Hi guys! Long time no chat. As most of you who still visit this site have probably realized, I’ve taken a hiatus from writing full-time and have been building things in San Francisco and Cambridge, MA.
One project I’m working on:
Digital Garage is opening up a brand new coworking-incubator-event space in downtown San Francisco next month, and I’m hosting a pre-opening event in this space next Saturday, 10/26: a fabulous celebration of art, music, and technology at the intersection of Japan and the Bay Area called Dots and Lines.
Yes, that’s right. And that means:
- open bar sake cocktails all night
- live calligrapher Aoi Yamaguchi
- sound and light artist Christopher Willits
- a surprise cinematic installation from the MIT Media Lab
You should be there. It’s gonna be a blast and it’s Saturday night! Tickets are on sale here:
There’s a great article in the New Yorker this week about a Buddhist monk named Nemoto who has dedicated his life to supporting suicidal people in Japan. More fascinating than the statistics about suicide in Japan (2x the suicide rate of the US, 9th in the world after places like Lithuania, Greenland, Belarus, and China) is the cultural landscape by which killing yourself (and even bringing your children or spouse into the afterlife with you) is considered okay or even honorable. I don’t know how true this still is, or how prevalent among the entire population, but the writer gives several examples to support her case:
When a cabinet minister under investigation for financial impropriety killed himself, in 2007, the governor of Tokyo called him a true samurai for preserving his honor.
Suicidal parents have killed their children, so as not to abandon them to an orphan’s life; by tradition, a mother who killed herself but not her children was thought to be truly wicked.
My favorite part of the article is when Nemoto realizes that the best way to help those who really want help is to encourage them to not just call in for help, but to visit his temple. For some, it turns out, just making the journey from their depressing reality to his safe haven is enough of a picker-upper to change their minds about taking their own lives.
My high school friend Hiro Fujita was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in late 2010, and ever since then he has quickly lost the ability to control his entire body, with the exception of one finger. When Hiro became sick he was working as a strategic planner at the Japan branch of the ad agency McCann Erickson. Throughout his battle, the agency has been supporting him by launching a pretty comprehensive campaign to raise awareness around ALS with Hiro as a willing and determined poster child, designing t-shirts and launching a video series featuring some famous friends of ours — this one features the guitarist Char — speaking on behalf of Hiro.
When Hiro was healthy he played football and had many friends and partied like a rock star. Clearly, even with this debilitating disease, he hasn’t lost his rock star status — it’s the first time since football games and prom that I’ve seen all of our wonderful friends from Tokyo rally around a cause with such fervor, and he’s triggered a successful and impact-filled campaign against a very poorly understood disease with the support of some of the most high-profile, compassionate people in our community.
Demographically, as a Japanese woman, I’m likely to live pretty much forever — average life expectancy of 87.
Longevity researchers have zeroed in on three characteristics that people who live a long time seem to share: a strong will, curiosity, and outgoingness. Pictured above is Misao Okawa, who is — at 115 years old — the oldest person alive right now. She’s a sweet old lady living in Osaka who fits two of the three characteristics — she’s strong-willed and curious but not very outgoing.
This is a great mini-documentary by Vice Japan about a man who decided not to move out of the town of Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture, deserted after being designated as part of the exclusion zone post-power plant disaster.
Kezuroukai (a play on words meaning “let’s shave, shall we?” and “Wood Planing Competition”) is held every year in a different region of Japan. Wood shaving enthusiasts from all over the country gather in an effort to beat the next guy in getting the thinnest wood shavings possible. I imagine these are some of the best artisans and craftspeople in the world. In some cases they are able to get the wood down to 9 microns thick — according to Kottke that is one-thousandth of a millimeter, less than 1/10th of the thickness of a piece of human hair.
This is totally unrelated but in the random competition category, it reminds me of extreme ironing.
Check out this crazy intricate maze created by an anonymous Japanese man – actually, a janitor who happens to be the father of a Twitter user who casually posted a photo on her feed one day. He had drawn it purely for fun nearly 30 years ago, over the course of seven years. Can you imagine? This is the kind of secret genius obsessive talent that I think a lot of Japanese people possess, but don’t ever imagine could warrant global fame or a career. Had he been of a different generation or geography, he may have chosen a career path as a graphic designer instead.
Of all the crazy pampering shenanigans that Japanese pet owners can indulge in, a full body aloe extract mud mask is definitely the strangest. I found this along Komazawa Dori in the Ebisu-Daikanyama neighborhood today.
Contrary to its competitor Uniqlo, which also opened up shop in SF a couple months ago, MUJI has a strong philosophy of no branding + no advertising — of course, this is a tremendous challenge when entering a new market, especially one that is so ad-driven. But hey. MUJI stuff is awesome. I use their notebooks and business card holders and headbands every single day. And it has a tremendous philosophy rooted in simplicity, efficiency, and good design.
The December issue of Wired has an article about Japanese humor and the painfully hilarious batsu game culture.
Much has been written about Japan’s gross national cool—the worldwide demand for the country’s fashion, cuisine, anime, manga, videogames, and consumer electronics. But less attention has been paid to the country’s gross national gross—unscripted TV shows focused on imaginatively disgusting and cruel physical challenges—even though they’re just as popular and influential.
You might remember that way back in the day I posted about Nasubi, the guy who was stuck in a tiny apartment for over a year writing letters to sweepstakes in the hopes of putting some clothes on his back and maybe feed himself something more than uncooked rice. I also taught you how to do the kancho (very important if you want to prove your know-how in Japanese culture.) And you can always tell a real Japanese person from a fake one by whether they think this Shimura Ken Thriller parody is ridiculous or funny. (A real Japanese person would think both, of course, and the two are never mutually exclusive.)
The kicker of the Wired article really takes home the idea that Japanese and American humor are truly very different:
Yoshimoto CEO Osaki is cautiously optimistic. “It might take a thousand years for us to reach Hollywood, but I think we have a shot at it,” he says as he puffs on a Lucky Strike. But he’s not betting on Louis CK and Sarah Silverman performing batsu game challenges. And he isn’t sure that different humor styles always mix. “I personally don’t find American stand-up that funny,” Osaki says. “Maybe it’s lost in translation.”
Hello, future of sticker pictures! From November 24-January 14, a pop-up photo booth is opening up in Omotesando that uses a 3D scanner and printer to make tiny replicas of people. Visitors have three size options: a small figurine is 10cm tall and weighs about 20g; medium = 15cm, 50g; and a large = 20cm, 200g.
Shing02 just sent me this hilarious voice over of Michael Jackson’s Beat It video of an insomniac man with an Osaka accent counting sheep and stressing out because he can’t sleep before his piano recital. Wow.
Question: is this only funny to people who understand Japanese or is it funny period?
In 2009 I had the great pleasure of interviewing and becoming friends with Toastie, a lovely lady who grew up in Australia and now performs all over the world as the oh-so-wonderfully-kooky Toast Girl.
Here is a gorgeous video of her moonlighting as her alter ego Baguette Bardot against a Parisian backdrop. It has over 2 million views on YouTube! On some nights, you can find Toastie bartending in Golden Gai, an amazing clandestine bar district.
Every Japanese kid at some point in their lives has to do radio calisthenics exercises in the morning. Even though I didn’t go to a Japanese school, I stumbled upon this strange ritual at a local swimming school that my mom took me to for a few months in grade school.
I think this routine should be secret code for how to tell if someone is Japanese. You know, like a fraternity hand shake. I’ve also seen old Chinese people do a similar exercise routine early in the morning in parks all over San Francisco but cannot confirm that it’s the exact same thing. Anyone?
This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting and having a long sun-soaked breakfast with rapper Shing02, who grew up all over the world — Berkeley, Tanzania, Japan — and now lives in LA. He’s super famous for tracks he created with famous DJs like Nujabes and was part of the up-and-coming hip hop movement on the East Bay in the 90s. Understated, thoughtful, a true lyricist who can connect nodes of thought and makes cool analogies with words.
He recently made this film called then-n-now, watch!
In 2002, Hiroshi Sugimoto decorated Go’o Shrine on Naoshima with an optical glass staircase that leads to a subterranean stone chamber. It’s now a permanent part of the Art House Project, an amazing art project on Naoshima that walks you through a small traditional Japanese village with several obscure buildings that have stunning contemporary experiential art pieces hidden in them. The most dramatic one was James Turrell’s Minamidera — a spiritual worship place transformed into a seemingly pitch black room that slowly over time metamorphoses into one of his signature empty rectangular box meditative spaces.