Monday, September 29, 2008

Can I leave the meeting now...?

In my little company we regularly hold a manager's meeting on Monday mornings first thing to check on activities last week and upcoming activities for the week. It's not a really heavy meeting and each department head goes through anything that other people should/need to be aware of. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a boring affair since it usually is pretty useful, but it hardly is an action packed meeting as far as corporate meetings go.

Since some of the relevant people are based outside the Tokyo office the meeting is partly conducted through a phone conference system with people calling in when they are not in the Tokyo office.

Directly after the meeting is also a very good time to bring up smaller things that you need to discuss with a smaller number of the team and this meeting I had just such a thing. So we finish up the official meeting and I mention that I would like to discuss another issue with a few of the other managers, one whom is participating through the telecon. So we think that this is clarified, the people not included hang up and I bring up the topic I had in my lap. I start laying out the issue at hand and pretty quickly I realize that a huge misscommunication has occured due to the sales division director's incompetence and that his mistake might cost the company a significant amount of money unless we can salvage and repair the errors he just had made.

Mr. Shachou throws a fit (which is actually not like him) during which the sales director looks like he's swallowed a turd and I'm torn between whether to laugh or cry at the fuck-up that has been done and which I had been an involuntary accomplice of... Mr. Shachou is throwing his fit and everyone is more or less uncomfortable with the whole situation.

After a while there is a brief pause and a voice is heard from the telecon system, one of the local sales reps that participated in the preceeding meeting apparently had missed that he didn't need to participate in this meeting and feebly calls out "oh guys, is it ok if leave the meeting now...?".
He was allowed to leave the meeting but I had to stay, but at least I got some pleasure out of the fact that the sales director had been directly called on his incompetence...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The long hard road out of hell...

Without any kind of formal research or anything to back me up here, in Japan, much like in the western world, a lot of people wants to be on tv. Or even better, work with tv in front of the camera. If you can't sing, act, dance or anything the route to take is to become an "announcer", a career that mostly is geared towards woman.

The "announcer" is a cross between exactly what it sounds like, a person who announces upcoming segments and such in a tv-show, and a light-weight reporter. However, becoming an announcer for one of the leading networks, giving you the exposure and screen time you need to be upgraded to a real celebrity is not easy and hard work.

On Saturday mornings there is a show called "King's Brunch" that starts pretty early in the morning and continues to some time after lunch. The show is basically a sponsored show that highlights movies premiering in the week, talks about upcoming tv-shows and a bunch of other more or less entertaining stuff. However, this show also seems to be one of the big opportunities for up and coming announcers to make or break it. For their light-hearted investigations in the places to eat and shop in Tokyo they have an army of announcers in the show that play second-fiddle to the main hosts. Some of the announcers later on make it on to real fame, going further to fame and fortune while some girls dissapear and are not seen on tv again.

That's all fair and good I think and nothing that I have any issues with at all. However, there is one section in the show that is really cringe-worthy and just plain painful to watch. For about 10min, three or so of the featured announcers get their second in the spotlight where they highlight new products that are "so great" in a mini tv-shop like feature. The products are usually somewhere in the range of pointless to completely worthless, but the enthusiasm that the girls introduce the products is pretty amusing. The enthusiasm is there, however, the heart seems to be lacking a bit and they usually comes out as extremely enthusiastic and very very fake.

When I happen to see that segment I really feel for those girls but can't help being impressed by their dedication to their career since it must be pretty humiliating... There are male announcers as well in some shows but I don't think it's anything I'll be aiming for anytime soon...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A necessary evil?

There's one department in head office I am very torn about. It's called "Internal communications" and they generally issue articles and new on the Intranet, the physical corporate news magazine among other things.

The job of that department is basically that of propaganda. Telling us how great it is to work for our little company and what exciting things are going on. Sometimes things are not going that well and some measures need to be taken and internal communications is the department that takes the lead in this. My view of them is something of a propaganda department in the style of Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union. They want to make the company think in a certain way and utilizes the communication channels they have at their disposals.

However, despite what you think due to what I compared them to above, they usually consists of some of the nicest people in the company. Usually very very friendly and really curious on what actually is going on, however, since they're sitting back at head office they're usually very disconnected to what's actually going on in the sales companies and what we're up against on a daily basis. If this was WW1 and I was deep in the trenches waiting for the next round of mustard gas to come down on me, these would be the people leaving a stack of leaflets in the trench, talking about how the next version of gas masks, that will be delivered in a year, will feature an improved design.

Last week there was an article up there which had a sub-heading reading "Inventory - A Necessary Evil". Please suck on that for a bit. For me, working in a sales company, inventory is something we need to have to be able to supply our customers with the products they need, when they need it. Sure, it costs money if it's just sitting there, but I never considered it an "evil". But perhaps I was wrong, perhaps the inventory is just sitting there scheming, making up its evil plans, but I have to accept it because I need it to supply the customers.

My views on inventory has been significantly altered, no longer will I go inte the company warehouse alone or unarmed...
(Bonus points if you can name the person in the picture, probably one of the most despicable persons in the history of man and of course has nothing to do with the lovely people in my corporate communications!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's an outrage, that's what it is!

As some of my readers might have figured out, I'm have somewhat of an interest in the sleazy funny side of Japan media of which, in the magazine world, Spa is a great example. But sometimes there's also the television variant digging into the important topics in the current Japan affairs. However, the interesting shows are not that regular and sometimes they dig into less exciting topics.

Today though was a great topic. The reporters were working on the scoop on illegal pornographic movies filmed with hidden camera at institutions such as bathhouses, toilets and such and then released without the involuntary (obviously) participants permisson (obviously) and without hiding the faces. I don't think that this is anything new in Japan considering the sheer volume of pornographic material that is available here to cater to all tastes and directions.

However, in this case a woman was made aware of her being featured in a film released on DVD and for obvious reasons objected to this and felt hurt and humiliated and was pursuing a lawsuit against the company releasing said DVD. She was interviewed in the show together with her husband, this time with her clothes on but her face blurred and was talking about how hurt and humiliated she felt about this and how difficult it is to stop such a film once it's been out in the market. Her lawyer had forced the company to recall the product and apparently they had tried to do so, but other companies had picked it up and reissued it, making it still available for purchase.

So far so good, but then the best part came. They asked her how she had found out that she was in such a movie. Between the sobs she explained how one of her husbands friends had rented the movie at a local rental shop and recognized her face and then told them about it. I found this highly amusing and the big question that lingers in my mind is whether he rubbed one out before or after he told them about it? In the end, it's the consumers that drive the demand for such movies. Funny stuff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Test your might

Tomorrow will be a big day for me, one which I have been practicing hard for the latest days. Some of my old consulting peons, notably The Boy, Luke, C**nt Girl and Captain Britain will visit me in my lair for a deadly contest of video games to settle who gets to call him/herself "Master of the Universe" at the end of the day.

Some of the games that will test our individual might will be Mario Kart, Smash Bros and a host of other challenging and dangerous events. In the middle of the raging typhoon, this event will take place.

If you picture something like the paralympics and take away the honor, sportsmanship and overall dignity of that event you will come close to this contest of champions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The following years are a bit of a blur

So yesterday was the time for the epic meeting of bloggers that has been ranted about here previously. A brave gang consisting of me, John Turningpin, The Penguin, Tokyo Cowgirl, Auberginefleur, Green-eyed Geisha, Neal with friend Billy ventured to meet up at one of the crappiest theme restaurants in Tokyo for some beers, food and socializing.

It's pretty interesting to meet up with people that you only know through blogs and how your impressions can either be pretty much what you expected (like the Penguin) or very different from what you expected (Cowgirl) and in my head I kept mixing up Cowgirl and Green-Eyed Geisha all the time because from their blogs I expected Cowgirl to be more like GEG and the other way around, but it was a pleasant and friendly bunch.

Thankfully the ladies left for other more interesting adventures while the us guys ended up in the crappy "English" pub HUB for further drinks and discussion and I at least avoided to get too drunk in front of them.

So today I ended up with a hang-over of somewhat epic proportions of the like I haven't experienced in several years and I am just starting to feel something like a human being again, after spending most of the day so far vertically working my way through the final episodes of Arrested Development and a very exciting episode of Monsterquest where they were looking for a gigantic octopus but strangely found no evidence at all (there's something tragically comic about cryptozoologists I enjoy immensely). To add insult to injury I tried out this great test and ended up as Harold Shipman which is complete garbage since I picture myself as more of a Zodiac or Ted Bundy type of guy.

But all in all, even though the last hours are a bit blurish I had a good time and that this was such a pleasant bunch and I'm all for a follow up event at some point!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I don't know what they were thinking, but I loved it!

Today I had a case of music nostalgica going, probably because I listened to 1980's EBM music (I strongly suspect that I'm the only one that still remembers "A Split Second"...) on my iPod to and from work.

Now, I don't intend to make a habit of putting up random videos of stuff that I for some reason like, but I just thought it's about time that the old classic Laibach cover of Opus' song "Life is Life", deserves to be taken out of the closet (the German version is obviously better).

When I was a young pup in Sweden and learned German in high school (which is not unusual at all) I remember that our ancient sadistic German teacher (for some reasons all German teachers I have encountered has been sadists) one day pulled out a video for us to watch as a part of the learning program. If I remember correctly, the video was some form of information video about Austria and in the beginning of the program they not only used the song, but also large parts of the video to illustrate the beauty of Austria. Someone in the Austrian tourist agency must've completely missed all the controversy surrounding Laibach in the early '80s, but hey, I loved it.

Fast forward a number of years and I remember coming back to my student dorm in Sweden after a night of clubbing, me and my half-German half-Japanese hangaround coming back a bit earlier than the rest of the gang, opening up a few cans of beers and popped in Laibach in the CD player and started playing "Geburt Einer Nation" merrily singing along to the catchy Queen cover (he with extra gusto as his first language was German) when one of the girls living on the dorm screamed at our poor race-mixed asses that we were nazis and stormed out of the common room. We couldn't be bothered to put her straight since we were enjoying ourselves too much.

Good times and a classic song!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oh? Is this gonna by one of those meetings?

There's one type of internatl meetings in the corporate setting that can be either somewhat comfortable or outright difficult to deal with. I call it the "distribute the crappy menial work meeting" and this usually occurs when some new task arises, or someone has realize that we have to do something we haven't payed much attention to previously. The whole purpose of the meeting is to decide which department ends up with the short straw and has to deal with the crappy work task for all time and eternity, or until enough time has passed, people have forgotten about it and another similar meeting could be held.

Just recently we had such a meeting. Since I'm in charge of markting I was participating, as was the finance manager, the regulatory manager and the logistic manager. The logistic manager was without doubt the one who entered the meeting most prepared and to emphasize his departments business and incapability to deal with the task in question he had also included two of his peons in the meeting, who also looked suitably exhausted.

This time I felt pretty safe, since it would be hard to tag that specific task to marketing, but it's still important to be there and know when to give and when to take. The balance is difficult, if you give too much you might end up with the task, but if you take too little hostilities might ensue. It is also very important to chose one's allies on the spot in meetings like this. A very condenced summary of the discussions went something like this, and as always, feel free to act the conversation out with casual friends, estranged family members or lovers long gone:

Logistic Manager: We have been doing this for some time, but look at the contents, it has changed now so it's more suitable for regulatory to take over this task. (Motions with his hands to his peons who are looking suitable exhausted) We don't have capacity to deal with this now! (Looking at me) We don't know all these numbers and codes, regulatory has all this information!

Mr. Salaryman: (Quickly looking over the material and on the spot decides to ally myself with the logistic manager) Yes, this really looks like it's more of a regulatory task...

Regulatory Manager: (sensing the direction the converstaion is going, answers defensively) But we don't have all this information, we need logistic to fill this in for us...

Logistic Manager: (decides it's time to give a little since it's a minor thing) Yes, we can provide you with that information.

Regulatory Manager: (realizes that he's still stuck with the task and tries to squirm out) But I can't make this judgement, I need marketing to tell me which ones to do.

Mr. Salaryman: (also decides it's time to give a little) Sure, if you list it up we can tell you which ones you need to do. (decides to give a little more, but doesn't really mean it) Ms. X could maybe also help you a little if you need it...

Finance Manager: (managed to stay out of the fire so far, but decides to give a little as well) We can give you a few of the codes you need.

Regulatory Manager: (realizes that the battle is lost, sighs deeply) Ok, I guess we'll take care of this then from now on...

As we close the meeting and file out of the room the rest of us managers mentally share a few high-fives at that we avoided the monkeywork. But next time I just might not be so lucky... Just another day in the corporate environment!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is this really socially acceptable?

Today I encountered something that happens from time to time here in Japan and which I'm not completely sure on how to deal with. To be honest, I'm not sure on whether this is a Japan country specific issue or something that also occurs frequently in Western nations. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

During a mind-numbingly boring meeting I felt the need to relieve myself and went on my merry way to the bathroom we share together with another company on my floor. I get to the urinal and start to relieve myself, as relaxed as a man can be in this situation and another salaryman from the neighboring company comes into the bathroom and places himself at one of the other urinals in the bathroom, he shakes his head a bit, unzips (so far I have no problems with his actions), then he lets a big one rip while peeing, like it's the most natural thing to do.

I'm torn by this and not sure on the correct toilet manners. Is this an acceptable thing to do? Are you cleared to fart to your hearts content as long as you're in a bathroom, even if you're peeing and just am unzipped?

I wouldn't say that this makes me extremely uncomfortable, but still, in my eyes it would be more suitable to go into one of the booths, lock the door and then let it rip. This doesn't happen often enough to me to the degree that it is a big issue, but it happens from time to time. Personally I wouldn't do this but I am unsure whether I can condemn this behaviour or not...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Is this spelled corectly?

As we are planning the introduction of several new products to the Japan market, there are plenty of things that we are doing to keep us busy at the moment. One of the things that needs to be done is to translate all the manuals into Japanese and since this is a massive amount of work it has been outsourced. Recently the translation of one of these manuals was finalized and yesterday I received a mail from the translation agency.

The title of the mail was "Agreement for transaltion cost of (Product X) manual" and it contained the invoice to us for their work. This is a company that makes translations for a living, has considerable staff and translates more languages than I can shake a stick at. Translating is what they do.

I'm not sure really on how to take this. Generally you would think that for a translation agency, spelling and correct use of language would be a cornerstone and part of everything they do, but here something obviously went horribly wrong. I'm seriously wondering if we really can trust their transaltions... Since the e-mail contained the invoice and their work is done, maybe that person just let go now and just wants to collect the money and move to Bahamas or somewhere nice...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"I'm not gay!"

Since I rejoined my old company after my adventures as a management consultant, it meant that I returned to the company where I started my Japan adventure and made quite a few friends. Some of them have moved on and others are still there.

One friend in particular, a Japanese guy working in the sales division, joined at basically the same time as me (theoretically he's my "senpai", something that I to his great annoyance never really payed proper respect to) has become a very good private friend. One day recently we had planned to go out drinking together with another friend that left the company a few years ago and to not make people feel left out we left the company separately to meet up in the parking lot to take his car to the pub we were supposed to meet.

Now, to add to the story, a recurring joke in between us (mostly directed at him) is that I sometimes joke in the presence of other people that I'm in love with him, that we are a couple, or a more simple thing as that either he or me are gay. One incident many years ago when I casually brought up that he might be gay to a new good looking female employee has made him particularly wary to my great amusement. He put in quite a great effort to convince her that I was just lying and he really wasn't gay at all. For a while afterwards he was quite paranoid, again, to my great amusement. That he's happily married now and have just recently got a beautiful baby hasn't really stopped me. Whatever you may think, it's all in good fun and I have no issues at all with homosexualities, I just enjoy the way it gets him all paranoid and jittery.

Anyway, as we were cruising out of the parking lot, talking and joking about something he notices a new female employee walking just past the excit of the parking lot who sees us and waves. At this point, what goes on in her mind is probably "oh, so those two have a customer visit together now at this hour, poor guys" or maybe "Oh, so those two are friends, I didn't know that". However, the reaction of my friend is pretty priceless, he first looks at her, then at me, both of us smiling and waving, then he leans out of the window and practically screams at her, with panic in his voice; "ゲイじゃないから!ゲイじゃないから!”(I'm not gay!) as we cruise out of her sight.

I'm sure she didn't have any thoughts about that before, but I wonder what she thought afterwards since that's not something you usually hear screamed at you with desperation from a colleague. Obviously I enjoyed it immensly and so did our common friend when we told him the story!

However amusing this might seem, I don't recommend you to try, this is best handled by professionals!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Now I'm getting worried...

As people have seen in my previous post, I have thrown down the glove to a bunch of the foreign bloggers here in Japan and they didn't hesitate to pick it up and slap me right back with it... After a flurry of e-mail activities (for some reason most intense during working hours...), failed Internet polls and such activities it seems like we actually almost have managed to fix a date. This doesn't worry me, not at all.

However, what worries me is how hungrily everyone has accepted the venue to be "The Lock-Up", this happens to be one of the crappiest horror theme bars in Japan, probably a world-wide contender, but definately up there in Japan. Now, myself, I'm a connoisseur of crappiness. I relish in crappiness, the crappier, the better as far as I'm concerned. There is one condition in there though; it has to be a real attempt at making something good but landing on crappy, if it's made out to be crappy on purpose that delicious flavor of failure gets lost and it doesn't really interest me any more.

What scares me a bit is how everyone quickly accepted and seem genuinely thrilled about going to this place, maybe I've met my match. Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to throw down the glove... I'm genuinely scared...
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