Browsed by
Month: October 2012

Adventures in Japan – 21 Years Ago Today

Adventures in Japan – 21 Years Ago Today

Yesterday marked the 21st anniversary of the day that I left Australia as a recent university graduate, and embarked on a 2 year adventure in Japan. Arriving late in the evening to the hustle and bustle of the metropolis that is Tokyo, I checked into the Sunshine City Prince Hotel in Ikebukuro. So in reality, my first full day in Japan was 21 years ago today.
Having recently completed my undergraduate studies, this adventure marked a turning point in 2 major aspects of my life. I was starting out on a career in the IT industry, but my major impetus for coming to Japan was to further my karatedo studies with the hereditary head of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, So Shihan Masayuki Hisataka (Hanshi, 9th Dan). Of course, I also wanted the adventure of a life in a country that has so many magical and intriguing customs as Japan.

On my first day, I awoke a little late. Jetlag, perhaps, but also a sense that jumping deep end into Tokyo’s famous peak hour would be a challenge that could wait. I negotiated breakfast with my rudimentary Japanese language skills at nearby McDonalds, then made contact with the company where I would commence work in 3 weeks, NCR Japan. I visited the offices, and arrangements were made for me to move in to a company-owned apartment building, with an apartment to myself for a rent of just Y120,000 per month. I was truly fortunate, and to this day am thankful to my parent’s friend, Warren, for arranging employment contacts with NCR Japan. I also made arrangements for commencing work on 1 November.

Afterwards I explored Tokyo – heading first to Asakusa and the wonderful Shrine there, before heading to the bustle of Shinjuku. I went to Shinjuku knowing that the Kenkokan Dojo was (and is) in that Ward. Having a late lunch there, I explored a while, before using my map book to guide me to the dojo. I realised quickly that Shinjuku was a big ward, and 1 1/2 hours later arrived at the dojo in Waseda.

The children’s class was underway, but Hisataka sensei was not there. I waited with a Japanese fellow by the name of Miyazato-san, who was a senior black who had just arrived home after a work posting abroard. Hisataka sensei arrived at around 7.30pm that evening, about 30 minutes after the seniors class started, and greeted Miyazato san and I welcomingly, and ushered upstairs to his office for tea and a talk.

Although I had previously met Hisataka sensei on several of his visits to Australia, and I had communicated my intention to come to Japan by mail, I presented him with letters of introduction from the then heads of Australian Shorinjiryu Karatedo, Phil Hooper shihan and Scott Brown shihan. I was made to feel very welcome, and then joined the dojo training. After training, Hisataka sensei took me to dinner at a local eatery, and later I rushed to get the train back to Ikebukuro where my hotel was.

It was an exhausting, productive and interesting day to say the least. And it remains a clear memory in my mind. It was the start of an amazing adventure.

My Thoughts on Maps

My Thoughts on Maps

Since the release of iOS 6 and iPhone 5, there has been a lot of chatter about maps, in particular, the new Maps app on iPhone. Now I don’t have an iPhone 5, but have updated to iOS 6 on both my iPhone 4S and iPad. To me the overall direction of iOS is great, with a bunch of new features that make sense.
But I would have to agree that on the surface, the new Maps (lets call it “Apple Maps”) app seems to be a very “version 1.0” release, especially when compared to the previous Maps app, powered by Google data (lets call that “Google Maps” for ease). There is a lot of discussion going around about the pros and cons of Apple Maps, and about why Apple chose the timing to release a product that is immature.

This has got me thinking about just how important maps are. I am fascinated by relationships, and how individuals form communities to survive and thrive. In many respects, maps provide a visual representation of the evolution of communities.

As a kid, my parents, grandparents and family friends gave me the building blocks and my parents gave me a whole spare room to set up a model train set. Whilst the train set itself was absorbing and cool, I loved building the townships around the stations, including model buildings, roads, etc. The trains themselves represented the linkage between the towns.

Just before my 21st birthday, just after I graduated from my undergrad degree, I moved to Tokyo, Japan, in order to start my career in the IT industry, and to further my pursuit of karate. This was just on 21 years ago (in less than 2 weeks time), and I was going for 12 months, although this extended to almost 2 years.

Before leaving for Japan, I acquired 2 books that I thought would be useful – the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, and an Atlas of Tokyo, including the various Wards of the city, Subways, rail systems and more. At 20 million residents, Tokyo is a huge city, and it was daunting for a guy who had grown up in Gunnedah, before going to boarding school and university in Brisbane.

On arrival, I had a couple of weeks before starting my job, so I set out, atlas in hand, to explore the city and surrounding places like Kamakura and Kawasaki. I would go somewhere that seemed interesting, get off the train when it seemed cool, and just wander about. When my interest levels declined, I would try to find my way back to the nearest station, and go on to the next place.

This was a good test to develop both my Tokyo navigation abilities and my Japanese language skills. That 2 weeks remains one of the most valuable experiences of life to date, despite the fact that I’ve now traveled to many other cities, countries and continents.

Whenever I go anywhere new, I love to have a local map, preferably before arriving. If nothing else, I get an inkling into what lies in wait, and where I might find resources and cool things to see.

Life is in many respects a collection of cool experiences, and those experiences are built on the relationships between peoples, and the monuments that represent those relationships. Maps are a portable, visual summary of these.

The changing boundaries on maps also represent the changes in societies and cultures. Heck, the world atlas of 21 years ago has entire countries on it that no longer exist, and others that do now that didn’t then. A map has to be quite up to date to be useful.

My iPhone, iPad and notebook computer are my principle mapping devices. I use them to pre-explore new places, and go back and reminisce about old ones.

So my message to Apple is that I am (maybe like many other users) willing to give you a chance to get your stuff together. Your devices are an incredible way to view and explore. But the data has to be current and up-to-date, and the product needs to be easy to use, and it needs to look good. Whilst 2 out of 3 usually aint bad, I look forward to having a powerful, wonderful mapping experience in my iDevices again soon!