March 10th, 2012
Photo of The Day



Kesennuma is a harbor city, and any Japanese who hears the name of the city would think of great catch of bonitos and varieties of fish from there. When the bonito season came last year, the media covered about the amazing recovery despite of the harsh situation. But interestingly, I only remember the liveliness and the normalness the media has covered about the fish market. The surroundings that I have seen with my own eyes described quite different stories. The building which houses the market shows its bare structure, the sea level looks high because of the entire ground sinking for 80 cm, and the road in front of the market still looking temporary.

And as you drive along this road, you see that the large fish boat which was carried away with is now left as the water left it: When we visited Kesennuma last year, although the road divided the coastline and the boat, I casually presumed that the boat will be moved to demolish somehow. However, as electric wires and street lights are placed alongside the road, which is absolutely necessary to recover the everyday lives, it seemed quite definite that this large fish boat would remain to its state for the unforeseen future.

As we talked with the local fishermen in Karakuwa, whose house is above 7 meters from the sea level however, was flooded, described that the current status of this fish boat is somewhat painful to see for anyone in his profession. Fish boats, small or large, they go through a ceremony to place a soul inside after its first sale. “Any fish boat, has a soul when it goes ashore. Fish boat is a woman, and a close one.” He told us. The current state of this boat, not even in the water, still appears to him as something, or someone, who is more than a large piece of metal.

Previously 80% of the people who live in Kesennuma have been engaged in fishing industry. The city which had approximately 80 thousand population is losing population as the industry is heavily hit, and has been reported to have less than 70 thousand residents as of February 2012.

March 9th, 2012
Photo of The Day



In some cases, it comes down to a single image to describe the merciless power of nature. The entire wall which easily measures five meters or higher, shows that the water that came right in front has created a huge hole as it tried to find its way out towards the city of Kesennuma. It maybe hard to believe, however, but this is a building used to be Michi No Eki, a Roadside Station providing a resting area and local product shops for tourists. Despite of its damage, this is one of the very few traces of any building indicating this area had been in fact a city. And the link to an image taken before the 3.11 shows how different the building looked before.

Although the surroundings have been cleaned up, there is a buoy way above the ground, stuck on this building.

Because of the snow, the rest of the areas look as if it were a farmland, however, once you start looking carefully, you will see gray geometric patterns, showing that they are once the foundation of homes and the entire flat surface was a large city.

March 6th, 2012
Photo of The Day

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What you see is what you don’t see

A scene from the harbor of Karakuwa district in Kesennuma. The flocking seagulls and how much the boat is barely floating over the sea informs the people on the coastline – mostly women waiting for their men’s safe arrival – how successful today’s catch was. The photo was taken in November, when salmons come back to the river.

Such ‘codes’ – these small elements of nature and the boat condition – are sufficient indication of the today’s catch, but only to the ones who know them. I myself, although have been standing there along with the fishermen’s wives for over half an hour, did not notice anything until one of them explained to me about the successful catch of the day.

Karakuwa district, now a part of Kesennuma city, is originally a small village with its unique history. Karakuwa, with its unique geographical characteristics of having inner bay area but with a good access to the pacific ocean, and have quite a steep mountain shortly after the coast line, never developed a typical agriculture-based economy like in most parts of Japan. People in Karakuwa either worked in sea, or in the mountains, which most of the time, separated not only their livelihoods but their culture.

But one man, Mr. Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, who runs an oyster farm, have found something astounding approximately 20 years ago. He has realized that this steep mountain is the source of rich minerals that pour directly into the inner sea that make his oysters rich and tasty. Since then, he has been into the forestry and has been working on the healthy eco system.

But just like in the other parts of Kesennuma, Karakuwa was not able to avoid the tsunami which struck the area so heavily. After a casual conversation with the fishermen and their wives, I soon found out that many of them do have work but no home; they are either in shelters, or coming to work from their relatives homes. And it was quite striking as they described that they consider themselves being lucky for having something to do during the day, rather than gambling in Pachinko areas that are today have become so successful with the people who have lost their jobs and have some charitable money from the government.

At this point of time, it struck me that despite of the time I was spending at this harbor, I wasn’t looking at any code or sign at all, apart from the obvious: which was the ground level which sank 80cm, which made it impossible for trucks to approach the coastline without sinking. The fishing boat, which was quite basic and did not even have the proper motor to bring the fish out of the boat, was in fact, one of the very few old boats that survived the tsunami because it was placed inside the garage. And unlike many harbors where you would see colorful flags swinging in the air to indicate which fishing team the boat belongs to, we only see a twig and a small flag in the air.

After the fishermen released their catch into the trucks, they headed back to the shore now to catch sardines: Sardines, they are used as baits for bonitos, and provided to the boats that come from all over Japan. On that day the particular boat I have seen was from Saga, Kyushu. To an ignorant’s eye, the very fact that these people are working so hard to sustain other fishermen’s catch was quite strange. However, perhaps this is how the fishing business goes. Although the result of these hard work may not result in a great income, having that chain of business running maybe vital for the fishing industry to sustain.

And to end this post, some facts I have learned from the fishermen:
- The average age of the fishermen in this area is over 60 years old.
- Even for the fairly successful fishermen, the annual income could be around 2.5 million yen; which is below the average income of the Japanese household.
These two simple facts already suggest that simply bringing back the boats and the distribution won’t be a solution. Many of the coastlines affected by Tsunami would require fundamentally different approaches for the better community and its industry.

January 2nd, 2012


Japan Emergency/Holiday Hospital Situation

The service design around Japanese hospital system (particularly in case of emergency/holiday situ) is horrendous.

Most Japanese hospitals are closed for a coming few days. First I called public number to consult if my daughter’s case requires immediate attention. The lady says yes as ears are sensitive.

Then I was requested to call another public number to find out which hospitals are open today. They told me that these are only a static information and requires me to call to these mentioned hospitals directly to make sure they are open.

Then I called to both hospitals only to be told that where I live differs from their ‘jurisdiction’ – though those two hospitals are much closer, they asked me to go to the hospital in Nakano, which my residence area is covered.

So my daughter and I went – indeed she was developing an ear disease. The doctor prescribed her medicine, however, the nurse reminds me that neighboring pharmacies are all closed and we should look for one that is open on our own.

I went to 5, 6 pharmacies, naturally all closed. Felt that I am out of luck and called one of the two hospitals (the friendlier one), which she was earlier rejected. The doctor was kind enough to understand this odd situation. Because that hospital is large enough to prescribe the medicine in-house. So after four hours of struggle, the only thing accomplished is that my daughter takes a two-hours errand and was diagnosed to confirm the symptom.

Now leaving for another hospital. Nice way to start a year.

October 21st, 2011
Culture, Experience, services

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Nine Hours – Capsule Hotel Experience

I wonder if you have ever heard of a term Capsule Hotel – an inexpensive accommodation, which allows you to sleep on a mattress placed inside a pod. Capsule hotels were once extremely successful, however, became a minor business. To begin with, the facility was never considered as an option for women. Confined and tasteless, the facility was considered for salarymen, who didn’t care much about the esthetic comfort. As Japanese economy declined, there were fewer reasons for Japanese businessmen to stay in these cheap hotels after work or work-related dinners overnight. And it did not help that there are competitors like 24-hour opened Manga Cafes in town, offering you with private rooms and comics to read.

Last year an interesting Capsule Hotel called Nine Hours opened in Kyoto. Photographs we see from their websites and Good Design Awards presented the facility as if it was a small design hotel.

Yesterday taking the opportunity of visiting Kyoto, I eagerly booked a room, no, a pod.

Just like I have seen on websites, the place was clean and approachable. As soon as you enter, you are attacked by white. From walls, ceilings, to reception desks, they come in bright white.

As the receptionist explains the system, you realize that the hotel made a lot of effort to segregate men and women, perhaps, for the sake of the comfort for women. Men and women, they take separate lifts, which is essential, as shower rooms and beds are on different floors.

After check-in, you can go up to the locker/shower room on the third floor (if in woman’s case that is). Inside the locker you will find room wear, or more commonly known as pajamas, toothbrush, and hair products.

What I particularly impressed was the shower area. As soon as you open an individual door that leads to a changing space, you see that there are two more glass doors in front of you. The first door leads you to the shower space, then the next door to the common bath. I was also impressed by the fact the door can be locked so that while you are in the bath, your belongings will be beyond reach from others.

Once you are ready, take a lift once again and go to the sleeping floor. The locker key you receive at the reception indicates not only the locker ID but also the pod for you to sleep in.

But when everyone sleeps so closely, next to each other, how can we wake up in the morning, without waking the others? The pod comes with some sort of an alarm clock, which controls the dimming of the light inside the pod. Once you set the time to wake-up, the light will gradually fade away. And in the morning, you realize that the light around you gets stronger as the time approaches. By the time the clock hits your wakeup time, the entire pod will be flashy white, which will most likely kick you out from a deep sleep.

To sum up, how was my experience? Well, if you cannot stand other people’s hair lying in the shower room, I suggest you don’t try. And if you cannot stand being awaken by the footsteps of the others, I don’t recommend the experience, either. For me, the place made me realize that I am not missing much although I may not have had much personal space. And the fact that the place was not packed also helped, as even though the space was open, I did not have to share much of the time with others and did not feel that I was stared at, or being forced to stare others.

And was I able to sleep well in the pod? Yes, I surprisingly did, with some help from my favorite podcasts coming into my ears.

June 6th, 2011
Photo of The Day


Setsuden – Tokyo Metro Way

Tokyo Metro informing today’s electricity supply from the Tokyo Electricity Power Company (TEPCO), using one of their many displays placed next to ticketing gates. The bar shows in proportion to the electricity generated, how much are consumed today.

And the image below is another information displayed alternatively to the image above. This informs that at moment, save for the peak hours, they have reduced frequency of trains by 20%. Note that the icons on the left showing today’s weather, which often has the substantial implication on the electricity consumed by companies and houses thus becoming an immediate threat of maximizing the power usage.

While the intention is noble, we have to remind ourselves that such data has been available for the general public in many countries already. Countries like UK and USA provide many alternatives to who would supply electricity at your home, and such information or even the source of supplies have been clearly stated by the provider. Gas and electricity companies, though became private, still have traces of being a public sector, and primarily a monopoly. As a result, until the Fukushima became an issue, there were not much need in informing others in any open manner.

Many application developers are trying to make use of the data. It is a first step, but before we start praising them, should remind ourselves that there are companies like EDF, and how much more could be done.

June 6th, 2011
Photo of The Day


Vending machines, Japanese urban landscape without lights

Vending machines are urban landscapes of Japan, where you will find these machines filled up with drinks are placed at almost every corner of the street. Since the Fukushima Powerplant incident, vending machines have turned its light off.

Then, an obvious consequence. Many people thought that the vending machines are not operational and business is not as usual. This vending machine has a bright orange sign placed emphasizing “on sale.”

And some vending machines have subtle but sure signs of social impact. Ito-en, a beverage company known for producing green tea, announces their shortage of supply. We have also known from the media that the company was prompt in distributing their tea bottles to Tohoku region immediately after the earthquake struck. The sign, though simply states that there is not enough tea to be provided in Tokyo area, also brings us to think of their social actions behind.

May 6th, 2011
design research
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Transcribing Interviews on Mac, My Way

How do you deal with your voice recording after the interview? When multiple people can be present at the interview, the team could split their roles as an interviewer and a notetaker. Usually this is enough, however, in some cases, because you have to be there on your own or could not take the note properly, you have to return to the voice recordings.

When project affords, I use transcription services. It is high quality, and I do enjoy when someone else does it for me, as I am quickly released from the stress and anxiety, particularly when I have to conduct multiple interviews in consecutive days and have no idea when I could sit down to make sure that I have not missed important elements from the interview. I also like the sense of not missing any information and the fact that textual information provides me for further analysis.

Despite of its exhausting effort, I must say I am sometimes more satisfied with the outcome when I do it myself. The process allows me to relive the interview and reminds me of the discussion vividly and because of the slow progress, it gives me an opportunity to digest the material like a cow digesting the grass, giving me inspiration and somewhat, urge, to move on with the data to the next level. And maybe, this might be totally irrelevant to some of you, but I personally feel happy that someone else is released from this daunting task; for someone who was not present during the actual interview, even if that person is a professional transcriber, it requires a lot of imagination to understand the flow and the context of the conversation in the audio file.

Below are two approaches I take as I conduct interviews to people, mostly in context of home or work place. First solution is to simply bring a laptop to upon the interview and take notes to the transcription software on a laptop (in this case, Mac). Another solution is a classic pen and paper solution, supported by portable IC recorders.

For interviews with a laptop
(click to jump to

Whether recordings come in video or audio, my favorite application on Mac for the task is PearNote. You can have a trial for 30 days otherwise costs $39.99, which I find it reasonable after knowing the feature.

If you are going to record during the interview from a laptop, the simplest way is to simply record directly to this application. Simply open this application and write down as you record audio. What is great about this application (although there must be numbers of applications which do such things), is that it roughly remembers the location of the cursor as you record. The functionality becomes particularly useful after the interview as you can simply write down a few words and then complete them afterwards as you quickly jump to the recordings as you go.

For interviews without a laptop
But to my experience, in most cases, bringing in a laptop to the interview is not an option. In such cases you can bring in a voice recorder. I suppose people have different preferences over which model to use, but for me important criteria are:

  • Stereo recording. It simply makes it easier for you to recognize who is speaking and grasp the circumstance. Either the voice recorder itself comes with an in-built microphone, otherwise, you can buy one of the accessory microphones to enhance the recording.
  • USB plug-in & charge. Once you become accustomed to the connection without cables, it is difficult to live without. Recent models also enable you to charge not only to transfer data: that is also handy as you can make sure you are ready for next recording as you save data onto your laptop.
  • Compatible file format. Some voice recorders record voice in WMV files, which can only be played on Windows. Because I am a Mac user, I naturally prefer MP3 file format.
  • These criteria narrows down your selection of IC recorder fairly quickly.

    • Sony. As of May 2011 I see they have four series depending on its feature set. Models which fill the above criteria are SX and UX series, two higher end models of the four.
    • Olympus VoiceTrek. I am VoiceTrek user myself. Although my model is relatively old and do not fulfill conditions above, I am quite happy with its audio quality and the lasting battery. Looking at the website, the most high-end model unfortunately do not come cable-free. I personally would recommend V-series for interview purpose.
    • After recording the interview, PearNote once again comes handy. All you have to do is import video or audio file and start transcribing on the editor window. Importing files would require time as the file size increases, and naturally, video would require your some patience to start. But otherwise, the application allows me to have easy AV control. If the interviews are recorded in multiple files, you can import them accordingly, by selecting where to insert the file. And let’s not forget the 30-seconds-rewind button, although this is needless to say the most important functionality you seek in transcription software. The button makes me realizes how dense 30-seconds can be, and how much information can fit in such a small time slot.

      (click to jump to

      What I like about this application is that despite of its reasonable set of features, it appears fairly simple. Because in principle the main text editor is a simple text, you can simply copy and paste a part, or if needed, all the text onto other applications such as Microsoft Word.

      Pear Note:
      Sony IC recorder website:
      Olympus IC recorder website:

    May 3rd, 2011
    design, issue
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    Sendai Subway

    Sendai metro is running regularly though with less frequency. The last few stops, which goes closer to the coastline, are however still out of reach. So in the station called Dainohara, which is currently the last stop, all the passengers get off and continue their way home using free bus. When you get off at Dainohara station, almost every one heads for the same direction to queue. The queue quickly becomes long enough to have 200 people waiting in line to make their way home. Considering this is the biggest city in the region, the fact that the transportation is causing such a long wait is definitely a rare sight in Japan and reminds me of the situation.

    May 2nd, 2011
    design, Insight, issue
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    Changing the Essentials of Carrying

    Mr. Ishii explaining us about Twin Wave, a whistle that can generate sounds in two audible frequencies.

    What do you carry with you and how? I have asked this question many times and through earlier project Where’s The Phone, which one of the main purpose was to understand the diversity, or rather, the concentration of the things people carry in modern times. The answer was fairly consistent, and throughout the research, we constantly saw the presence of mobile phones, cash, and keys.

    The photo above I took in Sendai on March 11th. Mr. Ishii was kind enough and showed us what he carries and how. Mr. Ishii mentioned, that considering the chance of another large earthquake is still high, he has decided to change the way he dress and what he carry. He now wears a fashionable yet practical wind breaker which looks perfect for mountain climbing, where you should keep heat yet release your sweat.

    He also mentioned that he has quite a few things strapped around his neck. What particularly caught my eye was a stylish and sleek whistle called Twin Wave (produced by Kokuyo S&T). This whistle, which costs about 4.5 euros, relatively expensive for a simple plastic, produces two different yet audible sound waves in one blow. The whistle is designed for anyone who is stuck underneath any collapsed construction upon large earthquakes. Other things he carried from his neck included a small book lamp that can be charged via USB stick. He also carried coins in the wallet: “With earthquakes, one of the first things that go down is electricity. And that means you cannot rely on credit cards for transactions, and we all need coins.”

    Not everyone can change the way they dress and what they carry out and about, but what he did prompts us with a great question: What are the challenges we have faced upon large earthquakes and how can we be prepared? And what are the things you carry more, or perhaps less, than how things were before 3.11?