Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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2012 Update

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!


The Way I Work

The Way I Work

I don’t usually put techie stuff on here, but I wanted to talk about what, in my view, is the best web development environment you can have for a freelancer or a small team, especially if you’re pushed for space and have a restrictive budget. Now I don’t care what other people think but I believe that if you’re involved in designing interfaces and user experiences, and especially if you’re in any way involved in typography, you should be on a Mac. I live in Tokyo, so space is at a premium, therefore I use a MacBook Pro to save space and also to give myself the option of working in a cafe or while traveling. After all, with the right amount of RAM the MBP is as powerful as a desktop, give or take. Having said that, for design work the screen on the laptop is probably not sufficient, so I also have an Apple Widescreen Cinema Display. I usually run the MacBook Pro in clamshell mode when it’s connected to the Cinema Display, although it is of course possible to use the laptop screen as a second monitor. I have a wired network at home because speeds are reliable that way, and I don’t want to be bathed in constant radiation living in such a small apartment. At the center of this is the network hub which is in turn connected to the broadband router. The network hub allows me to easily add other machines to the network should I be working with someone else on a project and also connects to the server which is a Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is perfect as a server as it is small, silent and energy efficient. The great thing about Mac OS X is that I can schedule it to shutdown and startup at any given time. Right now it automatically shuts down at midnight (I seldom work past that time nowadays) and then restarts at 8.00am. This saves power and is therefore better for the environment. When the server starts up, Apache and MySQL start up automatically too and I don’t have to do anything. The server sits on a bookshelf and has no keyboard or mouse connected to it. If I need to administer the server, I just open up Mac OS X’s screen sharing feature and do everything through there. Backups are made through Mac OS X’s Time Machine to an external HD, so client’s work and all other data on both the workstation and the server is safe should anything happen. Couple this with SVN version control for scripts and it’s all I will ever need for my home development environment. It’s not even that expensive!


3Waves Japan Market Research

3Waves Japan Market Research

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).


Shinjuku Marui’s All New 6


Marui department store has a poetic and beautiful new promotion in the form of ‘All New 6 (senses)’. I didn’t have the perseverance or the time to decipher the Japanese text juxtaposed over the sepia toned stop frame animations of small model characters living out their lives in various locations in Tokyo, but that didn’t matter. The music and the atmosphere of this piece will draw you in, and then demonstrate to you a side of the marketing sensibility in Japan not often seen in other countries, certainly not in the west. One of haunting, wistful moodiness. A bit strange and sinister. It reminds me of watching those strange eastern European animations on TV when I was a kid.


Web Trends Map 4 from iA

Web Trend Map 4

The awe-inspiring web/info design agency, Information Architects in Tokyo have released the 4th version of their popular Web Trend Map. It’s such a great idea, and it’s so well executed – why not check it out for yourselves Google Maps style. This was no small feat of production either. I saw the pics of them examining the enormous A0 sheet at the Japanese printing company (that also happens to produce Apple Japan’s printed material), and the end result shows that an enormous amount of care and attention has gone into this one, and that’s without even thinking about the research component.


Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo Calendar

Uniqlo’s continuing viral campaign perpetrated through lots of great Flash mini-sites never ceases to be awesome. The latest one to launch, called Uniqlo Calendar, features time-lapse photography of various locations in Japan given the tilt-shift photography treatment also known as miniature-faking, where a very shallow depth of field often found in macro photography is simulated thus giving pictures of life-size subject matter the appearance of a tiny model. Flawlessly executed as usual with characteristically quirky and hip background music, I’m left eagerly anticipating the screensaver (the link on the site says ‘coming soon’, unfortunately).

This newest viral joins a raft of others: Uniqlock, Uniqlo Paper, Uniqlo Grid, Uniqlo Mixplay and Uniqlo Try. I may have missed some, there’s that many.


And Now For Something Completely Different…


There’s a new creative agency in the UK called Displayground, an exceptionally talented group of designers, producers and creatives. I produced the Flash component of their new site, which involved incorporating some of the company’s ambitious ideas. You’ve got a mix of traditional stop-time animation, clay models, motion graphics, and vector shapes coming together to create a really original site. Design and photography credits go to the boys in the studio under creative director Mat Glover. The free-roaming orbs took a while to program and no mistake.


An Interview With Me

I did an interview for the web designer review site Spicy Web Designers. I haven’t got much else to say, I just wanted to share the link. Thanks for reading!


Web Designing Magazine

Web Designing Magazine

Last week I picked up a copy of Web Designing Magazine from Parco Ikebukuro. Actually, I’ve seen it in the magazine section of other book stores since, so I think it’s got pretty good circulation. Certainly better than Monocle, which is extremely hard to find in Japan, although it is all in English which might have a lot to do with it.

Web Designing is all in Japanese, but you can certainly get the jist of it, and it unearths some great new websites and profiles some great producers. It even deconstructs several websites in this issue, offering an insight into other designers’ creative use of CSS, XHTML and images. It’s a little bit expensive at ¥1280, but if you’re in the industry, you should grab yourself a copy.

Front cover is by Prismgirl.


The Internet is Changing

The Internet is Changing

By 2009 the powers that govern the internet will put in place a new system for dealing with domain names (web addresses). Companies and organisations having the money to do so, will be able to create their own custom suffixes. Instead of .com and .net, you will start to see a new range like .sport and .news, etc. This comes at the right time, because most of the current top level domains like .com and .net are already taken. This will create more possibilities for new combinations of words and suffixes used in urls. The first of these should start to appear towards the end of 2009.


Similar Domain, Different Stephen David Smith

I just checked, 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 (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