Archives: May 2008

World’s smallest bowl of ramen

29 May 2008

Nano-ramen --

It won't fill you up, but it is a feast for the eyes (if you look through a microscope). This so-called "world's smallest bowl of ramen" -- a 1-micron (1/1000-mm, or 1/100th the width of a human hair) wide bowl containing dozens of 20-nanometer (1/50,000-mm) thick noodles -- was created by University of Tokyo professor Masayuki Nakao as part of an effort to develop new carbon nanotube-based microcircuit fabrication technology. Nakao used a metal particle beam to carve the bowl from silicon, and he mixed up a soup of ethanol and catalyst inside the bowl to form the carbon nanotube "noodles." According to Nakao, it was a major challenge to keep the bowl from overflowing. No word yet on how the tiny meal tastes.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Docomodake’s last supper

29 May 2008

Appetizing dishes of NTT DoCoMo's mushroom mascot were served up in artist Rika Eguchi's "Last Supper" installation at last year's "How to Cook Docomodake" exhibition in New York. Photos by Marius Watz.

Last Supper, by Rika Eguchi --

Last Supper, by Rika Eguchi --

Last Supper, by Rika Eguchi --

Last Supper, by Rika Eguchi --
Smothered in special sauce

More scrumptious photos at watz's Flickr photostream.

Seven mysterious creatures of Japan

27 May 2008

Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. Tales of unidentified mysterious animals have long intrigued and captured the imagination of people around the world -- and Japan is no exception. Here is a brief introduction to 7 of the island nation's most notorious cryptids, complete with grainy photographs where available. Whether you regard these tales as fact or fiction, their impact on the culture where they were encountered is undeniable.

* * * * *

- Hibagon

Hibagon --

The Hibagon (a.k.a. Hinagon) is a cryptic hominid, similar to Bigfoot, inhabiting the area around Mt. Hiba in northern Hiroshima prefecture. According to numerous eyewitness accounts from the early 1970s, the Hibagon stands about 1.5 to 1.7 meters (about 5 ft) tall, weighs an estimated 80 to 90 kilograms (about 180 lbs), is covered in a thick coat of black or brown fur (sometimes it is reported as having a spot of white fur on its chest or arms), and has an unusually large triangular head and intelligent human-like eyes. The Hibagon received its name from the local animal control board.

Hibagon -- The first known Hibagon sighting occurred on July 20, 1970 in the area around Mt. Hiba near the border with Tottori prefecture. Three days after the initial sighting, the furry ape-like creature was seen again walking through a rice paddy in the nearby rural town of Saijo. A total of 12 sightings were reported that year, and mysterious footprints were found in the snow that December.

Numerous Hibagon sightings were reported in areas surrounding Mt. Hiba in the summers between 1971 and 1973, as increased human activity during the hunting season forced the creature down from the mountain. On August 15, 1974, the Hibagon was photographed as it hid behind a persimmon tree. Unusual footprints measuring 20 centimeters (9 in) long were found nearby. After this photo was taken, the Hibagon went back into hiding, only to be seen two more times -- once in 1980 and again in 1982 -- before disappearing forever.

Hibagon --

The Hibagon may have disappeared long ago, but the residents of Saijo have not forgotten. The town has adopted the likeness of the creature as its mascot, and souvenir shops sell Hibagon Eggs and other cryptid ape-themed sweets. [More]

* * * * *

- Tsuchinoko

Tsuchinoko --
Tsuchinoko -- Reality? Myth? Or mistaken identity?

The Tsuchinoko is a snake-like cryptid found throughout Japan, except in Hokkaido and the Okinawan islands. Reports describe the Tsuchinoko as having a thick, stubby body measuring 30 to 80 centimeters (12 to 30 in) in length, often with a distinct neck, gray, brown or black scaly skin, and venomous fangs. Some accounts suggest the Tsuchinoko has a loud, high-pitched squeak and can jump as far as one meter.

Tsuchinoko --

The earliest known written record of the Tsuchinoko dates back to the 7th century, where it appears in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), the oldest surviving book in Japan. In some legends, the Tsuchinoko can speak, has a tendency to tell lies, and enjoys the taste of alcohol.

Tsuchinoko --

Skeptics dismiss Tsuchinoko sightings as simple cases of mistaken identity, suggesting the creatures are nothing more than snakes in the process of digesting large meals, or perhaps even escaped exotic pets such as the blue-tongued lizard.

Tsuchinoko --

Regardless, local tourist boards in rural areas frequently organize Tsuchinoko hunts to attract visitors, promising large sums of money to any participant lucky enough to capture one. The town of Itoigawa in Niigata prefecture, for example, has a hunt scheduled for June 8, 2008 and is offering a 100 million yen (about $1 million) reward to whoever brings one back alive. [More]

* * * * *

- Kusshii

Kusshii --

Kusshii is a giant lake monster believed to inhabit Hokkaido's Lake Kussharo, a large freshwater lake located in an environment and climate similar to that of the famed Loch Ness. According to eyewitness accounts, Kusshi is 10 to 20 meters (30 to 60 ft) long and has humps on its back, a long neck and a pair of horns on its head. Reports suggest it can swim as fast as a motorboat. Kusshii's most famous appearances include a 1973 sighting by 40-member team of biologists from Hokkaido University, as well as 15 separate reports by tourists in 1974.

* * * * *

- Isshii

Isshii --

Isshii, another Japanese cryptid lake monster, is believed to inhabit Kagoshima prefecture's 20,000-year-old Lake Ikeda, the largest caldera lake in Kyushu. The creature is similar in appearance to Kusshii, but larger.

Isshii entered the public consciousness in September 1978, after more than 20 people reportedly witnessed a giant creature moving at a blistering speed through the water. Widespread news coverage of the sighting brought a flood of tourists to the lake, and in December of the same year, a photograph was taken showing what some believe is the back of the creature poking through the water surface. Since 1990, a number of home videos have emerged showing mysterious activity just under the water surface, but none of the videos are widely seen as irrefutable proof of Isshii's existence.

Some theories suggest Isshii could be an unidentified descendant of the Plesiosaur, while others believe it to be some sort of giant eel. Other theories suggest the sightings can be explained as rogue waves generated by winds unique to the lake.

Rogue waves cannot, however, explain what happened in 1961, when a large-scale search was conducted for a US military jet believed to have crashed in the lake. Sonar equipment used in the search reportedly revealed a large rock-shaped object moving through the water below, and records indicate that divers on the lake floor were nearly attacked by a large, unidentified creature.

* * * * *

- Giant Snake of Mt. Tsurugi

Mt. Tsurugi, the second highest peak on the island of Shikoku, is steeped in mystery. According to one local legend, the mountain is actually a giant man-made pyramid, and another legend says that a hoard of King Solomon's secret treasure lies buried within. A giant snake believed to be guarding that treasure has been sighted on many occasions.

Giant snake of Mt. Tsurugi -- In May 1973, a group of 4 forestry workers reportedly encountered a 10 meter (33 ft) long snake as big around as a telephone pole. The creature was described as having shiny black scales, and it reportedly made a loud chirping sound. In the months that followed, local officials organized a large-scale hunt for the snake, enlisting the help of hundreds of volunteers. While the creature was not apprehended, the searchers did find what appeared to be giant snake tracks that measured 40 centimeters (16 in) wide and passed alongside fallen trees.

A local history museum has in its collection a large jawbone measuring 34 centimeters (13 in) across, which many believe belongs to the giant snake. Others speculate it belongs to a shark.

* * * * *

- Takitaro

Takitarou --

The Takitaro is a type of giant fish measuring up to 3 meters (10 ft) long, which is found in Yamagata prefecture's Lake Otoriike. Located nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, the remote mountain lake was created ages ago when an earthquake triggered a massive landslide that dammed up a mountain stream.

The Takitaro appears in a number of stories throughout the 20th-century. In 1917, for example, a pair of men are said to have captured a 1.5 meter (5 ft) long fish that was large enough to feed 20 floodgate construction workers for 4 days. In 1982, a group of mountain climbers above the lake observed a fish over 2 meters (6.5 ft) long in the clear water below. This sighting grabbed headlines nationwide.

Three years later, in 1985, a team of scientists went to the lake in search of the Takitaro. Sonar equipment revealed the presence of giant fish, and the scientists identified some smaller specimens as relatives of ancient salmon that likely became trapped in the lake when it was formed long ago. The true identity of the giant Takitaro, however, remains a mystery, but some believe it is a mutant descendant of these ancient fish.

* * * * *

- Kappa

Kappa (river imps) have appeared in countless stories and folk legends for centuries, and they rank among Japan's most well-known cryptids. While most people nowadays regard the amphibious child-sized troublemakers as pure myth, stories of kappa encounters still crop up from time to time, such as the following two reports from Japan's southern island of Kyushu.

Kappa -- Kappa -- Kappa --

Report 1 -- Slimy Footprints at the River's Edge: At around 11 PM on August 1, 1984 in the town of Tsushima in Nagasaki prefecture, a squid fisherman named Ryu Shirozaki was walking home from the local pier after work. As he passed near the Kuta river, he came upon a small group of children playing at the water's edge. While it was not entirely uncommon to encounter people fishing in the river at night, it was rather surprising to see youngsters there.

As Shirozaki approached the children, he was struck by how bizarre they appeared in the moonlight. He could make out swarthy faces, unusually spindly arms and legs, and glistening skin. Suspicious, Shirozaki called out to them as he neared, but they seemed startled and quickly disappeared into the water.

The next morning when he returned to the same spot, Shirozaki discovered a set of moist, teardrop-shaped footprints on the nearby pavement. The prints, which appeared to consist of a slimy substance that had begun to coagulate under the hot morning sun, stretched for about 20 meters. Each footprint measured 22 centimeters (about 10 in) long and 12 centimeters (5 in) wide, and they were spaced about 50 to 60 centimeters (about 2 ft) apart.

Shirozaki and a few curious onlookers immediately suspected the footprints belonged to a kappa. People began to gather around as the news spread quickly through town, and all agreed the prints belonged to a kappa. In the minds of many residents, the footprints confirmed the existence of the river imps they knew through local legends.

When police forensic investigators arrived on the scene, they determined that the slimy footprints consisted of an unknown secretion. They took a sample to the lab for analysis, but the results unfortunately turned out to be inconclusive because the sample was too small. The police eventually dropped their investigation, and the mystery of the slimy footprints was never solved.

Report 2 -- The Unclean Guest: Another recent kappa encounter occurred on June 30, 1991 in the town of Saito in Miyazaki prefecture, when an office worker named Mitsugu Matsumoto and his wife Junko returned home for the evening. Upon opening the front door, the Matsumotos were confronted with a strange smell inside their home. Inside, they found dozens of small, wet footprints around the front door and in the hallway, bathroom, and two tatami rooms. At first they suspected a burglar, but they soon realized nothing had been stolen.

The police briefly surveyed the house, but found nothing except a floor soiled by 30 footprints, each measuring about 7 centimeters long and 6 centimeters wide, and having 4 or 5 toes. To Matsumoto, the footprints did not look human, nor did they appear to belong to any animal he could imagine.

Later that night, as Mrs. Matsumoto was putting laundry away, she discovered an unusual orange stain on some clothing. The next morning, as Matsumoto inspected the house more closely, he discovered a deposit of orange liquid on the portable stereo in the tatami room. He took a sample to the local public health center for analysis, and the results indicated the liquid had an extremely high iron content and a chemical composition resembling spring water.

Troubled by the incident, Matsumoto decided to visit a shaman. After listening to Matsumoto's story, the shaman encouraged him not to worry, explaining that the kappa indigenous to the nearby swamp enjoyed playing the occasional prank on local residents. The kappa were harmless, the shaman told him.

Harmless, perhaps, but Matsumoto found the kappa difficult to clean up after. He tried using detergent, paint thinner and gasoline to remove the footprints and orange stains, but nothing seemed to work.

[Note: This post includes information from Shin-ichiro Namiki's Nippon No Kaiki Hyaku, 2007 (published in Japanese)]

Evolta robot climbs Grand Canyon cliff

26 May 2008

Evolta climbs Grand Canyon -- On May 24, a 17-centimeter tall, 130-gram Panasonic Evolta battery mascot robot scaled a 500-meter cliff at the Grand Canyon in a publicity stunt to showcase the endurance of the Evolta AA alkaline battery, which the Guinness Book of World Records recently recognized as the longest-lasting of its kind. Powered by a pair of Evoltas, the robot hoisted itself up a 530-meter length of rope suspended next to the cliff, reaching the top after a grueling 6 hours and 45 minutes.

[Source: Kobe Shimbun]

Highway interchange photos

21 May 2008

Photographer Ken Ohyama has a magnificent Flickr photoset of highway interchanges in Japan (78 photos).

Hakozaki Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Hakozaki Junction

Hokko Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Hokko Junction

Hokko Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Hokko Junction

Tempozan Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Tempozan Junction

Daikoku Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Daikoku Junction

Kawaguchi Junction, by Ken Ohyama --
Kawaguchi Junction

He also has a book of these photographs.

Video: Beluga blows (and sucks) air bubble rings

20 May 2008

Nana the beluga blows bubbles --

Nana, a beluga born at the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium in July 2007, enjoys creating air bubble rings under water. While it's not uncommon for belugas to make bubbles by blowing out short puffs of air, Nana has the remarkable ability to suck air bubble rings into the water by swimming near the surface and drawing in big gulps of water. (Go :55 seconds into the video to see this in slow motion.)

[Video: Beluga bubbles]

Vote for your favorite Nara mascot

20 May 2008

Sentokun --

Ever since his unveiling in February, Sento-kun, the official mascot character for the Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of the Nara-Heijokyo Capital, has garnered widespread criticism from the media, religious groups and the blogosphere. A Buddhist child monk with a rack of deer antlers sprouting from his head, Sento-kun is supposed to evoke the image of Nara's rich Buddhist history and the wild (but tame) deer that roam freely around town. But some citizens have expressed anger at officials for shutting them out of the decision-making process and wasting 5 million yen (about $50,000) of taxpayer money on an ugly mascot, and some Buddhist groups are reportedly upset with the inappropriate use of a religious image.

In response to the fiasco, a group of Nara-area designers called the "Creators Forum Yamato" have voluntarily organized an independent design contest to come up with a mascot that more closely represents the will of the people and the true spirit of Nara. After receiving 619 submissions from the general public (some from as far away as New York and Paris), organizers have narrowed the pool to 30 candidates and are encouraging the public to vote online.

Here are the candidates on the ballot...

Nara character ballot --

To vote, go to the online ballot, select the button under your favorite character, and hit the confirmation button at the bottom of the screen. Then hit the confirmation button on the next screen. The polls are open until May 25. As of this writing, nearly 15,000 ballots have been cast.

As a representative of the citizens of Nara prefecture, the winning mascot will work side-by-side with Sento-kun to make the anniversary event a success.

The Commemorative Events of the 1,300th Anniversary of Nara Heijokyo Capital will be held in Nara prefecture in 2010 to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Heijokyo (now known as Nara), the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 A.D. The large-scale, year-long international project is expected to attract 15 million visitors.

[Vote here]

UPDATE: The votes are in and the winner is Manto-kun (#8).

Woodblock prints of men posing as birds (1809)

16 May 2008

In early 19th-century Japan, it became fashionable for the culturally sophisticated theatergoing population of Edo to entertain themselves at parties by imitating the voices and gestures of famous actors. As this fad spread, people began to expand their repertoires by mimicking animals, and as animal poses became all the rage at parties, writers and artists collaborated to produce illustrated books containing model examples of these poses. One such document written by poet Santo Kyoden in 1809 included copies of these Utagawa Toyokuni ukiyo-e prints of men imitating birds.

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Crow pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Hawk pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Duck pose

The work, titled Harasuji Omuseki (?????), consisted of several volumes that also featured poses for animals other than birds. Waseda University has an online copy of Volume 3, which includes the animal poses below.

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Chicken pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni -- Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Crane pose, Owl pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Squid pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Goby pose

Miburi-e by Utagawa Toyokuni --
Shrimp pose

Flexible, lightweight 125-inch plasma display

16 May 2008

Shinoda Plasma 125-inch flexible display --

Next-generation large-screen display manufacturer Shinoda Plasma has unveiled a flexible, 1-millimeter thick, 125-inch film-type prototype display that can be used as a curved or wrap-around screen. The 3 x 1 meter plasma tube array (PTA) display (which actually consists of 3 seamlessly integrated 1 x 1 meter square sub-modules) offers a resolution of 960 x 360 and weighs 3.6 kilograms (8 lbs), or about 10 times less than a conventional plasma display. At a low-key unveiling on May 15, Shinoda Plasma announced plans to exhibit the device in June at the InfoComm 2008 conference in Las Vegas and confirmed their intent to begin small-scale production of a 150-inch (3 x 2 meter) version this autumn. While Shinoda Plasma envisions a variety of digital signage and advertising applications, the ultrathin displays would also undoubtedly make good digital wallpaper for the home.

[Source 1, Source 2]