TokyoMango readers: come to an amazing event I’m hosting in SF next Wednesday

As many of you know, I’ve been working on an amazing project called The Tofu Project over the last several months, where we’re bringing 10 of the most charismatic, world-changing Japanese entrepreneurs to the SF Bay area for a week of design thinking and creative brainstorming led by people at Google, Pixar, Adaptive Path, and IDEO. Well, they’re here–and we just had an amazing Day 1 (Empathy day) yesterday and are about to hit the streets of SF full force on Day 2 (Ideate) with visits to Pivotal Labs and Pixar, plus a very special Nonsense Toy workshop hosted by Maywa Denki, topped off by an epic toast dinner party in SOMA.


Most of the events are private or by invite only, but on the very last day, Nov 2, we’re opening it up to a select group of awesome folks who care about creativity, entrepreneurship, design, and Japan. As you can see we have some amazing speakers like Porter Gale, Matt Flannery, and Dave McClure, good food, fun workshops, plus a chance to meet the Tofu people. Did I tell you they’re amazing?

As TokyoMango readers, you are all invited! Email info (at) thetofuproject (dot) com for a discount code, we’re happy to give you one if you think you need it.

Buy tix to Welcome to The Tofu Project

TokyoMango t-shirts shipped, and Reader Gallery

Dear readers who ordered a TokyoMango t-shirt,

I just went to the local post office and shipped off a boxful of t-shirts, which should get to you within a week or so. Please keep an eye out for yours, if you ordered one. And THANK YOU. It took Ben and me almost three full days to make them, but that’s a good thing because we ended up selling a lot more than we expected — plus, it was fun.

Also, I’d love to do a gallery of photos on the site of TokyoMango readers wearing the t-shirts. Email me a pic to mango [at] tokyomango [dot] com by the end of the month to be a part of it.

Thanks, and have a good weekend!


Lyrics Born to perform at fundraiser for lovely Japanese elderly facility

I often drive by Kimochi, a home for Japanese and Japanese-American elderlies, in San Francisco and think that I would like to live there one day if I’m old and alone. I bet they serve miso soup and rice for breakfast, and watch Japanese TV. That would be a nice comforting space to return to after years of living in the US eating bagels and watching HBO. Kimochi has actually been around since 1971, providing care and services Japanese-style, but they just got a devastating $100K budget cut this summer.

To help out, Bay area rappers of Japanese ancestry are getting together at a fundraiser on October 17th to give a kick-ass performance that will benefit Kimochi. Ok, I have to admit that I have been a fan of Lyrics Born’s music for a little while now, but I had no idea he’s Japanese.

Did you know his real name is Tom Shimura, and that he was born and raised in Tokyo? Apparently he started his career in hip hop at the college radio station at UC Davis. Music video above just hints at how awesome his music is.

Tix are $75 but if you feel inclined to help out a worthy and important cause + attend an awesome hip hop concert… this is going to be well worth your time.

Buy tickets & get more info here.

Get your hand-printed limited edition TokyoMango t-shirt now (2 weeks only)

Picture 2

My friend Ben and I made a test run of TokyoMango t-shirts on Saturday. They’re really nice, do you want one? If so, you can buy one here. Below are the details:

– All shirts are 100% cotton.
– Each t-shirt will be hand-silk screened by me and Ben on his Yudu machine. The shirt logo was custom-designed by Ben. Mango design courtesy of my web designer James.
– The Women’s tees come in a t-shirt style (pistacio and white) and a spaghetti strap ribbed tank (yellow).
– The Men’s tees come in orange and white. In the pic above, Ben is actually accidentally wearing a girl’s tee, but you get the idea… the sleeves will be more manly on the one you get.
– You can choose a custom colored tee for $25. Just shoot me an email with your preference after you place the order.
– The sizes tend to run a little big (except for the tanktops). They might shrink in the wash.
– Some of you will receive a free surprise Japanese toy or gadget with your t-shirt! I’m just gonna randomly stick them into bags, so keep an eye out.
– We’re taking orders over the next two weeks only, at least for this first printing. They’ll ship at the end of those two weeks, when Ben & I will silkscreen them by hand.
– Last day to order is Monday, October 5th.

UPDATE: T-shirts are no longer for sale. Maybe we’ll do another round sometime!

Summary of Joi and Lisa’s session about Japanese obsessions at Foo Camp

IMG_0107On Saturday, August 29th, Joi Ito and I gave an impromptu talk at O’Reilly’s Foo Camp about Japanese otaku culture and how it relates to hacking and Zen Buddhism. The talk wasn’t recorded so we don’t have an exact transcript, but here’s the gist of it:

We started by showing several photos that portray otaku obsessions—rows of figurines on a store shelf, cat cafes, itasha, body pillow covers, a man with his body pillow girlfriend, and a maid cafe bento box with a bunny rabbit drawn on the lid. We also showed some non-otaku photos, like a perfectly designed plate of cooked vegetables at the restaurant Daigo and Yoichiro Kawaguchi’s futuristic sea creatures lined up in front of a Yushima Seido temple. The obsessiveness of otaku culture, we said, can be seen even in more traditional and non-otaku Japanese aesthetic, from food presentation to religious display. And it’s this obsessiveness—which clearly goes beyond economical or functional rationale—that enables the precision manufacturing, cleanliness, punctuality, and politeness that we think of as stereotypically Japanese.

Joi noted that the caste system of Japan probably plays a role in this obsessiveness. For generations, people have been taught to be happy perfecting their role in society, without necessarily viewing social or financial gain as a measurement of their success—it’s the shokunin culture in which focusing on one job allows one to obsess with abandon until they reach perfection on a very local level. As examples, we mentioned waiters working for no tip and the guy at Narita airport whose only job is to tell people that their checked-in bags are on the revolving belt. As an example of obsession reaching a perfected end, Joi mentioned ukiyo-e, a type of woodblock printing that was popular during the Edo period. According to Professor Mitsuhiro Takemura, a media design scholar at Sapporo City University, the art form was essentially made more simple and abstract through rapid iterations until it reached obsessive perfection, and that was where innovation in this genre ended. (The actual end of ukiyo-e is attributed to the Meiji Restoration.)

Continue reading

Photos from New People World, the new J-pop center in SF


I finally visited New People World, the new entertainment complex in San Francisco’s Japantown. It’s small, but really cool! The shop has tons of awesome design-y Japanese things that I actually wanted to own, the cafe has delicious — albeit overpriced ($10!) — pork cutlet sandwiches, the art exhibit by Yoshitaka Amano was stunning, and I really want to go back to see the Yayoi Kusama movie at the cinema.


This is the 6% Doki Doki store, where you can buy super cute hair accessories and colorful earrings that spell out Japanese words like “arigato.”


This amazing piece of art by Yoshikata Amano was made specifically for the US showing of his exhibit, Deva Loka. It’s created much like the way a car is painted — with automotive paint on aluminum. And if you look carefully, it actually spells out “America” in katakana. アメリカ. The photo does it no justice, but all his works are strikingly bold and amazing! This one’s price tag was around $40-50K. Made me wish I had real money to spend on art.

New People World home page

Panel to seriously discuss ramen later this month

89For those of you in SF who love ramen, there are no awesome ramen joints in the area but there will be a panel discussion, For the Love of Ramen, at the Ferry building on June 24. It will feature a pretty interesting panel of academics and journalists who have given serious thought to the sociocultural and gastronomic significance of ramen.

More info here. (Thanks, Daniela!)

Video: My talk at Ignite SF

Here’s a very nicely edited video of my 5-minute slideshow presentation at Ignite SF at the Mezzanine (a night club) on April 1st. There was a technical glitch, and you can see me give the slidemaster a dirty look when it starts getting screwy. It was fun though—I am grateful to have had the opportunity to face that kinda situation in front of hundreds of people. Next time I won’t freak out, I promise.

Japanese gadgets and toys at Ignite SF
Download it from iTunes

Famous Japan writer Donald Richie in Berkeley April 21

Picture 1Donald Richie, one of the most respected living Japan writers of today, will be giving a talk about Japanese film at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on Tuesday, April 21. He is the author of books like Old Kyoto: The Updated Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns and The Inland Sea. His newest book is A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, which is kind of entering into Richie’s brain—it’s written in a free form, random rambling thought type of way. Man, I wish I could gain enough cred so that I can get my random thoughts published one day.

More info about the event here.

Come see my slideshow at Ignite SF next Wednesday

Ignite-san-franciscoIf you missed my talk on Japanese tech and toys at ETech because it was in San Jose (or because it was like $1500 to attend the conference) come check out the 5-minute, 20-slide version at Ignite SF, the kick-off event for the Web 2.0 Expo next Wednesday, April 1st, at 8:30-ish PM. Especially if you’re my friend, you have to come, because I’ve never given a talk in front of 700 people so I need moral support. It’s at the Mezzanine, which is a big nightclub. (Last time I went there was to see a band. I think it was CSS.) Also, I will be joined by several other super cool, good-looking tech-y men and women on stage.

Ignite SF at the Mezzanine + event page on FB