Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Impressions of Tokyo

I’ve just returned from a week in Tokyo. Having just recovered from the jet lag, I thought I’d share some experiences and impressions about media and technology landscape.

The first thing to say is that Tokyo is a beautiful city. It’s very clean and for the most part rather peaceful. This is helped by the nature of the traffic. Besides the ubiquitous Toyota Crown taxis, almost every other car was either a hybrid or a tiny Kei car – a glimpse into the future of European cities as fuel prices rise and taxes on gas guzzlers become ever more punitive.

Beautiful or not, this year’s earthquake has had significant effects on life in the city. Since the well publicised issues with their generation capacity began, Japan has suffered with undersupply of electricity and this is manifest in the fact that none of the offices I went to were using their air conditioning. Something I hadn’t really appreciated is that modern office blocks are so well insulated that even the body heat of those inside create stifling conditions quite rapidly if the climate control isn’t active. One of my clients have even changed the dress code from suit and tie to short sleeve shirt with no tie to improve employee efficacy in these conditions.

I think this is another example of Japanese ingenuity in problem solving. Although some things (lavatories in particular) are ludicrously over-engineered, there’s an appreciation of elegance in Japanese design, which is attractive. Probably why the iPhone was by far the most common handset I saw. Many people even had two of them – one for business, one for personal. A few people still used the traditional flip phones – principally for their cameras and mobile TV capability. It seems that women under 30 are obsessed by their morning horoscopes – available on breakfast TV and therefore on the mobile broadcast service.

On the subject of mobile, Tokyo has a curiously large amount of microwave towers and overhead cable. The locals weren’t sure what these were. My theory is that they substitute for fibre in shared ducts or price capped fibre backhaul, which I doubt NTT is forced to provide in Japan’s rather weak regulatory environment. My second favourite theory on this is that they provide resilience against fibre breakage in the event of an earthquake. Less likely since the orientation of the dishes would seem as vulnerable as a buried cable. If anyone knows, then let me know!


All in all it was a useful trip. As ever, there was much interest about western market paradigms at the media and technology companies I visited, not to mention amongst my colleagues in the Tokyo office. With a bit of luck I’ll be back there soon as I’d be very interested in seeing what the other cities are like – Tokyo was less of a culture shock than I expected. Either that or all this travelling is making me immune!

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