November 26, 2006

Weird Japan abroad

A cousin of mine who recently visited Japan has been sending me articles from America's National Public Radio website asking me what I think. Here's the latest one: "The Revenge of Japan's Nerds". The stranger the topic, the more people read. Afterall, why bother reading about people if they are exactly the same right?

Well, check this out cosplay (dressing up in costumes of your favorite anime, manga or video game character) site: It's all in English for all those "nerds" who don't speak Japanese, and get this, it has a forum with nearly 60,000 members!! Which is weirder, the fact that nerds are a phenomenon in Japan or that nerds are phenomenon everywhere? Wait, but these "foreign" nerds are not just nerds, they are imitation Japanese nerds!

Yes, offshoots from the mainstream are prevelant in all corners of the globe, and it's a bit irritating to see someone I know read about only the things mainstream would consider abnormal about Japan. What about my favorite store MUJI? These guys are producing goods that are being featured in the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) store in New York (MUJI at MoMA). The are all over Europe and Asia, but have only begun to make efforts to break in the US market (MUJI's international store locations) with the establishment of Ryohin Keikaku USA. I love them for their casual and simple designs for low prices, but whether that will appeal to Americans I can't say.

Anyway, I'm going to have to come up with some better sites for those interested in contemporary Japan. Here are a few focused on the art/design/fashion scenes:
- - A Guide to Design and Pop Culture in Tokyo
- Ping Mag - The Tokyo-based magazine about "Design and Making Things"
- Tokyo Art Beat
Of course, the forefront of design, fashion and art can seem just as weird to the mainstream as cosplay otaku (nerds), but at least it presents another side of Japan not so often picked up by offbeat news journalists.

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October 14, 2006


今日、本屋に行って「Times」「Newsweek」など英語の雑誌を立 ち読みした。インテルの最近引退した創立者がアメリカの医療システムを改善する発言やマイクロソフトの創立者であるビル・ゲイツの組織、クリントン元米国 大統領の組織の国際会議などお金持ちの人たちの第2人生についていくつかの記事が取り扱われた。

実は、土曜日の日経新聞に「日本人のいない『国際社会』」といおう記事があった。「クリントン・グローバル・イニシアチブ」という国際会議には ローラ・ブッシュ大統領夫人、パウエル前国務長官、パキスタンの大統領、コロンビアの大統領、ビル・ゲイツ、ニュース・コーポレーション会長であるロバー トマードック、グーグルの共同創業者らなど様々な政治家、企業家、NGOなど参加者は千人ほど出席した。コンセプトは政治家やNGOの問題と企業家の敷金 や発想力を合わせること。参加者は具体的な貢献活動を考え、会期中に提示することが条件。行動なしの人たちは参加者リストから外され、今年15人も参加で きなかったようです。日本からの参加者は、その記事によって一人、マネックス・ビーンズ・ホールディングスの松本大社長。なぜ日本人一人だけかその記事に は正当な理由がなかった。湾岸戦争に130億ドルの費用負担をして国際的な評価を得なかった日本にはクリントン会議に参加するのは「危機的」だと。

世界を変えていく。母校であるブラウン大学にはそういう大学生は少なくなかったけど、二つの派に分かれた。経済学などビジネスが好きな学生たちと 何かの運動によく参加する学生たち。相互排他的に分かれたわけではないけれど、どちらの方が熱心だったと言えば、やはり運動派だと思う。今日、一人の友達 のことを思いだ明日。ビジネス派で、卒業後投資銀行に入り、2年後にビジネスコンサルタント。そしてスタンフォード大学のビジネススクールに2年間。今度 はNGOで管理職として勤めるそうです。

世界を変えていくには色々な力が必要。日本にない力は企業家の力だと、今週末強く思ってきた。100年前JDロックフェラーやアンドリュー・カー ネギーなどの大金持ちの実業者は生きている間に自分の財産を半分ほどいろんなチャリティーに貢献し、亡くなった後、その財産が大きいな慈善基金になった。 そういう歴史があるからこそアメリカには貢献する習慣や企業として創立された大きいなNGOなどがあると思う。

日本のお金持ちの人もいろいろ貢献していると思うが、その人たちの活動はまだ一般の人にインスピレーションを与えていない。ということは、貢献と は会社の広報などとしてまだまだ普及されていない。でも、これからだね。タリーズ・コーヒーの絵本のプロジェクトやアフラックの癌研究への貢献など考えれ ばいろんな例がある。


Clinton Global Initiative (English)

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June 22, 2006

a quiet night

How long has it been since I had a quiet night at home, with nothing to but do nothing? No work, no parties, and with my fiance on a business trip, nobody but me. In the this quiet room, the living room, I listen to the occasional car driving by, I listen to the sound of the air conditioner cooling the air, removing the dampness, and I write--with my eyes closed, in the darknesss of my imagination resting. And as sleepiness takes over, I think to myself, what a waste. I have finally found the time to write and yet another obstacle bars my journey. Sleep the enemy. But sleep, the other journey too. A journey that I undertake each night through my memory and imagination, an overlapping double-layered world that I am all too quick to forget the next morning, jarred and captured by my alarm clock.

To sleep I go. Good night!

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December 30, 2005

Happiness in a Bookstore 本屋の中の幸福

I love books. So it's not surprising that I find spending time at a bookstore browsing through the stacks and stacks of books exciting. Not the adrenaline-pumping excitement of a roller coaster, but something less physical although not exactly mental or even intellectual. No. Not intellectual, that would require a certain amount of THINKING, and it's not the thinking that stimulates me.

What is it? I think it's anticipation.

Like watching a cooking show on the Food Network, just knowing that there is so much information, so many stories, so many photographs right before my eyes--what can I say? I think it's wonderful! And better than TV, all I have to do is reach out and pull a book from the shelf to satisfy my hunger.

I have to admit that I don't feel quite the same way in most Japanese bookstores. Except for a few of the very largest ones...well, Maruzen in the Marunouchi OAZO complex  (near Tokyo Stn.) primarily...the small cramped space of most Japanese bookstores destroys the contentment I feel whenever I walk into the huge superstores in America. The narrowness of small bookstores makes me feel very self-conscious about browsing--I feel obligated to purchase something. Of course, that's what a bookstore should do--encourage customers to purchase an item. However, unwanted obligation is quite an unpleasant feeling, and it certainly shortens my trips to most Japanese bookstores.

The Maruzen bookstore at Marunouchi OAZO is like Barnes & Noble and Borders in America though. It's wide floor space and the availability of chairs creates an atmosphere that begins to resemble the American superstores. It welcomes customers into its confines by providing not bookstore space, but a space to browse through and read books. It begins to resemble a library in fact--a library without the heavy, formal silence. Perhaps you could say the atmosphere of these stores is that of a library crossed with a cafe. Music plays in the background as people chat over magazines, walk to and fro, sip on a cup of coffee. These stores serve as public spaces where people can socialize among the stacks and stacks of books.

One day left in Hawaii. I think I'll spend it at the bookstore...

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December 10, 2005

music comes from muse


hiromi uehara

English website of Jazz pianist, Hiromi Uehara:

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December 02, 2005


☆☆ aloha! ian ☆☆

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October 06, 2005

The Smell of Trains

Before I began my current stint as a student at Sophia, I moved from my apartment near Yokohama Station to my current abode in Jiyugaoka. At first glance, one would think my move was motivated by a desire to be closer to school or closer to the center of Tokyo. I admit that was a factor; taking a taxi home after a night on the town is still expensive but affordably so, the trip to places on the western side of Tokyo such as Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, and Futako-tamagawa require much less time. However, to Sophia University, I gained only measly ten minutes in train time.

No, the primary motivation of my move was the smell of the Tokaido and Keihin-Tohoku lines which I would have taken to get to Sophia. Although I have not experienced many of the other crowded commuter lines, I have experienced mornings and evenings in a packed train on these lines. Having lived in Jiyugaoka for a year and a half now, I can firmly say that the smell is noticeably more pleasant than what I call the two “salaryman” lines.

What is this smell that I am talking about? Sweat and body odor mostly, and I believe that it is related to the demographic of the people who use the trains. The Toyoko Line runs through upper middle-class residential neighborhoods for most of its way to Yokohama while the Tokaido and Keihin-Tohoku Lines get a variety of commuters who may come from as far away as Odawara. The perhaps as a result of the demographic of the Toyoko Line, the average age (based on my casual observation) seems to be younger as well as include more women. After the morning rush hour the average drops significantly due to the many colleges located along the line. The destination is also a factor in determining the demographics with Shibuya being the final stop for the Toyoko Line.

The two lines I sought to avoid, by contrast was significantly male, older and much more crowded. The lines are much longer bringing people as far away as Odawara and Zushi to Kawasaki, Shinagawa and Shinbashi--destinations of the “salaryman” as opposed to women. Being much longer and more crowded as well as employing older trains with older air conditioning systems, the smell of sweat and body odor (much more pronounced in the summer than winter but nevertheless prevalent year round) accumulates in the long commute. It is enough to make more than one person gag in each car. In the summer, the smell is often combined with the sea air of Yokohama--and when that sea is rotting with algae (akashio or red tide), it is what Japanese say, saiaku--the worst. How anyone puts up with it, I will never know.

And this is all part of the city of Tokyo. Train lines and their dynamics play an important role in determining where people choose to live, and has arguably replaced the traditional geographic notion of “place”. One does not choose to live in Setagaya, one chooses to live on the Toyoko Line, the Denentoshi Line, the Keio Line, the Odakyu Line. Setagaya is a non-place devoid of coherency and meaning, but the train lines that run through it are not. Food for thought.

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August 04, 2005

Kamehameha Schools, Native Hawaiians and Racial Discrimination?


Appeals court rejects Hawaiians-first policy
Akaka bill backers, foes weigh ruling
Princess' legacy (history of Kamehameha Schools)

The issue at stake Kamehameha Schools' admission policy which allows only children with Native Hawaiian blood to enter. The school was sued by a non-Hawaiian student attempting to enter the school for unconstitutional racial discrimination, and attempted to fight the case by arguing that its admission policy was constitutional as an affirmative action policy. However, the court ruled against it saying that the blanket no-admission policy to non-Hawaiians amounted to racial discrimination. Meanwhile, Senator Akaka's bill that will formally recognize the Hawaiian people as an indigenous group (like Native Americans) and allow Hawaiians to form their own government, etc. is up for vote by Congress in September.

My thoughts: This is a complicated issue. On one hand, I am opposed to racial discrimination. On the other, I grew up in a house next to Kamehameha Schools knowing that I would never be able to attend the institution. Yet, neither I nor anyone I have ever met from Hawaii has questioned, much less opposed the school's Hawaiian-only policy. We were raised and taught in school about the past and present discrimination faced by Hawaiians.

The Hawaii we know today was built upon not just land but a country stolen from the Hawaiian people, and I believe that most people raised in Hawaii do not begrudge this effort to better the situation of Hawaiian people. Their island culture/lifestyle was never suited for contemporary American society and they continue to be the ethnic group with the worst financial situation, the worst living conditions in Hawaii.

I have always thought that if the courts were forced to rule on the Hawaiian-only policy, they would be forced to rule against the policy. However, I never thought the day would come when anyone would be so righteous as to challenge it, and now that that day has come, I am deeply angered and saddened. Hawaiians do not enjoy recognition as an indigenous people by the Federal Government like other Native Americans. The bill introduced by Senator Akaka would change that and allow Hawaiians to continue their struggle for a better life. The question should not be whether affirmative action is or is not racial discrimination, but whether the haves and have-nots can be categorized according to ethnic group. There are thousands of poor children in Hawaii in a similar situation to Hawaiian children. They should be helped, yes, but society has also a responsibility to redress past wrongs, and Kamehameha Schools' policy attempts to do just that. This is a sad day.

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July 28, 2005



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はじめて日本に来たのは夏だった。蒸し暑くてたまらないし、いつも汗でビショビショだった。しかし、私はどんなに汗をかいても、周りの日本人は暑く見えてもせめて汗はあまりかいていない。他の留学生と何度も語り合った。日本人はあまり水分をとっていないとかお茶に何か秘密があるとか、いろんな説を立っていたが、この不思議な現象の鍵がなかなか見つからない。 今年は日本の夏を7回目経験するが、やっと汗をおさめる方法が分かったと思う。なるべく冷房がかけているところに居たり無駄な動きを防いだりハンカチとさらさらシーツを使ったりすれば、そうすれば日本の夏、いやっ、日本の地獄を耐えられる・・・かも。

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