Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yakuza Weigh in on…Yakuza

One of the most popular video games on the market is called Yakuza, now in its third iteration. It covers…yep, you guessed it: Japan’s seemy underworld! Yakuza 3 is a “simulation” game in which players delve into the role of a real-life yakuza clan.

And who better to review the game than actual yakuza members? Such was the keen idea of Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice and the foremost American authority on the yakuza. He met up with some actual “yaks” (as he calls them) to test drive the game.

Turns out the folks at Sega are spot on in their rendering. Take, for example, their comments about the depiction of a red-light district: “You got your salaryman in there, the delinquent school girl and her sugar daddy, Chinese people, and even those Nigerian touts.”

The review goes on to cover what you’d expect—the authenticity of street fights—and what you wouldn’t—gangsters’ clothes, culinary preferences, and whether or not shabu (crystal meth) should be one of the game’s “power up” features.

Should you desire to learn more about this Japanese mafia milieu but aren’t a gamer, check out the short excerpt below of my book, Tokyo Lives, which describes the very neighborhood—kabuki-cho—that the yakuza commented on in the game review:

“Shinjuku pulses with radiant activity night and day. It is Japan’s neighborhood that never sleeps. There’s something for everyone: shopping, hotels, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, parks, galleries, shrines.

And sex. Lots of sex. Wind through the restaurants and department stores, past the giant screen above Studio Alta, cross Yasukuni Dori, and enter Kabuki-cho. By day, the neighborhood is tame and welcoming, the alleyways empty and uncluttered. But as day fades to night the neon flickers on and the neighborhood transforms itself. The signs glow red and pink. Fleshy images preside over each door front. Salarymen with loosened ties roam the alleys, with scantily-clad women interspersed to lure them to their lairs. Elicit desires are indulged in all forms: strip clubs, porn theaters, hostess bars, massage parlors, brothels, S&M studios. No fantasy goes unfulfilled. And the Chinese rule the neighborhood with an iron fist.

Simple economics drive neighborhood trade: a glut of women and gangsters willing to work harder for less. There is no planning; there is no tomorrow. The next customer is the only concern. Where the yakuza focus on reputation and survival, the Chinese have only three priorities: The first thing is money, the second thing is money, and the third thing is money."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda

If you have any interest in Japanese culture and business history, then I hope you caught Sunday’s episode of Mad Men. In the episode the boys at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have an opportunity to bid on the account for Honda motorcycles. To get everybody in the right frame of mind, all agency staffers are given a copy of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Ruth Benedict’s seminal book describing Japanese culture that was the authority on Japan for many, many years. Creative director Don Draper also takes in a meal at Benihana to further explore the mysteries of the Orient. The episode ends with the agency instead being awarded the account for Honda’s forthcoming car, which the gang ridicules as a “motorcycle with windows.” Well, I hope SCDP held on to the Honda car account because, in reality, it probably made a lot of people a lot of money!

And now it’s time to separate the “reel” story from the real story. As the end of the episode intimates, Honda was never serious about leaving Grey Advertising. And why would it be? By 1964, Honda had become the world leader in motorcycle sales.

On the creative side, Grey churned out the iconic campaign “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda.” The campaign not only introduced Honda to American consumers, it started to re-brand the entire motorcycle industry, which had been taken over by leather-clad biker gangs and virtually ignored by respectable, suburban, middle class consumers. The “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda Campaign” brought motorcycles back into the mainstream.

To wit, in 1964 the Beach Boys released “Little Honda,” and, with two short lyrics, did as well as any ad campaign in explaining the essence of Honda:

“It’s not a big motorcycle,
Just a groovy little motorbike.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Only in Japan: Slashing Pounds With Samurai Swords

No—you don’t literally cut out the fat, but you do incorporate traditional samurai swords into an aerobic workout. There’s not much more explaining to do….just watch the video!