The Yesbutt

There’s a long running Japanese gag that goes like this: any discussion with a westerner is an endless loop of a Japanese person explaining something with the westerner cutting in with a ‘yes, but…’ hijacking the discussion without listening, a one way conversation. Yesbutt is the butt of the joke that is conversation with westerners…a comedy of yesbutts.

Once I was made aware that I was a yesbutt, I suddenly saw it everywhere, in my family, my western friends, and media in particular where ‘talking points’ are just endless yesbutts butting heads without discussion anything. Twitter of course is yesbutt heaven as is most social media. Why bother acknowledging somebody else’s point of view or opinion when social media ranking system ad revenue only rewards the biggest yesbutts?

Historically Japanese society has been very adept at dealing with yesbutts, and thankfully still have the ability to listen, though like most higher human behavior in the internet age, it has taken a hit. There is not much one person can do in the face of modern human society turning into one big yesbutt, but today at least, I endeavor not to be a yesbutt. And listen.

2021 Wrap

2021 wasn’t the best of years, certainly not a good one for transit as ridership everywhere continues to be severely impacted by COVID. Yet travel in Japan felt normal, more or less the new normal of face masks in public places and hand gel dispensers at the door…but compared to 2020 even that felt more like a formality than life saving ritual. Even while the Japanese media was breathlessly quoting daily infection rates and carping about the lack of COVID ICU with the Japanese medical system supposedly on the verge of collapse, people went about their business. Travel to Niigata and Sado when infection rates were said to be ‘sky rocketing’ was easy, people there were out shopping or enjoying restaurants. Things were busy, which was good to see.

Blog-wise 2021 was tough. Tech news felt perfunctory with everybody running on to the next delicious rumor the moment new hardware shipped, all without much thought or analysis, like bratty kids in a candy store running around chasing shiny new things. Transit and payment news was off the rails, while Apple Pay was more in the news for European and Australian antitrust investigations than any new features. The Japanese news cycle that normally picks up steam in the fall failed to build after the Tokyo Olympic as if everybody had blown their wad. PayPay service announcements were more like marketing spin as they started charging merchant transaction fees for the first time.

Writing-wise I tried my best to be positive and productive in the face of adversity. For better or worse here are the some of my favorite 2021 posts, not necessarily popular. If there is one thing I have leaned over the years is that a five minute throw away post is often more popular than posts I spend a lot of time on. That’s the way it goes.

Thanks always for reading and best wishes for 2022!

Best

Inside Hiragino: Hiragino Shock and the Apple Publishing Glyph Set is my favorite as I wanted to record some the important things Steve Jobs helped foster in the Japanese publishing market with OS X. Former Apple systems engineer Yasuo Kida kindly shared some important stories from the Apple development side.

The Apple Pay Japan 5 year mark: all of this or nothing, was another favorite and the most fun to write. Suica marked its 20th anniversary, Apple Pay Suica marked its 5th, both very important developments for Japanese transit and payments. It should have been a bigger celebration but like just like the Tokyo Olympics, it got lost in the COVID news era.

Secrets of iOS 15 Apple Wallet, now that Apple Pay payments and transit are well established the next Wallet frontiers are ID, keys and UWB. As these are more complex puzzles than NFC payments, progress will be gradual.

Payment and transit 2021 highlights

Typography stuff

The big news was Sha-Ken and Morisawa agreeing to co-develop the Sha-Ken type library for OpenType. One of the interesting things about Sha-Ken fonts is that they are known outside of Japan because they were extensively used in Japanese manga up until the early 2000’s. It will be interesting to see how designers and artists resurrect the Sha-Ken font legacy after they go on sale in 2024. In other news Apple is, once again, rebooting their typography and layout developer frameworks with TextKit2.

Fun fluff

Un-worry
The Buddha’s face is only seen thrice
Only Japan has cute transit card mascots?!
Hidden Sado
Ignore NFC logos
Sayonara to the last switchback bus terminal

May the Pfizer be with you

My partner is a doctor so from day one of the COVID crisis I have been listening to a few mantras: 1) Vaccinations don’t stop people from getting infected, they lessen the severity if you do, 2) COVID is basically a cold virus so learning to live and deal with it, with good treatments instead of vaccinations, is the best long term adaptation, 3) Extensive PCR testing is a waste of time and money (especially at this stage, but a good money maker for the providers).

When the local city government started the vaccination reservation program in June we signed up for a first shot today, July 30. It seemed like an easy decision then, but as reports from heavily vaccinated Israel and UK that infections were picking up because of the Delta variant, which the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations don’t cover, the mood started to change in the Japanese medical community for vaccinating low risk groups. A wait and see mood as a safer Japanese developed vaccination is said to be available by the end of this year. Better to wait for a new improved vaccination than a 3rd round of the same old current one that is loosing traction. Sure enough vaccinations rates started to stall this week as similar sentiments spilled into the general public.

And there is the vaccination certificate brouhaha. I want to visit my father next spring but getting a vaccination now means I have to get it all over again as the Pfizer•Moderna shots are only good for 4 months…if vaccination certificates are required to travel from Japan to America. As of today, they are not, although things can and do change every single day.

And so it went with every new piece of research and field report. Reasons to get vaccinated, reasons to wait. In the midst of uncertainty I was thankful for the relatively level headed Japanese approach compared with hysteria and politically driven media narratives in America. The most level headed piece I read was a recent Slate piece, The Noble Lies of COVID-19, that helped me understand the USA situation, along with Alex Berenson’s Here We Go Again and the long detailed On Driving SARS-CoV2 Extinct by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein.

After talking about it all week we decided to go ahead with our vaccination reservations. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any reservations about it. I think a lot of people are feeling the same. The most important thing one can do is take care of their health. Stay safe, stay healthy.

The COVID vaccination experience in Japan

I saw a well dressed man getting on the Yamanote train yesterday. He was youngish and looked very professional but stood jarringly out of place without a face mask. I have not seen a person without a face mask on any train in over a year. Then I remembered, almost 4 million front line medical workers in Japan have received COVID vaccinations, he was probably a doctor. As the vaccination program ramps up in Japan we’ll see more people without masks riding public transit. A nice sign that normal life is slowly returning.

One of the interesting things about getting COVID vaccinations in Japan is that medical authorities recommend being accompanied by a friend, family member, partner, etc. Don’t do it alone. I understand why. I always feel lousy after getting my annual flu shot, sometimes less, sometimes more but always lousy. Japanese blogging their experience after getting the COVID vaccination suggest that you will feel very lousy for most of the day you get it. Lay down lousy, not shuffle through the work day lousy. Consider yourself lucky if side effects are light. I don’t look forward to it, but will do the duty when my number comes around.

Merry Cashless Christmas 2020 Style

Nice Christmas colors…

A young co-worker tested positive for COVID yesterday so today is PCR test day for the entire office. The office pays but everybody has to find a testing place on their own. Fortunately a PCR test place opened up at Shinjuku Kabukicho yesterday and accepts all major cashless payments including Suica so I was in luck and made an online reservation.

If you go, all you do is make an online reservation, receive an email with name, number and time, then line up with everybody else. When it’s your turn to enter, show your smartphone email number and name to the staff, pay with Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. (Rakuten Pay), take the pouch and go to to any empty partition then drool into a vial with a straw. When done, put straw in vial, cap it, stick your label on, put in plastic pouch and give it the staff.

It’s a dire but perfect setting for a cashless only operation: limited time and staff processing a constant stream of people who can’t be bothered making change. Staff and customers don’t want to risk health either, the less contact the better for all concerned. It’s also the perfect 2020 Japan cashless wrap up: a cashless only COVID PCR testing facility in a year where COVID relentlessly drove cashless use.

As they say in Japanese: やれやれ.

Have a good cashless…and a Merry COVID free Christmas.