Sunday, January 30, 2011

Muri muri muri muri!!!

Last night I suddenly woke Mrs. Sunshine up very roughly as I in a panicked loud voice said, in Japanese "無理無理無理!!!" while holding my hands out in front of me and violently shaking my head at the same time. This is a bit difficult to translate to get all the flavor right, but 無理 "Muri" basically means, "no, it's impossible" or "no, I can't do it" depending a bit on the context.

I have been known to do some minor sleeptalking and on more rare occassions sleepwalking as well (mostly very mundane tasks such as filling a bath in the middle of the night or rummaging around in some closet looking for something in my dream state), but for my sleeptalking, it's pretty clearly divided; if I speak in English, it's likely that my fictional target is Mrs. Sunshine or some of my foreign friends here in Japan, if I speak Swedish, my dream is about family or friends in Sweden, but if it's in Japanese it's very likely that it's about work.

Mrs. Sunshine didn't wake me up as I started snoring again pretty quickly after the outburst and I have no recollection of any dream but I did get curious on what could have triggered my protests. I'm quite sure that Cpt. Awkward was in there somewhere...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

...the one who smelt it...

A scenario that has repeated itself with alarming frequency these last days, particularly now that Baby Sunshine has dramatically increased her farting:

Me and Baby Sunshine are hanging out, I'm playing with her, trying to make her sleep or something like that. Mrs. Sunshine comes into the room, sniffs, makes a face and says "wow, her farts can be really stinky these day" followed by a few seconds of silence until I decide to come clean "Uh...yeah... that was actually me...". Last night this triggered such a laughing attack from her side that it woke up little Baby Sunshine who had finally fallen asleep and the whole bedtime routine had to be done all over again.

Maybe I should just blame the baby from now on? There is a risk that she would take her to the doctor though to examine her terrible bowel problems...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The importance of the New Year's Cards

One very important custom here in Japan are the customary New Year's cards. These cards go out in huge volumes and usually is just a postcard with the customary new year's greeting on the printed side, maybe some animals of the season mixed in (rabbit this year, tiger last year), either extremely cute or more traditional. For younger families such as the Salaryman family, kids are usually heavily featured.

One good thing about these cards is that space to write a message is usually quite limited, not that I particularly mind writing a message to friends and family, but it can be quite daunting when you have a pile of 100 something cards piled up in front of you , some of which you barely know but are family of Mrs. Sunshine and would like to see something written by the husband. Usually I could get away with "Happy New Year" in English on those to add a little exotic cultural flavor, but sometimes a little longer greeting is required and a "thank you" for some gift we did receive during the year.

To do things in a correct way, the cards should be put in the mailbox by the 25th of December at the latest to arrive in the morning of the 1st of January. A few days of delay might be acceptable, but more than that and it gets clear that the cards were actually posted after the end of the year and thus unacceptably late. Neither me nor Mrs. Sunshine are particularly fascist about this, we're quite ok with some cards coming in late (some are obviously responses from people who realized that they received a card from us but did not send us any and rush to send one back without it being obvious), but the stray bunch of cards (all my friends and not Mrs. Sunshine) that came in the mail during the second week of January felt a bit lame, they didn't even try to rush it...

Now, some people, like the Father in Law is extremely diligent about this, keeping exact notes on cards received, cards sent and you do not want to end up on his black list by not sending a card back in relatively short order. If you fail to do so, you risk ending up shunned and might need to spend several years diligently sending cards on time before possibly being put back on probation. Sloppy handwriting or bad formatting if you're lazy enough to use a word processor for printing (generally frowned upon by the puritans, we printed ours though) the names and addresses could also be causes for being put on probation. Thankfully, we're now blood relatives but to not risk being shunned we do send our cards timely.

It's a rough game with little margin for error with few rewards and hard work, but that's how it's played! (My hopefully last card came last week, hopefully we can all move out of the new year zone by now!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Things I've said at work

There are a couple of interesting things I've managed to squeeze in during my time at work that I've myself found a bit freaky but never got any strange reaction to. Let me give you a few examples that come to mind.

"I have such sights to show you!" - Said to guests from head office before I'm going to give them a tour of a Japanese facility; don't think anyone ever got the movie reference (do you?)

"You must unlearn what you have learnt!" - Said to people from head office when I'm going to explain some peculiarities of the Japanese market, again, this reference should be obvious but never gotten any reaction to it more than like I said something important

"These are my colleagues, Kaz and Mas" - Introducing a couple of colleagues with complicated names for a person not used to Japanese names, so using the nicknames we agreed upon earlier. I stopped with this since the moment I said it I realized that it sounds like two douchebag rappers and these guys are about as far from rappers as you can come...

"So I guess we just sit tight for now and hope that the Kamikaze (Divine wind) comes and save us?" - Said in Japanese in a local meeting where we were debating whether to give some potential bad news to head office soon or just shut up and hope that some solution would magicall show it self. Note that "Kamikaze" in Japan does not usually put the suicide bomber planes in mind, it refers to the Divine Wind that historically have saved Japan in times of need. Most amusing was that no one reacted particularly to my choice of word, everyone just nodded and went along with it.

There's probably quite a few more interesting things that I've at some point said, but this is what comes to mind now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sleeping beauty

When Mrs. Sunshine mails me the picture above when I'm at work, the good father in me melts and just wants to tuck her into her little baby futon so she can be comfortable during the little nap that Mrs. Sunshine tricked her into through carrying her around in the Fitta-like contraption for the better part of an hour.

The sleep deprived bad father in me though would like to start crying loudly in her ear, wake her up from her peaceful slumber and then as she looks up, half awake and confused, confront her with "Huh?! Not so nice to be woken up when you just wanna catch some needed sleep, huh?! Well, now you know how I feel after you doing this to me every f**king night at 4AM for 5 days straight! Not so fun to be on the receiving end is it now?!"

...but as this is being written I have a sleeping drooling baby leaning against my arm, doing those adorable baby snores, so I guess the bad father in me is keeping his distance, as he should.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pass it forward!

Recently some heartwarming news here in Japan has been the anonymous donations of the expensive mandatory backpacks (so called "Randoseru"), writing utensils, toys and other gifts handed over to schools for use (don't ask me how they decide which kids should benefit from the gifts and which ones get nothing). The donations have been anonymous but signed with "Naoto Date", the name of a character in a popular anime from the 70's (ok, might have been a comic too, don't know the details) who becomes a wrestler known as "Tiger mask" (wrestling in a... ... tiger mask) the wrestler grew up in an orphanage but uses his newfound success and wealth as a wrestler to give gifts back to the orphans in the orphanage he grew up in. Ok, I think that's the story at least, I just know what they said at the tv news.

What has happened is that the initial donations triggered a large number of copycats donations across the nation, most of them done in the same way, anonymous but signed "Date Naoto". Heartwarming news for a change and created quite the news here in Japan a week ago (it seems to have cooled off now).

I felt inspired by this and left two bottles of soda that I know one of my colleagues like on his desk with a note exclaiming it's a gift and signing it Naoto Date hoping to spread these acts of generosity inside the company as well. Immediately after seeing the note, he comes over to my desk (probably in the correct knowledge that the only one that would do anything close to a practical joke in the company would be me) loudly exclaiming "This is you, isn't it?!", of course, trying to not ruin anything I keep a straight face and deny completely but commenting on what a heartwarming act of generosity it is, as he walked away he mumbled "You're strange, but I'm still keeping the drinks you know!".

Some people really need to open their hearts more!

(and yes, this "Tiger Mask" character is the inspiration for "King" in the Playstation Tekken fighting game series)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Commuter Terrorists - The PA Pusher

If I had to pick the commuter terrorist I hate the most, it must be this one I am about to discuss. Although I find the Hanger, the Crotch Presser and the Battering Ram highly unpleasant to deal with when they are encountered, at least I can understand the motivation for their actions (OK, well, maybe not a deliberate crotch presser), but the Passive-Aggressive Pusher is probably the one I hate the most since he (they are exclusively male) knows exactly what he's doing but doesn't really have much to gain but cause other people grievance.

This nasty type of Commuter Terrorist doesn't like the crowds in the commute and so far I'm all with him, the problem is that this guy hates the crowds so much that he does everything in his power to increase the space he has available on behalf of the other commuters. A typical scenario where this guy (usually a pretty large man as well in terms of body size) is encountered is on a crowded train where you end up in the corridor of the train (see my previous graph here, the place I'm talking about is the one marked in orange) and it is crowded, but not to the extreme. There might be some very light crotch-pressing going on, but nothing serious, but this guy won't stand for it. With all his might he will push with his back trying to make his own space bigger, aggressively pushing you towards the man/woman on the opposite side and not letting up. I have never really understood how these guys think, because due to their actions, they create an unpleasant scenario for themselves (because they have to keep pushing backwards), the victim (who has to try to stand against the constant pressure of the PA Pusher) and the person on the other side (who gets pushed by the PA Pusher by proxy).

I think that these guys are the prime reason for the outbursts of train rage that sometimes plague the commute. But there can be even worse scenarios, on one or two occasions have I found myself in between two PA Pushers on either side of me, usually the only solution is to try to slip out from between them and let them take it out on each other. But the worst case scenario is when a Battering Ram enters and forces you up against the PA Pusher; it's a case of finding oneself stuck between an unstoppable force and an immovable object...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Frenchman and a Japanese - who's the monkey and who's the pig?

As the problem with the machine development project I talked about recently (post here if you're too lazy to scroll down a little bit) is deepening I have found myself more and more dragged into trying to coordinate things between the Japanese team and some of the experts in our different R&D centers.

One of the key experts in the specific problem is located in our facility in France and in a discussion with the R&D global project leader in Germany we talked about possibly teaming the French expert up with Mr. Pot-Belly to try and work something out. Now, it should be worth to mention that although the Frenchman is very competent in this specific area, he is quite difficult to deal with and is not particularly great at English. Similarly, Mr. Pot-Belly is also a bit of a character and similarly not that great at English either to begin with, but the project leader have worked with them both separately quite extensively and know them quite well so as we discussed the possibility of having them work together, the project leader sighed and said "Well, having those two working together without adult supervision would be a bit like putting a monkey and a pig on running a nuclear plant, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night, so I guess I will supervise their work personally".

I really liked the metaphor, but after we hung up I started thinking about who would've been the pig and who would've been the monkey? Something to dig deeper into at some later point!

(Disclaimer: Do not get too excited, I know the project leader very well and the comment was not a racist comment, but based on knowing their individual pecularities and considering the potentially explosive mix in having two very interesting characters working together for the first time with significant communication difficulties)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Shadow strikes from the... ... ... shadows?

Earlier today, towards the end of the regular working hours, I was getting my 8-9th cup of coffee of the day and was having a slightly awkward chat with Cpt. Awkward about some recent issue. A few meters away, hanging around and waiting for his turn, stood the Shadow, a character that so far have not yet gotten any space here on the blog, but it's a 50+ older balding man working in finance, quite gaunt and withdrawn, not very outgoing, but friendly enough when approached. As far as I know, the Shadow has never been married and seem to be quite shy around ladies. The Shadow and Cpt. Awkward seem to get along quite well on the other hand, possibly because they're closer to each other in terms of age.

As me and Cpt. Awkward were chatting, one of the recent hires left the office doing the polite "forgive me for leaving you all behind to do the real work as I go out and play while you stay and do the work that I should have done" ("お先に失礼します") courtesy phrase before heading out to bigger and better things. The guy is very tidy, extremely polite and dresses very "correct" (very conservative suits with very conservative neckties) and seems like a nice enough guy albeit perhaps a bit stiff. He also has a name that is very similar to one of the more well known veterans in the company.

So as he leaves, I casually give an off-hand comment saying "I feel a bit sorry for that guy, it must be inconvenient for him to have a name that sounds so similar to Mr. X.". Cpt. Awkward gives an awkward laugh and hums in agreement, then, all of a sudden, from the shadows behind us, the Shadow quite loudly says "That guy is SO gay" followed by a giggle. Cpt. Awkward seem a bit taken aback by the awkwardness of the sudden comment and stutters out "well, he seems to be very tidy indeed". Not particularly finding this a conversation interesting enough to engage in, I take my coffee and stroll back to my seat, but can't help that be impressed that the Shadow outdid even Cpt. Awkward in terms of awkwardness...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Translating to Japanese, incorrect or perhaps very correct...?

I just noticed that the site also had put up their review over the top 10 Japan English language blogs in Japanese (see here). (Never mind that anyone who can't understand the regular article in English hardly would be able to understand the actual contents of the blogs, but that's another matter altogether)

In the original English version, they quoted a sample of my post "Honor the company" and in the original English version point number two says:

"Required morning greeting where all in the department huddle around, say "good morning" in a loud voice together before going back to doing nothing"

...the translation into Japanese on says:


...if I now go and try to back translate the Japanese version into English, without knowledge of what was actually translated in the first hand, it would come out something like:

"Morning greetings every morning where everyone in the department says "good morning" in a loud voice together before resuming the daily tasks"

I have taken the liberty of putting in bold letters the parts that I find most interesting. translated "going back to doing nothing" as "resuming their daily tasks". My first reaction was that this translation lost all the intended wit in the original English text, but giving it another though, maybe this equals "daily tasks" with doing nothing and is actually the far superior translation?

Something to ponder indeed!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yeah... (sucks air through teeth)... yeah...

In one of the projects I'm involved in a little on the fringe, our R&D team is working with a Japanese partner company on developing a new type of machine which will "revolutionize" how a certain laboratory procedure is done and the sights are set on making it go global at some stage in the future. Significant focus has been on this project and hopes are set very high and so has investment in money, time and manpower been as it would see us entering a possibly lucrative niche area.

As I come back to the office yesterday, refreshed after the New Year's holiday, I noticed how some communication had gone warm on some technical part not really working as it should (don't ask me what, I don't know the difference between a fuse, hydraulic pump or main switch), since I knew that this has been a reoccurring problem and that several different types had been tested but none shown the result that we needed, it made me a little worried. So, as I had the chance to meet up with the R&D Manager, Mr. Pot-Belly, (who usually hides away in our R&D facility outside of Tokyo), a very friendly man with quite a huge belly which he usually accentuates by sitting slouching down when having a casual conversation. We get along fine and I at least hope that there's a mutual respect since I've helped him out on several occasions.

The conversation went something like this;
Salaryman: (Casually) So I saw some of the problems you've had with the mechanical parts, I know that our technical guys in head office are eager to help out and I know that they have some suggestions for you, what do you think?
Mr. Pot-Belly: (similarly casually) Sure, why not, there's still a few more out there we can try... (ominous silence)
Salaryman: (A bit concerned) Just a few more? This isn't a big problem, is it?
Mr. Pot-Belly: (Sighs and sucks all air out of the room through his teeth) yeah... (sits silent a while longer, sucking more air through his teeth), yeah... we'll fix this somehow I think...
Salaryman: (feeling a bit confused) Ok, but then this should be ok then, we can deal with alternatives if we have to then (getting ready to stand up and do bigger better things)
Mr. Pot-Belly: (sighs loudly) yeah... you know what...?
Salaryman: (more confused) eh? What?
Mr. Pot-Belly: (sucks even more air through the teeth) I think that the whole design might be f**ked up (sighs again) I have the feeling it won't work anyway...
Salaryman: (slightly shocked) What? But it's your design and you were so confident before that it'd work?!
Mr. Pot-Belly: (another deep sigh) Yeah... I know... huh?(ominous silence)
Salaryman: (given up for the day) Ok, tell you what, take another look at it and let me know how it all pans out
Mr. Pot-Belly: (sucks more air through his teeth and sips on his tea) yeah... I guess...

Sometimes you get a little more information that you need on the first day of work... I shouldn't have asked in the first place...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A cheap bottle of wine and a porn mag? - Jokes that Mrs. Sunshine does not appreciate

The 14th birthday of Mrs. Sunshine's Nephew is upcoming and he's in that awkward stage of puberty that we've all been at one point in our lives, somewhere in the limbo between being a kid and a young adult. Mrs. Sunshine complained about how difficult it is for her to buy a good present for a boy his age and asked for my advice. The conversation went something like this;

Mrs. Sunshine: What would you have wanted when you were his age?
Salaryman: (immediate response without any hesitation) A bottle of cheap white wine and a porno mag, we should get him that!
Mrs. Sunshine: (frowning) I don't think my brother would appreciate us giving him that
Salaryman: (upbeat) No problem, we'll just sneak it to him and tell him to enjoy himself!
Mrs. Sunshine: (frowning harder) Well, in any case we're not going to do that and it's not funny!
Salaryman: (slightly cautiously) You know that I'm only half-joking, right, we'd be his favorite aunt and uncle forever if we give him that?
Mrs. Sunshine: (still frowning) Yes, I do realize that and that makes me even more concerened...
Salaryman: (sighing) Fine, let's get him a boring book about dinosaurs like your brother suggested...
Mrs. Sunshine: (frown replaced by a twinkle in her eye) least now I know what you want for your birthday!

There's always a silver lining I guess!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Day in Japan

For Japan, New Year is the main family event during the year where most people go back to their home town to spend the holidays with their family. So also for the Salaryman household, as Mrs. Sunshine's grandmother is alive and well back in Osaka, we promptly packed up Baby Sunshine, tucked ourselves into a Shinkansen bullet train over there to spend a few days with her family.

New Year in Japan is mainly about;

1. Watching the horribly dull music "competition" kohaku that just goes on and on with artists catering to all tastes from Grandma to Kids, making most of it dull for everyone. This year, boy-band Arashi MC:ed the event

2. At the morning of New Year's day, do extensive greetings to everyone to wish them a happy new year and ask for their benevolence during 2011

3. Eat the traditional Osechi food which remarkably manages to combine everything I don't like about Japanese cuisine in one amazing and in the Sunshine family, it is only consumed with very moderate amounts of alcohol adding insult to injury

4. Give the kids their small envelopes with New Year's gift money Otoshidama and watch them greedingly fondle their newly acquired wealth. Even baby Sunshine seemed to get caught up in this until she started to try and physically consume the quite significant amount that Grandmother Sunshine had given her (also leading to a minor argument with Mrs. Sunshine where I argued that we should just take the money and waste it on unnecessary luxuries as an advance on all the costs we have with food and lodging for the baby, while Mrs. Sunshine argued that we should set up an account for the baby and save it)

5. Visit a local shrine to hand over the wishlist for 2011 to the Gods and give them some small change in exchange for them granting us good health, extreme wealth and overall happiness in 2011

6. Struggle with the crowds trying to get back home as millions of Japanese are trying to do the same, gloat at the poor bastards who didn't book their seat on the Shinkansen train and have to spend several hours standing

7. Check the harvest of New Year's cards and be pissed off about the people who you sent cards this year but haven't sent any and be nervous about if the people who sent a card but wasn't on the Sunshine-Salaryman New Year's card list will be pissed off at us for not sending a card, if needed, quickly write and send off a card and pretend like it's raining

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