Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

July 2007 Archives

Ryuichi Sakamoto

According to Wikipedia, "Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一 Sakamoto Ryūichi, born January 17, 1952, Nakano, Tokyo, Japan) is an Academy Awards-winning, Grammy-winning, Golden Globe-winning Japanese musician, composer, producer and actor, based in New York and Tokyo."

I first met Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1997. Of course I knew of him having been a HUGE fan. Like many Japanese my age, Yellow Magic Orchestra defined an era of our youth where video games, anime and technology merged in the 80’s. YMO made us feel cool, global and different from our parents.

Timothy Leary and I talked a lot about YMO in the context of our discussions and plans to write a book about the New Breed of Japanese youth. [I recently wrote about how I met Tim.] Tim died in 1996, but apparently he had told Ryuichi that he should look me up.

I still have the email from January 26, 1997 where Ryuichi says that Tim had urged him to meet me at some point. Ryuichi invited me to visit his home in New York to chat sometime. I think that I ended up visiting Ryuichi at his place for the first time in April 1997.

I still remember the feeling that we all get when we first meet someone who we have been looking at in posters and album jackets in our room through our formative years. I was extremely excited and nervous and didn’t know what to expect.

Ryuichi turned out to be a down-to-earth, smart and super-curious guy who wanted to talk about computers, the Internet and the future. We talked about everything from computer generated music to PGP encryption. We hit it off and both agreed that Internet was changing everything.

Through the rest of the 90’s we worked on a bunch of things together. Among other things, he joined the advisory board of Neoteny and I joined his advisory board when he worked to invite the Dalai Lama to Japan. There was also a period where I was clubbing a lot and Ryuichi and I bounced around Tokyo together sometimes. We also took aikido lessons together and sometimes spontaneously sparred in awkward locations. As they say, “those were the days...”

In 1999 Ryuichi worked on the Media Artists Association which was a group to try to promote artists rights for new media artists and musicians which I tried to help with.

Right after the September 11 attacks, Ryuichi spoke out strongly in an appeal to not diminish human rights in response to the terrorist attacks. At the time, this was a very unpopular notion and I remember Ryuichi’s enormous bravery in speaking out about this as a foreigner living in New York City.

Later, Ryuichi launched a campaign against the plans to begin the war on Iraq. Again, he was way too early to get too much general support, but he persevered with this, at the time, unpopular position, putting his reputation and career on the line. In retrospect, I think we all should have listened to him more and made more noise.

Ryuichi has also been an outspoken environmentalist for as long as I’ve known him. I first heard about carbon offsets when Ryuichi started offsetting the carbon footprint of his concerts years ago. Recently he worked to try to stop a nuclear recycling plant in Rokkashomura and has launched a new projected called More Trees to help offset carbon and help support projects to plant more trees.

Ryuichi has always been early and strong in taking positions about political and social issues. I think a lot of this comes from his active participation in the student movements in Japan in the 60’s and 70’s.

These days, the student uprisings of the 60’s and 70’s are considered uncool. I remember in the 90’s fashion became rather fake and shallow and being serious or an activist was considered boring and stupid. People like Ryuichi and Ryu Murakami (a mutual friend who Ryuichi introduced me to) are some of the few people who are able be fashionable and activists at the same time.

Ryuichi’s adherence to his social principles while still retaining a super-high sense of taste and artistic quality have influenced me heavily. I have tried to model my life in many ways after his in terms of balancing creative and social endeavors. However, I still lack his his courage in calling out the unpopular issues early and loudly although I think I’m improving.

I think Ryuichi is a role model for us all in many ways and I’m really proud and happy to have him as my friend.

Mizuka and Kaoru
Mizuka and Kaoru 2007

When I was born in Kyoto my father was still at Kyoto University studying under the late Kenichi Fukui. My grandparents on both sides had been against their marriage - my father a merchant class boy from Kansai shunned as lower-class by my mother's noble family from Northern Japan. My father's family wanted him to marry someone who was healthier and more likely to be a hard-working member of their family. Because of this, my parents were rather poor, lacking any support from their families. We lived in a dumpy home and they struggled to make ends meet.

Kenichi Fukui's wife, Tomoe, had a brother who knew people in the Geisha district, Gion. Through this connection my mother was able to get a job teaching English to geisha and maiko in Gion. They called her "Momoko-sensei". She taught at a geisha teahouse called Minoya.

Later, we moved to the US. Kaoru, the teenage daughter of the mistress and owner of Minoya wanted to visit the US. My parents agreed to let Kaoru come and stay with us for six months or so in exchange for baby-sitting. Kaoru was 18 and I was 3.

Joi and Kaoru Grand Canyon
Me and Kaoru at Yellow Stone National Park

We were so poor that my father once scolded Kaoru for eating too much food. ;-) Kaoru returned to Kyoto and eventually took over the family business of the geisha teahouse which she continues to run today.

I kept in touch with Kaoru over the years and I have made a habit of popping down to Kyoto whenever I can to see her and my other friends there. Kaoru is my guide and interface to Kyoto. She reminds me that when I visit a famous philosopher's house, that I should NOT, even when asked twice, actually accept the invitation for tea. She tells me how to deal with restaurant owners, geisha, maiko and monks... without her, I would never be able to navigate the exceedingly complex social system of Kyoto.

She still treats me like a 3 year old boy sometimes and embarrasses me to no end by continuing to call me by my baby name, "Jon-bon"... which as a result is my name among all of the geisha of Gion. The benefit, however, is that many of the geisha and maiko are like family. Even though I only lived in Kyoto as a baby, Kaoru and my geisha and maiko friends in Kyoto really help me continue to feel like Kyoto is my home. They provide me with an essential culture backbone to my Japanese nationality.

Inside Gaudi apartments

I'm at Frankfurt airport getting stuck in elevators during fire alarms and stuff...

I just posted photos from Barcelona on Flickr.

Keigo Oyamada aka Cornelius

According to Wikipedia, "Cornelius (born Keigo Oyamada (小山田圭吾) January 27, 1969 in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Japan) is a Japanese recording artist and producer. Oyamada's first claim to fame was as a member of the pop duo, Flipper's Guitar, one of the key groups of the Tokyo Shibuya-kei scene. Following the disbandment of Flipper's Guitar in 1991, Oyamada donned the "Cornelius" moniker and embarked on a successful solo career."

Keigo's mother is my mother's cousin. Keigo's grandmother moved to Tokyo in her youth while my grandmother stayed in Northern Japan to run our household. Keigo and his cousins became our local "family" when we moved to Tokyo since my first cousins were either in Northern Japan or in the US. When we used to get together as an extended family, our older cousins used to cheat us out of our allowance and everyone used to tease Keigo because he was always the funny little kid.

As we became teenagers, we hung out a lot and listened to music together. We listen to a lot of stuff like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Clash. When both of our families were going through a somewhat difficult financial period and his mother was working for my mother, we both lived in a dumpy old love hotel in Shibuya that had been converted to a dumpy old apartment.

Keigo was in Jr. High School at the time. He had a little cult following in his school, some kid writing a school comic strip about Keigo and his escapades. (If I remember this correctly...) I remember his mom being called into school regularly to make Keigo apologies for random things... I don't remember the details. I remember him practicing the guitar all the time and talking about starting a band.

One day, I heard that his band was a huge hit - Flippers Guitar, his first band. As they say, after that it's history... Keigo's music has evolved and it always involves a humble, funny and experimental attitude. I see his awesome mother, our humble teenage environment and our playful family in his music. I remember hearing that NHK had invited him to be a judge on a music show. When the host asked Keigo what he thought, he pointed out that the host had a nose hair sticking out and Keigo wasn't invited back... I guess she didn't think it was very funny.

Now Keigo has a wife, house, a super-cute kid and has mellowed a bit with age. On the other hand, his music aged well and continues to inspire me to experiment and remain playful. We're hoping to collaborate more directly more and he's helping with Creative Commons these days.

Teo and Larry

According to Wikipedia, "Lawrence Lessig (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic. He is currently professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society. He is best known as a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications."

I think I met Larry when he was in Japan promoting the Japanese edition of Code and I was on a panel with him. I got to know Larry better when he was in Japan for an extended period in 2002-2003 I think. At the time, I was struggling as an activist in Japan, fighting against the broken democracy of Japan. This struggle and the advice that Larry gave me for how to think about this struggle lead me to write my Emergent Democracy paper and take my struggle to the rest of the world.

Larry is a genius at identifying how complex systems such as law, code and politics influence each other. He's able to figure out where the balance is and turn murky complex issues into sharp, understandable thoughts around which movements can rally and debates can be won. Most importantly, Larry throws himself into acting on these causes with a dedication that energizes everyone around him.

Larry has really helped me evolve from an armchair philosopher to increasingly more serious activist. When Larry asked me to join the board of Creative Commons, I was honored and shocked, concerned about whether I would be make a sufficient contribution. I was even more surprised when Larry asked me to be the chairman of Creative Commons and I'm still concerned about my ability to play the kind of role that Larry expects from me.

However, Larry hasn't left me with much slack or time to wallow in my lack of confidence and the combination of his confidence and firm leadership is pushing me to have to grown quickly into my new position.

Larry is the mentor of mine who sets the standard of high-quality, no-compromise dedication to our higher causes, showing that there is no issue too complex or large that we can't make a difference with enough commitment, persistence and focus.

Justin and Pixley

According to Wikipedia, "Justin Hall (born December 16, 1974 in Chicago, Illinois), is an American freelance journalist who is best known as a pioneer blogger (internet-based diarist), and for writing reviews from game conferences such as E3 and the Tokyo Game Show."

I don't know exactly how I officially met Justin, but it was probably through Howard Rheingold or something back in the early early days of the Web. (Howard is one of Justin's mentors.) Justin had a site called Justin's Links from the Underground. It was the first website of his kind where he wrote about his life. This was a great inspiration for my own website which was also one of the earlier personal websites.

Suddenly, Justin decided to move to Japan in 2001 and lived there/here until January 2003. In Japan, we grew closer and he became a closer friend of the family. It was during this period that Justin convinced me to dump my old hand-coded website and switch to Movable Type. Justin was the first webmaster of my blog and is the one who got me started blogging. He was also the one who recommended that we use Movable Type. (Thanks Justin!)

When he was in Japan, he wrote Just In Tokyo, a crazy guide to Japan.

Justin eventually moved to Los Angeles where he studied at USC in Scott's department and recently graduated. In LA he became a member of Mimi and Scott's extended family together with Merci and Pixley Wigglebottom. Pixley is like Justin's doggy twin.

Recently, Justin has become an entrepreneur as he begins to build some structure around his passively multiplayer online game. I'm trying to help him out with this process.

I've really been enjoying watching Justin develop over the years, never losing his super-happy, honest, fun and spazzy core. He's one of the most lovable bundles of energy that I know. He's also great because he's always pushing me to be more social and proactive.

Pearl and Howard Rheingold

According to Wikipedia, "Howard Rheingold (born July 7, 1947) is a critic and writer; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing)."

I met Howard a long time ago by Internet standards - in the early 1980's... before The Web. *gasp* We were both heavily involved in online services and their forums like The Source, CompuServe, The Meta Network, Delphi and others. We were both part of an organization called "The Electronic Network Association". I think that Howard was the editor of the Whole Earth Review back then. I was still in High School and Howard was a distant guru-like figure for me back then.

Later, when I moved to (part of my base) to San Francisco, I got to know Howard better and he became one of my cyber-gurus who together with Timothy Leary, taught me the history of the Hippy and New Age movements and got me plugged into that corner of the San Francisco universe.

Howard has invited me to his home a number of times for long chats while walking in the mountains or sitting in his garden. Listening to Howard talk about his garden and his life in this environment is super-inspiring and is one of the main reasons that I've recently thrown myself into trying to grow my own food and make my own compost.

Howard is incredibly well read and has provided me with more life-changing books than anyone else I know and has recently succeeded in getting me to start drawing and thinking of art in a new light. This has been a big factor in my increased attention to the quality of my photography.

Howard contributed to my business history as well. In 1993, Howard wrote about me in an article in Wired and also mentioned me in his book, The Virtual Community. Cyrus Shaoul, a fellow ASIJ graduate, read the article and sent me an email about wanting to get together. This eventually led to the formation of Eccosys, my first successful company.

Scott Fisher

According to Wikipedia, "Scott Fisher is Professor and Chair of the Interactive Media Division in the USC School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, and a Fellow of the the Annenberg Center for Communication there. He is an artist and technologist who has worked extensively on virtual reality, including stints at NASA, Atari Research Labs, MIT's Architecture Machine Group and Keio University."

When I first moved to California, Timothy Leary, who I had recently met in Tokyo, picked me up at LAX and took me to his house where he had a party and introduced me to his network and extended family in Los Angeles. That weekend, Tim drove my sister, mother and me to San Francisco where he organized a party for us at the Mondo 2000 house. He introduced us to a huge number of people at that party. We first met Scott at that party.

Scott had either just set up or was setting up Telepresence Research, a virtual reality (VR) research company. I was very interested in VR at the time and VR was actually how I first connected with Tim. Scott was looking at Japan as an important market so I joined Telepresence Research part time to help Scott with business development in Japan.

This position mostly involved helping Scott and his partner at Telepresence Research at the time, Brenda Laurel, set up meetings in Japan and providing translations for their presentations at these meetings for them. It was a great way to learn about VR as well as meet all of the people doing cool things in Japan in this space.

During this period, I was mostly living in Japan and my sister started a program at Stanford. Before I knew it, Scott and Mimi were a "thing" and Scott became my brother-in-law. In Japanese, if you marry a younger sister, you are considered a "younger brother-in-law" and in most formal settings are required to walk behind the older brother etc. I tease Scott to no end about this.

But Scott's a great brother-in-law and has become one of my closest confidants and best friends.


May 31, 2006 - 10 years since Timothy Leary's death
March 20, 1995 - Hanging out with Timothy Leary

John Perry Barlow

According to Wikipedia, "John Perry Barlow (born October 3, 1947) is an American poet, essayist, retired Wyoming cattle rancher, political activist and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead."

Barlow is one of my best friends who connects to a large number of my different networks. I first met Barlow through Timothy Leary. Timothy was always generous with his network and Barlow was one of the first people Tim introduced me to. Barlow became a friend of the family and we spent a lot of time together.

Barlow and I have talked a lot through the years about the differences in our cultures as well as the similarities. Barlow introduced me to a whole part of America that was previously unknown to me. He took me to my first and only Grateful Dead show at Shoreline. I visited Barlow at his home in Pinedale, Wyoming where we drove through a double rainbow in one of the most memorable of drives through American scenery that I can remember.

At his home, we schemed about writing a book, but we were not able to stay focused long enough to get it going.

Lately, we invite each other to conferences and run into each other like randomly molecules bumping into each other in brownian motion. He is one of the few people who travel as much as I do.


May 31, 2006 - 10 years since Timothy Leary's death
March 20, 1995 - Hanging out with Timothy Leary

I've been musing about putting together a book of photos or something and have been experimenting with various printing services like Lulu. Recently Carl Malamud pushed me to go forward with this idea. I decided that instead of waiting getting some sort of final book thing, I'd start by just posting Flickr portraits on this blog and writing blurbs about the people in a new "people" category on my blog.

Later, I can decide whether this ends up in something worthy of a book. I've been contributing my photos to people's Wikipedia entries, but I think this form allows me to be a bit more personal about what I can say about the people and provides the reader with the PoV that is absent by design in Wikipedia.

Also, if I do ever end up putting together a book, I might include things the comments so feel free to post things you think might be good to add on that person's page. Also, I guarantee that the book will be CC BY licensed and available for download as well. Of course it will be available here as it unfolds.

Hopefully, this new project will help me get back into tending for my blog. ;-)

Pat recommended I try to Pclix for time-lapse. Just recorded dinner in our living room using my Canon 5D. Pretty interesting effect. Now to find something more interesting to shoot.

(5 MB .mov of the dinner)

UPDATE: Put together a day's worth of time-lapse with Wataridori 2 by Cornelius. (29 MB mp4)

Pierre Omidyar

Good news. Pierre made BusinessWeek's list of Entrepreneurs for the Ages. Congrats Pierre! And... they used my photo of him. Yay!

Bad news. They didn't give me attribution. It's the ONLY thing I ask people do with my photos since they're Creative Commons Attribution licensed. It doesn't cost them anything... and they're crediting the photos by Getty Images.

/me shakes fist at BusinessWeek

The original Flickr image is here:

I suppose they might have found it on Pierre's Wikipedia article. But... clicking on the photo shows the license.

UPDATE: I wrote them a letter and they sent me an apology and fixed article. Thanks BusinessWeek!

Front yard on hazy morning

Jet lag woke me up again at 3AM so I watched the Adobe Lightroom stuff on Lynda. I learned how to control more things in post-processing so I went out into the foggy and hazy sunrise to take some photos in the yard to play with in Lightroom. I still have a lot to learn, but I think I have a better handle on how to deal with overcast lighting... Which is good since it's rainy season in Japan right now and overcast a lot.

I also learned how to fix chromatic aberration which I used today on one of the images.

I thought about whether I should go back to a more journal-like form for my blog or start writing more stuff on Flickr. I seem to be spending more time responding to comments on Flickr these days than on this blog. I suppose my online presence needs an overhaul.

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