Friday, April 29, 2011

Raw Like Sushi!

Our resident Badboy in Japan got the idea to collect a bunch of Japan related blogs and put them together under the moniker "Raw Like Sushi". The general concept is to gather up the personal blogs that deal with more than Japan sightseeing, temples, ikebana and whatnot. Not that there's anything wrong with blogs that deal with those subjects, but gathering a bunch of "rawer" blogs together could be helpful to guide readers looking for more rawer accounts on Japan to some interesting blogs. Also, since Chris is handling it, there's also a general quality check in place to ensure that the blogs are of a decent quality.

So it seems like a great idea all around and you might want to check it out and see if any of the blogs listed there might be of interest. I can also proudly say that I've been patched in and am allowed to flaunt the banner here on my site as an official member of the group.

I'm sure that it's only me who still remembers it, but I just realized that the name "Raw like Sushi" is the same as the debut album of Neneh Cherry (or "Marianne Karlsson" as we Swedens know her as) with that "Buffalo Stance" (ok, that's a cover by Alice in video land, but the original is here) hit in the eighties!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Your Guide to Disaster Related Press Conferences and the Main Players

It's finally calming down a bit now in Japan now with the endless press conferences on prime time, now most of the press conferences have found themselves delegated to short snippets in the news shows or shown in full on cable tv news channels. So it might be a little late, but I thought I should give you the heads up on the main players.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Starring Nishiyama-san, aka "Nobita-kun"
Definitely one of my favorites. I've mentioned a bit on him earlier (here and here). Trademarks of his press conferences are looking very uncomfortable when questioned, giving out data that is contradictionary to what TEPCO and the government is saying and then looking confused when confronted with the discrepancies. One of my favorite repeating moments is when he looks confused and then leans to the side and lets one of his peons point out to him what he's about to say. But to be honest, the wig helmet captures most of my attention making it quite difficult for me to focus on what he's actually saying.

Entertainment Value: 7 - Mostly awarded due to my fascination with the wig and the deliciously awkward moments that are bound to happen
Authority : 2 - Even if I did listen to what he's actually saying, it feels kinda pointless as there seems to be a lot of people that has more and better information than dear old Nobita-kun
Fashion Sense: 9 - This is really where he shines, his work uniform is actually quite fancy, I like the khaki look with the blue for added flair on the shoulders
Cuddelability: 1 - Almost going into the negative, particularly of fear for the wig

Tokyo Electric Power Company - Starring a bunch of people

I guess that there is actually two types of TEPCO press conferences; the technical ones that take place on a daily basis and the corporate ones featuring the executives crying and aplogizing (and rightly so!) that are more rare. This review deals with the daily technical update press conference. I am quite fond of this bunch actually, it is quite immediately apparent that these guys have not received any media training to speak of but are picked because they know what they are talking about.

Usually there are at least five of them sitting tightly huddled together, whispering among each other and actually seem quite adept at letting the relevant expert speak. As they are talking technical speak they rarely get pushed in a corned the same way as poor Nobita-kun. My favorite among these guys is Matsumoto-san (seen in the picture) as he reminds me a bit of Cpt. Awkward in terms of looks and speaking style.

Entertainment Value: 3 - Usually too advanced for me to follow in detail and although the team looks great and entertaining, it is getting a bit old by now
Authority: 5 - They obviously know what they're talking about, but as they're on the payroll of TEPCO I find that I need to take their statements with a grain of salt
Fashion Sense: 5 - The work jackets they wear are ok, nothing special with no fancy fashion details but the color is pleasant enough
Cuddelability: 4 - Slightly below average, they do seem to be quite cozy together though and I would probably feel quite safe and comfortable squeezed in between them during a press conference, but they seem a bit too engineer-ish to score high here

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano
Although he ditched the work jacket a few weeks ago, he still is the man when it comes to holding press conferences. It's obvious that he's quite comfortable with the press conferences now as he manages the press with an amusing balance of friendliness and condecending attitude. Not to mention that his press conferences is usually the place where any relevant information from the government gets told.

Entertainment: 3 - Edano's press conferences are not exactly fun filled apart from the occasional scolding of a reporter asking a stupid question
Authority: 10 - This is one of Edano's strongest areas, perhaps because he's the direct spokesman of the government and actually knows what's going on
Fashion Sense: 2 - This score is based on the terribly boring light blue work jacket that all government officials seemed to be wearing to show how serious they were in the time of crisis, horribly dull with no fashion details to take attention away from the dull color
Cuddelability: 10 - Amazingly enough, Edano manages to pull of a combination of authority and cuddelability, something that you would normally think is an impossible combination. I feel like I should listen to what he says, but then I'd like to put a leash on him, take him for a walk and then let him sleep at the foot of my bed, licking my hand in the morning to gently wake me up (maybe even jumping in the bed and licking my face)

Now, the golden days of the marathon press conferences seem to be coming to an end and on the TV today, the announced that they will start to combine Nobita-kun and the TEPCO team for joint-press conference, something that is bound to help clarifying information but will reduce some of the entertainment of seeing Nobita-kun looking around awkwardly for help...

On the whole, I think we should be thankful that prime minister Kan's press conferences were kept to a minimum!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter in Japan!

I just realized that other day that is actually that Easter season now, I was reminded of it by an automated "out of office" reply e-mail from a guy in Europe. I've been so long in Japan now my mind is starting to get a little cloudy on what I am supposed to be doing now according to ancient Swedish tradition. Not being religious means that I can ignore the boring stuff at least.

I seem to recall that at some point I should start a huge bonfire for some purpose (not really sure why), get dead drunk and maybe get into a fistfight. Then, another day I'm supposed to get the baby dressed up as a witch, usher her into the streets to solicit candy from stranger and I think that we're supposed to eat a lot of eggs and maybe even lamb at one point. It really gets kinda hazy here in Japan as the Japanese completely ignore the season. Not even any cute chickens anywhere or some Japanese twist to it, just completely ignoring it.

Earlier in the day I had a brief conversation with Cpt. Awkward about it:

Salaryman: (casually) So I just realized it's Easter now so that's why so many of the people in Europe are on vacation now

Cpt. Awkward: (looks confused) Huh? Easter? What's that about now again?

Salaryman: (patiently explaining) You know, it's a Christian holiday, when Christ died and was resurrected?

Cpt. Awkward: (lightening up for a few seconds) Oh? Do you do these painful reenactments of the crucifixion?

Salaryman: (tired) Nope, at least not me, we mostly eat lots of eggs instead

Cpt. Awkward: (with a dreamy look) Eggs... I like eggs...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Toilet need and the sign that stopped me

I think that I have lost my way a little bit when it comes to this blog. I have let a number of lighter, but ultimately meaningless topics come in the way of the core, what I'm about and what I do best. The Earthquake, commuting, buying houses, babies and all that, it's just distractions from the real purpose of this blog; me and toilets.

This is not a blog about Japan, this is not a blog about professional insanity, this is not a blog with amusing bizarre trivia, it's meant to be a toilet blog. This is what I do best and the driving force in my life. To give this recognition, I have now created a new label called "Salaryman and Toilets" (ok, there's plenty more on the site, but some of the layout of the old posts gets messed up when I try to add the label so I gave up, so just search for "toilets" and you'll get most of it).

I brought this topic up in a previous post, but the situation has not improved. During certain hours of the day (usually from 10AM to 11AM and then after lunch for a couple of hours) the toilets are chronically occupied, no lines outside or anything, just complete silence. Earlier in the week I felt a certain pressure in my bowels and felt a quite urgent need to relieve them, as this was about 10 AM I was not surprised to see the booths taken (no sound from inside), so I went back to the office and soldiered on for another ten minutes before going back to see if an opening had become available. Obviously this was not the case, four closed doors and complete and utter silence.

With the need to go now becoming quite urgent, I tried doing something that I have never ever tried before; going out the stairway taking the stair down to the floor below, hoping to be able to do a guerrilla type raid in their toilet facilities. Do my thing and then just vanish again back up the stairs to where I came from, without anyone having any clue as to what I had done. The plan was perfect, or so I thought... When I walked down the stairs and approached the door, this is the huge sign that was taped to the door (see the picture). It says "The toilets are for the tenants of the offices on this floor. For every one's comfort, please use the toilets on your floor or the common toilets on the first and second floor". It should be noted that our little stairwell door on the 18th floor does not have this type of sign...

Having lived too long in Japan, the authority of the sign scared me off my little adventure and I scurried back upstairs to the office and somehow managed to hold down the fort, so to speak, until a little past eleven and magically all the booths were available. I did have to suffer a bit of a stomach ache for the whole day though. What bugs me a bit is that our stairwell door does not have this sign which makes me suspect that the toilet sleepers come from other floors as there is no warning like this to stop them...

Maybe I should have braved the authority of the sign, but it felt too risky, what if someone would have caught me? Would you have dared challenge a sign like this?!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear meltdowns and now tornadoes?

I don't think I need to mention the horrible disasters that the huge earthquake carried with it, enough to say that the aftermath is i no way over with the Fukushima plant situation still being very serious and stronger aftershocks still rearing their ugly face from time to time still scaring the hell out of me when I'm in the office.

But things have been reasonably calm lately, only one or two stronger ones during the weekend and calm so far today and yesterday in the Tokyo area. As I was taking the train to work today I realized that the train was quite delayed (or rather, the train I usually take was quite delayed, I happened to enter another delayed train that came in just the same time as my regular train, quite confusing). It was quite rainy in the morning, but nothing more than some shitty weather I thought, but as I rode the train they announced in the speakers "due to a warning for tornadoes we will be running the train at reduced speed".

Seriously, first earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear meltdowns and now tornadoes?! What's next? A plague of cockroaches? I don't even want to think of what the typhoon season will be like this year...

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Day of Ethical Dilemmas

Today, for some reason I was faced with two few ethical dilemmas...

1. A few weeks earlier I helped a customer of ours take care of a bit of an unusual problem helping a patient of the customer get access to the treatment she needed while on vacation in Europe. This took quite the effort in locating a hospital capable of the treatment and then setting everything up before the conditioned worsened. It's not part of my standard work, but I was asked if I could help and did my best, going quite the extra mile. Earlier today the rep in charge of the customer came over with a gift from the patient (who now was back safely in Japan, all recovered) and an envelope with 40,000 yen in cash as thanks from the doctor.

As you can see, this is where the ethical dilemma comes in... Accepting the gift from the patient I don't really have a problem with as it wasn't anything too fancy, but getting cash handed to me from a customer puts me in a bit of a difficult spot since it's part of the job, although not the standard routine. On the other hand, handing the cash back to the customer puts him in an uncomfortable spot as he gave it in good-will and wants to somehow express his thanks for the help I gave him to ensure the health of his patient. I did consider giving the money to charity, but in the last weeks I have actually given a quite considerable amount of money already. After some thought and asking Mrs. Sunshine for advice, I decided to keep the money, but fold it away for drinking sessions with colleagues to at least share it informally internally.

2. Last week I heard that a quite distant acquaintance had suddenly and prematurely passed away, leaving his still young kids and family behind. I knew him from the consulting days when he was in a client company, we got along quite well during the time and stayed in touch through networking sites exchanging the occasional greeting (last time was when he asked if me and the family were ok after the quake). So hearing that he passed away was a bit of a shock and sad news, but I can't say that we were close friends or anything having just met on one occasion several years ago.

Now, I just today discovered that he was still in my "friends" list, apparently his family have not gotten around to closing his account. Now this makes me slightly uncomfortable since it feels wrong to have him in there post mortem. But on the other hand, removing the friendship might be taken the wrong way from the family. I was also thinking to send a condolence message, but it would also feel odd to send that to his account as it still bears his name and I've never been in contact with his family and I'm sure that they have never heard of me. So, in the end, I let things be and will check in a week later to see if there has been any change... This whole Internet thing has made putting the house in order quite difficult.

Sometimes I envy baby Sunshine, she never has any ethical dilemmas like this...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Earthquake Syndrome

Now it's been over a month since the big quake and the frequency of aftershocks have calmed down considerably except for a temporary surge last Monday and Tuesday.

However it seems like me and a lot of other people have now gotten some kind of "earthquake syndrome" thinking that it's shaking when it's actually not. Quite often in the office people look up and say "is it only me or is it shaking?" when it's actually not and sometimes I get mild feelings of sea-sickness due to some imaginary shaking. I'm sure there must be some real name for this but can't be bothered now to try and look it up.

The other day, we had a meeting in one of our meeting rooms in the corner of the office, with a nice view of central Tokyo with plenty of big windows. The meeting went fine as normal, but afterwards me and Mr. Pot-Belly remained to sort out some minor questions that had been brought up and we needed to discuss a little informally. It should be noted that both me and Mr. Pot-Belly both are quite uncomfortable with the shaking in the office (ok, not many people are completely comfortable with it, but they scare me a little more than most I would probably say, even though I know rationally that we should be safe in the newly built office building). As we were sitting talking I started to notice some minor creaking noises coming from the corner of the room. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Mr. Salaryman: (mildly alarmed) Did you hear that?

Mr. Pot-Belly: (curious) No, what?

Mr. Salaryman: (still mildly alarmed) The creaking noises from the corner close to the window, is there an earthquake now?

Mr. Pot-Belly: (also getting a little nervous) Is there? I'm not sure but now I hear the noise too...

(a few seconds of silence as we both sit still, listen and try to figure out if it's shaking)

Mr. Salaryman: (nervously joking) Well, I hope this whole corner won't fall off the building if there's a big one

Mr. Pot-Belly: (getting up) Let's get the hell out of this room!

..and I, after ten years in Japan thought I had gotten used to earthquakes... But I guess it's hard to get used to the wrath of mother nature...

Friday, April 15, 2011

My chance of making it big and how I blew it...

For the commute I have a "Pasmo" card, one of those "smart card tickets" which is charged with a certain amount of money and also includes a commuter pass for my regular route. For the regular route to and from work I renew it periodically, but if I go somewhere else the money I have stored on the card automatically takes care of the payment. In addition, I have an auto-charge system in it tied to my credit card, so when the amount goes low it automatically fills it up with a certain amount again. I think that these type of smart card tickets are getting quite common now in most countries, although I only have detailed knowledge about the ones in Japan...

So yeah, with that exciting background taken care of, the real tale can begin. Earlier in the week the card just flat went out and died on me during my commute. To have it fixed or exchanged, I took it the ticketing office of the Metro Subway, explain my problem and asked them to issue me a new one. At first the lady clerk didn't seem particularly surprised as I assume this type of problem is bound to happen from time to time. She asked me some standard questions, put the card in her machine and started pressing some buttons while I stood around waiting for it to be fixed.

After a few minutes of button pressing and her expression started to get more confused and throwing a few "I'm sorry, please wait a little longer" at me, she called her manager who also started to look at her screen and pressed a bunch of buttons. During this they had a conversation in hushed voices and I overheard the manager saying "no, that amount of money can't be possible!?" and saw him note down at least ten figures on a piece of paper while looking at the screen. Another clerk joined in the button pressing, screen staring and the hushed conversation and after a few more "please wait a little longer" the manager came out of the office to tell me that they had to "check something with their head office, could you please wait for 5 more minutes?". Being in now immediate hurry I said "ok" and stood around waiting a bit longer while the manager disappeared into another room behind the office to make some phone calls.

After another five minutes or so he comes back out with a nervous smile saying "we're really sorry but there seem to be some problem with this and it might take a day or two to fix" then, with some nervous ticks and drops of sweat trickling down his forehead "you wouldn't remember the amount of money you had on the card, would you?".

I answered without thinking: "Well, probably around 3,000 yen or so I'm pretty sure", which seemed to bring him immense relief as he scurried back into the office.

Two seconds later I realized that I had gotten a once in a lifetime opportunity and blew it... What I should have done was to answer, with a stone face: "I should have at least a few billion yen on it, why!? It's nothing odd about it, I'm just really really filthy rich and like to keep all my money on my Pasmo card! Now just fix it, I'm in a hurry!!!".

A chance like this just comes once and I failed to grasp it... Well, I guess it'll be public schools for Baby Sunshine!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Avoid Saitama - Swedish government advises!

Now, slowly, one by one the countries are starting to lift their recommendations to avoid "non-essential" travel to Tokyo. The Brits lifted it earlier in the week and now opens up for visits to Tokyo even of "non-essential" nature, which I, wrongly or not, interpret as that they're saying that "it's ok to go there as a tourist". The Brits still keep the recommendation to avoid going to the affected regions "north-east of Tokyo". The US are still keeping their recommendation of avoiding non-essential travel to Tokyo, but I would be surprised if this wasn't changed too in the coming days. Now, Sweden have also opened up for travel to Tokyo, but the Swedes are a lot more precis in which areas to not go to and still recommends people to avoid going to the prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata, Niigata, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki and Saitama... Mind you, this is the same government that refered to Fukushima as "Fukuchima" on the offical homepage of the foreign ministry.

I like how this precis division of which prefectures are "safe" and which should be avoided so clearly shows a complete ignorance of how the greater Kanto region actually looks. Northern Chiba prefecture is for instance actually much closer to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant than most parts of Saitama, but Chiba prefecture is not mentioned and is apparently with the same standards considered completely "safe" to go to.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is actually a strategic thing they starting to do here. Perhaps they will lift restrictions a little by little until only Saitama is remaining and then just keep a permanent recommendation to avoid "non-essential travel" there? Considering that Saitama is a sad and barren place compared to the lushness of Chiba? I would fully support this since it makes perfect sense!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#Quakebook: Co-authored by Mr. Salaryman, William Gibson and a bunch of other people

I don't really feel like going through the whole history of this book, those of you interested should check out the official blog of the #quakebook here. The short version is that it was thought up by My Man in Abiko at one point when he was naked, it had something to do with people sending twitter messages all over the place and then a book got done pretty quickly and then it built quite a buzz.

All proceeds of the book will go directly to the Japanese Red Cross to support the survivors of the earthquake with Amazon waivering their normal commission, so buying the book at $9.99 means that the full amount will go to the JRC. The book in digital format is available here at, if you are even the least bit interested in how people perceived the quake, why not buy it and even if the book doesn't interest you that much, you can still sleep a little better knowing that you donated a little money to the relief efforts here in Japan. If you are completely uninterested in the book, you can still go to the page and donate some money directly to the JRC and still sleep better at night without having to download the book.As you probably have figured out, a piece by me is in the book (based on this post) and I feel a little bad about it since if I had known it would snowball as it has done, I would have put a little more time in it and written something different under my own name. In the beginning, I didn't really care that much if I ended up in the book or not since I wasn't really sure on whether the tone of my piece would be suitable or not.

However, this all changed the day I saw that they had gotten legendary sci-fi writer William Gibson to participate with an original piece for #Quakebook... I mean, when Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive came out, I was heavily into the "Electronic Body Music" subculture (for you americans, think something like goth with less gloom and more electronics) where those books quickly became the bibles of the subculture and had a tremendous impact. Not to mention that his books made it a bit cool to have Japanese heritage.

(in fact, just thinking of it made me want to watch the classic Frontline Assembly Mindphaser video again... and makes me remember how I, during my first visit in Tokyo, desperately scavenged obscure video stores to get a copy of the Gunhead movie that the video took most of the visuals from - yeah, the movie sucked)

So for me, being able to say, that I "co-authored a book with William Gibson" is something huge. "Yoko Ono is in there too" - Couldn't care less, she might brag about being co-author of a book with me though, but that's her right. This is almost up there with becoming a temporary member of the Ramones and be able to start calling myself Mr. Salaryman Ramone (sadly, with the passing of Dee Dee, Joey and Johnny it's not very likely to happen...).

Ok, I can't help being a little annoyed with some of the edits done to my piece... In particular the part from the original going:

"The situation in the Fukushima plant is still worrisome, but the worst doomsday advocates seem to have calmed down a little bit; perhaps because the reality is bad enough and some foreign media was playing up the "the situation is beyond critical" angle so hard yesterday that instead of trying to trump it, they went with Libya instead and other news that had more drama in them."

...somehow got edited down to a much blander:

"The situation in the Fukushima plant is still worrisome, but the worst doomsday advocates seem to have calmed down a little bit. Perhaps this is because the reality is bad enough and the foreign media has switched its reporting to the situation in Lybia and other, more dramatic news stories"

But hey, it's all good, my blog is still here and I understand that the whole book was finished under heavy time pressure and I can cross out "co-author with William Gibson" with my big list of "things I want to achieve before I die" so I have no complaints! Now buy the book, donate some extra and feel like you did something useful!

Monday, April 11, 2011

...better the devil you know...

Take a good long look at the picture here. This is an actual poster of a candidate in the election for the Governor of Tokyo...

Ok, now we got the old bigot of a geezer Ishihara reelected for another term, he's a horrible old man that let slip some really old school racist and plain insane stuff from time to time that would make former PM Mori very proud, but Ishiara seems to be forgiven quickly because he's an old guy.

As I'm 1) a foreigner with no right to vote and 2) even if I had the right to vote, I'm not registered in Metropolitan Tokyo anway I can claim complete innocene in having Ishihara reelected. Try google for "Ishara Shintaro" and quotes or just check out the English (or even better, Japanese if you can read it) Wikipedia page here to see some of the amusing things that he has thrown out in the past. I guess that in times of crisis like this, people want the 'ol familiar reliable guy.

Then, just on my way home today from the office, I saw this great poster in the picture. In almost as big letters as his name, and even more visible is his convoluted facebook page address. That smile, that haircut, those Obama poster-ish colors and the facebook page address just reeks of complete douchebag. I'm not sure even if he's smiling or baring his teeth.

As much as I despise Ishihara, at least he's an old guy who's just too old to change his mind and some of his stuff is quite comic in it's outrageousness, but I'd rather take him for ten more terms than someone who makes a poster like this and think it's great. Sorry Yuujiro Taniyama, better luck next time!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Japan News and the Models

Something which I find quite fascinating about the news here in Japan is the use of model buildings when illustrating and discussing some recent events where they want to visualize the development(s). It's standard fare here in Japan but recently with the Fukushima plant situation there's really been a boom in the use of realistic miniature models. There are probably at least 7-8 major channels in Japan with their own news shows, from the more serious NHK to channels with a more sensationalistic slant.

However, what has been unifying all these channels has been the use of detailed painted miniature models of the reactors, capturing the white and blue painting of the undamaged ones and the destruction of the outer containers of the ones that suffered some explosions. Things like the installation of tall towers built to efficiently spray water into the reactors to cool them down was immediately added to the miniature panoramas without any delay. See the pictures here in the post to get a feeling for how these models can look.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm ok with the miniature models, they add some flavor and sometimes they are even mildly helpful to show what exactly went on where. However, mostly I am distracted from this by my thoughts wandering into the topic of who exactly makes these models? Does the news channels have their own in-house panorama model production staff or do they outsource it to professionals in the field? And if they outsource, is it a market with fierce competition or a buyer's market?! In my head, I get this picture of an extremely harsh market with rigged tenders and plenty of money exchanging hands under the table to get the best model makers to supply the channel with the best and most accurately painted models.

The only thing I miss is small models of people standing around smoking, looking busy or just chillin'. Maybe that's the next step to go for the channel that doesn't want to lose out in the panorama model war!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Baby Teething - Pain and Gain?

Ever since the earthquake and the whole nuclear meltdown deal, baby Sunshine has experienced a pretty significant growth spurt, crawling around all of a sudden and generally being a major nuisance, albeit a very cute one. I'm not sure if there's any connection between the disasters and the growth, but I do suspect that something either was shook loose or a burst of gamma radiation triggered a minor growth mutation.

In conjunction with this, she has also gotten into the habit of waking up for long stretches in the night, quite severely cutting into our sleeping time. One thing that I find a bit interesting though is that it's a common understanding in many countries (at least the US and Western Europe I think) that the teething process is a bit painful for the babies, although it is not perceived as such in Japan. One of our Japanese baby manuals mention it in passing saying that "in many countries it is believed that teething can be irritating and painful for the baby" and then just skips over the topic completely. Maybe there needs to be some international standardization set in place her concerning pain in babies? For the sake of humanity, we could volunteer Baby Sunshine for pain tests if required.

So, as we're trying to figure out why she's refusing to sleep these days (or as I often tell Mrs. Sunshine "have you checked in the manual?") we're confused as to whether we can claim that it's because she's teething or not without coming off as complete idiots?

(Ok, as you can understand, the whole point was more to write something that can justify me putting up this picture of Baby Sunshine and her glee in her destructive powers - if you thought the previous picture was cute, this one is bound to floor you!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The North Korea Reports on The Quake without Fear or Favor

During this time of disaster, it's very hard to know which news to listen to, the government are always covering up the important facts, the foreign tabloid media are fear-mongers and the Japanese media does not always dig into the facts as much as they should. Sure, I tried going directly to the source to see what the World Health Organization and their updates, I've looked at the International Atomic Energy Agency's daily updates on the Fukushima plant situation and at one point I even trusted the Chief Scientific Advisor of the British Government Sir Poppers Sidebottom and his briefings. I even looked up on the Greenpeace site to get their take on the situation in Fukushima. Not to mention the countless Japanese authorities and organizations out there.

But I dunno, it feels like everyone has an agenda and can't be fully trusted. So I felt a bit lost and confused for a while until I realized that I should go directly to the people that never resort to hyperbole, who always provide calm and reasonable facts in difficult times; the North Korean State News Agency! , They have a dedicated area of their brilliant International News site dedicated to the events following the great Tohoku quake and I finally feel that I can get a balanced and realistic view of the situation without any hidden agenda. I do recommend you to read up on it all yourself to get educated, but I can share some highlights that I have picked up from it:

  • One earthquake was specifically noted to have taken place underground

  • Four of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima went into complete meltdown two weeks ago

  • Drinking water in Tokyo has gone up in price tenfold (strange that I haven't noticed this myself)

  • They support Ozawa (no surprise there, I always suspected it) in his honest and fair harsh criticism of the Japanese government

  • Civil unrest is growing all across the nation

  • General Secretary Kim Jong Il sent out of his loving care relief fund and donated $100,000 to the Japanese Red Cross (?!) and at a value of $500,000 to regime friendly Korean associations in Japan

  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan advised the people across the country not to eat "all leafy vegetables" cultivated in the Fukushima Region

...and so much more valuable information that other media has not given any real information to. This is really the truth without any dirty political agenda to it and I will eagerly follow any updates, lapping up any information that the Great Leader kindly shares with us here in the militaristic and aggressive nation of Japan. They do have big hearts full of forgiveness indeed!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Breaking and entering - good 'ol regular racism

Today I stood and chatted a bit by the coffee machine in the kithcen space with "Grandpa", one of the older semi-retired guys in the office. He's basically the nicest man I know, wouldn't hurt a fly and always has something nice to say about anyone, and we're very friendly as I have known him for many years now.

So as we stood there chatting, I mentioned that we had a burglary incident in one of the houses in our little area and the conversation went something like this:

Salaryman: (concerned) so they rummaged through everything, apparently, looking for money but didn't steal anything but smashed some stuff in their house

Grandpa: (looks sad) Yes, there's too many foreigners here now in Japan, this would never happened 20 years ago...

Salaryman: (jokingly defensive) Well, this time it wasn't me! (laughing)

Grandpa: (realizing who he's talking to) Oh, of course not, no, you would never do something... (interrupted)

Salaryman: (dead serious looking straight at him)...OR WAS IT?!

Grandpa: (looking confused for a few seconds) Oh, heh, you're always joking, I know it wasn't you.

Salaryman: (starting to head off with my cup of coffee) well, you can never be too careful nowadays, can you?

Nothing like a dose of old school ignorant racism, but Grandpa is such a sweet old man that I couldn't really bother to work myself up over it. If anything, it's a bit of fresh air after all the positive racism that the Japanese has been exposed to lately!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Favorite Japanese Words - "The Bar-Code Ossan"

Ok, time to try and get back to normality and not only post quake related posts, we're all getting a bit fed up with that, ain't we?

This time I thought I should bring up to a wider audience one of my favorite Japanese words: "バーコードおっさん・baakoodo ossan" which translates into something like "Bar-code old geezer". "Ossan" means middle-aged man, but has a bit of a derogatory flair to it and the "bar-code" comes from the, not too unusual, fantastic comb-over hairstyle which, depending on the richness of the hair, can give an image of a bar-code when viewed from above.

I think that in most developed countries, it is a common belief that a comb-over is not a dignified way of trying to cover up one's hairloss, but in Japan it is still quite widely accepted and not at all unusual to see. However, before you start thinking of doing this yourself on the basis of "it's ok in Japan", I should warn you that being a Bar-Code Ossan is not perceived as something positive in Japan among the younger people although among fellow Ossan Salarymen and politicians, it could help you melt into the crowd.

(1. Oh yeah, speaking of looting, apparently a neighbor of us had a break-in in the days past the quake when a lot of people were hiding in their hometowns over the weekend and we're pretty far away from it... 2. Supposedly I'm in that #Quakebook thingy and I will blog about it but don't see much point until the book is out, check it out here meanwhile)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Day I Went Viral (in the Chinese news)

Now it seems like things are slowly reverting back to normal when it comes to blog visitors as well. Before the quake I usually had a very modest number of around ~200 unique visitors, but this figure tripled and quadrupled immediately after the quake and stayed at that level up until the last few days when things seem to get back to normal. In any case, I usually consider my regular modest number of visitors to be of high quality; men and women with refined tastes and sharp intellects, so I am very comfortable with that.

One amusing thing that happened in the days after the quake was that my blog, for some odd reason, got picked up by a pretty huge Japanese news site focusing on China related news (?) called Searchina, as they did a review on what some foreign bloggers in Japan had written about the aftermath. This caused a pretty significant influx of (what I assume to be) Japanese readers and a lot of googletranslate attempts to decode the English. You could say that I went a little viral, nothing lethal and a mild cold at best, but still.

Now, this is not so entertaining for my non-Japanese reading visitors, but comparing my original post and the summary that Searchina listed is quite interesting in itself. First, take a look here at their article and then compare it to my original post here. Nevermind that they wrongly label me as american, but their summary has removed all the attempts at wit from the original post and for some reason completely omitted the Mad Max watching from their listing up of my "things to do".

I'm completely ok with their summary (apart from the insult of calling me American...) as they just have removed all traces of humour, but haven't distorted anything that I wrote, but I just have the feeling that there would be tons of other blogs that would have been more suitable to quote...? Well, in any case, thanks to the Searchina people and would always be fun to get more English capable Japanese readers!

Friday, April 1, 2011

I think that we need a little recalibration here?

At one point when I have a little more time, I will guide you a bit through the stars in the recent endless press conferences, my two particular favorites are the Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano representing the government and then Nishiyama (aka "Nobita-kun") of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the ministry of finance. Click the link above to get my take on his previous appearances.

Yesterday, I happened to catch another one of his great press conferences, as always heavily featuring people whispering to him what to say. The topic turned to the extremely high amounts of radioactive iodide that has been registered in the ocean close to the nuclear plant. He said something like "so... eh... recently the amounts of radioactive iodide in the ocean close to the plant has... eh... given a little high values... eh... 4,300 the normal amount... I think".

Now, what I find interesting here is his definition of how he defines "a little". Normally I would say that "3-5 times the normal amount" could be called "a little", maybe "a hundred times" could get a "quite high", but over 4,000 times the normal amount? I would say "extremely high", but not my man Nobita-ku, for him, it's "a little". I shudder to think of the values that he will need to say "high"...

Well, in any case, seems like seafood from Fukushima is off the plate for a while, but it never really was on it to begin with anywa, so no big loss for me!
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