Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's just not funny anymore...

Who will best represent MY interests? Maybe that little guy...
If I wanted to, I feel pretty certain that I could get Japanese citizenship fairly easy now as I have permanent residence and now also sprouted two offspring that are Japanese. However, as life is going pretty well without it and I have so far yet to run into any situation where I have felt that being a Japanese citizen would make things easier, nor encountered any blatant discrimination due to my Swedish citizenship. 

The big thing with citizenship is of course that you get to have a vote in the elections, however considering the current state of Japanese politics it feels more like a relief than anything that I am not allowed to vote in the upcoming December general election and having to take some form of responsibility for the outcome...

In the past I've posted a bit on the new splinter groups from various parties that have emerged the last years (see post here). At that point it was ridiculous and depressing, but still a bit funny. However, now that Ishihara and Hashimoto have thrown their masterful minds together headlining another new party the fun is all gone and now it's just depressing. 

The Liberal Democratic Party had a golden chance this election to show that their loss in the previous election had made them take a critical look at themselves and removed the excess fat that the complacency after all those long years in power is now gone and they are once again hungry and revitalized. However, what do they do? They elect former one-year Prime Minister Abe as the party chairman, the guy that started the whole "Japanese-one-year-Prime-Minister" thing that has been going on the last six years...

The Democratic party is in disarray, splintering into infighting groups with no evidence that they would be better prepared for a second term than the first one that turned into a massive fiasco with revolving door Prime-Minister and Cabinet change and fighting within the party.

What remains apart from the clownshow of new parties, LDP and DPJ is the Communist party and the religious Buddist party New Komeito.

There's hardly even a lesser evil here, it's all bad across the board and the only good news is that since I'm not a citizen I do not have to make the choice here. Mrs. Sunshine does not have this luxury however and is trying to figure out who will do the least amount of damage... 

For the sake of full disclosure, it should however be mentioned that I have on rare occasions accepted tissue paper handouts from party representatives loitering around the station as I enter the Communting War on weekday mornings.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A $2 dollar ambulance

Our ambulance wasn't this fancy
Ooops, I just realized that it's been almost a month since my previous post... To my defense I can say that even though the horrible heat of summer is gone, Japan has now entered the probably worst season of the year; late autumn. This is the time of year when the bugs are all over the place and commuting by train is a surefire way to catch most of them.

After a spending a week in the US East Coast in work (and ruining basically two full weeks due to the extremely painful jetlag that 13hrs time difference gives) I came back just in time for the cold and catching a few of them as well. In turns, the whole Salaryman family has been sick at one point or another and in the fantastic team spirit that we have, we do it in relay form, shipping it forward to the next person to make sure that someone is sick at all times for a little over a month now. Being sick myself is no fun, but on the other hand, having a sick Toddler Sunshine or Baby Salaryman is not much fun either and a sick Mrs. Sunshine leaves the two kids all under my supervision which is almost as exhausting as it is being sick. Most of the times two members of the family have been sick as well...

It started with Toddler Sunshine catching a fever a few weeks ago. The first day she was ok in the morning, although obviously feverish. Mrs. Sunshine took her to the clinic where she received some nice suppositories (glad I don't need those) while I was off to work. During work I get some mails from Mrs. Sunshine with health updates, each getting a little worse than the next as her fever had gone up past 40 degrees. By the end of the day she was getting really worried and was drifting in and out of consciousness. As we both have the view that it's better to call the ambulance one time too many than one time too few she called the ambulance as I was on my way home.

I arrived home just in time for the ambulance arriving and Toddler Sunshine looked alarmingly out of it. The paramedics were great though and took her and me and Mrs. Sunshine with us in the ambulance. Just to embarrass us Toddler Sunshine started coming back to life when in the ambulance, still highly feverish but looking curiously around and responding to us talking to her. After some cursory check-ups the ambulance took off, with the red lights and siren on (giving the Mama Mafia much to speculate on the next day) taking us to the closest hospital with an open pediatric emergency ward. 

As we arrived to the hospital, Toddler Sunshine decided to make us look even more the fools by waking up a bit more and actually giving out a laugh or two between looking sick. The emergency doc checked her up and quickly declared that "this is not an emergency, I'll give her something for the fever but you can go back home". I was slightly annoyed that he didn't run at least a few tests just for the sake of it, but as we were happy to see that she was seemingly getting better we did not push our luck and went out to pay the bill.

I was expecting a hefty sum due to the ambulance, even though the insurance coverage is available in Japan, it does not cover all expenses and it can sometimes be quite costly. However, I was presented with a grand bill of 200 yen ($2 USD) which I paid, thinking that the rest of the cost was being calculated and would be invoiced to us later on or. However when I told Mrs. Sunshine this she matter-of-factly stated that the children's insurance coverage in the area we live cover basically all the cost and the maximum amount that we ever have to pay is 200 yen. 

To me, this has opened up completely new opportunities! Instead of calling a taxi or driving ourselves, we will now try to call an ambulance instead under the pretense that one of the kids are sick and insist on that they take us to a hospital close to where we want to go. I do pay taxes here after all so it should be within my right!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Commuter Terrorists - The Dive Bomber

When he comes crashing down...
One of the most valuable things that you can hope to achieve in the commuter hell is an available seat. Having a seat means that you are shielded from the battle raging back and forth among the poor sods standing in front of you. A seat can mean the difference between a horrible ride and a reasonably comfortable one. The Sleeper Agents may try to invade your space, but they are reasonably easy to repel most of the time.

Having a seat usually gives two hands free to pick up the iPad, book, gaming device or phone to read a magazine, book, play a game or watch a movie compared to how both hands often are needed when standing just to be able to remain standing due to the ebb and flow of the passengers as the train accelerates, brakes, twist and turn. The seat is sacred and worth fighting for. Experienced Subway Warriors know this and respect what the seat stands for and the personal space it provides.

However, one Commuter Terrorist that you can encounter is the Dive Bomber... The Dive bomber sees an open seat next to you, often an available seat with limited space between two sitting Subway Warriors. The Dive Bomber turns around and very ungracefully dumps his ass (female Dive Bombers are very rare as most a larger than average body size is required) with horrible accuracy, half ending up in your lap with quite some force, before he roughly goes ahead to squeeze himself down in the seat. Sometimes some Terrorists starts off as Dive Bombers and when comfortably squeezed in the seat, turn into Sleeper Agents...

On the other hand, inexperienced commuters can often be identified by how carefully they check behind them (often profusely apologizing) and lower their behind in slow-motion, careful to not accidentally touch any of the passengers on either side of the seat they are targeting. These amateurs are slightly annoying but at least try to do their best to not invade any personal space.

However a true Subway Warrior has perfected the sitting down into a work of art. You can tell an experienced Subway Warrior from the way he/she sits down in a seat with limited space. Basically the move from standing to basically pouring oneself down in the seat in one fluid motion, quickly and if brushing the persons on either side ever so slightly, quickly compensating to just pour into place.

For those of you reading this and are dedicated to the Way of the Subway Warrior, my advice to you on how to master the art of sitting down on the train is: 

Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like Teflon. Empty your mind, be formless, frictionless — like Teflon. Be Teflon, my friend. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The true face of fear...

You shouldn't have gone on the slide before the change!
After I became a father, first to toddler Sunshine and then Baby Salaryman my priorities in life has changed radically. My outlook to life is probably about the same, but having kids has changed the way I look upon life. The biggest change is of course that it's not all about me anymore, of course Mrs. Sunshine and the family has always been important, but in the end they can take care of themselves. With small children you have to watch out for them and put their needs ahead of your own.

My fears have also changed considerably. Before I had children, my greatest fear was perhaps becoming paralyzed after a horrible accident, getting a nasty form of brain cancer or something similar. 

However, now, my greatest fear is realizing that Toddler Sunshine just did a nasty poo, reaching for the diaper only to have her running away giggling, getting on a slide and slowly making her way down applying great friction to her butt and turning a somewhat nasty, but salvageable, situation into a clean-up nightmare...

(Also for some reason Mrs. Sunshine strongly dislikes it when I measure the fecal output of Toddler Sunshine in estimation of grams as it reminds her of packages of minced meat, which is oddly enough what I use in my head for comparison... Women are odd...


Monday, October 8, 2012

Kim Jong Un Sends Autographs to Officials and Workers of Various Units

(First of all, again, sorry for the lack of posting! Some travel in work resulting in over two weeks of continuous jet-lag made the blog suffer a bit. Also, sorry for starting to use the annoying word verification when writing comments but recently I've gotten flooded with over 50 spam comments a day...

A recent hot news from the KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY of DPRK that I felt was too good to not share with you all:

Pyongyang, October 4 (KCNA) -- The dear respected Kim Jong Un sent autographs to officials and other workers at various units and teachers and students on Sept. 13 and 27 after reading their letters.

In the letters they expressed their determination to make a dynamic advance in close unity under the leadership of the party, bearing deep in mind warm love and trust shown by the great men of Mt. Paektu.

Among them were officials and employees of the Tanchon Area General Mining Bureau, the construction site of Orangchon Power Station, Electric Power Designing Institute No. 1, Pyongyang Tangogi Restaurant, Phyongnam Noodle Restaurant and the Wheat Cake Stuffed with Roast Chicken Shop of the Kumsong Foodstuff Factory and builders and teachers and students of Sibyon Secondary School of Thosan County, North Hwanghae Province.

In the letters they reflected their ardent reverence and loyalty to Marshal Kim Jong Un who helps them make a leaping advance with the same loving care as that shown by Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

They vowed to invariably follow Kim Jong Un to repay for his loving care in the road of successfully carrying forward the revolutionary cause of Juche started on Mt. Paektu in keeping pace with his footsteps despite any storm and stress.

They wholeheartedly wished Marshal Kim Jong Un good health for the eternal prosperity of Songun Korea and happiness of all generations to come, representing the best wishes of all servicepersons and people.

(Seriously, I don't think any witty comment I could write here would make it more funny than it already is, so I won't)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Visits from the Overlords

I've been working in the Japanese subsidiary of a foreign company now for almost ten years. During this time I've quit often had visitors from global functions in the head office come visit us in Japan for various purposes. Most of the time customer visits are scheduled for these visits. Taking non-Japanese people from global functions to visit customers can be an interesting and sometimes terrifying experience, all depending on how Japan experienced and/or culturally sensitive the person is. 

Although I could generalise the ease in terms of country of origin of the visitor, based on my experience, the most critical point is the personality and attitude of the visitor. Some people are overly concerned about adhering to Japanese business etiquette, having devoured books about the "do's" and "don't do's" before their visits, usually resulting in awkwardness as the person is trying too hard to bow just the right angle, trying to mimic the way Japanese hand over business cards only to get it wrong (wrong side towards speaking partner is a common mistake). I've even met people who, before their visit, have had business cards in faulty Japanese printed (usually resulting in giggles)...

Generally, most Japanese customers welcome visitors from the head office,some because they find it fun or interesting to meet foreigners, some because they realise that the people from the head office are our (i.e. Japanese subsidiary) overlords with deeper pockets and the power to start projects that could benefit them. Very rarely does a customer decline a request from us to set up a meeting/visit and sometimes it can be actively demanded from us. However, from the local subsidiary perspective it can sometimes create problems...

For your education and possible amusement, I've here compiled profiles over the most difficult visitors.

1. The Over-Enthusiastic Promise Giver

These guys/gals are usually really excited about being in Japan, meet our customers and can't wait to work with them. Their intent is usually very good but problems can come when they start to promise A) Stuff that the Japan team are not able to deliver on (budget or legal restraints) or B) Stuff that they have not properly secured in HQ and later casually cancel via an e-mail to us... These guys/gals don't realise that promises are not given casually in Japan and can cause us significant distress and efforts in cleaning up afterwards and trying to find ways to compensate the customer for the disappointment and problems caused by the broken promise(s).

2. The Japan "Veteran"

These guys are thankfully few and in-between but I have encountered these on occasion, almost always in senior management positions. This type has visited Japan countless times and believe that they know exactly what they're doing and have no need to learn anything more. This type is often loud and abrasive towards the customer (even though they dial it down a little compared to their domestic attitude). Some of these are so confident in their cultural proficiency that they sprinkle in Japanese words and use "-san" as a suffix to names, but fail to use it the appropriate way... In the best case they are merely considered as "odd".

3. The "Just-like-home" Guy/Gal

This group of people is relatively common. Although the above type 1 might have been trying a little too hard in understanding Japanese business culture, this character has not been trying at all. If anything, he/she does not understand why things cannot be done exactly like home. Although slightly annoying, they usually do not cause any huge problems as the customers might not understand what the person is going on about but chalks all breaches of etiquette up to "I guess that's how he/she does it at home". In terms of fallout, it's usually quite easily managed by an additional visit from the Japanese team to explain what the person actually meant and then things can continue as usual.

The people that I find easiest to bring to Japanese customers are those who don't try too hard. Of course, being nonchalant, slouching in the chair etc. is a big no-no, but people who smile, listen to the other person speaking and behaving calmly and friendly are easy to bring t customers and hardly ever create any problems.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Down in the Cave

Again, sorry about the lack of posting and commenting on people's blogs, a combination of business at work, busy at home with the small kids and the return of the summer heat keep my energy pretty low...

While walking home from the train today I had my iPod on, listening to an old playlist and the song Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy started playing. Although I hold the song as one of the best songs ever made it's so firmly implanted in my mind that I rarely feel like I need to listen to it.

It made me recall a hot summer night close to 15 years ago when I was visiting Tokyo with a bunch of friends and a late night in the Shinjuku Kabukicho me and my buddy Henrik found a hole in the wall place that we thought seemed interesting due to the post-punk music band posters plastered around the entrance. The place was called "The Cave" if I'm not mistaken. My buddy was a guitar based indie music kinda guy while I was more of an EBM-head (Industrial music) but we had a common ground in that we both liked the classic old school goth bands.

The place was empty except for the bartender managing the place and was literally only 5 or so seats at the bar counter. The drinks were expensive as we were students, but for some reason this night we didn't care that much. The bartender handed us a book with a huge list of the songs she had on CD so we could pick which ones she should play. I remember me picking Nine While Nine and both of us agreeing that it was the best song ever made, we spent over 2 hours there drinking and going through Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxe and the Banshees and other post-punk goth bands although I remember some debate erupting as to whether the Fields of the Nephilim was good or not (me arguing for, him against).

Nothing particularly exciting or interesting happened that night, no girls, no strange encounters, just us listening to the music and talking; mostly about the music. Still, for some reason it's one of the nights out in Tokyo I remember the best. Good times.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Involuntary Education

The choreography was probably from an app
There is a certain type of mother that is infamous here in Japan; the "Education Mom" (教育ママ). The Education Mom's are known for their extreme focus on the education of their kids, starting from a young age and drilling the kids to get into the right kindergarten so it then can get into the right elementary school, right high-school and then finally, the most prestigious university. These are the types of parents who put their kids in all kinds of cram schools and putting pressure on the kids to get the highest grades from a very early age. I guess it's not a uniquely Japanese thing as these kinda parents exist all over the globe, but I would think that there's more of them in Asia with the focus on education (as exemplified by the whole Tiger Mom deal).

Needless to mention, me and Mrs. Sunshine does not take this approach. As toddler Sunshine is just a little over two years now our efforts in educating her are very mild and more focused on getting her to say "thank you" and "please" with very little to show for it. However, the iPad is packed with apps for her to play with, some puzzles, annoying songs, simple games but also some educational apps on English, counting and learning the ABC. 

The other day we were standing in an elevator and had just pushed the button to the floor  we were going to when Toddler Sunshine happily started pointing at the numbers and reading them, later in the day during dinner she started spelling out the text written on her plate (a Hello Kitty plate if you must know) shocking both me and Mrs. Sunshine. 

This is fantastic news for us though as we can just let the iPad handle all her education and we don't have to bother sitting down with her and going through numbers and the alphabet! We can just outsource all of that to the iPad. The next thing I need to start looking for is if there are any apps out there that can teach her to become an ethical responsible adult as that seems to be a real hassle to teach. Although most urgently I am hoping to find an app that either teaches her to change her own diapers or one that trains her on the potty!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Working with Americans...

I feel mentally finished
Generally, I am pretty comfortable working with Americans. At least there's no language barrier there, but having business meetings with Americans usually leave me quite exhausted. Us from Sweden, we come from a cold and harsh country where communication is kept to a bare minimum. I did a post on it a while back (see here).

Having a meeting with Americans usually requires at least twice the time compared to a meeting with the same agenda with only Japanese people. The reason is that Americans like to hear their own voice and be active in the meeting, irrespective whether they actually have anything to contribute or not. I just came out of a meeting and it went something like this (discussing a product launch):

Mr. Salaryman: So, all things considered, I think that we should focus our promotional message on the usability of the device and also highlight the user interface that we designed especially for Japan
American 1 Mike: Yeah, I think it would make sense to focus our messaging on the usability because that's one of needs we want to address, but the user interface is important too
American 2 Jessica: I agree with what you guys just said, the user interface is really nice to show but in the end the usability is where we make or break it so that's our core focus
American 3 Ray: I think Jessica really hit an important point there, the interface is really unique so that's definitely something that we want to include in our messaging so let's position that after the usability
Mr. Salaryman: OK, that's great, sounds like we're all in agreement then, let's focus on usability first and then the user interface in our messaging
Jessica: I completely agree, usability first, then interface
Mike: Definitely usability, then interface
Ray: Sounds fantastic, let's just not forget to include the user interface
Mr. Salaryman: (Screaming inside my head: IF WE WERE ALL IN AGREEMENT FROM THE BEGINNING, WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS??!!!) For sure, let's not forget that. Shall we move on to the next point?
Jessica: I really like the concept of the usability as the pillar in communication
Mike: Yeah, it's a fantastic concept!
Mr. Salaryman: (checking out and hums the A-team theme song inside my head until the heated discussion about something we all agree on finally dies out)

I find it mentally exhausting, but at least people are friendly and talkative...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What're you up to?

What's he up to?
Two months into the relentless Japanese summer, it's hard to muster up enough energy to go to the bathroom anymore, let alone update the blog. I try to tell myself that in just a little less than a month things will start to cool down a bit.

Meanwhile, while I try to gather up energy to write the post that I took this picture from. Can any of my incredibly clever readers figure out what this little fella has been up to? The picture is taken from a poster seen in some places in Tokyo.

The real post will follow later on...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The lack of good deodorant and the horrors it cause...

No, it's her pretty little...
I've lived in Japan now a little over ten years and over just these ten years life has become much more convenient. Obviously things like e-mail, Facebook, Internet news, bittorrent with easy download of tv-shows and magazines from the home country has made it much easier to stay connected to old friends and the news on what's going on in the old country. Over these ten years Internet shopping has also evolved considerably and since a few years back the Japanese Amazon online shop has plenty of reasonably priced import stuff available through themselves or any of the companies that sell through them. Stuff like Swedish books, newspapers and magazines I can also easily get digitally for the iPad. 

Smaller import shops are also getting much more common and since last year our local import shop of the "Kaldi" chain started selling some popular Swedish brands of food carrying even those pickled red beets that no one but the Swedes (and possibly the Finns and Russians) eat. Just earlier in the year they also started selling Swedish instant mashed potato. So nowadays there are very few things that I can't get my filthy hands on here in Japan. I shudder to think how those people who lived here before the advent of e-mail, Internet and fast and cheap shipments to Japan managed to survive far away from the home country and the news over there... 

However, there is one thing that the Japanese have yet to fully discover... The benefits of using deodorant during the hot summer months... It's practically impossible to get one's hands on a decent can of deodorant here, the few brands that are available through pharmacies mostly seem to be perfume with very little longer term effect against the sweating and stink. Nor has it been particularly easy to find online either and in previous years I have been hoarding up on it during overseas trips only recently found an online shop that carried the brands that I want to use. 

But the real problem isn't me and deodorant, the real problem is the lack of usage overall here in Japan. Particularly the train rides can turn into marathon sessions of armpit stink surrounding me on all fronts and being the only person actually using deodorant gives me little help or comfort... Someone needs to start a serious "armpit odour awareness" week here in Japan... Just a couple of more months I keep telling myself and soon autumn will be here... 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Condoms of Japan

As me and Mrs. Sunshine are quite happy with the two little critters we have managed to produce with no immediate wish to further expand the family we use the well proven method of birth control through condoms. As the stock was running a little low I took it upon me to order some more through Amazon.

I buy foreign brand condoms since I know that the size and quality is something I'm comfortable with. After some searching I found a brand I like, 100 condoms in one package (hey, I know I'm overreaching here as two small kids and an active sex-life doesn't really add up, but better to have too many than lacking when we get to it!) and was going to go ahead and buy it when I noticed that the review score was only one star out of five... To make sure to avoid a wrong purchase I checked out the review to see what the problem might be. It was a short, slightly bitter sounding review in Japanese saying something like "I thought this was a great deal but when I tried it I realised that it's not made in Japanese size, I'm really disappointed". That sealed the deal for me as I wanted to avoid "Japanese size".

But there are also many Japanese brand condoms that I felt very tempted to try out and thought I should give you a quick rundown on the brands that I felt were very interesting and what personality types they might be targeting in their marketing. I have earlier done some research into the condom market of Japan (see post here) but thought I should update it a little with this new information.

1. For the guy with a lot of built up aggression - Hokuto-no-ken

I think the picture speaks for itself. I can just imagine the powerful impact that a pack of these might have during a hot date when the girl asks "wait, do you have a condom?". Pulling out a package of these surely will show that you're a guy that doesn't mess around and take lovemaking very very seriously.

2. For the Player - Gokuusu 0.03

Which girl wouldn't be completely and thoroughly impressed with a guy who pulls out a pack of these? The picture on the package very clearly signals that this is a guy who knows what he wants and how to please the women! The picture is slightly censored by me as the actual picture is so hot and sexy that it's sure to make the blood get pumping in men and female alike.

3. For the Guy who doesn't really want to have sex - Rilakkuma

These condoms take it a bit safer and are probably made for the guys who actually doesn't really want to get laid, but rather sit around and play cards instead. The image confuses me a bit, either it signals a preference to playing cards or the bears and duck sit around playing cards waiting for their friends to finish making love? The expression on the white bear also makes me a bit confused, either she (?) is sad because the guy she fancies is sleeping with someone else or she already got hers but wasn't really comfortable with the experience?

4. For the Guy who is more concerned with manicure - The "Findom" Finger Condoms
I'm not sure what to say here so I'll just keep my mouth shut...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This wasn't in the job description... (the insects...)

No, I would not do her whatever you would offer!
So far I think I've handled the family life here in Japan pretty OK if I may say so myself. I get along well with the neighbours, have toddler Sunshine play well with the swarm of children around her age roaming the streets of our little enclave.

Among the younger children in the neighbourhood, it seems like boys are in a majority and although I have gotten some minor concerns about Baby Salaryman from observing them play, it's mostly minor stuff like accepting the fact that Baby Salaryman is bound to be more excited by some form of Power Rangers, Gamen Rider and Gundam Giant Robots than Superman, Spider-man and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Although I find the prospect of this somewhat alarming I also realize that it will be a losing battle to try and fight it straight on and have come to terms that it's what happens when you raise a boy in Japan.

However, now in the hot summer months I realised another terrible thing that will be extremely hard to avoid... The insects... Japanese kids love to catch insects, trap them in containers and keep them as some form of pets. These insects are nothing like an innocent ant-farm, we're talking real beasts here like the Rhinoceros Beetle that can be of the size of almost a fully grown persons palm of the hand. Then of course an assortment of other larger sized insects with legs, antennas and nasty stuff all over the place. To my horror I heard that the kids catch these monster bugs in our local small park during the night, supported by their fathers who help them find and catch the bugs...

As you might already have figured out, I have difficulties with bugs. Granted, the fear, disgust and hatred I feel for the cockroach is special but I there is no love lost between me and bugs in general. I did not realise that being a good father here in Japan included encouraging my male offspring to hunt and play with these monster bugs. I guess I have another couple of years to figure out how to manage this, but perhaps I can outsource this part of Japanese parenthood to the father-in-law and keep our house bug-free? any case, I think I might have found out the reason why Insect Porn actually has a market here in Japan...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Commuter Terrorists - The sleeper Agent

Give her a Bag Battering and she'll wake up!

The Sleeper Agent is one of the most basic enemies you will encounter in the commuter war. They're basically cannon fodder and basic grunts that pose no real threat to an experienced Subway Warrior. However they can be highly annoying to deal with. The sleeper agents come in all shapes and can be young, or old, male or female. 

What the Sleeper Agent does is sleep. He/she likes to sleep during the commute and particularly likes to do so when sitting next to you. He/she often finds the lack of pillows on the train inconvenient but makes up for this oversight by using the person next to him/her instead. The sleeper agent typically start nodding off slowly and carefully, probing the ground before a full on assault. It starts with a head briefly brushing against your hand or shoulder and then returning to the upright position as the person seem to be aware that he/she might be causing some discomfort to the subject. However, if you do not strongly mark your territory another intrusion is sure to occur. Depending on the aggressor it can be a series of brushes lasting slightly longer and longer or it can be an immediate and full on "head on shoulder" invasion to the precious private space on the train.

I have now successfully fended off these annoying combatants on a regular basis and the key is to put down your foot early and scare off any further attempts. The basic move that I perform when a sleeper agent is probing the ground is the "Quick Shoulder Shrug". The move consists of a quick shoulder shrug, keeping the body apart from the shoulder perfectly still. Speed is also of essence, it should be performed quickly without any other visible sign of annoyance; you should keep reading that book, playing with your phone or whatever it is you're doing. Often this move is all it takes to scare the aggressor off, either waking them up or going for easier prey on the other side.

The move is sure to at least temporarily stave off any attempts but in many cases once is not enough in which case I repeat the move, a little harder each time until the aggression is halted or more radical moves are deemed required.

One move that is also available is the "Fake Surrender" where I pretend to give in to the invasion for a few minutes lulling the sleeper into a false security then I suddenly do the "Oops I dropped something on the floor and need to pick it up" and in an instant remove the stable ground from the aggressor. On rare very successful occasions this can cause the sleeper to free fall to the seat behind you and is sure to both wake them up an shame them into submission. Remember to look at them afterwards like you think he/she is crazy to amp up the shame a notch.

There are times when the Shoulder Shrug is not enough to scare off determined aggressors and the Fake Surrender is not suitable. Those are the times I take to weapons to hold my ground! My weapon of choice is my business bag that I usually have in my lap during the train rides. I first slyly move my upper body slightly away from the aggressor who slowly follows in hope of regaining its new found pillow. Due to the magic of gravity it usually means that the aggressor also leans slightly forward, I wait for a few precious seconds, move the bag in my lap slightly towards the aggressor and then quickly pump my knee upwards in a quick movement lunging the bag quick and hard against the vulnerable face of the aggressor. This move basically always work leaving the aggressor semi-awake and in pain without realising exactly what really happened. I call this move the "Bag Battering".

Again, during all this, I can't stress the importance enough of acting like everything is perfectly fine. The reason for this is to avoid escalating the conflict to a train rage incidence. After all, these moves are highly effective but should only ever be used in self defence when all peaceful options has been exhausted.

However, there are times when even I surrender, either by getting up and standing or let the invasion run its course... The Drunk Sleeper Agent is the most fearsome type as they are particularly insensitive to pain, reek of sweat and alcohol and are unrelenting in their invasion attempts; The Terminators of the Sleeper Agents if you will. Know when to run and when to make a stand! Another fearsome scenario is having Sleeper Agents on both sides simultaneously attempting an invasion forcing you to fight a war on two fronts...

Remember the first rule of the Subway Warrior: There are no innocents and all aggressors should be dealt with extreme prejudice, women and men alike are fair game. The only people who should be spared are younger children (teenagers are fair game!) and frail elderly. This might sound hard and merciless, but that is the way of the Subway Warrior! Some of the most toughest Subway Warriors are women, so keep that in mind and show no mercy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Top 3 Japanese Politicians I despise the most

I would be the first to admit that I hardly live and breathe Japanese politics, but as I am currently living here with an eye to keep doing so long-term I do keep an eye on what is going on through the news. It hardly helps that Japanese politics is an awful muddled mess of parties, factions within parties and new parties with names that push the boundaries of sanity. 
In this depressive day and age it is unfortunately hard to find much to like about national Japanese politics and very few politicians that stand out as dependable and likable. On the other hand, there are quite a few rubs me the wrong way when they show up on the news... Without further ado, here comes the list of the top three Japanese politicians that I despise the most!

1. Ichiro Ozawa - Former LDP, former DPJ, current Chairman of "The People's life Comes first Party"

Maria is cuter
When it comes to Ozawa's history I admit to being ignorant to him until the DPJ ousted for LDP party out of power and Hatoyama became prime minister of Japan in 2009. It does seem like he has been around the block, so to speak, and a major player in Japanese politics since the beginning of the year 2000 with a past in the LDP before jumping to the DPJ and then now finally creating the new party with the ridiculous name of "The People's life Comes first Party" (yes, it sounds equally stupid in Japanese).

The reason why Ozawa makes the top of the list is a combination of things. First of all, he both look and act the part of the archetype of an old Japanese career politician. The type that milks it for all it's worth and working more to make his way up the ladder than serving the people that elected him in the first place. Although his path to power has been littered with minor scandals and accusations of embezzlement in various forms, he has managed to dodge the bullet every single time and weasel his way back into the top layer of Japanese politics.

In more recent times, he made the news often due to his opposition to the new leadership of the DPJ after the resignation of Hatoyama. From what I can understand, there was no lack of backstabbing and scheming from either camp inside the DPJ but I still find it highly distasteful that a senior official in a party publicly goes against the party leadership, particularly post the March 2011 earthquake disaster when unification was needed the most. Of course one should not stay in a party if one's belief in the policy is gone, but the correct way to do things is to voice criticisms internally and then resign if the situation is not possible to affect. This is what Ozawa did (
finally, about at least a year too late) when he finally left the DPJ with his homies and created the awfully named new party.

But I guess the main reason why I dislike Ozawa is his smug face. The small redeeming factor here was that when I googled for "Ozawa" images in Japanese 99.9% of the hits that came up was from famous half-Japanese porn-star Maria Ozawa which was easier on the eye than Ichiro Ozawa's smug face.

2. Toru Hashimoto - Mayor of Osaka

He's PISSED OFF because he's right and everyone else are ALWAYS WRONG
Toru Hashimoto first came to fame in Japan as part of a panel of lawyers in a Japanese TV show hosted by the now infamous Shinsuke Shimada (see here for the mess surrounding him). When I first came to Japan, I admit to watching the show occasionally and finding it reasonably amusing. In the first couple of years the show focused on actual feasible situations and what the legal implications/consequences could be, filtered through the all-present celebrity guests and then given the verdict from a panel of four lawyers out of which Hashimoto was one.

I stopped watching the show as the focus started to shift from actual cases to more and more ridiculous scenarios and larger focus on the celebrity guests. The times it was on when I flipped through the channels I quickly got annoyed by Shimada's overbearing presence and moved on to the next channel. In the show, I did not particularly despise Hashimoto, he actually seemed quite reasonable although a bit annoying. For a few years I did not see or hear anything about Hashimoto until he became Mayor of the second largest city in Japan; Osaka. 

To his credit, I should at least give him that he's not a typical career politician from a family of politicians and I do get the impression that he at least tries to act in the best interest of the voters. Some people also seem to appreciate that he's very outspoken, (
relatively) young and different compared to the old-school politicians in Japan.
As I do not live in Osaka and therefore his policies does affect me very little and I have very little detailed insight nor interest in those. 

The reason why he comes so high in the ranking is his extremely obnoxious attitude in press conferences and how condescending and self righteous he behaves. There seem to be some strong inferior complex at work and I find it very hard to trust people like that. He has been surrounded by some minor controversies around his policies, the most recent his aggressive condemnation of people with tattoo's working as officials of the city of Osaka. I can personally understand the reasoning why it might not be suitable to have tattoo's in some positions in Japan where tattoo's still are quite strongly associated with organised crime and delinquency, but the way he basically branded everyone with tattoo's as a lower form of people in his press conference before he launched an investigation of the state of the bodies of the city officials in Osaka just felt very badly handled.

3. Shinjiro Koizumi - Elected Member of the House of Representatives

Would you buy a car from him?
Shinjiro is small fry in comparison to Ozawa and Hashimoto clocking in at 31 years of age and still not a real power in national politics, but gets quite the bit of attention as he is the son of former LDP prime minister Junichiro Koizumi (the guy with the funky gray hair who served as prime minister from 2002-2006 after which Japan started to change prime minster on a yearly basis...). The Koizumi family has politics running in their blood with a long line of politicians in their family tree. It should be said that although I never was a huge Junichiro Koizumi fan, I still think that he did not do too bad compared to some of the people before him and at least there was some degree of consistency to politics back in his day.

So why do I despise Koizumi Jnr then? Well, he just comes off as an attention seeking career politician. Every line he says when interviewed comes off as being rehearsed beforehand (
which, on the other hand, when considering some of the more outrageous things that many major Japanese politicians has thrown out during interviews might not be such a bad thing after all...), including pause for increased drama and a more general self-righteous attitude just rubs me the wrong way. Also, that he is for sure groomed for major positions in the future due to his politican lineage just feels wrong to me...

(Dis)Honorable Mention - Shintaro Ishihara - Governor of Tokyo

If you read Japanese this is even more amusing
Ishihara is a loon. Whatever good he might actually do from time to time will always be overshadowed by his many outrageous, insulting and downright bizarre statements that he gladly throws around. These statements have been reported so many times that I will not waste your time and my energy in repeating them (just google him if you don't know him before).

So why does he not get a higher position in this ranking? Well, I think that most people know that he is a bit of a loon and just tend to disregard that part of him. The only reason I can see for him being reelected last year was that the people of Tokyo felt more comfortable with the Devil they knew than any of the newcomers that ran against him. I also think that there's a feeling of "Sure, he's a loon, but he's our loon!".

There you have it! The top three Japanese politicians that I personally despise the most! If you haven't figured it out, take it with a fistful of salt and enjoy their appearances on tv! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hot and miserable...

Otherwise things might catch fire from the heat
Now the Japanese summer heat has struck with a vengeance after a pretty mild June and first half of July... However, as of the weekend we reached temperatures around 34 degrees Celsius here in the Tokyo area with sunshine further heating things up.

With two small children at home the opportunity for a temporary escape more than to an air conditioned room is non-existing. Two months (or if we're lucky, one and a half) more of this and things should start to cool down a bit but that's a pretty long tunnel to go through. The poor folks in the southern island of Kyushu also had to endure record breaking rainfall during the weekend, killing 20 people and destroying numerous homes and now they have a typhoon heading their way... At least I don't live in Kyushu...

Please forgive me for putting my Internet activity on the back-burner at the moment, between Baby Salaryman, Toddler Sunshine, being busy at work and then the heat on top of that I have little energy to allocate to blogging and leaving comments. Hopefully I should get my act together soon. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poor poor little Panda baby...

Some pandas are more sexually aggressive
The shocking news came today... The newborn little panda baby at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo died earlier today from pneumonia after being abandoned by Mommy Panda who couldn't be bothered caring for an annoying screaming little baby when there was bamboo to chew and lots of lying around doing nothing to do.

It was a bit of a big deal with a newborn panda in Japan as the cute little giant panda's apparently have a notoriously low sex-drive so it was all over the news when the baby panda had been born (
every news segment eagerly watched by Toddler Sunshine who happily exclaimed "Panda!" every time a panda was shown and sometimes mistakenly when one of the zookeepers was shown talking).

Ok, it was disappointing and a little sad that the little critter didn't make it but my sadness was kept in line a bit by the fact that newborn pandas looks more like little hairless rats than the cute panda bears that they grow up to be. Also, the fact that the pandas are on loan from China and that the little offspring would have to be handed over to the Chinese authorities at the age of two (
probably for intense debriefing and intense political schooling in communism after his time in Japan).

There you have it, that's the biggest news that Japan have the energy to muster up in the current summer heat that turned up the volume for real from yesterday... Screw power saving, I need those fans, ice-packs and air-conditioning!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Well hello Mr. Fancypants!

Not quite this fancy...
Recently I have managed to stay mostly clear of the creepy security guard (see post here) and almost forgotten that he roamed the hallways of the company headquarters.

However, today, as I was walking through the corridors on my way from a meeting, thinking about one issue that had came up and not completely aware of my surroundings I hear a voice call out "
Well, hello there Mr. Salaryman!". As I look up, I realize that Mr. Creepy Security guard is standing right in front of me with a big creepy smile. Slightly confused and surprised I mumble back "Hello, how are you?". He does a half step out of the way and as I pass by he says "that's some fancy pants you have on today", again confused I stop and turn to him and say "sorry, what?" to which he says "I said that's some nice fancy pants you have on today, really nice" and reaches out to touch them on my thigh... Even more confused and thrown completely off-guard I continue walk and says "You think, this is just ordinary pants you know...", behind me I hear "they're nice..." before I can turn a corner to safety.

For the sake of the matter it should be mentioned that the pants in question were quite regular dark cargo pants purchased at Uniqlo for a modest sum and can hardly be defined as "fancy" anyway you look at it.

A few minutes later I started to feel a bit sexually harassed.... Ok, the touching was very brief and superficial but also completely uncalled for. But I also feel that I brought it upon myself wearing those pants as I should realize that it will cause some people to react like this. I can't really blame him, I just have to take care to not wear as fancy pants to work.

But the laws of nature goes completely against it, I'm a pretty big Western (
at least semi-Western) guy working in Japan and if there's to be any sexual harassment around me I should be the one dealing it out or at least give my implicit approval to inappropriate comments about the female staff made from my colleagues. The world has turned upside down on me and now I need to start hiding from the Mr. Creepy Security Guard...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hard sell

Something like this with less colors
(First of all, apologies for the lack of posting recently, it's a combination of work, early summer heat and little baby that has been draining me of energy to blog lately)

I am currently managing the launch of a new breakthrough medical technology here in Japan and busy trying to convince doctors to start using in and generate plenty of nice cash for us. The sales reps are of course in charge of the actual heavy lifting when it comes to
the sales but I take care of what's called "KOLs" (Key-Opinion-Leaders, i.e. the doctors that have the power to influence other docs to use it) and sometimes get called in to help out for especially high potential but tough sells.

Me and the local sales rep had been working on one of the most prestigious medical university hospitals here in Japan, having quite a few meeting with doctors trying to convince them to start using the technology, but had not yet had any clear success or promises. The docs seemed interested but a little hesitant to change their treatment strategies. A few days ago I got a call from the rep who had set up a meeting with the professor of cardiovascular surgery and the guy who had enough power in the hospital to make a clear decision. From what we had gathered, the professor was very interested but had a few quite big concerns that we somehow had to alleviate him of.

I prepared for the meeting q
uite thoroughly to make sure I could respond to any concerns as this hospital using or not using would have quite significant impact in the surrounding area and in related hospitals.

Although I felt as prepared as I could be we were still quite nervous on the meeting due to the importance and the reputation of the professor to be quite harsh with industry reps.

We got called in to his office and the conversation went something like this:

Sales Rep: (
sales reppy cheery) Good morning Professor, we are from company X and I brought with me Salaryman from our head office.
Professor: (dismissively) Yeah yeah yeah, what's this about, I'm quite busy you know!
Me: (trying to be equally reppy cheery) Well Professor, we would like to get the chance to introduce technology X to you that is completely new to Japan and possibly hear your thoughts on it?
Professor: (suddenly friendly) Oh yeah! I've heard of that, seems like the best thing ever! We're definitely going to start using it!
Sales Rep: (temporarily shaken) You know of it?
Professor: Yeah, I've been waiting for it, we'll use it all the time! Seems great! 
(A few seconds of silence, notably not awkward as me and the rep were considerably relieved and shocked)
Professor: (still friendly) So please, I'm all ears!
Me: (keeping his mouth shut but saying it loudly in my head) Nope, that was all, we're all done, thanks and bye!

As the main reason we came was solved and we really didn't have anything else we wanted to get out of the meeting the rest of the conversation focused on small talk and petty practical stuff as when we could start shipping the product...

If only all appointments would go this smoothly... 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Adopted Koreans

In my generation, born in the 70's, growing up in Sweden, there was a lot of Koreans adopted by Swedes. Most schools had a few kids born in Korea, but as they were raised in Sweden by Swedish adoptive parents from a very young age they're basically as Swedish as they can get apart from their Asian looks.
Unknown to many, he was actually raised in Sweden and goes by the name Lasse Svensson

When I'm in Sweden I don't really think about it and apart from briefly noting that they're of Korean ethnicity in my head when I meet one there's nothing really separating them from other Swedes. When I'm in Sweden this comes completely natural.

However, a while back I met an old Swedish friend here in Tokyo for drinks and he brought with him another Swedish friend of his own who happened to be an adopted Korean. This caused my brain to completely short-circuit... 

I have two basic settings in my head; one is for interacting with Westerners (in Swedish or English doesn't really matter, the setting is the same) and the occasional Japanese who grew up overseas or for some other reason is fluent in English and get the jokes. The second setting is my Japanese mode which I switch to when interacting with Japanese people. Obviously the default language here is Japanese (or in more rare cases simplified English) and all the Japanese unwritten "rules" on how to interact with the person in front of me come into play (what is my relation to the person in question? Who is senior? etc. etc.). I've lived and worked in Japan long enough now that this comes natural.

What caused my brain to completely short-circuit when meeting the Swedish-Korean guy was to have in front of me a person looking completely like a Japanese guy making my brain involuntarily switch into Japanese mode (he was dressed in a suit as well as it was after-work, further pushing my brain into the Japanese-business mode). But every time he spoke, with a heavy West-Swedish accent, it made my brain switch back to Western mode. My brain kept switching back and forth, short-circuiting several times until I hit the 4th beer as alcohol often makes my brain settle on one mode and puts the other one to rest...


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Meeting Ninja

The dogs were kinda hard without a throwing weapon...
Last night I had a teleconference with a bunch of people from head office to discuss one issue that affects one of the products I'm looking after. Late night teleconferences are not unusual as Japan often gets handed the short end of the stick when several continents are involved and it's notoriously hard to get people from other departments in the Japanese subsidiary to participate as they usually just shovel it unto us in business development and blame us if the laundry lists of topics we get handed doesn't have time to get covered.

However, in the meeting last night I managed to convince one of the regulatory team that he really should be in the meeting as regulatory issues would be the main topic and it would be best for everyone if he was in the meeting. He seemed to reluctantly agree that he probably should call in.

Come 11PM and I call in to the meeting and not to my big surprise I don't hear his name and assumed that my hope that he would actually call in was futile. In any case, the meeting goes reasonably well and close without any big misunderstandings or issue. I'm not particularly annoyed that he didn't call in as that would have been a huge paradigm shift in attitude to late night meetings, but a little disappointed as I felt that I had almost convinced him.

Then to my big surprise, this morning as I had just come in to the office and gotten started on my first of countless cups of coffee, the regulatory guy calls me up and says "
So Salaryman, I was in that meeting yesterday and I think it was really good that you asked me to participate. I just want to compare some notes with you on what went down". Cue me almost choking on the coffee as I had done all the talking from the Japan side with no clue at all whatsoever that he actually had been in on the call. "Wait, what? You were in the meeting the whole time? Why didn't you say anything?!" I managed to squeeze out in surprise. "Well, I thought you were taking care of things and I don't feel so comfortable in speaking English, so I just listened in" he blurts out like it's the most natural thing in the world.

I think this kind of meeting participating needs a category of its own and I think that "Meeting Ninja" would be a good label to put on this. Being a meeting Ninja means that you join the meeting undetected and slip out without anyone realizing that you were there in the first place... This is probably a lot harder to do in video conferences or face to face meetings though... 
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