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How To Survive At a Japanese Company

Recently I started working in the 800-person IT department of a large Japanese financial firm.  Being the only white boy and only native English speaker in my 30-person section, I stand out quite a bit.  I've only been here a month; however, the piquant Japanese-ness of the office permeates my very essence.  Thus, I've compiled a short list of survival tips for other Westerners finding themselves imbued with overwhelmingly Japanese coworkers.

Lie Your Ass Off
You will be asked many many times how old you are, if you have a significant other, where you're from--and in extreme examples--if you can use chopsticks.  They'll also

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Japan's Smoking Addiction

The incumbent prime minister Hatoyama and his new government have been working to pass legislation that will place a 100-yen tax on each and every pack of cigarettes sold in Japan.  I was shocked this wasn't done 10 years ago.  Japan has a major problem with smoking addiction, and here are some possible reasons why:

They're Cheap
A pack of cigs cost about 300 yen ($3 US).  That's an awesome deal compared to a place like Singapore, where they are around $12 US a pack.  Most industrialized nations tax the crap out of cigarettes to promote a healthier, non-smoking population while boosting tax revenue.  As I'm sure many

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Tokyo Makes Me Hate People

Just as living with LA traffic day after day made me hate cars, living with central Tokyo's population density makes me hate people.  Tokyo is so crowded with people that even an uncomplicated excursion is exhausting.  Train stations, shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, bars--people ooze out of every possible orifice.  Over the years of living in one of the most crowded cities in the world, I've developed certain skills and tendencies to cope.  Some of them are embarrassing, but all of them greatly relieve the annoyance caused by living under such people pressure.  Consider this advice on becoming a Tokyo hermit if you happen to share in my frustrations.  Consider it me-deprecating entertainment if you do not.

Stay At Home
The most easily-executed is to

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The Clinical Trial

A friend of mine emailed me with an interesting and well-paid opportunity.  It was a clinical trial for a drug going through the Japanese equivalent of FDA approval.  The drug, approved several years ago in the US, was typically used to combat a stomach parasite and resulting diarrhea.  Recently, however, the drug was found to have clinical benefits for rodent sufferers of hepatitis.  Hence, let's try it on humans!

They were looking for healthy, Caucasian men within a certain age and weight range.  Chosen participants would have to stay in the research hospital for 3 nights; however, they would also be well-compensated.  I fit what they were looking for, so I signed up.  A part of me fantasized that the Japanese scientists were planning to

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What Japan Taught Me About America

Growing up I never considered my home country to have much of a culture of its own.  Elementary school textbooks described it as a "melting pot" of other cultures, or more accurately, a "salad."  However, much to my chagrin, America does indeed have a distinct culture of its own; and it's one of those things I never realized until living abroad.  I have collected several points to ponder regarding American's unmistakable culture.

A Puritan Culture
America was founded on Puritanism--a conservative Christian doctrine expounding the depravity of mankind and infinite sinfulness inherent in all things sexual.  In other words, all souls are forever dangling over the fiery pits of hell because of inbuilt moral corruption.  Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve!  Like it or not Puritanism flows

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Dear Tea Pitcher

Unfortunately, I was forced to throw out my plastic pitcher this morning.  It was purchased over 3 years ago at the 100-yen shop in Nakano-ku.  I used it exclusively for tea, so tea was so beyond crusted on the inside that the clear plastic turned dark brown (a common theme in my life).  Washing and scrubbing had little effect on dissolving the tea crust.  It got to the point where the fresh tea stored in the pitcher was getting polluted by historic tea crust.  A glass of tea from the pitcher tasted like fossilized teas from years past.  At first it was a welcome walk down tea memory lane; however after further contemplation, it tasted like poo.  The pitcher now sits in the plastic recycle bin.  I will miss you, dear tea pitcher.  You were the best 100-yen I ever spent.