Starting a business – part 1

Since the start of the year Fumina and I have been playing with the idea of starting an outbound online shop—selling Japanese products to customers abroad. Last month we finally launched Chuchulu and it’s proven to be quite an interesting adventure.

Fashion accessories made in Japan

Finding a product

The first step was to find a product category:

  • It had to be something we like. We’re not natural born salesmen so there’s no way we could push something we don’t genuinely like ourselves.
  • It had be interesting to people abroad (obviously) and not largely available outside of Japan. With shipping costs and potential tariffs, it would be difficult for us to beat local shops competition.
  • It had to be easily shippable. Heavy bulky items would push up shipping cost and make us less attractive to foreign customers.
  • Unit costs had to be on the lower side, at least at the beginning. We did not want to invest massively into a starting stock in case things just don’t work out.

Ultimately, we came to choose fashion accessories (earrings, bracelets and the like) with typical Japanese designs as our first products.

Fumina knew a good craftsman’s workshop specialized in traditional prayer beads who could work with her on order made bracelets based on her designs. That was our first product.

Agates in various colors and Black Onyx, made in Kyoto.

We also started visiting industry events to meet with suppliers. That’s how we found our second product line: Minoyaki tile earrings from Tajimi in Gifu prefecture. We also went to visit the workshop where these are made.

Various colors of tile earrings made in Tajimi, Gifu prefecture.

The next steps of this adventure will be coming in future posts…


5 years ago today I am in the Yamanote line going to an interview for what is to become my current job. The shaking hits as we are pulling in to the platform at Shinjuku station. I brace myself as the car sways to what feels like 30º angles and people standing don’t know if they should jump out or jump in.

As things calm down, the station master announces on the PA system that all trains are stopped probably for the rest of the day and asks everyone to exit the station calmly. I glance up at towers in Shinjuku west side, they are still swaying back and forth 10 minutes after the quake.

I leave the station but all I can think about is how to make it to my interview. I try calling the HR guy and my agent maybe 20 times but nothing is going through. I send a couple emails to my family and friends abroad saying I’m fine so that they don’t worry as they wake up and see a big earthquake on the news.

I try desperately to catch a taxi that could bring me closer to Tamachi where my interview is. Finally I manage to get through to the HR guy who tells me everyone left the building and the interview is cancelled.

That’s the moment when I look up at the giant video screen on the front of the Flags building at Shinjuku south entrance. It shows the live view from a helicopter as the wave unfurls over Tohoku. I realize how bad the situation is and how silly I was focusing on my stupid job interview…

I stay maybe 30 minutes in shock, watching the live images of the disaster with hundreds of business people and shoppers. Then I realize there is nothing to do but walk home. I curse myself for buying new business shoes for this interview as I walk 5km back to Ikebukuro.

Lady Homare of Greystoke

The other day as we were watching TV, my girlfriend was saying that 沢穂希 (Homare Sawa), captain of Nadeshiko Japan the national women soccer team, should really keep her hair tied up under all circumstance lest she look like an ape…

To which I replied that comparing her to a monkey is a bit harsh, but she does look a bit like the Earl of Greystoke, Lord of the Apes. As she looked at me dumbfounded, I realized she had never heard of the original Tarzan apart from the Disney adaptation. So I dug out a torrent of the movie Greystoke and we watched it together.

The movie is just as good as I remember it from my childhood. It was Christophe Lambert‘s first major movie role. It was also Andie McDowell‘s first role so next up on the movie list is “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.

My thoughts on the iPad…

…because everyone has their own. They could be resumed to: I want! I want! I want! I want!

It’s shiny, it’s thin, it looks good… Like all my favorite Apple stuff. I don’t even care if it has lousy WiFi — I live in a 50m² apartment with only 2 rooms separated by wooden walls, I am never more than 5m away from my Time Capsule.

But will I get one? I’m not so sure. In the current set of things, probably not. This is why:

  1. As I said earlier, my home is small — albeit nice and cosy — as most people in Tokyo who are not on expatriate expense accounts. My main computer is a MacBook Pro which sits at all time on the arm rest of my sofa: there is no table/desk to put it.
    So buying an iPad would mean relegating the MacBook Pro to a closet until I need it for higher level tasks — such as dumping photos into Aperture or writing code for home projects… Putting a ¥200.000 laptop in a closet feels wrong, but maybe I could live with it.

This is a coffee table, not a desk…

  1. I spend 3h of every weekday commuting to and back from work. I could really see myself enjoying movies, TV shows, my feed reader and internet/email on an iPad much more than on my iPhone as I do now. However, there is no way in hell I would ever pay another ¥4000 or so to Softbank for an unlimited 3G connection in addition to the one tied to my iPhone. You can only bleed your customers so much…

So unless the coming weeks see an announcement (I’m thinking iPhone 4.0 tonight) by Apple or Softbank of either tethering your iPhone to your iPad or an extra iPad 3G SIM at ¥500 for iPhone owners, I don’t think I will buy the iPad.

White-capped Fujisan after the typhoon

Took this photo with my iPhone this morning after the 20th typhoon of the season cleared away.

Last time I saw it, there was no snow. Now it’s all white. See another beautiful photo made this morning from much closer.

I will try to update this post tonight with some photos I took with my DSLR in between brushing my teeth and putting my pants on – always in a rush in the mornings…

I give you my books!

photo by flyzipper

As you might have seen in a previous post, I will soon be moving to a smaller apartment closer to Tokyo center. This causes some minor logistic problems like: where to put all my stuff?

Since it seems apparent that my girlfriend will not reduce the size of her consequent wardrobe and shoes collection, I am quietly expected to get rid of as much of my stuff as deemed necessary…

Having a pretty long 1 hour commute where I can sit most of the time, I read quite a lot in the train which has left me with quite a big pile of books over the past year and a half. And although I love my books, if I have to choose between a bulky library and my electronic gadgets, I will not hesitate long.

These are all Science Fiction novels in English (I’ve been going through the list of Hugo Award nominees on wikipedia) and are very hard to sell here: Book Off will not take them and I am yet to sell any of them on Amazon Marketplace. So rather than just dumping them with the magazines in the ゴミ, I offer to give them out to anyone interested.

Please check out the list on my book giveaway page and contact me if anything whets your interest. I will keep that page updated with my stock and put comments here if I add any books to the list.

Moving to the city

After a bit more than 1.5 years since moving to my current place in 志木, it’s time to move again. I’ve set my mind on a tower mansion 2 minutes from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo and should get the keys by the end of June.

floorplan of the new apartment

The view from the living room should be like the picture below on clear days (albeit from a lower vantage point but I should still be able to glimpse the Fujisan). Can’t wait to be doing cool Tokyo timelapses from my own window.

fujisan view - the weird white triangular building is Nakano

This time, my company does not wish to rent it for me and take it out of my salary as I am a local contract employee. So this is my first foray into actually signing a rental contract and paying all the fees myself upfront. So lets break it down:

  • 1st month of rent (you pay your rent in advance in Japan) = ¥220.000
  • Moving in on 26th of June so 5 days worth of rent until 30th = ¥36.700
  • 敷金 – deposit, 2 months of rent = ¥440.000
  • 火災保険 – fire insurance = ¥25.000
  • 鍵交換代 – lock change fee = ¥35.000 (that’s a hell of a lot for a lock!)
  • 町内会費 – neighborhood association membership fee for 2 months = ¥500

For a grand total of ¥757.200 or three quarters of a million yen… upfront… it hurts…

And actually, I should count myself lucky, this is rather cheap and most of it is the deposit which I’ll mostly get back. Apartments here, especially new ones, often have a 礼金 which is also called key money and is a nice gift of 2 months of rent to the owner.

Thinking of all that money makes me a bit more partial to the idea of buying a place for myself…

Aperture Experiments – monochrome

Playing around with Aperture, I’m slowly getting the hang of RAW treatment workflow after each day of shooting. A little bit of contrast here, adjusting the temperature there, a tad of vibrancy over here… What used to take me hours is now done in 10min thanks to the great “lift and stamp” tool.

But one thing I still can’t get a hang of is monchrome conversion… This is a photo I took yesterday from the 27th floor of the Shinjuku L Tower (the Nikon Plaza showroom). From it, I made a version with each pre-defined setting of Aperture:

Default Monochrome - R30% G59% B11%

Continue reading Aperture Experiments – monochrome

Airline ticketing bullshit

I was supposed to go to Paris with my girlfriend next week, but I suddenly have to cancel for various reasons. Checking the calendar, we decided we could report the trip to August and match it with a friend’s wedding in Rome.

So I cancel her ticket first, which was an award ticket so it was rather easy. Then looking at my ticket, here’s what I find in the oh-so-buggy Air France website:

  • It would cost me ¥650.000 to change my ticket, including the ¥15.000 modification fee

650.000 yens for changing my ticket

  • On the other hand, I could cancel my ticket for ¥30.000 and buy a new one for the exact same flights for ¥175.000

new ticket for 175.000

I’m calling the reservation desk Monday to see what they’ll say (because of course there is no way to cancel the reservation online) but I’m sure they won’t even blink…

Web Identity and business cards

With the recent talk of business cards, I decided to make me some personal 名刺 for use in non-corporate context. I used to have some – home-made by my graphic designer brother – but even those were linked to one of my activities, co-founder at, and not 100% personal.

This all got me thinking of my web identity – the face I show to the web, which in this day and age is the only world that matters. I am lucky enough to have a rare name, rare enough that I am pretty sure me and my cose-related family (8 people) are the only bearer of this family name. So when you search my name on Google, all the results are actually related to me, myself and I.

However, when looking at these results, the top ones are my profiles at various websites such as LinkedIn or Flickr. Although these are mine and I define what is written there, I do not have 100% dictator-like control over them. This bothers me a little…


So I started working on my webpresence portal, a website that defines me and should eventually become the nº1 search result for my name. It will be the website I write on my business card, and although it currently only shows links to stuff I do, I have plans to expand it with new functionalities: a portfolio and make it an OpenID provider for starters.

Update: Google now offers 10.000 sets of business cards to their Google Profile users.


They are kinda lame and cool at the same time. Anyways, they do no ship to Japan so I won’t get one. My design is better.

Twitter integration

As you might have noticed, in the past weeks I have more tightly integrated my twitter messages into the blog. When they used to just show up in the sidebar, they are now posted simultaneously here as full blog posts, albeit with a special minimalistic styling.


You can clickity-click on the cute blue birdie to go to the post page and comment, as with every other post, on the inane stuff I post there. This wonder of technology is brought to you by the twitter tools wordpress plugin and my awesome coding skills.

Alas, I know some of you are already following my tweets on your twitter account and might find the double punch effect of reading these messages twice, in your twitter timeline and in your RSS feedreader, a bit overwhelming.


Which is why I created an extra RSS feed to which you can subscribe and get only the fat fleshy blog posts, free of the 140 characters tweets. You can switch to that, I won’t begrudge you…