Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buying a house in Japan Part 10 - The Immigration Lawyer...

(Again, to catch up on the ongoings, read the previous posts in this series here)

So, quite late in the evening during a regular weekday with just a couple of days to go until my permanent residence visa application had to be delivered, me and Mrs. Sunshine found ourselves in the middle of the most rundown and dirty area of the Ikebukuro red-light district to try and find the office of the immigration lawyer that we had made contact with the night before.

After some considerable search, we finally located the building, an apartment building that now seemed to no longer house private residences but offices of questionable (judging from the names they mostly seemed related to the sex industry in the area) firms housed in tiny one room apartments.

The lawyer turned out to be a quite friendly young guy who ushered us into the shabby apartment that served as his little law office, as we had explained our situation over the phone the previous day, he knew the basics of what we needed to have done and was quite positive that he could meet the deadline of compiling my permanent residence application within the two days that we had. Although friendly and seemingly competent enough, there was a certain "Ikebukuro Red-Light District Lawyer" vibe about him which was a bit reinforced by his seemingly erratic business hours (opening late in the afternoon and being available well into the night).

From the start, it became quite clear that he was more used to less straightforward permanent residence applications... Now, I'm not the expert on the visa process or anything, but when it comes to people applying for permanent residence who balance on the "~8 year before applying" criteria and do not have specialists job in the diplomatic or education sector, having a Japanese spouse is one of the more important factors. Considering the location of his office and the clientele that you could assume comes with it, I think it's fair to assume that he had handled a number of applications like this where marriages had been tied just to help in getting the visa... The conversation went something like this

Lawyer: Ok, so one of the first things that they're going to check is the passport and the stamps that you have and if any of you have made any trips together or so, how about you?

Salaryman: Yeah, sure, we took our honeymoon to Hawaii and have made a few other trips before that as well, take a look (handing over the passports)

Lawyer: (checking stamps and dates, nodding to himself as he finds that they correlate) ...nice...

Lawyer: (quite upbeat) Ok, next, you don't happen to have any pictures of you two together during the honeymoon or so that can give some more evidence?

Salaryman: (handing over a bunch of photos) We have a few here and we also had our wedding here in Tokyo with 70 or so guests, we have those pictures here as well (pointing at the wedding pictures with all of Mrs. Sunshine's serious looking Japanese relatives)

Lawyer: (with a sly grin) Nice, you really have all the bases covered, don't you (gives a wink)

Mrs. Sunshine: (slightly annoyed) Well, we are married actually, you know so I think it's quite normal.

Lawyer: (ignoring her and lowering his voice and almost whispers) One more very important thing, outside your apartment, do you have a nameplate with your family name on it?

Salaryman: (a bit surprised) No, actually not, we haven't gotten around to it and are gonna move quite soon anyway, why?

Lawyer: (looks around conspiratorially) You see... Sometimes they actually go to the apartment and try to check things out and if you don't have a nameplate, they might call the doorbell and want to check that things are in order... (looking very serious)

Salaryman: (laughing at the absurdity of the conversation) Well, ok, but they're more than welcome you know, we have nothing to hide!

Lawyer: (just looking very serious and concerned at both of us, silence for a few seconds)

Mrs. Sunshine: (to me) Look, whatever, I'll just make a sign and set it up tomorrow.

Lawyer: (gives a wink and a grin) Clever wife you have there.

After a few more back and forth of this type it finally seemed to dawn on him that there really wasn't any "catch" except the speed we needed the application compiled in. And by the end, he looked mildly relieved and looked at us and said "Huh? This actually looks a lot easier than most of the cases I handle, I'll knock off 20% of the price for you because of that".

As we left the office at around midnight, handing over half the money as advance payment I had the feeling that as soon as we had left the building, he was on the phone either with A) The Yakuza to use the money to pay off the money he owed them B) his favorite whorehouse asking them to saddle up since he got money in the bank or C) his gambling pals to make sure he would get in on the next mahjong game.

In the end he managed to get the application submitted on time and without any hitches I got the permanent residence visa approved, so although I would be hesitant to recommend him (unless you happen to be a Philippine girl in the Ikebukuro "service industry" overstaying your visa marrying the brother of the local club owner to get the visa), he took care of stuff quite smoothly for us.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hey man, whatever you want, we'll get it for you!

Sometimes in work, we get projects for developing countries in the framework of the ODA ("Official Development Assistance") program that the Japanese government has going to help build infrastructure (roads, hospitals, schools and stuff like that). Most of the projects are in the Asian region focusing on countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. and as we market medical devices and pharmaceutical products, we are sometimes asked to provide our products for hospitals that are being built.

We're always happy to support this ODA program, since it's the Japanese government that's paying for it we put some extra spice on our quotes as well (hey, everyone does it and it's only the taxpayer's money after all! ...oh wait? I pay tax too...) and if we get the deal, it's usually quite easy with good return so we do our best to try and accomodate whatever products that could reasonably be helpful depending on the conditions of the country and hospital in question.

Most of the time we're asked to submit relevant products that we have in our portfolio but sometimes it also includes some minor related products that we usually don't carry but most of the time we quite easily can source from a partner company and also include it. Yesterday I received a new project on my desk and as I scanned the products that the trading company representing the ODA requested from us it looked perfectly reasonable. Among the surgical products and some reasonable regular accessories that we could easily source there was inserted "50" Flat Screen TV with built in Blueray player", believe me that there is no reasonable and logical way that it makes any sense to have one of these for the operation room that we were asked to provide a quote to equip.

But hey, whatever, after discussing with a colleague, we checked up the prices on home electronics shop Biccamera and smacked an additional 30% on top of that price for good measure. Hey, the customer is King and whatnot, but I have the feeling that some doctor/official in Cambodia sneaked it in there in the hopes that no one would question it and enjoy those domestic drama shows on a big screen. All the more power to him, we added it in the quote and submitted; now, if we win the tender, someone has to run off and purchase it though and ship it with all the other hi-tech real equipment!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Commuter Terrorists: The Human Cannonball

It is with some shame that I do write this post on this particular type of commuter terrorist... In fact, just the previous day I commited this exact act myself and did not really realize what I had done before it was too late...

I'm talking about "The Human Cannonball", this is most often a guy (this terrorist could also be female, but a certain body weight is required to cause damage to the extent that you could be labeled a terrorist) that really really wants to get on that train and don't want to stand around waiting for the next one so just as he approaches the train and notices that the doors are about to close in the fully packed train, he throws himself through the doors as they are about to close, slamming into the poor people standing just by the door. There is also a certain technique that is utilized to do this in an efficient way; you throw yourself towards the door and just as you take a step inside the train car, you make 90 degree turn, half spinning so you end up crashing with your full body weight back first on the poor people standing crowded in the doorway and then as you crash into them, you push yourself further in with your hands on the door to make sure that you are not again pushed outside before the doors have fully closed.

The effect is obvious, the Human Cannonball basically gives a pretty hard tackle with his/hers shoulders and back (can be pretty nasty to receive for a shorter smaller lady). And also briefly shakes the equilibrium that the crowds are just about to reach when the train is ready to depart, much like the Battering Ram for a brief moment.

I felt quite embarrased after my cannonball like entry into the train and did the lame, turning half around mumbling "so sorry, so sorry" to the immediate victims. It is a war after all and sometimes war gets dirty and you do things that you are not proud of...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The soundtrack to the revolution!

Normally I leave stuff like this to my Man in Abiko, but with the current events, I think it's time to bring out the old Front 242 classic hit Funkahdafi and use it as a soundtrack to the revolution!
Those of you who aren't interested in my posts related to music should just ignore and rest assured that regular programming will resume shortly!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

There has been an earthcake

Ok, considering the tragic earthquake that recently happened in NZ, with several Japanese still missing and presumably trapped in the rubble, it might be in a little bad taste, but it made me think of this classic telephone call from a Swedish reporter to some random hotel in Tokyo (apparently it was very early morning with other places unavailable) to try and find out how "bad" it was. I think it also was a quite mild one by Japanese standards that no one in Tokyo got particularly freaked out by. The level of misunderstanding here is magnificent!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The problem with foreign names in Japan... - What's in a name? Pt. II

To follow up on my previous post on the difficulties that a foreign name can cause here in Japan... But I guess some rudimentary explanation on the Japanese language and names are in order first to put stuff in context. Basically, the Japanese writing language consists of three separate "alphabets" used for different purposes, there's the "hiragana" alphabet mostly used for grammatical purposes and then there's the "katakana" alphabet which is used for loan words from other languages and then there's the vast amounts of "kanji", the Chinese characters used for the bulk of text.

For names, the basic rule is that Japanese people have their names written in kanji although there are some exceptions. Also, one big difference in naming compared to names given in the Roman alphabet is that the Chinese characters can have different pronunciations and meaning. Say for instance, that the common female name of "Tomoko" can be written in quite a few ways depending on the meaning that the parents wants to use in the name and it is impossible to guess which one just based on seeing it written in roman letters.

So, for foreigners coming to Japan with a name that's not native to the Japanese language, the natural way for the Japanese writing system to handle this is by using the katakana alphabet and, as closely as possibly, imitate the sound of the name with katakana. Although it is theoretically possibly to find a combination of kanji that could give a similar pronunciation, it's a sure way to 1. confuse Japanese people on what the name is supposed to be 2. create a flurry of different wrong pronunciations and 3. making you look like a douche bag that can't chose a simple way to make your name understandable.

Also, Japanese people do not have middle names and only one first name and one family name and the whole system is adapted to this simple and static naming. It doesn't matter which alphabet the name is written with, as long as it follows this basic pattern, things will be easy enough.

Whew, ok, that was the very basic context of how names work in Japan. The problem that I face then is the number of names that I have... I have three "first names", two Swedish (one which is my "main name" and one from my grandfather) and one Japanese, then I have a Japanese "middle name" and finally the Swedish family name. So in my passport my name is written as;

First name: Tomas Bengt Kenjiro
Family Name: Yutani Weyland

Since I have Japanese family, the characters of my Japanese family name (湯谷) is decided and follows that of the family on the Japanese side, but for "Kenjiro" the name was never officially registered on the Japanese side and therefore I can write it pretty much as I like but usually do it in kanji since it looks strange to write such a name in katakana or hiragana.

Most people in Japan know me as "Tomas Yutani" as that is the combination I use for work, but legally, my real family name, and the way I sign documents in Sweden is "Tomas Weyland". To further complicate things, Mrs. Sunshine and Baby Sunshine have taken the Swedish family name and are legally named Sunshine Weyland and Baby Weyland with no Japanese family name in there as it proved too complicated for Mrs. Sunshine to add her old family name as a middle name and she didn't want to have separate family names (which is allowed in Japan).

Now, the big problem I face is in official documents where I'm required to write my "full name". There are quite a number of difficulties that come into play here;

1. There is not enough space for me to write the full name

2. Sometimes it's designed to be written "as in the passport" for non-Japanese but sometimes it needs to be written in Japanese (i.e. mostly in katakana with kanji for the family name)

3. The order the names are written; Japanese prefer to write names family name first, followed by first name

What really makes things confusing here is that, when running into problem (1), the way this is handled can vary depending on the person I'm interacting with. Some people just give up and ask me to write the "most important" ones as I can fit them in while some people get really creative and makes space for me to write it in miniature letters. (2) usually doesn't cause me any direct problems, but makes it confusing since my name is written in different alphabets depending on the institution. (3) is also a point of confusion as the order in my passport is first names (all three) followed by family names (two of them, one legally a middle name, but the Japanese system doesn't take that into account) but this can cause my name to appear "backward" with "Tomas" being my family name. Not to mention that all of these three problems can very much be cumulative and compounded.

If you think this sounds complicated, believe me, it's nothing compared to what I have to deal with when trying to sort out paperwork here in Japan. I have to try and keep track of what name, in what constellation and in which alphabet for all my different accounts. Without fail, I always gets documents returned with a mark on the name and asking me to write it in way X in which it's registered. It makes me feel a bit like an International terrorist having a number of different identities to chose from, but also a quite bad one since I can never keep track of which one I used where.

Just having the simple name of "Sven Svensson" would make all the paperwork a whole lot easier... But to also up the future confusion for Baby Sunshine, I've also made sure to register another first name for her in her Swedish passport (but not in Japan), it's bound to give her problems further down the road!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What’s in a name?

My name and the mix of Japanese and Swedish names and the problems that this have caused to the Japanese system is another long story that I aim to post about when I find the energy (little Baby Sunshine has started a new routine of waking up at 4AM, then promptly going back to sleep at around 7, just about the time when I need to get ready for the commuting war, tapping my energy).

When I write e-mails in Japanese, I make it a point of writing my name, first name only if it's someone I know a little, in roman letters. This is done deliberately by me to position and remind the Japanese person that I'm not Japanese (making them go "oh, look how good Japanese he can write" and not "this guy obviously can't string a proper sentence together, he needs to go back to school") which might be the case if I would sign off with only my Japanese family name.

It gives a pretty strong contrast to the text in Japanese and also signals that it's ok to call me by the first name (which I much prefer, calling me formally by my Japanese family name with a –san attached to it might not get my attention).

However, lately this has caused significant variations in the e-mails with a new partner company I'm corresponding with. For the sake of it, say my name is "Tomas Yutani (湯谷)" and I sign the mails with "Tomas". Over the course of three responses from my Japanese counterpart, he first started with "Dear Mr. Tomas", then, the next time followed by Tomas様 (the courtesy "san" in chinese characters) and then latest 湯谷 様 completely in Japanese. It seems like he is going for a gradual shift to Japanese on me, but I'll keep signing off with "Tomas", I won't yield!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Commuter Anarchists - The Public Porno Reader

There is one type of actor in the neverending commuting war that I have not really yet touched upon, but which have to endure scorn, disgust and irritation from many; The Public Porno Reader.

As the name indicates, this actor in the commuting war is characterized by his (I've never encountered any female PPRs) reading of sexual/pornographic material on the train, usually completely engrossed in his reading and with a lurid sneer on his face. The material is very rarely straight up hardcore porn, but pornographic manga or tabloid magazines with a significant amount of sexual content.

I have no particular issues with the PPR, usually they're too occupied with their exciting reading/viewing material to pose any danger of invading my little commuting space (ok, a PPR combined with a crotch pressing situation could prove highly uncomfortable, but if the crowding has reached those levels, it's hard to read anything). In one way, I admire the moral courage of these people in being seemingly completely comfortable reading sexual/pornographic material on a crowded train, not giving a shit what anyone thinks. Personally, if I'm watching a movie (regular one, thank you very much) on my PSP on the train and it happens to feature some partial nudity I quickly fast forward as to not be perceived as a PPR and a disgusting piece of trash by any female commuter who happen to be in the field of vision from my screen.

In the end, what the commuting war comes down to is to get a favorable position and then hold it, by any legal means possible until arriving at the destination. I have no issues with any participants who are not a threat to my little spot on the train and thus the PPR in himself is not considered the enemy by me. I find their anarchistic approach to the commuting refreshing!

Monday, February 14, 2011

It’s not who you are, it’s what you give

I realize that I've stopped the exciting buying a house series just when the tension was rising, please hold on a little longer, the upcoming episode with the lawyer is so great that I want to be able to do it full justice and write it properly.

Meanwhile, as we recently had a new family moving into the neighborhood who came around, introduced themselves and handed over a small gift. As you might have come to know from reading my blog or just knowing Japan in general, gifts are frequent and very important here in Japan . I also realized how closely me and Mrs. Sunshine associated the quality of the gifts with the people who gave them. As we moved into a new built little community and were one of the first people actually moving into our little house, quite a few families has come around and introduced themselves, each bringing a small gift.

When talking with Mrs. Sunshine recently about who lived in which house, we realized that we didn’t really remember faces and names that well, but very clearly remembered who had given us what and that was the hook for us to remember the family. "Oh, yeah, that was they who gave us those nice cookies, it was a good gift so they seemed really nice" or "wasn't it that family who gave us that really crappy towel set? They can’t have that much common sense" or the favorite, the family that gave us the exactly same thing that we ourselves gave out when we moved in "They seemed really nice and that they picked the same cake as us for gifts showed that they knew exactly what is suitable to give as a gift, they have excellent taste!".

Interestingly enough, it's seems like the old tradition of giving buckwheat noodles ("soba") have basically died out, so don't go around handing those out unless you're moving in to a geriatric ward.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Creepy Dolls - Hina-Matsuri dolls in the house...

As I've mentioned earlier, the entry of Baby Sunshine has started to expose the Salaryman family to more traditional Japanese customs than we otherwise would engage in. On March the 3rd, the traditional "Hinamatsuri" (doll festival for the little girls) takes place. As a warm up to that, the in-laws came over with a huge cabinet with dolls in it to be placed from now until the festival (see the picture). Apparently there was also some long family history attached to it as well, handed down through the generations, I didn't listen that closely since my mind was more occupied with trying to figure out where to fit in that huge cabinet when we had to put it away again in March...

As we set up the cabinet and promptly placed Baby Sunshine in front of it to gaze upon it's glory (it's for her after all) she responded with a few seconds of silence, staring at the dolls, followed by frightened crying. I can't really blame her as I also find the white faced dolls of the emperor and the court distinctively creepy. It's probably an issue with cultural frame of reference, but I do not associate these type of dolls with a fun festival, more with J-horror movies such as the Grudge, the Ring or other stuff. I'm sure the hair grows on these dolls as well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Commuter Terrorists - The Rageaholic Psycho

I thought that I had listed the worst of the worst so far in my Commuter Terrorists series, but after an encounter today, I realized that I had missed the most dangerous of them all...; the Rageaholic Psycho...

The Psycho basically takes all of the base characteristics of the previous mentioned terrorists and adds upon that violent reactions and a horrible temper. This guy really hates the commute, this guy really hates getting his personal space invaded, this guy really hates getting crotch-pressed, this guy hates it so much that he's GOING CRAZY over it!

Whereas the PA Pusher will start doing his thing when he's feeling some pressure applied to him, the Psycho is completely unreliable. He (again, I've only experienced males, but females might have their own sub-species of these) can react to a slight brush from behind (nowhere near a crotch-press) through violently pushing himself backward with considerable force. Throw his head backward quickly in the hopes of giving the person brushing up against him a piece of his skull in the face. This is often done in conjunction with muttered and mumbled talk on how the person is an idiot and should leave him the f**k alone. Sometimes the initial brush up annoys him so much that he can keep up the violent rocking and throwing of the head for several minutes even if considerable care is taken to stay away from him.

There are only two ways you can handle the Psycho - Fight or Flight. Pushing back will almost certainly lead to an escalation of things until the classic train fight breaks out (usually very half-assed due to packed train and using weapons such as briefcases, umbrellas etc. and usually hitting innocent bystanders more than the intended target until one or both gets off at a station and can slug it out).

Me, being a mild-mannered law-abiding Salaryman always use the "flight" option and might even resort to such terrorist actions as being a short-term Battering Ram to escape from the immediate area of the Psycho (hey, we can't all be Bad Boys) although I do admit that there has been occasions where I've felt the lure of the train rage myself when not being able to escape the Psycho...
(bonus points for those who can identify the person in the picture and extra bonus points to the one who can finish a quote from him that starts something like "When I see a pretty girl, one part of me wants to take her home, be nice and treat her right...")

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oh... Ok... maybe someone should have a talk with the "daddy"?

Ok, nothing big today, but just as an amusing little side-note. I think it's a pretty well known fact that half-Japanese are quite popular in the modelling world, and judging from the pictures in all these baby goods catalogues that Mrs. Sunshine is piling on, "half" kids seem to be equally or even more popular for kids and baby stuff.
Daihatsu has for quite some time now, had a TV commercial for their "Tanto" car running with a theme of how family friendly it is and from a year or so back, we have been following this wonderful family through their pregnancy and now, finally, they have started airing commercials where this new baby is finally making an appearance. This is what it looks like...

Now, the quality of this video is not the best, but believe me, that little baby girl is definitely not the product of those two parents. That is a little "half" baby if I've ever seen one, take a closer look;
I think it's obvious that the mother (sublimely acted by Eiko Koike) has been up to something and the father is in complete denial. I guess all his friends in the commercials just hum something inaudible when he shows them the girl and asks "doesn't she look just like me?".

I have the feeling that the continuation of this series of commercials might be quite dramatic, maybe he'll take his little Daihatsu Tanto car soon and just drive away?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A War of Cultures – Cultures Clashing

Today in Japan is the "Setsubun", the day that announces the transition of winter to spring. In theory this is something that I would very much welcome, but since the morning news still did features on the grotesque amounts of snow that some areas in Japan are suffering from and that the temperatures still go down to just about 0 degrees C in the morning and evenings when I walk to or from the station I remain unconvinced.

There are also a bunch of traditions associated with this day. It seems to be some form of mix of eating a giant norimaki (you know, the seaweed and rice roll that falls into the sushi category although it doesn't need to contain any raw fish) in one go, eating a lot of dried soy beans, dressing up as an ogre, shouting the slogan "out with the demons, in with happiness" while throwing beans around, among the things I know.

Needless to say, I'm not particularly excited about this highly important cultural event or feel any particular urgency to participate. In general, Mrs. Sunshine is not too picky about correctly celebrating Japanese customs like this, but now with the adorable little Baby Sunshine, she wants to have her experience these types of traditions from now, something which I of course am perfectly fine with as long as my participation can be kept under control.

So we have a silent understanding; she can celebrate Japanese customs and spend some money on the required accessories without me complaining and I can celebrate such important Swedish traditional events such as Midsummer through the traditional way of dancing around huge phallic symbols and getting dead drunk. Not to mention the August crayfish party which I traditionally celebrate the Swedish way by getting dead drunk (I never really liked those crayfish to begin with so I mostly skip those). I have not yet decided whether I will celebrate the December 13th St. Lucia Day the traditional way of getting dead drunk or not, I might be getting too old for that.

(That brings back fond memories of the Lucia tradition in the schools in Sweden where one girl was elected to be the Lucia, the other girls her "light carrying maids" and the boys would be either "star boys", "kid santas" or gingerbread men. I particularly fondly remember the old school racist way of picking the darker skinned adopted kids to be the gingerbread men as “they are so brown and adorable”, us with Asian genes usually could avoid that fate)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cpt. Awkward is no gentleman, he's Japanese

It seems like quite a few blogs out there featuring different personalities each get a special character that becomes a bit of a fan-favorite. Over at Corinne's, people couldn't care less about her little kid or surfer husband, we just hang around hoping for another story on her fantastic sister-in-law, over at Chris place, who cares about all the kids, teaching and stuff, we just come around for the cat Ikura! And it seems like my readers here can't get enough of Cpt. Awkward, so I thought I should entertain you with another Cpt. Awkward story to reward you for hanging around.

The other day, Cpt. Awkward had one of his frequent meeting with one of his peons; a younger girl that is kinda quiet, small and a bit mousy, albeit nice and friendly enough. Their meetings usually include tons of binders, printed out documents, books and computers. Not sure why, but they're big fans of printing things out, perhaps because Cpt. Awkward hasn't really caught up with electronic documentation and being ecological friendly. The times I have meetings with them, they usually hand over tons of print-outs to me which are the exact same files that they mailed over a few hours earlier.

The other day, I saw Cpt. Awkward coming stumbling out of a meeting (he has this awkward way of walking sometimes where it looks like he's about to fall over for every step he takes and his arms are made of jelly and just flaps around) with the peon and goes over to his desk. A few minutes later, the mousy peon comes out of the meeting, carrying binders in her arms that stacks up so high that her eyes are barely visible. She puts them down on the desk and start putting them back in order, visibly exhausted.

As I'm passing by on my way back from the coffee machine, I ask Cpt. Awkward half-jokingly "Hey, c'mon Cpt. Awkward-san, shouldn't you at least help out carrying some of the heavy stuff, you're not much of a gentleman, are you?". The peon gives him a sad stare as she overhears and looks like she's making a terrible effort of making him feel bad. Cpt. Awkward is silent for a few awkward seconds, looks back and forth between peon and me, opens his mouth and closes it a few times and finally says "But I'm Japanese!". I laugh to signal that I was joking with him and walk away before the situation gets more awkward.

But there you have it, Cpt. Awkward is not a gentleman, he's Japanese!
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