Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Recently in the Japanese Culture Category

Conversation with Kathy Matsui, Chief Japan Strategist for Goldman Sachs »

I've known Kathy for years from when I was an entrepreneur in Japan and later when I was a "business executive" and a member of things like Keizai Doyukai (Japanese Association of Corporate Executives). We were sometimes on panels together and would run into each other a lot at various meetings. Kathy, as the Chief Japan strategist for Goldman Sachs would often be about the important trends that were affecting Japan. I caught up with her recently to learn about women's role in Japanese business, business culture and a bit about Kathy's background and path. Audio on iTunes and...

Video of Timothy Leary in Japan circa 1991 »

Wow. An amazing blast from the past. Saw this on Facebook yesterday. This is from when I was spending a lot of time with Timothy Leary. I was his adopted "God Son" and was working on a book with Tim called "The New Breed" which we never finished. The book was about the new generation of tech-empowered young people who were trying to "tune in, turn on, take over" instead of "tune in, turn on, drop out," a famous Timothy Leary quote. This is footage from a bus ride when Tim was visiting Japan for a conference. Zack Leary...

Japan and its GDP »

I find that the Japanese, myself included, use the phrase, "Japan is the world's second largest GDP" as some sort of mantra to try to keep Japan relevant in a world that is exceedingly uninterested in Japan. I was talking to Oki Matsumoto, a good friend and the CEO of Monex about this. He told me about a talk he gave at Keio University about the increasing irrelevance of Japan and showed me the following slides which I post with permission. This first slide is the percentage of the world GDP of various countries in 2004 and projected in 2050....

Life and death on the Tokyo metro »

I ended the work day with a study group and an expert guest where we discussed the Japanese legal system. Although there were some small signs of hope, I find that the more I learn about how things really work, the more pessimistic I get about causing actual change in Japan. As I pondered the futility of revolutionary activities in Japan, I jogged to try to catch the train to connect to the commuter train for my 1.5 hr shlep back to my home. As I entered the station, I noticed an unusually large crowd of people on the...

Enjin01 in Niigata »

Got back yesterday from the Enjin01 event in Niigata. The theme of this year's event was laughter. (Flickr set here.) Enjin01 is a Japanese non-profit that I helped start. It is a funny mishmash of people including artists, business people, politicians, academics, journalists, novelists... just about every kind of background you can imagine. It is a membership organization with about 180 people. It is a totally volunteer organization and no one gets paid for talks we give or activities we participate in and it is funded by membership fees from the members and corporate donations. Some members give a...

Enjin01 talk to Jr. High School students in Yamagata »

Students of Nagai Minami Jr. High School Several years ago I helped start a non-profit organization in Japan called Enjin01. The leader of the organization is Shigeaki Saegusa, a sometimes crazy, but a very giving, thoughtful and inspired person. He collected a number of notable people and called out to a diverse group of "cultural figures" including company executives, writers, architects, actresses, educators, academics, artists, political figures and musicians. The group is now about 100+. We have annual meetings where we visit a region of Japan and work closely with the local community to produce a volunteer, free-of-charge event...

Otetsudai Networks »

Screen showing all of the peopleavailable to work on a map. Last week I met Mr. Sunagawa from LocationValue Inc. that runs Otetsudai Networks. Otetsudai Networks is a very cool service that is one of these "perfect for Japan" things. Because of the advanced aging population and the tendency for many of the younger generation to not be in a hurry to lock down full-time jobs, businesses are having an increasingly more difficult time filling posts - so much so that some businesses are having to close down, not because of lack of business, but purely because they can't...

Shibuya in the morning »

Shibuya Center Gai I spent High School in Japan. I lived in Shibuya and went to The American School in Japan in Chofu. I grew up in Shibuya. Back then, in the early 80's, Shibuya was a hot area of Tokyo. Brands like Van Jacket, Domon, Jun, etc. and the "Shibuya Casual" or "shibukazi" scene were getting a lot of attention. Shibuya was full of bars, clubs, restaurants, clothing shops and places to just hang out on the street. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time "on the street" buying liquor from vending machines, chasing rats and...

Kyoto »

Just got back from visiting Kyoto with Reid, Michelle and Mizuka. Posted some photos to a Flickr set. Also posted a short chat with Reid about venture business in China and Japan in mp3 (8.9 MB) and ogg (15.3 MB) formats....

Kaoru Yoshimura »

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...

Ismhunting »

I wrote a post awhile ago about Chuoism. Chiba Newtown Chuo is a designed from scratch community in the middle of nowhere near my house. The town has the feeling of Japanese consumer culture for the masses that someone decided to spin by calling it "Chuoism". I always thought it was a funny word. On my way home today, I decided to get off of the train at Chiba Newtown and go Ismhunting and try to capture some of the Ismism with my camera. I've posted some of the images in an Ismhunting Flickr set. I am an ismhunter....

Japanese racism - available now at convenience shops near you »

From the Magazine.In Japanese it says:"Oi Nigger!Don't be touching a Japanese girl's ass!" Ejovi, Fukumimi and JapanProbe blog about a mook (magazine/book) published by Eichi called "Gaijin Hanzai Ura File" or "Foreigner Crimes Secret File". Crimes by foreigners have been a central talking point of the right wing in Japan including Governor Ishihara of Tokyo. This story of foreign criminals being a public issue is a very old political position. For instance, after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, The Home Ministry declared martial law and blamed the Koreans for crimes. Rumors spread blaming Koreans for looting, arson and even poisoning...

Chuoism »

I live in a small village in Chiba. Our village has no city water, city gas or city sewage. In other words, we have a well for water, have a big propane tank for our gas and have a septic tank that gets emptied twice a year or so. Our town has agricultural roots, but mostly these days it is a sort of sleepy town where about half of the people work for the local government in one way or another. I think we were the first "new family" to move in in decades. About 10 minutes away by...

Shinto ritual for pruning our Shii Tree »

In the woods behind our house we have a Castanopsis cuspidata, or 椎 (Shii) tree. It is one of the largest and most elder trees in our village. It overlooks our house and is on a ridge. Over the years, it has grown more on the side facing the sun and is beginning to stress the tree and is at risk of falling onto our house. The next door neighbor who helps us with our gardening told us that we needed to prune the tree, but that we needed to pay proper respects to the spirit of the tree. We...

Firefox Cosplay-a-rama »

Danny Choo, who came as a Stormtrooper, was one of many Firefox users who came to Spread Firefox in Akihabara to help promote Firefox by handing out flyers and talking to pedestrians. Danny has uploaded some photos as well. Cosplay is a practice with origins in Japan that came out of the Anime community where fans dressed up as their favorite Anime characters. The culture is spreading to the US, but Akihabara is one of the centers of Cosplay. Wikipedia has a good article on Cosplay. It turned out that a number of Firefox users were Cosplay fans and...

Dialog - Ryu Murakami X Joichi Ito »

Ryu Murakami (WP) and I spent the last nine months or so meeting occasionally to chat about Japanese culture, politics, media and the economy. Creative Garage and Diamond Shuppan transcribed our conversation and published it as a book. (You can buy it on Amazon.co.jp.) The book came out last week and climbed to #6 on the Amazon.co.jp book rankings and is slowly settling back down. (It's #14 at the time of this posting.) That was pretty exhilarating. Having said that, Ryu Murakami is "the name" on the book. Anyway, thanks to everyone who helped on the book and especially to...

Aizu does not forgive »

I'm sitting in an airport lounge remembering a story I should have blogged earlier. A few weeks ago when I was in the city of Aizu in Fukushima, Japan, there was a panel discussion which included the mayor of Aizu. Aizu is famous for being one of the places of the final resistance against the anti-samurai Meji government after Admiral Perry triggered the opening of Japan. It's a famous story involving young solders watching their castle fall after a long siege and committing ritual suicide. It also involves betrayal by their former allies, the Satsuma clan. The story also involves...

Area of Effect »

The Live Door thing is dragging the whole Tokyo Stock Exchange down, but there is particularly high impact on IT companies. I'm sitting in a cab right now talking to the cab driver and he's now convinced that all Internet and IT companies are run by scoundrels. "I knew all of this new economy stuff was bullshit," he says. It will be interesting to see what the long term repercussions will be on our industry. On the other hand, we recovered from the Hikari Tsushin collapse so I'm sure we'll recover from this....

Public floggings »

Last night all TV channels were running "specials" of Horie and his rise to fame and his recent troubles. The newspapers and TV reports were so amazingly detailed you might think they had been preparing these shows for months. The shows remind me of the scenes in movies where the mob throws vegetables and jeer at the accused during public hangings. This swing from hero to villain is a common thing in Japan. However, I think Horie pissed off more than the usual share of big-shots so he's got a number of powerful constituents fueling the flames. Regardless of his...

My personal guarantees »

I spent part of the day today in court. I was defending myself against the landlord of a friend of mine who has been unable to pay rent. I am the guarantor on the lease and the landlord has decided to come after me for the money. This is probably the fifth time that I've had debt collectors of various sorts come after me because of guarantees that I've made. I'm sure people wonder why the hell I keep guaranteeing things. The odd thing is that it is so common in Japan. It is as good as required for any...

Silly sushi video »

A very silly video about sushi....

The responsibility of the Emperor »

One opinion expressed by a member with samurai ancestry was that the Emperor should have committed seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) immediately after the end of the war. Several people agreed. Others suggested that this would have caused a mass seppuku. They cited that under the Japanese bushido code, this would probably have been appropriate. I wonder what would have happened if Emperor Showa had committed seppuku after the war and whether he ever considered this. I assume that although he was technically bound by bushido, he was probably not educated in a strict bushido way... There were other opinions that...

More on Yasukuni »

Per a request in the comments of my previous post, let me post a few more of my notes about Yasukuni Shrine. First of all, it is an independent religions organization not directly affiliated with the government. Over 2 million soldiers are memorialized in Yasukuni. The votes of these relatives have value, but it isn't since the Koizumi days that the media have started picking it up as a big deal. Koizumi ran for office three times before he was successful. The first two times, visits to Yasukuni were never part of Koizumi's campaign, but starting with the third try...

Retreat about the future of Japan »

I'm at a mountain retreat with a 40 or so "leaders" of Japan. I blogged about my first trip and the discussion we had two years ago. It's a cross-sector group of people that get together every year to discuss some big topic. The topic this year is the future of Japan. This is one of the few Japanese meetings of this sort that I continue to attend because of the diversity of the group and the frankness of the discussion. It always feels like I'm peering into the heart and soul of Japan. We covered a number of issues...

On speaking English »

One member of our group pointed out that there was a discussion among G8 members about dropping Japan from the G8. One of the possible reasons is that Japanese foreign minister is often the only one who doesn't speak enough English to participate directly in the conversations. Several of us pointed out that it was bad policy in this day and age to appoint people who don't speak any English as Foreign Minister. One surprising comment was another member asserting that there was nothing wrong with a non-English speaking Foreign Minister. Doh. It's this sort of block headed pride/nationalism that...

A Rock Lee moment »

I'm at the San Francisco airport and after a long wait in line at security, a big grumpy-looking security officer looked at the Rock Lee sticker on my PowerBook. (My sister bought it in Akihabara for me.) He beamed and said, "hey! Rock Lee!" We smiled at each other and had a Japanese Anime moment. Rock Lee is probably my favorite Naruto character. He is pretty uncool, has no magic and wins by just trying very hard. His teacher is also very uncool and they wear these matching silly green jumpsuits. It's interesting to see who people's favorite characters...

Students study Japanese because they like anime »

Mimi @ ChanponAnime and Learning Japanese Culture In her master's thesis submitted to the East Asian Studies Center at USC, Annie Manion argues that among college students in the US, anime has become one of the most important drivers of interest in Japan and Japanese language study. Drawing from surveys and interviews of students taking Japanese language classes and anime club members, Manion suggests that "there is a good deal of overlap" between young people studying Japanese and those involved with the anime fan community. Over half of Japanese language students cited "understanding Japanese anime, music, etc." as one reason...

Yahoo! goes hard gay »

Weird, very Japanese and funny. Yahoo! goes hard gay. UPDATE: I talked a friend of mine who has some elementary school kids. He said Hard Gay is all the rage and that all the kids walk around constantly doing the funny pelvic thrust that Hard Gay does....

Village funeral »

3 days ago, we got a call informing us that the grandfather of the household two houses away had passed away. We knew him fairly well. We live in a small Japanese village with very strong traditional rural rituals. One of them is the funeral. Many of the adjacent homes have a special relationship called musubiai or kumiai, which means that they will do just about anything for their next door neighbor. In the case of a death in the family, it means 24/7 support through all of the necessary activities. For the rest of the village, it means nearly...

Damn "Cool Biz" »

In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, Japan has implemented "Cool Biz". Cool biz facilities keep the temperature at around 28 degrees Celsius (approx 82.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer. It often feels hotter than that. In these offices, people don't wear suits. Most government buildings and many public facilities are now cool biz. First of all, 28 degrees is hot, even with a t-shirt. Second, when you travel around buildings requiring various dress codes, this system doesn't really work. This isn't a new thing, but it appears that it is being implemented with renewed vigor this year. I...

Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life »

My sister, the smarter half of the Ito family duo is an expert on Japanese youth culture and mobile culture. Her book just came out from MIT Press. I've been running around in a scatterbrained fashion all my life trying to reach into academia. She has been immersed in academic rigor but has been reaching out to the public from the inside. Recently, we've begun to cross paths more and more. This book is another step in bridging our worlds. Anyway, I'm totally biased and very proud of my sister, but you should still take my recommendation and buy this...

Aizu Wakamatsu station web cam »

Web cams are old news. I remember how excited I was when I first played with slow scan TV and then with CUSeeMe. I stopped looking at web cams lately, because staring at a coffee pot got boring after awhile. Kenji Eno just sent me a link to the Aizu Wakamatsu station web cam. Again, the content is not that interesting. It is just a train platform. However, the speed and the resolution are so high that you can see people walking and things flapping in the wind. You can hear the announcements and listen to the trains come and...

New York Times Op Ed on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki »

In the middle of my slightly insane two sleepless days at OSCON, I got an email from the New York Times asking me to write an op ed. They wanted me to write about my thoughts about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the bombing. They said the deadline was Friday. "You mean next Friday?" "No, the day after tomorrow." "Oh." My mind was full of open source and the future of the Internet. The atomic bomb and World War II were definitely not on my mind. It would be an interesting...

National IDs and gravestones »

My graveAs I've blogged before, I spent years fighting the Japanese national ID system, pushing for a 3 year moratorium on the bill to allow privacy and security to be fully considered before rolling the system out. Even though our movement had majority support among politicians, the public and even the media, the system rolled out "because it would have caused too much confusion to stop it," according to one senior policy oriented politician. Afterwards, I had a choice of either continuing to protest a running system from the outside, or work on the inside trying to point out issues...

Postal privatization, a dead politican and Yasukuni Shrine »

"LDP lawmaker Nagaoka found hanged" read the Japan Times front page headline today. "Nagaoka who was serving his second term representing Ibaraki Prefecture's No. 7 district, was one of several lawmakers criticized by a magazine for changing positions on postal privatization, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's priority policy initiative. The magazine called Nagaoka a traitor for his actions... Nagaoka opposed the the bills in the ruling party's decision-making General Council but later voted for them in a crucial Lower House vote on July 5. The bills passed by a razor-thin margin of five votes." He left no suicide note and his...

Hanabi »

Fireworks, or hanabi are a hugely popular and very important part of Japanese summer. People get dressed up in traditional Japanese yukata and makes their way with thousands of other people to see hanabi. Magazines and web portals dedicate large sections for information on hanabi, which you can find somewhere almost every weekend during the summer. The Jingu hanabi show is a non-standard because it happens in the middle of Tokyo. (Most are over the beach, bays, lakes or in the countryside.) Jingu is the Tokyo baseball stadium and they pack the stadium with people and shoot fireworks almost right...

Rising Japanese nationalism? »

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the rise of more aggressive nationalist Japanese politicians. The article gives the example of the recent decision to willingness to challenge China, for instance, in the dispute over natural gas drilling in the East China Sea. These politicians, according to the article, are taking leadership away from the bureaucrats who traditionally ran most of the foreign policy. I haven't read much about this and have been away from Japanese politics for awhile, but if this article is accurate, it's a disturbing trend. I think the move for Japan to become...

Nukamiso redux »

Nukazuke is a type of Japanese traditional pickling that requires a special kind of mash that is made from rice husks and a number of other ingredients. This mash is called nukamiso. Some nukamiso is very old and it requires a special touch and constant mixing to maintain the special flavor. Vegetables are typically stuck in the nukamiso overnight or for the day. I wrote a Nukamiso guide was which I last updated in April 1999. Since then, I have moved twice and in the process, killed my poor nukamiso. My original nukamiso seeded from three 50 year old nukamiso's...

Visiting the old capital »

Ever since I blogged about the anti-Japanese protests in China, I have been having a dialog with a number of people about Japanese history. One of my Chinese friends recommended "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan" (Herbert P. Bix) for a more objective and critical view of the Emperor's role in the War. I am reading the book now. I believe this book does a great job of uncovering a fairly systematic coverup by the US occupation and the Japanese media of the role of the Emperor in World War II. However, I do think that Bix tends to...

Differences in meaning of finger chopping in Korea and Japan »

I wrote earlier about the origin of the Japanese the ritual of chopping off pinkies. In Japan, the ritual comes the importance of the left pinkie in the grip of a Japanese sword. Removing the left pinkie is literally disarming and was used to punish people in the past. This has been ritualized and continues to be used by small number of Yakuza and others in Japan as a form of punishment or taking responsibility. This is why I didn't understand why the Koreans were severing their fingers in protests against the Japanese. Two Koreans chopped their little fingers off...

Fandom shows that file sharing can create "gained fans" not "lost customers" »

While preparing for my talk in Melbourne, I was IM'ing with my sister who I steal a lot of my material from these days. We were talking about Naruto, which I blogged about earlier in the context of the Naruto Matrix Reloaded AMV. On the site, the author says, "To clarify, it's as much of a Naruto advertisement as it is a Matrix parody" (emphasis added) We were talking about the amazing fan community around Naruto. If you go to the site that lists the BitTorrent files of Naruto, you will see that fans have subtitled the episodes into a...

Japanese punctuality »

The IHT is running a story on the front page about the Japanese obsession with being on time. The recent train accident in Japan that has caused over 50 deaths was probably caused by the train engineer trying to make up for a 90 second delay. (He had recovered 30 seconds so was actually only 60 seconds behind when the train derailed.) The editors at the meeting I attended at the IHT were talking about running a story on the front page about the Japanese train wreck with the punctuality angle so I was thinking about this on my flight...

The Narutrix Re-Ninja'd »

click image for page with videoMimi @ ChanponThe Narutrix Re-Ninja'd The Matrix continues to be great fodder for transnational cultural ping-pong. While the Matrix creators acknowledge their debts to Japanese anime culture with Animatrix, Japanese fans re-domesticate the Matrix again with Matrix re-enactments. Now, UK anime fandom has brought us The Narutrix Re-Ninja'd, a brilliantly edited parody of the second Matrix trailer, staged in the world of Naruto. Check out manylemons.co.uk for some more fun anime music videos. Thanks Rachel!Amazing example of remix culture. It is rumored that fan remixes or derivative works are more tolerated by Japanese publishers than...

Doraemon iPod mini »

Only in Japan. This had to happen. There is a Doraemon everything in Japan. For those of you who don't know Doraemon, he's the weird alien cat thingie anime character that has lot of weird magical things in his pouch. NTT once made a Doraemon phone. Now there is a Doraemon iPod mini. I still like the Doraemon telegram the best. I use it a lot. I sent on the the Governor of Nagano when he won the re-election. via Andrew...

Another example of Japanese anti-foreigner bullshit »

The Japan TimesPromotion just for Japanese: supreme court South Korean civil servant's suit fails The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a high court ruling and supported the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's decision to bar a civil servant from taking a managerial promotion exam due to her South Korean nationality.They are upholding a Tokyo ban on allowing foreigners to take positions of authority in public services. the ruling is "Based on the (constitutional) principle of national sovereignty and in view of the fact that the people should in the end be responsible for how the central and local governments govern, (the Constitution)...

Gokurousama blog »

iMorpheus has a great blog called the Gokurousama blog.GokurousamaGokurousama means "Thank you for your troubles" in Japanese and it is also the name of this blog. Gokurousama celebrates and recognizes the hard work of others.I say gokurousama when I get out of taxis, when someone as completed a chore or when I pass a gardner. It's similar to, but slightly different from another great Japanese word, otsukaresama. Otsukaresama is less about thanks but still acknowledging someone for some hard work. This is often said when toasting after a hard day of work or after working together on a hard project....

Peculiar Japanese »

I just got back to Japan after a few weeks abroad. It's the longest trip away from Japan that I've taken in awhile. When I was in the waiting area before boarding the plane, which was mostly Japanese, I noticed that the Japanese people seemed peculiar. I remember feeling this in the past after long trips. It's like suddenly I'm aware of weird Japanese body language, fashion, behaviors and facial expressions. It made me self-conscious too. I'm sure this is a pretty common phenomenon, but it was odd because it was disproportionately stronger compared to a one week trip away....

Hello Kitty Blog »

Moblog picture by Hello KittyCopyright Sanrio Co., Ltd.Hello Kitty has a blog. It looks like she's been blogging since July. Unfortunately, it's in Japanese. The press release says that it is a joint project between Sanrio and NTT Data, but according to the blog, Hello Kitty is writing it herself. She asserts that this moblog picture was taken herself. Maybe that's why she's a bit out of focus. She should have had someone take the picture for her. Anyway, welcome to Blogging Kitty-chan. via Andrew and Springveggie...

Followup on the Japanese hostages »

I blogged earlier about the very negative reaction that the Japanese taken hostage in Iraq received in Japan. The main reason was that when the parents asked for their release, they didn't apologize to the Japanese government and even denounced the war. I believe it was a rather unfortunately, but understandable reaction in the context of Japanese culture for the Japanese to say, "we told you to stay away from there, and how dare you cause such shame on Japan without even apologizing." I recently talked to someone involved in the Arab press and learned that if the parents had...

Don't eat cheap sushi »

Gen says, "Don't eat cheap sushi". I agree. I had never heard about the carbon monoxide process before, but it make me not want to eat cheap sushi even more. On the other hand, I guess some places could start raising prices and still serve crap....

Trucks »

Seth and Xeni write about this new American monster pickup truck, the CXT. According to Xeni it is "about 2 feet taller x 4 feet longer than the honkin' Hummer H2. Which, btw, it could tow along with that yacht, if need be." (MSNBC article and debut site) I just bought a 10 year old Daihatsu HiJet pickup truck. I got it because it's small enough to drive on the narrow paths between the rice fields. It can carry as much gravel or dirt as I would be willing to move on any given day. Just about every single...

Metroblogging Tokyo launched »

Metroblogging Tokyo just launched. I'm a contributor, but I haven't written anything yet....

Radio Taiso »

10,000,000 people doing radio taisopicture via KampoOne of the participants of Fat Club uploaded an mp3 of radio taiso (morning radio exercise show) and I just set it to my alarm clock sound. radio taiso was banned by the US Occupation after WWII along with shogi (Japanese chess), all martial arts and a bunch of other things that were considered militaristic. I remember hearing a story on the radio that the original radio taiso came from the US. When life insurance just started as a business in the US, there was an uproar about "betting on people's lives." As part...

Japanese fashion »

Xeni @ Boing BoingWhat are the cool kids in Harajuku wearing? Glad you asked. Link to an online photo gallery with street snapshots from Harajuku station in Tokyo. (Thanks, Todd!) Sailor Bubba Pete sent me this picture. Marc, were you in Harajuku recently? UPDATE: Brian reports in the comments that the picture is not Marc, but Sailor Bubba....

Growing anti-Japanese sentiments among Chinese »

China Photosvia ReutersThe New York Times has an interesting story about the rowdy anti-Japanese crowds at the recent Asian Cup soccer match in China between China and Japan.The New York Times"Kill! Kill! Kill!" the Chinese fans yelled. Or, echoing a patriotic song from another era, they shouted, roughly: "May a big sword chop off the Japanese heads!" What's surprising is not that there were anti-Japanese sentiments, but that the article asserts that such sentiments are on the rise. According to the article, "... increasingly, the most strident criticism of Japan now comes from a generation born long after the end...

Fireworks for free »

Last night I went to see fireworks. There were approximately 22,000 fireworks ignited and an expected turnout of about 320,000 people. You could pay 30,000 yen (around 300 dollars) and get a special seat as a sponsor. Otherwise, you could, like the 320,000 or so other people, find a nice spot and watch the fireworks for free. In fact, there were two other fireworks festivals (Japanese love fireworks) going on within view of the nice spot in the park that we had chosen. Fireworks shows in Japan are sponsored by companies and local governments. The sponsors usually get the...

Mimi on keitai culture »

Mimi Ito (my sister) has some interesting research about mobile phone and Japanese youths on the Vodaphone site. Ironically via Gen Kanai (Mimi never tells me anything)...

'Jap Road' to Get Name Change »

I'm posting this because I've often been asked if I am offended by the word "Jap". The answer is, yes. I am.'Jap Road' to Get Name Change BEAUMONT, Texas (Reuters) - A decade-long fight over a quiet country lane called "Jap Road" ended on Monday when local officials voted to change the racially charged name. [...] "It's our history, it's our heritage. I can remember when it was a dirt road, now it's being portrayed as a racial divide between us and the Japanese-Americans," Earl Callahan, born and raised on Jap Road, told the commissioners. [...] "People believe in this...

Japanese geek status hierarchy »

Boing BoingJapanese geek status hierarchy Fascinating chart of the Japanese geek status hierarchy. Link (Thanks, Zed!)Funny. ;-)...

Izu Conference dinner with Yasuhiro Yamashita »

Last night, I attended an Izu Conference dinner and the guest speaker was Yasuhiro Yamashita. Yamashita is the former Japanese judoka Olympic gold medalist and he is currently teaching at Tokai University and is on the board of the International Judo Federation. He's quite a star in Japan and he talked about Judo and globalization. He started off the talk by showing an interview with Vladimir Putin on Japanese TV. Putin talked about his love of Judo and how he had been a street urchin looking for a way to be tougher when he started Judo, but that Judo taught...

Garbage day in the village »

May 30, or 530. 5 3 can be read "gomi" in Japanese which means garbage. So what does May 30 mean in our village? Garbage 0 day. This morning, I participated with most of the village in picking up trash and junk around the village. Along one of the roads, there was an area that was clearly being used as an illegal garbage dump by many people. There were mufflers, car batteries, toilets, beds, bicycles and even a car dumped there. We spent the morning hoisting this junk out of the mud and carrying it in trucks to a...

Chopping pinkies and swords grips »

I recently started Kendo and had a sore left pinkie after my first practice. The proper grip of a Japanese sword relies on a grip focused on the pinkie of the left hand. Today, I learned that the tradition of chopping the left pinkie as punishment for disgrace was based on this fact. Without a left pinkie, it's quite difficult to grip a Japanese sword. In the May 15 incident the Prime Minister of Japan, Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated by eleven young Naval Officers. After the court martial, eleven severed fingers were sent to the court house. Today, the...

Reaction of Japan to the Japanese Hostages in Iraq »

Several people have asked me to comment on an article in the NYT about the reaction of to the Japanese people to the three Japanese taken hostage in Iraq. The article describes how everyone including the politicians in Japan are angry at the hostages for causing trouble to the Japanese government and being irresponsible. There are many conflicting reports about whether they were reckless or not and what their motives were so I won't comment on that. I also don't feel strongly personally on this issue so I'm not going to make a judgmental point either. What I would like...

Preparing takenoko »

Takenoko are bamboo shoots. We're in takenoko season right now. You take a special hoe and walk around in a bamboo forest until you step on the tip of the takenoko. The best and most tender takenoko are the ones that are barely visible. As they grow larger, they become tougher. You have to then dig around the takenoko, find where it attaches to the root network and chop it at the right angle to get it to come off easily. Then you shuck them. After shucking, a very important step is the aku nuki. Many vegetables, particularly takenoko...

'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan »

It appears that the Japanese agree that 'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan - The Christian Science Monitor. Interest in context of previous comments on post about racial stereotypes in the movie....

Inba Standard Time »

I've spent the last few days hanging out at home holding down the fort while Mizuka has been busy with other stuff. I'm still adjusting to the local time zone. It is primarily an agricultural area so everyone goes to bed at 8 pm and wakes up at 5 or 6 am. Yesterday, the a few of the women from the village came by at 7:30 am to tell me it was my turn to help clean the assembly hall. "When?" "Um... Now." "Sorry, I've got to take my friend to the station and take care of a few things."...

Cosplay community site "Cure" »

The Japanese "sort of equivalent" of SuicideGirls is Cure, a cosplay sight. The biggest difference is that the sexy pictures are not allowed. It's quite an amazing community. There are 5000 layers (comes from Cosplayers) and 30,000 cameko (comes from camera kozo or "Camera Boys"). The layers can be sorted by ranking or by the characters they play. The cameko are otaku who spend their lives taking pictures of the layers and giving beautiful prints of their photos to the layers and sharing them online. The site lets you send these photos to or view them on your mobile phones....

Making fun of changing social norms »

Gen KanaiFunny keitai photo (the caption on the sticker can be loosely) translated as: "Games should be played only in game arcades." (Which is a riff on the fact that it is rude to talk on the mobile phone on the train here in Japan.)The little Sega logo on the top right makes me think it's a Sega ad making fun of people who used to think games weren't for homes. Maybe they were copying the Pepsi/iTunes commercial and glorifying the criminals. I wonder if the expected social norm of not talking on the phone in trains in Japan will...

Jr. Butterfly »

Yesterday, Mizuka and I went to Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno to see the opera Jr. Butterfly. Jr. Butterfly was composed by our friend Shigeaki Saegusa. The libretto was our friend Masahiko Shimada and the conductor was Naoto Otomo. Tenor Shigehiro Sano performs Jr. Butterfly and soprano Shinobu Sato plays Naomi, his love. Madam Butterfly was an opera by Giacoma Puccini based on a story by John Luther Long. Puccini's opera opened in 1904, 100 years ago. Jr. Butterfly is the story of what happens to the son of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. It is set before, during and after...

Japgrish »

Everyone makes fun of the Japanese use of English. (See Engrish) The Chicago Tribune has a story featuring Chicagoans with tattoos Japanese characters and a comparison of what the bearers think they mean and what they really mean in Japanese. Very funny. via MetaFilter and Boing Boing...

Foreigners and Japanese customs »

A lot of people ask me about Japanese customs. They learn the formal way to hand business cards, they bow deeply when they meet Japanese and they call me "Ito-san." Stop that. It's silly. To some Japanese, the awkward foreigners trying to please their hosts by acting Japanese may look cute, but more likely than not, you'll get a A for effort but you'll be forever the silly foreigner in their minds. It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act Japanese and you don't want to be hanging out with those anyway. Keep...

The Last Samurai and the Japanese code of honor »

I just finished watching The Last Samurai. I'm not going to comment on the acting or the historical accuracy, but rather on this notion of a code of honor. Several people told me to watch it because they were impressed with the code of honor in the film. I think there is something comforting about codes of honor and people get goose bumps when they see movies where heros die for honor. Some people identify with the heros as they reflect on the unfairness and loneliness in their own lives. A friend of mine manages the rights to Musashi by...

Similarity between Finnish and Japanese »

New York Times on the Finnish character and comment about similarity to Japanese. So why do these are these two cultures full of repressed emotion, alcoholism and suicide also (sort of) lead the world in mobile phones? What's the connection? Hmm... via Gen Kanai...

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Ad »

I think this is old news on the Net, but the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has produced an ad that is has begun to show on big screens at major intersections now and will soon be on TV. It's a bit embarrassing as a Japanese, but I guess it makes us look less threatening... via Wirefarm See the JMSDF site for the movie....

Just in Tokyo released under CC license »

Justin Hall's guide to Tokyo, "Just in Tokyo" has just been released under a Creative Commons license. It's great for people who want to just dive into Tokyo. Thanks Justin!...

Mustached Japanese soldiers in Iraq and Oshin »

Interesting article by Mike Rogers describing the influence of the popular Japanese TV drama Oshin and mustached Japanese soldiers in Iraq. Also some interesting perspectives about the ability to identify with suffering and Japan's relationship with the Middle East. Alright, think about Oshin. Think about that story and that kind of suffering. I don't think Americans can relate to that. Of course Japanese can. And, get this: Oshin has been broadcast in most Middle Eastern countries for at least the last 12 years. Iran? Sure. According to the Nikkei Shimbun News Oshin scores a remarkable 82% viewer rating; Iraq? Of...

asianmediawatch.net mobilizes against "Lost In Translation" »

asianmediawatch.net has started a campaign to petition the movie industry to vote against "Lost In Translation" for the Academy Awards. My sister blogs about the negative depictions of Japanese in "Lost in Translation". She links to a UK Guardian and New York Times article that point out similar issues with the movie. When I first saw the movie, I thought it was funny. After reading the articles and the asianmediawatch site and thinking about how much influence Hollywood has on the way the world views cultures, I can see their point....

The cultural context of money in Japan »

I'm going to reply to some of the comments on the items, but I thought I'd post this thought I had this morning in the context of the discussion about dichotomies and money/privilege. It is interesting to note that 90% of people interviewed in the US think that people around them respect entrepreneurs while only 10% of people interviewed felt the same way about entrepreneurs. The culture of the US was build during a primarily industrial revolution oriented social backdrop. Japan, however, built a great deal of its culture during the backdrop of an agrarian society. The traditional caste system...

Japanese New Year »

The Japanese holiday season is inverted compared to the US. Christmas is spent as a partying frenzy and as we approach the New Year things slow down. The days before New Year, we spend cleaning our houses and preparing osechi. Osechi is food that keeps well and tastes OK cold. Cooking a lot of osechi allowed the women (who typically did the cooking in the house) to take a break for a few days during the new year. The idea is to cook up a bunch of osechi, eat your noodles, go to the shrine, ask for good luck, and...

Munakata Shrine »

Just got back from Munakata Shrine. This year we moved to a small village in Chiba and Mizuka and I decided to go to the local shrine to pay our New Years respects. At Munakata Shrine, we met many of our neighbors, clensed ourselves and payed our respects. I've just uploaded some photos. Anyway, Happy New Year EVERYBODY!...

Off to Munakata shrine »

Mizuka and I are off to Munakata shrine, the local Shinto shrine for the New Year count-down. We'll be celebrating it with our new neighbors. See you all on the other side!...

Which comes first, technology or social norms? »

A few days ago, I quoted Wendy Seltzer in a entry about building norms together with the technologies.Wendy SeltzerI wondered at first if privacy tensions would ease as more people became more technically sophisticated, but I'm inclined to think that gaps in understanding will just move with the tech, and social norms will follow still further behind.danah responds with an interesting point.danah boydI think it is quite dangerous to believe that social norms are "falling behind." Social norms aren't behind; they're baffled at the direction in which things are going. They're pushing for a different direction and they aren't being...

Mameyoshi becomes a Geisha »

Mizuka and I went to Kyoto yesterday to celebrate Mameyoshi becoming a geisha. Mameyoshi was a maiko until recently. Maiko are young girls who live in okiya and are in training to become geisha They generally start when they are 15-16 and can be identified by their long flowing obi and the fact that they use their real hair for the hair styling. Typically maiko become geisha and become independent when they are 18-20 years old. There are two types of geisha. Geisha who perform with musical elements and geisha who are focused on dancing. Usually, geisha who perform with...

Sanji-Chion-Ji »

Mizuka, Zuiko-san and KaoruMizuka, Kaoru and I visted Sanji-Chion-Ji temple today. Zuiko is the lone abbotess who takes care of this temple. I met her through an introduction of a Monk the last time I was in Kyoto. She was once a politician but decided to throw away her career and become an abbotess. She is now 60 years old, but she has a beaming smile and does not look 60. She welcomed us and gave us a tour. The temple was built during the Oei Period 1394-1428 when the Irie Gosho, an area inside the Kyoto Imperial Palace was...

Stories from Christmas past and brining your turkey »

Justin's post from his Christmas in Japan last year describes the Japanese Christmas experience well. Here is my entry about brining, which is the key to the turkey he talks about. As I was opining to MG the other day, it's all in the bringing. MUST brine the turkey. Innovations in cooking are much more interesting than any of this social software stuff. {{gobble}} {{gobble}}...

Corrupting holidays »

Merry Christmas everyone. Many years ago, I stopped sending Christmas cards. Last year, I stopped sending out traditional Japanese New Years cards and sent email instead. This year, I'm going to stop sending email greetings as well. I hate to be a scrooge, but firing up my bulk mailer, importing my address book and spewing forth my seasons greetings feels way too much like spam. Thanks to my birthday script, I have a way to spread greetings to my friends across the whole year instead of having to pack it all into one day. (By the way, if I don't...

The longest line »

A great QT Movie of the Ginza Apple store opening.Via Markoff

Lockers lower churn for Japanese love hotels »

I was listening to a marketing presentation the other day and learned an interesting fact. As most of you know, Japanese homes are very small so even married couples often go to "love hotels" to make love. Churn was high and customer retention was traditionally very low because most couples like to experiment with all of the interesting features in the variety of hotels. Recently some love hotels started providing rental lockers, which at first sounds a bit counter-intuitive. Married couples found it convenient to store adult toys and other things that they didn't want their children to find in these lockers. These lockers created a relationship between the customer and the hotel and dramatically increased customer retention. Now these lockers are used to store all sorts of "Not Safe For Home" things.Apparently, lockers in almost any industry are a great way to lower churn.

I hope my cosplay didn't start all of this... »

Andy Baio pointed out that maybe my costume party influenced the cover of the bloggers book. Hmm... What a scary thought. At least that would make Kuri-chan the guy with the poo-poo on his head...

Mimi's bento moblog »

Xeni chats with my sister Mimi on NPR and Mimi talks about her bento moblog. The bento moblog reminds me of when my mother used to make bento for me when I was growing up in Birmingham, Michigan. I was HORRIFIED when she would pack onigiri for me because everyone would make fun of my rice ball or call it a bomb. Yikes.

Cosplay or costume? »

Speaking of cosplay, I wonder if my "costume party" last year was actually cosplay. Hmm....

Sabrina »

Xeni wonders about Sabrina. It must be a cultural thing. Seems perfectly normal to me... ;-)Governor Tanaka of Nagano dressed up as a "yashii"copyright Kyodo News

Me, myself and I »

I was reading danah boyd's paper, "Faceted Id/entity: Managing Representation in a Digital World" again and in it she says: danah boydAdam Smith (1976/1790) separates identity into the object versus acting self, while Mead (1934) refers to me versus I.This reminded me of something that I've always wondered if anyone had studied academically.In Japan, we have many pronouns for "I". I personally use several of them. I use ore when I want to be casual and assertive. I use boku when I am casual and humble. I use watakushi when I am formal and assertive, and I use watashi when I am formal but less assertive. There are others. Each one has a different set of memories and social situations where I assert myself. It's a different "I" even though the "me" may be different. My theory is that Japanese can more easily navigate and deal with the multi-faceted identity that danah talks about in her paper because we have so many names for ourselves. Does this make sense?Are there other languages that have a plethora of "I" pronouns? Does anyone know of any academic work in this area?

Why Japanese don't trust the military »

Just had an interesting lunch conversation about the Japanese military. There is a famous Japanese military head. (I didn't catch the name...) who wrote a book about the retreat from China. In it he remembers the military leaving all of the Japanese civilians behind. Okinawa was similar, where the military used the civilians as shields and ran away. This is in contrast to the image from the US where the battle of Iwo Jima and others cast the Japanese military is tough and stick-to-your-guns type. I think Iwojima was a anomaly because the tunnel network required on the island caused the US to underestimate the strength of the resistance.The Japanese remember the military as a cowardly and powerful and remember the police state during wartime Japan and do not want to relive it.I asked another question that came up during the Japan Society meeting about why the Japanese have so much difficulty accepting war responsibility compared to Germany. Japan was united under the Emperor and at the end of the day, all Japanese are guilty whereas in Germany they could blame it on the Nazis. Also, Japan was never invaded so people don't remember the war much, whereas Germany and other countries who were invaded with land forces remember family being killed, etc. There are other reasons, but these were rather interesting.I will post my notes the main session in a bit.

Karatsukunchi »

We went to the Karatsukunchi festival near Fukuoka. We had an great meal including the incredibly rare kue fish. I uploaded some pictures of our meal. There were 14 floats that went past our restaurant. I've uploaded a 2MB mov file.

Enjin 01 open college in Saga »

Asaba-san writing tonpa scriptI'm in Saga right now participating in the "Open College in Saga" organized by Enjin 01. Enjin is a non-profit organization that I participated in starting. I have been a bit delinquent in my participation at the board meetings recently, but I'm still a Vice Representative Secretariat Member of this group. It's an organization of diverse cultural figures and we do a variety of activities. We have seminars, we lobby the government on important policy issues and we organize events in different regions. Last year we did an event at Koyasan. This year, we came to Saga prefecture in Kyushuu. A bunch of us "cultural figures" organized panels and asked local citizens to join us in a discussion.I moderated a panel on democracy and Japan. My panel was Mr. Morimoto, a former Defense official, Mr. Hato, a management consultant and Mr. Takano, an independent journalist. I think it was the consensus of the group that Japan was not a democracy in the typical sense but really much more like a socialist country. Mr. Hato said he was always appalled when people blamed schools, the government and other organs of the state for their problems. Mr. Takano talked about a front page article in the left-wing newspaper of 1000 students marching in Tokyo protesting the fact that they can't get jobs. ;-)

Governor Domoto's visit »

Governor Domoto greeting some of my neighborsGovernor Domoto visited our house after her lecture at the new health hall opening in Inba. We told the neighbors that she would be visiting and that they were welcome to come and meet her. Many of the neighbors brought vegetables and other gifts. They seemed genuinely pleased to meet her. We took a group photo and Governor Domoto told them that I was a good friend of hers and asked them to be nice to me. I OWE you Domoto-san. Thank you. ;-)Domoto-san loved the house. She explored every little bit and said it was perfect. The neighbors explained that they had all contributed their best pine trees to the house and that the house was very important to the community. I promised everyone that we would fix the place up (No one has lived here for over a year and it needs a lot of work.), and I promised to invite Domoto-san back when we have it all done. Pressure... Pressure...

Arnold goes "Chichin Pwee Pwee" »

The entry on Bopuc's blog about Japander.com reminded me of my blog entry about my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger commercials in Japan for energy drinks. This is also relevant to the entry about Lost in Translation since Bill Murray's role is probably what Arnold had to go through. Anyway, definitely worth a look if you haven't seen these commercials already. They're great.

Governor Domoto's going to drop by - must clean house »

I emailed Governor Domoto yesterday to let her know I moved in and became a Chiba resident. She emailed me back and said she was going to be in the neighborhood and would drop by our new house the day after tomorrow. Yikes! Nothing like a little pressure to unpack and clean up the house. I wonder what the protocol is with the neighborhood. This is like some kind of Japanese protocol adventure game...

New neighborhood »

Yesterday Mizuka and I went to visit our new neighbors bearing simple gifts. Our house is in the center of the village and was owned by the head family of the village until they had financial trouble and had to sell to our previous owners. Almost all of my neighbors are spin-off families of the same household. It's quite a small, tight community. It appears that we have have to join the community. This means semi-annual drinking feasts with the neighbors, help with funerals and weddings and a lot of socializing. Since all of the neighbors have the same last name, they are all called by their role in the community or their job. Everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing and there really isn't any privacy. On the other hand, everyone seems to look out for each other and are always available to help. No one locks their doors and there are eyes everywhere.One of the women we met was the widow of the man who built our house and cried when she talked about how much effort was made by him and the community in building our house. There seems to be a great deal of history that we're stepping into and Mizuka and I have to be very sensitive not to screw up our entry into this community.It's quite a shift from the anonymous existence one leads in Tokyo, but it feels like a microcosm of the rather closed community culture of Japan. Comfortable if you conform, but quite difficult if you don't...

ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US »

Last year, I saw Liz Lawley link to an Apron with an Apple Base Station that said "All Your Base Station Are Belong To Us." I thought it was really funny and bought one for my sister. Ever since then, I've seen references to, and have used myself on occasion, this funny grammatically flawed assertion.Last night, Rojisan asked me if I knew where this phrase came from. I didn't. He told me that it came from a mistranslation in a Japanese video game. ??? This morning I saw a link on RageBoy's page to an ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US flash animation. (My first exposure to the images from the actual video game.) A quick Google produced a Wired News article explaining that the game is called Zero Wing from 1989 for the Sega Genesis."I'm obviously the dorky kid coming late to the party."

Lost in Translation »

I just saw Lost in Translation. It was strange watching it in Boston just hours after leaving Tokyo. It was like looking at my moblog... I knew the sushi chef from Ichikan in Daikanyama and the guy who played the producer of the photo shoot, Maki-san. I knew almost every location they shot. Everything was so familiar. It was strange thinking that it must seems so weird to people who haven't been there. It was like being back in Tokyo, but in Boston...I loved the story and Bill Murray was great.It captured Tokyo very well. I thought it was really difficult to get permits to shoot movies in Tokyo. I wonder how they pulled it off.UPDATE: Good post by Jane and a discussion about Lost in Translation on Chanpon. You should read the discussion. Many good points raised. After reading the comments I realize I'm just a sucker for Hollywood movies. ;-)

The Gentle Art of Japanese Bathing »

A post by Antipixel on how to take a bath in Japan.A must read for anyone visiting Japan who wishes to enjoy one of the few great Japanese assets, our hot springs.

Irrational Exuberance a fanimutation based on Yatta! by Happatai »

I received a link from Chris to a fanimutation called Irrational Exuberance by Veloso at verylowsodium.com. It's very funny. It's a flash animation over the Happatai song "Yatta!". Max and James turned me on to "Yatta!" When I saw them in May at FiRe. Happatai are a group of Japanese comedians who released a song back in April 2001 called "Yatta!". It's a very silly song with silly lyrics and a video of them dancing around with no clothes and just a fig leaf. The weird thing about this is that it was slightly funny when it came out in Japan, but the mpeg video of this has been zooming around the Internet in the US and has developed small cult following. this fanimutation by Veloso is just another "derivative work" of "Yatta!" I wonder if this is an example of Japan's Gross National Cool export. Maybe I should contact them and see if they will release the rights for these fanimutations since they are clearly increasing their popularity in the US. ;-)Flash animations over popular or weird songs or "fanimutations" are becoming a funky new art form. People seem to encourage sharing of the flash code. They are another example of a new form of "art" like mashups that aren't really feasible under traditional copyright/licensing. Mixing, sharing and attribution are at the core of this new subculture. If you go to the sites, you'll notice that people go to great lengths to link and attribute.A site with a bunch of Yatta! linksA Japanese site showing how to do the Yatta! dance

Washlets hit 50% penetration »

Washlets are the Japanese version of the bidet. They spray a jet of water that can be adjusted in pressure, angle, temperature. The fancy ones have motion sensors to open the seat and flush automatically. Some create a smell curtain with air jets and filters, others have remote controls, seat heaters, etc. They range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. You really have to try one to understand the appeal, but having a focused warm jet of water is much different than a bidet.During a panel discussion the other day, professor Takeuchi explained that washlets have now reached a 50% market penetration in Japanese households. This is amazing really. So the question was, with all of the talk about culture being Japan's next big export, will washlets be the next big Japanese export?Toto, the Japanese toilet company has an English language page for their very simple washlet. Watch the video, it's great. Thanks for the link Boris!

On CNN Today »

I heard my interview/talking head was just on CNN. Does anyone know where I can see it. ;-)Thanks Gerfried!

Ishihara says Chinese have "criminal DNA" »

I met Tony Laszlo today who pointed out an analysis on Isshoof an article by Governor Ishihara which appeared on the front page of the Sankei Shimbun (one of Japan's biggest newspapers) back in May. I didn't see it covered in any English media so I thought I'd point it out.Ishihara has done some great things for Tokyo, but he is still publicly anti-foreigner in case you had any doubts. Can you imagine Mayor Bloomberg getting away with saying this on the front page of the New York Times? And the Sankei has more circulation than the NYT...Like Don Park, this makes me want to apologize on behalf of my country.Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara"Japan - Defend your Internal Flank!" (Nihon yo - Uchinaru Bouei wo), a column by Tokyo Governor ISHIHARA Shintaro which appeared on the front page of the May 8, 2001 Sankei ShimbunIn due course, the perpetrators were captured, and, just as had been suspected, the crime was one of revenge among Chinese criminals. There is fear--and not without cause--that it will not be long before the entire nature of Japanese society itself will be altered by the spread of this type of crime that is indicative of the ethnic DNA [of the Chinese].

Japan's Gross National Cool »

I was talking to Halley today about being cool. American's think they're pretty cool, but the Japanese are getting pretty cool these days too.At the Japan dinner that I MC'ed this year, Tony Kobayashi, the former head of the Association of Corporate Executives talked about the Foreign Affairs article on Japan's Gross National Cool. Maybe Japan's coolness can save it. This was also the topic of the CNN interview that I did which should air any day now on CNN International when they find a boring day to fill. ;-pForeign AffairsJapan’s Gross National CoolJapan is reinventing superpower—again. Instead of collapsing beneath its widely reported political and economic misfortunes, Japan’s global cultural influence has quietly grown. From pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and animation to cuisine, Japan looks more like a cultural superpower today than it did in the 1980s, when it was an economic one. But can Japan build on its mastery of medium to project an equally powerful national message?

Behead parents of boy suspect, minister says »

Japan TimesBehead parents of boy suspect, minister saysYoshitada Konoike, state minister in charge of deregulation zones and disaster management, said Friday the parents of the 12-year-old youth suspected of slaying a 4-year-old boy in Nagasaki should be dragged through the streets and beheaded. "It is better to have the parents decapitated for punishment after dragging them around town," said Konoike...Konoike's remarks drew a barrage of criticism, but he refused to apologize. "You better not do that, or we'll drag your parents around town and chop of their heads..." Sheesh.

Meiji-era banking practice of personal guarantees cause of suicides »

Japanese banks have a tradition of taking personal guarantees for corporate loans from the businessmen as well as their families. For instance, I was personally on the hook for millions of dollars at one of my first companies, Digital Garage, until we secured enough outside financing to pay off our debt, which in Japan is often the only financing available to new companies.The Japan Times reports that this is a significant cause for the high suicide rate in Japan that I often write about. There are over 30,000 suicides a year in Japan, mostly be older men. It is more than three times the number of annual traffic accident deaths. The article describes people whose businesses go bankrupt or are unable to pay their debts and how this destroys the lives of loved ones and friends around them as banks run to collect from the guarantors. The people commit suicide in shame. Also, most people in Japan buy life insurance to cover most of their outstanding loans. The suicide, if executed properly will relieve these unintentional victims of the burden of paying off liabilities.I have personal guarantees on many loans and have actually had to cover several payments for friends and others that have defaulted on their loans. The fact that it is such common practice in Japan makes it a real sleeping problem that faces society here as the economy continues to get worse. Another big problem with these guarantees is that they are difficult to assess and make quantifying default risk for banks difficult. Credit assessments for individuals who are exposed to such guarantees is also very difficult.

Are Geisha Prostitutes? »

Marc CanterThe Japanese have elevated prostitution to a fine art.  There are many grey areas - between pure hooker (who are usually Chinese or Phillipina girls) versus Geisha.  Hostess bars plop a beautiful woman down - in between each business man - who put their hand on your knee, laugh at your jokes and pour your drinks.  They then accompany you outside and hail a cab for you.  But sex is never a part of the equation.  Lots of blond and buxom American and Europeans are imported for both hostess bars and strip joints, but only a pure bred Nippon Jin (Japanese) can be a Geisha (do don't believe that Shirley MacClaine movie!)  Japanese actually take pride in their Geisha tradition. I'm not going to take a moral stand here, but will try to point out some interesting facts and thoughts that this quote from Marc Canter highlights.First of all, it's amazing what gets lost in the translation and the difficulty I am having in explaining the whole geisha thing really shows how different cultures can be.I think almost all cultures have prostitution and I don't think Japan's sex industry is any different, but you're more likely to get a Jr. High School girl in Shibuya offering sex for many than a geisha.

Japanese Suppon Snapping Turtle at Daiichi »

Mizuka and I went to Daiichi, my favorite restaurant to eat Japanese snapping turtle, or suppon. I've written about Daiichi before here. So I'll focus on photos for this entry...Here is a 176K MPEG movie of the boiling stew...

131st Annual Miyako Odori »

Mizuka and I attended the 131rd Annual Miyako Odoro. We have attended every year since we met. It is the annual event where the geisha of the Gion district perform their traditional dance. The event is open to the public, but is a lot about the patrons of the tea houses getting a chance to see the geisha and maiko perform their art that they practice so hard to perfect through the year.

Mori Buildings Roppongi 66 Opening Party - 1500 of Mr. Mori's closest friends... »

Today was the opening party for the new Mori Buildings Roppongi Hills development in Roppongi. "The project, covering approximately 11 hectares, with a total floor area of 724,000sq meters, is the largest currently planned redevelopment project in Japan." I was on one the Cyber 66 committee at one time which was a planning committee to try to figure out what to do about the radio spectrum "shadow" the building would cast and what to do about the IT infrastructure.

Economist article on Japan's bad IT »

Brian Barry writes in The Economist about how little Japan has leveraged IT and how this is still the source of inefficiency. He also gives some examples of companies that are using IT to change Japan. I agree with him totally and think that in addition to unwiding some of the big companies that don't make sense anymore, improving the cost performance of the exisiting companies can greatly increase the profitability of Japanese companies which is key.

The impact of the US occupation on my family »

My sister blogs a great view of the US occupation of Japan from the perspective of how it affected our family. Very relevant to the current situation in Iraq.

Japanese guy with long hair makes a chonmage »

A Japanese guy (site in Japanese but great pictures) with long hair cuts his hair to make a chonmage.

Clap to vote »

A custom that is common in Japan is that instead of the US style "motion", "second", "all in favor say..." process, many Japanese boards clap to vote yes. There isn't a clear way to show your lack of support for an issue other than not to clap. From a governance perspective, this clap to vote method seems to lack... robustness. ;-p

The Tokyo University Forest in Chiba »

helping plant a tree with Governor Domoto at the Tokyo University Forest in Chiba.Yesterday, we visited the Tokyo University Forest in Chiba. It was established in 1894 and has been vital in studying forestry issues. In the book Dogs and Demons, Alex Kerr writes about how the national policy to plant Cedar is misguided and is the cause and an example of many of the problems in Japan. He uses it as an example of bad bureaucratic policy and inability to change once something is on track. We talked a lot about the cedar problem. We saw sketches by researchers from the early 1900's trying to think about how to manage forests and increase productivity. This planning didn't look or sound nearly as stupid as it sounds in the book. Also, the problem with forests and big forest projects, is that they are quite difficult to change. The Tokyo University Forest is a multi-generational project and has some research projects that are now almost a century old. It seems understandable that the researchers in 1900 didn't realize that Japan would be aging and importing in 2003... So, the take-away for me was that although Kerr's book captures many of the facts, it didn't seem like the researchers were as ignorant, stupid or evil as you might think after reading Dogs and Demons. They are concerned and are trying to figure out what to do and there is the problem of a bureaucracy with a lot of inertia that they must deal with.

Didn't pay the Gods for protection this year »

Stall with young priestesses selling charmsEver since I was co-CEO of Digital Garage, I participated in a common practice in Japan which involves going to the local shrine, paying them for a ritual blessing and receiving a variety of charms for protection and good businesses which you display in your office. After the ritual, our tradition was to go to the office and slam full glasses of sake and say our New Year's resolutions. (And get wasted.) This year, our pragmatic chairman Jun moved that we don't do this anymore. We took a vote and decided not to pay the Gods. Having said that, the only official way to dispose of the charms from last year is to return them to the Shrine to have them ritually burned. So I gave a little money, took a sip of the ritual sake with my small team of charm returners (again, scenes from The Lord of the Rings come to mind...) So, we'll see what happens to our business this year without "protection."

Reporters Without Borders is publishing the first worldwide press freedom index »

I can't believe Japan is #29. I think it should be lower... but I guess they don't kill reporters in Japan... they just co-opt them. I guess it depends on what you call "press freedom"...Reporters Without BordersReporters Without Borders is publishing the first worldwide press freedom index Reporters Without Borders is publishing for the first time a worldwide index of countries according to their respect for press freedom. It also shows that such freedom is under threat everywhere, with the 20 bottom-ranked countries drawn from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The situation in especially bad in Asia, which contains...

BBC Reports on Hikikomori - Japanese Mental Health »

An article in the BBC News about hikikomori a common form of mental illness in Japan where kids lock themselves up in their room and don't come out. They say it is a unique Japanese phenomenon. I think we should look at the mental illness issue in Japan generally. As I keep writing here, suicides are among the top in the world as well. Many people have the misconception that just because Japanese sing karaoke and go drinking a lot, Japanese don't have stress. But it's the "don't worry... just try harder..." speech during these drinking sessions that drive people...

Suddenly a co-author of a book on the Japanese National ID »

I had asked Gosuke to ghost write a short article for the Tokyo Shimbun (newspaper) based on a discussion with me. It was about the problems with the National ID. (I DID review it.) Then, I was asked to write an blurb in a book about the National ID so I asked Gosuke to add some more of my thoughts to the aritcle and we gave it to the publisher. Before I knew it, with the mere contribution of a 2 page ghost-written article, I was the co-author of the book, my name on the front of the book...

Being fasionable in Japanese business society »

The picture is from the shoene (Cool Suit) Page.Yesterday was probably one of the hottest most uncomfortable days I've ever had from a fashion perspective. We were all wearing suits and ties from 9am to 8pm sitting in the same room of a Japanese government building with the themostat set at the official 28 degrees (which is 82 degrees fahrenheit) for government buildings. This energy saving policy is a good thing from a tax paper perspective, but pretty tough for someone like me who isn't used to it. This policy prompted a whole line of energy saving suits. Former Prime...
Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

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