Archives: October 2007

Onomatopoeic sculptures

30 Oct 2007

Artist Atsushi Fukunaga gives shape to Japanese giongo (onomatopoeia) in playful sculptures that have the zing of manga sound-effect graphics gone 3D.

Sculpture by Atsushi Fukunaga --
The airplane says "WWRrrOUuuuughh"

Sculpture by Atsushi Fukunaga --
The sound of colored pencils breaking

Sculpture by Atsushi Fukunaga --
BIRIBIRIBIRIRIRI: The sound of electricity

Sculpture by Atsushi Fukunaga --
CHUUU: The squeaks of mice below the floor

Sculpture by Atsushi Fukunaga --
Ame no oto (Sound of rain)

Much more at Fukunaga's website.

Photo: Nine-tentacled octopus

28 Oct 2007

Octopus with nine legs --

An octopus with nine tentacles was spotted at the Marusan Seafood Shop in Marugame, Japan (Kagawa prefecture) on October 26, one day after it was caught in the Seto Inland Sea. Masa Koita, the 60-year-old shop manager, noticed the abnormal Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) after he had boiled it in preparation for market. "In 40 years of handling seafood, I've never seen an octopus like this," he said.

A spokesperson for the Akashi Seafood Council in nearby Hyogo prefecture confirmed the unusual nature of the extra-tentacled creature: "In Akashi, we might see one every 20 years or so. They are extremely rare."

Koita says he will show off the octopus for a few days before selling it to a lucky customer.

[Source: Asahi]

Rabbit-shaped police lights

26 Oct 2007

Rabbit light for Osaka police --

The Osaka Prefectural Police Department this year has reportedly purchased 800 rabbit-shaped roof-mount strobe lights for use on special patrol cars that cruise the streets around schools. Custom-built by warning equipment manufacturer Patlite, the blue bunny beacons are designed to win the admiration of children while they send the bad guys packing.

Here is a short video of the rabbit lights on display at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show.

[Via: Gizmodo Japan]

Android acquires nonverbal communication skills

25 Oct 2007

NICT develops robot with nonverbal communication skills -- As Japan's population continues to age and shrink, more and more people are looking at robots as a way to improve productivity and support the nation's changing lifestyles. With human-robot interactions on the rise, and with the recognition that much of human communication is nonverbal, researchers at Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) have developed an autonomous humanoid robot they say can recognize and use body language.

According to an October 24 press release, NICT drew from research in neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology to create an android that relies on body language -- i.e. gestures and touch -- to facilitate natural and effective communication with humans. When used in conjunction with (or instead of) spoken communication, the robot's body language aims to simplify communication with people likely to have trouble interacting with robots, including children, the elderly, the computer-illiterate, and people who speak other languages. NICT researchers hope the technology behind the droid's "universal communication" skills will one day be put to practical use in robots that can work in the home or assist with rescue operations when disaster strikes.

The droid's body language skills are due in large part to technology that allows it to observe, recognize and remember human behavior. NICT's robot learns body language by watching -- much like children, who learn nonverbal communication by watching others -- and it can mimic the observed behavior with natural human-like motions. The robot also creates 3D maps of each body it observes, and it commits the map to memory. These maps allow the robot to remember how people and their bodies look, even when viewing them from different angles. In addition, the robot is equipped with delicate force control mechanisms that allow for precise motion and safe physical interaction with humans.

NICT's press release is sketchy on the details about what exactly this robot is capable of doing. Can it learn to dance? Will it slap you on the back with the proper amount of friendly force when you tell a funny joke? Will it gently caress your shoulder when you're feeling blue? Does it avoid eye contact in uncomfortable situations? NICT will hopefully answer these questions and more at the robot's official unveiling on October 29.

[Source: NICT press release]

Japanese manhole covers

24 Oct 2007

Here are a few links to photo collections of Japanese manhole covers.

- Okachin Manhole Cover Gallery: This collection of 1,000+ manhole cover photos is organized by prefecture. Use the links on the left side of the page to navigate the site.

Manhole cover --

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- Flickr Pool -- Japanese Manhole Covers: Over 400 great photos here.

Manhole cover --

Manhole cover --

Manhole cover --

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- Design Manhole Collection: To use this interactive map, click a prefecture and then click the town names in the grid on the following page to display the manholes for that area. Click each photo to enlarge.

Manhole cover --

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- Manhole Map: This interactive map by the Journal of Sewerage Monthly contains hundreds of photos organized by prefecture and town. Click a prefecture on the map, and then click the links on the following page to display the manhole covers for each town.

Manhole cover --

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- Kyoto Manhole Covers: The Kyoto prefecture website has several dozen photos of manhole covers used in towns around the prefecture. Click each photo to enlarge.

Manhole cover --

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- Manhole Blog: Lots of manhole cover photos from northern Japan. Use the ???? ("previous page") link in the bottom-left corner to scroll through the site.

Manhole cover --

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- Manhole Box: Six pages of manhole cover photos.

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- Google image search for Manhole/ Manhole cover/ Design manhole: Lots more here.

Steering wheel finger vein authentication system

23 Oct 2007

Hitachi biometric finger vein verification technology embedded in steering wheel --

Over the past few years, Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology -- which identifies individuals based on the unique pattern of blood vessels inside their fingers -- has appeared in everything from ATMs and computers to building entrances and cardless payment systems. Hitachi's latest development puts the biometric security technology inside the car steering wheel and couples it with a system that allows the engine to start only for drivers whose finger vein patterns the vehicle recognizes.

While providing an extra layer of security against car theft, Hitachi's steering wheel finger vein authentication system also works to improve in-vehicle comfort when used with seats, mirrors and air conditioners that auto-adjust according to the preferences of the driver touching the wheel. Furthermore, the finger vein reader, which is small enough to be embedded inconspicuously on the back of the steering wheel, can be used as a programmable multi-purpose switch that lets the driver perform different functions with different fingers. The driver could, for example, use different fingers to turn on the stereo, open the sunroof, and operate the navigation system -- all while concentrating on the road and maintaining a natural grip on the wheel.

The company also sees great future potential for the steering wheel finger vein reader as cars become smarter and equipped with increasingly complex IT-based functions. In Hitachi's vision, the reader will one day be used with on-board electronic payment systems that literally keep you in the driver's seat while making secure payments at drive-thrus, as well as with services that let you pay for and download music while on the road.

Hitachi first brought their finger vein authentication technology to automobiles in 2005, with a keyless car door lock that checks finger veins and opens only for the vehicle's registered driver. The technology, which Hitachi originally developed in 1997, relies on image sensors and near-infrared light passing through the finger to measure the vein patterns inside. Each individual finger has a unique pattern of blood vessels, much like a fingerprint, which can be used as a form of biometric identification.

A model vehicle equipped with Hitachi's steering wheel finger vein authentication system will be on display at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show from October 27 to November 11.

[Source: Hitachi press release]

Funwari Milk-chan: Breast-shaped plushies

19 Oct 2007

FunwariMilkChan --

From character goods maker JUN Planning comes a series of mammary-shaped plush toys known as Funwari Milk-chan ("Fluffy Milk") and friends. According to the official Funwari Milk-chan website, these mildly naughty plushies are modeled after the palm-sized inhabitants of Milk Village, a quiet southern hamlet the size of Tokyo Dome.

Each character has a distinct personality and background. Funwari Milk-chan (pictured above, center) is easygoing. Despite her dream of growing large, she remains small. She loves collagen, and napping is her favorite pastime. Can Milk-san (top left) is a celebrity entertainer, always aglitter. She has an American boyfriend and loves going to beauty salons. Ganguro Milk-chan (bottom left), despite being a gyaru with a pierced nipple, is mature and level-headed. She spends all her time practicing para-para dance, and she enjoys purikura. Peach Milk-chan (top right), a spider-hating fashionista who is scary when angry, is well-informed and into anything lowbrow. Milko-chan (bottom right) is still a baby -- but a genius. She loves to invent things, and her pacifier apparently holds the secret to her smarts.

FunwariMilkChan --

The inhabitants of Milk Village speak the Milk language, a tongue understood by all living creatures. While the size of the population is unknown, we do know that the milk-chans tend to live together as couples and raise families in milk houses, where they enjoy a variety of TV shows, including those produced by humans. Milk Village is built on forested land created long ago by an ancient volcanic eruption of Mt. Milk. The mountain is regarded as the symbol of the village.

Milk Village also enjoys four distinct seasons. In spring, everyone likes to eat dango (skewered rice dumplings) and gaze at cherry blossoms. In summer, they enjoy the beach. In autumn, they eat dango and gaze at the moon. In winter, it is customary to hole up with family in snow caves and eat mochi rice cake.

Funwari Milk Chan plushies sell for about 1,000 yen ($9) each at 8 locations in Japan (including a shop on the 1st floor of Radio Kaikan in Akihabara).

[Link: Funwari Milk-chan via Korokoro Zaeega]

NTT to test digital aromatic signs

18 Oct 2007

Digital aroma-emitting sign by NTT -- NTT Communications (NTT Com) has announced plans to begin testing its latest aroma-emitting digital sign technology, called "Kaoru Digital Signage," in Tokyo. The tests, which will take place outside the Kirin City Beer Hall in the underground Yaesu Shopping Mall (JR Tokyo station) from October 21 to the end of December, will involve internet-controlled signs that display electronic imagery of beer while emitting aromas such as lemon and orange. The researchers aim to study the sign's effectiveness in drawing passersby into the restaurant.

Billed as the world's first advertising sign system capable of emitting multiple aromas while displaying electronic images, the signs combine NTT's Spot Media digital signage service (currently used in marketing and customer service applications at banks, hospitals, public offices and retail stores) with its Kaori Tsushin online fragrance communication service. Kaori Tsushin, which gives users web-based control over aroma-emitting devices, is already in use at retail stores and cafes, where it is reportedly helping to improve on-site customer satisfaction.

NTT's new sign system consists of a 30 x 50 x 15 centimeter (12 x 20 x 6 inch) aroma diffuser, a 19-inch display and an NTT Spot Media content receiver, which are used to deliver aroma and display images of beer (and live shots from inside the restaurant) based on instructions received via a web connection. In the tests, the sign's smell will change according to the time of day, dispersing appetizing orange and lemon aromas at lunchtime, and releasing a more relaxing "woody" aroma at night.

The aroma diffuser contains three 450-milliliter bottles of aroma oil. When the "recipe" -- which determines the type and strength of smell -- is received via the web, the device releases a vapor created by blasting the oil with a series of ultrasonic waves. With the ability to deliver fragrances across a 500 square meter (5,400 square feet) area, the new aroma diffuser is a great deal more powerful than NTT's Aromageur, which was developed for personal use in spaces the size of a small bedroom.

The scheduled testing follows a spate of aroma-related experiments conducted by NTT earlier this year. On Valentine's Day, NTT researchers conducted an experiment with vanilla fragrance in an office lobby. When vanilla fragrance was periodically released near free chocolate (labeled with a "Please Take One" sign) placed on a reception counter, the researchers found that passersby were nearly twice as likely to take a chocolate. In other experiments conducted at Tokyo-area bookstores from May to September, relaxing orange and lavender aromas were found to boost monthly sales by nearly 5%.

[Sources: NTT press release, IT Media]

‘Beautiful’ Yura Yura Teikoku video

18 Oct 2007

Yura Yura Teikoku --

Psychedelic J-rock trio Yura Yura Teikoku's video for "Beautiful," the lead single from their recently released "Hollow Me" album, is an enchanting, if not disgusting, toilet-room tale of tortured poo painter meets saintly statuesque giantess, directed by mangaka Masakazu Amahisa (see his Denki Groove videos) and Yasuyuki Yamaguchi (see his previous Yura Yura Teikoku videos). As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Beautiful (???)