Archive for August, 2013

Pulsations (08.23.13)

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Clever naming has New York diners raving about Japanese-style cod roe and pigs’ feet (from Rocket News 24): How you market your food may have as much to do with success as how you cook it.

Japanese Banana Art Is So Damn Appealing (from Kotaku): One artist unpeeled a banana and saw potential.

Tokyo Disneyland’s Halloween Vinylmations are revealed (from Tomopop): Sio designed spooky versions of Minnie and Donald that glow in the dark.

shinobu koizumi’s useful snow-like objects won’t melt away (from designboom): Salt crystals can mimic the frosty white stuff quite convincingly.

LT Josai – A new shared living space in Nagoya (from Spoon & Tamago): You’ll want to move in when you see these pictures.

 

Video pulse

Earlier this month, six Japanese cigar box jugglers traveled to Canada to meet one of the world’s greatest, Eric Bates. From the video they ended up with it looks like they had an awesome time, and of course you can see lots of impressive cigar box juggling.

The cutest little whitehead, Kakusen-kun

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Yeah, you’ve heard it a hundred times: Japan’s weird. “They had that bagel head thing,” you may say (which was never a “thing,” actually). Well, Japan has once again come up with something that will get under your skin, only this time it’s actually a “thing” broadcasted on national television.

It’s an animated series called “Nyuru Nyuru!! Kakusen-kun” (nyuru nyuru being the sound of something squeezing out of somewhere), which follows a newly formed whitehead (kakusen in Japanese) during his adventures living on the surface of a human nose. The two-minute show is supposed to be an obscure comedy that occasionally drops some skin care tips. The characters try their best to survive attacks by pore strips and face mites, which is more kimoi than kawaii. Popular idol group Dempagumi.inc sings the theme song, adding to the buzz factor.

While we certainly appreciate the cuteness and fidelity of having an 8-year-old boy play the young protagonist, rather than an older girl (as is the practice in many anime shows), it is pretty strange to hear him saying stuff like, “I wonder how much money I’d have to spend to get that lady-whitehead to go out with me,” about a beauty queen contest-winning zit, or learning to appreciate the lashes of her whip later on.

If curiosity has gotten the best of you, check out more videos here.

Pulsations (8.18.13)

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Bon odori: dancing for the spirits of the ancestors (from Tokyo Food File): This simple post appreciates traditional dancing at a summer festival on the beach.

Tama — the station master cat who raised over $10 million and helped save a train line (from Spoon & Tamago): This profile of the real-life maneki-neko features plenty of photos.

Wild Japan (from Noel’s Garden Blog): A visit to Japan yielded some great flora pictures.

Top five things to do at the Hakodate morning fish market in Hokkaido (from Texan in Tokyo): A guide to a fish market that is, at least going from this account, quite different from Tokyo’s Tsukiji.

Mark Smith’s 1/144th Scale Gem Collection (from Aviation of Japan): Model hobbyists like the ones who wrote this detailed post were interested in the work of Jiro Horikoshi way before the latest Hayao Miyazaki film.

So, How’s That Japanese Manga on Steve Jobs? (from Kotaku):  Take a look inside the comic based on Walter Isaacson’s biography of the Apple co-founder.

 

Video Pulse

This year’s World Hiphop Dance Championship took place in Las Vegas Aug. 7. Three Japanese teams made it to the junior finals after battling through a prelim featuring 34 teams from around the globe. Two were penalized for noncompliant clothing or overusing props, but JB Star Jr. (4th place) managed to jam out to “Gangnam Style” among other tunes in their mix free of point deduction.

 

Inside Nazo Tomo Cafe

Friday, August 16th, 2013

The other day we brought up the nazo toki (puzzle solving) trend that appears to be building even further with the appearance of Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku’s Theatre Cybird. Though I’ve played “Professor Layton” and used to get a kick out of logic exercises as a kid, I can’t say I am “good” at puzzle solving, so it took some guts for me to walk into the quirky pop-up cafe.

I thought I would warm up with a “cup dessert,” a perilously sweet parfait-like affair with heart-shaped cake, generous amounts of whipped cream, marshmallows, cornflakes, etc., but my true warm-up was the puzzle that came with it.

nazo

Strawberry sauce cup dessert ¥500

The event is put on in collaboration with a romance sim mobile game for girls by Cybird (under the same company group that runs the theatre space) called “Ikemen Oukyū Mayonaka no Shinderera” (something like “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella” in English). In the cafe puzzle, you’re a princess 30 minutes before a ball and you’ve received a letter announcing a crime will occur. However, the message is in code, so you need to get hints from the game’s handsome young men to discover what the criminal is after.

coaster

Coaster prize featuring Leo from “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella”

Now is perhaps a good time to note that you can’t expect to do any of this without good working knowledge of Japanese. The code itself is written in katakana, but you need to be able to read and understand the instructions, too. And don’t waste precious puzzling time looking for furigana. Of course, even though my Japanese was cutting it, the other parts of my mind were embarrassingly dull. Luckily the staff are friendly and will give you further hints until you feel almost as if you solved it yourself — definitely the reason for the 100 percent pass rate compared to the actual missions, of which when I went most did not reach 20 percent.

After picking up my prize coaster, I decided to pass on the rest of the side mission in order to get down to the real business at hand. I wanted to get inside one of those “mission cubes”!

The main draw of Nazo Tomo Cafe is not the cafe at all, but the puzzles awaiting inside each of the six mission cubes. Participation costs ¥1,000. Having never played a Real Escape Game or solved any similar real-life puzzles, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but more in the mood for science fiction than murder or romance, I picked mission six, “Taimu Mashin 765~Mirai wo Sukue~” (“Time Machine 765: Save the future!”).

[Mild spoilers ahead]

Led up some stairs to a short hallway-like room, I was told not to touch anything until after the countdown started. All the puzzles are designed to be solved within 765 seconds (a number too close to na-mu-ko in Japanese, i.e. producer Namco, to be a coincidence), but I knew at first glance it would be impossible for me alone. After a short video explaining (in Japanese with Japanese captions) how the world would end as the culmination of a series of unfortunate events beginning with some guy stubbing his toe, I was faced with a seven-step brain teaser with no hints in sight. How would I push the button to save the planet from certain doom? One of the steps involved playing the Japanese word game “Shiritori,” an example of how cultural fluency can matter as much as the linguistic kind.

[End mild spoilers]

Of course, once I had failed magnificently I thought of various ways I could have tried to proceed in a swifter, more orderly fashion, but so it goes. If nothing else, know that this is not a pencil-pushing game; you’ll be pacing your cube, manipulating objects and hopefully talking things through with your friends along the way.

That’s why it’s called “Puzzle Friend Cafe.” Even just two heads are better than one, so don’t be like me showing up alone. The staff will welcome you gladly (one of them confessed player numbers had decreased a bit since they opened on July 31), but you’ll have more fun, and more of a chance for success, with a pal or five (it seems up to six can play together). I paid once and received a free ticket to try another day, so maybe I’ll see if I can round up a posse for sometime next month; although the cafe closes briefly starting Aug. 25, round two runs Sept. 6-23.

Nazo toki trend goes mainstream

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

A pop-up shop with a difference appeared on the fashionable streets of Shibuya last month. Open until Aug. 25, and again between Sept. 6 and Sept 23, the Nazo Tomo Cafe is a mystery waiting to be solved. Inside, for ¥1,000, customers can team up with strangers or friends to solve a puzzle of their choice. For us the appearance of this cafe is an indication that the trend for real-life puzzle games is really booming.

It all started back in 2008 when SCRAP introduced The Real Escape Game. A real-life version of popular escape games for the PC, players are trapped in a room and have to figure out clues in order to free themselves within a time limit. The idea of making these virtual rooms a physical reality was hugely popular and really took off in Japan. Indeed, SCRAP has even exported the game overseas, holding their first event in San Francisco last December.

Part of the success of the game could be due to the social aspect — players have to collaborate to escape in time. Indeed, as with paint balling, companies sign up employees to play as a team-building exercise. The idea of solving puzzles in a real-life, real-time setting has clearly taken off. Escape games are now held all over the country by a number of different companies. Different kinds of puzzle games have also begun to become popular (for example, games in which teams hunt for treasure) and amusement parks have become popular venues for these larger-scale events.

Sites like Nazo Toki provide information on upcoming events around the country. Indeed, the word nazo toki (puzzle solving) now appears to refer to the wider range of puzzle games that includes escape games. Nazo Tomo Cafe reflects this diversification and the games on offer vary to suit all tastes. Choices include diffusing a bomb or a murder mystery, as well as the classic room escape game.

Produced by Namco and managed by the Nazo Tomo website, Nazo Tomo Cafe has some impressive backing behind it — perhaps an indication that big name companies want to get in on the nazo toki trend. Check back soon for our hands-on report!

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of “Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

Japan by the numbers (8.9.13)

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Pulsations (8.7.13)

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Wonder Festival 2013 [Summer]: Quick Report (from Neko Magic): On July 28 Makuhari Messe transformed into an otaku paradise full of both pro and hobby figures. This post provides a random whirlwind peek.

Beat the heat with cute and cool kakigori! (from RocketNews 24): Using a lunch box as a canvas for cuteness is  a well-documented practice by now, but have you ever seen shaved ice like this?

Dog Salon by Horibe Associates (from Dezeen): There are probably not that many people who need a combination house and dog-grooming salon, but anyone can appreciate these somehow calming photographs.

Comic hiragana series made from paper by Makoto Sasao (from Spoon & Tamago): To see the “point” of these characters, you’ll have to change your “point” of view!

The Best in Japanese Craft Beer Design (from Ping Mag): Don’t judge a beer by its cover, but feel free to judge their covers on their own. These brews are stylin’!

Video pulse

OK, it’s a 150 gigapixel, 360 degree panorama of Tokyo, but what does that really mean? Try thinking about it in terms of the iPhone 5′s camera, which is 8 megapixels. Or let the creator of the photo take you on a tour:

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