To increase your izakaya’s sales, put up ironic notices for your customers to laugh at

According to TV Asahi, a Tokyo izakaya called コンロ屋 (konroya) has decided differentiate the price of its beer depending on how you treat the staff when you order beer:

  • 380 yen (the beer’s original price) for saying: “Excuse me. I’ll have a beer, please (すいません。生一つください)”
  • 500 yen for saying: “Get me a beer (生一つ持ってきて)”
  • 1,000 yen for saying: “Oi! Beer! (おい、生ビール)”

Beneath this price list is a notice in red saying:


The customer is not always right [lit. not God]. Moreover, our staff are not slaves to our customers. In this store, each and every person is a slave someone to be treasured. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

According to TV Asahi, sales have gone up since the appearance of this price list. Apparently people do yell “Oi! Beer!” just for shits and giggles, but the izakaya has never charged anyone the 1,000 yen penalty (?).

The TV Asahi video partly obscures another accompanying notice, which I find even more hilarious:


Because our store is a “black company,” we operate, unavoidably, with the lowest possible headcount.

In an interview with a business magazineKonroya‘s store manager explained the philosophy behind the price differentiation:

皆さんに想像していただきたいです。仕事上での取引先の方と接する際、商談をする際は当たり前のように敬語を使いますよね? 飲食店も同じです。金銭と引き換えに料理、酒などの飲食物を提供する取引をしているという点で全く同じはずなのに、取引先である飲食店のスタッフには、初対面にもかかわらず敬語が使われない現実があります。従業員がお客様に敬語を使わず接した場合、それはおそらく「横柄なスタッフ」「態度の悪いスタッフ」となるでしょう。しかし、敬語を使わないお客様は、変わらず『お客様』のまま。これを肯定する方は、お客様は神様とお考えの方でしょう。私はこれを肯定いたしません。店員とお客様は対等な立場です。

I want everyone to imagine the following. Without question, we use polite language (keigo) at work when we speak with clients or negotiate with business partners, right? It’s the same for restaurants. Instead of money, we provide food and beverages to our clients. It should be exactly the same trade, but the truth is that clients don’t use polite language to our staff even if we’re meeting our clients for the first time. If restaurant staff don’t use polite language to our customers, they’ll be seen as arrogant or having a bad attitude. But customers who don’t use polite language are still our customers. People who think this must also believe that the customer is God. But I don’t. Our staff and our customers are on equal standing.

飲食店は特殊なものです。ご経験のない方には理解しづらい点もあるかと思います。しかし初対面の名前も知らない人間に、いきなり「おい、生ビール」と言われた時の気持ちは決して晴れやかではありません。よし、がんばろう! などとは間違っても思えません。私が思えないのだから、私以外のスタッフ、正社員、アルバイトスタッフのみんなもそうではないのか? いつも身を粉にして、笑顔で一生懸命働いてくれる大事なスタッフにそんな思いをする回数が、この貼り紙をすることでたった一つでも減ったらいいと思いました。

The restaurant has a unique social fabric. If you haven’t worked in one yet, it might be hard for you to understand this. But it definitely doesn’t feel good to have someone whom you’ve just met and whose name you don’t even know to suddenly yell “Oi! Beer!” at you. It doesn’t give me any motivation to work hard. If I feel this way, I bet other staff and our full- and part-time employees must feel the same way. With this price list, I’d be happy if I lower the number of times our hardworking, always smiling staff feel this during work everyday by even just one time.

Tofugu: A guide to Japanese name honorifics

Ever wondered why people in English-language conversation like to arbitrarily use “san” when referring to Japanese people? Me too. But now you can learn what “san” means in this excellent article on Tofugu by Michael Richey and Mami Suzuki.

Japanese names can be very gendered by social convention. But the origins of the name honorifics are not. For example, -chan (typically used for close female friends, and for upending someone’s masculinity) has nothing to do with being female:

There’s no etymology for the name ender ちゃん, but the popular consensus is that it evolved as a baby-talk version of さん. It makes sense. Whenever you have a widely-used word, kids in any country are going to mangle it with their baby mouths. Kids in Japan often have trouble pronouncing さしすせそ/たちつてと, and transmute it into しゃししゅしぇしょ/ちゃちちゅちぇちょ. Thus,  became ちゃ, and suddenly we had a name ender to call kids, small things, and cute things.

And neither does -kun (typically used for male names for people you aren’t that close with):

As the Tokugawa Shogunate came to an end, rigid samurai classes all went out the window. At this time, 君 received a second reading, くん, which is a name ender used to pay respect to anyone and everyone without acknowledging any kind of complicated, samurai-style hierarchy. The chairman of the Diet of Japan began using 君 with Diet members, and the tradition continues to this day.

And for the record, Keio University also calls everyone (save for the founder, Fukuzawa Yukichi) –kun:


The school was originally a one-sensei operation founded by Fukuzawa-sensei. New teachers were nurtured from within the student body. In other words, other than Fukuzawa-sensei himself, everyone was once upon a time Fukuzawa-sensei’s pupils. Furthermore, until the first year of the Meiji era, the school operated on a “half-teaching, half-learning” basis whereby senior students taught junior students, and juniors learned from their seniors; so those who were teachers were also students. In other words, the only true “sensei” at Keio was Fukuzawa-sensei.

Browsing city’super on a rainy afternoon

The rain hasn’t stopped in Hong Kong during these final weeks of summer. So it was the perfect time to cook comfort food at home with friends. This week, I found myself browsing through city’super, an upscale supermarket in Hong Kong, and admiring the packaging on the thousands of Japanese grocery items that it stocks.

City’super was founded in 1996 by a number of former Japanese managers at Seibu department store’s Hong Kong operations, according to this South China Morning Post article with a terrible headline:

In the 1980s high-end retail fashion and food markets were dominated by those Japanese operators. In 1990 Seibu department stores under a group management led by Masashi Ishikawa established its flagship store in the Admiralty district.

Japan’s economic downturn during that decade, however, led Seibu to leave Hong Kong and its other overseas markets. Ishikawa, though, had fallen in love with Hong Kong and did not want to leave.

He and other Japanese management, along with 14 local senior staff decided to create start-ups of their own in the city.

They considered too many other stores were selling luxury-brand clothes and too few were selling good food and wine. So the City’super concept was born.

In a 2009 interview with President magazine, Ishikawa said that city’super’s location in Times Square, Causeway Bay (now a major shopping mall), had at first struggled:


“The location was terrible, and in any case no one in Hong Kong knew what city’super was. We didn’t even have the money to put out advertisements. However, word spread about our store because our store left an impression on first-time customers. Gradually, people came to Times Square just to visit city’super.”

So city’super was less so a “Japanese” business in the pseudo-ethnocentric sense of the word and more of just a supermarket that just so happened to have Japanese individuals and Japanese investors, albeit all based in Hong Kong and acting autonomously, involved in the beginning.

A walk around the store shows how deeply and broadly connected city’super is with various suppliers from all around Japan.

And while other real estate developer-backed supermarkets may stock similar items, but I’ve been told that Hong Kong people with money, or at least credit card debt, are about to discern the difference—especially for all things Japanese.

For example, consider this pack of sencha loose leaf green tea. This one comes from Uji, Kyoto, perhaps the green tea capital of the world, and from an upscale company named Ito Kyuemon, which also sells matcha soba, parfaits, and umeshu in its store in Uji.

There was also a beautiful pack of “summer green tea” from Kagoshima which reminded me of the banners hung outside shops that sell kakigori shaved ice.

Ringowork (ringo meaning apple) is a brand from Itayanagimachi, Aomori selling delicious apple juices and jams.

I loved eating this garlic toast spread during my unhealthy years. You simply squeezed out the good stuff onto a piece of bread, popped it in a small convection oven for a couple of minutes, and witnessed the sweet garlic, buttery goodness melt. The spread was also made of heart-stopping, literally, ingredients, like margarine and a bunch of nasty preservatives. My hands would also smell like garlic.

If you’ve ever fancied putting uni (sea urchin) sauce on your salad, 卵かけご飯 or noodles, this bottle is the way to go. The sauce is made from fermenting fresh sea urchin and salt for at least three months and is mixed by hand during the fermentation process each day. The company behind the sauce, Obama Seafood (the same Obama, Fukui town that was once upon a time obsessed with Barack Obama), has made public the manufacturing process on its website for anyone to read—because, realistically, who would have easy access to hundreds of tons of fresh sea urchin to begin making the sauce?

This tea chocolate from Nanaya, a sweets shop from Shizuoka, comes in all sorts of beautiful flavors, including matcha, houjicha, and genmaicha.

In Hong Kong work culture, it is customary for departing employees to buy 散水餅, which are typically sweets or snacks to mark your departure from a team or company. I purchased a number of tea chocolate bars earlier in the summer to thank my mentors at the law firms I worked in for all their help, although I didn’t know if the chocolate was any good. I surreptitiously opened a leftover matcha chocolate bar at work, curious as to how it tasted, and broke off pieces to share with another colleague. And the taste was so decadently different from other green tea chocolates I’ve had in the past. The chocolate was so smoothly semisweet. It was like drinking a very nice green tea latte.

City’super also has a lot of craft beer. I want to be as sexy as this goat on the can.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Shonen Jump, a major manga magazine, Georgia is featuring some of Jump‘s most famous comics. The only one I recognized was Kuroko’s Basketball (黒子のバスケ).

Finally, since I was going around city’super to do actual grocery shopping, and not just to hold up random grocery items to take close-up photos on my phone, I ended up settling on this purchase: a can of mackerel in olive oil.

Canned mackerel is a delicious (and cheap!) source of protein in Japanese supermarkets. Having dined, once upon a time, on Parisian cans of olive oil tuna before, I was hooked by how fancy and delicious this yellow package sounded.

And for the record: mackerel in olive oil on a bed of spinach leaves is a perfect starter for a three-course dinner made with friends.

Paths to Manhood in 21st Century Japan

I wrote this essay for a sociology class called “Family and Gender in Japan” at Georgetown University in December 2015. I eagerly await updated studies on contemporary Japanese masculinity in the late Heisei period, especially given the fact that the number of fresh graduates who have received job offers (内定率) has risen continuously in the last 7 years to new highs, according to Japanese government statistics.

In 2006, the columnist Fukusawa Maki coined the term soushokukei danshi, or “herbivore male,” to describe heterosexual Japanese men uninterested in sexual relationships.[1] The herbivore male is marked by his conspicuous consumption, feminine actions, lack of career ambition, and “resistance or indifference to active heterosexuality.”[2] Herbivore masculinity directly opposes salaryman masculinity, which arose as part of the postwar “state-sponsored patriarchal industrial-capitalism.”[3] It promoted an ideology of a “socially responsible shakaijin, as producer and reproducer (in other words, the daikokubashira mainstay of the household),” emphasizing the public sphere as the man’s domain and the private sphere as the woman’s.[4] However, after the bubble economy’s collapse, salarymen were “embodied by loss of authority, loss of seduction, and loss of genius,” undermining its hegemonic masculinity status.[5]

Through the lens of the country’s low fertility rate, Japanese and international media portrayed herbivore males as a widespread phenomenon. A 2013 BBC documentary, No Sex Please, We’re Japanese, featured a 39-year old about his virtual girlfriend on a Nintendo DS, whom he went on dates with on the weekends.[6] In a 2010 Nihon Keizai Shimbun feature article, a 27-year old admitted that he was “scared to be rejected if [he] confessed” to his female crush.[7]

This essay will argue that young, heterosexual Japanese men remain committed to forming romantic relationships with women, marriage, and seeking ambitious careers while continuing to face pressure from the social expectation of being a daikokubashira. In the workplace, they have adapted salaryman masculinity to the harsh realities of Japan’s business environment, but salaryman masculinity and stable employment retain their hegemonic status over opportunities for individual pursuits in their youth. In their private lives, they are using their agency to fit more gender-equal expectations towards love and marriage from Japanese women. Therefore, the sexually passive and unambitious “herbivore male” form of masculinity is merely a fabricated construct in an attempt to explain an evolution, not revolution, in Japanese masculinity.

Continue reading “Paths to Manhood in 21st Century Japan”

FT: Japanese businesses and the “millennial Instagram obsession”

Leo Lewis and Emma Jacobs in an excellent series about contemporary consumption experiences for the Financial Times:

Japan’s experience economy has evolved along two distinct avenues. On one side an already fully fledged leisure, dining and hospitality sector has sought ever more inventive ways of packaging experience — from hotels staffed by robots and limited-edition Shinkansen bullet trains fitted out with Hello Kitty decor to many of the country’s aquariums offering the opportunity to camp overnight surrounded by the relaxing pulsations of bioluminescent jellyfish.

The other side … has to an extent developed as a branch of Japan’s “otaku” culture. This originally referred to the obsessive focus on particular areas of popular culture such as animation, video games or comics but is now more generally applied to a tendency to single-minded connoisseurship.

Here are two recent examples for the so-called two sides:

  1. Next month, if you’re in Tokyo, you can reserve a table on the disused third track at JR Ryogoku Station, grill gyozas, and drink beer. 😍
  2. Last month, you could line up at the noitmina cafe at Fuji TV’s headquarters in Odaiba to watch an advance screening of Banana Fish, a TV show that adapts a manga a street gang kid on the run, where you can purchase a drink named after the protagonist called “Ash Lynx”:


This is a drink with cola, which Ash drinks in the show, lemon syrup, which represents Ash’s beautiful blond hair, with strawberries added to represent his red [read: fierce] image.


Mixing the drink adds a faint sweetness, which represents the change Ash goes through once he meets Eiji [the deuteragonist on the show].

Vice Japan: Little Nepal in Tokyo

From Vice Japan, a documentary about Tokyo’s Nepalese community:


The area around JR Asagaya Station, 10 minutes west of Shinjuku on the Chuo Line, is now becoming home to Japan’s biggest Nepalese community. Everest International School, the first such Nepalese school in the world which opened in 2013, was the catalyst for the community to form. Through the lens of the children who attend that school, we search for their “Asagaya Life.”

Buzzfeed Japan: can a (former) high school baseball player tell which dirt sample is from Koshien?

Buzzfeed Japan bought some Koshien dirt from Mercari, Japan’s first unicorn. Can you tell which dirt sample is from Koshien?

Also, why is dirt from the Koshien stadium so treasured? Makoto Kosaka explains in The Japan Times, “The dark side of the Koshien dream“:

How to explain Koshien’s massive popularity? In short, these boys of summer represent the best qualities found in Japanese sports: a self-disciplined work ethic, teamwork, resilience — qualities valued not only in sports but in life. Players who carry home Koshien’s sacred dirt, a memento for any athlete who makes it to the field, are valued in Japan by future employers and idealized by viewers.


Learning Japanese: a five year retrospective

Next week, my younger brother will get on a plane to Canada, where he will embark on four years of an undergraduate education at a top university. He will have registered for a first-level Japanese course, and have the freedom to explore a whole new language at an exciting time of his life.

I will also miss him a lot. Who will take care of the plants in his room?

Five years ago, I also went off to college, where I was first exposed to the Japanese language. My first-level Japanese course eventually led me to make a deep dive into the study of Japanese language and society, even though Japanese had nothing to do with my international politics major.

One question I get asked is how my Japanese got “so good.” Another is why I chose Japanese in the first place.

These are problematic questions, not least because I do not wish to brag about my Japanese. First, I don’t think my Japanese is that good. Second, there are plenty of second or third-language Japanese speakers or non-‘ethnic Japanese’ speakers who are also really good at Japanese. Third, to get fluent in any language, every language speaker needs to put in the work. Fourth, a language is only as “important” for your life as you perceive the language to be. I hope to cover all four aspects in detail on my blog one day.

In the meantime, here is an overview of my Japanese language study in the last five years of my life.

Continue reading “Learning Japanese: a five year retrospective”

NYTimes: “The Organized Chaos of Botaoshi, Japan’s Wildest Game”

Ken Bolson, writing about a sports festival game that many Kaisei alumni on my Facebook network are sharing:

Little known in America, botaoshi, or “topple the pole,” remains a rite of passage at Kaisei, which opened in 1871 and is one of Japan’s most prestigious secondary schools. Teachers say the game promotes teamwork, toughness and sportsmanship. Students eagerly await their chance to compete in the tournament in their junior and senior years. (Underclassmen play more rudimentary games.) Alumni can recount details of games played decades ago.

Kaisei Academy is Japan’s second-most prestigious school. It is an all-boy’s school located in Nishi-Nippori, a five-minute walk from the place I lived when I was on exchange.

Kyodo News: “Japanese basketball players expelled for buying sex”

Speaking of sports, four athletes from Japan’s men’s basketball team were sent home from the Asian Games in Jakarta for allegedly paying women for sex:

The four players left the athletes’ village after 10 p.m. on Thursday to have dinner, and later that night they “paid for the services of prostitutes,” said [Japanese delegation chief Yasuhiro] Yamashita, who led a record-high 762-athlete delegation to the Asian Games, the world’s biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics.

Following the team’s 82-71 preliminary round win over Qatar, the players first went to a Japanese restaurant in a major entertainment district, called “Block M” in the city, wearing their team uniforms, according to the JOC and the Japan Basketball Association.

After dinner and drinking, they left and were approached by several local women on the street. Japanese men, who happened to be there and who could speak Indonesian, acted as go-betweens in their negotiations, according to the association.

After paying 1.2 million Indonesian rupiah ($82) each, they took the women to a nearby hotel and did not return to the village by taxi until around 2:30 a.m. Friday.

Shihoko Fujiwara of Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims, had harsh words for the four players in an interview with Business Insider Japan:


Japan is, in a bad way, a country that is rather generous with the sex industry. That’s why there is no resistance to the four people (now expelled from the team) who had paid money for sex. And prostitution definitely comes with the crimes of human trafficking and child prostitution. Why do people feel no responsibility for their actions? Because their actions are in some way tolerated by wider society. When discussing joshi kosei businesses, it is the high school student who is bad; when discussing people who are forced into pornography videos, they say there are people who want to be in those videos, and so forth. But it is adults who bear the responsibility to protect high school students from sexual violence. As for those who are in pornography videos, it is becoming clear that many actors are deceived or threatened into appearing in those videos.

The interview and the flag

What did the four players do when they returned to Japan? Have a 謝罪記者会見 (apology news conference), of course. (Already not the first high-profile one involving an athletic scandal this year.) The journalists present were free to ask whatever they want:

会見は時間制限なしで、質問が途切れるまで続けられた。約1時間半に及んだが、テレビ局の女性から「声をかけられたのか、自分たちから声をかけたのか。そのときの会話は? ホテルに行くまでの流れを説明してください。買春行為だという認識はあったのか」と赤面ものの質問も浴びせられた。

There was no time limit to the news conference, which continued with an unbroken line of questioning. At around the 1.5 hour mark, a female reporter from a news station asked questions that would make a person blush like: “Were you approached by the women, or did you approach them yourselves? What did you talk about? Please explain what happened until you went to the hotel. Were you aware that you were about to pay money for sex”?



Another female reporter asked unforgiving questions like “How were you feeling until you went to the hotel?” and “How much did you pay?”


Hashimoto [one of the athletes] said: “I felt restless, and that led to what happened.” Sato [another athlete concerned] said: “I think we were on a spree.” They had paid around 1.2 million rupiah or 9,000 yen. They had hunched their large bodies and made every effort to answer seriously. It was rare for a news conference to lay bare everything.

As Kyodo News had reported, the four athletes concerned were wearing their team uniforms when the alleged prostitute-buying happened.

Nippon Television was free to interpret this as 日の丸を着て買春する (= buying prostitutes while wearing the flag). You can see in the screenshot from Nippon News Network below the anchor’s infatuation (?) with the fact that Japan’s national identity, part of the athletes’ team uniforms, was worn into one of Jakarta’s red light district:

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 11.37.19 PM
Source: NNN / Yahoo Japan News

The flag, and one’s responsibility to the flag, was also a theme during the apology conference:


Wearing the hinomaru on our backs and doing such a thoughtless act at that place really showed our naïveté. 



Upon deep reflection, I now realize that I was unaware that I was wearing the hinomaru on my back in the two years since I began in the B.League, and at the Asian Games.