Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Japan, You MUST Stop Doing This

I like cats - who doesn't like cats? Even witches like cats. Some of my favourite pictures on the internet are of cats wearing things or hiding in sleeves. I like cats.

What I do not like, however, is when a cat is given undue authority. Authority should be bestowed based on merit. That's why stories like this piss me off.

The news story says that a cat (irritatingly referred to in the headline as a "moggy" - seriously, what's wrong with these people?) has been made a Special Director of the Issa Memorial Museum in Nagano. The museum displays artefacts pertaining to the life and works of the poet Issa Kobayashi. And the cat has been Special Director because it often walks around the museum. Clearly the whole point behind this shameful PR stunt is to send a message to the public. And that message says, "This museum is run by people who just don't care".

I cannot be the only person infuriated by this. And Special Director Sora isn't even the first cat to have a better and more undeserved job than most of the world. Last year a cat called Tama was made a stationmaster at a train station in Wakayama. Because it hung around there a lot. Wakayama Electric Railway then gave it a fucking office after a few months on the job. Then, they commissioned a custom-made train for it. Then - and the italic font would have to make the next words fucking horizontal to do justice to them - they knighted the stupid cat. Yes. They knighted the cat.


I've hung around at loads of train stations!! Where's my fucking knighthood?! I've also - and get this - done loads more impressive things than just hang around at a cocking train station! Look at its smug face:

Look at it. It's laughing at us. Laughing at all of us who have to work to get anywhere in life. I hate that stupid cat so much. If you want to see Tama in action, Japan Probe has quite a few videos of the offending animal. You can also watch a video of the completed Custom Tama Train here:

Where is this going to end? Although I can see a lot of positives in replacing Aso and Ozawa with cats (satire!), I honestly think it'll hurt Japan in the long-term. And it's a slap in the face for everyone who hasn't been knighted. Actually, it's slap for everyone who has been knighted, too. The madness must end. Now.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Finally! Some Robots That Don't Herald Armageddon!

Yokohama has become the giant robot spider capital of the world! Because it now has one giant robot spider! Also, I'm aware that a significant fraction of blogs have written about this before me, but then that's proportionately how much lazier I am than other bloggers.

A four-storey high robot spider built by the crazy French scientists La Machine called, for some reason, La Princesse, is now living next to Yokohama Bay. Apparently this is to start five months of celebrations marking Yokohama's 150th birthday. The spider is supposed to represent "networking" and "reaching out to contact distant places", because spiders build webs and, um, walk. But of course this spider doesn't build webs, slightly weakening the already flimsy analogy.

It certainly walks though! You can watch it walking here, amidst music, lights, and exclamations of "Sugoi!".

Sugoi indeed. It would be even sugoier if they could orchestrate some kind of battle between La Princesse and the huge fuck-off robot beetle built by a 60 year old man from Ibaraki over a period of eleven years that was recently shown on tv. The beetle, called Kabutomu RX3 (kabuto-mushi being the word for a rhinoceros beetle), can be piloted from a cockpit or remote controlled, and has space for six passengers. Here's a video, ripped by Japan Probe, of the beetle, amidst music, lights, and exclamations of "Sugoi!" of course.

If you need more pictures - and frankly who doesn't? - you can find spider pictures in the wonderful Pink Tentacle coverage and beetle pictures in Technotaku.

Monday, 20 April 2009

How To Make Money Fast

Not all Japanese companies are doing badly in this recession. It turns out that convenience stores have stolen the fire from industrial manufacturers' sails and are now leading the pack, in a horribly mixed metaphor of an economic merry-go-round.

Sales are up in convenience stores by 5%, but average customer spending is down 0.7%. So are they making 4.3% more money, or is it a function of 0.05 multiplied by 0.007, or what? Well anyway the average money spent by each customer is now 585 yen, or about two 20-packs of cigarettes. Interestingly profits started rising at exactly the same time as Taspo cards were been introduced, meaning that minors couldn't buy cigarettes from vending machines any more.

So, this week's financial-advice-from-someone-who-knows-nothing-about-finance is: Sell stocks in vending machines! Buy stocks in 7-11! You'll thank me when you're rich.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Yellow Sand

A research team from the National Institute for Environment Studies has published a report that 5 million tonnes of yellow sand blow over Japan from China every year, and about half of that settles on the islands. Throughout the report and the newspaper articles everyone keeps referring to it specifically as "yellow sand", as if the fact that it's yellow is important. As if sand were like Kryptonite, with different effects for each colour.

The scientists say that the sand originally comes from the Gobi Desert, and that they can now "spot a source in a 40-kilometer radius". Whatever the hell that means.

What's clear, though, is that these 2.5 million tonnes of sand a year could be put to good use in reviving Japan's beaches. All they'd need is a series of huge funnels or something to catch the sand, then they could put it down over the tetrapods. Why don't they just do that? Come on, Japan, just do that.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Impending Putin Visit

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is visiting Japan on the 11th of May. A lot of people are excited because he's going to discuss the sovereignty of the islands off Hokkaido, that's Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai, which Japan and Russia have been fighting over for decades. The Japanese call them the "Northern Territories" and the Russians call them the "Southern Kurils".

Personally, I'm excited because this visit will bring us one step closer to the Legend Of Koizumi. All we need to get now are the two Bushes and Kim Jong-Il. And how hard can that be?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tetrapod Nation

Along 50% of Japan's 35,000 km coastline tetrapods have been placed to hold back erosion, like concrete-assed, break-dancing King Canutes. The tetrapods are piled high to take the force of the sea and save the coast. But what are they saving it for? There are virtually no beaches left in Japan because of all the tetrapods. And the island did just fine before the invention of concrete, so what's changed that makes it necessary to put these things everywhere?

Flow #2 by Saksak

The cynical and suspicious answer to those questions lies in government building contracts and the fact that there's virtually nowhere left to build on, so work is being created in order to keep the construction industry alive. And it's been alleged that tetrapods actually increase coast erosion, although the people doing the alleging conveniently forget to back up their claim with actual facts.

River by Kodama

Even though the logic behind the tetrapod invasion is flawed, I still think the tetrapods are kind of awesome. Although they clearly shouldn't be used to concrete over the beaches there's something really quite beautiful about them.

Tetrapods in the Mist by Montgomery

If you're a really big tetrapod fan and you've somehow managed to acquire money to spend on tetrapod paraphernalia, there are these kickass tetrapod cushions available (from somewhere I haven't done nearly enough research to find).

Photos from Ken Ohyama

And there are also tetrapod rubbers (or "erasers" for the American-English inclined) made by Sun-Star Stationery Co. You can buy them for 120 yen each, in nine different erosion-prohibiting/advancing colours! (Or "colors". Seriously, you people.)

And to keep this blog's loading time down, like I care, here are links to tetrapods as captured by five more talented photographers.

Toru Aihara
F l u x
Joshua Richley

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ichiro Art

This is a video of artist Phil Hansen drawing a picture of Suzuki Ichiro, easily the most famous Japanese baseball star in the world, on a street pavement.

This was part of Hansen's Goodbye Art series, which also included gems like this and this. Check out the rest of Hansen's website too - he's quite, quite brilliant.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A "Modern Samurai"

Samurai still exist! You all thought they were dead, but they're not dead yet! Check out this absolutely AMAZING video of a guy who can cut stuff with his katana with a frightening precision and strength. It's hands-down AWESOME.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Gundam's 30th Anniversary

Today is the 30th anniversary of Gundam, the famous Japanese franchise. Obviously you know what Gundam is - even people with nothing but the basest knowledge of Japanese popular culture are familiar with Gundam - so I won't bother explaining it. Also I don't actually like Gundam, so explaining it would be a hell of a chore.

What I am going to do, however, is show you some adverts for Gundam toys. Adverts which feature Ueto Aya. Yes, we're back there again.

As with all running-adverts there's a kind of narrative involved, and Aya takes on a variety of roles. These adverts have been uploaded to YouTube by Panda2000fun, a true Hero Of The People. I'm going to embed the first five, but seriously you need to go to Panda2000fun's profile and watch all of them.

Happy 30th, Gundam franchise! Please try to make the next 30 years at least slightly entertaining!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Schemata Architects Want You To Live Like A Hamster

My dad is an architect and he did a concept-design for an apartment building about a decade and a half ago or something. It was brilliant - you only had one room, but at the end of it there was a revolving utility hub. So if you wanted to use the kitchen you'd revolve it so the kitchen segment, and when you wanted to sleep you revolve it to the fold-out bed, etc. Obviously it was designed for single tenants: if one person was asleep and the other needed the loo it would all get either very inconvenient or very messy. The point is, it puts this guy to shame.

Nagasaka Jo from Schemata Architecture has designed a home that "rethinks just how much space one person needs". His 3-metre cube has all modern conveniences in it, and apparently he thinks that's enough. But obviously it's not.

My dad's design was smaller than this. And it didn't look like the inside of a fucking mental institute. And it wasn't a single block that can't actually be put anywhere. Look at this:

What the fuck? Where are they planning to put this cube? Where is it supposed to go? Is the electricity and water going to be piped in? Cos that would seriously undermine the sleek white design they've got here. And also, the shower and the toilet and the desk and everything else are all stored in the walls and floor. So when they say that they've condensed the living space, all they've actually got is multi-function space. You still need at least two more metres in every dimension to store all this crap. They haven't thought at all about reducing the space needed to live. What a load of bollocks. And it also looks like a fucking prison.

Final Score

My Dad: 1
Nagasaka Jo: 0

Monday, 6 April 2009

Aya Ads #1

Well I've had a busy day and I'm very, very tired but I have to get my blog quota in, so I think I'm just going to throw some videos at your face and then run away before you notice. Let's see if that works out.

If you're an Ueto Aya fan then you'll already have seen all her Dr. Panda commercials. And if you haven't seen them then by god you're going to see them now. I won't have my readers ignorant of the best damned adverts ever made.

The panda character that Aya plays was originally used to sell health insurance, like in the advert above. See? Doesn't it make you want to buy health insurance?

Look what happens when you buy health insurance! Why wouldn't you? The panda character was also used to advertise car insurance.

Cars! I used to think they were rubbish, now I know they're awesome! And then it was used to advertise a language course called "One Step". I love languages!

There's an awesome "making of" video somewhere about that commercial, but either I've misplaced it or it's been removed from YouTube for being just too mind-warpingly cute.

That's it for today. Remind me to talk about some of the other Aya commercials at some point - if you've never wanted to buy Softbank contracts before then you certainly will after you see the adverts.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Pokemon On Twitter

This is genuinely some of the funniest shit I have ever seen. Sometimes the Pokemon community just fucking rocks.

Here are some very brief highlights, but if you're on Twitter then I strongly urge you to follow these guys.








Youngster Joey

Officer Jenny

Lt. Surge









The world just doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Max's Vision Of The Apocalypse #3586-G

Japan's space-programme is gathering pace, and in their latest statement the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development have announced a plan to land a walking humanoid robot on the moon by 2020. That escapade will then be followed by a joint moon-mission of humans and robots.

The government also plans to have robot nurses working in hospitals within five years. And Honda are busy developing technology to allow people to control robots with their thoughts:

So after all this, why is no-one freaking out? Surely now, if ever, is the time to start panicking and storming the Diet. I know that most of my Visions involve robots, so maybe my regular readers have got a little desensitized towards the frightening leaps in robot technology and prevalence. Well don't! That's how it all starts! With robots for convenience and "art". Like this 7 metre fire-breathing behemoth built in Roppongi, as "art":

That live footage was captured by CScout Japan, braving the no-mans-land to send us a warning. And Japanator also struck the appropriate tone of confusion and defiance. That's one branch of the future of robots: pimped-out machines of war that'll easily crush us when they gain sentience (yes, that's "when"). The other branch of the future can be represented by, amongst other creations, these:

Those are Robo-Qs - 3.4 cm tall remote-controlled robots made by Takara Tomy. Cute, aren't they? You'd welcome them into your home, wouldn't you? And that's the danger in this branch of the future - infiltration. Not only are robots beginning to tend to our sick, they're teaching in schools. That's right, robots now have full access to your children. And they're taking over from supermodels too, like nothing is sacred any more.

She's no Alessandra Ambrosio

And Motoman SDA10 can do anything you can do ten times more efficiently, and won't get crabby if he can't have a cigarette break. Here he is assembling a disposable camera.

And here he is making Okonomiyaki:

Can you assemble a disposable camera? Can you make Okonomiyaki? Of course you can't, just look at you! And that's why this robot is going to take over your life. Then your country. Then the world.

Start panicking now, the revolution's already begun.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Japan famously has the one of the most freakishly long life-expectancies in the world, something like 78 for men and 85 for women. But the Japanese elderly don't just sit at home drinking green tea and passing on wisdom, oh no. They often lead very active lives. Frighteningly active lives.

Asahi TV showed the exercise regime of an 82 year old woman in Okinawa, who is more physically capable than I am. Asahi TV dubbed the Rocky-theme over the montage, but I like to believe she actually puts that music on the stereo when she exercises.

Following this work-out routine she hopes to live to 125.

Aso Taro is also holding back his 62 years through exercise. Last month he dismissed comments that he looks like he's gained weight by talking reporters through his exercise routine of 50 sit-ups, push-ups and back-exercises a day, with stretches and morning-walks. "My weight hasn’t changed since I became Prime Minister. My body-fat ratio is 15-16 percent", he said. Of course this officially puts his body-fat ratio higher than his approval rating. Maybe if he spent a little less time on his figure and a little more on his job, eh?

Aso's "No-Pain-No-Gain" Face

A very different picture of elderly vitality is painted by Tokuda Shigeo. A 74 year old retired travel-agent, he's starred in over 300 hardcore porn films. Apparently "mature porn" is a "fast growing niche market", and since his nearest rival died at the age of 90 Tokuda's been raking it in.

The oldest female porn star he's co-starred with is 72 year old Ito Fujiko, but of course in the vast majority of his films he works with women five decades younger. He's managed to keep his job a secret from his wife, grandson and one of his two children, despite the fact that he gives interviews and appears in publicity for the company making the films, G's Spot Co.

And the world's oldest living man, Tanabe Tomoji, is still going strong at the age of 113, having accrued eight children, 25 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren along the way. He was born on the 18th of September 1895, and attributes his long life to an abstinence from alcohol, drinking milk every day, and eating healthily. Although, at his 112th birthday he said, "I want to live forever, I don't want to die", and on his 113th birthday he said, "I am happy, I eat a lot, I don't want to die", so it sounds like he's living on sheer willpower. Here's a video of him a few days before his 113th birthday.

So which is the best way to live a long life? Is it frequent exercise, having absurd amounts of sex, or nurturing a consuming fear of death? And who's willing to participate in a scientific test of them? I've got dibs on Method Two.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Join The Club

Brother Slain At His Own Request, a news-story from the Asahi Shimbun today. But haven't we all killed our mentally deranged brother with a towel purportedly at his own request because he couldn't afford medicine to treat his illness? We've all been there, haven't we?