Thursday Jun 25, 2009

Earning Confidence

A Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast: “Mr. Fujimoto said he would resign immediately if a serious rival appeared in an election. `That would be a sign the village has lost confidence in me,` he said.” -- New York Times

Interesting. I really must visit this place.

Saturday May 02, 2009

Tokyo is Headless

Here`s another one of those "Japan is Lost" articles. It`s an attack, basically, and this one focuses on leadership. I read these things purely for entertainment value now. My views on leadership have changed so substantially these last few years they'd hardly be recognizable to anyone who knew me in the U.S. I feel like I've recovered from a long drug-induced propaganda hangover or something.

Anyway, in the article we are told that Tokyo is "headless" and that if a Martian landed in Ginza today and said "Take me to your leader" most Japanese would be embarrassed because there are no leaders in Japan. Right. Ok. So, that`s the lead of an opinion piece in a serious magazine like Newsweek? Impressive.

Please note that a Martian landing in Tokyo would probably fit right in around here, and I can't imagine the Japanese would be embarrassed about their leadership very much because I don't they'd care very much. Why? Well, the view expressed in the article is so clearly western, and in Japan the perspective is somewhat different. In some cases, very different but there is no acknowledgment of that. By the way, I don't think Americans would care that much about Martians landing in Washington either. Heck, it would be an improvement. Also, you read the article, you`ll notice most of it is remarkably condescending, which is a shame because the writer actually points to some legitimate problems in Japan -- many of which exist in many countries. The tone is such a turn off I can`t give any of the underlying views any credibility whatsoever.

Also striking about the article is the utter lack of clear role models or demonstrated standards of success from which to judge the Japanese. I mean, really, if the Japanese are "headless" and suffering from "stress-related illnesses" and are "transparently inept" and snatching "defeat from the jaws of victory" and have "no other viable alternatives" and "continue to drift, bobbing like a mercantile cork in a turbulent geopolitical sea" as they just "muddle through" life then I ask you who the hell is doing all this right?

Tuesday Apr 07, 2009

Tokyo Beer & Blog 040609

I went to my first Beer & Blog community event in Shibuya last night after work. Very cool time. I met a lot of new people from Japan and from a dozen or so other countries, which is normal for these gatherings. There were a lot of entrepreneurs and developers there, and there were a lot of tech conversations as well. Also, some of us were kicking around ideas to build community here in Tokyo by engaging various Japanese and international groups while also extending those efforts by connecting to other communities globally. Interesting stuff. More soon.

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609 Beer & Blog Tokyo 040609

See Tokyo Beer & Blog's blog and spaces on Facebook and Twitter. See ya next time around.

Thursday Apr 02, 2009

Building Community in Japan

Nice article from Robert Sanzalone about online community building here in Japan -- JapanSoc: Building Community Online In Japan: Expats Unite As A Network For Fun AND Business. If you are a foreigner in this country and want to connect with the international community, there are many ways to do that now. Don't be shy. Jump in. I didn`t know about JapanSoc until I read Robert`s piece. Learn something new every day.

Community building in Japan has been quite an experience. Japan is different. It just is. On so many mind-numbingly complex levels. Some exciting. Some frustrating. But in general, I have found the community building environment in Tokyo over the last year or so nothing short of outstanding. And the potential is far greater than most in the West realize. I have mentioned this to a few friends in the international community, and they have also seen a noticeable uptick in activity. Reasons? Not sure. Perhaps some critical mass has been reached? Perhaps the international community has grown enough to draw out and engage more Japanese? Perhaps the tech and web tools are just better and easier and more pervasive? Perhaps the foreigners are just now discovering how to interact with the already existing -- and quite large -- Japanese communities? Who knows. Doesn't matter much. But it is clear that there is something special here in Tokyo and it deserves exploration. I participate in a bunch of online communities in Tokyo on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites, and I've also attended a pile of live events in the last few years. Some of those activities can be found on my blog here at these tags: Tokyo2Point0, Tokyo Linux User Group, Tokyo OpenSolaris Community, Consumer Generated MediaPhotowalks. And probably a few others.

Many people photographed at those tags. Many more to come.

Saturday Jan 03, 2009

Asserting Responsibility

Sink or swim: Haruka Nishimatsu, chief executive Japan Airlines: "Nishimatsu says that in the big picture, JAL's change process has to be much more than just talk - Asia's biggest airline needs to genuinely be overhauled. While some say his plan does not go far enough, particularly in terms of job cuts, Nishimatsu says pragmatism must be adhered to. He also insists that if his targets are not met that he will take full responsibility. 'If you were to ask is this the perfect, completely realisable cost-cutting plan, then that is a very difficult thing to declare,' he says. 'But if we don't achieve our targets, I do not intend to stay on.' "

A leader asserting ... responsibility? I find that especially shocking. Usually leaders spin, deflect, duck, attack, point fingers, lie, and steal. And they usually get away with it, too. I don`t see very many people leading by example these days, do you? And I don`t see very many leaders emerging from real communities of people engaged in direct action, do you? I`m talking about people who actually work not just talk. These people are obvious on every project. They are the leaders even though they don`t have the title and most times never get the title. That`s unfortunate. It seems to me that the era of the experts and special people spinning us like sheep should be over. Humor me. I can dream, can`t I? But is that happening at JAL? Can it happen in government too?

Thursday Nov 06, 2008

New Context Conference 2008: Day Two Photos

Here are some images from Day Two of the New Context Conference in Tokyo. Day One is here. Today`s conversations were excellent. Lots of discussion about new social and business networks and new applications for the mobile web. I especially liked the exploration of how western companies can do business in Japan, and how Japanese companies can expand in the U.S. throughout various market trends.

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

New Context Conference 2008: Day One Photos

I went to Day One of the New Context Conference in Tokyo today. The event was sponsored by Digital Garage and moderated by Joi Ito, and there was a great line up of speakers talking about doing business in an age of communities and open networks. Much of the conversation centered around Japan and the unique business and cultural issues here, but open networks are global so it was interesting to see Japan in that international context. The panel sessions were filled with huge content for web entrepreneurs, participants in social networks, and open content junkies. And the discussions were very comprehensive, too. Most panels just bounce along the surface, but these guys dug deep. Very impressive. Here are a few images ...

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008

New Context Conference 2008 New Context Conference 2008
Live blog

Thursday Oct 23, 2008

Toshiba Visit

I was at Toshiba yesterday with some guys from Europe and the US. When execs and product teams come over to Japan sometimes I tag along. Good day. Great dinner. Fantastic meeting the Toshiba team. 

Toshiba

Jim Grisanzio, Todd Tornga, Bill Nesheim, Dan Roberts, Chris Armes. Photo courtesy Bill Nesheim.

Monday Aug 11, 2008

Vacation

On vacation. No computer. No blog. No email. No phone. Just mountains and some clean air. 

Tuesday Aug 05, 2008

Breaking into the Japanese Market

Two really good references about the difficulties of breaking into the Japanese market. Hint: it's hard.
Some obvious keys are to work with local partners, build specifically to engage the culture and language, and stick it out for the long run. Some humility helps, too. Japan takes time. It's not the same as California.

Thursday Jul 24, 2008

Toyota Gets Quick

Toyota Wins Few Fans at the Track. Interesting article in the WSJ. Toyota has been slowly earning its way in American racing for some time now, but lately there are some negative reactions from NASCAR fans to Toyota's success. But I wonder if that's more a result of a "cocky" and "arrogant" driver than a relatively low key car company.

Wednesday Jul 23, 2008

Second Quake in a Week

We had a pretty big earthquake in Japan on the northern part of Honshu (the main island) about 45 min ago. It was 6.9 up there, but probably about 4 or so in Tokyo where I am. A 4 is not big here, but this one shook for about a minute. Most small quakes around here are about 15 seconds or so, but this one kept on going. There were pre-warnings for this, and I saw many reports on Twitter from friends all around Japan during and after. The NHK dudes were on TV immediately, too.

Saturday Jul 19, 2008

Inches

In Japan the trains run on time. With rare exceptions -- like tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes. Not only that but the trains fly into stations and come to a remarkably smooth stop right on the dot. Every time. Well, mostly every time. In 24 months of riding these things every day, I've only had train operators miss their marks a few times. But here's what gets me. Check this out. You are on a packed train with hundreds of people (quietly sleeping, watching TV on their cell phones, or reading). You dart into the station and stop. But the doors don't open. On the speaker you hear something like, "sorry, just a moment please," and then you wait. No one says a word. No one moves. Then the train moves backwards. An inch. The doors don't open, though. Then you get another announcement. Then the train moves forward. A hair. Then the doors open out you go like nothing happened. So, here's my problem. I can see if the guy missed the platform by 20 feet or something and we all step out to our deaths on the track. But these platforms are several hundred feet long. What's an inch or two either way? I know, I know it's safety thing. Jon recently explained this to me, which also explains all the human-mechanized movements you see in and around Japanese trains. But still. It's an inch. An inch. Lucky these guys rarely miss their mark. This would drive me nuts if it happened every day.

Rapid Response

There was an earthquake off the coast of Japan this morning. That's hardly news since the ground moves here all the time. It's like living on a boat. Anyway, this time, I was sitting on the floor (this is Japan, after all) looking at email and, sure enough, the boat moved. Am I going to die, or is this just another one of the million small quakes we feel here? That's the immediate thought. Anyway, then the lights hanging from the ceiling started moving back and forth. It felt like a 4 or so. It was a 6.6 out in the ocean. Just as I got to Twitter to report this, the guy was already on NHK with the Tsunami warnings. That's fast. How do they do it? Perfectly dressed and everything. Was he just sitting there in the studio off camera waiting for a quake to hit so he could get on TV within seconds? It gets even wilder when you get a quake warning before the quake comes. These guys are good. They get a lot of practice.

Exit and Voice

Recommended book: Race for The Exits, Leonard Schoppa: "The system worked so long as Japan was kept in its postwar homeostasis, its economy relatively closed to the world, its firms restricted in their exit options and women pushed into and confined to household roles. It could not survive the transition to a globalized economy in which success depended more on openness." -- Tobias Harris

Interesting book review from Tobias Harris about some of the economic and social problems here in Japan. The ramifications from "exit and voice" -- the ability to dump a bad system or change it from the inside -- seems so very obvious to me living here. So much for closed systems. They die as a result of isolation. I`ll have to read this book.

Monday Jun 09, 2008

"Why not Japan?"

Nissan chips away at Japan's concrete ceiling: "In 2003, [Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn] set up a special team to review Nissan's diversity, or lack of it. That led to the creation of a Diversity Development Office to help promote women and a Diversity Steering Committee to make sure top company leaders bought in. Mr. Ghosn himself was the committee's first chair. If Nissan-Renault values diversity, "Why not in Japan," he says. He insists that diversity is essential to the kind of "cross-functional teamwork" that breeds innovation at the auto maker. "When men and women of different mindsets, different backgrounds, different cultures meet to work on particular problems they usually find better solutions," he said last month in New York, where Nissan collected the annual Catalyst Award for helping women advance. -- Toronto Globe and Mail

Totally agree. And there's no acceptable answer to the "why not Japan?" question, either. This is 2008, after all, my goodness. The obvious lack of diversity in traditional Japanese companies will only doom them to the wrecking ball in a rapidly globalizing world. Oh, and this Ghosn guy? He speaks six languages. Six. That's diversity.

Sunday Jun 08, 2008

English Required

Every time I read an article about how Japan wants to make Tokyo competitive as global financial center, the issue of the obvious lack of English language skills here comes up. Every time. Here it is again -- Japan increases push for Tokyo as finance centre. I doubt China will make this mistake. China's economy is emerging now during a time of globalization, whereas Japan's emerged prior to globalization.

Sunday Jun 01, 2008

Fuji

Fuji in black and white from a couple of winters ago ...

Fuji

Thursday May 29, 2008

Gage in Japan

I guess John Gage was in Japan this week. It would have been great to meet him again and introduce him to some of the communities I'm talking to in Tokyo. Oh, well. Next time, I suppose. Gage is a great guy, and I know it'd be cool to bring all the communities together for a little Gage Gathering.

Thursday May 22, 2008

Japan Needs Engineers

High-Tech Japanese, Running Out of Engineers: "'We don’t need to find jobs,' said Kenta Yaegashi, 24, another electrical engineering senior. 'They find us.' He said his father, also an engineer, was envious of the current sellers' market, much less crowded than the packed field he faced 30 years ago. Even top manufacturers, who once had their pick of elite universities, say they now have to court talent. This means companies must adapt their recruiting pitches to appeal to changing social attitudes." -- New York Times

Good. Companies should have to court talent because that helps promote a cycle of creativity, innovation, and competition. That's the first thing I noticed when I came here. I didn't see a talent market. But if the raw -- and obvious -- shortage of engineers in Japan helps wash out all the old traditional companies that would be wonderful for the future of the Japanese economy. It's good to see innovative companies looking elsewhere for talent, though, as the article cites.

Thursday May 15, 2008

Lionel Lim, Sun Japan President

Earlier today I had the opportunity to meet Lionel Lim, the new president of Sun Japan. I was impressed. His rhetoric was friendly, direct and honest, and he sounded like a guy looking to inspire people to get more innovative and take the opportunities out there. There is huge potential for Sun to gain more share of multiple markets in Japan. Also, as Sun grows in Japan by engaging more partners and customers, we can simultaneously engage more developers and users with more innovative community development operations. We are not doing nearly enough developer outreach in Japan, and I hope that changes because community development is quite literally market development. In fact, there is no distinction whatsoever, and I'd argue this point with just about anyone. So, I'm looking forward to this new leadership. Should be fun. Sun Japan press release in Japanese.

Monday May 12, 2008

Japan Inside China

Very interesting. A little Japanese inside China -- [i18n-discuss] Solaris Teacher Training and Sun University Tour- Dalian. Next time I visit China, I have to spend some time in Dalian to explore this China-Japan connection. I first read about this in a Tom Friedman column, but it's not talked about that much here in Japan. Gotta check it out.

Sunday May 11, 2008

Kaizen

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?: "Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain. If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness." -- New York Times on M. J. Ryan, author of the 2006 book “This Year I Will...”

Take one step at a time. And small steps are best. The tiny, continuous improvements add up, though, and this is actually a very efficient way to just get things done and better in the process. Kaizen.

Monday Apr 28, 2008

Blowing Hot or Cold on Japan

Japan May Escape Recession as Chinese Surge Increases Exports: "Japan's manufacturing sector is actually a showcase for how to implement globalization,'' said Jesper Koll, director of Tantallon Research Japan, a hedge fund. "Whether it's Russia, the Middle East or Latin America, take your pick, Japan's on top of it.'' -- Bloomberg

Good economic news about Japan is rare, but this article above cites the possibility that Japan may dodge a recession (due to the slow down in the US) because some key Japanese industries have diversified into rapidly expanding markets in China and throughout Asia. That's cool. And perhaps other Japanese companies here, and even entire industries, will take a lesson from the manufacturing and auto guys and learn how to be a "showcase for how to implement globalization." We'll see. The results will be obvious either way.

Thursday Apr 03, 2008

Big Decisions

Scott Berkun has a great blog on lessons he's learned from four independent years in the real world. If you are thinking of leaving your job at a big tech vendor and going out on your own, Scott is a great resource to tap. The very first lesson he talks about in his post is "Big decisions divide friends" and that is one bit I certainly agree with. Every word in that paragraph hits home to me regarding my own big decision recently -- moving to Japan. At some point I'll write a lessons learned summary of my experiences in this little adventure, and it will surely surprise some people. Both good and bad. The point, though, is that big changes affect things in surprising ways. From Scott: "I learned the people closest to you, aren’t necessarily your best supporters, and you won't find your true supporters until you make decisions big enough to call them out. If you do something big, you will divide the people in your life in unexpected ways: the truth comes out." Yep.

Wednesday Apr 02, 2008

Opening Japan

Matt Asay explores open source in Japan and concludes that it may be time to give the place a second look -- Open source: Made in Japan? Good post. He points to some excellent examples of open source contributors in Japan and also corporate and government use of open source.

I found Matt's blog being discussed on the Tokyo Linux User Group list -- [tlug] "Open source: Made in Japan?" blog -- today where Curt Sampson was talking about the language/culture barriers in Japan and also how Japan is home to more NetBSD developers than any country outside the United States. I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised I didn't know since Japan is a country absolutely determined to down play its role in just about everything possible. It's exactly the opposite behavior of the United States, which tends to over play its hand in just about everything possible.

Anyway, I agree about the language/cultural barriers. They are big. Generally, I find very few in the west interested in software development taking place in Japan, and I also find very little interest here in exploring anything outside of Japan. It goes both ways. It's tough to look inside, and very few here are looking outside. There are obvious exceptions, of course, but I've been quite surprised by the size of the east/west divide for a market so big. See Matt's blog for the exceptions, by the way, which are all very encouraging.

I think similar issues were present in China, as well, but recently when I go to China and visit the universities I find the students much more willing to learn from and engage with the west. They are loud and enthusiastic and bold. I'm no expert on China, and I could be seeing only one part of that market because they have so many students in computer programs now, but it seems to me that the trends are clear and distinction with Japan is now very big. Whereas the language/cultural barriers here in Japan are the same as always (and I can find no one to dispute that), they seem to be going away in China.

Another factor for Japan may be that this market is mature and expensive and suffers from under exposure because massive attention and resources are flying to China and India because those guys are rapidly emerging and sucking up all the publicity. I was also thinking that some of this may be just a mis-understanding since the west and east view "community" and "contribution" and "individual motivation" somewhat differently. Who knows. Some good opinions on the Tlug list, too. Check out the thread.

Also, Matt mentioned Ruby. Very cool community. I was so impressed with the Ruby community a while back. Here are all my blogs on Ruby. And Matt mentions the Japanese government getting involved in open source, too. Well, they are also exploring OpenSolaris (here, here, here). Oh, one more thing: the Japan portal for OpenSolaris is our #1 portal by far in terms of total page views hitting the site. But, man, the Spanish are catching up jet fast! :)

Friday Mar 21, 2008

University of Tokyo and Sun

Seems the University of Tokyo and Sun are teaming up for some joint research projects on high performance computing and web-based programming languages. See Sun press release for details in Japanese and English.

Thursday Mar 20, 2008

Toyota: Don't Measure Against Rivals

Toyota finds success is a bitter-sweet pill: "From the moment he took the helm in 2005, [Toyota Motor Corp President Katsuaki] Watanabe has made it his mission to discourage employees from measuring Toyota against rivals but rather against a lofty goal: developing a dream car that 'cleans the air, doesn't cause accidents, makes drivers healthier and can go around the world on one tank of fuel. We have a long way to go,' he said." -- Reuters

Agree 100%. You can't win in the long run by playing defense and getting distracted by reacting to a competitor.
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