Panasonic develops enhanced LED optical ID-reading smartphone data communication tech

Written by: William on May 18, 2015 at 3:11 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS, NEW TECH | 6 Comments

Dig Info has released a nice video showcasing an interesting smartphone optical data communication development by Panasonic.

The new technology uses an LED light source to allow a smartphone to read optical ID signals coming off something.

panasonic LED optical ID read smartphone data communication technology system invisible data communication

While this concept is not new per se, Panasonic has enhanced the speed to be hundreds of times faster than previous systems and no longer require fluctuation brightness visible to the human eye. Now the user does not “see” anything but their smartphone can pick up a signal from the item.

Potential applications include consumer product information in retail spaces. For example, use your smartphone to “read” a dress and view information about available stock and the materials, as well as videos and images of models.

Museums and public transport could use the technology to offer multi-lingual guidance.

A Panasonic representative explains:

“The device that sends the signals with this technology can be in, for example, a store or public place. Meanwhile, the person receiving the information can be a consumer or passerby. Unless that person can use their regular smartphone, such a system is meaningless; that was the basic idea behind our development of this technology. Going forward, we think this should involve not only Panasonic, but also alliances with manufacturers that can put the technology into many forms, as well as IT system integrators, and businesses that can provide services using the technology.”

According to Dig Info, Panasonic will release products that transmit optical ID signals by March 2016, and plans to develop this business full-scale from fiscal 2016.

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Sonia Rykiel opens library-themed store in Aoyama, Tokyo

Written by: William on May 15, 2015 at 9:02 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sonia Rykiel has opened a new store in Aoyama, the designer fashion district of central Tokyo. Located at the former Jil Sander Navy flagship address, the shop features a unique interior with striking red fittings and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The Japan branch is part of a global campaign. The designer’s flagship store in Paris recently featured 50,000 books as a pop-up makeover themed on the history of the Left Bank. A similar theme is going to transform the London store in May.

In partnership with artistic director Julie de Libran, publisher Thomas Lenthal and artist André Saraïva, the launch is to present the Sonia Rykiel autumn-winter 2015 collection.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The two-floor, 165-square-meter Tokyo location features a carpet with artwork by Saraïva, as well as an exclusive fragrance created especially by Daniela Andrier.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The new Sonia Rykiel boutique can be found at 5-2-12 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku.

We’ve seen a growing interest in bibliophilic spaces in Tokyo.

Bookstore Junkudo began to offer special overnight stays for bookworms in 2014, while Mori no Toshi Shitsu is a book-themed bar in Shibuya that opened last year.

And although it’s now long-closed, Nakameguro was once home to Combine, a kind of hipster book lounge bar-cafe, for many years.

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A different kind of soft power: Japanese toilets and lavatory technology heading overseas

Written by: William on May 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

The Japanese government has faith in soft power, hence all the “cool Japan” campaigns.

This might be J-Pop. It might be anime. It might be cuisine.

But there’s another unusual source of “cool” in Japan — toilets.

toto washlet hi-tech toilet technology japan

While the actual “Japanese” toilets (i.e. squat toilets) as they were originally designed are slowly disappearing except for some unfortunate train stations or far-flung corners of the land, makers like Toto have impressed the world and gone viral with their successful toilet technology innovations… like the talking toilet, the heated seat, the Otohime modesty sound blocker, and more.

The Japanese household toilet is as much an awesome part of what makes Japanese homes so different as tatami mats, sliding doors and futons. And the Japanese take them seriously. Junichiro Tanizaki waxed lyrical about the Japanese toilet in In Praise of Shadows, while a major toilet-themed exhibition at the Miraikan last year saw lines of kids with poop-shaped hats on climb into a giant toilet bowl. We are not kidding about that last one.

gallery toto narita airport toilet showroom dytham klein

Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham recently created Gallery Toto, a toilet “digital gallery” showroom at Narita Airport to demonstrate the wonders of the Japanese privy.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Toto is one of the exhibitors at Tokyo Designers Week.

According to news reports, the government wants to help Japan’s eco-friendly, forward-thinking toilet makers:

The government will support firms and organizations in the industries to obtain an international standard for household and similar electrical appliances certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission to boost the export of toilet products, including those equipped with warm-water spray options, according to the sources. It also plans to establish a system by the end of this fiscal year that would reward efforts to keep restrooms neat and clean.

Apparently wealthy Chinese tourists have taken an interest in Japanese toilets, with their multiple spray options and functions.

Toto, which is nearly 100 years old, makes one fifth of its sales overseas. A surge in Chinese wealth has finally seen it make profit in the market.

Could Toto et al be the answer to thawing the icy relations between China and Japan? Yes, toilet diplomacy could be a “thing”.

The Toto Washlet has been a multi-million-seller since it was introduced in 1982 and some 70% of Japanese households possess a toilet or toilet seat with enhanced functionality — on par with market penetration of computers and digital cameras.

Perhaps some day soon in the future, just as so many people now drive a Japanese automobile, most people may be sitting down on a Japanese toilet whenever nature calls.

budda

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fukutegami turns clothes into a letter

Written by: William on May 13, 2015 at 9:08 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | 1 Comment

Turn your clothes into letters to be sent in the mail. That’s what fukutegami does.

The clever concept was launched on the crowdfunding platform Readyfor? and cleared its target of ¥550,000 ($4,500). Now it’s going to be send out to the funders in mid-June and eventually will be a regular product sold online or in shops.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

With fukutegami you write a “letter” directly onto the clothes (the name itself is a play on the words fuku — clothes — and tegami, letter), fold the clothes into an “envelope”, and then send it to someone in the mail. In these days of digital communication (how many school students today have actually even handwritten and sent a physical letter?!) it stands out as a great way to show someone you care.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

You write onto the “letter” space on the inside of the clothes, so your private message to the receiver is not shown on the outside. Wash the clothes and words will disappear, thanks to the qualities of the textiles. The clothes are designed to be folded into an “envelope”-like shape, and with a space to write the address and add the stamp. The set includes a pen and even a stamp.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

The unique product doesn’t come cheap, though, planning to retail for around ¥12,000 ($100).

It works best with a plain white shirt, since that most resembles letter paper. But the design can be adjusted for different colors and different types of clothing.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

It was developed by a media design grad student at Keio University. Masako Yokoi previously honed her idea through workshops and regional versions. Then she turned to crowdfunding to make it happen as a general product.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

It is being made in partnership with three factories in Iwate, Kyoto and Osaka.

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Kadokawa’s Comic Walker Global: now available for manga from China, Taiwan, Singapore

Written by: William on May 12, 2015 at 8:57 am | In CULTURE | 3 Comments

Publisher Kadokawa opened the beta version of Comic Walker Global on April 27th to be a platform for promoting the work of overseas manga artists.

Comic Walker already launched in 2014 as Japan’s premier official (i.e. not pirated!) online manga service, offering a vast library of titles and translation (into English or Chinese) options. It also started programming manga original to the digital service. The aim was to achieve 100 million page views by the end of the first year of operation.

While we’re not sure if they achieved that or not, Kadokawa’s confidence is obvious from how they have made good on their international aspirations, especially in the Asian region.

kadokawa comic walker global chinese taiwan singapore manga reading digital service

The Comic Walker Global site includes the work of popular manga-ka like Chiya, Foo Swee Chin, and more.

And the best thing about Comic Walker Global? It’s free to view on your smartphone (Android and iOS), tablet or computer via the dedicated app.

kadokawa comic walker global chinese taiwan singapore manga reading digital service

It now offers Chinese-language options and English is planned for the future.

kadokawa comic walker global chinese taiwan singapore manga reading digital service

kadokawa comic walker global chinese taiwan singapore manga reading digital service

Currently there are only 9 manga titles available, though with the gradual growth of overseas manga, US graphic novels and bandes dessinées in Japan, we can expect the portfolio to expand quickly from the summer.

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Write More by Hakuhodo: a new writing board with “writing sounds” audio feedback to help children write better

Written by: William on May 11, 2015 at 3:39 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

Write More is a new type of writing instrument developed by Hakuhodo to help young kids write.

It works with an dedicated aim and iPhone to create enhanced “writing” sounds that encourage the scribe. An internal microphone and speaker amplifies the sounds when you write on paper placed over the board.

Research by the University of Tokyo shows that by hearing the sound of your own pen or writing instrument scraping or scratching on the surface, it assists in developing better and faster penmanship.

write more hakuhodo issue plus design writing board instrument sound aural responsive feedback kids children learning development tool prototype iphone

As we move more and more into the digital age, kids find themselves interacting with screens to type and tap. Produced by issue+design, Hakuhodo’s civic-minded concept studio, Write More promises to make writing by hand fun and responsive in a tactile and aural way.

Not just writing, it also offers opportunities for changing the way kids enjoy illustrating and coloring-in. Certain illustration templates could be downloaded so the system responds as the user draws and colors over the paper.

write more hakuhodo issue plus design writing board instrument sound aural responsive feedback kids children learning development tool prototype iphone

Hakuhodo’s prototype is tailored to the specifics of Japanese education and the Japanese language, since writing Japanese characters always requires a series of exact strokes in a certain order.

Traditionally Japan has had very high literacy, even in historical times, thanks to its unique writing system that involves multiple scripts, and a long-established temple school network. This continues today in how kids learn to write the complex Kanji characters in stages, first acquiring the base radicals and other simple characters by writing them out by rote. This is labor-intensive for little kids but an effective way to drill the stroke order into developing minds. As anyone who has tried to learn Kanji from an older age and without the foundational “training” stages will attest, the logographic script ain’t easy and to get to the stage where you can read, say, a newspaper requires you to slog up a long, steep path taking in something like 2,000 separate Kanji.

write more hakuhodo issue plus design writing board instrument sound aural responsive feedback kids children learning development tool prototype iphone

Bookworms aside, Japanese people are very familiar with reading on a daily level, despite the nation’s fame for “dumbed-down” literature like manga comic books. While some big kids-friendly Hollywood movies get dual releases in dubbed versions, audiences happily watch American and overseas films with subtitles — a format that is seen as a barrier to commercial success in English-speaking markets. Likewise, advertising always makes ample use of Japanese fonts and scripts to a far greater level than marketing in western nations.

That said, education standards in Japan are hardly universally praised and for years the media has deplored a phenomenon known as katsuji-banare — a “moving away from printed letters” — in spite of the bestselling likes of Haruki Murakami. Having a prime minister at one point who seemed barely literate also did little to assuage people’s fears that younger people are struggling with Kanji now.

Write More is one solution to making learning to write fun and effective for youngsters.

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E-Sakuga Evangelion 3:0 You Can (Not) Redo. utilizes “tap-motion” to show future of manga digital publishing

Written by: William on May 11, 2015 at 9:43 am | In COOL PRODUCTS, CULTURE | 4 Comments

E-Sakuga has released a next-generation e-book that serves as a neat example of anime tie-in merchandise and also an interesting idea for how anime and digital publishing can intersect successfully.

E-Sakuga Evangelion 3:0 You Can (Not) Redo. was released on iBooks on May 8th in a format specifically tailored to combine the advantages of digital publishing with the features of manga and other local types of literature.

e-sakuga evangelion 3:0 you can not redo ebook tap-motion digital book publishing content anime

The E-Sakuga series employs an original “Tap-motion” function that allows you to browse the digital content like a flip book. The interactive Evangelion e-book feature original drawings from the anime and allows the reader to view each frame in detail, and also “anime” key frames to see the drawings transform into the cult Evangelion film.

e-sakuga evangelion 3:0 you can not redo ebook tap-motion digital book publishing content anime

e-sakuga evangelion 3:0 you can not redo ebook tap-motion digital book publishing content anime

e-sakuga evangelion 3:0 you can not redo ebook tap-motion digital book publishing content anime

Priced ¥2,000 (around $16), E-Sakuga Evangelion 3:0 You Can (Not) Redo. is available only for iPad or Mac. It is published both in Japanese and in English.

E-publishing has been making headway in Japan, though the manga market remains dominated by big, heavy weekly comic magazines. Saying that, even these are far past their prime and no longer sell anything like the millions they did at the peak of the industry. Manga magazine sales have been dropping every year since 1996. That said, general manga sales have started to creep up since 2010 after years of decline, following the success of One Piece. So-called e-manga (manga e-books) dominate e-book sales, accounting for somewhere in the region of 80% of the market.

Innovations like this represent a way forward for manga and anime-related publishing.

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Japan’s “napping seats” on trains offer hammock, futon service to sleepy passengers

Written by: William on May 8, 2015 at 9:57 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The Japanese are an overworked lot.

This is why you can see them always trying to grab forty winks on the train.

And it’s why you get such a fantastic array of sleeping products.

The spring in Japan brings cherry blossom, Golden Week and clement weather.

It also brings entrance exam hell for high school students looking to get into that tough college. They spend all night studying and all day rushing around strange cities to visit campuses for stressful tests.

All this means there isn’t much time to sleep.

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

In April, Recruit put together a tongue-in-cheek campaign suggesting ways to help students get more sleep during the exam season.

This includes a funny “history lesson” designed to send you to sleep. They also included genuine advice about making sure you take breaks and get sleep.

But our favorite was this parody “prototype” offering a new way to get some rest on public transport in Japan.

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

These “napping seats” are not very pleasant for other passengers, perhaps, but you can’t knock their originality.

For example, here’s the hammock train.

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

Or you can really take up more than your fair share of room by laying out a futon on the floor of the carriage.

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

japan napping seats train hammock futon carriage transport

All right, so all of this was created in a studio. There are no “napping seats” (or hammocks) on Japanese trains… yet.

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Saitama creates “Saitama pose” to promote much-maligned prefecture

Written by: William on May 7, 2015 at 10:27 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Pity Saitama.

A prefecture so unoriginal that it shares its name with its capital city.

A prefecture confined in the popular consciousness to being an extended suburb of Tokyo.

A prefecture usually only visited by Tokyoites when they go to see a concert at Saitama Super Arena.

Even women suffer for the ignominy of being residents of Saitama: a few years ago they were revealed (not literally) to have the smallest busts in Japan (*NSFW).

While we thought Ibaraki already had the dubious honor of being Japan’s “least appealing” prefecture, apparently Saitama is a closer runner for the title too.

Hence some creative residents have manufactured the “Saitama pose”.

so!da saitama soda pose meme prefecture tourism pr campaign website mayors girls celebrities

To go with the meme-waiting-to-happen (or not, as the case may be), they have also launched a website, So!daSaitama.com (“That’s right, Saitama”).

so!da saitama soda pose meme prefecture tourism pr campaign website mayors girls celebrities

In a nutshell, you put your fingers together in an “okay” sign and cross your arms.

Media reports claim it is “buzzing” online, though we suspect this is a pure fabrication at this point. There is a golden rule in the digital age: call it a meme and it will become a meme. Things are announced as “trends” by the Japanese media often long before they genuinely become a “thing”.

After prefectures like Kanagawa and Saga successfully used online platforms to promote themselves and Shibuya hijacked Pharrell Williams, every region in Japan is competing to be next to go viral.

so!da saitama soda pose meme prefecture tourism pr campaign website mayors girls celebrities

So!daSaitama.com features pictures of currently 21 mayors (over half the cities in Saitama) and young local girls (a guaranteed way to get clicks) all adopting the signature pose, which is apparently inspired by the Saitama official bird, the Eurasian collared dove. Your hands become the bird’s “wings” while the linked fingers form a ring (a reference to the “tama” of Saitama, which means ball).

It all started last September with this music video. The lyrics play on the prefecture’s reputation for being dasai (uncool).

The video features 837 people from 46 local businesses and organizations.

It was marketed in the same vein as the Kanagawa Prefecture “Koi suru Fortune Cookie” AKB48 video that was a hit with netizens (4 million views), though ultimately Saitama’s is stuck at a so-so 75,000. Close, but no cigar, as they say.

The whole PR campaign is the brainchild of Tenka Jaya, an online design agency based in — you’ve guessed it — Saitama.

so!da saitama soda pose meme prefecture tourism pr campaign website mayors girls celebrities

While we can’t help raising our eyebrows at the earnestness of the campaign, it is certainly a welcome change to the usual yuru-kyara strategies.

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