BBQ on Chita Peninsula

Yesterday we had a BBQ lunch at a delightful little harbour at the south of the Chita Peninsula. The BBQ was arranged by the previously mentioned “Special Tomato Friend” and his good mate “Fisherman Friend”. As it turned out, Fisherman Friend invited some of his fisherman mates, who rocked up one-by-one throughout the afternoon, bringing with them more seafood and beer. (Some of which was actual beer.) It seems that Tuesday is the standard day off for fishermen of this area, and Special Tomato Friend isn’t too busy at this time of year – he’s just waiting around for his hydroponic tomatoes to grow.

Fisherman at BBQ

Anyone who has studied Japanese knows that there is all the difference in the world between Standard Japanese (標準語) and the language that real people actually speak. I have discovered that the absurdity of the Japanese spoken can be calculated accurately using this equation:

W = D * 1+Ff * 1+(1/2A)

where:

W = Weirdness of Japanese

D = Distance from Tokyo in kilometres

Ff = Number of Fishermen Present

A = Alcohol Consumed by Present Fishermen

The value of W fluctuated from 600 to 2300 throughout the afternoon, making it extremely difficult for me to accurately follow the conversation. However, I did glean the following points:

  • Australian Snapper is too thin. Japanese Snapper is nice and fat. You guys gotta fatten up your fish!
  • Japanese politicians LOVE nuclear power plants. Every time one is built, the get a little bit richer. Japanese people don’t really like them.
  • When I retire I’m gonna drive my boat to Australia. Do you think one tank of fuel will be OK?
  • …but I won’t retire until I’m 75. (Given that he’ll probably live to 150, that doesn’t seem so absurd.)

The BBQ was absolutely delicious. It included some of the best squid sashimi that I’ve ever tasted (nice and firm but not hard and chewy), a couple of boxes of fresh crabs, and deliciously fatty Wagyu beef.

Box of Crabs

Preparing the Food

Another interesting fact about the location of the BBQ was that it was a popular spot for those undertaking “Empty Business Trips” (空出張). In Japan, it is important to be seen to be busy in the eyes of your work colleagues. This means staying late even when there is no work to do. In order to stay late, you need to find something to do all day! There were about 5 cars with businessmen undertaking Empty Business Trips at the harbour for the majority of the time we were there. They’d even leave to get some lunch from the convenience store and then come back for the afternoon shift!

Empty Business Trip
Here is a Secom employee busy checking the electronic security system that must have been surreptitiously installed on this rubble car park.

Another absurdity of the afternoon was when Special Tomato Friend gave Nicewife’s dad a hat with “USS Arizona – Pearl Harbor” emblazoned in English across the front. This gift was made with absolutely no sense of irony. Fantastic!

Down, Down, Dollar is Down

(If that title seems weird, try singing it to the Coles supermarket tune.)

This is what the Aussie has been doing with itself for the last 3 months. Looks like it has been officially rejected from the glamour club of world currencies.

Dollar vs JPY
AUD vs JPY over last 3 months

A couple of weeks ago I attended the meeting of the Nagoya International PC Club, and no-one had anything good to say about the rise of the Yen. A Japanese attendee who makes a living selling kimonos on e-bay said he could not raise his prices or this American and European customers would stop buying. A Polish developer lamented the fact that he was being paid in British Pounds, a currency which has fallen 50% against the Yen in since 2007. The American attendees were kinda annoyed too, given that their USD holdings have also declined significantly compared to the Yen.

What none of us could work out is why is the Yen so strong? Interest on savings in Yen is abysmal. The best we could come up with was that Japanese believe it is patriotic to hold government bonds and keep their significant savings in Yen in a local bank. Or perhaps that the sudden recent increase in the Yen was due to people getting out of the carry trade because they’re worried that their investment currency will tank.

Share your wisdom in the comments!

FREE as in Beer-Free

Real or Fake Beer?

In Japan, what is the most popular method of transferring alcohol from a libation into the bloodstream? Saké perhaps? Suntory Whiskey? Shōchū – a spirit distilled from rice, sweet potato, sugar or other core ingredient? Nope… the residents of Japan like to drink good traditional German-style beer, of course. But what exactly is the Japanese definition of beer? Let’s compare the two drinks above.

We’ll start with the obvious things. The size: one is 500ml, the other only 350. They both appear to contain beer; the words “smooth” and “refreshing” appear in English on both cans. They both have an alcohol content of 5%, as is standard for Japanese beers. The one on the left was made in Korea, the one on the right is from Japan. The large one cost about 280yen, the smaller one, just 88 yen! (If we adjust for volume, those figures work out at 196 yen and 88 yen.) The important difference between these two products is that only one of them is actually beer.

The answer is found in the fine print at the bottom of the can. The cheap one is classified as “Fizzy Liquor” (リキュール発泡性). The expensive one is “Draft Beer” (生ビール) . The difference in price is largely down to how the two drinks are taxed.

Bizarrely, Japanese beer is taxed on its malt content. The “Fizzy Liquor” drink is an artificially carbonated unmalted “beer” crossed with barley spirits. It is in essence a beer-flavoured cocktail, but in a blind taste test most people wouldn’t be able to tell that it isn’t beer. As the economy continues to decline, low-malt and no-malt “beers” continue to gain in popularity.

What I like about this particular farce is its demonstration of Japan’s affinity with laws that only have  face value. Another classic example of this is gambling. Gambling is illegal under Chapter 23 of the Penal Code. But pachinko (a pinball-like game with potential winnings) is a $300 billion industry and there are pachinko parlours in every corner of this country. Pachinko skirts the law by officially only offering players the chance to win, say, a cheap plastic pen, which is then exchanged at an “unrelated” exchange booth off-site for, say, $10,000! The outcome: Japan can take the moral high ground on gambling. Pachinko operators can rake in their profits. Individuals can do whatever they want. It’s win-win all around…. except for the addicted.

Disney meets Kiss

Konnyaku is a kinda unique Japanese food. I looked it up in a Japanese-English dictionary; it was defined as “solidified jelly made from the rhizome of devil’s tongue”. It don’t know what that means either. To describe, it is basically a tough, grey, savoury jelly.

Every morning the boys watch a children’s song program, and the clip below is this month’s “song of the month”. It cracks us up every time we see it. It’s Disney meets Kiss in 1978. The words go something like:

Konnyaku, it has no bones,
Floppy, floppy, floppy, floppy,
It suddenly starts dancing,
Floppy, floppy, floppy.
It’s yummy in oden.
Floppy, floppy, bouncy, bouncy.
Konnyaku, it has no spine….

…. you get the picture.

 

For reference, this is the sort of stuff these two presenters usually do:

Typhoon 15

Like a fart in an elevator, Typhoon 15 has been just hanging around south of Okinawa for the last few days. You can see on the graphic below that it has travelled very slowly in a complete circle over the ocean, and has now started heading for the main Japanese island of Honshu.

Typhoon Forecast

The current location is marked by the solid red circle – the dotted circles show the projected path. According to the latest forecast the eye of the storm will pass right over Nagoya, at around noon tomorrow. That’s represented by the red dot on the graphic above. At that stage it will be moving slowly North-east at only 30km an hour, with wind speeds somewhere between 108 and 162 km/h. Gentlemen – time to hold onto your toupees!

The worst case forecast is for around 400mm of rain over today and tomorrow – this is almost as much rain as falls in an entire year in my hometown of Adelaide! When I left home today Nicewife’s mum was cleaning out the loft so that we could “live up there” if the ground floor of the house floods. I asked her if she’d ever had to do that before in her 30 years of living in that house. She said no. Given that information, I don’t expect that we’ll have to “live up there”, but if it happens, I bet there’ll be no internet. Yeah, that and food.

 

UPDATE 21 September 8pm JST:

We didn’t have to live up in the loft after all, although Nicewife’s brother and his wife had to evacuate their apartment and stay with us overnight. The eye of the storm thankfully passed Nagoya to the south, thus we avoided the worst of the weather.

Radar picture of Typhoon 15
The radar just after the Typhoon passed Nagoya. The eye of the storm is marked with a black dot.

Does Japan Overpackage?

Did you know that the Japan Packaging Institute’s official goal is,  “Challenging the future of packaging by means of originality and ingenuity“? I didn’t either. Yesterday we had takeout pizza for lunch. The shop asked us if we wanted to pay extra for the benefit of receiving the pizza in a pizza box. We politely refused, and this was the result:

Takeout pizza in millions of little boxes.
Takeout pizza in millions of little boxes.

In highly related matters, here is a picture of my ninety-five year old grandmother-in-law eating pizza. Awww!

95 year old having pizza

Ageing (car) Population

Daihatsu Car Model
Japan – A country where you can express yourself in surprising ways by your choice of car.

I am married to Nicewife, a Japanese national.

Nicewife’s dad has some special friends that he has know from his schooldays that have become legendary characters to me. Let me introduce them. There’s “special car friend” (he owns a car dealership and garage), “special-tomato-friend” (he owns a hydroponic tomato farm), “fisherman-friend” (quite dissimilar from his strong minty-tasting namesake), and “always-wearing-purple friend”. I love the fact that they are named with reference to what benefits their friendship provides – apart from “always-wearing-purple friend” that is, who presumably counters his apparent uselessness with a good social presence.

Late last week we met “special car friend” to take possession of a car that we will be able to use during our gap year in Japan. If there is anywhere in Japan where the car is king, it’s Aichi. The lifeblood of this prefecture is the automotive industry. The largest car manufacturer in the world, the Toyota Motor Corporation, is headquartered here. When I was first living in Japan (about 8 years ago), people were generally driving nice, modern cars that were only a couple of years old, but were yet complaining that they could not afford to replace them because, “the economy is bad”. As an Australian, and being from the State with the oldest car fleet in the country (if we exclude Tasmania – which is a good thing to do generally anyway), I found this pretty amusing.

I was curious about just how things have changed since 2003. In the intervening period the Japanese economy has continued to stagnate. The national public debt has ballooned to about 200% of GDP. The population has peaked and is several years into its forecast near-terminal decline (more people are dying or emigrating than the combined total of those being born and immigrating). The government, with its funds depleted, are facing an expensive cleanup operation in northern Tohoku following the March 2011 Tsunami, which includes yet unknown costs related to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

I asked “special car friend” how business was going. He sat back in this chair, sucked the air through his teeth, and then gave the following frank assessment.

“The problem with cars nowadays… they don’t break down”, he explained.

“That’s terrible!” I sympathised.

“What about car servicing? Surely that’s a cash co…. um, I mean, surely that’s a vitally necessary public service you can provide?”

“Retirees, housewives, workers who commute by public transport. They’re only driving short distances… 1,000 to 2,000 km per year, so they don’t bother getting their cars serviced very often.”

“I see. What about new car sales?” I inquired.

“Well, you know, the economy isn’t good. People used to change cars every 3 years or so, now they’re holding onto the same car for 5 or even 10 years! And when they do upgrade, they buy privately off the internet.”

These things are all relative, however. Special Car Friend pointed to a white Toyota Crown parked out the front of his office. It was a trade in, about 10 years old with 100,000 km on the clock. Equivalent Camrys in Australia are for sale on carpoint.com.au for around $8,000. How much for this white Toyota Crown? Less than nothing! Contrarily, special-car-friend will have to pay for its disposal.