月曜日, 10月 18, 2010

Fear Japan

Great article in the NYT regarding the lessons Japan offers the world - kinda like the basket case local who parents use as a bogeyman - "don't mess up your economy and going in to an economic downward spiral - or you might end up like Japan."

My experience of Japan has always been extraordinarily positive, but there are strange things that point to this kind of decay that you simply don't see around the UK (as I found when I tried to find parallel examples of this for my talk at Ignite London). Seeing photos of Tomo and Kazue's trip this summer, while much of it was as bright and exciting as ever, other parts, like the photos of the water park showed a rot that is there, in the edges. Hard to pinpoint, but a bit too rusty there, or the paint is a little more faded than you expect.

The problem is that the narrative is one that is set to the framework of the endless expansion that capitalism requires. The idea that a country could downshift en-mass is not given any credibility. But if a country that once fucked itself utter by living beyond reason (the property price bubble was truly stupendous - I mean, really) then decides to behave economically sensibly for a while, no bad thing, surely.

In fact, many of the indicators that people point to in Japan are simply the same as we are seeing elsewhere, only in sharper relief - young people are more reluctant to leave the nest in Japan than anywhere else, but it's a common problem globally. Dwellings in Japan, due to the population concentration, have always been small, but I'd say that a country with good internet connectivity and excellent public transport is probably better placed to disperse and equalise this than some others.

What I'm interested to know is if the 20 year spiral of decay could ever really be a threat if it shared across other countries. When it was just Japan, a fairly insular country at the best of times, it was not much for the rest of the world to take action on, but nor was it a genuinely large problem. When you have several countries running the same risk, then as an economic block the results could be quite different - trade within those countries is more of an option and the dynamic interplay of several nations could have quite a different effect than that of deflation in a single, isolated economic block, particularly when members of that block have considerably greater clout and stronger brands internationally.

Good article.

土曜日, 9月 25, 2010

Cool clothing

My friend Tony - a genuine "we-went-to-school-together-and-hung-out-at-each-other's-house" kinda friend - has launched a range of t-shirts aimed at articulating aspects of the gaikokujin experience from his new home in Kanazawa on the northern shores of Honshu.
Featuring punny word-play, mixed with cool graphics and playing on expectations, T-Shitsu products are crafted in Japan from superior materials. But as undeniably cool as the shirts are, they are as nothing to the sublime beauty of the website - Tony's other skills lie in brilliant web design!
Check out the range and when you inevitably buy something, let him know Dan sent ya!

水曜日, 5月 26, 2010

Photo Tokyo

Incredible visualisation of Tokyo based on the numbers of photos taken at a point. I suspect that it this is massively underestimating the number of photos because the websites providing the data (Flickr, Picasa) are American, with an Anglo-Saxon bias.

金曜日, 5月 21, 2010

At last a pep pill?

I read in The Economist that Japan's big Pharma have been on a buying spree, snatching up some juicy drug and biotech companies in the US and India. This can only be a good sign.

Today Google announced GoogleTV. This incredible manifestation of all of the crazy predictions about IPTV is built with Google's own Android OS and Chrome browser technology, making the most of Flash. At the heart of the system lurks Intel, but who have they partnered with to make the TV? SONY! The definitive example of NIH syndrome have partnered up with this upstart web company to create the most awesome looking bit of kit.*

There at last appears to be some kind of acceptance in Japan that their companies need to be looking abroad, and hopefully this will bring with it a renewed energy. It's just a shame that it's happening now, when the rest of the world will be in less of a mood to take them up on their offer, but I guess it will simply make the acquisitions cheaper, certainly if they come looking in Europe...

UPDATE: Yeah, the Indy said it better.

*I literally just saw this on a live broadcast from GoogleIO, so I haven't found any images or links to any of this just yet. Wait a day then just Google it all to see more.

火曜日, 3月 16, 2010

Who has more phones?

Well now, here's something I don't have any strong feelings about:

The UK has more phones per capita than Japan - 84 phones per 100 people versus about 62. I guess that's the risk you face when a good percentage of your domestic market were born before regular phones were widespread...

Thanks to the enraged folks at JunkCharts for bringing it to my attention.

月曜日, 3月 01, 2010

Japan - frequently shaken, but not as often stirred.

Following up the colossal and tragic earthquake in Chile this week, the Guardian Datablog have an article that summarises the deadliest earthquakes since 1970.

Japan, a place that in my head is singularly linked with earthquakes, only appears once - for the 1995 Kobe earthquake that claimed 5,502 lives.  I was surprised by this initially, but then I thought about it some more. Japan is a rich country, with effective building standards and (mostly) honest construction companies. It may well have been struck by many worse earthquakes than some of those here, but it deals with it with less trauma than those affected by the seismic events recorded in the article.

As one of the comments says, "God must hate poor people." My heart goes out to those in Chile, but looking at the list it's easy to see that people in Indonesia, China and Iran have been terribly affected by earthquakes too in the same period. These are countries that are hard pressed to cope with social problems at the best of times - the misery of a natural disaster is too much.

Reading the article about the Kobe, or Great Hanshin Quake was an eye-opener: the slump in the market caused by the quake, in the Guiness Book of Records for the costliest natural disaster, has been attributed as a contributing factor in the figurative collapse of Barings Bank and, valued at 2.5% of GDP, a fairly major contribution to the recession that Japan was in the midst of at the time.

At least this fate is one that is unlikely to affect the UK when we stagger the same path shuffled along by Japan's post-bust zombie economy...

火曜日, 2月 09, 2010

Wanna start a brewery? In Japan you can't.

Monocle magazine is a hopeless load of cobblers, stuck together like some primary school craft project from whatever marketing bollocks Winkreative have been paid to puke on to a page that month - then they have the balls to charge you five quid for the privilege*1.

That said, it's the only magazine I actually buy each month and I take great delight in savouring the experience of reading it, mostly because it is the primary source of "here-is-something-interesting-about-Japan-that-is-good-and-not-technology" stories. Yes, this spout rag for metrosexual internationalists with platinum frequent flyer accounts is about the best place to find out about positive stories about Japan available anywhere on UK news-stands.

And their website, mostly horrible and clearly designed by print orientated folks, actually has a very interesting and diverse column, cheesily entitled the Monocolumn (dya see wad they did?) which this week has an intriguing piece about micro-breweries in Japan, or rather the lack of them.

I was surprised by the cost that they mention. A million dollars sounds like a lot to me - that's what? About £640k? I seem to remember watching the first steps of some little brewery in a garage in Nottingham that I used to pass on the way home from town and from the look of the place that must have been started on what they had left after 2 pints o' mild and packet of salted. Judging from the quality of the pull badges you get from some UK breweries*2 they clearly don't spend anything like that here. OK, someone like BrewDog may have done - check out their spanky metal thingies - but others like Shotover don't sound like they have.

I think that's it's a real shame that there aren't more opportunities for craft brewing in Japan, because I am absolutely confident that if there were, they would be stellar. This kind of small, dedicated artisan business is the sort of thing that I know Japan does very well - all the kind of attention-to-detail service and craft coffee experiences I have had in Japan would be expressed perfectly in beer. I can imagine that it would be exactly the sort of thing to draw folks out in to the countryside. Damn, if I didn't know nothing about beer myself, I'd be tempted to head off to a quite valley in Nagano and give it a go myself.

Right then, other reasons I find Monocle interesting are: because they have, or at least had, a monthly manga called Kita-Koga (utter rubbish); the Editor-at-large is Hidetoshi Nakata (yes, that one); their illustrator is Japanese; they feature stacks of Japanese artists on their weekly podcast*3; and when I suggested that they change the naming convention of their files for said podcast, they *4 listened and did it - brilliant! Basically it's a fun and remarkably varied read, totally devoid of celebrity*5 and I'm simply jealous that I don't have the kind of income to burn on their lifestyle.

*1 or an eye watering 2,310yen if you are in Japan.
*2 go on, I dare ya, tell me that's not a legitimate method of rating a breweries quality {ahem}
*3 now that I come to think of it, they never call it that.
*4 I wrote to tb himself - I can't imagine that it was he who actually picked it up on his Blackberry, but I like to imagine that it was - perhaps in a quite moment in a Lufthansa First Class lounge en route to Narita. It was to Japanese style YYMMDD format btw - so it appears in numerical order, instead of the other way round.
*5 unless you know fashion designers on obscure brands - and that's a fairly legit form of minor-celebdom I guess. Actually, the biggest celebs they ever mention are Japanese popstars (mega, if only in Japan) and Alain de Botton. Oh, and foreign politicians.

日曜日, 1月 17, 2010

Holiday in Japan and don't get ripped off

Sure, it's extremely easy to blow a fortune travelling around Japan. But it doesn't have to be that bad. My own experiences were of reasonably priced venues, cheaper transport options and a lot of free pavement pounding. I've always had a great time doing it and really think you get a better view of what the country is really like (I used a similar approach in the States and enjoyed that too).

However, when friends ask me about what they should do on a trip to JApan, I'm instinctively wary about what I recommend as I know that, no matter what I can suggest, all the evidence is that, for the holidaying visitor, it's going to cost them a LOT.

So it's a relief to see someone taking a holiday in Japan, and on a reasonable budget too. Really 10,000 yen is not a great amount when you stack it up against other holidays you might take. Nice one Guardian writer.

金曜日, 1月 15, 2010

Ways in which UK and Japan are similiar (part 73,284)

That Denmark, the UK and Japan are all so similar in their GDP doesn't surprise me - I'm sure France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia would be too. I'm a little amazed by just how far America is out in front.

I'm sure that certain people I know might be a little surprised that UK actually beats Japan - and we do it with considerably shorter hours in the office - is there a stat on average working hours in the two countries? I'm sure that it would make the difference more extreme if it the GDP value was compensated for the time spent in earning it.

月曜日, 1月 04, 2010

Words you need to know in Japanese

Well, according to STA Travel that is:

Curious that of all the words they suggest you might need to know, "chikan" is in there with "hai" and "delicious". In fairness, they do offer these in the spirit of "useless info", however it's hard to see how any of these, with the exception of word number three, are actually useless, unless you do indeed take their advice and use these at home.

Perhaps I'm having a sense of humour bypass, but this gets my goat. It is all part of a cumulative effect that undermines the respect that one is likely to accord to the country you are visiting.

土曜日, 1月 02, 2010

On "rekijo" - Roland Buerk lives up to his name

This piece by the BBC's Tokyo correspondent demonstrates what for me are the typical lazy approaches to Japan articles in UK press.

What is it that this shows about Japan that is actually all that unusual? Not much, I reckon.

The idea that Japan is mired in the past? You only have to look at the Tokyo skyline to realise this isn't really true, and have a brief look around the UK to see other places that are just as stymied by history. A history theme park? Isn't that what somewhere like Ironbridge is all about, only less involving and interesting? I've visited O-Edo Onsen* in O-Daiba and it offers something similar - a fun diversion that is well worth the games it plays with historical accuracy.

How about the assertion that these girls are "escaping the present" in their interest in the past? Well, surely an interest in the past as a displacement activity is an improvement on the broad disengagement with reality around one that obsessions with Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor engender?

I think the unmentioned aspect here is the cosplay that is alluded to in the final part of the clip, and we all know that if you want to have a laugh at Japan, cosplay is a safe trope for which one does not really need to work too hard. And as a final note, how likely is it that this is, as is so often the case, actually a very minor activity with a handful of exponents that is looked upon as much as a novelty by J-media, but which is presented to the world here as a mainstream development? Perhaps I'm cynical in trying to find stories to blog about.

* Wow, do you see on that link that it is open 11am to 9am? Not a misprint, it's open 22 hours, so you can head there overnight if you wish. Cool.

MSNBC Japanese law bollocks

the Japanese government has imposed a waistline limit for anyone over the age of 40.

Yes, that's right, it's actually illegal to be overweight. For men, the limit is 33.5 inches and for women, 35.4.

This has to be bollocks, right? I did a cursory scan to see mention of this elsewhere, but couldn't. Please someone tell me I'm not mad.