Friday, June 29, 2007

Lexus dojo

Not all auto workers are created equal. And the top Lexus workers are the cream of the crop.
They have impeccable touch, impeccable technique _ and from the way Toyota puts it even impeccable minds.
Reporters got a tour of the Tahara Lexus plant.
Part of the paint job a Lexus gets (and they get a few more coatings than your humble Corolla) is a rubdown by workers with almost loving hands as though they're petting a thoroughbred race horse.
Toyota calls it "dojo." There's a lot of dojo-ism at any Toyota plant, but it's taken to new heights at a Lexus plant.
The official there told us all the perfections they'd come up with for the first-generation Lexus, like all the pieces fitting just right in the interior, are already available for the Corolla.
And so the pursuit for ever higher perfection must always be at the heart of a Lexus plant, he says.
The tour itself was an exercise in Just in Time and effort at efficiency, and we were zipped around from one place to another, constantly being told we were falling behind schedule. And I felt a bit harried.
I guess I'll never make it as a Lexus worker.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

American on board at Toyota

A white male isn't ususally speaking from the minority side of the diversity divide.
But Jim Press is the first non-Japanese to join the board of Toyota ( my story on his promotion winning shareholder approval last week).
He talks very softly _ Japanese style _ and says much of Toyota's corporate culture is Japanese _ hence the understatement about becoming No. 1.
I asked him about that: Why Toyota officials keep saying they aren't making beating GM/becoming No. 1 their goal, when reaching the top would seem like a victory for a company.
"Do you read your own headlines? Do you believe it? Would you forget how you got there, if you were? I don't see any benefit in that. Customers don't care who's No. 1."
Then Press asked me where I was from _ to make sure I understood Japanese culture.
"There's no satisfaction of beating somebody," he said. "That's not something you're proud of, is it?"
I had to say:
"Sometimes we like to beat Reuters."
His reply:
"But you're not a Japanese company, are you?"
How can Toyota become more American?
Toyota is already an American company, he said.
He said Toyota has a "hybrid" culture _ clever how he got the automaker's key technology in there!
Press compared Toyota to the immigrant who becomes American _ yet continues to be proud of his/her roots:
"At how many generations removed from the original immigrant do you lose your identity? None. You should keep that. That's part of diversity. You keep the strength of what makes you different, what makes you good and successful. But you're doing it in that country. We want to be the best company in America _ period."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Taking a break with krooning rap without attitude

Raheem DeVaughn, a "neo-soul" singer from Washington D.C., who was at Tokyo's Cotton Club, delivers music that's a tribute to R&B of past generations, and the lyrics/rap of his group is powerful poetry.
Absent is the "gangsta" attitude of some hiphop.
Instead there's plenty of hippie love ... and allusions to great African American music of the past.
DeVaughn is the son of jazz cellist Abdul Wadud.
Well-behaved rap isn't the oxymoron it seems it would be with DeVaughn's The Love Experience.

DS beauty tips/bacteria buzz/church vs. PS3

My article on a new Konami game for the Nintendo DS that gives beauty tips has this blogger response. But I do have to ask: Isn't the idea behind the game a trifle too sexist for people outside Japan? One of the recommended etiquette tips: Don't put on makeup on the commuter train. That's so Tokyo!
Net buzz about my bacteria story.
The scientists aren't saying they can stop mutation. But they've figured out a way to put the message in four places in the bacteria to increase the chances it will survive intact.
An interesting news story this past week is the controversy over a PS3 game called "Resistance: Fall of Man."
Some scenes take place in what looks like Manchester Cathedral, and cathedral officials say they didn't grant permission and they're complaining.
The Sony spokeswoman in Tokyo says the company is talking with cathedral officials.
Overnight in London, our reporter there talked with a cathedral official who denies Sony is talking to them at all.
There was no comment from Sony in that story about the denial although Sony has an office in Europe.
I contacted the spokesman there by email, and he confirms (once again) Sony is in talks with Manchester Cathedral officials.
But there will be no further public comment, he says.
Is a bloody shooting in a cathedral different from other similar violent scenes involving landmark buildings like King Kong and the Empire State Building/Godzilla and the Tokyo Tower?
And aren't such virtual bloodbath games offensive to some people, regardless of where they take place?
This is from some time back but someone found my cultural take on the difference between MySpace and mixi interesting.
And finally:
A great place to keep track of my stories complete with color photos!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Story of Miu 3

I haven't written about Miu since April.
Recently we had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Shiodome, where Japanese bellydancers came sashaying out (to the yelps of suit-clad salarymen sitting at another table) right in the middle of dessert.
Miu and I discussed sexual fetishes and how race comes into play although we weren't exactly sure what it meant.
"Pocahontas. Suzy Wong. Thomas Jefferson's slave," Miu, 16, said pensively.
"Nonwhite women are so used to feeling honored to be seen sexually desirable by the Opposite Sex at large but especially the white male."
The pasty stomachs of the dancers rolled around to the music as bells jangled and eyelashes fluttered.
"Does India even have bellydancing?" she asked exasperated.
Miu tells me she has made an important decision.
"I am never going to open up my legs to another white male ever," she announced.
"Race should not matter, but we are all products of history, and what we do can't be taken out of context of what people did before us because that's what's going on in people's heads."
I showed her a poem I wrote a long time ago. It was written tongue-in-cheek but she says the idea is disgusting, politically incorrect on so many fronts.

an ode to the Caucasian male

white man
white man
with the silky blond hair
the emerald-blue eyes
and the cool million dollar grin
I won't mind being a Suzy Wong for you.
I'm tired of the laundry-men
and the dirty restaurant cooks
who can only smell of won ton soup
and talk about chowmein
they don't have the powers,
the style you do
seems you've got to be white
to really be a man
the long sleek legs
with the acid rock walk
in the hot tight pants
where the warm prick dwells
it's okay
you see only the race in me
just a stereotype, not my personality
it's okay
cuz, white man
you have
to give.

"I'm going to find me a boyfriend in Tokyo who is like Bruce Lee," Miu said.
First of all, Bruce Lee is from Hong Kong.
And I didn't even have the heart to tell her that Bruce Lee married a white woman, and supposedly wasn't 100 percent Asian himself.
It is sad, though.
Miu told me there was a guy she dated back in the U.S. who explained to her matter of fact that he had discovered Asian women had softer skin than did other races _ as though that was supposed to be a compliment.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Toyota, Hello Kitty and the Whopper

Sometimes a reporter feels like the fighter in a video game, throwing punches, kicking, twirling and jumping to take on several enemies from all sides, writing a story about Toyota reaching the one million mark on hybrid vehicle sales one minute, while writing a story about NEC Corp.'s Hello Kitty laptop the next minute.
Today I went to cover the opening of a Burger King restaurant.
A long line had formed outside the fast-food restaurant.
Where else but in Japan?
The Japanese business partners behind Burger King's return to Japan are the same people behind Krispy Kreme.
They know how to attract media attention yet manage to put a talk-of-the-town spin on their stores.
That's very important to attract the long lines, which in turn set off more talk and attract more people.
(1) Japanese have a greater tolerance for hourslong cues because they were brought up in a conformist-oriented rigid society that has required them to be one of the masses in a tiny place.
(2) Japanese assume mass interest is a good indicator for quality and desirability, rather than thinking that individuals may have different preferences.
(3) Japanese are afraid about being left out, and so ignorance or disinterest in something that draws long lines is by definition undesirable, dangerous and possibly a sign of derangement.
In Japan, being one of a crowd is (1) the way it is (2) a good thing (3) patriotic.
Being an individual is (1) weird (2) evil (3) not Japanese.
But Japanese are also having a lot of fun being in long lines. It is an event.
Guys were standing in lines at Burger King with their dates.
And the dates looked happy. They didn't think their man was cheap or dumb, but rather an "oshare" jolly guy.
The stereotype about Japanese being subdued is hogwash _ at least among Whopper lovers.
Well-behaved expressiveness was rampant at the the trivia quiz show at the store opening.
What was Japan doing in 1957 when the Whopper was invented?
"Hai!" "Hai!" "Hai!"
OK ... YOU!
It went on and on, and they each got a Burger King T-shirt.
Being part of a mass (at least a modern-day Japanese mass) is (1) fun (2) hip and so far, thank god, (3) innocent.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Taro Okamoto's Tower

An encounter with Taro Okamoto's Sun Tower from a window of a winding train was the highlight of a trip for a story about American beef.
Maybe it was the way the monument held its head _ so strangely animalistic while being so robotic and manmade, so full of intelligence yet so devoid of thought _ eerily and suddenly making its presence known through the trees.
It was very surreal.
It didn't fit, yet it fit so perfectly.
A reminder of how an artist's statement _ view on life/death and the meaning of art _ speaks to us today.
It was almost painful.
Maybe it was also the way a coworker shared that moment of Truth and Joy.
The AP photographer jumped up:
"Ah, taiyo no to da!"
This moment came back to me recently because my son and Amanojaku taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama talks about Okamoto on his blog.
In that, Okamoto , whose famous motto was: "Art is Explosion," says something like:
Art isn't pretty.
Art isn't comfortable.
Art isn't well-done.
Okamoto was fully aware of the real-life context in which his piece was going to be perceived, and that's how he delivered his message so effectively.
The tower became complete only in that moment, when the photographer and I saw it and felt it.
Standing proud and ashamed, a mutant monstrosity built to herald an Expo, the work is a genius of Modern Art.

Buzz on bacteria story

Some buzz is abuzz on my story about using bacteria as a storage medium on this fascinating exchange among people who are into what's called ID for "intelligent design," and argue living things were designed by a higher intelligence.
They oppose a materialistic approach to science, and are saying, "No," to Darwin.
If Man can encode bacteria, then who encoded bacteria in the first place?
... Datte!