Due to a lucky combination of timing and tenacity, Joi has become among the most important people connecting Japan and America. He knows technology, he's been a DJ, he's been a venture capitalist, he talks to the government, he loves toys.|
I trust Joi in part because he's had a personal site that he's kept more or less updated since 1994 or so. It's nice to meet dynamic people and keep up with their work through their own journaling.
I met Joi through Howard; he wrote about Joi in his book the Virtual Community. During the early days of HotWired Joi was the point person for any Japanese culture. While I was working at Electric Minds Joi was a Japan correspondent and lunch date. He has appeared briefly in my dreams.
I had a lunch appointment with Joi at his office. Turned out to be very near my Capsule Hotel from the night before.
He had a large corner-type office in a very modern facility. I wasn't in the room five minutes before he hopped up and leapt about showing me things.
His company is an incubator, they fund companies with good ideas, mostly in the realm of communications technology. April 2001 was a bad time to be in the technology incubating business maybe, but they were doing well enough. Still he wanted to cut costs, so he was to be moving out of this nice office this week, for smaller more conservative digs, sharing one open room with all the folks at Neoteny.
He had glass installed that could switch from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button, due to electric charges in the glass or something! A full screening facility installed behind flat black cabinets. Loads of good looking technology and tech theory books. A computer with a wireless modem connected online faster than a T1 (I later wrote about it: Japanese media junkies stream video from their laps). He even had a pretty rare Virtual Boy - a head mounted 3D Nintendo gaming system.
He was most excited about a remote control tank that actually shot tiny plastic yellow pellets pretty hard. He didn't aim it at me, but the black leather couch was soundly pounded with a gleeful cackle.
We had lunch and talked over the state of the Japanese economy and the tech sector. He was thinking on a very meta-level about the shape of society and law and the ability of folks to work within an efficient system. He had some serious criticisms to share about the Japanese government and high finance, where crony-oriented banking has created a wildly unstable situation. Joi was giving me some alarming percentages - chance that Japan will become impoverished, people won't be able to eat, etc. Some of this was speculative, but some of this is the hard reality that folks doing high level thinking come up against I guess.
I say high level thinking because Joi is invited to contribute to panel discussions at the same World Economic Forum (Davos) sessions that my other friends protest. He remarked on it himself - he feels strange being a sort of curious hacker who somehow stumbled into powerful global interconnectedness. He pointed out that many of these global capital panels have CEOs talking about education and AIDS; unqualified contributions perhaps. Joi tries to earn his place in these proceedings by taking questions from the activists he meets to ask during the the meetings.
We ate a good lunch in a polished Chinese restaurant in his basement. When it was finished, I asked him if there were any cool young cheap hotels I might try in Tokyo, to contrast with my other lodgings. I had already mentioned my trip sponsorship some; he said he would sponsor me for a night at the Park Hyatt. I didn't quite know what that entailed; it was an expansive experience!
When I was Japan bound in March 2001, Howard told me to pay particular attention: Joi would probably be too busy to spend a lot of time with me, but he would introduce me to some great folks. Joi mentioned that his company was funding some projects of Kenji Eno, a former video game designer. As soon as I left Joi's office, I called Kenji.