Archive for June, 2011


Namie Amuro vs Biker Fem-bots. For Coke!

June 30, 2011

J-pop star Namie Amuro was recently featured in a Coca-Cola commercial, released earlier this year, that pits her against a hostile android in a motorcycle race.



The makers also released a ‘making of’ video, showing… well, pretty much just showing Amuro posing in front of a green screen. But I’ve got no problem watching that.



I admit to being more surprised than I really should have been that everything, down to the coke bottle, is CG. As the recent AKB48 experiment shows, we’re still some way away from replacing people with CG, but that day is on the horizon.






Photographing the Tohoku Earthquake / Tsunami Zone from a Balloon

June 29, 2011

Yoichi Suzuki and his wife Fumie have been taking aerial photos and video from their remote-controlled helium balloon for several years now. Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan on March 11, the couple have been using their balloon to raise awareness about the damage. They have documented their work at the Ganbarou Nippon website.

Unlike airplane or satellite photos, according to the Suzukis, using a balloon allows a much closer view. The photos and videos are from high enough up to convey the magnitude of the disaster, but are close enough that everything is still identifiable and on a human scale.

The Suzukis launch their balloon

Via Kyodo News

Kibou no Matsu at Takada-Matsubara in IwateVia Sankei News

The beach along Takada-Matsubara was once lined with over 70,000 pine trees, and was considered among the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Following the tsunami, only a single tree remained standing, which has since been rechristened Kibou no Matsu, The Pine of Hope.

Miyako City, IwateVia Ganbarou Nippon

Via Ganbarou Nippon

Via Ganbarou Nippon

Namie-machi in Fukushima Prefecture

Via Sankei News click the link for a 360 panorama view.

Video of Namie-machi.

The Haramachi Thermal Power Plant in Minami-Souma, Fukushima Prefecture (note: not the crippled nuclear power plant)

Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi at evening. The balloon hovers close to the steel skeleton that remains from the town’s Disaster Management building. On the day of the tsunami, Miki Endo, a young employee there, took the microphone to broadcast the tsunami warning and evacuation orders. She stayed at the mic repeating the warning, urging everyone to flee, until the 10-meter high wall of water crushed the building. Her warning is credited with saving the lives of over 7,000 people.


World Class Japan: The Search for Japan’s Top Bartender

June 21, 2011

[July 15 2011 Update: Manabu Otake has won the World Championship]

Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, recently held the Japan round of their World Class 2011 bartending competition. Considered bartending’s equivalent of the Oscars, World Class recognizes bartenders who bring the art of cocktail-making to a higher level. Contestants are judged on their ability to craft new flavors, revitalize classics, and create food&drink pairings while still fulfilling their age-old role as “psychologist, sociologist, businessman and gracious host all rolled into one.” For this year, the competitions were centered around six of the premium brands Diageo has released in Japan: Ciroc vodka, Tanqueray No. 10 gin, Talisker and Singleton of Glen Ord single malt whiskies, Don Julio tequila, and Ron Zacapa rum.

The finalists at World Class 2011 Japan

via Foodrink News

Held at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Odaiba in Tokyo Harbor, the competition consisted of four stages. First was the Market Challenge, in which the competitors were sent one-by-one to the nearby Wholesalers Market, where they had a limited time to choose and purchase ingredients, which they then had to use to create original cocktails. For the Food Pairing Challenge, competitors were given a selection of fine hors-d’oeuvres from which to choose two, and then had to create a cocktail for each to complement them. In the Ritual Challenge, the competitors were graded on their overall style and knowledge of the finer points of the bartending art. Finally, the Speed and Taste Challenge tested the competitors’ ability to produce Diageo’s twists on six classic cocktails (Singleton and soda, Tanqueray Cosmopolitan, Ron Zacapa Old Fashioned, Tanqueray Negroni, Don Julio Margarita, and a Ciroc Caipiroska) in under 6 minutes, all the while doing so stylishly and, above all, with superb-tasting results.

At the end of it all, Manabu Otake, bartender at the Cerulean Hotel in Shibuya, was judged best of the best, receiving exceptionally high marks in the Speed and Taste Challenge, and for his pear and vodka “Blanche-Neige” original cocktail. This was Otake’s third time in the Japan finals, and his first ever win.

2010 winner Takumi Watanabe (left) congratulates this year's winner Manabu Otake (right)

via Foodrink News

Otake will advance to the Global Finals, which will be held next month in Delhi, India.


Japone Panic 2: Assembling Japanese Sub-Culture, at the Design Festa Gallery

June 20, 2011

This week, June 19-25, the Design Festa Gallery is hosting Japone Panic 2: Assembling Japanese Sub-Culture, a new collection of young artists that explore some of the underground movements that have been developing in Japan.

Japone Animal

Part of the “Japone Animal” (ジャポネあにまる) exhibit by Doi Saori

Matagura TaiikukanPart of the “Matagura Taiikukan” (股座体育館) exhibit by Hinomaru Darkness

Oiran 666, by Black Happy“Oiran 666”, part of the “Dive to Black” exhibit by Black Happy

Part of the “Dainiji hoshino Teikoku Ten” (第二次星之帝国展) exhibit by Anna Hoshino

Although the gallery is tucked away into one of Harajuku’s many side streets, once you find it, there’s no mistaking it:


Design Gallery Festa, photo by JM Rocher via Flickr

Entrance is free and the gallery also hosts a very nice bar and cafe with outdoor seating, making this a great place to stop by as you explore one of Tokyo’s more offbeat neighborhoods.


And on an unrelated note, today (June 19), marks 16 years since I came to Japan.


Okayama Research Lab Unveils their Newest Breakthrough: Turd Burgers

June 17, 2011

Note (22 June 2011): Story seems likely to be a hoax. Contrary to the claims in video below, however, there is a Mitsuyuki Ikeda, and he does work Okayama. Specifically, in the Environmental Assessment Center‘s Education for Sustainable Development Group.


[original post]

I feel like I’m behind the curve posting this, as I’ve already seen links and brief on several aggregator sites, but since this does fit my Japan, science and offbeat criteria, it would be remiss of me not to post it. So here goes:

Researchers at the Okayama Environmental Research Center have recently gained international attention for their work in producing artificial meat. Specifically, by recycling it from human feces.

My apologies for not citing this video properly, I’ve been searching around for the original source, but haven’t been able to find it yet. The youtube video was posted in April (CNN iReport ran what looks to be the same video around the same time), but for whatever reason the story’s waited until just now to go viral.

Anyway, head researcher Mitsuyuki Ikeda describes how he was contacted by sewage treatment facilities, who were facing a supply of ‘sewage mud’ that would eventually outstrip their ability to process and dispose of it all. They asked if he could come up with any alternative uses for the stuff, and his solution was to turn it into steaks. That wouldn’t exactly have been my first idea (what about cement for construction? Fuel? Fertilizer?), but the professor has a point: our feces do still contain a good deal of nutrients, especially protein, so it makes sense (in theory at least) to try and recover these proteins for possible re-use.

Mitsuyuki Ikeda holds up samples of his unconventional meat

The heat used in the reclamation process kills all the bacteria, so the meat is perfectly safe to eat. It’s also much leaner than most meat coming fresh off the animal, making it healthier as well. None of the news sources mention how much energy it takes to produce turd burgers (or how much it would take once the process reaches mass production levels), so it’s too early to say how it stacks up environmentally against beef or pork. Currently, the meat industry is the source of almost 20% of all greenhouse gases, which in addition to factors such as clear-cutting forests for grazing land and raising crops to use as feed, places a burden on the environment that will only get heavier as nations like China and India adopt more meat-rich diets.

Just when we could expect this meat to be ready for consumption by the general public, and more to the point, when the general public would be ready to ever give it a try, is anyone’s guess.

Some thoughts:

  • Ikeda correctly notes that a lot of people are going to have qualms about eating meat made from re-processed feces. However, if he wants to help them get over their squeamishness, he really needs to stop labeling it, “SHIT BURGER”. Just send a memo around the lab asking for alternate suggestions; I’m sure someone will have a good interim name that can be used until it’s ready for commercial release.
  • He also says that once the research costs are recovered, the meat should be about the same price as regular meat. News flash for Mr. Ikeda: given a choice of regular meat and ‘recycled’ meat at the same price, absolutely nobody is going to select your product. If you want anyone to even think of giving it a try, it will have to be significantly cheaper than any readily available alternative. Maybe in some post-apocalypse future where regular meat is impossible to come by.
  • I could see this as a possibility for long-distance space flights, where the questions of “how do we stock X years of food into Y cubic feet?” and “what do we do with all the crap astronauts produce?” outweigh “where can I get a good quality steak at a decent price?”
  • If the equipment could be miniaturized, I could also see mini-processors becoming a feature in emergency survival kits.

I have to admit feeling a bit skeptical about this whole story. Things like Ikeda having everything labeled ‘Shit Burger’ and him posing squatting over a toilet, just make it seem like it’s a put-on. This whole thing could be one big piss-take, and we’ve all fallen for it. I’ll see if I can’t look further into it, and try to dig up some original sources.

If it does turn out to be real, my bet is on Ikeda to take home an Ig Nobel Award this year.


A Look at Japan’s New Military Hover-orb

June 14, 2011

Science fiction films have frequently made use of robots that float down hallways or waft through the sky as they chase down the heroes. Aside from the fact that it’s simply easier for the FX team to hang a metal ball on a piece of fishing line, there’s something undeniably fascinating about a machine moving in a way that common sense tells us is impossible.

So it’s with pleasure that I introduce the newest addition to Japan Self-Defense Force’s aerial squadrons:

At just 42cm wide and weighing 350 grams (less than a pound), the orb can hover, maneuver in any direction, and reach speeds of up to 60kph, giving it great potential as a reconnaissance and surveillance tool. What’s more, it’s built entirely from off-the-shelf parts available to hobbyists in Akihabara for an estimated price tag of $1,300.

TV Tokyo recently featured the device and its developers on their “Trend Tamago” show, highlighting it’s maneuverability and unique design.

The “Top Gun” music was a nice touch.

As you can see, its small size and hovering capability allow it to handle tight spaces, such as avoiding telephone lines, flying through windows and going up staircases. The advantage of its spherical shape (According to the developers, the compact flier is the the only one of its kind to use such a design) becomes evident at the 1:10 mark: rather than requiring a careful approach over flat ground for landings, the flier can simply come in low and roll to a stop.

The propeller can also be used to roll the bot along the ground

The flier has already been fitted with a camera, making it useful for police or soldiers scouting out buildings or urban areas, rescue workers looking for survivors in wide areas of rubble (such as after a tsunami) or, as seen in the Trend Tamago report, chasing women through hallways.

One of the downsides is that its flight duration is currently only about 8 minutes. It’s also not all that inconspicuous or stealthy. It’s also not yet capable of self-controlled flight, instead relying on a human to pilot it via remote control, so it’s not technically a robot or drone as many have been calling it (guilty!). Still, it’s an interesting new design for a refreshing low price tag, and and should act as a springboard for a lot of other innovators.

Just so long as I don’t catch one hanging outside my window.


Cool Video: Kosuke Sugimoto’s “The TV Show”

June 10, 2011

I first came across Sugimoto’s work about a year ago, and immediately became a huge fan. He’s a Japan-based animator and artist who, among other things, has done some eye-popping music videos for a number of J-artists. This work of his, “The TV Show” (with music by Takayuki Manabe) was the first I ever saw and immediately got me hooked.

I think what really pulled me in was the rich level of detail he gives his work. Nothing seems to be thrown in or discarded lazily; no matter how frenetic the scene becomes, every action and element has a cause and effect. It’s the sort of video where new details show up each time I see it.

I’ll be sharing more of his videos here in the future.