Computer on Wheels?

Lexus LS460I‘m not much of an auto guy, but I’m a real sucker for gadgets and the new Lexus has me excited. Toyota released their latest Lexus in Japan at the start of this week and it is amazingly different from any car that has come before. Japanese autos are becoming more and more high-tech and closer and closer to being a computer on wheels. The flagship vehicle for the new Lexus is the LS460. This car is said to have over 7 million lines of code programmed inside (and that is not including the car-navi software!) That is about as much as you’d find inside an aeroplane and controls everything from breaking and steering to temperature and “inflight” comfort. To put that into context, the average Toyota car has about 4 million lines of code. Continue reading

Why do the Japanese Work so Hard?

Japanese Salary ManThere remains this enormous and wicked sociocultural myth. It is this: Hard work is all there is.

Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.

This is the Japanese Puritan work ethos (much like that in America of course), still alive and screaming and sucking the world dry. Work is the answer. Work is also the question. Work is the one thing really worth doing and if you’re not working you’re either a slacker or a leech Continue reading

Book Review: “Mao – The Unknown Story”

“Mao- The Unknown Story” (Click here to view the book on Amazon.co.jp)

We should be glad that the Chinese funded communist movements in Japan never gained momentum.

This book by Jung Chang (also know for Wild Swans), is apparently the first time anyone has taken a really deep look into Mao Tse-tung’s reign over China, from the inside, and published such a whopper of a biography.

The Daily Mail said “Few books are destined to change history, but this one will”.

I had never read a book on Chinese history that said anything like this. High-school history class told me that The Cultural Revlution took China from being a backward barbaric country, to a civilised modern country. Ms. Burrows neglected to mention the immense human carnage, and the fact that this was a small part of a much larger plan by one man to in fact take over the entire world, including Japan. Continue reading

Enough for breakfast?

Japanese Frosties..hmmOne of the cultural differences I have never been able to overcome in all my time in Japan, is that of eating a Japanese style breakfast, ie fish, rice and miso soup. Lunch or dinner, no problem, but not breakfast. This leaves me with two options, go without, or look for toast or cereal or something more agreeable to my stomach.

We often discuss amongst ourselves how Japan’s reputation of being such an expensive country to live, is possibly not so true any more. The two reasons for this are that prices overseas have been steadily increasing, whereas in Japan they have been stagnant for over a decade. The other reason is that if you are eating and living an ex-pat lifestlye (as we suspect the people doing the ratings do), then living is expensive. You still have to pay extra for larger apartments (with gaijin height kitchen benches), steak dinners, and yes, western breakfast cereals! Continue reading

Book Review: “Barbarians at the Gate”

Barbarians at the gate

“Barbarians at the Gate” (Click to view the book on Amazon.co.jp)

* Advice for a busy gaijin: If you are in a rush start reading from chapter seven.

When the Portuguese first approached Japan by sea in 1542, they were not at all welcome. As far as the Japanese were concerned, they were happy in their quiet world and called these unrefined intruders “nanbanjin” or “Southern Barbarians” because the ships came from the South. This book has nothing to do with our Portuguese friends, it is about the hostile takeover over RJR Nabisco in the late 1980s. The scene isn’t Japan, but I’m sure the people in the quiet town of Winston-Salem might have found solace in Japanese history as they combated the Northern barbarians who robbed them of their local icon. (I’ll let the reader decide who the real barbarians were.)

There are only a few finance books about the greed of the 80s which have stood the test of time. Stick with Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis if you are interested in a quick and entertaining read about the eccentricities of traders and the other famous players of the day. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a slightly more detail oriented story explaining what happened behind the scenes in the less well understood world of leveraged buyouts, then this is the book for you. Continue reading

Asahara Sentenced to Death 11 Years after the Sarin Gas Attacks on Tokyo Subways

Asahara Shōkō (麻原 彰晃)Japan’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal against the death sentence for Asahara Shōkō (麻原 彰晃), the former leader of the doomsday cult, “AUM Shinri Kyo” (Supreme Truth Sect, now known as Aleph). The decision clears the way for 51 year old Asahara Shoko to be hanged for his role in masterminding the 1995 subway gas attacks. Lawyers of the former head of the cult had argued that he was mentally incompetent, and asked for the case to be suspended. Asahara was sentenced to death by a Tokyo court 2 years ago for the attack. 12 people died and over 5000 were injured when the members of the cult released sarin, a lethal nerve gas on Tokyo’s subways. The attack was directed against trains passing through Kasumigaseki and Nagatacho, home to the Japanese government. This was (and remains, as of 2006) the most serious attack that has occurred in Japan since the end of the Second World War.

The former guru could be hanged at any time, once final approval is given by the justice minister.

Akihabara News

Akihabara News is the only (English) website that I know of the continuously covers new developments in the Japanese electronic/gadget market.

Akihabara News (秋葉原ニュース)

If you are thinking of visiting Japan, or already live in Tokyo, then check them out. There are some really amazing bargains, and some just plain bizzare stories about “gadgets in Japan”… And who of us doesn’t like our gadgets..? Click on the image to take you there.

(“Akihabara” is the electronics town, that almost every foreign visitor feels sucked to upon a visit to Tokyo..)

J-WOTD: 波瀾万丈

はらんばんじょう (haranbanjyou)

* “J-WOTD” = “Japanese Word of the Day”

“Full of ups and downs” This pharse basically means that something has been eventful, but in a negative way.
Examples: 彼女の波瀾万丈な生活にずっとつきあってきたよ。 “I have put up with her rollercoaster of a life for so long”
It can be used for almost anything, even for more formal usages, 波瀾万丈な経歴 means a “checkered career” etc.
One More: 話が時代を超えて展開する時、波瀾万丈の物語の幕が開けます。”This creates an exciting saga as the story jumps through different periods in history”

J-WOTD: 物別れ

ものわかれ (monowakare)

* “J-WOTD” = “Japanese Word of the Day”

I thought this was a cool phrase, and I was surprised that I had never heard anyone use it before yesterday..

Basically points out a situation or a confrontation, or even just a discussion between two parties that did not go well, and ended with no conclusion. It also portrays that the meeting or discussion was a waste of time. This happens so much in Japan, that this phrase will be so useful for me.

物別れで終わる
end in disagreement, or without any conclusion.
話し合いは物別れになったとの電話連絡を受けた。
I got a phone call saying the talks had broken down.
その二国間の協議は物別れに終わった
Talks between the two countries got nowhere.
物別れのままである
remain stalemated