Archive for the ‘Tech/web/mobile’ Category

J-blip: Google Street View Cherry Blossom Edition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Google Street View

People come from all over the world to get a short glimpse of Japan’s blooming cherry blossoms. Google is taking advantage of this worldwide sakura passion to show off their virtual-tour map feature with Street View Sakura Edition, which shows cherry blossom scenes not only in normal pictures but also as 360-degree panoramas. It’s actually more like Path View, as in most of the scenes you can navigate off the main roads.

While you don’t get to see petals actually scattering to the ground, it’s always warm and sunny on Street View, even as clouds and rain are subduing some of the peak viewing days in the real world this spring. The Blossom Edition features sites from Kyushu all the way up to Aomori, including about 50 different spots, and gives information such as the number of cherry blossom trees, the area they cover and, in some cases, the history of the locations. Even someone in Japan wouldn’t be likely to have the luxury of seeing all these locations without this technology.

If you are in Japan and looking for spots to look at the blossoms, check out our post on hanami technology. But hurry! The blossoms came out ahead of schedule this year and won’t last long. For more virtual cherry blossom viewing, check out our page of reader  cherry blossom photos and hanami experiences from last year.

Koe moe apps find their voice on smartphones

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Melting the coldest of hearts and turning the most rigid of spines to jelly, certain voices can have an almost magical effect on us.  This effect has been dubbed “koe moe” (vocal charm) in Japan and, according to a recent study carried out by Trend Soken, Japanese apps with that “moe” voice are seducing smartphone users in droves. The report, published at the end of February, included a survey of 500 young male and female smartphone users. A whopping 82 percent of respondents said they had downloaded apps that have an enjoyable vocal element.

To satisfy the predilections of this growing market, some developers have been recruiting the talents of seiyu (voice actors) who have established a name for themselves in the anime industry. Seiyu have proved to be big draws for the game industry, so it’s no surprise that there is a big buzz around “Girlfriend,” a smartphone dating game in beta testing that employs the talents of more than 60 seiyu, including Yui Horie, Hitomi Harada and Haruka Tomatsu.

Moe koe apps are not limited to games. “Rodoku Shojo” (Young Girl Reading Aloud) has, according to Japan Internet, been a massive hit, with downloads hitting the one million mark this month. The concept is simple: a young animated girl in a school uniform reads a book of your choice in a sugary voice. Check out the video above to get an idea. The app “Dentaku Girl” (Calculator Girl)  a friendly face and voice on your calculator. It’s possible to get Dentaku Girl to change her outfits as she reads out calculations to you from your screen background. In this way koe moe adds a personal touch to smartphone apps, increasing their user appeal.

About 66 per cent of respondents said that they preferred a certain kind of voice in a member of the opposite sex. Preferences were revealed to be highly personal: While a high-pitched girly tone can grate on one person’s nerves like a fork down a blackboard, it could just as easily make a grown-up businessman weak at the knees. One 29-year-old guy described his preference as “a little nasal and cute.” Another 36-year-old guy admitted a weakness for a “low and calm, charming voice.” A 19-year-old woman said she was into “a deep calm voice that makes you feel tenderly protected.” While a 25-year-old woman stated a liking for “a husky voice that sounds a little decayed.”

J-blip: flu report app

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The U.S. is in the midst of a particularly severe flu season and Google’s trend map for Japan shows a near-vertical spike in flu searches in the last weeks. Apart from washing your hands regularly, eating healthily and staying fit, there’s not much you can do to prevent getting infected. Or is there?

A new Android app from Docomo called “Your Area’s Influenza Report” allows users to keep an eye on the spread of influenza in their own locality and, if they’re thinking of taking a trip, check ahead of time to see if that area is an influenza hotspot or not.

The app draws data from the Infectious Disease Early Detection System designed by The Infectious Disease Information Center at the National Institute of Infectious Disease. Daily influenza forecasts are extrapolated from prescription information gathered from pharmacies and absentee records for schools. Info includes a report on the dryness level of the air, as drier air is associated with easier spread of flu.

Armed with this app, the modern-day Howard Hughes can decide whether it’s worth risking an outing to a different area or not, or indeed whether it’s safe to leave the house at all!

2012: The year in gear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Every year the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) ranks the year’s best new products and services like a sumo tournament, naming a “yokozuna” (champion) for eastern and western Japan. We combed through that, as well as magazines like Trendy (also from Nikkei) and Dime, for the game-changing gear of 2012 in Japan. Some trends we’re noticing are compact, cheaper goods that offer a comparative experience to the full size ones they’re designed to replace and “smart” appliances that work in tandem with smart phones, which had a big year too.

Honda N Box

The kei car from Honda doesn’t look like a kei car. Kei, or “light,” cars are ubiquitous in Japan; unless you’re planning to log long hours on the highway (for which you could just use the train), a small, light car with no power is perfect for traffic-clogged, narrow streets. Also, they cost a lot less to register and insure. But the innovation of the N Box – some 200,000 were sold this year – is that it is much roomier than your average kei. Not American-style minivan roomy, but maybe mini-minivan roomy. Ranked #3 for eastern Japan by NMJ and #12 by Trendy.

Panasonic “smart appliances”

Panasonic launched a new series of appliances that can be controlled remotely by an Android smartphone – meaning you can use your phone to turn on the rice cooker or the air conditioner before you get home (or check that you’ve turned them off). There’s also a scale that sends data to your phone, so you can track your weight-loss progress. We’re not sure what you’d want to communicate to the fridge that’s also part of the lineup, though. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

Mirrorless cameras

2012 saw the market for mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras explode. Mirrorless cameras offered an affordable, compact alternative to a comparatively bulky DSLRs. Pretty much every major manufacturer now has a model out, and this year the prices fell under that crucial ¥50,000 mark. Gear magazine Dime name checks Nikon’s 1 V1, Olympus’ PEN Lite E-PL3, Panasonic’s Lumix GF5X, and Sony’s NEX-C3D in its best buys of 2012 roundup. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

7-inch tablets

Smaller, cheaper tablets won over consumers who had been reluctant to buy into the first generation of full-size tablets. The market was just full of them this year, including imports like Apple’s iPad mini, Samsung’s Galaxy, and Google’s Nexus 7 along with domestic offerings like Toshiba’s Regza AT570 and Sharp’s Aquos Pad SHT 21. Ranked #1 for western Japan by NMJ.

Toyota Aqua

This compact hybrid edged out Toyota’s pricier Prius this year to become Japan’s top-selling car, with 24,192 units sold in October alone. Ranked #16 by Trendy.

Sharp Cocorobo

Not only can this “next generation” cleaning robot be controlled remotely by your smart phone, but it also has a built in camera and wifi so you can actually watch it work through your phone (if you have absolutely nothing better to do), seeing what it sees. You could even get it to send you before and after photos of its handiwork. Ranked #29 by Trendy.

Sony 3D Headset

Sony’s futuristic 3D personal viewing headset, the HMZ-T1, which actually came out late last year, proved more popular than Sony anticipated and the company announced in February that production couldn’t keep up with demand. The company has since launched the lighter HMZ-T2. Ranked #24 by Trendy.

Nintendo WII U

This one came out too late to make the yearly round-ups, but Nintendo’s new high definition system that includes a tablet-like controller that also works on the TV looks to be another game changer.

2012: The year in social media in Japan

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

LINE graph. Courtesy of NHN Corp.

In terms of Japan’s social media scene, 2012 was without a doubt the year of Line. The free application launched by NHN Japan in mid-2011 was initially created to allow free VoIP calls between Line users. This year it quickly snowballed into something much bigger: It now has an Instagram analogue in Pick, a social dashboard like Facebook, and is starting to pick up where the faltering Facebook Check-in Coupon fell off with its own location-based Coupon app. But one of Line’s most popular features is the ever-changing selection of cute stickers that you can add to text messages.

Line’s growth has been astounding: It reached the 50 million user mark at 399 days – more than twice as fast as both Twitter and Facebook. The most recent numbers, for November 2012, claim 80 million users, 36.5 million of whom live in Japan. The number of users shot past Facebook, which has only a little more than half as many users in Japan, with the number apparently plateauing in the last quarter of the year.

This year did, however, see Facebook edge out domestic rival Mixi, which has been faltering. Last June, Nikkei reported that Mixi’s active users for the month of March were 15 million (out of 27 million registered users). Not too bad, except that page views had dropped by 10 million in the past year – a loss of one-third. Mixi recently partnered with social gaming powerhouse DeNA to create a shared social gaming platform that will be live next year. We’ll see if that is enough to save Mixi – it certainly needs something.

And Twitter? While Japan is a distant third behind the U.S. and Brazil in number of accounts, Tokyo is the No. 2 city in the world for sheer number of tweets, according to a report by Semiocast. However, the same report also showed that Japan had the second slowest rate of new user registration after a flurry of growth last year.

Continue reading about social media in 2012 →

Japan’s top 10 buzzwords for 2012

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

And the winner is . . .  wairudo darō (wild, isn’t it? ワイルドだろぉ).

Every year Jiyu Kokuminsha, which publishes an annual tome of new words, selects its top buzzwords – or more often than not, catchphrases — for the year. And today the committee picked Sugi-chan’s profound words as the year’s best.

A popular comedian, Sugi-chan (real name Eiji Sugiyama) is known for his tough-guy parodies. In September he broke his back while filming a stunt for a TV Asahi variety show, so maybe he’s also getting a sympathy vote here.

Still, it’s a far cry from last year’s winner and symbol of national pride, Nadeshiko Japan, the women’s soccer team.

Here’s the rest of the top 10 (chosen from an original pool of 50):

iPS saibō (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, iPS 細胞): The discovery – of how to turn ordinary skin cells into stem cells – that earned a Nobel Prize in medicine for Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University.

How low will they go?

LCC (short for Low Cost Carrier): This year saw the birth of several budget airlines — Peach Aviation, Air Asia Japan and Jet Star Japan – which promise to upset the reign of JAL and ANA and change the nature of domestic travel in Japan.

Ishin (restoration, 維新): A nod to controversial, ambitious Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and his political party Ishin no Kai — later broadened to the national Nippon Ishin no Kai – both of which dominated news headlines this year.

Shūkatsu (end activities, 終活) A play on the word for “job-hunting” (also pronounced shūkatsu, but spelled with different characters) that became popular with Boomers making preparations for “the end.”

Daisan kyoku (third power, 第3極): Another political entry, referring to the potential for a third party – possibly the tenuous collaboration of Hashimoto and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara – to shake things up.

Bakudan teikiatsu (爆弾低気圧 literally “low pressure bomb”): A rapid drop in atmospheric pressure that precipitates a sudden and intense storm, like typhoon Guchol, which caused dramatic flooding, injuries, and rail line closures in June.

Chikai uchi ni (In the near future, 近いうちに): In August Prime Minister Noda promised to declare parliamentary elections “in the near future.” Elections will finally take place later this month.

Tebura de karaseru wake ni ha ikenai (We can’t let him go home empty-handed, 手ぶらで帰らせるわけにはいかない): Said by Olympic swimmer Takeshi Matsuda after Japan took silver in the medley relay about his teammate Kosuke Kitajima, who failed to win any medals in the individual events. Even though Kitajima has four golds from previous Olympics.

Tokyo Solamachi beats out the big Skytree

Tokyo Solamachi (東京ソラマチ Tokyo Skytown): We’re not sure why this – the shopping center under Tokyo Skytree – beat out the tower itself.

To be honest, the results were a bit disappointing – and not just because a few of the trends we’ve covered over the past year failed to make the final cut (like shio kōji, Tanita Shokudō and Sagawa danshi).

Seeing as this was a year of ongoing protests and politicians making bold statements in favor, or against, taking all nuclear plants offline, surely genpatsu zero (no nukes) should have made the top 10.

None of the web-related words – sōkatsu (social media job-hunting), netōyo (internet nationalists), or ii ne! (the Japanese version of Facebook’s “like”) –  made the final list either.

We were also rooting for bimajo, “beautiful witches” who seem to defy aging.

This year was, oddly, not without scandal. The word namapo was struck from the list at the last minute, for fear that it promoted discrimination against the poor.

Namapo is a contraction of seikatsu hogo – Japanese for “welfare” (the first character can also be read as “nama”). The word spread on Internet forums, becoming part of the web’s colloquial language. Welfare recipients have been increasing in Japan, to the tune of 5,499 a month, and a successful (read: wealthy) comedian, Junichi Komoto, was  slammed by the media earlier this year when it was revealed that his mother was living off of welfare (rather than her son).

Today’s J-blip: Safecast documentary

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Tokyo-based photographer and filmmaker Adrian Storey, who blogs at Uchujin, made a documentary on Safecast that reached the semi-finals of the Focus Forward documentary competition. The brief for the competition calls for three-minute films about “exceptional people and world-changing ideas that are impacting the course of human development.”

Yep, sounds like Safecast. Safecast is a non-profit organization that collects precise radiation readings and shares them via their website and mobile app. We reported on its collaboration with Tokyo HackerSpace a year ago and recently featured its iOS app.

Brief, informative, and shot with a cinematographic eye, the short is well worth a watch. Safecast’s founders explain in a simple, direct way why they came up with the idea of collecting radiation measurements globally and how they got the ball rolling.

Cast a vote if you like what you see and check out the other documentaries that may interest you. The film is up for the Audience Choice Award, and voting closes on Dec. 2o.

Pulsations (10.26.12)

Friday, October 26th, 2012

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 . . .

  • Ramen Competition on the street (from Adele Wong): What looks better than a bowl of yummy ramen? A bowl of yummy ramen meant for photographing. Blogger Adele Wong shows us how one event made sure everyone got perfect  pictures of their seemingly perfectly crafted food.
  • Tanaka Hisashige (from James Calbraith): Author James Calbraith follows in the steps of Google and pays tribute to this master innovator of the late Edo Period. Oh, and you have Hisashige to thank for your trusty Toshiba laptop.

Visual Pulse:

Neurowear’s wearable cat ears is now complete with the latest addition of a wearable cat tail that is controlled by brain waves. Want to express your excitement at seeing a friend but too lazy to say so? Let this nifty thing do the talking.

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