What Would Jane Jacobs Think If She Saw the Process of Building Roppongi Hills?

The following article was written as an assignment for the Humanities Seminar II class.

Roppongi Hills, a mega-complex that covers 11.6 hectares of the area in Tokyo, is often mentioned as one of the largest and most successful city renewal projects that have ever been made after World War II in Japan. The project started in 1984 and took about 17 years to complete. The plan involved the city government, the land developer Mori Building Co., and the residents living in the construction area. Just to reach agreements with 500 right holders, the company had spent over 15 years. The concept of the renewal plan seems totally opposite from that of Jane Jacobs, but there is a point in the history of this Roppongi renewal plan that is equivalent to her philosophy. Jane Jacobs’ idea regarding a local community in the city was accidentally realized in the process of building the Roppongi Hills in Japan half a century after Jacobs published her book.

The most distinct feature of Roppongi Hills is not its immense and luxurious looks, but the enormously long and complicated process to compete the project which may be unimaginable for Jane Jacobs. In 1986, TV Asahi Co., which owned the main part of the location, decided to make a new headquarters building there and consulted the Minato Ward Office and Mori Building Co. The Ward suggested that they should also redevelop the surrounding area since it was packed with wooden houses, small apartments, and condominiums with narrow streets which made it difficult for fire engines to come into the area in an emergency. After the district was officially designated as a redevelopment inducement area by Tokyo Metropolitan Government in the same year, Mori Building started to negotiate with the residents there. According to Mori Building, their first contact with the residents was totally unwelcoming. Most of the residents did not listen to them at all, but after their repeated visits at each resident’s house at least once every two weeks, many of them gradually opened their hearts and listened to what the developer said. The company explained to them that the plan was not a buyout. It was the joint reconstruction of their houses and apartments. The company opened two offices in Roppongi and started releasing newsletters twice a month to inform the residents of the present situation of the plan. The residents also started town meetings and information sessions to understand the plan more and find out what was the most beneficial for them. Through these meetings, the residents put together their thoughts and gave some requests to the developer such as preserving an old pond in the area and widening the construction area. In 1990, five local communities merged. At first the community members set the new Roppongi Hills opening day sometime in 1996, but it actually took 7 more years to complete. This was just the beginning of the long partnership between Mori Building and the residents living at the site. There was still a long way to go.

The residents in the construction area and Mori Building still had many problems to solve. Under the city redevelopment law, the residents established the Redevelopment Preparatory Association and the plan was finally approved by the Ward in 1998. While the renewal plan was being developed by Mori Building, Minato Ward, and 90% of the residents and stakeholders, there were a few residents who were still against the plan. What they were asking the developer to do was to guarantee that their living standards would be secured the same as before and they would not take any financial risk before they signed the contract. Land prices were decreasing in the 1990s in Japan right after the financial bubble burst. The company did not want to make guarantees to them in that situation (but they finally won assurances by the company’s CEO). Under the city redevelopment law, once residents establish the Redevelopment Preparatory Association for the redevelopment and the plan is approved by the government, all the right holders in the planned area are automatically part of the association even if a person is against the plan. He/she then has to decide whether to stay or leave in 30 days (most of the opposing members moved to the surrounding areas after the final agreements were made with the company). The opposing members put pressure on the Ward Office to stop the project, claiming that the developer had not disclosed the detailed information to the residents yet. Four lawsuits were brought by the residents and right holders. Even after agreements with most of the residents, Mori Building still needed to solve other problems. One of them was how the units in the new buildings would be equitably allocated to each right holder, which took another half a year to solve. The company also had to provide temporary accommodations for the residents while the construction was going on. It built several new apartments around the area just for that purpose. While there were some noise pollution claims by the neighbors during the construction, Roppongi Hills finally opened in April, 2003. By the end, 93% of the residents and right holders agreed on the project and 400 people out of 500 moved in to the new residential buildings (The anti-construction group said the figure is not correct and cannot be that high. According to them, many right holders moved to other places during the negotiation period and the way Mori Building counted residents at the beginning was not appropriate). Finally, it took 17 years to finish the entire project. 

Unlike the other parts of Jane Jacobs’ ideas regarding city planning, what she said ideally regarding a local community in her book The Death and Life of GreatAmerican Cities is just what happened to the residents in Roppongi, facing a city renewal plan led by a big company. She basically criticized what city planners usually did to the residents in the redevelopment area:
That such wonders may be accomplished, people who get marked with the planners’ hex signs are pushed about, expropriated, and uprooted much as if they were the subjects of a conquering power. Thousands upon thousands of small businesses are destroyed, and their proprietors ruined, with hardly a gesture at compensation. Whole communities are torn apart and sown to the winds, with a reaping of cynicism, resentment and despair that must be heard and seen to be believed. (Jacobs 5)
This situation may actually occur even today in the world after half a century passed since the publication of this book. In some countries, the government may still have enough power to uproot the residents from construction sites, but that does not happen in Japan. For example, few small wooden houses owned by the farmers who are against the construction can still be seen in the middle of the runways at Narita Airport today. This example shows that the Japanese government does not have enough power to evict the residents from the site for any reason, due to the strict land expropriation law. The same thing has happened everywhere in Japan where redevelopment is planned. Only huge disasters or events such as Meiji Restoration in 1867, Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Great Tokyo Air Raids in 1945, and Tokyo Olympics in 1964 have given governments the chances to redevelop the wide areas in Tokyo that needed to be reformed. Today only private corporations can implement and complete the redevelopment with their incentives, professional skills, and financial power. The power balance between a developer and residents in Japan has to be examined in this context. Jacobs pointed out some conditions for a local community to fight city officials. According to her, the leaders of the community should represent the opinion in the community and be the opinion makers at the district level (Jacobs 125). Furthermore, she said, “Effective districts … must their citizens who are in agreement with each other on controversial questions act together…” (127). After she argued these general requirements for a local community, she explained what was actually needed to develop the community saying that the members “must have time to find each other, time to try expedient cooperation [sic] – as well as time to have rooted themselves, too, in various smaller neighborhoods of place or special interest” (134). These are the very relationships that had been fostered between the residents in Roppongi described above. They actually spent 15 years to reach agreements among them and with the developer. During that period, they communicated with each other probably much more than the residents in the other areas did. Here the developer functioned as a coordinator between the residents who leads them toward the goal. Mori Building clearly understands the importance of the partnership with the local residents. It says on its website:
Our designs for future cities are always in partnership with local residents. We know that our goals cannot be achieved without mutual relationships with other stakeholders. The process always begins by engaging them in frank dialogue, listening to their views, and formulating agreed-upon plans. This is the basis for our city planning, which has never changed and will never change (“Urban Design”).
 The development of the local community in Roppongi perfectly fit the three requisites that Jacobs gave for the growth of the district network: “a start of some kind; a physical area with which sufficient people can identify as users; and Time” (136), which can be paraphrased as “the redevelopment plan in Roppongi that took as long as 17 years.” Only on this point in city planning, Jacobs’ idea perfectly matches the situation of the residents in the Roppongi area.

Jane Jacobs is often seen as an anti-government/corporation activist because of her protests and criticism of city planners and governments. Her main concept of city planning may be totally opposite from that of Mori Building. It is very clear that the total concept of Roppongi Hills is heavily influenced by Le Corbusier’s city idea (e.g. high-rise residential towers, roof gardens, etc.). In fact, Mori Building’s CEO Minoru Mori owns a private collection of drawings, paintings, and sculptures by Le Corbusier (Bremner), and he is the one whom Jacobs heavily criticizes in her book (21-24) as one of the roots of all evil of useless city planning. Even with the differences in philosophy, however, similar ideas can be found between Jacobs and the recent city redevelopment in Tokyo today.


Copyright Issue on TPP

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

While a controversy over the Stop Online Piracy Act is going on and the copyright laws are defined and more controlled not by the government but by private companies in the U.S.(Mazzone), a similar thing also happens in Japan. In the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between ten countries, the U.S. Government tries to strongly push its copyright policy on the other countries based on its national interests. Japanese Government recently announced to join the TPP although there is strong opposition by the public for a fear that domestic industries such as medical services and agriculture would be wiped out by foreign companies and investors. Coincidentally, the copies of U.S. TPP proposal were leaked to media (Chirgwin). Here is a part of the intellectual property chapter of the list:

  • Copyright damages shall consider the suggested retail price or other legitimate measure of value submitted by the right holder.
  • (art. 4.5) The term of protection of a work (including a photographic work), performance, or phonogram is to be calculated:
    • on the basis of the life of a natural person, the term shall not be less than the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death;
    • on a basis other than the life of a natural person, the term shall be: (i) not less than 95 years from the end of the calendar year of the first authorized publication of the work, performance, or phonogram, or (ii) failing such authorized publication within 25 years from the creation of the work, performance, or phonogram, not less than 120 years from the end of the calendar year of the creation of the work, performance, or phonogram.
  • Would eliminate any possibility of parallel trade in copyrighted books, journals, sheet music, sound recordings,
    computer programs, and audio and visual works (i.e., categories of products in which the value of the copyrighted
    material represents substantially all of the value of the product) (art. 4.2, and footnote 11)
  • Each Party shall establish or maintain a system that provides for pre-established damages, which shall be available upon the election of the right holder
  • Requires criminal enforcement for technological measures beyond WIPO Internet Treaties, even when there is not copyright infringement (art. 5.9)
  • Impose a legal regime of ISP liability beyond the DMCA standards (art. 16.3)
  • Requires legal incentives for service providers to cooperate with copyright owners in deterring the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials; (art. 16.3.b.vi.A)
  • Requires identifying internet users for any ISP, going beyond U.S. case law (art. 16.3.b.xi)
  • Includes the text of the controversial US/KOREA side letter on shutting down web sites

Click here to Wikipedia
There are several points that may cause critical damages to Japanese sub-culture. One of which is the provision of protection of a work (article 4.5). Under the copyright law of Japan, the length of protection was recently changed from 50 to 70 years (after the first release of the product) under the pressure of other foreign countries. The U.S. now tries to widen the period for a maximum of 120 years (this U.S. provision is called Mikey Mouse Protection Act in the U.S.). If this new law were enforced in Japan, all the copyright-free contents on the Internet might vanish. The other point which seems to include a potential threat to Japanese sub-culture is the rising cost of compensation. Under the first clause of the list, it says, "Copyright damages shall consider ... other legitimate measure of value submitted by the right holder," which means that copyright owners can file a lawsuit demanding however much money they want from the person who violates the law.

The agreements above are to make a copyright law uniform across all the signatory countries, but so far it's only beneficial for the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. earned $134 billion in international sales and exports that were related to the intellectual property (AAP), whereas Japan ended up with a deficit of $6.4 billion. These agreements include stricter protections than the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Pharma Japan).

The TPP's potential impact on Japanese sub-culture seems so huge that some anime and manga artists started to raise their voices. A comic writer Ken Akamatsu claimed that "the culture developed through parody and dojinshi works would be harmed" and " as a result, the power of the entire manga industry would also diminish" (Kiko). (Dojinshi is a coterie magazine or fan-zine based on the characters of anime and manga. Many comic writers and anime creators are involved in this in Japan.) A media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya said that "the resulting changes in the Copyright Law of Japan would affect cosplay"(Yaraon!) (Cosplay  is to dress up as one's favorite character in anime or manga.) As I pointed out in my previous blog post, Japanese love fan fiction very much and the derivative works often develop into a sub-genre of modern Japanese sub-culture. For example, most of the videos uploaded on Nico Nico Douga are fan creation. Recent emerging sub-culture such as Vocaloid and Touhou Project could not have established as a sub-category on the website if the fan creation would have been banned.

To examine more in detail, there are two main differences between the present copyright law of Japan and that of the U.S. One of them is that under the current law in Japan, the police cannot act against copyright infringement unless the copyright holders file a formal complaint, whereas such complaint is not required at all for prosecution in the U.S. If the present U.S. law were applied to Japan, the police would have the discretion on what to prosecute (Yaraon!). (As a result, some manga and anime for adults would be probably targeted first). The other different point is that unlike the U.S., there is no "fair use" provision in Japan's copyright law (There are a limitation and exception to the exclusive right which is similar to the U.S.'s fair use provision, but the idea is completely different). This "fair use" provision may help fan creation in Japan from being punished, but this is the one that the U.S. Government would never export to other countries since the provision would conflict with the national interests of the U.S.

Copyright has been argued more often than ever before as digital copies become more available among people in this Internet era. It may be the time for us to think about copyright again. In an article, a sci-tech writer David Bradley introduces the fact that classical composers such as Vivaldi and Beethoven composed much more music pieces than the contemporary composers in the 20th century do and says, "... copyright laws, while protecting vested interests, have simply stifled creativity" (Bradley). To begin with, we Japanese at least have to decide what position Japan should stand on with regard to TPP negotiations regarding intellectual property.


Anonymity on 2channel

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Click here to 2channel (Japanese)
2channel (2ch or "nichan" in Japanese) is not only Japan's largest, but arguably the biggest online forum in the world today with one million posts a day (Furukawa) on more than 800 active boards (Bovee and Cvitkovic). You can find any kind of topic that you can think of, even vicious and horrific information about murders, weapons, drugs, and poison. What is this site is most known for in Japan is, however, not its enormous size, but the complete freedom of anonymous posting. Because of this anonymity, there is always a flood of libel and slander on the boards, among which some are brought to court for defamation and privacy infringement. Some users post a death threat and are reported to the police. On the other hand, this is also a place where you can find any information you need. All you have to do is to find out which information is most valuable out of thousands of posts with your Internet literacy. There are much information that would never appear on TV or in newspapers. In a word, the site is nothing but a chaos that Japanese society embodies in itself.

Click here to his interview
According to the founder of 2ch Hiroyuki Nishimura, who started this site in 1999, anonymity is the core of 2ch. With anonymity, "All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work." Without it, no one would disclose secret information (Wikipedia). To 2ch's credit, I'd also like to let you know that they have about 150 volunteers who delete illegal postings based on their deleting guidelines (Furukawa) and defined under Japanese laws (Wikipedia). Posts which declare intentions to commit a crime are also reported to the police immediately (Wikipedia). Above all, a person cannot post a comment totally anonymously. 2ch holds IP addresses and other related information that can identify the person who posts a comment through his/her Internet service provider so that the Internet service providers can give the log information to the police on request (Matsutani) (Open proxies are banned from posting on 2ch (Wikipedia)). Then here comes the next question - Is anonymity particular only to this site or does it reflect Japanese tendency to be so?

Japanese tendency to become anonymous online has been discussed by many critics and researchers for a long time. For example, Japanese tend to stay safely within the circle of friends and rarely reveal themselves to strangers, whereas Westerners (especially Americans) live in the identity-centric world of facebook and push themselves hard to the public. Contrast between Westerners and Japanese is often put into other frameworks such as those between West and East, independent and interdependent, autonomy and affiliation, and the most common of all, individualism and collectivism. These kinds of dichotomy are easy to understand and widely held by many people, but there are some critics and researchers who are fairly skeptical about these views. According to them, there are so many social and cultural factors involved in this phenomenon of anonymity. To examine it more in detail, one has to change the paradigm of the analyzing framework. To start with, they introduced the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE model) to check how anonymous the person is on the Web. They set three phases: the lowest degree of anonymity is Visual Anonymity, in which the person still retains some connection to the real life. The second phase is called Dissociation of Identity. In this phase, the person adopts a new online identity such as a handle name or graphical avatar. There is no explicit trace that connects the person to the real world any more. The highest anonymity is Lack of Identification, which seems to perfectly fit the person who posts comments on 2ch anonymously. Media researchers Nicholas Bovee and Robert Cvitkovic point out the feature of the Visual Anonymity stage as follows:
... vidual anonymity encourages individuals to perceive the self and others less as individuals and more as representatives of a social group. This, in turn, sensitizes interactants to the social norms embodied by the group, and fosters group-normative behaviors that are consistent with these social norms. (Bvee and Cvitkovic, Anonymity in Computer-Mediated Communication in Japanese and Western Contexts - Comparisons and Critiques - 2010)
If we apply this rule to the recent political movements through the Internet such as  Arab spring or Occupy Wall street, they may match well. Meanwhile, as I examined in my earlier blog post, Japanese people tend to get together with more task-oriented interest and enjoy enhancing a sense of unity with the group. These Japanese tendencies also seem to match this Visual anonymity phase, don't they? Other social networking websites in Japan have different looks from that of 2ch. The vast majority of Mixi, Japan's biggest SNS which has about 15 million users, do not reveal anything about themselves online. They just use their handle names and avatars (Alabaster). On Yahoo Answers (in Japanese, "Yahoo Chiebukuro"), which is a free community-driven knowledge site provided by Yahoo Japan, almost all the participants do not use an avatar whereas almost all the participants on the same site in the U.S. use a cartoon avatar (Bvee and Cvitkovic). As for Match.com (the world's largest matching site), less than half of the paying members in Japan are willing to post their photos, while nearly all members in the U.S. do (Alabaster). There are several phases of identity disclosure for each one in different online circumstances. It may be difficult to judge the Japanese tendency of becoming anonymous just by picking up one typical example of the phenomenon and examining it.

Still, I 'm quite sure why so many Japanese still have a very negative view of the Internet, or more specifically the social networking sites. Most of this impression attributes to the media coverage on TV and newspaper in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They reported the cases such as insurance murders, group suicide, and prostitution that were triggered by the Internet. All the bad news was described as "the dark side of the Internet" and associated with the Internet and social networking sites. In recent years, many people happen to write about their unlawful or unethical conducts on their blogs, Twitter, or facebook by mistake. For example, a college student confessed that he cheated at the exam and a waitress revealed that a celebrity made a hotel reservation as a couple. Soon an outrage arose on the Internet at the people who reported the events. In these cases, the reporters were soon identified by anonymous Internet users and their "misconduct" were immediately reported to their college and workplace blaming the college and company for their lack of responsibility of supervision. The ongoing situations were also posted on websites such as 2ch and many viewers enjoyed watching how the stories went. The careless and poor Internet victims finally had to delete all their accounts of the SNSs and some even had to leave the workplace. Many young people in their twenties and thirties know that this can happen to them any time. That's also a reason why Japanese people rarely reveal themselves to strangers especially online.

Click here to 4chan
There are still many social and cultural factors to be considered that might affect Japanese tendency to become anonymous online. It might be more beneficial to compare the tendency to become anonymous with other Asian countries such as China and Korea. On the other hand, there are many anonymous groups or reports emerged recently on the Internet such as Anonymous from 4chan and WikiLeaks. Their existence might suggest that the online anonymity is not particular only to Japanese. They could be a strong protest against the "showing-off" culture of facebook. Even if the online anonymity is good or bad, anonymity works in Japan as far as I'm concerned. The web researcher such as Satoshi Hamano said that the commenting system on Niconico Douga is a developed version of that on 2ch. It's hard to imagine the future, but I think the situation probably won't change or even become more anonymous and 2ch will continue to grow bigger.

Question for the final exam
Which type can be considered as NOT anonymous online?

1. A person who reveals only his/her handle name and avatar.
2. A person who gives only his/her email address with no face photo.
3. A person who gives a some body's name and face photo.
4. All of above.

The answer can be found in my comment below.


Deciphering Softbank TV Commercial

The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Media Theory class.

Here is a topic that I gave a group presentation in the Media Theory class. It's a bit long, but I hope you enjoy reading it.

1. Background information about the ad
First, I’d like to tell you about the background of the ad since some of you may not know the present mobile-phone business situation in Japan. The ad I'm going to analyze is this.

I put the English translation on it as follows.

This is Softbank's ad for family discount plans. Softbank is one of the three biggest mobile phone companies in Japan. This ad was released on their website, but the same kinds of TV commercials were also made at the same time. It was first shown on TV in June, 2007. Softbank has also used other celebrities such as SMAP, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz for their mobile-phone ads, but the company had to make an ad that related to its new family discount service for Softbank users. The other two competitors also made the same kinds of ads at the same time to attract family users. The family discount campaign started with this ad four years ago and still continues today. So far more than 100 different TV commercials have been made featuring these unique family members.

Let’s watch the first commercial so that you'll get the atmosphere these family members produce (I put the subtitles in English so that you can understand what they say).

2. Breaking down to the elements
Next, let's break this down to the elements.
 ・Medium: it was on their website, but the same kind of ads were also on TV, magazines, newspaper, and posters.
・Targeted audience: Japanese families (parents, children, grandparents, and couples) whose family members may still use a different company's mobile phones.
・Layout: White background with a few sales copies and the portrait of the family. They stand out because of the white background. The color of the background is white probably because the name of the discount plan was called "white plan." The family name “Shirato” or “howaito” also comes from this.
・Mood of the ad: Formal as if the family portrait was shot in a photo studio.
・Commodity being sold: Family discount plans for mobile phone users.
・Elements in the ad: Sales copies and the family members in a formal looking clothes with the company’s logo at the upper right and links to the other web pages on the lower left.
・Locale for the scene: Probably in the photo studio (white background and all the members are posing and staring at the camera in front of them).

3. Analyzing the ad
Now I'm going to analyze this ad and find what it means to the viewers. First, let's see each character in the ad again. Two Japanese women (young and elder) are easily considered as a mother and daughter since the sales copies on the left suggest it. Then why is a black male actor casted as the brother of a family? Does it mean anything to ordinary Japanese viewers? Is there any racial or unconsciously racist perception involved in this ad? In regard to this topic, I happened to read an academic paper that deals with the racial representation in this Softbank ad.
 As the commercials evolved, they continued to challenge viewers' expectations, part of their immense popularity owing to their nonsensical playfulness which presented the character as a straight man in a bizarre fantasy tableau where boundaries of race, ethnicity, and even species no longer apply. - "Race as Ricorso: Blackface(s), Racial Representation, and the Transnational Apologetics of Historical Amnesia in the United States and Japan" (2011) by John G. Russell
It was written by John Russell, who is the professor of Anthropology at Gifu University in Japan and researching the representation of race in the U.S and Japan. In this paper, after examining many racial or sometimes even racist representations in Japan including the examples of foreign talents on TV such as Bob Sapp and Bobby Ologun, Russell says that the black character in this ad is a few notable exceptions from the other stereotyped black male images in Japan such as entertainers, athletes, and criminals. He says, “Aside from his black face, he could be any race” and “what is coded is his non-Japaneseness, and even that is problematized by his Japanese name and un-gaijin-like demeanor.” This analysis coincides with what the actor playing the role in this ad says about his career in his interview.

Click here to his inverview
The African American actor who plays this role “Yoso-Guy,” which means “unexpected” in Japanese,” is Dante Carver who is from New York and now works as an actor and model in Japan. He says he is very careful about which job offers he chooses in order not to get typecast. From my impression, many Japanese like him a lot probably because his character was very new to them, which depends more on his own character rather than on his race. The surveys actually showed that he was voted the most popular male actor in a TV commercial in Japan both in 2008 and 2009. Although there is a possibility that he himself has now become “a new stereotyped black-male figure” in Japan because of the heavy on-airing of the TV commercial series for such a long period, still for many Japanese viewers, he may be recognized as “non-Japanese” rather than “a black male” in the ad.

How about the white dog then? Why is the white dog casted as the father of the family in this ad? According to Softbank, they were looking for a white dog that had a patriarchal figure as the head of the household, but they refused to tell the reason why the father became a dog in the ad. In addition to it, the commercial planner who made this ad said that he wondered if a dog were his father so that it would kindly listen to him and sometimes scold him. However, it doesn’t explain why it should be a dog. Now there is another interpretation of this dog. I have to refer to this idea that widely spreads throughout the Internet today. There are some anti-Korean groups or people who strongly insist that the ad was made to insult Japanese people. According to them, the family setting in this ad such as “children of a dog” is the exact phrase Korean people often use when they insult others just like “a son of a -----” in English. They also say that it is also insulting to cast a black actor as a brother in an average Japanese family due to the reason that many people in Korea still have the negative perception of black people (I’m not sure if it’s true or not). This kind of “conspiracy of Softbank” has been spread throughout the Internet for years partly because the CEO of the company Masayoshi Son is Korean Japanese. It might be true that Son actually did a favor to Koreans in Japan by offering special discount prices only for them and also the fact that he got his Japanese nationality comparatively late in his thirties. Both of them might show that he might have sympathy to Koreans to a certain degree, but these do not mean at all that he was motivated to insult Japanese. The commercial received the prize for the most favorite ad in Japan in 2007 and the series of TV commercial has been aired since then.
Otosan dog dolls
These show that most Japanese do not care or accept the conspiracy and love the character of “otosan” dog (Actually the dog has been used as a mascot character of the ad and its dolls, mug cups, and accessories were made and distributed as the campaign goods). Overall, the dog could be any other animal as far as it is lovely and not a human (actually there are white cat versions of this ad, in which the white cat plays the leader of the local cat society).

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son
Then what kind of message would this "family image” convey to the viewers? As you look at the ad again, each of them represents the member in a traditional family (parents both father and mother and their children that are a boy and girl) in a family portrait situation. Only the phones they hold represent that the ad is something to do with mobile phones. The sales copies suggest that the family is “unexpected” or unusual from the fact that there are different races and species in there. Even though, they still call themselves “a family.” The message seems pretty clear that there could be a family that consists of different races or even species. If the members call themselves a family, then so be it. This is a very strong statement against the homogeneous Japanese society. Although 98.6% of people in Japan are ethnically Japanese and speak the same language, the forms of traditional family have gradually changed in the recent years. According to the survey in 2010, there are only 28.7% of the households that contain parents and more than one child in the family. The rest have different circumstances at home. In this sense, the ad shows a very conventional family form. On the other hand, the ad also suggests that any one can be a family regardless of race or species. In fact, in the same series of the ad, the director Quentin Tarantino and even a white dolphin were casted as the uncles of the family. It can be interpreted as a suggestion to become more open or tolerant to strangers for the Japanese viewers who still have the stereotyped image of an all-Japanese family (the ads for family discount plans made by the other two mobile giants Docomo and au are very different. In their ads, Docomo depicted mushroom family in cartoon and au an ordinary Japanese family). At this point, it can be said that there could be some kind of intention or message implicitly slipped in the ad from the personal experience of the CEO Son, who has educated in the States and must have experienced hash discrimination in Japan because of his Korean ancestry, that it is the time for many Japanese to become more open to strangers in general.

4. Conclusion
The Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is well-known as the most successful entrepreneur in Japan for his Internet and mobile phone businesses. He is also known as a very patriotic person who has been trying to reform old Japanese styles in business and culture just like Steve Jobs did. I think it is safe to say that he might have tried to send an implicit and vague, but critical message to the viewers in Japan through this ad that Japanese should be more open to non-Japanese. At least, the conventional family concept that many Japanese viewers still have would, unconsciously or not, force to be shaken by this ad.


Comments on Tim Owens' Lecture "We Are All Artists" (Weekly Blog Post #3)

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Here I'd like to tell what I thought about the lecture of Tim Owens.

In this lecture, Owens mainly talks about the central idea of the digital storytelling assignments. He points out that creativity is not inherent and it should be taught at school and the DS106 course gives the environment to be so. According to him, one of the main purposes of the course is to get rid of the perception that "Art can be made only by artists." (You can find the list of the other important points he made at the lecture and also some useful links to inspiring websites on his website.)

One thing that I really thought interesting in his lecture is about the environment that is required to be creative. He starts his lecture by comparing the differences between the photos on facebook and those assigned and posted on the Daily Shoot website (it no longer exists). He quotes the words from Scott Adams (the author of the popular comic Dilbert) saying that "the hungrier one is, the more creative one becomes." Furthermore, he generalizes it and says that uncomfortable situations make the person creative.

For me it is perfectly true. People would not do things unless they are forced to do. Especially if the task is totally new to the person and doesn't know exactly what and how to do it, he/she would not dare to do it immediately besides doing all the other important tasks that should be done as well. This is exactly what happened to me at the beginning of the first DS106 assignment. However, as I finished the tasks one by one, I felt that I was creating something new that had ever been produced in this world before. I wouldn't have done any of the assignments if I hadn't been assigned to do them. As a result, I had spent so much time working on the assignments that it actually affected on my assignments in the other classes. I'm now very satisfied with the art pieces I made for this course and also become a bit more confident of trying a new, unknown task that will be assigned to me in the other classes. 

The other thing that Owens mentions in his lecture is to draw a different meaning from a mundane thing. He says that the creativity is to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. This is also strongly related to what I've done for the series of the DS106 assignments. In my first assignment, I edited all the photos that I had posted for the Daily Shoot assignments into a video. When got together, each of the photos takes on different meaning in the video. I didn't expect at all that those photos taken with my poor camera on my mobile phone would contribute to my art work. Usually in the other courses, what I submit as an assignment returns with a grade and the instructor's feedback in few lines, but here I recycled my former assignment and put a different value of its own. It was nice experience for me to "think different."

The last thing that I'd like to mention is the point that is not clearly mentioned in Owens' lecture (probably it's too obvious?) while I consider it the most important feature of the ds106 course. That is the public online display of the student's work pieces and the mutual evaluation system by posting comments on each other. Compare to the assignments conventionally assigned to college students at campus, these DS106 assignments put a different kind of pressure on the student that the work is evaluated not only by the instructor but also the other students. It may work good to some and bad to the others, maybe not at all to a certain type of people. To my surprise, I received many comments on my blog posts. Some of them are from outside of the class. For me, all the comments I received had really motivated me a lot to make a better one next time. At the same time, I had also commented on other students' blog posts. (it was a part of the assignments, too.) I enjoyed the feedback a lot. I also found that the other people's comments actually made me re-recognize the creativity from a different perspective that I had felt while I was making the art works. I think the effect of this educational method on motivation should be more focused rather than the other merits.

Online education system can be more cooperative and creative than the conventional classroom education style (because there is no limit of time and space). I hope there are more this kind of online activities in the courses at school that stimulate the student's creativity and change the learning experience.


Haiku It Up

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

My fifth and final digital storytelling assignment is making a haiku in the writing category. Before I present my own piece, let me just explain what the haiku is briefly.

Haiku, known as the shortest form of the poetry in the world, originally started in the 17th century in Japan. It became international in the late 20th century and now people all over the world make haiku of their own. There are several rules in Japanese traditional haiku and many of them are also adopted into the international haiku. The common rules are:

・Use three lines of up to 17syllables.
・Use a season word (kigo).
・Use a cut or kire (sometimes indicated by a punctuation mark) to compare two images implicitly.
(From Wikipedia)

People often think that to express one's feeling in the 17 syllables is enough for making haiku, but it's not. The most basic concept of this poetic form is to resonate totally different imagery (often presented as nouns) and generate a new perspective/context/atmosphere/situation of the moment based on these imagery in the reader's mind. In a sense, it is like appreciating a scenery picture. To appreciate the piece, one has to know the connotations of the general/proper nouns used in the piece, which makes it difficult when it becomes international since the cultural backgrounds of the creator and the readers might be different and the readers cannot pick up the implicit meanings or nuances of the words. Since there are four distinct seasons in Japan, almost all the nouns were categorized into one of the four seasons a hundred years ago, but we cannot do that any more in these days. Still we can use some words that relate to seasonal events (e.g., snow as winter or cicada as summer). I think this rule to include a season word in the poem was made probably because it was the most efficient way to indicate the time and location of the setting depicted in the poem.

Since this assignment is set for haiku beginners, you don't have to be so strict. All you have to do is just keep the first rule: three lines with 17 syllables (ideally 5-7-5). The attached photo helps a lot to understand the scenery that the poem depicts. Here is my work about the killifish ("medaka" in Japanese) that I have at home.

Killifish swimming
In a glass aquarium
Under Tokyo sky

You can probably imagine the scenery without the help of the photo. Here is the photo.

Killifish under Tokyo sky
Click here to enlarge

In this haiku, I attempted to resonate the words "killifish" and "Tokyo" and parallel the situations of the killifish confined in the aquarium and me living in Tokyo surrounded by high buildings and watching the killifish (without referring to myself in the haiku). Japanese killifish (medaka) is categorized in the summer words in traditional haiku, but it's difficult for many Japanese to understand that connotation today.

I stuck to the Japanese traditional haiku rules this time because I like Japanese literature. (My major at the graduate school was modern Japanese literature.) Of course other students who would like to do this assignment don't have to follow these traditional rules at all. Just following the 5-7-5 rules is good enough to make a creative piece of art for this ds106 course. I just wanted to let the reader to understand the basic concept of haiku and show its literary depth as Japanese literature. Below are some links to understand the essence of Japanese and international haiku and some literary works in English made by native English speakers. I hope they may help you to do this assignment more creatively.

More detail of this assignment: Haiku It Up

Photo edited by Picasa


One Shot

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Click photo to enlarge

This is my fourth digital storytelling assignment. This time I picked up one from the visual category. All I had to do was just choosing a photo, chopping it up, and rearranging it in a comic book style. I chose the photo that I took in the Sahara Desert in Morocco few years ago so that the viewer can also feel the peaceful atmosphere with the camels having a rest in the middle of the desert in the daytime.

One of the most difficult part in this assignment is to decide which photo to use. I had to choose a landscape shot with several interesting objects in it in order to break them into pieces later. (I couldn't use most of my photos since they have the main big object in the center of the photo.) After deciding which photo to use, I cut it into pieces using one of the simplest application software called Paint which is preinstalled in Windows. (It's still quite useful!) And again I used Picasa to make the collage of the pieces. You can rearrange the order of the photos again and again until you get satisfied. You can also retouch and adjust the brightness and tone of the photo as you like.

For reference, I'd like to show you the original photo of the collage.

Click photo to enlarge

Edited and retouched by Paint (preinstalled in Windows) and Picasa

For more detail of this assignment: One Shot


Greetings From DS106 (Digital Storytelling Assignment)

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Click photo to enlarge

This is my third Digital Storytelling Assignment. This time I picked up the assignment from the design category. What I had to do was just making a postcard of my home town. Yoyogi is the place where I live now, which is located in the central Tokyo. I love this town for several reasons: It's next to Shinjuku, the largest station in Tokyo and really convenient to go everywhere in Tokyo (Many train lines come in). There are a huge number of restaurants around the station which keep me exploring one after another (and it doesn't seem to end.) On the other hand, the town is also surrounded by the natural environment. You can walk to Meijijingu, the largest shrine in Japan, and Yoyogi Park, which is also the largest in the central Tokyo. I put all these factors into the postcard so that the viewer would recognize the diversity of the town.

For making this postcard, I used Picasa for the first time. It's very useful especially for this assignment since it has the feature to make a photo collage automatically from several photos. You can also retouch and adjust the photo image without knowing how to use it in detail. (It's very simple!)

I hope you can also feel the atmosphere of my home town a bit from this postcard.

Edited by Picasa

All the photos used above are taken from Flickr via CC licensing.

Yoyogi Park by Vic Paredes
yoyogi st by TitoRo
Yoyogi-Park ''a Brushed Gold Saxophone Player''_061206_003 by haribote
Yoyogi Park in Spring by micah.e
Yamanote night train by sinkdd 
6-13-07 Yoyogi-1.jpg by abuckingham 
At the North End of Yoyogi Station by ykanazawa1999
@yoyogi by saotin

For more detail of the assignment: Greetings From DS106


Make Your Own Ringtone

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Here is my second digital storytelling assignment for ds106. This time I picked up the one in the audio category and made an annoying ringtone that forces you to answer the phone. It took me for a while to make it, but it was fun editing the sounds. I hope the listener also enjoy listening to it.

Annoying ringtone by Shinichiro

All the sounds used in the file are from freesound.org:

Bell System Ringer Model 687A (8-70).wav       
Old Telephone Ring.wav       
old telephone bell.wav        
Female Hello.wav       
You Have a Phone Call.mp3        
Wassa Matter Homey.mp3       
Anybody here.mp3

Edited by Audacity

Uploaded to Sound Cloud

For more details and other students' works: Make Your Own Ringtone(s)


Digital Story Compilation

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Here is my video for one of the digital storytelling assignments. I gathered all the photos that I took for the daily shoot assignment and edited them into a video. Although each photo is a crap taken by my poor mobile-phone camera, with a great help of good background music, a series of photos generates a certain kind of atmosphere of where I live and what I do everyday. It was good that I could "reuse" what I've done earlier for the class and attach another meaning to them. I hope you can also feel a bit of my not-so-exciting school life in Tokyo.

Music: "Pacific II" by William Ackerman

Video edited by Windows Live Movie Maker

For more details: Digital Storytelling Compilation


Users' different participating styles on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga

The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Media Theory class.

I had a chance to research on the pop-culture contents on the social media and present it in a group in another class recently. Since I could not fully express my idea there, I'd like to expand it and present it here.

Compared to YouTube users, Japan's Nico Nico Douga users are more likely to be involved in social media activities without revealing themselves, which leads them to generate unique and interesting pieces of work of their own by focusing more on imaginary characters or characterizing themselves. Here I'd like to illustrate it by examining how the users play with a song and create their own videos.

[Example videos on YouTube]

[Example 1] Symphony Orchestra 2011

The website above asked the viewers to join a temporary orchestra by posting videos on YouTube. The contest had clear procedure and rules for the participants to follow on their website. After the members were selected, they converged in Sydney for a week-long festival of musical collaboration and participation (101 members from 33 countries got together).

[Example 2] We Are The World 25 For Haiti (YouTube Edition)

[Example 3] We Are The World (Ukulele style - 33 ukulele players from all over the world)

[Features and tendencies of the participants in the YouTube videos]
As you know, many people sing a song and perform music, and upload the videos to YouTube everyday. So many people have posted their own "We are the world" videos since YouTube started. What I'd like to focus on here is the way they play with the original song or music online. In both examples, all the performers show their faces in the videos and their names are listed on the description pages. As for the quality of the performances, most of them are quite good (that's why they are chosen by the editor of the videos). Although each singer/performer has his or her own style and characteristic, the whole performances are quite close to the original song. The videos are edited quite simple and clear. More highly-skilled and professional-like users tend to participate (especially in the case of Symphony Orchestra). This is probably because there were clear rules and instruction addressed and it had fewer barriers (such as a language barrier) so that a wide variety of people could participate in the event from all over the world. As the whole population of YouTube users in the world is so huge, the quality of the top-level works tends to be very high (They are often performed by professionals).

[About Nico Nico Douga]
On the contrary, Nico Nico Douga is not open to all the Internet users like YouTube. One has to become the member of the website to watch the videos. It targets only for Japanese and those who understand Japanese (There are Nico Nico Douga websites also in English, French, German, and Chinese, but they are totally different). As a result, not so many people can enjoy it compared to YouTube. The whole population and the numbers of uploaded videos are very different between them. However, in Japan, Nico Nico Douga has gained a large membership. It now has more than 25,500,000 members (As of July 2011). It is very popular especially with the young generation. About two third of the members are in their teens and twenties. More than two out of three people in their twenties have a Nico Nico Douga account in Japan.

[Vocaloid songs and the variation of Happy Synthesizer videos]
There are many amateur composers uploading their original songs to Nico Nico Douga in Japan. Many of them use a singing synthesizer application software called Vocaloid so that they can put the synthesized voice on the vocal part without asking some one to sing the song. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Vocaloid songs are uploaded so far. Among them, a song called “Happy Synthesizer” was originally posted on the website last year on November 22 by an amateur composer then named easypop (His real name is unknown. He now becomes professional and released his first CD a few months ago).

[Example 4] Happy Synthesizer (uploaded on YouTube)

The song became very popular (more than 1,300,000 times viewed so far on Nico Nico Douga and about 1,200,000 times on YouTube) and many users started to consume or play with the song in their own ways by uploading their own videos related to the song. Here is the chronological order of how they have enjoyed and reproduced it.

1. The composer posted the original song on November 22, 2010.
2. Many users started to post their own videos singing the song. (1,500 videos were posted so far.)
3. Its English version was also made and sung by the users.
4. Some users performed the song with different kinds of instruments such as piano or guitar.
5. Several dance remixes were made.
6. A dancer choreographed the song on December 3, which is two weeks after the original song was posted.
7. Many users started to dance on the choreography and post the videos. (More than 1,800 videos were posted so far.)
8. Some user groups had off-line meetings all over Japan, danced together and posted the videos.
9. Several users traced the dance and made 3D CG videos using a free 3D modeling software called MikuMikuDance (MMD) at the end of March next year.
10. Many MMD users started to create their own CG videos with their favorite characters. (About 300 videos were posted so far)

Here is a variety of the videos posted based on the original song. (I edited them into one video so that you can visually see and understand how the original song has been consumed and developed by many users.)

[Example 5] Variation of Happy Synthesizer Videos

[Features and tendencies of the participants on Nico Nico Douga]
These variety of videos based on the original song have been generated by many users within almost four months (and they are still making new ones everyday). The users created their videos in these ways partly because there are such categories set on the website, which encourages them to create in these ways. Since not so many users are expected to participate in the activity in each category, the quality of the works on average is not so good as that on YouTube. Most of the singers and dancers do not seem to have any vocal or dance trainings. They are far from professionals, but they posted their videos because they love the song. One of the most explicit features of the users is that most of them do not reveal their faces or real names in the videos or on the description pages on the website. They usually use their user names with no real face photo. Not only the music composers and 3D CG creators do not reveal themselves, but also the singers and music performers do not do that either (which is totally opposite to those in the YouTube videos). Even more than half of the dancers wear masks while they are dancing in order not to be identified themselves. As often said, it may come out from the Japanese sense of "Shame” or “Haji” in Japanese, but it may have an effect on the users' creativity in somehow.

[Comparison and conclusion]
Japanese tendency not to reveal oneself online is often pointed out for the reason why facebook is not so much popular in Japan. It can be also said to the tendency of Japanese twitter users that many of them do not put their real names or face photos on their profiles. Here I'd like to put focus on how this tendency effects on the creativity of modern Japanese sub culture. It is difficult to draw any patterns or principles just from these few examples from YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, but I'd like to draw a hypothesis on this phenomenon anyway. For the performers in the YouTube videos, the original song or music they sang or performed is just a medium or tool to prove their performing techniques, and the viewers appreciate the performances and evaluate the performers or performers' skills rather than the work pieces themselves. In other words, for them the video is just a result or proof of their performances and the applause is given more to the participants themselves rather than their works. On the other hand, Nico Nico Douga users seem to be more interested in the videos as a work piece or the ways the song is expressed. The viewers do not seem to care much about who the creators of the videos are. More specifically, they are more interested in playing with the song or the fictional characters involved in the song (In this case, they are the vocaloid characters such as Hatsune Miku). The dancers in the videos seem to show and characterize themselves as cute and lovely as possible with their fictional user names (Some of them actually did cosplay and became one of the vocaloid characters). The viewers are more likely to appreciate the dancers’ characters (which is called “kyara” in Japanese) and enjoy them without any questions who the dancers really are. Same thing can also be said to the creation of the 3D CG videos. When the variation of the video expanded to the 3D CG phase, more high-quality videos were made intensively. It seems that all the performers, creators, and viewers tend to focus more on the characterized figures in the videos rather than on the creators. In a sense, they express themselves through their favorite characters or characterized self-images. They tend to erase their bodily images as the subject of the action and leave only the deed (in this case a piece of work) in order to enjoy or consume the topic with the following members in the same but small interest group who have the same taste. It is hard to prove this, but I think this Japanese tendency not to reveal oneself online seem to have a close link to the reason why Japanese people love so-called “characters” so much.


Being digital

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Much of what Vannervar Bush had suggested and predicted in his essay As We May Think in 1945 has become real by now in 2011. For example, the memex, "a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library" now exists as the form of iPad. When we read the passage saying that "Selection by association, rather than by indexing, may yet be mechanized," we know it has already been done by Google. It is amazing to know that he predicted the coming of Wikipedia half a century before it started. He wrote more than 60 years ago that "wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them." However, here I'd like to discuss a little about the point he missed in his argument regarding the technology that actually became real later to clarify what he could not foresee at the time even with his excellent intelligence.

I think the most obvious point in Bush's argument which is not in accordance with the technology today is that he did not think data could be recorded and reproduced digitally. He did know that visual and audio materials could be converted electronically into and transmitted through the other media. He repeatedly refers to the electronic use of images and audio such as the photocells in photography, the moving beams of electrons on television equipment, and the mechanical voice converters called Voder and Vocoder in his essay. He also gives an example of how electrical vibrations transmit what eyes see through the optic nerve. He then applies the theory to all the other activities in a brain saying that "all forms of intelligence, whether of sound or sight, have been reduced to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted." He also knew that using thermionic-tubes in an equipment is much faster and more efficient than using mechanical ones, but what he actually envisioned as a selection device "Memex" is still heavily based on the mechanical functions.

From Wikipedia
After all, Bush could not imagine today's digitalized world in which all the information is decoded into binary codes and stored digitally. It is worth mentioning that the world's first computer had already been made by the time he wrote the essay. It is called the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC). It was successfully tested by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry in 1942. It had already had the basic features that today's PC has in general:

  • Using binary digits to represent all numbers and data
  • Performing all calculations using electronics rather than wheels, ratchets, or mechanical switches
  • Organizing a system in which computation and memory are separated. 
(From Wikipedia)

 In fact, Bush refers to this computer in his essay without mentioning its name. He then imagined that "the advanced arithmetical machines of the future will be electrical in nature" and "they will be far more versatile than present commercial machines, so that they may readily be adapted for a wide variety of operations." He also suggests that all the data should be recorded "on the card may be made by magnetic dots on a steel sheet," which had actually been used in the ABC. Although he knew that the information can be digitally encoded into 0 and 1 and decoded by using a computer, he did not apply this idea to his "new and powerful instrumentalities" - the memex.

It is true that Bush's essay has inspired a lot of people for more than 60 years. There is no doubt that it led the way to prepare for the coming generation of World Wide Web. What prevented him from integrating the idea of digitalization and memex is probably because he had been involved much in the fields of physics and engineering but not in information science (which was a quite new academic discipline at the time) and could not get out from the mechanical and material paradigms of his own (as seen in his essay, he only refers to physicists among other scientists). We had to wait another few decades to see the rise of information technology from the other scientific field.