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Yushi Okajima

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To Connect

Yushi Okajima
Associate Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Information Networks and Information Security

I like working with networks and my area of research is network protocol. Protocol is a word not heard often in everyday situations, but it can be thought of as an agreement when communicating. Understanding that “the enemy is approaching” when a signal flare is fired is because those that fired the signal flare and the observers follow the same agreement. If this agreement doesn’t function well, it can end up in disaster, like the flare being mistaken for a forest fire, or the two sides talking at the same time through a string phone.

Recently, I have been kept busy with work unrelated to networks, and I have questioned myself if I am really researching on networks, however the word “connect” seems to be relating to all the work I am undertaking. A network is a system that joins nodal points with a route and constructs a flow, in other words, a method of “connection.” I believe I like to connect things together.

Discovering the excitement of connecting

I was an introverted child who didn’t like being in a group. At school, I learned how to keep a low profile so that teachers wouldn’t pick me. I wasn’t good at standing in front of people, so I skipped the day when I was going to be chosen to play a villager in the school play, but I don’t think the classmates really noticed my absence.

The turning point for me was when I entered high school. My father’s business was in trouble. This was an amazing turning point for me. I had found an excuse not to go to high school. Simply “not liking being in groups” would be frowned upon by society, but I would be seen as somewhat great by “helping to get my father’s company back on its feet.” I was so pleased that I handed in a notice of leaving to the high school I was going to enter.

The four years at university is called one’s lucky period, but there is no doubt that my lucky period was those five years of no school. I was a recluse to my heart’s content (I pride myself in being one of the nation’s pioneering recluse cases), and I totally indulged myself in computer games (very different from those today). Of course I helped at my father’s company, to an extent where people wouldn’t talk about me behind my back.

I spent a life physically separated from respectable people, but strangely, I never felt a sense of isolation. Originally being a person who didn’t like being in crowds, this was probably natural, but I think that by getting my fill looking over conversations of others on the grassroots computer communication network BBS (internet commercialization was a little later) is also a big reason behind this. It was strange to think that people can feel connected over the Internet. At that time, I was indeed electronically connected to a sea of thousands of users.

It was around this time that I discovered that connecting things is interesting. Then I looked at the old computer game in front of me and thought, rather than battling with AI, battling with real users over the Internet seemed more interesting. This is probably when I decided to make a living by roaming around computer networks.

Connecting beginners to slightly more difficult fields

Here, I am expected to expand on my topic of research about network, however I cannot imagine how many people will be happy to read about network protocol between banks, for example. It will require skillful writing so readers will not dose off.

Therefore, I will talk about a slightly different “connection”. During my five years as a recluse, I also thought a bit about my future. I wasn’t going to put my father’s business back on track so I had to do something, and decided to take the University Entrance Qualification Examination. However, I was persuaded by my parents to attend a night high school course for the following reasons. Taking some credits from high school would give me less topics to take in the university qualification exam. Also, there were less students in the night course which made it easy for me to attend, and going to night school would give me a respectable reputation.

It is true that there are few students at night high school. It was an ideal place for me to study. However, at that time the people who attended night high school was diverse in background to put it positively. To be frank, there were no decent people. We were entering the age of plenty, and self-supporting students were a thing of the past.

Being a recluse, it is a bit presumptuous to put myself in the “decent person” category, but I came from a different background. Moreover, in small-group teaching it was difficult to use my low profile capability I had mastered in compulsory education. They caught me easily and said words to the effect of, “I think you did well at junior school. Could you tutor us if you don’t mind.” Of course, this was spoken in different wording and attitude. I leave this to the reader’s imagination, but there was no refusing this request.

Whether this “request” should be regarded as “deplorable” or as “humble and eager to learn by asking to be taught, not demanding to do their homework”, depends on the circumstances surrounding the person assessing the situation. However, to me these were holy words like a bible. I mean, if I couldn’t teach the subjects properly, there would be retaliation.

Teaching people with no motivation or knowledge was quite a difficult task, but they gave me the ability to tolerate jobs like digging a tunnel with no end in sight. I am basically a sarcastic person, but I think so without sarcasm. I grew quite attached to this job of “connecting beginners to slightly more difficult fields”, and I continued on with it (but I felt a lot of danger, so I quit night school after just one term). Although I have many other reasons for my books to be aimed for beginners, my experience from that time has had a big influence.

Connecting people with different natures

Books for beginners are relatively in demand at any period, so it can be said the standards for writing are set in place. I think what is appreciated in education paperback books is the frequent use of metaphorical expressions. Things start like, “The internet is like a highway…” I also like this and used to use it a lot in the past. When I wrote more about things that I liked in metaphor like, “The web is like the skin of a melon…” or “The Mino Castle in Shogi is like a lightly armored tank…”, people thought my Japanese was strange. Because I am timid, I am afraid of being scolded.

At any rate there was criticism of using metaphorical expressions that they only make the readers seem to understand the content, and that there is a chance the readers may fail to grasp the true essence. I think this is true although I also frequently used them. I could probably write something giving an impression of understanding by giving an explanation of the Ethernet like a string phone. However, many of the people who read it would misinterpret the Ethernet. Clever people can give extremely simple explanations of the essence of things, but because difficult things are difficult, depending on the parable or abstraction, important information will definitely be left out. Those “sifted out trivial details” are unexpectedly required to understand the full picture, so books which have left out trivial points in order to encourage understanding are dangerous. I think the above criticism is a proper and important one.

However, after understanding those dangers, I still believe that “books that give the readers a slight understanding,” are necessary. Even today, there is a small number of people who, even though being high school students, find fractions difficult, or make careless grammatical mistakes. However, if they are given just the slightest chance, they can make a progress towards learning difficult things as they are. So, even while being criticized, and while feeling depressed from the criticism, I would like to continue writing beginner’s guides as a “connection” that acts as a step to proper books. That is, if I am given the chance, of course.

Recently, I have found an amazing game “Kantai Collection” (KanColle). It is a game where former Imperial Japanese Navy ships are personified, and it has, without a doubt, raised the knowledge about former Imperial Japanese Navy ships among younger men. I was also a warship fanatic, but “KanColle” users possess an extremely sharp, obscure knowledge. A sense of affinity is born by personifying the warship as a moe character, equipment as symbols that are incorporated into illustrations, organizations and history displayed in the mutual relationships between the characters. This amount of information, which would result in a very heavy book in the case of education paperback books, is squeezed into a single illustration. I don’t know if there truly is an affinity between the warships and moe characters, but by connecting things with differing qualities, a unique body of knowledge has been created.

I thought this was a good method, so I started up the Technology Personification Project. It personifies IP and TCP, technology that constitutes networks, as moe characters. Also, as it is a project that would probably be severely criticized, (I have a feeling I would be ignored before being criticized), I am doing it in secret.

I have only been discussing strange topics so far, so at least in the end, I would like to touch upon some slightly more serious research. Connecting technology is becoming more and more radicalized with the expansion of Internet of Things (IoT). That in itself is a wonderful thing, but with leaking of information and a surveillance society, the harmful effects of being over-connected are also starting to stand out. Although I have always researched “connecting”, the strange thing is, now I am investigating methods to control and appropriately manage connections.

I also would like to develop technology in order for disabled people to be able to simply access the world of able-bodied people. Computers and smart phones were originally developed as objects to expand individual abilities. Barrier-free policies are progressing, but I think, through information technology, we can expand the abilities of disabled people a little more in the scope of accessibility. My child has a disability, and it is clear that life for the disabled appear difficult. By the time my child becomes an adult, I would like to make a contribution to this field of research, even if it is a small one.

Yushi Okajima
Associate Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Information Networks and Information Security
Yushi Okajima was born in Tokyo in 1972. He graduated from the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University in 1997. He completed his Master’s program in the Chuo University Graduate School of Policy Studies in 1999. He completed his Doctoral program in the same school in 2004. He started his current position in 2015 after working as a full time lecturer, assistant professor at Kanto Gakuin University College of Economics, and Information Science Center director. His current research topics include elucidating the principles behind the phenomenon of going viral, and developing information support systems for handicapped children. Major publications include Basic and Fun “Programming” for Children (Gijutsu-Hyohron, 2015), The Big Data Trap (Shinchosha, 2014), Going Viral (Nikkei Publishing, 2014), Post-mobile (Shinchosha, 2012), Understanding the Internet through Experiments (Iwanami Shoten, 2010), The Structured Web (Kodansha, 2007), and Understanding the Structure of the Internet with Post and String Phones (Shueisha, 2006). He has hosted a lecture on smart phones on NHK Educational TV since 2009.