8/25/10 - Journey to Japan

Direct flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Tokyo.  About 13 hours.  During the flight, I reflected on the confusing nature of time in relation to global travel.  In effect, the airplane flew backwards in time – shades of Einstein’s theory of relativity!  We were flying toward the past, in other words against the earth’s rotation.  We left at noon and arrived a little after 3 pm – so only three hours had “passed” even though we experienced a 13-hour trip.  Then, to make it even weirder, we crossed the international date line, so we lost a day.

Although I realize this is not what Einstein had in mind, the experience helped me better understand the relative nature of time.

The air travel itself was excruciatingly uncomfortable due to the airline industry’s practice of allotting about 4 square inches to each passenger and designing seats without any sense of ergonomics.  After a while I had a lot of lower back pain, which would have been even worse without the lumbar cushion I travel with.  Oh, to travel in business class!

8/26/10 - Arrival in Tokyo

I took the Narita Express train from the airport to the city of Tokyo – about a 1½ hour ride.  Interestingly, the seats on the train provided perfect ergonomic support – my back pain instantly vanished.  During the train ride, I eagerly observed my first views of Japan.  The journey segues from farms to suburbs to city. My first impression – a surprise – the farms and the suburbs reminded me of Germany!  Something about the arrangement of buildings in space, and also the building construction.I suppose a lot of post-war, maybe 1960s buildings – a more solid, square, simple look than is typical in the US. 

The one thing that was really different was the roofs.  In particular, some of the roofs were a bright turquoise blue!  Also, the roof tiles appear to be glazed ceramic tiles, with a shape kind of like the rounded Spanish style – very different from the German roof style.

 I couldn’t get a good photo from the train, so this one is from  here .

I couldn’t get a good photo from the train, so this one is from here.

Arrived at hotel, exhausted.  Dinner at an inexpensive local sushi place.  Talked a bit to an older couple seated next to me at the bar – the wife had lived in New York for four years when she was young.

Hotel room was tiny, as expected.  The bathroom was surprisingly roomy though.

8/27/10 - i.School and Mori Tower

In the morning, I attended a workshop that Ziba Design had developed for students at the University of Tokyo’s Innovation School or i.School.  The i.School was just created a year ago; its development was led by Hiroshi Tamura, who was also the local organizer for EPIC, and the person who invited me.  Tamura is research director at Hakuhodo, a large advertising agency.  His skills and accomplishments are most impressive.

At the workshop, it was fun to be in a design environment once again, with post-its on the walls and so forth.

Over lunch, I attended the rehearsal for an event the following morning, where Hideshi Hamaguchi from Ziba would speak on innovation, and Michael Shanks from Stanford would be discussant (http://michaelshanks.org/).  The two translators wanted to practice.  They were amazing!

In the afternoon, I visited Mori Tower.  One reason was to get copies of my business cards made.  Like an idiot, I had forgotten to fill up my card case before I left, so I only had a few cards with me.  One of the translators told me about a copy shop that could quickly make copies.  It was in Mori Tower, a large building complex near my hotel.

Even better, at the top of Mori Tower, on the 54th floor, was an observation deck.  I was able to walk around and get a fabulous 360-degree view of Tokyo.

These views of the city really helped me get a feeling for it.  I realized that I like Tokyo a lot!  As someone who grew up in LA, I feel comfortable in big cities.  And Tokyo has a light, friendly, accessible feeling – more so than New York, for instance.  The pictures show that it is visually not a dark city.  And the size of the city symbolizes its cosmopolitan spirit and the potential for many subcultures to flourish – I suspect that anything you might be interested in, you could find it in Tokyo.  Which creates a certain kind of freedom.

I also visited the museum in Mori Tower, which had an interesting exhibit on perceptions of nature by Japanese multimedia artists.  My favorite piece was a room representing a forest from underneath the ground.  The “forest floor” was handmade paper.  It had holes you could stick your head through to see the “trees” above.  The “forest floor” was low enough that you had to walk around kind of hunched over.  The artist, Kuribayashi Takashi, is interested in borders and in the transformation of values that results from shifts in perspective when boundaries are transcended.