Archives: November 2007

Video: Luxury toilet built into aquarium

30 Nov 2007

Aquarium toilet --

When nature calls at the beachside Mumin Papa Cafe in the city of Akashi (Hyogo prefecture), patrons have the luxury of using an underwater restroom built into the side of a giant aquarium filled with exotic fish and a sea turtle that likes to watch. According to the cafe owner, the 30-million-yen ($270,000) sub-aquatic restroom is designed to recreate the pleasant sensation of relieving yourself while swimming in the ocean. Unfortunately for male patrons, however, the submerged toilet is for women only. When asked about the voyeuristic turtle, the owner admits it is male and a bit of a letch.


Simroid: Dentistry in the uncanny valley (video)

29 Nov 2007

Simroid --

Simroid, a robotic dental patient with an eerily realistic appearance, has been spotted at the 2007 International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo. Designed primarily as a training tool for dentists, the fembot patient can follow spoken instructions, closely monitor a dentist's performance during mock treatments, and react in a human-like way to mouth pain. Because Simroid's realistic appearance and behavior motivate people to treat her like a human being, as opposed to an object, she helps dental trainees learn how to better communicate with patients.

Simroid's body and control system was developed by Kokoro Company Ltd., creators of the Actroid receptionist robot. Like her Actroid sister, Simroid is equipped with a system of air-powered muscles and soft silicone skin. However, she has something the Actroid does not -- sensitive teeth. Thanks to a mouth loaded with sensors, she knows when her dentist-in-training makes a mistake. And to express her pain, she grimaces, moves her hands and eyes, and says, "That hurts."

Kokoro says that for an extra touch of realism, Simroid exhibits a gag reflex when instruments are inserted too far into her mouth.

Watch a video demonstration...

[Via: IT Media]

Nominees for Robot Award 2007

28 Nov 2007

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has announced its shortlist of finalists for the 2007 Robot Award. The nominees include 9 robots in three categories (service robots, industrial robots, and public sector robots), as well as 4 robot-related items in the components/software category.

Here is a list of the robots by category (details for each robot are provided below):

Service robots
- MR Image-Guided Surgical Robotic System
- LEGO Mindstorms NXT
- miuro
- Robotic Blood Sample Courier System

Industrial robots
- M-430iA Robot Arms
- Pharmaceutical Container Replacement Robot

Public sector/frontier robots
- Endovascular Surgery Simulator - EVE
- Fire-Fighting Robot

Robot components/software
- HG1T/HG1H teaching pendant
- OpenRTM-aist-0.4.0 RT middleware
- Harmonic Drive Systems' mini AC servo actuators
- ORiN open network interface for robots/factory automation equipment

METI established the annual Robot Award last year to recognize outstanding developments in the field of robotics, to encourage further research and development, and to stimulate demand. The 2007 Robot of the Year will be selected from these nominees, and the results will be announced in late December.

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- MR Image-Guided Surgical Robotic System

MR Image-Guided Surgical Robotic System --

Kyushu University
Hitachi, Ltd.
Hitachi Medical Corp.
MIZUHO Co., Ltd.
University of Tokyo
Waseda University

This endoscopic surgery support system uses a high-precision robotic surgical clamp that moves like a tiny (1-cm diameter) human hand, while magnetic resonance images (MRI) provide real-time navigation during surgery. Able to outperform the human hand and eye, this system brings an unprecedented level of accuracy and safety to endoscopic surgery. The system is still in the research and development phase, but its effectiveness has been confirmed in 8 liver cancer treatments performed between April and September 2007.

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- LEGO Mindstorms NXT

LEGO Mindstorms NXT  -- The LEGO Group

The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit includes programmable bricks with electric motors, sensors, and Lego Technic pieces (such as gears, axles, beams, and pneumatic parts), which can be used to construct robots. As a fun learning tool that helps students develop creativity and gain hands-on experience building robots, Mindstorms NXT stimulates interest in technology and improves communication and problem-solving skills. Over 1,000 educational institutions in Japan (25,000 worldwide) use Mindstorms NXT in the classroom, and over 100,000 children from 35 nations participate in LEGO robot competitions each year.

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- HOAP (Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform)

HOAP (Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform) -- Fujitsu
Fujitsu Laboratories Limited
Fujitsu Automation Limited

The HOAP (Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform) series of mini-humanoid robots are used by researchers to develop new robot applications. The 60-cm tall HOAP is equipped with a microphone, camera, sensors for maintaining posture and position, and simulation software used to check operations programs beforehand. Full disclosure of hardware and software interface information makes HOAP a complete, open architecture robot enabling anyone to develop their own software algorithms. Since the first version of HOAP became commercially available in 2001, 129 units have been sold to an assortment of Japanese universities, research institutes and companies. HOAP's use as a research vehicle has helped accelerate the pace at which bipedal humanoid robots are being developed. [More]

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- miuro

miuro -- ZMP Inc.

Miuro -- short for "Music Innovation based on Utility RObot technology" -- is a network audio robot that plays music from a docked iPod or from a wirelessly connected computer. Gyroscopes and acceleration sensors enable miuro to follow you from room to room and dance while blasting tunes through speakers developed by Kenwood. Miuro promises to help create a new market for devices that combine robotics and audio technology. To further develop the market, ZMP plans to begin selling a limited-edition model at the Apple Store in December 2007 and release a low-cost version next year.

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- Robotic Blood Sample Courier System

Robotic Blood Sample Courier System --

Matsushita Electric Works, Ltd.

Matsushita's Robotic Blood Sample Courier System consists of autonomous mobile robots working as a team to perform blood sample delivery and courier tasks at hospitals and laboratories. A group control computer assigns various tasks to individual robots who pick up blood samples, deliver them to automatic analyzers, and collect the samples after testing. An automatic battery charging system enables the system to work around the clock by preventing all the robots from running out of power at the same time. At present, 17 robot systems are working at hospitals and laboratories, where they are helping to improve the reliability and efficiency of operations. [More]

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- Food/pharmaceutical handling system with M-430iA robot arms and visual tracking

M-430iA robot arms --


This robotic food and pharmaceutical handling system features a visual tracking system and a pair of multi-axis robot arms that each can accurately pick up 120 items per minute as they move along a conveyor belt. The arms can work non-stop 24 hours a day, are resistant to acid and alkaline cleaners, and feature wrists with plastic parts that eliminate the need for grease. The sanitary design provides the cleanliness required of machines tasked with handling food and medicine. With a proven record of success in reducing manufacturing costs and improving quality, about 150 systems have been sold to manufacturers worldwide since October 2006. [More]

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- Pharmaceutical Container Replacement Robot

Pharmaceutical container replacement robot -- Tsumura & Co.
Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd.

This autonomous robot is capable of navigating tight spaces at factories for the purpose of transporting containers used in the pharmaceutical manufacturing process. The robot can automatically connect itself to large containers (or cases packed with products) weighing up to 200 kilograms (440 lbs) for transport. The robot only needs to be charged once per day, it can be freely programmed and customized to suit the manufacturing process, and it is safe and easy to use on existing production lines. Three robots are now working on production lines at a pharmaceutical factory, where they have reportedly boosted productivity by 30%. More are scheduled to go online soon.

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- Endovascular Surgery Simulator - EVE

Endovascular Surgery Simulator - EVE -- FAIN-Biomedical Inc.
Nagoya University

EVE, the Endovascular Surgery Simulator, is a robot patient designed to help train physicians in the art of catheter surgery, a cutting-edge technique in the treatment of some vascular conditions. Built on technology developed at Nagoya University's Fukuda Lab, EVE uses computer scans to recreate a specific patient's blood vessels to an accuracy of 0.01 mm. Complete with a pulse and artificial blood circulating through the system, the robot patient provides a safe and realistic environment for training physicians in the use of catheters and other endovascular devices, while eliminating the need for animal tests. EVE also monitors the progress of mock operations and provides verbal and visual feedback to the surgeon. The simulator also provides catheter producers a convenient way to evaluate and exhibit their products. [More]

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- Fire-Fighting Robot

Fire-fighting robot -- Komatsu Ltd.
IVIS, Inc.
I.DEN Videotronics
CyVerse Corp.
Maruma Technica Co., Ltd.

This remote-control fire-fighting robot goes where its human comrades cannot, and its relatively compact size makes it ideal for combating blazes in urban environments. An array of 8 high-resolution wide-angle cameras provides a panoramic view of the surroundings, and a multi-channel control system allows 10 fire-fighting robots to be deployed simultaneously. Special nozzles that are 10 times more powerful than those on conventional fire hoses allow the robot to blast flames with 5,000 liters of water per minute. The Tokyo Fire Department now has two robots on call, with more to be deployed in the future, as needed.

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- The HG1T/HG1H teaching pendant by IDEC Corporation is a user-friendly tool for programming robots.

- The OpenRTM-aist-0.4.0 RT (robot technology) middleware, developed by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and the Japan Robot Association (JARA), is recognized for contributing to the development of an open robot architecture based on the modular construction of element robot technologies such as actuators, sensors and control programs.

- Mini AC servo actuators developed by Harmonic Drive Systems are recognized for their superior performance.

- ORiN software developed by Denso Wave, Inc. is recognized for contributing to the creation of an open network interface for robots and factory automation equipment.

[Source: Robot Award 2007]

EMIEW 2, the (not so) agile robot helper

22 Nov 2007

EMIEW 2 -- Hitachi has unveiled an office worker robot named "EMIEW 2," which is a lighter, more compact and more sophisticated version of Hitachi's 1st-generation EMIEW (Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate) robot developed in March 2005. The robot was demonstrated on November 21 at the company's Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory, where it was supposed to show off its ability to greet visitors, guide them through the office, retrieve documents and carry drinks. Apparently, however, things did not go as planned.

According to this AP report, the large amount of lunch-break traffic on the research center's wireless network interrupted EMIEW 2's communications, causing it to crash into a desk during the demonstration. The robot had to wait until after lunch break to perform its routine.

When operating properly, however, EMIEW 2 can respond to spoken commands, move around on two wheels at a speed of 6 kilometers per hour (4 mph), and safely weave its way through crowds of humans -- just like the original EMIEW. But while its predecessor stood 1.3 meters (4 ft 3 in) tall and weighed 70 kilograms (154 lbs), EMIEW 2 is only 80 centimeters (31 in) tall and weighs 13 kilograms (29 lb), which is light enough to allow the robot's adult female co-workers to lift and carry it, Hitachi says. EMIEW 2, which appears to have been modeled after a youngster wearing a red hat and outfit, sports a more childlike appearance than the 1st-generation model.

Other new features include a unique pair of Transformer-style legs that allow the robot to crouch on its knees and roll around on an extra set of wheels for greater stability, as well as the ability to lift its feet 3 centimeters (1.2 in) off the ground to step over small obstacles. In addition, a built-in radar system allows the robot to map its surroundings and understand its own position in relation to other objects in the room.

Hitachi developed EMIEW 2 as part of the Project for the Practical Application of Next-Generation Robots organized by NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Development Organization), which aims to encourage the development of robots that can coexist with humans while providing support in real-world situations. But judging from the real-world situation that occurred at the demonstration, Hitachi still has a bit of work to do.

EMIEW 2 --

[Sources: Sankei, Hitachi]

Ladybug robot cleans restrooms

21 Nov 2007

Lady Bird toilet-cleaning robot -- On November 21, a group of small- to medium-sized venture companies based in western Japan unveiled an autonomous ladybug-shaped robot designed to clean public restrooms at highway rest areas.

The 1-meter (39-inch) tall, 1.35-meter (53-inch) long prototype robot -- named "LadyBird" -- is equipped with water tanks, brushes and other tools needed for heavy-duty scrubbing. Obstacle detection sensors allow the robot to safely perform its duties without running into people.

In addition to cleaning, LadyBird can engage in simple conversation with restroom users, thanks to microphones in its "antennae," speech recognition capabilities and a voice synthesizer. The robot has access to the latest information about traffic conditions on nearby roads, which it can relay to anyone comfortable enough to ask.

The developers, who are building LadyBird for West Nippon Expressway Company Limited (NEXCO), aim to complete the machine by March 2009, and they hope to one day see it cleaning toilets at hotels and other institutions. Lady Bird robots are expected to sell for about 3.5 million yen ($30,000) each.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Top 60 Japanese buzzwords of 2007

20 Nov 2007

Publisher Jiyu Kokuminsha has announced this year's crop of nominees for Japanese buzzword of the year. The wide-ranging selection of 60 words and expressions -- many of which come from the worlds of politics, sports and entertainment -- were selected based on suggestions from the general public, and they provide an interesting look at some of the events, people and trends that had an impact on Japan in 2007.

A panel of judges will choose the year's grand prize winner and top 10 buzzwords from these 60 nominees. The final results will be announced on December 3.

The words and explanations are listed below in no particular order.


UPDATE: On December 3, Jiyu Kokuminsha announced the year's top 10 buzzwords (2 grand prize winners and 8 runners-up).

Grand Prize Winners

- Something needs to be done (about Miyazaki) [(Miyazaki o) do gen ka sen to ikan -(宮崎を)どげんかせんといかん] (see #11 below)
- Hanikami Oji [ハニカミ王子] (see #17 below)


- Pension (that disappeared) [(kieta) nenkin - (消えた)年金] (see #15 below)
- Sonna no kankei nee [そんなの関係ねぇ] (see #21 below)
- Dondakee~ [どんだけぇ~] (see #23 below)
- The power of insensitivity [donkanryoku - 鈍感力] (see #32 below)
- Disguised food [shokuhin gisou] (see #36 below)
- Net cafe refugee [net cafe nanmin - ネットカフェ難民] (see #41 below)
- Giant meal [大食い] (see #47 below)
- Extremely hot day [moushobi - 猛暑日] (see #37 below)

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1. KY [abbreviation of kuki ga yomenai - 空気が読めない]: This is an abbreviation of the Japanese expression kuki ga yomenai ("can't read between the lines" or "can't sense the atmosphere"), which is used to describe indelicate or unperceptive people. Example: That guy is so KY.

2. Child-bearing machines [umu kikai - 産む機械]: Health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa sparked a controversy when he referred to women as "child-bearing machines" in a January speech about Japan's declining birthrate. In reference to how Japan might reverse the population decline, he said: "The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of child-bearing machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head." [More]

3. Office fees [jimushohi - 事務所費]: Former farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka came under fire for his links to a bid-rigging scam and accounting irregularities. After claiming to have spent 28 million yen ($236,000) on "office fees," it came to light that the office he used was actually rent-free. He committed suicide in May, just before he was scheduled to appear before the Diet to answer questions about his involvement in a political finance scandal. [More]

4. Some sort of regenerated water [nantoka kangensui - ナントカ還元水]: Former farm minister Matsuoka explained that some of the "office fees" were used to pay for the expensive tap water that everyone in his office drank. He referred to the water as "some sort of regenerated water." [More]

shouganai -- 5. It couldn't be helped [shouganai - しょうがない]: In a June speech, former defense minister Fumio Kyuma said: "I understand the bombing (in Nagasaki) brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped." His controversial remarks were widely interpreted as a justification for the US atomic bombings. He resigned three days later under a firestorm of criticism. [More]

6. Cabinet of friends [o-tomodachi naikaku - お友達内閣]: "Cabinet of friends" was used to describe former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's first Cabinet, which was criticized for being filled with old friends who were not seen as competent to serve as ministers. By the time Abe got around to reshuffling his Cabinet in August, three scandal-ridden buddies had been forced to resign and another had committed suicide before being questioned about financial irregularities. [More]

7. Back-to-the-wall Cabinet [haisui no jin naikaku - 背水の陣内閣]: After a disastrous year of scandals and an election defeat under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who resigned abruptly on September 12, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) chose veteran Yasuo Fukuda as the new Prime Minister. After choosing his new ministers, he referred to them as the "Back-to-the-wall Cabinet," because they now have their "backs against the wall" as they try to revive the standing of the LDP. [More]

8. Symbiosis [kyousei - 共生]: In a general sense, "symbiosis" means the living together of two or more organisms of different species. Prime Minister Fukuda used the phrase "independence and symbiosis" to describe his policy goals for breaching the widening economic disparity between Japan's big cities and rural towns. [More]

9. Madame Sushi [マダム・スシ]: When giving a lecture during a visit to Washington, former defense minister Yuriko Koike said to the audience: "Some people call me the 'Japanese Rice' after Madame Secretary Rice. Why don't you call me 'Madame Sushi'?" In Japan, 'rice' means 'sushi.' [Video]

10. Sonomanma Shock [そのまんまショック]: Without the support of any political party, former comedian Sonomanma Higashi won the Miyazaki gubernatorial election with 44% of the vote. Seen as a sign of voter disillusionment with mainstream politics, his resounding victory sent shockwaves through the Liberal Democratic Party. [More]

Sonomanma Higashi --

11. Something needs to be done (about Miyazaki) [(Miyazaki o) do gen ka sen to ikan - (宮崎を)どげんかせんといかん]: When outlining his policy to the prefectural assembly, Miyazaki governor-elect Hideo Higashikokubaru (a.k.a. Sonomanma Higashi) peppered his speech with Miyazaki dialect, saying things like "Do gen ka sen to ikan" ("something needs to be done") in reference to the need to escape from the old ball and chain that has become the root of stagnation.

12. Miyazaki salesman [Miyazaki no salesman - 宮崎のセールスマン]: Miyazaki governor-elect Hideo Higashikokubaru (a.k.a. Sonomanma Higashi) began delivering on his promise to serve as a "Miyazaki salesman." At least one report estimates that, thanks to his name recognition, he brought Miyazaki prefecture 16 billion yen ($140 million) worth of PR coverage during his first two weeks in office.

13. Physical exam [shintai kensa - 身体検査]: This expression refers to the thorough background checks that former Prime Minister Abe promised to conduct in order to ensure that Cabinet officials were "clean" before appointing them to office. Abe supposedly performed an extensive "physical exam" on Takehiko Endo, who took over as farm minister after his predecessors, Matsuoka and Akagi, were removed for their roles in financial scandals. Despite his "physical exam," Endo resigned after only eight days in office when he was found to be involved in a money scandal. [More]

14. Princess defeats the tiger [hime no tora taiji - 姫の虎退治]: In Okayama, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) candidate Yumiko Himei defeated Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweight Toranosuke Katayama to win her first election to the upper house. Her campaign slogan was "the princess will defeat the tiger," which was a play on her and her opponent's names. The hime in Himei means "princess," while the tora in Toranosuke means "tiger." [More]

15. Pension (that disappeared) [(kieta) nenkin - (消えた)年金)]: Pensions topped the headlines after a government blunder resulted in the disappearance of at least 50 million public pension account records, shortchanging an unknown number of retirees. Oops. [More]

Ogu-shio -- 16. Ogushio [オグシオ]: Ogushio is the nickname (abbreviation) given to the women's doubles badminton team, Kumiko Ogura (Ogu) and Reiko Shiota (Shio), who also happen to be rather good-looking. Their official photo collection, called "Road to Beijing," created a stir when it was released. Okushio are aiming for gold in the Beijing Olympics. [More]

17. Hanikami Oji [hanikami ouji - ハニカミ王子]: Hanikami Oji ("bashful prince") is the nickname given to Ryo Ishikawa, who at age 15 became the youngest man ever to win a regular tournament on the Japanese golf tour.

18: Kawaigari [kawaigari - かわいがり]: Kawaigari usually means to "cherish" or "take under one's wing," but in the world of sumo it refers to the tradition of severe "training" given to rookie wrestlers at sumo stables. At the Tokitsukaze sumo stable, 17-year-old rookie Takashi Saito died after he was beaten with a metal bat as part of his kawaigari. [More]

19. Thumbing [サミング]: In boxing, "thumbing" is the illegal act of using one's thumb to poke the opponent in the eye. Boxer Daiki Kameda, who fought dirty in the WBC flyweight title match that pitted him against defending champion Daisuke Naito, used a number of underhanded tactics, including thumbing. At one point, Kameda (who lost the fight by decision) lifted the champion and threw him down. The Japan Boxing Commission suspended Kameda for one year. [More]

20. I lived up to the people's expectations [kokumin o kitai ni kotaeraremashita - 国民の期待に応えられました]: WBC flyweight champion Daisuke Naito spoke these words in his victory speech after defeating challenger Daiki Kameda in the dirty title match. His response to questions after the fight earned him great respect, as did his sportsmanlike attitude when Kameda later apologized.

Yoshima Kojima -- 21. Sonna no kankei nee [そんなの関係ねぇ]: Sonna no kankei nee ("It doesn't matter!") is the catchphrase from comedian Yoshio Kojima's wildly famous routine. Thanks to YouTube, Kojima's popularity has spread quickly across the globe.

22. Oppappi [オッパッピー]: This is the other famous line from Kojima's routine, which is apparently an abbreviation of "Ocean Pacific Peace."

23. Dondake~ [どんだけぇ~]: This catch-all exclamation of surprise/disbelief/reproach arose from the Shinjuku 2-chome gay community and was popularized by Ikko, a popular transvestite TV personality. Dondake~ can be used in a wide variety of situations, sort of like "Really?!" or "No way!" Usually said with a slight rising intonation and seasoned with whiny sarcasm. [More]

24. Oubei ka! [欧米か!]: Oubei ka! ("You're not a Westerner!") is the catchphrase of comedy duo Taka and Toshi. In a typical skit, Taka acts as if he were an American or European, and Toshi tells him to stop acting silly (like a Westerner) by saying "Oubei ka!" The humor apparently lies in the fact that they are both obviously Japanese, and not from America or Europe. [More]

25. Victory!/ Billy's Bootcamp [ビクトリー/ビリーズブートキャンプ]: Billy's Bootcamp, the 7-day DVD exercise program developed by Tae Bo guru Billy Blanks, took Japan by storm in 2007, selling over a million copies. After completing the program, you are supposed to cry "Victory!"

26. Sen no kaze ni natte [千の風になって]: Sen no kaze ni natte ("become 1,000 winds") is the title of a song performed by opera singer Masafumi Akikawa. Based on writer Man Arai's translation of "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep," an English-language poem penned by an unknown author, the song has sold more than a million CDs, making Akikawa the most successful opera singer in Japanese history. [More]

27. Gabai (whirlwind) [gabai (senpuu) - がばい(旋風)]: Gabai, which means "very" in the Saga (western Honshu central Kyushu) dialect, was made famous by Gabai Baachan ("Gabai Granny"), a movie based on a bestseller written by comedian Shimada Yoshichi about his childhood experience growing up under the care of his grandmother. In summer, the mass media began using the unusual expression gabai senpuu ("gabai whirlwind") in reference to the Sagakita high school baseball team, who won the national championship. [More]

28. Bottom-biting bug [oshiri kajiri mushi - おしりかじり虫]: Oshiri Kajiri Mushi ("Bottom Biting Bug"), the popular song about a dancing bug that likes to bite people on the butt, became a huge hit on Minna No Uta, a daily NHK program featuring original animated videos for family-oriented songs. Oshiri Kajiri Mushi became the featured dance number at this year's school athletic meets, cultural festivals and other events nationwide. [Video]

29. Nothing really... [betsu ni... - 別に・・・]: Actress Erika Sawajiri made headlines and flustered fans when she appeared visibly angry alongside her co-stars at a promo event for "Closed Note" (her latest movie) on September 29. When the hostess of the event asked the sulky Sawajiri which scene was her favorite, Sawajiri spat a snippety, "None in particular" (toku ni nai desu), and when asked what she was thinking when she made a batch of cookies for the cast and crew during shooting, she hissed, "Nothing really" (betsu ni). [More/ Video]

30. Dried-fish woman [himono onna - 干物女]: Himono onna ("dried-fish woman") is an expression used in the movie Hotaru No Hikari to describe the main character, a woman in her 20s who has renounced the pursuit of romance. She spends her evenings reading manga and drinking at home alone, and she spends her weekends lazing around in bed. She's a dried-fish woman.

31. "Status-gap marriage" [kakusakon - 格差婚]: A "status-gap marriage" is one in which there is a clear gap in income, pedigree, social status, etc. between the husband and wife. The phrase usually refers to marriages in which a woman marries "beneath herself," such as the marriage between actress Norika Fujiwara and her husband, the lesser-known comedian Tomonori Jinnai.

32. The power of insensitivity [donkanryoku - 鈍感力]: Made popular by Donkanryoku (The Power of Insensitivity), a best-selling book written by popular novelist Junichi Watanabe, this expression means something like "thick skin" and refers to the ability to live in a relaxed manner without getting worked up over the little things.

Akachan post -- 33. Akachan post [赤ちゃんポスト]: Akachan post ("baby post") refers to the controversial drop box for unwanted babies set up at a hospital in Kumamoto this year, which is designed to provide parents a safe and anonymous way to abandon their babies. Similar baby hatches have been set up in the past, including one at a foster home in Japan's Gunma prefecture that was used from 1986 to 1991.

34. One-yen products (one-yen pachinko, one-yen cellphone) [1-en mono - 1円もの]: Products that cost one yen are becoming popular. This year, some pachinko parlors reduced the price of balls to one yen each (down from four yen each), and some cellphone providers cut the price of featured handsets to one yen.

35. Tetsuko [鉄子]: The unhealthy obsession with trains has long been a predominantly male pursuit, but the numbers of female train otaku -- known as "Tetsuko" -- are on the rise. [More]

36. Disguised beef (disguised meat) [minchi gisou (gisou shokuniku)]: The Hokkaido-based Meat Hope Co. admitted to adding pork and chicken to its ground beef products to cut production costs. [More]

37. Extremely hot day [moushobi - 猛暑日]: "Extremely hot day," an expression officially adopted by the Meteorological Agency, refers to days in which the high temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). The number of extremely hot days has increased significantly over the past 10 years, causing heat strokes and other health problems. In 2007, the towns of Tajimi (Gifu prefecture) and Kumagaya (Saitama prefecture) experienced record highs of 40.9 degrees Celsius (105.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

38. Hometown tax [furusato nouzei - ふるさと納税]: Under the proposed "hometown tax" concept, about 10% of each individual's local taxes (resident tax) are redistributed to his/her hometown (place of birth). This idea is being studied as a way to narrow Japan's growing financial gap between wealthy urban areas and poor rural areas. Metropolitan government leaders oppose the idea, but rural leaders insist that the wealthy urban areas are indebted to the hometowns from which their residents have come. [More]

39. Monster parents [モンスターペアレント]: The term "monster parents" refers to Japan's growing ranks of annoying parents who make extravagant and unreasonable demands of their children's schools. [More]

40. Dark website [yami site - 闇サイト]: Yami sites ("dark websites") are online networking sites where people can take out hit contracts on others, make illegal transactions (drugs, fake bank accounts, hacked cellphones, prostitution, etc.), and meet suicide partners. Japan has seen a recent rise in the number of murders arranged through these web-based hotbeds of criminal activity.

41. Net cafe refugees [net cafe nanmin - ネットカフェ難民]: "Net cafe refugees" is an expression used by the Japanese media to refer to the growing number of day laborers who spend their nights in 24-hour internet cafe booths. The Japan Cafe Complex Association (JCCA) opposes the media's use of the word "refugee" to describe these important customers. A government survey this year estimates there are about 5,400 net cafe refugees in Japan. [More]

42. Detox [デトックス]: "Detox" refers to the process of ridding the body of toxins such as mercury, lead and cadmium, usually by taking supplements, eating properly, exercising, or using special bath salts.

Shokotan -- 43. Kawayusu/Giza-kawayusu [カワユス/ギザカワユス]: Kawayusu and giza-kawayusu are words coined popularized by idol and avid blogger Shoko Nakagawa ("Shokotan"). Kawayusu is a variation of kawaii desu ("cute"), while giza, which means "very," is derived from "giga."

44. Compliance [コンプライアンス]: "Compliance" used to simply mean compliance with the law, but it has recently come to mean compliance with ethical standards and rules that industry groups and companies impose on themselves. The word has grown in popularity as companies feel ever-increasing pressure to maintain a clean image.

45. Metal thief [kinzoku doro - 金属ドロ]: Japan has seen a sharp increase in the theft of metal objects, such as manhole covers, incense burners at cemeteries, water faucets, copper signs, temple bells, and metal park slides. These metal thefts appear to be part of a larger worldwide trend fueled by the rising prices of steel and copper. [More]

46. China shock/China-free [チャイナショック/チャイナフリー]: "China shock" refers to the impact felt in world markets after the Shanghai Composite Index took a steep plunge in February. "China-free," a phrase that grew in popularity after a string of Chinese products (toothpaste, toys, etc.) were found to contain hazardous materials, refers to products not made in China. [More]

47. Mega- (giant meals) [O-gui (mega-____ ) - 大食い(メガ○○)]: Over the past year, a number of mega-sized meals and high-calorie food products have appeared on the market, such as cup ramen, pudding, ice cream and hamburgers. Some say this trend is a reaction against the recent health food boom, while others see it is as a sign of economic recovery.

Gal Sone -- 48. Food fighter [フードファイター]: "Food fighters" are people with extraordinary eating skills that allow them to consume food in large quantities and/or at high speeds. Like athletes, food fighters train everyday in order to win eating competitions. The popularity of gluttonous TV celebrity (and freak of nature) Gal Sone has helped fuel this boom.

49. Working poor [ワーキングプア]: The "working poor" are employed individuals and/or families whose income falls below the poverty line. The Japanese government does not have a formal definition of "working poor" even though the term is widely used.

50. Disablement (of nuclear facilities) [(kakushisetsu no) munouryokuka - (核施設の)無能力化]: In the six-party talks that aim to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns resulting from North Korea's nuclear weapons program, there has been much talk about the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

51. Motepuyo [もてぷよ]: Motepuyo, a term that means something like "chubby cute," describes women who are plump, small in stature, and cute. With a fine line between motepuyo and chubby, some say the only difference is whether or not a woman has a cute face. [More]

52. An Inconvenient Truth [futsugou na shinjitsu - 不都合な真実]: Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary about global warming made a splash in Japan.

53. Otona-kawaii [大人かわいい]: Otona-kawaii ("adult cute") refers to the fashion style of women in their late 20s to 30s who wear girlie outfits like jumper skirts and mini-dresses adorned with lace and ribbon. Otona-kawaii became the special catchphrase of AneCan magazine.

54. Temp [haken - ハケン]: Haken No Hinkaku ("The Pride of the Temp") was a popular TV drama about a highly-skilled temporary worker named Haruko Oomae, played by actress Ryoko Shinohara. The drama was said to have accurately portrayed the differences between permanent staff and temporary staff in Japanese companies. [More]

Factory moe --

55. Factory moe [koujou moe - 工場萌え]: This year saw a mini-boom in the off-the-wall genre of factory moe photo books focusing on the functional beauty of large-scale industrial plants.

56. Flaming [enjou - 炎上]: Enjou refers to the Japanese style of mass online "flaming," where large numbers of visitors converge on a particular blog to leave inflammatory comments, often causing the site to fail. Nastier than the Digg effect.

57. Dice-K: The nickname that American fans have given to Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is now commonly used in Japan.

58. Recapture [dakkai - 奪回]: Dakkai ("recapture") was the slogan adopted by the Yomiuri Giants pro baseball team for the 2007 season. The team won the Central League title for the first time in 5 years, but lost to the Chunichi Dragons in the Climax Series playoffs.

59. Handkerchief generation [hankachi sedai - ハンカチ世代]: Yuuki Saito, the ace pitcher of the 2006 Waseda Jitsugyo high school baseball team that won the national championship, was known as the "handkerchief prince" because he often used a handkerchief to dab the sweat from his brow during games. Collectively, those players who graduated along with Saito and entered the college and professional ranks in the 2007 season are referred to as the "handkerchief generation." [More]

60. Ru-speak [(ichiren no) ruugo - (一連の)ルー語]: "Ru-speak" refers to comedian/actor Ru Oshiba's unique style of mixing English words with Japanese.

[Source: U-Can Buzzwords of the Year]

NEC helps Big Brother watch foreigners in Japan

15 Nov 2007

NEC fingerprint and face scanner --

To anyone planning a visit to Japan, please note: YOU WILL BE TREATED AS A POTENTIAL TERRORIST WHEN YOU ARRIVE. As many foreign residents in Japan are already painfully aware, a new law that takes effect November 20, 2007 will require non-Japanese people entering the country to be fingerprinted and photographed in the name of fighting terrorism.

Over the past few days, Ministry of Justice officials at airports across Japan have been staging promotional events and showing off the new hardware that will be used to collect the fingerprints and scan the faces of the estimated 5 to 6 million foreigners potential terrorists that enter the country each year. The devices, which proudly bear the NEC logo, consist of a monitor, two fingerprint readers (one for each hand) and a camera that captures mugshots. The devices are being installed at immigration counters nationwide so that you can be fingerprinted and photographed while immigration officials ask you the usual questions about the purpose of your visit and your intended length of stay. Your biometric data will then be stored for an extended period of time in a database, which law enforcement officials will somehow use to thwart terrorist attacks.

Under the law, called the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, all non-Japanese citizens -- except for state guests, visitors using diplomatic or official passports, people under the age of 16, and special status permanent residents (such as Korean nationals who grew up in Japan) -- are to be treated as potential terror threats and must be fingerprinted and photographed when they enter the country.

The new law makes Japan the world's second nation to fingerprint and photograph its foreign visitors. The United States was first.

Japanese lawmakers, who passed the law with little public debate, conveniently overlooked the fact that Japanese people -- not foreigners -- are the ones with a proven history of committing terrorism in Japan. Japanese citizens have been responsible for every terrorist incident in modern Japanese history (i.e. the Aum Shinrikyo gassing of the Tokyo subways in 1995). The fact that foreigners have no record of committing terrorism in Japan calls the government's true motives into question.

At the very least, if lawmakers truly believe that blanket fingerprinting and face-scanning is the way to prevent terrorism, then why not require all people in Japan -- citizens and non-citizens alike -- to keep their fingerprints and other biometric data on file? Without a doubt, NEC and other companies that develop biometric system hardware and software would be more than willing to supply the government with the equipment they need for the job.

Regardless, for now at least, the xenophobic government seems content with invading the privacy of millions of law-abiding foreigners who live, do business, visit and study in Japan each year.

Thanks a lot, Japan.

[Photos via Sankei, Asahi]

Earthrise video

14 Nov 2007

Earth over the lunar horizon --

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and public broadcaster NHK have released a scaled-down online version of their much anticipated high-definition video of the Earth rising over the lunar horizon. The video was taken on November 7 by the HDTV camera aboard the KAGUYA (SELENE) lunar explorer orbiting the moon at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). The first part of the video shows the Earth rising up from the horizon near the moon's north pole, and the second part shows the Earth setting near the moon's south pole. The original high-definition footage, which NHK plans to broadcast soon, is the world's first high-definition video of Earth taken from the moon (380,000 kilometers/ 236,000 miles from Earth). Obviously, the edited YouTube version you see here (as well as the original online version at JAXA) is not in HD format, but it is a nice teaser for what is coming to HDTV viewers in Japan.

[Source: JAXA]

Return of the giant jellyfish

13 Nov 2007

Echizen kurage/ Nomura's jellyfish --

Echizen kurage/ Nomura's jellyfish --

To the delight of divers, and to the chagrin of fishermen, the swarms of giant Echizen kurage jellyfish (Nomura's jellyfish) that invade the coast of the Sea of Japan each autumn are back.

These photos were taken 5 meters underwater just offshore from the coastal town of Echizen in Fukui prefecture, where the jellyfish mobs began to arrive about a month later than normal.

Manabu Nakamata, a 38-year-old diver from Nagoya and an admirer of the monster jellyfish, says, "They are surprisingly hard to the touch. They are big, and extremely impressive." Big indeed -- Echizen kurage can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft. 7 in.) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kilograms (440 lb.) each.

The local fishermen, however, are not impressed. Each year, the giant jellyfish wreak havoc on the fishing industry by destroying nets and crushing, poisoning and sliming other fish in the catches. In the latest move in the war on jellyfish, Fukui prefecture is developing new and efficient weapons designed to pulverize those that threaten their shores.

[Source: Sankei]