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Steve Jobs’ love affair with Japan

By Mikey Campbell    
Friday, December 30, 2011, 01:43 pm PT (04:43 pm ET)
Late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was somewhat well-known for being a Japanese Zen Buddhist, but few knew how deep his infatuation with Japan ran and how it helped shape who he was and the company he created.

An in-depth article published on Friday by Japanese news site Nippon.com illustrates how the country’s culture, people and even food influenced Jobs, as seen in both his private and business lives.

Longtime Apple journalist Hayashi Nobuyuki sifted through years of reportage on Jobs and his tumultuous rise within the tech industry to find exactly how Japan affected the former Apple chief.

Nobuyuki writes that it all began when Jobs first discovered Zen Buddhism. After a long period of soul-searching, including a short stint to India, Jobs found the Japanese school of China’s ancient religion at a temple close to his home in Los Altos, California. There he met Sōtō Zen monk Kōbun Otogawa, who Jobs saw as a life guide and teacher, eventually inviting him to be the spiritual leader at NeXT in 1985.

Zen continued to have a profound effect on Jobs, manifesting itself in his aesthetic sensibilities and sometimes ascetic lifestyle. Nobuyuki points out that the religion’s call for spartanism, coupled with Germany’s Bauhaus movement, found its way into the minimalist design of many Apple products. Although Jony Ive is and was the lead designer of the company’s most iconic devices, Jobs always had the final say before any design hit the production floor.

Jobs didn’t rely on austere external beauty alone and another Japanese influence played a part in creating the technologically progressive internals of products Apple would release. Sony co-founder Akio Morita was a noted friend of Jobs, and the Apple chief said that he was inspired by the excitement behind the Japanese firm’s transistor radios and Trinitron TVs.

Another takeaway from Sony was Jobs’ signature black mock turtleneck and jeans “uniform” that was inspired by Sony’s requirement for an employee dress code. Japanese designer Issey Miyake was commissioned to produce hundreds of the shirts, which Jobs wore for the rest of his life.

Outside of business, Jobs simply enjoyed most everything Japan had to offer. From the culture to the food, he was enamored; often taking trips to the country’s old capital of Kyoto to soak-in the surroundings and eat the food

Even though he lived on a vegan diet, Jobs often made exceptions for Japanese fare like sushi and soba noodles. The chef of Café Mac, Apple’s cafeteria, was sent to the Tsukiji Soba Academy to learn the art of soba making. Jobs reportedly even created his own concoction called “sashimi soba,” or raw fish with buckwheat noodles.

In the U.S., Jobs would frequent Japanese establishments, being a regular at Jinsho, a Silicon Valley sushi-ya and Keigetsu, a sushi and kaiseki restaurant. The eateries ultimately became the spots where he would bring close friends and family to say goodbye before he passed away on Oct. 5, 2011.

Two days following Jobs’ death, Keigetsu shuttered its doors, but he had “one more thing,” as Nobuyuki uses the phrase coined by the former CEO to introduce new products, in store for his company.

Earlier in the year, when he caught wind of the restaurant’s impending closure, Jobs offered manager and chef Toshio Sakuma a job at Apple. Following the tech guru’s death, Sakuma began serving Jobs’ favorite dishes at the employee cafeteria; a fitting final farewell from Jobs to the company he created.

Steve Jobs Indian Journey

Trip to India as teen was a life-changer for Steve Jobs

NEW DELHI: Steve Jobs came to India as a teenager in search of enlightenment. He returned disappointed, following a brush with lice, scabies, dysentery and a near mob thrashing after he protested at being sold watered-down buffalo milk.

But the trip did mark a turning point in his life. In his own words, it helped him realize that ” Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba (the guru he was seeking, who died before they could meet) put together”

Jobs’ India connection, though, preceded his trip. As a penniless college drop-out , he would walk seven miles every Sunday to get a free meal at the Hare Krishna temple. He also retained a lifelong admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. In 1997, Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ads, which featured his personal idols, included the Mahatma.

Tough India visit led him to question many illusions

Steve Jobs’ trip to India was eventful, to put it mildly. He arrived in India, accompanied by his friend Dan Kottke, who later became Apple’s first employee.

Soon, he had swapped his jeans and T-shirts for lungis as he set out from Delhi for the Himalayas. Along the way, Jobs and Kottke slept in abandoned buildings and survived on local food. “He looked at prices everywhere, found out the real price, and haggled. He didn’t want to be ripped off,” Kottke was quoted as saying in the book ‘iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act In the History of Business’.

While he was searching for Neem Karoli Baba, Jobs chanced upon a mendicant who laughed uproariously at the sight of him, led him up a mountain path, dunked his head in a pond at the top of the mountain and shaved his head. Jobs and Kottke then set off to meet one Harikan Baba, but came away unimpressed. On the way back, while sleeping in a dry creek bed, they were trapped in a fierce thunderstorm.

As Kottke narrates in ‘iCon’, “I remember us praying to any god that could hear us, ‘Dear God, if I ever get through this, I’ll be a good person, I promise’.”

Having picked up lice and dysentry, the two set off to see Tibet, but contracted scabies near Manali. Worse, Kottke’s traveller’s cheques got stolen, which ended their trip.

“The hot, uncomfortable summer made Jobs question many illusions he had nursed about India. He found India far poorer than he had imagined and was struck by the incongruity between the country’s condition and its airs of holiness,” author Michael Moritz wrote in Jobs’ biography, as he was quoted as saying in his biography, ‘The Little Kingdom — The Private Story of Apple Computer’.

However, Jobs retained his interest in spirituality. In fact, he suggested the name Apple to Steve Wozniak after a visit to a commune in Oregon which he referred to as an “apple orchard”.

More than a quarter century later, Jobs thought of setting up a facility in India. But it didn’t pan out as he found the costs higher than expected.

 

Dr. John McDougall presents “Why Did Steve Jobs Die?” from the McDougall Advanced Study Weekend, February 2012.

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