Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Recently in the Japanese Culture Category

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 SoundCloud.

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 remembers watching the the fall of the Soviet Union on TV during the trip so we guess it's probably 1991. This is also the first time I met Marvin Minsky and his wife Gloria. I remember translating a "debate" between Marvin and Tim where they were arguing about whether humans had a soul. Tim said yes and Marvin said no. "The Society of Mind" had just come out in Japanese. To Marvin's dismay, it turned out that in Japan, the word for "mind" and "soul" were the same and were closer to the definition of "soul." The Japanese publishers had translated the title of his book "Society of the Mind" to "Society of the Soul" and Timothy poked Marvin with glee. Tim and Marvin had a very playful and fun relationship with clashing world views - but their interaction was always fun and enlightening to listen to.

The video also shows an embarrassingly young and naive version of me still struggling to translate Tim's words into Japanese and little Zach Leary as well!

We were such troublemakers. I guess we still are.

PS Tim mentions VR (this was during VR boom #1), Hyperdelic Video and Anarchic Adjustment.

PPS David Pescovitz just posted the video over on Boing Boing as well.

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. On the far left is the US at 38.3% in 2004 and a diminished but significant 20.3% in 2050. Japan however goes from 15.4% in 2004 to 4% in 2050. Still 2X that of Italy's projection, but not the mammoth we seem to think will will continue to be. The first yellow block is China and the second one is India. Clearly they are the big growth markets according to the predictions.

You may say, well that's 2050. That's a long time from now.

The second image shows Japanese GDP plotted from 1980 to 2006. It shows our once 18% GDP down to a a modest 9.1% in 2006. Furthermore, the text on the right explains that we've gone from the world's highest GDP per capita to the world's 18th.

It's really no wonder we're having a hard time getting attention in Japan. With an aging population and a less-than-competitive economy, there are ways to manage, but you don't get there by denying the facts and continuing to beat you chest IMHO.

Shibuya Toyoko Line 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 platform.

The PA system announced a delay due to an accident. Japan has over 30,000 suicides a year (one of the highest rates in the world) and 800 or so of them as a result of “train accidents”. As I crammed myself into the standing-room-only train full of drunken businessmen, tired “office ladies” and shriveled old people, I thought about what kind of person might have jumped in front of the train this time.

As we approached the station where the accident occurred, the train came to a stop and the conductor apologized again for the delay. They shut down the motors as we waited and the everyone was silent and still. As I looked around at the tired people with their blank looks, it felt like we were all involuntarily mourning the death of another person in Japanese society who had to give up.

When I arrived at at my home train station, Mizuka was there to pick me up. I shared my depressing thoughts and she scolded me for being so down. When we got home, our dog Pookie yapped away and almost blew these thoughts away, but I decided to share them with you anyway.

Dancers 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 percentage of their normal lecture fees to the organization as well. I was involved in the selection of members and setting up the organization a lot at the beginning, but am mostly just a member now.

One of the activities that we do is go teach at Jr. High Schools that want us to go. Any Jr. High School can sign up for us to dispatch teachers on our websie. I blogged about this earlier. We also have a group that focuses on trying to change government policy, especially in the area of taxation of donations to non-profits.

The main activity of Enjin01 is to organize an annual meeting in a different region of Japan each year. Most of the members attend this annual meeting. The meeting is organized into a few plenary talks, a bunch of workshops and panels, and a “yagaku” where we go to dinner with people from the local community. We also usually have a closed meeting where the members meet an invited guest.

The program committee assigns the participant members to various panels and different “yagaku”. This year, I was assigned to a panel about IT, which is par for the course.

I was also assigned to be on a panel at a workshop lead by Koichi Inakoshi to learn about and actually participate in photographing a nude model. I had never photographed a nude model before so I was quite nervous at the beginning. Mr. Inakoshi started by explaining that we should think about the beauty of the model and imagine looking at our own bodies while we are bathing. He told us to try to imagine and see the beauty of the human body. After showing us some of his nude images, he told us to try taking photographs ourselves.

The audience was also invite to participate. The audience probably consisted of 50% women and maybe 50% of them over 40 years old. The panel, which I was on, chose a number of winning photos. One of the women who won a prizes was wearing a kimono. I wish I had a photo of the woman in a kimono photographing a nude model. ;-)

One side-effect of this session was that I ended up with some nude photographs. I posted them in Flickr flagged as “Moderate” and “Hide this photo from public searches”. I still got a few people telling me that they were surprised and a thread started on one of my photos about nudes and sensitivity about nude images. After reading a bunch of posts about nude vs naked, I realized this is an old and deep discussion online. The collapsed context of the Internet forces us to deal with these cultural differences in a very real way. With nudes, I find that even in the same society, there is a very wide range of sensitivity levels. One curious thing is why people turn “safe mode” off when they don’t want to see nudes…

Charles Robert Jenkins The special guest for the closed member meeting this year was Charles Robert Jenkins, the former US Army soldier who lived in North Korea for 39 years. He gave us a very candid and real account of his time in North Korea and while some of the facts and assertions were interesting and shocking, his personal account of his day-to-day life in North Korea left the strongest impression. He now lives in Niigata, Japan.

The “yagaku” can be hit or miss, but this year it was a lot of fun. The deal with the “yagaku” is that we choose a dozen or so local restaurants and several members are assigned to each venue. Then all of the local people are invited to join us to dinner where we are the hosts. We learn a lot about the local culture and they get to spend “quality time” with us. This year, I sat with a number of women who had worked in Tokyo at companies like Fujitsu and Intel but returned to Niigata after getting married. We talked about how to use the net to “stay in the loop”.

Ken Mogi One of the highlights of the event was getting to hear Ken Mogi speak and having time to chat with him a bit. In addition to being one of the most brilliant people I know, it turns out that he has a very funny and rich personality.

Next year, we will be holding the event in Nagoya. Anyone is welcome to join us.

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Nagai Minami Jr. High School students
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 open to the public that includes workshops and talks.

In addition to the annual event, we recently started a program where any Jr. High School can fill out a form on the site and request Enjin01 to dispatch a number of us to teach at the school. So far we haven't turned any requests done and have done quite a few I understand.

Last week, I participated for the first time. Four of us went to Nagai Minami Jr. High School in a small town in Yamagata. The Shinkansen (bullet train) stopped about 20 min away so it was fairly convenient, but still took me over three hours from home one-way. However, the travel wasn't the hard part...

Although I am on the board of Nishimachi International School which has a Jr. High, I had never really had to stand in front of a Jr. High School class and teach. They had scheduled two classes of 35 or so students each.

It was probably one of the hardest talks I've ever given. I had forgotten what it was like to be in Jr. High and also realized that Jr. High in Yamagata was probably quite different from Nishimachi. I tried very hard to connect to the students, but the combination of their shyness and my lack of context made it very difficult.

In the end, it was a great experience. A few of the students were visibly excited and the "wrap up" session where all of the students and teachers got back together and reported back showed that at least the kid who reported back was listening.

I do think that speaking to Jr. High School students who really don't know or much care about your real-world importance/fame is good for the soul and refreshing. I recommend it to people who are mostly speaking at industry conferences to the same crowds. ;-)

Anyway, my hearty thanks to our hosts in Yamagata and I hope it was worth it for all of you too.

I've posted some images to Flickr.

Screen showing all of the people
available 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 staff their stores.

My sister has written about the Japanese youth behavior where less and less stuff is planned - the kids going out and using their mobile devices to meet up or deciding to do things while constantly keeping in touch with each other. These swarming bands of kids are now adults and many of them don't want to be tied down.

These "kids" are not becoming adults. In a recent survey by Otetsudai Networks, most people surveyed cared more about freedom and flexibility than the pay when considering a part-time job.

Enter Otetsudai Networks. With Otetsudai Networks, if you are willing to work, you sign up for the service with your skills and focus, take a GPS reading on your phone and then just hang out. If you are looking for someone for say... 3 hours to man a cash register or help wash dishes, you just send the request to Otetsudai Networks and within minutes, you have a list of people available. The list shows what each person is qualified for, how others have rated their work and exactly how far away they are. Typically you will receive a list of half a dozen or more people within a few minutes.

The businesses are rated too on a per-manager basis so when you're hanging out with your friends and you get a request to go help at the corner convenience shop, you know how your peers have rated that particular guy who's asking you to come and help. You can also counter the request and say you'd go if they paid you 2000 yen / hour instead of 1500.

As more and more people start using this system, it's liable to start filling a very important gap in the workforce. It's also a perfect example of a location based, peer-to-peer reputation based, mobile behavior oriented product for an aging society.

The website is, but most of the functionality is only available on the phone.

Update from Mr. Sunagawa:

1. The English name of the company is LocationValue Inc.
2. Employer will see only the name of applicants rather than all the
available people around. " have a list of people available" may sound
3. primary URL of our web is instead of although
would also be redirected to our site.

UPDATE 2: They have about 45,000 users with 1,000 new users per week.

Shibuya Center gai 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 going to game centers and clubs. Back then, it didn’t really matter if you were underaged and the discos were packed with Jr. High School aged kids. I went to my first nightclub in 9th grade. You could buy bottles of whiskey, Suntory White, in vending machines.

During summers I hung out in the fashion buildings, sometimes helping in the shops and always going out with the designers, shop staff and hair dressers after work. The Japanese bubble was just getting going and everything felt like an endless drunken party and a explosion of consumer brands and excess.

Later, after I first dropped out of college, I returned to Shibuya to run an after hours club at the end of Center Gai. That’s where I met Hyperdelic Video and a lot of my “crew”, many of whom I still work with. I also met Keith who was running Tower Records at the time. I used to have him let me put my club flyers there. I was probably just a scrappy little kid to him then.

When we first moved to Shibuya, we lived in a fancy house paid for by my mother’s employer, ECD. Later, we had to move to a dumpy little two room apartment made from a converted love hotel. That’s when I hung out the most with Keigo (Cornelius) who was living with his mother in the same apartment building.

Walking around Shibuya at 7AM this morning brought back memories of all-nighters and the craziness of my teenage years in Tokyo. I shot some photos and uploaded the set to Flickr.

Performing Gion Kouta

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.

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.

Comme ça Ism
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.

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 the well. A great number of Koreans were killed/lynched. The official number is around 231 killed but independent studies put the number closer to 2,500. (Wikipedia reference). In Jr. High School, I visited the graves of these Koreans, which exists today in the Arakawa district of Tokyo. If it wasn't for this visit lead by our wonderful Japanese Social Studies teacher at the time, I would never have known about this incident. (Thanks Ms. Anami!)

Several years ago, the Governor of Tokyo made a very controversial speech at a graduation ceremony of the Self-Defense Force telling the young soldiers that during a time of national emergency, they may be called upon to protect the people from people of the "third country" - another name for people of Korean descent.

So while I have sympathy for Ejovi and others, I believe that this "good old fashioned racism" in Japan is pretty deep rooted and held by people in high places in government and corporate Japan. I believe this is one of the most important and fundamental ailments of Japanese society today and we need general awareness to increase on this issue. Many foreign business people in Japan look the other way because talking about such things is "bad for business"... The American Occupation decided to let the right wing movement in Japan survive and thrive choosing it as the lesser of two evils compared to the threat of communism from the USSR. The end of the war would have been the perfect time to squash this thing, but we missed that and now we're stuck with a daunting task that will possibly take generations.

I raise this issue whenever I can and have been labeled a "public enemy" by at least one prominent politician because of this. More people need to speak up spread the word.

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 car there is an area of Chiba called "Chiba New Town". The train I take to work stops there after my stop at a station called "Chiba New Town Chuo". Chuo basically means "center". Recently, the trains and stations and other media have been plastered with a huge branding campaign which involves the invention of a new word called 中央ism or Chuoism. I'm not sure exactly what's so "ism" about living in Chuo, but they boast that it is "close" (1 hr) to Tokyo and only one train to Haneda airport (will take you longer than an hour) and by 2010 will have a direct train to Narita airport.

There are huge condos and big malls and shopping centers. I'm not sure how successful this campaign is, but it's really odd to me. People are moving 1 hour away to buy condos in high rises in the middle of a rather beautiful rural area. This "Chuoism" seems like some sort of knockoff of American suburbia with all of the favorite fast food and shop chains in convenient malls. I've eaten there a few times and none of the restaurants are as good as the wonderful small restaurants scattered around the villages nearby.

For the convenience of having city water (probably not as tasty as my well water) and city sewage, you pay approximately 40 times the price per square meter of condo floor space as I did for land at my current house. It is a pretty high premium considering you're sharing the land with everyone you're stacked with and the bulk of the value is the condo which depreciates in value over time.

I guess that they probably had to invent a whole new "ism" to justify the rather illogical behavior (to me) that this sort of satellite suburbia represents. Thanks but no thanks.

Obligatory disclaimer : I visit but don't live there so I don't know all of the perks. I am just not convinced by what I have seen or by the advertising. I apologize if you live in one of these condos and are enjoying your life. Maybe you can chime in and let me know what the appeal is and why it deserves a whole new "ism".

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 prepared the proper offerings and asked a Shinto Priest to come to perform the ritual. The ritual involved putting a rope with Shinto folded paper around the tree. Then a temporary shrine was set up with the offerings. The priest first called the spirits with a chant and opened the sake and other offerings. We then did a ritual where we were blessed, the tree was blessed and we paid our respects to the spirits. Then there was a closing ritual which ended in drinking sake to toast the home and the tree. I took the salt and rice from the offerings table and sprinkled it around the tree.

Immersed in an orchestra of various insects, I stared at our Shii tree for half an hour or so and felt really good. There is something about Shinto ritual that stirs something deep inside.

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 showed up in their wear to help out in Akihabara. They were a big hit. The while maid Cosplay thing is very big in Japan - especially in Akihabara. There are Cosplay Cafes and even Maid Cosplay Cafes. The whole maid thing is an interesting phenomenon and isn't as fetish driven as it might appear at first glance.

Anyway, big thanks to everyone who showed up to helps, especially the Cosplayers. (I blogged about my little Cosplay party a few years ago.)

There is a big event in Kamakura tomorrow so if you're in Japan, please come join the fun.

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 The book came out last week and climbed to #6 on the 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 Ryu.

The book is in Japanese and currently we have no plans to translate it.

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 the Choshu clan which lead the rebellion against the Shogunate/Bakufu. At the time, the Choshu clan had been terrorizing Kyoto, bombing the imperial palace and trying to "steal the Emperor". The history of this period is way too complicated for me to describe in a short post, but suffice it to say that the people of Aizu feel that the people of Choshu are enemies since the days when the Aizu clan was trying to protect the Emperor from the Choshu clan and that the Satsuma people were turncoats.

The panel discussion involved a letter from the major of the city that would have been the capital of Choshu asking the governor of Aizu whether they could forget the past and just get along. The incidents were over 130 years ago. There was a heated debated that involved a lot of cheering and jeering from the audience, but it was clear that Aizu would not forgive these two clans and that most people in the audience didn't even trust many of the politicians such as Koizumi and Abe because they were from Choshu and Satsuma. The panel pointed out that it was it was the victim that should reach out for peace, not the aggressors. One of the panelists pointed out that Koreans have mentioned that it will take 200 years to forgive Japan for its aggression. Considering the fact that Aizu still can't forgive the Choshu after 130 years, I can understand why the Chinese and the Koreans still can't forgive the Japanese.

The conclusion of the panel was that there would be no "forgiveness" but that "dialog" should continue. It was interesting for me to see how much animosity and local patriotism still exists in a country that appears so homogeneous to the outside. It is probably important for outsiders to understand these sorts of things and for reporters to discuss them as well.

Another anecdote that was mentioned several times was that the bodies of the Aizu soldiers were left for months on the battle ground before they were tended to and in the end were not buried in Yasukuni Shrine with other Japanese war dead. Therefore the Aizu people have a much different opinion about the prime minister's visits to the shrine and still hold the "new government" of Japan in disdain.

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.

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 guilt or innocence, I find this public flogging and mob jeering rather disgusting.

My wise attorney in Japan always tells me to try to stay out of the press. There is an old saying in Japan that the press always get to use you twice. They write about you to push you up and they write about you to tear you down. This is clearly the case with Horie.

Things Horie has said in his book and on his blog are being featured prominently in the media. In his book, Horie makes some strong statements. He says that money can buy anything and also talks about cutting chonmage (the samurai hair knots). Both of these statements are stupid and provocative statements in my personal opinion. Note to self: be careful about what you write and say.

This also reminds me of various other public figures that I've known in Japan. I used to work closely with chairman Shima of NHK (the national broadcasting company) and watched as he rose to fame and gained a sense that he was running Japan. I remember being in his office watching a Diet meeting. He grabbed the phone and called someone and told him, "I TOLD so-and-so not to say it that way!" and slammed the phone down. He also regularly told foreign heads of state that he ran Japan. However, when he decided to take on the ruling party and try to make the public broadcasting independent of government control, he was smacked down hard and fast by the LDP. (NHK's budget requires approval by the Diet which is controlled by the LDP.) Ousted with a minor scandal, I remember going to the funeral of his son shortly after his ejection from NHK. The company had ordered former co-workers at NHK not to attended his funeral. Mr. Shima passed away several years later lonely and completely powerless.

There is a long list of people who have been hyped and then smacked down by the media. I would say that those who piss off the media and the ruling party seem to get smacked down the hardest. I know a number of people who have fallen with various scandals, but have rebounded several years later. Many people who were smeared with the Recruit scandal years ago are now back in play.

My advice to people who are thinking of becoming public figures in Japan:

1) Manage media exposure - Take breaks from media appearances and be wary of articles that want to make you look better than you really are. Try to get out from under labels that at first glance may appear flattering but could piss people off or make you look stupid.

2) Don't believe the hype - Obvious point, but EVERYONE seems to get a dose of invincibility madness when the get glowing press and get shuttled around in motorcades. This madness is the weakness that will be exploited.

3) Don't say or do ANYTHING that might be used to tear you down - Japan (not only Japan) is full of situations where people break the law because everyone else does it. Sometimes it feels like securities and corporate statute are at the level of traffic laws - things that can be ignored as long as you don't get caught. The problem is, just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean it won't be used against you. Especially if you are going to take on the establishment, you have to keep yourself squeaky clean.

4) Don't piss people off for fun - There are plenty of situations where people will get pissed off with what you do. There is no point in pissing people off on purpose. Resist the urge.

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 significant transaction such as renting an apartment or borrowing money from a bank. Even government affiliated loans require personal guarantees by people other than the principles.

My first experience with these guarantees was back when I was just starting to work in Japan over 15 years ago. I signed a document that listed a transaction breakdown between two affiliated companies. I thought I was a witness. Later, when one of the companies closed down, the other company (owned by the same parent company) came after me as the guarantor of the transaction. I quickly learned what "to guarantee" means and ended up having to pay.

Since then, briefly as the headmaster of a small school, as the CEO of various companies and the friend of people starting companies, I've been asked to and have signed as guarantors for various contracts. The really horrible thing about this Meiji era practice is that it is so common. People seem to think nothing of asking for it and without it it is almost impossible to function. I've spoken with various people in government and business about the damage that this system causes and most people agree. However, I don't see any changes.

When Digital Garage was still not public, the bank required the two founders including myself to guarantee all loans. At one point I had millions of dollars of guarantees outstanding. The crazy thing was that the bank made me sign a "and all lines of credit in the future" form. Even after I left Digital Garage to be chairman of Infoseek Japan, I was still a guarantor for Digital Garage and was only released at the IPO.

One of my portfolio companies failed several years ago. As the lead investor, I went around to the other investors and explained the situation. Two of the other investors asked me to PERSONALLY cover their loss. Both of these companies were public Japanese companies. I didn't pay of course, but they seemed to think that it would have been nifty if I had. I've never heard of such a thing happening in the US.

As I blogged before, this is a major source of suicides since bankruptcies cause a cascading serious of bankruptcies to friends and family. The shame often drives entrepreneurs to suicide. It is no wonder that entrepreneurship isn't very popular in Japan.

Anyway, I was reflecting on this and remembered that this was on my list of "one of the things we need to change here" as I sat before the judge trying to defend a case that I know I have no chance of winning.

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 included someone pointing out that the Emperor did not choose to be the Emperor whereas Tojo and other military leaders chose their positions and should be more responsible for their actions.

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 against Hashimoto, he promised to visit Yasukuni as Prime Minister to try to take this swing vote from the Hashimoto faction. Some believe that this was key to his winning the fourth election. There appears to be some "logic" in domestic politics for his action. However, I think there is a consensus that it makes no sense from a foreign policy perspective and even the US which has been rather neutral on the issue in the past seems to be concerned. On the other hand, some polls show the Japanese public divided on the issue. The Sankei newspaper is currently the only newspaper supporting Koizumi's visits the Yasukuni Shrine. The Yomiuri, which once supported his visits, now criticizes them. Some people believe that maybe there is some secret plan to use this as a bargaining chip with China in the future. However, most people believe that even if this ends up happening it was not particularly planned by Koizumi.

One expert in Japanese religion at this meeting pointed out that the original Nara Buddhism does not memorialize the dead or believe in heaven. He argued that the religious underpinnings of the necessity of memorializing the war dead didn't make sense under real Japanese Buddhism and that we should stop making such memorials in Japan... that Japan should go back to Nara Buddhism where once you died, you were dead. Full stop. Another person commented that there is a division of state and church under the Japanese constitution and these visits are a violation.

This is reiterating the obvious, but the two main point are the class A war criminals memorialized there and probably the war museum. The war museum tries to argue that the WWII was justified.

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 including Japan's relationship with Asia and the US, the aging population and the decreasing population and the economy. As usual the opinions were all over the spectrum and the debate heated and emotional. As most of you already know, the Japanese economy is recovering, but mostly because of the increase in the Chinese market. Interestingly, it's things like cement and construction in China that is helping to revive the Japanese economy fueling the dying public works industry in Japan. Most people agreed that Japan needed to work with China, but HOW to interact with China and the rest of Asia was a point of considerable debate. I am happy to report that most people thought that we needed to deal with the war history and that it was a bad idea for Koizumi to be going to Yasukuni Shrine. However, many Japanese thought it wasn't the business of China or any other country to tell Japan what to do. In fact, it was the opinion of several experts that Koizumi was going in part to spite China as evidenced by his going to the Shrine right after meeting with the Chinese delegates, etc.

One issue I brought up was how unhappy I was about Tokyo Governor Ishihara's anti-Chinese comments. (I blogged about this before.) One surprising response I got was that at least one person in the group thought he should be allowed to say what he wanted and that they didn't find such comments particularly annoying. I was pretty flabbergasted. Even some of the rather moderate people shrugged and pointed out that he was a net positive because of some of the fiscal policies he has pursued. After my rant at Davos I heard a rumor that he told at least one industry head that I was a "public enemy". I think it's something like pointing to the crazy uncle, and it is clearly unpopular to point out our Governor's faults. I did make the point that we can act as friendly as we want but as long as the two most powerful politicians of Japan were making clearly anti-Chinese gestures, whatever the reason, we would never have harmony with China.

We tried to get down to the reasons. One reason people gave for Koizumi's shrine visits was that the percentage of the population whose family have died in war feel strongly that the government should acknowledge them. There were two people who has ancestors in Yasukuni, but both of them felt the visits were inappropriate and felt that they should remove the war criminals. Various people gave Shinto practices and other things as reasons, but I didn't feel they were very strong arguments.

Then we talked about Ishihara and plain old-fashioned racism. A university professor pointed out that it was a problem, and described his theory on what may be one of the causes. Japan imported single-race nationalism as a unifying concept from Germany during the Meiji period. The Japanese word, minzoku, which refers to its people comes from das volk. Japan forced a national dialect and basically centralized control and stamped out a great deal of diversity in order to empower the central government under this process. Before this, Japan was more diverse and more tolerant. Later, this would blow up as a working philosophy in Nazi Germany and Japan. However, as a strategy of combating the threat of communism in Japan, the US occupation and the Japanese government allowed these nationalists and the sense of racial purity to remain and fester in modern Japan in order to fight the more liberal emerging left-wing of Japan. Most people agreed that Japanese needed to increase immigration to deal with the population and aging problem, but that with this latent racism and intolerance for diversity immigration would not work well.

I realize this post is getting a bit long and I have one more day at this retreat. I'll try to post anything else that comes up in the discussions.

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 gets us into trouble. English is currently the primary language for international diplomacy like it or not. I think we should have Foreign Ministers who speak English, French and Chinese.

It reminds me of when I was interpreting for the chairman of NHK (The Japanese public broadcast company) in a meeting with Jack Valenti. He told me to tell Jack that "the more English a Japanese speaks, the less power he has." He was pointing out the fact that traditionally people focused their energy on gaining power in Tokyo and people who lost political battles were typically sent overseas as punishment or to get them out of the way. This was over a decade ago and things have changed, but this insular thinking continues in part because as the world's second largest GDP it is still possible to pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. sigh...

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 are in Naruto since they're all pretty weird and very different.

Mimi @ Chanpon
Anime 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 they are taking a Japanese class.

That's good since most people aren't studying Japanese for business reasons anymore.

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.

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 full support.

The home of the deceased is quickly turned into a base camp of sorts with two outdoor kitchens and dozens of people cooking almost around the clock for everyone. The next day, the wake was set up, villagers (including Mizuka and me) visited to pay respects and the close neighbors ran most of operations.

A side meeting was convened to pick people for the actual funeral support the next days. In the past, the grave digging and other support activities were all chosen from villagers, but for this funeral, the family had decided not to follow this tradition. It was likely that I would have been chosen for this "special duty" had it been traditional. Six men are chosen to dig the grave. They dress in white with a headband that has a little triangle on the front. (The same headband worn by many ghosts in Japanese anime.) There are various roles including a drum person, road cleaner, and others that make up a funeral procession.

This year, because we didn't have this part of the ceremony, the support crew consisting of Mizuka, myself and about 20 other people ended up cleaning the community center and hanging out in case they needed anything. At the end we helped some of the professionals who had been called in, gave or last respects and saw them off.

This was not my first village ritual, but I made a few observations.

The women worked much harder than the men. I was actually scolded and told not to help when I tried to help clean up the food with the women while the men sat around outside smoking. I don't think it was the case with everyone, but some men and women felt very strongly that there were women's jobs. (I also saw a women getting scolded for cleaning up the dishes of a man who appeared like he hadn't finished his food.)

The special relationship with the next door neighbor was probably extremely important in the past, but continues as an important formal relationship. We do not yet have such an understanding with any of our next door neighbors, but in due time it appears that we will probably be formally approached and that we will have to accept. We will have to literally drop everything to help when they are in need.

It was interesting how many functions of a community that I would take for granted in a good community are so highly formalized in rituals and how it isn't written or even precisely known by anyone exactly, but it all sort of functions. We have the shuraku, han, kumiai and various other organization sizes and everyone knows who is in each unit.

I can also see aspects of what causes the somewhat provincial localism of Japanese politics and business where local issues supersede everything else. It was like viewing a miniature version of Japanese national policy. Your next door neighbor before anything else and the village before the rest of the world.

I'm not sure how long I'm going to last here, but it is definitely a good learning experience...

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 blogged about this back in 2002. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, they think that it will save about $1B.

I suppose I'm a schmuck for complaining about something so socially and fiscally good, but for some reason this kind of suffering feels very Japanese and annoying. There is something very ceremonial and inefficient about it. Maybe it's just that I'm sweating my ass off in a cool biz zone. Maybe this is a signal to me to figure out a way to save $1B for the Japanese economy and help the environment. Maybe we can start by firing all of the retired bureaucrats that they force companies to hire who get paid a mint and driven around in black limos.

0262090392.01. Aa240 Sclzzz
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 book. ;-) (Or at least download the introduction.)

Mizuko Ito
Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life

The book I edited with Daisuke Okabe and Misa Matsuda is out from MIT Press and available on Click here for a pdf of a draft of the introduction.

The book is an edited collection of social and cultural studies of keitai (mobile phone) and pager use over the past decade or so in Japan. We included our own research as well as research by a variety of mostly Japanese scholars whose work we translated from Japanese.

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 go. It's amazing how far we've come. I'm sorry if this "wow" is out of sync, but this web cam made me realize how far we've come.

UPDATE: I think it's getting a bit choppy as people hop on the stream. Be nice to their bandwidth please.

UPDATE 2: There is a steam locomotive (SL) that shows up sometimes.

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 challenge and it's not every day that the New York Times asks you to do an op ed, so I accepted.

Let me just say I'm glad I'm not a professional writer. I sat down a few times during the conference and tried to write something while sitting in the hall and chatting with people. It didn't work. At midnight, I sat down in front of my computer and stared at my screen and tried to forget about open source and think about the atom bomb. I was supposed to write about impressions from my generation and from a Japanese perspective. I first went on IM and interviewed a bunch of my Japanese friends to confirm my suspicion. No one was really thinking about the bombing of Hiroshima and didn't really have much of an impression.

Then, I remembered a few papers I had read recently and Googled around for recent articles. After about 30 minutes, my head was "in the space" and I was able to start writing. It only took about 30 minutes to finish the draft. Afterwards, I went to #joiito and had the channel help me edit it. (Thanks everyone.)

Initially, I had thought that I would only be able get this done if I disconnected my computer from the Internet. In fact, the Internet turned out to be a valuable resource in getting my head around my thoughts and then getting feedback from a bunch of eyeballs on the text.

The story will run in the New York Times on Sunday in the Op Ed section. If I'm lucky, the International Herald Tribune will pick it up. If you have a chance, let me know what you think. I'll post a link here as soon as I get it.

UPDATE: The article is now online.

UPDATE 2: The International Herald Tribune picked it up too...

My grave
As 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 and watch over the deployment. I ended up on various government oversight committees where I have continued to point out issues and still argue that they should shut the current system down.

To my surprise, my hometown Mizusawa has the second highest proliferation of the national ID cards at 10% and hosted our Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications study group today. As the local government officials discussed their system proudly, I felt some pain as I pointed out some of the risks. They knew that I was local so they asked my support for their initiative in that local family style... Scenes from The Godfather cross my mind. It reminded me a bit of the scene in Godfather II during Michael Corleone's trial where they bring the brother of key witness Pentangeli from Sicily to the hearing. All it takes is one look from the brother to change the Pentangeli's position. OK. It's wasn't that bad, but it reminds me of the same thing.

My family has been building and running schools in the town for the last three generations and we just rebuilt our nurse school, which at some point I will have to "run". Until recently, our family funded the schools, but now relies partially on government support. As with most semi-public endeavors in small towns, it requires "community support." Thus The Godfather reference above.

After the study group meeting at City Hall, I visited our family grave. I took a look at where my name will at some point be etched as the 19th family head of the Ito family. I took the opportunity to grill my uncle a bit more about the specifics of our history since I'll be the custodian of this information at some point. I also had him collect up various family history documents. It appears that the first Ito, moved into our current home about 400 years ago and was some kind of union of a 25th descendent of Emperor Kanmu, the 50th Emperor (we're on #125 now), and Kawatari Fujiwara. I can't understand the old-fashioned Japanese text to understand the details of the arrangement. I believe Kawatari Fujiwara was from the Fujiwara family that lived in our region until they were defeated around 400 years ago. The only thing left from this period of the Fujiwara estate/castle is a golden pagoda and mummies in Hiraizumi. Anyway, the story I heard from my mother was that after their defeat, the survivors fled and started their own families in the region, and took the character "Fuji" from "Fujiwara" and changed their names to "Saito", "Goto" and "Ito" which all use "Fuji" character for the "To" part of the names. Anyway, I'm not positive about the details so I better find out more before I have to take over the family and my children start asking me all kinds of questions.

As always, staring at the place on the gravestone where my name will be etched along with all of the previous family members makes me feel like a mere blip in history and is humbling and strange.

"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 wife had not witnessed any suspicious behavior.

Suicide is common in Japan and is sometimes considered even honorable. However, whenever I hear about these suicides that appear to benefit the establishment, I remember a conversation I once had with former chairman Shima of NHK. NHK is the public broadcasting organization of Japan, the largest broadcaster in the world (I think), and not privatized. I used to interpret for the late chairman and helped him set up his web site when he was ousted from NHK. I remember him telling me that half of the officially reported suicides were actually political murders/assassinations and that the corruption went all the way to the top. If I had heard this from anyone other than the chairman of the largest broadcaster, life-long political reporter and behind-the scenes kingmaker, I would have thought it was a stupid conspiracy theory. Coming from Shima it carried some weight. I do not have any evidence that this is true, and I realize this would be an irresponsible allegation, but those words spring to mind whenever I read, "Lawmaker found hanged. No suicide note. Lawmaker cast swing vote against controversial bill to privatize..."

"You have dishonored your faction and your family and you must take responsibility if you want to avoid consequences to you and your family," a voice in my head whispers... An offer that he couldn't refuse. This is called otoshimae in Yakuzaese. There is a crime in Japan called kyoyozai which makes it illegal for someone to say something like, "You SHOULD pay me money," with an implied threat. This law is to specifically prevent the exercise of this kind of indirect force.

Jiji Press notes in a separate article that if the bill doesn't pass the Upper House, Koizumi has threatened to dissolve the House of Representatives. If this happens, it is more likely that he will visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in mid-August to rally the votes of conservative LDP voters.

And some people ask my why I don't go into Japanese politics...

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 over the stadium. The fireworks are low, huge and loud. It is an immersive experience. That is combined with a stadium full of screaming people. Replace the traditional "oohs and ahhs" with "OMG OMG WTF" The streets and rooftops all around the stadium are full of people who are getting the benefit of the fireworks for "free". (I wrote about the business model of fireworks last year.)

After these last few hot and humid days, the hanabi reminded me that there are at least a few things to look forward to in Japanese summer.

95 K movie

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 more "normal" is a good thing, but I don't think that a nationalist position is a good one.

However, the Asahi reports that 52% of Japanese polled say Koizumi should halt shrine visits and the Japanese Emperor Akihito made a surprise visit to a Korean war dead memorial in Saipan on Tuesday.

So it appears to me that once again, the central government and the LDP are out of touch with the people and even the Emperor and it's the politicians who are fueling this nationalist mood. I wonder what we can do about it... It's clearly a bad idea.

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 and a 25 year old nukamiso, two from Kyoto and two from Tokyo. Killing it was an unforgivable sin. Since then, Mizuka and I have felt so guilty, that it took a lot of courage to decide to start up again. The trigger was receiving a batch of the best eggplant nukamiso that I've ever had. The container contained a healthy amount of the nukamiso in addition to the eggplant and the instructions suggested that you could seed your nukamiso with this. We tried some vegetables from our garden and it was excellent, so we went and got a cedar tub today.

In the past, we lived in western houses so one of the challenges was keeping the nukamiso as cold as possible in the summer. This was partially the cause of the demise of our last nukamiso. This time, we now live in a traditional Japanese house has an opening to the space under the kitchen. Japanese houses typically store pickles and other things that need to stay cool in this space. Unlike doing nukamiso from purchased vegetables, we will be able to feed our nuka-chan with fresh home grown veggies.

I just Flickr'd some of the pictures.

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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 makes some conclusions based on the facts he uncovers that I would not necessarily agree with. It is, in any case, a very good book for anyone interested in Japan to read.

With this fresh in my mind, I visited Kyoto, my home town, and was amazed at just how much Japanese tradition is organized around the Emperor. The Emperor went though various levels of influence in the governing of the nation, but has remained in place for 125 generations. Regardless of his level of influence, the Emperor has been the center of most of Japanese culture. Kyoto, for instance, is divided into the "Right Kyoto" and the "Left Kyoto". This has nothing to do with East or West, but is the right or left side of the city when viewed from the Emperor. The bullet train "climbs" from Kyoto to Tokyo (the new capital) toward the Emperor and any road that points away from the Emperor is pointed "down". All kinds of symbols and names allow you to understand exactly what each Temple's relationship to the royal family is. Maybe it was just our guide, or maybe it was that I was sensitized, but I think he talked about the Emperor in almost every explanation he made.

I question whether we should still have an Emperor in Japan and I believe that the facts about the Emperor's involvement in the war should be more publicly known. However, I wonder how the cultural foundation of Japan will change if the Emperor and the royal family were removed.

I have Flickr'ed the trip.

UPDATE: Movie of geisha dance uploaded to and part 2. (And an older one from a previous trip...)

UPDATE: Related Article - Sanji-Chion-Ji

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 in in front of the Japanese embassy in March to protest Japanese comments about the Dokdo islands and in 2001, 20 Koreans chopped their off their little fingers in protest against Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

I was beginning to understand the issues that the Koreans were protesting against, but I didn't see how this finger chopping was involved. I decided to get to the bottom of this and asked friends during my trip to Korea.

Although it is an ancient custom, if I understand correctly, one of the most famous incidents was An Jung-geun, a legendary leader in the armed resistance against the Japanese occupation, chopping off parts of several of his fingers and writing "Korean Independence" in blood on the Korean national flag. Later he assassinated Japanese politician Hirobumi Ito in 1910. Hirobumi Ito was a key figure in the Meiji Restoration of Japan, former prime minister and former Resident-General of Korea. Using the blood from severed fingers to write such statements became a sign of solidarity in the resistance against the Japanese and I believe the recent finger chopping is a continuation of this.

I am not trying to make a statement about or a judgement on the anti-Japanese protests or the actions by the Japanese, but trying to clarify something that was confusing for me.

PS I found this article about the protests that ran in today's Korea Herald insightful on the relevance of these protests.

UPDATE: Edited post to reflect comments that An Jung-geun chopped his fingers before the assassination and that it's an ancient custom which didn't start with An Jung-geun.

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 variety of languages like Hebrew, Portuguese, French... When new episodes of Naruto come out, the fans get together on IRC and other fora and collaborate and create subtitled versions and put them online. If you search for Naruto on, you find a page where the fans are voting for the DVD release and the notice says that they will notify the publisher of the voting. (It would be interesting to find out if the publisher or the fans initiated this.) It also appears that when a local DVD is released, the fans take down their subtitled episodes for that region. By allowing the fans to create demand, the publishers are using these file sharing networks and illegal derivative works as an extremely efficient form of marketing. Thanks to the network of Internet anime fans, Naruto is still niche, but popular globally.

This kind of publisher approved "piracy" is not a new thing. Dojinshi, are comics created by fans of Japanese comics. They are illegal derivative works. They make their own stories using famous comics as the base. They have huge conventions and it's an amazing community. The publishers of most of these comics encouraged this dojinshi culture because they realized that this increases the demand for the originals. These derivative works and sharing creates "fans" not "lost customers".

Some will argue that this is niche stuff, but I talked to a marketing guy at TV Tokyo and he said that they are now focused on niche. In the past they tried to appeal to a wide audience including young children and they tried to get a small amounts of money from a lot of people. (Like Pokemon stuffed animals.) Now, with box sets and special edition DVDs, they are finding that niche oriented adults and otaku will spend thousands of dollars on one show. They are able to collect more money from fewer people. I think this is one of the key marketing lessons that we're getting to. Before you tried to get a tiny bit of money from everyone who listened to a song or watched a show. Maybe if we focus on getting more money from fewer people, we can design business models around relationships and physical things rather than the content itself. Digital content might be better viewed as a marketing tool or metadata of the actual property or asset that is being promoted.

My sister's been getting most of this information about fandom from her research assistant Rachel Cody.

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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 returning to Tokyo. I waited to blog the idea because I didn't want to steal their story. ;-)

I definitely enjoy the punctuality in Japan when I'm doing business, although not necessarily when I'm trying to relax. I think it's a generational thing as well. My sister describes the Japanese mobile culture kids not having as much of an obsession with time tending to self-organizing on the go. It reminds me of our previous discussion about p-time. Organized delineation of time and space helps structure things and make things scale, but are not very good at providing context or flexibility. For instance, in my Silicon Valley meetings people tend to allow important meetings to run overtime and eat into the next meeting whereas in Japan, I will often be ushered from a very important meeting to a completely worthless meeting in order to maintain punctuality.

However, as I get ready for my day at this moment, I am very happy to know that I can leave home at 11:10 to catch the 11:27 train and I will arrive at the train station in Tokyo at 12:28. (In 2004, the 40th anniversary of the bullet train, it was announced that the average delay for the train was only 6 seconds.) My 13:00 appointment at Pia will start on time and that I will be able to leave at 13:45 to get to my 14:00 meeting at Neoteny. In Tokyo I schedule meetings in 15 minute increments, some being scheduled for as little as 15 or 30 minutes. This is anecdotal, but I find myself sitting around in conference rooms a lot in Silicon Valley and can never expect a meeting to start on-time. I usually calculate a 30 minute cushion for meetings in Silicon Valley. In Italy... well, I only schedule a few things per day and everything else is coordinated on the fly. I never expect anything to start on time. I recently spoke at a conference in Italy where everything was 1.5-2.5 hours late. As someone who is generally against cultural stereotypes, punctuality is one thing that I believe can often be generalized because one is forced to adapt to a standard level of punctuality for a particular culture. (I'm sure different people and communities in the different countries have their own level of punctuality and that there is some sort of bell-curve-like distribution of people and groups that are more or less punctual than the norm.) For awhile lack of punctuality stressed me out enormously when I was traveling, but now I've gotten used to it. However, I'm happy to be back where the trains run on time...

I'm in a hurry and can't find the IHT article link. If someone has it, I'd appreciate it if you could post it here. Also, apologies to all of the punctual Italians and Americans that I've just offended.

UPDATE: IHT - An obsession with time

click image for page with video
Mimi @ Chanpon
The 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 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 in the US. Hopefully this fan community won't be shut down like many fan sites for US works.

Does anyone know more about this community? I hear that fan base is incredible.

Background from the site.

Many Lemons Productions
It's a Matrix Trailer parody, with Naruto footage. Original and unique? No. (That said, I've only seen one other..) However, I wanted to do one *right*.. To varying degrees of 'right' anyway.

How it came about is pretty easy to explain.. I'm a fan of good movie trailers, and while most of the Matrix's trailers were pretty crap, the final Matrix Reloaded trailer I thought was pretty awesome for what it tried to do. That combined with it has the line "So now he's found a way to copy himself?" just rang bells the size of several small countries to Naruto. Thus, the idea was formed. Hurrah!

I kinda wanted it to be both to Naruto fans and people who may not like Naruto at all, simply because it was going to be aired to a room full of both.. So it had to be generic, non-spoilery, funny, and generally "yeah I'm using Naruto footage but it's good anyway" :p

Timing is my speciality so it is pretty heavily focussed on that; lipsyncing, punches connecting, things going boom, the usual. It foillows the original trailer reasonably closely for the most part, but diverges at the end because the voice parts had stopped and it was just a chance to show off some of the better sequences from Naruto; I've kinda specifically avoided the cheesier or less well animated scenes where I could.

To clarify, it's as much of a Naruto advertisement as it is a Matrix parody; you'll see what I mean at the end :P Even for such a popular series I like to at least show a few teaser scenes to make more people go see it..

This video won over the popularity vote and the Judges' decision at AmeCon 2004, and I was awarded a Rei-in-the-bathtub soap dish, yay ;)

Note: Yes, I've given Lee the opening "Hiya Fellas" line, but otherwise Sasuke = Neo, it is on purpose.. For reasons I fail to understand now I look back, but meh, it's more amusing this way.

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

The Japan Times
Promotion 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) should be viewed as presuming that Japanese nationals in principle will assume local civil service positions." This is basically a paranoid notion that involving foreigners in running the country or performing important national services is a threat to sovereignty and national security. She was a NURSE for God's sake. She is a second generation Korean, her father forced to leave Korea for Japan and her mother a Japanese national. I don't know what's worse, this sort of discrimination against foreign workers in Japan or the fact that many third generation Koreans can't even naturalize.

This reminds me a bit about Richard Curtis who joined the volunteer fire department in Kanazawa and became an a true member of the team, but cannot participating in official ceremonies or drive the fire trucks because he's not a Japanese citizen. (Mirror of WSJ article on him here.)

Ugh. We're going to figure out how to make foreigners more welcome in Japan before we turn into a bankrupt and forgotten country with a lot of starving old people.

Thanks Ado for the link to the JT article

iMorpheus has a great blog called the Gokurousama blog.

Gokurousama 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. Interestingly, working hard together is often considered more important than winning. This, in a way, is the backbone of the socialist work ethic that drives Japan. But I digress...

The Gokurousama blog and the pictures on it are a very good way to understand the Japanese way of gokurousama. It's also the spirit behind good service and a very nice way to show appreciation of good service. A simple gokurosama will go a long way and is much more respectful than flipping someone a hundred yen coin. iMorpheus has also started a Gokurousama flickr group and has linked the group to the blog so that others can post. You can learn more about it on his blog.

The next time you watch an old Samurai or Yakuza movie, listen for the boss say, "Gokurojyaaa" to one of the henchmen after he returns from killing a foe. ;-p

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. Maybe it's because I was in Paris, South Africa, San Francisco and Boston before returning and the variety of cultures scrambled my cultural blinders. It was also strange reading the International Herald Tribune on China's anger over recent statements by Japanese about ramping up their military while watching the Japanese news in the plane talk about the same thing from their perspective. It was like having two cultural identities coexisting in my head. Somewhere over the arctic, both cultures seemed mighty peculiar.

Moblog picture by Hello Kitty
Copyright 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

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 apologized and sucked up to the Japanese government, there was a good chance that the hostages would not have been released. So if I had to choose between whether my children were released alive or whether they would be happily received by the Japanese government, I think I'd choose to have my children live. Whether it was done on purpose or not, their parents made the right decision.

Then there is the story of the Australian journalist who was freed because a Google search revealed he was not CIA or a US contractor.

I don't think that all of the kidnappers are smart and politically motivated and ethical, but they are clearly sending a signal that their targets are not all random.

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.

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 neighbor has one of these little pickup trucks. And no, I didn't buy it just to fit in... although I think it helps. I think my HiJet is about 130" long and about 45 horsepower. (approximately 1/2 the length and 1/5 the horsepower of the CXT)

That CXT would be completely useless in my village. So you can keep your gas guzzling monstrosity and whatever weird culture that created it. I'm happy with the spartan aesthetics of my little HiJet. (Web page about Kei class Japanese trucks)

Metroblogging Tokyo just launched. I'm a contributor, but I haven't written anything yet.
10,000,000 people doing radio taiso
picture via Kampo
One 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 of a PR campaign, the life insurance companies started broadcasting exercise programs on the radio to make people more healthy. This culture migrated to Japan where now every morning millions of people exercise to radio taiso...

Here is the mp3 of chorus 1 of radio taiso.

Does anyone know if this story about the US insurance companies is true or not?

The Kampo home page has little animations like the one above and a full explanation (in Japanese) on how to do these exercises properly.

Xeni @ Boing Boing
What 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!)

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.

China Photos
via Reuters
The 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 of the war, which in China is known as the War of Resistance against Japan." My impression is that most of the anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan is fueled by people like Governor Ishihara of Tokyo who remember the war, and not young post-war Japanese. (UPDATE: Mizuka just told me that there were a bunch of right-wing Japanese demonstrating in Kasumigaseki yesterday and they were mostly young.) There is a revisionist movement in Japan, but I have heard only 0.3% of school actually ended up using the controversial revised texts and the movement is considered a failure. However, I don't have a good sense of whether anti-Chinese sentiments are increasing or decreasing, but they are clearly here as I've blogged about in the past.

The "new anti-Japanese" in China represent a bad trend. At the Brainstorm conference in 2002, I heard Shimon Peres say, "What can you learn from History? Very little... History was written with red ink, wth bloodshed. We should educate our children how to imagine, not how to remember." I think his words are extremely relevant.

The article also quotes a Mr. Lu saying, "Like many young Chinese, he believes Japan is returning to militarism. 'I want China to be strong again,' Mr. Lu said at lunch the day before the game. He said China needed to be strong so it would not again succumb to foreign invaders." This is also quite an odd image. At a recent conference I went to, it was clear that the American no longer viewed Japan as a military threat. At this conference, it was pointed out that since Japan is aging so quickly, it can not be motivated very strongly to grow its military. Most countries which expanded security forces were usually countries that had a lot of young people. It was noted that the Kim Jon Il said during his trip across Russia on the train, that he had "too many people." This is one reason why he might be happier to send troops to war than Japan where there are so few young people.

In other news on the topic, it appears Japanese hackers went after a Chinese site and now the Chinese hackers are retaliating.

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 best seats and they are thanked over the PA system for the people watching the show up close. For 99% of the people who watch the fireworks from far away, the sponsors are invisible. These people are, to use Hollywood's favorite word, "stealing" this content. They don't view ads, they don't pay. They do consume a lot of beer, buy stuff in local shops which pay taxes and generally feel good about the "public good" they've just been a part of. Like me, they take pictures and videos of the fireworks and post them to the web and send them to their friends.

I wonder if there is some sort of equivalent business model for other content businesses. Charge a small number of people a large amount of money and give it to 99% of the people for free. Get sponsored by companies and other organizations like local governments that benefit from the secondary consumption increase and follow-on derivative works creation and sharing.

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)

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 country that we're a bunch of racists. There's not a soul here that would call anybody a Jap," he said.

First of all, I still hear people using the word "Jap" and can't imagine that "not a soul" in Beaumont would use the word "Jap". I for one am glad there is no longer a street in Beaumont, Texas called "Jap Road" named after a Japanese. I was often called a Jap when I was growing up in Michigan and it was usually accompanied by emotional and sometimes physical abuse. This childhood experience probably created a very negative association in my brain, and I assume that many Japanese-Americans have had a similar experience to me.

Now, even when they are referring to the "Jewish American Princess" I still wince when I hear the word Jap. It's hardwired in my brain. So that's why when I hear:

But road resident Jason Marshburn, 31, disagreed.

"It feels like we're in the middle of a George Orwell novel. It's like me suing Keebler or Nabisco because the word 'cracker' is offensive to us white people," he said.

I think he's missing the point. If the word "cracker" made him wince when he heard it, it would be a parallel, but I can't imagine anyone in the US getting flashbacks to abuse when they hear the word "cracker".

Via KS

Boing Boing
Japanese geek status hierarchy

Fascinating chart of the Japanese geek status hierarchy. Link (Thanks, Zed!)

Funny. ;-)

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 him "the way" and helped make him what he is today. Putin also mentioned how the art of using the strength of the opponent against themselves was an important method even in politics. There was footage of Putin at his Judo dojo at his home in Russia. Both of Putin's daughters are studying Judo as well.

Yamashita talked about how Putin's love of Judo was what helped break the ice for Koizumi's relationship with Putin and how they had met at the dojo before Koizumi's meeting with Putin in Japan.

Yamashita also mentioned that Chairman Okuda of Toyota was also a Judo enthusiast.

Yamashita urged people to support Judo. He said he was also a poorly behaved young man and that Judo helped him learn values and discipline. He jokingly said that although many of the young Judo students may look like misbehaved youths, just imagine how much worse it would be if they were in the streets.

The Izu Conference is an annual IBM Japan sponsored meeting/retreat. This dinner was kind of an alumni meeting. Here are some of my notes from last year's annual meeting where the topic was the US.

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 location where the local government would come and collect it for us.

There were many children helping out as well. Hopefully this annual garage day will help educate them not to dump trash by the road.

I got a chance to meet more of my neighbors so it was nice. I still have a hard time remembering everyone's name but sharing this massive chore with the whole village was quite a bonding experience. These village chores are called gyoji and there are many others including trimming hedges and trees, cleaning common spaces and fixing roads.

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 Yakuza continue this tradition, even though swords are no longer the weapon of choice.

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 to describe is a bit more background on how Japanese think about responsibility and apologies.

I think one of the things that made many Japanese I know upset were the parents of the hostages making public statements about how the government should help get the hostages back without apologizing first about causing trouble for the government. Even if they didn't believe it, it would be proper Japanese etiquette to say this first. It's quite cliche, but it's true that if you get into an automobile accident in Japan, even if you think it's probably the other person's fault, you apologize first. Japanese are warned not to do this in the US because apologizes imply responsibility. In many cases, apologies in Japan are a formality and skipping them is rather rude. I think many people thought these parents were "rude" on a national scale. Another example of a throw-away apology is that when you ask for a waiter in a restaurant, you say, "I'm sorry... or excuse me." We often apologize profusely when in doubt or are requesting any kind of favor.

An important psychological element is that even though we are individuals, we often represent the group. I have something like 16 or so generations before me on my gravestone and I often feel like a mere blip in the history of my family. Taking risk or tainting my family name is not something that I can freely do without feeling the guilt and responsibility to my ancestors.

It's also interesting to note that most Japanese children's cartoons have story lines where they are a team. Often one of the members get in trouble or drop out of the group and the whole show is about how the group tries to help the drop out get back in tune with the group. It's usually the group saving the single "problem" member. On the other hand, many American cartoons are super-heros who are independent and save the world through taking risk and being different. I know I'm generalizing here, but people who watch a lot of Japanese TV will understand what I'm saying I think.

I once talked to one of the directors of the Sumo Wrestling association. She said she always had a great deal of difficulty explaining one of the core principles of Sumo to foreigners. Sumo wrestlers are not supposed to show anguish when they lose or happiness when they win. They are to be emotionless and stoic. "Like a rooster carved out of wood," she said. This is a very central theme to many of Japanese aesthetics. This Japanese stoicism is central to much of the Japanese lack of sympathy to heroics, I think.

Although I understand what the NYT article is saying and I don't necessarily agree with the way the hostages are being treated and picked on right now, I think that lack of initial apologies and the feeling of Japanese to heroics in Japan is behind the reaction. Having said that, I think this attitude is what is hampering Japan's entrepreneurism as well as Japan's ability to participate as a leader in global affairs. It's a fairly deeply rooted cultural theme that won't change very easily though.

As usual, I'm happy to hear dissenting opinions.

Photo Library - 3459Photo Library - 3462Photo Library - 3461Photo Library - 3460
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 have a very bitter taste that comes from impurities (alkaline solution and dissolved elements) which is called aku. Aku nuki (removing the aku) is typically done stewing the takenoko with komenuka (rice husk powder) and Japanese red chili peppers. The best takenoko is tender takenoko picked and immediately stewed, left over night in the water, then prepared with rice, stew or some other typical Japanese dish in the morning. Yum.

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." "Oh... Well, you can do it with the next group." "What day?" "It's not decided. They'll come by to pick you up on that day though." "Uhh.. Oh. OK."

Later, I visited the woman and apologized for not being able to help out with the assembly hall clean up. Then I wandered over to the mayor's house to say hi and told him that I'd be seeing the governor the next day. The mayor gave me a bunch of stewed takenoko (bamboo shoots). (Guess what we'll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days...) I mumbled to him about how I had hit a rock and broke my tiller.

A few minutes after I was home, a farmer wandered over to my house. "Do you have a hammer? How about a crowbar?" Smack, crank, bang. The tiller was fixed. The farmer stayed for a chat and I grilled him about what I should be doing in the yard. "It always takes city folks two or three years before they figure out how to manage their yard." The climate in Japan causes it to be perfect for bugs and vegetation including weeds and trying to deal with the onslaught of bugs and weeds without chemicals is a challenge. When I told the farmer our organic aspirations, he smiled, shrugged and gave me that, "You won't last" look. He explained that he had worked on the construction of our house and told me some of the history and even pointed out which of the planks of pine came from the village.

This morning at 7:30 am, the mayor called to tell me that he had picked some takenoko this morning and prepared them for me to take to the governor's house and that I should pick them up around noon. "Uh.. OK."

A little jingle plays across the village PA at 11 am to tell everyone it's time for lunch and at 5 pm to tell everyone it's time to call it a day. On the one hand it's quite relaxing working in my yard with my puppies, bugs, birds and the occasional visitor as my only input source of information, on the other hand I realized that taking care of a yard and managing our relationship in the village is a full time job.

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.


Gen Kanai
Funny 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 change. If people learned that shouting into your phone doesn't really help and talked in a normal voice that might help. I don't see how that would be any different than two people talking to each other face to face from a noise pollution perspective. (I can see a bunch of other arguments here about why it's not the same thing as face to face, but I'm not going to go there.)

The fact that you have to have a sign forbidding it must mean that there is a gap between some people's behavior and hoped for behavior by a particular group of people with access to the authorities.

Anyway, I'm all for talking on the phone in trains.

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 WWII. The half-Japanese half-American Jr. Butterfly is an intelligence officer for the Americans and falls in love with a Japanese girl. At the core of the story is the love story between Jr. Butterfly and the girl, but the opera covers a lot of ground such as the identity struggle of Jr. Butterfly's chanpon background and the intentions of the US vis a vis war with Japan before the war. Also, with Madam Butterfly originally set in Nagasaki, the role of Nagasaki in the closure of the war ties it all together.

I enjoyed the opera very much. The score and poetry were beautiful and I was able to follow the story much better than previous Saegusa operas. It was also fun catching up during intermission with friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. I've been spending too little time with my non-computer and non-business related Japanese friends these days...

There's an interview in the Daily Yomiuri with Shigeaki Saegusa.

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

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 an eye out for indicators of discomfort but bring the flair of your own culture with you.

Rather than trying to act Japanese, I suggest that people visiting Japan be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions. It is more about timing, loudness, space and smiles than it is about how your hold your business card or calling people "Ito-san." When in doubt, shut up and listen. When smiled at, smile back. If you're freaking someone out, back off instead of continuing your interrogation. All of which I believe is not unique to being a foreigner in Japan. The more important Japan specific social behaviors involve cleanliness like taking off your shoes in homes and washing your body before and not taking your towel when entering the bath and not being stinky.

Caveat: If you're meeting someone for the first time, in a very formal setting, and you only have one shot, doing the step-by-step from the "How to Impress Japanese" book is probably a good idea. My comments above apply mostly to normal social situations.

UPDATE: I think many people were offended by this post. ;-) Please read the comments for an interesting discussion.

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 Eiji Yoshikawa, which is one of Japan's most famous heros. He used to get calls almost every year from CEOs of companies wanting to make the film because they realized that THEY were Musashi.

The most honorable person I've ever known is my mom. She didn't talk about or whine about honor. She was just honorable. In my experience, the more people talk about honor, the less they know about it and are either using it as a way to try to convince you to trust them or trying to convince themselves or something. Some of the stupidest mistakes I've made in friendship and business have been when I have assumed that people spouting off about codes of honor would actually adhere to them. "Don't you trust me?" "Just trust me." Bah.

So I'm quite skeptical about Japanese honor. Sure, I bet there were a lot of honorable people though the history of the Samurai, but I see honor every day and they don't make movies about it. So stop making movies about Japanese honor or we might start believing it.

I'm not bashing the notion of codes of honor in organizations since I think it's often necessary to try to aspire to and enforce higher level conduct in these organizations, but having a code doesn't mean everyone will adhere to it and such codes probably cause these organizations to be more trusted than they should.

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

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.

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!

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 course 76.7%; Thailand? 81.6%; China!? I thought most Chinese people hate Japanese because of the war! Yeah, well, maybe so, but they love Oshin! 75.9% viewer rating in China; Poland? 70%.

Gee, I wonder if the people in the Middle East can relate to this kind of starvation, suffering, and pain? Of course they can.

Which brings me to the next part of this puzzle: The Japanese military has ordered all troops in Iraq to grow beards and moustaches. Weird, eh? Well, no... Smart. Besides understanding the ways of society in the Middle-East, Oshin's husband has a moustache. Don't believe me? Check this out:

* Japanese army opts for new form of camouflage

Via Bob 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.

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 in Japan had the Emperor at the top, and the nobles next, then the warrior/samuri, then the clergy, then the artisans and farmers and below them came the merchants and tradesmen. Money was considered a zero-sum game, the people involved not being considered to be contributing a great deal of value to society. Farmers and artisans were clearly working and producers in the community. During the hundreds of years of peace in Japan, the nobility, the warrior class and the clergy played the role of the intellectual and the cultural class.

My mother, who was raised in a privileged family was not allowed to touch money until she was 18. She has a servant who took care of the payments. In Kyoto, I don't pay cash at many of the places I go, it is discreetly billed to me later. During the Edo period an interesting shift happened. The wars stopped and the warrior class had less to do. Culture blossomed as did trade. The merchant class gained power and helped drive the economy of Japan, but they were not rewarded with the same kind of cultural/social status that their American counterparts were. This stigma about being rich, making money and having financial power survives in Japan today and is in fact one of the big reasons that Japan continues to have structural problems and entrepreneurship is so weak.

The other notable point is that those who traditionally wielded power have lost their power. The nobles lost most of their money either during the Edo period or during the War. (Our family lost its property during the Meiji Restoration, lost its factories during the war, lost its money from giving all of the money to the war in the form of war bonds and gifts, lost its swords and family heirlooms to the US occupation forces, and finally lost just about everything under the current tax system that is basically designed to eliminate family wealth within a few generations. All that was left by the time I got there was our foolish pride.) The current ruling political party of Japan was funded by the Japanese gangster and the CIA in an effort to stomp out the left-wing and the ethics of those in power have become twisted caricatures of the original traditions.

One important Japanese businessman once told me. Power in Japan is not about having money yourself. It is about having the influence to move money.

Disclaimer: I am not supporting or condoning the Japanese here, but making a generalization and an observation about role of money in society which contrasts with what American's might believe.

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 take a break. During the first few days of the new year, you visit family, eat osechi and basically chill out.

I think this is more efficient than the US form where you wake up drunk and hung over on in the New Year with a fuzzy recollection of a bunch of unrealistic New Years resolutions.

Yesterday, I helped Mizuka clean the house, she did most of the cooking (osechi is a bit of an art) and we had her family over for New Years osechi brunch. I passed out (sober) on the floor cuddling with Bo and slept for 18 hours.

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!

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!

A few days ago, I quoted Wendy Seltzer in a entry about building norms together with the technologies.

I 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.
I 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 heard. People are using technology to meet their needs, but they are not prepared for how the architecture is pulling them in a different direction.

Arguing that social norms can fall behind suggests that there is a hierarchy to the four points of regulation. Those points are valuable in discussion because they provide tensions. Social norms pull in different directions than the market, the law or the technology. This does not mean that it is behind. Quite often, social norms leapfrog everyone else. For example, social norms pushed Napster into creating an architecture that challenged the market and the law. It wasn't that the market was behind, but that it was pulling in a different direction and with a new tension, things need to be worked out.

Thus, rather than thinking about how social norms are behind, i truly believe that we should be understanding why social norms are pulling in a different direction. What does this say about the population being served by the technology?

This is a good point. A agree with danah that it is probably not a hierarchy. Sometimes there is a tension and sometimes norms drive technology.

I am reminded of the days when pagers were really popular among the youth in Japan. Back in the day, the pagers only sent numerical codes so kids came up with special codes to mean a variety of things such as "I love you" or "see you at 6pm". There were eventually code books published with a variety of numerical codes for phrases. You would see kids touch typing with two fingers encoded messages on public phone REALLY FAST. This was a technology being pushed beyond the limits of the designers by a need in society and a whole social norm built around a pretty skimpy architecture. These pagers eventually became alpha-numeric and when text messaging became available on cell phones, kids switched to cell phones. It is this pager culture from which the text messaging culture emerged and it was this youth culture that the carriers were tracking and designing their products for.

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 musical instruments are not maiko first, but Mameyoshi took the irregular path of going from maiko to geisha. They do a ritual called erikaishi where they change their kimomo style and switch from their real hair to wigs. Mameyoshi became a shamisen player and performed for us yesterday. The two maiko dancing are Teruyuki and Terukoma. The first dance is kagamimochi and the second one is gion kouta (one of my favorites). Apologies for the noise in the background. There was a fire engine outside.

I've uploaded a 55M QT movie of the performance. Here is a torrent of the file.

Mizuka, Zuiko-san and Kaoru
Mizuka, 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 moved here. Unmarried daughters of the Imperial Family lived here and became abbotesses. It is now in the care of Abbotess Zuiko who has become of a friend. The temple is closed to the public and it's a great honor to be able to visit Zuiko-san and see the wonderful treasures and garden inside. There are around five such Imperial Abbotess temples in Kyoto.

I have some photos in my photo album.

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}}

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 know you, you're not going to get a personal greeting...) So please excuse me if you don't get a electronic greeting card from me for the holidays. As Seth says, I think this is one more treasured tradition that has become roadkill along the information super-highway.

On that note, does anyone know who decided that in Japan, Christmas was the day that you were supposed to go on a date with your honey and end up in a hotel room? Every restaurant has a special Christmas menu tonight for couples and ALL of the hotel will be booked by couples for a romantic evening.

Did you know that Japanese families will be lining up in front of Kentucky Fried Chickens today to get their chicken for Christmas? I DO know where this comes from. When my friend Shin, introduced KFC to Japan, the ad campaign showed wealthy American families all eating friend chicken for their holiday feast. KFC was marketed as an upscale food of the privileged in America. This triggered a tradition in Japan for families to eat friend chicken on Christmas.

(I'm on a roll now...)

And you DO know that in Japan only men receive chocolates on Valentine's Day and that women receive their chocolates on "White Day" one month later. (This notion was introduced by the confectionary industry in Japan.) People are encouraged to give chocolates widely and these chocolates are called giri choko (obligatory indebtedness chocolates) in Japanese.

So, although I'm a sucker for ritual, this is all getting a bit crazy for me. I think I'm going p-time on this whole situation and will give people gifts and greet people spontaneously and in a load-balanced way so I don't get thrown out with the spam.

UPDATE: No room at Japan's Love Hotels at Christmas - BBC
Thanks for the link Khalid

A great QT Movie of the Ginza Apple store opening.

Via Markoff

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.

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...

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.

minetal.jpg rangers.jpg utsumi.jpg aerateam.jpg mizjoi3.jpg

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

Xeni wonders about Sabrina. It must be a cultural thing. Seems perfectly normal to me... ;-)

I was reading danah boyd's paper, "Faceted Id/entity: Managing Representation in a Digital World" again and in it she says:
danah boyd
Adam 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?

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.

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.

Asaba-san writing tonpa script
I'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. ;-)

Mr. Morimoto pointed out that the Japanese people were not individuals but identified more with something similar to the proletariat. The Japanese people have never had to fight for their "rights" and the democracy was put in place by the US occupation and they therefore do not really feel like they are active participants in it. In fact, Takano-san pointed out that the pre-war Meiji constitution is a good place to go to understand what the Japanese think about government. That constitution apparently stated that the Emperor would treat cause people to be "free" and treated fairly and that the bureaucracy was empowered by the Emperor to make sure this happened. (I have not read it myself so my paraphrasing may be a bit off...) What happened after the war was that the US occupation kept the bureaucracy, the former right hand of the Emperor, in place because it was so handy in execution. After the Americans left, the bureaucracy has stayed in place, now with power, but no leadership and a faux democracy that sort of dances around it.

The session after mine was a session on the future of Japan moderated by Oki Matsumoto. It was also interested. Ms. Ogasawara, was on the panel, was the heir of a 700 year old school of Japanese formality. This includes proper speech honorifics and other things. It lead me back to some thinking that I had in Kyoto. Much of Japanese culture would not exist if we flattened society and embraced more diversity. (Which I of course am greatly in favor of.) For instance, the whole school that Ms. Ogasawara represents is basically a way to properly express different levels in society. The Geisha in Kyoto and many of the people and things that I love about Japan come from a deep rooted caste system and intolerance to diversity.

I think that there are many things that become important choices for a country. The balances between privacy and security, openness/diversity vs. tradition/culture, short term economic productivity vs. some quality of life issues. These are things that the people should decide and a good democracy is the only for the people of a nation to make an educated choice on these issues.

I left the drinking party right after the Governor at around 2:30 am. Most of the people were still going strong. I wonder how they feel this morning. ;-)

Governor Domoto greeting some of my neighbors
Governor 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...

schwarz4.jpgThe entry on Bopuc's blog about 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.

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...

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...

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."

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. ;-)

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.

I received a link from Chris to a fanimutation called Irrational Exuberance by Veloso at 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.

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!

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

Thanks Gerfried!

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 Shimbun

In 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].

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. ;-p

Foreign Affairs
Japan’s Gross National Cool

Japan 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?

Japan Times
Behead parents of boy suspect, minister says

Yoshitada 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.

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.

The 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 sex for money offer from Jr. High School girl in Shibuya than from a geisha.

I think geisha represent the polygamist past of Japan more than they represent prostitutes. Even one generation ago, many men had many women with whom they had children. One of my good friends has over 40 siblings, many of the mothers are geisha. Japan is still very arranged marriage oriented and until recently was almost entirely so. What was really happening in a marriage was two families negotiating a relationship that was solidified in the exchange of children. The geisha and other mistresses were often treated at part of the large extended family and were treated well and often publicly recognized. The children were not as recognized as the official children, but were also treated with a great deal of respect.

The geisha have gone through a variety of changes in their roles in the past and are now totally different from where they started out. I think the height of the geisha's role was when poor families would sell their young women to the okiya and the okiya would provide young women to the tea houses to take care of the powerful men. The powerful men would choose from these maiko their favorites and sponsor them to be geisha. The power men would support the geisha financially and indirectly the traditional dance and arts that the geisha performed. These days, people don't "sell" their children so most geisha become geisha to learn the tradition and to meet interesting people. Most people who go to tea houses can not afford to be a full sponsor of a geisha and corporate expense accounts pay for most of the drinks. People still sponsor geisha but it only usually works when both are truly in love and in many cases, this turns into a true marriage.

So, there are a lot of bars and even tea houses that are about prostitution. In fact there is even a service in Gion that provides prostitutes who double as geisha to tea houses for the foreigners who come to Kyoto thinking that geisha are prostitutes and insist on having sex. On the other hand, the bars that have evolved from the traditional tea houses and the old tea houses in Kyoto are still fairly legitimate places for people to meet future wives and for women to look for future husbands outside of the arranged marriage system.

I forget her name now, but there is a female academic who asserts that monogamy is a plot by the weak and poor men in Japan to get their fair share of women. She blames the drop in birthrates in Japan on this. She said that she would rather be the second wife of a wealthy man than the first wife of a poor man and that there weren't enough good men to go around now. ;-)

And as I said at the beginning of this post. I have a very torn moral stance here. I don't think it is fair that women are not treated equally in Japan and the "tradition" is not supportive of women's' rights. On the other hand, there are a lot of amazing things that tradition supports including a great deal of art and culture. The "value" of a man probably should not be defined by their wealth or their political influence. On the other hand, having children that you can't support is probably not a responsible thing to do. Then we can later about whether the fact that there are men who can't support their children is the fault of society or the men...

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...

Mizuka posing in front of Daiichi.
The first thing you see when you enter your room at Daiichi is a Daichi cloth covering your place setting.
Removing the cloth, you find a sparse setting for your meal.
The meal begins with a small portion of stewed, chilled suppon served with a little bit of chilled soup and some sliced ginger. Yum.
The stew arrives. The Stew is in clay pots, some over a century old. The pots are heated with coal to an extremely high temperature and are delivered on wooden boxes. The pots are so hot that the stew continues to boil through the serving without any additional heat.
Here's what the stewed suppon looks when it arrives in MY bowl.
Another very important part of the experience is the hot sake in the suppon soup. This really tastes amazing. Nothing like it on earth.
The suppon bones look kind of strange and I try not to figure out which bones come from which parts of the turtle.
You must finish the soup... Then comes another serving of stew.
Next comes the pickles. They're good too, but you have to sort of sit there and stare at them until the zosui comes which you're supposed to eat the pickles with.
Then comes to zosui. It is another clay pot with rice in boiling suppon broth. An egg or two are broken over the bubbling zosui and stirred.
Then the zosui ends up in your bowl. (Sorry Dr. Atkins!)
As you near the end of the zosui the zosui gets crispy and brown where it sticks to the pot... That's called okoge and tastes REALLY good.

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.

The geisha, and maiko are given tickets that they must sell to their patrons. The tea houses pick up many of these tickets and distribute them to their clients. Mizuka and I always buy a pair from Kaoru.
The show consists of a plot that changes every year, but it all is framed in four sections and there is a scene for each season where all of the maiko come out in a line.
On the left hand side of the theater, the Japanese drums and the Japanese flutes play. The geisha playing the flute in this picture is our good friend Fukunami.
On the right side of the theater are the geisha who play the shamisen and sing. The geisha third from the left is Kimiya-san and the geisha second from the left is Komomo-san. Both good friends.
And everyone shows up for the grand finale!
The geisha also do a tea ceremony for the guests.
The Japanese green tea made and served by the geisha is nice and you get to keep the plate that the snack comes on. (Sorry again Dr. Atkins!)

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.

As far as I know, there were three parties. One party for insiders last week, the party I went to at 7pm which was for 1500 of Mr. Mori's closest friends and one today 1 hr later for other special friends. It was quite impressive, but I was already expecting to be impressed so Mizuka and I cruised through the tour, slammed down the champagne, ate tonkatsu at one of the new restaurants and split.

There was a flower motif and these strange alien-like characters on the screen and in person. (the thing in the picture with Mizuka.) I'm not sure what they were, but they were all over the place. It is an amazing building and should change the landscape and traffic around Roppongi area significantly.

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.

I feel self-conscious about quoting my one quotes after that parody of this site but:

A tour of the
business-class lounges at Narita airport, says Joichi Ito, an internet entrepreneur, reveals how senior managers feel about information technology: "In United's lounge everyone has their laptop out; in the Japan Airlines lounge they are all drinking beer."
Actually, someone else pointed this out to me a long time ago and I have since observed it myself and have used it as one of my favorite examples.

PS Having a meal with TWO Brian B's in Tokyo this week was very confusing for my calendar...

PPS The Economist site link is "premium content". blah.

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.

A Japanese guy (site in Japanese but great pictures) with long hair cuts his hair to make a chonmage. Chonmage's are now only worn by sumo wrestlers and actors in samurai movies. This guy goes out to dinner and even gets his picture taken for his drivers license with his new 'doo. Chris, you should try this next.

I'm sitting in the Councilors meeting of the Internet Association of Japan. This is a foundation and the "process" is rather stuffy and official. I was thinking of speaking up against their rating and filtering system, but the "mood" is quite formal and not too conducive to "speaking up." I think I'll contact them privately and ask them to explain it to me in detail before making any official statement.

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

Oops. Almost missed another motion... clap clap...

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.

We talked about Japanese animism. In Japan, there is a concept of the Sato Yama which doesn't really translate directly into English. It's the small mountain forest which often has the spring where the river flows from. The community cares for the forest and the river. There is a great deal of Shito ritual involved. People used to make little shrines at the springs where the rivers start. The God of the river was worshiped. (Incidentally, this God is female.) The God makes sure that you don't pee in the river or otherwise taint the source of the water for those people downstream. Very practical. Many people have forgotten these rituals and people are building golf courses on top of springs. Alex Kerr also writes about Japan's "love of nature" being sort of fake. I think that it is quite misguided, but I did sense a real love of nature and a hope that things could change from the forestry researchers that we talked to. As Alex Kerr points out, there was a lot of public works money poured into rivers and forests that caused harm, but the researchers seem to be trying to guide things back on course.

Governor Domoto is creating a new bill to allow people to set up special communities to manage Sato Yama's. A community is in charge of a small forest/mountain/river/spring and they follow many of the Shinto rituals and provide for themselves. This sounds interesting.

The researchers also talked about the extinction of the Japanese Wolf. There is evidence that they were exterminated systematically, although this is not conclusive. There are rumors that meat laced with poison is secretly used in Hokkaido. In any case, there are no more wolves on the main island of Honsshu, so there are a lot of deer and wild boar spreading across Japan. The deer cause wear on the land and also spread the dreaded forest leech. These tiny leeches can spring up your pant leg or through your socks and attach themselves very quickly. They seem to be areal problem for people treking through the mountains these days. They showed us a map of the deer territory in Chiba and how it had expanded. Then they showed up the spread of the leeches which basically mapped the spread of the deer. They also explained how the wild boar usually leads the way creating the paths and the deer follow.

The local farmers have been pleading to the Governor to figure out a way to get rid of the deer. We all decided that systematic extermination was a bad thing. Maybe we should make venison and wild boar a Chiba delicacy and start a trend. We started by eating a wild boar that was caught in the forest. It was good. ;-)

Stall with young priestesses selling charms
Ever 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."
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 Borders
Reporters 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 the four worst offenders - North Korea, China, Burma, Turkmenistan and Bhutan. The top end of the list shows that rich countries have no monopoly of press freedom. Costa and Benin are examples of how growth of a free press does not just depend on a country's material prosperity. The index was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries. The others were not included in the absence of reliable information.
Rank Country Note
1 Finland 0,50
- Iceland 0,50
- Norway 0,50
- Netherlands 0,50
5 Canada 0,75
6 Ireland 1,00
7 Germany 1,50
- Portugal 1,50
- Sweden 1,50
10 Denmark 3,00
11 France 3,25
12 Australia 3,50
- Belgium 3,50
14 Slovenia 4,00
15 Costa Rica 4,25
Rank Country Note
- Switzerland 4,25
17 United States 4,75
18 Hong Kong 4,83
19 Greece 5,00
20 Ecuador 5,50
21 Benin 6,00
- United Kingdom 6,00
- Uruguay 6,00
24 Chile 6,50
- Hungary 6,50
26 South Africa 7,50
- Austria 7,50
- Japan 7,50
29 Spain 7,75
- Poland 7,75

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 into mental collapse. There is a word in Japanese, gambatte, which doesn't have an equivalent English term, but means something like "work harder" but with a nuance that you will be rewarded with praise if you do. This word is an example of the "work harder" ethic which I think is a problem. Working harder doesn't necessarily lead to working smarter. In fact, many people who work hard avoid thinking or making hard decisions and end up in a mess. I call it kurushimi no bigaku or "the aesthetic of suffering" which makes everything OK if you tried hard enough. Bah!

BBC News
Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK Japan: The Missing Million By Phil Rees Reporting from Japan for Correspondent Teenage boys in Japan's cities are turning into modern hermits - never leaving their rooms. Pressure from schools and an inability to talk to their families are suggested causes. Phil Rees visits the country to see what the "hikikomori" condition is all about.

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 as if I had done something important. Luckily, the co-author is Yoshiko Sakurai who I respect deepy. All of the royalties go to the protest movement. So, I guess some people are trying to make sure I don't look too co-opted by the government. ;-)

The picture is from the shoene (Cool Suit) Page.hadasemisleev.jpgYesterday 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 Minister Hata is show here on the "cool suit" page with his short sleeve shoene suit which I hear he still wears.

Also, the New York Times reports: The Nation: Pressed for Success; When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Put On Suits

At the meeting yesterday, I complained about the heat as well as the fact that we all were wearing neckties. One of the older men said, "I can't focus without my necktie on." Another guy said, "it doesn't feel like you're working when you don't have a tie on."

Well. TOUGH. I'm wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt today. I'm not tucking my shirt in either. So for those of you people who are offended by my fashion today, too bad!

neck.icon.gif Kyoto is the center for the geisha business. In Kyoto, there are two main districts for geisha, Gion and Pontocho. Everyone has their preference, but Gion is the more traditional of the two.

In Gion, there are tea houses called ochaya where they geisha and the maiko go to perform and entertain guests. The ochaya manager is called okasan and she orders food and arranges the entertainment for the guests. The customers usually have a relationship with the Ochaya. Ochaya generally do not take new costumers without an introduction.

Young women are first enlisted into the trade as Maiko and move into dorm like facilities called okiya. okiya have managers who act like the Maiko's mother and set up lessons, make sure they come home on time and generally take care of the Maiko's affairs. At first they are taught the Kyoto dialect if they are from out of town. They then undergo substantial training in dance, singing, and general social rules. Maiko wear very heavy white makeup and are generally very young. In the past, when a Maiko found a patron, she would move out of the okiya and into a home sponsored by the patron. These days, when Maiko perform this ritual called erigaishi, they move out of the okiya into single living quarters. At this time they stop wearing the white makeup. Recently, this happens when Maiko are around 18 years old.

In Gion, most Maiko's names start with either "mame" or "ichi" representing the two main Maiko lineages from two very famous geisha. Ichisuzu is a representative from the "ichi" group. The image above is an image of her from behind. Mamehide is from the "mame" lineage.

To be continued...