Will it fly? How to Evaluate a New Product Idea

Evan WilliamsSource: http://evhead.com/2007/12/how-to-evaluate-new-product-idea.asp

I’ve been thinking about a number of new product ideas lately. In doing so, I’ve been trying to come up with a way more structured way of evaluating them. Here’s a first attempt at defining that. It’s not as clear as I’d like it to be. But perhaps you’ll find it useful.


Question: How difficult will it be to launch a worthwhile version 1.0?

Blogger was highly tractable. Twitter was tractable, but sightly less-so because of the SMS component. Google web search had quite low tractability when they launched it. Vista?: About as low as you can get.

Tractability is partially about technical difficulty and much about timing and competition—i.e., How advanced are the other solutions? Building a new blogging tool today is less-tractable, because the bar is higher. Building the very first web search engine was probably pretty easy. Conversely, building the very first airplane was difficult, even though there wasn’t any competition.

In general, if you’re tiny and have few resources, tractability is key, because it means you can build momentum quickly—and momentum is everything for a startup. However, tractability often goes hand and hand with being early in a market, which has its own drawbacks (e.g., obviousness, as we’ll discuss below).

If you’re big and/or have a lot of resources—or not very good at spotting new opportunities, but great at executing—a less-tractable idea may be for you. It may take longer to launch something worthwhile, but once you crack the nut, you have something clearly valuable.


Question: Is it clear why people should use it?

Everything is obvious once its successful. Big wins come when you can spot something before its obvious to everyone else. There are several vectors to this: 1) Is it obvious why people should use it? 2) Is it obvious how to use? 3) Is it an obviously good business?

Number two is more affected by the design of the product than the idea itself. You don’t actually want number three to be true. You want it to be a good business, but not an obviously good business, because than you get more competition. Web search was not an obviously good business before Google demonstrated it. This allowed them to leap-frog the competition that was in it for years, but not taking it very seriously. But, like Google, the business may not be clear until later.

The key question for evaluating an idea is number one: Is it obvious why people should use it? In most cases, obviousness in this regard is inversely proportional to tractability. The cost of Blogger and Twitter’s high tractability was the fact that they were defining a new type of behavior. The number one response to Twitter, still, is Why would anyone do that? Once people try it, they tend to like it. But communicating its benefits is difficult. We’re heartened by the fact that Why would anyone do that? was the default response by the mainstream to blogging for years, as well, and eventually tens of millions of people came around.

On the flip side, if you can build an ad network that makes people more money, a better search engine, or a productivity app that actually does tasks for people—all, less-tractable solutions—it will be highly obvious to people why to use your product.

Sometimes you can come up with ideas that are highly tractable and obvious. For example: Top Friends or HotOrNot. These products were not hard to launch and yet, were immediately appealing (to their target market). What was not obvious, in either case, is that they could also be great businesses. HotOrNot has proven this to be true. And I suspect Slide will, as well.


Question: How much value can you ultimately deliver?

The most successful products give benefits quickly (both in the life of a product and a user’s relationship with it), but also lend themselves to continual development of and discovery of additional layers of benefit later on.

Facebook is incredibly deep because it leverages your connections, which touch practically every aspect of your life. Scrabulous, on the other hand—a Facebook app for playing Scrabble—is not very deep. How big is the Scrabble-playing part of your life, and how much can it deliver beyond that?

But most things are deeper than they seem at first glance. Practically any application, once people start using it, can be used as a lever to more activity and benefit delivery. Being smart about what you’re leveraging is key.

When Feedburner first launched, their only feature was the ability to take an RSS feed and spit out multiple versions, depending on the capabilities of the feed reader requesting it. It seemed useful, but hardly something to start a company around, especially because that particular problem would probably go away over time. Or so I thought. What I didn’t get and they did (because Dick and gang is smarter than me) is that they were setting themselves up at a great leverage point—between publishers and their readers—where they could offer an ever-deeper value stack. Soon it was feed stylesheets with one-button subscription, feed stats, feed flare, blog stats, email subscriptions, and, of course, advertising, where they made their money.

While we’re talking about Feedburner, its worth mentioning that their product was also very obvious for their core user-base. There were clear benefits and very little drawbacks. They also had no competition, even though there were tons of companies in the RSS/feed space, because most of the others were battling it out on the reader side.

Other times, you stumble into deepness. When they put up HotOrNot on a whim, Jim and James didn’t know they’d be able to leverage it into a highly profitable dating site. Okay, so HotOrNot’s still not the “deepest” of sites, but it’s deeper than you think.


Question: How many people may ultimately use it?

Wideness, like deepness, is a fairly classic market analysis measure. They are usually inversely proportional—do you try to offer the mass-market good or the niche one?

Feedburner is not particularly wide. Their market was those who published RSS feeds (and cared about them). This was in the hundreds of thousands, not a hundred million. Turns out, it didn’t need to be used by a hundred million to be worth a hundred million, so going for wideness is not entirely necessary. But it’s something to look at.

Like deepness, wideness can take you by surprise. The web is getting so damn big, what seem like niche ideas can be very decent businesses. When Ted Rheingold launched Dogster, as a joke, he didn’t know there were enough people out there who would be interested in making their dogs web pages to actually build a business. When we launched Blogger, I thought maybe a few thousand people would use it.

Sometimes, you can find a spot that is both deep and wide. This is where multi-billion-dollar businesses are built: Google, Windows, Ebay. It’s easy to think these kinds of opportunities aren’t laying around anymore—at least not for the little guy. But most people would have said the same before Facebook entered the picture.


Question: How will people learn about your product?

I was going to call this criteria “viralness.” However, there’s a lot of focus on viralness these days, and—while sometimes amazingly effective—it’s not the only way to grow a user-base. And it doesn’t make sense in all cases.

Interesting to note: Google web search is not the least bit viral. Nor is Firefox. Nor it Kayak.

It’s possible to get the word out without being “viral.” One way is organic search traffic. Another is pay-per-click ads (if you can monetize). Another is plain old-fashioned word-of-mouth/blog/press. (Twitter has probably grown more through press and blogs references than any inherent viralness.) There’s also distribution deals and partnerships.

Either way, it’s something to think about up front, as different ideas lend themselves to different discoverability strategies. And some things are more difficult than others to spread. Dating sites, for instance, have not historically been viral, because people weren’t going to invite their friends to—or even talk much about—their personal ads. The sites made up for this by buying lots of ads, which worked because they monetized signups via subscription.


Question: How hard will it be to extract the money?

Far be it for me to say that obvious monetizability is a requirement. I’m generally a believer that if you create value, you can figure out the business. However, all things being equal, an idea with clear buck-making potential is better than one without.

Whether or not something is monetizable is not always clear up-front. It wasn’t clear how Google was going to make money early on. Ebay thought it would sell auction software.

In most cases, if you position yourself close to the spending of money, you can extract some. Or if you offer something that clearly saves or makes people money.

Blogger, I believe, makes money for Google, but it’s not the most monetizable of products. Twitter, I believe, will be more-so, but that’s yet to be seen.

Personally Compelling

Question: Do you really want it to exist in the world?

Last on the list, but probably the first question I ask myself is: How important to me is it that this product exists in the world? If I were evaluating a startup, I’d ask this of the founders. As I wrote in “Ten Rules“:

Great products almost always come from someone scratching their own itch. Create something you want to exist in the world. Be a user of your own product. Hire people who are users of your product. Make it better based on your own desires.

In theory, you can get around this with lots of user research. (It’s pretty clear neither Slide nor Rockyou‘s founders are creating widgets based on their own needs and desires.) But you’re more likely to get it wrong that way. When I’ve gone sideways, it’s when I wasn’t listening to my gut on this issue. Specifically, Blogger and Twitter were personally compelling, while Odeo wasn’t.

However, “personally compelling” doesn’t have to mean only that you want it as a user yourself. Curing cancer or helping the world be more green may be highly personally compelling for other reasons, which I think is just as good. My favorite products are those I really want as a user, but that I also think have some “greater good.”

Charting it Out

To bring it home, here’s a table with my estimates on where different products land by these criteria. Obviously, these are subjective measures, and for some of them, it’s hard to judge in retrospect. (I didn’t inlclude Personally Compelling on the list, because I can’t really speak to the founder’s motivations in most cases.)

Product Tractability Obviousness Deepness Wideness Discoverability Monetizability
Blogger Very High Low High High High Low
Google (web search) Very Low Very High Very High Very High Low Very High
Facebook High1 High Very High High Very High High2
Twitter High Low High High High Med
Feedburner Med High High Med Med Med3
HotOrNot Very High Very High Med Med Med High4
Scrabulous High Very High Low Low Very High Low
Ebay Med High Very High Very High High Very High

1 I don’t actually know what Facebook consisted of in version 1.0. It was actually in what looked like an untractable space (MySpace competitor), but applying the constraint of college-only made the competition non-existent and the usefulness and tractability potentially very high from the start.
2 In theory
3 Unsure
4 Only in the case of “Meet Me at HotOrNot,” the dating side of the site. The original, rating side probably has low monetizability.

Does Japan Need the iPhone?

The world’s most sophisticated users of wireless technology may be unimpressed by Apple’s high-tech gadget

But when the Cupertino (Calif.) company wades into the world’s most advanced wireless market next year, it could find Japan’s 98 million cell-phone users a hard bunch to please. For one thing, consumers here won’t be as starstruck by the iPhone’s high-tech gadgetry as users elsewhere. Japan’s 10 handset makers, which dominate the domestic market, already offer dozens of models typically costing several hundred dollars that send e-mail, browse the Internet, shoot photos and videos, and even pick up live TV broadcasts. Most come with a built-in global positioning system, and some even double as credit cards and commuter passes or safeguard personal data using fingerprint or face-recognition technology.

In its current form, the iPhone doesn’t work on Japan’s advanced third-generation, or 3G, network. Rumors abound that Steve Jobs & Co. will release a new, faster 3G iPhone next year. But analysts are skeptical that will be enough to please consumers in Japan. In its current form, the iPhone’s 3.5-inch touchscreen and its access to online applications such as YouTube and Google (GOOG) Maps are about all that set it apart from other handsets in Japan.

Potential Turnoff

In other ways, the device is inferior, and some of its functions won’t be all that useful. The iPhone’s Wi-Fi networking, for instance, won’t get much of a workout since few Japanese retailers are wired for such short-range broadband wireless Internet service. “I don’t think it’s going to do that well,” says Makio Inui, a managing director at UBS (UBS) in Tokyo. He predicts the iPhone’s high price and limited features will be a turnoff for many in Japan.

Where the iPhone will fill a need is with consumers like Keiko Ohashi. The 32-year-old sales manager already owns an iPod, doesn’t care for all the bells and whistles of Japanese handsets, and prefers the full QWERTY keypad and browser of a computer-like device. “I’d love to get an iPhone,” she says.

She may get her wish. In recent months, Jobs has met with Masao Nakamura, chief executive at Japan’s No. 1 wireless operator, NTT DoCoMo (DCM), to discuss a possible deal, DoCoMo spokesman Shinya Yokota said. Connecting the iPhone to DoCoMo’s high-speed 3G network isn’t the only draw for Apple. It also could tap into DoCoMo’s sales and marketing muscle. That gives Apple a better shot at grabbing a chunk of the roughly 50 million cell phones sold in Japan annually, and meeting its target of selling 10 million iPhones worldwide by 2008. (Apple had sold 1.4 million by Oct. 22.)

Stumbling Blocks in DoCoMo Talks

But industry executives think the negotiations are likely to get bogged down. DoCoMo declined to elaborate on the details of the talks, but Jobs is reportedly pushing for a cut of the iPhone’s revenues. (Apple officials couldn’t be reached for comment.) DoCoMo executives are likely to strongly resist such demands. One reason: Caving in to Apple would embolden other handset makers to try to win more favorable terms from DoCoMo.

DoCoMo also might balk at the idea of letting iPhone owners activate their handsets using Apple’s iTunes online music store, as AT&T allows in the U.S. DoCoMo subscribers now can only activate their phones at a licensed DoCoMo shop. Letting iPhone owners circumvent DoCoMo’s sales channel suggests they also would be able to avoid using DoCoMo’s proprietary i-mode portal site and all the music, shopping, and investing services that are offered through it. Stripped of the high-margin earnings from services, DoCoMo would simply be left managing the towers and servers of a wireless network. “If that happens, DoCoMo would be reduced to the dumb pipes they live in fear of becoming,” says one telco industry executive, who requested anonymity.

The two sides have a few other options. DoCoMo could rent spectrum to Apple in an arrangement known as mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. But that would set Apple back at least $30 million just for the data centers to handle voice calls and data transmissions, and Apple would have to hire a local staff to manage the operations of a full-service wireless carrier. The two could work out a hybrid solution, such as having Apple pay a fee for spectrum in exchange for a cut of the iPhone’s revenues from DoCoMo. But finding a middle ground could take some time.

Hall is BusinessWeek‘s technology correspondent in Tokyo

A surge of their own: Iraqis take back the streets

Attacks plummet as Shias join Sunnis in neighbourhood patrols to tackle militants and reunite communities

Michael Howard in Baghdad
Thursday December 20, 2007

Under the embers of the wintry evening sun the Tigris river, usually as brown as old boots, had turned almost blood red. Its waters were calm but its oily sheen was disturbed by the oars of a rower as he sculled his way through the city’s fractured heart.
Alone and apparently indifferent to the threat of a sniper’s bullet, Muhammad Rafiq eased up on his stroke rate and tacked over to the shore. He hauled his craft up the bank to a mosque – the temporary headquarters for his rowing club since US soldiers had commandeered its real boathouse in 2003. Inside the courtyard, his forehead beaded with sweat, Muhammad laid a few old blankets over his upturned boat and padlocked the oars to a railing.

“My friends said I was mad when I started rowing,” said the 22-year-old former science student. “They said I would be sharing the river with dead bodies and that people would shoot at me. But it keeps me fit and it keeps me focused for my night work.” As dusk fell, he checked the contents of his kit bag, slung it over his shoulder and jumped into a waiting taxi.

Fifteen minutes later, he had made it through checkpoints and concrete blast barriers en route to his home in al-Amil district of west Baghdad. At a makeshift barricade close to the street where he was born he greeted the sentries as friends. Then he unzipped his kit bag and pulled out a Kalashnikov. And for the next six uneventful hours he stood guard with his peers behind the straggles of barbed wire.

“I help to keep the peace so that I can row in peace, and that is my passion,” said Muhammad, who asked that neither his real name nor that of his rowing club be used. “Now when I go out on the river, you can hear the birds and the hum of the generators. When I began it was only gunfire and bombs.”

Muhammad is one of the thousands of young Baghdadi men to have joined neighbourhood security groups, which have mushroomed over the last year and are a crucial factor in the dramatic decline in civilian deaths. US soldiers call them “concerned local citizens”; Iraqis just call them sahwa (awakening) after the so-called Anbar awakening in western Iraq, which has seen Sunni tribal sheikhs take on foreign-led Islamists.

There are now an estimated 72,000 members in some 300 groups set up in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, and the numbers are growing. They are funded, but supposedly not armed, by the US military. “It is Iraq’s own surge,” said a western diplomat, “and it is certainly making a difference.”

Major General Joseph Fil, the outgoing US commander for Baghdad, said this week that the number of attacks in the capital had fallen almost 80% since November 2006, while murders in Baghdad province were down by 90% over the same time period, and vehicle-borne bombs had declined by 70%.

The city’s neighbourhood security groups vary greatly in form, content and function. But they all appear to have sprung from a shared desire to rise above the sectarian tensions tearing apart large areas of their city.

Though life in Baghdad is still far from normal, and the security situation still perilous, the capital’s remarkably resilient population has begun to believe that the momentum for peace may be sustainable if it is left up to ordinary citizens. “They are filling a void left by Iraq’s feuding and self-serving political elite, most of whom are hunkered down and out of touch in the Green Zone,” said the western diplomat.

Though they are still dominated by Sunnis, the patrols’ make-up increasingly reflects the ethnic and sectarian community they are guarding. An increasing number of Shia are now joining their ranks, some in a bid to counter the influence of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in their area.

In al-Amil, Muhammad started as a volunteer but now gets about $10 a day from the local US ranking officer. The same goes for his colleagues. The Americans also gave them combat boots and reflective vests as a kind of uniform.

“We grew tired and angry about the killing, and so decided to act,” said Muhammad. He said his group, made up of friends and acquaintances mostly in their early 20s, began patrolling the streets of his neighbourhood six months ago. Sunni militants from a nearby area had driven into his district, which is still home to Shia and Sunni residents, and shot at a popular bakery. Three people were killed and four wounded as they queued for their morning bread.

“We learned we could not trust anyone who is not from our neighbourhood,” said Muhammad. “This is our area, but it is for all people equally, no matter how or whether they pray.”

A typical night sees them questioning strangers to the area or stopping cars. A couple of guards with rifles station themselves on rooftops to provide covering fire if necessary. They also work closely with the official Iraqi security forces and the US army, passing on, and sometimes acting on, local intelligence about the activities of militants.

Not so long ago Sunni and Shia gunmen were fighting for control of the suburb, near the road to Baghdad’s airport. As a result, the once religiously mixed housing projects that lie either side of al-Amil’s main street soon separated into Shia or Sunni enclaves.

But Muhammad, a Sunni Arab, and his Shia colleagues in the neighbourhood watch group are determined to reverse the ethnic cleansing. Last month, the group agreed to protect a Sunni mosque in his street from local Shia militias. They have also been mediating between the divided communities either side of the highway.

The result was an understanding: Sunni families would return to their former homes in the heavily Shia areas, while Shia families crossed back into the mainly Sunni streets. The two communities agreed to guarantee the safety of the returnees. Such was the popular backing for the deal that even the local Mahdi army commander had to acquiesce.

“We’ve been neighbours for 25 years and we feel like brothers,” said Muhammad. “We will help them to guard and respect their mosques, and they won’t harm me or my family.”

The group has also helped organise local services such as rubbish collection. Meanwhile, in al-Amil, the improved security has prompted an upturn in the area’s commercial life. In the still not-quite bustling main food market, Muhammad explained that “five months ago, a word out of place here could have meant a visit from one of the local militia”.

Now the tensions are the subject of humorous exchanges. “You charged me five dinars more for my vegetables just because I’m a Sunni,” one customer joked with a stallholder. “This sectarianism is good for your business.”

But as the number and effectiveness of the neighbourhood groups increase, so too do attacks on patrol members. At the weekend, gunmen and bombers launched three attacks on patrols in Baghdad. In one incident bombers killed two patrol members and wounded 10 in the Adhamiya area of northern Baghdad, until recently a Sunni Arab militant stronghold. Gunmen also attacked a patrol in another northern area, killing one patrol member and wounding four. In the southern Doura neighbourhood, another former Sunni militant stronghold, gunmen wounded three patrol members manning a checkpoint.

There have also been numerous suicide attacks against “awakening” groups in the volatile Diyala province to the north-east.

There are worries too that the neighbourhood groups will, like the police force they are supposed to complement, be prone to infiltration and exploitation by insurgent, militia or criminal gangs. After all, the security groups are often made up of tribal militias and former insurgent forces that not so long ago fired on US and Iraqi forces. Now they have turned on al-Qaida in Iraq, the Mahdi army, and other extremist groups. “It is inevitable that in a force of 70,000 you get a few bad apples,” said General David Petraeus, the senior US commander in Iraq, who has championed the need “to go local” with security. “But we are taking measures to ensure that they don’t become everyone’s worst nightmare.”

Petraeus said he had persuaded a wary Iraqi government to take responsibility for the funding and future status of the local forces. About 20% will be integrated into the security forces while the remaining 80% will receive some civilian training and involve themselves in public works projects. A national civil service corps is being considered.

Major General Abdul-Kareem Khalaf of Iraq’s interior ministry said the government recognised the work done by the sahwa groups but said: “It is important that there must never be armed groups outside the framework of the law.”

Back at the barricade, Muhammad said he had no intention of joining the police or army. “All I want to do is row along the beautiful Tigris and live in peace,” he said.

Robo Love: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships.

December 2, 2007

A few months ago I wrote a magazine article about scientists who are building robots capable of a rudimentary form of sociability. As part of my research, I spent a few days at the humanoid robotics laboratory at M.I.T. And I admit: I developed a little crush on one of the robots. The object of my affection was Domo, a man-size machine with a buff torso and big blue eyes, a cross between He-Man and the Chrysler Building; when it gripped my hand in its strong rubbery pincers I felt a kind of thrill. So I was primed for the basic premise of David Levy?s provocative new book, ?Love and Sex With Robots?: that there will soon come a day when people fall in love with robots and want them for companions, friends, love objects and possibly even partners for sex and marriage.

That day is imminent, Levy writes, especially the sex part. By the middle of this century, he predicts, ?love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans, while the number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach more than is in all of the world?s published sex manuals combined.?

If this seems a bit much, hang on. Levy, an expert on artificial intelligence and the author of ?Robots Unlimited,? builds his case gradually. He begins with what scientists know about why humans fall in love with other humans. There are 10 factors, he writes, including mystery, reciprocal liking, and readiness to enter a relationship. Why can?t these factors apply to robots, too? Even something as apparently human as ?reciprocal liking? can be programmed into a robot?s behavior, and if it acts as if it likes you that?s often all that matters.

Next, Levy points out that we?re perfectly capable of falling in love with non-humans, including our pets, our teddy bears, our computers and our computerized pets (remember the Furby and Tamagotchi crazes a few years ago?). Once you realize how easy it is to think of your own laptop as a sympathetic friend, how much more difficult is it to imagine having fond feelings for a robot programmed to interact with you in exactly the way your heart desires?

Humans, Levy writes, are hard-wired to impute emotions onto anything with which we?re in intimate contact, to feel love for objects both animate and inanimate. And robots, he argues, might turn out to be even more lovable than some humans. By 2025 ?at the latest,? he predicts, ?artificial-emotion technologies? will allow robots to be more emotionally available than the typical American human male. ?The idea that a robot could like you might at first seem a little creepy, but if that robot?s behavior is completely consistent with it liking you, then why should you doubt it??

When it comes to the even creepier prospect of a robot wanting to have sex with you, Levy takes a similar step-by-step approach. First, he explores why people have sex with other people (for ?pure pleasure,? ?to express emotional closeness,? ?because your partner wants to?). He then moves on to why we have sex with a range of artificial objects, from plain old white-bread vibrators to elaborate mechanical contraptions with names like the Thrillhammer and the Stallion XL. He begins with sex toys you hold in your own hand and progresses to ones you engage in with another person: telephone sex for starters, followed by dildonics (computer-controlled sex devices) and then remote-controlled ?teledildonics.?

Robot sex already exists, sort of, in the form of sex dolls ? generally slim, big-breasted females with pliable ?cyberskin? and a fake heartbeat that increases as the doll mimics arousal. Levy helpfully includes the addresses for Web sites where such dolls can be purchased today for several thousand dollars each. He also writes about the ?doll experience rooms? in many Korean hotels (25,000 won, or about $25 an hour), which sprang up after that country cracked down on prostitution in 2004. There was some debate over whether paying for sex with dolls was also illegal, but for now, according to Levy, the prostitution ban applies only to intercourse with other humans.

Throughout the book, Levy builds up his case almost clinically, as though he?s just trying to bring the reader up to speed on an inevitable social development. But despite my own brief robot crush, I would have appreciated a little ironic distance. Levy simply embraces the sexy robots in our future, whether they are a sensitive cybermale or an adoring female robot that is like ?a Stepford wife, but without her level of built-in subservience.? But it isn?t the subservience that makes the uniform, unthinking, unblinking Stepford wives so unnerving; it?s the fact that they are ? hello! ? robots.

In making his case, Levy cites the gradual shift in the public view of what is acceptable in terms of sexual pairings. People used to be widely appalled by such variations as oral sex, masturbation and homosexuality, but today these practices are ?widely regarded as thoroughly normal and as leading to fulfilling relationships and satisfactory sex lives.? All he wants is for us to open our minds a tiny bit more, and make room for the idea of having sex with the domestic robots that will soon be part of all our lives. In fact, he argues, the human/robot sex of the future promises to be better than most sex between humans is today.

Levy spends so much time laying out his logical arguments about how and why we will fall in love with robots that he gives short shrift to the bigger questions of whether we would really want to. I?d have liked a little less gee-whiz, and a little more examination about whether a sexbot in every home, a Kama Sutra on legs that never tires, never says no, and never has needs of its own is what we really want.

Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, is the author, most recently, of ?Pandora?s Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution.?

Zen Meditation Opportunities in Kyoto

*Taizon-in: This sub-temple is part of the Myoshinji temple complex, one of Kyoto’s last traditional Zen training halls like Daitokuji which means it’s alive and well with the spirit of Zen. They have a short course on sitting meditation and also on traditional tea, calligraphy and flower arrangement. The cost is 7, 500 yen, but I would think this is the one to go to. The garden here is truly stunning. Also the Myoshinji complex is off the main tourist route so you will get a true Zen experience here more importantly learn about Zen & the Arts.

Visit their web page to apply for this course or contact the temple:


35 Myoshinji-cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, TEL (075) 463-2855

Genko-an: A beautiful temple located north of Kyoto; Meditation on on 1st and 3nd Sunday from 7:00-9:00; \1,000; Tel: 492-1858. Kennin-ji : 8:00 – 10:00 on 2nd Sunday; Tel: 561-6363.

Kosho-ji: Located in Uji by the Uji River, a Soto sect temple founded by the famous Zen master, Dogen Zenshi, in the 17th century. Meditation held on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month, 8:45-10:00; no reservation necessary; Tel: 0774-21-2040.

Mugeko-in : In Shimizu-cho of the Takano area. Meditation every Saturday, 17:00-18:00. Tel: 781-1227.

*Nanzen-ji: on 2nd and 4th Sunday, from 6:00 to 7:00 (April to October) 6:30 to 7:30 (November to March); Tel: 771-0365.

Rinko-in : Sub-temple of Shokoku-ji, located just north of Doshisha University’s Imadegawa campus. Meditation held every Saturday, 16:00-18:00; discussion 18:00-20:00; Tel: 231-3931.

*Ryuzen-an : A sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, located near the sub-temple of Hoshun-in. Meditation Wednesday to Sunday, 7:00-8:30. First-timers are requested to call ahead and attend an orientation session at 6:30 am. You are also requested to dress appropriately (ie: no T-shirts or shorts). Tel: 491-0543.

*Tofuku-ji: One of Kyoto’s largest Zen monasteries, Tofuku-ji is a spectacular place to sink into the Zen space. However, they only offer this opportunity once a month. The session is led by the head of the Tofuku-ji complex, a busy man by any standard, who is well known for his kindness to foreigner and his sharp mind. Tel: 551-0334.