Design Sprints in Japan

Sure, I mention the Tokyo-based design studio AQ a lot in part because they’re good friends of mine, but it’s no secret that they’re also incredibly talented at what they do — the fact that they’ve been at it for so long and continue to grow is a testament to that. They recently shared an essay (on Medium too) that takes a look at how they’ve adapted the sprint method for use in Japan (where it’s still a relatively new concept to be used within companies).

Starting a Business in Japan

What does it take to start a business in Japan as a foreigner? Elizabeth Mueller did the research, and put together this incredibly clear and detailed guide to all of the steps you’ll need to cross in order to make it happen. It also features interviews with my buddies Mark McFarlane (Tacchi) and Chris Palmieri (AQ), as well as lovely illustrations throughout by Adrian Hogan.

New Year Love from AQ and KDa

I don’t receive New Year cards (nengajo) like I used to — although I still enjoy looking at a lot of them, courtesy of Spoon & Tamago and 8-4. In fact, I only received two this year, but they were both from people I love so much. Up top is the card sent by design crew AQ, who decided to be a bit sly with the rooster theme, and peacock it up a bit. Below, the card from my loving Tokyo family of Klein Dytham architecture, as spicy as ever.

Hi and Goodbye

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Earlier this year, the fine folks behind the “moment sharing site” Hi (né Hitotoki) shared some big news: they would shut down the site on September 1, as part of a novel archiving project (here’s what Craig Mod had to say about the “Hitotoki Archives” project). We’re just a few days away from the site shutting down, which means you still have a chance to share a moment or two, that will be preserved on physical media.

I received a notice the other day to download all of my contributions to the site, which I’ve done. I was never a big contributor to the site, but it’s nice to see these shared moments again, and I’m thinking of incorporating them in my blog (as you know, I’m very much in an archival state of mind these days).

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Digging Through the Archives

At long last, my archives are back. Most of them at least.

Some of you may recall that back in early 2014, I had the great misfortune of the web host I was using pulling the rug from under me, which meant that my entire website — which dated back to 2002 — suddenly disappeared.

And I didn’t have proper backups.

Eventually I did find some SQL database backups from 2011, which meant that I could probably eventually try to reconstruct the site, and then do some digging through the Wayback Machine for the missing 3 years. But I was so disgusted with what had happened that I wasn’t looking to self-host something right away, and decided to just use Tumblr, which is what I had set up quickly to keep on writing.

Jump to now.

A friendly poke the other day from my old friend Craig Mod came my way. He mentioned that it was a shame that all those archives of me covering the art & design scene in Tokyo/Japan during the 2000s weren’t available online anymore, and I couldn’t agree more. It was the kick in the ass I needed to just go ahead and finally spend the time required to getting all of this back up and available for everyone. After a post on Facebook to enlist some aid on what to do with that old database, it was another old friend from my Tokyo days (Michael, an ex-AQ staffer who was a pro at wrangling WordPress) who helped me out — I ended up creating a locally-hosted WordPress blog on my laptop, managed to connect to that old database (after a few modifications), and now I’ve taken the step of self-hosting a blog again (using the quick-and-easy WordPress hosting by name.com, which is the company I use for my domain hosting).

So a first step has been done, and it’s what you now see here. As you can see in the sidebar to the right (at least for now, as I imagine I’ll eventually settle on another theme to use), you’ll find full archives of the site, from the very first post on September 4, 2002, going to August 2011, and then the posts from the new Tumblr-hosted site I had from March 2014.

(I actually started writing regularly on the web in 1998, in the form of weekly columns about my life in Tokyo, all coded in HTML, but that content may truly be gone for good.)

Unfortunately, none of the images from those posts made it over — although I may still have some I can manage to add, as I found an old folder with a good amount of them — and I still need to try and find those 3 years of missing posts (as I mentioned, fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find them through the Wayback Machine).

But at least for now, it sure feels good to have a lot of this stuff online again, and I’ve been having a blast going back and randomly reading old posts. It reveals a younger me who is so excited by what he’s experiencing, deliciously naive (in a fun way).

Digital diaries from the Japanese front.

Drawing for Life

Adrian Hogan breathes drawing.

Adrian is yet another person I’ve met through PauseTalk – yes, I tend to meet the most interesting people through my PauseTalk series, which is the main reason I started doing it all these years ago.

And he draws. A lot.

Adrian is a freelance illustrator based here in Tokyo, and as you’ll see from his online portfolio, he has a wonderful style that really is adaptable. But the most amazing thing is that Adrian is always drawing. And I mean always. He and Luis Mendo – the other obsessive drawer – are always sketching wherever they are, and following them on Instagram (Adrian/Luis) ensures constant updates on where they are and what they are seeing, by way of pen.

I’m quite happy that the both of them – along with AQ’s Eiko Nagase – run PauseDraw, a PauseTalk spinoff series where instead of talking you, ahem, draw. They’ve been doing it for well over a year now, and it’s really great to see how the event has grown. The regular sessions take place at AQ’s conference room in Nishi-Azabu, but they also have special editions in which they collaborate with Loftwork, that attract quite the crowd.

If you’re interested in taking part, you’ll always find new events listed on the series’ Facebook page (and you can follow them on Twitter). And it’s important to note that you don’t have to have any drawing ability to take part, it’s all about having fun with a pen or pencil and a piece of paper.

Thank you Adrian, Luis, and Eiko, for what you’ve accomplished with PauseDraw. It’s a joy for me to see something like this happen.

What Has Happened

Let me start by saying that I’m writing this not to add noise to all the useful info getting out there, but because I’ve been contacted by countless concerned people about what happened with me, and what is going on. Here’s my story.

As I had mentioned in a recent post, we were heading for a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and ended up being on the Narita Express train — a train that goes directly from Ikebukuro, where I live, to the airport — when the first big quake hit. because we were still within Tokyo, the train wasn’t going too fast, and so was able to stop very quickly, and we were left rocking from side-to-side. They then started making announcements about the earthquake. Looking outside, we could see that people had come out of nearby buildings. With aftershocks coming regularly, they continued to announce that we were stopped because of the earthquake with no idea on when we could resume, and then shut down the electricity. About an hour later, they finally did an emergency evacuation of the train, having us climb out on ladders, and proceeded to walk us to the nearest station, which was Gotanda. If anything, I’m thankful that this happened before we’d left Tokyo or had arrived at the airport, as being stuck out there would have been much worse.

The train was filled with travelers from China and Hong Kong, who couldn’t understand any of the Japanese-only announcements, and so my wife acted as translator on the train, and continued to do so with the staff as we all headed to the station. 

When we got to the station, the Japan Railways staff were as confused as everyone. But it was clear that no one was going to get to the airport, nevermind to catch any flight. My wife started helping people to find nearby hotels. Not knowing what to do, and with phones already down, we decided to go to a nearby family restaurant (Jonathan’s) and have something to eat — we hadn’t had a proper meal yet all day, and it was getting close to 17:00 — and to try and get our bearings. 

As I’ve tweeted, my lifeline really was Twitter. Although voice functionality was down, my phone still had data access, and though I was having trouble loading up websites, the relatively low amount of bandwidth used by Twitter was fine. Most of my info came through all of the retweets coming from Sandra Barron (@sandrajapandra) — funny enough, I’d only started following her a few days previous, after having met her at last Monday’s PauseTalk.

I was tweeting my situation, and also made sure to email my parents (back in Canada) so that they wouldn’t be worried after seeing the news. For some reason, my tweets were not coming out on Facebook as they usually do, and a friend from back home let me know that other friends were worried about my situation. The Facebook app was not letting me post a status update, but I was able to post a note instead — I’m told that the message was published in my hometown’s newspaper, as part of their cover story on the quake.

It got to a point where we were worrying how we’d get back home — which is obviously how everyone in the city was feeling. Encumbering us were our suitcases, and also the fact that we were dressed lightly, since we were heading to warmer weather. Through @replies and direct messages, I was first invited to go and hang out at the AQ office in Aoyama, and then later received offers to stay the night from my friends Oliver, Andrew, and Paul — we took up Paul on his offer, since his place in Shirokanedai was the closest walk.

It was only once we got to Paul’s place and started watching TV that we were able to take in the extent of the destruction in the north. And we were all still worried because aftershocks continued to be regular (and they continue as I write this), but it was good to be with friends — Chris, Eiko, and Tomomi later joined us, walking over from the AQ office.

Sleeping in a room on the 3rd floor, we continued to sway throughout the evening. Even though calls had been impossible throughout the night, at around midnight my wife reached our travel agency, and there was still staff there taking calls — that’s Japan for ya. We were able to cancel our trip, and will receive a full refund (although we’re going to try and reschedule for later this month). Funny enough, they told us that we could either cancel, or try to go to the airport the following day and negotiate with ANA — the airline we were using — to see if they could get us on a plane. Yeah, right.

We were also worried about our dog, who was staying with our local vet (they offer “hotel” services). Although we couldn’t call, we managed to get in touch by email, and learned that everyone there was fine, including all the animals.

On Saturday, after we found out that most of the trains were running again (at least within Tokyo), we headed back home around lunch time. Once we got back to Ikebukuro, everything seemed relatively normal. We couldn’t pick up our dog until 17:00 — the vet closes during the afternoon — and so we headed back home to take in the damage. I was worried about what we’d see when getting there, after having seen photos from friends’ homes and offices through Twitter. Also, our house being over 50-year-old, it’s not exactly earthquake-proof. Luckily, there wasn’t much more than what our dog has done in the past. We later went to the grocery store to stock up on food — since we were heading for a trip, our house was pretty much empty — and despite the photos and reports of empty shelves I’d been seeing, it was pretty much business as usual at our local Seiyu, if only for a lack of fresh produce.

After stocking up, we were later reunited with our dog, and we’ve been staying at home since. We’re pretty much all holed up in one room, in part to conserve energy — they are reporting that this will be a problem, and that they will probably start rolling blackouts tomorrow. We’re all good, and there’s no need to worry about us — it’s really just the north that was devastated, and the way Tokyo was affected is mostly in terms of stoppage of public transportation, and issues with supplies being delivered (which explains the empty shelves in convenience store and supermarkets). We’re of course all nervous because aftershocks continue, and there’s the situation with the nuclear plants. 

For now, we wait at home, follow the news — Japanese TV, Twitter, and the NHK World live streaming app on iPad — and wait for things to stabilize. Thank you everyone who has been in touch with concern — through email, Twitter, and Facebook.

Codex 13

Well, I wanted this to be the “lucky” episode 13 of the Codex, but it took me quite a few tries to get the recording done because of glitches. But here it is, the first Codex of the year, and it also includes a Codex Coda courtesy of Chris Palmieri, the founder and head of the Tokyo-based design studio AQ.

The link to download the episode is below, as well as the playlist, and you can also subscribe to an RSS feed so as not to miss any future episode — the show is in the iTunes Store too.

Codex 13 (46MB)

1. M.I.A. – “Vicki Leekx Mixtape”
2. Toro y Moi – “Still Sound”
3. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl – “The Bike Song (The View Version)”
4. Homo Duplex – “Out of Touch”
5. Julie Doiron – “Nice to Come Home”
6. Lykke Li – “Get Some (Beck Remix)”
7. RJD2 – “The Glow (Paolo Remix)”
8. Said the Whale – “Last Tree Standing”
9. The Inbreds – “Prince”

Codex Coda 02 by Chris Palmieri

1. Kid Sister – “Pro Nails (Rusko Remix)”
2. Wendy Carlos – “Air on a G String”
3. Ladyhawke – “My Delirium”