Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Additive vs Subtractive Merit

How does one get promoted? Climb the steps of the organizational ladder?

In a system of additive merit, people are evaluated by how much extra value they create for the organization. Going beyond expectation is the motto. Pieces of merit, small and large, add up as a person gets noticed and promoted.

In a system of subtractive merit, people are evaluated by how much time they spend in an organization without screwing up. Don’t fuck up is the motto. A person will slowly but surely climb the organizational ladder unless he/she makes some grave mistake, at which point the progress stops.

American readers generally resonate with additive merit while the Japanese reader is thinking “yup, subtractive merit is the Japanese system.”

As most people reading this blog are college educated professionals, most people are probably thinking the whole world should operate in a system of additive merit. People should be motivated to and be rewarded for going the extra mile.

No so fast.

There are types of work where subtractive merit is more of a natural fit, namely remedial jobs. It’s difficult for a grocery checkout clerk, mailman, train driver to really outshine each other.

Then there are those kinds of work where you may not want a system of additive merit, which can cause people to be competitive and/or overzealous at times. Do you really want a overzealous bouncer? street cop? Policing is an interesting case since there is only so much crime to be prevented. Put too competitive of a system for cops and they’ll start creating their own crime to police.

A system of subtractive merit generally creates more social harmony. Trying to one-up each other is a non-factor and people are unlikely to sabotage each other when everyone is slowly succeeding. When tasks and goals are definable and defined, subtractive method may be the preferred mode of working.

Of course this is not innovative work.

Not surprisingly, system of subtractive merit induces risk averse behavior. When there is nothing to be gained from trying something new but much to be lost by it not working out, people avoid it. This makes innovation incredibly difficult.

Not all organizations need to be innovative, but when a traditional one driven by a system of subtractive merit needs to become innovative, there are huge challenges. Behavior is incredibly inertial and even if the system is changed, it takes a long time for people to change.

A system of subtractive merit is also challenging for innovators inside established organizations. Doing something new often challenges the rules of an organization and without those willing to bend the rules, innovation can be tough. Furthermore, in a system of subtractive merit, most people see the innovator as a virus that could disrupt the cohesion of the organization, something that needs to be avoided,

Needless to say, this is the story of entrepreneurship in Japan and intrapreneurship in Japanese organizations. Much of Japan functioned smoothly for decades with an emphasis on social cohesion and not screwing up.

Maybe this is a better model of society, but I will remain judgement neutral for now.

What can be said is that in the age of increasing global competition and rapid change, Japanese needs more entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, people who are willing to take the risk and fuck up once every so often. There are more and more people taking the leap, but the system of merit is pitted against them.


Still addicted to Ukulele

Two years ago, I posted that I was addicted to ukulele.

I still am.

In addition to learning how to play new songs and expanding my song book, I’ve started working on projects with friends and recording some music. Here they are.

Back in 2013, my Finnish friend Tuuli visited me and while messing around on the ukulele, we decided to create a song. We spent one night writing away and the next morning recording it before she had to leave and I had to go to work.

Last year for Christmas, my friend and I recorded a very famous Hawaiian Christmas song by Bing Crosby:

Yes, she is a much better singer than I am. We also covered Mama Cass’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” which works surprisingly well on ukulele:

And Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I”:

Lastly, two years ago, I posted on Facebook that if I received over hundred likes, I would record and post a video of me playing ukulele. 865 days later, I’m keeping my promise:

This is one of my favorite Japanese songs so I subtitled the translation.

Needless to say, I have lots to improve and I’m never going to be a professional, but it’s a lot of fun. I sold my recording gear before I left Germany so I have to get another set in Japan but sooner or later, I plan to start recording again, this time maybe one of the songs I’ve been writing on the side. It would also be cool to find a partner in crime (or even a band) in Japan to work on projects too. In the meantime, my YouTube updates, even less frequent than my blog, are available at Sushilele.


Perceptions of the world


I created this more than a year ago, but it seems more relevant today than ever before.



The difficulties of meeting people for lunch in Japan


With my western background, social nature, and curiosity, ever since coming to Japan I’ve been trying to connect with as many people as possible in order learn and expand my network. As a result, I’ve attended many many events and my transportation costs have been incredibly high from all the trips to Osaka.

Besides events, I’ve also been trying to meet people through lunch, and this has been proving incredibly difficult. Almost everyone is too busy to catch up for lunch, which you know is bullshit.

This pattern was new to me, so I asked a close friend why it kept happening.

“Japanese people generally ask out people for lunch to ask for something (e.g. favor) and because it’s so uncomfortable to say no, they instead avoid the lunch all together coming up with some excuse.”

There you have it. A cultural tidbit from one of the most unique cultures in the world.

This of course doesn’t apply to everyone in the country. I have met some people for lunch, so don’t think it’s impossible to meet people just for lunch. It’s just a lot harder.


E-mail Management



If you want to make hardware, come to Kyoto

Makers Boot Camp

If you want to make software in Japan, go to Tokyo. If you want to make hardware, come to Kyoto.

Following the trend of too many things converging in Tokyo, the startup scene within Japan is strongest in the modern capital. Most big-name Japanese startups are based in Tokyo, and for anyone trying to start a software or web startup, being there is a natural conclusion.

It’s an entirely different story for hardware startups.

In one of the largest, densest, and most expensive city in the world, trying to work with more than your computer and the cloud and build hardware could be a costly venture. The network also isn’t as established compared to software and web services.

Then where?

Unbeknownst to most, the ancient capital of Kyoto, my hometown and my current city, has a rich culture of hardware and electronics. While most people see Kyoto as a tourist destination or the home of Nintendo, there are a lot of world class companies that most people don’t know about because they operate mostly in the B2B field: Kyocera, Rohm, Omron, Nidec, Shimadzu, and Horiba to name a few. Furthermore, there is an amazing amount of capable SMEs that support these companies in a very Japanese style of industry networking.

Until now, there wasn’t a robust startup scene in Kyoto, but that is starting to change. With the network and resources available, this is the perfect place to build hardware. In addition to the companies, Kyoto is one of the best university towns in the world with over 25 universities.


Now to make it easier for entrepreneurs in Japan and around the world to build hardware, a new program called Makers Boot Camp just launched in Kyoto. The idea is to create an acceleration program that connects with all the advantages of Kyoto.

The university that I work for, Kyoto Institute of Technology, is providing a hardware crash course for budding entrepreneurs and the organization I’m a part of, KYOTO Design Lab, is contributing with design expertise and maker spaces. Kyoto Shisaku Net, a coalition of over 100 companies are providing their expertise in mass-production prototyping, and the city along with the Advanced Scientific Technology & Management Research Institute of Kyoto is involved as well.

It’s quite exciting.

While there are several hardware accelerators around the world, as much as I can tell, this is the first one that is really focusing on mass-manufacturability. Unlike software, the path to market for hardware companies is much hairier, and just because you created a functional prototype doesn’t mean you can suddenly create it en-masse and spread it around the world. There are many entrepreneurs on Kickstarter who underestimated the difficulty in design for manufacturability.

I’m really excited that something like this is starting in my hometown and even more excited that I get to be involved.

Now I’m hoping cool people from around Japan and world will come to Kyoto to make awesome new products.

Let’s do this. If you’re interested in participating in the Makers Boot Camp, check out the FAQ here and join here.

P.S. Some of you are probably wondering what I’m exactly doing back in Kyoto. I know the newest rendition of “what is Sushi up to” is months delayed. I promise, in due time.





それで思いついたのが一度パリで参加した SCAVENGER HUNT。ちょっと違うかもしれないが日本だと宝探しのような物。チームに分かれてヒントから街中で色々な物を探す冒険。実際に探して買うとしても良いが、それより写真をとって見つけたと証明するかメッセージを見つけてメモって持って帰る方が普通。ちなみにドイツで自分の誕生日にこのイベントをコーディネートした経験がある。友達たちを街中に送り色々なことをさせて面白かった(その後は飲み会)。




Liquid culture


Some cultures are like water. If you don’t paddle fast enough, you will drown.

Some cultures are like quicksand. If you move too fast, you will get sucked in.

Some cultures are like a viscous fluid. You can move slowly but once you start moving fast, there is incredible force holding you back.

What kind of culture do you live in?


Looking back at Slush Asia – SLUSH ASIA を振り返って

Slush Asia 1

Slush arrives in Japan, like an angry bird slung across Asia to land in an empty parking lot in Odaiba, Tokyo. Is this the strike that cracks open the islands metaphorically called the Galapagos? or is this an anomaly for a nation that speaks so much about being global but fails to live up to its words?

ヘルシンキからアングリーバードのようにお台場に SLUSH が飛んできた。これがガラパゴスと呼ばれる日本を開き開ける起点になるのだろうか?それともグロバール化と謳うがグロバール化できない日本には異例なものなのだろうか?

Slush Asia 2

100% English language, rock ‘n’ roll festival atmosphere, truly an oddity in the sunny Tokyo day. 3000 entrepreneurs, investors, reporters, students, and interested people like myself came together to bask in the excitement of creating something new from scratch. A truly magical day but what will remain once the tents are removed and the community scatters again?


Slush Asia 3

Connections made, knowledge passed on, inspiration delivered, words written, videos transmitted, but is that enough? Will that ignite a revolution in this country, take down the conservative culture, and be a catalyst for change? Or will it fade away into the night like a firework, leaving a trail of rapidly vanishing smoke?


Slush Asia 4

With or without Slush, startups will keep working, failing, succeeding, laughing, crying, dreaming. For a day they were rockstars, performing in front of a screaming audience, but changing the world doesn’t happen in a day. I wish the best for all of them for trailblazing is not easy, especially in a world where the fear of failure can be suffocating.

SLUSH が日本に来なくてもアントレプレナーは頑張って、失敗して、成功して、笑って、泣いて、夢を見続けるだろう。一日では世界は変えられないが、この一日、泣き叫ぶ観客の前で彼らはロックスターになれた。失敗への恐怖感で圧迫されるこの世の中、人の先を進むのは容易なことではない、そしてその先駆者達に幸運を願う。

Slush Asia 5

The real magic of Slush Asia was not visible in the foreground. They were the unsung heroes of the day, without which the event would not have been possible. 300 (what a great number) students came and volunteered their time and effort to put together this amazing event. I hope they were truly inspired for it’s ultimately them that will carry this country into the next generation. For a day, they made the stage, and the world came to them.

SLUSH ASIA 真の光は表出ては輝いていなかった。謳われぬヒーロー、ボランテイアで関わった300の学生達(なんてスバラシイ数字なんだ)、彼らなくしてこのイベントは成功していなかっただろ。彼らが SLUSH ASIA を通して限りないインスピレーションを得た事を願う。なぜなら彼らがこの国を次の時代に持っていくからだ。青く晴れた東京の一日、彼らがステージを作ってそこに世界が来た。

Slush is a world renowned startup and tech event in Helsinki that started in 2008 and grew from 200 people to 15,000 in seven years. Slush Asia was the first time the event was held outside of Finland in Odaiba, Tokyo. 3000 people attended this one day event that was unlike any other in Japan. You can read more about it here:

I was involved in Slush Asia as an English pitch coach using my design, presentation, and (small) startup experience. I also got to see the original Slush in Helsinki in 2014 as a member of a German startup company. It was a great experience to connect and help out with the small but budding startup scene in Japan, and I hope the culture and community grows.

Slush Asia 6

SLUSH はヘルシンキから始まった世界的に有名なベンチャーとテクノロジーのイベントで、2008年に200人規模で始まり去年は15000人来場した。SLUSH ASIA 4月24日に東京お台場で行われフィンランド外では初。一日で3000人参加したイベントは日本では他ならぬ空気と独特のムードが漂った。もっと知りたい方は関連記事をご参照:

私自身 SLUSH ASIA では英語のピッチ(ベンチャー企業のプレゼン)コーチとして、デザイン、プレゼンテーション、そして少しのベンチャー経験を用いてお手伝いしました。去年の本家の SLUSH にもドイツのベンチャー企業の一員として参加し、いろいろ学びました。日本ではまだ小さいベンチャーコミュニティとつながって手助けできた事は良い経験になった。これからもどんどんコミュニティと文化が広まるのを願います。

(Photos from Flickr Album)


Should governments be able to influence navigation data?

kyoto traffic jam

Unlike many cities in Japan, the public transport system in Kyoto is not as developed. This is partially due to the fact that as an ancient city, digging is prohibitively expensive. You can’t just dig in Kyoto; you have make sure you won’t be destroying artifacts that may be centuries old (or even a millennium or two).

There is a street in Kyoto that is perpetually traffic jammed. All the locals know this, but as a tourist city, many people from outside the city come in relying on their nav systems, creating unbearable congestions in places.

The City of Kyoto recently went to the Japan Digital Road Map Association and requested that nav systems put part of that street (~1100m) on lower priority for routing and not guide cars into smaller residential streets (From Kyoto Shimbun, Japanese only, I’m pretty sure this article won’t be translated anywhere). According to the newspaper, the top for digital map companies in Japan promised to do their best. I don’t know if these are data owners like Zenrin or includes users like Google.

Don’t get me wrong, knowing how horrible the situation is on that street, I think this is a great idea. However, I wonder how much governments and organizations should influence navigation data and ultimately the flow of people.

In this case, intentions are pure, but what if a city is developing a new shopping district and want more people to go through there? What if it wants to direct traffic away from a residential area inhabited by influencers? What if a city wants to hide a poorly developed neighborhood?

Now that this precedence is being set, it’s going to be interesting to see how companies will handle future requests of a similar nature. After all, traffic and the flow of people have an incredible influence over the development and economy of an area.

(Interesting case study from Okinawa in 1978)


After World War II, unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa was under the direct control of the US until 1972 when it was handed back. During that time, like the US, cars in Okinawa drove on the right side of the road, different from the rest of Japan that drives on the left. Six years after Okinawa was returned to Japan, on July 30th 1978, the traffic direction in Okinawa was switched back to left side driving. You could probably imagine the chaos that ensued.

One effect of this change involved the fishing bait and supply stores. Historically, bait shops were placed on the side of the road so people driving towards the sea can easily access the store. However, overnight, this changed. New stores opened on the other side of the road and quickly drove the old stores out of business. Same roads, same cars, just on the other side of the road.