Tag: ‘Asia’

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

Fake Mickey Mouse Olympic statues in Beijing

24 Jul 2008

Fake Mickey Mouse Olympic statues in Beijing --

The Yomiuri Online has posted a photo of some new Olympic-themed statues on display in Beijing's financial district. The statues -- which appear about one year after Disney cried copyright infringement in response to a host of knock-off Disney characters at Beijing's Shijingshan Amusement Park -- depict five Mickey Mouse-like characters engaging in Olympic sports. When asked about the resemblance to Mickey, a spokesperson replied, "They have square holes in their ears. They are not copies." The spokesperson suggested the statues are unique because they incorporate the themes of old Chinese coins (the square holes), the year of the rat, the Olympics and the financial district into the design. However, children passing by the statues were seen pointing and saying, "Look! It's Mickey!"

Police sketch: ‘Faceless’ bank robber (Thailand)

05 Feb 2008

Sketch of 'faceless' bank robber --
The Royal Thai Police have released the sketch of a man suspected of stealing 200,000 baht from the Ladprao branch of the Government Savings Bank (GSB) in Bangkok several weeks ago. According to a report on the newsclip.be Japanese language Thai news site, this sketch is based on the recollections of eyewitnesses, who say the suspect wore a motorcycle helmet at the time of the robbery.

Seen him?

Dumb ‘Smart Globes’ recalled

11 Jan 2008

Smart Globe -- Tokyo-based educational company Gakken is recalling 10,000 of their electronic talking Smart Globes following a rash of customer complaints about a mislabeled Taiwan. On the globes, Taiwan -- a self-governing nation that split from communist China in 1949 during a civil war -- is labeled as "Taiwan Island," and the globe's smart pen reader, which streams audio data about a nation's geography, history and culture whenever you touch its location on the globe, identifies Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China.

Gakken had originally intended to use the standard labeling for Taiwan (as per the Ministry of Education's specifications), but the Chinese factory based in Shenzhen apparently refused to produce the globes unless Gakken agreed to label Taiwan as part of China. Gakken agreed to the factory's demands.

The company sold out their entire first shipment of 10,000 Smart Globes, which were released in Japan last August, but customer complaints flooded in, prompting a recall.

Interestingly, a note included in the box along with each Smart Globe explained that Taiwan's name and data had been changed at the factory based on instructions from the Chinese government. However, at a January 10 press conference to announce the recall, Gakken said that they did not receive direct instructions to make the changes, and that they are investigating why the changes were made.

According to a Gakken press release announcing the Smart Globe recall, the company is reimbursing customers the full price of 29,400 yen ($270).

In a similar move, toy maker Takara Tomy also held a press conference on January 10 to apologize to customers and announce a recall of their smart "Talking Globe," which -- like Gakken's Smart Globe -- features a mislabeled Taiwan and was manufactured in China.

[Source: Yomiuri]

‘Tondon’: Balinese-style robot janitor

02 Aug 2007

Tondon, robot janitor --- An autonomous robot janitor built by Subaru (Fuji Heavy Industries) and Sumitomo has landed a job cleaning the outdoor hallways of a new 14-story Bali-themed luxury apartment complex in Tokyo. Lovingly nicknamed 'Tondon' in an apparent reference to a legendary Balinese snake god, the robot is a close relative of RFS1, the autonomous floor cleaning robot that received Japan's 2006 Robot of the Year Award last December.

Like the RFS1, which currently cleans hallway floors inside ten Tokyo-area office buildings, Tondon works unsupervised and relies on an optical communication system to control the building's elevators, allowing it to move freely from floor to floor as needed. To improve the robot's ability to clean gritty outdoor surfaces, Tondon's makers have added a set of heavy-duty brushes designed to sweep up leaves and dirt from hallway floors and drains. Furthermore, Tondon's outer shell has been strengthened and waterproofed to protect its internal components from the elements, and it has been painted with a unique design to complement the apartment building's Bali-themed decor.

Tondon also has a number of safety features that help it better coexist with the building's residents, including proximity sensors that help prevent collisions with people, as well as bumper switches that stop the robot in its tracks when it is touched. A protective guard around the brushes prevents the robot from giving people unwanted shoeshines, while lamps and voice announcements provide ample warning when it is approaching.

A set of video cameras has also been added to the robot. With four cameras that record the robot's every move and a hard disk that stores the video feed, human overlords can keep close tabs on Tondon to make sure it doesn't nap on the job. The cameras can also be used for hallway surveillance, the company says, allowing the robot to double as a watchful security guard as it cleans.

[Source: Fuji press release]

NEC’s drive-thru face recognition system

20 Jul 2007

Drive-thru face recognition system -- On July 19, electronics giant NEC announced it has developed the world's first automated border control system that uses facial recognition technology capable of identifying people inside their automobiles. The system is already in operation at checkpoints on the Hong Kong - Shenzhen border.

Built around NEC's NeoFace biometric face recognition system, as well as NEC's electronic passport technology, the system is designed to boost the speed and efficiency of Hong Kong Immigration Department operations by allowing residents with microchipped national ID cards to remain in their vehicles while automated cameras verify their identities. Hong Kong residents aged 11 or over are required by law to carry a national ID card (HKID), and the recently issued "smart" IDs are embedded with chips that contain biometric and personal data.

The system works by first reading a vehicle’s license plate as it approaches a border gate. Because each vehicle in Hong Kong is registered to an individual driver, a simple automated database check determines who the driver should be. Next, the cameras scan the face of the driver and a database search is performed. If there is a match, the immigration process is completed and the gate opens, allowing the vehicle to pass through.

For now, NEC's setup only works with truck drivers, but coming improvements promise the ability to identify up to 8 passengers per vehicle. The cameras have been installed at 8 of the 40 border gates on a new road connecting Hong Kong and Shenzhen, with all 40 gates expected to be upgraded by August.

NEC eventually hopes to develop a face recognition system so quick and accurate that it would eliminate the need for fingerprinting.

[Sources: Softbank Business + IT, NEC press release]

Robot nabs naked fugitive in freezing Seoul sewer

01 Feb 2007

Robot nabs naked fugitive in freezing Seoul sewer --- This story is not from Japan, but I couldn't resist...

On Tuesday, police in Seoul, Korea enlisted the help of a small robot to track down a fugitive purse-snatcher hiding out in the city's sewage system. The 57-year-old suspect was on the run after snatching a woman's purse at a hospital. Witnesses to the crime tried to detain the man, but he wriggled out of his clothes -- all of them -- and managed to escape into the city's sewage system through a 1-meter (3.3 feet) diameter pipe.

Police located the man four hours later with the help of a 6-wheeled, camera-equipped sewage pipe inspection robot able to broadcast images for up to 150 meters (nearly 500 feet). Once they apprehended the man, who appeared to have lost his way in the darkness of the cramped pipes, the police returned him to the hospital, where he received treatment for hypothermia. The temperature in Seoul on Tuesday was 1 degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit).

At the end of this video news clip, the police ask the man why he stripped off his clothes, to which he replies, "Leave me alone. I'm not feeling well."

[Sources: Chosun Ilbo, TUF]

Frog killer found in Tokyo

12 Jan 2007

Checking frogs for chytridiomycosis -- Asia's first confirmed case of chytridiomycosis, a fatal infectious disease that affects amphibians, has been discovered in the Tokyo area. The disease has resulted in dramatic population declines and extinctions in the Americas and Australia and is a primary cause of shrinking frog populations in many areas around the world.

Although chytridiomycosis poses no danger to mammals (including humans), birds or reptiles, there is great danger to amphibians. The disease is caused by exposure to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a parasitic chytrid fungus that kills more than 90% of amphibians that come into contact with it.

A consortium of 16 environmental groups, including World Wildlife Fund Japan, the Japanese Society of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, and the Herpetological Society of Japan, plan to issue an emergency declaration calling for increased quarantine efforts and closer monitoring of the sale and distribution of amphibians.

The disease was discovered by a Tokyo-area resident who keeps South and Central American frogs as pets. In November and December last year, 14 of his 35 frogs (11 species) died suddenly. Laboratory analysis at Azabu University in Kanagawa prefecture revealed chytridiomycosis as the cause of death. The likely source of the infection was a frog purchased at a pet store at the end of October.

Azabu University researchers warn there is no way to control the disease if it spreads outdoors, and that it will trigger the widespread death of frogs in Japan.

The environmental groups are asking people to check their frogs for signs of the disease. Symptoms include lifelessness, red spots on the skin and other unusual skin conditions. People are encouraged to seek treatment for their pets if the disease is found, and are urged not to abandon their amphibians in the wild.

/// Text in illustration ///

Signs of chytridiomycosis
- Leg movement appears lethargic
- Nocturnal/tree-dwelling frogs sit still the entire day
- Frog does not move when touched

Checking for chytridiomycosis
(1) Frog does not blink when touched.
(2) Frog does not try to turn over when flipped on its back.
(3) Frog does not react when mouth is pinched shut.

[Source: Asahi]

Hiroshima resets “peace clock” after NK nuclear test

11 Oct 2006

Peace Clock at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum -- The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum's Peace Watch Tower, which records the number of days since the last nuclear test, was reset on October 10, one day after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test.

The peace clock's two digital displays show the number of days since the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the number of days since the last nuclear test was conducted. Before being reset on Monday, the clock read 40 -- the number of days since the US conducted a subcritical nuclear test at the end of August.

The clock was set up on August 6, 2001 on the 56th anniversary of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Over the past 5 years, the clock has been reset 11 times following each of the nuclear tests conducted by the US (some in cooperation with the UK) and Russia.

Museum director Koichiro Maeda says, "We are concerned that more nations will start to believe their national security can be strengthened by possessing nuclear weapons. It is extremely foolish." The museum is now considering making room for North Korea in the reference library exhibit, which displays information about nations possessing nuclear weapons.

About 300 survivors of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing gathered in the park near the museum condemning the possession and testing of all nuclear weapons by all nations.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun, Chunichi]