Monday, May 22, 2006

Hot Melons

"Peter, I'm holding melons!"

I was taking the trash out last night, when I ran into one of our neighbours, another gaijin from Lyani's school. He mentioned that he had just bought a delicious melon, and I asked him where he had gotten it. And then the conversation got a little odd. Allow me to reproduce it:

Me: "Yeah? So where did you buy the melon?"
Him: "Haven't you ever seen those guys selling melons out of the back of a truck near the station?"
Me: "No, not really."
Him: "Well, anyway, there are some guys who sell melons out of the back of a truck near the station."
Me: "So you bought a melon from such a truck?"
Him: "Yeah, and it was pretty tasty, too."
Me: "Huh. Maybe I'll have to keep my eye open for melon peddlars hereabouts."

And I figured that would be the end of the conversation, but he continued:

Him: "So I asked this guy if he was a farmer or something, trying to cut out the middleman."
Me: "Oh, like a farmer's market sort of thing?"
Him: "Yeah. But it turned out that the melons were illegal."
Me: "Oh, do they have strict food safety laws or something, and this guy was avoiding them?"
Him: "Well, that's what I thought. So I asked him if he was a farmer..."
Me: "Yeah?"
Him: "And he looked at me, and said, 'No, I stole these in the middle of the night!'"
Me: "Holy shit! He actually told you that?"
Him: "Yeah! So those are hot melons!"
Me: "Heh."
Him: "And then he told me that it was dangerous, stealing melons, so I should not try it."
Me: "This was all in Japanese?"
Him: "Yeah. Pretty crazy, huh?"
Me: "Well, in this neighbourhood, nothing really surprises me anymore."
Him: "Like I would know how to go about stealing melons anyway!"

The truth is stranger than fiction, folks.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Harry Potter Does Japan

For the sixth time, no less. But Dave did it first.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" goes on sale in Japan this Wednesday, May 17. Or at least the Japanese translation thereof, which in Japan is a much bigger deal than the release of the English version, for the obvious reason that the vast majority of the residents of Japan prefer to read in Japanese. Since I work for Japan's largest bookstore, you might imagine that the release of a massively popular title such as the latest "Harry Potter" installment would not escape my notice. And you would be right, so give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back.

Yuko Matsuoka dresses in witch's attire at Amazon's Ichikawa distribution center.Fortunately for you, the interested reader of a blog that has not, to produce a monumental understatement, been updated much as of late, neither did the release of HP6 (as we in the Industry call it) escape the roving eye of those intrepid chaps known as the Japanese media. 'Course, that may have had something to do with the press junket implemented for them by my employer.

So, without further ado, I present to you a tale of wacky Japanesity, the Amazon Way.

Amazon being Amazon, we managed to work out a deal with the Japanese publisher of HP6 wherein we get to start shipping books before brick-and-mortar bookstores, to customers who had pre-ordered it. And since this deal went down in Japan, we got the president of the publisher, the Japanese woman who had translated HP6 into Japanese, to come to our Fulfillment Center out in Chiba, dress herself as a witch, and pack the first book order to be shipped. This is portrayed in the picture to the left, which is presumably the copyright of Mainichi Daily News, since it appears in an article of theirs. Clicky clicky upon the picky to be spirited away to the article in question.

Oh yeah, and in addition to the translator / publishing executive donning the blue robes of the Magi, we also had wizard hats for our employees (pictured at right, photo copyright of Yahoo! Japan News, original here). No, I did not have to wear one, since I do not work on the warehouse floor. Yes, I am sad that I missed out on the fun.

But I did not miss out entirely, for the day before the press event, as my partners in crime in the IT Department and I were heading out to lunch, we happened upon a little group activity that was about to start. All of the managers that work in the FC were assembled out front, and gloves and plastic bags were being handed around. More astute readers may have already put two and two together and correctly ascertained that some garbage pickup was a'brewin'. Being Japanese (well, I am not Japanese, but I am pretty much expected to behave like I am since I have been here for longer than three months), not joining in would have been completely out of the question, so we announced our burning desire to pick up refuse with our comrades in arms. At which time we were handed gloves and so on, and then the assembled mass of 25 or so people was split up into teams A, B, and C. Zones of influence were established, marching orders were given, and we set out at a brisk pace to do our duty for God and Country, or Queen and Country, or what have you.

An hour later, having picked up all the trash not only on the FC grounds, but also the sidewalks bordering said grounds, and the sidewalks across the street from said grounds, we moved our small mountain of garbage bags to the dumpsters. Except, of course, for five or so token bags that were carefully arranged in front of the FC. Some of you may wonder at this, but others of you who have actually had the honour of participating in a Japanese activity probably know what is coming.

Yes, all the trash-pickers gathered behind the carefully posed trash bags for a group photo.

Only in Japan, ladies and gents.

Lest you get the wrong idea about all of this, I actually enjoyed the whole thing. As one of my co-workers exclaimed as we were washing our hands thoroughly in preparation for another attempt at going to lunch, "garbage pickup can be fun, every once in a while".

I just thought you might enjoy a peek at the insanity that is life in Japan.