Walking Backwards

Do you ever feel like you’re moving through a fog, going backwards? The clip from Tokyo Reverse is a highlight reel from a 9 hour video of someone who did just that, walk through the streets of Tokyo, in reverse. Ludovic Zuili, the man in the video, was filmed walking backwards and then the footage was flipped around so that he was shown walking forwards and everyone else is shown walking in reverse. The effect is strange and, trippy.

Those of you who know Tokyo will recognize Shibuya, Harajuku, and Akihabara in the clip.

Read more on BBC and Le Monde

PechaKucha Night

While in Tokyo last week, I had the good fortune to attend a PechaKucha event in the place where it all started. PechaKucha is a simple idea delivery engine. The concept was invented by architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein as a clever way to keep architects from hogging the microphone and going on too long about their projects. Each presentation is limited to 20 slides which automatically advance after 20 seconds (20×20). The rest is history.

Marking the City is an example of the weird and wonderful performances that take place. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo and have wondered about all the amazing markings on the pavement, Nick Bruscia attempts to explain the hidden meanings locked within.

Tilt Shift, Timelapse Cities

I think I stumbled across a new genre. Shooting your city in time lapse and giving it the tilt shift treatment.

San Francisco

New York

Tokyo

Paris

Does your city have a particularly nice timelapse, tilt shift video?

Update from Tokyo

Following up on last week’s letter, here’s an update from my father who lives in Tokyo.

–The New York Times says just short of half a million people are now in “shelters,” which in most cases means living on a blanket spread out on the floor of a high-school gymnasium. Most of these rural people have lost everything, even their money, which they did not keep in the local bank but in the top drawer of their bureau, which has been swept away.

–Most recent addition to the shelters are a young boy and an 80-year-old woman rescued after eight days under rubble.

–Shibuya crossing in front of Shibuya Station is known for its people jams, in which 600 people can step off the curb when the light changes. These days, however, it’s more like fifty people.

–One fashionably dressed lady in the train this morning was wearing a highly polished helmet.

–In the stations, escalators going up are operating, but people are expected to descend to the platform on their own. Elevators are kept operating, though, for people who genuinely have difficulty climbing stairs.

–Although many stores in Tokyo are closed or at least partially shut down, the cosmetics counters on the first floor of department stores, where some of Tokyo’s most attractive ladies man the stands, are open for business. A morale booster, clearly.

–Gasoline is being rationed, which everyone understands. By lining up early in the morning at the stand at the bottom of the hill, we were able to get 12 liters–maybe four gallons. But in Tokyo the trains take us wherever we want. In the rural disaster area, people can’t get anywhere without a car. They may have to drive 30 kilometers for gasoline.

–We have heard of a family living uncomfortably close to the endangered power plants evacuating to Yokohama. A family of eight in a car driving 150 miles.

–We learned a few days ago that radiation has been detected in shipments of spinach. In its determination to provide everyone with as much information as possible, NHK shows a map of the ten prefectures in question, with the precise level of radiation one could expect in the spinach from each prefecture.

–“Foreigners” seeing videos of residents of Tokyo wearing white face masks might think they are protection against radiation. No, it’s protection against hay-fever pollen.

–There are far fewer ads in the trains and stations than usual, although beer ads celebrating the coming of spring (tra la) are plentiful.

My mother adds that she had to give up on getting milk at the local grocery store because the line was too long. Milk supplies are down because radiation contamination has impacted the supply. The local department store was only open from 4pm until 7pm as they were trying to save on electricity and she recently had to line up at 6am to get gasoline for the family car which is being rationed out to just 10 liters/car.

—– 0 —–

Meanwhile, I read in local press that the Finns have moved the seven staff in their Tokyo office down south with the Danes in their Hiroshima offices. This move was prompted, in a historic twist of irony, to avoid potential nuclear fallout from the reactors in Fukushima.

Letter from Tokyo

My father just sent an email yesterday to my sister and I describing the situation in Tokyo. Knowing how everything runs like clockwork in that city, it’s even more striking how the country adapts when they have to improvise.

Tokyo Tower bent following earthquake

Four days after the quake we are still feeling aftershocks. We’ve received over sixy aftershocks so far and clearly there are more to come. We have learned another is on the way when the hanging drawer-pulls of the bureau begin to tinkle. But you know, after a while it all begins to lapse into a routine, especially as no one here ever gets excited and the Japanese instinct to rally round is inbred.

Mikie and I are a couple hundred kilometers south of the scenes of devastation you’ve seen on TV and we’re on a hill, so we’re pretty safe, I guess. We are told, though, that we should expect another follow-up quake and the ensuing tsunami.

There has been little damage in Tokyo, although the radio aerial at the tip of Tokyo Tower was bent. A number of multi-story stores in downtown Tokyo have closed to make sure their structure has not been damaged, although their (disposable?) clerks behind the information counter on the first floor remain on duty to apologize to customers for the inconvenience.

Because the nuclear power complex in the stricken area has been closed down, electricity is being rationed and this has brought home to everyone just how dependent a city like Tokyo is on electric power. No electricity means no trains, no traffic lights, no doors opening automatically on your approach, no pumping of gas, no automatic bottom-washing in toilets.

The trains, usually punctual to the minute, are no longer posting any schedule at all. To conserve electricity, lights in stations have been dimmed and escalators and elevators have been shut down. There is a palpable commeraderie among people now forced to ascend a long stairway to the street or to descend to the platform. We used to be able to go through station turnstiles by swiping our wallet across a reader, but now we have to endure the inconvenience of actually showing our pass to the station attendant, who shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes.

The evening the quake hit, all trains were immediately stopped because it wasn’t certain that the tracks had not been bent, so thousands of office workers couldn’t get home. A sense of commeraderie flowered then, too, as people found refuge in the back room of their favorite little drinking spot, or in one of the temples that opened for the occasion, or on a park bench, or just on the street.

With the trains running now, although to an irregular schedule, we seem to be inching back to a regular routine, but coming home on the train last night, the train stopped because Train Control had warned the driver that an aftershock was expected (better notice that the drawer-pulls of our bureau) and in fact after a minute the train rolled gently from side to side. The conductor apologized.

It may be worth noting that the Financial Times reported that when the quake struck, ten minutes before the Tokyo Stock Exchange closed, the trading floor was shaken, which brought about a feverish selling of the yen and of Japanese stock generally–a testament to the brutal efficiency of Capitalism.

What to do in Tokyo?

UPDATE: added links to new Detour audio tour links. If you try them out, let me know how they are in the comments!

An old friend is visiting Tokyo and asked for recommendations. I often get this kind of question (I lived there for 10 years and am half-Japanese)  so for future reference, to point people in the future (and a place to park any follow up suggestions in the comments) I’ll put my recommendations here in this post. Here’s the (slightly edited) request:

I’d love some advice on what you’d do if you had Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. ( I’m ignoring that we’ll be tired!) I’d love to head out of Tokyo by train (maybe take bullet train someplace, I have not been on it). Some art and shopping but mostly seeing/experiencing things.

Here’s my response.  Feel free to add your own tidbits or call bullshit in the comments:

Basically for the short time you’re there, forget the Bullet train. Odawara is the first stop on the Bullet and while it has a castle, you don’t want to spend a day just to see that. Kyoto is worth a trip but it’s a three hour trip each way and you don’t want to be rushed to see the city – it requires a relaxed, peaceful pace.

So basically you’re in town from Saturday night, checking out Wednesday. Here’s the plan:

Hotel.

If you want something Japanese, try Meguro Gajoen, it’s on the right side of the city to the modern sights you want to see but will still give you a feel for a grand old Japanese hotel. They say that one of the rooms was the inspiration for a scene in the animated film, Spirited Away.  Ask to be put in a room where you can sleep on tatami. Trip Advisor has some write-ups with links to things to do in the neighborhood (Parisitological Museum? Maybe. Japan Folk Crafts Museum? Defintely!) and here’s a longer review from 2006.

Saturday:

It’ll take you at least a couple of hours to get from the airport to the city so I’ll leave the day open.

For your first night out, ask the concierge for a decent Ramen place for noodles. If you want to make it into a quest, read this NY Times piece to get in the mood. Once you have Ramen in Japan, you’ll never eat it anything like it. An alternative, if you feel really hungry, there’s a fried pork cutlet place called Tonki that prepares their meals in an open kitchen which is operating room clean – be sure to get a seat at the counter, it’s quite a production.

Depending on how tired you are, you can head over to Aoyama for some Jazz at the Blue Note or Body & Soul or try out some of the nightclubs in the area. I used to hang out a Yellow but I see they closed. Roppongi’s a bit of a dive but the Pit Inn is a Jazz institution too but if you really want to blow your socks off, catch the show at Kingyo. It’s a weird, only-in-Japan cross between a gay cabaret and Kabuki that is truly unique (get the hotel to reserve this for you in advance).

Sunday:

Head on over to Harajuku (on the Yamonote line) to soak in the street scene. Don’t miss the Rock-a-billy dancers in Yoyogi park and then head on down Omotesando which is basically Tokyo’s equivalent of the Champs-Elysees. Be sure to wind your way back into the side streets to. There’s one that runs to the right, just after (it might be before) Tokyo Kiddyland, the toy store (which you must see). The street is built over a river so it winds it’s way in a gentle zig-zag promenade.

Detour audio tour; Explore the trendy streets of Harajuku as Rei Shito explains how she became Tokyo’s top street fashion photographer.

Continue down that street and you’ll make your way to Shibuya, the next station down the line. If you’ve been checking out the boutiques along the way, it’ll be a good couple of hours.

If you’re up for more – Nakano Broadway is an Otaku Collector Culture paradise. It’ll take you hours to see everything there so pace yourself. When I first arrived I was wondering why there were the occasional massage stations interspersed in amongst the stores but by the time I left, I understood why. Inside you can find everything from old JR conductor’s hats to that rare, in-box Transformer that you’ve been looking for to complete your collection.

Photo Gallery on Google Photos

Detour audio tour; Explore the colorful area of Nakano with US expat Benjamin Boas, who learned Japanese through comic books and video games.

Monday:

OK, I guess you have time for one trip out of town a bit. Kamakura is just 90 mins to the Southwest so if you leave around 9am (missing the morning rush hour) you can make it down there in time to spend a good few hours there. Here’s a site which talks about all that you can see, I recall a hike from temple to temple was real beautiful but forgot how long that took. Try and get back on a train by 4pm or so to avoid the rush hour again and take the train back to Yurakucho so you can get off and walk the Ginza.

While there, try a fancy bar, Star Bar is one and I’ll add more links to this post as I remember them. I’ve never been but Sushi Saito I think is the only sushi place that won three Michelin stars, it’s also in the Ginza.

Since it’s early in the week, you might even be able to squeeze in and visit with my favorite nomiya, Enoki, which is tucked right next the tracks at Shibuya station. You usually need someone to introduce you but if you act nice and it’s not too crowded, you might be able to squeeze in. The conversation there is always lively.

Tuesday:

It’s your last day, what can I say? If you’re jet-lagged and still getting up early, hit the Tskiji fish market.

During the day, visit my old neighborhood, Nezu. It’s on the Chiyoda subway line so best to ask directions from the hotel on how to navigate. It’s over on the East side of the city in a old neighborhood that didn’t get bombed out. You want to walk from Nezu station towards Ueno station but make your way via the side streets, the little back alleys are charming and you may even spot an old hand-pump well if you’re lucky.

One place in Nezu you must see is the Asakura sculpture museum. It’s in the home of a sculpture artist and I’m not such a huge fan of his sculptures but his house is really special and the staff are happy to let you hang out for hours on his veranda looking out on his carp pond.

Near Shinobazu Pond is the Shitamachi museum which will give you a feel for what it was like to live in Tokyo back before the war. It’s a small museum but kinda neat because you really get a sense of what it was like back then.

Detour audio tour ; US-born fine artist Allan West explains why the neighborhood of Yanaka is essential to his artistic and creative journey.

Make your way one stop North of Ueno on the Yamanote line to Okachimachi and you’re in basically the bargin bin of the city. If you’re looking for weird gifts, here’s a good place to check out stuff. If you’re into books, Jimbocho is a great place to browse old books and maybe pick up a woodblock print or two. The latest gadgets can be had at Akihabara but it’s a bit of an otaku freak zone now.  The Yodobashi camera next to the station has everything you need.

Or skip the hubub of shopping and head back over to the jet-set side of town and take the Chiyoda line back over to Omotesando to Radio Bar on Aoyama-dori. This is an institution.

There’s so much more to see – this is only the beginning but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of the city. Enjoy and check back for updates to this post!

Further Reading:

Japan

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Before they drift into the murky past, let me share some thoughts from the trip to Japan. I traveled there at the end of last month to meet Izumi and the kids who had been there for the past two months so Tyler & Julia could go to school in Japan. The Japanese school year overlaps by about six weeks into the US school summer vacation so by taking Tyler out of Kindergarten at the end May, a few weeks early, he was able to get a good two months immersed in Japanese at the local public school down the street from my in-laws in Tokyo.

Both Izumi and I decided that sending the kids to Japanese school would be a wonderful opportunity for them. Because of Tyler’s age, he was not able to go to the Kindergarten that he went to last year. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was worried that Tyler would not be able to keep up with a 1st Grade class going full bore into the end of the year but he did just fine. When I asked him about it, he said that the cafeteria food was better, the math more challenging (and fun), and most importantly, he was psyched because he could go back and tell his friends that he’s already gone to 1st Grade. He didn’t even mention the fact that he was learning a whole new language in the process!

Julia did go to Tyler’s school from last year (here’s a photo of her with her cap & bag). More than just Japanese, her overall verbal skills improved tremendously. Before she left, she was mostly quiet and let her brother do the talking. Now, she’s quick to jump in as well and the dinner table has two little voices that want to give me the download on all the days events.

Izumi was happy to be home and with her parents. She gets strength from her mother who understands her better than anyone else. Tokyo is Izumi’s home, Japanese is her native language, she is the most relaxed there. I had a chance to meet up with some of Izumi’s old friends from school at dinner which was fun. There’s a lot that she had to leave behind when we moved here so it was tough for her to leave again. She has a pretty full plate to handle on her own here and all in her second language.

The schedule was pretty busy but I did get out to the public baths a few times which was fantastic as always. The combination of hot and cold baths with a saunafor good measure is a cure for any ill (physical or psychic). Tyler got into the routine (all except for the “hot air room”) and now appreciates the sense of calm that follows a good long soak. A trip down to a 100 year-old inn on the tip of Izu featured more wonderful baths (trip made possible due to generous grants from my parents who set up the inn and Izumi’s parents who arranged for transport. Thanks!).

Tokyo is so familiar to me. Fits “like an old shoe” I said to my father. I fly into town and there are very specific things that I know I can only get in Tokyo and I know exactly where to go.

  • Stationary store for little staples that fit my handheld stapler
  • Shibuya Loft for Bindex A5 notebook refills which cost a fortune at Patrick’s in SF but are reasonable here
  • Glasses store to replace a broken part – walk in after three years, they remember who I am, fix my part and send me on my way

Sure, there’s JBox when you need a supply of Black Black in a pinch but there’s nothing like stepping through a city and drawing on ten year’s experience to find your way around. It’s especially fun to show Tyler around. He’s young still and was a bit flagged at the end of the day but he was a good sport and indulged me as we played with robotic dogs at the Sony Building, peered through the tunnels out the front of the Ginza line, and checked out the funky scene in Shibuya.

Tokyo has changed of course, it changes from week to week. But the feel of the city will never die, it’s sense of style and its vitality. I still feel like I leave behind some part of me there, even though I left over five years ago. Going back brings on a flood of memories as I flash on events brought on by familiar sights and sounds. I hear that Volga, the old Russian restaurant where Izumi and I were married has closed down. A piece of my Tokyo has faded and will be reinvented and replaced by someone else’s Tokyo. In just the same way new things are being created here – they will become part of our Bay Area and replace something that used to be someone else’s memory of how it used to be.

Tokyo Storm Drains

This has absolutely nothing to do with media, technology, or finance but hey, it’s the holidays and these images are absolutely stunning. Pointed out by a colleague of mine who has a knack to uncovering all that’s weird and wonderful, these photos of a Tokyo sewer system are nested in a larger site that details the engineering behind a large public works project.

Just goes to show, that well engineered public works projects can be both functional and beautiful.

Was over in Tokyo last month

Was over in Tokyo last month with the family in tow for the launch of the Japanese interface for my company’s product, factiva.com. We had a proper press event where I held court for an hour or so and did my best to wow them. We got covered in some of the local press and they even managed to catch me doing one of those executive, “open hand waving over a a crystal ball” type poses that you alway see in Japanese business magazines!