The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan

Excerpt from this article:

I wanted to share my walk too, but without getting caught up in the small loops of contemporary sharing platforms. So here’s where my rules limiting output came into play. Unlike Bird, I wasn’t exploring parts of Japan hitherto unseen by non-Japanese eyes, so a series of lengthy letters to friends didn’t quite make sense. Instead I riffed off the terseness of SMS messaging to share the psychological and physiological experience of the actual walking. Using a custom-built SMS tool, I sent out a daily text and one photo to an unknown number of recipients. One rule of the system was that I didn’t know who had subscribed. The subscribers joined by texting “walk” to a number I wrote on my website and in my newsletters. I’m pretty sure the daily update went out to hundreds, if not thousands of people, but I could not see them.

The recipients could respond, but I’ve yet to see what they said. Those responses have been collected in a print-on-demand book that’s waiting for me when I get back home. My intent is then to respond to the responses in aggregate, long after the walk is finished.

The goal of this convoluted system is to use the network without being used by it. And the purpose of time-shifted conversation is to share the walk without being pulled away from it. I could use a tool like Instagram to approximate this, but I’d have to fight with its algorithm and avoid looking at the timeline. I am not superhuman. I would look at the notifications, the likes, and comments. Reply to them. Become intoxicated by the chemicals released by the tiny loops. Invariably this process would make me think about that audience and how they would be reacting to the next text and photo. I would have lost the purity of the experience. And yet, with global network connectivity, there’s no reason to not also broadcast, in part, in real time. To both consider the experience and share it with immediacy. The daily SMS became a forcing function that deepened my experience of the walk, made me more aware of how painful or joyful or crushingly boring the days were. Being able to share in somewhat real time and not be pulled out of the moment was just an issue of tools and framing.

 

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Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan

Excerpt from this article:

Which brought us back to the challenge at hand. It was hard not to wonder how a company that’s disruptive at its core would be received ultimately in Japan, where harmonious unity — a concept known as wa — is something of a national virtue. How does a storm arrive in a place that’s phobic about storms?…

I asked if she thought Airbnb would eventually take off in Japan. Hayashi considered the question awhile, then gave a kind of yes-and-no answer. “Japanese people are very comfortable with the concept of sharing,” she said, citing the close quarters in which many families lived and the tradition of using sentou, communal bath houses. It’s just that they are less accustomed to sharing with outsiders.

… A number of the Tokyo hosts said they deliberately kept quiet about their involvement with Airbnb. “It’s kind of like talking about your investment portfolio,” one said. “You really only discuss it with the very closest of friends.” Japan has a national hotel law, which requires the licensing of any business that provides accommodation, though enforcement is spotty. But there’s also a tradition of individuals’ renting rooms to students or short-term visitors, called minpaku, which is considered legal. Airbnb, as it does in many countries, exists — nimbly, cannily — in a gray area. Mostly, people feared their neighbors, concerned that one poor interaction with a foreigner — one noisy night, one trampled flower bed, one failure to interpret the boundaries of what was acceptable — might lead to a police complaint or problems with a landlord.

…When new guests checked into a place he managed, he met them personally, showing them how to remove their shoes at the door and explaining that they needed to speak more quietly than maybe they did at home. Sometimes, though, the gulf between cultures felt unbridgeable, the boundaries impossible to translate. Machida described running afoul of a building co-op board, forced to close one of his listings after a visitor from Europe was spotted, to someone’s apparent horror, charging her cellphone in the building’s lobby.

 

 

Swipe right? ‘Toilet paper’ for smartphones trialled in Japanese airport bathrooms

‘Toilet paper’ for smartphones has been introduced in toilets at Narita international airport in Japan.

Excerpt from this article:

In a new take on the meaning of public convenience, users are invited to pull off a piece of paper from a dispenser next to the regular toilet roll and give their phone screens a germ-busting polish.

The smartphone sheets, which bear the message “welcome to Japan”, were installed in 86 cubicles at Narita’s arrivals hall this month, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

…The introduction of the cleaning paper came in response to studies showing that smartphone screens typically house more germs than toilet seats. Surveys show that foreign visitors are universally impressed with the cleanliness and versatility of Japan’s public toilets.

 

For Japan’s ‘stranded singles’, virtual love beats the real thing

Dating sims hold appeal for many young Japanese who face a long wait for a real-life partner.

Excerpt from this article (thanks for the link Paul!):

Japan’s apparently waning interest in true love is creating not just a marriage crisis but a relationship crisis, leading young people to forgo finding a partner and resort to falling for fictional characters in online and video games.

New figures show that more than 70% of unmarried Japanese men and 75% of women have never had any sexual experience by the time they reach 20, though that drops to almost 50% for each gender by the time they reach 25.

According to Professor Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Chuo University in Tokyo, who has coined the phrase “stranded singles” for the phenomenon, the rise in virginity rates is matched by a rise in the lack of interest in having any kind of “real” relationship.

Recent research by the Japanese government showed that about 30% of single women and 15% of single men aged between 20 and 29 admitted to having fallen in love with a meme or character in a game – higher than the 24% of those women and 11% of men who admitted to falling in love with a pop star or actor.

The development of the multimillion-pound virtual romance industry in Japan reflects the existence of a growing number of people who don’t have a real-life partner, said Yamada. There is even a slang term, “moe”, for those who fall in love with fictional computer characters, while dating sims allow users to adjust the mood and character of online partners and are aimed at women as much as men. A whole subculture, including hotel rooms where a guest can take their console partner for a romantic break, has been springing up in Japan over the past six or seven years.

How This Tokyo Bookstore Made Me Fall Back In Love With Print

Excerpt from this article:

The longer I spent roaming the stacks, the more I became convinced that this store holds the key to understanding that deeper connection. I also felt like I was falling back in love with the printed word myself, which came as something of a shock — I’m a self-confessed, early-adopting, SIM card-swapping travel geek, currently on my seventh Kindle. This was not a nostalgic, Luddite moment, but a response to five specific principles that became increasingly clear to me as I wandered, browsed, read, and reflected.

Thinking of the store as a whole, and the way in which volumes of all kinds are beautifully displayed throughout, made me realize something else I’d been missing. The spine and cover designs of books, which used to be the predominant decoration of most of my friends’ apartments, offer a different kind of solace than that which comes from knowing that everything you’ve read lives somewhere in the cloud. Covers and spines are not just decorative items; they are external, tangible reminders of something that may have transformed you internally, emotionally, intellectually. To be able to call them up on your iPad simply isn’t the same as having them surround you — constantly reminding you, when you glimpse them, of the multitudes contained within each one.

The interaction reminded me of the extent to which, in doing research either for fun or for work, I’ve moved from seeking human guidance to doing all the digging myself, online. Obviously there are huge advantages to the powerful digital tools now at our disposal. But speaking with Tsutaya’s expert reminded me just how important — and enjoyable — it is to add a human perspective. He made connections between ideas I mentioned and stories he’d read in older periodicals (which the store still stocked).

 

Meet the Lonely Japanese Men in Love With Virtual Girlfriends

A Love Plus player holds a picture of himself and his virtual girlfriend Manaka, taken in Atami during a weekend trip programmed in the game. Many of the users have a very sane idea of the game they are playing and the imaginary quality of the girls they are dating, others can no longer tell fact from fiction.

Photo: Loulou d’Aki

Excerpt from this article:

Some Japanese men are wooing girlfriends who don’t exist. While they can only interact with their partner through a pre-written script, these virtual beauties — Rinko, Manaka or Nene — offer a kind of instant emotional connection at the tap of a stylus. The girls can kiss, “hold” a player’s hand, exchange flirtatious text messages and even snap out in anger if the player leaves a conversation. It’s one of Japan’s biggest gaming phenomenons called Love Plus – available on the Nintendo portable consoles and the iPhone.

“There is no friction in these relationships, obviously,” says Loulou d’Aki, a Swedish photographer who documented a number of Japanese players earlier this year. “The girls behave very sweetly with the guys in what they say, how they respond to them, and with big eyes and heart-shaped faces—who wouldn’t want that?”

D’Aki teamed up with Swiss science writer Roland Fischer and together, they sought to go beyond the existing online conversation. “When you Google ‘Japan’ and ‘love’, you find all these articles about lonely people who never get married,” she says. “I didn’t want to reduce it to that. I wanted to show the human aspect, the individual stories behind those who use these applications.”

Her images reveal the secret lives of thirty-somethings who have accepted living alone instead of looking for love. They share a common yearning for connection and found it on a touch screen. Many see it as just a game and can easily distinguish between the computerized and reality, while others are perpetually stuck in a love loop, desperately waiting for the next update of the game.