Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Troika has such a positive vibe to it in a political context, let's revive it!

Things are getting even more insane in Japanese politics, first full blown political asshole Ozawa was going to challenge current prime minister Kan to try and usurp his position and end his 3 month long reign of terror of the DPJ party and the country of Japan, with former prime minister Hatoyama popping up again as a wanna-be kingmaker... You would think that after his obscene failure as a prime minister after less than a year despite massive support in the election would have taught him a lesson to keep his head down.

But now, for some bizarre reason, either the party has realized that having Kan replaced by Ozawa would result in further lowered approval rates due to Ozawa's general unpopularity, or Hatoyama is just being confused again. But yesterday, in a late night press conference, Hatoyama starred again next to Kan and they both mumbled about moving forward in a "Troika Structure" (probably involving Kan, Hatoyama and Ozawa). News in Japanese here.

I dunno who thought it would be a good idea to use the word "Troika" in a political context here... The Democratic Party of Japan has turned from an embarrassing failure into a desperate clownshow here... All of a sudden "Everyone's Party" or "Rise Up Japan Party" doesn't seem so bad after all...

Monday, August 30, 2010

We promise, it'll never happen again!

You might remember my previous post about the 111 year old man who was found dead in a mummified stage, dead since around 30 years earlier, but the family had continued to keep lifting his pension and pretended like he was alive but just generally a recluse (post here).

This whole discovery created a dominoe effect with several other local authorities looking into whether their 100+ year old population actually still was alive and finding that in many cases they actually weren't. I've lost count, but I think that the number of people actually passed away is up to around 200 people or so, but in most cases it has not been connected to economic fraud (as in keep lifting benefits) but more to beuracracy, lack or relatives or the such.

In a new and amusing turn of events, the family of the mummified "111 year old", the Katoh's apparently posted a note with their apologies outside their house, something which became a bit of news the other day (see a report in Japanese here). In the note they express their regret, apologies and intent to return all the money that was lifted, nothing particularly exciting in there. But my favorite part of the letter is the small segment, which none of the news station picked up on, which states that: "We will do our best from now on to make sure that this does not happen again" (if you can read Japanese, pause the video at 1:02 and enjoy in the original phrasing).

I'm not sure if they're refering to keeping a dead relative in his room for 30+ years or the lifting of the retirement money? In any case, if I was in any form related to them and of respectable age, I would do my very best to stay as far away as possible from the good 'ol Katoh's.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

...looking like a moron or dying of heatstroke? Choices...

The heat here in Japan is not letting up and the temperature seem to be continuing to be over 30 degrees Celsius for the foreseeable future and some ominous reports on tv has mentioned that it might continue way into October until it finally cools down. The worst case scenario would be that Japan just skips a season and moves directly from summer to winter with no comfortable autumn season in between.
In the news, there's been mention on over 30,000 cases of people taken to the hospital due to heatstroke and a few hundred people dead due to the same so far this year and if the weather continues the figures are bound to build up further. I feel sorry for all the 100+ year old out there in Japan who has to cope with this heat (or, wait, maybe not?).

In order to somewhat cope with the heat, Mrs. Sunshine bought me a cooling "scarf" which basically is a scarf with frozen liquid packs inserted into it and meant to cool down the major blood vessels in the neck and as a consequence cool down the whole body when the heat is bad. I'm sure it works just fine, but it did carry with it a minor side-effect of me looking like a complete moron with a neck brace and not as pretty and nice as the girl in the advertisement. So, I'm still going around sweating.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

夫婦生活・"Married Life" - Learning Japanese

Now, as any long time readers of my blog has realized, this is not the place to go to for any practical tips on living in Japan and/or hints on how to improve your Japanese (ok, I do admit that the occasional advice has accidentaly passed through the system though), but I guess I will make an exception this time and teach you a little Japanese.

Now, those of you who think that you are quite good at Japanese might think that you understand the word in question:


The first two characters (夫婦) mean "married couple" and the second two (生活) means "daily life/lifestyle". Put together, it would be reasonable to assume that the meaning would be "marriage life", "life as a married couple" or something similar to that.

Well, you're wrong! Ok, literally it does mean "marriage life", but in the sordid world of Japanese professional gynecology it means intercourse (e.g. "the beast with two backs", "throw a log on the fire" , "taking the skin boat to tuna town", "glaze the donut" or whatever euphemism you would prefer for sexual relations).

So with this newfound gem, next time you meet your married Japanese friends, innocently ask them in Japanese how their "Married life" is in Japanese and wink knowingly if they say that it's "a lot of fun", "tiring but fun" or something similar! Remember where you heard this first!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Hey there, you can call me Mike"

Now, I'm no expert so people with more knowledge on how it looks in Asia might be able to correct me, but as far as I know it is common in Hong Kong and Singapore that ethnic Chinese people take an official western first name and go by that. It seems like that in Taiwan, quite a few people take a western name that they use in an International context but do not have this name registered officially. As far as I know, most other countries in Asia do not follow this and do not use western names at all, including Japan.

But yeah, whatever, my expertise is not in other Asian countries in any case, but the above is the image I have from my (mostly professional) interaction with people from the other countries in Asian. But what I want to get through here is very simply that Japanese people do not use Western first names unless there's a very good reason for it (e.g. foreign parent, born and grown up overseas or such). So if you encounter "Benny Takegawa" you can feel quite sure that he's either Japanese-american or have some foreign heritage (I would for instance also be a prime example here as I have a western first name and a Japanese family name I use in work).

Or, at least, that's the basic rule... On a few occasions I have run into completely Japanese people who have had a normal business card on the Japanese side, but on the English side they have had written in quotation marks a Western name. In my mind it creates this huge distortion between a 100% Japanese guy who's named "Masahiro Kitaguchi" and seeing the name "Mike" in quotation marks between the two Japanese names.

Once I actually asked the person why he had a western name in quotation marks and he admitted a bit embarrassed that some people from the head office had given him that name since they found his real name too difficult to pronounce and write...

I find this ridicilous and mildly-offensive since there are other ways to give someone a nickname; shorten the name or something else in the vicinity of the real name, rather than just randomly assign someone a western name... I have yet to encounter any foreigner with "Michael "Masahiro" Smith" written on his business card, for some reason...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We've got Lilico, look at what you got!

Among the Nordic countries, I think it's a well established fact that Sweden is the largest and the greatest country, making it's neighbors pale in comparison. Both Norway and Finland has a long history of blossoming under the benevolent rule of the Swedes and are just in the last hundred years struggling as independent countries, without the strong backbone of the Swedes supporting them.

So, it comes as no surprise then that this fact is also reflected in Japan its celebrities. As a person of half-Japanese descent, I keep close tabs on "half" (as they are called here in Japan) celebrities from the Nordic countries. Not that there's that many of them, but still. So, let's take a look at what we have here, shall we?

First we have our half-Norwegian celebrity; Mona Yamamoto
Mona has made her reputation, starting as a television announcer, but then branching out to a more general career as a home-wrecker and general gold-digger being involved in a few scandals with married men. Nowadays she seems to have made a bit of a recovery and somewhat managed to get rid of that image and is just generally making the rounds in the Japanese tv-shows as an overall "celebrity". Although quite pleasant to look at, she's really of no real significance, much like the country itself.

Then we have our half-Finnish celebrity; Ilmari
Ok, maybe it's a bit unfair to call this guy a "celebrity" since he's actually a musician in the popular Japanese shonan-rap group Rip Slyme. Maybe it's just me, but I have difficulties with the path that Japanese hip hop has taken and the general happy vibes that it gives of, judged on its own merits, maybe the music is good, but it's not for me. Apart from the musical stuff, his biggest claim to fame is probably getting married to that cute little Ebi-chan model girl.

Finally, we have our half-Swedish champion; Lilico
So it comes as no surprise that Sweden is the country that carries itself with the most dignity in this little comparison; Lilico is a tv personality and is probably most famous for leading the movie news segment in the popular Saturday morning show King's Brunch. Pretty much scandal free as well, though I always found it a bit odd that she speaks Japanese without any Swedish accent her English (heard when she interviews all those big name hollywood stars) has a noticeable Swedish accent.

What? What about the Danes and Icelanders you ask? Obviously they've got nothing, we're talking about real countries here and not just colonies.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Musical Chairs - Japanese Prime Minister Style!

Ok, I'm not sure if it's just this unrelenting heat that's making me slightly delirious or not, but I'm seriously starting to suspect that the office of Japanese Prime Minister now is just a big prank that someone is playing on us. You know the type of joke that is funny the first times around, starts get old and you get tired of it, but then after a few times more it starts to get funny again?

Now there's talk about replacing the current Japanese Prime Minister; Naoto Kan and it seems like one of the prime candidates in the DPJ party is the bloated, arrogant and recently under police investigation for some economical irregularities from his administrative office, Ichiro Ozawa.
Since the LDP Prime Minister Abe resigned after a year on the post in September 2007, there has been a parade of Prime Ministers; Fukuda, Aso and then, after the election, the DPJ took over and Hatoyama served less than a year and got replaced by Kan, and now, after less than 3 months in power it seems like a lot of politicians seem to think that it would be a good idea to change again...

Since September 2006, there has been five Prime Minister, each serving a shorter term than the guy before him. I think that possibly a "No, I can't!" slogan might be in order here, meanwhile, I'd better make sure that Baby Sunshine gets that Swedish citizenship sooner rather than later...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Laughing out Loud" orally

I've written about the horrors of teleconferences many times in this blog before and can't be bothered to link but you can always search the blog for "telecon" and/or "teleconference" and I'm sure you will find quite a number of posts dealing with this infernal type of meeting.

One of the things with telecons is how badly suited they are for any use of humour and jokes that otherwise can be quite refreshing when going through a large PowerPoint presentation. The audience is an anonymous mass, all having their systems on "mute" (well, ideally, but it never happens) and throwing out a joke mixed in the presentation results in either

A) complete silence (people might have gotten that it's a joke and laughed a bit, but since it's on mute you'll never know)


B) the awkward stilted laughs that comes out of someone pressing "unmute" and then artificially laughing to show that he/she "got" the joke and it can get even more ridiculous when it's followed up by all the other participants following up, doing the same in turn to show that they too, got the joke, each laugh more artificial than the next.

Those artificial laughs always seemed to me as something very close to someone writing "LOL" or "haha" in a chat; you know that it doesn't really come from the heart! My advice; stay clear of the jokes and go for option A!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Language and Cultural Barrier - Raise the stakes

As I've probably mentioned before, my little company doesn't really have that many foreigners in the office and I'm the only one who works in a customer facing function and actually involved with the products and services that we try to sell to the unsuspecting Japanese health care caregivers. My colleagues in the sales and marketing functions also (for the most part) have very limited capabilities when it comes to English.

This means that there are considerable language and cultural barriers firmly set in place. I would say that for the most part, the barriers are probably comparable to the great wall of China and could be seen on satellite images. Oftentimes I'm called in to smooth things out, but I can't be everywhere at once and deal with everything that's going on in the company, so a lot of the time I need to leave people to fend for themselves as best as they can when the head office tries to intervene in the local business. For most of the people, the barrier is there but not as a part of any deliberate efforts; most of the people actually would like to communicate more and better, but just don't have the capabilities to do so.

However, in a recent case, when one of the product managers who neither speaks much English, nor is particularly interested in having his game disturbed by some nosy head office person who might mess up some nice scam he has going on, the barrier is not only encouraged, it is also actively enforced to try and prevent any contact. In this recent example, things escalated since one of the global product managers had firmly set his sight on breaking through the barriers by any means possible. This including trying to call directly to our guy in the Japan office (which further fuels the fire since he is severely afraid of having to communicate directly in English due to his limited language and his fear of accidentally agreeing to something that he absolutely don't want to do), but he managed to dodge most of that by either asking the secretary to say that he was out of the office or claiming to not have time to talk since he had to "rush out to meet a VIP customer for something very important". Things further escalated when I started to get pulled into the whole thing through requests to help set up a meeting (something I initially also managed to dodge since it wasn't my area of responsibility).

The language and cultural barrier had been broken though and the full scale invasion attempt had resulted in an all out language and cultural war. However, recently the situation has calmed down a bit and I have now been drafted in to try and broke peace in three party talks. The situation can now probably most accurately be called a "language and cultural de-militarized zone", talks are ongoing but very little progress is made.

(As a side-note, it should be mentioned that Cpt. Awkward on the other hand has a Sunshine policy towards foreign contact and gladly invites people over to his side of the border. Unfortunately most people find themselves trapped in wonderland, desperately chasing the white rabbit to try and figure out what's actually going on in his scary, but wonderful magical land!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Work hard!

I am quite exceptionally fast at work if I'm doing something that's not completely new to me. I haven't really thought much about it, but recently I was working with some people in the company and we had divided up the work to do it fast. The other two people spent the better part of a day finishing their parts while I had my done in a few hours, there probably were some basic effeciency saving techniques that I could use through Excel that they didn't use, but still. I have a general reputation in the company to deliver the work very quickly.

Thinking about it, I realized that this is probably traced back all the way back to elementary school where I realized that if I finished up the chapters given to us quickly; after a while the teacher just gave up on giving me more stuff to do so I wouldn't get too far ahead in the book and just ran out of extra assignments and told me to do something else as long as I kept quiet and still. This usually meant working on one of those huge drawings I used to do with Martin (the one's where we drew the whole class and the stir that created among some of our classmates is a completely other story) and have fun instead of studying. I think that from that time, it's instilled in my DNA that working fast means that I get more time to do other fun stuff instead.

Unfortunately that's not really how it works inside a company where I'm bound to the clock to some degree and drawing pictures is not really an option at my desk... I really should start working a bit more slowly since effeciency is very rarely rewarded in the Japanese working environment...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remaking "Ghost"

The unrelenting heat here in Tokyo is not letting up and I feel that my overall wit is taking a hit, the term in Japanese is 夏バテ "Natsubate" for describing the exhaustion and tiredness that can come with summer; the heat and then combined with the aircon air.

A little while ago I saw in the news that a Japanese-Korean remake of the american movie "Ghost" is under production, the twist is apparently that instead of having the guy die and spook, in this movie it's the woman who dies. But they promised that they would have the pottery scene in if that's worth anything. As an amusing anecdote, I remember hearing or reading somewhere that the sound they use in the movie when the bad guys die and the darkness comes to take them away were baby crying layered and then slowed down - one would assume that they judged that the actual sound of baby cries would be way too scary.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Divide and conquer - The Tri-Lingual Family

In a comment to one of my earlier posts, someone asked whether I planned to raise Baby Sunshine bi- or tri-lingual. I have detailed plans for this issue that makes it worthy of a post in itself I believe.

Since the previous balance of power was evenly matched between me and Mrs. Sunshine, I felt quite comfortable with my position in the family, but now with Baby Sunshine entering the picture, I must now try to maintain a position of power facing two females. This potential shift of power is alarming and I intend to use whatever means that are at my disposal to not be overthrown: language will be one of my key leverage points.

The main plan is to make sure that Baby Sunshine understands Swedish, thus I speak in Swedish to her (although the level of conversation at this stage is hardly that advanced). Although I am very slowly teaching Mrs. Sunshine some words in Swedish (mostly limited to words such as poo, vomit, hiccup, diaper etc.) her understanding is severely limited. Also, we do not intend to raise Baby Sunshine in English in the early years and keep the languages to Japanese and a little Swedish without throwing in another language in the mix.

Through this cunning strategy, I can ensure that I maintain the language dominance in the household, being the only person who can understand all three languages spoken within the Salaryman family. With this advantage, I feel comfortable that I can play them out against each other to divide and conquer. I believe that scenarios like this could very much be the case:

Baby Sunshine: (In Swedish) Daddy, can we go to Disneyland?

Salaryman: (Also in Swedish, enthusiastically) Yes baby, that sounds like a great idea and I really really wanna do that, but I have to ask mom to see what she says first (having since previously agreed with Mrs. Sunshine that the timing is not right for a trip)

Salaryman: (Turning to Mrs. Sunshine and say in English) Hey Sunshine, do you mind if I spend $3,000 dollars on buying a new computer so I can play the latest game with the best quality?

Mrs. Sunshine: (In English, angrily) What?! No! You just bought a new expensive computer just a year ago, we can't spend that kind of money on things like that again so soon!

Salaryman: (In Swedish to Baby Sunshine, sad) Oh, I'm sorry baby, I really wanted to go but mommy says that we can't go! You heard how angry she got at you!

The main books I study for handling family matters are Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" and "The Prince" by Machiavelli!
(Hmmm.. considering that Mrs. Sunshine occasionally checks in on this blog, maybe I shouldn't be so open with my plans...)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Empty Nest - Salaryman style

Those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning or has made sure to catch up on the older posts probably should be familiar with "The Boy", my former junior colleague who I first met when I joined the management consulting company that I was in when this blog got started. After I left the consultant company to become a more regular corporate suit, he stayed on and we have kept in touch as something akin to friends since I left, frequently meeting up with the old gang for drinks and very interesting rowdy conversations. Particularly me, The Boy and Luke makes for quite a dynamic team.

Considering that he's almost ten years my junior and that our first professional relationship was defined as that of him as a junior employee and me as senior, I have grown very fond of him and see him a bit as something of a mix of a surrogate son and a Mexican illegal immigrant worker I have do my dirty work for me. You can find a digest of the posts where he has played a part in some way here.

But now my little Boy is all grown up and moving out of Japan to go back to school for some fancy degree in some fancy school in Britain. Of course, I still have my biological little daughter, Baby Sunshine here with me, but seeing the Boy all grown up and moving out of the country, to a harsh and unforgiving world, makes me both worried and proud.

Looking back, some of my favorite episodes with him was probably that awfully long month we spent together with Cpt. Britain in Project, working with the boob project. After spending a month working together all day long, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, day after day, slowly grinding each other down, but with nothing else to do really. The final weekend together when we had to stay in Paris to finish up some things and no energy to do anything big and the Boy asks me in a very tired voice "So, yeah, you wanna have dinner together?" and I gather up all the energy I have left to put on a big smile and very enthusiastically exclaim "Yeah, I think that's a great idea, you know, I have the feeling that you and me haven't really spent enough quality time together recently".

On the bright side, maybe he'll take me to the London Dungeon and Tussauds if I squeeze in a visit!

(...and of course the title of this post is a friendly nod to neighborhood blogger Karen!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Big in Oman

I recently checked out my site at Alexa.com and got some interesting insight into the traffic and visitors of this blog (regularly I use statcounter.com). This is some of the amusing tidbits that Alexa could tell me about my blog:

Foreignsalaryman.blogspot.com's three-month global Alexa traffic rank is 539,419. While we estimate that 59% of the site's visitors are in Japan, where it is ranked #35,958, it is also popular in Oman, where it is ranked #3,994. The fraction of visits to it referred by search engines is about 3%. The site has been online since 2000. Foreignsalaryman.blogspot.com's visitors view an average of 2.2 unique pages per day.

Interesting and a little odd considering that I've hardly seen any visitors from Oman through my regular Statcounter and since the blog was created first in 2007... Furthermore, Alexa was also happy to tell me a little more details about my reader demographics:

Foreignsalaryman.blogspot.com is visited more frequently by females who are in the age range 35-44, have no children, are graduate school educated and browse this site from home.

Fascinating stuff, but somehow I get the feeling that Alex is not really getting the facts completely straight... But how can I tap into the amazing popularity I seem to have among females aged 35-44 living in Oman?!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The secret of little brothers...

I have spent considerable time deliberating whether I actually should post this, since it would break the secret code of all the little brothers out there, something that has been kept secret from the dawn of time. But I cannot keep silent any longer and even if this means that the secret International Order of the Little Brothers will put a bounty on my head I will still go ahead and reveal this...

As a little brother, you grow up in an environment where you will have to survive and adapt to not being the strongest kid in the pack. Relying on brute force alone will not be possible since the older brother/sister will have the physical advantage, being years ahead in muscle and mass development. Even as the years will even out this advantage, little brothers, having grown up in this harsh world where we have to rely on other means than physical ones to cause pain and annoyance, have developed an array of different techniques to even the score.

This time, I will reveal the secret of the "Ignore-Agree" technique... Probably one of the most well protected secrets of us little brothers, and almost guaranteed to cause annoyance. It's not foolproof and even seasoned veteran brothers can sometimes make mistakes when applying this so please do not try this at home without proper guidance from a professional.

This technique comes in when an older sibling or similar figures orders you to do something and outright defiance might trigger a physical attack, but you still don't really want to do it and am looking to create some annoyance in return. The basics of the technique is to

1. When receiving the command answer something non-committal and mumble

2. Walk away, I can not overemphasize the importance of the walk away, this has to be done quickly but not look like you are in any hurry. I would recommend you to be in a standing position at a distance of a few meters before step one. Getting cornered can disarm this technique so a plan of escape that seem natural.

The objective of the Agree-Ignore technique is to not outright defy the command and risk bodily horm, but to leave the older sibling figure in a state of confusion for a few seconds, giving you time to escape and also leave the older sibling in a state of annoyance at whether you actually meant that you will do it or not. If confronted with an authority figure you can also claim that you did agree to do the thing and put your older sibling to shame for ratting you out.

So, let's look at a practical example of applying this technique:

Big Bro: (bullying) Hey, you need to do that thing we talked about!
Little Bro: (standing up, moving a few steps towards the doorway pretending like you didn't really hear - securing an escape path) Huh? What?
Big Bro: (annoyed) I said that you need to do that thing!
Little Bro: (facing away from Big Bro, while casually walking away) Oh that, yeah, I guess someone should do that and (mumbles)
Big Bro: (confused and annoyed) What?
Little Bro: (already out of sight) Yeah... (mumbles)

It is at considerable risk I share this sacred knowledge with you. This technique has helped reducing my own effort and also successfully annoyed many people, but I urge you to please handle this knowledge with care!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hey, the NY Times link me!

Ok, I must admit that I feel a bit proud when I noticed that the NY Times web version links to my site through a Globalvoices Online submission on one of my posts on the latest mummy scandal thingy.

I think this is reasonable grounds for some mild bragging and self-satisfaction! Check it out here!

Friday, August 6, 2010

To tip or not to tip

One of the things that can make temporary visitors or even longer term visitors a bit confused in Japan is that there is always exceptions to any unwritten rule. Usually you won't really know those exceptions until they happen and a Japanese person who knows proper etiquette is around (which is not necessarily everyone) .

I can give you a concrete example here and something that I myself brought up about a year ago (post here). Basically Japan is a no tipping country and the stuff I wrote about it earlier is not wrong in principle, but then comes the exceptions… It should be noted that the exceptions are pretty rare and can be difficult for Japanese people, as well to know when and how much should be tipped. During my time in Japan , I have come across two exceptions so far, I'm sure there are more out there that I have just plain missed or not yet encountered:

  • Tipping to the bridal salon after the wedding – Amount depends on services rendered, but if a dress for the bride, tux for the groom and some kimono dressing etc. for other family members was done, this could climb up to ~$500 dollars

  • Tipping to the moving company - After moving reasonable amounts (a single person smaller household is ok not to tip) furniture from point A to point B – Amount is flexible and depending on distance as well, but a minimum of $10 per person involved in the moving (hey, at least they deserve enough for a couple of beers after moving all the stuff about)

Oh and yes, please make sure you give them the money in a fancy envelope so it doesn’t feel like you’re tipping them!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Enjoying the beauty of the Japanese cuisine, or not; The Top Three of the Worst Theme Restaurants in Tokyo

If you ask anyone who has been to Japan what they enjoyed the most, I'm sure that the food will be mentioned somewhere in there pretty high up in the ranking. Anyone who has experienced a full course traditional Kaiseki dinner will have marveled at the beauty and new flavours that the chefs have brought out. Or why not a teppanyaki course with Kobe beef (those cows who sleep on water beds, drink beer and receive daily massage; they live a better life than most of us, up to a point...).

But even on a modest budget you can get great tempura, tonkatsu, a wide range of noodles and so the list goes on and on. But hey! Screw all that, if you really want to see what modern Tokyo is all about you should go to a theme restaurant! So without further interruption, I proudly introduce my own, very biased ranking of the top three theme restaurants in Tokyo!

3. Christon Cafe

This restaurant slash bar labels itself as "the restaurant that looks like a church" and is decorated with statues of the virgin Mary, crosses, gargoyles, statues of saints and areas which looks like small shrines. If you happen to be a person of faith, maybe this is not the place to go, but for a heathen like me, I find it quite amusing to eat and get a little wasted on reasonable beer and cocktails in a place that very much looks like what it is; a Japanese persons impression of what a European church looks like. Quite sacrilegious, but I am sure that it was not designed to offend anyone, just some guys and gals who actually enjoyed the image of a church and thought "this would be a great setting to eat and drink in". However, the menu is not particularly thematic at all, mostly a standard selection of cross-cooking, but this prevents it from getting higher on this list.

2. The Lock-Up

Of the theme restaurant chains in Japan, this is the grand old man and goes for a classic "monster/dungeon" theme. Not only has quite a lot of effort gone into the decoration of the place, but they also have a "happening time" every two hours or so when the lights go out, a siren plays and some people in badly made monster masks run around and jump into the rooms to try and scare the poor guests. Not to mention how you are greeted by a girl dressed as a police in a mini-skirt handcuffs you when you enter before she leads you to your seat/dungeon. As you might have guessed, the food is functional but nothing to write home about, but the drinks are quite interesting. With creative names such as "human experiment" or "electro therapy" and served in beakers, syringes and other creative vessels of serving drinks in.

1. Alcatraz

My favorite and the greatest of them all. Think The Lock-up, but much seedier and more gritty, without the cartoon flair of the former. The restaurant is not part of a chain and has its only restaurant located in Shibuya, right in the middle of the famous "love hotel hill" with all the sex shops and love hotels just next to it. The theme of the restaurant is basically that of a prison hospital out of a horror movie and they have divided the restaurant into areas such as the Intensive Care Unit, the Surgery ward etc. True to the location, they also have a bit of a suggestive theme going (it's hardly anything to be excited about, but maybe the small children should stay at home) with the waitresses wearing more or less "sexy" nurse outfits but so badly executed that it's more funny than anything else. Like the lock-up they too have a "happening time" with some "doctor" dude running in and some nurses doing a so-bad-it's-just-silly dance routine. The food is actually even worse than that of the Lock-up and I fondly remember the properly named "penis-sausage" and drinks are, like in the Lock-up, served in creative vessels. This all combined safely secures Alcatraz top position as the best of the worst of the Tokyo theme restaurants!

So yeah, if you for some reason want to down prioritize good food and go for an interesting experiences now you are well equipped to go ahead! Leave all sense of good taste behind and enjoy crappiness at it's finest!

(Note: This post was originally written as a guest post for the folks at www.traveleditor.com if you wonder about the touristiness of it, and you can find the original there in all it's glory here)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The secret of the high life expectancy in Japan revealed - for real!

In my earlier post about the news of the second oldest resident of Japan found dead since several decades in a mummified state (post here) I was basically making a joke about the long life expectancy of Japan, but it seems like I might have been a bit closer to the mark than I originally intended...

After this revelation, it seems like the authorities decided to look into the situation of the currently oldest person in Tokyo, clocking in at a good 113 years of age... But, unfortunately the elderly lady has not been located and no one seem to have seen her in the last couple of decades and the people in the neighborhood seems to think she's dead (news in Japanese here). She might be a living dead, but at least it seems like she's not lifting her retirement money by proxy...

As some other regions in Japan suddenly feel the need to look into the whereabouts of their own oldest residents it seems like a lot of them are very hard to locate...
(Bonus points to anyone who know "who" is in the picture)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ambushed by rainfall! ゲリラ豪雨

Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman is fluent in English due to a partial upbringing outside Japan and we mainly communicate in English but mix it up a bit with Japanese to keep us on our toes. From her perspective it's convenient but also a bit dangerous since if she can't find the word in English easily she can just say the word in Japanese and I'm very likely to understand what she's saying. This could cause some inconvenience for her when she's talking to some foreigner who cannot speak Japanese since she's used to having an easy way out.

In any case, her English is basically perfect but sometimes she gets a bit hesitant and unsure and asks me what the word for something is. An exchange like this is not completely unusual:

Mrs. Sunshine: Salaryman, I'm forgetting all my English... What's the word again in English again for the sound that a raindrop makes when it's hitting a purple flower during a hot late summer night?
Salaryman: Uh, Sunshine... I don't think there's an English word for that you know, you just have to say the whole thing... Besides, your English is fine, don't worry! Why do you want to say that anyway?

Which brings me to the topic at hand. As you might have figured out, there's quite a few unique words in the Japanese language that basically are extremely hard to translate to English or just don't plain exist (hey, this is probably true for most languages though). My recent favorite Japanese word is ゲリラ豪雨 "Guerrilla rainfall". Guerrilla rainfall is sudden and intense rain when you least expect it, basically you getting ambushed by the sky. It's been frequently used in weather reports now during the rain intense last weeks (frequent rain in West and South Japan that is, not Tokyo).
I have the feeling that this word will never catch on in English...

Monday, August 2, 2010

I have a dream!

Last night I had some difficulties falling asleep; not due to the baby crying or so, just some difficulties falling asleep. As I lay there awake, listening to the sounds of Baby Sunshine and Mrs. Sunshine gently snoring I started to get a bit anxious about the amount of sleep I was gonna get and how tired I would be at work the following day which makes it further difficult to fall asleep...

At some point, after an hour or so I actually fell asleep and I dreamt that (which I remember very clearly and felt like an eternity) I lay awake and couldn't sleep and got stressed about not getting enough sleep and being really tired at work the following day.

For some reason I didn't feel like I had gotten nearly enough sleep when I woke up in the morning... This must rank among the most annoying dreams I have ever had...

Father in Japan, day 84 - The good days and the bad days

Little Baby Sunshine is growing larger and more intimidating by the minute, I fear that she has already understood the power of her wailing.

A Bad Day now starts off with the little one crying through the night, ensuring that I get a bare minimum of sleep before being awoken by the alarm clock. As I have breakfast she keeps crying, despite all the boobs she's getting and makes it impossible for me to catch the morning news. I get on a packed and sweaty train to the office only to be met with problems and colleagues messing stuff up, making a hundred wailing babies seem peaceful in comparison. As I get home, I'm met with the sound of baby cries which doesn't let up through dinner, bath time and bed time....

A Good Day now has Baby Sunshine sleeping most of the night, only waking up to eat a few times with some subtle crying, and as I take her to the living room for breakfast, she fires off one of those adorable baby smiles that just makes a daddy's heart melt. The train is relatively uncrowded and I might even be able to sit down a bit and am met with a peaceful office and can focus on my stuff without having to try to solve other people's problems. I get home early and am met again with a happy baby that keeps firing off those baby smiles until she falls asleep peacefully at 8pm giving me a little quality time with Mrs. Sunshine before going to sleep.

Ok, the good days are hardly "good" of Ice-Cubian proportions but I take what I can get !

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Buying a house in Japan Part 6 - The Sales Reps

As the Salaryman-Sunshine family (baby Sunshine still comfortably internalized inside Mrs. Sunshine) continued the hunt for a suitable base of operations, a quite large number of weekends were spent visiting and checking out a quite large number of houses and met a host of different reps with different approaches to the job.

The basic flow is the same as in most places I would guess; most of the houses we checked out were recommended by one of the local real estate agents in the area and a rep would take us out to the property, show us how things looked, answer any questions and with varying degrees of effort put into it, try to sell us the house. In some instances when we were looking into houses that were planned or under construction, we talked directly with the sales department of the building company (who usually has a separate subsidiary doing the sales).

I must admit that I had an image of real estate sales reps as being quite pushy and aggressive in their sales methods (by Japanese standards) but to our surprise this was not the case. We encountered three basic types of reps:

Rep Type A: Didn't really care much and seemed more annoyed than anything that he/she had to leave his comfy little office and actually guide some potential customers to the property he/she was trying to sell. Typical exchanges would be us saying "well, this living room is a bit on the small side" and getting a "yep, it's pretty small isn't" in reply without any effort in putting any spin to it.

Rep Type B: The slightly slimy besserwisser type sales rep. To their credit, this type did actually try to sell the property in question but had the annoying habit of trying to sell in and empasize features that were pretty obvious; "look, you can actually put a medium-sized refrigirator here, how about that, huh?" "this room has heated flooring, have you ever heard of such a thing? It heats the floor and keeps your feet warm at winter". We encountered a few of these and usually ended up being more annoyed by the sales tactics than put off by the property...

Rep Type C: Well, this would be the more reasonable and low-key type of rep that we eventually ended up buying our house from. This were the type that let us check stuff out on our own mostly and answered our questions, focusing on the good things but not trying to spin things into the surreal.

In the end we got a really good rep and I was surprised to see that we got a very good after-service after purchasing the house (small stuff fixed quickly and without any fuss). However, we did end up buying through a housing company so it might be different when buying a used property through a real estate agent.
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