Author Archive

Bunpei Yorifuji’s ‘Wonderful Life with the Elements’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Remember that kid who doodled all through your chemistry class instead of taking notes? Now imagine if that kid had an encyclopedic knowledge of the elements as well as a knack for drawings that made everyone giggle behind the teacher’s back.

Bunpei Yorifuji’s Wonderful Life with the Elements

That’s the feeling we get flipping through Bunpei Yorifuji‘s “Wonderful Life With the Elements.” Yorifuji is well known for his series of Tokyo Metro manners posters that urged riders to, among other things, “do it at home.”

Though the pull-out periodic table poster looks at first like a random collection of whimsical yellow guys, every part of each endearing little dude is carefully designed. From their ages, hair styles, and clothing (or lack thereof) to their weight and facial hair, every, well, element of each element matters and tells you something about each substance. (It might remind kanji nerds of the way kanji radicals add up.)

Most of the elements get their own pages. Illustrations show key properties (toxic thallium is soft like butter) as well as where they turn up in daily life (“Sodium compounds are great for housework!”) and beyond (boron is key in both fake movie snow and roach poison). There’s a section on eating the elements that compares the elements contained in a Japanese vs. a Western breakfast.

We learn which elements like to stick together for good, like the “digital semiconductor trio.” Troublemakers are grouped together, too, like the elements that were used to attack subways in Tokyo as sarin gas and to poison a pot of curry in Wakayama. They appear as benign-looking acrobatic combinations, perhaps suggesting that the elements themselves aren’t evil.

We wonder if future editions might address elements that have gained new prominence. Things have changed since the original Japanese version (元素生活, genso seikatsu) came out in 2009. Japanese scientists created Ununtrium for the first time just last month. Cesium, the subject of thousands of post-Fukushima articles, gets no more than a nod as a natural timekeeper, and there’s no mention of the problems that iodine can cause when its radioactive version is ingested.

The English version, published by geeky U.S. imprint No Starch Press, is available in Japan through Amazon.com or Amazon.jp. The original is at bookstores all over Japan and online. There is a bit of Japanese scattered throughout the book, including each element’s Japanese name and Chinese character, but not their readings. The book may be too late to help many of us pass our chemistry tests, but it’s a great second chance to get to know the elements as the individuals they are.

J!NS eyeglasses vending machine at TGS

Friday, September 21st, 2012

jin vending machine

Anime characters need to protect their eyes, too.

If staring at a computer screen is as bad for your eyes as they say, J!NS found just the right place to set up its latest vending machine.

The eyewear company plopped one of its new eyeglasses dispensers right in the middle of this year’s Tokyo Game Show. These aren’t just any eyeglasses; the J!NS PC models in the machines are specially designed to protect your eyes when looking at an electronic screen.

Several of the touchscreen vending machines opened in Japan this summer, including a brand new one at Kansai International Airport. The company is planning to set up 50 more of the so-called J!NS Self Shops around the country. Different styles and colors are priced at ¥3,990 and ¥5,990, payable by credit card.

The company’s slogan is “Glasses that can see the future.” Are they seeing the future of retail?

 

 

 

Today’s J-blip: Name the Tokyu train mascot

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

He’s got a big, goofy grin and a funky headpiece, but one thing the Tokyu train line’s newest mascot doesn’t have is a name. The little guy’s purpose in life is to raise awareness — and “get children excited about” — the Tokyu-Toyoko line’s Fukutoshin extension, which is set to open in March of next year.

Word is that he’s a playful 10-year-old from Kanagawa Prefecture who is secretly on a diet. (What’s that all about? Every yurukyara needs a little bit of a backstory, and this one is a reference to the new trains running on less electricity.) The contest’s entry form has spots for writing the name in Japanese or English. The name should be accompanied by an explanation in Japanese. The winning entry, which will become the character’s official name, will get a ¥50,000 Tokyu gift certificate. Fifty runners-up will get Tokyu swag. The contest ends on Sept. 28. Think we’ve got a chance with “Stripey?”

Photo courtesy of J.L. Gatewood, aka @StarrWulfe.

Today’s J-blip: Tokyo train gets the Olympic treatment

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Commuters, on your marks!

Tokyo train conductors are always warning riders not to run for trains. Nobody ever said anything about running in trains. Japanese sporting goods maker Asics has “train jacked” a train on the Yamanote loop line, with a 200-meter track running through all 11 cars of the train. How to spot it? Keep an eye out for the train that has photos of Japanese Olympic runner Chisato Fukushima running along the outside.

Today’s J-blip: MUJI to GO game

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Where to?

No-frills houseware emporium Muji‘s new online social game has players moving around a board with the toss of a virtual die to win prizes. The game promotes Muji’s “to GO” line of travel products, so the top prize is a trip, the medium prize is a suitcase and the easy win is a sticker. If you win a sticker online, you can go to a Muji shop with a bar-coded print-out from the game or just flash the winning message from your mobile device. At every step of the way, the game prompts you to post a message to the social network of your choice. The posts are optional, but if you click on everything they want you to click, you may intrigue (confuse?) your friends and followers with announcements like, “You’ve landed on the JERSEY SLIPPERS square!” The game points you to a number of related Muji sites. It’s clean and slick, if perhaps a little sea-sickness inducing.

Today’s J-blip: Bang a paper drum

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Yumiko Matsui’s “Portable Shrine (Omikoshi).”

The booming of the taiko drums and the shouts from touts at carnival games and food stalls — you can almost hear the sounds of a Japanese summer festival when you look at Japanese artist Yumiko Matsui’s delightful paper sculptures. She is known for intricately crafting scenes with a whimsical take on familiar sights, from the stands at the festivals to the billboards in Shibuya.  While you’re in a matsuri mood, don’t forget to bookmark the JT’s monthly festival listings.

Rediscovering Japan’s ‘lost generation’ and Tokyo Beatles

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Life magazine has dug into its vault and recently released a treasure trove of photos that photojournalist Michael Rougier took for a Life special issue on Japan, published in September 1964. Many of them have never been published before. Rougier contrasted the outer appearance of “youth who seem as wholesome and happy as a hot fudge sundae” with the subcultures he found hanging out in jazz clubs and taking drugs at all-night beach parties. In text that accompanied the photos, correspondent Robert Morse wrote:

Having sliced the ties that bind them to the home, in desperation they form their own miniature societies with rules of their own. The young people in these groups are are bound to one another not out of mutual affection — in many cases the “lost ones” are incapable of affection — but from the need to belong, to be part of something.

Morse and Rougier documented the kids who rebelled against their parents through pill popping, motorcycle riding, swigging booze — and gyrating to the sounds of the Tokyo Beatles. The band was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, with only one album to show for its three years in existence. The music is covers of Beatles’ songs rendered in a mix of Japanese and English. It sounds at once like a straight copy and like something completely new. Judging from the photographs, it hit the right chords with the teens of Tokyo. We strongly recommend that you see the full gallery of photos and read more at LIFE.com. It won’t be time wasted.

How do you say ‘super-size’ in Japanese?

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Western fast food chains are opening, re-opening and getting fancy in Japan. With over-the-top takes on familiar menu items, the country might want to start counting those imported calories. Sink your teeth into these Japanese twists on American fast food, and tell us if you still think food in Japan is healthy.

It's basically just a coffee, right?

It’s always more fun to start with dessert. The newest taste sensation to threaten the once-slim Japanese waistline is Starbucks’ chocolate cookie crumble frappuccino with white chocolate pudding, launched last week. The name is a mouthful, and so is the confection. The cup is half-filled with pudding, topped up with chocolate milkshake, layered thick with whipped cream and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and dusted with chocolate cookie crumbles. Despite the pudding base, it’s served with a straw — the faster to suck down the 700 calories in a grande, or 550 in a more modest tall.

But that’s nothing compared to Burger King’s “Bacon Bomb Burger.”  During a special campaign, you can add 15 slices of bacon to your sandwich for ¥100. They list the basic Whopper at 660 calories. Fifteen slices of bacon, at 40 calories a slice, doubles that. The Double Whopper with cheese is 985 calories before the bacon bombing even begins. The low price seems as much like a dare as a PR stunt, and people have been taking them up on it and posting the results online — see the video below if you’ve ever wondered what a thousand slices of bacon on a burger looks like. But don’t watch if you’re hungry — or if you’ve just eaten.

Speaking of double, the KFC Double Down made a big push in Japan, too, as the “Chicken Filet Double.”  The original has become renowned even in the United States for its heart-stopping excess: two slabs of fried chicken sandwiching cheese, bacon and sauce. Not to be outdone, Japan created a campaign around modifying this monster. The basic sandwich is almost 600 calories. And KFC in Japan will see America’s buttery biscuits and raise them a layer of melted chocolate on top.

Now, you may be reading this while chomping on a stuffed-crust Pizza Hut pie somewhere in another time zone, smug in the satisfaction that Japan will never out-pizza the U.S. Yawn. Pizza Hut in Japan has had the sausage crust since at least 2006 and the pizza chains have been innovating ever since. At Japan’s Pizza Huts, you can get a ring of crispy sausage baked in around the edge of most pies. The “melty camembert”  comes with bacon, camembert sauce and evenly spaced wedges of camembert cheese. It’s about 300 calories a slice.  But while the toppings are big, the slices are small. Guaranteed you’re not going to stop at one.

Dominos’ Giga Meat pizza sounds like the ultimate in home-delivered indulgence. And four kinds of meat is only the beginning. Dominos’ Japan pizzas can be ordered with the “Triple Camembert Millefeuille” crust. It has two layers of camembert cheese spread between three layers of crust under whatever else is on your pizza. If that happens to be potatoes and mayo, the highest calorie option, a 1/12th slice tops 400 calories.

With national attention to a rising rate of obesity and metabolic syndrome, or “metabo” as it’s known here, perhaps it’s no wonder that the death at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas got a lot of buzz in Japan. Could it be that the story feels like a glimpse into a fat, frightening  future?

RSS

Recent Posts