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Black and white photograph of a pair of glasses left on a concrete block

Tuesday Dispatch #2: lucky dip flying, retro-fitting cars and the colour blue

October 19, 2021

We're gearing up for a general election at the end of the month. Political choices aside, it's certain by November Japan will have a new economic direction. Abenomics has had its day.

What this new economics will look like is anyone's guess. The incumbent LDP hasn't been entirely forthcoming on details, while opposition parties are throwing around promises like an opposition hoping it will lose.

Graphic of the outline of Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell

Subbed, dubbed and the wider question of what gets lost in translation

October 19, 2021

Subbed or dubbed? It’s an important question for those of us who enjoy “Foreign Films”. On the one hand, dubbed is easier to watch as the audio is in a familiar language. On the other, dubbing often sounds forced and lacks the nuance of the actor’s delivery in their native tongue.

My first encounter with foreign media was through dubbed translations. I saw many films, from classic Godzilla to Das Boot, with English voice actors speaking the dialogue. Sometimes it felt stilted, but I accepted this as a small price to pay for enjoying a well-made piece of entertainment.

Photograph of a wooden bench in Kob, Japan with cool bench written in wood behind it

Tuesday Dispatch #1: 6 year old hard disks, Amazon’s home robot and a skateboarding octogenarian

October 12, 2021

Japanese bank Mizuho has been in the news for multiple systems failures this year. Things got so bad the FSA (Japan's financial regulator) is now supervising their IT. If reports are to be believed, it could be 6 year old hard disks are to blame.

An expressway cut through the centre of Seoul, bringing traffic and pollution to the heart of the city. A few years ago city officials ripped the road out and replaced it with parks and walkways. Turns out it was better for everyone.

Photograph of an entrance to the temple in Myohoji

An unexpected treasure in Myohoji

October 11, 2021

Friday seems to have become my "Photo walk" day. Laptop goes away, camera comes out and off I toddle for an hour or two. It's a great way to unwind.

This week I toddled off to the old town. Bit of a surprise as there's quite a large temple. On the map it's just a symbol. Get up close and it becomes a sprawling collection of buildings, shrines and statues.

Photograph of a USB charger with various cables, beside an Apple power block

I have dozens of cables. Forcing a common standard won’t stop me getting more.

October 1, 2021

If the EU gets its way, there will be a common charging port on your mobile devices soon. Plans are afoot to standardise and do away with the pesky variety of cables and chargers clogging up our lives. The justification is to reduce waste. A noble cause.

Yet I'm not convinced plans to "force" phone companies to adopt a single port technology is the right answer. Over the past 3 years I've bought several mobile devices for testing and personal reasons, and the charging ports all fall into 3 camps:

Graphic showing a comparison of 2019-21

A reminder: we’re on the path to recovery, not at the end

September 28, 2021

Regular readers may recall I keep an eye on trade between Japan and the UK. After a few rumbles about "dramatic" growth in trade, I went back to my (official) sources.

Needless to say, things were a bit weird in 2020. Japan's Covid slump was already in full flow when the UK's kicked off in the Spring of '20. The rapid growth in '21 is against that backdrop.

Photograph of a river plain with tall green grassed in the foreground, a ridge with houses in the midground and mountains looming in the background

A walk along the river plain

September 22, 2021

This is where I live. If you squint hard, you can see my house.

I’ve been looking out across the valley every morning for the past 9 months. My ambition has been to walk around along the river that winds its way from a lake up in the mountains to meet the Myohoji river. I tried it once, only to find my way blocked by Japan’s obsession with turning every riverbank into concrete.

Can Japan’s Digital Agency overcome a lacklustre start and transform a nation?

September 6, 2021

Japan's digital agency has launched to much fanfare. The agency is tasked with transforming the country's archaic bureaucracy into a streamline, fit-for-the-21st-century administration. It should make participating in society and doing business far easier than the current world of paper and hanko stamps.

The launch was less than inspiring. Digital is renowned for being bright and energetic. The press conference was a dry, dull and dreary affair. It wasn't helped by the distinct lack of digital inclusion. No fancy launch for this digital agency: the minister held up a card with a text logo, looking distinctly 20th Century in the process.

Black and white photograph of a shopping alley in Japan with bright lights and no people

Memories of Osaka

August 29, 2021

I lived in Osaka for a couple of months. We holed up in an AirBnB, a terraced house out in Tennoji. It was two rooms: one downstairs, one up.

Since we closed the door on that place back in January we've not been back. Passed through a couple of times on the way to Kyoto, but not visited.

Graphic showing squares of an image of a boy by a sales bin in a supermarket

A Walmart candy bin, a meme and a big lie

August 27, 2021

"A lady took her son to the supermarket..." starts the post. I'm sure you've seen it, and variations of it, as it does the rounds. It explains how the son organised a messy candy bin, and how better companies could be if they hired people with "Asperger's Syndrome".

A noble cause. Perhaps. Only there is a small problem.

Photograph of the cruise ship Diamond Princess taken in August 2016 at Yokohama pier

Diamond Princess: august 2016

August 24, 2021

How was I to know the subject of this holiday snap would become international news? It's August of 2016 and my wife and I are enjoying a walk around Yokohama's docks. In the distance is a cruise ship far larger than any I'd seen before. I took a couple of photos as we chatted about it and then moved on. Lunch awaited, if I remember correctly.

Roll forward to early 2020 and the "plague ship" headlines. Thousands of passengers and crew were trapped aboard a cruise ship as an outbreak of the new "Coronavirus" was reported. Passengers were confined to their cabins to contain the outbreak. Many complained about the "poor service" they received, blind to the same disease running through the crew. And as they endured, Japanese Health Officials struggled to contain the outbreak. This was before Covid-19 became a pandemic, and information about how the disease was spread and evolved was in short supply.

Graphic showing euro notes moving towards a rising sun representing foreign direct investment in Japan

Is Japan ripe for foreign investment?

August 17, 2021

While working on a commission I came across a snippet of data that caught my interest. Japan's inward foreign direct investment (FDI) is shockingly low.

The dollar amounts barely register: $10.3 billion in Covid hit 2020, $13.7bn the year before. Amongst the G20 countries the mean was $33.7bn and $45.7bn. At no point in the past decade has Japan managed to attract more than $20 billion annually in inward FDI.

Graphic showing a Honda E electric vehicle amidst bright colours

A smaller workforce: the inevitable consequence of EVs

August 10, 2021

Roughly 5% of Honda Japan's workforce opted for early retirement. This isn't about Coronavirus, it's about the growing realization car manufacturers need far fewer people in an electrified future.

Electric Vehicles have far fewer moving parts than their fossil fuelled counterparts. Simpler to build, they need fewer people on the production line. How much smaller the workforce needs to be is still open to debate, although 30-50% seems to be the consensus.

Viet Nam’s lockdown is a global shipping problem

August 4, 2021

Viet Nam is having a tough time. Early success in containing Covid-19 has been undone by a surge of cases. Ho Chi Minh City is under lockdown and numerous production lines are suspended or scaled back significantly.

If you think this means you'll see fewer Nike trainers or Samsung phones in the shops you're half-right. In recent years, Hanoi has worked hard to turn the country away from being a sweatshop for fast fashion. Increasingly it's seen as a destination of choice for high-tech manufacturing and R&D.

Constructivism inspired illustration about unfollowing inactive Twitter accounts

Lessons from unfollowing inactive Twitter accounts

July 27, 2021

Over the past few days I’ve been cleaning up my Twitter profile. One change is a clear-out of the people I follow: I’ve been unfollowing accounts that are no longer active. What’s the point of following someone who said nothing in the past 3 months? Or five years?

Long ago Twitter blocked tools that would automatically unfollow, so I’ve been going through the 700+ inactive accounts by hand. Thankfully there’s Circleboom to do the heavy lifting for me and pick out the potentially dead accounts. This is what I found.

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