Eclipse excitement building up

The solar eclipse craze is building up less than 2 months before the big day. This nice map resumes pretty well what you’ll be able to see from major cities in the country with and the times to adjust your schedule. (click to zoom)

eclipse-map_small

Better hope 梅雨, the rainy season, will be over by July 22nd…

eclipse-sunglasses

Amazon Japan also started selling eclipse sunglasses for the occasion: buy 4, get one for free.

Interesting language point: solar eclipse in Japanese is 日食 which basically means “eat the sun”… Sound pretty cool.

Also I’m extremely disappointed as I was invited by a now retired colleague to come to his home on 奄美大島, one of the only islands dead center on the full occultation path, but I was not able to get plane tickets to get there. There is only one plane per day from Tokyo, operated by JAL, and they sold the exclusivity of all the seats for a week to their travel agency branch JTB who sold out their insanely expensive tourist packages months and months ago… Of course, in a typical Japanese move, JAL never thought it might be a nice idea to buff up the number of flights for the once in a lifetime occasion.

If I still were a student, I would’ve taken the 48h boat trip. Alas, my salaryman life does not permit it anymore…

Moving to the city

After a bit more than 1.5 years since moving to my current place in 志木, it’s time to move again. I’ve set my mind on a tower mansion 2 minutes from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo and should get the keys by the end of June.

floorplan of the new apartment

The view from the living room should be like the picture below on clear days (albeit from a lower vantage point but I should still be able to glimpse the Fujisan). Can’t wait to be doing cool Tokyo timelapses from my own window.

west-view
fujisan view - the weird white triangular building is Nakano

This time, my company does not wish to rent it for me and take it out of my salary as I am a local contract employee. So this is my first foray into actually signing a rental contract and paying all the fees myself upfront. So lets break it down:

  • 1st month of rent (you pay your rent in advance in Japan) = ¥220.000
  • Moving in on 26th of June so 5 days worth of rent until 30th = ¥36.700
  • 敷金 – deposit, 2 months of rent = ¥440.000
  • 火災保険 – fire insurance = ¥25.000
  • 鍵交換代 – lock change fee = ¥35.000 (that’s a hell of a lot for a lock!)
  • 町内会費 – neighborhood association membership fee for 2 months = ¥500

For a grand total of ¥757.200 or three quarters of a million yen… upfront… it hurts…

And actually, I should count myself lucky, this is rather cheap and most of it is the deposit which I’ll mostly get back. Apartments here, especially new ones, often have a 礼金 which is also called key money and is a nice gift of 2 months of rent to the owner.

Thinking of all that money makes me a bit more partial to the idea of buying a place for myself…

Corporate flu prevention in Japan

coughing etiquetteSince coming back from Golden Week vacations, my company has been sending flu-related information by email to all employees twice a week.

Last week we had an employee coming back from the US get yanked into quarantine at Narita for a week because he sat in the vicinity of a guy with a fever.

Today we received the following email:

Due to prevention of New type Flu, VTSJ Safety & Health Committee would like you to deploy as followings.

Before coming work place, it is necessary to check your body temperature. If you have more than 38℃ of fever, Report to your manager and call to inquiry counter (phone desk organized by the health ministry).

*If you are not able to talk by Japanese, inform to your HR Department.

When your team member will be infected a flu, Manager must report it to Safety Group by attached format. Manager must ask your team member to avoid coming to his/her work place until approval from Public Health Department.

Along with PDF flyers about proper hand washing and “coughing etiquette” as well as the official excel-made (everything is made with excel in Japan) “Flu Patient Declaration” form for use by managers to report to Human Resources.

flureport

One of my team members didn’t come to work today because he wasn’t feeling good. I’m tempted to rat him out to the company with the provided form and get him quarantined until next week… (^o^)/

MOSDO – MOS Burger x Mister Donuts

mosdo! - donut burgers

Mister Donuts x MOS Burger = MOSDO!

Starting May 12, MOS Burger and Mister Donut will start a joint marketing operation mixing their respective products:

  • MOS will have burgers with a hole in the middle of the patty
  • Mister Donuts will sell  burger shaped donuts – reminiscent of Mamido burger I reported about a while back (sorry, I still blogged in French at that time)

mosdo-box

At first I thought they were doing a horrible frankenstein-esque combination of donut buns and meat patties… Gross…

Business cards and QRcodes

Still on the same line of thought as my previous post, I was designing my 名刺 – well, more of outsourcing the design to my brother – and had a hard time with QRcodes that might be interesting to some people.

my meishi

So I wanted my business card to have the classic human readable info on one side, and machine readable on the other. Not so impressive in Japan where QRcodes are everywhere but I like it.

So I did a little reasearch and hit a pot-hole: there is no universal QRcode vCard equivalent standard. As explained here, DoCoMo and SoftBank/au each have their format which are not cross-compatible. So you have 2 solutions:

  1. Make your code a URL link to a .vcf file on your website. Has the advantage that you can change the data without reprinting the cards, adapt the file format to the phone via referer checking and log access (I’d love to see business card conversions in my Google Analytics stats). Downside is conversion is not as easy and you’re not sure if the phone will be able to read the vCard file.
  2. Combine the 2 vCard-like formats in a single QRcode. No stats, but this will work in all phones if you follow my instructions.

I’ve looked into the second solutions and found out by testing that you can combine the 2 formats in one QRcode but only if you put the Softbank/au type first. I guess it cannot have any characters (even a linefeed) before the MEMORY: tag. Then you can use a line of dashes to separate the 2 and make it more easily readable. The end result should look like that:

MEMORY:
NAME1:Doe John
MAIL1:john.doe@softbank.ne.jp
MAIL2:john@doe.com
TEL1:+818036542234
------------------
MECARD:N:Doe John;TEL:+818036542234;EMAIL:john.doe@softbank.ne.jp;EMAIL:john@doe.com;;

Paste that into a QRcode generator and you will get a nice PNG image like this:

QRcode vCard for John Doe

I’ve tested it in 3-4 keitais and it worked nicely. Try it with your phone and tell me the results.

Business card at a job interview

Expanding on my previous tweet, this is of course from a Japanese “business practices and manners” point of view…

american psycho - business card scene

When arriving at a job interview, as with any business meeting, your interviewer will usually give you his 名刺. It is considered polite in Japan to accept it with 2 hands, bow, place it neatly on the table and answer by giving out your own 名刺.

Note: to anyone about to work with Japanese people: always have at least 2 dozens business cards with you at all times!

But in the case of a job interview, should you present your business card if it is from your current employer? In a way, you are betraying your company by looking for a new job. Moreover, the guy already knows you, he has your resume on the table already…

I’ve always been confused with this and am not sure of the appropriate behavior. Maybe I should make myself a batch of personal business cards for such occasions where it is not acceptable to present yourself as your business-self:

Superman – associate @ SuperFriends

As opposed to:

Clark Kent – reporter @ DailyPlanet

Funny dog toys from Japan

I’m going back home to Paris with the girlfriend for a week after Golden Week so of course the usual shopping lists start dropping in my mailbox. They are mainly filled with tech related stuff and gadgets that are quite a bit cheaper than in France (with a VAT at 20%, it’s hard not to be competitive…) – like digital cameras, or just not available anywhere but in whacky Japan – like USB humping dogs.

But this time I got something really original. My brother asked me to bring him back a special chewtoy for dogs that he wants to offer to a friend of his. I found the design so cool and original I wanted to share it with you guys.

doggy-teethdoggy-lineup

There are 4 different types and they go for ¥238 on Rakuten. Pretty awesome.

Golden Parachutes or Organized Cartel: which is more popular?

scrooge-mcduckLast week my company, Valeo, made the frontpage of all the big newspapers (at least in Europe) as our CEO stepped down and was given a 3.2M€ “golden parachute” farewell bonus in spite of the company needing governmental aid to stay afloat. The French government promptly started working on a new law to ban such bonuses in companies receiving financial aids.

His replacement was nominated at the same time as the ex-CEO of Saint Gobain, a high-tech materials manufacturer mostly known for its glass products (your car’s windshield and windows have a good chance of coming from them). The interesting thing being that he had to step down last December when Saint Gobain was indicted for price-fixing cartel by the European Union and fined for 900M€.

The interesting part is the reactions I observed on my French and Japanese colleagues as they heard the news:

  • French people follow the news about the company and were all talking about it the Monday morning after the announcement.
    • The bonus, although everyone thinks it’s pretty tasteless in our situation, was more or less expected.
    • However people are really shocked that the new CEO’s last accomplishment was getting his company indicted for the very serious offense of price-fixing.
  • For my Japanese colleagues, I had to break the details of the news to them as the local papers are much more interested in the latest development of the North Korean missile threat.
    • They are pretty much outraged about the bonus.
    • When told about the cartel affair, their reaction is incredulity: “Europe is really severe on those things…”

Funny how the points of view differ on the subject.

On my way to work

Japan is not only Tokyo with its crowded street crossings and neon lights. It’s also the old countryside, small traditional (and not so traditional) houses with rice paddies or vegetable farm in the backyard.

I live in Tokyo (technically not but almost in the city limit) but I work in a factory way out in the countryside of Saitama prefecture, 50km north of Tokyo. This is what I see every morning from the window of my train.

Driving in Tokyo

A friend of mine received his new car last weekend and we went driving around town all saturday night and sunday afternoon.

Fun thing to do with a car in Tokyo: drive to Yokohama’s 中華街 to eat chinese food for lunch a Sunday afternoon after partying.

It really got me into thinking I need to get off my lazy ass and finally get my license. I never bothered getting it while a student living in Paris and now that I’m 27 years old living in Japan, I realize my mistake.

So I’ve been looking at driving schools around my place and found a nice one not to far. Prices are ¥291.000 for manual, ¥278.000 for automatic. I should have no problem taking the driving courses and test in Japanese and the written test is available in English in Saitama prefecture, but studying for the written test in Japanese might be a bit out of my league.

I’m going to see with the school if they can waiver the fees for the non-driving classes and let me study at home on my own with whatever english materials I can find.

Internet is almost void of any accounts of foreigners passing their driving license from scratch in Japan so I have no real idea of what I’m in for…

JLPT Fail

For all the hundreds of people waiting for their JLPT results to arrive and coming to my blog via google searches, know that this year’s score slip has arrived yesterday in Japan. As I was expecting, I failed level 2 again for lack of studying…

JLPT 2008 score: 217/400

  • Vocabulary/Kanji: 58/100
  • Listening: 81/100
  • Grammar/Reading: 78/200

Yep, 23 points short… I guess I’m up again for the June session…