Sony cancels Summer Lesson Project Morpheus HMD demo at Tokyo Game Show

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

It was supposed to be Sony’s big advert for the Project Morpheus HMD system at the Tokyo Game Show (public days on September 20th-21st).

Instead, Sony Computer Entertainment just canceled the “Summer Lesson” demo.

sony summer lesson project morpheus demo hmd tokyo game show 2014 cancel creepy

Officially Sony says it has made the decision because it received so many inquiries about it after they announced the virtual reality demo on September 1st that it fearer it would not be able to cope with the anticipated demo from the media and the general public at TGS.

Our guess is that the backlash was so strong they wanted to have a re-think.

As soon as it was announced there was a strong intake of breath. Sony had chosen to go with a demo made by the team behind Tekken that showcased the virtual reality headset’s technology in a way that could be described at best as, well, creepy.

sony summer lesson project morpheus demo hdm tokyo game show 2014 cancel creepy

There were many at home and abroad quick to apply other adjectives. The “Summer Lesson” demo features a loosely dressed schoolgirl at home that the player can, to be blunt, ogle up close.

It certainly lives up to the stereotype of Japanese male gamers being perverts and is bound to be a big hit with a specific demographic. But the TGS is the most important event in the industry and this was Sony’s chance to fight back after being in the economic doldrums (billion dollar losses for fiscal 2013).

Rather than going mainstream, it went with a divisive and (to many people) sexist demo.

Officially Sony is saying that it is considering a new date and venue to showcase its demo, though we have our suspicions that “Summer Lesson” may not see the full light of day in its current state.

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“Toy Tokyo” explores Japan’s capital city in blurry, lo-fi photography

Written by: William on September 8, 2014 at 10:23 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

“Toy Tokyo” is a new photography book by Manami Okazaki, a collection of 26 interviews and images.

New from Kingyo Books, “Toy Tokyo” features “the work of several photographers who are either from, or are shooting in Japan. While generic, commercial, travel photography based on stock has become the norm, ‘Toy Tokyo’ captures the exhilaration of travel photography and life on the road, in one of the world’s most intense locations.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book

Photographers included in the book are: Frederic LeBain, Takeshi Suga, Cory Lum, Taiju Fubuki, Yusuke Abico, Genqui Numata, Hodachrome, Jorge Sato, Michael Feather, Katherine Oktober Matthews, Leo Berne, Kevin Meredith, Tommy Oshima, GHST WORLD, Kevin Meredith, Rei Sato, Paolo Patrizi, Sean Lotman, Jorge Sato, Remo Camerota, Michael Lyons, Martin Cheung, and Naga.Design by Cakefortiger.

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book jorge sato

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book taiju fubuki

You can read comments from some of the contributing lo-fi photographers over on GUP Magazine.

For example, here is what Michael Feather (responsible for the image below) says: “The reason I went with the pinhole is partly because commercial work is mostly digital, so to get away from that aspect, and with digital now, and iPhone and smart phones, we can shoot anything any time and stick a filter on it. You are playing around. You don’t start out with an actual vision, you just snap away. Whereas, when you start using something like a pinhole, with film, you start to think about what you are doing. You have made a conscious decision at the start.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book michael feather

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book sean lotman

“Toy Tokyo” is promised as the first in a series of location-specific toy camera photography books. It is available for $30 from Kingyo Books.

Australia-born Okazaki is the author of other coffee table books like “Kimono Now”, “Wabori” (on traditional Japanese tattoos) and “Kicks Japan” (about street culture and sneakers).

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Tokyo Cheapo’s September-October Cheapo Calendar: 5 Autumn Events Not to Miss

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on September 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

Early autumn is a great time to be in Tokyo. Except for the odd typhoon, the weather is just right, and there are heaps of free events to enjoy. Here’s our pick of five particularly awesome ones, bringing you the best of Japanese culture both traditional and contemporary.

1. Nezu Shrine Festival: September 20th-21st

nezu shrine festival tokyo
Nezu Shrine Festival Photo by Guilhem Vellut used under CC

A festival with a long history, held at a Shinto shrine with an even longer one. Nezu Shrine, most famous for its azalea festival in spring, was officially established in 1705, but is said to go back more than 1,900 years. The story goes that it was founded by the legendary priest Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (give him a Google) in Sendagi, and then moved to its current location. The shrine’s Annual Grand Festival was first held somewhere around 1714.

Well-known but not well-publicised, the Grand Festival, or reitaisai, is a chance to see the traditional Shinto dances Urayasu-no-mai and Sanza-no-mai (the latter featuring fearsome masks), as well as taiko drumming and some very old mikoshi (portable shrines) being paraded around. It’s also a good opportunity to try typical Japanese festival food from stalls that will be set up in the shrine precincts. Think takoyaki, yakisoba, squid stuff and various foods on sticks.

The Grand Festival is not to be confused with the newer Shitamachi Matsuri held at the shrine on October 20-21st — also a worthwhile event to check out.

More info here.

2. Tokyo Game Show 2014: September 20th-21st

tokyo game show
Tokyo Game Show photo by LonelyBob

Happening on the same weekend as the Nezu Shrine Festival is one of the world’s biggest gaming shows (don’t worry, you’ll have time to do both). First held in 1996, Tokyo Game Show has grown like crazy, attracting close to 300,000 visitors last year. Some people come on tours to Japan just for this event. There are booths by all the major game companies (except Nintendo… yes, really), with chances to try the latest games. You’ll find everything from romance sims to huge titles, indie stuff, smartphone games and merch.

You can expect cosplay, skimpily clad girls (cough, gender issues in gaming, cough cough), and possibly some important industry announcements. Rumors are afloat that something big will be going down about Final Fantasy XV and maybe PS4 too.

1,000 yen and a couple of hours of queuing (seriously, go early!) outside Makuhari Messe will get you in. More info here.

3. Narita Fireworks Festival: October 11th

narita fireworks festival

Most of Japan’s mega fireworks shows happen in summer, but this is an autumn one — and a fairly big one, too. 10,000 shots will be fired into the sky above Chiba’s Narita City, making for a decent display with a variety of shapes and possibly even a couple of cartoon character designs in the mix. Just 10,000 people are expected to attend, making it a much more chilled event than the unbelievably crowded Edogawa and Sumidagawa Fireworks Festivals held earlier in the year (10,000-12,000 shots go off at those shows too).

The venue, Narita Daikata Newtown Sports Square, is a few kilometers from JR Narita Station. There will be buses running both ways, but if you get stressed, it’s a short 5-10 minute taxi ride (just bear in mind that taxis are not all that cheapo-friendly).

More info here.

4. Oeshiki Festival at Ikegami Honmonji Temple: October 11th-13th

oeshiki festival ikegami honmonji temple
Oeshiki Festival Photo by raccoflickr used under CC

A Buddhist festival commemorating the anniversary of the death of Nichiren, a revered Buddhist teacher who lived during the Kamakura period (700-800 years ago). The event is marked across the country, but this version is the most notable as it was at Ikegami Honmonji Temple that Nichiren passed away. He is also said to have founded the temple in 1282 (it underwent reconstruction over the years, though).

The highlight of the festival and an incredibly beautiful experience is watching 3,000 people carry 10,000 lights along a 2km route through the streets. For this rite, called mando, sacred lanterns are decorated with cherry blossoms and hung on 5m poles. Prayers are chanted to drums and flutes in the background.

This is a popular event, and the road from the station to the temple can get crowded – so get there early to secure a good vantage point. The mando has been held on the 12th in previous years, but it’s a good idea to check the temple website ahead of time to confirm.

More info here.

5. Japan Robot Week 2014: October 15th-17th

japan robot week tokyo

If you’re in Tokyo, you need to go to this event simply for the stories and social cred at cheapo dinner parties later. The expo is all about service bots — showcasing technology that it’s hoped will revolutionise fields like nursing, life support, disaster response, farming and more, and in so doing help Japan’s “aging society” problem.

Look out for “Excretion Support” robots, as well as something termed “Hand” in the Medical Robots category. Is it a bionic hand? A hand-shaped robot? Let us know, if you find out.

If you get bored, you can always check out the vacuum show that will apparently be happening on the premises too. Did someone say Roomba?

More info here.

Bonus event: Ohara Naked Festival

This event sounds a lot more scandalous than it really is. Partly nude men cart a portable shrine down to the sea and dunk it in the water. It’s good clean fun.

For more events, like the Ramen Festival, check out our regularly updated Events pages and sign up for the weekly Cheapo Weekend events wrap.

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Japan introduces roundabout junctions nationwide

Written by: William on September 3, 2014 at 9:04 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

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.

japan roundabout junction roads

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.

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Japan’s Pink Prison: Women inmates at Matsuyama Saijo Prison get improved facilities

Written by: William on September 2, 2014 at 10:03 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

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”.

japan prison conditions pink walls paint female inmates saijo matsuyama jail facilities

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.

japan prison conditions pink walls paint female inmates saijo matsuyama jail facilities

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.

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JR Tokai files for permission to build maglev train line between Nagoya and Tokyo

Written by: William on August 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

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 central railway japan scmaglev tokyo nagoya construction 2027

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.

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Batman spotted driving the Batpod on expressway in Chiba

Written by: William on August 25, 2014 at 11:01 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

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.

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

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.

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

Other pictures soon followed.

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

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.

batman batpod chiba tokyo expressway highway cosplay driver japan

Of course, cosplay (costume play) on the mean streets of Japan is nothing new.

In the past we’ve seen motorcycle parades zipping around Roppongi and Harajuku with quite spectacular results.

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.

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Shag Bizarre Style Factory opens on Omotesando with a fusion of fashion and fetish

Written by: William on August 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Another day, another crazy use of English in the world of Tokyo retail?

But no, this isn’t another new entry in the long annals of places in Japan with unfortunate English names. The innuendo is deliberate.

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

Opening on Omotesando on September 5th, Shag — see what we mean? — is Japan’s first mainstream nightclub devoted to fashion and fetish. The name was inspired by Sex, the legendary boutique run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

Over three floors Tokyoites will be able to enjoy attending dress-code-only events that promise something a bit more exciting than the usual brand flagship stores that line the city’s most exclusive strip.

Situated right on Omotesando junction, Shag is in the same building as the cafe Atlantis.

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

We love the concept behind Shag and its neat three words of copy: Bizarre Style Factory.

Cinematic influences should also be apparent.

The ground floor main hall space Asylum takes its cue from the cult 1997 British film “Preaching to the Perverted”, while the second-floor bar Cat Milk Bar is both erotic and stylish, in the manner of “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). Lounge bar Utamaro back on the ground floor again, is meant to be a cross between “Bladerunner” and the 1987 Japanese film “Yoshiware Enjo”. (For the uninitiated, Yoshiwara is the area of east Tokyo where the historical pleasure quarter was located, and even today it is home to a healthy sex trade.)

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

There are private karaoke rooms and a range of different cubbyholes to drink and make merry (we like the sound of the “Secret Relax Sofas” on both the floors). The people behind Shag hope the club will be hired out for events and parties.

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

shag bizarre style factory omotesando fashion fetish space nightclub bar tokyo aoyama

It will make a very welcome contrast to the tony and pampered designer stores and expensive eateries of the Aoyama area, even if it might actually be more at home in Shinjuku or Akihabara.

Should we be too surprised by the arrival of a fetish nightclub in Aoyama? Well, Omotesando is already home to the quirky and popular Condomania… so perhaps no!

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ISIS claim capture of Japanese “photographer” (or “doctor”) in Aleppo, Syria

Written by: William on August 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 13 Comments

ISIS has apparently captured a Japanese men in Aleppo with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Although still unverified and as yet to appear in the mainstream media at time of writing, images and videos have emerged of the man being held prisoner in Syria by ISIS (IS) soldiers. The man appears disheveled and slightly bloodied, but apparently not seriously injured.

japanese photographer doctor captured prisoner isis syria aleppo haruna yukawa fighter

According to links and videos shared initially by Thoton News Japan and others, his Islamic State captors claim he wouldn’t be dressed like he is if he were a photographer. They also claim he has a gun and demand to know why.

The Japanese man answers he is half a doctor, half a photographer. He says he got the gun from a dead soldier.

japanese photographer doctor captured prisoner isis syria aleppo haruna yukawa fighter

Here is the video of an impromptu interrogation seemingly immediately after his capture. He gives his name but the music soundtrack makes it hard to hear. It might be Haruna Yukawa, who seems to be a military contractor of some kind, working in Syria through his “private military company” PMC Japan. The first video shows the man being forced to repeat what his captors say.

While there was some earlier online speculation, the man does not seem to be the Japanese extreme tourist and amateur photographer Toshifumi Fujimoto, who has been known to turn up in war zones.

We will be updating as we learn more. For now, we hope the man is treated humanely and the Japanese government can assist him.

Update (August 18th)

The Japanese Embassy in Syria has said that they received information about the man’s capture on August 16th and are currently treating it as a kidnapping.

The videos originally posted have already been removed by the users. We found the first video elsewhere and reposted it.

Update (August 19th)

The consensus is that the man held captive is indeed military contractor Haruna Yukawa and he is certainly not a photographer or doctor, and that he has ties to the FSA, opposed by the Islamic State and the Syrian government.

However, Mr Yukawa’s fate is still uncertain and many of the original videos posted on YouTube have disappeared. This is unusual, since IS et al usually have no qualms about boasting of their activities in dealing with infidels and the like.

He would likely have considerable information that would be valuable to the enemies of the FSA and this may be too valuable to IS simply to execute a pesky foreign adventurist involved in their war. Japan also has a record of paying generous ransoms to so-called “terrorist” groups in the past and the IS may even be hoping for something along those lines (given the size and resources of the Islamic State, though, this is a long shot).

Update (August 27th)

Reuters has investigated and found out more about Yukawa’s background. It seems he is not the mercenary people thought he was.

[Images via KhabarTV.]

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