Thursday, 12 May, 2005

Bullet Train, Osaka, and Another Lesson

We took the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Tokyo to Osaka this evening, arriving at our hotel around 7:00 pm.  The three hundred mile trip took maybe three hours from the time we got in a taxi at the office until we arrived at the hotel in Osaka.  That included three or four stops along the way and taking the subway from Shin Osaka station to the station near the hotel.  I suspect that for trips of 500 miles or less, the bullet train is a much more time efficient means of travel than air.  At home, a 300 mile airplane trip takes at least four hours from door to door by the time get to the airport, check in, clear security, board the plane, and all that.  Another bonus of riding the train is that it's almost always on time.

Our host showed us around the area, and we toured the pachinko and slot parlors. Imagine a Las Vegas slot machine place--one of those downtown by the Golden Nugget.  Now add twice as many people and increase the noise by a factor of three or four, and you'll get an idea of what one of these places is like.  Oh, and double the smoke.  I've never really understood the attraction of slot machines, and pachinko is totally alien to me.  But the Japanese seem to really enjoy it.

Another culture shock is the piles of slot machine tokens on the floor next to some players.  Apparently that person is a big winner, and the house wants to show off that people actually win.  I saw piles of tokens representing thousands of dollars sitting on the floor there.  It would have been trivial to grab a handful and get lost in the crowd.  Nobody does that, though.  As surprised as I am by the honesty and respect that I've seen in this culture, I think the Japanese are more surprised that it's not the same throughout the world.  It really is a sad state of affairs when you're surprised that people can be civilized.

Today I met with the programmers and artists who will be using the 3D graphics tools that I'm developing.  As with most things I've encountered here in Japan, the meeting was an odd mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar.  Japanese programmers and artists dress and act exactly like the programmers and artists I worked with in the games industry six years ago.  I understand the technology we're using, of course, and could follow along with the presentation to a certain extend, but I couldn't understand any questions or detailed explanations that weren't in the handouts.  When it came my time to present, I spoke slowly and paused from time to time to let our host translate.

As excited as I was about this new project, I'm even more excited now that I've met the clients and learned exactly what they'll be doing with the product of my work.  They gave us a lot of good suggestions and asked questions that forced us to rethink our approach to some things.  I'm looking forward to getting started.