Alive and well, and living in Tokyo ...

Reports from Essien Leroy, Our Man in Tokyo ...
July / August 2000

Day One in Tokyo

Alive and well
and living in Tokyo


Climbing Mount Fuji
or How to kill a weekend

Of crime and Punishment

Tales of Two Cities

Japanese Inventions

Keeping up with the Jones

Essien's Reaction to the Web Site

Out of Body Experience

It all depends

The Girls of Summer

An old Chinese saying

Keeping up with the Jones
At heart the Japanese are minimalist and are not given to accesses in behavior. They live in small apartments, where a family of 4 may subside is a spacious 600 square feet of apartment space. If you happen to own an apartment with more then two rooms them it is called a Manshon (Mansion) most people in Tokyo very drive small car, some only have two seats or three wheels. Most people have moped or even bicycles. 60 inch TV are simply not something you will see in a Japanese apartment and 14 inch flat screen DVD movie players are the rave here. The Japanese seem to be in quest to make everything smaller and to build more features per item so you don't have to have more then one. For example, you can get am minidisk, cassette, CD/DVD player that you can attach to you to play movies and get surround sound from your TV via the player. And the player is a book case size with small but powerful speakers.

Having said all that I must point out that the level of one-up manship that goes on among the Japanese is beyond belief. Everyone is bent on keeping up with the Watanabe-san's. If you for any reason want to stay in the office till 8:00, because you have no life, you will cause everyone else to stay till 8:15, not to be out done. Several book and witness accounts attest to this fact. The Japanese work late not because they have tons of work to do but because they will not go home first. They will not have anyone looking like they are working harder then they. So everyone walks around the water cooler or take several trips to the toilet till 7:00 then goes home. And if for some reason a few of the fellow want to go for a drink after work, you are forced to join or be known as a drag. So you go out and drink enough alcohol to keep up or surpass the top drinker in your group. After 8:00 it is not uncommon to see several well suited men stumbling down the street, passed out on the side walk, or throwing up into a gutter. The first time I observed a man at 8:00 PM in a nice dark blue suit sleeping on the sidewalk, I thought maybe he was hurt. I was told that he was just drunk and as soon as he sobers around 2:00 or 3:00 AM, as this is Tokyo he can sleep with little threat of being robbed or molested by anyone, he will get up and go home. One of the areas of intense competition in cell phones in Tokyo. I am told that people in Tokyo change phones about every 9 month to a year. This drives the change in phone development to a fiery pace, and the prices starting at about $20.00. It is twice as expensive to get a Land line in Tokyo then to get a cell phone, for that reason everyone has a cell phone, reducing the price of the monthly charges to about half of that in the US, as I understand it. Everyone is in an intense competition for the latest and greatest. If you get a phone with a small screen, I'll get one that has a VGA screen, then you get one that has a color SVGA screen, I counter with a built in voice recorder. You advance with email and compound with web access and PDA link, but I saw you coming and countered with a mini detachable keyboard so I can compose email in style. You disengage and run back to the electronic store, and remise with a built in camera for cell-phone video conferencing. But I had the model with the added MP3 card, so touché. And this can go on every several month as you can imagine.

This goes far in explaining the general mentality of the Japanese. It is not that they care for an object or activity, they just won't be outdone by someone else. Compared to American we are always on the road to invention we are always obsessed with discovering the new and untested, trotting all over the road not taken and planting our flag along the way. If we can get it cheaper some place else, we buy it there and make something else. The Japanese are not so intent on discovering the new. But if you make it, then they are see it as a challenge to make it smaller, faster, prettier and cheaper. It's in the culture of the Japanese to not be bested. Take the car industry for instance. With all the cars that are made in Japan, the Japanese are not drivers. Americans are drivers, we make crappy cars, but we love to drive them. The Japanese don't care to drive, but will not be bested in car production. The same goes for radios, phones, or a host of other industries.

If left alone the Japanese think tank would grind to a halt in no time. It's not that they can't think of anything new, they don't need anything new, they're not finish with what they have so far. But every time the Americans produce something new, it is a slap in the face and has to be responded to. They have to have the last word and usually do. Once the Japanese get a hold of your invention it will never be the same and no one will ever buy your product ever again. Theirs is usually half the price for twice the features. American goods often come in our fave fashion color, Black. At times some crazy beatnik in the marketing department with no respect for his job, will suggest and get a gray one into production but to the most part, black is it. After the black model is out on the market we're off to the "Next big thing". We built cars got them to last six month without needing repair and then off to creating space shuttles we were. Every Japanese company is trying to create engines that can go 5 years without an oil change. That is the big difference between American and Japanese companies. American can make products we just don't have an attention span that is long enough to work out the kinks. The Japanese are so busy trying to get it right they don't have time to think of the next thing or anything new. I often think what if Honda's first product was a horse drawn carriage.

Not surprisingly, you can get a fork lift in Japan that is so small the you can store it in your basement for the winter. They have not gotten over the motorcycle yet. There are corporations after corporations creating different 50cc mopeds and touring cycles of all shape, size and capacity. There are touring Mopeds with large engines, and racing style bikes with 50cc engines. There are even more Cycle manufacture in Japan then just the ones that are In America you can get a Harley in 50 shades of black and/or gray, it comes in two possible engine sizes, both look the same. The crazy thing to do is to chrome the engine casing to be different from the 60% that didn't. Ooh, you got it with chrome? That's right baby. Look, don't touch. Every 50 or years Harley places a new model out, might have a motorcycle show to introduce it. The Japanese don't have model years, here it's more like model month. By the time you close your loan, you are out dated and passé. You would think Intel was making vehicles here.

But the most amazing aspect of the Japanese market is that there is so much diversity in products. If you want a three wheel, two seater car, you can get one. You can't get the new night vision windshield that Chrysler just but in it's high end car as a $3,000 add in. But if you wait a year, the $8,000 Honda Civic will have it as a standard package and It will have guided missiles attached so you can not only see that deer but blasts him off the highway before he muss your grill. Give road kill a whole new definition.