Foreign Correspondents of Bad Behavior

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“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” You may be familiar with this quote attributed to a telegram Groucho Marx sent to the Friars Club in Los Angeles. They had initially refused his membership because he was Jewish and later accepted him after he became famous. Right now, the line is a good summation of my feelings for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, of which I am a member, and especially for its Board of Directors.

On August 17, my Toastmasters’ group, the FCCJ Toastmasters, received a terse email, in Japanese, from the Board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ). We were told to immediately stop using “FCCJ” in our name and informed that beginning on September 1, we would be charged a 32,000-yen room fee (each meeting), on top of food services, for our use of FCCJ facilities in Yurakucho.

 

Our club was founded by FCCJ members, and for more than nine years the FCCJ has been our only meeting place. That means on two Mondays every month, 15-20 Toastmasters and guests (including many FCCJ Members) purchased lunch from the FCCJ and occupied the usually empty Media Room for our two-hour sessions to help people become competent communicators and better leaders. 

On the surface, one might think the requests are not unreasonable. Nomenclature is important to branding. Economics change. Fees go up.

However, the way these directives were issued was not only unsavory, but nothing short of ugly. No warning. No request to discuss the changes. No one from the FCCJ Board approached us in any way. Just the email, in Japanese only, from a press club that uses English as its official language.

Why would the FCCJ, which has been bleeding money for well over a decade and is in desperate need of new members, treat a loyal customer, one who has been paying its bills without fail for nearly 10 years, with such contempt and disdain?

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Why send out a single directive that couples two unrelated issues:a name change and a fee increase? One can only deduce that FCCJ Board harbors some abnormal distain for Toastmasters and decided, like a petulant child, to do something to hurt our club.It would not be exaggerating to call this it a slap in the face.

What does the FCCJ stand for anyway? Foreign? Yes, if that means aberrant or peculiar. Correspondents? But no communication. Club? Clique is more accurate. I recommend a course in public relations for the FCCJ Board.Just because the FCCJ is going down in flames doesn’t mean that everyone around deserves to get burned.

Art That’s Fun and Frisky

There’s no shortage of art on display in Tokyo museums and galleries. In fact, the sheer volume of exhibitions in any given month can leave one feeling spoiled for choice. Terra Cotta warriors? Yawn. Warhol? Whatever.

Seeking something completely different, I recently checked out the “Parody and Intertextuality: Visual Culture in Japan Around the 1970s” exhibition at the Tokyo Station Gallery. Don’t let the dour tittle bring you down, this exhibit is a rollicking ride fueled with a high octane mix of clever and cocky social commentary (for the adults in your party).

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Welcoming visitors is a small room packed to the ceiling with playful portraits by Leo Yamada who is currently working on 100 versions of the “Mona Lisa” as if painted by masters other than da Vinci. There were several of the works on display at the Tokyo Station Gallery. It’s both engaging and unsettling to work out who he is mimicking, mimicking da Vinci. He’s also done a “da Vinci” on some current world leaders, many of which are on display, giving the exhibition a timely and political edge. Alas, there’s no Trump.

 

 


One of my favorite displays featured a vibrant array of Tokyo Metro manner posters from days gone by. Hitler as a seat hog? Jesus bemoaning lost umbrellas? (See below) They certainly don’t make ‘em like that anymore. These days, we are usually served impotent illustrations of animals and giant kanji lessons. I can’t imagine anything released in the last 10 years ever being displayed in a gallery, unless the subject is unintentional irony. Remember “Please do it at home”? Please don’t.

 

 

 

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Another eye-grabbing display, was a wall papered with dozens of the colorful covers of “Bikuri House” a parody magazine that ran from 1974-85. There was also a treasure trove of manga, with many volumes laid out for personal perusal. Guilt consumed me as I picked up a weathered copy of Bikuri House and quickly found out how easy it was to damage some of the fragile pages. Reminder: keep those comics in plastic.

Overall, it was fun, informative and eye-catching. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be? I think so. While the “Parody” exhibition is finished, keep an eye on the Tokyo Station Gallery website for future events, as they seem to feature art that’s decidedly off the beaten path.

An Eye for An Eye

Many people start the New Year off with resolutions, which should be a course of action. However, these resolutions are, more often than not, a pledge to give up something (smoking, chocolate) or lose something (weight). We like to start the year off with specific attainable goals. This year we are seeking to secure another contract for our Powerful Presentations training series, focusing on advertising agencies. We’ve once again filled in one eye of our daruma. Onward and upward. 

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Shaking Up Japan’s Burger Market

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In my continuing search for Tokyo’s perfect hamburger, I recently made a few visits to the Yurakucho branch of New York’s Shake Shack. The chain started out in Manhattan in 2004, after beginning as a hotdog cart in Madison Square Park and later evolving in to a permanent kiosk. Today it has more than 100 outlets in the U.S.A. as well as locations in 16 countries around the world. Shake Shack straddles the line between fast food and casual dining, albeit leaning decidedly toward fast food.

It took me awhile to get to Shake Shack, which launched its first Tokyo branch in November 2015. That’s because early on the lines had been long and the indoor seating sparse. Although I had heard raves about Shake Shack from my New York friends, I am not keen to stand in line for a hamburger (or anything) and I wasn’t inclined to eat that burger outdoors in inclement weather. It seemed like every time I tried to visit the Shake, it was cold and rainy and the lines were way too long.

The Yurakucho branch, near my office, on the patio of the Tokyo International Forum (an excellent location) has plenty of indoor seating and well-managed order and delivery system that makes your wait brief (about 10 minutes). Apparently, all the food is made to order, which puts it in competition with Japanese chains such as Mos Burger and Freshness Burger. The similarities end there.

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In three visits, I tried the SmokeShack and the Shack Stack burgers. The former is a winner. The latter is a dud. What puts the Shack, at least in flavor, above those earlier mentioned Japanese brands is the quality of the beef, which tastes and feels like real beef rather the cookie cutter discs of meat found in most fast food chains. According to Shake Shack’s website, they use freshly ground, all-natural 100% Angus beef devoid of hormones and antibiotics. You can definitely taste the difference.

What made the SmokeShack sing for me was the dressing, featuring chopped cherry peppers and the signature sweet and sour ShackSauce, which is mayonnaise based. The combination of the cherry peppers and the ShackSauce gives the burger a surprisingly spicy, electric zing in every juicy bite. The sandwich also features a generous slice of “applewood smoked” bacon and cheese. As the spicy dressing reached a delightful harmony with the smoked bacon, my taste buds were applauding for an encore. What doesn't taste better with bacon, anyway?

On the other hand, the Shack Stack, a combination of the vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger, which features a “crisp fried Portobello mushroom filled with melted cheese” on a regular cheese burger. This one was near tasteless, as the frying and the cheese totally cloaked any flavor the mushroom may have had and killed the beef. With no flavor strong enough to solo, the chorus was unremarkable. My advice, go with the SmokeShack and prepare to be moved.

The crinkle cut fries, made from “Yukon potatoes” are very good, but I suggest avoiding the cheese topping option.The cheese sauce was bland, stiff and did nothing to enhance the flavor of fries that a little ketchup couldn't do.

In the beverage department, there are a wide range of shakes (of course), floats, bottle and draught beers, wine and a real treat for this American—bottled root beer. However, for some reason there’s no hot coffee (Outrageous!).

Nonetheless, I am a fan. Next time I go, I would like try out one of their “Flat-Top Dogs” or pork sausages, as long as I am hungry enough to combine it with the beloved SmokeShack.

Menu & Access to the Yurakucho Shake Shack

From Ad Man to Visionary

I recently had the pleasure of attending the “Bowie Is” multimedia exhibition in Tokyo. It was truly magnificent.
A celebration of all the beauty, joy and intrigue that the man brought into our world. Not only was he an accomplished writer, artist, musician singer and actor, he was a true visionary. Few artists have managed to touch so many areas in new and exciting ways, challenge our values and the ways we relate to everything from fashion to relationships.

Bowie on homosexuality (1972).
"I'm gay," said Bowie, "and always have been, even when I was David Jones," in the January 22,1972 issue of England’s Melody Maker, just three years after Stonewall and more than a decade before the flaming Elton John admitted to the same. In fact, at the time Bowie was married to a woman and had fathered his son Duncan Bowie, future movie director and screenwriter. Later in life, he would marry another woman, the supermodel Iman. “Bi” or gay he transcended stereotypes and well predated today’s gender ambiguity.

Bowie on the Internet, some 17 years ago (1999).
“I don't think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential for what the Internet is going to do for society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we are on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. The context and the state of content is going to be so different that anything we can really envisage at the moment”

What’s very cool about the exhibit is that upon entrance you are given a headset featuring Bowie’s voice from interview clips, almost narrating your tour. The audio also includes his music and film clips, which kick in as you pass the appropriate displays, music videos and movie clips. The displays feature what appear to be all of Bowies provocative outfits, many of which he designed, as well as fascinating arcane items such as his silver coke spoon. (No kidding. In Japan). One notable piece is a remarkable oil portrait of Mishima. There are also interviews with Nagisa Oshima and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano about working with Bowie on Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. There’s also plenty to learn, such as the fact that Bowie’s left eye was permanently dilated due to a playground brawl when he got punched in the face. And going back to our headline, Bowie’s first job was in an ad agency. Yet, another great mind getting its start in advertising. These are the kind of things a Bowie “music fan” might never have encountered.


However, one unforgivable logistical error is that the entire exhibit lacks a restroom. Attendees waiting to enter are warned to use the facilities before passing the ticket gate, as there are none to be found inside. Thus, if you gotta go you are gone. No reentry. For most of us, of a certain age, sitting through a 2-hour movie is a challenge, but at least there's an option. This is an exhibition that could easily consume 3.5 hours of your day or more. I found myself rushing through the last few displays for that very reason. Major fail. However, don’t let that dissuade you from checking what is otherwise an amazing, comprehensive and important interactive collection. Best to save your coffee break for after. Enjoy.

Here’s more info on the venue and how to attend: Bowie Is in Tokyo

 

Mission Accomplished (no joking)

I know it's been forever since I last posted, but as they say, "I've been busy." And there's a good reason. I am happy to present the completed daruma, (with two eyes) that indicates we have succeeded in our goal of delivering Powerful Presentation training services to major client, which is in fact a leading global automobile brand. We expect the relationship to continue this year and are looking forward to expanding our presentation and Intercultural Business communication training services to other brands in 2017. If you would like to know more about what we have to offer and how we can help your company communicate better, both internally and with the world, please give us a call or send us a message.

Good-bye 2016. Hello what?

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What can I say about 2016? Perhaps the less said the better. Business-wise we had a good year. However, regarding world events...well, our New Year's greeting card (nengajo) says it all. There were so many celebrity deaths, especially artists we loved, that we could not keep up. In fact, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died after we went to press. And although 2017 is not two weeks old yet, we've already lost Nat Hentoff. Nonetheless, we are looking forward to good things in 2017. We hope you are, too.

Eye focused on the future

In Japan, daruma dolls are commonly purchased around New Year’s at the local shrine. If you have a personal goal or business objective in mind, you buy a daruma and color in one eye. Then it sits in your office or home as reminder to keep going, work hard and never give up. When you achieve the goal, you have the added satisfaction of coloring in the other eye to give the daruma full sight or “enlightenment.”  While typical New Year’s resolutions, are generally about quitting a bad habit or losing weight and are soon forgotten, the daruma hangs around to symbolize your practical and tangible goal. What’s our goal for 2016? Sorry, I can’t tell you now. Don’t want to jinx it. Stay tuned. All will be revealed in due time. 

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Looking back 12 years

Because our nengajo focused on evolution for this year of the monkey, I got to thinking about where we were 12 years ago (FYI: the Chinese zodiac runs in 12-year cycles). How has Native Creative evolved since the last monkey? Here’s what our nengajo looked like in 2004. It was another pithy creation by Dan Ward of DYW Design, who has produced many of our nengajo over the years. Monkey business? Hmmm. I’d say we’ve evolved a bunch. 

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Two most effective words...

“The two most effective words you can use in a headline are free’ and new.’

   —   David Ogilvy (1911-1999)

“We have a new idea for you, but it isn’t free.”

   —   Tom Boatman (1963-)

I hope David Ogilvy, whatever he’s doing in Advertising Heaven, can find it in his heart to forgive me for using a “gimmick.” Times have changed dramatically since “Confessions of An Advertising Man,” was published (the year of my birth) but his influence remains as strong as ever. Yet, many of us in “the industry” wonder where technology is taking our messages and who is really listening. Our traditional Japanese New Year’s greeting card, or nengajo, is an old school approach. For 2016 we take a playful look at the devolution of modern man.

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