Little Princess Syndrome in a Dog

sakura

Nicewife’s parents have a beautiful black labrador. They bought it after both their adult children had left home.

The dog serves a vital purpose. It indulges their need to pamper something younger and cuter than themselves. The dog’s life perks include the following:

  • Green tea on demand.
  • Year round climate control: Air conditioning in summer. Central heating in winter.
  • A raised feeding bowl so the poor dear doesn’t have to strain her neck to reach for food on the floor.
  • A wind shelter on windy days. A sun shelter on sunny days.
  • A collection of mats that are rotated according to season: Airy tatami, a gell-filled “cool pad” and thick luxury carpet.
  • An electronic insect repeller.

If there is a fly in her room she will bark until they remove it. She refuses to go for a walk if the ground is even slightly wet, yet alone if it is actually raining. She also won’t walk if it is much over 30 degrees outside. Nicewife’s dad cuts open old yoghurt and ice cream containers so that she can lick up every last drop. (I’ve yet to see him help with housework by cutting up the containers that we are required to recycle.) If the family are eating some special treat that has been given as a gift, one is often reserved for the little princess. Even her transportation is first-class. Despite the fact that Nicewife’s parents own a small tray-top truck perfectly suited to canine carriage, the dog will only visit the vet in the BMW.

The pampering of dogs is something of a common theme in Japan. It is not unusual to see women taking their small dogs for a walk…. in a Louis Vuitton bag! The dog looks bored. The woman looks exhausted. Yves Carcelle looks immensely satisfied.

I thought I’d finish with a photo of an elevator at a local shopping mall. This particular elevator (of a total of three available) is specifically intended for the use of customers who have come, to this very nice modern indoor mall, accompanied with their bagged dogs.

pet elevator

The Customer is God

not mcdonalds

In a previous life I worked in retail in the Highlands of Scotland. We were told by our foul-mouthed, hypocritical manager that we should provide good customer service because, “the Customer is King”. Of course in practice it was pretty rare to see this policy turn to action, particularly if the customer happened to be an unwelcome English “white settler” with a posh accent.

Japanese businesses espouse a similar policy to that of my former employer, but the implementation is worlds apart. In Japan, they say “O-kyakusama wa kamisama” – the customer is god.

I am sitting at a clean, comfortable and modern Japanese restaurant. I watch as a petite, professional Japanese waitress in her mid-30s runs to a seated customer to deliver their meal to their table. It’s not a full-on sprint, more like a dainty trot, probably no faster than walking. But it communicates something: The customer is god. She apologises profusely for making them wait. (They had been waiting less than 2 minutes.)  Another member of the restaurant staff wipes down tables, literally running from one to the next and apologising for the “interruption” to each nearby customer. Since she does this every 10 minutes the table she is currently wiping is already impossibly clean. A family of five enter the restaurant and her attention shifts. She runs to welcome them and to take their order.

“So what?”, I hear you say. That’s no different to a nice restaurant in Australia. But there’s something I’m witholding from you. I’m not sitting at what you would consider fine dining establishment. I’m at McDonalds, having just dropped $2.40 on a chicken burger and milkshake. I finish my meal and approach the rubbish station to sort the rubbish on my tray into 10 different recycling categories. An eager staff member approaches to takes the tray off my hands, laboriously sorting my rubbish on my behalf. “Thank you very much. Please come again!”, she effuses.

It got me thinking about where this motivation to provide excellent service comes from. It’s clearly not the $12 an hour she’s receiving for her considerable trouble. Nor is it flexible working hours or world-class workplace gender equality. Why did she run, instead of walk, to deliver a tray of fatty burgers to a bunch of fatty teenagers?

Most Australian employees are constantly, and unknowingly, calculating the risks and rewards of taking an action that costs effort. We do this hundreds of times a day without realising it. An Australian Maccas employee subconsciously determines that they personally risk nothing if the fatty teenagers have to wait a few minutes longer for their fatty burgers. Stuff table service – these pimple-faced angst-filled pre-adults can just wait here at the counter, right next to the perpetually overflowing rubbish bins.

Back at McDonalds Japan I watch one of the over-helpful staff members more closely. When she talks her mouth smiles but her eyes are glazed. Her voice is upbeat and chirpy, but there is no detectable melodic cheer in her words. She provides polite but impersonal service. She is an ultra-efficient Japanese robot, the product of 12 years of education designed to a produce loyal, unquestioning, hard-working employee. The individual is sacrificed to the group, and as a result my burger arrives quickly and my table is clean.

Who would’ve thought one could attain divine status just by spending $2.40 on a burger and shake?

Panda Death a Metaphor

Relations between Asia’s two giants China and Japan are rarely straightforward. Despite being the second and third lagest economies in the world and doing hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade, a few choice words by a prominent government official or a territorial incursion by a small fishing boat can quickly escalate into an international diplomatic crisis.

This week saw heightened tensions due to a Japanese government announcement that it intends to nationalise the Senkaku Islands, a group of islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. China responded by sending “fishing vessels” into Japanese-claimed territorial waters around the islands. It was the top story on the evening news. Everyone was very upset. The Japanese government’s hand had been somewhat forced into making the purchase, as the right-wing mayor of Tokyo was already arranging for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the islands on behalf of the country.

In a seemingly unrelated issue, Nicewife was watching TV on Wednesday when a Newsflash (the type that is usually reserved for earthquakes and typhoons) announced the death of a newborn baby panda at Ueno Zoo. The zoo director was in tears. The Prime Minister described the death as “very disappointing”. A major department store cancelled its “Happy Panda Week” sale. (Apparently dead pandas don’t sell handbags.) The country is in mourning.

Given that Ueno Zoo is also owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, one can’t but help wonder if the baby panda death is an unfortunate metaphor for the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

baby panda
Newborn Panda at Ueno Zoo  (Photo: Ueno Zoological Gardens)

Two Convenient

Despite poor economic times the number of convenience stores in Japan continues to grow. The sale of snacks, cigaretts and alcohol truly is a recession-proof industry.

There are 10 convenience stores within a 10 minute bicycle radius of my house. The most prominent chain around here is 7-Eleven, which has over 40,000 stores around the country. But what really takes the biscuit is this quiet nearby street featuring not one, but two 7-Elevens within 60 metres of each other.

If you stand somewhere in the middle you’ll have 7-Elevens at 7 o’clock and 11 o’clock respectively. Ladies and gentlemen, we have crossed from the realm of convenience to that of absurdity.

seeing double
Seeing Double.

P.S. If you want to find out why Japanese convenience stores are just so damn great check out this post over at This Japanese Life.

Oi! Oi! Nuclear is Back!

Prior to the accident at Fukushima, Japan relied on nuclear power for around 30% of its generation capacity (with plans to raise that to 50% by 2030), and had a total of 54 active reactors dotted around the country’s coast. For the last few months none have been operational because of ongoing public concern over their safety.

With the summer season now upon us however, demand for electricity for air conditioning will skyrocket leaving the Kansai area in particular with a significant shortfall unless some of the nuclear reactors are restarted. The most likely candidate was the plant at Oi, in Fukui Prefecture, part of Japan’s “Nuclear Alley”. This is a place close to my heart, because when I was last living in Japan it was close to my home!

For weeks we have witnessed a pantomime with the nuclear regulator, plant operator, prefectural governments and the Prime Minister all playing roles. This pantomime slowly conveyed to a largely sceptical public a carefully crafted message: this is safe, and this is inevitable. When the Prime Minister finally announced the restart he framed his argument around the importance of affordable electricity for maintaining the Japanese standard of living.

The Oi reactor was restarted this week and is expected to start to transmit electricity from today.

I have just a few thoughts to share:

Firstly, I think it’s incredible that Japan has to-date survived the loss of 30% of its generation capacity without rolling blackouts. This has been achieved through restarting mothballed thermal plants and encouraging people and businesses to save energy.

Secondly, I note with interest that there is no sunset date for the restarted operation of Oi, something which would seem sensible given that the extra demand will only last until the summer ends and that reaching public consensus over the future of nuclear power in Japan is still far off.

Thirdly, I think geothermal electricity generation could in future play a much larger part in Japan’s energy mix. For this source of electricity Japan’s unstable geology becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Tokyo area still have no nuclear plants in operation. Several years ago TEPCO boasted in a TV commercial that 40% of its power came from nuclear plants in Niigata and Fukushima. I didn’t want them looking silly (again), so I took the liberty of updating their ad.

before
Before (view commercial)
After