Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Everyday is Halloween"

Finally, soon now the Halloween season will be over and all the stuff that comes with it will be gone. Celebrating Halloween is of course an imported event here in Japan and it's grown more and more popular over the latest years. If I think back, just ten years ago when I arrived fresh of the banana boat, it was not really a big deal at all but has really caught on in recent years.

In particular, I find the passive aggressiveness of all the pumpkins quite annoying with all the "pumpkin ice cream", "pumpkin gratin" and anything else that people seem to think it's a good idea to pumpkin up now with the Halloween season. As pumpkin in general does not really rank very high among my favorite foods, I mostly avoid it, but avoiding exposure completely is next to impossible. I assume that it's powerful pumpkin lobby groups who have pushed for this.

I also have the song "Everyday is Halloween" by Ministry constantly playing in my head these days, but hopefully it should soon be over and be replaced by Fried Chicken, cakes and all the other traditional Japanese Christmas stuff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sexual Harassment Dice?

Recently, Japan has been a bit silent on the odd news section and the media has been dominated by politics, bear invasions and Chinese Japan bashing, but now some quite entertaining news have emerged.

Apparently an elementary school teacher in Saitama went creative when it came to keeping control of the kids in his class and put to use a device smartly called "The Sexual Harassment Dice" which came into use when kids were misbehaving. (see here in Japanese). To be completely fair, the whole deal seems quite harmless as the actions written on the sides of the dice hardly by any definition could be considered sexual (among the "worst" was "hug" and "kiss on the cheek"). But the media has picked up on this and one news show showed a giant sized replicate of the dice used to illustrate more in detail. The purpose seemed to be to, in a good nature, discourage misbehavior by having it thrown when someone had done something to disrupt the lessons and have minor innocent, but embarrasing for kids, actions on it.

What I find most entertaining/puzzling though is how any teacher of young children can think it's a good idea to call this little device "The Sexual Harassment Dice", if it had been called, say "Misbehavior Dice" or something like that, my guess is that no one would be picking up on it and he could have happily used it to the days of retirement...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One of these...

One of these babies (out of which one is the always adorable/cranky Baby Sunshine), one is more likely to end up as a mid-level management corporate drone in one of the less significant subsidiaries of one of the huge Japanese "Zaibatsu" conglomerates, keep working late nights, marrying, having children but being a constantly absent parent until at the age of 55 he/she will be fired during a reorganization when the company decides that new blood will be needed and with the experience limited to one company he/she fill find her-/himself unable to land a decent job. Eventually he/she will land a low-level sales job spending the nights away from home in ~5,000 yen ($50) cheap ass business hotels in the outskirts of the Kanto area with the spouse at home since long engaged in numerous extra martial affairs and not even bothering to hide it anymore. A not unlikely end is suicide by hanging in the closet of a particularly crappy business hotel after a critical deal got messed up and the shame of reporting this to the abusive supervisor proved too much.

One of these babies will likely find her-/himself getting mostly along on her/his looks as aptitude for studies is lacking and a particularly cranky behaviour makes it difficult to get along with the people around him/her. Eventually he/she might land a job in the "water business" in a cabaret/host club, earning plenty of money but wasting it all away on brand goods and drugs to try and fill the void inside due to the meaninglessness of it all. As he/she is approaching the 30's and the market value is dropping, things will be harder to sustain and a large number of short term loans will make it harder and harder to maintain the lifestyle. A not unlikely end is ending up dead by an overdose of MDMA provided by a handsome (but sociopathic) actor that pretended to be able to help provide a better brighter life but in reality just using him/her as a diversion from the overbearing family life at home.

Our children are the future!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sausage on a bone stick

Sometimes it's just the little things that annoy me, as long time readers of this blog might be well. This particular time, my annoyment got turned on something I'm unsure of whether it's a Japanese thing or present in other countries as well (never heard of it in the old world).

What I find extremely annoying is "sausages with bone", which basically is a sausage on a stick for more convenient eating, but instead of using a regular stick, animal bone is used. I'm unsure, but I think the purpose is to give it the same feel as that of a chicken leg or other meat dish where the bone is part of the overall "package". Considering that a sausage is minced meat with all kinds of different animal parts (ok, fully depends on the sausage brand and quality of the product) thrown into the mix, the bone just doesn't make sense. It's not like there's animals walking around out there with already minced meat attached to their bones.

When I come into power, I promise you that I will do my utmost to put and end to this abuse of bone/sausage combinations and heavily regulate the market. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No! Stop the groping!

As I have previously discussed a little, groping is a problem with the crowded Japanese trains (as discussed here). I guess it would be wrong to label it a problem of mine as I neither grope or get groped, at least deliberately.

In order to stop this rampant groping, the different subway and train lines launch some advertisement campaigns with regular intervals and I found this new little sign quite interesting (see the picture). It says in big letters "Groping is a crime!" and features a quite happy looking female with a big envelope (I wonder what's inside?) and the outline of a man in a train with his hands in his pockets and a big "NO!" written all over him.
I have difficulties in finding out what I'm supposed to do after seeing this ad... Should I avoid standing by the doors with my hands in my pockets or should I limit my groping to women with envelopes? This requires some further contemplation.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Where do you keep the FILMJÖLK around here?"

Having the Japanese mother, having lived in exile in Sweden now for almost 40 years (considerably longer than she has lived in Japan) can lead to some quite amusing and sometimes mildly embarrasing incidents.

Everytime she calls one of her Japanese friends, she starts the conversation with a loud "Hallå?" (the Swedish word for "Hello"/もしもし) before she starts talking in a language the person on the other end of the line actually can understand. Also, the other day, instead of saying "Camera" (カメラ) she said "photographic device" (写真器) in Japanese. But I guess I might be heading for the same fate the longer I stay here.

Also, the other day we went to the supermarket to do some shopping and during an unsupervised moment, she had approached one of the attendants to ask if they had anything like "Kefir", or if that was lacking, any other type of "Filmjölk" (basically a Swedish variant of yogurt) causing the attendant considerable confusion and distress until I could come in and disarm the situation, reminding mom that people outside Sweden doesn't have a clue what it is (no, mom is not demented or confused, but it seems like it has yet dawned on her that the products available here in Japan are a bit different from what she might be used to in Sweden).

As I was guiding her around the neighborhod of the Salaryman-Sunshine Fortress of Solitude, she was quite impressed with the area, how nice, clean and green it was. Then she also added with a frown "there are not many immigrants here either, are there?" to which I quickly replied "no thank God, there's not many people like me at all here, then it would turn into a ghetto real quick". I find the good 'ol fashioned racism of old people quite refreshing, particularly from someone who has spent so many years in Sweden as an immigrant.

...but I do miss the Filmjölk from home, no denying that... Being an immigrant is a hard life...

Friday, October 15, 2010

You are hereby honorably discharged from your duties as a Japanese citizen

Talking about the "most famous" Japanese person outside Japan turns into a generation issue I would think, but I don't think that it would too far off to say that the wife of the late John Lennon of the Beatles, Yoko Ono probably is at least one of the most well known Japanese people world-wide.

However, something I find quite amusing is the ambivalence towards Yoko Ono that the Japanese media shows to her here in Japan. It is true that Yoko Ono has spent most of her adult life outside Japan (I'm not sure if she's now a naturalized US citizen or not, but I would guess that it's not unlikely). Her Japanese is of course completely fluent during the rare occasions that she does an appearance in the Japanese media (to my surprise I once saw her in one of those stupid variety shows with comedian duo 99) but her mannerism gives her away as a long time expatriate.

The thing that I find most amusing though, is that when her name is written in Japanese, they almost always chose to write it in the Katakana alphabet and not through the Chinese Kanji Characters (the Katakana alphabet is primarily used for foreign words/names). So in the media, it's written as "オノ ヨーコ" instead of "小野 洋子". Since the katakana alphabet is primarily used to write foreign names it gives quite an odd impression, particularly since she was born in Japan and thus have formal Chinese characters.

I'm not sure whether it's her idea to have her name written in katakana or whether it's the media that for some reason has chosen to write it like that; but it does give an impression of "non-Japaneseness". Considering that she otherwise is usually treated with some amount of respect here in Japan (although most Japanese people probably doesn't care that much unless they're Beatles fans), but it gives an impression of her having been honorably discharged from her duties as a Japanese person. Remember, don't ask, don't tell!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to emphasize a breakthrough (or not)

Sometimes I focus too much on the insanity going on in my current company and forget that it's almost as insane, or even worse, in most other companies around.
Recently I talked to a friend of mine working in pharmaceutical company here in Japan and he told me, with a very tired expression, on how a product marketing team in his company, about to launch a new drug had decided to talk about how it will "create a breakthrough in treatment of disease X, just like the movie Avatar revolutionized 3D cinema!".
After coming over the first shock of the ridiculousness of comparing new treatments for serious diseases to movies in the entertainment business, I started to see the opportunities that this could create in case it became industry standard to compare medical treatments to movies.
For one of our dying older products from the 80's that has seen it's brightest days, I'm thinking of creating a campaign comparing it to either Roadhouse, Next of Kin or Red Dawn. Something like "This product did for the treatment regime of disease X just the same way as Roadhouse added to the throw away 80's violent action movies; a small diversion and something for the fans but not much else" or maybe compare one of our urology catheters to "revolutionized urologic catheters in the same way as the Crying Game revolutionized penis exposure in major films".

The opportunities are endless!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Let's Domestic Abuse!

I think it's well known that Japan is the land of sometimes downright odd English, something that is catalogued pretty well over at the site and over at neighbor blogger Penguin. After almost ten years in Japan, most of it just slip by as background noise as you get used to it, but there has been a few things that caught my attention previously (thinking of "the toy" pants, "Minority" t-shirt and "I'm your C***" t-shirt back in ancient history).

But sometimes, odd English is not the issue as much as the downright disturbing messages that you can find on t-shirt. This t-shirt in the picture, I found in a local "anything goes" store and if you have difficulties seeing it properly in the picture it says "That's twice! Even my dad never hit me!".

I like the combination of making a t-shirt on the theme of domestic abuse and the added implications that a father usually would hit his children. Unfortunately they didn't have it in baby size, otherwise I would be a sure buy for Baby Sunshine!

Friday, October 8, 2010

No, it doesn't get better, it just gets worse and worse

With Mother Salaryman haunting the household, and adding work and baby Sunshine to that, things are quite busy as you can imagine. But with a three day weekend coming up now (yep, Monday is one of those great made-up holidays, "Sports day" this time), there will be some breathing room at least.

Last time I met up with dear old mother, she told me that she had joined a bridge club in the hometown in Sweden, for retirees. She was quite excited as she told me of this new found hobby and how many new people she met through the events. However, after a few minutes of excitement, she got a bit sadder and added; "no one wants to partner up and play with me though, they say I'm too bad at it...".

With Mother Salaryman back here in Japan, I felt a certain need to inquire as to whether this bullying had continued or whether she had started to get some enjoyment out of the Bridge club now after a year. Again, Mother quite excitedly launched into an explanation on how things had started to brighten up and how she had found her Bridge partner; it seems like the fellow that she got teamed up with had suffered some form of stroke and brain damage, leaving him quite prone to forget things and in addition, a previous accident had left him with only one finger left on one of his hands, making it difficult for him to properly manage to hold his hand on his own... But apparently she found this rising star to latch on to in the local Bridge tournaments...

In the end, Mother proudly announced that she's no longer always the person at the end of the ranking, sometimes her partner falls behind her... Well, I think the lesson learnt here is that for most of us regular guys, it just doesn't get better, it just gets worse, but you can always cover up with someone that's doing worse than you....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The most possible trouble with the least effort

I'm a "corporate Japan main office" type of guy at the moment which means that my tentacles reach out pretty far within and outward in the organization, both people located in our Japanese factory, local reps and people in the overseas functions. My main tool of the trade is e-mail, if the Internet connection goes down for even one hour I'll be whining about it to no end and while I hang around, drink coffee and disrupt everyone's work while waiting for the connection to resume.

Our reps are different though, they live and die by their mobile phones and this can sometimes result in culture clashes as I've been sending someone some important communication by mail while the rep just checks e-mail once a day and not even that if he's busy travelling around in his cozy little car doing whatever it is reps are doing (looking at our sales figures from some regions, it is clear that selling is not prioritized everywhere) and expecting me to call instead of mailing. Resulting in a delay of information and all the problems that could come with it.

Now, I do respect that they rely on their phones more than the office people but I always find it a bit inefficient as you can only annoy one person at a time and with no convenient copy+paste voice function, you need to repeat it again to annoy another person. Through e-mail, I can easily annoy and cause additional work for as many people as I see fit and with copy+paste and forward functions, there is no limitations to it.

E-mail truly is a CTMD (Communication Tool of Mass Destruction) with the capability to capacity to annoy a large numbers of human beings indiscriminately!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You're not just telling me what I want to hear now, are you?

Last week, me and a colleague had a meeting with one of our distributors to discuss one of our products that they were interested in starting selling. The distributor is made up of a bunch of really friendly guys and our companies have a quite long relationship in doing business together, so we are generally quite favorable to helping them out if possible.

However, during the meeting, when discussing their assumed projections a few years forward, it became quite clear that the volumes and prices that we were discussing really wasn't that attractive to us and could bring more trouble than it would be worth to us in the long run since some up front investments in getting systems set up etc. would be required.

As we were discussing and our counterpart mentioned the forecasted volumes and saw my big frown and concerned expression when they were quite significantly lower than we had been led to believe from earlier meetings, the guy promised that he would discuss with his boss an take another look at the volumes, but during our talk, it seemed like any significant changes in volumes would be difficult...

Two hours later, I'm back in the office and get an e-mail from them with a new estimate, this time the volumes are up five times from what we discussed in the meeting, turning it from a possible "volunteer" job to quite an attractive future business to us. I can't help but shake the feeling that I over-frowned it in the meeting...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Granny Goodness is coming

The Japanese in exile Salaryman Mother is now incoming to the island of Japan to visit the genetically 75% Japanese little granddaughter, haunt the household and generally hang around in the Tokyo area for a a little more than a week. To me, this is no particularly big deal since I have spent way too many years living with the mother in my younger days and am somewhat used to her antics.

Now, the relationship to the MOTHER-IN-LAW for a Japanese woman is quite different though, particularly if the MOTHER-IN-LAW also happens to be Japanese (as in the case here, even though she's spent most of her life in exile). So Mrs. Sunshine has spent the last days trying to come to terms that she'll be hosting the MOTHER-IN-LAW for quite a few nights and going from despair and bitter fatalism as I merrily entertain myself and Baby Sunshine with a few fun bouts of playing Peekaboo.

Normally, the MOTHER-IN-LAW would normally go under the revered title of "Okaa-sama" which is an extra honorable form of "mother" (note the "sama" as a suffix instead of the regular "san"), but mom has asked to not be called that and instead be called by her name with a regular courtesy "san" attached after it. This caused quite a stir in the Sunny side of the family and is often brought up when the extended family comes over and discussed with half-amazement and half-amusement and followed comments on how long my mom must have lived overseas to be so casual (with implications that she's lost some of her "Japaneseness").

To add to the stress for poor Mrs. Sunshine, the mother has this great habit of complementing her in Japanese with me there, then turning to me and telling me what she really thinks in half-whispering Swedish in a really obvious way (which often is quite different from what she said in Japanese).
In any case, the general strategy will be to try and divert as much attention as possible to Baby Sunshine, but it might fail miserably as mother has yet fully embraced the role as Grandma, we'll work on it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let's take a look at the statistics...

Ok, I have to admit that the coporate insanity, shifting weather and cranky baby Sunshine has diverted my energy in other directions than the blog these last weeks. So while waiting for the energy and inspiration to return, I can give you all a quick look behind the scenes of this great blog.

I started up the writing in early 2007 and have kept it up since then and aim to continue as long as I enjoy it. Here you can see how the statistics developed, but it's not really completely accurate since, for some reason, hits throughout most of 2008 were double-counted, so the year the number of visitors really started to grow was in 2009.

Well, not particularly exciting post perhaps, but could be a bit interesting for those of you who have, or are thinking of starting up your own blog.

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