That is the question before me, as today I was officially asked to re-contract with Noheji Senior High for a third and final year. I don't know why JET does this, but they send out the job offers several months before the deadline to decide arrives. I guess this is to give you time to make your decision, but unfortunately this also gives schools several months in which they can harrass JET's to sign the thing early. I don't know why schools are so obsessed with getting JET's to sign their contract so long before it's actually due. Maybe kocho senseis have some kind of pool about who can get their JET to re-inlist earliest. Anyway, I was told today that I should hand in my form about 1 month before the deadline. Yeah, whatever. I handed it in a day or two before the deadline last year and nobody said anything. I'll tell you one thing though, if I had no choice but to sign it today I probably would. This is why...
Kate asked me to convert her region 2 PAL DVD of the BBC comedy "The Office" to a format she could watch on her Mac. I've since discovered that converting PAL DVD's to NTSC is next to impossible, but that's not what I want to talk about today. The Office is one of those faux-documentary style comedy shows much in the same vein as 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', 'The Larry Sander's Show', 'Trailer Park Boys', 'Arrested Development' etc.. If you've seen the movie 'Office Space' then you get the general idea of it. Much like all the other shows in this genre of TV comedy, the focus is on the exploits of an egomaniacle asshole who seems out of touch with those around him. I've seen enough of these shows now that the format is getting kind of stale, especially in Canada where there are a number of pretty bad shows that try to cash in on this formula. Still, I really enjoyed The Office, even though every moment of it brought back horrible, horrible memories of working for an egotistical and incompetent windbag and his weasel of a sidekick. This show further reinforced what I always believed which is that my old workplace is just typical of most companies, and for the sake of my health, happiness and sanity I'm best off avoiding life for as long as I possibly can. Bring me the contract, I'm ready to sign!
There are still 12 days until Christmas, but I've already been given some pretty kick-ass secret santa presents! When you put the devil baby inside the skull, it looks really freaky.
This is a common site in France whenever they open a new McDonald's. People in Japan don't seem to mind American franchises as much, so I'm not sure what happened here.
As a follow-up to my last article about Japanese retailers, I thought I'd take a look at another big chain store that has always puzzled me. Like many of my fellow gaijin, I'm very fond of the fast food chain Mister Donut. They aren't quite up to par with Krispy Kreme Donuts, but their donuts are still very oishi and full of sugary goodness. One annoyance is that unlike donut shops back home that are normally 24/7, Mister Donut usually closes at 8 or 9, just like most gas stations, ATM's, McDonald's restaurants and just about everything else in Japan.
I don't think I've ever seen a Mister Donut before coming to Japan, though I always felt since coming here like maybe I had seen it somewhere before. Mister Donut is by far the biggest donut franchise in Japan. In fact I'm not sure if there even are any other competitors. The impression that you get when walking into a Mister Donut in Japan is that it's part of some huge American chain, yet I'd never seen a Mister Donut in Canada or the States as far as I can remember. Inside any Mister Donut, you'll see hanging on the wall a picture of this guy:
I always wondered if he was for real, or some Colonel Sanders wannabee character they made up to try to give the chain some much desired American cred. Well I once again did a little research and here's what I dug up...
Mister Donut start out in 1955 in Boston, Massachusetts. A year later the two brothers-in-law that founded it, Bill Rosenberg and Harry Winouker, broke off their partnership, each to begin their own chain of coffee and doughnut shops. Harry founded Mister Donut which grew to 550 shops, while Bill founded Dunkin' Donuts which grew into over 1,800 shops. In 1970 Harry Winouker sold Mister Donut to Minnesota based International Multifoods.
In 1983, Duskin Co. Ltd. of Japan bough the franchising rights for Mister Donut and has since opened over 1000 stores in Japan and hundreds more all over Asia. Duskin still operates the Asian franchises today. They got lots of bad press not too long ago when they were caught selling buns that contained some sort of illegal chemical.
In the 1980's Mister Donut had 558 shops in the United States and Canada and claimed to be number two in the US market after Dunkin'. In 1990 Allied-Lyons plc, which also owns Baskin Robbins, bough both Dunkin Donuts and Mister Donut reuniting them at last. Mister Donut stores were offered the opportunity to convert to Dunkin' Donuts stores if they so wished, and judging from the lack of Mister Donut shops these days back home, most of them must have taken them up on the offer.
So there you have it. Now lets enjoy eating donuts!
I read a while back that Walmart owns a part of one of Japan's retail chains and is trying to build a bigger presence over here. This made me curious about who exactly owns what in the Japanese retail world, so today I did a little research and here's what I figured out:
owns/operates: MaxValue, Jusco, Ministop, Talbots, Sports Athority, Laura Ashley, MYCAL, Saty, Sakurano and a ton of other stores
After a series of recent mergers Aeon has become Japan's biggest retailer, but still doesn't compare to Walmart, Carrefour or a number of other large transnational mega conglomerate retain chains.
owns/operates: Denny's, 7-Eleven, York-Benimaru
Japan's second biggest retailer just behind Aeon, Ito-Yokado not only owns 7-Eleven in Japan, but also owns 7-Eleven in North America too. For some dumb reason you can't buy a Slurpee at Japanese 7-Elevens.
owns/operates: Circle K, Sunkus, Universe
The #3 convenience store chain in Japan behind 7/11 and Lawson.
In Aomori though you can barely find one, as Lawson and Circle K/Sunkus seem to dominate. I have no idea why there are no 7-Eleven's in Aomori, not that it matters since all convenience stores in Japan are exactly the same inside.
As far as I can tell, now only owns Daei department stores and the Daei Hawks baseball team. (Likely to soon be owned by Walmart)
(Spun off from Daei in 2000. Partly owned by Mitsubishi)
owns/operates: Sunny, SSV, Livin
Doesn't have much of a presence in Aomori as far as I can tell.
(Already owned 38% by Walmart, which will likely rise to 67% by 2007)
owns/operates: Seibu, Sogo
Don't know much about this company, other than it's a pretty big department store chain and they own the Seibu Lions baseball team.
Other big chains in Japan include Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, and Marui, but are mostly found just in big cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
One thing you'll notice in Japan compared to most other countries is a surprising lack of big name western chain stores. Sure many of the big names like McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, Subway, Pizza Hut are here, but not in anywhere near the same numbers you would find in most other countries. Back home a town the size of Noheji would certainly have a McDonald's, and in the U.S. it would probably have 3 or 4. In some cases, like with Denny's or 7-Eleven, they only borrow the name and not much else. French owned mega chain Carrefour (Second only worldwide to Walmart) tried to sink it's teeth into Japan, but so far has failed to get anywhere. They own only 8 stores here and might be selling those to Walmart pretty soon. If Walmart were ever to merge with Carrefour they would no doubt have enough money and power to take over the world.
Japan's "Large Scale Retail Store Law" was designed to protect small businesses and placed heavy restrictions on large retail outlets. Because of the economic downturn, this law was eliminated and now giant box stores have the freedom to do just about anything they want. Will Walmart's moving into Japan crush retailing with low wages, long work hours, poor benefits, an efficient supply chain and anti-compeditive business practices? I doubt it, just because Japanese retailers already have mastered all those things decades ago. This might be the first time Walmart actually has to compete for business. Then again, one should never underestimate the power of the Walmart.
Finally, if you're not already sick of all this business mumbo jumbo, here's a PDF all about future of global retailing. It's worth looking at if for no other reason than for the picture of a guy holding a gun to the head of a dog at the very end.
If you ever want to see a Japanese person's eyes light up, ask them about "Karuta", or traditional Japanese card games. The term karuta comes from the German word "karte" meaning oddly enough "card". I first learned about this game when I visited Misawa Senior High in order to help the students prepare for their school trip to Hawaii (lucky bastards). The students had to do presentations about Japanese culture and two groups both chose to explain variations of the game karuta. They were supposed to speak for 30 minutes, but instead they only spoke for about 5 as karuta doesn't really require much explanation... at least not in its simplest form. The object of the game is to collect picture cards. 48 cards are laid out on a table, and the dealer describes one of the cards in front of the players. The first person to spot the card yells "Hai!" and slaps down their hand and takes it. That's it. That's the game. At least that's what I thought until a teacher at school gave me a much more indepth explanation of the different types of karuta, its use of poetry & proverbs and its importance in Japanese culture. Those lazy Misawa students didn't mention any of that stuff!
So I spent today cutting and pasting my own custom made X-mas karuta cards using these winter themed flash cards. It seemed like everyone that walked by my desk was fascinated by what I was up to. Actually I'm not sure if they were interested so much in what I was doing, or just in shock that I actually was doing something other than surfing the net or sleeping. No, I think it was the cards. The one they all seemed to really get a kick out of was this one:
The idea of going out into the forest and cutting down a Christmas tree really facinated them. I can't even remember how old I was the last time my family ever had a real Christmas tree in the house, but I didn't want to spoil the fantasy so I didn't mention how most people buy artificial trees these days. I'm not really sure what Japanese people do on Christmas exactly. I just know that they usually go to work, then at night they eat some Christmas cake. Judging from all the X-mas junk for sale in the stores I figure that there may be gifts and Christmas decorations involved too, but I'm not sure.
One more thing.. they are actually selling turkey at the Max Value in Noheji! Well, actually they are only selling "Smoked turkey leg" but that's still more turkey than I've ever seen for sale in Japan before. If there are any Aomori JET's reading this that have a hankering from some turkey, or at least the leg of a turkey, then head down to Noheji's Max Value tout suite like!
Gas prcies have really nose dived back home, but here in Aomori they are still in the 118-120 yen/litre range. What gives? Maybe the gas companies discovered that people in Japan are willing to pay anything for gas and they're in no rush to lower prices. Of course none of this will matter pretty soon as the end is near!
John and Yoko
I sometimes joke on here about how women in Japan worship Western men like myself, but what is it about us blue eyed folk that makes the J-girls go crazy? Here's today's "interesting article" that gets to the bottom of this mystery. Sorry for blowing the secrets to your success Luke and Steve! What surprised me the most is that Japanese men are actually three times more likely to marry a foreigner than women are. The difference is that Japanese women tend to marry Koreans, Americans and British men while still young, and Japanese men tend to marry Chinese and Filipino women (read: ex-hostess girls) when they become old and unappealing to Japanese girls. Japanese men almost never marry Western women, and here's another "interesting article" about that. Good luck female ALT's!
There really are only a small number of famous Japanese names that anyone knows outside of this country. There are a small handful of baseball players, Yoko Ono and of course Godzilla. I don't really care much about baseball, and nobody cares about Yoko Ono (other than the still lingering hatred of Beatles fans), but ever since I was little I've always liked Godzilla. I have lived in Japan for over a year and a half and never written once about Godzilla on here before (I think) so I guess it's high time. Growing up in Toronto I would often watch those really crappy Godzilla movies made in the 60's and 70's on Buffalo 29 on Sunday afternoons when nothing else was on TV but fishing shows and church services. They always seemed to play the especially bad ones, like the one where Godzilla teams up with that dumb ultraman looking guy that grows for some reason. Still, they made Japan look way cooler in my eyes than any other country in Asia. Why no other country seems to want or be able to make movies about giant monsters blowing stuff up is still a mystery to me. Well tomorrow the latest (and supposed last) Godzilla movie is coming out. Of course it won't be the last, but it will probably be the last one to come out while I'm still living in Japan anyway. From what I've seen of the reviews (albeit mostly done by the easily excitable nerds at Ain't It Cool News), this one is supposed to be really good. It has the biggest budget for a non-American Godzilla movie ever (9 million bucks!), and was directed by acclaimed Japanese movie director, Ryuhei Kitamura. Supposedly for the first time ever, the humans in the story aren't horribly boring and there is lots of action from start to finish. The big selling feature is that Godzilla destroys just about all his previous foes in one movie, with the crappy American Godzilla thrown in for good measure too. Anyway, if you're not already sick of reading about Godzilla in these fan-boy ramblings, here's a great article that tells the whole 50 year story of the Godzilla franchise. I didn't go see last year's Godzilla movie when it came out but I'm sold on the hype this time. Hopefully I can get someone to go see "Final Wars" with me, but if not I'm sure I won't be the only otaku in the theatre by his lonesome.
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