Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Idiot Gaijin

Many of my posts are observations about modern Japanese society from the point of view of a foreign resident. This time, I'm turning the gun on my own kind...IDIOT GAIJIN

Today I was watching some news online only to find this video about an IDIOT GAIJIN who went swimming in the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo...NAKED. Yes, this is the palace of the very much loved and respected Japanese Emperor Akihito and the Imperial Family. I can hardly think of a more insulting and disrespectful thing that a foreigner could do in Japan. But it's a testament to just how forgiving our Japanese hosts are that nobody shot or beat the guy. In fact, the one man they interviewed was so reserved, I realized how lucky we are here some times, and just how patient the locals are when we do IDIOTIC things (and all of us gaijin here do stupid shit from time to time; I'm no exception).

Here's the video (it's from Reuters so give it about 40 seconds before it shows on the screen).

Japan is our home too. And most of us living here try our best to at least SHOW respect, even if we are critical at times. Every time an IDIOT GAIJIN decides to make a huge shouting scene in public, or hit a car on the hood that's driven too close or decides to get butt naked and take a dip in the Imperial Family's back yard, you are insulting the Japanese. And that's just rude. If you're crazy, then get your pasty white ass out of Japan and back to whatever country didn't want you in the first place.

In addition to just being a moron, this IDIOT GAIJIN raised racial tension with one stupid act on national television. As many foreign residents write about in blogs, it can be VERY difficult to live in Japan sometimes when you're not Japanese. One of my colleagues recently was on the verge of signing a rental agreement when the landlord suddenly decided that she just didn't want a "gaijin" living in her apartment. Imagine the shit that would hit the fan in Canada if some white guy said, "Sorry, no Asians allowed." You'd be sued in a heartbeat. But here in Japan, it's par for the course.

And in a more recent example, today I went into the AEON bank to ask about getting a home loan for the apartment I want to buy. A very modest loan on a very cheap apartment. They kindly explained everything to me...but in the end said that I had to wait until I got a permanent residence status before I could apply. The fact that I have been here for 17 years, have a steady job and I make three times as much as most of the young salarymen they typically lend insane amounts of money to means nothing. I'm not Japanese. End of story. Did I get angry? Not at all. They were super nice to me, and this is Japan. If I don't like it, then I can get my pasty white ass back to Canada. Do I wish this situation would change? Yes, 100%. But it will NEVER change as long as fucking idiots like this Spanish pendejo retard keep doing stunts like this in Japan.

I'm embarrassed to be thought of as being the same as this chingon. I almost don't want to leave my apartment today. What a jackass!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Japanese recession explained!

Japan has been in a prolonged stagnant economy since I first arrived here 17 years ago. Even the global economic boom of the mid 2000's didn't help. The Economist says that the never-ending financial funk is because "the other main pillar of demand -- private consumption -- seems in no position to take up the slack... contracting by 0.5% in the second quarter." Hey, don't blame the consumer! Blame it on the daily practices of local businesses, who seem to be the only on the planet who have never heard the catch phrase, "Volume, volume, volume!!"

One of the unique things about Japanese consumer goods is that they rarely aim at volume sales. Instead, most stores aim at selling just a few products, but at a ridiculous profit margin. Need proof? Check out the price of this Mango, which I found at the airport this year down in Kagoshima (southern Japan).

Yes, you're seeing that correctly -- that's $200 for a freakin' mango! And it doesn't contain a hidden diamond or a small stash of cocaine. It's just a beautiful, perfectly overpriced piece of fruit. And somebody will pay for this insanely value added item to bring as a souvenir to impress some boss who probably doesn't even like mango. But it's expensive, which in Japan, means it must be good.

OK, that may be a bad example. Most people don't buy this kind of fruit any more. So let's look at something more normal. Take pizza, for example. A large pizza here at any delivery place typically costs about $US30. Even for my relatively cheap all-time favourite, Ham and Pineapple, it's $27. That's a lot of money for discount pizza compared to the rest of the world. This is particularly true for for students and pathetic bachelors, the target audience of any respectable pizza place. This would explain why I've never been to a home party where people just order pizza. It's too expensive.

Enter my old friend Saki, who used to work for an ad agency. On a group ski vacation, she once asked the foreigners in the group for an idea of how to make her client, Pizza Hut, more competitive in Japan. As we guessed, they had the same slumping sales as every other pizza place. Why? Because they have virtually the same menu, pricing structure and promotions as every other pizza place in town. So we suggested they do 2-for-1. Try to win the market share by going for lower profit margin, but with huge volume sales -- which was very successful for many smaller pizza places in North America. "No, we can't do that here in Japan," was the only answer we got. And so the recession rolls along unimpeded. And we continue to order our pizza at COSTCO, where we get a extremely tasty HUGE pizza for about $US13.

Eventually, I started seeing "W" (double) sizes on menus and pitchers of beer in bars. "Things are looking up, " I thought. But when we did the math, we saw that a 0.5 liter beer was 500 yen. And a 2 liter pitcher was 2,000 yen. Hmmmm, isn't that just the same price? Yes, they get you to drink more -- but there's no incentive to buy a huge beer that will sit and get warm on the table. So nobody does.

Ditto at restaurants. For example, I just took this yesterday at Saizeriya, a popular chain of Italian restaurants. First, the cost of a normal order of Mozzarella and Tomato Caprese.

And now the price of the double size (which, as it turns out, is not even double in size). The astute reader with reasonable math skills will notice that 598 yen is exactly double to price of 299. So in this case, the "double" applies only to the price. PAY MORE, GET LESS. Now there's a motto to live by.

There is hope, however. While Japan is painfully slow at taking on new ideas and trying to "go it alone" to beat the competition, things are changing thanks to pressure from the increasing number of foreign companies or their Japanese reincarnations. Coffee as a consumer good changed thanks to Starbucks. Before Starbucks entered the scene, we had ONLY American and Blend coffee, and both tasted like boiled sock water. Now we have about 80% of the selection available abroad. But it wasn't until after Starbucks was everywhere and most local coffee shops had gone bankrupt that people finally stopped saying, "Starbucks will not last because Japanese people prefer Japanese style coffee shops." Clearly the Japanese are unfamiliar with the plight of the dodo bird.

I reckon that the same pressure to change will happen as Japanese retail outlets see COSTCO and other companies continue to overflow with customers from the moment they open till the moment they close, 7 days a week. Eventually Japan Inc. will start realizing that they need more customers parting with their hard earned money, and the only way they'll do that is by offering deals and giving the consumer a break on the ridiculous prices being charged. In the end, everybody wins with volume sales.

I just hope the change comes soon, because I would love to live on pizza!!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Starbucks rip-offs

Ripping off other peoples' ideas is a national pastime in Japan. But I must admit that I am tired of seeing companies here try to just mimic success instead of developing new ideas and creating a diverse market.

Hmmmm...doesn't that lettering look similar...and the logo...and the menu...(and the colour, if you were around before they changed the logo to avoid getting sued into oblivion)! Yes, Excelsior is guilty of copying the Starbucks logo...literally, guilty as charged. Starbucks was going to take them to court as per this article in the Japan times. So they had to change their colour from a "try-to-look-like-Starbucks-green" to the current shade of "avoid-a-lawsuit-blue."

It was all pretty funny when they first opened. About 8 years ago, I was meeting my buddy in Roppongi. I was waiting in Starbucks when he called to ask why I was late. I said, "Where are you?" He said he was in Starbucks. I looked and didn't see him, but he insisted he was in Starbucks. I asked him to read the logo in the shop and he said, "Why does the Starbucks sign say 'Excelsior?'" Get a new logo will you, jackasses!

Actually, Excelsior coffee used to suck, but it's not so bad now. AND you can buy a beer and sit outside and enjoy it. I guess all of this new quality came when they decided to change the colours on their logo and do something eeeeever so slightly original. When they first opened, all they had was the logo, and a menu photocopied from Starbucks. The shops were smokey and dingy, and the coffee machines they used were those little plastic automatic jobs that make coffee that tastes like the oil leaking from my car. Now they use real live coffee machines. It's not complete shite now.

Then came Tully's coffee. They were the first to have an original logo, and the coffee doesn't suck as bad as Excelsior. But they are just as guilty of stifled creativity. They have an almost identical menu of coffee drinks and snacks -- and the prices are identical pretty much to the last yen as Starbucks. I guess they haven't realized that Starbucks is the star of the industry, so they would be smart to try to just be a little cheaper. But who said that Japanese companies were smart. With 110 million people who tend not to bitch about things as much as I do, they have plenty of people who won't notice the difference.

Not that I'm absolving Starbucks Japan of their own lack of creativity and insanely high prices. Starbucks in Japan is such a rip off, they should be bitch slapped on a daily basis. And talk about a limited menu. Last time I was in Victoria in Canada the Starbucks had decent coffee, reasonable pricing, and some amazing snack foods, including a lot of healthy low-fat choices. In Japan, you get cookies and cakes and chocolate -- but only if you can afford it, and only if you have your insulin shot ready to inject.

But I'm still a fan of Starbucks, who's kidding who! Now who's going to run out and get me a foofy no-fat latte!