Monday, August 31, 2009

Meet the new boss...

Ok, as everyone already probably know the election in Japan was won by a landslide by the oppositional Democratic Party of Japan thereby ending the one party democratic system that the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has enjoyed for so many decades. But on the other hand, since the DPJ is actually an offspring of the LDP you could actually argue that things haven't really changed that much, just mutated a little.

On one hand, I will actually miss Taro "The Smirk" Aso a little since his stupidity and condescending attitude always provided some comic relief to otherwise boring news, while Yukio "The Villain" Hatoyama doesn't provide much enjoyment, he just gives his evil stare when confronted with a question he doesn't like. Not as much fun as a condescending take-down.

I would actually think that hanging out with Aso over a few drinks, as he's holding court at one of the ANA hotel bars he so usually frequents, would provide some entertaining stories. I can picture how he's holding court with a jolly group of brown nosers and pretty girls (which he sometimes jokingly slaps on the behind) while having his whiskey and water. Hatoyama on the other hand very likely does not go to the bar after a hard days work, I have the feeling that he takes a secret elevator down to his secret cave where he sits down in front of a huge television and reports on the evil that he has done for the day to his compatriots in the Masters of Evil.

But hey, I guess it's better to have an evil genius on your side than a regular moron...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yes you can! least consider it... maybe...?

Again I break my rule of commenting on current events here in Japan, but since it impacts my daily life I feel that it is, at least somewhat, justified. You see, this weekend is the general elections in which Japan most likely finally will get rid of Taro "The Smirk" Aso and see a change from the Liberal Democrats to the Democratic Party of Japan. In an amazing lack of insight the LDP actually ran television commercials heavily featuring Aso, which is pretty shocking considering that he’s probably the biggest liability the party has at the moment since the sight of him makes most people cringe. You can enjoy it here!

The latest weeks an ongoing theme in the Salaryman-Sunshine household has been Ms. Sunshine lamenting about "having to vote" in the upcoming election while I smugly can boldly state how much I would like to vote but am not allowed since I'm not a Japanese citizen. Ms. Sunshine fluctuates between LDP and the DPJ with the same enthusiasm as a would be self-murderer considers throwing himself before the train or hanging himself. Everytime she's leaning towards the LDP I remind her that that would mean that we would have to put up with more years with Aso which usually swings her right back to the other side. Then Makiko Tanaka (very annoying lady, google her if you’re interested) in a bold move suddenly jumped ship and joined the DPJ which reflects pretty badly on them...

Japanese politics is a nasty dirty mess, you could argue that most politics is, but I would wager that Japan is dirtier and nastier than most. To be honest, I'm kind relieved that I don't have the right to vote in the election since that means that I can keep on complaining without having to take any responsibility.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Thank you for your e-mail, I am currently out of office"

Finally, the European summer vacation season is slowly grinding to a halt and the peons in head office are reluctantly returning to their desks and computers with as much motivation as me cleaning the toilet. This means that a number of projects and items that has been hanging in summer vacation limbo can now finally soon start moving again. On a personal level, I fully support the summer vacation system in Europe (ok, six weeks in a row might be overdoing it a little, but a month is reasonable!) but it does cause a lot of problems for subsidiaries in Japan who basically operate business as usual over the summer months.

I would here like to share with you some highlights of the “out of office replies” I did receive when trying to get some stuff moving this summer.

Mail 1: Sent to Mr. A at the end of July; receiving an out of office reply “I am on vacation until September the 7th with little access to e-mail, in my absence please contact Mr. B
Mail 2: Sent to Mr. B minutes after this, receiving an out of office reply “I am on vacation until August the 31st and will not be able to read my e-mail, in my absence please contact Mr. A

I can’t shake the feeling that they did this deliberately and were hoping to catch the mailer in some form of logic loop and avoid the issue…

Mail 3: Sent to Mr. C mid-August, receiving an out of office reply “I am out of the office until the end of August and will not be reading my e-mail, all e-mail received during my absence will be automatically deleted so please mail me again when I am back in the office

I wish I could pull shit like that...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Well, thanks for reading it at least

As you might've noticed, Japan is still in the middle of the summer heat making everyone quite subdued and things have been pretty calm on the work front with very little insanity or stuff going on at all actually at the moment. I expect this to change in the near future as Germany, France and Spain are soon about to wake up from their ~6 week summer vacation (yeah, I had a week, thank you very much...).

I send and receive a lot of emails in my job, that is nothing I really complain about or so, it's just a natural consequence of the situation I'm in; communicating with a lot of people both centrally in head office functions and locally in Japan. For my mails, I use the "receit" function in Outlook and find it pretty convenient to see a notification on who opened my mail when. Sure, it does create some "noise" but it's pretty easy to just delete most of them once every so often.

Today, I received the following receit to a pretty important mail containing a marketing plan for this year:

"Your message

To: Ms. X in HQ
Cc: Mr. Shachou, Local colleague
Subject: Important marketing plan
Sent: 2009/01/28 17:46

was read on 2009/08/24 16:59."

Seriously, if it takes her over six month to get to this mail why even bother opening it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ok, how exactly did he look like a monkey?

Ok, this time I think I will have to break two cardinal rules, first to comment on a recent actual Japan news story and also be pushing the boundaries of human decency...

The news that I am thinking of is that earlier today in the Chiba prefecture of Japan a an elderly gentleman was shot to death by a fellow member of a hunting party out to shoot off some of the monkeys plaguing the countryside (with the official blessing of the authorities I probably should add). The elderly gentleman was shot to death in the chest from a range of 20-30 meters if you would believe the national media, and the reason for this little mishap given by the person holding the gun was "I mistook him for a monkey". If the monkeys here in Japan looked something more like the monkeys in the picture attached to this post, I would have a lot more sympathy for the whole deal, but the monkeys in Japan are pretty small and usually don't wear clothes, have guns or walk on two legs even, not to mention that they are considerably smaller than a grown human being...
I mean, sure, it's sad, but it makes me wonder how exactly this guy who got shot actually looked if he by any stretch could be mistaken for a monkey from 20-30 meters away...? The second thought that comes to mind is the possibility of him actually being a Manpanzee integrated into human society, but kept silent to not shake the foundations of humanity?

So many questions, I will eagerly follow to see how this mystery unravels...

Friday, August 21, 2009

All my friends on the way to the train

As a salaryman, I obviously take a crowded subway to and from my main habitat; the office where I have my small salaryman desk and chair in the office landscape. To walk to my station from my apartment takes around 10 minutes with a comfortable pace and the path I walk is not that heavily trafficked which means that I basically know the faces of the people I will meet on my trek. Since I know nothing of these people they get their own nicknames subconsciously in my head. A few of the people I meet are “White Blouse girl” who, obviously, always wear a white blouse and otherwise look pretty bland, “Angry Lady” who always looks angry and walks very fast, “Dumpy Suit Guy” is a sad looking old Salaryman with a dumpy suit and way too big glasses, then there’s also “Heavy Make-Up Girl”, “Freaky Old Guy”, “Looks-like-crackhead creepy old Lady” among my rouges gallery I encounter on my way to the station.

Because these characters are part of my overall morning routine, I rely more on them than I do on my watch regarding the timing to my train. If I happen to meet one of them earlier than usually; I automatically assume that I am early, if I meet them later; I assume that I am a bit late and pick up the pace. For some reason I never assume that they would happen to be late or early…

Where I lived earlier, there was this train I always waited for and the biggest check-point for me to know whether I was early or late was “Obese Duck Girl” (who, I’m sure is a really nice person, but she was slightly obese and her mouth for some reason reminded me of a duck and she often wore yellow clothes) who rode in the same train cart on the train before the one I wanted to take. So I always waited at the station home until she had passed with her train, it was actually very convenient. I remember once, during a weekend as I was walking through Shinjuku station (which is not my commuting station) and among the crowds, for a few seconds ended up face to face with Obese Duck Girl by complete chance, we both looked each other in the eyes for a brief moment and I think we both were about to greet each other until we realized that we actually didn’t know each other at all and it would be strange to say hello. The subway is interesting indeed...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time to get political!

...or, after thinking about it a little, maybe not... As regular readers here might have noticed, I actually put in quite the effort to avoid getting political here and after a brief consideration I decided to not break that policy this time around either.

However, I did contribute to this blog, "Tome of the Unknown Writer" and it's look on healthcare around the world, since the discussions about healthcare reforms is such a hot topic over there (and a bit infected as well it seems like).

For those of you interested to read what I think about the healthcare system in Japan, as a professional and tax payer, you can read my post here. For any disagreement or additions to that actual topic and potential political dimensions, please comment on that site and not here and I promise that I will reply and not do the "this is not a political blog" thing.

Now, shall we get back to the topic of Noripi instead?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The ballad of Noriko “Noripi” Sakai or “That’s why you should always use a condom!”

I’ve been holding off on blogging about it since I think that there are better blogs and people out there to comment on current events in Japan , but the whole "Noripi" drug scandal is just too much entertainment for me to not talk about. First of all, as soundtrack to this post, you should open this hit by her in another window!

The basic story is that a now 38 year old former teen idol but still very famous, got caught up in a drug scandal where some form of stimulant drugs has been used. The whole drug scandal is from a European perspective pretty petty and nothing that I get worked up about. However, what I find really entertaining here is the relationship between Noriko “Noripi” Sakai and her husband, self proclaimed “pro-surfer” (there is no indication that he actually makes any money out of surfing) Yuichi Takaso, which seems to be pretty complex. They married in 1998 after she ended up pregnant with his baby.

Let me give you a break down of this entertaining event as they occurred.

Aug. 4 – Noripi’s husband gets caught by the police for behaving strangely and possibly under the influence of narcotics. He also refuses to show the contents of his pockets and states that the police “better let him go” since he’s married to a celebrity. He calls her up and makes her come to the scene where she tries to argue to the police that her husband is fine and that he can’t show the contents of his pockets because he’s embarrassed since he has medicine for problems with sexual performance. The police aren’t too impressed with this and formally take him in and search him and find… metamphetamine… Meanwhile, Noripi mysteriously disappears.

Aug. 5 – 7 – The news hit the media, a search is conducted of the home of the husband (they live separately) and more drugs are found. Noripi has dropped off the radar with her 10 year old son and people are worried about her, fearing that the shock of finding out that her husband is a horrible drug user has gotten to her. However, pretty quickly Yuichi start ratting his wife out, telling the police that she does at leas as much drugs as him and a search of her apartment follows, where, surprise! More drugs are found. Meanwhile, Noripi has dropped off their son at a friend, who turned out to be the mistress of husband Yuichi and once again disappeared from sight. An official warrant for her arrest is issued by the police.

Aug 8~ - Noripi turns herself over to the police (just about the time when any drugs would've gone out of her system showing negative results in tests...) in the presence of her lawyer and admits to having used metamphetamine “a few times”, encouraged and introduced to the drugs from her loving husband. Her husband states that “a few times” is pretty far away from the truth and that was indeed her who introduced him to the drug. Poor little Noripi changes her story from “a few times” to “around 10 times” but still claim that her husband introduced her to the drugs. As an extra twist, Noripi’s little brother gets arrested on drug charges as well and rumours of her brother being involved with “violent criminal organizations” (read: Yakuza) also start to circulate.

Apparently, neither her, nor her husband are adherents to the “you snitch, you die” philosophy that such a large portion of the honorable criminal world seem to embrace. Aren't they cute in this picture? They must have such a great marriage and relationship!
For me, the lesson to be learned from this sordid mess is pretty simple; use a condom! If Noripi just could’ve avoided getting banged up by this no good slacker snitch dude, she wouldn't had to marry him and she could’ve done her drugs in peace and quite.

Meanwhile, the story of the actor who did ecstasy together with a “hostess” after which she ended up dead in his apartment and he delayed calling an ambulance, instead calling his agent (If I was an agent, the 3am “Hey, the whore I brought home seems to have died on me, what should I do?” is the call I would dislike the most). But yeah, Noripi is the bigger star so she gets the headlines, you go girl!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hey Dear Reader, does this actually work?!

Usually these posts are focused on me rambling on about whatever is going through my mind, but this time I thought I should actually recruit you, yes; you Dear Reader in helping me solve a mystery that has been in my mind ever since I first came to Japan.

If you would please take a look at the picture here in the post, what you see is the corner of an otherwise normal looking house, nothing too exciting about that or the air condition machinery. But please notice the water filled pet bottles strategically placed around the corner. For those of you living in Japan, this is not an unusual sight at all, quite the contrary, and they are usually placed especially around potted plants or small gardens towards the street. The purpose of these bottles, as far as I have come to understand it, is to prevent cats (and dogs?) to pee and stink it up and possibly ruining any greenery (obviously not the case in this picture, but still).

What I have not figured out and would need advice and assistance with are the following two questions?

1. Does this actually work? Are animals more reluctant to pee in pet bottle heavy areas?

2. If it actually does work, what is the rationale and how come Japan is the only country that utilizes this innovative method?

Just looking at myself and my peeing habits, I could say that I would probably prefer to not pee among the pet bottles due to the increased risk of back-splash on my feet and legs, but I am not sure if other animals agree.

Ok, any experts on the subject around?

Friday, August 14, 2009

A war of cultures – Wiping the butt

As I earlier discussed, the Salaryman-Sunshine household is usually a quite peaceful one with just a few flares of cultural battles from time to time, one of the few major ones I talked about earlier. But there is also another ongoing war in the Salaryman-Sunshine household; the war of the toilet paper.

By doing a broad generalization, I think it’s fair to say that the Japanese prefer thinner and very soft toilet paper, while I, raised in the cold north prefer rougher toilet paper just one step smoother than sandpaper. Normally we solve this by buying something in between which has the results of leaving both of us somewhat annoyed since it's too rough for Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman and too smooth and delicate for me. This has the consequence in a form of guerilla warfare, where either party takes the chance to shop for the toilet paper of preference if they are given the task of filling up the stock without supervision of the other party. As of late, I have been on the losing side of this resulting in a prolonged stint of thin and soft toilet paper.

Theoretically the thin and soft paper is useable as long as proper care is taken in its usage. It needs to be folded quite a number of times, just folding it one time too little runs you the risk of rupture and suddenly ending up with a finger in a place where you do not want to have a finger and then having to go through a rigorous disinfection protocol… This however does not seem to be a point of concern for most Japanese people, perhaps the inherent skills in origami prevents this.
The second drawback besides the extreme folding, is that the paper is so soft that it is not unusual for it to stick to parts of your body after the wiping, requiring you to go through another procedure of trying to remove the remains, something that can be quite challenging...

I find Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman’s claims that usage of my preferred type of toilet paper tear bloody chunks out of her more delicate areas to be rather petty compared to my problems!

The war rages on…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting Married in Japan Part 3 – Green napkins cost extra

I should first apologize for the slow speed in which I am following up on this immensely popular series of posts. For those of you who need a quick recap, I recommend going through the earlier chapters in this series you can find here.

After locating a pleasant and reasonable hotel with the facilities we required for our not too elaborate plan of a wedding ceremony followed by a wedding reception/dinner we sat down with the wedding planner to discuss more in detail what could be done and within what budget. Our planner turned out to be a young guy with nicotine stained teeth with a quick sly answer for any of our questions and concerns, if you think Jennifer Lopez in the movie “the wedding planner” and then don’t, you are getting somewhat close to our guy.

After some light probing from his side on how much money we were looking to spend (to which we wisely stated a considerably lower sum than we were actually thinking of spending) he quickly whipped out a quote that looked quite reasonable and within our budget. However, after the initial decision of location and the meetings the following weeks with our planner, the florist and other people from the hotel we quickly learned that things were a bit deceiving…

Before we made the final decision we also attended a dinner where we could try out the dinner course for next to nothing, and see examples of color coordination and flower arrangements together with other hopeful couples. About half way into the dinner it turned into a hardcore sales event where they tried to push a host of “spectacular events” on us that we could pay up a hefty amount of money to have at our reception, most of them involving smoke, bubbles or fluorescent liquids and the most elaborate ones a combination of all of them. Needless to say, the efforts were wasted on us…

Following that, a very common occurrence was discussions like the one below:

Florist: So, what type of flowers are you thinking of?
Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman: Well, we liked the orange ones we saw at one of the tables
Florist: Oh… In your package there are only rotten gray flowers included, but we can upgrade you, no problem
Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman: And we liked that vase
Florist: Oh… no vase is included in your package, but sure, we can upgrade you, what color of table cloth did you like?
Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman: We liked the green cloth with the orange napkins
Florist: Oh… green cloth, that’s extra and the orange napkins will also cost a little extra, but sure, we are more than happy to upgrade you

This type of conversation was repeated a large number of times…

Coming up next: Financing the wedding…

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Welcome back to Tokyo" - The wrath of the Gods

Just to remind me how miserable it is to be back to the islands of Japan at this time of year and how much nicer it was in Hawaii with the sunshine and nice ocean breeze, the weather Gods of Japan decided to throw a double-combo of typhoon and earthquakes. The typhoon means extremely humid sticky weather, plenty of rain even though we here in Tokyo seem to be spared the worst of it. Then a pretty large earthquake hit Japan at 5am this morning, the shaking in Tokyo wasn't too bad though and I usually enjoy the gentle rocking if I'm half asleep in the bed, but there seem to be some damages at the epicenter of the quake in the Shizuoka prefecture.

And if this wouldn't be enough, I was also confronted with the even more terrifying issue of having over 250 emails in my work mail to go through as I returned to my salaryman desk at work. I think I need another vacation to set things straight since this is painful...

At least Japan is now in the middle of the obon vacation season meaning that things are generally slowing down to a crawl.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Here's a tip for you

Now, this topic has probably been discussed over and over again all over the place and I am not heading into any ethical or political discussion about this, but let me just say that I really really hate the tipping culture in the US...

This comes purely from the perspective of a person coming from a low-intensity tipping culture like Sweden; you might give a little extra if the food and/or service was good, but no one is going to put a voodoo curse on you if you just pay the amount on the bill. And now living in Japan where there is virtually no tipping at all, and if there is a service charge it's a fixed % added to your bill (and this is very rare to begin with and reserved for some fancy restaurants).

My issues with the tipping culture are very simple:
1. It obscures the price you will pay in the end since you have to throw on tax and 15-20% tip on the prices you see on the menu - I'm sure that if you live in the US this is something that comes naturally, but not to me...
2. I never know what amount is suitable to tip, I've talked to american friends and read general guidelines, but I still find my self at loss whether to tip 10, 15, 18 or 20% and end up tipping more than I probably should to not offend anyone.
3. It makes the service feel a bit "fake", since I feel that the staff only are nice because they want good tip and not because it's who they are.

I know that there are institutional and political reasons for the tipping culture with the low minimum wage etc., but that is another issue. I just wanted to bitch a bit about how annoying it is for me as a foreign tourist in the US to deal with the tipping culture...

For those of you who have mastered the tipping culture, I tip my hat to you in respect!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It's not all beach, sunshine and ocean you know

There are good ideas and there are good ideas. Among the good ideas count going to Hawaii in August to escape the heat, stickiness and crowds here in Japan and replace that with sunshine, blue skies and clear blue water. That is without doubt a good idea.

Now, a bad idea is to enjoy said sunshine, blue skies and clear blue water without proper application of sunscreen. Granted, I did not completely ignore this and I thought I did apply it in the volumes that my quite tough skin requires but waking up the next day glaring bright red skin on some parts of my body which later on turned out to be a bit painful and now in the final stages being able to peal of the skin like it's some plastic film on my body did teach me a little lesson at least.

All in all, I highly recommend a trip to Hawaii, although at times it hardly felt like we left Japan at all considering that it seemed like the vast majority of tourists at this time were Japanese and that every place we went to had at least one person servicing the Japanese customers in Japanese and that all the high end brand stores had staff completely fluent in Japanese but somewhat lacking in English...

Another lesson was that visisting a store/restaurant that is written about in Japanese guidebooks means that there will be hordes of Japanese tourists hitting up those places, making it feel like we hardly left Japan at all and ensuring some quite extensive waiting times...

The time was divided up with some beach resort time where it was mostly about enjoying the slow life, spa, good food, the ocean and the sun and then later on Honolulu with more shopping oriented activities, something which Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman approached with considerable enthusiasm while I placed myself in a conveniently located outdoor bar in the shopping center enjoying the atmosphere and quite a few whiskey sours, gin tonics and an educating book about Ed Gein. I think it's called a win-win situation, but now we're back in a hot and sticky Japan again, I guess it can't be all fun and games all the time... But hey, at some point we will be going back there!

Friday, August 7, 2009


Setting: Mr and Mrs. Salaryman are entering a small clothes shop in a store in Hawaii, no one in the store but us and the young store girl.

Store Girl: Hi guys, just let me know if I can help you with anything, how are you doing today?

Mr. Salaryman: We're doing fine, thanks

Store Girl: Awesome!!!

Mr. Salaryman: (thinking to himself, restraining himself to not say it out loud) What the f**k is wrong with you people?!

It's a dream come true

While suffering from a bit of Hawaii induced jetlag and being a bit too unfocused to put down any of the more interesting stories from the trip, I thought I should let you know of a dream come true.

As observant readers of this blog might've realized, I do have a bit of a thing for the fictional company "OCP - Omni Consumer Products" in the Robocop movie series (the third one doesn't really count, but the first and second ones rank among the greatest movies ever!) and I have been dreaming of getting myself a t-shirt with the OCP logo and considerable time has been invested in Internet searches for that since quite a while back with no luck.

But now I found this great online shop; "Last Exit to Nowhere" and found a host of great movie related t-shirts, including an OCP shirt as you can see in the picture here. I quickly purchased both an OCP t-shirt for me for the warm season, an OCP hoodie for the winter season and also one OCP t-shirt for Mrs. Salaryman-Sunshine just for good measure (who by the way is no fan of Robocop...), as well as a Deliverance t-shirt for myself and the Mad Max one for a friend. I am almost a bit disturbed by how happy it made me to find these t-shirts...

Disclaimer: Unfortunately I am in no way sponsored by the shop and push it just because I think the t-shirts are really cool, but I very well should be!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Leaving mainland Japan for some honeymoon!

Again, sorry, for the drop off in posting these lastest week, even salarymen get some vacation from time to time but don't interpret it as a lack of fun/bizarre/interesting things to blogg about! I have quite the backlog now with stuff I will be pumping out over the coming days!

As my previous post hinted, there was a contingency plan to get out of the worst heat here in Tokyo with me and Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman's honeymoon. We actually chose to not venture abroad this time and instead did some local travel to the 48 prefecture of Japan, slightly far off from the mainland honshuu; the islands of Hawaii. Needless to say, we had a great time and now we just have to readjust back to the heat in Tokyo over the coming days before it's back to hitting the office again... More reports on some of the more interesting things we experienced will come, but just a short update now to say that I am alive and rest assured that posting will soon pick up it's regular pace!
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