Archives: February 2008

Video: Cloud streets

27 Feb 2008

Cloud streets --

This video -- a follow-up to a previous post about strange cloud formations seen over the Sea of Okhotsk last summer -- provides a rare close-up bird's-eye view of cloud streets, which are created when convection currents cut low-lying cumulus into long, clean strips. According to the video narration, these clouds floated just over the sea surface, stood 300 meters tall and stretched for over 100 kilometers.

Kirichimpo: Phallic promotional mascot

26 Feb 2008

Kirichimpo --

Fresh on the Akita prefecture promotional gimmick scene is a unique and decidedly male mascot modeled after the region's famed kiritampo grilled rice cake skewers. "Kirichimpo" (kiri means "cut" and chimpo is slang for the male organ), a lovey-eyed kiritampo stick with a conspicuous protuberance dangling from its lower end, is the brainchild of Fruru Co., Ltd., an Akita-based souvenir designer and wholesaler.

Mamemokkori and Marimokkori -- The company came up with the idea for Kirichimpo last year after witnessing the far-reaching success of Marimokkori, a happy, well-endowed green monster mascot from Hokkaido, whose name is a play on the words marimo (a type of giant algae ball found in Lake Akan) and mokkori ("erection"). Marimokkori's popularity extends far beyond Hokkaido's shores, to as far away as Chiba, the home of his younger peanut-headed cousin named Mamemokkori (mame means "bean"), and Tokyo, where mounds of the popular Marimokkori can be found inside UFO Catcher claw vending machines at game centers.

While Kirichimpo has yet to rise to Marimokkori status, it appears to be enjoying a measure of success. Last year's initial shipment of 6,000 Kirichimpo keychains sold out in a matter of months. And with demand still strong, the company is rolling out a Kirichimpo ear pick and other new gimmicks, which are soon to appear at souvenir shops and train stations throughout Akita prefecture at a price of 350 yen ($3) each.

[Source: Akita Keizai Shimbun]

Vintage anime: Evil Mickey Mouse invasion!

25 Feb 2008

1930's war anime --

"Toy Box Series, Episode 3: Picture Book 1936" (Omocha-Bako Series, Dai-3-Wa: Ehon 1936) is a 1934 propaganda-ish film about a future (1936) conflict started by a swarm of evil, bat-riding Mickey Mouse clones that descend on a tiny island inhabited by peace-loving dolls and cats (including a Felix lookalike). Overwhelmed by the attack, the desperate island residents bang on the cover of a large picture book to enlist the help of Momotaro, Urashima Taro (the Japanese version of Rip Van Winkle), and other traditional fairy tale heroes and characters. After Urashima Taro uses his famous "mystery box" to turn the big Mickey into a decrepit old fogey, Hanasaka Jiisan makes the cherry trees bloom and the cats and dolls celebrate by dancing to "Tokyo Ondo" (an old Japanese folk song). The soundtrack also includes renditions of the Momotaro song and Gunkan March ("Warship March"), a song that is nowadays typically played at pachinko parlors.

[Via Cartoon Brew via Needcoffee]

Laughometer measures aH

23 Feb 2008

Laugh measurement system -- For those who believe laughter is the best medicine, now there is a way to measure the dosage. Researchers at Kansai University have developed a machine that can scientifically measure the quantity of a person's laughter, as well as distinguish between the real and the fake.

The laughter measurement system, which the researchers say will help scientists conduct more detailed research into the physiological effects of laughter on the immune system, relies on a series of electrode sensors that monitor the tiny amounts of bioelectricity generated by certain muscles that flex when you chuckle. The sensors, which attach to a person's cheeks, chest and abdomen, take 3,000 measurements per second. Sensor data is relayed to a computer, where it is analyzed by special software that determines the nature of the laugh and assigns a numerical score based on the quantity.

The laughter quantity is expressed in terms of "aH" -- a unit of measurement developed by the research team. According to chief researcher Yoji Kimura, a Kansai University professor, 1 second of explosive laughter amounts to 5 aH.

The system distinguishes between real and fake laughter by closely monitoring the movement of the diaphragm -- the thin sheet of muscle extending across the bottom of the rib cage, which separates the chest organs from those of the abdomen. According to Kimura, the diaphragm does not vibrate significantly when a person pretends to laugh, even when the person's voice and facial expression appear genuine. On the other hand, when one laughs at something they truly find funny, the diaphragm generates 2 to 5 distinct vibrational waves per second.

At Kansai University on February 21, the researchers publicly demonstrated the system by measuring the laughter of a 30-something-year-old woman and her 5-year-old daughter as they watched a performance by Yoshimoto comedians. The mother, who apparently found no humor in the comedy routine, experienced only slightly more than 0 aH of laughter, while her amused daughter experienced a hearty 42 aH.

The researchers, who spent over a year developing the system, are aiming to create a portable version of the system for use in health and entertainment devices.

[Sources: CNet Japan, Asahi]

Robot buoy hunts down spilled oil

21 Feb 2008

SOTAB -- As long as oil is transported by sea, accidental spills will remain a threat to the marine environment. When an oil spill occurs, the cleanup response must be quick in order to minimize the environmental and economic impact. To help speed up the response, researchers at Osaka University are developing an autonomous marine robot that can track down spilled oil and provide real-time location data.

SOTAB 1 (Spilled Oil Tracking Autonomous Buoy 1) is a 110-kilogram (243 lb.) GPS-equipped robot that measures 2.72 meters (9 ft.) from top to bottom and 27 centimeters (11 in.) in diameter. It has imaging sensors that can spot floating globs of oil from a distance, as well as viscosity sensors that detect the presence of oil, and it includes a wind monitor, depth meter and water thermometer. When multiple robots are dropped into the water at regular intervals around an oil spill, they can provide a wealth of valuable data to cleanup crews and allow them to monitor a wide area.

Once in the water, SOTAB 1 begins searching for oil by reducing its buoyancy and diving underwater, where it trains its imaging sensors back up at the surface. When the robot sees something that looks like oil, it readjusts its buoyancy and floats back to the surface, using 4 fins to steer toward the oil slick. It then takes water samples and determines how much oil is present. As SOTAB 1 follows the oil around, it sends back real-time data about its location and the surrounding meteorological and oceanographic conditions.

Head researcher Naomi Kato, an underwater robotics engineering professor at Osaka University, says SOTAB 1 is still in the development phase, but he hopes to see it become commercially available in 2 to 3 years.

"We want to get the weight under 30 kilograms and extend the battery life to about 3 to 4 weeks," says Kato, who began working on the robot in 2006. "We would one day like to see these robots become standard equipment on oil tankers."

[Source: Asahi]

Fitness machines with finger vein readers

19 Feb 2008

medimo --

In recent years, Hitachi's finger vein authentication technology, which identifies individuals by the unique pattern of blood vessels inside their fingers, has helped beef up the security of devices ranging from ATMs and cardless payment systems to computers and automobile ignition systems. Now this biometric technology is heading to the gym.

IT company Fukui Computer has unveiled a new line of networked exercise machines, called "medimo," that are equipped with Hitachi finger vein readers. When users identify themselves with a simple press of the finger, the machines respond by automatically adjusting the weight resistance and seat position based on the user's previously set preferences.

The machines also connect to a remote server to retrieve the user's personal exercise data -- including previous exercise records and stats, training regimens and calorie consumption data -- which shows up on a touch-screen display. Users can then do their workouts based on this data, which is updated each time a machine is used, or personal trainers can refer to it when providing exercise advice.

Fukui, who unveiled the 12 new medimo machines on February 18, plans to begin selling them on April 1 for about 1.8 million yen ($17,000) each. The company is targeting fitness gyms, hospitals and welfare facilities, and is expecting to sell 2,000 machines over the next 3 years.

[Source: IT Media]

Edo-period monster paintings by Sawaki Suushi

18 Feb 2008

In the sophisticated popular culture of the Edo period (1603-1868), much attention was devoted to Japan's rich pantheon of traditional monsters and apparitions, known as yokai. Sometimes frightening, sometimes humorous, these compelling Japanese folk creatures were the subject of numerous artistic and literary works. One such work was Hyakkai Zukan, a collection of picture scrolls completed in 1737 by Sawaki Suushi, a relatively unknown artist who studied under master painter Hanabusa Itcho (1702-1772). Hyakkai Zukan's colorful depictions of Japan's most notorious creatures inspired (and were copied by) yokai artists for generations. Here is a peek inside.

Yōkai: Ushioni --
Ushi-oni [Enlarge]

Ushi-oni (lit. "cow devil") is a malevolent sea monster with the head of a bull and the body of a giant spider or crab. It is most often encountered in the coastal waters of western Japan, particularly in Shimane prefecture, where it is feared for its vicious attacks on fishermen. [More]

Ushi-oni is usually seen in connection with a related monster, called Nure-onna.

Youkai: Nureonna --

Nure-onna (lit. "wet woman") is a fast-swimming amphibious creature with the head of a human female and the body of a gigantic snake. Her appearance varies slightly from story to story, but she is usually described as having beady, snake-like eyes and long, sharp claws and fangs. Nure-onna is typically seen at the water's edge, washing her long, flowing hair. In some stories, she carries a small child, which she uses to attract potential victims. When a well-intentioned person offers to hold the baby for Nure-onna, the child attaches itself to the victim's hands and grows heavy, making it nearly impossible to flee. In some stories, Nure-onna uses her long, powerful tongue to suck all the blood from her victim's body. [More]

Yōkai: Uwan--

In ancient Aomori prefecture legends, Uwan is a disembodied voice that inhabits old, abandoned temples and homes. When a person enters a haunted building, the formless spirit belts out an ear-piercing "Uwan!" (hence the name). The voice is only audible to people inside the building -- those standing outside hear nothing. Uwan consists only of sound and poses no physical danger.

Ancient Japanese legends are rife with examples of formless yokai like Uwan, which consist of nothing but sound, light or other natural phenomena. In the Edo period, however, these yokai assumed physical bodies as artists incorporated them into their work.

Yōkai: Nurarihyon, Mehitotsubou --
Nurarihyon (left), Mehitotsubou (right)

Another yokai that got a facelift in the Edo period is Nurarihyon, pictured here as as a well-dressed old man with an elongated bald head. Ancient Okayama prefecture legends describe Nurarihyon (lit. "slippery strange") as a marine creature found in the Seto Inland Sea, often seen bobbing around on the surface of the water like some sort of giant jellyfish or octopus. Nurarihyon eludes capture by diving underwater when people approach to investigate.

In the Edo period, Nurarihyon came to be known as a mysterious old man with the uncanny ability to sneak into homes and "take over." When the residents of a home encounter him sitting around drinking tea, they are unable throw him out and cannot help but treat him as the head of the household. Nurarihyon is said to be a highly respected figure in the world of yokai.

Mehitotsubou (above right), a large monk with a cyclopean eye, is a variant of the large shape-shifting monks commonly found in Japanese folk tales.

Yokai: Mikoshi-nyuudou --

Another monster monk is Mikoshi-nyudo (a.k.a. Miage-nyudo), a large, cross-eyed mendicant encountered on mountain passes or on lonely roads at night. Mikoshi-nyudo grows taller when you look up at him -- and the higher you look, the taller he grows. Look up for too long and you will die, goes the legend, but say "mikoshita" ("I see higher") and he disappears. Mikoshi-nyudo's true identity is unknown, but in some areas he is believed to be a shape-shifting weasel, fox or tanuki.

Yokai: Yama-warau --

Yama-warau (a.k.a. Yama-waro) are hairy, one-eyed Garappa (a variety of Kappa found in Kumamoto prefecture) who have gone into the mountains for the winter. These child-sized creatures are known to provide assistance to lumberjacks in the mountains, and they eagerly return again and again to help, as long as they are rewarded with liquor and rice balls.

Like other varieties of Kappa, Yama-warau are fond of playing tricks on people, and they enjoy sumo wrestling. They sometimes break into people's homes to take a bath, and they have a sixth sense for danger, which allows them to escape from people with evil intentions.

At the spring equinox, Yama-warau return to the rivers to live as Garappa. They travel in groups, jumping from one rooftop to the next, all the way down to the water. If, along the way, they come across a new home under construction, they get angry and poke holes in the walls. Legend has it that anyone who goes to the river to catch a glimpse of a returning Yama-warau will become sick.

Youkai: Inugami --

An Inugami (lit. "dog god") is a familiar spirit that looks like a dog and acts as a protective guardian. Inugami are extremely powerful and loyal, and they are known to carry out acts of revenge on behalf of their "owners." They can also exist independently, and under some circumstances they may turn against their owners. Inugami also have the ability to possess humans. [More]

Youkai: Ouni --

Ouni is a mountain hag with a mouth stretching from ear to ear and a thick coat of long, black hair covering her entire body. According to an old Niigata prefecture legend, Ouni appeared one day to a group of women as they were spinning hemp into yarn. After accepting the hairy hag's offer to help, the women watched in surprise as she repeatedly placed raw hemp fiber into her mouth and pulled out finished yarn. After quickly producing a large quantity in this way, Ouni stepped outside and suddenly disappeared. Legend has it that she left footprints in the nearby rocks, which can still be seen to this day.

Youkai: Kamikiri --
Kami-kiri [Enlarge]

Kami-kiri (lit. "hair-cutter") are ghostly spirits known for sneaking up on people and cutting all their hair off, particularly when they are unknowingly engaged to marry a yokai, spirit or other supernatural creature posing as a human. These hair-cutting attacks are intended to delay or prevent weddings between humans and otherworldly beings, which are typically doomed to failure. [More]

For more images from Hyakkai Zukkan, see the Sawaki Suushi collection at Wikipedia Commons.

Ippon Zuri: Catch-and-eat fishing by phone

13 Feb 2008

Ippon Zuri fishing game -- For mobile gamers in western Japan, a hearty seafood dinner awaits just a few key clicks away, thanks to a unique new cellphone fishing game that rewards successful players with home deliveries of fresh, real-world fish.

The game -- called "Ippon Zuri" (which means "pole-and-line fishing") -- was created by FIT, a Fukuoka-based system development company who teamed up with a local seafood wholesaler. Game play is simple: players use the phone keys to cast bait to promising-looking fish in the game's virtual waters, which include sea bream, crab, and other seasonal fish. When a fish takes the bait, the player is sent to a slot machine screen where, if luck prevails and 3 numbers line up appropriately, the virtual fish is hooked and reeled in. A message is then relayed to the wholesaler, who picks up the real-world equivalent from the local seafood market and delivers it, whole and raw, to the player's doorstep.

FIT president Hiromi Fukuda suggests that Ippon Zuri is more enjoyable than other fishing games because it allows players to eat what they catch. The game (which seems rather like a fancy seafood ordering system) promises more entertainment than a mundane trip to the supermarket and more convenience than a fishing trip to the seaside, and it makes a great pick-me-up for hungry fishermen feeling down on their real-world luck.

The game is open to Fukuoka-area NTT DoCoMo users who register at the Ippon Zuri site and pre-pay for the games (1,000 yen for 3 games) using Edy electronic money.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Samurai dog armor

12 Feb 2008

Samurai dog armor --

This suit of dog armor -- identified by antique Japanese armor dealer Toraba.Com as the only known and certified authentic example of its kind -- is believed to have been created for the pet of a wealthy, high-ranking and presumably eccentric samurai or daimyo (feudal lord) in the mid to late Edo period (mid-18th to mid-19th century). Although the carved wooden helmet and coat of black-lacquered scale mail would have provided effective protection against enemy attack, evidence suggests the canine never wore the armor into battle. More likely, the suit served as a decorative costume for parades and other formal ceremonial occasions. The samurai dog armor now belongs to an unnamed UK museum.

Samurai dog armor --

[Link: Toraba.Com (cached page) via Yachigusa Ryu]