Sunday Feb 17, 2008

More on Cross Culture Engineering

Serkan Toto has a nice review of the event the other night -- Report: Cross-cultural IT and web engineer party in Tokyo. Looking forward to the next one.

Monday Feb 11, 2008

Too Early

The delivery guy came to pick up some stuff early this morning. Too early. This is typical. But this time he was so early we weren't ready, and we had to send him away and have him return later. So, he said he'd do some other things and return at 12 noon. To me 12 noon means12 noon give or take five minutes before or after. Or just 12:00 pm is fine, too. But this is Japan, and time is different here. So, what time did he return? 11:30 am. Early again. Typical. I expected this, of course, so we were ready this time. But I have to wonder. This desire to be hyper efficient to provide extreme service by being too early actually leads to inefficiency. And it's potentially dangerous, too. My delivery dude, after all, had to make two trips, right? That's not efficient. I certainly appreciate the intent, though. Anyway, after we set the delivery guy free, we started walking out to the store -- where we were promptly almost run over by a pizza delivery guy flying by on his jet-fast, three-wheel motor scooter. Rushing to be early, I'm sure. These guys nearly clip me at least once a week. I wonder what a death here and there does to their on-time- delivery rating?

Friday Feb 01, 2008

Quiet Construction

I watched this construction site for about 15 minutes today. I used to be in construction, so I always stop and notice any site I come across. The sequence of events always fascinates me. What strikes me about Japanese construction sites is that they are especially clean, extremely organized, and pretty well contained. But even more interesting is that they are generally very quiet. You hear hammers and equipment, sure, but no radios blasting, no screaming and yelling, and really very little conversation. I always try to figure out how the guys communicate. I mean, I`ve never been on a quiet construction site in my life. Here, they are all over the place. Amazing.

Construction Construction

Construction Construction

Solaris Leading in Japan

"Our focus on Solaris 10 is really paying off big time. If we look at the number of downloads, it's very impressive. We see one of the highest downloads of Solaris in the world, in terms of geography, from Japan." -- Denis Heraud, President, Asia Pacific, quoted in the Singapore Business Times, Jan 31st, 2008 (sorry, no link, it's paid). "The fact that Sun has been engaging on the open source approach to the market is really putting Sun in a strong position. I think that the success we have worldwide and in APJ [Asia Pacific, Japan] is very much linked with this adoption of Solaris 10."


Sunday Jan 27, 2008

Japan: Time to Change?

Japan and its GDP: "It's really no wonder we're having a hard time getting attention in Japan." -- Joi Ito

I agree. And these trends argue for sweeping changes in Japan. I mean, really. If not now, when? I would love to hear anyone argue that nothing ought to change on this island. To me, all of these global economic trends are wonderful opportunities for the Japanese to grow in new ways. Bottom line: Japan will change or it will be changed. Period.

Friday Jan 25, 2008

The Cleaning Lady in the Boys Room

Why is it that every time I go to the bathroom at work the cleaning lady comes in to empty the garbage and tidy up a  bit? And why is it that every time I go the the pool I see the cleaning lady cleaning the men's room with 20 naked men walking around? I don't get this. Is there a cleaning man in the girls room across the hall?

Thursday Jan 24, 2008

Stuck on a Train

It took about 2 hours to get home tonight. It's a 40 minute trip. Gigantic delays due to "personal injury" as they say here in Japan. That generally means someone jumped. Suicide. It happens all too often here. Very sad. But who knows the real reason. The point is that I was stuck on a slow moving train that eventually just stopped. And there I was. Me and hundreds of Japanese. Waiting. And standing, of course. It was rush hour. Fortunately, I had my phone and some reading material (I was reading about Bernanke and his Federal Reserve, believe it or not). From time to time I peeked at the women on my right since she was watching TV on her cell phone. Nice reception. And the guy on my left was watching TV on his phone, too. I need sound to keep my attention, though, so I couldn't follow it. Not that I could follow much of the Japanese, anyway. And others were just reading or sleeping. One guy was studying Korean. Beautiful typography in his textbook.

But what got me was the silence. We all just stood there. There was very little talking and no complaining. Yet there were hundreds of people stuck together quite literally inches apart. Some people called home to say, "Go ahead and eat dinner," and such, and I was able to pick up bits and pieces of various conversations. But when people talked on their phones, they got off the train and stood on the platform and cupped their hands over their mouths. The two girls behind me were talking a bit, but they clearly knew each other. Other than that, it was dead quiet. Total silence. For 2 hours. Amazing.

Monday Jan 14, 2008

A Closed Network

Decline in Japanese students abroad cause for concern -- "As the number of Japanese students in the United States decreases, the number of Chinese, South Korean and Indian students is surging." -- Kyodo News

This article articulates a trend that can only lead to one result: the further isolation of a closed network.

Sunday Jan 13, 2008

China and India Pressing Japan

Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools -- "While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. In part, this reflects China’s image in Japan as a cheap manufacturer and technological imitator. But India’s success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy." -- New York Times

Very interesting article about many Japanese coming to grips with the reality that China and India are moving much, much faster, and leaving Japan behind. To compete in the future -- a global future -- Japanese education will have to change rather significantly. This piece focuses on Indian education techniques in Japan. English, computers, math, and science are big parts of it, too. Japan is absolutely a country that loves fads. But I hope this is not a fad. The more diversity and global awareness here the better.

Rich in Rare Metals

Japan has world's biggest 'urban mines' -- "The total volume of metal resources, including gold and silver, that are used in electrical appliances and electronics in Japan is the world's largest, surpassing natural metal reserves held by each major mineral-producing country." -- Associated Press

This doesn`t surprise me at all. The place is totally wired with all sorts of funky electrical gadgets. Even the toilets are plugged in. In fact, I can operate all the features of my toilet from the other room with a convenient wireless handset. Now, the fact that my toilet has features and has to be plugged in is nuts enough, but the wireless bit takes the whole experience to an entirely new level. And my bath? Well, it talks to me. In Japanese, of course. At least that one is not wireless. Yet.

Saturday Jan 12, 2008

Why Early?

I've lived in Japan for about 18 months. Why is it that the service guys -- you know, the people who come to your house to fix something or install something or deliver something or whatever -- are always early? It drives me nuts. I can see being on time or even a few minutes late, even, but why early? And why early every time? How is this possible? Is it genetic, or something? If you say you'll be there at 9 am, and we all agree, why must I then have to do a mental calculation that goes something like this: ok, this dude is Japanese, so 9 am doesn't actually mean 9 am, it actually means any time between 8:45 and 9 am but most certainly before 9 am. That's when the phone rings. He's "just around the corner" or even "already waiting outside" my front door. Every. Single. Time. Absolutely insane. This was never a problem in California, by the way. Or Boston. Or New York. Why here?

Monday Jan 07, 2008

Japan and Friedman`s Globalization 3.0

After thinking more about this conversation on globalization, I re-read Tom Friedman`s The World is Flat over the winter break. The book is out in paperback, of course, and Friedman calls this updated and expanded version "3.0" in the introduction. It`s about 650 pages, but it`s a really quick read. Especially the second time around. Friedman tells lots of excellent stories that take you right along on his own personal journey around the world. There is a lot of talk of China and India, of course, but Japan comes up from time to time, too. And that`s what hit me this time around. Japan.

Some brief background first. Friedman breaks down the history of globalization into to three gigantic meta categories -- countries, companies, and individuals. Basically, globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. And we are just now entering 3.0, the era of individual globalization, where everyone who has access to technology (that`s Friedman`s "flat-world platform") has to compete with everyone else in the world who has access to technology. Now, it took 500 years of globalization to get here, but that`s where we find ourselves now. And I think the key point to the book is that globalization 3.0 is very, very different from globalization 1.0 and 2.0 because 3.0 is based on, in part, the individual. That`s where Japan comes on.

Although Japan comes up from time to time while Friedman discusses globalization 2.0, I could find very few (if any, actually) references to Japan and globalization 3.0. Friedman goes to great lengths to talk about how individuals can compete in the new flat world, but that discussion seemed to be focused primarily on the United States and Western Europe and the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, India, and China. That`s when it hit me that Japan seems vulnerable under Friedman`s theory since Japan is not based on the concept of the "individual" at all and it`s certainly not an emerging market. It`s all about "groups" here, and individuality is somewhat rare among the average Japanese -- certainly among the millions of workers that make up corporate Japan in and around Tokyo. I didn`t think about this when I read the book the first time since I hadn`t lived in Japan yet. It`s obvious now, though.

So, can Japan, which is famous for its vertically integrated corporations (the exact opposite from Friedman`s open and horizontally flat world), compete in globalization 3.0? How would "groups" of people even recognize this as a problem? And how would these groups of people transform Japan`s various corporate global supply chains into an economy that recognizes individual global competition? This is not as great a problem for the west since most western cultures are based much more on the concept of individuality -- especially the United States. Friedman hints at this cultural issue when he quotes various Chinese leaders who recognize this very problem in China. China (and Korea, for that matter) shares with Japan some of these East Asian characteristics of groups. But China seems to be changing specifically to compete on all levels -- country, company, and individual. That third part is most fascinating here in East Asia. Will China pull it off? Will Japan recognize the issue and engage down at that level?

Some Friedman flat world videos here at MIT and here on Charlie Rose and here at the NYT.

Saturday Dec 29, 2007

The Samurai and the Cowboy

I'm reading a really interesting linguistics book on how the Japanese communicate and think and how their language differs from the English spoken by Americans -- Japanese Communication: Language and Thought in Context. It's very much a Venus and Mars sort of thing since the two cultures and languages are so different. Instead of planets, though, the author uses the cultural myths of the samurai and the cowboy to juxtapose the two. It's a miracle any information survives this barrier. But it's fascinating to peel back the layers to figure out why. More on this when I'm done.

Thursday Dec 27, 2007

Jet Fast Japanese Train

Ok, so Japan plans the world's fastest maglev train. Cool. It goes fast. Zoom. I get that. But in 2025? Guys, that's like 17 years from now! Don't you think your press release is a tad early? Plus, why the desire to link Tokyo to central Japan? My goodness. Here's a much better idea: why not link Tokyo to Narita Airport -- and, thus, the rest of the world -- with that fancy new maglev train? Or better yet: why wait more than a decade and a half ... why not just cut a new path for the regular old Shinkansen from Tokyo to Narita right now? The airport is too far away. It needs to be closer for Japan to attract new business. The Narita Express is a very nice train, but it's too slow. Oh, no money for a bullet to the airport? Here's a cool 55-billion-yen you can use to get started if you don't waste it playing around on the flipp'n moon! The moon? Gezz. We already live in the Twilight Zone. We don't need to go to the moon.

In Japan Too Long?

Simon sent these to me a while back. Very, very funny. I don't have a favorite. They are all good.

Wednesday Dec 26, 2007

Stagnation Leading to Revolution?

In Japan, Stagnation Wins Again -- "Maybe it’s time for a revolution." -- Joi Ito

Globalizing Tokyo

Japan set for radical reform of markets: "There is a lot that is good in there," said a representative for a foreign bank. "It's not the end of the story. They need to keep doing more to globalise Tokyo as a financial centre." -- Financial Times

Encouraging more industries in Tokyo to think and act globally is a good idea for Japan. Many of Japan`s companies are global, sure, but the pervading attitude around the place is most certainly not global. I find China far more open to the west from a business perspective (and it ain`t even close). And many people agree. That`s why this set of reforms has been released by the government. Of course, they could call the guys at Toyota and Honda for a little advice. I`m serious.

Don`t Gloat

Toyota sees bright future as world number one -- "Toyota has been careful not to gloat about its success in the United States, fearing a protectionist backlash of the type seen when Japanese automakers first seriously penetrated the market in the 1980s." -- AFP

I think this is a good marketing strategy, but with Toyota it`s more than that. The company is more focused on being profitable, building great cars, and carefully expanding into emerging global markets (China, Brazil, Russia) then they are on beating the competition. They know what comes first.

Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

Japanese Innovation

Gen Kanai comments on a recent Newsweek piece -- Why Apple Isn't Japanese. Gen's take is certainly interesting and, sadly, pretty tough to argue with.

The article is pretty critical. The bits I found most interesting were the language and culture issues, since I experience those walls every day. They are so much bigger than anyone on the outside realizes, and I think they go a long way to explaining Japan's lack of growth in certain global markets.

The article also states that Japan will have to compete with new sources of innovation in the future: "Over the next century, disruptive innovations won't be coming only from countries like the United States. They'll also be emerging from dynamic, hungry, rising economies that offer plenty of room for risk-taking, flights of fancy and cross-border synthesis." Although these sources are not directly stated, it's clear that the nations are primarily China and India, which are both embracing capitalism and globalization at blindingly fast rates, and both don't seem to struggle with the language and culture issues like Japan does.

Now, I've been told that these observations represent the distinction between emerging markets and mature markets. But I no longer buy it. Too much of that article describes my direct experience, so I no longer accept the excuses. But will Japan eventually react and change? Are the Japanese hungry enough to compete in a global economy? I actually think they will react and compete. And in ways that may surprise many of their critics. That's the cool thing about innovation and market disruptions. They cycle. When you are disrupted, that sets up the perfect circumstance to innovate do some disrupting yourself.

Thursday Nov 29, 2007

Visas and Foreigners

I finally got my Indian Visa. Just today. Just in time. Denied twice. Took 3 weeks. Visits to two embassies and a travel agency and a bunch of confusing phone calls across a couple of languages. Big pain in the ass. But at least I get to go to India for a one-time visit for FOSS.IN. Hope the weather is nice.

So, with all that cleared up, I now get to go to Narita Airport on Sunday, where Japanese authorities will promptly mug shot me and fingerprint me as I leave the country (here, here). Then they'll do it again as I return home. And then when I go on another trip I'll get mugged and fingered again. And so on. Not because I did anything wrong, mind you, but because I'm not Japanese. I'm known as a "resident alien" here. They call me a "foreigner" and they actually use that word. A lot. I live here and have already passed all the Japanese immigration processes. This is my home. I even pay a boat load of taxes to the Japanese government (and the American government). And I have a fancy immigration card and multi-year work Visa and all, but I'm still a "foreigner" so that means, of course, I'm a potential you-know-what. The big T. You know, I'm already reminded I am a "foreigner" on an almost daily basis in Japan. This just makes the obnoxious all the more obscene.

Monday Nov 19, 2007

A Blackbox in a Japanese Coal Mine

You can put a little Blackbox anywhere, eh? I guess the Japanese are putting some (30 of them, actually) in an abandoned coal mine south of Tokyo not too far from Mt. Fuji -- Sun to Create Underground Japanese Datacente and Sun to set up datacentre in coal mine.

Sunday Nov 04, 2007

Japanese Contribution Coming

Very cool. A second translation contribution is on the way from a member of the Japanese OpenSolaris Community. See Reiko Saito's blog for both Japanese and English commentary on the issue. By the way, if you are interested in the Japanese community but don't read Japanese, Reiko's blog is a good place to go since she writes in English as well. I notice that many of the Sun China bloggers are writing in English now, too. That's an excellent way to invite the entire English speaking open source world in to your community.

Tuesday Oct 02, 2007

Excellent Online Japanese Translator

Here's an absolutely outstanding Japanese to English translator -- It's the best I've seen by far. Thanks, Kevin. 

Monday Oct 01, 2007


Small quakes rarely wake me up from a good night's sleep. I have to be up already to feel them. Also, I'm sort of used to them now, so the little ones are not jarring at all. But last night I was sleeping away and I thought I was having a dream about the building moving. Then I woke up. Sure enough, the building was moving. This was a 5.1, and depending on the location, it's enough to get anyone's attention. I was pretty groggy, but I think it was about 5 or 6 seconds of swaying back and forth.

Tuesday Sep 18, 2007


World's oldest man turns 112: "Japan has the largest population of centenarians in the world. The number of Japanese aged at least 100 years old is expected to top 30,000 by the end of September, the health ministry said in a recent report."

30,000 100-year-olds? My goodness. I keep wondering if I'll make it to 60 based on my current burn rate. I really need to relax ....

Sunday Sep 16, 2007

Fast Japanese Trains in the UK

New high-speed train bound for Britain from Japan: "Hitachi official Koji Hachiya says he is filled with emotion to see carriages made with Japanese technology being exported to the birthplace of the railway." -- NHK

Monday Aug 27, 2007

A Good Laugh

USA Today tries to understand the iPhone and Japan: "As anyone who regularly commutes on Japanese trains will tell you, everyone from youths to suited businessmen freely read manga of varying degrees of sauciness...." -- Ken Y-N.

I totally agree. And the quote Ken refers to is funny, but it's typical of European and American press coverage of Japan.

During rush-hour commute times in downtown Tokyo, you are literally packed in to the trains like cattle where not even one more human being could possibly fit (though they always try). So, there's no way to hide what you are reading. Heck, it was so tight tonight on the way home, I didn't even have enough room to read my Japanese homework. I couldn't get my hand far enough away from my face to focus on the text. Why? There was some guy's head there, and I was carefully studying his ear hairs. I counted nine. And there was another head on my left. And another on my right, and that guy really needs to floss. And there was an elbow dug into my back, and a red high heel buried deep into my foot (though she said she was very sorry for that one). So, forget privacy on these trains during commute time. There isn't any.

Sunday Aug 26, 2007

Lack of Patience

Doing business abroad? Simple faux pas can sink you: "San Francisco-based etiquette consultant Syndi Seid says a client, a company in Seattle, lost a big business deal in the 1990s because it did not understand a Japanese company's business culture. During negotiations, the U.S. company, which Seid didn't identify, invited the Japanese company to Seattle, but for months, officials of the foreign company had trouble obtaining visas. The impatient U.S. company sent high-level executives to Japan to close the deal. It backfired because the Japanese executives were eager to visit the USA and were turned off by the Americans' lack of patience in building a rapport between the companies." -- USA Today

Humm. Why the need for visas for a simple business trip? Anyway, the lack of patience bit is the most important here. It's so very true. It's difficult for westerners to think in the time frames the Japanese do, and there is usually no clue to alert you that you ought to. And it gets even more complicated since not everything is thought of in the long term! In fact, many things are remarkably transitory here. Westerners are well advised to approach Japan with an open mind and a closed mouth. And the more humility the better.

By the way, the "slurping your noodles" quote in the article is great. :)

Friday Aug 03, 2007

Japan Shrinking?

Japan's population shrinks again, but births up: "Japan's population has been shrinking since 2005, and the government has forecast its population will fall to 60 million -- half its current size -- by 2100 unless it can persuade citizens to have more children." -- AFP

Cool. At 60 million at least I'll be able to get a seat on the train.

Saturday Jul 21, 2007


Nissan adds diversity to Japan's vocabulary: "Nissan's onsite day care, family leave of up to two years and flexible work schedules are helping attract and keep more women. Nissan has also been spreading the word about diversity at universities and seminars to recruit women." -- Houston Chronicle

Cool. Maybe my daughter will grow up to run Nissan in Japan some day. Actually, the very last thing I want for her to is be an executive, but that's not the point. Hopefully, Nissan will help industry in Japan grow up a bit here. It's 2007, after all, isn't it?


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