Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shinkansen Commercial Wins Awards at Cannes

Japan's newest shinkansen (bullet train) had the unfortunate timing of opening on March 12, 2011, the day after the worst natural disaster in 140 years engulfed the northeastern region of the country. Kyushu, the westernmost of Japan's four main islands, now has the Kyushu Shinkansen, which links the north to the south, operating from Hakata to Kagoshima.

Kyushu Shinkansen's route through western Japan

In a commercial to celebrate the opening of the line, Japanese advertising giant Dentsu filmed the bullet train making a run through the island, and more than 30,000 people dotted the landscape along the tracks, waving, holding up signs, and cheering for the train. Dentsu wanted to create a festival, "where the experience was shared as one through a connection that was real and physical."

Deemed too celebratory to run while the nation was suffering and in crisis, the three-minute spot, named "The 250km Wave," was pulled, and little fanfare surrounded the actual opening of the historic train line.

That didn't stop the commercial from winning a couple of awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week. "The 250km Wave" was honored with a Gold Lion in the Outdoor Segment for Stunts and Live Advertising and Silver Media Lions for Best Use of Special Events and Live Advertising and for Travel, Entertainment and Leisure.

From the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

I first read about the commercial in Japan Probe, and I learned about the awards through the Visit Japan Facebook page. It's a wonderful spot, and even though it was filmed before the tragic events of March 11, it reminds me of the spirit and resilience of Japan. I can't help but feel hope when I see the life and vitality displayed throughout the 250km wave.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bobby V Lends a Helping Hand to Japan

This story originally appeared in Baseball Reflections.

Bobby Valentine may have left Japan at the end of the 2009 baseball season, but it’s obvious that the former Chiba Lotte Marines manager’s heart is still with the country. The ESPN baseball analyst has been involved in relief and fundraising efforts to aid in the recovery of the decimated Tohoku region. His collaboration with AmeriCares, a non-profit based in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, began almost immediately after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11.

“Somebody in the office had the idea of calling Bobby because they knew he coached and was such a prominent figure over there,” says Curt Welling, AmeriCares president and CEO. “We’d never done anything with him. I said, ‘Well, you can call him, but I don’t think you’ll ever get him.’ And two hours later he was sitting in our office, and four days later we delivered 17 tons of medicine to Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai.”

The medicine, worth an estimated $600,000, was distributed to primary care clinics. “Bobby was critical to facilitating that contact,” says Welling, who says there is a chance he will accompany Bobby V to Japan later this year. “He’s such a remarkable guy,” Welling says of Valentine, “because he cares so much about this, and he’s so sensitive to the culture and the people [of Japan].”

Stamford on the Sound

In addition to partnering with AmeriCares, Bobby Valentine helped organize Stamford on the Sound, a wine tasting and silent auction with proceeds of an estimated $750,000 benefitting the Japanese American Association of New York, which will distribute the funds to NGOs in Japan as well as US tornado relief agencies. 

Wine tasting at Stamford on the Sound

The event took place on June 18 in Bobby V’s hometown, with actor Richard Gere, former Mets and Yankees pitcher David Cone, Alan Kalter (David Letterman’s announcer), and Emmy Award-winning reporter Armen Keteyian in attendance.

Bobby V and Richard Gere pose with Stamford dignitaries

While Valentine hasn’t been to Japan since the disaster, he has been in contact with many of his former players, including one who donated items for the silent auction. “So he’s in Japan, sending stuff to me over here to raise money that will be sent back to Japan,” says Bobby V with a laugh.
Other items up for bid in the silent auction were travel packages, personal training sessions, jewelry and accessories, and a one-on-one batting lesson from Bobby V himself at his baseball academy.

Bobby V’s Chiba Lotte Marines hat

Autographed David Cone jersey

Japanese players currently in MLB pitched in with auction items as well. Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome donated a signed baseball and bat, while Ichiro Suzuki came through with an autographed baseball, All-Star jersey, and two posters for the cause.

When the silent auction was over, Bobby V delighted the crowd with his skills as a live auctioneer. On the auction block was a priceless evening at Dodger Stadium with the legendary Tommy Lasorda: Tickets for four, dinner with Lasorda, a signed Dodger jacket and baseball, and a chance to meet Dodger manager Don Mattingly on the field before the game. Bobby V cut loose with the rapid-fire barrage of auctioneer speak, coaxing the bid higher and higher. The Dodger package eventually sold for $4,000.

Bobby V as an auctioneer

Bobby V’s current employer was a big presence at the event. The Disney/ABC Television Group donated “the ultimate swag basket” containing DVDs and other goodies for the show Castle. ESPN contributed tickets to a U2 concert at Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey and had an area set up to collect more donations while offering attendees a chance to win prizes.

ESPN offered attendees the chance to win prizes

Sake tasting at Stamford on the Sound

The night marked the debut of Bobby V’s own steak sauce, called V Plus, which is heavily influenced by Japanese flavors (the first ingredient on the label is soy sauce). Proceeds from the sale of the sauce go to benefit Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.

Bobby V’s steak sauce

Bobby V no longer manages a team in Japan, but he’s still a big part of the community.

If you’re interested in making a donation, please visit or

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Binary Art of Ryoji Ikeda

Ryoji Ikeda thinks there's pure beauty in math. Something about zeros and ones puts this Japanese artist in a creative mood. Known as Japan's leading electronic composer who works across visual and "sonic" media, Ikeda's installation Ryoji Ikeda: The Transfinite, ran at the Park Avenue Armory from May 20 until June 11.

The cavernous armory was the perfect place to house Ikeda's project, which the artist describes as an exploration of the polarizations between "the beautiful and the sublime, music and mathematics, performance and installation, composer and visual artist, black and white, 0s and 1s."

There are two halves to Ikeda's installation. The front (the two pictures above) is "an exploration of dynamism," according to Kristy Edmunds, the consulting artistic director. The back of the wall is pure mathematical code.

These are the binary codes that are a constant part of our everyday lives, yet few of us ever think about them. Ikeda uses these codes to create different patterns set to light and music (well, the "music" was really tones and digital noise).

There were also several pods set up with the codes running through them, a sort of mini-transfinite installation.

Some of the data shown in the pods have an organic feel to them.

Visitors were allowed to interact freely with both sides of the installation. People took pictures and recorded video of the changing scenes.

Still pictures are cool, but they don't do The Transfinite justice, as it's both a visually and aurally stimulating work. Here are a few snippets of the installation to give you a taste of the sights and sounds of Ryoji Ikeda.