Friday, May 30, 2008

Capturing it from another angle

First of all, if you allow me a moment to be a little serious here, I in no way intend to make fun of the human tragedy that occurred with the earthquakes in the Sichuan area of China . My company has donated substantial dollar amounts of medical equipment as support and I know that my colleagues in China has been working round the clock to try and help as many people as possible with little thought to their own safety or comfort. That the Japanese government also reacted quickly in dispatching expert search teams and momentary help was a nice change since the Japanese government is not generally known for fast and decisive action.

That said, when I heard the news, my first reaction was “No! What about the food!” since I am no expert in Chinese geography but for me the Sichuan area is closely associated with the best Chinese food! The Sichuan region is famous for the spicy dishes, a bit different from the (in my opinion) slightly boring Cantonese or Peking Chinese food. With China being a significant presence in the region the disaster obviously got a lot of media attention from Japanese news.

Although there has been no lack of serious and detailed reporting about the human tragedy of this event, some other news has been exploring this event from other directions. In consulting we used to call this “capturing it from another angle” and my favorite so far is the TV news that very seriously reported on how this event might have an impact on the supply of spices used in making the delicious Mapo Dofu
dish that is very popular here in Japan (although in a slightly bland version compared with the spicy real deal). In the light of possibly 70,000 dead this important aspect of the tragedy really needs to be explored further and efforts should be put in to secure alternate routes to ensure that we, the inhabitants of the Japanese island, do not have to go without Mapo Dofu for any extended time! Surely this tragedy is bad enough as it is?

…the cynical part of me can’t help but thinking that this event came very timely for the Chinese regime, diverting attention from their questionable actions in Tibet and disregard for basic human rights that came into focus with the Olympic drawing closer…

Thursday, May 29, 2008

War... is Hell!!!

This is actually not really a recent topic or anything. But one thing in the news in Japan a couple of years ago made me realize the true horrors of war. I grew up in the peaceful country of Sweden and moved to the similarly peaceful country of Japan so I’ve been fortunate to never have been confronted directly with the horrors of war, of course I understand on an abstract intellectual level, the horror of war, but never really truly emotionally.

It was in the aftermath of the US war of aggression/liberation of Iraq (take your pick between the two or somewhere in between), Japan sent a regiment of troops to assist in peacekeeping efforts under U.N. coordination, something that was highly controversial in Japan since Japanese troops on foreign soil can be a very sensitive subject among some of Japan’s neighbors and in national politics. Be that as it may, the troops were sent in 2004 and put up camp in the outback of Iraq .

A Japanese television news team was there to document the historical event and I clearly remembered the reporter talking about the harshness of the Iraq desert and the condition that the troops had to live under. He emphasized how water was scarce and had to be utilized efficiently and then he dropped the bomb: "Water is so scarce here that they can’t even wash the rice before they cook it!”"

It hit me like a ton of bricks as I sat in my comfortable apartment watching the news on my flat widescreen TV purchased with salaryman money. The true horror of war... Not even enough water to wash the rice before cooking it! My view on war will never ever be the same...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In the land of the Gods

As you might have realized, my latest travels took me to the head office of my new beloved corporate head office together with a couple of my fully Japanese salarymen colleagues. To some extent I enjoy taking my colleagues to the base and show them how things are done in Europe and get them exposed to a different corporate culture than that of Japan.

Also, when I get to the head office, I drop all pretense of being a Japanese style Salaryman and get into the vibe of the head office and the more informal ways over there which sometimes shocks my colleagues since it's unthinkable for them for someone to say "Hey there Kenny, what's up!" to someone in a very senior position, something that is just natural for me and not considered impolite or out of order where I'm from.

The respect my colleagues has for people in the "Head Office" is sometimes a bit annoying and one of my colleagues seemed to believe that basically anyone, regardless of department, position or other surrounding factors, would have authority to make important decisions about the Japan market. So basically anyone we met he tried to get approval for small things and I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was barking at the wrong tree and actually helped him with translations and gently tried to tell him that this was neither the right person, the right department nor the right timing. I think he must've felt like he was in the land of the Gods but the Gods were too busy to give attention to his petty things...
So close, but so far away...

Monday, May 26, 2008

All the things that I hate...

I have been thinking of starting up a new category here on this little haven on the Internet which I am thinking of calling “things that I hate”. However, I’m a bit worried that if I do that I will have posted 90,453 posts in less than one month time. So this time, maybe less is more.

As faithful readers might recall, I recently visited a close friends wedding, be that as it may, but one of the things I find highly offensive and very very disturbing was seen there. The use of Bluetooth headsets for the mobile phone and people that leave the headpiece on when doing other stuff. This usage of headsets annoys me immensely! I do understand it if you work in telemarketing a switchboard or somewhere where your job is using the phone. But wearing one on private time, for private purposes and not even taking the stupid thing off during the God-Jesus damned wedding ceremony?!

In Japan , this is thankfully not very usual at all and most sensible Japanese people use the headset when it serves a purpose, such as driving a car or somewhere when it’s inconvenient to operate the phone with one hand. However, in Europe , this vile habit is widespread and it’s not unusual to see someone apparently talking to himself, gesturing with both hands setting off the “crazy people alarm” inside my head and then see that he/she has one of those stupid things in the ear…

The takeaway message of this little post? What’s the “so what factor” here? Well, it’s pretty simple; don’t do it!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Consulting is about dogs, really

Now, I should start this post by saying that the following I will post is just hearsay and probably nothing more than slander and rumors. But gives an interesting insight in how great management consultant companies could work sometimes and for any readers working in a corporate setting which might involve consultants could give some warning on what to look out for…

According to hearsay, a senior person in a consultant company here in Tokyo who has been living in another country for some time, is considering moving back and is busy preparing for this. This also means that a loved nasty dog also needs to come back. In order to avoid three long months of horrible quarantine he hoped to avoid that by having all the paperwork in order, that all the shots had been taken etc.

Unfortunately, this was not the case and the Japanese authorities acted as any authority would’ve. They asked for the paperwork to prove that everything was in order. The person realized this and did what any reasonable person would do; he bought a domestic vet off to produce the required documents retroactively to a modest cost of around $200 USD.

Well, so far so good you might think, we have forgery already checked, but better stuff is coming!

Then, he decided that he didn’t want to pay this himself, so he invoiced a (completely unrelated) client this sum and decided that he wanted a little on top of this and added a $100 for good measure…

Then he realized that this too might not be enough, so he puts a team in the office together to produce material (in the great “Power Point” format) to prove that the Japan laws are stupid and why his dog should be allowed into the country. Not realizing that a Japanese official is pretty resistant against power points and would very likely throw him out than listen to a presentation without proper procedure being followed.

Well, as you might have got, nothing of this is confirmed or proven; really, it’s just rumors and slander. But if you should use a management consultant in Tokyo , my advice to you would be to check the receipts for expenses…

Friday, May 23, 2008

“Is there any difference between our two rooms…?”

As mentioned several times before, I visited a friends wedding when I was back in Sweden which was very nice. To add to the context, I should mention that my friend is an active outdoor person and also very active in an association that engages in old Viking traditions such as boat building etc. So that means that many of his friends has similar interests and most guests at the wedding opted to stay for free in an old Viking style house that was available for any guests that were willing to stay there, bring their own sleeping bags etc. As you can understand, as a salaryman, I much prefer the comfort of a real hotel, heated, with blankets and pillows.

A fellow old friend of me and the groom had similar feelings as me and, as the only guests at the wedding, we booked ourselves into a nearby reasonable hotel. The trip down was relatively uneventful, drinking beer and wine together and visiting the local restaurants for another beer at the frequent changes and long waits for the connecting train. But we had plenty of stuff to catch up on, so it was more enjoyable than anything else.

So, we safely end up at the hotel and we check in to our separate rooms. It looks nice enough, a bit country, but that’s just local flavor. My friend heads up to his room on the second floor and I go to get settled into my room on the first floor. To my surprise I find out that the door is open and when I go into the room I first think there’s been a mistake of some kind. The room looks barren, there’s a small bed in the corner and the compulsory hotel furniture (desk and chair) awkwardly scattered in the pretty large and barren room. The view consists of the yard of the hotel with full insight for people that enter and leave the hotel.

I leave the room and head up to my friends room to share that bottle of Polish (or something) mead that he has given alluding promises of. I enter his room and see a very large and nice bed and a beautiful view of the neighboring lake and a beautiful sunset with no possibility of insight from anywhere. I should also add to the story that I booked my room a full week before him who just booked it the day before. As you can understand this annoys me a little and when we later head for the reception to order a taxi the following exchange takes place, and as always, feel free to act this conversation out with an old friend, relative or long lost lover:

Mr. Salaryman: (Devilishly friendly voice) Oh, and one more thing, by the way, is there any difference between our rooms (pointing at friend)
Receptionist: (Slightly defensively without any hesitation) Yes, he has a bigger bed
Mr. Salaryman: (Played amused surprise) I see, well, I’d like that too please
Receptionist: (Pretending to look through ledgers) We only have two rooms with such beds and they’re all taken…
Mr. Salaryman: Aha…?
Receptionist: (Defensively joking) Well, if it helps, I can downgrade him to a small bed?
Mr. Salaryman: (Gleeful) Yes, yes please, I’d like that very much!
Friend: (Jumping in, slightly nervous and worried about the turn of the conversation) Hey, wait a minute!
Mr. Salaryman: Well?
Receptionist: (Slightly scared) You’re getting a bit agitated about this…
Mr. Salaryman and Friend: (laughing) Well, ok, nevermind, thanks anyway

I had no intention of intimidating a poor receptionist just trying to do her job and both me and my friend thought I didn’t come out as aggressive but my friend jokingly suggested that I should’ve taken the conversation to the next level by suggesting that racial prejudice had played a part in me getting the crappy room since I have a non-swedish sounding family name and dark hair. But that might have caused the poor girl a stroke, so we didn’t pull through with that one, but in hindsight, maybe that would have resulted in even more hilarity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Home Sweet Home!

After many ordeals and almost 24 hours of travel, I finally arrived back to a very pleasant land of the rising sun. The French managed to catch me off guard as well and treat me to a pretty nasty food poisoning and only due to some small mistake on their part in dosing and my great stamina managed to make the flight endurable and avoid commuting to the nasty airplane toilets.

As a Salaryman, I have done some quite extensive travel around the world and sampled many of the major airports in the world and I have to say that Narita is very close to being the worst international airport in the world (ok, Heathrow wasn't designed by geniuses either...). Ok, it's no big issue when you're arriving to the country, but the layout of the airport is pretty horrible and makes for a pretty boring time when departing with no good restaurants and shops scattered all around the airport making for long walks back and forth if you remember you want to get something. Give me Copenhagen or Hong Kong anytime!

Something that seems to have stirred up a lot of emotions among foreigners in Japan lately is the new immigration proceedure where fingerprints and photographs of all foreigners entering Japan is required, including visa holders (like yours truly). Also that previously, visa holders were allowed to stand in the same line as Japanese passport holders but have now been separated out into a different que making for three ques at the immigration with Japanese passport holders, tourists and longer term residents with visa. I have no problems with this in any way, in fact, separating the ques has without doubt made the longer term residents que the fastest since only a few people on each plane holds this status so I was out of immigration in a breeze, watching the tourists and Japanese stand like cattle in long ques waiting to get out in freedom after a 12 hour flight.

Anyway, I'm back here now and that is what's important! I apologize for the lack of updates due to overally business and some sketchy Internet connections at some hotels I stayed at, but I got some posts loaded up so expect some frequent updates for a bit.

(Oh, and yeah, the picture is the official mascot of Narita airport... I can't explain what happened there, the Japanese are generally masters in designing cute and funny mascots for anything you can imagine but something went terrible wrong here when designing "Kuutan"...)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Adventures of a Foreign Salaryman in Tokyo in Southern France

Well, I’m back here again, in this God-Jesus awful country that no one likes and all reasonable people hate. Thankfully I’m just here for a couple of days and not more than a month like previously, but it’s all coming back to me now; the people, the language, everything about this country. You name it and I hate it. The scary thing about French people is that they almost look like normal people so you could mistake them to be normal healthy people until you need to talk to them. Now, I know that more aggressive French haters might find my statement offensive (I see myself as pretty mild and conservative) but I stand by that they actually can look pretty normal. Granted, the people here in South France are not as bad as the people in Paris, but the difference is marginal.

Now, since I’m European and has rudimentary understanding of most of the major languages here in Europe I can sometimes somehow understand what they want when they ask me questions or talk to me in their foul language. However, since I can’t speak French I always need to answer in English making the conversations pretty odd with both parties trying to pull the other one to speak the other language. But I don’t budge so they play a futile game.

Just one day of meetings with French “colleagues” (I tend to see them as enemies) to endure and then it’s back to the land of the rising sun!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Make some room please, I'm coming out of the closet!

When I started this blog it was mostly focused on the craziness in work with some Japanese stories as well. However, I feel that it is about time for me to take this blog in a completely new direction. I'm going to make this a men's fashion blog from now on, I always secretly wanted to do that so that will be the future direction!

Today I was wearing a gray t-shirt with a picture of an AK-47 on it and on top of that I wore a old washed out black zip-up hoodie. I wore a slightly scabby looking military style green jacket on top of that. I wore washed out gray jeans and very old and dirty doctor marten boots (not laced up, obviously) to complement the look.
I feel that this is the look that will be coming world wide in the near future and I call it "looks like someone with a knife in a pocket that is out to kill some authority figure (politican, pop star, general celebrity or something similar) because he believes that person is sending radio waves into his head that makes his life horrible". Trust me when I say that it will catch on big!

The Good News:
1. I bought the new Universal Poplab cd "seed" today
2. There's a documentary on TV about mentally handicapped killers and their lives in a special prison - almost sounds like it was custom made to cater to my interests!

The Bad News:
1. I don't have access to a cd player, so I can't listen to the new UP cd yet...
2. I'm so extremely tired today so I'm not sure I can manage to stay up for that, must-be-great documentary!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Greatest Clownshow on Earth!

There has been some action packed days here in the northern territories for your favorite Salaryman with events and plenty of unintentional entertainment involving both work and a wedding (I will elaborate on that at a later point).

During the events ongoing here we had some VIP customers with us from Japan and one of the nights a huge dinner was held in which we had invited them as well as some of my fellow salarymen and women were also going to participate. Just before the event the customer calls and cancels the dinner, they probably realized that it would be more fun to dump our company and drink on their own even if it would mean that they had to pay for themselves. The result? At the dinner, the Japan team ended up at this customer event without any customers since we Mr. Shachou didn't wanna waste the food and stuff since we had payed for it. Apparently they also had the best table at the event arranged for the Japanese customers closest to the stage and everything... I had previously managed to sneak my way out of this event but my colleagues told me that the whole event almost induced embarrasment OD...

Well, this is not the end, the clownshow continued the next day with another customer dinner in which the VIPs actually wanted to participate in, in numbers. Unfortunately the number of customers were quite a bit larger than we had initially thought. But this doesn't stop Mr. Shachou who sees a great opportunity and tries to both intimidate and beg our head office staff to arrange for more seats so he can bring these extra customers. Eventually they put in an effort and manage to accomodate the seats.

When they reach the place, Mr. Shachou and the customers are very happily surprised in that they receive a very nice separate seating area for their pretty large group. Merriment ensues and people are enjoying themselves while waiting for the dinner. Just by chance, my colleague Ms. Nurse goes out of the room to go to the bathroom and notices that at the tables outside people are already eating and drinking. This word gets around and a frantic hunt for food ensues in which they are eventually told that since they added so many people at the last minute they cannot get any food. As you can understand this puts a wet blanket over a dinner party. Meanwhile, outside the room people are eating, drinking and laughing. Eventually someone takes pity on the Japanese group and somehow they scavenge up some cold leftovers which are given to the Japanese group.

Again, for this event too I managed to sneak out but I was told of this by Ms. Nurse who was switching between laughter, deep resignment and tears about the whole clownshow. Another colleague who walked back with Ms. Nurse from the event apparently kept repeating "I can't take this stupidity anymore" to herself...

I find the whole incident pretty amusing, especially how some members in my group had managed to completely screw-up something that should be really easy... This is definately a strong candidate for "Clownshow of 2008".

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Adventures of a Foreign Salaryman in Tokyo in Stockholm!

Now, yours truly has returned to the roots in Stockholm, where everything started once upon a time. I´ve now set up base camp at big bro´s place and have entertained myself with playing with my little little niece, I have a great picture where she looks at me with an expression of true terror on her face, later on I might put that one up here as well.

Although no longer a consultant, the world as a high powered executive is taking me around the world. Although this is alledgedly a work trip I will manage to squeeze in haunting a friends marriage this weekend (and yeah, damn, I guess I´ll have to write a speech or something for that, I´ll do that on the train...) and meeting a few friends.

Now I just have to get used to the fact that I can actually just go into a convenience store to get my snus so no disaster if I run out at some point!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

This is YOUR chance!

I just noticed that a version of "God-Jesus" is currently going on Yahoo Auctions (only Japan national) but this one is a variant, it does not go under the "God-Jesus" name instead it's called "Pekemaru", maybe because they realized that "God-Jesus" is not a completely politically correct name...

But it has a cross and it's pink! This is a definite collectors item and it goes for 9,800JPY (aprox. $100USD). Believe me when I said that I would buy it, but since I'm leaving Japan tomorrow morning I can't do the bank transfers and stuff so instead I share my discovery with you, my faithful readers!

Check it out! The auction expires at 10:41am tomorrow May 8 Japan time! Edit: Just saw that the person selling it has reposted the great product and it`s now going until May 15!

Yeah, this is a great idea, right...

Ok, I'm the first one to admit that I have a habit of complaining about the climate here in Japan from time to time but you don't hear me complaining now, do you?

Now we're in one of the best times in Japan during the year, the temperature is really nice, there's no heavy humidity and the sky is often clear blue with a lot of sunshine. A pleasant time before the horrible humid and rainy "rainy season" which is followed by the oppressively warm and humid summer where a wet gray blanket seem to have wrapped itself around the sky as well. Rarely can a clear blue sky be seen.

But now? No, I'm not complaining. So what happens now that Japan is at it's best? Well, yours truly will be leaving Japan for a couple of weeks in business... I'll be back just in time for the rainy season so rest assured the complaining will be coming back in force when I'm back!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grand Theft Mario Kart!

Ok, I think it's been hinted at before in this little blog, but I am pretty fond of computer games as a means of entertainment and as every true gamer the recent big events has been the release of "Mario Kart Wii" and "Grand Theft Auto 4" for the Wii and PS3 respectively.

I have been spending a little time with both of these little critters now and since I can't be bothered to wait for 3+ months for GTA4 to come to Japan in a translated state and risk all of the voices being dubbed in Japanese (you never know, sometimes they keep the original language though) I imported the US version of the game.

But I have a great idea for a game for Nintendo which crossed my mind as I was playing the two games back to back recently. How about "Grand Theft Mario Kart"?! And to spice things up a bit "Animal Crossing" could also be thrown into the mix. An exciting adult story about Mario trying to make it big in the animal crossing world and getting mixed up in dirty businesses there could be something great. I offer this idea to Nintendo freely and made a teaser screenshot!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This is how it usually feels

Ok, considering the devastating consequences my latest Ikea post had I probably shouldn't do this, but since my good graphical designer friend again produced this little slight modification of the Ikea manual that perfectly captures how I usually feel at some stage when assembling Ikea furniture...
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