In a departure from the MobileinJapan.com norm, contributor Joseph Tame encourages readers to join him as he leads a group up the slopes of Mt. Fuji – whilst live streaming the whole adventure over a special temporary data network.

日本語はこちらです。


Active Otaku

One thing I’ve promised myself is that if I’m going to be a tech otaku, I’m not going to the passive type. I’m not going to be one of those who lie in bed at night with their multi-generational iPhones lined up on the bedside table, ready for their daily polish.

The type who talk incessantly about the sensual curvature of the rear of their iPad, yet dare not take the device out of the house for fear of it becoming discoloured by the suns rays.

No, if I’m going to be a tech-otaku, I’m going to be an active one. I’m going to use my technology and push it to the limits. I’m not going to treat my iPhone with kid gloves – it’s here to work, and if that means forcing it to broadcast video for 42km, or send out tweets in the pouring rain, or act as a wedge to stop the front door from closing when I’m bringing the futons in from airing – well, so be it.

(OK, so that was actually my wife’s iPhone).

Mount Fuji Live! 2010

Having sat in front of my computer pretty much all the time since the Tokyo Marathon, earlier this month I decided it was time for a bit of exercise. And what better way to get in shape than climb all the way to the roof of Japan – whilst broadcasting live video of the adventure using a groundbreaking camera beaming data through a special temporary wireless network from atop a high-tech plastic helmet. I will be joined by a team of 9 intrepid fellow Tokyoites.

At 3,776m, the summit of Mt. Fuji – a dormant volcano that last erupted a little over 200 years ago, puts you almost within arm’s reach of the International Space Station.

Solar Eclipse Fuji Hike_5224

The trek to the top is often mistakenly thought of as not that difficult – but it can be lethal: two people died of exposure on the same path as us 24 hours after we descended last year.

Altitude sickness is never far away, and the danger of losing all your money is also pretty high as the bottled water sold from mountain huts gets progressively more expensive the higher up you go. On windy days the volcanic ash covering the upper slopes gets whipped up into a frenzy, blinding those without goggles.

Arriving at the summit after 6 to 8 hours of climbing, you feel both utterly exhausted – and elated. The view is spectacular. You stand their next to the defiant vending machines, speechless, wondering at the beauty of the landscape before you.

(Or, if the weather is like it was last year, you desperately try to take shelter in one of the packed mountain huts, begging to be served anything hot that will help your bones defrost, wishing that the weather was clear enough for a helicopter to take you straight home).

Pushing Mobile Technology to the Limits

There are many people who have never made it to the summit of Mt. Fuji, and for many reasons (e.g. having a bit of common sense) never will. I’d like to share the experience of making it to top with those people, and in doing so push some mobile technologies to the limit.

You won’t usually find mobile network coverage on Mt. Fuji, mainly because the local inhabitants (volcanic rocks) don’t have much use for phones. However, every July, NTT DoCoMo switch on two stations at the foot of the mountain, beaming coverage up its slopes. Receiving these signals are two repeaters placed on the rim of the crater, providing coverage around the two shrines up there.

NTT DoCoMo have generously provided us with one of their new pocket-wifi devices, the Buffalo DWR-PG. Connecting to this will be the Cerevo Cam Live – kindly provided by the makers for this adventure. The Cerevo Cam, homemade in Akihabara, has built-in wifi, and connects directly to USTREAM (or their own Cerevo Life service). We’ll be using this for much of our trek up the volcanic slopes, and from the top, hopefully catching the sunrise.

The Cerevo Cam Live has been cunningly mounted in a 1,800 yen plastic kid’s helmet bought in Donki Hote. It is held in place by generous dollops of the UK’s finest Blu-Tak.

We’ll also have the iPad of Stamina with us, provided by Heather, owner of Rinkya.com (who’s also climbing with us). This will be connected via Wifi to the NTT DoCoMo network, and will be used to display YOUR Twitter messages of support for the team to read whilst struggling to the peak (hashtag #mtfujiTV)

We’ll be providing a GPS signal too so you can keep tabs on just how slowly we’re moving.

We plan to do some kind of performance once on the summit – although are yet to figure out what this will involve other than coconut shells and a horn.

Live Stream Schedule

The live event, which will take place right here on Mobile in Japan,  is planned as follows:

Tuesday 20th July

  • 11:00 JST (02:00 UTC, 03:00 BST) – Live stream starts from minibus en-route to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo
  • 12:00 JST (03:00 UTC, 04:00 BST) – We start climbing Mt. Fuji (from station 5 on the Yoshida-Guchi trail)
  • 18:00 JST (09:00 UTC, 10:00 BST) – arrive at Mountain hut, station 8 (about an hour below the summit) – provide entertainment, stay the night there.
  • 03:00 JST (Wed in Japan, Tue in UK/ US (18:00 UST, 19:00 BST) Wake up, head for the summit
  • 04:30 JST (19:30 UTC, 20:30 BST) Sunrise from the summit, party on the roof of Japan, walk around the crater
  • 09:00 JST (12:00 UTC, 01:00 BST) Descend to the van, return to Tokyo.

Take part!

The live stream will be displayed on http://www.mobileinjapan.com from 7am (JST) on Tuesday 20th July 2010.

You can actively take part in this spectacle by sending your messages via twitter – just reply to @tamegoeswild and it will be displayed for the whole team to see on the iPad of Stamina.

We’ll be watching our timeline and will try to be as interactive as possible during the climb. Also, we’ll post updates on the latest progress to  @tamegoeswild in the lead up to the climb, and in the event that the video stream goes down.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much data we manage to push out. We’re not giving any guarantees here, so the whole project could fall flat on its face – but no loss if that’s happens.

Thanks to NTT DoCoMo, Cerevo, The Japan Times, the BBC and Heather of Rinkya.com for all of their support.

Special thank to @SteveNagata for his tech support, and @MikeKato for helping get all of this organised.

A few weeks back, friend and fellow iPhone fan @namyhei asked me if I’d like to join her at the Softbank 30th Anniversary Open day, held last Sunday at their headquarters in Shiodome, Tokyo. The idea for the event came from a regular Softbank employee, whom a few months back had tweeted CEO Masayoshi Son (@masason) saying that she wanted Softbank to hold an Open Day, with guests provided with lunch in the company restaurant. Son-san, known for his active Twitter use and at times unconventional leadership, decided to make this a reality. Entry was to be limited to 1000 lucky twitter-lottery winners – of which we were two.

We didn’t really know what to expect, other than that there’d be some kind of Twitter themed talk, and that we’d get a free lunch in the cafe at Softbank HQ, overlooking Hamarikyu Gardens and Tokyo Bay. Of course the hope was that there would also be an important announcement – it seemed like a bit too much trouble to go to for just some kind of glorified tweetup.

Four-legged mascot

Having arrived fashionably late so as to miss the morning filler-programs (iPhone app presentations featuring a lot of apps we’d seen before… and as we later learned, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son mingling with the guests >< ), we took our seats in the auditorium, ready for the Main Event.

Things got underway at 2pm, with the Softbank dog, Otoosan (the ‘father’ of the Softbank family as seen in commercials, and probably the most famous living dog in Japan), making his appearance on stage, led by Dante Carver, the New Yorker who plays the brother in the family. Aside from generating a lot of excitement amongst Otosan fans in the room, they also demonstrated how we should clap for the cameras, and encouraged us to make use of the free wifi network, which by this time was totally crippled as 2000 people tried to simultaneously tweet pictures of the four-legged star on stage.

Soon after, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son took to the stage, and round one commenced – a Twitter discussion with Twitter celebs @nobi, @knnKanda and @matsuyou. They all looked just like their avatars.

The conversations that followed were wonderful, with all speakers telling personal stories of how Twitter had affected their lives – stories that the majority of people in the audience (including us) could relate to, having experienced similar situations themselves.

Twitter guests

The event organisers had also arranged for several of Son’s followers to attend and tell their stories. The first was a 16 year old boy from Kyushu – one of the very few people whom the CEO follows. Son explained his reason for this: many years ago, he’d been a school boy in the same area, and he wanted to get a glympse into his past life, and to see how things had changed. The boy was completely unfazed by being in the spotlight, and gave a memorable little speech, which almost brought tears to our eyes!

Following that was a woman who’d made a cookie that looked just like an iPhone – there had been some back and forth between her and Son after she’d sent him a picture of it via Twitter; this then led to her presenting Son with his very own – he was delighted! (see 20:30 in the video above)

The final guest was a Korean follower of Son’s, who used Google Translate to read his tweets – an example of the ‘borderless’ nature of Twitter.

Free in-home Femto-cell access points

Son used the opportunity to address the most common criticism that he receives – poor coverage. He noted that they had inherited a pretty poor network from vodafone, and that they were only 1% behind the other major mobile providers with 98% coverage (not that you’d think so as a user!). However, they weren’t being complacent, and 2010 would see a large increase in the number of transmitters. But he went further than that, announcing free Femto-cell access points (mobile phone transmitter) & dedicated ADSL line in homes where their signal didn’t reach (see 48:30). Furthermore, they’d provide free wifi routers to restaurants, bars etc for use by customers with Softbank handsets.

HTC Desire

As covered in this earlier article, Son went on to announce the HTC Desire running Android 2.1, making sure to point out just how superior it was to models available on other networks.

The 81yr old politician who stole the show

Next up on stage was someone we weren’t expecting at all – the 81 year old politician Koichi Hamada, (@555hamako), who with over 133,000 followers has become something of a Twitter Celebrity. In an inspired PR move, a Softbank counter was wheeled on, staffed by the girl who appeared alongside SMAP in a recent commercial. It was pretty comical watching Hamada read through the terms of the White Plan (Softbank’s standard phone plan), before signing it, and being handed his first iPhone (see 1:00:00).

Hamada was not one to be pushed around though, and when it came time for him to leave the stage, he remained where he was, leaning on his cane, until finally allowed to sing a traditional Japanese song from the enka genre! (1:20:00).

Softbank & Ustream Partnership

The final announcement for the day was that of three brand new Ustream studios for free, public use. The first opened that day at Softbank HQ (where DJ Taro and Sascha were keeping things rolling – the other two will be opening soon in the Softbank Shibuya branch and Shidax Building [English press release]).

In the final section of the presentation, Son reappeared dressed in period costume in reference to Sakamoto Ryoma, the drama about whom Son is a big fan of. There followed more discussion, and a prize giveaway – although we skipped that in order to get our free lunch before the rush.

The party continued in the restaurant with DJ Taro and Sascha presenting, interviewing and on the decks for some time. Being a Ustream fan I was entranced by the bank of monitors used to mix and output the final stream – this is something I have to try myself!

Heading home at the end of the day I couldn’t help but think about what a great PR event it had been. I’d been bribed with a free lunch overlooking Tokyo Bay & both a chocolate and cuddly-toy version of Otosan, I’d been enchanted by the charisma and ‘normalness’ of the richest man in Japan, I’d been starstruck by a bunch of Twitter celebs, entertained by an enka-singing politician, and entertained by two of Tokyo’s best-known DJs.

The Softbank Open Day shifted my attitude towards the company to a certain extent. I feel more inclined to forgive them their faults (crap coverage, poor in-store customer service), and instead see them as a company breaking the typical Japanese mould and doing things in a more open, human way.

Son san is now at the core of this image I have of the company (as opposed to the queue at my local branch). By holding imaginative, original and entertaining events such as this (and then going on to give memorable live-streamed speeches such as this one to new employees) I think Son stands a good chance of keeping my business for life. And based on how much my phone bill is each month, that’s something worth fighting for!