Drupal Camp Kyoto - April 2014
Let’s face it. Globalization affects conferences, too, often reducing them to an Escher-like iteration of monotonous cloth-covered round tables, aluminum frame chairs with mechanical embroidered cushions, and anonymous buffets of western food with no more local color than a business hotel breakfast.
But Drupal Camp Kyoto, the first Drupal Camp in Japan, was completely different, and let’s hope this is just the beginning. The organizers rented out a Kyoto temple for the day, in a historic area frequented by tourists both domestic and international. The wifi was done with the help of a domestic provider, using portable cell routers and pure grit. The walls were old, the fusuma paper sliding doors faded, and you had to step carefully between people sitting cross-legged but cozy on the floor. It was somehow "wabi-sabi" and added greatly to the atmosphere and character of the experience, as did the area around the venue, which was lined with the wooden houses and stone walls of old Kyoto. It was more than scenic. It was inspiring, and it was thoroughly Japanese.
I am a long-time resident of Japan and well accustomed to sitting on the floor, but it was terrific to watch Drupalistas who had flown in to attend. They sat on tatami and listened to talks about Drupal with a stunning view of the temple’s Japanese garden through old, wood-framed sliding doors. The hospitality was sincere and easy - relaxed and familiar, even for those of us who had just met. That is a good example of the importance that Japanese put on hospitality, and it came through beautifully.
What is more, the staff wore “happi” - Japanese traditional coats that are worn at festivals. The happi even had “Drupal” written in soft, curvy hiragana, which is the Japanese phonetic system for native Japanese sounds; this is significant, because loan words like my name, “computer”, “programming”, and other foreign concepts are written in katakana, a completely different phonetic alphabet that is angular and hard and cold. The soft, native hiragana was significant because it says to Japanese, “Hey, Drupal is ours, too, if we make it so.” This made me very happy as a Drupalista and as a resident of Japan.
The organizers included a professional designer who made sure that everything, from the posters to the logo to the t-shirts, was unique and Japanese. The overall design had class and dignity. Another very Japanese touch was the young Japanese man helping with interpretation. He was doing "cosplay", dressed as the well-known computer-generated female virtual idol "Hatsune Mikku." He had gone the whole nine yards, with blue stockings, blue and white gauze-like dress, and long blue hair in pig-tails. After his lightning talk, I found out that this young man is one of the organizers, but he is not a professional web developer or Drupalista at all. He does open source, particularly Drupal and Mozilla activism, on the side, as a way to relax. His real job is as teaching at the very elite University of Tokyo and doing research on the nature of dark matter and dark energy. It is hard to get more Japan than a boy-genius PhD in astrophysics wearing a dress and a blue wig.
The talks were good - about 80% focused on technical Drupal stuff and 20% on implementation, business, and management. I learned a great deal and went away wanting to learn a great deal more.
In the future, it would be good to help monolingual participants understand the talks better, but it was definitely a good idea to hold the event in Japanese. Japanese need a place and a community where they can talk about Drupal in all its aspects without struggling with the language barrier. Japanese Drupalistas need more domestic acceptance and recognition of Drupal, and making Drupal familiar and accessible is a very important element in that push.
So all in all, I would say that the April 2014 Drupal Camp Kyoto was a terrific success, and the organizers should be praised highly for it. I am sure that our foreign guests would agree that it was more than worth the trip to Japan. It added to the culture of Drupal, and I think that even the most jaded of conference regulars would have been delighted and energized. The event really showcased the Japanese attention to the human element and to detail and quality. I hope to work with the organizers to build community here, and I am confident that my time will be well spent. They are good people, and this Japanese Drupal community will be a huge asset to the diversification and enrichment of the Drupal community as a whole.
Drupal Japan is very much the underdog at the moment, with a lot of inertia and competition to overcome, but I am certain it is worth the effort and the time, so please lend them your support.