All my bags are packed I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I arrived in Japan in the spring of '02. Arrogant and unsure, excited and cautious, with just a couple of suitcases and almost no contacts on the ground.
Over a decade later it is now time to end this chapter of my life and begin the next one. Over the years I have laughed and loved, cried and screamed, achieved some of my greatest triumphs, spent days cowering in my bedroom hiding from imaginary monsters. I have made a great many amazing friends who will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I have lost a small number whose absence still haunt my thoughts on cold winter nights. I have achieved a great deal, yet I often thought of myself as a fraud.
And I have learned to love this place. So much it tears at my soul to leave. But leave, I must.
These past few years I have often lamented the lack of leadership in this country, the bleak economic future, the degrading social structure and the lack of good Mexican restaurants. But this is not why I leave. The problem is me, not you.
But the dawn is breakin' it's early morn
The taxi's waitin' he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die
More and more I have noticed my weaknesses getting strong, my strengths slipping away as I have lost my direction. I have been comfortable. I found, not what I longed for, but what made me feel comfortable. I was letting fear of the unknown push me around in exchange for safe, clean public transportation and one of the best lifestyles in the world. I left my apartment every day and never feared that a lion might eat me before I made it home that night. Life was just too easy.
Lately I have been looking for a catalyst. Something to take me out of my comfort zone and get me living a forward focused life again. I have been looking for the end of the world. And damn, if I didn't find it.
Oh baby, I hate to go
There's so many times I've let you down
So my apartment has been disassembled, pieces scattered to the winds. I arrived with just a couple of bags and I leave practically in the same condition. Ive traded in all I have for a chance at a new start. And I couldn't be more excited/terrified about it. There are so, so many things I will miss. My comfort spots and my hidden secrets. I'll miss the friends I have made and I'll miss the rich texture of living in one of the most complex and rich cities in the world. I'll miss the world class arts scene and the geek enclave that has been both my home and playground for the last few years. I'll miss the way you can understand what a total stranger is thinking without a look, word, or gesture, but by simply understanding the context of the moment. I'll even miss learning how to be lonely in a city of over 12 million people. Oh, and I'll miss late night combini runs for curry-pan. They are awesome.
Every place I go, I'll think of you
Every song I sing, I'll sing for you
Luckily i am not giving all this up forever. In truth I expect to be back in just a few months. My new job includes a focus on Japan that will bring me back often and keep this country well on my radar. But this is no longer my home. My hat stays on my head or hand. The next time I walk the streets, it will be not as a resident, but once again as a visiting alien, collecting samples and abducting livestock for dark sinister… Err Ok that one got away from me there.
I hope I am making the right decision. The fact that I am so unsure about this move makes me feel that I might finally be getting back on track. For any of my friends who may be surprised by this news, I apologize for keeping this quiet. In truth this was all quite sudden and really only became a real plan a couple of weeks ago. I intend to have my “going away party” but I'm afraid it will have to wait until next year sometime when I can get back for a few days,
So after ten years and eight months this will be my last post as “Steve from Tokyo”. Coming soon (I hope) will be a posts from my new home and life. For these precious years living in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, from the bottom of my heart, “thank you”.
Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh baby, I hate to go
It really can’t get much worse than this right?
A screwed up IPO and tanking stock price is holding key investors hostage on the titanic and putting a big cramp into stock option sports car purchases, so let’s top off the week with a privacy issue story spiced with a whiff of user apathy. In order to lock in a part, the social network just needs to fall through an open manhole and have a door smash a cream pie into it’s face.
Call me Charlie Brown. Every year I fall for it.
A decade ago, the first trade show I ever visited in Japan was Wireless Japan. I was dying to see the new 3G network phones and cutting edge wireless technology that was the envy of consumers around the world. Ostensibly my main goal revolved on finding out when Japan would add Blackberry service or what alternatives there were in the works. Oh what an absurd rabbit hunt into Wonderland that turned out to be.
This year, as is tradition, I made the trek to Tokyo Big Site to see what I could see. At first, I wondered if the malaise I felt was because things had changed. The venue seemed less full, less energetic. But now I realize the problem is not what has changed, but what has not changed.
Here’s an example. Casio was there with, I kid you not, a Cassiopeia branded barcode scanner running Windows CE.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Had a nice chat with an engineer at the booth about how sad I was that the once revered Casio PDA brand had been completely wiped out years ago and how it would be great if they could find a way to revive it with something new and innovative like the old days.
I spotted the Brother booth showing off their new Air Scouter glasses type display system. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release next month to learn more about this device which looks like a slightly more dorky version of Google Glasses.
Indeed, the device was very shiny. While the look made me feel like a 1980’s era science teacher, the display was crisp, and seemed by usable, creating a floating screen that felt like a monitor about a foot away from my left eye.
“How’s the power requirements” I asked. “It draws from the USB port so as long as your computer has charge it works” the rep replied.
“ah, cool… Wait… Huh?”
After some roundabout answers we come to the point that there is only one interface available. USB to Windows OS. When I asked by there was no HDMI/VGA/Composite Video interface the rep said, “this was the easiest way”.
It’s like no one there was even trying. Well, one group was. NTT had a huge booth pitching its mobile VOIP solution 050+ which is kinda like Skype where you pay lots of money. But what they lack in ethics or originality, they more than made up in audacity with booth attendants dressed up like idol singers, one of which kept flashing her knee tattoo of the brand logo to me so much I think she must be a soccer player.
Sure there were plenty of Android phones and Apple accessories, but nothing new, nothing interesting. It feels like walking around a 5th grade science fair. Everyone showing off a potato battery and looking at you to praise them for making something so cool.
Meanwhile no one official seems to take this event remotely seriously. While Docomo and Au were there, they mostly had leftovers and hand me downs from other shows and events. Despite its recent launch, there was practically no presence by Docomo’s NotTV, the Nth iteration mobile TV boondoggle that they have spent a fortune marketing. While they had a giant booth with a live TV studio at CEATEC last year, they were happy with a small table in a corner of the Docomo booth here. SoftBank of course boycotts most of these trade shows in Japan, and even OEM giant Huawei just has a tiny booth in a corner of the floor where it looks like they just handed out business cards to anyone curious enough to stop by their spartan space.
I can’t stress enough how wrong this feels. This is Japan. Japan pushed the boundaries of consumer mobile tech to mythical levels before the iPhone showed up. While Americans were excited over a Color LCD screen on their Nokia, Japanese consumers had Digital TV sets in their handset. Sharp made the first mobile Cellular PDA, J-Phone introduced the camera phone, Docomo had the first active 3G network. While the world media was glued to Tim Cook’s speech at D10 today, no one was watching for Japan’s premier wireless technology expo, not even here in Japan.
Except me. Sitting here in the dirt, watching Lucy laugh as she walks away with that football.
On the final day of Golden Week, the cluster of national holidays in Japan each spring that sends families all over the country into a spring break like frenzy, a new type of festival was launched.
The Tokyo Hotaru (firefly) Festival, sponsored by Tokyo Municipal Govt. and other businesses and government entities literally lit up the Sumidagawa river near Asakusa by floating 100,000 small LED lanterns downstream. The festival, with a heavy Eco-friendly theme highlighted the lanterns, provided by Panasonic, each containing a small solar cell and a rechargeable battery. The result was a summer festival for a new generation, replacing large fireworks display with a high tech version of an ancient tradition.
This was an excellent opportunity for Panasonic, having recently purchased state of the art eco-tech through their Sanyo acquisition, to highlight their line of LED lightbulbs. Each of the 100,000 glowing balls dumped into the river contained a high power LED bulb and an Evolta rechargeable battery. I was very impressed with the overall design of the lanterns, each waterproof ball containing it’s own solar panel recharging system. Two metal leads on the bottom of each ball creates a circuit, that when floating in water is connected turning on the light. Simple, elegant and a stunning effect when floating en mass in the water.
(a shot of my recently obtained Sphero robot pondering joining its friends)
Another winner for this festival is Tokyo Skytree, the new digital broadcast tower that at 634 meters is the second tallest structure in the world. Officially opening in just a few weeks, the tower is illuminated with thousands of high intensity LED light bulbs (also by, you guessed it, Panasonic), but as part of the festival, the tower was fully illuminated. The cherry on the cake was the Supermoon rising right behind the tower just as the festival hit full swing.
Last year many festival were cancelled after the 3/11 quake and the full shutdown of all nuclear reactors in Japan has put huge pressure this summer on power conservation efforts, so this festival couldn’t have come at a better time. A combination of large scale festive, public event, a strong eco-friendly message, and a celebration of the technical ability of the country that was well received at challenging time. I look forward to more events like this in the future and hope this marks a new tradition.
Spent the day yesterday in Makuhari at the NicoNico Chokagi, a special event going on this weekend.
NicoNico Douga is a Japanese video sharing and online streaming service. It fills a niche of Pirate Otaku Video so you can imagine what this place was like. Cosplayers, Itasha, Idols, Ikemen Otagei dance performances… ^^;
Saw my friends from Neurowear there doing the Japan launch of the brain wave controlled robot necomimi. Judging by the huge number of girls (and way too many guys for my comfort) wandering around the site I think you could call this a very successful launch.
The event is running today if you are looking for something to do. That is if you have a high tolerance for crowds, blaring loudspeakers, crazy otaku stuff and EM radiation.