Tokyo 2011 Observations

Jim Hamilton
Jul 14, 2011

I’ve spoken at InfoTrends’ On Demand Japan conference for many years now. My annual visit to Tokyo is a high point of the year because it gives me a chance to visit face-to-face with our Japanese clients and to catch up with InfoTrends employees here. Since I was here last July, of course, Japan has suffered a tremendous natural disaster followed by a nuclear plant accident with long-lasting implications. It’s only been four months since the earthquake and as I arrived I wondered what changes I would see in Tokyo since my last visit.

Here are a few observations:

  • Dimmed lights and wet hands — Power-saving initiatives are subtle yet still noticeable. For example, the lights in subway stations have been dimmed to conserve energy. Trains also run less frequently. In addition, the hand dryers in restrooms have been turned off, and with no towels in sight you are left to air dry your hands or wipe them on your pants. The loss of these air dryers is a shame given that the ones in Japanese restrooms are beautifully designed and actually work (unlike their counterparts in the United States).
Hand dryer in Japan

Hand dryer in Japan

  • No ties and coats — July in Tokyo is typically hot and humid. The requirement to use less energy means that air conditioners have been set at relatively high temperatures (28 degrees centigrade) and are turned off at the end of the work day. Workers are encouraged to arrive early (at 7:30 am, for example) and leave promptly at 4 pm. To compensate for the higher temperatures in the office workers have been permitted to replace their suits and ties with short sleeves. I think this is an excellent trade-off. Even at the higher temperatures the offices are still comfortable and the workers get the benefit of a full summer of casual Fridays (not that you see any t-shirts or jeans). It has been pointed out to me that the conference rooms are typically kept a little cooler in deference to visitors, so employees may have a different take on this trade-off. Still, I was very grateful not to be wearing a dark sports jacket in the hot Tokyo sun while in transit to various customer visits.
Cool Biz

Cool Biz

  • An earthquake welcome — My colleague Kaspar Roos was also in Tokyo for the conference and he arrived about twelve hours earlier than I. This turned out to be just in time for a magnitude 7.0 earthquake off the east coast of Honshu, Japan. At the time, Kaspar was napping in his hotel room after his long trip to Tokyo from the United Kingdom. He described to me a frightening experience as the room shook and the walls groaned. Still, it was barely noticed by the Tokyo population, given how accustomed they are to such tremors.
  • Women’s World Cup Thank You — The Japanese team has had a fantastic run in the World Cup, beating favorite Germany and storming into the final after a victory over Sweden. Japan will finish up this weekend by playing in the final versus the United States. I’ve been watching some of the action in the early morning while in Tokyo. After each of their games the team has carried a banner around the stadium. It says “To Our Friends Around the World, Thank You for Your Support”. It’s a touching gesture, with such meaning for post-earthquake Japan.
  • Where did the QR codes go? — One of the biggest changes I noted has nothing to do with the earthquake. It’s the virtual disappearance of QR codes. Last year they were everywhere. Now, for all practical purposes, they’ve vanished. Our Tokyo colleagues believe that it must have something to do with the success of smart phones and their easy ability to do web searches. Why scan a QR code when you can get to the same place by searching on your iPhone with a few short key words?
  • Automation in Japan — I ate lunch one day in the cafeteria of a large Japanese company. Here’s how you pay for your lunch there: On your way out you place your tray with the plates and bowls on a special table. The system then tells you how much you owe and you pay with a pre-paid card. (It reads sensors that are attached to the bottom of the plates and bowls.) Another interesting development is the use of iPhones, which despite expense and other limitations are quite popular. Two of my colleagues carry an iPhone and an older cell phone. Why? One reason is that they can use their old cell phone to pay for things like cab rides. The iPhone doesn’t support that feature today.

Today we concluded a very successful POD Japan conference that had nearly 80 attendees. After one more client visit in the morning I will head home tomorrow. The flight is a long 12-hour trip and I’ve taken to writing poems in the Japanese haiku form to pass the time. I’ll close with one I wrote today:

Humid Tokyo
So much better in short sleeves
And no suit jacket

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