ALMA Music Box telescope captures radio waves from a dying star, turns them into music

Written by: William on November 19, 2014 at 9:00 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

What would a melody from a dying star sound like?

ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is a state-of-the-art radio telescope developed and operated by 20 countries and territories across Asia, Europa and America.

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

Connecting 66 parabola antennas deployed in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, ALMA works as a giant radio telescope with a diameter comparable to the size of the JR Yamanote Line. It detects faint radio waves emanated by distant celestial objects to study the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planets. Obtaining a clue to the origin of life is another goal of ALMA.

In 2011, ALMA observed radio waves from a dying star R Sculptoris. Made in collaboration with the Tokyo and New York-based agency PARTY, the resulting ALMA Music Box utilized this data, translating the 70 different radio images onto 70 musical discs, one for each frequency. In other words, the music for this music box is supplied by a red giant star 1,5000 light years away, a melody from a soon-to-be supernova.

As the makers told Wired:

As the disc spins around the player, little teeth pluck the holes and emit a twinkling sound. It sounds sweet, like a lullaby coming from the mobile above a baby’s crib. But there’s a sadness to it, too, perhaps because we know the star is in the process of dying out forever. As Masashi Kawamura, co-founder of PARTY, puts it: “It’s made to sound like a requiem for the star in a way.”

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

ALMA Music Box is a new kind of visualization project to try to find a way to make the uses of the ALMA telecope more accessible to non-astrophysicists. It is now on display at 21 21 Design Sight’s “The Fab Mind” exhibition until February 1st.

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

alma music box telescope radio waves dying star 21 21 design sight

Impenetrable science projects in Japan often come up with very sophisticated ways to “advertise” their achievements to the public. NIMS (National Institute for Material Science), for example, has made a great series of videos called “The Power of Materials”.


Other categories: PRODUCT INNOVATION

Snoopy and Woodstock at Tower Records Cafe in Shibuya and Tower Dining Ebisu

Written by: William on November 18, 2014 at 11:29 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Another day, another themed cafe in Tokyo.

The Tower Records Shibuya second-floor cafe has been transformed from November 17th into the Snoopy Tower Records Cafe. Open until December 31st, the cafe will be serving special Snoopy dishes, selling merchandise, and even has created Snoopy background music. There is a second themed space at Tower Records Dining, the retailer’s eatery in Ebisu, this time with Woodstock the star, running in parallel with the Shibuya cafe’s Snoopy event.

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

Peanuts is popular in Japan, like so many other franchises with cute characters. Earlier this year we saw a Snoopy Chaya macha green tea cafe open in Kyushu.

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

The menu varies between the Tower Records Cafe and Woodstock Rock’n'Roll Party (what they are calling the event at the Ebisu Tower Records Dining), though both offer snacks and full meals with all sorts of Peanuts and Snoopy flourishes, everything from cakes, cookies, drinks, chicken wraps. The interiors and exteriors of the two spaces are also decked out in Peanuts themes.

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

tower records shibuya snoopy woodstock ebisu cafe tokyo peanuts

[Images via]



Trend no more? Pioneering Harajuku tattoo tights store Avantgarde closes, street fashion moves on

Written by: William on November 18, 2014 at 7:38 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

It has been one of the biggest trends of recent years and then just like that, it has faded away.

So-called “tattoo tights” exploded into the popular and digital consciousness in 2011, even garnering overseas attention. The streets of areas like Harajuku and Shibuya were filled with the pins of young girls wearing fake body art-style leggings. The sheer variety of the “tattoo” designs was impressive: from Hello Kitty aplenty to cats, rabbits, onions, and more.

avantgarde-tattoo tights street fashion japan harajuku leggings

Avantgarde is the main brand behind the street fashion trend and as such opened a tattoo tights store in Harajuku in October 2011. It seems the legs of the fashionista have moved on, since Avantgarde will be closing the brand’s basement-level boutique on November 24th in the face of declining demand for their stockings.

Tattoo tights were a victim of their own success, with numerous replica and cheap imitations flooding the market. Yes, fake-fake tattoo tights!

avantgarde-tattoo tights street fashion japan harajuku leggings
[Image source]

Launched in 2009 by Kazuhiro Watanabe, MAM Avantgarde was constantly thinking up new bold designs as well as wide-ranging collaborations, including Hello Kitty and Disney. In 2012 Tokyo called Avantgarde Harajuku “the most influential legwear boutique in the Tokyo street fashion scene today”. Sadly, it was not enough to ride the notoriously capricious waves of street fashion for long.

Avantgarde has not announced any new plans for other stores but will continue to sell online. There are still lots of tattoo tights around so perhaps we shouldn’t write off the trend quite yet.


Other categories: CULTURE

KFC opens first coffee shop in Japan, Colonel’s Cafe

Written by: William on November 14, 2014 at 9:39 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Kentucky Fried Chicken has entered the coffee shop market in Japan, in a direct challenge to the McDonald’s McCafé format. From November 28th, the Colonel’s Cafe in Kobe will be serving French press espresso and hot teas such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling, as well as cheese cakes and other desserts.

A new type of menu requires a new type of interior. The iconic red has been jettisoned for plants, snazzy flooring, and wooden tables seating 26. In other words, a Japanese city cafe. Much like McCafé, the regular KFC menu will also be available (fear not, the “C” from the name has not warped into “coffee”).

kfc colonels cafe coffee shop japan kobe

A few years ago McDonald’s started opening stylish, spunked-up branches in key areas like Aoyama, Harajuku, Shibuya and so on. Certain restaurants later added standalone branded McCafé “barista” coffee bars offering cakes and lattes alongside the regular McDonald’s counter, starting with the Omotesando branch. KFC also has some of these “luxury fast food” outlets (check out the one in Shibuya near the Apple store, for example). Ever the underdog trying to prove itself, KFC boldly opened a whisky bar in Shimokitazawa in 2012.

For its first coffee shop, KFC has opted to go down a slightly different path to McCafé, opening the debut cafe in a mall at JR Rokkomichi Station in Kobe at the end of this month. McCafé has succeeded, though, because while it expanded the McDonald’s menu to include espressos and fitted in with certain higher-class environs, it ultimately remained the cheap choice and still undercut the prices of Starbucks et al. In my (relatively few) experiences visiting these “posh” fast food restaurants, the clientele is the same. The menu upgrade is intriguing but in the end, the new format is only a cosmetic one that makes the chain sit better in areas like Omotesando.

kfc colonels cafe coffee shop japan kobe

A quick glance at the Colonel’s Cafe menu reveals the prices are a little higher than expected, certainly more expensive than dirt-cheap coffee shops like Doutor. But if shelling out nearly ¥500 for a Mexican coffee sounds too much like a trip to Starbucks, rest assured the ordinary cheap KFC coffee will also be available.

We will have to see if people like the Colonel’s Cafe before branches start appearing in Tokyo. KFC does have at least one guaranteed income boost coming up next month. KFC is actually most popular in Japan at Christmas, where everyone lines up outside in the cold to get chicken on Christmas Eve.


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NEC GAZIRU-F image recognition tech integrates fashion magazine mobile shopping for smartphone, tablet cameras

Written by: William on November 13, 2014 at 9:09 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

NEC has got together with Fashion TV to offer a smartphone and tablet service for mobile eCommerce for apparel items you see in a magazine. If you see an item in a magazine you like, you can use GAZIRU-F to snap a shot of it and be connected to a shopping portal to purchase the product.

The service will be available through an app for the fashion magazine persona from spring 2015. GAZIRU-F will be expanded to 20 further companies by 2016 if it proves successful.

nec fashion tv gaziru-f mobile ecommerce image recognition shopping tech photograph smartphone tablet

NEC has been developing the cloud-based Gaziru technology for a while. Dig Info did a report on it back in 2012.

The name is coined from combining two Japanese words: gazo (image) and shiru (know, recognize).

Similar to Google Goggles or Bing Vision, you can just take a snap of something and get a readout of the information it can draw from a database. No text input is required.

GAZIRU is not restricted to images of 2D objects. Further uses for GAZIRU tech may include helping people operate equipment — take a photograph of something and get an operation manual on your screen in seconds. Likewise there are benefits for health, such as being able to provide nutritional data for certain foods. The educational implications are immense; a museum or exhibition can become interact with further information for visitors who want to know more about a certain item on display.

The days of the humble barcode or QR code are surely limited.


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Other categories: CULTURE

Man burns himself to death in Hibiya Park in protest at collective self-defense, Henoko Bay base relocation

Written by: William on November 12, 2014 at 8:58 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Police were called at 6:55 p.m. on November 11th with reports of a man who had set fire to himself in Hibiya Park, in central Tokyo.

The man, who later died, had apparently committed self-immolation in protest at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s constitutional reform to allow Japan to engage in so-called “collective self-defense”.

At time of writing, the identity of the man is unknown. The police and fire brigade were able to douse the flames quickly, and the victim was taken to hospital but later died from his burns. He left behind a note protesting collective self-defense, as well as the controversial relocation of the US air base from Futenma to Henoko Bay in Okinawa. He also apparently filmed himself on a camera found on the scene.

protest self-immolation hibiya park japan henoko bay collective self-defense suicide burn death tokyo abe shinzo

Following the previous attempted self-immolation in Shinjuku in June this year, this is the second such dramatic suicide-by-protest Japan has witnessed in response to the policies of the Abe government. However, Japan has a precedent for such acts.


Nikon repair dead Ontake hiker’s camera, recover digital photographs for family

Written by: William on November 11, 2014 at 8:46 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It has been over a month from the surprising Mt Ontake volcanic eruption in late September, which ultimately killed 57 people.

One of those who perished was Kazuo Wakabayashi (66), from Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture.

It goes without saying that his family struggles to cope with their loss and nothing will bring back Wakabayashi. However, Japanese camera maker Nikon have tried to help in the best way they can.

Wakabayashi was a camera buff who loved to shoot landscapes when he went hiking or fishing. He took a Nikon camera with him on his fateful hike to Ontake and the device was later returned to his family on October 1st, coated in ash and broken.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan

The camera was a new one; he had only bought it in July. The data had also been lost in the disaster and Wakabayshi’s family was only able to view images taken on one day. The rest were gone. Nikon heard about the camera in a Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper article and then offered to repair it for the family.

Though it was damaged beyond repair in the eruption, over 10 days Nikon was able to restore the lens, the filter, and the circuit board, all without charge of course. The camera body was also cleaned up and handed back to Wakabayashi’s eldest daughter on October 30th.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan

They were able to recover the digital data for the family so that they could see the roughly 200 photographs Wakabayashi took before his death and which his family feared had been lost forever.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan



November-December Cheapo Calendar: 5 Events Not to Miss

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on November 3, 2014 at 7:19 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

There are so many fantastic free events happening in Tokyo in November and December that it was tough choosing just five for this bimonthly events wrap. But we had to (because the editor said so). After much discount coffee-fueled deliberation, here is our pick of pure cheapo awesomeness to take you through to the new year.

1. Tokyo Chrysanthemum Exhibition: November 1st-23rd

tokyo chrysanthemum exhibition kiku
Photo by sigusr0 used under CC

Now in its 100th year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Tourism Chrysanthemum Exhibition is regarded as Japan’s prime event when it comes to kiku, as the delicate flowers are known in Japanese. Chrysanthemums are held in high regard in the country — the bloom is featured on Japan’s Imperial Seal and pops up on Japanese passports and in other places (including the controversial Yasukuni Shrine).

At the show you can expect top-notch blooms, and a dizzying variety of them too. There will be 2,000 displays featuring cut chrysanthemums, bonsai versions, ultra fancy bonsai versions, decoration versions, and more. You can also snag some seedlings and learn how to grow them properly (classy folk would say “cultivate” them).

More info here.

2. Asakusa Tori-no-ichi Fair: November 10th and 22nd

asakusa tori no ichi festival
Photo by Yoshikazu Takada used under CC

The Tori-no-ichi Fair is a fun traditional festival that is held at shrines and temples countrywide on Rooster (“tori”) days (following the Chinese calendar) every year. The Asakusa version has been going strong since the Edo period, when it was all about celebrating the new year. These days it’s focused on wishing for good luck and prosperity in business.

You have two chances to go this year (some years have three Rooster days in November, but those ones have a bit of an unlucky association with fires), so pick one, get yourself one of the glitzily decorated bamboo rakes, and soak up the experience. You can sample some tasty festival fare too.

Part 1 info here.

Part 2 info here.

3. Golden Ginkgo Trees: Mid-November – Mid-December

golden ginkgo trees tokyo autumn leaves
Photo by Haris Bahrudin

While some people associate them with rather unpleasant smells (yeah, just wait and see), ginkgo trees (ichou in Japanese) are undeniably beautiful and demand to be walked under in late autumn. Turning gorgeous yellows and gold, gingko leaves line paths in parks and even some of the city’s streets (some strategic planting there), making for incredible photo opportunities.

The Hachioji Ginkgo Festival is one way to enjoy the autumn colors. The Jingugaien Itcho Festival in the outer gardens of Meiji Shrine is another. Of course, you can always just roll down to your local park — these trees can be found virtually anywhere. Look out for grilled ginkgo nuts (ginnan) on the menus of Japanese pubs too — they’re a tasty and potent supposed superfood.

4. Odaiba Rainbow Fireworks: December 6th-27th

odaiba rainbow fireworks display
Photo by OiMax used under CC

Most of Tokyo’s fireworks shows take place in the sweltering heat of summer, but Odaiba insists on being different — and we aren’t complaining. You can wrap up nice and warm and enjoy small-scale displays every Saturday evening in December. The fireworks will be going up between Odaiba and Rainbow Bridge — making for some colorful scenery.

The shows start at 7pm and last for about ten minutes. Around 1,800 shots will be fired in each one. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s sufficient to sate any Japanese fireworks show cravings you might be having.

More info and tips for the best viewing spot here.

5. Winter Comiket: December 28th-30th

comiket tokyo comic market event
Photo by Hikaru Kazushime

Comiket, the short form of “Comic Market”, is a festival of all things comic-related, drawing crowds of close to 600 000. It’s held twice a year in Tokyo — once in summer and again in the cooler season. Tens of thousands of manga artists flog their self-published dojinsha (independent) works at the event, with a huge variety of genres and styles on offer.

Entrance is free unless you want to dress up — cosplaying will set you back ¥800 (and much more on materials). You can expect a fair few wacky outfits in addition to incredibly detailed (as well as incredibly revealing) representations of characters from games, manga and anime.

More info here.

Bonus Event #1: Winter Illuminations

If you’re a fan of shiny pretty things, you’re in luck. On winter evenings, Tokyo lights up with spectacular illumination displays all over the city. Noteworthy spots to suss out include Tokyo Midtown, the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station, Shiodome and Tokyo Dome City. The colorful illumination at Rikugien Gardens is also worth seeing.

Bonus Event #2: Boroichi Market

Need to buy some cheap Christmas presents? You can’t go wrong at this gigantic flea market in Setagaya.

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.


First suspected Ebola case in Japan: Man arriving at Haneda Airport from west Africa tested for virus

Written by: William on October 27, 2014 at 10:39 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The Japanese media is reporting Japan’s first suspected case of Ebola.

A man arriving at Haneda Airport on the evening of October 27th after spending time in Liberia was showing symptoms of a fever. He was taken to the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Shinjuku. The man is said to be in his forties.

Test are being done and the government has said they cannot confirm that he has had contact with an Ebola patient.

The unnamed man is a 45-year-old journalist, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and police. He had been resident in Liberia from August until October 18th, after which he came to Japan via Belgium and the UK.

ebola case suspect japan man test haneda airport

He has a very high fever of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and tests are being done to see if he has been infected by a tropical diseases, including the Ebola virus.

The results of initial tests will arrive in the early hours of October 28th.

There has been scrutiny about Japan’s ability to cope with the arrival of Ebola in the country and screening has been introduced at airports where disembarking international passengers are asked if they had visited countries in west Africa.

Update (October 28th)

Good news: The tests came back negative for the Ebola virus. The patient is being held for further days in hospital as a precaution. It has also now been reported that the journalist is not Japanese but a Canadian citizen.


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