Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The neck stretcher: Tokyo’s latest must-have accessory

Posted 28 Aug 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Tokyo

Worried that your neck is too short? Have no fear, the neck stretcher is here:

Try using it for a few weeks. The results are astounding:

Japan + robots = a BBC news report!

Posted 18 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japanese Politics, News, Only in Japan, TV, Technology, Tokyo

For those of you who regularly watch BBC World News (come on, it can’t be just me!), you’ve probably noticed an eerily similarity between its Japan-related reports. It seems that no matter what the story, be it whaling, dolphin slaughtering or population decline, robots manage to get in there somehow. Take this story on immigration, for example.

Is there really any possibility that robots will replace human nurses? I’d say the chances are slim, to say the least. Considering that even the most advanced robots still have trouble mastering the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs, I can’t envisage them pottering around nursing homes changing soiled bedsheets and helping old chaps put on their pyjamas. And of course robots don’t pay taxes or buy goods, and they most definitely don’t have babies.

Nevertheless, a lot of BBC news reports seem to gloss over important issues in favour of portraying Japan as a nation of robot-mad, insular lunatics. I don’t know anyone who thinks the use of robots in frontline service/healthcare industry jobs is even remotely feasible, nor do I know anyone who seeks to preserve Japan’s “racial purity”. There may be a small, but vocal, minority of right-wing politicians and nutters who hold such views, but they should not be seen to represent the opinions of the majority of Japanese.

From a business standpoint there is little debate about whether or not Japan needs immigrants: the domestic car industry already relies on immigrant workers (especially Japanese-Brazilians), and the country’s most powerful business group, the Nippon Keidanren, is strongly in favour of granting more foreigners permanent resident status. When the Japanese government finally faces up to the Big Decision – increased immigration or a crippled economy – it will, I’m sure, choose the former.

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara

Posted 22 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Books, Entertainment, Gaming, Only in Japan, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Travel


Having lived in Tokyo for over five years I should really know all there is to know about the place. But I don’t, and the place I probably know the least about is Akihabara. This once shabby district, which is five minutes from Tokyo station, has a global reputation for being the ultimate otaku paradise. While on the campaign trail former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso, a self-confessed manga geek, famously said ‘Tadaima!’ (‘I’m home!’) upon arriving in the area.

Akiba, as it’s also known, has become something of a tourist hotspot in recent years. A number of travel agents now offer guided tours that take in the delights of maid cafes, anime stores, used computer game markets and monster tentacle porn tryouts (probably). If, however, the thought of a tour bus full of other people (bleurgh!) is too much for you, White Rabbit Press’s Tokyo Realtime series might be right up your street.

Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara consists of a CD, a map and a glossy little photo booklet. The CD contains an audio tour of Akihabara. To start the tour, find your way to the starting point on the map, hit “play” on your iPod/iPhone/iWhatever and away you go.

Bonus points are awarded for the map: it’s plastic, so you don’t have to worry about it disintegrating into a soggy mess on rainy days.

The audio tour includes interviews with well-known otaku, such as Danny Choo (also known as the Tokyo Stormtrooper) and Morikawa Kaichiro. Morikawa, an expert on Akihabara, is a professor at Meiji University and the author of several books, including “Learning from Akihabara”.

At the time of writing I have yet to properly put the guide through its paces, but as I’ve got some time off work next week I might cast my inhibitions aside, don my tourist hat, string a camera round my neck and get stuck in.

You can buy Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara here. Tokyo Realtime: Kabukicho is also available, though unfortunately it doesn’t contain any interviews with Nigerian bouncers, Russian hostesses or love-hotel owners. It does, however, have an interview with a rope-bondage artist.

Tokyo Realtime: Behind the scenes audio tours

The Nikkei turns its back on the internet

Posted 13 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Only in Japan, Technology, Tokyo

There’s been much talk recently about newspaper websites setting up paywalls: both the New York Times and the Times (of London) will soon follow in the footsteps of the Wall Street Journal by charging users for access to most of their articles. Here in Japan, meanwhile, the Nikkei has gone one better (or should I say worse?): linking to any of its articles – and even its home page – now requires a written application.

The newspaper, with an estimated daily circulation of 3.1 million, is fiercely protective of its intellectual property. Subscribers currently pay a monthly fee of JPY4,000 (approx. £28) for online access, which is a mere JPY383 cheaper than a subscription to the print edition.

The Nikkei said that it implemented the new policy to prevent links coming from “inappropriate” sites, and to stop non-subscribers from viewing articles.

Have you ever heard of a website requiring a written application for linking to its home page? No, I didn’t think so, and for good reason: it’s a completely mental idea. I, for one, am intrigued to know what they mean by inappropriate sites. Perhaps someone at JapaneseMILFs.com has been trying to attract a more up-market audience by adding a bit of business news to its front page (probably titled “Stocks and C…”).

As for the non-subscribers viewing articles issue, well, I’ve never heard of such a problem before. If a non-subscriber clicks on a link to an article behind a paywall, then surely he/she simply gets directed to an “access denied” page?

In all honesty, though, this kind of backward-looking approach to putting content online isn’t surprising. The Japanese newspaper industry doesn’t really know what to do about the internet. There is a tendency to emphasise the negatives of going online (the loss of traditional print subscriptions and advertising revenue) over the positives (capturing a moneyed youth audience that gets most of its news from mobile phones and TV). This in turn influences how much money newspapers allocate to their online divisions. Some Japanese newspaper websites, for example, are appallingly designed; in fact they often look like they were last spruced-up in the late 1990s.

Until Japanese newspapers start to see serious drops in their (currently massive) circulation figures and profit margins, they will want to stay within the warm, womb-like confines of traditional paper-and-presses for as long as humanly possible.

Live webcams around Tokyo

Posted 23 Dec 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Video

Want to see what’s going on in Tokyo right this very minute? Here’s a selection of some of the best live webcams. All of the cameras are running in real time (none of that “updates every ten seconds” nonsense), and you can control them yourself. Just click on the images below and away you go.

Shibuya (Hachiko):

sibich.tv hachiko camera

Shibuya (outside Tower Records):
tower records

Shibuya (Parco):
parco

Shinjuku Station:

shinjuku

Roppongi Hills & Tokyo Tower:
roppongi

Ueno:
ueno

Feel the Music: Daito Manabe

Posted 25 Jan 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Technology, Video

sound_s

Daito Manabe knows what the people want: facial electrocution set to music!

Kuruma banare (車離れ): de-motorisation

Posted 18 Jan 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Shopping in Japan, Technology, Travel

Lots of cars

While car companies are currently in a terrible financial situation, with sales having slumped in developed countries, most do see light at the end of the tunnel and anticipate a recovery. In Japan, however, the decline may be much harder to reverse.

In 2009 it is predicted that 4.86 million new cars will be sold in Japan, which would be the first time in 30 years that sales have fallen below five million. What is even more worrying for Japanese car makers is that young people – men especially – are far less interested in cars than they used to be.

Car sales demographic

While owning a car used to be a status symbol, Japanese youngsters these days are more likely to be spending their money on the latest mobile phones, MP3 players and other electronic gadgetry than on their first car. The convenience of public transport in urban areas also leaves childless 20- and 30-somethings with little reason to buy one.

So how can car manufacturers make their products more appealing to young Japanese? Perhaps one way forward is for companies to generate more revenue from car-related services than from car sales. A car-sharing scheme could prove popular, especially when coupled with an online “car booking” service that can be accessed from mobile phones. All for a monthly fee, of course.

What do you think will happen to the Japanese car industry?

Related: “Japan auto sales plunge as young lose interest” – The Detroit News

Wii Music: any good?

Posted 20 Oct 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Gaming, Only in Japan, Technology, Tokyo, Video

I didn’t realise Wii Music was out in Japan until I saw an advert for it on the train the other day. As our Wii has remained untouched for the past two months I thought I might as well buy it and see what it had to offer.

First thing I tried was conducting an orchestra:

As you can see, it involves lots of waving your hand around like a complete tool in the hope of getting the rhythm correct. I thought I’d done quite well but my score was pitiful.

I also gave flute playing a whirl:

This one was more of a bang-the-buttons-for-dear-life affair. More practise needed, methinks.

If you’ve got a Wii Fit balance board then you have the option of playing a full drum kit, which looks something like this:

The Verdict: Too early to say at the moment. There seems to be an awful lot to learn before you can become any good at it, which will either be very rewarding or more frustrating than trying to push a badger through a keyhole.

Japan’s hybrid cars enter a new era

Posted 08 Jul 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Technology, UK

Courtesy of the Yorkshire Post and Unc. N.

Datsuns

あけましておめでとうございます!

Posted 08 Jan 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Gaming, Personal, Photography, Technology, Tokyo, Travel, Work

2007 already? I’m scared at how quickly time is disappearing before my very eyes. I can still distinctly remember New Year’s Eve 1999 as if it were yesterday: I was working in a horror-show bar in Newcastle city centre (Dobson’s. The name sends a shiver down my spine to this day), and slipped down a flight of stairs while carrying a crate of Smirnoff Mule at around 10.30pm, smashing bottles everywhere and smacking my head off a step. This gave me a fine excuse to leave work early and bomb down to Saltburn in my trusty Vauxhall Nova for the celebrations. I arrived down my local about 10 minutes after midnight with a slight concussion, to discover my mates either dancing on tables or passed out in a corner. Treasured memories indeed, and there are many…

NYE 2006 was a far more sedate affair spent in Aichi-ken with the in-laws. We went out for sushi, watched TV, ate some more food and talked about, well… stuff. I rarely drink these days as my hangovers – which were always bad – are now so utterly terrible that I really can’t stand experiencing the pain and torment more than a few times each year. Many Japanese visit their local temple at midnight to say their prayers in the hope of having a successful new year, but it was really cold, so we did it the following afternoon instead.

Japanese monolithGoing back a bit further, my Christmas was about as Christmassy as you could expect considering only 1% of the population are Christians, meaning it was a normal working day for me and everyone else here. My new job – so far at least – is going well. After being a teacher for so long it’s really nice to not have to be “switched on” all the time. I can come into the office, sit down at my desk and quietly get on with my work without having to pretend to be interested/jolly for hours on end. Incidentally I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be doing at work most of the time, so I’ve been attempting to try a few things and pretend to look busy, which, in Japanese offices, has been perfected to a fine art form. Nobody has sussed me out yet, so I think my technique must be pretty good.

In light of not being able to go anywhere nice or return home for the holidays, I continued my quest of buying unnecessary things instead. The most recent addition to my collection turned out to be a PlayStation 3, which weighs more than all the planets in our solar system combined and bears an eerie resemblance to the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It now sits under the TV and quietly purrs away in an ever so menacing fashion, emitting so much heat I can now happily live without central heating during the coldest of winter days.