E for employment

As the Japanese economy continues to struggle, finding oneself suddenly out of work is a distinct possibility. And should this unfortunate situation arise, you’ll find yourself down at the Hello Work office.

Yes, as serious a situation as unemployment is, the place dealing with benefits and charged with helping you back into gainful employment has the comedy name hello work.

hello_work.jpg

How on earth did they come up with this name?

D for dogs

Even coming from Britain – which is supposed to be a nation of dog lovers – the current fad for all things dog related in Japan has taken me completely by surprise.

It has to be said that doggie clothes of all descriptions and prices have been available for a long time. As have restaurants offering dog menus – compete with mineral water and special dishes. Plus for the truly demented dog lover, wedding services are an extravagant option. I’m not joking either. The dog wedding I witnessed on TV had the full works. Including dog guests, an aisle (of sorts), and a foreign ‘religious man’ to oversee the proceedings.

dog.wedding.jpg

The latest craze however is renting a dog. For a rather steep 1,575 yen (7.5 pound), you can take your dog of choice (so long as it’s a cute Chihuahua, toy poodle, or miniature dachshund) for an hour’s walk. Puppy the World in Odaiba – one of the shops that offer this service – supplies customers with a leash, some tissues, and a plastic bag should the dog need to do a spot of business along the way.

Now personally, if I was paying that much just to take a dog for a walk, I wouldn’t expect to be cleaning up its excrement too. However the shop’s happy customers don’t seem to mind this one bit. On the contrary in fact, as it all seems like an enjoyable part of the experience. A 25-year-old woman called Akaike saying, “I want to raise a dog in the future, so this is like practicing.”

And for those who want to do some serious practicing, for a hefty 10,500 yen (50 pound), customers can take a dog home for a ‘sleep over’. With the kind people at Puppy the World supplying a day’s pet food, a water dish, and a cage for the animal to sleep in.

If this is all too sickly and sweet for you, I should add that despite shops such as Puppy the World, dog rearing in Japan does have a darker side. Dog fighting is still legal here, and whilst it’s not as popular as it used to be, fights are still held annually. For a bit more information, click on the picture of the cuddly little Tosa below.

tosa_yokozuna.jpg

C for cooking

Or more accurately cooking programs. Well no, that’s not clear enough either. I guess food based television entertainment would be a better description. But seeing as I had another idea for F, cooking will have to do.

Now I must admit that I don’t watch a great deal of Japanese television. For one I have cable, and secondly I don’t share the nation’s intense love affair with food. And whilst a slight exaggeration, it’s fairly true to say that most programs just consist of people obsessing about food.

Whatever they do, or wherever they go (or even if they are just in the studio), tasting different food seems to be the main (and often only) focus. Even if it’s a travel program, all we ever learn about the country is its food. Ok, I know it’s an important part of a country’s identity, but generally there are other places and points of interest too.

But at a pinch I can deal with this. Ok, I can’t (as is probably quite obvious), but it would be a lot more tolerable if it weren’t for the constant and almost orgasmic cries of delicious every time the slightest morsel of food is placed into a presenters mouth. If just now and again they spat the food out and said it was repulsive, I’d be much more inclined to watch. But sadly I fear I may have a very long wait.

ika-1.jpg

Even this would be greeted by cries of it looks so delicious. I kid you not.

B for beer advertising

Japanese beer itself is very nice. A good selection to choose from, not overly expensive, and practically all of it around 5%. Which I can confirm packs a very respectable punch. And when drinking holes serve it super cold and in iced glasses, you could argue that life doesn’t get much better.

Yet remarkably it does.

Go into most bars or shops selling beer, and you’ll be able to buy/drink your beverage of choice whilst having a gander at the tasteful beer posters on display. Most of which consist of young ladies sporting bikinis and clutching beers. All of them presumably waiting for a date with a pot bellied beer drinker.

kirin.jpg

And just like beer, a second one is always a good idea.

sapporo.jpg

One for the road?

asahi.jpg

A for Ayu

Or Ayumi Hamasaki to use her full name.

ayu02.jpg

This female singer is arguably the biggest name and most recognizable face in Japanese pop music at the moment. But despite her detractors, Ms Hamasaki (or whoever looks after the singer) isn’t stupid. Her time at the top could well be over before she knows it, especially as Japanese consumers are perhaps even more fickle than their western counterparts, so understandably she is making hay whilst the sun shines. Not only does Ayu regularly release new music, but she also lends her face to countless products, and even has her own fashion label. But who can blame her?

ayu_panasonic.jpg

From all accounts, Hamasaki’s childhood wasn’t the happiest, and at the tender age of 14 she moved to Tokyo in search of fame and fortune. But after bit parts in low-budget movies and relatively unsuccessful dramas, the young Ayu was left to wile away her time hanging around in the city’s fashionable Shibuya district. Until that is a chance encounter with a record producer from one of Japan’s biggest labels.

Some accounts say he spotted her on the streets, whilst others claim they were introduced in a karaoke parlour. A few even suggest she used her womanly charms. Yet either way, the rest as they say is history.

Just as Ayu could soon be…

Homeward bound

From next week I’ll be enjoying a month long break back in the motherland. But regular reader(s) fear not. Whilst I’m away, an A to Z of Japanese life will keep Tokyo Times active until I return.

This daily (well, weekdays anyway) alphabetical attempt will endeavor to maintain the high standards associated with the site. So you can look forward to gratuitous pictures of pretty young ladies, constant reinforcements of long held Japanese stereotypes, and perhaps if you are lucky, the odd interesting fact.

Don’t hold your breath on the latter though!