Summer Fun in Tokyo

Some recommended activities for the summer…

納涼船 – all you can drink boat cruise that runs every night the whole summer
http://www.tokaikisen.co.jp/english/event/noryo2010/

Japanese page has more info:
http://www.tokaikisen.co.jp/event/noryo2010/

2500 yen, or 1500 yen if you wear a yukata (Monday-Thursday only)

Another all you can EAT AND DRINK boat ride (monja/okonomiyaki)
4900 yen, but it is a very small yakatabune style boat which is really cool!
http://www.4900yen.com/new/monja-menu.html

Tokyo bay fireworks – very nice in the bay – 平成21年8月8日 土曜日
http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/ivent/toukyouwanndaihanabisaimeinn/index.html

Sumidagawa fireworks in Asakusa – 2010年7月31日(土)
http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/

Azabu-Juban  matsuri – nice!
Search for 麻布十番 納涼祭り
In August but date not announced yet
http://www.azabujuban.or.jp/top.html

Asakusa Samba Carnival – 平成21年8月29日(土)13:30~18:00(予定)
http://www.asakusa-samba.jp/top.htm

Adachi-ku fireworks – this is also a really good one! less crowded than the others since it’s on a Thursday! And lots of great seating space. 平成21年7月23日(木曜)
http://www.city.adachi.tokyo.jp/fireworks/index.html

Takaragawa onsen – has 混浴 こんよく mixed bathing
http://www.takaragawa.com/english.html

Tamagawa fireworks – also very nice
http://www.tamagawa-hanabi.com/index.html

Meiji Jingu fireworks – only fireworks in downtown Tokyo – date also not decided yet but will be early August I think
http://jinguhanabi.nikkansports.com/

Meguro Parasite Museum
http://kiseichu.org/english.aspx

Ooedo Onsen in Odaiba, the bathing is single sex, but there are a bunch of things you can do together as a couple, pretty fun actually
http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/higaeri/english/index.html

水上バス – Water bus – you should take this from Odaiba to Asakusa (or Hamarikyu park or Hinode pier!) (note not all the boats look as cool as the one they feature on the front page! that one does exist, but it’s kinda special…)
http://www.suijobus.co.jp/

Kimi Ryokan – this is the awesome cheap Ikebukuro ryokan that I talked about
http://www.kimi-ryokan.jp/

Club info – Check out my post at http://www.blissfuljapan.com/lang/en/2009/08/online-tokyo-club-event-listings/

Castillo in Roppongi is the 70′s/80′s place:
http://www.tokyo.to/castillo/index.html
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/entertainment-nightlife/396261
http://www.castillo-tokyo.com/

Salsa Caribe in Roppongi is the one I went to a year ago, but there probably are other salsa places too
http://www.tokyo.to/caribe/index.html
Looks like there is a big list here: http://www.salsapower.com/cities/tokyo.htm

Ageha is the huge club by the ocean with the pool deck bar. But make sure you check the schedule first. They have a free shuttle bus that runs all night between Shibuya and Shin Kiba – the schedule (in English) is on the web site.
http://www.ageha.com/

BTW if you’re looking for an interesting risque Japanese drama series, check out 嬢王Virgin. (They have clips on YouTube, but they are missing some juicy parts! However you should start here and taste it first!!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zgIIBYhYpQ

(you need BitTorrent to download the whole series from here)
http://www.asiatorrents.com/details.php?id=f47feb93810dd6c0fc7c1a4bf59ddeba80c41241

Online Tokyo Club Event Listings

Recently my friend asked me for info on where he can find a drum & bass event in Tokyo. Personally I’m more into trance. Anyway, here are three good sites for checking what’s playing in Tokyo clubs and when.

http://higherfrequency.iflyer.jp/tokyo/

http://www.clubberia.com/Club/List/

http://clubtune.jp/search.php Lets you search the listings by genre, etc. Nice touch.

As for venues, personally my favorites are Ageha, Unit, and Womb.

Startup and venture capital culture: America vs. Japan

Recently my professor was quoted in an article from Forbes: Starting Up Start-Ups In Japan: Obstacles abound; new U.S. ambassador expected to highlight importance of venture culture. Another interesting article is also linked to on that page: Searching For Entrepreneurship in Japan.

I am not an expert on this subject, but in my 7+ years in Japan I have talked to and worked with many small companies and startups. I don’t want to sound negative but really I think the whole US style of entrepreneurship and venture capital is simply extremely different than Japanese culture, business culture, and customs. There are so many aspects to this it’s hard to know where to start to describe them. Some random thoughts follow. I am not Japan bashing. I’m not convinced that U.S. style venture capitalism is the panacea either, but that is another topic…

  • Japan’s group culture is not compatible with America’s culture emphasis on the single individual. Yet this emphasis is needed for single individuals to start companies or make a bold new invention or idea.
  • Startup founders have to stand out, stand in the limelight. Japanese people don’t like to stand out and go against the flow or show much too individualism for many different reasons.
  • Japanese engineering salaries are pathetic, and often not merit-based in any significant way.
  • Japan is still an island and most Japanese shun dealing with foreigners. Even if the management wants to expand overseas, they find that their employees have no idea what that means and interacting with people overseas is a huge challenge (language, culture, expectations, time zone, you name it). But at smaller companies, management probably has no overseas experience either, which is a problem.
  • Japanese are risk adverse and nobody wants to be the first to do anything – is this why Japanese VCs only invest in groups of like 10 VCs each putting in very little money, only into ideas that have already been proven? At least that is what I have heard.
  • It seems a lot of large players have their hands in every deal – incestuous? CyberAgent for one seems to be involved with tons of startups. Some more diversity would be good. It seems more to me like you get CyberAgent to invest in you, then they introduce you to all their partners, and your business is made. That’s good I guess for business, but the lack of competition and different players seems bad.

I’m sorry for being so negative here. I like Japan and the Japanese people and they have many great qualities as well which I am sure they will somehow use and rise to the occasion. I have met many extremely bright Japanese engineers with passion and great ideas. Unfortunately though they also are working long hours for little pay, often in the R&D lab of a large name brand company like Sony. The ones that don’t work for large companies are often thought of as renegades, and some become freelancers. The new generation of Japanese is definitely going to cause a lot of changes to occur, and I don’t doubt that I will be pleasantly surprised by what happens.

Please feel free to leave your comments…

Renting an apartment in Japan: expenses, guarantors, and prejudice

Let me start with a little background for anyone who is not familiar with the Japanese real estate system and what it’s like to find housing in Tokyo. First, let me discuss the fees. Before you can move into an apartment here, you will need to pay up front about 6-8 months of rent. Some of this is refundable, but most of it isn’t. Typically you will pay 1 month of rent (plus tax) as a commission to the real estate agent. On top of that add 2 months of “Thank You” or “Key” money to thank the landlord for giving you the key. (This is not refundable.) And then add 1-3 months’ rent for deposit. And finally, pay for the first one or two months of rent as well. Luckily the deposit is refundable, at least most of it is, but in Japan they do a mini renovation of the apartment typically between tenants, including replacing wallpaper, etc, which comes out of your deposit, and in some cases can be quite costly. In my case, I needed to pay over $15,000 just to move into my apartment in Shibuya. Apartments with lower fees are slowly starting to become more popular, but they are a tiny, tiny portion of the available properties and usually you will find a place with say no key money, but in reality they have just amortized the key money over the 24 month period of the lease and raised the monthly payment instead. If you decide you want to live there for longer than 24 months, be prepared to pay a 0.5-1.5 months’ rent “renewal fee.”

After moving in, you will be greeted with a barren apartment, which is also typical of the entire real estate industry here. In my case, I had to pay $1400 to install air conditioners in my living room and bedroom, and additionally supply my own washing machine, refrigerator, ceiling lights, and curtains. Luckily with the exception of the air conditioner, I could reuse all the other items from my previous apartment.

But I’d like to discuss another small but important detail of getting a lease, and the subject that ultimately drove me to write this post: the housing guarantor. The over $5000 in deposit and $15,000 I had to pay to move into my apartment are not enough to get the lease. Just like applying for a loan, in Japan when you apply for an apartment, you also need a guarantor. Personally, I found it hard to understand what the risk is to the guarantor. All I have been able to think of is that if I flee Japan and do more damage to the apartment than my deposit can cover, the owner has the right to go after the guarantor to pay the remainder. As an educated American with advanced degrees in Computer Science from a renowned university with a good job, 7 years of experience living in Japan, and speaking and reading fluent Japanese, I personally view the chance that I would flee the country and trash the apartment as quite low. But apparently, being a guarantor is considered a really big deal here. Such a big deal that most Japanese will only be a guarantor for a family member.

What are the requirements to be someone’s guarantor? That differs slightly depending on who you ask, and ultimately is a decision that the landlord and real estate agent will make, but in general there are two requirements: 1) You have to earn a comparable amount of money to the person you are acting as guarantor for (this generally rules out most women from acting as guarantors for men), and 2) You have to be Japanese. The first, I can understand. No sense in having a homeless person or someone with no income be a guarantor. But the second is simply discriminatory. A close friend of mine has lived in Japan for over 25 years, started and sold a 100 person company here, built a multi-million dollar house in Tokyo, and authored a book about economics in Japanese (and has no plans to ever leave Japan). Yet when I applied to use this person as my guarantor, after a week and a half of silence from the real estate agent, I finally received a call saying that since he was not Japanese, he could not be trusted. He might decide to run away from the country at a moment’s notice, she said. I reiterated his qualifications, and told the agent why doesn’t she talk to him directly if she has these concerns. However she couldn’t stop saying “But he’s not Japanese…” Relentlessly, I continued my same argument, until finally she broke down and admitted that it was simple prejudice against foreigners. Hearing her acknowledge that, which I realized was difficult for her, gave me a bit of reprieve, but in reality it changes nothing. I couldn’t understand her stout refusal to even talk to my friend, and I still hope she will reconsider. But I realize the decision wasn’t solely hers.

So what are the options? Pay yet another $2000 to a company who will serve as my guarantor for 2 years (don’t ask me how THEY are compensated should I burn down the apartment and flee the country, but I guess the $2000 is somehow enough for them to make up that risk; this isn’t always an option either), or find a Japanese man to be my guarantor. As much as I love living overseas and learning about other cultures, it’s illogical discrimination such as this that really upsets me.

Let me also note, that it’s not just foreigners though who are hit with this problem. Young Japanese who run away from home, or are estranged from their parents, can find themselves in the same situation. Perhaps you’re a 25 year old woman who got into a disagreement with your parents and wanted to move out. Good luck finding a guarantor without your parents’ blessing. Looks like you’ll be living in a capsule hotel or an Internet cafe, as many do.

Quick tips for visiting Japan

Recently a couple of my friends have been asking for tips on what to see and to when visiting Japan. I decided to gather a few of my responses and post them here, so I can just give out this web page to people.

Feel free to add your own suggestions! This is by no means a complete list – just the first things that came to my mind, after living in Tokyo for over 7 years. I will also update this post with more info as time goes on.

From Narita Airport to Downtown

If you’re planning on taking the JR Narita Express, make sure you get the Suica & N’EX package listed on this page! It includes a prepaid 1500 yen Suica card (2000 yen value) plus a one way Narita Express ticket (3000 yen value) all for 3500 yen. But you might be better off taking the airport bus instead, depending on your destination.
http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/suica-nex/index.html

Lodging in Tokyo

My mom stayed at this place a long time ago and really liked it:
http://www.kimi-ryokan.jp/
Inexpensive, good location, and you can meet other interesting travelers. If you stay at a Ryokan (Japanese inn) you get more of a Japanese experience than staying at a hotel, which is the same in every country. Kimi has double rooms, small and larger size… It also has free WiFi, nice common area, and nice international staff. Otherwise, my advice would be to search for business hotels. They are cheaper than regular hotels, and usually quite clean and modern and centrally located, but very westernized.

Free Brochures from the Japan National Tourism Organization

If you have enough time before your departure, you should call up the US office of the Japan National Tourism Organization and ask them to send some free brochures, or failing that, just browse their web site. They have a ton of useful information. Here is their web site:
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

Here is a list of their offices:
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/local/index.html

Failing that, visit their travel info desk inside Narita Airport or in downtown Tokyo. Here is a list of their Tourist Information Centers in Japan:
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/essential/tic.html

What you should do in Japan depends on how much time you have and what parts of the country they want to visit. I would recommend getting started at the JNTO web site above, and then I can answer any questions.

Sightseeing in Tokyo

As for Tokyo, Roppongi is core to most of the nightlife. Asakusa has a great “old” downtown feel and a nice temple. You can take the boat from Asakusa to Hama-rikyu park or to Odaiba, which also is nice. There’s a free observatory at the top of the metropolitan government buildings in Shinjuku, with a nice view. Harajuku is good if you want to see trendy teenage girls (think of Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls” song). Ginza is good if you want to see expensive brand goods stores and lots of glitter. Park Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku has a great restaurant and bar on the upper floors, but there are a lot of new places offering it a run for it’s money these days as well…

Tokyo Day Trips

  • Nikko
  • Hakone
  • Kamakura
Misc Tokyo Sites
  • Asakusa: including Kaminarimon gate and the surrounding temple – you can also take a boat down the Sumidagawa river from here
  • Tokyo Tower: has a great view of Tokyo but maybe a bit out out of the way
  • Metropolitan Government observation deck: free to go to the top, a 10-15 minute walk from Shinuku
  • Roppongi Hills – has a museum and observation deck on the top
  • Edo Tokyo Museum – has a lot of interesting history on old Tokyo (formerly called Edo)
Kyoto
Nara is a nice day trip from Kyoto that also has a lot of temples, tame deer, and a different feel from Kyoto (less commercialized/modernized and more traditional.)  Kinkakuji , Nijo Castle and Kiyomizu Temple are top attractions.  There are plenty of other nice temples; you might want to (in rough order of priority):

  • walk through the Ninenzaka/Sannensaka areas (see http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en/theme/amusement/downtown/ninenzaka/ -  this web site looks like it has a lot of other good info in English, check it out)
  • walk through the Arashiyama district full of old temples
  • walk through the Gion district with all it’s small stores, as well as the Sanjo/Shijo/Kawaramachi area
  • visit the silver pavilion, Ginkakuji, and walk the philosopher’s walk
  • visit Fushimi Inari which has a trail up a mountain full of tori gates – impressive sight
  • visit Heian Jingu, a big Shinto shrine with it’s huge red tori gates (nice but a lower priority than the above)

Product design and manufacturing in a global world: Japan vs America – MacBook Air

Recently I came across this article which sheds a bit of light on Japanese manufacturing methodology vs Apple’s. I think it’s far easier for the Japanese engineers to critique the crappy Taiwanese construction rather than to create their own new device from scratch. But it’s too bad though that Apple doesn’t have a bit more of the manufacturing expertise that exists in Japan, and doesn’t have a tighter link with their manufacturing partners. But if I had to choose one, I would also choose to emphasize design over manufacturing. It’s also unfortunate that Japan still can’t quite get out of the manufacturing mindset and into the product design mindset. Of course, the manufacturing mindset has its benefits, such as Japan’s great trade surplus and great economic position.

[MacBook Air Teardown] ‘No Waste Outside, Nothing but Waste Inside’ [Part 5]

Update: My friend who used to work at Apple adds his comments:

Thanks for the article Jim, but it is simply laughable.

Here’s one example: “The MacBook Air’s mysterious internal design might be a violent antithesis against Japanese manufacturing, which allows no compromise even in detailed parts of the hardware.”

Having worked at the company, I can say 100% that Apple agonizes over every aspect of the hardware design, down to small details such as the hue of the metal, to the friction when sliding the iPhone screen. Apple also maintains tight controls on manfucturing in China. Several of my colleagues spent significant time there. Steve Jobs created a culture where little details are obsessively managed by him and his staff; I know this because there have been days where we were at work until midnight because Mr. Jobs wanted to change the color of an icon! I therefore couldn’t find that quote further from the truth.

Also, Japan doesn’t have a cell phone anywhere close to the capabilities of the iPhone (even admitted by a former senior VP of NTT DoCoMo), and at the time the Macbook Air came out, they had nothing of comparable horsepower in that small of a package.

People may say what they will about Apple’s expensive prices or UI, which are open to debate. But I don’t think the Japanese manufacturers have anything on Apple in terms of design processes or innovation.

Therefore it seems, unfortunately, this article is based mostly on Japanese pride, as opposed to factual analysis. (Isn’t it interesting that this is also how the Japanese view history. See the textbook controversy)

Thoughts on the success of Yahoo and Google in Japan…

Recently I was forwarded this article from TechCrunch: Why Yahoo Japan is Worth Nearly as Much as Yahoo. It is worth a read, but I’d like to add a few thoughts. Here is my experience with Yahoo Japan, since having moved to Tokyo in 2001.

1) YahooBB

YahooBB took off because it was simply cheaper than anything else out there. Forget the fact that they didn’t have the manpower or capacity to handle all the people signing up, they just offered the lowest DSL rates (at the time). When I moved to Tokyo in September 2001, I immediately tried to sign up for YahooBB since their DSL rates were unbelievable. 6 weeks later I still didn’t have any service. There was no way to contact Yahoo to inquire about the status of your application other than to go to a web form, hit send, and pray that they email you back (which usually they didn’t.) So I tried to sign-up for DSL with another provider only to be told that they investigated and found that I already had service with Yahoo (apparently they put a block on my phone line) and I would need to cancel with Yahoo first before I could apply for DSL service from another company. But there wasn’t any way to contact Yahoo besides the aforementioned web form, or a fax number.

Eventually I was able to get them to remove the block on my line, and at the same time the Japanese government issued them a warning for bad consumer practices. After suffering without home Internet for close to 2 months due to their incompetency, even this day I cringe at the thought of YahooBB.

Anyway I guess it comes down to “you get what you pay for” – YahooBB did offer substantially cheaper DSL rates, with substantially worse service – as well as super agressive marketing by Yahoo, which I suppose is rather impressive.

2) Interviewing at Yahoo Japan

Last year I decided to interview at Yahoo Japan just to see what the experience would be like. I was warned by two friends of mine (one Stanford undergrad CS alum who is American, and one Stanford MBA alum who is Japanese) that it was a waste of time to think about working there, but I still wanted to see first hand. I thought they could seriously use someone such as myself to help bridge Yahoo Japan and Yahoo US on a technical, language, and cultural basis.

The interview process was amazingly Japanese. As I had a feeling that they drastically underpaid their engineers, I made clear up-front my minimum salary requirement, and HR insisted that it still was within the realm of possibility. I went through one or two rounds of interviews each time with about 2-3 company representatives interviewing me at the same time. I made it clear to them that I was not interested in a programming position, but rather a technological project bridiging/management position.

Eventually they said I had to come in for a technical interview. What a joke that turned out to be. I was given a computer running the test in a web browser, with a very small screen. The interface was remarkably poor. You didn’t know what question you were on, how many were left, or how much time was left. All you could see was a progress bar giving you a rough indication of what percentage of the test was complete. There was no way to skip back and forwards through questions, you HAD TO DO the test in the order which it was given. You couldn’t skip ahead to the sections you were most confident in and come back and later go to the parts which you were weaker in. You had to do it in their order. The screen was so small that for some questions you constantly had to scroll up and down over and over to re-read the question and the answers. I couldn’t think of a worse designed test system. However for certain one definite problem was that the test was entirely in very technical Japanese, and while my Japanese is quite good, it was not good enough to understand many technical concepts which I have only had to deal with in English; additionally, many questions were of the form “which of the following 5 statements is incorrect,” so if you didn’t understand every one of the 5 statements in complete clarity, you couldn’t answer the question.

I felt cheated. I specifically told them that I was not trying to be a regular Japanese employee, but clearly they had a standard recruitment procedure and it had to be followed. ZERO flexibility. If they don’t have any flexibility on interview style, it made me wonder what kind of flexibility they might have on work responsibilities or pay scale. At any rate, when the woman from HR came back to the test room to notify me that there were only 5 minutes left, I had had it. I told her I didn’t need 5 more minutes, and that they should only hire Japanese people, and stormed the hell out of there. At that point I didn’t care what happened further.

Amazingly, they still called me back in for a final round of interviews, this time with the mobile unit. This time it seemed to go pretty well again, but the last question was to ask me again what my salary requirements were. I had already answered this question once or twice earlier, so I repeated the same answer. The next day they called and said that they did not have any matching positions at the time. I don’t know the reason for their ending of the interview process; maybe I was too independent and they didn’t think I would fit in with their ZERO FLEXIBILITY culture. But I think the salary had something to do with it, as that was the last question, and they asked it multiple times.

Japanese engineers are already paid only a small fraction of US engineers, and it would seem Yahoo is not at the top of that salary scale by any means. But they are still able to create a suprisingly successful company even though they don’t treat their engineers well like they do in the US. It is a mystery to me how this can happen, I think Japanese engineers are just used to grinning and bearing it… little do they know the miserable lives they lead compared to American engineers, in my opinion.

One more item with respect to benefits at Yahoo Japan.. I found out about this new concept called サービス残業, aka Service Overtime. As it was explained to me, Yahoo Japan pays its employees a flat allowance of around 40,000 (?) yen a month, and in return the employees are expected to work unlimited overtime until 10pm. If you happen to stay after 10pm, then you can qualify for real overtime pay, but coincidentally, at 10pm the air conditioning shuts off and the office starts to get really hot… Seems they are asking their employees to go home.

3) Yahoo Japan vs Google Japan

Last year while interviewing at Google Japan I also did a lot of work comparing Yahoo to Google, especially with respect to Japan. Yahoo’s infrastructure and services are noticably inferior to Google’s in most respects. So why is Yahoo Japan so much more popular? First of all, it’s true, Yahoo customizes its services for Japan while Google opted for a 1-size-fits-the-world approach. This has been changing. The Google Japan home page is actually slightly different from the Google US home page now (it didn’t used to be until the last year), featuring several tabs with Google services, broken down by category. I don’t think this goes far enough though. As mentioned in the TechCrunch article, Japanese people are used to very densely populated pages of information. This does not just apply to web sites, but everything .. magazines, newspapers, TV shows, … Also the fact that Yahoo Japan offers everything in one place is nice. Want a weather forecast? It’s right there in Yahoo Weather. (Google finally added a simple weather forecast of the next several days, but if you want any additional info, you had to do a search, which would give you links to other weather web sites.. very user-unfriendly.) Want to check out conditions of ski lifts, and user’s opinions? Just check Yahoo Outdoor. I could go on, and on. Google says that their model is to provide links to information, and not the information themselves, but they flip-flop on this a lot. Like they started providing simple weather forecasts, but not in detail. And now they provide train route search as well. But they don’t provide much other information.

Of course, Yahoo has been in Japan much longer than Google and has been doing Japan focused R&D much longer and much more focused than Google. Only in the last year or two has Google started to do new original R&D specific to the Japan market, and not just porting projects from the U.S. This gives Yahoo a huge lead.

Many people also think that Yahoo does a better job of indexing Japanese web pages. I don’t know if this is true or not though, but it is a statement I heard from some people during my research.

Additionally, I think user lock-in is far more noticable in Japan. Once users are familiar with a certain service, it’s really hard to get them to switch, even if you have a superior search engine. Japanese customers are just familiar with Yahoo. As the TechCrunch article says, many of them associate Yahoo as the Internet. Romanized domain names are very difficult for most Japanese users to remember so they usually search for the top page of other sites by going first to Yahoo. My ex-girlfriend used to go to Yahoo to search for Mixi’s top page, rather than typing in mixi.co.jp into the browser’s URL bar. Yahoo search comes preinstalled on most domestic PCs sold in Japan; my informal survey last year pegged it at around 70% of PCs, Google with say 15%, and others (Goo, Biglobe, etc) with the remaining. Many Japanese users aren’t up to removing the pre-installed Yahoo search and Yahoo toolbar and replacing them with Google.

4) Yahoo Auctions vs EBay

This is an interesting subject to me as I like auctions. When I moved here in 2001 (my memory is a bit hazy here but correct me if I’m wrong) EBay had an extremely poor Japanese site that was basically the US web site with a few help pages in Japanese. Yahoo came along with a fully localized site, fully inferior in terms of functionality. They hooked it into the banking system and made their own payment system similar to PayPal. They charged outrageous rates – to participate in auctions in any way (bidding or selling) you had to pay a 315 yen/month surcharge. (Finally they changed it nowadays so that you only have to pay if you want to sell items, which I still think is robbery.) They offered absolutely inferior functionality. For instance, to this day they don’t offer a way to search completed auctions. (Note: A third party service aucfan.com finally stepped up which offers this.) So at the time, if you were watching an auction (even if you added it to your “watch list”), and it suddenly ended, you couldn’t even find it again unless you had bookmarked the original page, as there was no way to search for it anymore. Simply AWFUL. To this day I am amazed at the extreme poor design of Yahoo Auctions compared to EBay. Features are poor, design is poor, flow is poor, you have to do many clicks to do simple things, although it is slowly improving. And they are still charging me 315 yen a month. I hate them. But liquidity rules.

I heard that EBay hired the CEO of KFC (yes, a chicken restaurant chain!) to run EBay Japan which also didn’t help matters, but I don’t know if that is true or not.

Nobody sleeps like the Japanese do

Outdoor Music Festival

Outdoor Music Festival

Napping at 3AM Karaoke

Napping at 3AM Karaoke

After Fireworks Show

After Fireworks Show

Napping in Shibuya

Napping in Shibuya

Apparently there is a Facebook group to post photos of people sleeping in crazy or uncomfortable looking positions in Japan… This is actually a really good idea. The group is called simply, “Nobody sleeps like the Japanese do.”

Here are a few pictures which I have taken recently, and another which was recently posted on JapanToday.

Why does this happen so frequently in Japan? I think there are several factors. First, the presence and importance of alcohol in Japanese society. Unlike in America, in Japan you can often buy a can of alcohol (beer or chu-hai) for the same price as a can of soda. There aren’t any crazy open container laws so you can happy drink your can of beer on the street or even on the train. Although the latter of which is considered by many to be bad manners, you can still see many tired salarymen doing it. Cheap all-you-can-drink plans can be tacked on to many dinners, and let’s not forget all-you-can-drink karaoke either. Alcohol serves an important role in Japanese society; it allows an escape from the rigid confines of fitting into the group. When drunk, nearly any act can be forgiven. Simply put, most people need alcohol to left off steam, relax, and say and do things which the rigid Japanese society does not allow them to do otherwise. I could go on about this subject in more detail, but I’ll leave it at that.

Second, the safety of Japan: you can generally pass out on the sidewalk without fear of someone stealing your wallet or attacking you. Third, the tendancy of Japanese to simply look the other way when they see something that does not fit in allows them to simply overlook people passed out around them.

Additionally, as we all know, Japan is a small island inhabited by 127 million people, and there just isn’t enough space to go around, so people are used to living and sleeping in cramped quarters. But I still can’t understand how these positions could be comfortable and so commonly seen.

Pendre shorts – fundoshi loincloth for women – the next trend in Japan?

Pendre Shorts: Women\'s FundoshiPendre Shorts: Women\'s FundoshiPendre Shorts: Women\'s Fundoshi

A friend of mine just forwarded this post on JapanProbe about women’s fundoshi. My quickest description of a fundoshi would be traditional Japanese g-string loincloth underwear for men. According to Wikipedia:

Before World War II the fundoshi was the main form of underwear for Japanese adult males; however it went out of use quickly after the war with the advent of new underwear, such as briefs and trunks, on the Japanese market.

I suggest you do a Google image search if you want more graphic details. Anyway, it appears that fundoshi made from very stylish patterns are now being made and marketed to women. Will this craze catch on? (Please note: since there are already pleny of pictures of men’s fundoshi, which have been around for centuries, I am only posting pictures of pendre shorts in this blog posting – sorry, ladies.)

“Akihabara girls’ dorm” – Let’s play in our pajamas!

Flyer for girls dorm service in Akihabara.

I went to Akihabara last month to help my friend buy a terabyte drive (only 17,500 yen now!) and external case (4500 yen for a nice one), where I was of course deluged with cute girls in costumes handing out flyers to come to their stores. Here’s the first flyer that I received, along with my translation.

I should note that this is all just harmless fun. Places like this provide outlets for frustrated and shy single guys to interact with women in an innocent, childlike way. The cultural stereotypes and bias you might expect just aren’t present here. Sure, people may think of it as a bit childish or nerdy, but that’s about it…

Top header:
Refreshing “infiltration-style” spot, as featured prominently in magazines, newspapers, and on TV!
~Let’s play together~
Akiba Girls’ Dorm: Main Building & Annex

Top 3 frames, clockwise from upper right:
Frame 1:
This is Reina, Akiba dorm president. Good day!
And I’m Fujiko, a resident of the dorm.
Frame 2:
For those of you who don’t yet know about our dorm, today we’re going to give you a small tour!
Frame 3:
The inside of the dorm looks like this. The rooms are spacious and relaxing and REALLY cute!
Inside these rooms we’ll get to know you and have fun together!
How to enjoy our dorm? First select a course, then try some options, and finally just enjoy and have fun! It’s simple!

Middle 3 frames, right to left:
Frame 4: As an option, we’ll change clothes from our pajamas to a costume you like.
Frame 5: We’ll take a Polaroid photo together with you. Or read manga about love! We can also wear our school uniform for you!
Frame 6: Everyone please come to play with us! We’ll be waiting for you in our pajamas!