Tags: japan


hooray for not working in japan

I was going to write a more personal entry tonight (after getting some work done), but...oh my fucking. This is some seriously twisted shit. Next time I visit Japan I am definitely not eating at Gyoza no Ohsho.

I don't know what makes me more disgusted, the company's training regimen itself or the shrill objections of Japanese people--and some foreigners!--who insist there is absolutely nothing wrong with what those managers are doing in the video and that perhaps we in the West could learn a thing or two about teaching young employees gratitude, loyalty, and respect, something we clearly don't understand these days.

I'll say this, after being lectured on such things by people who were not my parents for six years: Anyone who invokes gratitude, loyalty, and respect in the context of unquestioning obedience has no fucking idea what those words really mean. I refer not only to those English words, but but their analogues in kanji/hanzi. When Confucius wrote about these things, he never intended to create a world where the punishment for violating the social hierarchy involved the subordinate being carried away in a stretcher (and hating himself for it). Alas, that is precisely what the older generation over there has taken away from his teachings.

People. It's just fried dumplings (鍋貼). You roll the dough into little circles and wrap up some ground pork and scallion and fry it up, and it tastes delicious. As a lifetime gyoza lover myself I am utterly appalled that anyone would even think that their production should involve this degree of psychological abuse. I can deal with my gyoza being a little lumpier or a little less crispy if it means I can eat it without someone having to be broken and remade in the company's image. (My favorite gyoza place in Hsinchu had a scowling, irritable old lady as its sole cashier and waitress, and the gyoza was no less delicious. Probably better than Gyoza no Ohsho's, no less, considering it was authentic.)

To Japan's credit, this footage has sparked a lot of outrage over there, too, and some constructive soul-searching over the nature of Japan's various corporate subcultures. The sad thing is that this kind of bullshit isn't limited to Gyoza no Ohsho--lots of companies do it, and some fucktard commenter on Mutantfrog actually went as far as to say that Gyoza no Ohsho's only crime was getting caught.

Look, I know folks in the foodservice business have to put up with a lot of abuse on this side of the pond, too, but at least it's not systematized. There's a world of difference between the head cook who calls you a worthless piece of shit for not washing dishes fast enough because he's an asshole and the head cook who calls you a worthless piece of shit in front of 250 other employees in a ritualized brainwashing campaign because This Is Just The Way Things Are Done.

Is it just me, but is the whole This Is Just The Way Things Are Done mentality nothing more than an insidious way to ensure that things will never change? It's bad enough having that attitude at the bottom, but look how it perpetuates itself after those on the bottom climb to the top.

every day's great at your junes

Most of the people on my flist who still read this journal won't get this, but anyone who's been to Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea will. Within seconds, at most.

This song is far more catchy than any of FamilyMart's actual advertising--and more relevant to their brand. (Nooooo! I'm half the world away from the nearest FamilyMart and I still can't get that little jingle out of my head!)

You know you've transcended from "mega-corporation" to "cultural institution" when people not affiliated with your company write a sentimental pop song* about your stores. Taiwanese blogger MUTEBKTK, who was immediately inspired to make an unlistenable remix of the song the moment he heard it, observes that the song is not just a commentary on Japanese convenience stores but on the loneliness and alienation of contemporary urban life. In the past, we had family to welcome us with a bowl of warm food when we came home from work; now, the one who welcomes us home with a warm bowl of food is FamilyMart. (全家就是你家!) The blogger finds this poignant. I find it sad.

(The attitude is a little dated, too, but hey, Taiwan and Japan are still very traditional, patriarchal societies; modernity is just now bringing them through the same kind of familial separation anxiety that America experienced fifty years ago.)

*"Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" is only a sentimental pop song if you're high

(edit) Oh, hey, looks like there's a Taiwanese version. This one incorporates the jingle with the advertising slogan from the Taiwanese television commercials (some commenters are calling it the "FamilyMart brainwashing song"), and, as such, it is quite possibly the most annoying song I have ever heard.

americanizing beatmania

How do you improve upon a classic? Turn it into a business model, apparently! Social gaming site OMGPOP ported Konami's popular arcade rhythm game Beatmania to Flash, gave it a slick chrome interface, made it free, and bought the rights to a whole bunch of real music videos. When you complete a song, a brief ad plays and you are encouraged to buy the artist's music. The result, Hit Machine, looks like the bastard lovechild of iTunes and Rock Band, and is easy to pick up and fun to play. The concept is simple but the execution is solid--my only complaint is that on laptop keyboards that do not allow more than two simultaneous keyboard presses (like mine), it is literally impossible to get over 90% for some of the songs on Hard difficulty. Which is a shame, because Hard is fun.

What's really great about this project is that as slickly corporate and mainstream as it is, it can't afford to get rights for the big-name artists you would associate with such an endeavor--no Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus or Black Eyed Peas. Hence, an emphasis on cult (but still mainstream) artists: underground hip-hop legend Matisyahu, longtime electronica staple Crystal Method, Christian crunk band (!) Family Force Five, and OMG Dahler Fucking Mehndi all have songs on the site.

What particularly got my attention is that one of the most prominently featured artists is Becca--just Becca, no surname. Becca is one of those odd curiosities of American music, an aspiring pop-punk starlet who after years of unsuccessfully trying to make it big in her home country got picked up by a major record label and became a hit in Japan. (Fans call her "Becca-chan," which for some reason I find really, really funny.) Her debut single, "I'm Alive!!," is extremely cheesy and makes her sound like a gaijin-kawaii'd up Avril Lavigne, and has lyrics that sound like they were written to sound cool translated into Japanese. But apparently it was popular enough to be used as the theme song for some anime, and, well, it does seem like she's making waves over there. Becca is still trying to break into the American market, though. I first heard of her at a big fancy booth in the dealer's hall at Otakon this summer, where she was promoting her new album (produced by Meredith Brooks!) and holding a Sharpie, presumably to autograph things. Turns out that the one American demographic likely to have heard of her--anime fans--didn't even care. Every time I passed by the booth she was just sitting there bored and alone, and everyone was just passing her by, not even stopping to watch the high-budget music video of "I'm Alive!!" blaring from the monitors around her. Poor Becca. Someday she will come back to Otakon and be mobbed by throngs of drooling perverts--but, not quite yet.

Beatmania, despite its popularity in Japan, is not particularly well-known in America either. It's rather appropriate that OMGPOP is trying its best to promote her--from America, to Japan, trying to find their way in America again.

Hmm...OMGPOP is located in New York. I wonder if they're hiring developers.

pygmalion's proteges (a commentary on false idols)

Have thirteen minutes to kill? Watch this fascinating Asahi Shimbun-created documentary on Hatsune Miku. Far more than a mere Nico Nico viral, now--and this video provides a rare opportunity to meet the people behind the meme.

The Japanese media is known for being aggressively technocratic, and I believe their bias is evident here. While I'm impressed by their enthusiasm, and am obviously a big Miku fan myself, given the number of her videos I post here, I'm not as optimistic about Miku's Western prospects as her creators are. It's not that the West is behind in the technology aspect--some form of this tech makes it to SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technologies booth every year, and papers presented at the conference no doubt were instrumental to the development of the software itself. It's that we have a cultural concept of musical integrity that is utterly foreign to the Japanese. The power, emotion, and energy that Japan admires in American rock, jazz, and blues, and strives to emulate in its own music, comes from a deep-rooted Western tradition of music as the extension of the self. Music, to us Americans (and to the British and Canadians), is a deeply individual and personal thing--note the truisms about having to suffer to play the blues, or that for punk rock what you lack in musicianship you must compensate for in enthusiasm. Our rock stars aren't just musicians, they're folk heroes. We write contemporary ballads about the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain, or the doomed career and star-crossed love of Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy, or the world-changing idealism of John Lennon. The memorials to Michael Jackson are scrawled black with magic-markered stories from people he never knew.Collapse )
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epic internet-inspired internet epic

Today I went to an awesome place. I am not sober enough to write about it right now. So:

(part 2 here)

This isn't going to mean anything to those of you who haven't been following Japanese internet memes (or at least watching my last few youtube posts), but if you have, this just might blow your mind.

Listen to the music. Does it sound familiar? Yep--it's the song from the super-condensed Nico Nico Douga million meme video! Performed by an ELEVENTY BILLION PIECE AMATEUR ORCHESTRA. In a REAL CONCERT HALL.

They are all wearing masks worn by users in popular Nico Nico videos--so they're Internet users pretending to be other Internet users pretending to be cartoon characters. Musicians playing a earnest cover of a silly mashup of ironic remixes of songs from Japanese pop culture--recorded as a Niconico video that will itself become a meme. It's a tribute to a tribute to a tribute to a tribute. If the meta got any more nested, the universe would segfault.

This might be the ragtaggest ragtag bunch of musicians history has ever brought together (did they even know each other before this project? this is almost a flashmob), so it's clear they haven't rehearsed enough to bring this piece to perfection. But the energy of the composition and the vitality of the performance is astounding. I never thought the song from the "Yatta!" dance would bring a tear to my eye, but here I am...

On an unrelated note, today I saw a biker riding a motorcycle shaped like a coffin. It was tacky, but appropriate.