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Japan: Monozukuri for the Modern Age

Make is an American quarterly magazine for do-it-yourself enthusiasts founded in 2005 and featuring everything from tutorials on soldering, to weekend woodworking projects, to cat toys that send tweets when attacked. Monozukuri (literally “making things”) is a tradition in Japan of high-quality craftsmanship dating back at least as far as the Edo period, with achievements including complex myriad-year clocks, techniques for bending wood and mechanical dolls that can draw kanji.

So what happens when you combine Make magazine's grass-roots rebellion against consumer technology with the monozukuri spirit of excellence in craftsmanship, sprinkling in a bit of Akibakei mania for good measure? You get Make Tokyo Meeting, an extravaganza of flying beeping crawling buzzing off-the-wall creativity that has grown from its first “meeting” in 2008 to an event that draws audiences in the thousands today.

Last weekend (May 22-23), the fifth incarnation of the Make Tokyo Meeting [ja] took the campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology by storm. ITlifehack (@ITlifehack), who was at the last meeting, describes the scene at Make Tokyo Meeting 05 (MTM05):

今回も会場は大岡山駅の目の前、東京工業大学のキャンパス。銀色のかまぼこ屋根が目印の百年記念館を始め、体育館や教室など、大学全体が会場となっています。総勢200組を超える出展者が参加されたということで、メイン会場はあふれんばかりの人でごった返していました。

The venue for this year's meeting was the campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in front of Ōokayama Station. It was really the whole university, from the university's Centennial Hall with its trademark silver barrel roof ceiling, to its gymnasium and classrooms. With more than 200 exhibitors, the main hall was overflowing with people.

A search on Twitter for the tag #MTM05 brings up a slew of other impressions. @imae_kagaku points to the rise in popularity of the Make Tokyo meetings:

過去のMTM入場者数。次は桁が変わりそう。 01:600名 02:1200名 03:2100名 04:4000名 05:7200名 #mtm05

Here are the numbers for previous Make Tokyo Meetings. Looks like the next one will need another digit. 01: 600 people 02: 1200 people 03: 2100 people 04: 4000 people 05: 7200 people

@kumajoi lists his three favorite exhibits at MTM05, hitting on the major themes at the event: electronics/tech, monozukuri/craft, and Akibakei. In the tech category, he cites a booth by Sony (@SDK4Felica) demonstrating some of the nifty things you can do pairing the Felica smart card with the popular Arduino microcontroller.

In the monozukuri category, he recalls the amazing ball machines crafted by blogger denha (see video below), who writes at his blog denha's channel about his experience at MTM05:

中でも一番の盛況だった機械系の作品、マーブルマシンやボールトラック装置は休みなく稼働させていたのでいろいろ不具合が出てきました。自宅で楽しむ分には数分、数十分ですが、出展となると装置にとっては過酷です。次回、中部圏で初・・・というより東京以外で初のMakeが開催されます。自宅からも近いということで参加を予定していますが、機械系が出来るだけ永く動くように改良と修理などのメンテナンスを念入りにしていこうと思います。

The most popular items were the machines, the marble machine and ball track installation, but to keep these machines going they had to be continuously reset, and there were a lot of malfunctions. Compared to at home, where I might use them for a few minutes or half an hour, exhibitions take quite a heavy toll. The next Make event will be the first in the Chubu region — actually, it'll also be the first [in Japan] to take place outside of Tokyo. [See note below about Make: Ogaki Meeting.] The location is close to where I live, so I plan to go, but I want to do some careful maintenance, improve and repair these machines as much as I can so that they can keep on going for a very long time.

In the Akibakei category, kumajoi showcases an iPhone figure recognition device designed by @nishio, who explains his creation at his blog:

iPhoneにフィギュアを押し付けると、それがどのフィギュアか、それの向きがどっちむきか、場所がどこか、という情報が取れるデバイスをgassoと作った。これを使えばiPadの上に載せて動かすことでフィギュア自体をゲームのコントローラのように使ったり、特定の場所に置くことでストーリーの展開が変わる絵本を作ったり、三人でそれぞれ自分のキャラクターをiPadというマップに乗せて戦うなんてことができる。夢が広がりんぐ!

When you press a figure onto your iPhone, the device that I created is able to figure out which figure it is, which way it is facing, and where the figure is located. Pairing this device with an iPad, you could use figures as game controllers, or you could make a picture book where the story would change depending on which of a set of specific locations you placed the figure on, or a group of three people could use the iPad as a map where they battle each using their own character. So many possibilities!

@nishio wasn't the only one writing about the iPad. Blogger Imamura, who listed some of the things he noticed at MTM05, cited the appearance of the shiny new toy:

iPadを持ってきている出展者多数。少し触らせてもらうことができた。単に大きくなったiPhoneともいえるけれど、大きくなるだけですごく変わるなあとも感じた。iPadデザインのノートもあった。

There were quite a few exhibitors with iPads. I had the chance to touch them a bit. You could say the iPad is just like a big iPhone, but actually the size alone really changes a lot. There were some notebook PC's designed like iPads too.

This comment on Twitter by @Fumi Yamazaki on the use of iPads at MTM05 was heavily retweeted:

日本の優秀なハッカーはもっとグローバルに活躍すべきだと思う。 #MTM05 でも色々な驚きがあったし。まだiPad発売されていないのに東京の某ハッカーグループは既にiPad hackathon を2回開催していて、既に3回目も予定されてるんだよね。

The skilled Japanese hackers should be more active globally. There was a lot of really astonishing stuff at #MTM05. The iPad is not even on sale yet and a certain Tokyo hacker group is already hosting its second iPad hackathon, with plans already underway for a third.

For more of this astonishing stuff, check out coverage by Rick Martin (@1rick), one of the few bloggers writing about Make Tokyo Meeting 05 in English. His writeup and video at Gizmag on an amazing bike-wheel LED light by Suns & Moon Laboratory (SML) drew a lot of views:

SML has outfitted bicycle wheels with a system of LEDs that can actually output a digital picture (it will accept bitmap files) by using the special Anipov software. Masaaki Ikegame gave a quick demo showing an assortment of images and animations, including one of the iconic Hatsune Miku.

So great was the success of Make Tokyo Meeting 05 that the event has inspired people to organize the first such event outside of Japan. Make: Ogaki Meeting, in the planning stages right now, will take place on September 25-26 in the most centrally-located city in Japan, Ogaki, Gifu. Don't miss it!

For more on Make Tokyo Meeting 05, see photos by robot-dreams, jimgris, and Hatris. Also see below for some more videos: one of two kids playing a virtual bounding-ball light-game, and the other the second part of a two-part video by beatnik.jp, the latter half of which features a band of unusual instruments closing the event with an extended Auld Lang Syne, known as Hotaru no Hikari (蛍の光) in Japanese.

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