This picture sums up what Japan is all about

Friday, April 6, 2007 Posted by

Monk and Louis Vuitton
This picture, which I snapped today in Ginza while riding the Skybus tour, sums up what Japan is all about in one picture, don’t you think?


Further reflections on Seoul

Monday, March 12, 2007 Posted by

Namdemon market in Seoul, Korea
Seeing as I have been in Seoul for about a month now, I know have sufficient knowledge about Korean tradition, culture and society to make a complete comparative assessment of Seoul vs Tokyo in the 21st century…… Yeah, OK, so I am not an anthropological expert or anything and staying just a month here makes me nothing but sick of Kimchee, but I still want to take some time and give you my thoughts on Seoul as seen by the eyes of a westerner living in Japan.

Grab a cup of coffee and sit tight!

One of my first reflections when I arrived here was “wow, Seoul is so much more Asian than Tokyo,” a statement I now shall revise to “wow, Tokyo is so much less Asian than the rest of Asia.” Yes, when you think about it, South Korea is definitely a part of Asia and feels similar to cities in China or Malaysia whereas Tokyo and Japan has a completely different feel to it – it’s less Asian and just “Japanese”. It’s hard to describe in words.

As I said before, I was expecting Seoul to be sort of like Tokyo, because that is the impression you get by watching these darn Han-ryu dramas on Japanese TV. It’s all big flashy cars in modern looking cities and everyone’s rich and fabulous… Turns out – GASP – that these dramas are not so close to reality as one is made to believe! (The horror!) Seoul is a city that has grown at a tremendous speed over the last few years, and it kinda shows. There is tons of construction work going on everywhere, traffic is chaos, public transportation is crazy in rush hour and there are street markets even on the most modern and upscale street where old ladies are selling various kinds of fried foods. It’s a crazy mix of old and new and for the most part I think it’s pretty nice.

But you feel that the soul of Seoul (no pun intended) is not really in tune with the modern facade. Even though the city presents itself as a modern 21st century metropolis where money is made and spent, the “rural” poverty still shines through and it makes me kind of sad, because you see that this country is trying to evolve quicker than what is good for it. For instance, there are a lot of upscale neighborhoods here with nice department stores and boutiques that match those of Singapore or Tokyo, but take a closer look at areas such as Apgujeong, Myeong-dong or Gangnam, and what do you see? Well you see that the big department stores are filled with Chinese and Japanese tourists. You see that the streets are pretty deserted except for the ones lined with street vendors selling cheap knock-off products. You see the beggars sitting around reminding the onlookers of the tough economic reality. In an economically sound country, would you see 70-year old women sitting in the subway station selling packs of gum she bought in a store at a markup to survive? Do you see unemployed business men trying to sell brushes and whatnot on the subway train in Tokyo or Hong Kong?

One other thing that glares you in the face is what seems to be a total lack of city beautification. And I say beautification because I can’t think of a better word – what I mean is that the sidewalks, the roads, the parks, the public areas, the stations, etc. look pretty run down and are not well taken care of. It really doesn’t give the impression of strong economic growth. At the same time, property prices are skyrocketing and Seoul is becoming a city which is more expensive to live in than Tokyo. There is something that is definately bubbly about the current economic climate and it must be just a question of time before it bursts.

Photo by Min


Paying a visit to Korea

Thursday, February 22, 2007 Posted by

Seoul by night
You might have thought that I was completely gone from the face of the earth, but far from it. Unfortunately, it’s been an extremely hectic time at work – starting already back in November and still contiuing. Right now I am in Seoul, South Korea working for our Korean office temporarily. It’s my second time here, having spent the past two weeks here, just being back in Tokyo over last weekend.

It’s interesting comparing South Korea with Japan because for someone in e.g. Europe or US, these two countries must seem perfectly alike. I actually thought so myself for a long time. But although the two countries (and its residents) are similar on the surface, there are some fundamental differences which become apparent when you spend time over here.

The first thing that hits you when you get off the plane and step into a taxi (or bus) into the city is how much like China this place is. This is also clear when you look out over the skyline in the center of the city. It’s cluttered in a Hong Kong-way more than a Tokyo-way. Can’t really explain it in words, but you who have been in both cities probably understand.

Secondly, walking in the city is something you do at your own risk! Well, I don’t mean that there is much violence or crime (because there isn’t, that’s one things that Seoul has in common with Tokyo) but the traffic is downright dangerous! People seem to drive like maniacs here! Don’t, don’t, DON’T try to cross a big street anywhere else than on a dedicated pedestrian crossing, and of course don’t jaywalk, you’ll get killed by a frustrated Korean taxi-driver on his way home from work. I haven’t figured out if it is OK to turn right on a red light here (like it is in some places in the States) or it’s just simply OK to turn any direction as long as there is no one in the way! Sure, the traffic in Tokyo is bad, but it’s more a problem related to amount of traffic. Here in Seoul the amount is equal (or more) than Tokyo, plus the dangers of the reckless and wild driving.

Shopping. Is there any other pastime which Koreans or Japanese people love more? It seems unlikely. Whereas the signature shopping experience in Tokyo is a luxury boutique on Aoyama-dori or Ginza, the must-do shopping here is haggling over a few thousand Won at the market in Dondaenmon. The shopping is much more “exotic” for lack of a better word. Sure there are Western style department stores and boutiques here en masse, but there is even more shopping to be found at markets and bargain-ripe low cost shopping complexes. Another thing is the shocking openness with which copies of brand goods like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes, Gucci et al are sold here! Compared with China where it seems the government (and USA) are clamping down hard on pirated goods, here it seems no one cares. Pirated DVDs of the latest movies are sold openly in the street around the electronic shopping areas (but also along popular night spots like Gangnam) – and although the quality of the packaging does not match that found in China or Malaysia, the goods are not sold with the objective of looking real. If you are looking for the latest LV bag and do not want to pay a fortune for it at Lotte Department store, take a trip to e.g. Dongdaemon and you’ll soon find yourselv enticed by sales people wanting to show you their “miraculous” copies. The sale itself might take place in a slightly secluded area (often inside the sellers booth) but there is nothing of the paranoia which you find so often in China.

Wow. Long post… I think I’ll stop here and update again during the weekend (yes, I’m stuck here over the weekend, alone).

Photo by Kalle Anka


Over-priced chocolatier Noka coming to Japan

Monday, January 22, 2007 Posted by

Noka Chocolate
On 30th of March this year, new fashionable shopping/business/leisure district Tokyo Midtown opens in Roppongi, Tokyo (it’s situated in the old Self-Defense Force Agency Headquarters location between Roppongi and Akasaka).

I browsed through the list of shops which are to open in the complex, and one of them was, to my big surprise, Noka Chocolate. If you haven’t lived under a rock without Internet-access for the last few months you would know that this is a Texas-based chocolate company who produces ridiculously over-priced chocolates with, if you believe their critics, little to no value added to the original chocolate bars they buy from France.

You can read the whole expose on Noka Chocolate here: Dallas Food expose on Noka Chocolate
and there are various of other sites commenting on this:
Slash Food, Boing Boing, Crunchgear

So, the “the world’s most expensive chocolate” is coming to Japan. It’s been here before, temporarily, as part of various department stores’ Valentine’s Day specials (for instance at Mitsukoshi), but now they are also opening up shop permanently. I did a quick search in Japanese for ノカ チョコレート (Noka Chocolate) and did not get any relevant hits commenting on the recent news, but only links to where you can buy it, and some reviews: Enjoytokyo reviews Noka Chocolate (To sum up this review, the reviewer was impressed by the luxurious packaging, the high price and a deep, dark, bitter taste.)

Unfortunately, I think the Japanese will flock to this new store and happily line up to get a piece of the exclusive goodness which they promise their customers. The brand image is extremely attractive for the Japanese market, it has a definate “high end” and “exclusive” air to it; which Japanese will literally eat up (pun intended). Secondly, the price. The price will probably be ridiculously high, as it is in the US as well. I think they will manage to squeeze out another few 100% mark-up just for the Japanese market – and if there is anything that Japanese consumers are suckers for, it is exclusive brands which are highly priced.
“Price = Quality” in the minds of many Japanese shoppers which plays right into the business plan of Noka…

Of course, I have nothing personally against Noka – if their business works and they make money from it, fine – but I do not approve of shady business practices where companies are not honest about what they do and do not do.


Checking in with AICE again

Friday, January 5, 2007 Posted by

Well it has been more than a year since the sensational re-cut The Shining trailer hit the Internets, the winner of the 2005 New York AICE Trailer Park competition. It spawned a wave of mashups and re-cut trailers of various quality – most of them never getting close to the high quality of the “original” (although AICE had been doing this stuff for a few years, the general public had not really had noticed it).

I thought it would be interesting to check back with AICE to see what the 2006 Trailer Park competitions have given us. I searched the web which we call the Internet and came up with a few gems. Enjoy.

Detroit Robots

(Robots meets 8 Mile)
Winner of Los Angeles Trailer Park 2006, made by Jeff Jenkins


(Cocktail as Bollywood movie)
Winner of New York Trailer Park 2006, made by Scott Rankin

Enter This Dragon, Bitch!

(Enter The Dragon as a Blaxploitation move)
Runner-up at NY Trailer Park 2006, made by Ian Marks