Three weeks have passed and today (Saturday) was the last day that was semi-part of the study tour. After spending 2 hours of getting all my clothes folded up and packed again for transport I went to bed at 4 and got up at half past 7 (who needs sleep anyway in Japan?). I grabbed my suitcase, jumped into my clothes and headed for the elevator while some of my roommates wished me good luck (all three of them were headed back to Holland that day). I grabbed some coffee and white bread with strawberry jam for the last time (after one and half week eating strawberry jam its getting annoying) and after 25 minutes after my alarm went off I strolled into Tokyo.
On the last day of the study tour we visited Sharp. We started the day a half hour earlier than planned because Sharp has told us the move the program forward. After hours of traveling by train we finally got off at Chiba – a suburb of Tokyo with enormous skyscrapers. It was obviously some luxury business park. After a 15 minute walk we finally found the Sharp building where we first got a tour of Sharp technologies. This included LCD TV’s, how LCD works, solar panels and Sharp’s view of the future. Although nice to see, its not all that shocking for us: all of the things we got to see are available on the market. One of the cool things was the 3D LCD (also on a mobile phone) and the dual view LCD (the driver of the car sees the navigation chart while the passenger can watch a movie – on the same screen).
Today we went to Ginza to test a new system. Ginza is a region in Tokyo with all kinds of fancy stores (read: expensive) with all the big names next to each other, from Chanel to Louis Vuiton. We started out in the underground passage next to the A3 exit where the experiment would begin. Everyone got a PDA with some ridiculous name and a wristband with an RFID reader inside of it. Next, you put on the headphones and the system would guide you to the surface. It immediately went wrong: we walk a lot faster than Japanese people so we ended up in situations like: "Pass left of the termi…" – "Go straight by…" – "Walk up the stairs on the…" – "Turn around and go back to the crossing with the red booth on your right, this time walk up the stairs on the left". Great…
This morning we checked out of the Tsukuba Daily Inn after having a mixed style breakfast: it was not really Japanese because they had bread and it wasn’t really Western style because it had Japanese cabbage as well. We hopped on a bus back to Tsukuba Center and then on a bus to the Tsukuba University. Because of some miscommunication and some idiots we got off way too early and walked for 35 minutes until we finally found the right building (a campus for 17,000 students is huge, whoever came up with the idea that we should walk should be shot).
Today we are leaving Tokyo for a while to head out to Tsukuba. Tsukuba is a good 2 hours from Jimbocho and so our day started early with me giving a briefing to the group about JAXA. The latter was because all of us reviewed a company to write a report about and mine was about JAXA. So after we left the hotel with provisions to survive the coming night, we set out for Tsukuba.
Another day of company visits, another day of sore feet and knees. Luckily for me they walking pace was not too high and we didn’t cross too many stairs. We had a presentation about IBM’s background and vision of the future (the standard layout for almost all our visits) and after the standard introduction we finally got to see some technology.
Today is our one day off in the study tour so ofcourse we decided to head out to Akihabara, a.k.a. electric town. Next to the station is the Laox, a Media Markt kind of store but with more variety. We thought the store would be bigger thanks to the description in the Lonely Planet (note: I found out later that they were remodeling the store so parts of it were hidden with walls). Next to the Laox was an anime store with loads of anime and manga, but ofcourse with everything in Japanese – sigh.
Today we visited Nikko, a small town a good few hours from Tokyo. We started out using the Shinkansen and then we hopped on a local train to get to the countryside of Japan. If you are recovering from having the flu or some serious cold, I can say it is probably not a good idea to take the train to Nikko: it screeches with every movement and its quite a bumpy ride. After a 40 minute ride which felt like a day while I was trying to suppress the feeling of getting sick again, we finally arrived at Nikko which was even the last station on the line.
After an early start we started walking to NII which was supposed to be located at a thirty minute walk but for some reason we standing in front of the NII building after 5 minutes. Great. And ofcourse because we were way too early they weren’t ready to have us yet so we stood waiting in front of the building for 20 minutes or so. The positive thing about this was that the sun was shining which is helping if you are still feeling a bit shaky and are carrying fever suppressing pain killers around.
On our first day in Tokyo we are visiting Tokyo Denki, a joint venture of numerous (previously separate) universities. Even though they still work partially separate they now at least work together. They had some cool demonstrations including a robot that could deploy wireless sensor networks by dropping balls with the electronics in them, including a camera to be able to view the surroundings. They want to use the system in major earthquakes when its critical to get a fast overview of the surroundings and even in situations that are too dangerous for humans (structural hazards etc).
I don’t remember much else from the presentations as I am coming down with the flu or something and I had a few pain killers in the break to try to keep my focus. The next thing I know the lunch had arrived: they asked Ivo if we wanted a Japanese style or Western style lunch and so they had ordered a huge amount of sandwiches and fruit salads. The lunch was awesome and the sandwiches had a huge variety to suit everyone’s taste. To my surprise the Japanese people seemed to like them as well – making me wonder why Japanese people don’t eat bread more often (and making it easier for us Dutch to find decent food around here).
After the lunch we headed for NHK – the Japanese BBC. They are also funded by non-commercial sources and apparently exists largely from the money they receive from Japanese households. NHK has a huge video archive with most of it with closed captions.
They working very hard on techniques to harvest this data for future use. One of the cool things we saw was a program that generated a trailer from a random program by using the EPG (electronic program guide) as a guide and the captions to match the extract to. The result is a 30 second trailer summarizing the program. The results were amazing.
Besides the IT part of the television / media world we also got to experience the next generation of TV: SHV or Super High Vision video is 16 times the resolution of current HD material (so much for my HD ready TV, it looks like a toy next to this stuff).
According to NHK it will be the last 2D media standard as humans are unable to see more details than SHV can show. That, accompanied with the 22.2 surround system (yes, that is twenty-two channels of sound and 2 channels for the subwoofers… So much for my DTS system at home LOL) made it quite an experience to see. We sat a few meters from the cinema sized screen and we could not see any pixels unlike any beamer system I had seen up to then.
Right now the system is in development and not nearly ready for normal use even though NHK is aspiring to switch to SHV in a few years. The current system uses 3 humongous beamers, insane cooling to keep it all running and uses a few hundred terabyte of storage for a half hour demonstration. In case this all means nothing to you: you can get a few decent Bentleys for the equipment these people use to store their next generation videos. Did I mention that they work together with Bose to develop the sound system for SHV? All of the speakers and the sound system is custom build for this purpose…. daaaaang ^-^.