Archive for category Japan

Nov
05

Serene and surreal visit to Yumenoshima

Posted by on Sunday, 5 November, 2006

Yumenoshima Marina
Yumenoshima Marina

On Friday we decided to take a trip to Yumenoshima to look at the marina and the tropical greenhouse dome. Yumenoshima is a man-made island situated in the eastern part of Tokyo harbor, easily accessed by train (get off at Shin-Kiba station on Rinkai-line or Tozai-line) and it also has a large park where you can stroll around in peace and quiet, being quite close to the sea and that was something we thought would be a nice thing to do on a day off.

Wehn we got off the train at Shin-Kiba station, the first thing we noticed though was that there was a LOT of people there. OK, a lot of people visiting a nice big park in the center of Tokyo on a National Holiday is nothing strange, so we thought nothing more of it. However, we turned around the corner outside the station and suddenly we were face to face with about 30-40 cops dressed in protective gear equipped with shields and everything – fully prepared to combat a mob of angry somethings. A lot of “regular” cops were around as well as police dressed in civil clothes. Police cars and vans everywhere around us and above all, tons of people, all pretty much walking in the same direction as us, towards Yumenoshima Park. Man, there goes our peaceful afternoon strolling around in the park. We still did not know why there were so many police in the era. We saw some sigsns of a “matsuri” (festival) and that answered the question of why there were so many visitors, but not why the police had brought everyone and his brother to join the action.

When we closed in on the entrance to the park, we were met by people handing out leaflets to passers-by, we didn’t read all of them, but some were Anti-North Korean. “Hmmm….” why would people hand out leaflets urging people to take action against North Korea outside a festival??

And then we finally reached the entrance and saw that the Japanese Communist Party had occupied the whole of Yumenoshima Park for their “Aka Hata Festival” (Red Flag Festival). Wow….I mean, wow. There were thousands of people there, and they were listening to speeches, engaging in discussion groups, taking up donations (FOR North Korea, perhaps?) etc. The funny thing is, I did not realize it was a commuinst festival at first – it hit me afterwards… There a few hints along the way I should have picked up on of course (Red Flag anyone?) but the nickel just didn’t fall all the way down in the slot…. My wife said she felt a bit uncomfortable at times walking around inside the festival grounds, but I was blissfully ignorant and just thought it was a bit sad that the place was so crowded…

Well… We did get into the tropical green house, which was pretty empty considering how many people were in the park next to it – so it felt like an oasis in the middle of a red desert.. I can highly recommend it – but do check the calender before you go, so you don’t end up right in the middle of the next radical party festival….

Oct
24

Today is MNP-day

Posted by on Tuesday, 24 October, 2006

Softbank
Today is MNP-day in Japan. MNP stands for Mobile Number Portability (Japanese Wikipedia, English Wikipedia) and basically means that you can switch mobile phone provider without changing your phone number. Before starting to work in the telecom industry, I would have thought that it did not take any great technical effort to do so, but I have come to understand that it is no walk in the park.

Here in Japan, the cell phone industry is very interesting at the moment. As you know, Softbank bought out Vodafone’s Japanese operations earlier this year, and started using the brand “Softbank” from October 1. Since Softbank took over, there has been a big change in the branding and advertising of the company. While Vodafone heavily focused on brand image and globalization, Softbank is clearly more local and to the point in their advertising. Vodafone used famous stars trying to push an image of Vodafone onto the public, whereas Softbank are using more traditional Japanese advertisements emphasizing the products or pricing plans.

The day of MNP has been known for a while now, and there has been massive speculation over what will happen when this possibility is introduced. Given the past poor performance of Vodafone, and recent good performance by KDDI’s au, it has been the common opinion that surely Vodafone will lose a lot of customers to the more hip and technically advanced au after October 24. The third (and largest) player, NTT Docomo has been generally believed to stay rather flat, maybe losing a few customers to au as well.

However, with the change from Vodafone to Softbank, all bets are now off again. Softbank have been very active in the media lately, and as I said above, has vastly changed its image and distanced itself from Vodafone which probably have had a positive effect on its brand. No longer are the same clunky phones used in Europe also marketed in Japan, but new, slim, modern phones unique for Japan are starting to show up. Further, the held a big press event last night on the eve of the MNP announcing 予想外割引 (‘Yosogai Waribiki’ = Unexpected Discount) which is a super-discounted plan open to people signing up for a Softbank account from today until January 15, 2007. Basically you pay 2,880 Yen per month (about $25) and for that you get 200 free minutes per month as well as basically free messaging and 2 months free web-browsing and some other things. With this extremely cheap plan as well as a generally low pricing structure compared with its competitors, I would not be surprised if Softbank actually gains users through the MNP instead of losing them.

My predicitions (will check the stats at the end of the year to see if I was correct):

au : Will gain some users (mainly from Docomo)
Docomo : Will lose some users (mainly to Softbank)
Softbank : Will gain some users (mainly from Docomo)

[UPDATE]
It seems I might be right… Softbank stops accepting new applications due to overflow of orders

Oct
09

Chimpan News Channel

Posted by on Monday, 9 October, 2006

I never cease to be amazade by Japanese television. Its range of shows range from the mundane to the interesting to the off the chart weird. On average, it is not so interesting unfortunately – and that has its reasons I guess, but I won’t dive into that discussion now.

I want to highlight what has quickly become one of my favorite shows of late (actually, after seeing only one episode), and that is Chimpan News Channel a news/talk show “for animals” on Fuji TV. As the speaker voice says in the introduction of the show, “there are more animals in Japan than children, so why not make a show for animals”

The host of the show is a chimpanzee named Gomes Chenbalin and his staff includes a very very aggressive (almost wild) monkey named Paul (he is on a leash but still manages to scare the living daylights of all human guests that appear. Basically, the show is sort of a talk show, with Japanese celebrities coming on the show and being interview by Gomes.

So you might think… How on earth would that make an entertaining show? Well, the chimpanzee is voiced over by famous Japanese comedian “Bibiru Oogi” and does an extremely good job of ad-libbing and keeping up with what the chimp does on the show. Sure, the show is scripted and the monkey is very well trained but it’s still a monkey and you can never be 100% sure of what its reaction is going to be to a particular sitatuon. The result is hilarious!

In the below clip, for some reason one of the guests has taken off his shirt (I don’t know why, since I haven’t seen the episode in question) and Gomes tells him to cover his face because his producer gets annoyed by the “naked guy”. So he makes him put on a horse-mask, and then you can see for yourselves what happens…

Sep
11

Drink Deeppresso for a truly enjoyable time

Posted by on Monday, 11 September, 2006

You gotta love those Japanese brand managers sometimes. They come up with the most internationally viable brand names possible! I mean, think of the success that Georgia’s new coffee DEEPPRESSO will have in the overseas market! “Need something to get you going in the morning? Drink Deeppresso!” “Feeling a bit tired, a bit down? Drink a cup of Deeppresso!”

Deeppresso

Or how about this one, from Wonda Coffee? SHOT & SHOT 69! Well, is it only me or is that just not an appropriate name for a coffee? “Hey Honey! Gimme a 69, I can’t get out of bed without one!” or “Oh, every morning when I arrive at work, I share a 69 with my boss.” Ummmm…. YEAH.

shot & shot 69

Aug
22

The Gaijin Nod

Posted by on Tuesday, 22 August, 2006



Japan train

Originally uploaded by ALEX FOUQUET.

We’ve all done it, or at least, seen someone do it. Some dislike it, some think it’s great – what am I talking about? The gaijin nod of course!

In short, the gaijin nod is when you meet another gaijin (means foreigner in Japanese – but not in polite terms) in the streets of Japan, you mutually greet each other with (usually) a slight nod and a smile. In certain situations, you could even say “Hi” or “Good Morning” (but that is a more advanced form of this gesture). Some people, mainly foreigners suffering from so-called “Gaijin Complex” do not particularly like the notion of the gaijin nod. They either don’t like it because a) since they are suffering from gaijin complex, they dislike contact with all other foreigners in Japan and would rather be left alone; or b) they think it’s racist behavior to acknowledge some unknown person on the street simply because of race or nationality.

I disagree. I think the gaijin nod is not about racism at all – it is simply a nice gesture towards another human being who happens to be in a similar life situation as yourself. When you see another foreigner looking slightly lost walking around in the outskirts of Tokyo, you cannot but smile and think “yes, I have been in the same situation as you” and at that instant you feel some kind of small connection to him/her and gladly give them the gaijin nod.

I would argue that the chances of a gaijin nod occurring between two random foreigners is reverse proportional to the size of the town you are in. Lately, you will probably not greet every single foreigner you see in Tokyo, but when I was living in Kobe, you would not pass a single opportunity to nod to your fellow man. Granted, when I nod a greeting to the 6ft Thai transvestite I bumped into in Shinjuku, I cannot honestly say we share much common experiences….but that is probably the exception to the rule. So, the next time you see a dumb schmuck of a foreigner on the train, why don’t you make his day by greeting him with the gaijin nod?

By the way – I blogged this directly from Flickr, thus the slightly different layout. I think it looked pretty OK with the image floated to the right, so I might try this layout more in future posts.