Posts Tagged ‘disaster’

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 →

Today’s J-Blip: Safecast iOS app

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Screenshots of Safecast’s new iPhone application, showing the area around Fukushima Dai-ichi with different filters

In Japan, cute bouncy mascots are often relied on to raise awareness about campaigns or officious entities. We have our doubts, however, about whether the new mission of Kibitan — to steer kids clear of potential hotspots in Fukushima — will have much of an effect. Call us cold-hearted, but when it comes to radiation, we prefer data — reliable, independently gathered data.

For bringing peace of mind to residents of post-3.11 Japan, or travelers thinking about coming here, nothing has come closer than Safecast. We reported on Safecast Japan shortly after last year’s disaster, when the team of volunteers with Geiger counters was building up their operations at Tokyo HackerSpace.

Comprised of radiation experts, industrious hackers and citizen data-collectors, Safecast is still tirelessly cataloging radiation readings and transforming the raw data into user-friendly maps. They’ve come a long way: From an initial Kickstarter campaign, the group is now funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Safecast recently launched an iOS application. Its most attractive feature is the “virtual Geiger counter,” which shows you their collected radiation readings, plus readings from the U.S. Department of Energy, for your current location. It’s strangely addictive. There is also a bunch of filters to play around with, which allow you to look specifically for, say, Cesium 137. Best of all, it’s free.

Apparently you can also hook up your own Geiger counter to the app and send readings back into the Safecast system.

Kibitan, we suggest that you download this one now.

Safecast and U.S. Department of Energy readings for the greater Tokyo area as seen on the Safecast iPhone app.

Japan’s top 10 buzzwords of 2011

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Nadeshiko Japan, with head coach Norio Sasaki (center) and captain Homare Sawa (center right), show off their Women’s World Cup trophies. (Kyodo photo)

The news in Japan in 2011 was dominated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the Tohoku region (and proved the worth of Tokyo’s earthquake-resistant architecture). It’s only natural that words related to the disaster and its aftermath made up a good portion of the top buzzwords of the year as chosen by Jiyu Kokuminsha, publishers of an annual book of new and newly important words. However, the mundane and the downright silly mix with the serious in this list, whittled down from an initial 60 nominees, as life did go on for most of Japan, albeit with a new sense of gravity. In descending order, here are the top 10 buzz phrases of 2011 in Japan.

Grand prize-winner: Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン Nadeshiko Japan): This name for Japan’s women soccer team actually made it into the 2004 list of buzzword nominees, but it was the team’s amazing and inspiring victory at this year’s World Cup that brought them into the lexicon. Even the losing U.S. side was moved by the down-to-the-wire win just three months after the quake. Nadeshiko Japan was the first sports team to receive the People’s Honor Award from Prime Minister at the time, Naoto Kan, for the “fighting spirit” they showed against a better-ranked team and the joy they brought the country with their victory. It’s worth noting that the phrase “yamato nadeshiko” conjures up images of self-sacrificing wives of soldiers, and appropriately, Team Japan really did have to hold down days jobs while working to become the No. 1 team.

Continue reading about top buzzwords of 2011 →

Just in case: Retailers urge customers to buy ahead

Friday, September 30th, 2011

You may never look at those cute Muji handkerchiefs again. Muji’s new emergency awareness campaign encourages people to stock up on everyday “itsumo” basics and to think about how they might be used in a “moshimo” emergency. A temporary display at Muji Atelier (through Oct. 5)  in the flagship shop in Yurakucho presents the “itsumo no moshimo” idea in a space that lies somewhere between a retail space, a gallery and a subtle first-aid class.

A Muji pamphlet urges consumers to think ahead

Simple items from the store are presented in spare Muji style with illustrations that suggest specific, somber uses for them. A black marker and a piece of packing tape become a simple system for leaving a message on your door telling people where you’ve evacuated. A sheet of plastic wrap over your clean plates means that you can eat from the plates and discard the wrap so you don’t have to wash the dishes when water is scarce. (Is that restricted to emergencies?) And those handkerchiefs. Not just handy for drying your hands in the train station bathroom, they also make handy dust masks or tourniquets, or a large one can be wrapped around, say, a small fold-up umbrella to make a splint.

Panasonic has seized onto the same itsumo/moshimo concept with a tagline that could be translated as “convenience any time, preparation for that time.” Their compact solar lights save energy in the good times and could save your evening if the power goes off. Products include a flat solar-paneled light that can be used as a charger for other cellphones and other small electronics, a tabletop lamp that turns on its side to be used as a flashlight and a rechargeable lantern that can stay lit for up to 20 hours.  Their waterproof portable TV that uses OneSeg technology to play broadcast TV over the cellular network can be a simple time killer in the bath or a life line to emergency information.

Hacking for a safer world

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Tokyo HackerSpace describes itself as “an open community lab, studio, workbench, sewing circle, machine shop+” for people into “technology, building things, gardening, cooking, science, sewing, digital art, [and] gaming+.” In more concrete terms, THS is a rented house between Ebisu and Meguro where every surface is piled with soldering guns, circuit boards and packing foam. Even the window is obscured by a self-watering hanging garden made of repurposed bottles, containers and tubing. Part of a global movement, the group’s twenty-some members pay a monthly fee to keep the materials for their projects there. Until now, that has meant sewing supplies, electronics, tool boxes and a semi-functioning electronic piano. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, sheets of solar panels and boxes of geiger counters and their components have taken a prominent place among the organized chaos of the HackerSpace.

Tokyo HackerSpace is currently working on three main projects to help the people affected by the disasters. The one that’s received the most attention is Safecast, a project with international backing designed to provide independent radiation readings throughout Fukushima prefecture, with plans to expand beyond there later. Pieter Franken, one of the project’s leaders at THS, said, “Ideally we’d have stationary monitors placed throughout the region, but there’s a worldwide shortage of geiger counters right now.” For now, the group has created mobile monitors they call “bento geigies,” for the way the parts pack neatly into their plastic box. International Medcom donated 10 geiger counters that cost hundreds of dollars each. The hackers have bundled them with GPS loggers, wifi devices and custom circuitry that outputs the data stream to a laptop to create roving broadcasting kits that can be mounted on cars to “take radiation readings the way Google street view takes photos,” Franken said. (While the circuitry seemed seamless, two of the hackers looked a little unsure about whether the nylon straps they’d attached to the kit would be long enough to attach it to the car, lent by a local dealer.) The data is going up on Safecast.org, the organization’s own site and also to pachube, an open-source map displaying all kinds of global environmental data.

Continue reading about Tokyo Hackerspace →

Disaster preparation with a difference

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Emergency koala biscuits from Lotte

Disaster gear tends to be, well, a little frumpy, or, in the case of Japan’s rather weird disaster hats, just downright ludicrous looking. So what’re trend-conscious Tokyo-types to do when the ground starts shaking for the trillionth time? Some are turning to Danish brand Yakkay for the answer. Their trendy hard hats have been selling like hot cakes since the quake hit, according to Tokyo Walker. Though they’re aimed at cyclists, the hats on sale at Rotator Store, Marui’s specialist bicycle store, have been worn elsewhere. Marui’s PR manager points out that they have been spotted on train passengers as they make their commute to the office.

So what other funky disaster-related products are out there? Here are but a few:

  • Silver Hello Kitty disaster kit: Though this kit does contain the dreaded quilted disaster hood, it also has a funky pink Hello Kitty bandana inside to don once the tremors have subsided, allowing kids to regain their street cred. Also inside are a blanket, torch, pillow and pouch. Demand appears to be high. At the time of writing this item is sold out on Jishin Bousai Netto (Earthquake Disaster Prevention Net) and Amazon.
  • Black rhino disaster kit: Again for kids, but we think adults could get away with sporting this funky matte-black rhino-shaped bag. Contents include: a whistle, a torch, aluminum sheet, tissues, pen and memo pad, cotton gloves and hand towel.
  • Silver disaster jacket for dogs: Dogs need to stay safe too. This stylish coat can double as a stretcher for injured dogs and is waterproof in case it pours down. Inside its pockets are items that humans will find useful in an emergency.
  • Lotte Koala Biscuits: If you’re forced to eat boring old dry biscuits, you might as well have them in funky shapes. This five-can set of emergency treats will do nicely.
  • Blue jumpsuit: Politicians wearing this stunning sky-blue item will be able to show that they’ve really taken charge in an emergency. The suit also signifies that they are working hard alongside the common man to bring an end to a crisis. Supposedly, anyway. Watch out for grumpy movie directors who might sneer at your stylish threads. They’re just jealous!

 

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