Autumn in Japan, and some observations

We paid Tokyo and Osaka a visit last fall, following up on my life’s goal of visiting Japan at least once every two years, and nothing disappointed — not the food, people, weather, galleries, nor multi-storey complexes designed to make me buy media and electronics. As Craig Mod alluded to recently on Twitter, Tokyo is a place that fulfills the city’s promise as a tool for human life.

The thing I love about its density and intensity is how that translates into support for all manner of subcultures and obscure hobbies. Today, you can barely find a functioning and interesting bookstore in Singapore, while in Tokyo it’s not just bookstores that thrive. One can wander into massive stores selling model train and forest diorama-building supplies, or records curated from a specific period, or vintage camera parts emporiums. We’re not large enough to incubate that kind of diversity, and the city dweller’s life suffers for it.

The retail industry in Singapore is in decline, or so the news outlets tell us every day. I wonder if they ring the same alarm bells in Japan. Online shopping and its infinite inventory can fill the gap a brick & mortar apocalypse would leave behind, but digital ~~replaces~~ overwrites our collective memory of browsing and inspecting these items in a physical space. I think it’s really important we don’t lose that, because, as one of my company’s founders is fond of saying, technology might change fast but people fundamentally don’t.

Already, music as a physical retail experience is a fading memory in most parts of the world, and even Apple’s efforts to replicate some of CD/vinyl packaging’s content and appeal in the digital realm is now officially a failed experiment with the closure of iTunes LP.

Maybe the coming age of mixed reality and ultrahaptics can bring some of that back. I’ve been thinking for awhile about how AR’s power to repurpose our environments to showcase and elevate digital media applies equally to commerce. The technology to turn your hallway into a Tower Records-like “Recommended” rack is still far away, but the need for it is relatively urgent. Assuming we are one of the last generations to experience the golden age of physical retail firsthand, this gives us a small window to design the thing that bridges the gap to digital.

Anyway, some random observations from this go round:

  • Wireless headphones are beginning to take hold. You can walk into a Donki or Labi or other electronic store and pick up a basic pair of Bluetooth buds (Elecom or similar level brand) for about USD$30 or less.
  • Mobile app advertising (to be specific, games) on TV is still a huge thing. The one game I remember best: a Korean-made title called Destiny Child which had some impressively fluid anime-style character animations in the CM, but I have no idea what the actual gameplay looks like. Smoke and mirrors, probably. It’s not available in English yet, but I’d love to play it.
  • Toy franchises: Yeah the usual ones are still around, especially the immortal Pokémon brand, but I saw a lot of shelf space devoted to something called “The Snack World”, which seems to be a new 3DS game from Level-5 (who also made Yokai Watch). An international release seems planned for 2018, so look out for that to be big with kids.
  • Burning tobacco is on the way out in one of the last remaining countries where smoking still seems attractive and isn’t banned everywhere. A new wave of vaporizing systems, from Marlboro’s iQOS and Japan Tobacco’s Ploom, is becoming prominent. One telling sign: the duty-free cigarette shelves as you leave are completely sold out of these refills. Japanese residents leaving the country buy them all up. The majority of people smoking around the airport are on iQOS or one of the others.

Photo time! I’d just gotten a new iPhone X before the trip, so that’s all I brought. Most shots were taken with the default camera app and edited with Darkroom. Normally, I do destructive edits in something like VSCO and discard the originals, but in this case I wanted to keep Live Photos and all the info in case I needed them later. In some tricky lighting conditions, I used Lightroom Mobile’s camera mode, shooting HDR in RAW.


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