Archive for the ‘Tech/web/mobile’ Category

JAL builds a social media campaign, one block at a time

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Play with blocks and possiby win a round trip from Tokyo to Boston

To celebrate its new route from Tokyo to Boston, JAL has launched a nifty social media campaign called “JAL Social Block Art.” Also available in English for U.S. residents, those taking part get the chance to win air miles, special key holders and even a pair of tickets between Tokyo and Boston. Only users who register via Facebook or Twitter can qualify to win prizes, potentially making it a great viral campaign.

Once signed in, you’re presented with 3-D blocks to play with; competitors can add colors and remove or add mini blocks. If you hit on the correct combination of blocks, you’re automatically entered into two lotteries. The first lets you know immediately if you’ve won a key holder or air miles. The second is for round trip flights and is drawn at a later date.

10→1 design Works, the firm behind the sites, was also responsible for the award-winning Uniqlo Lucky Line website, which also used social media to allow customers to virtually stand in line at new Uniqlo stores in Tokyo and Taipei for a chance to win prizes.

On March 28, the day the campaign launched, 160,000 blocks were made. However, the Twitter feed suggests that the majority of entrants are Japanese. Granted, the default language of teh site is Japanese and the English button is a little hard to spot.  English-language promotion of the site has also been scant. With foreign tourism still flagging after the quake, you’d think JAL would be making a bit more noise.

Smartphones hook up with domestic appliances

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

The iRemocon device controls your domestic appliances via smartphone

Want to turn on the AC so that you can come home to a cool apartment, or run a bath before you even step through the door? Clever systems that allow you to remotely control your household appliances from your smartphone are now trending in Japan. The iRemocon from Glamo, Inc  has been on the market since last summer and an Android version went on the market at the end of January this year.  DENSO, working with Toyota Housing and Misawa Homes, has a  system called HEMS (home energy management system) in the pipeline, although the launch appears to have been delayed.

Apart from the rush of omnipotence it gives gadget freaks, being able to remotely dominate your domestic domain from afar also benefits the environment by encouraging increased energy efficiency. The aircon, for example, can be set to be switched off automatically during the night with a pre-programmed function (though it has to be said that there are plenty of air conditioners on the market that already enable you to do this) and the remote feature allows you to make sure you haven’t left appliances on when you’re out of the house.

Both systems use a device installed in the home that can be programmed to communicate with domestic electronic devices. Though iRemocon appears to have beaten the HEMS system to the punch with its launch last year, HEMS will provide useful data to the customer about energy consumption and CO2 emissions, giving it the edge as an environmentally friendly product.

But otaku props go to iRemocon, which gives users the ability to customize their own remote control skin on their smartphone app and also lets users record their favorite TV shows while they’re out. Another bonus of the system is that it can be used to guard against theft: When you’re on holiday you can pre-program your home lights to be switched off and on, giving the impression that the place is occupied.

Panasonic is also exploring ways to get smartphones interacting with appliances. The new SR-SX2 Series of rice cookers and NE-R Series of steam ovens (to be launched in June) are both programmable by smartphone. Simply hover the smartphone over the device to set up the cooking times. If you’re wondering why people would choose to do this rather than pushing the buttons on the device itself, the answer is that this way things are supposedly simplified. The app for these products has a database of recipes which users can choose from. Once they’ve decided on the meal they’re going to cook, the app manages the settings on the appliance for you. An attractive option for those who can’t be bothered to read the manual.

Pulsations (05.04.12)

Friday, May 4th, 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 . . .

  • Superhero time 5-1-12 (from Japanator): Your friends at Japan Pulse are very disappointed that you haven’t kept track of your favorite Japanese superhero tv-shows. This post recaps some of the latest episodes – read it, or no rice balls for you!
  • Bang A Gong (from Shisaku): It’s award season at the government quarters in Tokyo. A great day of bureaucrats pinning orders on other bureaucrats — unless, of course, the other bureaucrats are women.
  • Unmanned Wave-Powered Boat Developed by Tokai University (from Japan for Sustainability): Sure, a boat that can harvest energy from waves and sail unmanned around the world is impressive and everything, but just remember this: One day, when machines have taken control of our civilization, we will look back and blame Japan.

Pulsations (04.27.12)

Friday, April 27th, 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  . . .

  • On Making Ice Cream Out of Plastic in Japan (from This Japanese Life): Japan is world-famous for its varied cuisine, and pictures just aren’t enough.  This Japanese Life goes through the history and production method of Japan’s fake plastic foods.
  • The end of the line (from The Adventures of a Foreign Salaryman in Tokyo): In an unexpected break, Mr. Salaryman finds himself in a park alongside a homeless guy and another salaryman, who is looking sad. From this, the author draws an extreme conclusion.
  • Turntable Rider lets bike riders be DJs (from Spoon & Tamago): You know the feeling — you’re riding through Yoyogi Park, doing kick flips on your BMX, but it’s just not enough street cred for you. Why not DJ at the same time? Leave it to the Japanese to make “being cool” more time efficient.
  • Japanese astrology and warrior robot condoms (from Japan Sugoi): Some people choose their partner based on his or her zodiac sign. Of course, if you go this far, you might as well go all the way and choose your birth control by zodiac sign, too.

Toilet with a view opens in Chiba

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

According to various media outlets, the “world’s largest public toilet” opened outside of Tokyo on April 6. Designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, the single-seater toilet, with its views of plum, peach and sakura trees, allows visitors to enjoy some beautiful scenery in Chiba’s Ichihara City while literally answering nature’s call. A glass toilet cubicle, protected by a 2-meter-high wall, is set in the middle of a 200-sq.-meter garden of potted rape blossom plants. The greenery may look a little thin now, but a bed of clover is in the works.

Room with a view

If you want to get technical, it would appear that the enormous Egyptian-themed public toilet in Chongquing, China, which has 1,000 toilets over 32,290 sq. meters, takes the prize for the largest, if it is indeed still in operation. At the least, Chiba’s toilet might qualify as the biggest individual public toilet cubicle. Naturally, the word “why?” springs to mind.   “The area around the station has an incredible natural beauty,” said architect Fujimoto in an interview with NHK. “We wanted for those who used the toilet to enjoy this scenery and that feeling of release.”

Before you set off for the wilds of Chiba, it should be pointed out that this toilet is, rather unfairly, for women only. Men, however, might console themselves with a particular toilet technology developed exclusively for them. Last October, Sega’s Toylets, a digital toilet game, began appearing in the men’s rooms of pachinko parlors, game centers and chain izakayas across the country (it had previously been available only for short trial runs). A pressure sensor in the urinal measures the strength of the pee stream, and this in turn affects the outcome of the mini game displayed on the console above. Men who fancy having a go at one of Sega’s Toylets can consult the Toylet website, which has links to the shops and restaurants where the devices have been installed.

Pulsastions (03.23.12)

Friday, March 23rd, 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 . . .

Pointing out good deals

Monday, March 12th, 2012

In Japan it seems that almost every company offering goods or services has a point scheme, so much so that some people carry a separate wallet just for customer loyalty cards. Keeping track of what you can use these points for and when they are expire can be a hassle, but if you fail to do so, you could end up losing out.

Get the point?

The end of March is the deadline for using up Eco Points and, according to Otona no Kaisha News, ¥11.5 billion’s worth of Eco Points issued are yet to be exchanged for goods. A government scheme to support eco-friendly practices while invigorating the economy, Eco Points are accrued when buying domestic electronic appliances and can be exchanged for eco-friendly items before the end of the Japanese financial year.

This looming deadline is perhaps the reason why the website Poi Tan (“point search”) suddenly rose to fifth place in Google Trend Word rankings on March 3. Poi Tan aggregates a dizzying array of information on points and air mile schemes to allow users to keep track of their point balances. The website shows visitors how to convert dormant points into other points: for instance,points earned at department store Takashimaya can be converted into ANA air miles. It also alerts you when your points are about to expire.

If after searching Poi Tan, you’re still none the wiser on how to spend leftover Eco Points, then it’s worth bearing in mind that they can be sent as monetary donations to victims or to fund volunteer work in areas affected by the disaster last year. It’s also heartening to know that Tsutaya also run a similar scheme in which points accrued at their stores can be sent to a range of charities including the Japanese Red Cross Society and World Wildlife Fund.

Tech for keeping pace with the marathon trendsetters

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A participant in last year's Tokyo Marathon takes the rat race literally. (Mark Thompson photo)

It’s been two years since the Japanese press got all out of breath announcing an “unprecedented running boom,” and yet the spandex-clad pack of joggers shows no sign of slowing down. Though the numbers are down from last year, this Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon still had almost 10 times as many applicants as the 35,500 spots in the race. The increase in women running put the phrase “beautiful jogger” onto the shortlist of top buzz words for 2011. As the marathoners get in their final practice runs and the spectators stake out their spots, we bring you a few of the tech trends that are going the distance for runners in Japan.

Sites like Run Net and Sports Entry make it easy to apply online for the growing number of races held all over the country. Popular races can fill up the same day they’re announced, leaving many would-be entrants hovering over their computer screens like they’re waiting for a starting gun. In addition to dedicated sites like these, runners in Japan are using Twitter to find running partners and groups with hashtags like #run_jp and #running (in both English and katakana).

Running rings around the Imperial Palace

The American fitness app RunKeeper has a loyal following among runners in Japan, even though the interface is only in English. A similar Japanese app called Tweet Runners also maps and shares completed runs on social media and is sponsored by pharmaceutical and supplement company Otsuka. Maybe not surprising for an app from a company better known for products like CalorieMate bars and the sports drink Pocari Sweat than its software, runners find its functions less robust than RunKeeper’s.

While not a role model for every runner, Tokyo Marathon veteran Joseph Tame is showing exactly what is possible when mobile tech is applied to the marathon course. Over the past few years, Tame has made an international name for himself by broadcasting his Tokyo Marathon runs via a wearable Ustream studio cobbled together from various mobile-tech devices. He keeps in shape between races and sharpens his tech capabilities at the same time with his “Art of Running” project: His meticulously plotted routes draw pictures or Japanese characters on the Tokyo map when he’s done. This year, he’ll be broadcasting a live interview with a fellow runner every kilometer of the race.

Continue reading about tech at the Tokyo Marathon →

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