Archive for category Culture

Date: October 21st, 2011
Cate: 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.

Date: September 19th, 2010
Cate: Culture

How to Achieve Security in Gated Communities

Earlier I posted about the Japanese apartments, equipped with security cameras for the sake of security. But when I see how people take security measures in China, I feel that there are stronger security concerns there.

Though not every one, many residents have brought in their bicycles inside the building to prevent people from stealing. In some cases, that meant some funny outlooks, like part of a bicycle sticking out from the window like the image above. Note that these buildings, mostly built in 80s, reach up to 6 or 7 stories (the rumor is that this was the maximum height they could build back then) and do not come with elevators: So residents who wish to secure their bicycles will have to carry up the stairs.

The sense of security can also be found from their doors. Doors were often doubled, to make sure they cannot be easily cracked. Each flat had their own selection of a door and a security gate, as apartments those times typically were not equipped with anything. Every single item, including the entrance door, had to be purchased and stalled individually.

This also makes me wonder how people feel about their own security. With the risk of your territory, even inside of the building or your very own door can be invaded, how far will you stretch your security concerns and take protective measures? When people see a stranger inside of the building, can they still dismiss as a visitor of your neighbor, or will you feel alarmed? Unlike Japan, where infrastructure seems to give visible and tangible assurances, here in Shanghai, people would probably would probably feel that security needs to be realized on their own. And certainly, that is perhaps the reason why we found out that many of these communities hold an election every year, to select their leader, who are typically retired, to use their time to represent their community and take their own protective measures against the possible crimes.

It would be interesting to see as the technology evolves, how people’s measures and concerns on the security could change. And while residents may find their neighbors being more nosy and overly engaging, I found it somewhat assuring that people have reasons to interact within these communities.

Date: September 18th, 2010
Cate: Culture

How to advertise your repair business

While we visited Xiao Qu, a typical gated community in Shanghai, found out phone numbers of electricity repair on no other than the electricity meter. In fact, any meter was accommodated with relevant repair information, here we observed not only electricity but plumbing service and PC repairs.

Clever whoever advertised the business as they did not use stickers which could be taken away; instead, numbers were stained with hard ink so it cannot be replaced.

Date: September 16th, 2010
Cate: Culture
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Keep Your Chopsticks Clean

In an exclusive restaurant in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, where we were welcomed by two pairs of chopsticks: On the right are the public chopsticks, which you could use to reach out to dishes served for sharing, and another pair, for more personal use, which is primarily for serving food into your mouth.

Despite of primarily living in Beijing earlier, it was first time to encounter such a thing. I think I have been to restaurants considered to be fairly upscale, but never had a chance.

Another, is at a food court near Carrefour, also in Chengdu. Here we found a chopstick cleaner, which basically disinfects the tip of each chopstick. Fascinating, as it moved back and forth to somewhat emphasize the cleaning process. It somewhat reminded me of staring into the washing machine as the drum washes my clothes.

It is interesting to compare this against some of the habits I have observed. Whenever we went to a fairly casual, street-style restaurants in Chengdu, our research staff from Shanghai always washed tips of his chopsticks with tea in his cup. The sense of sanitary and consequences seem to be spreading out here in China as well.

Date: August 13th, 2010
Cate: Culture, Photo of The Day
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Anti Mosquito Incense

Just when you think that some objects cannot come in any other shape, you can be easily proved wrong simply by being elsewhere. As we had dinner in an Italian restaurant called 100 feet in Bangalore, I was stunned by the shape of the Anti-Mosquito Incense casually placed right next to me.

The reason why I was so shocked was, in Japan, the product only comes in a circles, without any kind of angles involved. Apart from the Japanese members of the research team, no one seem to notice how surprising this is.

Functionality is the same, utility is the same, save for the execution in production.

Date: August 8th, 2010
Cate: Culture

Hero Honda Haiku Honda

Some names that seem totally unappealing to one market, could be accepted completely the opposite in another.

Hero Honda was something I could imagine as a name of a motorbike. Hero Honda, that sounds strong and quite masculine. While Haiku Honda, was something else. Haiku, a Japanese poetry popular for rather mature generation, did not seem like something I would associate with motorbikes.

Date: August 7th, 2010
Cate: Culture, Photo of The Day

A Gas Cilinder and A Kitchen Unmatched

A setup we observed in Bangalore. You can see there is a gas cylinder that is distributed to every household with a gas consumer card and a gas cooker. “I don’t understand,” said my Indian friend, “Whoever built this kitchen should know that every household comes with one of these gas cylinders. Why don’t they think about setting up one shelf so we could fit this in?” Indeed, height-wise, these cylinders appear they could make way underneath the kitchen countertops; yet because of the narrow shelf doors they have placed, there is no chance these bulky nuisance gas tanks could be hidden anywhere.

The observation does reminded me, that being under a certain environment, is one thing, and making use of that unconsciously accumulated knowledge and to reflect it onto your work, is another thing. Had the constructor had the imagination about a resident, who tries to work around the kitchen he has made; had he considered the resident’s satisfaction and reflected his learning and made the kitchen so that it will accommodate a gas cylinder that would be there all the time; the ergonomics of the space could have been so much better. At least, I would not have had to worry about myself hitting against the tank every morning.

Date: August 4th, 2010
Cate: Culture, Photo of The Day

Two Wheeler as a Family Vehicle

Now I know that motorbikes are for the family rather than for an individual. In Bangalore, India.

Date: June 27th, 2010
Cate: Culture


Recently I have rediscovered Origami, ori meaning to fold and gami the paper, thanks to my daughter who goes to the daycare. My daughter is only three-years-old and obviously most children cannot fold at this age. But their progress is amazing, as in one year or two, most learns a few tricks and could make things on their own.

As the name suggests, origami is really about folding. Once the paper is folded, there are lines made on the paper which enables you to bend nicely. Particularly with classic Japanese paper, which is made out of bark not pulp, papers were rather coarse and had been strong. So even after making one piece, you can unfold and start all over again and make something new. Quite a few of the Origami artworks, such as sachet or box-shaped, are results of such exploratory minds in past, as they are more practical than being decorative.

A typical origami artwork does not involve any paper cutting during the process. To begin with there are only few basic folding methods:
- Fold inwards
- Fold outwards
- Fold and open (to make some marks or lines which help you to fold at certain angle later on)
- Place your finger inside the folds and open
Unless you are trying to create something very complicated, most pieces can be made by using these four tricks.

Things I photographed here are only few examples how simple folding could change a piece of paper into something so three dimensional. This one below is a watch, my daughter’s favorite. Whenever her teacher makes one like this for her, she has fun drawing arrows or numbers to make it a digital or an analog version.

If you use two papers and combine them into one, there’s the boy’s favorite, Ninja’s shuriken, a throwing knife.

And this one is for the ladies. The piece is called a lip color sachet, which was the purpose of the shape earlier. As you can see, there is a small pocket to put thin items inside.

Then there is this shirt-shaped, which is teenager’s favorite. Why teenagers? Because they tend to pass paper slips during the class. Or, at least they used to, when there was no mobile phones. Typically you write messages inside and fold into shirt-shaped. This way, the message inside would remain secret even if you get some help from the others to pass it on.

Now that I come to think of it, Origami is very inspirational as it hardly uses any glue or scotch tapes. Yet once made, they become toys, decorations, and packages.

I hope you forgive me as pieces I have made are pretty basic. I know most of the fellow Japanese readers could do much more than this, something even more complex, or perhaps original and creative.

Date: June 26th, 2010
Cate: Culture

Categorizing Your Wishes

Outside of most large temples in Japan, you can find numbers of wooden tags hanging from a rack. Wooden tags are sold for 2-4 EUR at the temple, and visitors can purchase and write their wishes and hang them there.

While tags are often shaped rectangularly, here I came across something different as we climbed up the Takao mountain. Since this is the place you should use your legs and make effort to visit, the temple is believed to be good for praying one’s health and in particular, healthy legs.

In reflection to such a belief, here tags came in Geta, a sandal shape. A minute detail that reminds the visitor what effect this temple potentially has on you.