portrait of Alessandro de Bellegarde

#07 - Recreating Kyoto in VR

- with Alessandro de Bellegarde -

TRANSCRIPT

Paul: 00:00

Alessandro, you are originally from the US, from New York city and you are currently living in Kyoto, Japan.

You are doing a lot of things in Kyoto. But from what I understood, and correct me if I'm wrong on some points, you are currently the CEO of Sogendo, which is a media studio doing a lot of things related to VR (virtual reality).

I also discovered recently that you were the director and writer for a short movie you've done a couple of years ago, listed on IMBD called "Tsuzuku". I know it's an old project but I'd be interested to hear a little bit more about this.

I know you mainly through your work at Sogendo. When we met last year in Kyoto and when you explained what you were doing with this media studio, I found that fascinating. You are basically recording 360 degrees videos of museums, temples, art exhibitions, big events like the Gion Matsuri and turning that into virtual reality experiences. I found that really interesting to see how you can mix the traditional aspects of Kyoto with the very modern and very... right now that's the buzzword, "VR"... a mix of all of these to create unique experiences.

I'm very interested to hear more about all this.

Alessandro: 01:34

Oh, thank you. Yeah, I mean, my background is traditionally as a filmmaker and I feel like in the last four or five years, there's been this real surge in virtual reality and a lot of the techniques that have been contributing to that whole field.

There's a very interesting crossover with some of the things that I'm more traditionally trained in. So it was really exciting for me to also jump into that world and apply perhaps a very different perspective than where I think much of the virtual reality industry is very much focused, on video games and things like that. Trying to come in more from a different angle of storytelling, not necessarily strictly as VR, but as 3D, 360 videos to help use these tools for cultural preservation.

My life in Japan is a very unconventional one though. I think everyone who moves here can kind of say that, that their lives aren't conventional. But I want to see those unconventional qualities. The differences are more my strengths, not so much as weaknesses that might set me apart. I think that coming to any kind of industry with a different perspective is really useful. In a meta-way, being a foreigner inside Japan, which has a very specific set of traditions and cultures and ways to do things. While being respectful and always trying to put that culture first, I try to use my background, personality and my influences as a way to open the door to innovation, in a way where an insider might be less inclined to do so, based on the way that the society is built.

Paul: 03:19

Indeed, to understand a bit more about your background and before jumping to the virtual reality world, could you please shortly introduce yourself and let us know how long you've been living in Japan?

Alessandro: 03:32

In 2010, I moved to Kyoto shortly after I graduated from university in New York. I studied film and worked in film production. But strangely I actually was working as a... I hesitate to say chef though, maybe a cook is a better description. I was working in a restaurant here, which is what got me to Japan. But then as time went on, I got involved in media production, guest houses and tourism and that kind of international outreach programs.

Then, over the last four years or so, I've been more involved in virtual reality, augmented reality. A lot of the new media production has evolved now back into the mainstream and we are trying to find new ways to bring it to more users than maybe it would be otherwise.

Paul: 04:31

Meaning that in 2010, when you arrived, you went straight to Kyoto.

What were you doing at that time?

Alessandro: 04:40

My family has a connection with a wonderful cafe, here in Kyoto and in Tokyo. It's called Matsunosuke New York, which is quite popular for its pies, its American style food. I was trained in those when I was a bit younger. It's close to my family, I had some experience with it. My aunt is a chef that is in partnership with these businesses. These kind of New England style recipes is what was my first avenue into coming to Japan. With bringing this expertise to this new location in Kyoto.

This was the idea once I arrived in Japan for what I assumed, at the beginning of my journey, was only going to be maybe a year long adventure. But the moment I arrived in Kyoto, instantly I knew this was going to be a permanent part of my life and I was very committed to staying here to make this really my new home.

Paul: 05:48

When you arrived in Japan, were you speaking Japanese?

Alessandro: 05:51

No. I actually found out that I had the opportunity to live and work here maybe a month or two before I'd be able to come. So I was learning Hiragana, Katakana essentially on the flight. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I took some intensive courses right before I left, while I was in university, maybe a quarter or a half of the semester remaining before graduation.

Once I arrived in Kyoto, I went to the language school and did some intensive courses and tried to lay the foundation for what is probably considered quite mediocre a Japanese level, that I have right now.

But yeah, I came in with very little preparation in terms of my level of Japanese. It was like jumping into the pool.

Paul: 06:40

Was it the first time that you were coming to Japan?

Alessandro: 06:43

Yes. In university I specialized a lot of my studies in Japanese cinema. There was a great interest, but I had never actually been to Japan to see it for myself. When this opportunity had kind of arisen, I really jumped at the opportunity to really see the country from the inside and you know, no longer just consuming it through its media.

So this was my first time coming to Japan and it immediately really had a bold impact on me.

Paul: 07:11

What's your memory of your first few months in Japan, especially knowing that you studied and had an image of Japan through movies?

Usually the image we have through movies, through series and the image we have when we live in the country can be different. Was it the case for you? How did you experience this?

Alessandro: 07:35

Absolutely! Well, as an American, I think especially coming from New York, I feel one of the great strengths of where I have grown up with was the fact there was a great multiculturalism and in many ways you get a great taste of many different cultures.

But as an enthusiast of Japanese cinema and media and things like that, I felt that I had a pretty deep knowledge or insight. And probably relatively so, I did. Compared to some of the other people of my age at the time, I felt that I knew so much. But after years and years of being a fan, all of that was eclipsed within a week of coming to Kyoto. I mean, it's like getting a direct line to the real world. The education of what Japan actually is, what the insider's view of Japan is something I think that is very often unseen in the West.

I think that is a major motivating force for me, in the kind of work that I do now. Because as an extension of myself, my family, my old friends from the United States, being able to communicate what my authentic experiences are here in Japan and not in the metropolitan Tokyo, but in a much more intimate, small town, but still very...

Well Kyoto is a much smaller, intimate community, but it still has all the benefits of major cultural cities, landmark of the world. Especially with its history. I want to communicate just massive amounts of knowledge and insight that I feel like I've been lucky to experience here to first my family then to the greater audiences in the West.

I try to use that as a paradigm in the way that I aim myself and try to achieve.

Paul: 09:19

What were the biggest challenges you faced when you arrive?

What were the biggest shocking moments? This could be negative, could be positive, but do you remember any of them?

Alessandro: 09:32

Definitely the biggest obstacle has been the language barrier and that is more of a personal shortcoming than anything else.

But one thing I felt was always a very positive influence on me in Kyoto. As an outsider, especially 10 years ago, I feel that it wasn't as broad of an international community here. I never felt excluded or pushed out as an outsider. It was only until maybe 2014 that I had found my international family here in Kyoto. This was through the tech community, through the universities and great institutions like the Ted talks that we've had here. I've been very lucky to be a part of those programs since their first year here in Kyoto.

It was through those types of experiences where I had opened up to an international community and their roles in the city. But before then, almost everyone I knew in Japan was Japanese. But I never felt left out. I never felt like "the other".

I think that is kind of deeply rooted in not just the Japanese way of being, but specifically in Kyoto I think that there's a great support system here for individuals. Maybe institutions and some of the larger institutions here and in Japan and Kyoto can be a bit walled off, to many people and especially foreigners. But on a face to face and person to person basis, I've always found that there's always been a great generosity here within this community.

Paul: 11:16

This is a bit off track but this leads me to another question. Kyoto has always been a very touristic city, but when I was there last year, I noticed that the number of foreigners and the number of tourists was increasing and becoming massive, just everywhere. You had the feeling that the city was turning into, that's a bit extreme, an attraction park. A bit like what Venice became.

You mentioned the openness the locals when you arrived. Do you feel that this is changing because of tourism or is it still the same?

Alessandro: 12:00

Well, you bring up a very interesting point in Venice, in Italy, because it's exactly that. There's this influx now of tourism that is bringing great business, but is also threatening the traditional culture that is so special here.

I think that understandably so, there have been a bit more walls put up by some individuals and some institutions here because unfortunately a lot of foreigners come to Kyoto maybe not quite prepared to accommodate the long history, the way of doing things here. It's understandable, I think a lot of local businesses have been able to evolve and have been able to accommodate the needs without compromising their own integrity. It's a very difficult thing though. Many businesses here have been able to do it.

But I think that fortunately, you have two major communities of foreigners in Kyoto now. A lot of it is either in the long term locals, the people that are involved in the business here and that have really put their nose to the grindstone to really prove their value within the community. And then you have just the people that come and go for tourism.

I would hope that as a bridge between those two worlds, between the Japanese locals on the tourists, as many of the foreigners that live in Japan, we have to take it upon ourselves to try to be as much of a liaison, as much of a bridge culturally as a way to educate other people that come to visit. But also as a way to soften the blow to the Japanese locals.

We all have to participate and kind of easily transition to a much more international city.

Paul: 13:56

Bridging is a very nice image in that situation, that's true! Rewinding back a little bit in time, when you arrived in Japan, when you were working at Matsunosuke....

Alessandro: 14:20

Matsunosuke New York is the main cafe. I actually was the head chef at a sister location called the Cafe Rhinebeck, which was near Ritsumeikan university. That was kind of where I lived and work. And it was through that close proximity to the Ritsumeikan university that I met my first kind of community of really welcoming people my age and some of my closest friends still to this day. This was what kind of got me first into the community here.

Paul: 14:54

This was part of my question. You were working in a cafe, but you mentioned as well that you got involved into the tech community, into organizing TEDx events.

For people who don't know what TEDx is, that's a series of conferences about a lot of different topics, organized in different cities in the world.

So you got involved with these different communities. Was it still during the time you were working at the cafe and how did you get in touch? How did you get involved with these projects?

Alessandro: 15:29

Well, I was working in the restaurant, in the cafe for about a year and a half. Unfortunately, we had the 2011 earthquake and that really threw a monkey wrench into the whole plan because there was a lot of confusion and a lot of, you know, difficult things in terms of bringing it to terms with my family, about me wanting to stay here. I mean all the craziness.

But after that time, I had focused on making my film in around 2012 and 2013. It was around that the TEDx Kyoto had their first Ted talk. I was invited by the main organizer and founder to participate at their first event as a cinematographer, to capture their events. It was through that great mix of tech communities, education and this kind of dialogue between all these that I had taken my first step towards the tech community and just the greater community of internationally owned businesses, you know, foreign entrepreneurs living here in Kyoto.

Paul: 16:41

How did you transition then from, your activity at that time to creating your company in Japan?

Alessandro: 16:50

Well, from the first time that we had done the Ted talk, I started to open up to a larger community. And it was through a lot of this internationalization that I realized that this was right at the time. I feel that tourism was really beginning to spike. This was around 2014 or so. There was a dramatic uptick around that time.

In order to kind of capitalize on a lot of that, I was involved in a lot more of the tourism, international relations and things like that. Then around 2016, after having about two years of working very closely with a lot of short-term tourists, but then also people that were coming here and establishing businesses, I was really motivated to work more closely with the tech community that I had kind of grown much closer to over the years, through multiple years of the Ted talks and other kinds of creative projects.

We started a media company that has eventually evolved into where we are now, which is my company: Sogendo.

Paul: 17:52

Can you share a bit more about Sogendo. What are you doing with the company?

Alessandro: 17:57

Sogendo is a company that does a lot of media content. It's kind of all around the map of things that we can do. We do a lot of traditional media, which is really my background and my backbone.

But, we do a lot of streaming, scanning, virtual reality content, augmented reality content and as the specification become more and more accessible to average users, we're doing a lot more of ultra high definition 3D 360 videos.

It's through those types of production that we've been able to do partnerships with the Gion Matsuri Preservation Societies for example, the Kawadoko Kodokai and the Hakuraku Tenyama which are kind of the larger and smaller floats for the Gion Matsuri festivals.

That was a great first step into some of the larger cultural preservation projects that we're doing. But also as a way to bridge these cultures, I should say Japanese culture to the Western world.

We were very lucky last year to do a collaboration with a company in Tokyo called the World Creator. We were able to capture, high definition 3D 360 content for VR headsets to present at the Grammy Awards, the music awards in the United States.

It was a way for us to really bring to a very high profile of clients not the big metropolitan parts of Tokyo that so many people see and consume through the media, but much more a kind of hidden, secret, beautiful places within Kyoto, as a way to bridge the gap and promote healthy lifestyles through the Ishiki meditation from Japan.

Paul: 19:56

Well, talking about bridging, that is a massive bridge from Kyoto to the Grammy Awards!

I'm not sure I understood what the mission was? To bring knowledge about Kyoto, about Japan to the participants?

Alessandro: 20:13

The general mission of the business itself is to use modern technology to archive and digitally preserve important Japanese culture, but also to act as the first step towards bringing these cultures, the Japanese culture to a wider audience overseas. And for this type of process to act as a bridge between these different worlds.

For the Grammy Awards, we were able to bring the Ishiki meditation, it's kind of a mindfulness Japanese meditation, through a guided meditation via high resolution 3D 360 video that we were able to showcase at the Grammy Awards, for the artists and all those high profile individuals at the show. These were things that were given as gifts for them.When these musical artists are on the tour bus and need a moment, they can use the headset we had provided for them at the show.

It was a wonderful collaboration between the Ishiki team, the World Creative team and our team as well. By producing that content, we were able to really bring this little slice of Kyoto to the red carpet. This was something I'm very proud of, as well as everyone involved in that project.

Paul: 21:32

That's very cool! What is very interesting as well is the cultural preservation aspect you mentioned. Can you talk a little bit more about this?

Alessandro: 21:46

Much of the 3D scanning, virtual reality, augmented reality, a lot of these new technologies, most of their development has been happening in the world of video games. Since I'm not a programmer myself, at the scale of the way these video game companies are working, working with a lot of the teams and the people that are looking for new ways to innovate using the technology, we want to apply that towards capturing and preserving the temples, shrines and cultural artifacts while thinking to the recent tragedies, you think of what happened in Fukushima 2011, but also just more recently in Okinawa for example, in Paris and Notre Dame.

The idea is that digital high resolution, digital photography can be used for 3D modeling, can create permanent digital archives that can be used for educational purposes, for cultural preservation purposes. I think it's a very worthwhile application of this new technology, laser scanning photogrammetry, which is the method of making three models from high resolution photographic references.

There's an enormous potential here to do a great service preserving such an old culture like we have here in Kyoto.

Paul: 23:11

The idea of archiving these cultural landmarks is very important. You mentioned Notre-Dame in France, which was a massive event. I remember as a French person feeling really hurt by what happened with the fire. That was the same a couple of months ago with Okinawa and the Shuri castle, completely burned to the ground and a lot of events like this. Well, right now is Australia, burning as well. It'd be difficult to make an archive of all those species in the forest but this kind of project is really key and that's really amazing that people like you are doing this!

It's for archiving, but do the organizations you are working with use it also for entertainment ? To put on their website and organize virtual visits?

Alessandro: 24:10

Exactly. So much of the technology we're using are things that were developed for architectural mapping or real estate. A lot of these laser scanning, especially when it comes to what we've repurposed them for digital preservation.

As a business we work closely with a lot of local Kyoto businesses and even for international partners to work with them to do cultural preservation, but also for general business development and marketing.

For example, there's a wonderful coworking space and teams here, the Co&Co Kyoto. Fujita-san, the director over there has been very generous in helping me understand the way that their business has a presence in Kyoto and in Sapporo as well as their newest location called One&Co in Singapore. As part of this partnerships with them, I have been able to travel to each of these places to do the digital scanning for their businesses, to help promote their businesses and help especially remote workers and foreign travelers to better understand what the facilities are all about.

There's a great crossover and a great many applications for the technology. So we want to find ways to specifically help promote and really find the full potential of the local Kyoto businesses and pair them up with a lot of international exposure to other businesses.

Paul: 25:37

What are the biggest challenges in your current activity, especially knowing that you are bringing a super high technology to organizations like temples and museums that can be very traditional, even more as a foreigner?

Alessandro: 25:57

Well, this is the great obstacle. There are a lot of foreign owned businesses that are already struggling to find their place in Kyoto. And for some reason, I'm trying to do this very difficult thing where I'm going to the most traditional, highly guarded kind of places. There's a locking key. For anything in Kyoto there are 10 (locks) for doing these things with temples and shrines.

But you know, I think a philosophy that has really been important to my ability to succeed here is just that you have to always be ready for a challenge. You have to be ready to jump into it and you have to be always on top of the fact that you need to put your best foot forward. You have to show that you are respectful. Earning the respect and earning the trust is a resource that cannot be replaced.

One of the most important things I try to apply to my work is that the integrity of what we do, the people that we work for, especially in very traditional places like temples and shrines, they have complete confidence in the way that we can work with them to bring the things they have to the rest of the world.

I mentioned the generosity in Kyoto, I've had incredible help from great institutions here that have always opened doors for me. Once those doors are open, it's my responsibility to make sure that our responsibilities are not just fulfilled but that we show the appropriate amount of gratitude and responsibility with the way we do things.

Paul: 27:45

Can you share a bit more about the communities in Kyoto?

We've discussed previously, in previous episodes, about Tokyo a lot with Tokyo guests. And that's why I'm very happy to have you talk about your background. We also had in a previous episode Hirisha Mehta, who is a common friend. She talked a lot about the creative community in Kyoto, mentioning how engaged the creative community was and how it was easy to get to know people.

How about you knowing that you are part of this community but also on the more technical side. Can you share about the tech community in Kyoto?

Alessandro: 28:30

One thing I find very true in Kyoto is that many of the people that come here usually are coming with a very broad range of different kinds of skills. Where perhaps in a place like New York or Los Angeles, you'd have highly specialized individuals doing highly specialized work, you end up having a lot of unconventional people taking unconventional approaches to the way that they do their work. A lot of that breeds a lot of innovation here. I'm working in tech, but my background is in filmmaking. I work closely with the teams at the Kyoto Journal, more in the publication and in print. I want to support these teams because I believe in their missions and the way they support the artistic community. So trying to find ways to support an industry that's related but different I think is what a lot of us do here.

I feel that something I was mentioning is more of a strength because by having a lot of the different parts that aren't perfectly suited for something, you end up having to have creative problem solving, end up finding new and impressive ways of finding solutions to things. As it pertains to your question about the kind of artistic community and the tech community and the way we all work together... My initial interaction with the tech community was through the video game community and they were always open. Their doors were open, their teams were always very friendly and it was the tech events they had organized that allowed me to kind of expand my horizons and apply my philosophies to creative projects and the way we create them for business.

There was a great education that came with all of that. Because all of us are coming from our separate backgrounds with all trying to achieve our own common goals as they pertain to ourselves. We all kind of understand that our journey is always going to be a little bit unconventional. And I think that's actually what kind of ties us all together.

Paul: 30:50

You mentioned video game. That's true it helped a lot to develop these communities in Kyoto.

For people who are not familiar , the company Nintendo is coming from Kyoto and it acted a bit like some other companies in the Silicon Valley like Google or Facebook. You have these massive companies, these massive hubs growing talents.

Then when the talents leave these big companies and start creating their own studios, their own startups and work on their projects, you have this growing community of diverse projects and talents coming from the same origin. That helps a lot in terms of networking, in terms of awareness, in terms of development and innovation. And one of the main benefits you have in Kyoto is these talents coming from Nintendo and developing a lot of things.

Alessandro: 31:44

Yeah!

Paul: 31:45

Can we talk very shortly about your directing experience on your short movie?

How was it to direct a short movie in Japan?

Alessandro: 31:56

It was a really exciting experience because for me.

I have made that film in 2012. It's strange to say, but even two years after first coming to Kyoto, there was still so much happening every day. So much learning. Even 10 years later, I'm still always having so many new experiences every day.

At that time much of my staff had actually come from the United States. My best friend Ian Kramer came and started my film. He is a collaborator and actor I worked with in one way or another for all of my films. It was exciting to have that kind of search for myself as my new identity is emerging here. Having people help me put that on screen and work together here in Kyoto. It was an exciting thing to see also my crew and their experiences of really diving into Kyoto and seeing this all for the first time themselves as well. There was always an excellent reference point because I could see myself in their sense of wonder when they first get here. They also reinforced in me the things that I feel I've learned so much about, but also challenged me in ways that helped me discover the things that I still had much to learn about.

It was quite a long time ago now, but I look back at that as a very concrete moment in my life where I was really capturing who I was at that time, dealing with the changing identity of someone who was leaving their home country to really forge a new life.

Paul: 33:51

What was the topic of the movie?

Alessandro: 33:54

The film is about someone who mirrors much of my experience coming to Japan. A foreigner from the United States coming to Japan. Perhaps in some ways though not every way, perhaps not as dramatically as it is portrayed in the film, but he's also trying to come to terms with the complications of their past.

In this new environment, you really can be a brand new person when you come to a place like this because there is so little of the world that you come from that still exists. I think this can give people an opportunity to address the pain in their past, but also a way for them to be confronted with the same challenges again. Are they able to learn from the things in their past that have hurt them ?

The term TSUZUKU (title of the movie) is "to be continued", as something that it keeps going as our lives keep moving forward. And the idea that the moment you stop, it potentially can hit a bad place because the life is a constantly moving forward thing. If you think you've stopped, it's kind of a lot of self-delusion because you will have to address the things in your past, you will have to come to terms and kind of let those wounds have air and breathe and be healed. If you want to move forward, you can't always just go to the other side of the world. And if you're going to go somewhere, you have to claim it and earn your space.

Paul: 35:34

Well that makes me want to see it now. Is it visible somewhere?

Alessandro: 35:38

It's available... We've done some distribution port, but I can get you a copy yeah. Perhaps I can re-upload it.

This was before the video sharing. And it's very interesting, even just in the last five to 10 years, so much of the digital distribution platforms have changed. So much that the idea of distributing films and physical copies versus online hosting and the festival circuit, these things have changed so much. It would be good I think to go back and bring these things back into the light.

Paul: 36:14

So it's not yet on Netflix...

Alessandro: 36:18

Maybe someday!

You know, in the time that I have to continue developing my own creative storytelling projects, I always return to this character. As time has gone on, it is really a reflection of my own experiences here. As a storyteller and still maker, one of the biggest obstacles I face is finding the right voice to communicate with an audience and who that audience is.

One of the great existential obstacles I've had since living here is that the connective tissue to the things of my previous life get thinner and thinner as more time goes by. Because the person I am is no longer a reflection of who I was when I first came here. I'm trying to communicate my experiences in a way that's authentic to people that have never seen this side of the world or understand the way that life is here.

It is a challenge but I hope that in some of the more cultural preservation projects, I can begin to see the bridge between those two worlds and kind of create a way for people like me as I used to be. Shake the hand of the person that I am now and have a better understanding of each other.

Paul: 37:40

Very nice. I wish you all the luck in this. Thank you very much for sharing all these very personal thoughts as well about your life in Japan and away from your homebase, in the US.

I like to finish the episode with a couple of regular questions, asked to people I interview. Starting with this one: should you keep in mind all your experience, everything you know right now, but go back in time and meet yourself.

Let's say when you arrived in Japan in 2010. What would you say to yourself?

Alessandro: 38:20

Well, a larger emphasis on my Japanese learning would definitely do me a great favor!

I think a lot of it just comes down to being diligent and finding a way to be mindful of the trust that you have in other people. You know, in many ways in Kyoto it's very easy to open up and trust other people because it is a wonderful community.

To make sure that you are perceptive and make wise choices, for any of the pitfalls that could come in the future could be better avoided and very prepared for.

That this is home! I think I would have told this to myself 10 years ago. Maybe my 20 year old self was thinking, could this be home? And my 30 year old self would tell my younger self that, yeah, this is home.

Paul: 39:27

And that's a good feeling!

Alessandro: 39:29

Definitely!

Paul: 39:30

Second question: talking about Japanese and the language in general, what's your favorite Japanese word or expression?

Alessandro: 39:38

The term TSUZUKU (続く)has always had a great relevance to me only because it's kind of rooted in the serialized storytelling of things that I grew up with. I also felt that it resonated with the fact that life does keep moving forward.

But since you've mentioned those a bit, there's a term that I think is perfect for Kyoto specifically and its ANABA (穴場), which is this kind of hidden space that can only be found if you know where it is. These little nooks and crannies that are kind of hidden away from the main path.

That is such a great representation of Kyoto and many of the places within Kyoto, even despite all the recent tourism boom. Looking for these hidden spaces and little private spots where you can discover and just think things is something that has been very wonderful about my time here.

Paul: 40:38

Kyoto is full of hidden spots and it reminds me when I went, it's very different, but when I went to Morocco. They have these places in the city called "Riads" which could be old mansions or old palaces. And when you walk in the city, in the old city, in the streets, you don't see anything. You just have walls, often dirty walls with wooden doors and everything is hidden. But when you step into one of them, when you open one of the doors, you just enter this magnificent palace with all the decorations and the patterns on the ground and the plants where everything is beautiful.

It often feels like this as well in Kyoto. Well, the outside of the houses is nice as well. I mean that's a very nice architecture, but when you walk inside the city, except if you are really in the city center, everything seems kind of modern or rebuilt and kind of gray as well sometimes. But when you make the effort to look for these spaces, for these special places, you actually discover some really beautiful gardens, hidden temples, hidden places like this.

That's great! Talking about this, do you have a favorite of yours? Hidden gem that you would agree to share?

Alessandro: 42:03

Ah! You see that's the key, isn't it?

It's not quite a super secret hidden place, but as I've always felt a wonderful attachment to the delta at the Demachiyanagi, the river at the top of the North side of the Kamogawa river. And I felt that these stepping stones that take you across the river are just such a wonderful place.

The sense of hidden spot, I'm about this style of thing. I think it's just so applicable to all of our lives, whether it's in Japan or otherwise. You can walk by something, but unless you have the curiosity and a bit of boldness or courage to discover some things, you can walk by kind of magnificent things without ever actually finding them.

As it pertains a bit to the tech and art and things, there's a wonderful application that I use, that I've been using every day since 2013 called "one second everyday".

Paul: 43:05

Yeah, I've seen your videos.

Alessandro: 43:06

It forms a one second memory every day on my calendar. And then at the end of the year, you have a six and a half minute video. And so as my life goes on, now I have maybe some 30 something minutes of content over the last six years or so.

It's specifically the engagement with this type of app when every day starts kind of bleeding together. But when I realized that I want to have something different to appear on my second of the day, my ears perk up when I hear music in the distance. I go and investigate and then all of a sudden I realize I've been at a festival that I didn't know about for two hours. Or maybe I should try something new to eat. Because I am an absolute food junkie and I always need something new.

The idea is that I've discovered so many of these wonderful places and things because I've had great motivation to push out and kind of discover new things. And I think that's an attribute that everybody can benefit from.

Paul: 44:11

That's a great philosophy! What's the name of the application?

Alessandro: 44:14

It's a "One second every day".

Paul: 44:15

Okay, I'll put the link in the show notes.

This links to the next question. Actually that might be a foreign application, but is there anybody or any project or any company that you find is doing interesting things right now in Japan, specifically in Kyoto actually, that you would like to give a shout out to?

Alessandro: 44:39

Absolutely. First and foremost, I'm doing a lot of great work with a team called The Garden Lab, which is based here in Kyoto, which is ran by my good friend Drew Wallin. There's a greater team with Kosuke Imada and Robin Roundweather. We all work together taking care of this wonderful new space downtown Kyoto. It's a coworking space and a place for entrepreneurs to meet and do events, artist residency type things. I'm planning to do a lot more work and working very closely with them in the future for upcoming projects. So I definitely would love to shout them out.

You can find them at gardenlabkyoto.com

Paul: 45:22

The space's name is Garden Lab?

Alessandro: 45:25

Yes, The Garden Lab where we'll be having the grand opening soon now, in 2020, to the public. I definitely recommend everybody to check it out.

I had mentioned before a bit the World Creators team in Tokyo, with Monde-san and Kuni-san. They're doing some great work internationally as well. Kind of bridging the gap between Japan and the rest of the world.

I'm very grateful for a lot of the communities here, there are so many people. Because I'm only really in a position to succeed now in my life because of the kind of generosity and support of so many of the people here. The different games, videos and everybody. I've been very, very grateful.

So you know who you are if you're listening, if you made it this far.

Paul: 46:14

Very nice! I will put links to these two projects as well.

If people are interested to see some of your projects, some of your VR creations in 3D modeling or just getting in touch with you, where can they find you online?

Alessandro: 46:32

Right now, we're actually in the process of doing a bunch of big changes on our website. But hopefully by the time this comes out that will be settled at sogendo.com.

But also in partnership with The Garden Lab Kyoto, I'll be having a lot of my presence on that side as well to help support and be a part of that whole team.

My Instagram is where I post my stuff most frequently, but that's more of the general kind, with some of the projects that I'm doing mixed with a bit more of my lifestyle thing.

Our website as well as The Garden Lab Kyoto website are where we'll have some great updates from some of the work that we're doing.

Paul: 47:20

I will put all this as well on the website.

Well, thanks a lot for your time Alessandro! I'm really glad I got to understand a bit more about your current activities, your background and good luck in your upcoming projects on the VR side, and on the co-working space as well.

Thanks a lot and hopefully see you soon in Kyoto!