People from Britain, like myself, often forget that many other countries don’t have roundabouts. The idea of a circular junction with no traffic lights, where the unspoken rules of the road define who gives way and who pulls out and when — this frankly baffles non-Britons when they first witness the workings of one of the nation’s iconic roundabouts.
While standardized and made famous in the UK during the 1990′s, there are roundabouts today in places as far apart as Qatar, New Zealand, China and France. And now Japan.
There has been some speculation about Japan introducing signal-less roundabouts in the past but they’ve finally done it. There are 15 operating in 7 prefectures around Japan, as of September 1st. There are actually around 140 circular intersections in Japan, with some of these now legally designated as roundabouts.
In 2012 six unsignalized intersections were tested in Karuizawa, Nagano, and then further tests were carried out in Shizuoka and Shiga prefectures.
Motorists in Japan, with its danger of electrical blackouts from the frequent earthquakes and other natural disasters, are actually possibly safer off with roundabouts, as they can be used without power. Roundabouts are not only better for the environment, they are also said to reduce accidents.
And if the idea of giving way to oncoming motorists without a signal to tell you to stop sounds like a recipe for traffic mayhem, remember that the Japanese a polite bunch. We predict the roundabout will be a success in this land of small cars and good manners.
The fashion accessory brand Q-pot, known for its chocolate-themed products, has got together with Sharp to create a special limited edition Q-pot. Melty Chocolate TV, which it is selling exclusively through its online shop and Harajuku store from September 17th.
Obviously, like all of Q-pots sugary accessories, it’s not actually made of chocolate. Don’t try eating the screen! The frame is in fact black walnut wood. Also look out for the ten ants disguised around the TV.
Why ants? Well, ants like chocolate and this is a Japanese pun. The word for ant is “ari” and the word for ten is “tou”. In this way it is saying both “There are 10 ants” (ari ga tou) and “thank you” (arigatou). Quite what the gratitude is for, we’re not sure…
The “melting” chocolate part can be taken off and attached to wherever you want it to be on the TV, and the whole thing turns into a mirror when you turn off the power.
There is even a box for the remote control box in the same design and the whole frame can be hung on the wall.
The Q-pot Melty Chocolate TV does come at a price rather more than a bar of chocolate — ¥171,000 (over $1,600), plus tax, to be exact. That’s about 17 times what I paid for my television set, though mine is made of boring materials like plastic.
The Q-pot. brand was launched in 2002 by Tadaaki Wakamatsu. Its previous headline-grabbing products and projects include the Q-pot Cafe in Tokyo and a series of Sharp chocolate phones and iPod accessories.
Japan’s prison facilities have come under international criticism in recent years. Inmates often do not have heating or air-conditioning, and prisoners on death row live in near total isolation, constantly watched by a camera in their cell.
In an effort to improve its image in the community, Japan’s largest jail, Fuchu Prison, holds an annual “culture festival” inviting members of the public to come to the facility and enjoy such things as bread baked by the inmates. At the autumn event visitors can even enjoy a “prison adventure tour”.
While there is no adventure for them, now the new women inmates at Matsuyama Prison’s Saijo Branch in Saijo City, Ehime Prefecture, should have a better quality of incarceration after renovation work was completed on August 29th. Cell doors have been repainted pink ahead of the prison’s transformation into a female inmate facility, Shikoku’s first.
The walls were originally a more neutral (and oppressive) white. The new interior design is meant to make the facility feel more homely and suitable for female prisoners. Forget orange, perhaps pink is actually the new black? There is also now a child-rearing room where prisoners who give birth may take care of their offspring until he or she is one year old. Over half the prison guards will be female.
The Saijo penal facility will house 83 female inmates from November. There are 33 single-occupant cells and 10 communal cells (holding 5 prisoners). The prison had been home to around 20 male inmates, but they were transferred to the main Matsuyama Prison (Japan’s only open prison) in February 2013. Work started on the pink prison in May this year.
There are female prisoners currently housed in 7 locations around Japan, with 3,440 inmates living in facilities designed for 3,342, according to figures from the end of the fiscal year in March 2014. In other words, capacity is nearly 103%. Even workrooms (almost all prisoners work in Japan, such as glueing paper bags or making bicycle parts) are filled by three prisoners instead of two, making it hard for guards to monitor their wards.
Nearby in Shikoku there is also Tokushima Prison, where conditions are notoriously stringent for inmates and which witnessed a small riot a few years ago.
Biwako Biennale 2014 kicks off on September 13th, running until November 9th in a small city along the edge of Japan’s largest lake in Shiga Prefecture.
This sixth edition of the festival features more than 70 artists or artist groups exhibiting site-specific work in 12 old houses in Omihachiman.
The theme this year is “Utakata”, which means foam or bubble. This ethereal beauty is the key motif in the line-up, with contributions from the likes of photographer Rinko Kawauchi, “flower arrangement car” artist Yuji Ueno, sculptor Masato Tanaka (pictured below), and more.
Here are grotesque Kokeshi-esque sculptures by Miki Sachiko.
The first Biwako Biennale was held in 2001. Passes for the 2014 festival cost ¥2,000 for adults.
A preview event was recently held at a Konno Hachiman-gu shrine in Shibuya, including a special dance performance by Tarinainanika (Kentaro Suyama & Tania Coke).
Omihachiman is a roughly 30-minute train ride from Kyoto. The two-month will also include a symposium, workshops and live events.
While Jins (aka J!NS) like to dabble in forward-thinking technology for glasses, they are also fully aware that spectacles are as much fashion accessories as they are practical vision tools. This is why J!NS invested a lot into creating stylish anti-pollen sunglasses and into a successful line of PC glasses for people who get tired eyes from staring at a computer screen.
There are three models: Rilakkuma (in blue or brown colors), Korilakkuma or Kiiroitori. Each comes with the character decorated on the temple or arm, as well as a cleaning cloth also featuring your character of choice.
J!NS have worked with a specialist to create PC glasses that protect your eyes from screen blue light so you get a better night’s sleep. After all, Rilakkuma is the bear who loves to relax.
The glasses cost ¥4,900 (about $50) plus tax and you can also change the lens to J!NS PC glasses prescription lens or regular prescription lens for an additional charge.
We suspect availability for these glasses is going to be very limited once they go on release in early September at J!NS stores.
It seems that you can’t claim to be famous these days unless you take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
In Japan there have been a fair few big names enjoying the fun of the charity campaign this month. While Ayumi Hamasaki and other pop stars nobly undertook to get drenched in cold water, the biggest headlines were actually generated by businessmen accepting the 24-hour challenge.
Most notably, buckets of cold water were dumped on SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son (and Japan’s richest man) did it, as did Yasushi Akimoto, the head of the company behind AKB48, Akio Toyoda (of Toyota), and even Kumamon, the regional mascot for Kumamkoto Prefecture.
Masayoshi Son was the only major businessman we know of in Japan who had the guts to pour the water over himself. We’d expect nothing less from the self-made millionaire. However, we presume that the SoftBank Pepper robot, a celebrity in its own right now, is safe from the water? Who knows what it would do to the circuitry.
This video features a roundup of the most famous Japanese celebrities taking on the ice bucket challenge.
Other local celebrities who have taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge include figure skater Mao Asada, singer Kaela Kimura, EXILE’s Takahiro, and AKB48′s Mayu Watanabe, as well as figures from the worlds of sports, rakugo, tennis, politics, comedy and more.
There is a timeline of some of the significant Japanese ice bucket challengers on Jonathan Axup’s blog. We’re still waiting for the Prime Minister to comply!
Robotic pets, also known as robo-pets (not to be confused with the actual Robopet), are making something of a return to the shelves of stores in Japan in a valiant effort to buck the trend of local toy manufacturers’ sales declining as the birth rate falls.
We all remember the days when Paro and AIBO first burst into our lives. Now such robotic and interactive animal toys are pretty standard. But let’s take a look at some of the new entries in the market and also take a trip down memory lane while we’re at it.
Back in the 1980′s Tomy (long before it merged with Takara) launched a successful range of robotic toys called Omnibot. They included such high-tech functions as an integrated cassette player (no sniggering at the back!) and could carry things for you if you were lazy enough. Omnibot’s reign in the hearts of kids and geeky teens was brief but it has made a bit of a comeback, at least in name. Takara Tomy have borrowed the brand for two recent new robo-pets.
The Omnibot Hello! MiP is a two-wheeled robot that can dance for you and even carry your drinks!
Things have certainly moved on since the original Omnibot. No cassettes in sight here. reThe Hello! MiP can move around by motion sensors responding to your movements — e.g. place your hand in front of it — as well as be controlled by your phone.
They also released the local Japan version of Zoomer, renaming it the Omnibot Hello! Zoomer, an interactive dalmatian that can understand 45 English and Japanese words.
Takara Tomy’s awesome line of motion-activated samurai warrior were also christened the Omnibot Battroborg as a nod to the earlier toys.
In the late 1990′s we saw a more serious and forward-thinking application of home robo-pets with the Paro, the healing seal designed for the elderly and hospital patients who need some therapy from a cute companion.
But for many, the robotic pet will always be the AIBO, the massive hit for Sony (how it must dream of those days now) in the second half of the 1990′s.
It was rivaled by the Poo-chi in the early 2000′s, a collaboration between Hasbro and Sega.
This has also been updated with the Heart Energy Poochi, which Sega hopes will replicate some of the success of the earlier dog. Since our lives now have other devices in them, inter-device communication seems to be the trick the makers are playing now. In the Heart Energy Poochi’s case, it can interact with your Nintendo 3DS. And it goes without saying that he likes being stroked but will respond badly if you pull his tail.
Bandai also got in on the canine act a few years ago with the Smartpet Robot Dog, which lets you slot your iPod or iPhone into the dog’s head to make a face out of the screen. No animals were harmed in the development of this product!
Another classic in the genre is the Yume Neko Dream Cat by Sega Toys, which has very realistic internal sensors that respond to your touch. It started off as an interactive robotic cat, though it was followed by other animals like chicks, squirrels, puppies and rabbits.
The Yume Neko was given an update by Sega Toys recently as the Yume Neko Dream Cat Celeb, providing all the cute interaction of a feline friend without the hassle or mess. This is particularly important in Japan where many people living in apartments are not allowed by the landlord to own real pets. They turn to cat cafes and robots instead.
Of course, this isn’t just domestic manufacturers. The plush toy Furby is also undergoing a bit of a revival here, with Takara Tomy distributing the new model from Hasbro that responds to English commands and has upgraded eyes.
It forms part of a post-2010 trend for “huggable” plush robotic toys, the most sophisticated of which are aimed at helping infants and older kids sleep. The Hug & Dream Mickey and Minnier were big hits, though they were preceded by Takara Tomy’s pioneering Issho ni Nenne “womb doll”, which helped babies get better sleep cycles.
And big surprise, this has also been re-launched fairly recently as three new Disney character and Pooh versions.
Now this is going to be fast.
Kyodo News has reported that Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) has formally filed an application today with the Japanese transport ministry to build a maglev (magnetically levitated train) line between Tokyo and Nagoya.
Maglevs in Japan go back to the 1980′s. There are two trains, HSST by Japan Airlines and SCMaglev by the Central Japan Railway Company. The HSST train uses imported German technology, making the SCMaglev Japan’s only real homegrown maglev. One of the HSST models is the popular Linimo train, built for the 2005 Expo in Aichi, though it is relatively slow by maglev standards.
JR Tokai’s SCMaglev (Superconducting Maglev) started development back in 1969 but went through a radical redesign in time for a new test in 1987. Tests have been continuing on special tracks in Miyazaki and Yamanashi. In 2003 the SCMaglev achieved record speeds of 581 km/h (361 mph). The government deemed it ready for commercial rollout in 2009 and since then plans have been proceeding for the new linking the capital and Japan’s third city, to be followed by a further line connecting Nagoya with Osaka by 2045.
If the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry give the go-ahead, JR Tokai may start building the new SCMaglev in October, though we will have to wait until at least 2027 before the actual line is operational! But if that sounds like a long time to twiddle your thumbs, then consider how time you (or your kids) will save hopping from Tokyo to Nagoya in the future. As we know, the Shinkansen bullet train is fast. But this maglev will cut the 100 minutes that express takes down to a mere 40! Once extended to Osaka, a trip between Tokyo and Kansai will be just over an hour.
The cost of the construction of what may be the world’s fastest train is estimated at ¥9 trillion.
JR Tokai and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also hope that the SCMaglev will be adopted in America as an intercity system fit to meet the challenges of such a vast nation.
Batman no longer lives in Gotham. He’s fighting crime in Japan!
Japanese social media has been abuzz with some amazing images of Batman driving in his Batpod along the highways in the Tokyo area.
Okay, it’s not quite as good as it sounds. This “Batman” was spotted by motorists on the roads of Chiba, the prefecture next to Tokyo.
Some images of “Chi-battoman” (Chibatman), as he’s been dubbed, was snapped on Sunday afternoon and the images went viral on Twitter.
Other pictures soon followed.
All right, it’s not exactly Christopher Nolan but you’d still be impressed if you saw this Caped Crusader drive past you on the expressway.
We’d not sure how legal this Batpod is. At least at one point the driver attracted the attention of the police.
Of course, cosplay (costume play) on the mean streets of Japan is nothing new.
And if you want to drive around the city like you’re playing Mario Kart for real, you should check out Akiba Cart in Akihabara. It rents out go-karts that can be driven legally on regular roads. Not surprisingly, it attracts plenty of fun video game cosplay.