Last year I discovered the excellent UBC Meiji at 150 Podcast. I was late to the discovery, but enjoyed working through the 120 episode backlog. Since then the host of the show, Dr. Tristan Grunow of Yale University, has gone on to create Japan On the Record, a show where scholars of Japan can share insight into the news of the day. I really love this as an idea, and I think these kinds of podcasts are probably the best thing that universities can do to for public engagement. But I digress. Today I wanted merely to celebrate Dr. Grunow’s recent efforts on the podcast in light of the death of George Floyd and the most recent wave of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has had a great turnout in Japan.
Starting with his powerful 8 minute 46 second “silence” episode, Dr. Grunow has recently been featuring a series of Black scholars of Japan, and just like with the Meiji 150 podcast, JOTR is introducing me to all sorts of different research that I would not be aware of if I stayed merely within my own narrow interests.
Long ago, as a student in Japan, living in an international dorm and being othered for the first time, it didn’t take me long to see where I as a white guy was on the racial hierarchy in Japan when compared to my classmates of Black, East or Southeast Asian, or Filipino heritage. (Which in turn, helped me to better see the racial hierarchy in Canada. What is that famous quote about travel teaching you more about own country?). Take a listen to some of the following episodes below that dig much deeper into Japan’s relationship to Blackness, and subscribe to Japan on the Record1 for future episodes to widen your perspective about this country.
Please take a listen to the following episodes (and subscribe for future ones!) to learn more about Japan’s relationship to Blackness:
Dr. John G. Russell gives historical perspective on how the Japanese were introduced to Black people, and also a very enlightening interpretation of that Nissin commercial with Naomi Osaka. Link →
A roundtable of Black scholars on Japan, and their experiences studying Japan differ in Japan compared to the US, where Japan studies is oft-considered a “white space.” Link →
Dr. Reginald Jackson breaks down that NHK video, Japanese depictions of Black people, and discussing Japanese adoption of Black culture. Link →
Black Okinawan biracial communities, and how oppressed Okinawans showed solidarity with Black Americans, with Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter Link →
Dr. Marvin Sterling talks about minority communities in Japan, and how they use Reggae as an expression of identity. Link →
Non-disclaimer: I am not affiliated with this podcast or Dr. Grunow. I am just a fan who wants to share this show far and wide! ↩
Kyushu is one of the 5 major regions of Japan consisting of 7 prefectures making up about 10% of the Japanese population. It is known as being a much more relaxed place than Tokyo, with great weather and more space. This attracts people who are looking for more worklife balance. Natives of Kyushu that go to the big city and return later, say to raise kids, do what is called a U-Turn. For non-natives that come here, they do what is called an I-Turn — just a straight line.
Due to its relatively lower land prices, a lot of manufacturing base has built up here over the years. Of course, Nagasaki was where Japan’s industrial revolution began in the late 1800s, and was the site where Mitsubishi really got started (at the Takashima Coal Mine). Nowadays there are many car manufacturers such as Nissan, Toyota, and Daihatsu, with factories in Kyushu. Steel production is important here and about 40% of Japan’s IC chip production is based in Kyushu. Other than manufacturing, Kyushu provides the rest of Japan with 20% of its food, and medical is another strong industry here.
To put Kyushu in context with the rest of the country, at least in economic terms, I compared Kyushu’s 7 prefectures with the top 7 prefectures in terms of GDP, which turned out to be convenient because those top 7 prefectures were the cut-off, accounting for half of Japan’s total GDP.
All this data is from the OECD and is in 2015-adjusted Yen. I am showing 2016 data here, but the trends tend to hold since 2000. Here is the breakdown in a table, showing the relative share of GDP for each of the prefectures compared:
The top 7 prefectures make up 51.19% of Japanese GDP, and the Kyushu prefectures make up 8.35%.
Looking at population you can see, at least for Kyushu, size of population aligns with GDP rank. The Top 7 have 6X the GDP and 4.5X the population of the Kyushu 7
I added in the percentage of Working Age (15-64) population to see if the number of retired people in the countryside has an effect. For Japanese prefectures, the average percentage of the population of working age is 58.5%. You can see that for the top performing prefectures, their working age populations are higher than the national average. Tokyo is the top in the country at 65.83% (the lowest is Shimane at 54.49%). Of Kyushu prefectures, only Fukuoka is over the average. This demonstrates the pull of economic centres, and the migration of jobs to urban areas.
Fukuoka is far and away the economic hub of Kyushu. In the past 20 years it has always been in the top 10 as you can see from the chart below (lower is HIGHER rank). Miyazaki has moved up to 37 from a low of 42 in 2006, but other than that, things are pretty stable.
Not to say there isn’t growth, but it is mostly concentrated in Fukuoka Prefecture as you can see below.
Looking at the bottom 23 prefectures, the bottom half of the table where six of Kyushu’s prefectures fall, the average prefectural share of GDP is 0.71% and the median 0.69%. Only 2 of Kyushu’s prefectures don’t beat those numbers (Miyazaki and Saga). As you can see from below, Japan’s GDP is like a power law, with Tokyo providing almost a fifth on its own! Kyushu prefectures are spread out, with representation near the top, middle and bottom.
These are some simple stats to give you a sense of Kyushu within the context of Japan. I am still digging around, and will soon turn my attention to ExIm flows, which I am particularly curious about. Any little tidbits I find I will be sure to share!
I bought my first computer in the spring of 2002. I had come late to personal computers. It was a Fujitsu laptop that I bought from a big box electronics store near Enmachi in Kyoto. It took a few months before it was even connected to the internet!
A couple of years later, I made the switch to Apple and bought a 17 inch iMac G4 off of a friend who was getting the 20 inch. The flat-panel G4 was iconic because of its lampshade design. I loved it, and it was partly on that machine that I learned design. I have owned many computers in the intervening years, but to this day I still think about the keyboard that came with that old iMac — the JIS version of the A1048. It had big chunky keys that clacked (a bit) when you typed. It felt great.
Since then I have experimented a bit with mechanical keyboards, some split style ones and even some straight columnar ones, all courtesy of some real keyboard-freak friends. I agree that something you spend 8-12 hours touching all day, should be optimized for you. However, I spent a lot of time rushing from meeting to meeting with a laptop, and it didn’t seem that optimal to be switching external keyboards all the time.
Now I am in my home office, and spend most of my time on my 27″ iMac. I do go out occasionally, but take my iPad Pro with its little keyboard when I am on the road. Since most of my time is here at my standing desk at home, beside my window that looks out over the port, I decided to take the opportunity and get a big, chunky, loud THERE IS A WRITER AT WORK, CAN YOU NOT HEAR!? keyboard.
I looked around quite a bit, and asked some friends, and ended up getting the Keychron K2 with white backlight and brown switches. It checked off most of my boxes:
The only thing I couldn’t get was a Japanese layout. There is a really good Japanese mechanical keyboard outfit, but they only make keyboards for Windows computers, and I wanted something I could use out of the box without any key-surgery.
So after a bunch of deliberation, I went for the K2, a reasonably priced keyboard with a good rep. It arrived today. Take a look!
I have been clacking away at it all morning. I am going to need a few days to get used to it. I totally prefer the arrow key config compared the Apple Magic Keyboard, but having the Backspace and Return buttons not at the edge of the keyboard means I cannot be so wild with my typing.
Here it is on my desk. (The woody looking thing is my iPhone charger… I was using my phone to take this picture.)
In my last post I explained about the “Pillars of Heaven”, the eight objects sent down by the gods to prevent Iki island from floating around the Sea of Japan at its own free will. Other than Saruiwa the Monkey Rock, most have crumbled into the sea. Of the remaining pillars, my favourite is Sakyōbana, a lava rock formation that looks like a massive, stubby finger pointing up to the sky. You can just imagine this as the remains of a “heavenly pillar.”
Sakyōbana sits just off the coast on the Easternmost part of the island. The cliffs are about 20 meters high, and covered in stiff vegetation, clinging to the rocks as the ocean winds whip at the rock face. It is spectacular seascape viewing at this part of the island. There is not much civilization, and the road runs right along the cliffs so you get amazing views. Also, these cliffs are where these cool sea cows hang out.
At Sakyōbana is a wide grassy field atop the cliff with a memorial sign, a gazebo for windy picnicking, and a shrine overlooking the sea. Here is a 4K video of Sakyobana from the top of the cliffs:
I climbed down the cliff to take some shots of the waves close up. All the rocks are igneous and dangerous. I was on the lookout for snakes, imagining if they popped out and caused me to fall, the lava rocks would tear my flesh before I fell into the big waves crashing into the rocks. It was very dramatic. My wife looked down upon me from the cliff tops, impassive as a stone statue.
The tide was starting to come in, so I didn’t spend that long taking footage of the waves, as the water began lapping at my feet. Here is a 4K video at the water level:
Below is a bit of a gallery. It is just one of the stunning natural spots that Ikijima offers.
On the eastern side of Iki, jutting 45 meters out of the ocean is a giant rock formation, somewhat covered in moss-like greenery. From a certain angle the rocks look uncannily like a massive gorilla, solemnly looking out over a nearby cliff. This is the treasure of Ikijima: Saruiwa 猿岩 or “Monkey Rock.”
The Kojiki, or the “Record of Ancient Matters”, describes the creation of Japan by the gods Izanagi and Izanami (the parents of the Sun Goddess). With their jewelled spear they originally created 8 islands, not all are part of modern day Japan. The fifth island created was Iki… but there was a problem. Iki was a “living island” and apparently floated around the sea at its own whim. This was inconvenient for the gods, who preferred that islands stay put. So they cast down eight massive pillars to pin the island, and hold it in place upon the sea. Saruiwa is one of those “heavenly pillars.”
The other seven are not so spectacular — most have crumbled into the sea (I will cover one of the better ones in a future post). But Saruiwa is extremely striking. I wish I had a 50mm lens to give you a sense of how massive the thing is.
Below is a mini gallery from the rock. You can check out a few more photos and short videos, including some from the evening and from the cliff beside the giant Monkey Rock on Flickr.
It had been raining for days, so when I went up there the grasses were full of all sorts of life. I decided to take a quick recording. Listen to this while you look at the photos, and maybe you will get a feeling of being there. It was very windy, so I pointed the mic away from the ocean, but you can hear the waves in the background.
Hey peeps in Japan, does your FamiMa include a Karaoke room? I mean, convenience stores here have everything but I have never seen karaoke in one before!
The only big name convenience store on Ikijima is FamilyMart — there are no Lawsons or 7-11s. FamiMa has two locations and both of them have attached karaoke rooms. The above is in the “city” of Gonoura. It is pretty fancy as you can see. Onpu (literally “musical note”) is attached to the FamilyMart. The entrance is right beside the cash register inside the convenience store.
Below is Pop, at the other FamiMa on the island, in the “town” of Ashibe. It is not as fancy, and is not attached. You have to go into the convenience store and get the key, which you reserve in advance.
As you can see below, Pop is shaped like a trailer but is a permanent building. It is more like the karaoke trailers that you see around, but nicer.
Elsewhere on the island you will see the more “rustic” karaoke trailer. Below we have “Music Studio Shinjo“, which you can see upon closer inspection, is literally a trailer.
I have only experienced karaoke in larger cities, so this is the first time I have ever seen a “country karaoke trailer.” It seems like a good idea to put these little bunkers out in the middle of nowhere where no one will be bothered by my caterwauling. Is this common in other rural parts of Japan? I can’t imagine this is a purely Iki thing… let me know in the comments. 👇
This weekend I was thinking about the recent history of publishing content: What are the innovations and trends of the past? What is in the near future?
Let me give you a few examples of the kinds of things I am thinking about:
microblogs vs tumblr vs twitter
interest-based blog networks like Medium
Podcasts become popular (again)
recent trend in newsletters, especially paid ones
fediverse platforms like Mastadon
old skool Indie ‘zines
Kindle singles and other self-published eBooks
more novellas coming out in recent years
This is not an exhaustive list of publishing tools/models (if you have more please add them in the comments!).
These platforms go in-an-out of fashion. One reason is when a certain platform starts getting eyeballs, professional orgs come in and start crowding out indie voices (I really saw this both in blogging and podcasting). It is a kind of gentrification. We saw this with blogs and podcasts. I wish I could find the original quote, but I think of it as a dictum:
Network effects, especially driven by the big social media platform(s), means that content distribution is really bumpy.
On the opposite end, you get the “Yogi Berra effect.” You know:
So there is churn in online publishing, even if it is cyclical. Benedict Evans said in his most recent newsletter:
New internet distribution models work like slash-and-burn agriculture: OK for year or two and then it’s time to move on.
There is tons of content online, and if you want to contribute, which distribution channels should you use? How not to get buried?
Ben Evans points out:
… the average FB user feed has 1,500+ items a day – once you’ve followed everyone interesting you’ll never see what they post, and you’ve mixed your friends and your interests, and the algorithm hides what it will.
(This is a question I have been asking for a while, as I think about how to share all the photographing, filming, and writing about Japan I have been doing returning here 4 months ago).
In the early 2000s the blog was the tool, and RSS was the network that bound everyone together. RSS lost out to social media as the network, and in many cases social became the publishing tool (think of how many people just use Insta instead of a blog). You can write alone on the web on your blog forever and not be discovered because you have no distribution into/via the network. If you are trying to start up a new project, figuring out how to crack the nut of distribution and get effective reach is key. These are old problems, but they stay evergreen due to the musical chairs of publishing/distribution tools+networks mentioned above.
Looking at the problem at its most simplistic, there are two axes of differentiation:
Content: you have unique ideas/perspective/experiences/skill
Medium: you express your ideas/perspective/experiences/skill in a unique medium
Sounds like a “style vs substance” or “form over function.” — I told you it was simplistic! — but it got me thinking about publishing mediums in general.
I have been writing on this blog for 10 years, and have been blogging for nearly 20, and I came to it 10 years late! Blogging is a very mature medium and although the tools might improve, I think it is still a pretty recognizable form after all this time — like the novel or poetry.
These are certainly cool tools providing novel ways to interact with ideas/perspective/experiences/skill. But they don’t have the best thing that blogs had back in the day: community. I want to engage in a back-and-forth, to learn new ideas and improve my own. That was the best part of blogging in the early 2000s: meeting cool people online, and then meeting them in real life! I want to capture that feeling of blogging 20 years years, which had little to do with technology, and everything to do with the community.
In thinking about this, and looking to be inspired, I am on the hunt for innovative publications, magazines, blogs, etc that are firing people up: getting them engaged with more than just hitting a Like button. If you have any you want to share or plug, post below!
I read a lot. Maybe too much… I am not a particularly fast reader, and I only do about 48 books a year (about 70% of those books in audio).
So why do I say that I read “too much”? It is because I can barely remember anything I have read in the past. To date, since 2010, I have ticked off over 500 books. But like most people, I have forgotten pretty much all of it. Is it because I am consuming too much too quickly? Of course not. It because I am not retaining knowledge in an effective manner.
A few months ago my buddy asked me an intriguing question: “What note taking system do you use?” He said he was reading a new book on taking better notes… I thought he meant what app do I use. I have about 15 note taking apps on my devices, so I launched into a (yet again, unnecessary) comparative analysis lecture. What we was really asking was about my methodology. It was pretty simple: I annotate books like crazy in my Kindle, using different colours for certain things, then export the notes to plaintext and store them in one of my many note-taking apps. Generally I write only short articles or book reviews, so during writing I usually pull up my highlights in a window on the left, and a bit of an outline on the right, and piece together my draft that way. When I do a book reviews I might read four or five books from the author to get a sense of their ouvre. It is not too difficult to keep all the salient points in my head.
But for writing that relies on more sources, especially longer writing, this approach is impossible. The big thing my approach lacks is connecting what I am reading with other knowledge. I am relying solely on my memory to hold all the relevant points in order to generate insight. And since the human brain is fallible (well, mine at least), the raw materials used to generate insight are constantly receding into the murky past. This results in me being a victim of the “feature-positive” effect, which is when one puts more emphasis on information that they have recently encountered, even if it is not the most relevant (ie. Recency > Relevancy).
My master’s thesis was over a hundred pages, with dozens of references. My current book will be much larger. I needed a better approach. So I asked my friend about that book he was reading…
The Getting Things Done for academics
There are lots of “productivity gurus” out there selling you bunk. I am a guilty sucker ✋, I’ve tried a bunch. The only two I have stuck with, and evangelize still today, are the Inbox Zero and Getting Things Done methodologies (note, Inbox Zero is heavily based on GTD, so it is really just one methodology). GTD saved my life back in 2005 when I was running my first web design company, had too many competing priorities, and was dropping the ball all over the place. The GTD book by David Allen is super popular — because it works. I even mentioned it in my post of Your life-changing books.
So when it came to having a methodology for taking notes so that I could retain more of what I read, and thereby come up with better insights, I started looking at the book recommendation of my friend: How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens.
I am not going to write about the how here. It is one of those things that is deceptively simple, and if you read the book you will see its many impacts on learning, thinking, and creativity. However, to sum up the “simple technique” from the subtitle: it is about reading with a pen in hand and recapping the ideas you are reading in your own words in full sentences, then connecting the ideas in those notes to ideas in other notes to build a web of knowledge, and finally putting notes from various sources together to produce writing products like articles, papers, or books.
From a productivity standpoint, it is similar to GTD in that it breaks projects down into discrete, manageable tasks so you won’t freeze up due to your lack of productivity. You focus on the process and not the outcome, which is much more motivating. If each day you are faced the monolithic task of “writing a book,” it is understandable why you can’t leave dirty dishes in the sink and cannot log out of Twitter. But if you set your goal to be simply writing a handful of well-constructed notes each day, that is a much easier task to tackle.
Each day you add notes and make connections, then make notes about the connections. This is where “thinking” happens. This is the work: the productivity that you can easily measure every day. This is the zettelkasten methodology, or what some people call building a “second brain.”
The zettelkasten is the field where you harvest your ideas, your daily productivity is seeding that field with a critical mass of useful notes.
I have been working with this methodology for the past couple of weeks and it has been pretty freeing. Like when you do your first GTD brain dump and feel your stress dissolve because you trust the system, I have been recording all the ideas/facts/data I have been coming across in my system, freeing my brain up for thinking, which is the most enjoyable creative act to me. After reading the book How to Take Smart Notes I see there are many more benefits to using a zettelkasten other than productivity. I feel like it has been life-changing, and it certainly has already impacted the approach I am taking with my new book.
If you want to learn more, in this video the author gives a nice introduction to the concept and its history (at about the 30 minute mark he discusses productivity). That is highly recommended viewing, but I would also recommend the book. It is short, and packed with ideas (it generated 3,300 words of notes in my zettelkasten!).
In northwest Kyushu, on a peninsula of a peninsula of a peninsula, like a fractal made from prehistoric solidified lava, lies the vibrant city of Nagasaki.
Nestled amongst rugged volcanic hills, Nagasaki is one of the most important ports in all of Japanese history. The narrow bay quickly gives way to steep mountains, carpeted with thick, sub-tropical jungle fauna thanks to the rich soil and humid weather. Here and there buildings cling tenuously to the hillside, almost stacked upon one another.
Below are narrow gullies where rivers flow into the bay. The rivers are interconnected by a series of canals, crisscrossed with bridges supporting the movement of people and goods. Higher up, the mountains are connected by bridges and tunnels. Driving into the city from the airport your view constantly alternates between smooth concrete lit by drab fluorescent lights, and soaring vistas of cities, rivers, and farmland below. Just entering the city one sees how Nagasaki has conquered its rocky landscape with feats of infrastructure.
The ruggedness also has its boons too, beyond natural beauty. That craggy geography protected much of the city from history’s second atomic bomb in August 9, 1945. Fat Man was a bigger bomb too. Little Boy, the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan, flattened about 70% of Hiroshima’s buildings, leaving another 6-7% severely damaged. An old teacher of mine was a child living in the suburbs when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. He described to me his memory of coming over the hill to see a total wasteland. He could see all the way to where Hiroshima station used to stand, an unimaginable sight for a 6 year old. It was now a plain of rubble, the only things standing were the occasional telephone pole. A few days later, Nagasaki’s furrowed topography frustrated the Fat Man who could destroy only (!) 40% of its buildings.
That was 75 years ago. Since then the city has built itself back up. Nagasaki has long been a city of industry. A 150 years ago Nagasaki was at the center of Japan’s industrial revolution. Scholars from all over the country would come to Nagasaki to engage in 蘭学 rangaku or “Dutch Studies.” Engineering, medicine, technology — much of the transfer of knowledge from the West happened here in Nagasaki. Specifically on one little island. You just had to get over the bridge.
My feet are soooo sunburnt. It looks like I am wearing crabs for slippers.
It has been one month of Japanese elementary school. My kids have done surprisingly well considering that Japanese is not really their mother tongue. There have been a couple of rough days, but overall they are maintaining a very high level of curiosity and drive.
This is my first time experiencing Japanese elementary school too. Not only am I experiencing through my kids, I am participating more in the school community. Certainly not having a regular job gives me the freedom to volunteer at the school, but Japanese elementary schools drag the parents into all sorts of activities. That is how I got terribly sunburned (more on that later).
Below I thought I would outline our experiences so far, what the kids do each day, what they learn, and then round up with a special event where I helped out at the school. This post is admittedly long — sorry about that! Hopefully I can keep you entertained. Keep in mind of course that whatever I say here can only be representative of our experience: even though the Japanese education system is centralized, there are many small localized variations.