Category Archives: Travel

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

 

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

NicoNico Chokaigi 2012 Event report

Spent the day yesterday in Makuhari at the NicoNico Chokagi, a special event going on this weekend.

NicoNico Chokaigi - 05

View slideshow

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.

http://www.chokaigi.jp/

Read the rest of this entry

Mobile Office: Power Up Version

Ever hunting for the ultimate mobile setup, I’ve just put the finishing touches on my latest revision of my mobile workstation. This time around, I’m aided with a new MacBook Air 11 inch laptop for a “Pro” configuration.

With the new Sandybridge 1.8ghz i7 chip, this tiny netbook size computer packs some big-boy scale power, enough to let me tether the iPad 2 as a second monitor using the Avatron Air Display app. This way I can run the system as either a dual monitor computer or as two separate machines. I can also add a Bluetooth keyboard and a wireless trackpad to the mix to get that full desktop experience.

Throw in the iPhone for video chatting and etc, and I have three powerful computers that can work together and have enough power to run a small TV station or two Japanese nuclear power plants.

The scary part about this is that including the stands and a wireless cellular router for Internet anywhere, the entire setup weighs just over five pounds, or less than a 15 inch MacBook Pro laptop and it all fits inside the smallest laptop bag I own. Of course I expect a few stares if I set the whole thing up in a cafe and start coordinating an orbital launch while munching a scone.

Progress has allowed us to make computers lighter, smaller, more powerful, and even cheaper at a frightening pace. I expect in just a couple of years I’ll look at this setup and scoff at it’s pitiful specs. But I figure this should last a few months or so.

Would you go out in public with a rig like this? Post a comment below and let me know.

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?