Saturday, September 13, 2014

Small Town Japanese Life in Second Life


Reality can’t compete with imagination.

Japanese Proverb



          During my recent visit with friends at a geisha house in Second Life (SL), I also had a tour of the town where the house is located.

          Having spent a fair bit of time in Japan in Real Life (RL) for a variety of reasons, (Significant Other is still impressed that I neither got lost nor impaired Japanese-American relations.  Truth be told, I’m kinda impressed myself!)  I had something to compare this sim to and I must say I came away very impressed by its lifelike feel.

          In this story, I’ll take you to this sim and describe it to you.  Those of you who are also familiar with Japan can keep me honest and, hopefully all of you my dear readers will take some time to visit.

          The sim is called Miyagawacho and can be reached by rezzing here.  It is based on a section of RL Kyoto the ancient capital of Japan prior to Tokyo and is considered to be the heart and soul of Japanese culture by many.

          Now, in RL, I haven’t been to Kyoto but I’ve been to much of Tokyo and the northern part of the main island Honshu.  (Long story about my wanderings across Japan and meet me inworld sometime and I’ll give you the lowdown.)

          Rezzing into town leaves me in front of the geisha house on a typical street in a Japanese small town.  Low storied buildings line both sides of the street.  Looking down one end a large temple looms.  Looking the other way I see a T-intersection and head that way.  (Maybe it’s Robert Frost’s influence but I’ve always been attracted to forks in the road.)

          Walking down the street, the building style is what one sees away from Tokyo or in its outlying districts.  Sliding panels serve as entrances to buildings.  Signs are in Japanese characters (naturally).  Lanterns hang from buildings.  Colorful noren hang in doorways.

          The detail is incredible as is the color.  Bus stops, mail boxes, and vending machines line the streets.  Street signs are authentic and right where I expect them to be.  The effect is almost photographic but it’s not.  Somebody very skilled scripted all this.

          The street layout is not one of those typical SL bland street scenes.  Streets are narrow as in RL.  The pavement brings back memories of strolls around Japan.  I can’t even read the posters on the walls as when I was there!  (I really appreciate it when folks go out of their way to make me feel at home!)  Bicycles are parked everywhere. 

          The realism extends to the small shops along the street.  These are not the usual SL fare peddling cyber-stuff but attempts at RL businesses like the shaved ice store across from the geisha house. Other shops offer typical merchandise.

          Running off the main street that I’m on are smaller ones and alleyways.  One leads to the countryside and then to a river bank where floating lanterns drift by.  The folks behind this sim have definitely done their homework!

          Returning to the main street, I reach the intersection and turn left.

          This takes me to an onsen, or hot spring. Going inside, I’m in the common area which leads to the men’s and women’s sections.  (This isn’t another type of sim so get your mind out of the gutter.)  The men’s has the traditional layout. A preparation outside of the baths.  The actual hot springs are in the rear of the building.

          Exiting, I walk along the street leading from the onsen.  I pass a small street shrine and enter a Zen garden at the end of the street.  (This looks like a good candidate for my Great Gardens of Second Life series.) 

          Backtracking, I return to the main street and stroll down to the large temple at the end.  I go inside and am reminded of similar visits to temples in Japan and Asia that I made in RL.  (Not to worry, I respect all places of worship not only my own churches and have not been thrown out.  I know a few clergy who are going to breathe a collective sigh of relief with this one.  Significant Other doesn’t worry on this score, knowing my respect for anything bigger than me especially when I don’t understand it.)

          This brings me to the end of my tour for now. There’s a lot more to see.

          What impresses me most about Miyagawacho is the faithfulness to detail including scale.  There is a closeness about the sim which can only be appreciated if one has walked the highways and byways of outlying districts, small towns and villages of Japan.

          One aspect that is haunting about this sim is that I never meet anyone on its streets.  There is a ghost town affect.  Sadly, I’m reminded of the images of the area surrounding the Fukushima disaster site.  (I don’t say this to be flip.  In RL, I have many Japanese friends and have spent too many hours with them watching the aftereffects of the 3/11 tragedy on NHK.)  

          The sim’s completeness is another example of its high quality.  There are no unused open spaces as in other sims.  What one would expect to see in a small Japanese town is there.  A good Japanese friend of mine shouldered surfed for part of my walkabout and was very impressed by the quality and attention to detail.

          I can give a strong recommendation to visit Miyagawacho to anyone interested in seeing a snapshot of Japanese life or what a highly realistic sim can be inworld.

          The residents who live the geisha lifestyle there have a very high standard of behavior and do not consider themselves to be roleplayers.

          Go, enjoy yourselves, and maybe you’ll see me wandering about!

          I would like to thank my friend and maiko, Kikuyumi (“Yumi” for short.) for taking me on my first tour of the town.        

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

          I’ve included some pictures from walk through Miyagawacho.  However, these do not do the originals justice.  Please go and see this sim for yourselves! 

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and safe fires!
Photo No. 3 Small Street Shrine
Photo No. 4 Zen Garden
Photo No. 8 Outdoor Hot Springs
Photo No. 10 Vending Machines
Photo No. 11 Mail Box
Photo No. 12 Temple
Photo No. 13 Temple Interior
Photo No. 14 Sidestreet



Saturday, September 6, 2014

More about Social Media in Second Life


Google+ is the gym of social networking: We all join, but nobody actually uses it.




          I start this week’s story with an announcement.

          (Significant Other looks apprehensive.)

          Going forward I’ll no longer use Facebook for my blog posts.

          (Significant Other rolls eyes, shrugs, and leaves me to my ramblings.)

          Why?  You may ask.  (Even if you don’t ask I’m going to tell you.)

          I grew tired of wondering if I was within the rules for being there.  When web initially joined Facebook, after a review of the guidelines, I felt that it was appropriate for him to be there.  After all, how many people with pen names were already enrolled?  (Answer, a lot!)

web exists solely as a virtual avatar in the Metaverse.  That’s it.  He does not have a driver’s license, a passport, or a Social Security number.  He wanders the highways and byways of Second Life (SL) and has aspirations someday to visit Inworldz and go chase orcs in World of Warcraft.  When he retires, he may run a little gold farming operation there.

          My point in telling you this is that you’ll never meet him standing next to you in Starbucks or being interviewed on cable TV. 

          So when Facebook asked for a “real” name, I pulled the plug on web in Facebook.  Yes, I know.  It sounds heartless.  But, remember this.  If I do this right web will be running around long after I’m gone. (Significant Other returns venting displeasure about talk of my demise.)  There is no other “real” identity for web.

          The brand is web not me.  Changing a name would only confuse everyone and violate the one condition that Significant Other gave me when I began this little adventure of mine three years ago.

          That was I keep SL and Real Life (RL) separate.  Significant Other didn’t want SL showing up at the front door one evening.  (Nothing against anyone inworld but Significant Other has enough issues dealing with my RL friends and I’d rather not push my luck.)

          So, Facebook and I (web) part company.

          It’s their loss. 

          Like many I’m not sure why Facebook has this policy.  Pseudonyms and anonymous writers have a long and storied history in literature and journalism.  There are simple and safe ways to associate a “real” person with an avatar and still protect the privacy of the former.  Still, Facebook makes the rules and it’s their bat and ball.

          I won’t rail against this or start petitions or anything like that.  I have better things to do with my precious time.  I wish Facebook well and would be happy to return if they ever change their policies.

          web moves on!

          (BTW just to show there’s no hard feelings, Mark Zuckerberg is welcome as a guest blogger here anytime!  What?  He did Saturday Night Live!  Why not here?)

          Remember SL is web’s home.  Social media is only how his travels get out to the readers who follow him.  (Which BTW have been increasing steadily as of late.  Either my two loyal readers have been really busy lately or a lot more of you are reading.  Whichever it is, many thanks!)

          So, where do we go from here?

          A while back, I began exploring social media as a fallback for the eventual demise of SL. 

          That work is standing me in good stead now as I use it to find other ways to connect with the virtual world communities out there.

          Presently, there are four applications which I’m either using or reviewing to keep web engaged with his following and to expand it.

          First, I’ve ramped up quickly on Google+.

          Google+ recently dropped its prohibition against avatars.  While I’d like to credit Google for its openmindedness.  I suspect it had more to do with the fact that so many people had avatar email accounts that when Google tried to leverage their email base to grow Google+ they couldn’t escape the avatar issue.  In the end, I think the idea was if you can’t beat ‘em then join ‘em.

          Folks in Google+ are not as intimidated by avatars friending or following them as they are in Facebook.  (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking to yourself, some of my best friends are avatars!  But, would you let your sister date one?)

           The Google+ interface has a good feel to it and many prefer it to Facebook’s.  I also like the circle concept in Google+ as well.  It offers more potential for organizing friends and activities.

          Another social network which I’ve begun to use is the Avatar Social Network (ASN) which oddly enough I learned about in Facebook.  ASN is dedicated to being a social network similar to Facebook for residents of all virtual worlds.

          I’ve met the founder of ASN and hope to be able to report back with an interview from him shortly.  ASN makes a point of accepting all and being as helpful as possible.  I can personally speak to the great service of their Help Center.

          My third social tool is Twitter which has been a great way for me to reach out to more virtual residents and stay on top of what’s happening in the Metaverse. One limitation right now is that I can’t automatically post my tweets to Google+, but I’m looking for a workaround.

          Finally, I recently came across a tool called HipChat.  This tool permits seeing one’s friends on line and chatting with them.  Google+’s Hangout feature doesn’t let you know who’s on unless you already have a chat open.  (Or, at least that’s the way it seems to me right now!)

          This is just a quick summary of some of the social media apps I plan on using to maintain and grow my SL network.  I’d to point that all these tools are either free or offer robust free options.

          If you’re wondering how you can help, there are a few things you can do.

          First, I’d be grateful if you’re already members of the communities I’ve just mentioned if you’d connect with me and encourage your friends to do so.  (Hey, ain’t my stories good enough?)  If you’re not a member of these groups consider joining.

          Next, I could use some help in testing and setting up some of these tools.  It’s kinda hard to test a chat function by yourself!  Truthfully, a half dozen or so volunteers would be appreciated.  (We’ll form our own circle!)

          And, when you do either connect or join then comment, contribute, and participate!  There’s a reason it’s called “social” media.  I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of old friends who either out there before me or came along shortly afterwards.

          That’s it for now! 

          But, there’ll be more to come!

          I do want thank all those who reached out to me after I dropped off of Facebook and expressed concern for my welfare.  I’m deeply touched by all your messages.  I’m fine!  (Significant Other sees to that!)

          And, not to worry, I’ll still be blogging!

          Also, this unexpected and unplanned migration has disrupted my editorial calendar a bit.  I apologize to those whom I was going to follow up with this week.  I’ll be back shortly.

          Anyone who is wondering what to do or needs help with their own personal migration can feel free to reach out to me for help.  If I can’t help then I’ll find someone who can!

          Open roads and safe fires!

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Renaissance Hunt and Faire Returns to Second Life


Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.

Anne Sullivan



          Autumn is approaching in both Second Life (SL) and Real Life (RL).

          (Yes, I know it’s several more weeks until the autumnal equinox but the Labor Day holiday weekend has always marked the end of summer for me!)

          The rituals of life, whether nature’s or our own, begin to play themselves out again.  (Significant Other hopes that I don’t become overly sentimental.)

          One inworld ritual which I enjoy immensely is the annual Renaissance Hunt and Faire organized and run by Perryn Peterson and his band of merry women and men.  The event runs from September 1st to 30th this year just as it did last year. This is the fourth time the event is being held inworld. 

          Like life itself, the Hunt and Faire don’t remain the same.  The event I blogged about last year has changed in a few ways.  Some subtle, some not so subtle.  But, they point to how SL is a dynamic, changing environment.

          Likewise, other things have remained the same.  But, are they?  Or, do we look at them differently because of the passage of time and what we’ve experienced along the way?

          I go back to this sim again as it slowly awakens to prepare itself for the festivities and the soon to be arriving guests.

          I’m an old hand now, so I don’t have to drag poor Perryn away from all his duties as Mayor of Mieville to show me around. 

          Upon rezzing in at the arrival area, I see the first major change.  Where once an old galleon had sat moored to a dock, a small cove with several small boats greets me.  A waterfront with small merchants’ shops, some already occupied, winds around the cove.

          Behind me, the sea beckons and I can stroll completely around the cove thanks to a small foot footbridge which goes over the entrance to the sea.

          Strolling up from the water’s edge, I pass the registration center for the hunters and from there through the town gate into the fair grounds.  I feel like I’m in old neighborhood.  I no longer get lost here.  (We won’t mention Significant Other’s observation.)

          What I always enjoy walking along this part of the sim is Mike Olbracht, Perryn’s partner and Mieville’s landscaping wunderkind has managed to capture the pastoral feel of the fields and woods with the small village effect.

          Booths have been set up for the merchants and they are being slowly filled and I have no doubt that all will be in place for opening day as it always is.  One of my favorite exhibits, the Chained Library recreating a Renaissance library is not set up yet but I have Perryn’s assurances that it will be so I’ll be returning to check it out after the opening.

          The usual entertainments will be ready for the hunters and other visitors, jousting, fencing, galliard dancing, and the May pole.  Refreshments will also be served.

          Merchants will be offering a broad array of merchandise with the emphasis on the Renaissance period.  (There’s a good deal on full suits of armor if anyone’s interested.)

          My walk takes me through the gypsy encampment.  Stopping to look inside several of the vardos, I get a sense of the color and beautiful workmanship that has gone into their interiors.  The fortune teller is back and her crystal book is sitting on a table waiting for customers.

          The horse paddock is nearby conveniently situated near a stream which flows down from the hills.  Following along the pathway from here, I arrive at the signpost just inside the town gate where I’d started.

          As always, the Hunt and Faire will be a fun event.  Dozens of merchants will have their wares on display.  Gifts will be available for hunters.  This hunt consistently draws high marks from its participants for the diversity and originality of its gifts.

          Several merchants will be having their own mini-hunts.  (No, I won’t tell you who or what!  There has to some suspense left, right?)

          If you’re wondering if you should come and participate, I encourage you to do so.

          The camaraderie of the Hunt and the Faire has to be experienced firsthand like all good experiences in life whether SL or RL.  The community that runs and supports these events is a wonderful group of people and if you plan on being a regular inworld then you have to meet them.

          Please come and enjoy yourselves!  Maybe you’ll run into me!  (I do give autographs!)

           I’ve included pictures from my visit but I encourage everyone to go and see these wonderful sights for yourselves.  I’m about as good inworld with a camera as I am in RL so checking for yourself is highly recommended.  (Significant Other nods violently in agreement.)

          I’d like to thank Perryn for briefing before my visit and for his and his entire team’s efforts to put on this spectacular event again!

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.



Photo No. 1 New Arrival Area

Photo No. 2 Event Poster

Photo No. 4 Cove

Photo No. 5 Seaward View

Photo No. 7 Merchant’s Shop

Photo No. 8 Florist

Photo No. 11 Horse Paddock

Photo No. 12 The Maypole

Photo No. 13 View of Faire Grounds

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Geisha Tradition in Second Life


What a lovely place this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else, and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish - our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.

Sayo Masuda, Autobiography of a Geisha



          Recently, while off exploring other social media as part of my efforts to expand beyond Second Life (SL) with social media, I met an interesting woman on the Avatar Social Network (ASN).   

          In ASN she’s known as Gemini P.  In SL, she’s known as Kikuyumi (“Yumi” for short.) and she’s a maiko.  Or, for those not familiar with the world of Japanese geisha, a student geisha.

          After our initial introduction, I learned about Yumi’s SL profession and also that this was more than mere roleplaying.   Yumi is part of an active geisha community inworld.

          Naturally, not being one to miss an opportunity to bring a new story back to my readers, I asked if I might visit with and interview her for my blog.  Yumi happily agreed and I also offered to have me meet the Onee-san and Okaa-san of Hanafusa okiya, Geiko Kikuyu, who is Yumi’s teacher. 

          OK, now, before I lose everyone because I just laid a lot of Japanese on you (Significant Other accuses me of intellectual elitism at times.) this what I said.

          “Onee-san” means older sister and is how members of this matriarchal society address one another.  “Okaa-san” is the familiar term for mother and is also used as a term of respect.  “Okiya” is a geisha house. “Hanafusa” happens to be the proper name of the one my hosts are associated with.  Geiko is a senior geisha who trains others.  And, yes, these are all Japanese terms.

          Got all that?  (If you didn’t please just humor me and lie.)

          I arrive for our interview in front of the ochaya (teahouse) where I’ll meet Yumi and Kikiyu-san.  Having spent considerable time among the Japanese and in Japan on Real Life (RL), I’m impressed by the detail and accuracy of the building.  (Significant Other is amazed that US-Japanese relations have survived me but suspects this having something to do with the Japanese having a soft spot for lost travelers and small dogs.) 

          The entrance slides open and the light comes out into the evening.  Yumi is standing inside the door in traditional geisha dress and invites me in.  She asks that I remove my shoes which I do.  (I understand the reason for the request and do it all the time in RL.  Unfortunately, I don’t do it as often in SL and fumble with their removal.  Yumi tells me not to worry about, apparently most SL residents have trouble taking their shoes off.)

          Yumi then takes me down a short hallway to a small room with a sliding screen door.  Kikiyu-san waits inside for us.  I’m invited in and offered a seat at a traditional table where one sits on the floor.  (And, yes, I’ve done this in RL too!  How much of an ugly American do you think I am?)

          I’m offered tea and Yumi sits next to me on the floor.  (Please don’t comment about sexism, I’m sitting on the floor too!)

          The tea appears as well as repast of ujikintoki which is a delightful dessert of shaved ice.  (Full disclosure here, I am a Japan-ophile especially where their cuisine is concerned.)  This is turning out to be one of my more enjoyable interviews!  (I don’t think I ever told my readers about the time I fell among cannibals inworld?   Some other time.)

          The room is in classic Japanese style with shoji screens, bonsai trees, lamps, and prints hanging on the walls.  The attention to detail that I noticed on the exterior carries into the interior.

          My hosts and I begin a discussion about their geisha community inworld.

          When I ask Yumi what drew her to become a maiko and ultimately a geisha, she replied that her understanding of the similarities between Japanese traditions and her own RL ones strengthened her resolve to stay with Kikiyu-san and learn more.  Yumi’s first introduction to this world (of geisha) was through a friend whom she worked with in RL and whose mother was a Geiko.

          Yumi’s first level as a geisha at the Okiya was as a shikomi.  She’s advanced to her current level of junior maiko with several more levels to go until she becomes a senior maiko.  Her aspiration is to become a geiko herself someday. 

          I ask Yumi what she enjoys best about the geisha life inworld.  She tells me that for her the best part is doing what I can’t in RL. Yumi personally loves dance, ikebana (the art of flower arranging) and the events which are held.

          What Yumi likes least is the time it takes to master the skills of being a geisha.  She also practices some of her skills in RL.

          One of the events that Yumi likes is the Ozashiki held weekly.  Patrons can come and enjoy some nice chat, a little food and drink or even a banquet.  They’ll dance or tell stories and poetry.  Games and music occur as well.  Yumi stresses that strict RL protocols are followed.  An Ozashiki generally lasts for forty-five minutes but by arrangement they can be longer. 

I ask if patrons are respectful of the traditions or just curious about them?  Yumi states that some follow traditions shall we call them, of times gone by.  But, that in the main they are very respectful. Very rarely a person thinks that maiko and Geiko are still involved in the sexual side of life but most people know that’s not true nowadays.

They also perform a traditional tea ceremony at their chashitsu (tea house).  I’m invited back with friends and I’ll be going!

          When questioned about kimonos and other traditional accessories, Yumi replies that they only work with two creators given the complexities of the designs. Likewise, authentic dance scripts are difficult to obtain but one creator works hard to meet their needs. 

          As our allotted time draws to a close, Yumi explains how their okiya is not just roleplay but the participants actually are creating the matriarchal society inworld.  They spend many hours in RL honing their skills.  She also believes that it would be advantageous if more people embraced cultural diversity and not just Japanese culture. 

          We end the interview by standing and bowing.  I thank both my hosts and Yumi escorts me to the front entrance.  She offers to give me a tour of their neighborhood, Miyagawacho, which is modeled on a RL Kyoto district.

          I accept and wait while Yumi changes to street clothes. 

          Upon her return, we walk down the street and I do feel like I’m back in Japan.

          Yumi shows me the onsen (hot springs), the Nyokoba (geisha school), a local shrine, and shops.

          By now I must return to RL myself and I thank Yumi for all hospitality and time.  She graciously offers to show me around the town some more and I promise to return.  There’s here I have to see!

          I take my leave and return home.

          I’d like to thank both Yumi and Kikiyu-san for taking the time to meet with me and answer all my questions.  They went to great trouble to prepare for my visit.  They and their sisters at Hanafusa okiya are doing an amazing task in keeping these traditions alive.  As they told me this is no mere roleplay.  This is real.

          What I also find fascinating is here’s another group who are using a virtual world to enhance a RL experience otherwise unavailable to many of them. 

          If anyone is interested in visiting and attending any of the events I recommend contacting either Yumi or Kikiyu-san for details.  I only ask that you be respectful of them and their lifestyle. 

           I’ve included pictures from my visit but I encourage everyone to go and see these wonderful places for yourselves.  I’m about as good inworld with a camera as I am in RL so checking for yourself is highly recommended.  (Significant Other nods violently in agreement.)

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.



Photo No. 2 Tearoom

Photo No. 3 Refreshments

Photo No. 4 Kikuyuu-san

Photo No. 5 Wall Painting

Photo No. 6 Shoji Screen

Photo No. 7 Bonsai Trees

Photo No. 8 At Table