Category Archives: japan

gradual dissemination: the usefulness of touch

going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.

the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).

around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.

suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.

of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.

ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.

suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.

from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.

i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.

stimulus

what types of stimulus allow for maximum imagination of viewers’? and when does the maximum imagination become just too much to make any sense?

it is certainly an important question in designing products for which people’s opinions matter but the present lifestyle and environment does not provide sufficient experiential references to the subject. as for the experience of a researcher/designer, this phase is the most tricky part because it is all about a game of stimulus-interpretation-linkage process, for the researchers, the facilitator, and people participating in the research as opinion givers. personally this phase can be also less fun compared to the exploration phase because of the pressure of making decisions and conclusions. no pain, no gain.

spent last week in these rooms, first time to be back since 2004. it was most refreshing to see once again how vulnerable this method is to numerous factors – the stimulus material, facilitator’s cultural/domain knowledge and ability to improvise, tone of the voice, translation, recruitment, group dynamics, and whatnot.

leaving the packed lunch, caffeine overdose, lack of natural light, and midnight dinners behind, happily landed in singapore for a couple of days.

* top photo: ‘welcome – OL (office lady) or beach girl’, osaka, 2008
* second photo: signage for a strip club, tokyo, 2008

visual examples

as we all know – some messages are delivered much more efficiently by the accompanying visual examples, though they may not be an exhaustive set.

a restaurant/bar in rio putting up a sign saying that they have the right to reject those with inappropriate or ‘minimal’ clothes.

rio scenarium bikini

at the domestic airport in osaka, this post gives a pre-warning that certain types of shoes will be subjected to security inspection before passengers are entering the security check area.

osaka domestic airport

video calls: intrusion potential

i read a short korean newspaper article today about sexual harassment through video calls. illustration below & the original article from kyunghyang.com.

sexual harrassment through video call

according to the article, the reported callers disabled the caller identification so the receiver could not judge who the call was from before deciding to take the video call. one of the victims captured the video call with a camera and reported to the police. the victims said that the received video calls showed either masturbating scenes or exposed genitals. another sexual harassment case was also reported on a man who repeatedly made video calls of sexual nature to his (ex)girlfriend. the article urges a solution to prevent harassment attempts through video calls as their impact on the victims can be more substantial than text based messages or voice calls. particularly, in these cases, police failed to identify the callers through the mobile phone operators because of the caller id protection, which did not seem to have been designed for cases like this. if you can read korean, the original article is found here.

i pick on this as it is a good example of abusing a useful tool: can there be a smart design solution that could prevent or reduces the impact of the abuse without compromising the regular, normal usage (including the phone, calls, and the caller id function itself)? or a solution that would discourage people from attempting so to begin with, like advertising the existence of the surveillance cameras? the intrusion potential does become higher as the bandwidth of information transmitted through each communication session increases as with the potential benefits. furthermore as mobile communication channels diversify, it is important that people can be still in full control: how do i want to be connected and disconnected? this question has so many facets that relevant answers may (have to) come from – device user interface design, communication infrastructural design, legal enforcement, transformation of social norms, personal lifestyles and preferences, competence in using the device. people have incredible ability to adapt to or reject changes and the trade-offs between the cost and the effect will be always assessed before it is fully integrated as a behavioral change.

perhaps my past project called ‘defined delivery‘ may be a slightly related example of a design work on the topic of increasing mobile communication modality and therefore the social sensibility. the zest of the concept was that text messages can be delivered to the recipient in the desirable / desired context as the sender intends to, as this is our natural communication behavior. for voice calls, it is not rare that we ask upfront to the recipient whether it is good time for a call, implying that the caller does not want to interrupt the recipient and/or the call needs to take place in certain contexts – be it the recipient’s physical state or attention level, or the noises from the environment. translating the same principle into text messaging context, we designed and built a new messaging prototype application on Nokia 7650s that enabled the sender to define the context in which the message should be delivered (in fact notified) to the recipient. the prototypes were tested with a group of high school students and the result of this work was presented at CHI 2005, and the presentation can be available upon request to jung at younghee dot com. the official conference paper can be downloaded here (but beware of the boring language if you are not familiar with CHI paper format).

without going further on speculating the specific design solutions to relieve the mishaps of the intrusion potentials of the video calls, i would like to jump onto a simple example on how japanese people came up with solutions against sexual harassments in crowded commuter trains. have you have been to one of those super crowded trains which designated personnel to push people into, wearing white gloves? all illustrations are from other websites – click on the image to go to the webpage where it is originally posted from.
beware of chikan

it is difficult to identify the owner of the hands in an extremely crowded, confined space. and even if you do, it is not easy to deal with the situation when most passengers are under time pressure without being able to move freely. one solution is to designate women-only metro cars during peak hours.
women only metro car

another is to raise the public awareness of the fact that being ‘chikan’ is a criminal act through posters and signs. photo below is from jan’s weblog.
chikan is crime

there are a number of personal mobile accessories designed to prevent ‘chikan’, like a pen-sized stun gun or an alarm buzzer.
alarm pin

the legal system has also developed to promote victims to report cases. but it seems that the side effect is also substantial as once accused, it is difficult for men to get away with it. read these humorous tips for men below about avoiding false accusations of being chikan, with the original article in japanese found here.

[ excerpt from mari’s diary ]
No.1 Don’t stand behind women. especially you should skip beautiful woman.
No.2 If she misunderstands and glares at you, never look away. You should glare at her back. There was a precedent case that the testimony “he looked away, so I was convinced he was the molester” was accepted in the court.
No.3 Unfortunately when you are misunderstood as a molester, you should never go to staff room in the train station with her, even though she insists. The law of criminal procedure permits the immediate arrest by a private individual. If you follow her, it means you are arrested by her and she can turn you in the police. To take the best chance of clearing yourself, you should leave the place after giving your contact address to her.
My friends say they try to read a book using both hands, or one hand in the bag and the other holding on a strap.

proof of freshness

at a casual restaurant in accra, customers order first which items they want on their plates. the prepared plates get these white caps till they are finally handed to the paid customers.

accra restaurant

at a korean restaurant in shanghai, all tables are set with plates and cutlery covered till customers are seated on the table.

a korean restaurant, shanghai

at a restaurant in tokyo (tokatsu tonki in meguro), toothpicks are covered with a clear glass.

bottle caps

at a street cafe in accra, bottled drinks are served with half-open bottle caps.

bottle  caps

some of these are for practical reasons, some more symbolic to show their service mentality. i do get my tiny moments of happiness when i can sense that someone has thought through how the customer would feel about their service and the food.

on a slight tangent, i cant help thinking about various possible seals on digital information, for instance – ‘freshness – from within 1 day’, ‘authenticity’, or ‘exclusivity’. in the late 90’s of the internet age, reputation and social recommendation systems were a big topic (or at least around T.J.Watson research center where I worked as a student). internet is a social place & inherently everything’s centered/centering around people behind, but i believe we are reaching an era in which some parts of the society will demand digital information identity as much as humans’ that does not get subjected to the democracy of people’s behaviors and subjective opinions.

surveillance techniques

Do you check your surroundings before you decide to quickly pick your nose, or adjust your underwear nowadays? We are increasingly aware of possible surveillance around us. Many authorities assume their legal right to place surveillance cameras, often as a measure to provide better security. In some countries, encouraging everyone’s participation to keep an eye on the suspicious people or objects may be necessary for the common good of the society. In some places, the signs of surveillance may be used as a measure to prevent people from misbehaving.

In Korea, a country technically still in truce, there’s a dedicated phone number, 111, to report spies (North Korean or industrial), terrorists, or international criminals. The rewards for reporting spies or spy ships are also clearly written in the commonly found posters: Approximately 65kEur for a spy, 1.5 times more for a spy ship. Having the dedicated phone number for turning spies in is a practice with a long history, which provides immediate ways to act for those who are willing and have access to voice calls.

surveilence_seoul01.jpg

111 number korea

An ad placed in buses in London encouraging people to be alert about the “suspicious”. Less direct than the Korean approach, but it at least stopped me to think about what would be appropriately suspicious enough to tell the bus staff or police.

london bus suspicious

london bus sign 2

In Helsinki, you may see stickers very visibly indicating the existence of surveillance cameras even though you don’t see the camera itself on taxis or in the airport. The camera icon without any written description implies that people would understand the meaning of the icon being the function of surveillance cameras.

helsinki camera icon

helsinki camera icon on taxi

The more typical signs possibly built with the intention of amplifying the effect of having the surveillance cameras are easily found in UK. The first sign is from London, second from Whistable.

london street surveillance sign

london surveillance sign

Buildings with security companies behind them often display the company logos on the building. Perhaps the reputation of the security company among the petty criminals in the neighborhood is something we would need when selecting which company to turn to.

london surveillance house

In buses or metro stations in Tokyo, this sign featuring big eyes are often found. It is issued by the Tokyo police department, read “We won’t let evil escape” – a message very indirect, but probably functions as a reassurance of the police’s presence.

tokyo police slogan

In addition to the formally established surveillance mechanisms, the emerging form of surveillance is enabled by the majority of individuals carrying recording and communication devices – as already discussed 3 years ago in South Korea over the ‘dog poop girl’ incident.

Leaving the debate on the good and the evil of the citizen journalism enabled by the proliferation of digital tools aside for now – I am wondering how people’s public behavior may be influenced by the implicit potential of people near you reporting your bad or good deeds. ‘Nearby’ people may be those who share the same physical space and time or communication channels like a chat session or a wifi hub with you at the same time. With digital devices’ increasing ability to capture contextual information such as location coordinates, reconstructing a coherent scene or a story with digital data collected by hundreds of people will become relatively easier as well.

Surprisingly a lot of people see mobile phone as a useful tool to capture evidences to prevent lies or fraud and to be used against future disputes in our recent work hosting a mobile phone design competition called Open Studio. On the other hand, the rejection for adoption may be well on the way as well. During the first trial of Lifeblog prototype in 2002, some people showed the fear of collecting the comprehensive personal mobile data including their whereabouts. It was the fear of giving up the protection of ambiguity, the plausible deniability when the usage of technology becomes widely known and adopted.

That leaves another interesting question: How would people drop out of, or at least minimize their digital traces and minimize contributing to create others’? We are probably not expecting stickers and badges showing “this person does NOT have cameras” or “this person will NOT use cameras”. One of the memorable Ubicomp conference talks was on the interesting concept of creating capture-resistant environment, preventing camera phones to take photos by overexposing photos attempted in the region covered by this technology. While I am sure there are certain types of places this technology would be very useful, I do have my doubts if there would ever be any technology successfully controlling people’s digital behaviors.

oasis in the city: love hotels

Love hotel is a generic term to describe hotels that allow short-term stays, as short as a couple of hours. In Japan, you can identify them by the sign that shows two different types of room charges: ‘stay’ and ‘rest’.

santa hotel

Typically love hotels are congregated either in crowded city centers, or by the idle driveways in the countryside not too far from the city. But they are increasingly The [Hotel Love] was in the relatively residential area leading to a long alley of temples in Osaka. There were many love hotels in the neighborhood, but Hotel Love stood out from a distance because of its landmark-quality piece on the roof.

Hotel Love art
hotel love street

The entrances of love hotels are characteristically discreet. It is impossible to see the inside of the lobby from outside. There are many entrances to the building. Once in the lobby, you see the big board with pictures of all rooms. The pictures with backlight on indicate that the rooms are available now. Any good love hotel would minimize or eliminate the need of human contact completely in the check-in/out process. This board with backlights usually spit out the room key when you press the button. This also marks your check-in time. There is a reception window but no one is visible behind it except a pair of hands.

room board

A few rooms are equipped with an outdoor or a very large bath tub at the same room rate. But reservations are impossible at the love hoel so those rooms function as an effective lure for return customers fishing for better luck.

When you go up to the room, the flashing light on top of the room door once again indicates that it is an empty room to be checked-in. The door is lockable only from inside. There is basically no key to the door, i.e., guests are not expected to come out of the room during their rest or stay. There are no common facilities outside the room such gym, restaurant, or lounge area, anyway.

corridor
room view

As discretion is a virtue for guests, all conveniences are provided in the room or delivered to the room.

Entertainment. Karaoke machine, TV with all cable channels including a few adult channels, pay-per-view functions, video game console, rentable movie and game DVDs, a mini pachinko (slot) machine, a radio with several music channels
Tools/gears. A mini-bar of sex toys/medicine, a mini-bar of drinks, a range of rental cosupre (costume play) outfits, microwave oven, water boiler with assortment of tea/coffee
Amenities. An extensive range of grooming/beauty/bath products. It is possible to choose from a list your favorite product. Perfumes and cosmetics are also available.
Room service food menu and home shopping catalogue
And of course – a mobile phone charger with a universal plug.

control panel
minibar and charger

The pricing scheme gives a hint as to when the hotel gets most crowded. For short-term rest, extra time is charged at the rate of 700 yen/30 min. And tactfully the presence of any objects that remind of time including the window for natural lights is totally minimized in the room.

room charge

The hotel also provides a taxi service for transporting guests over to its sister chain hotels in case the hotel is full or the guest’s favorite room is not available.

taxi service

The costume play (cosplay) outfits can be rented, at about 300 yen per outfit. Members can rent them for free.

cosplay

There are also unusual offers like a special cosplay outfit and “toppings” for (on?) her.

toppings

This hotel provides a list of freely available shampoos, hair grooming products, facial cosmetics, and perfumes. It is a good contrast to the regular hotels that recently tend to reduce the number of free amenities in the room in an effort to cut the maintenance cost. It is a very convenient service for those who visit the place without any preparation.

cosmetics

To top it all up, there is also a list of pillows and “useful goods” that can be purchased through the room service.

pillows

I have not found a reliable explanation where the name ‘love hotel’ came from, but it is undeniable that love hotels have strong connotations of sexual activities. My first experience with a love hotel was in Korea when we had to set up our temporary fieldwork office space in one because of its proximity to the university campus that our local research assistants were from. One of our local research assistants refused to come up to our temporary office because she did not want to be shown to enter the hotel with her male classmate.

Seeking privacy including the need, or desire for having sex, topped up with affordable convenience may be the main reason why people use love hotels, because:
– they have no personal space at home, often because of pure lack of space or cohabitation
– they live with parents which makes it morally unacceptable to bring a partner home without a serious commitment to the relationship
– they are having an affair in secrecy
– they want/can, at the spur of the moment
– they need to kill time till the first train runs. For many Japanese, taxi is too expensive as an option for returning home at night

The traditional notion of its association with prostitution and adultery has made its use a taboo subject. But with such a notion diminishing, love hotels could be expecting an increasing new range of customers including escapism seekers and aging couples, as they provide a much more affordable service compared to normal hotels and are available in their neighborhoods. With Japanese homes being small in size and freezing cold in the winter, love hotels can provide a quick luxury day, or night for tired singles and shy couples alike who cannot afford much time or budget. And perhaps this explains a little why love hotels seem to assume their responsibility for maintaining such a quintessential kitsch atmosphere.

As with their unique positioning in the market, love hotels do not provide any services for real tourists such as bell service or luggage storage. And they do not require you to present your ID upon check-in. The turnover rate for each room decides the profitability of their business. And love hotels are bound to respect their guests’ wish to be anonymous.

These two requirements make a perfect case for challenging a real-time mobile information and reservation network, if the transportation system supports timely arrival at the destination. Another opportunity space could be to control the room and the room service orders with the common interface in the mobile phone, given that the traceability or guarantee for the desired level of anonymity associated with the usage comes with it.

Wikipedia page has a good list of references, if you want to get historic accounts on the phenomena, and some practical information about choosing the right one for you in your next visit to Japan!

city of god

city of god
Originally uploaded by jabberer

Realized I had access to this movie several times- with subtitles in swedish, finnish, german, and japanese. Japanese is better than other options i had, at least.

Part of prep before the research trip starting next monday.