Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hiding in plain sight...

Sometimes it's prudent to hide
This ties in a little with a couple of previous posts where I talked a bout the "gaijin nod" greeting and my, not always completely clear ethnicity.

Earlier this week I found myself on a business trip to the Kyoto area and as I was walking from the meeting venue during a short break I was quickly approached by a confused looking female tourist who had gotten lost and wanted to ask how to get to some temple in the area. Her relief in finding an English speaker was quite short lived though as I had no idea as to the location of the place she wanted to go (to add to the intial confusion, she was Asian-American and looked basically Japanese in my eyes). I didn't bother to explain that I wasn't Japanese, just that I "wasn't from the area".

Later in the day as I was heading home in the Shinkansen train I saw a quite confused looking tourist trying to find his seat and unsuccessfully trying to ask several passengers without really getting any help due to language problems. As I've myself many years ago also have been a tourist here without understanding much Japanese, I do make a small effort to help tourists on the basis that I would have appreciated the same.

As he was looking very confused I called out to him, checked out his ticket (and yep, he had an unreserved seat ticket and was in a car for reserved seats) and told him where the unreserved cars were but that he likely could just take an empty seat in the half-full train if he just moved if someone came. He seemed very relieved to have gotten some help and said "thank you so much, you're the first Japanese person I've met this trip that can speak good English!". Fearing that revealing my non-Japaneseness would force me into a long uninteresting conversation I just shrugged it off with "well, it's Japan" and demonstratively immersed myself in the iPad.

So it's almost like having a secret identity that I hide and protect, but unfortunately I don't have any kind of special powers or anything noteworthy, but the secret identity can at least protect me from tourist related conversations which is not that bad in the end.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hell - Redefined

Imagine me as "US" and the kids as the kids
In a previous post over two years ago (see here) I defined hell as "Hell is the 6 hour Shinkansen train ride from Fukuoka to Tokyo, stuck in the smoking car". Up until now I have seen no need to revise this definition although it probably should be mentioned that this specific torment is now off the map as they have implemented 100% non-smoking cars in the Shinkansen nowadays.

However, as of today I feel that I need to redefine "hell" as I experienced something much much worse... The new definition is "Hell is to in the return commuting train during rush hour, find myself in a car occupied by a vicious horde of 5-6 year old kids who scream, climb all over you and some delicate stuff in the bag and generally won't shut up and sit still for even a minute". The train was too crowded to escape much and besides, they had infected the whole train car. Naive as I was, I was hoping that they would get off pretty early and clear the car completely, but this was not the case as they were all remaining when I got off. 

In comparison, I'd rather take a six hour ride in the (now extinct) smoking car of a Shinkansen bullet train than endure this ever again...  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Anuses, testicles - My Favorite Medical Devices

Bonus point if you recognize the Doctor! Hint: His family
also gave the name to a high quality tractor brand!
Working in the healthcare industry, sometimes you come across some interesting and slightly different products that people are actually passionate about while I have to keep myself from giggling, childish as I am.

Here are my favorites:
  • Artificial Anuses - Ok, when you read up on it, it really isn't as amusing as it sounds, but still can't help giggling when I hear the name...
  • Testicle Implants - A smaller offspring off the artificial beauty business, you lost a testicle to cancer and don't feel the same with an empty sack? Well, why not get yourself a silicone testicle implant? Last time I checked, they were available in three sizes
  • 3 Liter sized boob implants - Legendary boob implants that a European company apparently custom made for a pornstar who wanted to go bigger and better than the competition. I'm still waiting for those 3 liter testicle implants...
  • Enema Syringes - Ok, these are more normal, but still remember strongly when I was in a meeting with a guy from a propspective partner company and how passionate he was about their newest enema syringe and how "smooth" it went in... We never did any business in the end, but I'm sure it was a great product!
I'm sure there's plenty more freaky stuff that I have yet to encounter, but if I Salaryman on I guess I'll run into them sooner or later!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The "Gaijin Nod" Controversy

They wear G-strings to war
Now I'm getting myself into a highly inflammatory and heated topic - the Gaijin Nod and how to handle it... For those of you unsure what this means, the "Gaijin Nod" is the occurrence of foreigners living in Japan passing each other on the street (or wherever) to give a nod as to recognize a fellow foreigner in Japan. 

The "Gaijin Nod" does usually not extend to tourists (and it's fairly easy to see who's a tourist and who's a resident foreigner) and does not really exist as a real phenomena in the Tokyo area due to the comparatively large amount of foreigners.

It seems like some foreign residents here in Japan embrace the habit and give the Gaijin Nod enthusiastically, but quite a few people take the opposite stance and deliberately out of their way to look the other way to avoid having to acknowledge the other foreigner. 

Personally, having spent some time in the country side as an exchange student ages ago, initially embraced the concept of the Gaijin Nod, being relatively new in the country and not that great Japanese ability there was something comforting in it. But my ethnically ambiguous appearance quickly made things quite confusing. At times, I would do the nod and only get met with a skeptical frown as the fellow foreigner probably only saw a Japanese person and didn't recognize me as a foreigner. This happened enough times that I completely stopped with it but then I also sometimes got faced with the opposite - a foreigner approaches but I just carried on forward and then I get a Gaijin Nod, but with my brain failing to process this until I had already passed the person, making me look arrogant.

So yeah, conceptually, I'm quite ok with the Gaijin Nod but felt more or less forced to stop with it and now, living in Tokyo it's no longer any issue. A complicated topic indeed...    

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Japanese female soccer team and the butches!

I just love this one...
I think that most people saw the news on the Japanese female soccer team winning the world cup the other day after a quite tense second half against the US team, ending up with a decision through penalty kicks. I was trying to sleep through this as I still felt a bit bitter about the Japanese team beating the Swedish team a few days earlier, but the baby had brought up Mrs. Sunshine and I could follow the game through her enthusiastic cheering and cursing (as a former "almost made it pro" tennis player she really gets into watching sports...).

In any case, I think this type of good news was just what Japan needed with the aftermath of the quake and the ongoing power saving propaganda at the moment. Never mind that most people didn't know that the female soccer world cup was ongoing until Japan made it to the semi-finals.

As the team returned home the other day, they received a heroes welcoming with media, fans all over the place at the airport (again, never mind that when they left basically the only ones to see them off was their families, if that even).

Yesterday they participated in one of the morning news shows we usually have on in the mornings in the Salaryman household ("Mezamashi tv" for those familiar with Japanese morning shows). The whole team was in the studio and answered pre-recorded questions from fans. My favorite question came from a little girl who asked the team "Do you have boyfriends and do guys like girls who play soccer?". To put it all in a frame of reference, the team looks something like this...

Can you spot Butch Dykeman? yeah, you can judge for yourself, but to me at least half the team looks pretty butch (hey, that's perfectly fine though)... But the funny thing was the reaction when the team heard the question, there were quite a few grins that seemed to say "if that little girl only knew". Unfortunately Baby Sunshine distracted me so I missed how they handled the question. In Japan, female homosexuality is not something that is very openly talked about and being open about it would make any advertisement deals more difficult...

(Hey, I might be completely wrong though, maybe all of them are straight as a flagpole but just look a little... ... manly?)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weapons of Mass Distraction - Surviving the Commuter War

Those of you who have been following my series on the commuter terrorists waging their war on the Tokyo train-lines, must realize that it would be foolish to venture out to the subway/train battleground without any weapons of my own.

After buying the house and increasing the commuting time, the need to stock up on defensive weapons became even more urgent. Now I have amassed quite the arsenal of Weapons of Mass Distraction to keep me somewhat entertained and shielded from the horrors of the commuting war. There are three primary weapons at my disposal;

1. The iPod
The iPod (not touch, the older version) comes into use mostly for listening to music during the trek to and from the station and while waiting for the train. If the train is extremely crowded and both hands are needed to hold my ground I use the iPod as a last-line defense. In the past I have also turned to audio books and podcasts/radio shows and although it is some relief, it does not completely shield me from the war. Although the iPod I own is capable of video playback, I find the screen to be too small to watch anything meaningful on.

2. The PSP
The PSP is probably my most utilized WMD as the relatively small size makes it comfortable to hold with one hand and can be managed even in very crowded trains. I very rarely use it to play games on, partly due to the lack of interesting games and partly due to the need to hold it with both hands, making it more difficult during crowded trains, instead I use it to watch downloaded TV shows (and sometimes movies). Assuming I have some fun/interesting stuff to watch this can be a very potent weapon and make me actually look forward to the train ride as time to watch TV shows is limited otherwise. Currently I'm watching the show Dexter as recommended by the Big Bro and I find it very much entertaining, but as I work my way through two episodes/day on the train I will finish up the available five seasons very soon and will need to find some other stuff... I am very much looking forward to Sony releasing the next-generation PSP "Vita" by the end of the year since I have hopes that some more amusing games will be available.

3. The iPad
Ok, generally speaking, the iPad is the greatest thing ever (or at least the iPad 2 that I have, have never used the first version) but it's not really optimized for the train battles as it is a bit too heavy to comfortably hold with one hand while under attack from all fronts. The iPad mostly come into use during those rare occasions when I get the chance to sit down and get a little more space and can use it to read comic books, books and play some of the more entertaining games I have for it.

If I realize that I have left the house forgetting any of the above I am in for a rough time... I do however only use my WMDs for defensive purposes and even keep the volume down reasonably low as to not disturb my comrade in arms.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ok, normally I would be against racial profiling...

If you look carefully, you can see him spitting
This morning, as I was making my merry way to the new office from the subway station I was very surprised to see the way packed with people standing in line for some sale or opening of a new one of the big Japanese electronic stuff store (can't remember if it was BicCamera, Yamada, Yodobashi or whatnot, doesn't really matter though).

I basically had to elbow my way against the tide and from the look of the people it seemed like a mix of mostly Japanese but also a quite significant number of Chinese tourists looking to spend some cash on Japanese electronics. I guess this means that nuclear scare that washed over the rest of Asia has calmed down now and they're coming back to pour their needed money into the limp Japanese economy.

To try and keep some form of order, employees of the store were spread out with a few meters distance with signs pointing in the right direction for the crowd to move in (not that it was moving an inch as far as I could see). But what I found quite amusing was that among the directional signs were also one employee with a sign saying "Please do not spit on the ground", first in Japanese and then under it in Chinese. The thing though is that basically noone spits here in Japan (apart from rebellious kids and Yakuza/Yakuza-wannabees and they very well know that it's not perceived as a nice thing to do) while it's more or less normal in many other Asian countries obviously including China (but to be fair, I haven't seen it in Singapore or Hong Kong and feel a bit unsure about Taiwan).

Ok, I have to give it to them, they did a real effort in not pointing anyone out by having it written in Japanese first, followed by Chinese. A sensitivity that I've rarely seen anywhere else, but I also have the feeling that in this particular case, they might as well had it just in Chinese...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dark Side of Salaryman...

He's Evil!
I've been in the new company for less than two weeks and am going in very mild as I really don't know anything on how the company works, the personality of my colleagues (that well) and have a lot of work to do to come to grips with the products and extreme amount of complicated processes that seem to be in place for everything. So at this point, I'm extremely polite, keep the offensive jokes to myself and am probably perceived as a very careful and mild person. As the office is 100% Japanese, I also communicate only in Japanese which further enhances the politeness.

However, the other day we had a dinner with an American visitor over from the head office as we talked in English my "foreign" personality got turned on which is more dominant and in comparison, a lot more aggressive than how I interact with my Japanese colleagues at this point. I didn't really think much about it since it comes quite naturally to me when I interact with a Westerner in English. 

However, apparently it made an impact on some of my colleagues who during an after-work beer session vividly told some other colleagues how different I had behaved and that I had shown the "Dark Side Salaryman" (he did mean it as a compliment though). I reassured him that in the not too far future they will be longing for the time when I was mild mannered and silent.

...changing jobs is for sure always an interesting experience but quite frustrating to have relearn everything when I used to know exactly how things were done...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Penis measurement - is this really appropriate?

Pump the reservoir
Last week I participated in a sales meeting in the new company, followed by a quite rowdy dinner. As the "new and foreign bird" I obviously drew quite a bit of attention to myself as people were curious on the foreign Salaryman that had suddenly joined them. For the most part it was all fun and games and in a good atmosphere.

However, with quite large beer consumption follows the call of nature and a few times I felt the need to relieve myself. As it was a quite big group, there usually was quite the crowd of fellow salarymen by the bathroom. After my turn came up, I relieved myself without giving it much thought and as I was going to wash my hands I heard a few voices behind me calling out. "Hey, Salaryman, you're a foreigner, but your penis is not that big at all? How come?". My first reaction was one of slight confusion as to whether I had actually heard right (and surprise that my penis had actually been closely observed), followed by the second disappointment in the knowledge of the anatomy of the male reproductive organ.

Without much delay I shouted back "Hey, yeah, maybe it's not that big now, but I'm just taking a piss you know, when it's ready for battle it grows in size and be thankful that you never will see that since it's quite the item!".

This is the life of a foreign Salaryman in Japan...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

User-Hostile Systems

The latest OS
At current, I'm mostly stumbling about and trying to get my bearings around the new job. I still haven't found my next Cpt. Awkward BFF but people are generally quite nice and helpful as I sometimes feel like a little kid since I can't figure out how to use the printer in the correct way.

A lot of the time now is spent on trying to understand how things work, what all the actual formal process are and then also trying to figure out the informal culture while looking like I'm really having the time of my life. Nevermind the time I have to spend figuring out the drugs and products that I will be managing (and add all the diseases and complications that they are for that I need to get detailed knowledge of).

One huge success of the day was that I finally figured out how one part of the IT system worked; the part where I can request additional software online to be installed on my computer. The system was not very user-friendly and extremely difficult to navigate and figure out even for a person relatively used to computers, but what turned it outright user-hostile was when I finally successfully had logged the request and was transferred to a screen with large red letters (in English) saying **WARNING** and then in much smaller Japanese text under it: "Your request has successfully been filed".

I'm not really sure if I need to be looking over my shoulder now even though the software I requested is freeware and shouldn't piss anyone in the IT dep. off too much, but I can't say that I wasn't warned.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Under maintenance!

Regular programming will resume momentarily
First of all, apologies for the lack of posting recently and responding to comments (as well as commenting on other blogs!) lately. Most of my time recently has been eaten up by everything that comes with the change of jobs and Baby Sunshine (who soon should be upgraded to "toddler Sunshine") so I've just been a tad too busy and tired lately, but it's all good.

I think/hope that I will be up and running at full speed again pretty soon but please bear with me a little longer!
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