Maybe my favorite place to visit, where tradition is central to life, but the tomorrow is so important.
Sebastian Vettel finally tied it all up last night in a fascinating Japanese Grand Prix. Lets be clear, it’s been a while since there was anything other than mathematical doubt as to who was going to win the drivers titles this year.
It’s been another compelling season of racing and the comfort of Vettel’s championship, won with four races left, had taken little of the drama away.
The winning margin this year is impressive because both the driver and the team cut out the mistakes. Last year he was clearly the quickest, but errors by both parties cost him points on more than one occasion. This year there was none of that, just a team and driver at their very best.
I can think of only two significant errors this year, and that is remarkable. The last lap mistake in Canada that gave Jenson Button an outstanding win, and a spin in Germany, that’s it.
Nine wins and twelve pole positions in fifteen races is impressive. Yes, there were weekends where he was dominant, but there were others where he had to fight for every point and did so. But wait there’s more, he’s the only driver to have finished every race and what’s more finished every race except for Germany on the podium. That’s impressive.
Perhaps his most dominant weekend was Turkey, it was clear from the Friday times that everyone else was looking at second. Team principal Christian Horner was asked after qualifying by one of the press pack if Vettel had any weakness. He replied, “Yes, when he turned up this weekend he had quite a dodgy haircut.”
It was the same story in Australia, Valencia, Belgium, Italy and a couple of others. Monaco was shaping up to be an outstanding fight to the end before a safety car ruined the spectacle. Read more…
I was wandering around Central Market in Mill Creek this evening to grab a few things and try to cook something new tonight (miso chicken) and I saw this on the shelf.
The reasion it stands out is that I first saw Pocari Sweat (yes that’s the spelling) in a vending machine on Japan last month. Drink vending machines are a big deal in Japan and are found everywhere, even standing alone on the side of the road with nothing else around.
This is a picture I took in Japan at Nagoya Station, Pocari Sweat is there in the middle of the top row. Interestingly the machines give out both hot and cold drinks. The ones with a red label under them come out of the machine hot, the one in blue cold.
None of us tired it when we were in Japan, we assume it’s sports type drink, but there is no clue on the package in Central Market either and once again I left it on the shelf today. However, I did get something of a taste for the hot lemon drink that the machines sell.
And the miso chicken and spicy green beans was rather good this evening.
I was finally got round to unpacking my big case after my last trip to Japan and I found a shirt I got laundered at the hotel with this little collar on it. I thought it was worth sharing.
Last night, before we all went out, I made a bold prediction. I said there was not enough gin (or sake) in the lounge to get me to sing karaoke. I was wrong, there was.
We went out for the somewhat traditional end of trip dinner with the partner back in Nagoya. We went to a very nice Japanese restaurant with 6 or 7 courses. One of the managers, who up until now has avoided Japanese food, tried the sashimi, and while not a convert found it better than he expected. I thought the meal was excellent and the beer and sake was flowing.
We had a good time, talked about the relationships between the partners and us, the value of meeting like this regularly and so on. I’ve got some process revisions I that I need to incorporate to better support the partners and clarify a few things, but from the business point of view it’s been a very successful trip, everyone at the table last night seemed to feel that.
After the very good dinner Konichi-san said we were going to karaoke. I have no singing voice and the only time I’ve ever done it once before, 1992 in Washington DC, and I swore I’d never do it again. Turns out I was wrong, there were photos taken last night, it’s not going to be good when they come out…
In Japan Karaoke is more than just singing to pre-recorded tracks, it’s far more important than that. One of the managers tried to explain it to me, but said I’d see it once we were in the room. He was right, it’s difficult to explain, but it comes down to an experience shared only by the ten of us in the room last night.
In a country that has a lot of peer pressure to conform it provides a place where it’s OK for the individual to stand out for a few minutes before moving the center of attention to the next person and becoming part of the group again.
It’s not just sharing that; it’s way more than that. It breaks the ice, bypasses the ridged structure in the workplace and a very fun experience. Unquestionably the sake helped lower my barriers, but the people in the room made it happen.
In Japan you rent a room, called a Karaoke Bokkusu, in our case for a couple of hours, order some beer and go for it. It was way more fun that I’d expected, some of the people were very good, others (certainly including me) not so. It was a very fun group in there and fueled by a few jibes and the alcohol induced bravery I went for it.
Rockstar by Nickleback was my first choice on the machine. Getting into the spirit of the evening I changed some of the lyrics to “We all just want to be ME’s (manufacturing engineers) living in hilltop houses driving 15 cars”. That seemed to work and got a laugh from everyone in the room, who were all MEs’.
There were a few songs sang in Japanese, one had the locals jumping around the room, catchy tune but no idea what was being said. It was explained to me that it was a Japanese karaoke standard and is one of the first songs every Japanese learns. It was entertaining so see a people who have been very reserved over the last couple of days in meetings really get into the spirit of things.
Another pitcher of beer later my next choice was Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. The backing track was a little more laid back than the original, and lets face it, I’m not much of a Johnny Rotten, but it was a fun night. The Sex Pistols are very well known in Japan, I’ve seen a few “Never Mind…” t-shirts in the stores here, a lot of people in the room joined in.
A very fun evening, way more than I expected and a great way to round off what’s been a very productive, interesting, but at times difficult trip.
According to BA the Seattle to Heathrow service is going to be running despite the weather in London, we’ll see when tomorrow evening comes around and it’s time to check in.
I know Japan is crowded, the numbers are rather staggering (warning stat alert), it has bout half the population of the US, squeezed into less than 5% of the land area. Judging from the train ride from Nagoya to Tokyo “rural” has a very different definition here.
The train station is a just a few minute walk from the the Imperial Palace that is both the geographical center of Tokyo and regarded by all as the spitiual center of Japan. Close by is the center of the Japanese government and the most important embassies in the country.
One thing that is clear, nothing stays still for long, the renewal of the old into the new high rises carries on at a massive rate.
The dichotomy here is the Imperial house of Japan, it’s the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world, by tradition the family lineage goes back to Emperor Jimmu who (and historians are mixed on this) came to the throne somewhere around 660BC (that’s 2770 years ago)
The Imperial Palace is the offical home of the Emperor and Imperial Family. The actual role and power of the Emperor has gone back and forth between absolute ruler and largely ceremonial over the centuries.
In the post war constitution the Emperor is “symbol of the state and the unity of the people”, he is also the head of the Shinto religion. As I’ve said before the history of the Imperial family and Japan in general is fascinating.
Most of the current palace dates back to the 1950’s and 60’s. Unlike Kyoto, Tokyo never escaped being bombed during the war. In May 1945 most of the structures of the Imperial Palace and a substantial part of central Tokyo were destroyed in a fire-bombing raid.
Like many royal residences most of the grounds require an invite to visit, only a small portion is open most days. I took advantage of some beautiful weather and wandered around as much as I could.
After the palace I took a walk to Ginza. Think of Rodeo Drive, the a-z of big labels is there (Apple – deal it’s a geek label, Armani, Burberry, Bulgari and so on, you get the idea) but bigger and way more crowded. Remember that whole half the population of the US in a tiny area stat, most of them were shopping in Ginza the weekend before Christmas. It was quite the scene.
I did spend an hour in a bookstore, Kinokuniya was recommended to me as having a good English section. There was a whole floor of English books, I picked up a couple of history books to keep me entertained on the plane. The English language section was a rather quiet oasis compared to the rest of the area. Despite a number of the roads being closed to traffic for the weekend the crowds were huge. It was another “holy heck, this is Tokyo” moment in the midst of a fascinating city.
This is one of my favorite cities anywhere. It’s certainly one of the most interesting and has people watching that’s arguably better than Las Vegas. I’ve never seen 6 women dressed as “little bo-peep the zombie years” walking along the street in Vegas; we can tick that particular one off on my list of unlikely sights after today.
I had my “Wow, I’m in Tokyo and this is awesome!” moment suddenly hit me when I was standing in Shibuya in the midst of a mass of people crossing the road (followed by “I know you don’t get the personal space in this country, but this is fucking ridiculous!”). I sat in the Starbucks (I know, terribly Seattle) that overlooks Shibuya Crossing and just watched what I’d been through be repeated every minute or so.
This city is unique, it’s got such high energy and wandering around today with some idea of where I was going and what I wanted to see before what I’ve been told will be an evening loaded with gin, billiards and threatened karaoke with some of the Japanese based staff tonight.
It is absolutely fascinating to see the Western traditions and cultures that Japan has adopted, and in made it’s own in some way. Right now from the displays in shop windows and the decorations it’s clearly Christmas time.
However Japan is a country with a tiny Christian population. It’s a certainly a place that’s tolerant of religion. A majority of people identify as either Buddhist or Shinto. Christians make up less than 1% of the population, yet it seems Christmas is a very big celebration.
I was talking to one of the Japanese manufacturing engineers about this today and while Christmas day is not a vacation, he said the country has taken on the whole present exchanging and commercial parts of Christmas, especially over the last 15 or 20 years.
Traditionally younger children got presents on Christmas eve, as long as the believed in Santa. As soon as that belief went away the presents stopped coming, I bet there were a few 16 year olds professing belief to keep the presents coming. Over the last 20 year or so the stores, aided by western influence, have made it a big deal for everyone.
This really is such an interesting place.
Days like this give those stressful days with all the bad stuff and accusations a more healthy perspective. It’s been an up and down week. Rough at times and wonderful in other moments, both personally and professionally; it’s nice to be around people who look after what they need to do. I’ve a lot of confidence in the people around me, and that feels rather good. I have a really good life, and this week helped with appreciating both that and the people I have around me. Thanks.
The last week at work has been tough, but ultimately rewarding when it all goes right. Getting to a place where I can really rebuild my career has been hard, but the deeper I get into this job the more I see that everything really is coming together. It’s exciting to be the part of something this big and believe I make a difference.
Moving to a “getting excited by the little things” side note: the Delta Lounge at Narita has a really nice line in fresh sushi, internet and so on (the sushi was really good). But it also has the best beer dispenser I’ve ever seen. It takes the glass, tilts it for the perfect pour and then at the end sets it upright to made a head just the right size. Very cool, wonder if Amazon has anything similar… Talk about the Christmas present that keeps giving.
It’s a couple of years since I was last in Tokyo, and that was incredibly rushed. I love this country. There is no question it’s a very foreign place when compared to home, but it’s straightforward enough that traveling through is not difficult the way it can be in Asia.
I’m still overly excited about the whole beer dispenser thing, there is time for one more before my next flight…