Saturday, December 31, 2011

Enter the (year of the) Dragon!

Did we ever get to see "Aunt Petunia"?
So, another year is coming to it's end and with some surprise and horror I realise that this will be the fifth year of existence for this little blog. Japan is now finally leaving the year of the puny rabbit for the year of the mighty dragon. As has now become an institution at this blog, I will do a quick review of the year 2011 for you.

Biggest Event of 2011 is basically a no-brainer... The earthquake and following tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 is without any competition the biggest event of the year. To be honest, living in the Tokyo area and working (more than) full time as a salaryman with a hungry family to feed when I get home, it's really hard to believe that it was less than a year ago the earthquake struck. Life in Tokyo pretty quickly went back to normal, but every now and then reminders of the horrible tragedy shows up. The quake itself and the week directly following it will forever be etched in my mind though, pretty scary stuff.

Biggest Non-Earthquake Related Event of 2011 is the changing of jobs (again) making me realise just how painful it can be to change jobs from a comfy (but not challenging) position where you know everything and everyone to a completely new environment way out of the comfort zone, having to go through the 'ol song and dance routine again. Now, almost six months later, I'm finally starting to settle in and getting my bearings, just about when an old friend gave me a call out of the blue with a very attractive job offer (we'll see what happens to that, the job seems great, but the timing for me is equally not-great).

Girl that Occupied my Brain in 2011 is... ... ... toddler Sunshine. I wish they came with a manual, but as she is now over a year and half, she's getting a little easier to interpret. As nice as it is with the Sunshine girls at home, I'm starting to feel the need for a Jnr. Salaryman to maintain the status quo of mutually assured self destruction  

Most Important New Life Companion of 2011 is my beloved iPad! As my new job carries with it a lot more travelling across the country in work, the iPad has become invaluable as I have packed enough entertainment there to last me at least a year. The iPad is packed with movies, e-books, e-magazines, games and comics and as if it's not enough to use it out of the home, I basically carry it around with me all the time in the house as well. The only drawback I can see is that I'm getting a bit lazy with it, using my stationary computer much less than before and dropping comments on other people's blogs I read and appreciate becomes a little more of a hassle (sorry about that!).

Biggest Revelation of 2011 is much harder to pinpoint... Looking back, 2011 was actually a quite poor year when it came to great movies and music (hey, at least what came up on my radar) with no particular movie or music artist and/or album that really rocked my world (hey, there were quite a few really good ones though), but when it comes to the world of entertainment I guess discovering the TV-show Dexter and working my way through the first five seasons in the commute comes pretty high. I had heard the name before but never really thought it was worth investing the time to try and watch until Big Bro recommended it and I got hooked.

Best Video Game of 2011 is actually much harder as a large number of really really great games came out in 2011, but for me, the without doubt best game of 2011 has been The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This game has forced me to neglect both family, work and precious sleeping time as I've been completely immersed in the world of that game. Part of me is happy to say that it looks like I have quite some ways to go until I finish the game, but the other part of me feels bad about me withdrawing into my den to play the game when I really have better things to do. If you're into games, you probably already know the game so I won't mention it in any detail, but it's like a mix of Fallout, the Elder Scrolls, Diablo and a bunch of other games I can't remember now. The sense of wonder and fun of exploration that I felt when playing the game is one that I probably haven't felt since I first played Fallout 2 or even way back to Wasteland on the old C64...   

Best Blog of 2011 is probably also worth a mention. I'm not sure on how much of an achievement it is coming from me, as I don't really read blogs that much, basically the stuff that is on my blogroll from time to time ,but I don't go out hunting for new blogs to read. But the blog that I find most interesting is that of Aussie bird Corinne in the outback of Kyoto and her blog "Always leaving things unfinishe" (yes, the final "d" is not supposed to be there). At this point, I get the feeling that we already share most of the readership base (or to be more correct, most of the people who read my blog also check out hers, her horde of foreign women married to Japanese men probably couldn't care less about my blog) so I might be preaching to the mosque here, but if you haven't checked it out I highly recommend you to do so. A very close runner-up is the good 'ol Badboy Chris with his "Confessions of a Badboy in Japan", and the rest is in the blogroll.

Whatever Happened to... of 2011 is a brand new category for this year (let's pretend that I'm consistent here, just for kicks) and is custom made for The Octopus! Good 'ol Octopus had a quite funny blog (although very irregularly updated at the best of times) and was one of "my regular" commentators whose comments quite often made me burst out in a grin-like parody of a smile, but who, since autumn seemed to stop existing on the Internet.

With that, I want to wish all of my readers a very Happy New Year! Hope you all have a great 2012 and hope to see you around here in the year of the Dragon.

Up until now, I've steadily increased my readership base year by year, but in 2011 the earthquake (for obvious reasons) drove a lot more traffic to my site so I feel a bit anxious about having 2012 be the first year that my pageviews go down compared to the year before it, so tell your friends, ok?

Thursday, December 29, 2011


This morning, Mrs. Sunshine had dressed up Toddler Sunshine in a new outfit, this time with a turtleneck shirt. As she showed me this new fashion creation she asked me what I thought and the conversation went something like this:

Mrs. Sunshine: (enthusiastic) Isn't she cute?
Me: (sleepy) She looks like Steve Jobs...
Mrs. Sunshine: (confused) Why? Because of the turtleneck shirt? You have a turtleneck I gave you, which you never wear by the way...
Me: (still sleepy) Yeah, I know, but if I wear it I look like Steve Jobs...
Mrs. Sunshine: (slightly annoyed) It's not like Steve Jobs invented the turtleneck you know!
Me: (still sleepy) Are we really sure on that? Maybe he invented that before the iPod and iPad and he always kept some resentment that it never took off like the rest of the stuff?
Mrs. Sunshine: (had enough of stupidity) I don't care, she's cute and she doesn't look like Steve Jobs, now she wants to play with Daddy (handling me a giggling Toddler Sunshine, effectively ending the conversation)

In any case, I strongly believe that she looked very much like Steve Jobs and here is a picture I took of her during the morning.

To further put weight behind my claim that everyone in a turtleneck looks like Steve Jobs I also found a rare photo of Kim Jong-Un, the Great Successor wearing a turtleneck while on vacation at Tokyo Disneyland.

I rest my case.

Monday, December 26, 2011

We're not really working together here...

Having Mother over here in Japan puts some difficulties to me and Mrs. Sunshine's otherwise good teamwork.

My instinct is to leave stuff for Mother to clean up after me (I see it as signs of affection as she rarely gets to do it anymore).
However, Mrs. Sunshine's instinct is to make sure that THE Mother-in-Law  gets treated like an honored guests who should not have to lift a finger while she's under our custody.

So I go about putting up my little traps while Mrs. Sunshine swiftly cleans it all away without Mother ever noticing. We really need to get a little more aligned on our strategy here as both of our actions turn out to be somewhat futile. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to all of you!

It really is about time!
Christmas merriment, little toddler Sunshine and visiting Mother from the old country is keeping the Salaryman family busy in a good way, making me miss posting the traditional Christmas greeting yesterday. From tomorrow it's back to work for a few days until we go on the real New Year's vacation.

I just want to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (I'm sure I will post more before new year's, but just in case)! Hope all of you managed to get chill out and charge up for next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ikea - You've gone too far!

Too soon?
Like most people, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship to Ikea and their furniture. On the positive side the design is usually relatively nice with reasonable prices but the assembly of the stuff usually end up with a lot of cursing and questionable results. In recent times we have started to go around this problem by paying some of the Ikea peons to assemble the stuff for us even if it cost a little extra.

Those not from Sweden might not know it, but Ikea is founded in an area in Sweden which is famous for the people there being extremely stingy. The founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, is notorious for being stingy even by the standard set by the local population (he's also a former nazi in case you didn't know). So Ikea is also famous for their lower than industry norm salaries, but for some reason a lot of people seem to want to work there (at least in Sweden).

But there has been one thing with Ikea that has had my unconditional love since they established themselves here in Japan; the Swedish food section. I've been to Ikea many times just to buy some of the Swedish food, brands and stuff that I could not get anywhere except at Ikea here in Japan. However, now the stinginess of Ikea has struck again and a decision seems to have been made to phase out all non-Ikea products and replace them with generic dull own made products. The new products have exciting names such as "Bread", "Drink" and "Chocolate" and are packed in exciting one coloured packages. To add insult to injury, they are also quite expensively priced.

I used to be able to go there and get some nostalgic Swedish food of brands which I grew up with and loved, but it's basically all gone now, exchanged with stuff that makes it look like a North Korean supermarket. For expat Swede's it's a huge betrayal and I'm not sure I will able to forgive Ikea for this stupid move in making more buck out of their food section...

Monday, December 19, 2011

The deadliest of food, the Blow fish...?

There are many myths about Japan that for some reason keep surviving even though they were either wrong to begin with, or true at some point until current times caught up.

Apparently this is actually the mascot of the Yamaguchi prefecture PD...
One of the myths that I actually find somewhat amusing (as opposed to annoying) is the belief that eating the Japanese "Fugu" blow fish is associated with a relative high degree of risk. Ok, the basic concept of it is not completely wrong as the fish is poisonous and eating it raw with some amateur fisherman preparing it, then serving it could result in a quick trip to the hospital and possibly fatal outcome. As far as I know, there also is special licenses that you need to take to be allowed to prepare and serve the fish in a restaurant. So to be fair, the myth that it's dangerous is very much grounded in reality.

However, practically speaking, eating raw Fugu in a restaurant in Tokyo probably carries significantly less risk than eating at any fast food chain. I haven't counted, but I would guess that there are several hundred restaurants in the Tokyo area serving the fish to thousands of guests on a daily basis with no incidents. I've eaten it many times, but what I find most puzzling is that so many Japanese seem to think that it's a delicacy... Ok, it doesn't taste bad, it's just kinda bland (particularly raw without any seasoning). So, unfortunately, if you plan to visit Japan and had planned to "gamble with death" with eating Fugu, I have to dissapoint with the fact that you are probably taking higher risks each time you cross a street.

But ok, you want to come to Japan and you want to have something dangerous to eat? I can help you with that! A while ago one of the big thing in the news was a couple of fatal cases of food poisoning from people eating the raw beef dish "Yukke" at a Korean BBQ/Yakiniku place and more reports coming in from all over the country of suspected cases of food poisoning from said dish. If you want to have the highest possible chance of dying from eating this dish, I would recommend you to seek out the cheapest crummiest looking Yakiniku places you can find. To ensure the worst possible raw material, I would recommend one of those "eat as much as you can for almost nothing" places.

As proper regulations for preparing Yukke now has gotten much much stricter, it seems like many places go around this by making a similar dish but just calling it another name, thus dodging the regulations and still giving you a fair shot at a glorious death from food poisoning. Best of luck! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I drink to forget... 2012 version

Ok, you know the comic?
Ok, in case you are wondering why the updates here are even fewer than usual, it's because Japan has entered the depressing "bounenkai" season again (I wrote about it four years ago so if you've forgotten you can catch up here)...

It's quite exhausting and this week I have had drinking events four days in a row, one with friends, one with a customer and two internal... This usually means that I don't get home until twelve at the earliest and get at best five hours sleep, going to work hungover and then just have a rinse and repeat the following day... But the long New Year's holiday is in sight and I just try to survive until then!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Unique Japan

I've lived in Japan over ten years now and have gotten used to life here since long ago. So there is rarely times when I see or experience something and think "wow, this is something that I could only experience in Japan". But there are somethings that still make an impression on me without fail, unique Japanese things that I could never experience anywhere except for Japan.

Visually I would say that walking through a busy street looking for a client's office and coming upon a small hidden away serene temple is one of those thing that really strikes me as completely Japanese. Another one is getting up from the subway into the busy nightlife area of Shinjuku at night, seeing all the neon signs and the complete mix of people stumbling around the street. These things are something you could never experience anywhere outside Japan.

Audially I think it's a tie between all the female robot voices talking to you  in Japanese from every machine and the busy noise in a Japanese izakaya of people screaming orders, laughing and the general happy noise. You could would never experience this anywhere outside Japan.

Something like this, if all the men were drunk on cheap liqour
Olfactory (or "smell" for those of you who might not have English as a first language) The most Japanese smell that I know is that of a late night commuting train packed with people. The smell is a mix of old man, stale sweat and cheap liquor all mixed into one very unique odour that could never be experienced anywhere outside Japan. The mix sounds disgusting, and it is, but after being immersed in it for 5 minutes I find it somewhat soothing. This is a very unique Japanese smell and I doubt I could experience it anywhere else. Out of the senses listed, I would probably name this the most "uniquely Japanese" sensory experience.

So if you come to Japan and want to have an unique experience, take a late train on a weekend, heading out from the city towards the suburbs and make sure that you are completely sober for the full experience!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Deep Deep Underground - The Commuter Battlegrounds

In the Subway at 2AM anything goes...
When you lived a bunch of years in Tokyo like I have, you develop some form of relationship with the network of subways in central Tokyo. Although the regular JR train lines (the JR lines do not go underground) might have some small variances (I do enjoy in particular the silent English lessons on the Yamanote line tv screens) they're basically the same wherever you go in central Tokyo.

The subway though is different and even though most of the lines are operated by the same company, Toei Metro, they still have a distinct "personality" based on the time they were built and the areas they go through. The train line I hate the most is without doubt the relatively new Oedo line which is built so deep underground that you pass through Hell, Hades and Hel before finally reaching the train platform. Usually the trek from the sunny surface to finally reaching the train takes longer than the time you actually need to ride on the train.

To it's benefit, I must admit that the stations are usually very nice and clean and in some of the vast corridors they have some fancy artificial sunlight effect going. Also, all the stations are equipped with barriers and automated gates, probably having saved thousands of drunken salarymen from a sordid death through falling on the tracks. Also, probably even more significantly, this has probably saved Toei a lot of money as they could reduce the corpse cleaning crew.

Still, it doesn't matter, I still hate the Oedo line. It does go through some fancy areas but that just makes me hate it even more as I might need to occasionally use it...  I often go out of my way to avoid this line, sometimes making both elaborate and innovative train switches...

As you might have figured out, to follow up on my commuter terrorists series, I will also guide you a little through the battlegrounds of the commuter war, starting here with the Oedo Line. Up next; The Ginza line: Sluts and money
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