July 31, 2005

To boldly go where no one has gone before

Surprisingly, my temp agency has done their job very well. Meaning that they've got me a job within the week! Hurray :)
Starting tomorrow, and it sounds exciting. It's all about spacey stuff! Well, secretarial spacey stuff.

The jobhunt for a proper and real job continues of course. I'm very happy to actually have a steady income again from this month onwards but still.

The blog will probably stay fairly quiet like it has been over the past two weeks. Instead of finding energy stuff on the internet my time in the Netherlands so far has mostly been spent on the necessary catching up with friends. Very good.

July 27, 2005

Netherlands = rain

As you can see at the updated WeatherPixie, my past week has been one long week of rain and nothing but rain. I think I probably spent a total of 2 hours outside at those much missed open cafe's, even if it is the end of July. Gah... And I'm sure that by the time I've landed a temp job the weather will become nice and warm.

July 22, 2005

People and their quirks...

I think I've decided that complete arrogance is a personal character trait I dislike most in people. It is incredible how some people just believe themselves to be above everyone else, even family.

If anyone has a method of pulling these types out of their own world back into ours and start behaving normally I'd love to know....

July 16, 2005

only 2 more nights...

Wow, after spending the last two evenings surrounded by Japanese, and will be again tomorrow night, I can't quite imagine being 'home' in only two nights.

There still are quite a few things that I want to do but in a way it's not that big a problem that I haven't done them. At least that leaves something for next time, right? Whenever that may be...

Tonight's taiko performance went fairly well. At least, everyone says it did.
I love my new taiko-sticks though. Or rather, I love the new orange taiko-stick-bag that they come in, seeing as the sticks are my third pair already.

Tomorrow will be hectic, the next day I'll be on a plane so the many drafts I have lined up will have to wait for a quiet day in the Netherlands. More news from there!
Byebye :)

July 14, 2005

Book shopping! (but cd non-shopping..)

I was hoping to stock up on Japanesey stuff to last me for the time that I won't be back. Unfortunately my money has run out... Nevertheless, I do have some cool things to keep me busy for the next few weeks/months while I'm jobhunting back home.

BookOff's are great. Just wish I could find stuff a bit easier. But, to increase my collection of Japanese literature I can look forward to the following:
Ryu Murakami - ストレンジ・デイズ
Ryotaro Shiba - 侍はこわい (love the title: Samurai are scary!)
Miyuki Miyabe - 今夜は眠れない (supposedly one of the better Japanese mystery/thriller authors)
Kaori Ekuni - きらきらひかる (noticed an English translation of this book recently, so thought I'd check out the original)
Kenzaburo Oe - 性的人間 (let's just say this one will look good on my bookshelf... Oe sounds like stressful reading!)

And of course another part in the ラブ・コン series! For anyone interested in starting manga, and learning Osaka-ben at the same time, the adventures of 小泉 and 大谷 are hilarious. Hopefully this will keep up my Osaka-ben skills!

One that I am most looking forward to is a recent Murakami book that I blogged about before: 半島を出よ. Hope that this will turn out to be failry readable... I wonder what havoc the North Koreans will wreck in Japan in Murakami's interpretation!

On a different note, music!
I found the 'Plastic Sex' cd in the shops the other day: Here comes SEX education. A pretty weird name, but it seems to be a new project from Nakamura Yoshio (formerly from The Plastics) with interesting collaborations.
The latest Towa Tei (of course of Pizzicatto Five fame) album Flash also sounded quite good. And M-Flo seems to be at work with new stuff. And I want some Orange Range stuff...

Like I said, my money's already gone though :(

中野・チャンプルー・フェスタ - Nakano Chample Festival - July 16/17/18

Some promotion for an upcoming festival (or matsuri) in Nakano-ward, just out of Shinjuku.
On the weekend of 16/17/18 July the Chample Festival will be celebrated (don't ask me what 'Chample' is supposed to mean though...). It will be three days of エイサー (eisa) which seems to be some kind of Okinawan dance.

In any case from 11am to 8pm on Saturday and Sunday, and from 11am to 7pm on Monday Nakano will be filled with music and dance.
There will be an outdoor stage in front of the Nakano Sunplaza square (中野サンプラザ前広場) where there will be performances of 'eisa', Okinawan bands, folkmusic (民謡演奏), taiko performances (!), karate demonstrations, magicians and more. Of course there will be food and drinks sold in the area as well. [just saw that one of the foods sold is 'chample/チャンプルー'. I guess that's the link?]

The flyer says:
What is 'eisa'? Begun as a Nenbutsu (buddhist invocation?) dance for the commemoration of one's ancestors celebrated at O-bon in Okinawa, it has now developed into a spectacular and vibrant dance. In Nakano, young people have been dancing 'eisa' since 35 years ago.

More information on this link about Okinawan rituals and festivals I'd so much love to go there once!

I'll be there on the Saturdayevening, which will hopefully be a proper ending to six months in Tokyo!

And some links:
Heart Beat Nakano re the Festa
Uchikoshi Taiko - performing at 7pm on Saturday, and 5pm (I think) on Monday

I got curious. Chample is apparently a Okinawan dish. Info in JP here. It seems to be a stir-fried dish of goya (Jp vegetable) and tofu. Will have to try that out next week...

July 09, 2005

宇治抹茶 - KitKat adventures

Update: I realized I hadn't told you yet what I thought of this new KitKat. Not bad at all! Surprisingly... You hardly taste the azuki-bean-stuff (which is a good thing) and the rest just mostly tastes like green tea chocolate. So, what else is new... Fact of life in Japan. If you live here, you need to be able to eat anything with green tea flavour!

Speaking of which, I have never really tried the green tea soft icecream. Nor the green tea Haagen Dasz (sp?). The other day I came across a very weird flavour though: soba-flavour soft ice! Bizarre.

Original (02/07)

Another foodpost. KitKat has been trying to be inventive in Japan this year. So far I've seen green-tea-KitKat, white-chocolate-KitKat, cafe-latte-KitKat, and this is the latest: kakikoori-KitKat. KitKat with the taste of kakikori (crushed ice, I think) with green tea, azuki red beans and milk... Without the KitKat, it's a popular summer treat. Haven't tried it yet. I'm a bit hesitant about this particular flavour but will get back to you!

July 08, 2005


Update: a resurrection of a very old post
My friend Kana is currently in the midst of this jobhunting-phenomenon as described below. Today she posts a description of a day at a job market (説明会) (in Japanese only) (the article seems to have disappeared, this is now just the link to her blog).

I particularly like where she describes the jobhunting-uniform.
White shirt, black suit, black bag, black shoes: 自分の個性を消すために -- to delete your individuality ...

Original (21/02)
One of the things that still quite amazes me here is the phenomenon 就職活動 [shushokukatsudo - Job Hunting]

To explain a bit (to any Japanese readers, this is just one of those things that I don't understand. If anything here is incorrect or if you don't agree at all, please let me know!):
In contrast to the Netherlands (which is, admittedly, a relatively unique situation), everyone at university in Japan graduates after four years in March. In April you start your new job. So far so good.

The confusing part starts with the fact that you need to find that job during the holiday between your third and fourth year/beginning of the fourth year. In those few months (say, from February to May~July) you have no time for friends, school, parttime jobs etc. Every day you go to seminars from companies who are recruiting for new staff, jobfairs, discussions and so on. This, with the goal to get to know what companies are out there, and what kind of companies you would like to apply for. But also to let the companies get to know you.
Probably sometime in March (I think...?) the actual application process begins. This usually includes tests (on anything, general knowledge) and interviews. If all goes well, you've landed a job in May or so. If not, this whole jobhunting circus continues.

When you've found a job, you can devote the rest of the year to your graduation thesis, parties, and everything else. Back to a normal life. Middle of March/Early April is when your working life starts, after graduating. Usually with intensive on-the-job training - as it often happens that your new job has nothing whatsoever to do with your academic training.

Now, all of this is in a way fine to do, I suppose. Okay, sure, I can't imagine it would be fun to go to those job seminars, together with hundreds of other jobhunters. Who are all competitors and are aiming for the same job at the same time. But well, I guess it's survivable.
The thing that I don't get, though, is that the selection process doesn't necessarily aim at finding people who have actually studied for that job. Of course, this is also something that the education system does not work towards effectively. I know that. It just seems a waste of valuable years of learning. And of extra necessary on-the-job training, because you need to start all over when people first start working.
Why do you have people study Hindi, if they will not ever use this again? Why do you only take on new 'recruits' once a year, even if this will mean that you have not enough staff at peak times?

Even more non-sensical to me is how the real talent doesn't seem to be appreciated. Why does it not look good on a cv if you have spent a year abroad studying English or something? Does 'taking a break'/休学する really have that bad a reputation? A friend told me how employers will only think that the potential 'recruit' was out partying and getting drunk during the whole year that they were abroad. So what if that is true.... Is it just my naitivity that thinks that even such an experience is good for someone? It doesn't mean that someone will be bad at work. Well, unless that person realizes what the Japanese working system actually entails (but let's not go off on a completely different track here...) I truly believe that going away for a year, or even working in Japan itself while figuring out what to study is good for someone as it will make you more aware of the opportunities out there, and what suits you best.

But maybe Japanese business wants their new employees young and fresh out of school, without any useful experience, so that there is still plenty of potential to shape them into the perfect member of the company? This all sounds a bit too cynical, but I wouldn't be surprised if it actually is one of the motives behind it...

Oh, I don't know... maybe I am just being naive. I mean, what do I know about what kind of person will make a good employee? Just starting off myself :) Well, maybe I should actually take that headhunting-job and find out! Hahaha, as if.... Hmm, maybe that will be a next entry: interviewing in Japan - how companies should NOT go about this... [to be continued]

July 07, 2005

Nerd :)

God, I'm a geek sometimes.
Just finished my notes for the presentation tomorrow and I'm actually looking forward to it! It'll be great!!

Ok, not that I'm so great at speaking in public, but I know exactly what I'm going to be talking about (uhm, the topic has become way too long), love the ppt-lay-out and nothing really depends on it, so I'm quite sure it'll go well. If not, then that will be a good thing to have found out... :s

Anyways, am done in time to head out for drinks in Shinagawa, finish up my revisions in my conclusion of the paper tomorrow, and can spend the whole of the last two days at work next week doing nothing. Yay!

July 06, 2005

Three things

My Pocky Fortune of today!

勉強・仕事運 (work&study) - もう少し (a little bit more...) (ranking: 2 out of 5)
金運 (money) - 絶好調! (in top condition!) (ranking: 5 out of 5!)
恋愛運 (love) - その調子 (good going!) (ranking: 4 out of 5)

My interpretation:
Hmm, work... have a huge presentation coming up so maybe that'll bomb?
Money... my taxrefund is coming in?
Love... hahaha, that one did it, I don't think I should believe this one ;)


Gah, I discovered today that the statistical review on which I have based most of the data in my research paper published an updated 2005 version while I was on holiday. Not good...


In other good news though, my boss loved the first draft of that same research paper! Woohoo! Happyhappy :D
Now let's hope I'll dazzle everyone on Friday with my fab presentation (which still needs to be set up from scratch) and they will offer me a job in Den Haag - or somewhere more exotic of course!

July 04, 2005

China: a threat to American energy security?

Update: Here's another article on CNOOC, Unocal and general energy security issues in the Guardian on July 3

Over on The Oil Drum Ianqui links to the news that the US Congress is in the process of blocking the Chinese CNOOC bid on Unocal. The New York Times (registration required) gives more details.
CNOOC is currently competing with Chevron to take over Unocal. Apparently many members of Congress see this move as a threat to 'national and energy security in the United States'. Funny thing is though that Congress hasn't acted this forcefully to other foreign takeovers in the past years in the American oil industry. And, the current planned take over is not likely to affect American oil and gas supplies all that much. The more interesting parts of Unocal activities are Asian based in for example Indonesia.

It's interesting to see the Congress reaction to something about which most analysts agree on won't make all that much of a difference to the US' energy situation. CNOOC still has a few weeks to get its things in order, and I'm curious to see what will happen.
One of the more interesting parts in the NYT article shows the opposing views:
"We cannot afford to have a major U.S. energy supplier controlled by the Communist Chinese," Mr. Pombo said on the House floor. "If we allow this sale to go forward we are taking a huge risk."

But Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Republican, said blocking the Chinese bid was a dangerous move. "They are holding a financial guillotine over the neck of our economy, and they will drop that if we do things like this that are not well considered," Mr. Moran said on the House floor. "If we don't let them invest in western firms, what are they going to do? They are going to invest in Iran or Sudan and make those governments much stronger than they are today."

It's very important to realize what the consequences could be of blocking the CNOOC bid. China will want to get its oil from somewhere and already has substantial interests in Iran and Sudan. It will be easy to expand these activities, which will be contrary to American interests.

CNOOC is very much acting out of strategic interests; not surprising as it is state-owned for 70%. This obviously gives it a very different rationale for its activities than other US and Europe-based oil/gas companies. Others have also pointed out the inconsistency of the Congress' actions with the US ideas about free trade.

There are a few more articles on China's hunt for oil here:
China's costly quest for energy control (NYT)
China's global hunt for oil (BBC news)

July 03, 2005

China vs Japan re gas - Yomiuri perspectives

In this weekend of catching up with reading and news, I came across some fairly interesting material in the Japan Focus news briefing. Having been translated from four parts of editorials printed in the Yomiuri Shinbun (which I unfortunately missed), the articles start off with a discussion of the conflict in the East China Sea between China and Japan but continue on to Japan-UAE ties and competition for oil in Central Asia.

In all of the articles it is clear that the authors believe Japan should accord a more strategic and political importance to ensure access to natural resources. Energy policy should focus more on (diplomatic) efforts to make Japan more visible in the international oil market. Personally, I think a failure to do this more openly is one of the reasons behind the wavering support of Russia for the East Siberian pipeline to the port of Nakhodka. If Japan would have responded more enthusiastically to the initial news in December 2004 that the pipeline would be constructed in Japan's favour there might've already have been a decision. At least, I haven't really come across a lot of positive news from Japan about those first reports from Russia. And now it appears to all go back towards the Chinese option again.

In any case, the articles linked to (in the title of the post) refer to several pending issues, and connect the energy issue to other things such as FTA's and so on which is quite interesting.

Edit: I only noticed after posting that there's another recent article on Japan Focus on energy. India-China-US and the energy conondrum Haven't read it myself, but looks interesting.

July 02, 2005


Holidays are good! Too bad I had to be back in the office last Thursday.
In two weeks me and a friend did Tokyo -> Matsumoto -> Takayama -> Kanazawa -> Osaka/Kyoto/Koya-san/Kobe -> Tokyo. A lot of places that I hadn't been to for a long time plus some cool new stuff.

The highlights (in no particular order):
- Matsumoto castle. Stunning, loved it. We got a tour by some goodwill guides which was pretty funny. We were wondering if we should give a tip or not (and thinking that we wouldn't need to, 'cause it's Japan) but before we could even do any such thing both of them got away from us as soon as they could at the exit (and the lady even before that to chase another gaijin for a tour!). Problem solved.

- the 'living room' in Takayama. Imagine a space of at most 14 square meter, a counter with maybe 6 seats, behind that the chef with his complete kitchen (1x2m) and us walking in: ぁ、英語分からない!('don't know English!') was our welcoming greeting. After my reply that that was no problem as I speak Japanese, the cook and his 2 customers seemed quite disappointed... A bit of a change from the usual いらっしゃいませ-callings! Nevertheless, the food was excellent and the cook started warming up to us when he saw that we could eat our food flawlessly with chopsticks!

- Mt. Koya - an overnight stay at the temple Eiko-in, with lovely buddhist vegetarian food (but yes, spongy tofu and seaweed), and a service in the morning. After that an early morning walk across my favourite cemetery which surrounds the Oku-no-in temple... My second time to go there but the whole stay was again amazing.

- Osaka (and the rest of Kansai)... what can I say, it is just a much more comfortable city than this enormous place that is Tokyo.

etc etc... good trip!

So far for the touristy stuff, I'll be coming back with more serious posts later!

A visit to Osaka can not be ended without sampling Japan's best food: okonomiyaki! The above picture shows a couple in progress. The chain Yukari is great! We had cheese-okonomiyaki, kimchi-okonomiyaki, indian curry-okonomiyaki, midosuji-okonomiyaki etc etc...Yummy!