Thursday, October 25, 2007


Teraflops are what measure the superfast rates at which supercomputers process calculations.
My story about a new supercomputer from NEC.
To be ranked high as a supercomputer, it has to be put to actual use _ not just have peak processing possibilities of teraflops.
NEC is still the underdog in the battle among supercomputers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nissan GT-R

What the executives of Toyota, Nissan and Honda chose to drive on to the stage at the Tokyo Motor Show was very telling.
Of course, Nissan's Carlos Ghosn drove the GT-R.
My story on the Tokyo Motor Show.
Toyota's Watanabe scooted out on a single-seater.
And Honda's Fukui appeared in a ball-shaped fuel-cell car of silicone called Puyo (as in cuddly, friendly, rubbery "puyo puyo")
My story on what Mr. Ghosn had to say.
Reporters get to carry around a ton of material automakers give out about their new models.
We trudge around massive Makuhari Messe from booth to booth, which are all packed.
The seats are all taken when the executives give their demonstrations so we're on our feet all day.
Fortunately, there are also monitors to see what's going on in case photographers' heads are in the way.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thoughts on Death 2

A woman in her 20s told me she was able to break up a long-distance on-again-off-again nowhere relationship after she watched her grandmother die.
"I thought to myself: What am I doing?!" she says.
The message of the value of life _ every day we live, every love we love _ was a gift from her grandmother.
Sometimes death can be special in guiding us with our Choices and reminding us that we, too, face Death someday.
Thoughts on Death 1

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tokyo Motor Show

The Tokyo Motor Show opens to the public in a week, and the day reporters run around at sprawling Makuhari Messe is Wednesday Oct. 24.
We already saw some models in previews:
My story on what Toyota is showing.
And my story on cute cars at the show.
The themes of Japanese-ness and cute culture have always fascinated me.
For decades of modernization, companies like Toyota were playing catchup with the West.
Now the time has come, in this age of globalization, for Toyota, and others, to strut their stuff as far as what's unique about them as Japanese.
This is a very very difficult question.
You have to be unique if you want to compete.
But do you set off with the idea/goal of "wanting to be Japanese." (or "wanting to be cute")?
Being Japanese is what you end up being _ as a result of your being yourself.
No matter what you do, if you do it well, and you do it honestly, you can only be yourself.
And if you are Japanese, then your product will be Japanese _ without even trying.
A writer doesn't sit down: Yes, I am going to write that great American/Japanese/Japanese-American novel.
If he/she does, it's likely to be pedantic.
It's backwards.
This is not to deny that it is critical and useful to recognize how you're being yourself/Japanese.
By seeing the world, and studying diversity, a person gains insight into what is unique about a national culture _ and also what's universal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Letter from Miu (Story of Miu 5)

I got a letter from Miu:

Just dropping a note to tell you about my first ever outing to Shinjuku's Sanchome district.
I was out with a couple friends for midnight mugs of beer at a tiny dingy cafe bar that spilled out into the alleys, dotted by sex-toy shops and gay bars, lonely souls occupying their time between yesterday and tomorrow _ one of those rare places in ethnocentric Tokyo where status/national origin/even sexuality go out the window.
Or so you'd like to think.
Then suddenly this Japanese guy comes up to me: "Are you with somebody?"
His next question: "Are you looking for gaijin?"
That bar, like others in that scene and Roppongi, attracts a fair share of foreigners.
I'd never forget that look in his eyes _ so afraid, so pathetic, so sad.
It was a totally depressing end to the evening.
What happened to this nation with its supposed reputation for right-wing conservative stuck up glorification of Japanese-ness!?
It's like reliving colonialism.
You read about how Japanese women are staying single because they earn their own livelihood and don't find the marrying lifestyle particularly attractive.
But my question is: Do they find the Japanese male attractive?
It would be a total lie to deny this phenomenon _ hordes of Japanese women who thrive on relationships with foreigners, seek them out at bars, hang from their arms, modern-day Suzy Wongs, and worship the foreigner, even unattractive ones, for their foreign-ness!
There's a sexual crisis of some sort going on between the Japanese male and the Japanese female.
They don't find the physical traits, mannerisms, social connotations from their own peers erotically arousing.
They find the alien intriguing.
Maybe exoticism is sexy by definition. But isn't that just a fetish, and certainly not a way to a healthy romantic relationship?

My reply to Miu:
How can you blame the Japanese female for seeking Western-style liberalism in attitudes toward women?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for their definitions of sexual beauty and sexual relationships when they have been fed Hollywood from birth?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for seeking personal partners outside Japanese society, when so many are doing so already with their careers (practically forced to do so, given sexism at major Japanese companies)?
But I see your point.
It is unfortunate how their personal lives fit like a jigsaw puzzle into the larger oppressive landscape of race/sex/class.
When Black Power rose in the 1960s, part of that was an awakening by the people to face up to that to overcome those larger social forces in their personal lives _ by redefining beauty, sexuality, love.
But cooking for/sleeping with/kissing XXX for the Male Master simply don't get fixed by switching His Color.
Staying within one's Color certainly simplifies the dilemma by at least knocking off one possible horrible fetish one has to confront in a sexual relationship.
But that's about it.
Just curious, but what happened in the end with that Japanese guy in Sanchome?
Stay well,

Continued from Story of Miu 4.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jazz in Japan

Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Jack DeJohnette played together for the first time ever in Japan.
It's moving to witness great musicians still standing in old age.
They don't need to re-render those great songs. And so I was impressed how they knew when NOT to play, working the silences like a zen garden _ tasteful and smart, icons of a legacy, playing still like their old selves, and who else has that Feeling?
The colors they played, the blend of that Quartet, the Sound,
so coherent you can hear every Note although they were so far away on that distant International Forum stage, totally professional, impeccably executed, and maybe because of their age, each of us knowing that perhaps this is the Last Time to hear those musicians, and certainly together, like losing a friend, it is so rare a privilege to be there, to hear that combination of those Sounds.
But, yes, so true the performance was exactly the kind of performance that Miles Davis Never
They didn't play anything new.
And Miles perhaps would have been bored. He would have outright disapproved.
He never stopped still long enough to look back.
No time for Nostalgia at hundred dollars a seat!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fear of flying

My son Isaku, taiko drummer with Tokyo-based Amanojaku, talks about his dreams and his music on this Web magazine that has a nicely done video piece at the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Virtual virtuoso

As though Air Guitar isn't enough, a game in the works from Nintendo has players pretending to be musicians with their Wiimotes.
Some 40 instruments are going to be offered, including the marimba, congas, shamisen and of course the guitar.
Above is a demonstration today by Nintendo employees "playing" the Mario theme song.
Nintendo says you can be totally non-musical but still enjoy the musical experience.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Meaning of moment

I saw Saburo Teshigawara for the first time about 20 years ago when I was still a reporter at The Japan Times.
He was emerging _ and very dramatically _ as a star of Japanese contemporary dance.
Now, in his 50s, he still stands, in so many ways unchanged.
His piece for his troupe Karas at the New National Theater is titled "Substance." But it's more about life/death, a statement from an older, wiser Teshigawara facing the inevitability/approach of Death.
For two hours, we were transported to a Moment when the daily drudgery/pettiness/greed no longer mattered.
And all that mattered was the Question.
Moving before us _ strangely frail and powerful at the same time _ he flapped his arms, contorted his torso, part rag doll, part clown, part victim, part angel, sometimes appearing to not breathe at all while at other times panting til we breathed with him.
He was just as austere and pure _ and giving of himself as ever.
But perhaps he was growing (I hoped) a little less hard on himself.
At least absent was the bloody, and so painful just to watch, self-mutilation of banging into scattered broken shards of glass, a trademark of his earlier pieces.
We are all lost in a dark urban chaos of loneliness and shapes without meaning.
And all we can do is writhe about and breathe, in and out, in and out.
At one point, the fluorescent lights hanging from above rolled out toward the audience, leaving us suddenly in a cold skeptical spotlight:
What are you doing? How have you lived your life? Who are you?

Auto show previews

Reporters in Tokyo are very busy these days going to previews for the auto show coming up later in the month.
The automakers aren't kidding when they call these models "concepts."
That's exactly what they are.
The guy with the sign is leading reporters to the Mazda cars . Nissan showed the playful Pivo today.
Amazingly enough I took photos for both previews.

Toyota sportscar

Cars are usually unveiled in hotels, event spaces, company headquarters.
And so we knew something was up when Toyota invited us to a Lexus debut at the Fuji Speedway, near Mount Fuji and a two-hour bus ride from downtown Tokyo.
Professional drivers took reporters for two laps on the F-1 course, at one point reaching 240 kph.
That's so fast your body feels as though it's sinking into the seat, and you can't hold your head up straight at corners (especially with the big helmet on our head that Toyota gave us to wear), and the rear wheels skid on the concrete as though we were in a racing video game.
"Anyone prone to carsickness?" the driver asks matter-of-fact after we get on board, as though we have a choice.
It was a bit reassuring the Lexus IS F comes with a computerizied pre-crash safety system, and the whole package of airbags (curtain/side airbags).
Akio Toyoda, the founder's grandson, and other Toyota executives, showed up wearing black racing outfits.
Toyoda had his name and a Japanese flag embroidered on his belt.
It turns out Toyoda (that's him in the photo above) has a racer license and was one of the drivers who took reporters out on the zippety ride.
The executive overseeing Lexus, Takeshi Yoshida, laughed: "I look like a ninja today."
Going fast on a car is a lot of fun.
It's so thrilling you forget your troubles.
And you remember that elation for days.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sony's new display

I played photographer as well as reporter at Sony's announcement of a TV with a new kind of display _ a world first.
It's OLED, for organic light emitting diode or organic electroluminescence display, which means that unlike LCD or plasma, the material is glowing on its own.
But the screen is only 11 inches, and it costs 200,000 yen.

Father of the Z

Yutaka Katayama, known as Mr. K, was a key figure in building the Nissan brand in the U.S. back in those days when Japanese automakers were still the underdog in the industry.
The "Father of the Z" recently had his 98th birthday party.
He said he has never been a religious person.
But these days, he feels a larger spirituality beyond this reality/life _ something he says is common to all religions, even religions that are fighting each other.
He is always so full of life.
He talks with enthusiasm about the future of cars.
I interviewed him several years ago (although I can't find it on the Web any more!).
As we get older, we may prefer to forget about birthdays.
But being there at a 98-year-old man's celebration helps one understand why birthdays are important.