I know I’ve been threatening it for a long time, but the new version of Tokyo Story is coming VERY soon. It’s in the final stages of development right now, with some new features to make it easier to explore the content on the site. Posts have been really slow over the course of last year, that will change too.
The new features will include slightly improved typography and colour schemes, a search box, better pagination, easy access to all podcasts and videos, and new categories for posts with navigation in a new sidebar. On top of all that, a much needed facelift all round which I hope doesn’t compromise the atmosphere of the blog, which I’ve always been happy with. I always wanted to keep things simple and not detract from the main content, but I feel now that the site is too ‘bare bones’ and this gives it a slightly lifeless quality which I want to remedy. It feels static, and I think the new inclusions will add a bit more vibrancy. If anyone has any suggestions, requests or recommendations please feel free to put them in the comments.
Looking further down the line, I will be pushing the freelance web design side still more and seeing where that will go. I’ll also be creating one or more WordPress themes which I might even offer for sale if they turn out OK. As a platform for these things, the website languishing in the root folder of this server will change completely, as it damn well should. This will be built on WordPress and will feature articles detailing side projects, client work, and written pieces about web design and development as I see it, as well as of course offering my services.
I’ll be making more videos too. Now 2011 is behind us, setsuden is over with, the lights are back on, the video screens over Shibuya crossing have flickered back into life and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has acheived cold shut down, there’s a renewed air of optimism in Tokyo again. With due reverence to those that lost their lives in the disaster and all those affected by the aftermath of the biggest earthquake in recorded history, we can tentatively look forward to and hope for, even expect, great things from 2012. There’s a lot more energy around already – and it’s only 3rd January.
Radio Tokyo Podcasts will continue as planned without any particular interval. I’ll fit them in when I can and when the mood takes me. The key to all of this stuff for me is striking a balance between having it a passion and making it a chore.
I’m in the process of elaborating on an idea for what I like to call a geographical bookmarking tool for us city dwellers that will, providing the model stands up under scrutiny during the early stages, make an appearance in open beta form with the eventual plan of having a partnering iOS app. I have other ideas for web services and apps I’d like to see, purely because I’d like to use them myself, and that’s the best reason to build one. And build them I shall!
3Waves Japan Market Research is a full-service qualitative research agency based in Tokyo that serves the overseas market exclusively with a team of bilingual and bicultural consultants, and they chose me to build their website. The project was a joy to work on because they’re great people, but I also got to build a Flash weather widget for Tokyo, as well as scrolling interfaces, dynamic XML-driven slideshows, and a component in Flash that interfaces with the WordPress blogging platform. All-in-all it was a bit of a tour de force and we’re all over the moon with how it turned out. Have a look for yourselves, or even better, contact them about your market research requirements in Japan. Unfortunately they’re so good at what they do they’re in very high demand already so get them while you can (the launch was January 1st 2010).
My Father is restoring a pre-war Riley Special, which is an British vintage car. He’s been doing this since before I was born, but this project is particularly special because he’s not just building one, he’s building five. This will be the first time my Dad’s process has ever been documented and will show you all the individual steps that are involved in taking the decomposed remains of a car dating back to the 1930’s and making it look like it just rolled out of the factory. Personally, I can’t wait to see the first one finished but you can read about it now and see the progress in ‘real time’ over at his Riley restoration diary blog.
The Japanese beer series continues with a new Sapporo breweries offering that I picked up from the local 7/11. It had been a busy day working on a hot, humid day, so I wanted something refreshing and beer-based to take the edge off the wired feeling that comes from excessive hours in front of a computer display. Once the raster burn had faded from my retinas I checked the catch copy on the front of the can, and what a beauty!
“The superb aroma of Sapporo Baisen is created by a unique malt roasting process. This roasted malt is blended with pale malt for a flavor experience so thrilling it even smells delicious.”
Genius strap-lines aside, the flavour is pretty much what you’d expect from any Japanese beer. It’s strong, at 5%, and crisp, much like usual lager beer. I couldn’t taste any distinctive differences to usual Sapporo beer, except it was possibly more bitter than usual, and lacked the usual sweetness I’m accustomed to when drinking lager. I couldn’t decide the whole time whether this was a good thing or not.
Threadless have been making amazing T-Shirts for ages now. I even had a go at designing one myself, but it didn’t get printed! Now they’ve teamed up with Twitter to create a new line, in which people’s tweets get printed onto T-Shirts based on the number of votes they get from users. This news coincides with my own decision to finally join Twitter. I was totally against it for the longest time but pressure from peers has made me buckle. You can follow me: Tokyo Blog on Twitter. This blog is where the real meat will be found, but if you care about what I’m having for lunch or what trainers I’m wearing on that particular day…
This 1985 documentary by the writer, photographer and filmmaker, Wim Wenders is particularly relevant I think. My blog is named after the seminal 1953 movie, Tokyo Story by Ozu Yasujiro. In this documentary Wim Wenders goes in search of Ozu’s past collaborators, friends and family and tries to trace the cultural meanings of his films in what was then modern Tokyo at the beginning of the Japanese economic bubble in 1983. Despite the film being almost 25 years old, I can still identify with some of the experiences and, other than the urban landscape, little seems to have changed in Tokyo: Rockabillies still dance in the park on Sundays, salarymen still load balls into pachinko machines and Japanese customs and traditions continue to pervade society. It also struck me that the age of the film only seemed to increase the poignancy of the subject matter. What you see above is only a short excerpt of this masterpiece documentary, but the full version can still be found in places other than YouTube for those determined enough to seek it out. I thoroughly recommend doing so.
Imagine this: An enormous bowl filled with a garlicky butter miso soup, into which is dumped a huge serving of ramen noodles, some flambéd beansprouts, thick dark bamboo shoots, and sea weed. On top of that they pile up stir-fried pork, crack a raw egg into the soup on one side, sea weed on the other, then place a large knob of butter onto the hot pork (which subsequently melts). What you end up with is a Butter Miso Special from one of my favourite Ramen joints which is located in Okachimachi (opposite Matsuzakaya and just down from KFC). It will set you back ¥1180 and you’ll pay for it dearly in later life, but here in the now, you’ll taste a very indulgent twist on a classic Hokkaido style ramen recipe. You can then use the complimentary garlic cloves and clove crush to taste. Pictured Top: The front of the restaurant.
Maybe not soon, but Tokyo story has to change. I really love how it looks now, but there’s little scope for it to grow. For example, I want to add more categories but at the moment this will destroy the arrangement at the bottom of the page. Also, as permanent new items need to be added towards the top of the page, I will need more pixelspace in which to plant them. Right now there’s nowhere for them to go, so I need to address that also. I would like to maybe monetise the site to pay for the increasing hosting costs too, which would require some space at the top.
You’ll notice I’ve already updated the site for 2009, but expect bigger changes to follow as the Tokyo Story Blog expands to include new features. I want to do some ‘programmes’, a series of posts relating to a certain subject. I also want to put together a radio podcast or mixtape. There’s some ventures of my own and those of friends starting up soon for which I’ll want to reserve some space too, so stay tuned.
What a crazy last few days that was. I’m struggling to stay awake as I write this post as it’s now after 6pm Tokyo time on Friday 2nd January 2009, and I haven’t slept properly since New Year’s Eve. In fact, I’ve been traveling for most of the last 24 hours with a nasty hangover and an even nastier cold. I was completely blocked up when I got on the plane which resulted in massive pressure building up in the tubes of my head and now my ears are blocked too. Just to top it off, I got my UK mobile phone nicked during the festivities of New Year’s Eve which I spent on the streets of London, something I won’t be doing again.
Anyway, it’s nice to get back to Tokyo and get set up ready to attack the coming year. I’ve got loads of exciting work coming up in the first quarter of this year, and I’ll be launching a major new flash site over the next week or so, so look out for that. Once I get some sleep and a bowl of rice I’ll be OK.
So here I am on a flight out of Tokyo, heading back to the UK for Christmas and New Year’s. I’ll be catching up with old colleagues and old friends, and seeing my family of course. It’s been an amazing year in Tokyo and I’ll be back January 2nd to tie up a few loose ends and meet some prospective clients before heading to Kores. Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and thanks for reading Tokyo Story!
UPDATE: I just watched The Mongol starring Tadanobu Asano on the plane. It’s a really good movie.
I’d like to put up this link to Justin Hall’s site about his time in Japan. The site might look a bit dated now, but his style is interesting. The site is a sprawling mass of interlinked pages, which means you have to explore the site in a very non-linear way. Some content you might never get to see unless you take a certain ‘route’ through the hypertext. This guy was documenting his life online before blogs even existed, and his writings about Tokyo and Japan were one of the things that inspired me to go to Tokyo in the first place. The other major influence of course being Jean Snow.
It wasn’t so long ago now that I went against my own morals in the pursuit of expanding my horizons. I ate horse. Raw.
I feel bad about it, because I thought humans and horses had come to some sort of an arrangement, “I’ll let you ride me, and I’ll pull stuff around for you, providing you don’t eat me”. In Japan, they call a dish consisting of raw horsemeat, ‘Basashii’. Actually, I’d already eaten canned horse when I was in Kusatsu in Gunma prefecture, but eating it raw turned my stomach a bit. The flavour was OK, a little bit gamey with a taste of iron, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what it was I was eating. The thing that made me eat it was the prospect of being able to say I’d eaten raw horse to my friends and family back home. I don’t think it’s widely known that the Japanese eat horses. Next time someone offers it to me, I’m going to have to say “nay”.
I’ve moved again, this time to Shinagawa. What you see above is the view from my balcony. Could you believe I’m on the ground floor? The reason it feels elevated from this persective, is because my apartment block is situated on top of a hill, and the ground drops way steeply at the back of the apartment, where the balcony is. The neighbourhood always seemed like a business district to me, but with expensive restaurants and shops to cater for those clocking out. It wasn’t a place I ever came to often. I only came here once before to see Kage Hinata ni Saku at the Prince Cinema. I’ve had a good look around now, but have found only skyscrapers and hotels, the odd expensive restaurant, and high class shopping arcades. Where’s the sushi? Where are the izakayas? It’s a fashionable district for sure, and I’m glad to be exploring a different are of Tokyo, but there will always be a place in my heart for Taito-ku, and the areas of Ueno, Okachimachi, Asakusa, Minowa, Iriya, Yanaka and Nezu. By far the most atmospheric towns in Tokyo.
It’s not a big deal though. Meguro, Gotanda and Ebisu are still only a stone’s throw away.
TIME magazine’s blog has a post right now, that allows you to submit questions for a forthcoming Haruki Murakami interview. Readers send in their questions, and Murakami will pick 10 from the list to answer. This is part of TIME.com’s famous “10 Questions” feature. The problem is thinking of a question good enough to put to the man himself. If I can come up with one, I’ll do it myself too.
I just checked stephendavidsmith.com, and although it was owned by someone else at the time of me buying this domain, there was no hosting associated with it. Now, however, there is a fledgling protfolio site on the other side of that .com URL. I just wanted to point out that it has nothing whatsoever to do with me. I thought it was worth mentioning as the discipline of this other S.D.Smith is similar to that of mine, but I just wanted to ensure there was no confusion, capiche? Actually, I’m a bit upset about it.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention, a new site destined to reside in the root of stephendavidsmith.net (that’s here), is due to be launched by me, advertising my freelance web and multimedia production services. Give me one more week, and I’ll have it up. In future you will be able to find your way here from the new site, or come directly to this blog at stephendavidsmith.net/tokyostory.