Is it Instagram-izing or not?

On Rebun Island
On Rebun Island

Taking these photos was a lot of fun, and I like them quite a bit as standalone visuals.

View from Mount Moere
View from Mount Moere
Black and white
Black and white
Dynamic flying
Dynamic flying

Still, I’m very ambivalent about them.

You see, these photos were taken with the art filter functionality of the Olympus PEN E-PL3. Trying not to be an Instagram photo while applying a built-in part of my camera? It seems so silly.

On one hand, if Instagram-ish photos was what I wanted, my iPhone is in my jacket pocket. On the other hand, maybe the over-saturation (ha!) of Instagram photos in everyday life has numbed my ability to appreciate the texture of these images.

I’m fairly certain that the instant gratification of “special” digital effects can and will, in the long run, become a roadblock to becoming better at taking photos.

Am I over-thinking it?

Producing bilingual content for the AQ blog

People ask me all the time how AQ handles having an English blog and Japanese blog. Oh wait, they don’t… they just read articles in their language. Last year, we decided that the two language versions of the AQ site do not need to be mirrored. There can be content that exists only in one language. There can be content that’s similiar but is introduced from a different angle. And of course, there can be content that’s more or less a word for word translation.

In this article, I’ll explain the implications of this approach, at different levels of blogging.

Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night
Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night

At system level

This philosophy was baked in at the system level when we re-factored our website in Spring 2011. The two blogs are actually two different installations of WordPress, connected by a nifty PHP script that maps different bits of content.

If the page exists in the other language, it will show up. If not, the user will be redirected to the top page of that section, with an unobtrusive dropdown message. The mappings are added manually through a custom browser interface.

When we abandoned the idea that the two languages were two halves of a coin, we also changed the system on a fundamental level.

No longer does the site feel broken when one clicks the language switcher and is given an error page that says the page “is missing or hasn’t been translated yet”. The influence on our mindset as content producers is bigger than you would expect.

At content planning level

When someone has the idea for a blog article, we will ask “does this article work in the other language?”

If it’s a heavy duty article that takes more than a few days to draft, we definitely want it in both languages. An article that’s meant to spark the interest of our Japanese audience might become Japanese only, if it requires extensive re-writing to make it work as an English article. If we know that there will be a bigger impact if published at a certain time, we will prioritize that language.

The potential impact of the article and the availability of resources at that moment will define the how and when of content creation.

Is that the ideal approach to the planning of content creation? Of course not, but for a small company with very limited resources for blogging, it’s the realistic way. Roll with the punches, but smartly so.

At content production level

It’s usually pretty easy to tell if what you’re reading is a translation or not. For an article to feel “translated” is acceptable for a web-related opinion piece, since so much of the ideas and terminology stems from the English speaking world. For a report about one of our events to feel “foreign” is less okay.

As the one responsible for coordinating, editing and WordPressing translated content, I can tell you one thing:

It’s a much smoother process when the “translation editor” is invested in the content production.

Don’t take a conveyer belt approach to translation. It’s not the last step of content production but another beginning, and for both the writer and the translation editor to feel that way influences the quality of the article in the second language.

At content promotion level

This is an easy one. We definitely talk about the articles differently.

Different language, different audience, completely different context!

It’s only recently that we’ve begun to operate Twitter accounts in both languages, so that’s been quite the lesson in different messaging for the very different audiences.

Going back to my opening remark about people reading only reading articles in their language: That’s the way it should be, and if they never give a second thought about the other language, I’ve done my job.

Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha
Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha

Three very different collaborative spaces in Tokyo

It feels like there’s a new co-working space opening up in Tokyo every week! It’s quite an exciting trend and even though I didn’t purposely seek it out, I happened to visit three collaborative spaces, all in the space of a week.

  • Terminal
  • Tokyo Hacker Space
  • co-lab Nishiazabu


Terminal in Harajuku is the new, cool kid on the block. It’s basically a very nice 24hr Internet cafe with no stalls, with the same type of loose membership system that requires a physical card. You can get wifi, comfortable seats, free refills for great coffee and soft drinks, electricity outlets at every table, and hot paninis (600JPY).


Its launch was brilliantly executed:

  • a teaser site that got a lot of Twitter love from the Tokyo creative community
  • a great opening party
  • masterful copywriting that piggybacks on the nomad working boom
  • pre-mentions and reviews on the right sites

There’s an event space on the first floor. It just was a stripped down, skeleton space when I was there, but I can imagine some exciting events being held there.

Tokyo Hacker Space

I’ve been curious about this space ever since hearing about it at Bar Camp last year. Paul and I hopped over to join the weekly Open Meeting.

Interestingly enough, it’s a “real” house in a quiet, residential neighborhood. There was no signage and we spent a good five minutes peering into houses and glaring at Google Maps.

Tokyo Hacker Space
Tokyo Hacker Space

I say this with the upmost respect – this was the geekiest place I’ve ever been in! It’s a fabulous example of community building; a dynamic atmosphere that’s filled with mutual respect and joy in helping to bring each other’s projects to life.

The focus of the Space fluxes depending on its residents. Currently, there’s a strong hardware focus because Safecast is camped out there, building radiation sensors for deployment around Fukushima prefecture.

co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab Nishi Azabu
co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab is a series of collaborative spaces around Tokyo. It’s probably the largest and most established of creative, co-working spaces in Tokyo, and one that’s dear to my heart since Tokyo Art Beat used to be headquartered at the Sanbancho office for a few years.

Purely by chance, the Nishi Azabu building is a 60 second walk from the current AQ/TAB office.

The Nishi Azabu space also hosts furniture giant Kokuyo‘s incubation center for their inhouse designers, called “KREI open source studio”. This brings a much stronger corporate flavor to the space, although there doesn’t seem to be a natural mixing of the KREI people and co-lab residents.

The underground salon area, which is where the non-permanent residents can work, turns into a wonderful event space. We dropped by a talk event organized by the ticketing service Peatix, in co-lab’s underground event space.

Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu
Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu

A small hack for a rainy day, delivered to our doorstep

The office doorbell rang in the middle of a typhoon. It was the delivery man. High humidity had melted the small bit of adhesive on the delivery slip, making it stick completely to the box. The slip started tearing when the delivery man tried to peel it off with his fingernail. He asked for a box cutter, which I brought out from the cupboard.

Getting down on his knees, the man carefully cut out a rectangle around the slip, taking with it the top most layer of the cardboard box.

When I marveled at his ingenuity, he replied “Actually, another customer just showed me how to do this!”. I signed his slip and he went on his merry way.

People on the ground, day in and day out,
will incrementally build up smart workarounds.

Guessing from the way he used his scanner, this man was probably new to the job. He was doing things by the book, checking and double checking that each step was right.

Will a service provider improve a small inconvenience such as this one? Maybe, maybe not. I bet this man will start carrying around a box cutter, though. Maybe just on rainy days.

Chugging out of the harbor, smooth sailing ahead

“On⇔Offline in Tokyo” is the best experience that I’ve had with a new blog, a re-design or a re-boot.

Note: A re-boot is when you let your blog gather dust and then start by apologizing to the non-existent audience that you’re back.

I’d gone back and forth on whether to go with yet another installation of WordPress or taking the opportunity to learn another CMS. During this dithering, I was opening up iAWriter on my laptop during the commute and just typing, typing, typing. This happened half a dozen times in the last two weeks.

With a few hours before going to bed yesterday, I decided to take the plunge because my draft documents were piling up. I didn’t want anything to clog the writing that was happening naturally!

And you know what? The out-of-the-box experience of WordPress 3.2 with Twenty Eleven was so good that I spent five minutes installing WordPress and… went back to blogging.

Note: When I first installed WordPress way back in the day, I spent countless weekend installing and hacking at plugins and themes. While definitely fun and very educational, it took 6 months to start writing.

These were my somewhat arbitrary requirements, which WordPress brilliantly fulfilled.

  1. multiple formats for single blog entries
  2. big header images customizable per single blog entry
  3. pull quote styles
  4. adaptive to mobile devices screen sizes

My advice for a smooth start? Write 3 articles in your text editor that you’re happy with, before setting up your blog system. Content first.

Little hubs for asynchronous connections

A photo of a koban and a policeman
A photo of a koban and a policeman

Yesterday evening, I found a pair of house keys next to the ATM machine in a bank kiosk. Like any properly trained Japanese citizen, I crossed the street to deliver it to the neighborhood police box, the koban.

Not surprisingly, it was empty. Kobans are left open while the policeman on duty is out patrolling, and a sign instructs you to place a call to… someone.

Inside of an empty koban
Inside of an empty koban

I’ve had two good experiences with this particular koban, the closest one from my home. Perhaps that’s why I was willing, without a thought, to voluntarily spend 10 slightly uncomfortable minutes in an empty police box on a rare, early weekday afternoon, to wait for a policeman to come back so that I could fill out the paperwork.

You see, I’m fairly certain that the keys I delivered will make their way back to their owner. It had one of those little keychains that come with a 500ml bottle of sports drink, a campaign for a past World Cup. There was just something so ordinary about that keychain. Foolish perhaps, but I’d like to think that upon realizing that they’d lost their house key, the owner would have the same instinct that I had – to cross the street to go to the koban. Who knows, they might even have picked up the phone, where the same gentleman that I talked to would tell them that someone had just delivered a set of keys.

Let me share two stories about my other experiences:

My iPhone, a young lady, a policeman and I

My iPhone slipped unnoticed from the bicycle basket while riding along Roppongi Street one day. When I noticed it was missing, I knew that bump I rode over a few minutes ago must have been my phone. I quickly backtracked but of course, it was gone.

The next morning, I stopped by the police box. After the paperwork had been filled out, a policeman placed a call to the central lost and found. My phone had been delivered to the Shibuya Police Station, which was about 15 meters from where I must have dropped it.

I went to pick it up, where I was told that a nice, young lady had delivered it the day before. She didn’t want recognition or compensation, just asked that “the phone be returned to its rightful order”. It’s quite possible that my phone was already in the hands of the police while I was frantically searching for it.

Another set of lost keys, a lost boy, two policemen and I

A little boy, probably around third grade, was wandering around on the street in front of the neighborhood grocery store. I asked him what was wrong. He’d lost his house key and no one was home. After half heartedly joining his search for a minute or two, I suggested we go to the police box.

Two gruff policemen took over from there, trying to get an address out of the boy. They said there was nothing more that I could do, so I said good luck to the boy, and left.

Police boxes are little hubs for asynchronous connections.

I’ll never meet the owner of the keys, the young lady, or the lost boy’s parents. Or perhaps we will meet one day and never know.

We’re simply random strangers passing through time, connected by fleeting moments at a small police box in a big city.

The ambidextrous hair product ad

This is an ad for a hair product. The caption in the circle says, “Sasaki Kacho (manager), word is that you’re looking really sharp lately!

Question: is Sasaki Kacho the man or the woman?

Perhaps the lady is kidding around with her boss, sharing some gossip while scoring brownie points. Or perhaps the man is praising his superstar boss, sheepishly scratching his head while making a personal remark.

Okay, the copy initially caught my eye because my family name is Sasaki but the ambiguity made me look twice.

Let’s consider a few things about the copy:

  • the word “sharp” (kakkoii) can be used for both male and female
  • the use of the word “kacho” is slightly jarring because the two models are around the same age
Note: “Kakkoii” is more often used as a masculine adjective, but if this lady has climbed to kacho at her age, chances are that she’s pretty “kakkoii“!

And visually?

The disproportionate size ratio is probably due to the female model being better known but still,

  • the woman’s clothes and accessories is not the typical office lady style
  • the color palette of the ad is not particularly masculine or feminine
  • the opaque circle is an odd design choice – it could be said TO her, or said BY her

Is there a right answer to this question?

Yes. The product description at the bottom says “Lucido is a mens’ cosmetic brand for 40 and over”. What was your guess?