Tag - japan

Japanese art

I recently spent a week in Japan and while there had the opportunity to visit the national gallery in Ueno park, in Tokyo.

The visit was wonderful and I had the chance to see amazing 500-year-old pottery from all over Asia, including this Ming bowl. That, of course, was one of the younger pieces as the gallery has many older pieces, including this incredible 400-year-old jar from the Manjiayoo culture of ancient China:

After touring the Asian sections of the gallery, I went to the Japanese art section, featuring paintings on huge screens or panels – where I was not allowed to take photos. This was fascinating and enjoyable, but … confusing.

I’m used to Western art. While I’m not an expert by any means whatsoever, I can “read” it to a degree … understand it … appreciate it. Japanese painting, on the other hand is very different … in many ways I cannot read it and do not understand it.

Japanese art, especially traditional Japanese art, seems to almost be more about what is not there than what is. In my limited understanding, this does not appear to be negative space in the western architectural sense, though. Rather, the landscape and objects that are not there are not omissions – they are not removed. Rather, my sense of it is that it’s more of a fading away … a merging with the background which is not background but is also foreground.

Later Japanese art from the 20th and 21st centuries seems more detailed, more western. It employs more tricks of perspective to spatially place objects and scenes in a more “realistic” way. It’s more accessible to my Western eye.

Perhaps next time I go to Japan (if I go) I’ll read up on traditional Japanese art and be able to understand it better.

I did notice, however, that other sections of Japanese art, including sculpture and carving, were far more accessible – though I’m certain that I’m missing many things when viewing these as well.

Powerpoint and notes from my ACE 2009 presentation

I recently chaired a session and spoke at the Asian Conference on Education (ACE 2009) in Osaka, Japan. I could hardly have enjoyed the experience more – thanks to UBC and the Master of Educational Technology program for making it possible! More details on that later.

But first, I promised during the talk that my presentation and notes would be made available online … so here they are.

Note that they are very text heavy. This is not at all my standard practice (I usually have very few words on a slide, if any) but is good manners for an international conference where English is often the second or third language of most participants. Many people I’ve met in business and academics around Asia and Europe who know at least some English are better readers than speakers or listeners … so providing the written words as well as the spoken presentation provides much greater opportunity to grasp the meaning.

Intel Google Ace

Because that may not make enough sense without context, here are my speaking notes:
Intelligence in the age of Google – speaking notes

And here is the paper that preceded them all:
Intelligence and Google

I must say I completely enjoyed this conference. Many conferences are wonderful because you have opportunities to meet so many different people from so many different places … but this one was special because of its international character.

For me, the highlight (beside the session, which went extremely well and was well-attended) was personally meeting and talking to people from Indonesia, the Phillipines, Ireland, Scotland, Japan (of course!), Taiwan, Turkey, Malaysia, Borneo, Canada (yes, there were a few other Canucks there), and the US. It’s a great pleasure to talk to people of all different backgrounds and perspectives.

I’m looking forward to doing it again!


I’m sitting in my hotel room on the 30th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Osaka at 5:35 AM, Sunday morning, reflecting on my Japan experience so far.

Club downFirst impressions are only first, and I have 5 days in Tokyo to add to them, but they tend to last. My first impression is that Japan is by far the most foreign place I have ever visited – foreign in the sense of profoundly different, unknown, out of my experience, and even potentially unknowable.

I’m no Marco Polo, but I’ve been to Romania, many countries in Western Europe, Northern Africa (Egypt), mainland China, Taiwan, and all over the US and Canada. So I’m not unfamiliar with being in places where few if any speak my native language. And it’s not unusual for me to be an ethnic minority when I travel. But there’s something about the incredibly different language, the different characters/letters, and the different social customs that just make Japan qualitatively different.

More than that, there’s something about the monoculture of Japan – those are the words of a native Japanese from a talk at the ACE 2009 conference yesterday – that make Japan the most foreign place I have traveled. I’m used to being the only white guy in a room or a train station. But it’s outside of my experience to hardly see a black person, an Indian, or even different Asian ethnicities.

Evil Budda?Add it all up, and you have countless experiences that your brain just can’t interpret … can’t file away in the right slot … can’t process and understand.

For example, I walked into a shop a couple of days ago, my first day in Osaka, and I could not determine what the store sold. Imagine that – being in a store and not being able to understand what was actually for sale! There were obviously products available for purchase, with price tags, and product information, and people paying, and a cashier – all the familiar archetypes of “store” from my Western, Canadian experience. But the products appeared to be small pieces of paper, or cards – about business card sized. Japanese women shave?They weren’t phone cards, weren’t sports trading cards … and I could not determine what precisely, they might be. Nor could I and the salesperson communicate.

The experience – just one of many similar – stretches your brain’s expectation engine and challenges your ability to understand, predict, and therefore feel a (false) sense of control that tends to put you at ease. So in Japan I am always wandering and wondering: what is this? is it what it seems? is that person speaking heatedly to another angry, or just speaking normally for Japanese? what is this building for? is “arigato” (Harry without the H, French for cake – gateau – with a long O at the end) OK for thanks, or is it too familiar?

Being a complete naif and newbie in Japan means that I can somewhat safely wander around like a medieval village idiot: investigating the obvious, pursuing the mundane, and capturing a gestalt of “japan-ness,” or, to be more honest, “my Japan,” the Japan that I hazily grasp.

Hope you've got good aim!The beautiful and glorious thing about travel like this, of course, is the ability to step out of MY mundane, and MY obvious, and pass through the wormhole to an alien culture and learn and re-learn the world anew. Here I am alien – even gaijin – and therefore I have the freedom of the outsider to observe and see, and the curse of the outsider to always be on the fringe. It is strange and exhilarating and enjoyable and challenging. And it’s also exhausting.

But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Graduating from Chinglish to Engrish

I’m looking for hotels in Tokyo for an upcoming speaking trip to Japan, and ran across the Sumisho.

It looks like it could be OK, but it’s hard to tell given the Japanese/English fusion (Engrish) it’s written in.

The Nihombashi which stops the vestiges of Edo. As a hotel of peacefulness, Sumisho is nochalant, and it is warm in it, and it has treated the visitor to this ground that is full of rich humaneness.

Please take in everywhere the merit of the sum to which the heart is softened, and though you are hotel form, use as the base of the Tokyo walk by Sumisho which valued the atmosphere of a tasteful hotel, and a place which relieves the tiredness of business.

Well, you can’t beat that!

I’m fairly used to Chinglish after trips to Taiwan and mainland China … but Engrish is a little new to me. I think I like it!

Prepping for Tokyo, Osaka … what else?

I just bought the tickets and confirmed: I’m heading to Japan in October.

So far, I know 3 things:

  1. I’m going to land in Tokyo
  2. I’m going to be in Osaka on the 24th and 25th speaking at ACE 2009
  3. I’m going to fly out of Tokyo

The question is: what else should I do?

Should I try to visit Mount Fuji? How far is it from Tokyo … and how much time would it take to climb? Should I spent all my time in Tokyo – in a city of 12 million or more there’s got to be plenty to do. Questions, questions, questions!

I’ll be researching this in the next week or so – any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Japan? America? Europe? Who's working the hardest?

There’s been a very interesting little “discussion” going around what we used to call the blogosphere.

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington spent the previous week at LeWeb, in Paris, where in response to some questions, he said that Europeans love life too much to generate the biggest technology success stories. They have too many 2-hour lunches and too few late-night coding sessions. LeWeb’s organizer Loic Le Meur responded by asking – on his blog – whether Arrington should be invited back.

Meanwhile, Zoho Office blogger Sridhar reflects that Japanese work even harder … often 12 or more hours daily.

This issue is bulls-eye topical for me, as I’ve been working 12 to 14 hour days lately in my new job.

But … let’s be honest.

There can be times when you go way overboard and work mega-hours to pass critical checkpoints. But 99% of people will not be long-term successful (or happy) being out of balance all the time. The old saw about no-one wishing on their deathbed that they’d spent more time at the office is true. And realistically, almost no-one is actually effective spending that many hours for very many days.

As I mentioned on the Zoho Office blog …

I’ve also read first-hand accounts from ex-pat workers in Japan who said that a LOT of the office time was actually just face time … there was not a lot more work actually getting done. But people couldn’t leave, because that would have been see as slacking. So they stayed at their desks, doing a little online shopping, doing a little of this and a little of that.

Here’s the deal: I’d much rather work smart than work hard. That is where you’re actually going to make the major difference – where you’re going to leap-frog the competition.

But to succeed, often you have to do both.