The Tech Inside Kyoto’s Geisha Houses: TM 128 (feat. Kate Lanxon)
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This week on a very special episode of TECH'S MESSAGE Nate and his wife Kate Lanxon discuss their experiences of technology throughout their tour of Japan, through Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara. Topics include:
- The inside story of tech inside a traditional geisha house (okiya) in Kyoto’s Gion district
- How printing documents is difficult as all hell
- How using Google Translate’s real-time optical translation helped us in convenience stores, using machines and more
- The lack of self-service checkouts
- Apple Maps is unexpectedly brilliant in Japan. Who knew!?
- Pokemon Go is still very much a thing here, at least in the Akihabara district.
00:00 You're listening to text message, the UK focused technology podcast with me and nate Langston and joining me this week for a very unusual episode indeed from our hotel room in Kyoto, Japan, my wife Kate, lengthen hmong men believe that Japan is at the forefront of modern technology. And while that was certainly true in the [inaudible] nations like South Korea and of course the US have given a real competition for the last two decades. So rather than talking you through, some of them are obvious stuff that we've been experiencing out here on our holiday over the last two weeks. We're going to spend some time talking about the more nuanced observations that we've made. Now, I've been to Japan a few times before, um, but in the last five years or other than the five years it's been since I was last here, has actually changed on the streets I think.
00:48 But we've not been confined to Tokyo. We've also come out to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan and even found out what technology inside a Geisha House is like by meeting several Geisha and trainee Geisha. Miko and asking them first hand, uh, we're going to start with that, but first just wanted to thank our patrons supporting as every week at Patriot [inaudible] slash UK tech. This is obviously a very special episode is coming out to all of our listeners and no charge to our patrons, but thank you to everyone in whatever way you're supporting is for supporting us. So Kate, just before we get into everything overall, what's your experience of Japan been like so far?
01:27 It's been amazing. It's been really, really good. Really interesting and really exciting.
01:33 Yeah. So we're going to start talking about the Geisha and Miko technology because I think that's probably the most interesting thing that we've been able to experienced since we've been out here. Um, did you know what a Geisha was before you came to Japan?
01:50 I knew what it was from the film, but that's about it. Um, so I didn't know a whole lot else really. So maybe you can tell me the difference between Acacia and I'm like, OK,
02:05 well Miko is in training and a geisha is a geisha who has been trained and has been doing it for several years and there's a common misconception that Geisha are prostitutes, which they are not themselves have been around for a few hundred years, based mostly here in Kyoto, in Japan and elsewhere around the country. And the, you know, the entertainers, they're dancers, they're musicians. They play shammies and they talk to guests and traditionally they've been extremely hard to, to see, I mean, a lot of people come to somewhere like Kyoto because it's seen as the traditional side of Japan. It's the home of the oldest Japanese culture if you like. Um, and every now and again even we've spotted maybe to like a couple on the or something like that, but it's very, very rare. There's only about 200 left now in Kyoto. I'm including gay Sharon and Miko.
03:08 But we managed to, we managed to get into one of these tea rooms, um, and had an evening with a gay show. We were entertained with Shama Zen and had drinks poured and had some good conversation and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to find out how much tech they actually have in the homes, which are called oak is the Geisha live together essentially. Um, and the truth is they don't really have a lot, do they? They, they're pretty much luddites. So when, when they go into being a gay, should they have to give up their phones so they don't have smart phones, they don't have any social media. There's no internet in these Akeya. And we met probably five Geisha in total, I think over two nights because we use it for one and then three that would be for. Yes. So we met, we met for and, and the, um, the, the answers were basically the same that, you know, they, they live in extremely traditional life in these, in these places.
04:14 And my thought was that maybe they would be able to have some kind of technology or maybe the beer, a computer in there that they could read news but, but they don't, they don't have, they don't have anything. Then news comes from newspapers, printed newspapers and from conversation with the people that are entertaining or from each other, of course, um, they onto a lot of phone. They have to give all that up when, when they move into the, um, into these are kids, they keep in touch with their family, which they rarely see over the course of a year by telephone on occasion, but mostly by written letters, which again, sort of keeps this image of it being a very, very traditional industry. Very much accurate I think. Did that surprise you when, when we met, when she was about 18, the first one when we met I think 17, 18 years old. Geisha and training. And I don't think she'd used technology for a few years because she'd been in micro for three or four years. Um, was that your.
05:17 She's came to be a micro at 16 and she was 18. She's 18 now. Um, so yeah, she had to give up her phone and her friends and everything at 16. When you asked her, um, what, what's the hardest thing about being a Miko or what's, what do you miss most? She didn't say phones or the internet or snapchat or anything. She said, oh, I miss the food from my home town. Um, so she didn't seem to mess it up until, um, I don't know if that's just because she couldn't explain that in English or if that's genuine, but maybe after like a month you just sort of become so ingrained in that world that you just don't care anymore.
06:01 I do wonder that as well. Yeah. Because the, the second night that we were that we, we went to a different, a different tea room and uh, and met a geisha fully qualified Keisha, um, as well as another MCO and the MCO. Um, that said the same thing, you know, that she had to give up all of this stuff. But I think what was quite interesting is that they, it wasn't a surprise to them to see, you know, the technology, like they were aware of it. And Our table there was um, a French couple and one of the Micah we were talking to spoke decent English at the second night. But, but she didn't speak French. So the French couple, we using google translate to speak to her, so the French people spoke French into the phone and then um, it played it back in Japanese and then they split, the makers spoke to Japanese into the phone and it spoke it back to them in French and she was very familiar. She seemed very comfortable with it and to me it was quite, it was quite strange seeing this very traditional, a old fashioned dressed go in a traditional Japanese tea room, very confidently holding an iphone with Google translate and pressing the button to speak into it and then giving it back to play back to them. It was, I mean it was, it was brilliant and quite surreal at the same time.
07:26 Yeah, definitely. And she, because they were quite young, so they probably had phones only a couple of years ago, um, maybe four or five years ago in some cases, some of the older ones they would still know how to use an iphone. Where is the Geisha or that we didn't see her or speak to her quiet as much. Like, she may not be quite as knowledgeable, but then she, the obviously they all have their clients, don't they who are, like rich businessman who have, obviously we'll got phones. So that's probably why they keep up to date and stuff.
07:59 Yeah, definitely. Um, so it was really, it was really fascinating. You know, they don't have computers in these kids. They don't have, they just don't have anything. It's, it really is as traditional as um, you know, those books make it out to be and they, they seem to try and keep it as true to how it used to be in, in many ways. Um, as, as possible. What was interesting though is that we asked both of the, um, the Maaco what, how they discovered their career that they now lived in. How did they, you know, how they got into it in the first place on both of them mentioned the Internet in, in, in one form. What the first one said, she was looking through photographs, I think, and saw a picture of a maker and they said, I want to be like, I want to be like that. And another one's already knew a lot about gay shit and was actually googling good oak is in places that she can, she could go to and actually submit an application online. So it's interesting that although they are traditionally very sort of anti-tech, there are some computer somewhere because somebody accepting Internet based applications to become a Geisha, which I thought was very interesting.
09:20 So let's move onto something else. We've, um, we've referenced Google Translate, um, so it might be worth just pointing that out for a few minutes because that to me has been one of the biggest. It's been a game changer to, to me, this is my third time in Japan and on the previous two trips, which trips sort of five and six years ago respectively. And I didn't have the ability to hold up an iphone at a sign or a menu or anything like that and have it translate on the fly in real time on my screen. And it has helped us out in a whole bunch of situations that we didn't really anticipate. You know, we thought it would just be menus and things like that. Um, but it's helped us out with a lot of things. I'm kate. I think one of the most fun examples was when we went to one of the little nature reserves and all the signs about birds and things. Maybe you could talk about that.
10:11 Yeah. We went to a little nature reserve park type thing in Tokyo. I'm didn't really know what it was. We just had a couple of hours suspect I didn't weigh and saw on the map when we got in. Obviously everything was in Japanese, all the signs and everything. Um, but we held up our fire engines in this app and we, we got to read the sign. So he found out about this giant thousands year old oak pine tree, um, that we knew was there and then we use the phones to find it and then found the sign underneath and found out how old this big massive tree was. Um, which was exciting. And then that was a big board of all the birds that were around and we translated the names and found out what they know if they were English buds that we have here or if they were completely Japanese bud. So it was really, really nice and it helped us enjoy the more, I think.
11:06 Yeah, definitely. And you know, we've probably used this up several times a day every day since we've been here and we have used it for menus and things that's been really, really helpful. Even as recently as I'm about six to seven hours ago when we were trying to work out whether something was soup or tea in a little café and um, it turns out it was curry and t so we were sort of half right on one count. But uh, but it got us out of a sticky situation. One of the most interesting uses that I've used for is actually something which we're also going to talk about separately, but it's kind of connected to this. And I subtitled this in my notes here with printing fiasco because it turns out it's really, really, really hard to get stuff printed in Japan unless you're staying in a business hotel apparently.
11:59 Um, I've never needed to print anything when I've been out here, um, in the past. But for these, um, tea houses, when we were going to the gay show, we had to print out some doc documents, are printed tickets in order to show them to the, um, to the tea house so that we could go in for evenings, entertainment. They didn't want us to just hold up a digital document so, you know, uh, but we didn't have a printer in the hotel apparently, which I find baffling, but that's what they said. There was no print here that all convenience stores here that have photocopier printers. Um, but they use usb sticks and memory cards. We had ipods in the galaxy note eight, but no ability to copy a file onto a USB stick to them, take to one of the convenient stores to plug into the, the printer.
12:47 Some of the printers in some of these convenient shops do let you print from the cloud, but to do that you need to upload a file to an APP that can't actually be downloaded from non-japanese APP stores and it's not possible to change the store on my ipad because my account is registered in Britain. We also couldn't register a new account on the, on the IOS device because we're not Japanese, we don't have a Japanese address here. Um, and it took us about an hour to figure out the problem, um, or other solution to the problem which involved using the Gmail account that we'd set up for guests coming to our wedding last year to send us correspondence to. Because it hasn't been configured for a Google play account. It just been set up as an email. So we chose Japanese for that account and use that on Kate's galaxy note [inaudible], which allows them to access the Japanese Google android app store, download the APP, which was free incidentally.
13:46 So it's even more baffling why this would be restricted because the actual app itself was all in English, wasn't even in Japanese. And then I could email that document that we needed to print to Kate's phone and then upload that into the app in her device and then we could upload that to the printer wirelessly over the road in the convenience store. And the reason Google translate is relevant to this story is because in the convenience store, all the buttons and the menu systems on the printer was in Japanese. So it was then a case of using google translate in real time to translate what all the buttons meant on the photocopier at about 11:00 at night. And finally we got it printed. It did come out on photo paper for some reason. So I obviously either press the wrong button or translate mistranslated something.
14:38 And we did get our print outs and annoyingly we didn't need them anyway when we got to the tea house because there was only for people who are there to attend that evening to have them brought in. So they knew that we were just the other two. So it made the whole thing completely pointless anyway. But it did make me think that something is, to me, something is old fashioned is printing in a places, high tech as Japan is still incredibly difficult to do unless you prepare in advance. So that's my little word to two people. If you're bringing a tablet and you think you might need to print just chuck usb stick in your bag, maybe bring a laptop. But there you go. It was annoying, wasn't it?
15:18 It was. I had very little part in this fiasco. But when you said, hey, I need your phone to do an APP. I handed it over. It was a good wife.
15:29 You have a very good wife and you used it to find hairspray at one point. Google. How was it using Google translate in a convenience store to find hairspray?
15:38 That was really fun. Actually. I run out of hairspray and I went in and there was all these cans of Aerosol based things that all looked very similar. Um, or with pretty flowers on. I didn't know what was dad and what was hairspray, what was anything else? So I got my phone and scan them all. Found out, OK, this one's dog and this one's hairspray. When I won, I won the day.
16:03 You wouldn't want to confuse those two, would you? Because you have a very nice smelling hair and very sticky armpit. So I would imagine playing while you were in the shops, you came back and you mentioned something else to me, which is that you notice that there are absolutely no self service check outs here, which I never noticed before. Absolutely. Everything is staffed by a human. You can't do any of this on your own. That was really strange, doesn't it?
16:27 Yeah. I notice it straight away because as an introvert I don't like to speak to shop assistance at home. So I like to use self service and then when you get here and obviously you'd probably rather just press a little flag that says English and do it all without having to speak to someone and embarrass yourself. But you can't because there aren't any. Um, it's all people. Um, they all speak very good English so it's fine. I just, I thought it was really strange. But the other thing is some restaurants kind of do have self service where you go in, you pick your dish, offer screen, touch screen, you pay for it in the machine, and then you sit down and then a waitress or waiter takes a little ticket that's been printed out and then bring you to your food. So you actually don't have to speak to anyone in the restaurant sometimes. So it's a bit backwards, really
17:22 backwards compared to Britain. Certainly. Um, I thought that was, that was weird. And another thing that I found interesting in another shop that we were in in, um, it was before we left Tokyo for Kyoto, but I bought, bought a new lens for my, for my camera because, um, it turns out that I could say 300 pounds by buying it here instead of at home. Uh, which was great. But then we noticed that was a massive sign saying you could pay for anything in that store with bitcoin. And it was really heavily promoted. A lot of stores as well. It wasn't just that one, it was lots of different things you could pay with bitcoin in the whole shop and he has really strange posters everywhere, like really, really big ones who were making quite a big deal about it that you could, you could pay for stuff in Bitcoin, which we don't tend to see very often at home. We'd get occasionally in east London, you'll say a café that accepts Bitcoin, but typically it's not seen anywhere like that. But here it was. Yeah, it was really quite a, quite a big deal
18:20 for. So
18:29 I was on the streets and there's been a lot of observations that we've made on the street. I would say I'm one of the few, a few, a few interesting things. It seems that everybody here now seems to be using an iphone. Um, I remember the last time I was here, I noticed a lot of Samsung devices and still quite a lot of people using flip phones, traditional, um, flip phones. Whereas now it's almost comical how you looked down a train and everybody is using iphones. And I've seen more iphone tens in the wild out here than I've seen in, in London since it was released, you know, every train, you'll see at least one or two people, but [inaudible] that everywhere. And they're easy to recognize because they have the vertical camera, um, orientation and whereas the iphone eight and everything earlier has a horizontal.
19:18 So they're easy to spot in there everywhere. And on top of that, the most popular headphones I've seen have been airpods every single day. We've seen several people with, with apple airpods and almost nobody wearing over the head had phones big, you know, big cans like we see in London and they do sell them because we've seen them in the shops. But I think we've counted on one hand how many over the head headphones we've seen people wearing in Japan since we've been here. Right to, I think, yeah, I think it was three. May may have been three, but it was few of them. Five. Um, which, uh, which is amazing. But we went, we spent one day in Akihabara, which is the kind of the high tech, highest high tech Geek Center of Tokyo, and um, W, we noticed a couple of things out there, but the most interesting is the pokemon go is still very, very much a thing that we walk past. A group of people didn't outside one store. How many people would you say was standing around playing pokemon go?
20:26 Adult grown men. Mostly men. And I think that was like one or two women. Yeah, it must have been a gym or something because they are all like hammering on the screen as if they were doing a gym. I haven't played it in ages. I've seen that. So what you still do? Um, but yeah, I was just like, oh my God, people still play this. I, your brothers still plays with it. But yeah, it still plays it constantly. No, we haven't played it for a while. We addicted to elder scrolls legends now apparently you and I. um, and we saw one taxi drive, pastors that had a sign in the window that to my eyes, what are our eyes looked like? It said you can't take this taxi to drive around collecting Pokémon to look like it had a cross or something. Um, and it did look like you can't pokemon go in this taxi.
21:23 Um, but we only saw one of those. We did, we did. And we only, we've only taken one taxi since we've been here, which was a fun experience. Um, and part of the reason for that actually this is a good segue I think, is that it turns out, define all expectation. Apple maps is really, really good in Tokyo. I'm particularly for public transport. We've not used Google maps once, since being here. Um, interestingly, you can't download offline googlemaps of Tokyo or at least none of the places that we've been. Um, so we've been using apple maps. I'm basically exclusively and I was expecting to have problems with it because apple maps has a history of being less than capable on occasion. But um, as regular listeners will know, in I think may last year I took a challenge to only use apple maps instead of Google maps for a month and just to see how much it improved and certainly in London it really had improved and it's, it's the service that I use now almost exclusively for mapping at home cause it's got very good and is very fast on the iphone.
22:33 But I was expecting to be bitterly disappointed in, in Tokyo. But not at all. It's been absolutely brilliant. The maps have been great. And yeah, the public transport, I mean every subway journey, every when we take a bullet train when we've wanted a bus, everything has been through apple maps and I'm just so surprised. So if you're, if you're coming to Japan with an iphone and you're wondering which mapping service to use, obviously the choices always yours, but don't be put off trying apple maps if you're already used to using apple maps because it really is good. And not just in Tokyo and Kyoto as well, if anything, more so in, in Kyoto, because there are fewer English signs generally in Kyoto than in Tokyo. So it's been. Yeah, it's been a real help, hasn't it? I've just been following you, but we did get a bit lost today than we did.
23:27 We not through any fault of apple maps. Oh, the gigantic station that didn't have proper signage. Yes, we did get a bit lost that it was the signage. It pointed as one way and it took us to a clothes shop. I mean if anything that's the next step, really indoor mapping the right indoor maps now for a lot of places in sort of big capital cities and things. And the airport saying he thrown now uses ibeacons on. I'm on iphone probably on Android as well, but certainly I think it would be massively helpful in terms of encouraging tourism for these places to have the bigger shopping centers or transport hubs to be equipped for indoor map. We'd suddenly. You've made a huge difference for us, at least today, if not any other day.
24:20 We can only conclude with one thing I think that we haven't talked about and that is the bullet train the Shinkansen, which I've never taken before. Kate, I think never been to Japan before. It's obviously never taken either. And what would you, how would you describe the bullet train experience? The 300 kilometer an hour train from Tokyo to Kyoto.
24:45 It was really lovely. Arrived exactly on time. Um, you could sort of see it coming in and you like, Oh, it's 20 seconds early and then it comes in exactly on time. It was amazing and it was, to me it was really smooth. It was a journey and it was nice and quiet. I think like I was listened to music. OK. Wasn't super loud or anything. It was, it was nice. I was playing final fantasy 15. You were on the IPAD, there was no wifi though was well the men that was meant to be. It's said there was one. I find that even the English voice that announced the train's departure said there is Wifi Free Wifi. But we looked at him and couldn't find. I can find anything.
25:29 There was loads, but they're all password protected and there's no signage. There is another trains and things to say, here's how you access the Wifi. But it wasn't. It wasn't there. So if anything, the bullet train internally is quite low tech. There's not a lot on the, you know, there's no vending machines that you see everywhere and stations here, it's, you know, it's a, it was a woman pushing a trolley up and down for two and a half hours literally. So it's interesting that from the outside you see this trainer's a half mile long, elongated bottlenose dolphin like buffer and think this is the height of technology and sophistication and transport and you get on it and you're like, yeah, that's fine, but where's the tech? It's very stripped down and focused.
26:11 Not only are they quite old though, brand new trains, are they? They're like law.
26:18 I mean they've been around for many, many years. Yeah, but I mean some of the more modern than others because they keep, they keep making them and there's loads of different ones. It's not like this one does not one bullet train. There's loads of different, some of them go at different speeds, some of them are stopping services are used by commuters, some of them travel the length of the country, almost some of them do shorter journeys. I'm in my head. I thought the bullet train was the bullet and you took it from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka or something. There's like one in every 10 or 15 minutes in the stage just on the platforms we were on, wasn't there. And there was about six or seven platforms, platforms I think in Tokyo station in Kyoto as well as there's quite a few. So that was quite surprising.
27:03 And there was a very interesting poster on the wall of the, uh, the, on the platform of the bullet train that said no selfie sticks because if they get caught in the overhead cables, you'll get electric uta to death. And the thing is, if you were standing on the platform, you need to be holding a selfie stick that was about 15 feet long in order for it to touch one of these overhead cables, which is completely unnecessary. And that doesn't exist. I wouldn't put it past some of these Japanese kids to have a 15 foot long selfie stick. We have seen a lot of them. They have been everywhere.
27:43 Well, I think that's a good point to, uh, to end the show on and we didn't want to go a third week without, uh, without an episode. And we've seen, we've been keeping notes as we've been going around on our holiday of all the tech we've seen and we've, we've picked some of our favorite, um, observations. We have had more if a, if you've got any questions about anything we've talked about or if you're planning a trip to Japan or if you've got any questions just in general about life, um, or if you want to know the ins and outs of veterinary nursing, then you can email kate via hello at tech podcast dot UK. And Kate's, despite being my wife, you are also technically a guest on the show and guests get to promote something and tell people where they can follow them and stuff. So go nuts. Where do people look up for your instagram, your books, things like that?
28:38 Probably a year ago called the park Google or Amazon. You can find that it has many, many lovely reviews. I'm not written by myself. Um, you can find me on instagram or twitter. I'm on Caitlin. Nate. It's Katelyn's is basically the same as me, but with a k instead of an n. um, I'm well thanks to everyone and thank you to our patrons for supporting us. Hopefully we'll be back next weekend with a regular scheduled programming and we hope that we'll have some emails to discuss on that show. Will be back with them and we'll see you then. Sign up.