Posts tagged “japan”

Wild and Free

Me on bass, Firefly Club, Osaka, Japan, 2001

I had the TV on in the background the other night while I was doing some work around the house–I’ll admit it to you–I was watching E Hollywood True Stories, “Joe Francis Gone Wild.” (Francis is the guy who created Girls Gone Wild (NSFW))

Anyway…about halfway through the show, I heard a really familiar sound fading up in the background. I turned up the volume on the show, and, sure enough, it was a piece of a song from a CD I recorded a few years ago.

ghost7, New Directions in Static, 2004

As the wow feeling of hearing something I had made broadcast this widely subsided, I started thinking about other aspects of the situation: shouldn’t someone have contacted me, shouldn’t I be getting paid for this?

And here’s where the irony, or at least the thought-provoking conundrum, begins.

I know how hard it is to earn a living playing music (or even just to cover your expenses). Yet I have, ahem, “friends,” who download all kinds of “free” musical content. And when I lived in Japan, I had other, ahem, “friends,” who rented lots of CDs from Tsutaya (the Japanese Blockbuster Video) and copied them onto MiniDisc to build their music collections, thus depriving the artists of their cut of a CD sale. (For a great breakdown of the traditional music industry business model, and a startling look at the reality of making a living as a musician, check out Moses Avalon’s website and book, Confessions of a Record Producer).

My initial self-righteousness about getting paid for the use of my music highlighted a clear differentiation I’ve been making between creative “product” that comes out of the “entertainment industry” and what’s made by people like me, whose primary livelihood is something other than their music, art, etc.

Now that any content placed in the public arena is almost instantaneously redistributable, whither goes the business model/s for creative production? Are songs-as-products becoming obsolete, to be replaced by songs-as-loss-leaders, a la the Starbucks/iTunes “song-of-the-week” card?

How, in this freewheeling new world, will it continue to be possible to shift enough units to pay for the production of something like a U2 album or a feature-length film?

CD Cover, George Lynch (ex-Dokken), 2000

New analysis covered over at O’Reilly on Radiohead’s 2007 “pay-what-you-like” experiment for selling their album, In Rainbows, would seem to support the loss leader model, with the attention generated by the online trading of the album seemingly as valuable as any actual money earned through paid downloading.

I’d add as well that firing up the tour bus remains an essential part of the prospect. Aside from tribute bands, no one’s found a way yet to pirate the live performance. (Although perhaps the scenario in Kiss’ 1978 movie, where the band is attacked by a lookalike robot band, suggests one possible model.)

VHS box, Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park, 1978

But back to more grounded futuristic pondering. Is Karl Marx’ dream of making means of production accessible to ordinary people coming to fruition via peer-to-peer content sharing and the free flow of certain types of “raw materials?”

As the “redistributability” of content facilitated by the internet crossbreeds with technology and approaches like just-in-time production, 3D printing, and mass customization, will other types of product production also be wrested from commercial producers?

And will someone from E True Hollywood Stories please contact me about that royalty check?

The Donut World Tour, in progress

Without donuts being part of the plan when I travel, they seem to show up with some regularity. While Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts seek to provide a consistent experience across geographies, there are also very unique experiences available in the very same category. The notion of donut is rather broad and is reinterpreted in some engaging ways. There’s something about the pure pleasure of a donut that also invites a fun approach to all aspects of the experience: the flavors, the environment, the presentation, the messaging.

Here’s a few I’ve documented. Please leave recommendations for other donuts-shops-to-experience in the comments.

Randy’s Donuts, LA (Amazing site, donuts are pretty good)

Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR: Rex Diablo and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (fun to choose, less to eat)

Murciano in The Marais, Paris (the best thing I’ve ever eaten)

Fractured Prune, Washington D.C. (didn’t get to try it)

Roti Donat, Bali, Indonesia (definitely not good)

Mister Donut sign and exterior, Taipei, Taiwan

Mister Donut Simpsons promotion, Kyoto, Japan (I don’t remember what I got but it was good!)

Mundane is the new fun

Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Last night we attended an IxDA-SF presentation of Matt Jones on “Playfulness in Design”. No full summary to share (although maybe Matt will post the slides eventually) but one great line was the statement that “Mundane is the new fun” which refers to the little interventions of joy that are being added to everyday life, providing a new veneer of experience on top of behaviors that were once only necessary for survival.

This was one of the themes of Virginia Postrel’s Substance of Style (with its legendary discussions of the broad range of choice now available for toilet brushes). It’s also something that I’ve seen a lot of in Japan. Here’s one quick example:

This vacuum cleaner is fun: it is presented like a futuristic robot, available in at least 3 novel colors, and is styled in a notable way. This isn’t about making the chore of vacuuming fun, but about acknowledging fun as an ingredient can always be fun, from the purchase moment to the instant the vacuum is grabbed and turned on. Check out this elephant-robot for urinal cleaning as another example of fun. As a one-off, this is taking drudgery and distracting you with cuteness, but put together across so many product categories, brands, signage, TV advertisements and beyond, the notion of the constant layer of fun is so visible in Japan.

Matt is right at calling out the trend, and you can look to the Japanese as lead users of this trend.

Japan: URLs Are Not Totally Out

In Japan: URL’s Are Totally Out we see an emerging form of advertising a web presence in Japan: showing a search bar rather than the actual URL. I looked through my recent photos and pulled some examples that show this, but also several examples that use the more traditional (if that’s the right word?!) presentation of URLs.

Search bar:

Traditional URL:

And finally, an ad for a search company (Excite? Who knew they were still around) that uses a URL, and also the increasingly popular QR code (see Rob Walker’s recent Consumed column).

(As a side note, I couldn’t find any pictures in my collection but I also remember seeing many examples of a graphical presentation of a URL that (similar to the search version above) used the visual elements of a browser’s address bar with the URL itself being typed in, complete with cursor hovering over the “go” button)

Pop Culture Osmosis, Tokyo (part 2)

(also see part 1)

What sort of stuff is “popular” in another country? How do we, as visitors, experience, catalog or contextualize pop culture?

Tokyo’s Shibuya district is the throbbing heart of Japanese youth culture, overflowing with pedestrians (and vehicles), with dense ground-to-sky advertisements for music and electronics and clothing.

Upon arrival, we see a truck driving by advertising an upcoming album release by Ayumi Hamasaki.

In fact, we see this truck – or others like it – constantly. We’ve never heard of Ayumi, but clearly someone wants this album release to be a big deal.


One evening, we notice large crowds outside Yoyogi National Stadium. Turns out it’s an Ayumi Hamasaki concert.
(Notice the suitcase, featuring her logo.)

Parked alongside the stadium are a number of Ayumi Hamasaki tribute vehicles

Passing by the next night, New Year’s Eve, there is an even more extensive display of tribute vans.

Assuming (and I do) that these vans were made by fans, and not record company plants, then at this point it becomes impossible to deny the obvious: she is huge. The larger-than-life marketing messages are appropriate given the enormous popularity. The foreigner’s reaction of “Well, we’ve never heard of her” is only a temporary refuge in the face of the demonstrable devotion.

Consider this: in a major city in the world there’s an performer where fans decorate their vehicles with her face on the outside and displays on the inside and tailgate together with their custom vans before concerts. And you’ve never heard or heard of her. (Disclaimer: doesn’t apply to you if you’ve heard of her).

And: spend a few days in this major city and you will learn about this performer over and over and over again and wonder how you could have possibly not heard of her before.

Body Self-Image

Photos from my various travels depicting global cultural variations of the fundamental person icon.

Bali, Indonesia. They’re some pretty small people, so why does that first person seem so hulking and Cro-Magnon-y?

Taipei, Taiwan. Note the hip chapeau the stroller is sporting, and the protective headgear (?) worn by the worker.

London, UK. This fellow toils as above, but without the benefit of a helmet. Less chance of sunburn, maybe?

Tokyo, Japan. The Japanese cute aesthetic shows up in the large head and even larger cigarette.

Bangkok, Thailand. Who takes care of children?

Providence, RI, USA. Not just walking, but actively moving forward, dancing, and exuding joie de vivre.

And Karrie Jacobs has a nice example here.

Japan pictures – part 3 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 2.


Japan pictures – part 2 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 3.


Japan pictures – part 1 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 2 and part 3.


Sliding Doors

Public bathroom doorway, Karuizawa, Japan, January 2008

Before we hiked up the nearby mountain I wanted to use the bathroom. I was very frustrated to find the door locked. I pushed and pulled and saw the keyhole for the deadbolt and figured I was out of luck. Then I saw someone enter the adjacent women’s room – by sliding the door. I wouldn’t expect a bathroom door to slide, and I didn’t interpret any of the cues (or affordances) about how this door works to suggest sliding was a possibility.

Steam is in the details

Latte, with sticker to cover lid hole, Tokyo

I can’t read what the green sticker says, but perhaps it’s to prevent spillage or being burned by hot steam. Maybe it’s for sanitation, to keep the drink sealed until you are ready to drink it?

One use case for a “to go” cup is to take the drink from the counter and consume it immediately. But if you are shopping for others to drink later, or it’s too hot to drink later, how to manage the drink during that transition where it’s in your possession but not being consumed? The sticker lives in that ill-defined period of time.


About Steve