Archives: January 2008

Happy fun snow creatures

31 Jan 2008

With winter in full force, now is the perfect time to explore the frozen wilds of the Japanese web in search of happy fun snowmen.

Snowman --

Arguably the best place to see snowmen is the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's most celebrated winter events. This photo (by Flickr user kozyndan) shows a sea of snowmen (yuki-daruma) built by visitors to the festival, who attach written wishes for good luck.

Snowman --

The week-long festival held in early February is home to Japan's largest snow and ice sculpture competition, and all sorts of wacky snow creations can be seen at venues around town -- like this giant chihuahua and Asimo.

Snowman --

Or your favorite anime character. (Photo from Jonas's Travels in Sapporo website.)

Snowman --

Or much more impressive creations like these dinosaurs. For more pictures from the festival, try a Google image search for "札幌雪祭り" (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri).

Of course, the Sapporo Snow Festival is not the only place to encounter snowmen -- they appear wherever there is snow.

Snowman --

This photo, taken in the town of Kuroishi (Aomori prefecture), shows what is proudly labeled as Japan's largest snowman. The 31-meter-tall (100 ft) monster has a face composed of local agricultural products, such as charred apple trees for the eyebrows, seashells for the eyes, rice for the cheeks, apples for the mouth, daikon radishes for the ears, and carrots for the collar.

Snowman --

This Namahage folk demon was spotted at last year's Lake Tazawa Snow Festival.

Snowman --

These glowing snowmen were seen standing watch at Kanazawa castle.

Snowman --

And this one. Haven't we seen this somewhere before?

Sometimes happy snowmen can be found where there is no snow -- like in Tokyo. For this year's Kanda Yuki-Daruma Fair in late January, organizers trucked in 70 tons of snow from rural Gunma prefecture and built 30 large snow creatures on the sidewalks of Kanda.

Snowman --

Here is a snowy incarnation of Baikinman, an evil character from the Anpanman anime series. (Photo via Mycom.)

Snowman --

And here are Kurohige Kiki Ippatsu (Pop-up Pirate game) and Shiisaa (a mythical Okinawan creature). For more from the Kanda Yuki-Daruma Fair, see these photos.

Pollen Robots

29 Jan 2008

Pollen Robots --

As hay fever season approaches, Tokyo-based weather forecasting company Weathernews, Inc. is deploying a 200-strong army of beady-eyed, ball-shaped robots nationwide to monitor the pollen situation.

The so-called "Pollen Robots," which weigh 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) and measure 30 centimeters (1 ft) across, consist of a monitoring unit housed in a spherical styrofoam shell. A pair of eyes glow 5 different colors -- white, blue, green, red and purple -- to indicate the level of Japanese cedar and cypress pollen in the air.

Two hundred hay fever sufferers around the country have volunteered to hang the Pollen Robots outside their homes, where they will monitor the air and send minute-by-minute reports over the Internet to Weathernews headquarters in Tokyo. The data will be used to update the company's online pollen map.

Weathernews is forecasting higher-than-normal pollen counts this spring.

[Source: Asahi]

PC cases made from platinum, gold, diamonds

28 Jan 2008

Zeus Computer Jupiter (Platinum) and Mars (Gold) --

Tokyo-based Zeus Computer is reaching out to deep-pocketed celebrities and the nouveau riche with a line of luxury personal computers housed in bejeweled cases crafted from precious metals. The selection includes an 80 million yen ($760,000) pure platinum "Jupiter" model and a more modestly priced 60 million yen ($570,000) solid gold "Mars" model, both of which feature a blaze of inset diamonds patterned to look like the zodiac constellations and the Milky Way. The cases contain a 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6850-powered machine with a 256MB GeForce 7200GS VGA card, a 1000GB serial ATA hard drive, 2048MB of memory, a Blu-ray/HD-DVD optical drive and more, and Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate OEM comes pre-installed -- but who's going to look inside?

[Link: Zeus Computer via Negitaku]

Robovie droid helps lost shoppers

25 Jan 2008

Robovie --

The Osaka-based Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR) has developed a crowd-monitoring humanoid robot that recognizes when people are lost and helps them find their way.

In a series of demonstrations conducted from January 22 to 24, a souped-up version of ATR's Robovie humanoid robot monitored people as they passed through a 100 square meter (1,076 sq ft) section of the Universal Citywalk Osaka shopping center. Relying on data from 16 cameras, 6 laser range finders and 9 RFID tag readers installed in and around the area, the robot was able to watch up to 20 people at a time, pinpoint their locations to within a few centimeters, and classify each individual's behavior into one of 10 categories (waiting, wandering, walking fast, running, etc.).

Robovie -- Whenever Robovie spotted people who looked disoriented, the child-sized droid wheeled up to them and asked, "Are you lost?" If so, the robot provided simple directions to the destination and pointed the way. If not, the robot proceeded to recommend nearby shops and restaurants.

ATR says the Robovie test is the first in a long series of robot-related demonstrations to be conducted at Universal Citywalk Osaka. This week, the company announced it was establishing a permanent base in the shopping center, which will serve as a real-world environment for testing new robot-oriented business ideas. In June, the company plans to start hiring out its machines to companies toying with the idea of employing robots.

[Sources: Robot Watch, Yomiuri, Nikkei]

Octopi hung out to dry

25 Jan 2008

Dried octopus --

It is a common sight in winter to see octopi hanging out to dry along sidewalks in the town of Toba (Mie prefecture), according to the caption for this image from the Toba Photo Gallery.

[Link to full image]

Boy hacker scams 36 mil yen for virtual dress

24 Jan 2008

Blessed Elegant Gothic Dress -- A 16-year-old male gamer infatuated with the gothic dress worn by the fictional princess in an online role-playing game has been arrested for hacking into the game company's servers and scamming a boatload of virtual money.

On January 24, Tokyo Metropolitan Police officers from the "Hi-Tech Crimes Control Center" arrested the high school student from Fukui, Japan and charged him with illegally accessing the website of Tokyo-based game company NEXON and stealing over 36 million yen ($325,000) worth of virtual currency used in the Mabinogi online role-playing game. The money can be used to purchase virtual items in the game, and it can be converted into real-world cash.

According to investigators, the suspect used software from an illegal website to obtain the ID and password of a former NEXON employee, which he used to access the company's servers from his home computer last October. Once inside NEXON's system, he registered a new ID and password and began filling his coffers with the in-game money.

While most of the loot went unused, the suspect allegedly converted 7 million points into about 600,000 yen ($5,500) worth of web money, which he used to purchase books and software.

The suspect has reportedly fessed up to the crime. "I originally wanted the dress worn by the princess," he admitted, "but I just ended up racking up a bunch of game points."

[Source: Nikkan Sports]

Larva Chocolate looks sick, tastes sweet

22 Jan 2008

Larva chocolate --

A unique chocolate made to look like a beetle larva has captured the fancy of candy aficionados in Japan. Produced by the Komatsuya confectionery and bakery based in Akita prefecture, the bite-sized Larva Chocolates (Youchu Choco) have a grub-shaped body made from milk chocolate and corn flakes, a layer of skin made from white chocolate, legs made from tiny strips of dried squid, and a dainty mouth made from orange peel. Komatsuya, which is struggling to keep up with demand, hand-produces about 400 per day and sells them online (shipping in Japan only) for 210 yen ($2) each. The company also offers up the repulsive-yet-cute candy grubs at product fairs, where they tend to get snapped up in a hurry. Larva Chocolates are now available in Tokyo at the Chocolate and Sweets Expo, which is being held at Sunshine City (Ikebukuro) until March 9.

[Source: Akita Keizai Shimbun]

Video: Nobuo Takahashi’s animated landscapes

21 Jan 2008

Musashino Plateau --

"Musashino Plateau" and "Japan" -- a pair of 3D computer animations directed by Nobuo Takahashi -- illustrate (in dramatic fashion) how Japan's landscape changed during the postwar period of rapid economic growth. The animations begin slowly with the early postwar recovery years, but the pace quickens to a frenzy as explosive growth during the bubble years (late '80s/early '90s) transforms the cityscape into a chaotic, tightly packed jumble of single-family homes, large apartment complexes and high-rise buildings. In the end, development grinds to a halt with the collapse of the bubble.

Video 1: Musashino Plateau

Video 2: Japan

[Source: Yoshida Gakuen Joho Business]

H.R. Giger’s creatures in ’80s Pioneer ads

21 Jan 2008

In 1984-1985, Pioneer featured the designs of H.R. Giger in a series of Japanese magazine ads for their Zone home entertainment system.

H.R. Giger Pioneer ad --

H.R. Giger Pioneer ad --