Category Archives: Japan

Japan

Ten years, eight months later, leaving Japan

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

 

Wireless Japan 2012 Report: Lucy and her football

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”.

Stupid football…

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.

 

Panasonic lights up Tokyo with Firefly festival

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.

Tokyo Hotaru 2012 - 09

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.

Tokyo Hotaru 2012 - 01

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.

Tokyo Hotaru 2012 - 07

(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.

Tokyo Hotaru 2012 - 20

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.

Tokyo Hotaru Event Webpage

Panasonic Hotaru info page

Livestreaming Report: Belgian Beer Weekend

Three days and 26 hours in the can. I’m writing this on the train to my last day live streaming the Belgian Beer Weekend Tokyo event at Roppongi Hills Arena. Just 8 hours left!

Had a very fun trial run this week with my gypsy Internet TV studio. I think I’m liking the name “Studio@stevenagata” for this monster of mismatched parts from my closet, computers and electrical tape. So far no major hiccups, but a few minor technical glitches I’ll have to work on.

The biggest problem so far has been errors on the Roland VR-5 mixer causing some of the saved streams to corrupt on closing. I lost a few bits I had meant to save including a music act that I thought went pretty well. Since we are not archiving online the video, I’m afraid, is lost forever. Will have to run some endurance tests to try and nail down the problem. Otherwise I might look into on off board video recorder like an Atmos Ninja.

It’s been fun to see so many friends stop by the event. Hoping a few more might make it by today. Keeping the stream up can be pretty draining so I wasn’t able to chat much, but hope that today will be a bit lighter as I starting together the hang of things.

The event itself has been super cool. Great bands, good food, 62 types of beer and a crowd expected to top 20,000 for the four days. Early metrics showing we’ll beat that number decisively with online viewers. Super thanks to Akoni KK, Rob Van Nylen and Dean Fujii for bringing me on board for this event. Hope to do more like it in the future (I hear talk of a possible fashion show! (^_^) ). Also big props to ace Cameraman and super geek Joseph Tame for putting in 4x hours over the agreed work and covering all the concerts like a pro.

Definitely stop by if you have time today. It’s really a great atmosphere. Or tune in on the livestream at http://bit.ly/bbw2011. More detailed reports on my studio later *I hope*

Dark Anniversary: Akiba Massacre +3 years

This Saturday marks the three month anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Today marks another dark day for Japan however. Three years ago Tomohiro Kato, a disgruntled worker drove a rental truck into the crowds of Akihabara’s Pedestrian Sunday, a day the main street is closed off and turned off for traffic allowing shoppers to fill the street. Three people were killed after being hit by the truck, after stopping, Kato jumped out and begin attacking people with a dagger. Dozens were injured and another four victims were killed in the knife attack.

Japan is often plagued by these so-called toorima (通り魔) attacks, basically violent attacks on total strangers because the perpetrator is “pissed off”, but this has taken the lead as one of the worst in the countries history. Just a few weeks ago, Kato received the death penalty from the courts for his actions, and today at the scene of the attack, friends and family of the victims pay respects by leaving gifts and flowers by the side of the road. In typical Akiba fashion, the makeshift shrine holds not only flowers and paper cranes, but also canned coffee, energy drinks, and anime CDs.

Tragedies on an individual and societal level will never end. It’s part of life and we keep going on. The Pedestrian Sunday has been cancelled since the attack, but just a couple of months ago, the police and local government decided to reinstate it. You can see the busy intersection at the center of the attack now via a 24 webcam an d Akihabara is back to normal (or whatever passes for normal in this town). You cant stop all bad things from happening, but thats not really an excuse for living a morally vacant life (I’m looking at you Ayn Rand). Personally I just try to do more good than bad. I figure if we all do that the world become a pretty decent place for everyone. Why not try to do something nice for a stranger today, it could be for a victim of a natural disaster, or a refugee from a man-made disaster, or just a guy who had a really bad day at work. What could it hurt?