GLOBETROTTER

Eating in Japan, keeping secrets and the bean-counters of Akron...

I do like a nice Meltykiss when I wake up in the middle of the night in Japan. I should explain - if only for the benefit of my wife - that this does not involve some trim little geisha called Nozumi, Hikara or Yum Yum but rather a sweetie of a confectionery nature.

If I don't get my Meltykiss I get Crunky or I get some Asse but you have to be careful or you might end up with a nasty dose of Pocky.

I find that if you wash this lot down with some Sweat - an interesting drink made by Pocari - and then wait for half an hour, you will be zapped by the body's natural reaction to a rush of sugar and will go off to sleep like a jetlagged baby...

The one thing in Japan that never ceases to amaze me - and there are many things which leave me open-mouthed - is the habit that the locals have of trying to write things in English, without asking an English-speaker if the words make sense. This is a notoriously dangerous concept in marketing, which was highlighted some years ago by the Cona coffee company which entered the Portuguese market, causing mothers to shield the eyes of their children from such adverts and littering the streets of Lisbon with little old ladies who had died of shock. Cona in Portuguese is a rather rudimentary expression with gynecological implications.

The French have also been known to indulge in this mad merchandising with such strange items as breakfast cereals called Plopsies and Crapsy Fruit and a drink called Pshitt. Trying to avoid such problems when creating a national oil company the French government asked linguistic computer boffins to come with a name which was not rude in any language and so was formed the Elf company.

The thing which astounds about me about the Japanese is that they do not consider that they could possibly be getting it wrong. I know if I were to write in Japanese I would have little confidence in the result and my first thought would be to ask someone if the result made sense. I would expect them to roll around in the aisles.

The Trampio corporation decided that they wanted to write poetry on the side of one of the racing cars they used to sponsor and they went to ask someone if the words flowed nicely. They did but no-one mentioned that the sentence made no sense at all. "Drive to be one with the earth," said the Trampio car, "and through the earth one with the car". It was a beautiful piece of lilting English, with all the right dactylic rhythm (or some such phonetic nonsense) but it was gibberish. It took me weeks to work out that they must be describing a very large accident.

Things are a lot better now than they used to be because giggling westerners have piqued Japanese sensitivity and forced them to change hotel instruction leaflets from reading: "do not hang out of the windows" to "refrain from suspending from the windows such items which will spoil the outside appearance of the hotel".

The tendency to think that they can get it right without outside assistance is fading. Probably the best example of this is the attitude which has been adopted in recent months by the Honda Motor Corporation.

One of the most impressive things about this year's Formula 1 season - forget all the driving and the technical genius - has been Honda's startlingly brilliant plan to keep its F1 racing team a secret. Right now the company has around 75 people working for the F1 team, budgets are in place, there are people wearing Honda F1 passes wandering around the paddock, the cars will be running in a matter of days and there are STILL people in F1 paddock who think it is a myth cobbled together by bored journalists. And that Honda is going to do a deal with Eddie Jordan to be a simple engine supplier.

It really is an astounding performance and one must take one's hat off to the conjurors involved. Compared to the approach adopted by some other new teams in recent years who trumpet the make of toothpaste used by the team boss and have the spotlights full on them when they fall flat on their faces as they try to skip nonchalantly over the first molehill.

And for their next trick, the Honda team is going to convince everyone it is run by the Japanese although Harvey Postlethwaite and his gang will be there at the steering wheel for a few years to come. No doubt there will be high profile Japanese engineers and Satoru Nakajima on the pitwall but it will be a like an egg-timer. The Japanese will slip in gradually as new talents are learned...

Of course Formula 1 these days is not all about technology and driving skill. These are important but so is the ability of a team to manipulate the media to its advantage to create the right image. You would think that in a world where a lot of folk started out as market traders and secondhand car dealers most of the team bosses could convince you that a broken down old donkey will win the Kentucky Derby but actually they are not very good at it.

Ferrari has actually been doing rather a good job recently. The whole world seems to think that Ferrari is an Italian team with wild Latin flair, passion and magic. It used to be, of course, but today the pit garage is filled with solid-looking Englishmen. There is a Napoleon lookalike from France, Germans, Australians, South Africans and even Greeks. The catering staff are mostly English although there is a strange little Indian man who feeds rabbit food to the drivers. They tell me that there are even practising Buddhists to be found dressed up in Ferrari team gear. There is even someone who went to the University College of North Wales - which is about as unglamorous and unItalian as it gets...

The Ferrari President is Italian and looks very glamorous on the telly and there is a rent-a-crowd of Italian-looking mechanics (some of whom are probably Polish) who stand in the garage and jump out whenever a TV camera appears to give the impression that the team is not really like a meeting of the United Nations. And yet (whisper it) the Italian nation still believes that this is the national racing team and whenever a red car goes screaming by men, women and children get very excited, fall out of trees and tumble off bicycles.

You can say it is sad that it has come to this but there is no emotion in modern F1. The Italians have proved conclusively that without help they cannot win anything and in F1 that is all that counts.

You can forget lofty ideals, it is the bottom line - as they say in America - that counts and a team is judged by no other criterion. You may be a lovely person and nicer than Mother Teresa of Calcutta but it will make no difference. There is no room for noble aspirations. The dogs eat the dogs and the winner is the man who goes to his grave with the most money. Over the years I have tried to explain that people who think like this have the wrong idea about life and that they should back off and go find a forest and pick some mushrooms but they laugh and saunter off to their helicopters thinking you are an idiot because you are not as greedy as they are. There are warped souls out there.

There are obviously some warped individuals in Akron as well. Amid all the excitement on Sunday at Suzuka I felt really sorry for the folk at Goodyear.

"Come to watch the funeral," said one engineer as the Goodyear team arrived. But there was no funeral. The big bean-counters in Akron could not be bothered to stage anything...

The decision to pull out was ill-timed and enabled two top teams to jump ship to Bridgestone. This meant that rather than cruising to another title this year the Goodyear staff had a really nasty battle on their hands. The racing guys and girls reckoned that if they would win the bean-counters might reconsider the decision and they worked day and night to help Ferrari claw back the massive early season advantage enjoyed by McLaren and Bridgestone.

And there they were in Suzuka, looking tired and dejected. They were fighting for the World Championship but there was no-one from the company's management who came to support them. The bean-counters stayed home. There was no function at which Goodyear said goodbye to F1 after 34 years in the business. The demoralized staff - some of whom are being laid off as a result of the withdrawal - were fighting not for Goodyear but for their own personal satisfaction. And it was a miserable and shameful state of affairs.

Hell, I need to cheer up. I'd better go and find a piece of Asse.

...chocolate works wonders you know.

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