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While Western indie devs get fancy functions like GDC, IGF and Gamescom to show off their wares (and crowd-funded movies telling the story of their struggles), the indie scene in Japan is scattered at best. It's not that there aren't any small studios or one-man teams making exciting games - there are loads, as fans of La-Mulana, Cave Story or Tokyo Jungle will attest. But unified and strong the scene is not.

That's starting to change. BitSummit, an event held earlier this month in Kyoto and organised by James "Milky" Mielke of PixelJunk studio Q-Games, was the first of its kind, a forum for like-minded bedroom developers to meet each other and swap battle stories, show their games to the Western media and take in presentations from the likes of Valve, Epic Games and Unity.

"I don't think we have something you can call a 'scene' as such. I feel like everyone is fighting alone," explained Yohei Kataoka of Crispy's, the creative mind behind 2012's battiest PlayStation game, animal survival brawler Tokyo Jungle. Published by Sony for PS3, his game was released in Japan on disc and went straight to No.1, riding on the back of a clever series of YouTube videos featuring playthroughs by famous game developers.

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aaron swartz lead

I met Aaron Swartz in Cambridge shortly after he’d been indicted for downloading lots of JSTOR articles on MIT’s network in 2011. My Wired colleague Ryan Singel had been writing about his story, and I’d talked a lot with my friends in academia and publishing about the problems of putting scholarship behind a paywall, but that was really the level at which I was approaching it. I was there to have brunch with friends I’d known a long time only through the internet, and I hadn’t known Aaron that way. I certainly didn’t want to use the brunch to put on my journalist hat and pepper him with questions. He was there primarily to see his partner Quinn Norton’s daughter Ada, with whom he had a special bond. The two of them spent...

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Arif Iqball

Glimpses of the Floating World

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Outside Japan there is often a misunderstanding about the role of the Geisha and that misunderstanding comes from different literary and movie interpretations/fictionalization by non-Japanese at different points in history. The difficulty also comes from the inability to recognize/accept that female entertainers can exist in cultures without engaging in any form of sexual entertainment.

The historical city of Kyoto, Japan is the true center of this floating world and home to five Kagai (literally flower towns, but specifically, performance districts) where you can see Geishas today. The oldest Kagai dates back to the fifteenth century and the tradition of the Geisha continues in Kyoto in the true manner and spirit as it has historically, where the women take pride in being “women of the mind” versus “women of the body”. By all local/Japanese definitions, these women are living art as well as the pinnacle of Japanese eloquence, good manners, style and elegance and are highly respected in Japanese society as artists. Some of their teachers have been labeled as “Living National Treasures” by the Japanese Government. The “Gei” of the Geisha itself means Art and “sha” means a person. Historically both men and women have been labeled Geisha although that word is seldom used and Geiko and Maiko (Apprentice Geiko) are the more appropriate forms of address.

There has been very little work done to photograph the artistic side of the Geiko and Maiko and my work is an effort to see them as living art and to be able to portray them in both formal and informal settings. Behind the painted face is really a teenager/young woman working very hard through song, dance, music, and witty conversation to make the customers of the tea houses escape from their world of stress to a world of art/humour/relaxation and laughter.

Most of this work was done in Medium Format to enable the viewer to eventually see and feel the larger photograph itself as art and I hope that this broader work can shed a new light to the understanding of the Maiko and Geiko and bring respect to them as artists from the non-Japanese viewer.



Arif Iqball was born in Pakistan in 1964 and has spent a third of his life each in Pakistan, US, and Japan respectively.  His curiosity about the balance between modernity and tradition originally attracted him to Japan and in the process, he completed a Masters Degree in Japanese Studies with an interest in Japanese Literature and the visual aesthetic of old Japanese movies.

An avid travel photographer, he uses a nostalgic lens to find beauty in ordinary life and people and is attracted to traditions and artists who are fading away in this modern world.  When completed, this interim work on the Geiko and Maiko in Kyoto will be presented both as a book, and as an exhibit.

His Japan related photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Lonely Planet, and in Children books.

He currently lives and works in Tokyo.


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Arif Iqball


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Tomoko Kitagawa at TEDxSendai (English)

A rising star in academia, Tomoko Kitagawa (PhD) specializes in Japanese history and the history of mathematics in East Asia. She is the author of Japanese History Abroad: Lady Samurai and Kyoto (2012), and taught at Harvard University from 2009 to 2012. She was cited as one of the Favorite Professors at Harvard, Class of 2012 and one of the 10 most stylish professors by The Crimson. Tomoko Kitagawa has also worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and she visited the IMF and the Word Bank in 2008 as a delegate member of Youth @ Annual Meeting. AboutTEDx, x = independently organized event In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

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Nangoku Shonen Papuwa Kun (Cart Only)

Title : Nangoku Shonen Papuwa Kun (Cart Only)
Publisher : Enix
Game Type : Platform
Console : SuperFamicom

Price : £8.99

Stands on a podium (probably a bamboo pole) above its many platform peers on the SFC. A kung fu style hero battles all manner of Japanese folklore with one legged umbrella and Dharma dolls rolling around. The levels are very atmospheric with a blend of Kyoto temples and urban skyscrapers with some lovely Mode 7 and parallax effects. Clever, compact programming and a host of imaginative characters and the ability to level up as players defeat enemies. Bravo!

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Ludum Dare 23 winner.pngWith over 1,400 entries highlighting its ten-year anniversary, the winner really seems to be Ludum Dare: its event, its organizers, its jammers, and those who played and rated its games. And yet, after 3 weeks of judging, the community has chosen its winners.

The crowns go to Inside My Radio by Turbo Dindon and Fracuum by Tyler Glaiel, for winning the top jam and top overall game spots, respectively. IndieGames lists here the top 10 overall games, the top 10 jam games, and the top games by category of both.

Top 10 Overall:
Fracuum - Tyler Glaiel
Memento XII - deep night
Super Strict Farmer - Benjamin
Soul Searchin' - Maxim Schoemaker
Lonely Hated Rock - Xion
This Precious Land - Ishisoft
Planet 161 - saint11
Astro Break - hulahulahest
Recluse - chambers
Pocket Planet - Molten Mustafa

Top 10 Jam Games:
Inside My Radio - Turbo Dindon
Going Rogue - Frankie Smile Show
Tiny Shards - Gabriel
Greed Wars - Ignatus Zuk
Boxed in. - PIXEL^3
Stranded - Evil Cult
Rambros - Black Ships Fill the Sky
subAtomic - MurrayL
Dude, where's my planet - Zamando
Tiny Timmy and Big Bill - 4urentertainment

Top Compo Games, by Category:
Innovation: Recluse - chambers
Fun: Astro Break - hulahulahest, Pocket Planet - MoltenMustafa, Ra Ra - YMM
Theme: It's a tab - brackcurly
Mood, Graphics: Memento XII - deep night
Audio: ZUNZANDA - Sonny Bone
Humor: BEEFWAR - crackerblocks

Top Jam Games, by Category:
Innovation: Tiny Timmy and Big Bill - 4urentertainment
Fun: Rambros - Black Ships Fill the Sky
Theme: Pivotation - KingKay
Graphics: Exposed - 01101101
Audio: Inside My Radio - TurboDindon
Humor: subAtomic - MurrayL
Mood: There is a Picture - MortisGhost

Congratulations again, everyone! Quick post-mortem for us bloggers: we found a good deal of the Top Overall games, but we have some work to do with finding the jam gems next time.

Developers, how did your game do? What lessons did you learn from this event? Judges, how did your picks do?

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Long ago I read iWoz, about the life of Steve Wozniak, but I had never had the chance to read any book about Steve Jobs. Last December I bought the official biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and I loved how it is written, it is addictive!

I was especially interested in what happened during the famous Steve Jobs trip to India. It turns out that during his two years in college, he spent most of his time reading about eastern philosophy and religions and talking about them with his friend Daniel Kottke. When he became 19 years old he grew tired of college and started a technical job at ATARI where he barely spent some months. Then he decided to travel to India with Daniel Kottke in search of their “spiritual leaders”.

They were unable to find any “spiritual leader” that could captivate or enlighten them; the truth is they spent months travelling around in India without any destination in mind. The most interesting event was when an Hindu monk approached Steve Jobs with a razor and without any warning shaved his head.

What did you and Steve take back from India that stayed with you?
It seems in retrospect that we spent a lot of time on endless long hot crowded bus rides from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh … From a Daniel Kottke interview

steve jobs

When he returned, he came back to work at ATARI until he was able to sell the first Apple I computers with Wozniak. Five years later Apple would IPO making the 300 employees of Apple multimillionaires. During those years, apart from working, Steve Jobs started to practice Zen meditation at the San Francisco Zen Center; there he got to know the monk Kobun Chino Otogawa, who would become his mentor and friend during the rest of his life. Steve Jobs was said to be one the disciples that spent most hours meditating and in occasions he took several free days to go to Tassajara (the first Zen temple in United States) to sit down in front of a wall and meditate during weeks. Steve enjoyed the idea of using his mind to inspect his mind. He used introspection to change the way his mind worked, something known in psychology as metacognition.

Kobun Chino Otogawa, born in Kyoto, spent the first 30 years of his life in Japan, three of them in the main temple of the Sōtō Zen sect. At the end of the 60s he moved to United States with the mission to have a better understanding of Zen in the Western world. Besides Zen meditation, the specialties of Kobun were writing haiku poems and shodo caligraphy. We all know that Steve Jobs was a fan of caligraphy, for him it was reallly important that the fonts on computer screens were beautiful.

Buddhist monk Kobun Chino Otogawa was the spiritual mentor of Steve Jobs as well as his close friend during more than 20 years.

Kobun Chino Otogawa met Steve Jobs for the first time when he had just come back from his trip to India. Kobun Chino Otogawa found in Steve Jobs an outstanding disciple and Steve found in him a mentor to admire. Their relationship lasted for more than 20 years until Kobun Chino Otogawa died in 2002. Before founding Apple with Markkula and Wozniak, Steve Jobs had been considering what to do with the rest of his life, one of the options that he liked the most was to dedicate himself to the Zen exclusively. In a key moment in his life, Kobun Chino Otogawa advised Steve to do the opposite, he told him to follow his hearth, he told him that “He would find the ZEN in his life dedicating himself with passion to what he liked the most”, he told him that “He could still follow an spiritual life at the same time that he managed a business”. Steve was convinced and started the adventure that would take him to revolutionize several industries (computing, telephony, music…).

Steve Jobs meditating
Steve Jobs meditating.

Kobun Chino Otogawa was also present in another key moment of Steve Jobs life; he was in charge of celebrating the wedding ceremony of Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell according to the Sōtō Zen ritual. Kobun was like a father to Steve; during the NeXT year Steve offered him a job but Kobun just accepted to occupy an “Advisor” role. Kobun Chino Otogawa was the “Spiritual Advisor” of the company until it was acquired by Apple.

Kobun Chino Otogawa happily clapping after marrying Steve and Laurene.

The Zen was an essential tool for Steve Jobs for designing Apple products. A basic rule for Steve Jobs was to always simplify as much as possible, eliminating any element that was not strictly necessary. The iPod, whose simple, beautiful and intuitive design supposed an authentic revolution when it was released, was the first Apple product that I bought. At the moment I am the owner of around 15 Apple products. What I like the most about Apple products is that, as a whole, their simplicity and ease of use allows me to be able to be more creative and productive when using them.

The iPod shows us, through its simplicity, how much Steve Jobs appreciated the Zen.

Steve met Kobun Chino Otogawa for the first time at the end of the 70s but he didn’t travel to Japan until the beginning of the 80s. He had to go to Japan to look for the most appropriate floppy disk drive for the first Macintosh. In that trip he met for the first time Aiko Morita, the founder of Sony and could try exclusively the first prototypes of the Walkman, a device that impressed Steve Jobs. Another thing that captivated Steve Jobs were Sony factories (which afterwards he emulated when building Apple factories). Steve Jobs admired Aiko Morita but in many ocasions he criticized the unrefined designs of Sony products. The first Macintosh was one of the first computers to include a 3.5” floppy disk drive.

Besides doing business, Steve Jobs had the chance to travel around Japan visiting Kyoto and Soto Zen Eiheiji, the temple where Kobun Chino Otogawa had been living before moving to United States. Steve Jobs came back to Japan several times during the rest of his life, most of the visits were business trip but he almost always had time to escape to Kyoto, his favourite Japanese city:

Steve Jobs visiting The Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

Steve Jobs always stayed in the Hotel Okura and loved the sushi of the restaurant on the lower floor. The Hotel Okura appears in the novel 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, it is the hotel where Aomame goes to visit the leader to offer him massage services.

summer random shots
Entrance to the Hotel Okura, where Steve Jobs liked to stay when he was visiting the land of the Zen.

Kobun Chino Otogawa, Sony’s Aiko Morita, the Zen and Japan were a big influence in Steve Jobs life. Another Japanese person that Steve Jobs admired was Issey Miyake, a Japanese designer who seeks elegance through simplicity, and who became quite close to Steve Jobs and eventually would become the designer of the famous black turtleneck sweater that Steve wore almost daily during the last years of his life.

Spiritual life, products with a simple but revolutionary design, Zen, Japan, simplicity, Buddhism, intuition, vision, attention to detail… but at the same time it turns out that Steve Jobs had really bad manners even with friends, as he was vindictive, treacherous, narcissistic, etc. It looks like Steve Jobs just chose the Buddhist values he liked better and forgot that Buddhism is based on empathy and compassion. I would really like to know what was the sincere opinion that Kobun Chino Otogawa had about him, most likely he liked him just as he was, with his defects and strengths that brought him to create what is today the largest company in the world by market capitalization.

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs


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