Sunshine is genetically 75% Japanese and we have close access and a good relation with the in-laws, I have accepted a lot of Japanese traditions without any complaints. Stuff like visiting the temple and things like that are a pretty nice tradition although we don't really see it from a religious perspective.

But sometimes it can go a bit overboard... Those of you who at some point collected babies probably know that after the umbilical cord has been cut, a small blackened stump remains at the baby's navel. This falls off after a few days. This little stump basically looks like a used snus, blackened and quite disgusting (hey, look at the picture!). When it falls off, my instinct would be to throw it away with the rest of the waste, but not the Japanese, no, they save this little biological waste product for the future.

I've been told that it's not unusual to present it to the child as a gift when they get married or become adults (age 20) as some form of symbolic gesture. The only redeeming thing I can see in this is that it could potentially save me a lot of money since I can just give that and not have to buy expensive shit (like a normal 20-something would demand...). When baby Sunshine was born and her stump dropped off, the in-laws brought out Ms. Sunshine's old waste product to gaze upon its glory (thankfully they had sense enough to indulge in this when I wasn't around, since I would assume it would be something like when they open the chest in the first Indiana Jones movie), but realizing that it had completely disintegrated into nothingness... Too bad.

In the end, I'm ok with keeping it in a box, as long as it's kept away from me and locked so it doesn't crawl up on me during the night...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"There are no problems, things are going exactly according to plan!"

Being one of the few people in the company with decent command of the English language, I quite often get drafted into various issues where people want me to help communicate with different people in one of our overseas sites for one reason or another. Usually this is not an issue at all and things that can be really easy for me can be quite difficult for some of my colleagues, so I'm usually happy to help.

We have one ongoing project where I am involved a bit on the fringe but working together with Mr. Optimist to check on some things and help him a bit with the communication. The project is of a quite technical engineering type of which I do not really have enough competency in technical stuff to fully grasp what is going on in detail, but just have to trust that I get fed the correct information from Mr. Optimist to communicate internally.

Now, we originally aimed to ship a prototype about two months ago, but it has kept being delayed for various reasons. Every time I ask, I'm assured that things will soon revert back to the original plan and that the loss of time can be caught up with later on.

About a month ago, this was still feasible, but during this, I've started overhearing some calls to suppliers who can't deliver what we need and other problems popping up. But I am constantly "assured" that it's minor issues that will be solved and that there is no reason for concern...

I am now, however, starting to feel a bit like Baghdad Bob, trying to keep a brave face and maintain apperances while keeping the camera away from the smoke and devastation in the background... But just like Bob, until I officially get fed other information, I will maintain that things are fine until the bitter end!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hey girl, it's a baby!

Ok, I'm sure that everyone is wondering why the frequency of posting has dropped off recently and now I can finally reveal the reason for this.
Introducing Baby Sunshine, a brand new little future Office Lady carrying 50% of my DNA. I admit that I was hoping for a baby Salaryman who could continue the family tradition of my blog and carry it forward for generations to come, but I have made my peace with a little Office Lady.

As you understand, this will kick-off a new series of posts that I will call "Making Babies in Japan" since there's quite a number of interesting stories around that, mind you, the actual baby making process I will not go into any detail in since I believe there are many people much more suitable to do that.

But rest assured, the blog will not turn into a fully fledged baby blog because of this!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's all about the hits!

For some reason I recently was showed the number of hits to our company's local homepage in Japan.

This blog has 3 times the number of monthly visitors compared to our 200+ employee local subsidiary.
I find this kinda sad considering that this blog hardly is that well visited...
But seriously, most boring corporate websites hardly have any reason for anyone at all to visit them, right?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The real Hurt Locker? Lock up your cats?

Ok, this one (look at the picture) had me quite confused for some time and I think that I might finally have figured out what it's about. But to give all my readers enough context to consider this themselves; this picture was taken from a locker at a standard row of bag lockers in one of the shopping malls in Odaiba (yep, it was taken at this time). Nothing special about the row of lockers except for this sign plastered on one of the top lockers.

It literally says "This is a cat locker", "This is the cat locker" or "This is a locker for cats", the Japanese language is a bit ambigious when it comes to stuff like this so I can't say for sure what was meant. But it was nothing special about this locker and nothing at all that made me think that it would in any way be a suitable place to put a poor little cat inside for storage purposes (and yeah, even if you did bring a cat to Odaiba, would you put it in a locker even if they had special ones?).

Then below that text it says in a bit smaller letters "we are the mark". This confused me for quite some time, but I think I finally figured it out; the cats must be the symbol for that section of lockers and probably there to differentiate this row of lockers from the bunch of other locker areas. I did not look, but I guess there must be "The dog lockers" and maybe even the "Elephant lockers" in other areas of the mall.

But the next time I happen to bring a cat I want to put away while shopping, I might just use this particular locker just in case that it's actually meant for cats and it was just 100 yen in any case! If anyone happen to have the definite conclusion to this one please let me know since I am quite curious!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Buying a House in Japan Part 2 - It's all about location

To slowly continue this series, as you might remember, we left off where the Salaryman family had decided to set their sights on purchasing a house and not a apartment (here).

Then the next set of choice came up; where to start looking for said house. Considering that I work in central Tokyo, we obviously needed somewhere reasonably accessible through commute. The options were to search in central Tokyo or in the surrounding prefectures (Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa prefectures primarily) which can provide reasonable access although a significant commute to and from work.

After some initial scouting we came to the following conclusion; Buying a house in metropolitan Tokyo would have the benefit of a short commute and also being a pretty safe investment since the land prices in central Tokyo very likely will not take a huge dive. However, that said, they also are extremely expensive and with land being as valuable as it is, houses are focused on being built narrow and high instead of broad and wide... So basically a house with two bathrooms, three rooms +living/dining room end up being three stories high and very narrow. Also, if you're lucky you could get a parking space and garden suitable for one bicycle and one potted plant. But if you get that you should be grateful, considering that the land is basically gold.

In contrast, looking outside Tokyo, for half the price of that in central Tokyo we could get a house roughly twice the area, with a garden and parking space for two larger size trucks, with the downside of an increased commuting time of about an hour single way...

As readers of my blogs have noticed, after the move I started up the "Commuter terrorists" series of posts, so I think it is pretty obvious which path we decided to pursue...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The dark world of Japanese kid's shoes...

For a while there I was almost considering starting up a series of posts focusing on the bizarre world of Japanese kid's shoes. I mean, we have the shoes with the flashing lights and the "squeaky" shoes that keep making a noise for every step the little brat is taking - I never understood how any parent can stand that without going completely insane considering how much they run around. Or maybe they just get immune to it and it just gets to innocent bystanders like me.

But these shoes I can at least be somewhat forgiving about, but the latest trend that I've seen in the last year and increasing more and more are these shoes with built in wheels at the heel. Basically you can walk with them like any regular shoe, but then lean of the heel and roll forward on them; here take a look

I just feel that anyone using these shoes are kinda begging to get off balance, fall backwards and crack their skulls on the sidewalk. I've seen plenty of kids (standard profile would be girl aged 8-12) rolling around on these nasty things, but don't think I've ever seen anyone wear a helmet... Are these type of shoes even available anywhere outside Japan? In my worst nightmares I see how someone starts combining the flashing lights, the squeaky noises and the wheels on the heel...
(Addition: It should be noted that some readers have brought it to my attention that these roller shoes actually have been around in the US for quite some years and might just have caught on in Japan recently, well I learnt something here then at least. But I still think we can feel pretty certain that the squeaky shoes are a local invention)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know - Managing intra-office politics

I am a pretty diplomatic person at work and, probably because I'm one of the few foreigners in the office, people are pretty lenient on me when I break the proper office etiquette at some point. I might have at some point, some more or less strained relationships with some colleagues due to disagreement around strategy or the proper way to do things, but I am pretty free of "enemies" in the office. I usually do not either get involved in the in-office politics much as a result and like the Swede I am, I am probably seen as a neutral entity which most people can work with in some ways.

But the other night, I went out for drinks and dinner with a couple of my colleagues; I'm-not-gay-guy and Huge-Mobile-Strap-Collection-Girl, who are working deep within the sales department and who shed some light on the latest politics and gossip in the company.

It's always interesting and I am seriously considering to chart up conflicts and long time grudges that is moving inside the company to kinda map them out more clearly. Considering that the company is comparatively small (less than 200 people in Japan excluding manufacturing) it's quite an impressive amount of network of alliances, animosity and open hostility that is at work in the company under the surface and which most of the time is hidden from my view due to my general status as neutral non-combatant.

First we have to local area conflicts; Osaka doesn’t like Sapporo, Sapporo likes Kyuushuu but Nagoya and Sendai hate each other but everyone wants to take Tokyo down. Then there are the inter-department conflicts; Dep. A doesn't like Dep. B, B and C dislike each other but work together due to their even larger hatred of A etc. etc. Then there are the intra-department conflicts; with peons inside the department hating each other, their department heads and so on.Then of course it’s the purely personal conflicts with people hating each other for some vague reason going way back to ancient history (finance lady X once got snotty with Sales Rep Y due to some long forgotten reason and is forever branded as a bitch by him etc.).

It is amazing that work occasionally gets done at all in the company... Part of me kinda feel like I want to see more of these conflicts, but I think I'm better off keeping my head above the water instead.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Respecting your elders - the Japanese Senpai-Kouhai system

In Japan, the "Senpai" system is an integral part of the society, I won't go into a lot of detail here, but it's basically about respecting your elders and those with more experience with you (wikipedia here). Basically, when you join a "group" (company, club, society or even experiences such as getting pregnant, getting married etc.) you are expected to learn and pay proper respect to those who have more experience.

In normal "grown up" society this is nowadays pretty benevolent and not pushed too hard, but it can take forms close to bullying in schools and in some instances; where the junior "Kohai" have to perform tasks for the senior "Senpai".

An older colleague close to retiremeent age told me of how, when he had joined the company as a junior employee, the older people, after a day of supervising some construction work in the bad heat of the summer, went out to drink. As they had been on a construction site, they had been wearing helmets, sweating profusely. He told me how they made him go buy beer for the whole group and forced him to drink from one of his senior's sweaty helmet, guzzling it down in one go. He finished with complaining to me about how they never paid him for the beer either...

Then The Boy told me of how things had worked when he was in junior high and enrolled in the school club activities. The older student there made the juniors play the computer role-playing game in fashion on their gameboys and do the boring stuff like fighting random foes for experience points to level the character to such a point that the senior could continue the story and the fun parts. For the junior to actually do anything fun like continue the story or purchase any equipment in the game was strictly forbidden.

It's a harsh system, but someone I get the feeling that things have loosened up considerably in the later years...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Now we're talking! My boom is back!

About a month ago I mentioned the horrible problem that I had been facing with the fact that the great Chinese Chili oil mix that I am a big fan of have been sold out all over the place, including at the manufacturer's Internet shop... See previous posts here and here.

I assumed that this shortage of supply would be only temporary and that it would be back in stores within a week or so, but after checking quite a number of stores (basically wherever I've been, I've gone to the closest supermarket to see if they had it in) and time after time being met with the following... Yes, the empty hole in the stand is where the stuff should be...

However, having an errand to my old haunt in Ikebukuro I decided to check in on one of the local Chinese food stuff shops (there are plenty of Chinese people in Ikebukuro if you didn't know) and found the stuff! Not only did they have the stuff, but the bottles they sold it in were at least 5 times the size and half the price, so now I'm all stocked up for quite some time!

I did try it out with my buddy God-Jesus and it's definitely the good stuff! Now things are back in order again!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Getting a haircut and a free skull exam in Japan

I don't particularly enjoy going to the hairdresser, especially since it in Japan usually takes up more than an hour with all the hair washing, rinsing and stuff. Ok, I know of these QB 10min - 1000yen (~$10 USD) places, but that seems a little bit too much in the opposite direction. But I do go, once in a while to get my hair cut.

Like in any country, the hairdresser is the home of the small talk. Generally I'm no big fan of constant talking when I get my hair cut, but it's hard to avoid talking completely. For the small talk, it's generally the path of least resistance, which means talking about my foreigness, how things are in Sweden ("do you have summer there?") and my views on Japanese stuff ("do you like natto?" etc.) and hearing stuff like "Oh, I always wanted to go to... Where was it you came from again?". But after a few visits it usually gets a bit more reasonable, however, since I recently moved and thus went to a new place and a new hairdresser the whole conversation pattern has restarted from zero.

One big topic of conversation on my first visit a few months ago was the quality of my hair and how strange it was that it was so similar to that of Japanese people, even though I'm half Japanese, but it seemed like she came to terms with it eventually.

On my second visit just recently though, while giving me a scalp massage she exclaimed "Oh, your skull is shaped a bit different from Japanese people, now I noticed!" like it was a big discovery. It should be noted that I believe that I have a perfectly normal shaped skull and have never ever heard anything like this before. But who knows? Exactly what the difference was still remains a bit unclear though... Maybe the noble science of Phrenology, usually perceived as a pseudoscience, lives and flourishes among the hairdressers of Japan?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The secret of C.C. Lemon revealed!

Well, this time I thought the picture could mostly speak for itself. These are the things that my can encounter in my line of work when I visit hospitals and also get treated to a soft drinks while waiting for the time to talk with the doctor I had an appointment with.

In the bottle, the new 0 calorie version of C.C. Lemon (known for having featured the Simpsons in their commercials a few years back, see here).

In the bag, urine from a bed-ridden patient (no worries, nothing critical).
Well? I think the secret ingredient of C.C. Lemon is clear now!
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