PechaKucha Night

This month was the first time I attended a PechaKucha Night, a gathering of creatives and interested parties to mingle, drink and watch presentations. The cool part of the event is that any speaker can pretty much talk about anything but is limited to only 20 slides which show for 20 seconds each, making each presentation no longer than 6 minutes and 40 seconds. If anyone has even sat through a long presentation you’ll appreciate this approach, giving you insight in more fields without it ever becoming boring or, if a presentation is about something you’re not interested in you’ll know in a few minutes someone else will be speaking.

The event took place at SuperDeluxe near Roppongi Hills, an underground space where previously I had attended Danny Choo’s CGM Night. This month’s event was pretty packed, making a short trip to the toilet a bit of a Herculean task, swimming through crowds and crowds of people. This also meant that the noise was sometimes a little distracting as people kept on chatting with each other during some of the presentations. Harsh though it may sound, it is a pretty decent indication of the level of interest in your talk; if you’re being drowned out by the crowd it might be because your presentation isn’t that interesting. That said, each speaker got supportive applause and there was generally a benevolent air of interest.

The speakers came from quite a variety of backgrounds; illustration, fashion, architecture, sound engineering, charity, art, etc. Some were better at public speaking than others, most were in English, some in Japanese and after each presentation the hosts had a quick chat in both languages. Personal standouts were Josh McKible’s presentation on his Nani?bird project, a super-cool “open source” art initiative based on a simple but cute papercraft bird toy, and game developer Mark Cooke’s insane but highly entertaining experiment in creating 10 games in 10 hours (total) specifically for PechaKucha. Christian Houge’s awesome photos of Barentsburg too made for an excellent presentation, though sadly by this time, near the end of the evening, people were getting tired and restless.

PechaKucha nights are held all around the globe; in fact at this event it was mentioned they had recently started in their 200th city, quite an accomplishment. This means there might be one near you, which makes it a great opportunity to learn what fellow creatives are up to and meet new people. If they function as the Tokyo event, there are no sign-ups nor reservations needed and entry is cheap at 1000Yen, which includes a drink. Sign up for the newsletter on the home page and keep up to date on what’s happening with PK Daily.

Plants vs. Zombies

There is something about Popcap that seems to make most of the games they release golden; it’s a mix of excellent presentation, ease of play, mixing genres and some addictive je ne sais quoi. “Plants vs. Zombies” is the latest title released and seems to be making somewhat of a splash on-line. At its heart this game is a simplified Tower Defense game, in which the player plants a variety of flora to protect the player’s house from a hoard of invading zombies. As a true Tower Defense game it doesn’t satisfy though. Mostly zombies move in single file and offensive plants, too, are limited to a single row, though later upgrades to offer a wider area of attack. Even though it’s an incredibly fun game, it does have some issues which are worth investigating. What makes this particular Popcap game so fun despite some flaws, and what is it that elevates it above the increasing flood of independent releases today?

The main problem with the game is that the basic premise, the largest chunk of the game in the adventure mode, is very slow to start. With limited options and the previously mentioned single-file approach to offense and defense, you spent the first part of the game basically building the same elements in each row, which makes the game somewhat boring. And this is a shame, because once the game starts to build, exchanges day and night cycles, adds a pool, moves to the rooftop things get a lot more strategic. Even at this point there is a fair amount of row-based similarities in your tactics, but with a huge list of plants to choose from and only a limited number of seed slots to occupy during a wave your choices in “weapons” and the way you choose to play all become strategic elements in the game outside of the actual level.

What is most telling is that the selection of mini-games is actually more fun than the basic game. Whether it’s zombie bowling, a reversal of roles where you supply the zombies, a slot-machine based version of the game or one of the puzzle modes you’ll probably be spending a lot of time on these. This is not just because they’re good fun, but also because you’ll need a lot of money to buy upgrades with. And though this isn’t a problem per se, the way mini-games are locked is rather crippling. It takes a good length of time playing through the story mode before mini-games are unlocked as an option from the main menu, and even then you’re only given a few, with more unlocked as you finish the story mode.

For the independent developer, though, a lot can be learned from Popcap’s games. Their presentation is usually very high quality and Plants vs. Zombies is no exception, with cute plants, fun zombies and a healthy dose of humour thrown into the mix, especially in the way the zombies try to fool you with handwritten notes sometimes – check out the “help” section on the main menu for example. This title is slick! Some of you may have seen the “music video” on-line, which can also be seen during the end credit sequence, and you have to be a heartless bastard not to smile at its silly cuteness. Zombie Michael Jacksons too appear and do the Thriller dance moves. This game is overflowing with character!

Value for money too is something Popcap gets right again. The number of different mini-games, although all vaguely based on the central premise, is astounding and even harks back to some previous Popcap titles with a Bejeweled knock-off in there somewhere. It’s not just the sheer amount of imagination that surprises as the amount of fun all these mini-games offer. The tradition is that mini-games are annoying breaks from regular play with little compulsion to replay them at leisure, but not so in Plants vs. Zombies, where they are actually more fun than the core mode. Then there is a Zen Garden mode, where you look after pot plants for extra bonuses, as well as an almanac that lists all the seeds and zombies you’ve encountered with funny descriptions. Content-wise Plants vs. Zombies puts most other independent offerings to shame.

Though Plants vs. Zombies isn’t quite the must-have Peggle is, and it will disappoint tower defense fanatics, it is a great little title I can recommend to anyone, though know that it only really picks up after you’ve completed three quarters of the story mode orso. For independents it is a must-check-out for the level of polish and presentation few other developers seem to be able to match these days.


The video game industry was arguably kicked off by a bunch of unwashed enthusiasts coding games in a few weeks in their bedrooms. A lot of them were derivative or obvious knock-offs of other titles, others were original and created new genres, but a single person could turn a hobby into a profession and make good money; it was the Wild West back then.

Okay, this is not entirely true. The industry as it stands today is probably more down to Nintendo reviving the market and changing the rules with the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System), but even then most people employed to create games came from this pool of bedroom enthusiasts. During that time companies were created that still exist today, that are, in fact, huge multinational corporations today. And don’t forget, Richard Garriott started out selling his game through mail-order in Ziploc bags with Xeroxed instruction leaflets and ended up becoming a space tourist. It was a wild time of opportunity and possibilities, where an enthusiast with a dream and the chutzpah to work at it could make something of himself or at least create a game and send it out there.

The success of the iPhone platform is arguably kicked off by a bunch of unwashed enthusiasts coding games in a few weeks in their bedrooms. A lot of them are derivative or obvious knock-offs of other titles, others are original and create new genres, but a single person can turn a hobby into a profession and make good money; it is the Wild West.

Now I’m not directly comparing the current iPhone craze with the early days of the video game industry, but there are parallels. Single enthusiasts seem to have as much of a shot as anyone else to create something and put it out there. These days of course they are competing with huge, well-funded corporations like EA and Square-Enix and the surprising thing is that they are competing well. The old system of creating polished product on a closed platform, selling it and marketing it apparently works as well as getting a lucky mention and ending up in the top 10 downloads, which in turn leads to ridiculous returns.

And our industry hates it. How often do we hear people complain that the App Store is a swamp of substandard product with the occasional hard-to-find gem? How many people complain how a quick rip-off game shot to the top of the charts while their own presumably awesome, highly polished product languished in barely triple figure sales? People have even declared the iPhone a dead platform because of this already; “too much shitware” they claim, “there is no point in trying to compete in that market, it’s weighed down by crap and a bad rating and search system”.

Poppycock, I say! This is purest industry hubris, and I’ve heard it many times before. It’s a repeat of the early days of the Wii when publishers threw together cheap shovelware and declared the Wii a failure because they couldn’t make significant sales for their substandard product. Before people understood the DS it was declared a failure. We, as an industry, are very adept at pointing the finger of blame, be it the App Store system, that old classic the economic climate or the failure of a platform to appeal to the market your own game is supposed to appeal to. When things go bad it is never the publisher’s nor the developer’s fault; it’s always an outside influence that pushes down our creativity, our Art.

The fact it is incredibly hard for a highly polished product to make significant sales on the iPhone tells us a few things:
1. Maybe people are more interested in iFart applications or cheap knock-offs than expensive gaming experiences akin to those on home consoles. Just like the Wii is a massive success because the market that wants Wii Fit and Wii Sports is larger than the market that wants Space Marine FPS games. The iPhone market is comprised of gadget freaks and mobile phone users, not home console gamers.
2. It’s useless to transpose the home console business onto the iPhone; it works differently and if you get unexpectedly bad sales you might be doing it wrong. Whatever the “right” way is might still be unknown, but therein lies the challenge, right? Or do we really want to keep things as they always have been? Surely that will make us stale and irrelevant?
3. The iPhone is delivering unto us a new generation of bedroom coders and entrepreneurs. We can either sit back, complain about their successes and watch them set up shop and compete, or we can snap them up for ourselves.
4. More has been released on the iPhone Apps Store than on the three home consoles combined (this fact is entirely made-up and spurious), and people are making money of off it. How is this a failed or broken platform?

The industry must step up or shut up. Stop blaming the economic climate for studio closures, stop pointing to your bad sales on the iPhone as a failure of the system as opposed to a failure of your own business plan. Personally I find more interesting things have come out on the iPhone than the home consoles, due to the hobbyist nature and accessibility of the platform and the lower costs involved. Are we going to sit back and let Apple reinvent our industry as it did with the music business? Or are we going to take it seriously as a platform and try to crack it?

Poken? I’ve only just met ‘em!

I am now the slightly bemused owner of a “Poken”, a little gadget which was introduced in Japan at a previous Danny Choo CGM Night and given away to lucky attendees, of which I wasn’t one. I had to purchase mine, though that said, I used my loyalty card points to essentially get it for “free”, which is good as I wasn’t keen on paying about 2,500 Yen for one myself.

A Poken is a small, cutesy plastic character with a big white hand sticking out of the side of it. The hand is detachable, the character merely a case, and turns out to be a USB flashdrive. You put the hand bit in your PC’s USB and it connects to the Poken website, where you fill in your personal details, add an avatar image, provide the links to your Facebook, Linkedin and a wide variety of other social network accounts. You then walk around with the thing in your pocket and if you happen to come across a new contact with the same device you hold the little hand bits against each other, in a tiny, geeky high-five, and it exchanges data. Next time you log in on the site that person and their details will be added to your friends list. It’s cute.

I do have my reservations, though. Unless it becomes widely popular I will find myself in situations where I have to ask if the other party has a Poken, which would invariably lead to questions and explanations, unless I wear the damn thing around my neck, which, frankly, is not going to happen. Secondly, though it connects automatically to your other social networks, it is in itself yet another social network of sorts. You have to log in to their website and organise your stuff from there. It is not as extensive as, say, a Linkedin, but it is yet another log in and website to bookmark. It would have been a much shrewder marketing move had they worked directly with one of the larger sites, like Facebook, and made it slot in seamlessly and branded it as part of their service.

On the one hand the physical high-five to exchange information is cute, and it certainly gives you control over whom to connect to, on the other, a Wifi roaming mode would have been cool for situations where you just want to meet new people. I can imagine drinking in a bar to have my small one-handed ninja (not a euphemism) beep at me, telling me there is someone else around with the same interests and the same device. I vaguely remember such a thing having been marketed years ago, only to disappear in the mists of rapidly aging gadgetry, but maybe today the market is more open to such a device.

As it stands now, the Poken seems a gimmicky and slightly overwrought way of handing someone a digital business card. What makes it special is the high-five aspect of it, which I don’t quite think is enough to make this a worthwhile purchase. I’ll be carrying mine around from now on and see if it will be of any use whatsoever, but somehow I have my doubts.

Finally, the name is just prone to ridicule and innuendo, which I guess is both a blessing and a curse. Though maybe that is only an issue for people who, like me, grew up on a diet of Carry On films.

A Poken costs 2,480 Yen (19EU, 26USD), comes in a variety of cutesy characters and is available at larger electronic stores. They have a website here.

My Famicase

Kichijoji is an area outside of my usual bubble, a 40 minute train ride from Shibuya or, had I been smart enough to take an express rather than a local, 15 minutes. It has a vibrant shopping area surrounding the station, with covered streets packed with tiny shops and bars, and a nice park for family strolling. I, however, made the trek to visit the smallest, geekiest showcase of recent time: the My Famicase exhibit at Meteor.

Meteor is a tiny, tiny retro shop selling Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) cartridges, CDs, books and T-shirts, as well as some other odds and ends, like incense and tea pots, for some reason. It boasts several tiny CRT televisions hooked up to old consoles, a Vectrex and a working VirtualBoy. The single rack of T-shirts had some awesome Famicom and Game&Watch related designs, all at a fairly hefty price, and all in either S or XL sizes. I’m apparently geeky enough to want a shirt boasting the Zelda hearts meter or the Mario Bros. pipes, but not geeky enough to fit within the two stereotypical body images of the geek: morbidly overweight or anorexic. I’m a Japanese Medium, which is great for my ego but makes geek clothes shopping difficult – which in turn, I guess, is good for my image.

The My Famicase exhibit takes up the top half of one wall and displays 50 Famicom cartridges with custom designed labels by a variety of local artists and designers. They are not specifically game based and range from abstract to faux-game artsy. Especially of note is illustrator Hawken King’s “Bush Jr.” design, the one overtly political cartridge which, I gather, has caused a minor storm in a teacup for him, showing, as it does, George W. Bush looking decidedly simian climbing one of the WTC towers. It’s a really cool design, and others too were worth checking out.

The exhibit is until the end of the month but all the cases can be seen on the website, here.

As the shop Meteor and the exhibit are fairly small, it won’t take up much of your day, so while you’re there, walk into the nearest side-street, underneath the railway tracks and a 100 meters orso into the suburban area behind it to have a quick gander at manga artist Umezu Kazuo’s funky house, often called “Makoto-chan House”. It’s a mad structure painted in red and white stripes, with his famous character adorning a ledge along the top and boasting a small tower with two round windows and a strategically placed nose. The mailbox too is an old-fashion Japanese pillarbox. So bright and, frankly, awesome is this house that it prompted dullard neighbours to file suit in complaint. In January the Tokyo District Court thankfully dismissed the lawsuit meaning curious visitors can enjoy this little splash of brightness in an otherwise fairly gray neighbourhood. It is quite literally almost around the corner from Meteor, so one might as well have a quick look.

Design Festa Gallery

Tucked away in the tangle of backstreets in trendy Harajuku lies the Design Festa gallery. Even with detailed maps I managed to miss it, circling it twice until I caught the colourful building from the corner of my eye. I always find it awkward walking around Harajuku, prowling grounds for the young and trendy, making an old and decidedly unhip crusty like myself stand out like a sore thumb. Especially on lovely hot days like today when the crowds wear clothes so insubstantial they barely leave anything to my already overactive imagination, and with photomodels on every corner being snapped by a variety of still and film cameras, it’s very hard not to appear a Humbert Humbert, always afraid to end up on the business end of a police baton for disorderly lascivious leering. But walking at a brisk pace and keeping my head up, eyes above neck-level, I managed to do some art sight-seeing without being arrested.

Design Festa gallery occupies two brightly painted buildings, divided by a little terrace café, and boasts a variety of room types where young artist can rent spaces to exhibit their works. Rooms vary from small to actual bathrooms and garage-style open areas, so hence the costs to exhibit, though still very competitive, also differ from area to area. On the one hand this free-market attitude towards exhibiting is a great thing, offering unknown artists a place to show off their works, but it also means there is no real bar for quality.

As spaces are rented out for days to months one never quite knows what you’ll see when you go there, though if you check the website (here) there is a schedule. When I visited I enjoyed some of the wall paintings outside and in the stairwell and the cool one room exhibit by Venom Palette, who was kind enough to explain his work and was selling T-shirts ridiculously cheaply. Other exhibits were less impressive, including the large space occupied by a woman with a very tenuous grasp of anime-painting. At first I thought it might have been ironic, but judging by the subject matter of women in various cute poses, it was pretty clear that her skills were somewhat outrun by her enthusiasm. Another exhibit was being prepared as I visited; a young Japanese man was hanging up a thousand little sketches which looked pretty cool, but sadly I didn’t wait around. The café, just a few scattered tables, was nice for a sit down and a drink, the sun beating down and a cool breeze sweeping through the buildings.

Harajuku is usually a destination for visitors and tourists, mostly for the weird fashion and loli-goths, as well as some trendy shopping streets, but while you’re there I can recommend making a slight detour off the beaten track, though it must be said not that far off the beaten track, and visit Design Festa to see what the young artists of Japan are up to.

Hard up

I don’t know if people watch the news a lot, but apparently there is some kind of global financial meltdown occurring. Not being a financial type I’ve done my bit by studying the crisis; reading a lot, listening to informative podcasts, like the occasional This American Life finance special and the Mark Thomas interviews, and, generally, trying to be informed. From what I gather Japan is mostly feeling the pinch in the sharp decline of exports, and the loss of consumer spending, though the latter has been in effect for a few decades now. House prices and mortgages don’t seem to play a huge part here, as the value is in the land in this earthquake-overdue country, with houses making up only a tiny fraction of the loan. Banks, too, seem far more conservative in Japan, with less emphasis on lending you what you cannot afford to pay back and more on the squeezing of blood out of stone, charging for every tiny transaction and offering interests so small they fall under quantum mechanics

No, I am not quite sure what is happening, and it appears that, yes, consumer spending may be down, but one has to look hard and in the right places to see much evidence of this. Personally, I go by the entirely unscientific method of checking what’s going down at Hard Off, the hilariously named sister-shop to Book Off, the second hand book, games and, in the case of the former, bric-a-brac chainstore. It is the omnipresent second-hand shop around Japan, though smaller, privately owned “recycle” shops are also quite common in certain areas.

In times of great cleansing or economic depression it’s always good to drop by a Hard Off and see what people are trying to get rid off to make a little extra coin. Like most second-hand stores around the world, though, the mark-up when your refuse is put on the shelves is several thousand percent. However, with “large rubbish” special pick-ups, the local ward can ask as much as 3,000 to 5,000 Yen, it’s often cheaper to sell that old CRT television for 100 Yen at a Hard Off.

What I found striking, though, was the sudden prevalence of luxury goods at the local Hard Off (I’m trying to mention the name of the shop as many times as I can; it still makes me giggle). It used to offer the usual, from clothes to kitchen wares, some old home consoles, a few televisions, and maybe a brand corner, these days there were shelves of LV bags, expensive watches, half a shop full of televisions, a lot of home consoles, up to and including the PS3 and much, much more. Now, the televisions can be explained by the switch to digital signals in 2011, and the marketing push to get people to buy new, HD sets in anticipation. The rest, though, seems quite obviously, though unscientifically extrapolated, a result of belt-tightening. People are feeling the pinch and trying to sell their most prized or expensive possessions to avoid having to go to one of the loan companies and their exorbitant, extortive even, interest rates. Luxury watches, game consoles, brand goods, Hard Off has many of them, a lot more than it used to have even a few years ago.

The lessons to learn here are: firstly, yes, there is something awry even in Japan when it comes to the economy and people are panicking a bit, though hysteria may be too loaded a word and, secondly, if you need some new hardware or luxury goods it is not a bad idea to check out your local Hard Off. Tourists, too, especially of the retro-geek kind, might find those elusive Hello Kitty Dreamcasts or an original Famicom in these stores, and if they fancy digging around the large plastic buckets, maybe even some good retro games at prices Super Potato wouldn’t be able to compete with. If you want brand handbags expect to still pay a lot to these second-hand extortionists but at least it will be a lot less than buying them at the Ginza branch first-hand.

The global recession is quite scary, especially if you delve a little deeper into it. It’s not all bad news though (only mostly), as I haven’t paid full-price for a video game in a long, long while now.

Memories of days gone by

I am one of those gamers who some months ago hungrily lapped up the re-release of Banjo-Kazooie on XBLA and, more recently, Banjo-Tooie, two titles from the N64 glory days when the name “Rare” was still a force to be reckoned with. Playing these two titles, though if I’m honest with myself the former moreso than the latter, reminded me of two things: we’ve come a long way and where are my platformers?

The cut-off for replayable retro seems to be just after the 16-bit era where games were made in glorious 2D that has aged a lot better than the 3D era of the Playstation and aforementioned N64. Previously I have toyed a little with PS1 games released on the Playstation Network, though the edges were so rough it made my eyes bleed. The first few generations of 3D games are, frankly, ugly as sin these days. Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie however still seem to stand up pretty well. The textures are rough enough to count the pixels, as are the models and their polygons, but Rare still managed in those dark ages to squeeze a lot of character out of their worlds with cute animations and design. Don’t get me wrong, the games are ugly these days, but somehow the charm they still possess seems to make up for that.

Platformers, though, seem to have migrated to the handhelds, for some reason. I can barely remember the last decent Castlevania on home consoles (I lie, it was obviously Symphony of the Night on PS1, released over 12 years ago). I tend to discount things like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Banjo-Kazooie, as these are remakes or re-releases. Which leaves games like Ratchett & Clank and…what?

Things like Prince of Persia, Uncharted and Tomb Raider fill some of that void, as do brawlers like Oboromuramasa, yet my platforming hunger seems very badly served by today’s market. Are they the way of the point and click adventure? It’s true there is an awesome amateur platform development scene out there, but damn, I long for the old days. If the Xbox, in Japan at least, can provide for the tiny shmup community, where is my fan service?

Ignore me, I moan. The DSLite provides me with my kicks still; a few excellent Castlevanias, new quirky games like Henry Hatsworth (recommended!) and others give me all the platform kicks I really need, but for what I desire, cool platformers on my telly…I still hunger.

Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie in the meantime are excellent diversions from the usual brown, bloom space marine fare, and I recommend anyone who enjoyed them the first time round to give them another go; they’re still fun! Oh, Rare…we didn’t need vehicles…just more of this, please…

Tokyo CGM Night (episode 4)

Video game development is a tough mistress; especially within a studio system you end up chained to your desk for the largest part of the day, turning your eyes and brain to mush as you try to cope with ridiculous decisions from higher up that somehow only seem to affect your schedule, not management’s, then if you do ever make it out to socialise you are bound by Non-Disclosure Agreements and just end up in massive bitching sessions, propping up other developers’ complaints with your own similar stories of how naff it all is, so more often than not you just end up going home straight after work to spend some quality time with your beloved bottle of wine. So it was with some trepidation and not a little amount of strain that I have been making efforts to go to events, social gatherings, dinner parties and whatnot to meet a wider variety of people and talk about the finer things in life, one of those being the fact I’m an independent now and am free to talk about whatever I wish to whomsoever can stand to listen to me.

The last day of April I attended, finally, one of pro-blogger and part-time stormtrooper Danny Choo’s Tokyo CGM Nights. I had previously made plans to go to earlier versions of this social event, yet something always seemed to crop up, be it another arbitrary and ultimately useless deadline or a total lack of energy after spending a week re-exporting work due to some minor change in the tool technology.

The event was held at SuperDeluxe close to Roppongi Hills, a basement-level club of sorts which was reserved for this event alone that night but looked like it might be a jolly good lark as a regular club space. The crowd was slow to build at first, which gave me a good opportunity to chinwag with some random people, all of whom were very friendly and interesting, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, though all somehow involved, sometimes just tangentially, to blogging or podcasting.

This blog being a little specialised I was not surprised few people had heard of it, which also wasn’t helped by the fact my business card has a name on it different to what I write under here. That said, it was good to meet with people in a way that didn’t inevitably lead to loud moaning sessions about the state of the game industry, though I did try, out of force of habit, I guess.

Once the room had filled up Danny Choo started his presentation, an informal affair with three projectors beaming images on the wall, showing at first the new Nikon commercial he stars in and some talk about the various blogs and businesses he is involved in. Next followed several more people all talking about some recent projects, mostly revolving around new ideas in blogging and information sharing, after which there was, what I gather to be the tradition, the handing out of presents through the traditional Japanese sport of rock, paper, scissors.

Taking photographs seemed to be the done thing at the event, and though I did try, the light conditions were just too bad for my little mobile phone camera, and standing there with that little device made me very self-conscious as everybody else seemed to have the latest, most massive professional equipment around. Danny Choo’s site usually acts as an aggregate to the various blogs that write about the event, so interested parties should keep an eye open for better information and, no doubt, a ton of photos via other people’s sites. I didn’t particularly hide from the cameras but I didn’t push myself to the forefront either, so my fragile, and by now meaningless anonymity may last a bit longer.

Though the event is a great place to meet new people it is, however, somewhat closed off. Though it was easy enough to get in, invitations are only sent to people within Danny Choo’s network who are related to blogging or other IT businesses, with the caveat that no details of the event will be broadcast before the date. This makes it hard for me to recommend it to people visiting Japan, but if you end up moving here and, as seems to be the Law, start blogging about Japan, there is a good chance you’ll end up at one of these events at some point.