Archives: August 2008

Rabbit-kun garbage bag + friends

27 Aug 2008

Rabbit-kun Garbage Bag Art Work -- Rabbit-kun Garbage Bag Art Work --

Meet Rabbit-kun, a plastic trash sack with pink eyes, an X-shaped mouth, and a pair of bunny ears that double as handles. Designed by Tokyo-based creative group MAQ, Inc., Rabbit-kun aims to inspire a more responsible attitude toward waste by providing a cute and stylish way for people to carry their trash home after a day outdoors. Whether it's a picnic in the park, a hike in the mountains, or a day at the beach -- or any place without public trash cans -- Rabbit-kun is charming enough that you might actually enjoy carting your garbage all the way home.

Rabbit-kun Garbage Bag Art Work -- Rabbit-kun Garbage Bag Art Work --

The bunny-shaped sack is the latest in a line of eye-pleasing Garbage Bag Art Work trash bags by MAQ. Their previous creations include a series of color-coded bags imprinted with patterns of trees, fish and flowers, which are designed to add convenience and character to neighborhood garbage collection points.

Another bag, which features a life-sized illustration (by Lily Franky) of trash-loving Oscar the Grouch, was designed in collaboration with Sesame Street as part of an environmental awareness campaign for children.

Oscar Garbage Bag Art Work --

For now, these bags are being distributed free of charge at select outdoor events, as well as to volunteer cleanup groups and schools.

Oscar Garbage Bag Art Work -- Oscar Garbage Bag Art Work --

And for animal lovers, MAQ offers the Mottainai series of bags featuring images of teary-eyed penguins, seals and polar bears, which turn the neighborhood trash heap into a friendly reminder of the fragility of our planet. A portion of the profits go to the Green Belt Movement (a grassroots environmental NGO established by Kenyan political activist, environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai), which has planted millions of trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion.

Oscar Garbage Bag Art Work --

Garbage Bag Art Work trash bags are available at various locations in Tokyo or at the Mottainai online shop (Japanese).

Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari picture scroll

26 Aug 2008

The Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari, a largely fictional story featured in picture scrolls in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, tells of a young warrior and his encounters with trickster foxes posing as yokai. According to the National Museum of Japanese History, the story takes place in 1624 in Kagoshima, where a group of notorious young warriors have assembled. When a rumor circulates about shape-shifting foxes that have hoodwinked some people in the area and shaved their heads, the men decide to test the courage of one of the young warriors, Ooishi Hyoroku, by sending him on a mission to capture the mischievous creatures.

When the foxes hear about this mission, they transform into eight different yokai to frighten the young warrior:

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --
Mitsume Koen

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --
Hobeni Taro

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Hyoroku flees in fear each time he encounters one of the monsters. After he finally catches a pair of foxes, his father suddenly appears and urges him to let them go. Hyoroku then finds that his "father" is actually a fox in disguise -- but only after he is tricked into eating sweet dumplings made of horse droppings.

Later, the foxes appear as Buddhist monks and trick him into shaving his head. In the end, though, Hyoroku successfully captures two more foxes, and his comrades honor his achievement by making him breakfast.

Several versions of the Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari scroll remain in existence today. A scan of an entire scroll, dated 1801 (author/illustrator unknown), is viewable online at Waseda University Library. (An undivided version of this scroll is also available here. -Thanks, Darren!)

‘Operation Capture Monkey’ in Harajuku

21 Aug 2008

One day after a wild Japanese macaque caused a commotion at Tokyo's Shibuya station and escaped back into the streets, police have received multiple reports of monkey sightings in the area.

According to this TBS video news report, which refers to the search effort as "Operation Capture Monkey," the Japanese macaque was observed at various locations in the Harajuku/Omotesando area near Shibuya early this morning. Police armed with nets roamed the streets of Omotesando after at least one person reported seeing the monkey climbing a pink building. Others reportedly witnessed it scurrying across power lines. In addition to the sightings, a local resident found tomatoes and eggplants missing from his garden. He believes the monkey was responsible.

Video: Monkey on the loose in Shibuya station

20 Aug 2008

Monkey on the loose in Shibuya --

***UPDATE: The monkey has been spotted in the Omotesando area.***

Police in Tokyo are on the lookout for a wild monkey on the loose in the Shibuya area. The monkey -- identified as a Japanese macaque -- was spotted inside Shibuya station this morning (August 20), much to the surprise of morning commuters. (Watch an NNN news report.)

According to the Tokyu Corporation, which operates the Tokyu Toyoko line at Shibuya station, a security officer spotted the monkey climbing around inside the station at 9:45 AM. When the monkey perched itself on a sign, police and station employees tried unsuccessfully to trap it with nets.

Monkey on the loose in Shibuya --

After an hours-long standoff, the monkey made a run for it through the crowded station. Police and curious onlookers took chase, but the monkey eluded them by crossing a busy street and climbing up along the Yamanote line tracks. Its whereabouts are now unknown.

City officials say there has been a rise in Tokyo-area monkey sightings in recent weeks. A monkey was spotted in Koganei on August 12, and sightings were reported at three locations in Setagaya ward on August 18.

[Source: Yahoo!]

ADDED: At least one eyewitness captured the chaotic scene on cellphone video...

...and here's some pretty amazing eyewitness video of the panic that ensues when the monkey makes a run for it...

...and AP has some clean, raw footage as well...

Cicada shell cosplay

19 Aug 2008

The streets may not be ready for Shokotan's "cicada shell" look, but that doesn't stop the multi-talented entertainer from decking herself out on occasion.

Shokotan wearing empty locust shells -- Shokotan wearing empty locust shells --
Shokotan wearing empty locust shells -- Shokotan wearing empty locust shells --
(Photos from the Shokotan Blog)

Shokotan, who talked about her fascination with cicada molts and showed off part of her collection in a television appearance last year, showed up at a recent concert wearing the insect shells on her head. According to this article on Excite News, the crowd went wild at the end of her performance when she tossed the crispy shells into the front row.

[Link: Shokotan Blog]

Explorers to search Himalayas for yeti

15 Aug 2008

Abominable snowman, bigfoot, sasquatch --

Over the next two months, a team of Japanese explorers hopes to obtain indisputable video evidence confirming the existence of the legendary yeti, the mysterious apelike creature long believed to inhabit the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet.

A 7-member crew of experienced climbers, led by veteran yeti hunter and mountaineer Yoshiteru Takahashi, will depart Japan on August 16. At their destination in the Dhaulagiri mountains in central Nepal, they will establish base camp at an elevation of 4,300 meters (14,000 ft) and set up an array of automated infrared cameras along a ridge. For six weeks, the men and their state-of-the-art motion-sensitive cameras will monitor the area for signs of the yeti.

The expedition is Takahashi's third attempt to find the elusive creature. The 65-year-old mountaineer first became interested in the yeti while on a climbing expedition in the Dhaulagiri region in 1971, after fellow climbers saw a mysterious humanoid creature covered in gray fur that appeared to be about 150 centimeters (5 ft) tall and walked upright. In 1994, when Takahashi returned to the region on his first mission to find the yeti, he reportedly found small humanoid footprints in a mountain cave that had a strong animal scent. In 2003, on his second expedition, Takahashi and his crew found more mysterious footprints and observed the silhouettes of unidentified humanoid creatures from a distance.

In a written statement on the Yeti Project Japan 2008 website, Takahashi describes the yeti sighting that took place in 2003. "Three dark silhouettes were observed at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2003 on the southeast ridge of Gurja Himal," he writes. "They looked almost human and walked upright on two legs."

According to Takahashi, the expedition crew had long expected to lay eyes on a yeti, but the sighting shocked them nonetheless. At the same time, however, the incident brought a sense of relief because it confirmed that the creature was indeed out there somewhere.

Over the years, numerous yeti sightings have been reported in the region. Takahashi's 2003 encounter -- the 4th sighting known to have occurred on the southeast ridge -- strengthened his convictions about the yeti. In a recent interview with the Asahi Shimbun (who, along with Suntory, is a co-sponsor of the current expedition), Takahashi said, "The yeti is not a bear or a monkey. It is definitely an unknown creature that walks on two legs."

Unfortunately, however, the 2003 expedition (whose sponsors included Pepsi, Suntory, Nikon, and the Asahi Shimbun), failed in its goal to produce visual evidence of the yeti's existence.

But now, five years later, Takahashi and his crew are better equipped than ever to capture the yeti on camera, and they are sure they will succeed this time. Takahashi, who believes clear photographs or video of the yeti will pave the way for future scientific research, says, "We are confident we can prove its existence this time, and once we do, we can start working to protect it."

[Sources: Asahi, Yeti Project Japan 2008]

Related: Seven mysterious creatures of Japan

Stretchable circuitry for soft machines

13 Aug 2008

Stretchable electronic circuit -- In a technological advance that opens up new possibilities in the fields of robotics and wearable computing, researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a stretchable, rubbery material that conducts electricity and can be incorporated into electronic devices.

The researchers -- led by assistant professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo -- were able to create elastic electronic circuits that could be stretched up to 1.7 times their original size without affecting performance, thanks to conductive wires made from a new carbon nanotube-polymer composite they developed.

In recent years, scientists have made advances in blending carbon nanotubes (good conductors of electricity) with polymers to make flexible conductive materials, but success has been limited because nanotubes tend to cluster together, causing the composite to harden when too many nanotubes are added. The University of Tokyo researchers were able to overcome this hurdle by mixing the nanotubes with an ionic liquid containing charged particles that keep the nanotubes evenly distributed and prevent them from clumping together. The result is a stretchable material that conducts electricity more than 500 times better than other commercially available carbon nanotube-polymer blends.

With the list of potential uses of stretchable electronic circuits limited only by the imagination, the researchers envision applications ranging from high-tech suits that enhance athletic performance and monitor the wearer's physical condition, to soft machines with flexible mechanical parts. For robots, elastic electronic circuits will enable layers of soft, sensor-laden skin to be stretched tightly across the curves of their bodies, giving them both a more lifelike appearance and greater sensitivity to touch.

The research results were published in the online edition of Science (August 8).

[Link: Yomiuri]

See also: Robot beauty goes skin-deep

Photos: Tetrapod beaches of Japan

12 Aug 2008

Tetrapod --
Near Tappi Saki, Aomori (Photo: Mr_M_Montgomery)

Hit the beach anywhere in Japan, and you are likely to see endless piles of tetrapods -- enormous four-legged concrete structures intended to prevent coastal erosion. By some estimates, more than 50% of Japan’s 35,000-kilometer (22,000-mi) coastline has been altered with tetrapods and other forms of concrete. Critics, who blame the tetrapod invasion on decades of excessive government spending designed to bolster the construction industry, argue that in addition to posing a danger to swimmers, surfers and boaters, tetrapods actually accelerate beach erosion by disrupting the natural processes that shape the coastal environment. Meanwhile, others have developed an aesthetic appreciation of the tetrapod landscape, as evidenced by a host of stunning Japanese tetrapod photos on Flickr.

Tetrapod --
Location unknown (Photo: saksak)

Tetrapod --
Location unknown (Photo: f l u x)

Tetrapod --
Kawasaki (Photo: gullevek)

Tetrapod --
Kobe (Photo: Joshua Richley)

Tetrapod --
Hamamatsu, Shizuoka (Photo: seotaro)

Tetrapod --
Yakushima (Photo: TommyOshima)

Tetrapod --
River bank, Shikoku (Photo: kodama)

Tetrapod --
Amarube (Photo: shikihan)

Tetrapod --
Tetrapod molds -- Location unknown (Photo: Toru Aihara)

Tetrapod --
Location unknown (Photo: electricnude)

Tetrapod --
Location unknown (Photo: takay)

Tetrapod --
Location unknown (Photo: saksak)

[Images: Flickr photos tagged "Tetrapod" & "Tetrapods"//Further reading: Japan Times, Wikipedia]

Styrofoam dome homes

08 Aug 2008

Styrofoam dome house --
Styrofoam dome houses at Aso Farm Land (Photo by: Erika Snyder)

While styrofoam may be most commonly associated with disposable coffee cups, meat trays and packaging, prefab home manufacturer Japan Dome House Co., Ltd. uses it to construct easy-to-assemble modular kit homes.

Japan Dome House --

Dubbed the "habitat for the 21st century," the Dome House is an igloo-shaped structure built from snap-together wall sections made of 100% expanded polystyrene foam (styrofoam). It might seem like an odd choice of material for a house, but the company lists a number of advantages that styrofoam has over traditional materials. Unlike wood and metal structures, for example, the styrofoam Dome House does not rust, rot or attract termites. It is also highly resistant to earthquakes and typhoons. In addition, the walls, which are treated with a flame retardant, emit no toxic fumes in a fire.

Styrofoam dome house --
Dome House interior

The styrofoam used in the Dome House's 175-millimeter (7 in) thick walls is significantly denser and stronger than ordinary packing foam. The material has excellent thermal insulation properties, resulting in higher energy efficiency and lower heating and cooling costs.

Styrofoam dome house --

Construction of the Dome House shell is quick and easy. The prefabricated pieces, which each weigh about 80 kilograms (175 lbs), can be carried by 2 or 3 people and assembled in a few hours. Once the shell is put together, coats of mortar and paint are applied for further protection from the elements. (Watch a short video of the assembly process.)

Measuring 7.7 meters (25 ft) wide and 3.85 meters (13 ft) tall, the basic Dome House has a floor space of 44.2 square meters (475 sq ft). It is possible to construct larger, elongated domes by adding more pieces, and joint units allow multiple domes to be connected into a single structure.

Dome Houses, which are approved by Japan's Land and Transport Ministry, can be erected anywhere in Japan with the proper permit. According to the manufacturer, the versatile structures are suitable for use as hotel rooms, restaurants, freezer rooms, or even as hog farms.

The Aso Farm Land resort village in Kyushu uses about 480 styrofoam domes as lodging, recreational facilities and retail shops.

Styrofoam dome houses at Aso Farmland Village --
Aso Farm Land

The Dome House can also be used as a bar, karaoke room, steam room, and more.

Japan Dome House --
Styrofoam dome bar

Styrofoam dome house --
Mushroom House karaoke room at Suijin-no-mori hot spring (Oita prefecture)

Styrofoam dome home --
Styrofoam dome steam room

Whether or not this type of home is truly "perfect for the modern age" as the company suggests, the price is right. Dome House kits start at around 3 million yen (under $30,000), which does not include the cost of transport, assembly, interior construction, etc.

[Link: Japan Dome House]