August 07, 2005

Joi Ito's Op-Ed

The New York Times asked Joi Ito to write an op-ed for them commemorating the anniversary of Hiroshima, which he did. It's called "An Anniversary to Forget" and is in today's issue.

I've spent enough time in Japan and studying its culture that, to be honest, I thought that whatever Joi had to say wouldn't be a surprise. In fact, much of what he wrote was new to me, especially the underlying theme of the piece:

For my generation, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war in general now represent the equivalent of a cultural "game over" or "reset" button. Through a combination of conscious policy and unconscious culture, the painful memories and images of the war have lost their context, surfacing only as twisted echoes in our subculture. The result, for better and worse, is that, 60 years after Hiroshima, we dwell more on the future than the past.
I've always assumed that the bombings have never come up in my numerous visits to Japan because they're uncomfortable subjects for the Japanese. What I didn't consider was that they've never come up because the Japanese I know simply don't give them all that much thought.

Well done, Joi.

May 26, 2004


From a special issue (unavailable online) of National Geographic Traveler, a sidebar to an essay on Japanese ryokans:

One of my favorite things about a ryokan is the seating arrangement. When dinner is served, the honored guest is seated with his or her back to the tokonoma, a small alcove that typically holds a scroll, a vase, and an ikebana flower arrangement. I once read an explanation of why the guest sits facing away from the most beautiful part of the room: It's so that the guest actually becomes part of the room's beauty, a lingering presence that fills the ryokan for years afterward. Looking at the empty room, remembering the guest, a Japanese might exclaim "Natsukashii!" -- an expression that conveys a complicated and favorite Japanese emotion, the bittersweet nostalgia for something lovely and loved, now past. -- Cathy N. Davidson, author of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji

December 06, 2003

"The Last Samurai"

I have never reviewed a movie on this blog, and I don't intend to start now. There are plenty of movie reviewers out there, amateur and professional alike, and unless I can provide a unique perspective, I don't see the point.

Having said that, I do want to take this opportunity to urge everyone to see The Last Samurai.

This is one of only two movies that have ever brought tears to my eyes through their sheer overpowering beauty. As for the other, Lawrence of Arabia, I think the director of The Last Samurai, Edward Zwick, has staked his claim as the modern-day Sir David Lean. It is difficult to think of higher praise to give to a filmmaker.

Don't wait for the DVD; The Last Samurai deserves to be seen in a theater, and a good one.

June 05, 2003

Wrapping up in Japan

I'm blogging from the JAL lounge at Narita, where they've kindly installed a free 802.11b network. Very nice.

First, I had both Joi Ito and David Pickering tell me they're annoyed with my habit of captioning photographs above instead of below. Good point. I'm switching as of now.


Joi blogged about his new Sony camera phone yesterday, the SO505i. Here I am taking a picture of him with it. The ergonomics of the SO505i are quite nice: Sony designed it with a swiveling screen, making it usable both open and closed, and the thickness of each of the two pieces (screen and keyboard) is asymmetrical along the longitudinal axis. Something about that asymmetry makes it feel right.


Joi's offices in Akasaka are a two-minute walk from the entrance to the Hie Shrine. It's atop a small hill, with a set of stairs that seems rather long when you're carrying a Dell Inspiron on your shoulder.


Though I'm not religious, there's something about Shinto shrines and their offertory ritual -- rinse hands, rinse mouth, throw coins, bow twice, clap twice, bow -- that appeals to me. I try never to miss an oppotunity to visit a shrine whenever I'm in Japan.


Being sandwiched by dense urban development makes for interesting views from within Hie Shrine -- the new framed by the old.

Now it's back home, with lots of work to be done to follow up on the meetings we had here. Thanks, Joi, not only for arranging the meetings but for having our presentation translated and then leading the discussions as well.

June 04, 2003

Meeting Vibhav Upadhyay

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting Vibhav Upadhyay, chairperson of India Center:

The India Center was created with the vision of injecting a new vitality into Indo-Japanese relations. It aims to be a catalyst, applying its unique methodology to the creation of a special relationship between these two great nations that will grow organically, setting off a chain reaction of activities that promote growing understanding interaction and interdependence.
Vibhav is high-energy, passionate about helping India move forward in the world, and works tirelessly to improve relations between India and Japan.


It was extremely interesting to hear Vibhav's perspective on India and its place in the modern world. If all goes well, I may finally be visiting India soon...

With Joi Ito in Japan

David Pickering and I are in Japan for ADEPT Simulations, our new joint venture for security simulation (more on this later). Joi Ito was kind enough to set up and host two days of meetings with government security types.

Here's Plaza Mikado in Akasaka, where Joi's offices are located:


Here's Joi pointing to how he beat me to blogging our meeting with his new high-resolution camera phone:


Here are Joi and David together:


More entries later today...

June 02, 2003

Off to Tokyo

I'm flying to Tokyo this morning, for two days of meetings arranged by Joi Ito. I'll blog from there beginning tomorrow. See you then.

April 06, 2003

Two Degrees of Joi Ito

I'm becoming convinced that Joi Ito violates the normal laws of social networking and is connected to virtually anyone by just two hops and not the typical six.

A few months ago, an old friend of mine, Eve Blossom, met Joi while both of them were visiting the Bay Area. More recently, Eve returned from a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. While in Vientiane, Laos, Eve happened to meet two women who were visiting from Japan. As they were discussing a book Eve had been reading, one of the women, Yoko Albert (married, as Eve recalled, to an American involved in computer animation), asked if the book was by Scott Fisher. Eve replied no, but that led to a mention of Scott's wife and Joi's sister Mimi, and it turned out that Yoko knew Joi, at least in passing.

As Eve was telling me this story, her husband Jon chimed in with his own. A few years ago, while working at Lucas Learning, Jon received an e-mail from a woman researching a report on the children's software industry, Mizuko Ito. He did a phone interview and then didn't think about it again. About a year ago, he received an e-mail from Mizuko, who was checking quotes. When Eve came back from Laos and mentioned her encounter there, and the name of Joi's sister Mimi came up, Jon wondered, "Mizuko?" and they put it all together.

So here's the new challenge: find someone to whom Joi isn't connected within two hops.

February 22, 2003

Song of Carrot Game

Via Jon Blossom, Syberpunk, "a large repository of all things strange and uniquely Japanese." My favorite is an image on this page, the origin of which I am, sadly, completely unaware:

All together now:
Digging carrots, muddy & muddy Washing them, cut & cut The soup boiling well, hot & hot We all favorite carrot game
How can one not love a song like that?

February 03, 2003

David Smith in Japan

My long-time friend, colleague, and co-founder David Smith is with Alan Kay in Japan, and they dined with Joi Ito the other night:

It's a bit difficult to talk about the past, present and future of computing surrounded by geisha in a tea house, but we tried. Alan talked about how so much of great computer science was invited in the 60's and 70's and we're just getting around to re-discovering some of it...

It's great that Japan really respects Alan Kay and gives him a great deal of credit for his discoveries. I think Ted Nelson also gets much more credit for his discoveries in Japan than he does in the US. Maybe foreigners aren't as threatening. ;-)

Alan and David are working on Squeak and are also developing a completely object oriented, cross-platform, networked, collaborative environment called Croquet which sounds very exciting. David's supposed to give me a demo tomorrow.

Joi's entry on the dinner can be found here.

July 07, 2002

Oh, Those Wacky Japanese

Two pictures taken on my recent trip to Japan that defy explanation. The first was taken at a restaurant (unsampled) between Kappabashi and Akihabara:

The second was taken on a street in Akasaka:

I'm not sure that either picture can or even should be explained. Just the same, when the Blogger engine supports comments, I'll be interested to hear what my Japanese friends have to say...

July 02, 2002

Consumer Wireless in the US and Japan

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times last Sunday, Japan and the United States worlds apart on wireless. The author gets right two key aspects of the Japanese consumer wireless data phenomenon that are often missed by Western writers: tailor-made phones and markets for application developers:

The Japanese carriers were helped by their ability to develop tight relationships with manufacturers such as NEC, Panasonic and Sharp.. A carrier can specify a phone with a camera inside and then launch a photo service to its subscribers. U.S. carriers, on the other hand, have relied on the market leaders like Nokia, which develop their phones independently. It's ready-to-wear versus haute couture. If you deal with Nokia, then you buy off the rack. The carriers in the U.S. have little say on what's built into the phone.
This is true, but beyond being able to specify the feature set of phones, through large volume orders, Japanese carriers specify the very design of their phones, which enables consistent user interfaces and, therefore, consistent interaction with wireless data services. Shops in Akihabara and Shinjuku carry dozens of DoCoMo cell phones, all more or less differentiated, but all featuring the same button layout and same screen resolution. Any i-mode or i-appli (DoCoMo's version of J2ME) service will work identically across these phones. The importance of a stable platform for both consumers and developers can't be overstated.
Japan's carriers set up a business model in which content providers -- the ones who develop the ring tones and games -- could make money. When users choose to play games, a monthly charge of $2.50 or less shows up on their phone bill. The carrier takes a small slice, but about 90 percent goes to the game developer. The result is that 56,000 content sites are available to i-mode subscribers. So far, most of the U.S. carriers have not allowed content providers to assess charges, leaving little incentive to create any compelling content.
This is absolutely correct. DoCoMo makes it easy for application developers not only to develop software and services, but then to deliver them to consumers and receive payment in return. Steps toward such provisioning are happening in the United States, but only slowly. Until carriers here see it as a win-win to enable developers to make money from their customers, the applications won't be there, at least not in significant volume.

June 24, 2002

Japanese Cooking Lesson

Last night, we were invited to the house of Jun and Tomoko Kurata. Jun works for Lamuz, a Tokyo company which the team at AirEight has known for many years now. Tomoko is his lovely wife.

On my last trip to Tokyo, Jun took me out to a wonderful tempura restaurant atop the Odakyu department store at Shinjuku station. Diners sit at a bar not unlike that in a sushi restaurant, but instead of cutting fish, the chefs are frying small batches of treats and serving them immediately. Lemon juice and four types of salt are provided for seasoning purposes. One of the types of salt was made using green tea and was called, logically enough, shio macha (salt green tea). I found it quite tasty. Later during that trip, I went looking for it at one of Tokyo's best food halls, Mitsukoshi in Ginza, and they looked at me as if I was from another planet.

Me: "Shio macha arimas-ka?"

Mitsukoshi employee: This guy is clearly from another planet.

Last Friday, Jun offered to take Bill and me to dinner, and when Bill heard about the tempura restaurant, we couldn't resist a return trip. Over dinner, I told Jun about my unsuccessful shio macha search. I also talked about my recent and clumsy attempt to make tamagoyaki (egg omelet) at home. (It didn't taste awful, but it looked... unappetizing.) Little did I know where these conversational tidbits would lead.

Sunday, Jun called and offered to have us out to his place for dinner. Not long after 17:00, we were at a train station northwest of Tokyo, with Jun there to meet us and walk us back to his place. Tomoko was waiting for us with cold drinks and warm hospitality. It turned out that there was more of an agenda to the visit than simply dinner and conversation. Earlier that day, Jun and Tomoko had experimented with making homemade shio macha -- it turns out it can't be bought in stores. Not only did they present us each with a container's worth, they brought out the tools necessary to make more so that we could see exactly how it was done.

For the curious, shio macha is easy to make. You'll need a quantity of very dry salt. Jun and Tomoko used alpine salt from Europe. Kosher salt would also work well. You'll also need powdered macha (green tea): one-fifth the quantity of salt you're using will work well. Grind the salt (a hand mixer with grinding attachment works well) until it's the consistency of the powdered macha. Mix the two together and strain them. Presto! Shio macha works well on tempura and would probably work well on many sorts of friend and/or fatty foods. It would probably also be tasty as a rub for grilling chicken and other meats.

Jun and Tomoko weren't done there. Hearing my tale of tamagoyaki woe, Jun conspired with Tomoko to make a fresh batch for us while we were there, using the recipe from his hometown, which doesn't use sato (sugar) as the Tokyo style does. It's too much to describe fully, but suffice to say that everything was made from scratch, including the dashi (soup stock) made from katsuo (bonito), which hardly any Japanese do anymore.

Here's Jun cooking the tamagoyaki in a special pan:

I have decided to blame my earlier failure on my lack of such a purpose-designed pan. That's either the truth or a comforting lie.

June 22, 2002

Kappabashi and LaOX

I'm in Tokyo with Bill Gibson, AirEight's VP Engineering. It's monsoon season here: warm and humid most days, cooling down briefly immediately after a storm.

We did the shopping thing today: first Ginza, then a train ride to Kappabashi, then a walk to Akihabara, then a train ride back to the hotel.

Ginza and Akihabara are well-known and probably don't deserve description here (with one exception below). I hadn't heard of Kappabashi until this trip. It's a street lined with restaurant supply stores. Everything one would need to start a restaurant in Tokyo -- save the fresh food -- can be found here. It's an amazing place if you're a little geeky about cooking (which Bill is and to which I aspire) or Japanese culture (which I am and to which I think Bill might be headed).

Probably the largest store in Akihabara is LaOX, which is actually a series of multi-story stores clustered in the district. LaOX is much fun, but you have to listen to the LaOX jingle as you walk through it. There's the instrumental version, which isn't so terribly bad, but then there's the vocal version, with its oh-so-Japanese singer who can warble just on the edge of screaming. The melody is catchy in that awful, Oh-God-please-don't-let-this-infect-my-brain kind of way. On the last trip I had Richard Boyd threatening me if I hummed it again. Bill was almost to that point today. I remembered how the US Army blasted rock music at someone for psychological warfare purposes -- was it Manuel Noriega? -- and thought that perhaps I should let them know about the LaOX melody. I could work there for maybe a day before losing it.