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By Western standards, many businesses in
Japan appear to be over staffed.
My father-in-law Gary and I were walking
down the street in Yokohama this afternoon
and we passed a large service station. He
looked over and commented that there were
about 10 young guys running around servicing
five cars, that's two employees per car.
The service that you get is pretty impressive.
They clean your windows; check your oil;
empty your ash tray; and then walk out into
the road to stop traffic and wave you into
In Canada, pretty much all of the gas stations
are self serve, and no matter how many cars
go through them, they just have one or two
guys working the cash register from a booth.
Of course, the gas is probably a bit cheaper.
I've read (but don't ask me where) that this
over employment model is an explicit policy
of the government and not just a cultural
phenomena. The rationale being that it's
better to have high prices for good services
and more people employed, than to have lower
prices for services but higher taxes to pay
for all of the unemployed people taking government
benefits. I don't know if this is really
true, but it's something interesting to think
My experience has been that Japanese
expect a high degree of service --
the computer industry. It was incredible
the concessions that we would make
customers when I was working for Netyear,
the Internet consultancy. In the West
say that 'the customer is always right',
but here the expression goes 'the customer
On top of everything, nobody tips for service
in Japan. If you try to tip someone they'll
often get insulted, as if you were insinuating
that they expected a bribe in order to do
their job right in the first place.
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We took Gary, my father-in-law, to a small
local restaurant for dinner the other day.
They cook a lot of set dinners and specialize
in yakitori (skewered chicken) and beer. It's patronized
by middle-aged factory workers, general labourers,
and young families from the neigbourhood.
As I sat there eating my hokke (broiled fish) I watched Jack, my 19-month-old
son, crash the dinner party of the family
sitting next to us. They were really friendly
and we all kind of swapped kids for a little
while. It made me think about the relatively
unique start to life that Jack's getting
here in Japan.
It might seem odd, but Jack's Japanese upbringing
is not something that Karen and I often talk
about. I guess we just take our life here
for granted. Also, I suppose that we always
live with the implicit assumption that one
day, in the not too distant future, we will
return to Canada. So, I guess we think of
Jack as being Canadian, but really when you
stop to think about it, a big part of him
I'm not sure how our life here in Tokyo
affecting him, but of course at this
in his development his mind is like
and he's obviously actively absorbing
details of everything around him.
If I were to describe how he is treated here,
I would say that he's a 'cultural oddity'.
It's not unusual to see foreigners in Tokyo,
but it's a lot more rare to see a foreign
infant. People touch him and interact with
him readily and easily. They feel that it's
okay to do that because he's just a baby.
It's the same in small-town Canada with foreign-looking
babies, everyone touches their Afros or dark
skin or whatever. Here, the reaction to Jack
usually progresses in three steps: People
say, 1) "Oh, look, the baby's so cute,"
2) "Wow, look how white it is,"
and 3) "Is it a boy or girl?"
Jack may be an oddball here in Tokyo, but
from a global perspective, he's got a lot
of company. As the world gets smaller and
smaller, and people move around for work
internationally, there will be whole generations
of children born without a solid sense of
home country. We raise Jack to be like us,
i.e., icy-assed Canadians, but he'll always
know that Japan is the place of his birth
and chances are he'll be speaking Japanese
before he leaves here.
I'm not sure how this is going to affect
him as he grows up. It might all turn out
to be nothing -- insignificant noise in his
personal history. However, I like to think
that it will make him a broad-minded person,
not just 'open-mined', but 'broad-minded'.
I mean, I hope that his citizen-of-the-world
personal framework will make him inclined
to look at the world in a objective, inclusive,
Time will tell about his character
but anyhow, at least for now I know
he's going to be the life of the party
all of the local restaurants.
In other site news, Hunkabutta had a cool
mention in the New York Times, and was also included in this month's feature
story in Japan-zine.
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The bloggers' party was a huge success. If
you were there, thanks a lot for coming --
I love you now.
The Pink Cow turned out to be an ideal venue. It's actually
just an old one-story home situated in the
back alleys of Harajuku, and we were able
to pretty much take over the whole place.
We had two adjoining back rooms reserved
for us, each room had a variety of couches,
chairs, tables, and stools. The decor was
sort of American-West-Coast-laid-back.
About 30 or 40 people came and went throughout
the evening. It was just crowded enough so
that people had to mingle and meet each other,
but not so crowded that you couldn't get
Several different people came up to me at
various points in the evening and told me
that a bloggers' party was an excellent idea
and that they were really glad that someone
finally decided to host one. My co-organiser,
Nadine, did a great job of working the door and
making sure that everyone got the buffet.
I did a great job of drinking too much Bombay
Sapphire gin and tonic and shooting my mouth
It was a party of intimate strangers. More
than a few people commented that it felt
strange to meet a person for the first time
yet to know so much about their personal
lives, kind of like getting caught being
a peeping Tom.
It's easy to get discouraged when you maintain
a weblog. You end up doing a lot of work
and sometimes you wonder if it's really worth
it, or if anyone out there really gives a
damn. That's why on Friday people were reveling
in the positive reinforcement. It made me
feel all warm and fuzzy to see the look of
abashed surprise on people's faces when someone
would say to them, "Oh you do XXXXX.com,
I love that site. My father back in the US
visits it every day."
There were a lot of luminaries from the foreigner
Internet/computing community in attendance.
I tried to meet everyone, but I don't think
that I did. Here are the sites of a few of
the bloggers who were there:
If I missed your blog in this list,
me an email and I'll include it.
I was too busy and a bit too drunk to take
very good pictures. Luckily, Paul went around
and took portraits of most of the people there.
Thanks again to all who attended. We have
no plans right now for another party, but
I'm thinking that a summer barbecue with
some beer and Frisbee might be a kind of
fun thing to do next.
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There's a lot going on right now.
Tonight is the Tokyo-area bloggers' party that my friend Nadine and I organized. It's going to be a heavy-duty,
web-techy good time, and I've been looking
forward to it all month. We're expecting
about 20 or 30 people, and as an added bonus
we're supposed to be interviewed by a reporter
from Japan Media Review.
Expect a lot of pictures from the party,
but I don't think that I'm going to be
to get many secret candids because
there will be on to my game.
In other news, I totally forgot to mention
that my father-in-law Gary is here for a
visit. Actually, he just came this Wednesday.
Some of you Hunkabutta old-timers might remember
Gary and Jean's visit two years ago. Since
he's seen all of the Tokyo sites already,
Karen and I have relegated him to baby-sitting
duty for the duration of his stay. He doesn't
seem to be too put off by that.
Finally, as an update, I should let you know
that Japanese school is going well, but that
last week I switched to the regular beginner's
class from the advanced beginner's class.
After bombing a few of the grammar tests,
and being a total stress-case over the mounds
of homework, I thought that I'd get more
from the slower pace and I wouldn't have
to worry about flunking out. So much for
my beating all of the keeners in that first
class, but anyway, now I'm a bit ahead of
the rest of the people in the regular class.
I have to get to work on my Japanese homework
now and then head home to get prettied up
for the party.
Life is good.
P.S. Thanks for all of the congratulations
in Tuesday's comments.