On the fast track to the exit ramp

As far as I know, a window seat is an undisputed perk in a Western workplace.  Not only do you get to admire the gleam of your perfectly polished wingtips, but you also get to observe the passage of  time as the sun gracefully wends from bright morning light, filled with the potential of a new day, to the satisfying, warm glow of a sunset signaling the winding down of a day full of achievement.

Window-less, lesser employees, however, must desperately try to photosynthesise energy beneath soulless, white fluorescent lighting, unaware of the passage of each of the days that they remain trapped in a battleship-grey, cubicle hellhole ergonomically designed to wring the last drop of their creativity and will to live.

So, windows are nice.

Or so I thought until last week.

I discovered that in Japan, a window seat is a bad thing.  It’s a signal, a warning indicating that you’re on the way out.  If you’re lazy on the job or are just over the hill, and find yourself moved to a window seat, management is trying to tell you, “Really, it’s going to be more productive for all of us if you just sit there all day and watch the clouds passing by.  When you get tired of that, well, you know where the door is.”

And to think that when I got my window seat, I thought it was all going so well. Luckily, as of today, someone put a cubicle wall between my desk and the window, Office Space style.  With these kinds of mixed messages, I’m not sure what to think.

So, to summarise, if you can see this from your desk in a Japanese work place:

Trees, rivers and ducks (respectively).

…start polishing off your resume.

Space oddity

Seen while traveling up north to the town of Koriyama during the Silver Week five-day long weekend in Japan:

I originally thought this was a clever ad for the Japanese version of the Beastie Boys, but the signs say:

New virus strain protection

For infection prevention; for personal use

Personal set:
50 day rental – $150 AUD
14 day rental – $110 AUD

Now, Japan is a fairly health-conscious country through the use of face masks and the like, but “personal use” hazard suits to stop you getting the ‘flu? If this is the correct interpretation, I’m thinking it was a pretty optimistic entrepreneur who thought people would start getting around town dressed like this.  I might rent one, turn up to work and see if anyone says anything.

The thought doesn’t count

It’s fair to say that Japan is fanatical about garbage.  In Tokyo, 5 out of 7 days are garbage collection days.  Two days a week are for burnable garbage.  One day a week is for recyclables, and each type (glass, plastic etc) must be strictly sorted into separate plastic crates.  One day every two weeks is for items made out of steel and other metals (except aluminum, because that’s tossed on recycling day).  The other day (on weeks alternating from the steel week, but on a different day) is for light bulbs and non-metallic objects which can’t be burned.   Whew.

Rather than big plastic wheelie bins or metal trash cans, rubbish is placed in plastic bags and literally heaped on the footpath.  They are veritable mountains of refuse – walking to the train on a garbage day, the bigger piles reach head height.  The crows near my place used to have a field day on these days until the council made netting mandatory.

When the garbage truck comes, there’s not a robotic arms to be seen (unexpectedly, Australia is ahead of Japan when it comes to robotic garbage collection).  The garbage is collected by a couple of guys who grab the hundreds of bags piled outside each building.  They apparently have some kind of supernatural ability to detect non-conforming refuse.  On multiple occasions, they’ve been able to detect a single morsel of food clinging to a piece of recyclable plastic inside a single bag, at which point they slap a big, obvious, red “REJECTED” sticker on the suspect bag and will refuse to take it.

Although the bags of garbage have no identifying names on them (a rule enforced by some buildings), my landlord always knows who the troublemaker is.  Me.  It’s always me.  The rules for garbage sorting are quite complex (there are flowcharts and sub-flowcharts involved, which are naturally in Japanese), and it took me some embarrassing months to work out the more subtle rules.  For instance, if you have a yogurt container, the foil lid must be washed, separated from the plastic body and disposed of on different days.  More confusingly, the body of a tuna can is made of aluminium, but the lid is made of steel, so they, too must be washed and disposed of on different days, although they’re both made of metal.

My landlord seemed to think it was kind of amusing the first couple of times I got rejection stickers.  “Ha ha, that crazy foreign guy!”, he’d think.  Then the joke seemed to get old very quickly for him, and he started getting quite cranky.  I recall lots of eye rolling.  I wanted to say “No, no, don’t you understand?  Where I come from, we have robot trucks and the recyclables are sorted using dark magic.  These archaic methods are unnecessary!  Can’t you accept that you, and your entire system, are inferior?”.  Instead, I just politely thanked him, shut my apartment door, then randomly redistributed the garbage into different groups in new plastic bags, and hope I’d hit the secret winning combination the next week.

Anyway, given this background of fanatical garbage separation, I was most amused to see this bin carefully labeled “Combustibles” and “Non-combustibles” on the front.  Perhaps you can see the same problem I did.

The Krypton Factor Lite

When I was a teenager, I always used to stay up late on a Saturday night to watch Saturday Night Clive with Clive James. Uh, when my busy social calendar of being invited to rockin’ underage high school parties permitted it, of course.

By far, my favourite part of Saturday Night Clive was when he would show weird TV from around the world, and my favourite part of that was when he would show Japanese game shows. There’s probably no Japanese game show that saved Mr. James more script-writing time than Endurance, the show where the person who could tolerate being dragged pants-less across gravel, trapped in a glass coffin with snakes or simulated-ly drowned the longest wins.

Ah, thems were the days. Unfortunately, Japanese TV today is a far more sedate affair, much more reliant on goofy comedy and celebrities rather than the simple pleasures of laughing at an unfortunate dancing around with a weasel down his pants. In spite of that, every now and then you find a charming, simple idea on one of the many, many game shows available on Japanese TV.

The idea of this quiz show is that contestants are given a question to which they must provide a number of answers (such as “Name 4 movies by director X”). To make things slightly more interesting though, they must speak their answers into a microphone which is only raised when their partner runs over a threshold speed on a treadmill:

This makes it a bit more entertaining, except that the time limit for each question is only 15 seconds and the threshold speed required is only around 15 kph, so the runner hardly breaks a sweat. Then again, the participants are generally celebrities from the pool of talento, so the idea is really more to lob them softball questions while making small talk about their new DVD / movie in between.

Ah, for the old days… bring back Endurance, I say!