end-of-year house cleaning

I took all the stuff I don't need/use and sold it at Sofmap in Akiba. Wasn't too crowded but still it took a couple of hours so I did some wandering and hit the Tully's to do some reading and drink a soy cocoa. When all was said and done I got nearly 50,000 points, so I headed off to the main Sofmap to pick out a new digital camera.
Both Daboo and Royborg rave about the Ricoh GR 2, and it has the one dorky feature I want: manually adjustable f-stop so I can do cool depth-of-field photos.
Of course Sofmap was all sold out of the GR 2 so I'll have to order it online.
Oh yeah, now would be a good time to actually learn what the hell f-stop means...

security theater

Patrick Smith does a perfect job summarizing the utter futility and stupidity of the TSA. I for one am ready and willing to join the revolution. In fact, I already have, with my wallet: given the choice I simply do not fly anywhere near the USA, though sadly the TSA's influence on security policy is nearly universal, and I still end up flying to the states on business anyway.
*sigh* Some day the world's leaders will be rational, reasonable people who make intelligent choices based on facts, wisdom, and keen insight. Until then, be a good citizen; stay scared and shut up.

serving my purpose

I have a new found purpose in life.

3 generations @ aoyagi

3 generations @ aoyanagi
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Went to the Gyokufukai bonenkai in Takadanobaba and then took the JR line back to Harajuku and walked through Aoyama and Nishi Azabu. Down by Nishi Azabu crossing there is a traditional Japanese sweets place called Aoyagi, run by the Aoyagi family.
End of year is a busy time, with everyone ordering mochi so three generations were hard at work: grandpa was pounding rice into mochi with a machine straight out of the 1920's whilst his son and grandsons (the smallest in 3rd grade) formed the mochi into traditional year-end goodies, and grandma and mom minded the shop. I went in and bought some senbei and cookies, taking grandma's suggestion of course.

making mochi sweets
Originally uploaded by renfield.

@ mitsukoshi

@ mitsukoshi
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Did some wandering about Ginza and Shinbashi before we met Tai-kun and his parents for all-you-can-eat Italian at the restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental lobby.

Crowded! Everyone's shopping on Christmas Eve (or maybe celebrating the Emporer's birthday?)

xmas party

Went to the Yoshidas for their annual Christmas Party. Much good food and many fun times. Roy convinced me I need to upgrade my digital camera to a Ricoh, too.


Originally uploaded by renfield.

Adding to her repertoire of skills that includes opening and closing cabinets and drawers, unscrewing the tops off of jars, opening bottles of soap, shampoo, and lotion, pulling anything off of the shelves, table, desk, chair, couch, yanking magnets off of the fridge, and pulling wallets, blackberries, and anything else out of your bag, Tonchan is also now perfectly capable of taking every single card out of your wallet, purse, and/or organizer and spreading them all about the floor to her own great amusement.

And she can't even walk on her own yet.

stomach trouble

Felt pretty bad Sunday night, thinking it was the cake and all the stuff I ate on Sunday. Took Monday off and didn't eat. Figured I'd be ok so went to work this morning, felt alright and had lunch. Big mistake. Came home early to curl up into a fetal position and moan in pain. Thinking now I got some of that stomach flu going around. Fun...


Despite the financial regulators' best imitation of The Grinch, the end of year parties proceeded full force. Good eats at the ANA Hotel, and a back room full of PINBALL! Hadn't played The Addams Family since college, and man it was fun to fire up the old flipper skills.
After that we headed to Muse and proceeded to blow through the max room occupancy. I spent too much time keeping idiots from RBS and GS out of our party (hint: when I say "for your own safety I'm not letting you in" means that if you come in here waving your GS bracelet around you will get the living snot beaten out of you. What part of "DB" don't you get?)
Upstairs was quite lively as well given the Girls Bar night event, and by 1:30 we had managed to get next door for some much needed ramen and gyoza.
Finally made it to bed about 4am and was in work by 8:10 this morning. Just a wee bit sleepy.


Why, oh why do I call Newman and proceed to eat far, far too much bbq meat?
Perhaps because it's so. damn. good.
Well at least the walk home took off a good 10-20 calories.

birthday (cup)cake

Originally uploaded by piroko_kuroda.

Miri made a bunch of awesome carrot cake (with cream cheese frosting) cupcakes for Tonchan's birthday. I managed to sneak out of work early enough to have dinner and then celebratory cake with the Tonchabeast.

P put up a bunch more photos, too.

happy birthday

happy birthday
Originally uploaded by renfield.

wonder woman hoodie from bape kids

happy birthday tonchan!

The mighty Tonchabeast has been stalking the earth for a whole year now!
Bro says happy b-day, too.

urahara art gallery

urahara art gallery
Originally uploaded by renfield.

P was getting her hair cut so I took Tonchan for a walkabout in the back streets of Harajuku. Passed this cool apartment building turned into some kind of art students' gallery or something. Fit right in with all the hip and trendiness of the back streets.
We also randomly found BathingApe for Kids and had to spend way too much money on a supercool hoody for Tonchan for her birthday.

taco derio

taco derio
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Nathans is no more! Went to get hotdogs for lunch but it's now a Taco Derio.


Originally uploaded by renfield.

Took a big walk around Ginza checking out various whatever, and finally stopped by the 'bucks for a scone before taking the bus home. Tonchan enjoyed the choco-chunk scone. She's eating more and more human food every day!

fat bastard

OK, got my health check results. Now once again, I admit and take full responsibility for the fact that I have been busting my butt at work and spending as much time as I can outside of that with Tonchan, and therefore I have not been in the dojo anywhere near as much as I should. So I am indeed a fat bastard.
But this health check in Japan is killing me, seriously.
I weigh 75 kilos. That 165 pounds for you Americans still in the 18th century. Yes, that is too much, and yes too much of that is the squishy pillow of insulation pushing against my waistband. However according to my handy health check results, my optimal weight is 62.5 kilos. That's 138 pounds. I think the last time I weighed 138 was in elementary school.
Also, my blood pressure was 138/69, which is technically under 139/89 so blood pressure=A
Huh? I am borderline hypertension and I get an A, but I'm 13 kilos -- 29 pounds! -- overweight so that's a C? And what's more, EVERYTHING else is all A's, but that damn C pulls my overall score down to C.
That totally sucks.
Then again, I am a fat bastard. So, perfect timing for 2008 New Year's resolution:
If I lose half kilo a month, by this time next year I will be a lean, mean 69 kilos. I think the last time I was under 70 was the summer after I graduated, before I came to Japan, when I was working construction and subsisting on one burrito a day.
So there it is: lose one half a kilo -- just over one pound -- a month for one year.
Oh and lastly, what the hell does blood type Rh mean?

bald head award

bald head award
Originally uploaded by renfield.

At the work offsite I won the Conehead award!


Finally watched Superbad and it was super good. I'm thinking what Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club were to the 80's, Superbad is to the 00's.
I'm also thinking how I always wanted a wicked set of walkie-talkies when I was a kid, and now every high school kid has a cellphone. How great is that? Techonology IS progress.

BBG: Singapore Hedge Fund Mecca Lures Japanese Dismayed by Regulator

The title says it all. A Bloomberg article explains why hedge funds don't set up shop in the world's second-largest economy. In two words: taxes, regulation.
Let's quote:
"Japanese taxes were four times more and Singapore had a quicker approval process"
"just two weeks to get a license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to operate as an investment manager and...started in two months"
"waited for six months to get approval from Japan's Financial Services Agency to manage its own funds"

currying favorite

Had one of those rare double-curry days. Went for the veggie curry with nan for lunch, and then tonight after work we all headed to Kenbokke for a celebratory dinner. Prawns brilliant as always, and of course the sag chicken is loverly, too. The place is so small and the waiter was off so I bussed tables in order to keep the chef busy in the kitchen and keep the food coming.

morning hair

morning hair
Originally uploaded by renfield.

looking good!

long time no cut

Finally made it to cutting practice, first time in forever. Haven't been to the dojo in over 2 months, thanks to our friends at the Ministry of Finance. Today I took my new sword for a test drive; no complaints. I was kinda rusty but the sword cut like a pro. Good profile, decent weight, ok balance (a bit tip heavy but doable.)

earning my keep

Big day of getting things done. Woke up fairly early, inhaled a bowl of granola and soy milk (no I'm not some crunchy health freak, yes I am a lactard), and disconnected all the av equipment, moved the tv, antique chests, all the books, albums, CDs, and DVDs, and pulled out the shelves. Around 9am Suruga Isho arrived with my new custom TV stand and they constructed it and slotted it in place.
By noon it was done and we had everything put back and wired into place (and working).
In a word: fabulous.
But I had no time to appreciate it, as I had to jet out to zazen without lunch. Got back just before dinner time, hit the dry cleaners, unpacked the new trashbin and a million other packages that arrived and had dinner. Tonchan was feeling considerably better so was in more of a tolerant (and tolerable) mood.

not happy sick girl

not happy sick girl
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Someone has stolen my daughter and replaced her with a crying mass of snot-producing grumpiness. She doesn't really like it when mom isn't holding her, and even then she's not entirely happy. Can't blame her; using a cleverly engineered snot-sucking-tube I've personally removed about 4 kilos of nasal discharge from her head in the past few days (a process which she really does not appreciate as much as she should), and yet the flow seems unending, making it tough for her to breathe well. If I had that much gunk in my skull I'd cry all the time, too.

The good news is that when she's all grown up and we're doing the slide show at her wedding, we will have many, many embarrassing pictures of her as a wee child.

billy barew's

Met up with the old posse at Billy Barew's in Ebisu so for much needed mud slinging trash talk. The late night and smokey bar room atmosphere has done wonders for my cold. Not.
Tonchan continues to have endless snot dripping from her tiny little nose, but I guess the rule is as long as she doesn't have a fever, she's fine and bouncing all over the place!

Also, and totally unrelated, the intercom system in our apartment building seems to have died, and this week we have a number of deliveries arriving, so my cell keeps ringing with delivery guys in the lobby trying to get in touch with P in the apartment. Note to self: from now on put the apartment's home number not my cell phone as the delivery address contact.

lunch @ chamate in loft

lunch @ chamate in loft
Originally uploaded by renfield.

In the morning went to the hospital because we've all now got colds. Everyone has a runny nose and Tonchan's started to cough a bit too so we got her checked out and got some medicine to ease the coughing and stuffy nose so maybe she can sleep a bit better.

In the afternoon we walked down to Shibuya and bought some curtains at Loft.

starbucks break

starbucks break
Originally uploaded by renfield.

spaghetti lunch

spaghetti lunch
Originally uploaded by renfield.

In the morning we moved the bed into the other room and busted out the new supa-waido futon in the master bedroom. Now we can roll about on the floor without a care!

To celebrate we had a loverly pasta lunch and Tonchan enjoyed stretching and throwing the noodles all over.


More mad crushage at work, but I managed to get outta the office about 9:30 and met The KnewMan for dinner. We wandered Roppongi looking for decent yakiniku and I was really hankering for some gyukaku, and finally we found it and feasted in cheap, meaty splendor.


Furthering my assertion that Tokyo is the most awesomest city in the world, the indefatigable frogs have now declared it the Place for the Palette.
The new Michelin guide for Tokyo gives it a whopping 191 stars, leaving Paris with only 65 a far second.


Been thinking recently about the various problems people have with their training. Actually it's not so much a problem with the training, it's actually a problem with all the other stuff; life in general perhaps.
There are a couple of different theories that focus on most of the problems being Gosoke's fault. I agree that Gosoke is at the center of the issues, could even be called the cause or trigger, but he's not the one at fault.
One theory goes like this: Gosoke is too nice. He is too quick to promote people to a rank undeserved and too free to give out responsibility to those who cannot meet the requisite demands.
The other theory is, amusingly, the exact opposite: Gosoke is too harsh. He punishes for the slightest infraction of protocol, allows no second chance, expects perfection.
I tend to think both theories are correct. It comes down to the simple expectation that Gosoke has: he expects you to be honest; to do what you say will do, to be responsible for your words and actions.
I don't think it's possible for anyone to be honest with others without first being honest with himself. This means possibly admitting that you cannot do what is asked of you. It's much more sincere and downright impressive to honestly say you cannot do what is asked of you than to say that you can and then get it done half-assed and late.
A big part of Japanese society is "effort". Trying hard is important, oftentimes regardless of the outcome. You work 14 hours a day every day for 15 years, you deserve a promotion and a fat pension. Never mind how much value you actually added to the company. I remember when I first came to Japan and was amazed at the school graduation ceremony. Students got top awards not for academic achievement but for attendance, for not missing one day of school, never mind how much they actually studied nor how well they scored.
I have a hard time believing this is an old tradition in Japan. Back in the day I imagine you were expected to do what you said, and trying was lovely but if you didn't deliver you were probably told to split your stomach to atone for your failure.
Some people these days seem to think that if they promise to do something, pull three all-nighters in a row and finally deliver half of what they said they would, they somehow deserve praise for such an heroic effort. Gosoke doesn't believe that doing what you say you will do is heroic or even praise-worthy. It's merely expected. And not doing what you say is dishonest. Far better to be honest about doing nothing well than be dishonest about doing something badly.
So Gosoke has no problem with people who want to get rank, take responsibility, and work hard. And the more you say you will do, the more he expects you to actually deliver. Therefore, the farther you have to fall when you cannot deliver. The problem is not that someone didn't deserve that rank or that position, it is that they failed to live up to it.
Gosoke likes to push people out of their comfort zone and demand that they constantly strive to get better and achieve more. People mistake promotion for praise. Gosoke doesn't promote you because he thinks you deserve that rank, he wants to put pressure on you to step up to that rank by forcing you to face the fact that you're not deserving of the rank you have. But alot of people get the order confused; they think that since they are now promoted, they somehow deserve some respect or praise or something. They feel entitled, not under pressure to grow.

There is often this fundamental mismatch between what people expect and what they deserve; how the world is and how they think it is, or how they think it should be.
Amazing how it comes back to the basic zen principle of truth. The name Mugai is taken from the first line of a poem that starts "there is nothing but the one truth."
Being honest with yourself is first recognizing the truth, of yourself and your situation. Your abilities and your limitations, what you can do and what you cannot. If you are honest with yourself then it's easy to be honest with others, and people will recognize your honesty, sincerity, and humility.

more photos

As promised here are more photos:
Also Mama put up some photos, and papa's put up some photos, too.

break @ muji

break @ muji
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Yesterday the rain let up and it wasn't too cold, so we headed to the big Muji in Yurakucho to check out the all-wooden walker for Tonchan and various other bits and bobs. Afterwards went to MOS Burger and Tonchan had a burger and fries. When we came home we sat in front of the TV and zoned out. I guess being overseas so much has really made her American now!


Had a lovely time at Peter and Jenn's wedding in the Santa Lucia Preserve (photos coming later) and am now back in the grind, getting crushed. Leaving work after midnight, waking up at 4am.
Strangely, I don't feel tired as in sleepy, just exhausted.


Things I love about Killy:
The Rittenhouse Hotel

Things I hate about Killy:
It's a stereotypical city of the USA


Weather was actually fairly reasonable in Chicago. Checked into the loverly Ritz Carlton and then immediately headed out to the dojo for some training. Couple of hours and we hit the local Irish pub for dinner.
By then I had a pile of emails from Tokyo and discovered that we are being inspected by the regulators, so was on the phone all night figuring out if I needed to fly back to Tokyo immediately. Final conclusion was that there's no point in coming back early, so I just stayed on email until 3 am, then got up for a reasonably light day of interviews and evening presentation.
After the presentation we had massive killer steaks at Gibson's before heading home.
Now at the airport taking the early morning flight to Killy.

el lay

Pretty uneventful flight from SF to LA, but when we got to the Four Seasons it was before noon and our rooms weren't ready yet, so we had to change in the spa and head over to the Bev Wilshire for the lunch presentation.
Good turn out, small presentation room, excellent food. I had two huge plates of salad and steamed vegetables, justifying my over-eating with the fact that it was all reasonably healthful foodstuffs.
Interviews went ok and of course the monster presidential suite at Bev Wilshire does not suck, and they even had wireless. Applause.
Skipped the team dinner and got Korean BBQ with Daboo and N3i. Best meat in LA deep in the heart of K-Town. N3i was dying to get the new Guitar Hero so we went to Best Buy, where they turned the roof parking lot into a rock show (rumor was Slash would be making an appearance) but the store wasn't open. So we went to Daboo's office and played Guitar Hero on the giant projection TV.
That game is SO. MUCH. FUN. As soon as Tonchan is old enough to hold a controller, I must get her a PS2 and we will rock out!
Jak was on a train coming back from San Jose so we couldn' hook up. My bad as originally we were gonna hang out on Sunday but then I changed my flight to Chicago to early Sunday. However all is forgiven because he'll be coming to Japan around new year's so we are totally going to have an enjoyable time of it.

and to SF once again

Spent a few days in Stamford with the familials. Did some Tonchan shopping at the mall, ate mama's famous meatballs, got some take out from High Ridge Deli, watched some American TV (is everything a CSI or a Law & Order?)
Tonchan seems reasonably well-adjusted, but being less than one year old she'd rather goof off and play around with her relatives than eat. She did figure out how to climb up the three stairs from the living room to the dining room, but she hasn't got the going down part yet. She continues to dive head first off of anything; stairs, couch, etc.

I'm now back in SF at the as-lovely-as-expected (closer on the spectrum to NY than Toronto) Four Seasons. Full day tomorrow so methinks this evening I'll catch up on email and get some Chinese takeout.


Went into the city to have dinner with Hibaba and granpa, and then we took a break at Uncle Lee's.

toronto airport

Lovely airport. Except for the US Immigration and customs.
Because the Canada-US flights all fly into US domestic airports which have no customs/immigration, we clear that joyous process here in Canada before checking lugging, going through security, and heading to the gate.
As soon as we lined, it was like we were in America already! They were so rude! They directed us through endless switchbacks for no apparent reason! The signs were unhelpfully confusing, and if you lined up incorrectly, they yell at you!
Even better, they don't care that your flight is about to leave. Never mind that the final flight to the US is at 9:10 pm, and it's always full. Why bother opening up all the immigration lines, or splitting US passport holders into a separate line? That would be far, far to un-nonsensical and efficient. Instead, if you even dare to ASK, you will merely be barked at with a resounding no, and told how much my feet hurt from standing here directly you cattle into the appropriate immigration interrogation. And take your time checking my name and stamping my passport. By all means attempt to make banal small talk with me with what little Japanese you picked up guarding our borders. Take your time!

15 minutes

One of the guys at the retreat this year was an AP reporter. His story is now all over the place and the photo used looks familiar.

4 season toronto is...not nyc

Well the Four Seasons in NYC has set the bar, high, and Toronto is a lovely city but the hotel is decidedly old school. Nothing particularly wrong with it, but it ain't like New York.
Actually the city of Toronto is very much like New York, if everyone was nice and polite, and everything was clean, and there were more trees everywhere.

four seasons nyc does not suck, either

OK so flying out of Logan sucked.
Firstly, we were flying US Airways but booked through United. This time we were smart enough to go check-in at US Airways. Having a first class ticket, I went to the first class check-in. However, there were only two staff serving first class, so everyone lined up behind me actually lined up over at regular check-in and get served first.
Now, in a civilized country that prides itself on service (like say, I dunno...Japan) that does not happen. What usually happens is the first open counter at the regular check-in asks the people lined up at first to come check-in. Because we're better? No, because we've got first class tickets, which cost more. Why do they cost more? Because we are paying for better service. This a concept entirely lacking at Logan Airport.
So I finally get to check-in and she tells me "This is the wrong check-in. You're on a Shuttle flight, which has its own check-in down there." Ah right, of course I was supposed to just know this somehow. So she begrudgingly checks me in, but won't check my buddy's bags. Oh and btw the flight has been cancelled so we're on the next flight, and no first class seat.
We walk down the terminal to the Shuttle check-in line (no first class check-in at all for some reason) and get told: "Ask at the gate for first class, I can't do that here?" Huh? Can you be more specific as to why you can't? Different computer system? What, they have a separate booking and seating system at the gate? What, then, is the purpose of actually having a dedicated Shuttle check-in if you can't actually assign first class seats to a first class ticket holder? This discussion ends quickly with me as the recipient of a blank stare (this is a recurring theme, btw.)
So we go through Security Theatre and to the gate. I hand over my first class ticket and my coach boarding pass and ask for a first class seat.
"There are no first class seats."
[Tickets slid back across the counter. Blank stare.]
"Uh...ok. Thank you...umm...so what are my options?" I ask as humbly as possible.
[Blank stare...]
"You'll have to get a refund of the difference from whomever sold you the ticket."
[Blank stare.]

Wow, service with a smile!

So we got to La Guardia without incident, lined up for a cab with everyone else, and decent in the joy that is riding a NYC cab into Manhattan on a Friday afternoon. After cutting off everyone, crossing 12 lanes to get into the EZPass tunnel entrance, tail-gating a bus, and riding expertly in the blind spot of not one but two limos, we arrived on the island to battle mid-town traffic up 3rd to 57th. Our cabbie displayed his driving prowess by weaving back and forth between lanes as if we were the only car on the road, attempting to crush pedestrians who crossed against the light, who crossed with the light, who stayed on the sidewalk...the 20 minute ride from the airport took an hour before we got to the Four Seasons.

Ah, the Four Seasons. Huge 35th floor suite looking north out of the bedroom complete with park view. Every female at the concierge desk beautiful and Euro-accented, every male chiseled handsome and gay. We attempted to get Two Boots delivered but they wouldn't come up past 51st even with a $50 tip promised, so I went for Chinese takeout and enjoyed my sweet 'n sour pork with shrimp fried rice whilst watching the SciFi Channel in the suite lounge.

Today we had a reasonable schedule of interviews; some non-useless candidates that we may see again. And now gearing up for the evening flight to Toronto.


Not entirely sure why we're at The Taj; lovely hotel but not really used to the recruiting we do. We thought we'd have suites to use for interviews, but actually we've got (very small) rooms and one meeting room. Nice location, though. Apparently Newbury Street is kind of like 5th Avenue; lots of FuFu brands and a decent Thai restaurant. Not sure what event we missed out on last night, but the gentlemen in full Scottish kilt were enjoying the piano bar immensely.
More interviews today and then off to NYC.


Had dinner in Pod.
When Branson builds his Space Tours lounge, this is probably what it will look like.
The coolest thing was the large 9 button panel on the wall of the "pod" tables. Press the button and the lighting in your pod changes color. Slick. Very uber-modern and trendalicious. Can't see why there isn't ten of these in Manhattan and LA already.
Other than that, the "Asian" food was typical but good, and the modern plastic furniture surprisingly convertible. Conveniently located across the street from UPenn, the bar is apparently where all the beautiful people hang out.

taxis in LA suck

Stood around UCLA for an hour waiting for our taxi to arrive.
When we went back for the evening presentation, I gave the driver an extra 20 and specifically told him to come back at 7:30 so that we could make it to the airport in time for our Philly flights.
So I'm on the curb at 7:30 and there's no cab. I ask the parking lot attendant and she's all "Oh he just left. He was here since 7." DUDE, did I not give you twenty bucks and say 7:30? My kingdom for a common language spoken by both taxi drivers and riders.
So we called for another cab and it showed up in 15 minutes. LA 15 minutes, which is closer to 45.
And the Russian (?) dude driving (whose car was absolutely infused with a painful garlic odor) proceeded to lament about "the conspiracy" to move people around and rob locals of jobs. And what am I doing in LA? Uh, recruiting. I am the enemy. I work for the man.
Managed to make it to LAX in one piece and had an uneventful flight to Killadelphia.
Got checked in to Rittenhouse Hotel about 6am and slept until noon, then did interviews all afternoon.
Nice suite, btw. Jacuzzi bathtub, full kitchen, and FREE WIRELESS. Thank you, finally.

beverly wilshire

They are fully booked so I got upgraded to a junior suite. The BW does not suck.


NOT free wireless. And not free at the Mandarin Hotel, either. OK, at the airport I can sort of get it; let tMobile or whomever charge 10 bucks for people sitting around at the gate bored so that they can get some good internets lovin'.
But what is it with the Mandarin, and in fact most reasonably nice hotels, charging $12.95 a day for wired (not even wireless) internet? No problem charging $7 for the Snickers in the minibar; I certainly don't have to eat it. But I'm on bid'ness (you did notice the corporate rate and the corporate Amex card?) -- it's all about teh internets, man. Get me some work done. Check me some emailses. Surf me some websiteses.
So anyway yesterday I landed about 10am and got to the hotel at about 11am. No check-in until 3pm. And there was no request for early check-in (note to self: remind desk assistant to request early check-in when my flight lands anytime before 3pm.)
So I grabbed the blackberry charger an hit the local Starbucks rip-off. Nice Chai lattes, free eletricity, good comfy chair for napping.
After I checked in I got dim sum with the ladies M & E and parentals, then crashed early.

This morning I had some Peets (again a quality soy Chai latte) and a killer brekkie burrito (chicken and bacon: soul mates from the dawn of time) with Petey LongShort and Jensui.
I then headed off to Berkeley to have a chat with the kiddies about life and gainful employment. A summary: remember all those morons you're linked to on Facebook as one of them is gonna give you a job some day.

Next stop: El Lay.

the asswipe chronicles

So Brad wrote about this guy who left the retreat early without even telling anyone: asswipe.
The guy gets into a back-n-forth with Brad via email, and Brad writes about him again.
Seems Mr.Wipe is also posting to a thread on BigDaikon where they take Brad apart.

I find this whole thing amusing on so many levels.
First there's just the basic joy of the teh internets, where shredding people is a sport honed to a fine art and everyone's an expert.
Second is the whole expectation vs. reality argument, and I should know because I'm the disciple in the video they discuss. I guess it was one of those you-had-to-be-there experiences. We didn't really practice at all, and Brad had never done a precepts ceremony before, and like I said before it's really quite boring. So we bumbled through it. I guess it "should" have been more sacred and humble and servile and holy and serious so that it meets everyone's expectations about what a "real" Buddhist ceremony is...or something, who knows.
I guess Brad should shave his head, too, and end all his emails with "In Sangha" or "Gassho" or "Asala malekum" or something too.
Third is the Big Question About Zazen: what is "real" Buddhism? Brad has as pretty clear idea, which he got from Nishijima-sensei. Other Buddhist and so-called Buddhists have other ideas. Soto vs. Rinzai. Tibetan vs. Korean. Blah vs. blah.
Bottom line is: you come to a Dogen Sangha retreat, you should expect to do it Dogen Sangha's way.
Forth and final is the general asswipiness of the situation. And I quote:
"And then there was me, the Philosopher King, who was invited by a friend. I didn't have any expectations going into the event. I just wanted to take a holiday, travel and profit from the experience. I did all three."
Not sure why anyone would think a zazen retreat is a holiday, but whatever I am honestly glad he profited from the experience, got his holiday and did his travelling. I certainly do NOT think Mr.Wipe had no expectations. In fact he could have confronted his expectations if he spent some more time sitting staring at the wall, alone with his thoughts. But that didn't happen, because by the time I showed up, he had already taken off.
And that is easily the most fundamentally asswipe thing he did. The year before there were a couple of participants who had misgivings about participating and they had a long chat with Brad and finally decided not to stay until the end. Courteous, honest, and manageable. This guy just walked out and didn't even tell his friend.

So for anyone thinking about coming on the retreat sometime, here's a hint: there is one way to do it: Dogen Sangha's way. It is not a vacation. You are an active participant, and not fulfilling your basic responsibilities (cleaning, meal service, set up, etc.) is just a basic asswipe thing to do.

But what do I know? I'm just a mindless Brad worshiper after all!

mom's card holder

mom's card holder
Originally uploaded by renfield.

midnight oil

No, not the Aussie band, the stuff one burns when one stays at work all evening into the wee hours. Been cranking hard lately at work; taking on more and more as the empire expands. Also I'll be out of the office from next week for several weeks; recruiting and then some much needed vacation, so I'm trying to get caught up before I get buried. And of course it's the end-of-the-year budget and planning time when all hell breaks loose, so I do not lack for work, surely.

carolina blue fire engine

carolina blue fire engine
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Papa is experiencing massive south-of-the-mason-dixon culture shock. Apparently locals are such rabid fans of UNC, even the fire engines are "Carolina blue".
Americans is some strange people...

brunch then bbq

Never let a little rain stop a good plan for some quality eats. First we headed to Suji's for their most killer brunch; hugemongous omlets, eggs benedict, Canadian bacon, fresh pancakes...we were asked some soon-to-parents advice, and since we're no pros all of 10 months into it, we had plenty to review.
After that The Eng called and we headed to his place for a bbq. After napalming the coals we did some proper fleshy animal sacrifices and Tonchan even took a nap as I held her. I think she's getting used to me, or at least tolerates me when she's really tired.


P had an appointment at 2 to get her haircut, so we cruised to Aoyama and a did a wee walkabout; had lunch at Crayon House and then did some Tonchan shopping at the Gap where she picked up some warmer long sleeved stuff and a mad cool camo jacket.
Then we hussled up the Harajuku backstreets to UR. I had Tonchan securely strapped in and it was getting on nap time, so I walked over to the X-Large store and the thumping hip hop beats lulled her right to sleep.
After P's cut we went back to the shop so I could fulfill my autumn jacket need with a sweet blue reversible jacket.
Then we hussled back to the home territory and I got myseld a pedicure and manicure. I would to claim I got the extremities treatment because I'm a raging metrosexual narcissist. Sadly the truth is that I have weak nails, dry skin, and seriously skanky toes. They went to work on me with tools I recognized from wood shop class in junior high, and after a couple hours with the belt sander I was looking fine.

mommy's coffee is yucky

mommy's coffee is yucky
Originally uploaded by renfield.

i am brad warner's brain-washed zen drone

Originally uploaded by renfield.

Brad loves this photo, for obvious reasons. This and other photos are now available from my jukai ceremony.

There is also a video. But this is just the end of the ceremony, it doesn't show the part where Brad goes "Do not live by selling liquor...didn't even know her!"
Also note that we are so amazingly serene, holy, enlightened beings we had to...use the script. Because Brad had never done the ceremony before and I'd only seen it once.

loverly saturday

Had a late end to an hellatious week at work; finally left the office at 10:30 on Friday and walked home, attempting to short cut through Roppongi down Toriizaka and instead discovering many a dead end in that heretofore unexplored neighborhood.

Tonchan woke me up this morning in standard face-slapping fashion and all three of us headed to the dentist so that P could get her teeth cleaned. Ton was in a good mood and I carried her the whole time. She fell asleep right on schedule and napped nearly an hour, waking up just when P was done.
We all cruised home and then I dropped off the dry cleaning before hitting zazen.
On the way back I stopped by the dentist again to pick up Ton's toys that we forgot, then I took the Big Laundry (sofa cover, etc.) to the laundromat down the street. There was an (American?) kid doing laundry reading a Dungeons & Dragons book and since I was a mad D&D freak when I was his age we got into some deep discussions about the merits of halfling thieves versus half-ork berserkers, multiple weapon wielding, the new bleed-to-death rules and the magic of inanimate objects. Plus we both agreed that flesh golems are just stupid.

brushing my teeth

brushing my teeth
Originally uploaded by renfield.

maid cafe and homecoming

It has been a truly and royally hellatorius* week. The newly implemented Financial Instruments and Echange Law has been making my job complicated. Like most things implemented by the Japanese governmental bureaucracy, the intentions are wonderful and the execution atrocious. It seems there are not too many folks in the Ministry of Finance who actually have any clue how the professional, international banking and trading world works. It is not hard to imagine why there is no significant hedge fund presence on shore, for example. Lesse, here's your options:
Establish fund onshore, pay obscene taxes, be held to deleterious disclosure obligations, and be subject to patently xenophobic regulation by at best incompetent authorities whilst bearing the brunt of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Oh yeah, and there are no where near enough accountants and lawyers.
Establish fund in Singapore/Hong Kong, get massive tax breaks, be surrounded by an absolutely humming infrastructure chock full of English fluent, competent support services, regulated by well-behaved and experienced self-policing organizations and pro-business authorities.

At lest when work was done we decided to hit the local maid cafe, GASH. Thursday nights it's open in the evening as a bar, so we headed down there with a quorum. Sadly, it was less than titillating. Besides the fact that the waitresses were dressed in poofy french maid outfits, the place was fairly typical. Decent fried chicken, small but cheap beverages, nice bathroom. The evening was definitely made by the entertaining stories of our former British Army and Queen's Royal Guard HR representative. The best thing about going out with Human Resources is it's like partying with your lawyer; everything you do and say is protected by their oath of secrecy.

A contingent went off in search of debauchery in Shinjuku and I walked home.
HOME, as in my apartment, not that stale hovel in Roppongi I've been living in for a couple of weeks. The ladies moved in earlier in the day and after getting a bit more intensive cleaning the place is once again livable. Took a shower in my newly renovated bathroom and am happy to report a lack of general flooding, so I think the problem is solved.


Originally uploaded by renfield.


leg warmers

P got Tonchan some cool leg warmers. Very 1983.

yoko narabi

Sakaguch put up a video of me cutting four targets at the 2nd West Coast Taikai.
It looks like I nailed it, but actually I just chunked the top of the first target and therefore it didn't count. The winner did I seven targets anyway.
But man is that a great sword!

lunch @ mandarin oriental

lunch @ mandarin oriental
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Had to teach at honbu in the afternoon, so went with the ladies to Mitsukoshi to do some shopping in the am. We had lunch in the lobby of the Manadarin Oriental next door. A truly inspiring buffet, and we even saw a famous Japanese dude.


So after much flood-induced anguish I finally made it up to the retreat.
The long and the short of it: it was loverly. Did me a whole bunch of sitting. Even busted out some more yoga with The Man himself, which helped get my sore back through some of the longer sessions.
Oh yeah, and now I am officially a lobster-bib-wearing layman monk named Renkoku Dōei, so bow down to my serenity or I'll totally muck up your karma, peasant.
Quote of the weekend goes to Brad for telling me, after whining about 3 straight hours of zazen, that I need to "man up." After some moderate consultation we decided that in order to be non-exclusionary the phrase should actually be "bodhi up", though that smells dangerously close to using the word "dharma" like an adjective, which is just universally lame. ("Universally!" Get it? *Snarf!*)
So in the end I did a bunch of meal services, we started with 22 people and finished with something like 16 (including one dude who just up and left...obviously he needed to bodhi up some.) We did a bunch of sitting, I helped clean the rock garden, and oh yeah we did the comedy version of the Precepts Ceremony. I guess it's really supposed to be a fairly solemn and serious event, but with Brad at the helm, all bets were off.
Actually, the ceremony is really boring; besides the fact that I had to prostrate myself (in the Buddhist sense, so don't get any clever ideas) to Brad far too many times, it's just really repetitive because we repeat everything three times. Brad states the precept (don't lie, don't steal, don't desire too much, don't kill unnecessarily, etc.) and then asks me if I can keep it until I die and I answer "Yes I can" and we repeat three times for each one. We were doing ok until Brad goes "Don't live by selling liquor(...I don't even KNOW her...)" and then it was third graders playing Zen. Lots of fun and a good tension release in middle of a 30 minute ceremony that's generally alot more boring, I suspect. Wouldn't have been Dogen Sangha without the goofing off I think. And the fact that we were both attempting to hold onto our scripts and follow along whilst doing all the various bowing, prostrating, incense lighting, etc.
In all it went well and next year I'll be in a better position to organize the whole retreat a bit better (and hopefully won't have to deal with a flooding apartment as well.)

found the leak

found the leak
Originally uploaded by renfield.

There is an overflow tank underneath the bathtub, in case anything starts leaking. Well, the overflow tank (which holds several hundred liters) overflowed, thus the wet carpet. The water also leaked out into the other two rooms, soaking the tatami floor and parts of the closets.

They have now ripped out all the carpet, removed all the tatami, cut a whole under the sink and smashed a hole in the bathroom, drained out all the water, and set fans and dehumidifiers all over the apartment.

They now have to call in the marble specialist to remove the entire bathroom wall, pull out the bathtub itself, completely drain the overflow tank, remove and replace all the piping, and rebuild the apartment.

Suffice to say that for the time being we are living in a furnished apartment conveniently located between the Tokyo American Club, the USA Embassy and the Russian Embassy, in a lovely 3 bedroom in a tower from the seventies call The Mansions.

So not sure if I'll be making it to the retreat at all this year...


So as Tonchan gets better and better I get worse and worse...this sucks, because I actually haven't been sick in quite a while.
Last night I thought maybe it was just hayfever (some late summer plant called butakusa in Japanese) because my runny nose snot was clear, and according the Runny Nose Snot Matrix that means allergies.

Runny Nose Snot Matrix
Color of SnotDiagnosis
any other coloralien implant in brain has ruptured

But then I woke up this morning feeling the long-forgotten aching in my joints. Went to the tiny little drug store in the basement of the office, conveniently located between the restrooms and the Irish Pub, and got the 1050 yen "Fast Acting Cold Set" which consists of: two bottles of genki drinks and a handful of vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter drugs. Actually I quite like the taste of the genki drinks and all morning I was wired so the stuff certainly works. (Probably the 25 mg of pure caffeine in there doesn't hurt either.)
My throat doesn't hurt anymore, but I'm still kinda achy and I think I'm starting to get a cough too.
Well at least this weekend I won't be doing much but sitting, literally.

mellow weekend

Just as well that Tonchan's sick, as it's been a hot and nasty weekend. Spent most of the time indoors with the disease monster. Actually, her fever was gone by Sunday, though now she may be getting the tell-tale red, non-itchy rash. Anyway she's been bouncing all over the apartment and generally in good spirits, though not not eating. We're not really trying to feed her too much until her stomach gets better. She doesn't need the food anyway; gets all her goods from breast milk.
She seemed much better so I ventured out this morning to Shibuya to check out suitcases and buy P a new digital camera. I am looking for a carry-on that I can use without checking in luggage. Figure I can wear one suit and pack the other, plus five shirts and the various fixings, laptop in my shoulder bag and carry that on, too.
Tumi's 20-inch carry-on is la bomba, but I think I might have to go for the extra 5cm and get the 22-inch. They both have a garment bag built into the top flap, but I fear that the 20-inch is too narrow for my suits. I'm guessing that on international business and US domestic first class I can get away with a slightly-too-large carry-on...then again every other business-travelling a**hole is thinking the same thing, eh.

keeping cool w/ frozen sausage

keeping cool w/ frozen sausage
Originally uploaded by renfield.

This is how we kills two birds with one stone: gotta defrost the frozen sausage for dinner, and gotta keep Tonchan cool to fight her fever. So: we strap the frozen sausage onto the baby!

stand up!

stand up!
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Not bad for a sicky little girl.

my first cold!

my first cold!
Originally uploaded by renfield.

So this little monster is all grumpy and fidgety, not really eating, crying alot more than usual. About midnight she just won't sleep and she's warm. Really warm. P took her temp and it was 39C!

So this morning we took her to the hospital and the doctor said she's got a cold! It could turn into something slightly more serious but even then it's no big deal. Good timing to get sick on a three-day weekend; we're all gonna just hang out and stay cool.

belgian flemish dutch

Some genius has sub-titled a disturbing Belgian kids show, adding English subtitles to the Flemish Dutch song, phonetically and hilariously. NSFW at all, by any means.


Forgot to mention that in SF, the sun was bright and strong, and as a result my smooth-shaven dome was nicely reddened.
Now I have a wonderfully peeling, sun-burnt head and I haven't shaved it in a few days because it's too damn painful.
So next time: a hat!


Originally uploaded by Guzilla.

Schedule in NYC went something like this:
wake up, breakfast, office, lunch, meetings, dinner, tv.
Managed to have greasy Chinese food, killer Italian, 4 slices of Two Boots Mr. Pink, and a lobster at Black Pearl with Lee and Chaziness. The lobster was aggressive and fought valiantly, but in the end it died in gastronomical peace.
And now I'm in the lounge in JFK waiting to go home!

shovellin' in the park

shovel 2
Originally uploaded by renfield.

Took the girls to the park and waited for Jenn and Peter (and dog Teddy.)
At the park not only did they have the new super-safe squishy floor and lots of cool jungle jim equipment, but they also supplied these most excellent heavy duty earth moving shovels. I quickly mastered the complex manual operations and proceeded to dig so effectively I managed to relocate the entire park 37 meters to the southwest.
After such hard labor we had lunch and then goofed off for a bit. When I came back, the ladies was sliding down the stairs nekkid, so Jorge and I went up the street for some take out Chinese. Ah, the magical joy that is sweet and sour pork!

bye-bye la

Well the 2nd annual West Coast Taikai was a rousing success; managed to start and finish on time. I used my new HC to try a 4-roll yokonarabi as well as a 4-roll futomaki. Almost made both of them and can easily blame the mistakes on not being used to the new sword (truth is closer to I basically don't know what I'm doing.)
After the tournament we headed out for Mexican food and the Japanese posse stuffed themselves on chips and salsa, tacos,and refried beans.
Then back at the hotel we took over the lobby bar and cause trouble into the wee hours.
Now I'm sitting in LAX waiting for my flight to SF.


Originally uploaded by piroko_kuroda.

I think I've blogged this before, but I miss my daughter and I love this photo because it really shows how much she appreciated me.

demos and seminars

Landed two days ago about noon, checked into the hotel and tried to stay awake until evening.
Full day of teaching yesterday, and testing in the afternoon. Everyone did well and passed. Gosoke was quite happy.
More seminars today and I picked up my Howard Clark blade that I bought last year and had polished and mounted by Keith. It is indeed a light saber; wicked light and fast, and being made out of L6 it ain't ever gonna set a bend. Photos pending so stay tuned.
After a late lunch we had the enbu in the evening -- all the sensei doing their thing. Yamada-sensei and Gosoke went last and did some jo and some of the advanced wakizashi. Then we all piled into the restaurant for some dinner, bad jokes, and off-color stories.
Need some sleep now as tomorrow we start at 9am sharp. I'm signed up to compete in a bunch of events and sadly cannot use my sword as an excuse if I miss my cuts!

chocolate oliver biscuits

When I was a wee lad, my dad used to come home from business trips to the UK and bring back for me a can of confectionery perfection: the Chocolate Oliver Biscuit.
Every time I've gone to London I have scoured the aisles of Harrod's but I could never find them. But now: "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life At Last I Found Thee".


Gotta hand it to the Japanese Police, they got that whole driver's license renewal process down cold.
A month before my birthday of the year my license expires, I get a postcard telling me I have until a month after my birthday to renew.
Since I had one minor moving violation within the past five years, I had to do the regular renewal (one hour.) If I had a perfect record I would qualify for speed renewal (30 minutes.)
First floor, general reception, they took my license, stuck into a machine and spit out a completed renewal form. All I did was fill in my name and birthday and sat on a bench before the eye check room.
Stare into the machine and say which way the C is facing: up, right, right, left. OK, done.
Proceed to photography; look into the light, pop, ok next proceed to counter #5. Hand over license and form, receive new form and old license with a hole punched in it. Minor spelling issue with my name here, but corrected quickly.
Next window, pay 3600 yen and receive two stamps (actual stamps, like postage -- one for 3000 and one for 600 yen.)
Step up to the machine and punch in pin twice to set, then upstairs to counter 300, and redirected to room #32.
Hang out for 20 minutes until the 1:30 class starts. Here begins the one hour session.
First watch the 30 minute video; don't drive drunk, don't drive sleepy, don't drive in a hurry, don't drive like a twit. Here we get a small sense of The Japanese Way -- the big message of driving drunk and killing a pedestrian is: since you are in prison, your wife will have to go to visit the victim every day in the hospital and deal with the lawyers, and finally the stress, pressure, and guilt will get to her, and she kills herself. So don't drive drunk or you will cause your family undue horrors.
After the video we had a 30 minute lecture, 25 minutes of which was the intimate details of the changes to the driver's license law and how to renew five years from now. The remaining five minutes was on the detailed stats of driving accident deaths. Curiously enough, most deaths are in fact due to lone two-wheel drivers killing themselves. Basically making this whole course largely pointless, since I was pretty much the only person in the class without a 'regular' (4 wheel) license. And actually my license is only a scooter license, not even a proper motorcycle license.
After the class we got a stamp and then went to pickup our brand new license, complete with embedded IC chip, which eventually will be used by Big Brother to track our every move. But for now is only compatible with the machines...down the hall. Touch your license, type in the PIN and reveal: a full screen image of: your license. The only information NOT shown on the license that is available via the IC reader is my "koseki" aka census registration, a very Japanese thing. Every Japanese person born in Japan is added to their family registry at birth. When they get married, girls (ONLY girls, unless the boy explicitly gets "adopted" into a family that has no natural male heir) are removed from their original koseki and added to their husband's.
One's koseki is considered "personal information" and it is a breach of the personal information protection law to have unnecessary personal information. So for example when a client opens a new account for securities trading we take a copy of their driver's license to verify their name and address. But of course their koseki is irrelevant, so on the photocopy of their license we draw a big black line through their koseki to ensure that we are not in breach of the personal information protection law.
So anyway someone finally figured out that since one's koseki is printed on one's driver's license, and there are basically no situations that require one's koseki but DO require a copy of one's license, then perchance it's a good idea NOT to print one's koseki on one's license?
So on new licenses there is a big blank space for koseki.
Can't wait for the crackers to start pounding away on the IC chip's encryption publishing lists of people's names, addresses, birthdays, koseki, and photographs. Then again this is Japan, land of rampaging citizen apathy; lowest voter turn-out in the modern world, and basically zero response to issues of personal privacy like IC-chipped drivers licenses. Probably the only person in Japan who cares is Joi Ito.

bon odori

The whole family went to join in the fun at Bon Odori, the traditional dancing festival held at the end of Obon. As it was held on the street in front of Honbu Dojo, we all got matching yukata and practically ran the show.

tasty antique

tasty antique
Originally uploaded by renfield.

say what?

I tend to look upon the chosen profession with a significant amount of disdain, having been a Japanese government bureaucrat myself. I know what it is like from the inside; the rickety metal desks, the endless paperwork bound with string requiring approval seals, the section chief fanning himself with one hand, holding his tea with the other whilst watching high school baseball on the tv and proclaiming how busy he is, how we're all going to be working all night to finish up, and how the most junior guy on the desk should fetch the delivery menus so that they can choose between sushi or ramen.
So when I was called upon to visit the Ministry of Finance, I deferred. I stalled, avoided, countered, schemed and scammed. But in the end, I went.
And it was beyond what I expected.
The halls were dark, dank, and not entirely clean. The air-conditioning was non-existent. The meeting room was a storage closet with one clanking desk fan on top of a cabinet that pushed stale air onto the back of my neck every ten seconds as it rotated.
The MOFers, representatives of the section whose sole purpose is to regulate the securities and finance industry, where...well to be kind, they were just plum clueless.
Did not have the faintest clue about what we were talking about. At one point (only about fifteen minutes into what ended up being a 90 minute meeting) she actually asked, with all innocent sincerity "What's an option?"
Now folks, I don't expect my mom to know the ins and outs of exotic credit derivative pricing, and to be honest I don't even expect the industry regulators to know that much, but at the very least, the basics, the fundamentals of trading and the securities industry should be well within their grasp.
Imagine if you will a World Series umpire asking the catcher "So, what happens when he gets three strikes?"
Needless to say I do not fear any potential retribution from this blog post because, though I know some people in the industry will read it, I seriously doubt anyone at the Ministry of Finance even knows about teh internets.
The highlight of the evening was walking back through the Ministry of Tax, a sweet post-war building that in its glory days (before it was gutted by zombie bureaucrats) must have been splediforous. At least it still had an awesome curved and carpeted staircase.


This afternoon we headed over to Sangenjaya, the hip and cool youngin's neighborhood (kinda like the West Village or Noho).
We met up with Amy and Maya and had some shaved ice at an ancient ice shop that used an old ice shaving machine and blocks of what is probably real (natural, as in cut from a frozen lake in the winter) ice.
After the snack I went to the new dojo before dragging my broken and tired butt home.

got your nose

Grip of death.

open sesame

And now her little monkey brain is starting to figure out how the world works...once she unlocks the secret of the home security system, it's all over.

shibuya shopping

Visited Nishijima-sensei in the morning, who has decided that my name is now Renkoku Do-ei. I brought Tonchan, who slept most of the way there, and then sat patiently as we ate watermelon.
In the afternoon P and Ton and I went to Loft and Muji in Shibuya for some random shopping, had a late lunch in the basement of Seibu department store, and bought some sweet-n-sour pork and a deep fried pork sandwich for a porky goodness dinner.

stupid versus ignorant

First let's define our terms.
Ignorant is lacking knowledge. Learn some, and you cease to be ignorant.
Stupid is lacking the ability to escape your ignorance. Dumb is dumb.

I remember a long time ago, when I was a wee tot, my dad gave me one of the many random Dad Talks one gets as a child that, whether intentional or not, molded my general outlook on life. I can't remember what I was complaining about, but it was something. Or more likely someone. He said: "Don't blame the average person for being average. It's not his fault: he's average. Remember what average is: in school a C is average. Think about the guy who gets all C's in school, and is probably pretty content with that. That's average, and that's pretty dumb."
This sent shock waves through my little monkey brain. C's! Good lord if I ever got anything less than an A- minus I'd have conniptions and my mom would have to use chocolate chip cookie dough to coax me out of my bedroom where I had retreated to bury myself in tears.

So for the past few weeks I've been studying up on FIEL. The Financial Instruments Exchange Law is a massive rewrite of the securities and related financial laws and cabinet orders in Japan. Massive is an understatement. And being legal text, it is written in the most impenetrable legalese mumbo-jumbo Japanese that I have ever written. And it's a bunch of cross-referencing articles and sub-paragraphs and follow-on ordinances and guidelines and framework implementations....total nightmare.
Past couple of nights I've been leaving work early (8pm-ish), walking up to the Starbucks-Tsutaya (Japan's version of Borders or Barnes & Noble crossed with a Blockbuster crossed with an HMV music store) on the corner of Roppongi Hills, and reading various FIEL books.
Last night a read a flimsy little paperback written by the politician who basically devised and architected the entire FIEL framework. It was good to get the perspective for all these confusing laws and directives. The basic concept is: evil financial and other companies take advantage of people and rip them off. Companies, especially securities firms, must be severely regulated. People, mom and pop investors, must be protected. And by protected we mean: ripping them off carries stiff financial penalties and jail time. Everything must be disclosed: when marketing, when selling, before signing a contract, when signing a contract, after signing a contract (cooling off), etc. And everything a company wants to do must be regulated, registered, administrated, approved, allowed, condoned, reported, documented, and verified.
The author throws in many key anecdotes from the go-go times of the early 21st century: Livedoor stock getting pummeled as the president gets arrested, the TSE freezes up because it can't handle the trading volume, Mizuho mis-trades a huge order and sends the market into chaos, Murakami makes a bundle with his fund on insider trading, promises of huge gains by punting foreign exchange only to be cheated and swindled by back alley hoodlums...scandal, deception, criminality.
The poor people! They bought Livedoor stock in good faith, and lost money! They must be protected! The poor people! They bought New Zealand Dollars and Prussian Thaler and Tibetan Srang, and lost money! Even though the guy on the phone said they would probably make money! Oh, the poor, common man!
Granted, there has always been and always will be criminal element who will explicitly deceive people. Con artists and swindlers abound, especially when a badly written law makes what they do technically legal yet massively amoral. So kudos to the politicians for closing loopholes and making things that look, act, trade, and feel like a security, a security.
BUT, and here's the real problem: people are stupid. Not ignorant; stupid.
If you didn't know anything about Livedoor; had no idea about the company, didn't read any research or have a view on the sector, let alone a coherent, diversified investment plan, if you simply bought it because everyone else was buying it and it just kept going up...and then you lost money? Well then you're a stupid investor and you get what you deserve. You don't need protection from a lying company president or colluding securities firms or falsified documents. You need protection from yourself and you should probably cede control of your bank account to the nearest pachinko parlor for gambling, because that's all you're doing.
The sad, sad part of the this whole ordeal is that whilst the government pursues this fatalistic FIEL policy of "disclosure" and "transparency" and "investor protection", from the other side of the proverbial mouth we hear lip service about internationalization and what Japan can do to open itself up to compete with Singapore and Hong Kong let alone London and New York.
For starters: stop making it so damn hard for professionals to do their job in this country. In this day and age teh internets and Virgin Airlines, WHY would anyone trade Japanese stocks in Japan, where all off-market transactions have to be reported and publicly disclosed within five minutes of trading, when the exact same stock can be traded via Singapore, with no disclosure, negligible fees, and no tax?
What hedge fund, institution, or otherwise pro is going to put up with arcane bureaucracy of regulatory filing, xenophobic hostility to any and all attempted direct investment via LBO, and totally opaque regulators who are free to impose (or not) punishments as they see fit, with zero appeal?
The government has a grand plan for turning Tokyo into a 21st Century International City of Finance. The members of the requisite committee are mainly from the construction industry, and not surprisingly, their plan is based on massive building projects of modern high-rise offices, swanky apartments, and first-class hotels.
Never mind the complete lack of requisite lawyers and accountants, and don't even mention Japan's complete inability to come to grips with the pressing need for increasing immigration to bolster a rapidly shrinking workforce. And let's not forget tax law reform and some legitimate personal information protection laws. Trivia fact: a stack of business cards on your desk is considered a "personal information database" and must be stored safely under lock and key. And yet every year the national government publically releases a list of the top tax payers for the year, including such personal information as name, address, assets, income, and tax liability.
That's just stupid.