The centerpiece of the festival was "Mother Night," a 13-meter (43-ft) tall spaceship-like balloon sculpture by artist Noboru Tsubaki. Stationed at Roppongi Hills Arena, the imposing work monitored the carbon dioxide emissions of the onlookers and displayed real-time data on a built-in projection screen.
But perhaps the most rousing event happened at the nearby Tokyo Midtown mega-complex, where French street theater troupe Compagnie des Quidams performed their dreamy "Rêve d'Herbert" piece, featuring larger-than-life bubble people with heads that glow.
The 1970 World's Fair -- a.k.a. Expo '70 -- opened in Osaka 40 years ago this week. A total of 77 countries attended the event and the number of visitors surpassed 64 million people, making it one of the largest and best attended expositions in history. This was the first World's Fair to be held in Japan, a nation that had experienced an extremely rapid period of development in the 1960s. The theme of the Expo was "Progress and Harmony for Mankind," and the aim was to showcase the possibilities of modern technology to create a foundation for a high quality of life and peace throughout the world. Here are some photos and videos from the event.
A severed samurai head buried in central Tokyo has struck fear and awe in the hearts of locals for over 1,000 years.
The head that refused to die
The head -- supposedly buried in the Otemachi district -- belongs to Taira no Masakado, a rebellious warrior who led an insurgency against the central government in the 10th century. At the height of his power, Masakado proclaimed himself emperor -- an act that aroused the wrath of the government and ended in his decapitation. The samurai failed to become ruler of Japan, but his severed head has remained a persistent source of trouble for over 1,000 years.
Here is a brief history of the head.
903 - 940 AD: Taira no Masakado was born and raised in eastern Japan. After leading a minor rebellion and assuming control of eight provinces in northern Kanto, Masakado declared himself the new emperor of Japan. The established emperor, based in Kyoto, responded by putting a bounty on his head. Two months later, Masakado was killed in battle. His decapitated head was transported to Kyoto and put on public display as a warning to other would-be rebels.
Masakado's head on display in Kyoto
Strangely, Masakado's head did not decompose. Three months later, it still looked fresh and alive, though the eyes had grown more fierce and the mouth had twisted into a horrifying grimace. One night, the head began to glow, and it lifted into the air and flew off in the direction of Taira no Masakado's hometown.
The head grew weary on the long flight home, and it came to rest in the village of Shibasaki (present-day Otemachi, Tokyo). The villagers picked up the head, cleaned it, and buried it in a mound at Kanda Myojin shrine.
950: Ten years after the head was laid to rest, the burial mound began to glow and shake violently, and the ghost of a bedraggled samurai started to make regular appearances in the neighborhood. The frightened locals offered special prayers that seemed to put the spirit to rest.
1200~: At the beginning of the 13th century, a temple belonging to the powerful Tendai Buddhist sect was built adjacent to Kanda Myojin shrine. This apparently upset the spirit of Masakado, and the people in the area were stricken by plague and natural calamities as a consequence.
1307: Nearly a century later, a priest from an Amida Buddhist sect -- which took a more liberal, accessible approach to Buddhism than the Tendai sect -- built an invocation hall here and tended the shrine of Masakado, thus easing the spirit's anger.
Over time, Taira no Masakado came to be regarded as a deity in east Japan
1616: Kanda Myojin shrine, which had elevated Masakado to deity status, was moved to a new site to make room for the mansions of the feudal lords stationed in Edo. The burial mound and headstone were left behind in the garden of one of the mansions.
1869: After the fall of the feudal system, the Meiji government constructed their Finance Ministry building next to the burial site. The mound and headstone were left untouched.
1874: The government issued a formal declaration condemning Masakado as having been an "enemy of the emperor." His deity status at Kanda Myojin shrine was revoked.
1923: The Great Kanto Earthquake and the ensuing fires all but destroyed the mound and stone monument. The Finance Ministry building burned to the ground. Before rebuilding, the ministry excavated the grave site in search of the skull, but found nothing. They decided to erect a temporary building on the premises.
1926: Building over the burial site turned out to be a terrible decision. Finance minister Seiji Hayami died suddenly of illness, and 13 other ministry officials met similar fates over the next two years. Many workers became ill or were injured in mysterious accidents on the premises. People believed that Taira no Masakado had cursed the new building.
1928: The ministry removed part of the structure covering the burial site and began holding annual purification rituals. At first there was great enthusiasm for the rituals, but interest faded over the years.
Masakado's head takes to the skies
1940: A fire sparked by lightning burned down the Finance Ministry building and several other government offices in the Otemachi district. The day was remembered as being exactly 1,000 years after the death of Taira no Masakado. The old earthquake-damaged stone monument was rebuilt, and the site was rededicated to the samurai rebel. The Finance Ministry moved, and the land around the burial site became the property of the Tokyo municipal government.
1945: After World War II, US occupation forces seized control of the property and began to clear the land to create a parking lot. Progress was hindered by a series of suspicious accidents. In one accident, a worker died next to the grave when the bulldozer he was driving flipped over. After local officials explained the significance of the burial site to the US forces, they decided to leave part of the parking lot unfinished.
1961: Control of the property was handed back to Japan, and the parking lot was removed. Purification rituals were conducted, and the burial site was once more dedicated to Taira no Masakado. But when new buildings were constructed next to the burial mound, workers again fell ill. A figure with disheveled hair reportedly began to appear in photographs taken in the area. In an attempt to calm the spirit, representatives from local businesses started to pray at the burial site on the 1st and 15th of each month.
1984: In response to public pressure following the broadcast of an NHK television drama based on the life of Taira no Masakado, his deity status at Kanda Myojin shrine was reinstated.
1987: A string of freak accidents and injuries occurred during the filming of Teito Monogatari ("Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis"), a historical fantasy whose villain seeks to destroy Tokyo by awakening Masakado's spirit (watch the movie trailer). To prevent accidents on the set, it is now common practice for TV and movie producers to pay their respects at the burial site before bringing Taira no Masakado to the screen.
In the more than 1,000 years since Masakado's head fell from the sky, Tokyo has grown into the world's largest metropolis and the area around the burial site has become the financial center of Japan. But to this day, local business people remain wary of the power of the head in their midst, and the surrounding companies take great pains to keep Masakado's vengeful spirit in check. Supposedly, no office worker in the vicinity wants to sit with their back toward the burial site, and nobody wants to face it directly.
[Note: This is the latest in a series of weekly posts on Japanese urban legends. Check back next week for more.]
Here is a time-lapse video showing the past year of construction of the massive Tokyo Sky Tree broadcasting tower, which reached a height of 300 meters (984 ft) this month. When completed in December 2011, the tower will stand 634 meters (2,080 ft) tall, making it the tallest structure in Tokyo.
This year's Sapporo Snow Festival kicked off last weekend, bringing hundreds of massive snow sculptures into the streets of Japan's northern capital. Here's a look at some of the works on display at the event, which runs until February 11.
Towering over Wakasu Kaihin Park in Tokyo's Koto ward is one of the largest wind turbines in Japan, a 100 meter (330 ft) tall power generator built by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) in 2004, which outputs 1,950 kilowatts of electricity and is adorned with images of Astro Boy, Phoenix, Black Jack, Sharaku (the Three-eyed One), Unico and other Osamu Tezuka manga characters.
Humanoid robot Saya works reception at Takashimaya main entrance [+]
Saya, a female humanoid robot that can recognize and respond to human speech, spent the past several days working as a receptionist at the prestigious Takashimaya department store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district.
Developed in 2004 by professor Hiroshi Kobayashi of the Tokyo University of Science, the speech-capable robot can provide about 700 programmed responses to questions and commands -- enough to direct customers to the appropriate floor, make small talk, and answer a few basic questions about herself and her background.
During her stint at Takashimaya from October 14 to 18, Saya dressed like her human co-workers in a Takashimaya receptionist uniform. She also wore makeup by RMK (view a close-up). Curious shoppers seemed amused by her presence, and many stopped at the reception counter to ask questions and chat.
Although she responded appropriately most of the time, the cyber-receptionist occasionally seemed to misunderstand what people said. For example, one person complimented Saya by saying, "You are pretty," but the robot flashed a look of disdain and responded with, "Are you crazy?"
In recent days, Japan's major automakers have been releasing details about the concept cars they plan to unveil at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show, which will be held from October 24 to November 4, 2009 at Makuhari Messe near Tokyo. Environmental friendliness appears to be the common theme.
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- Toyota FT-EV II
Toyota will debut the FT-EV II, an ultra-compact electric vehicle.
Toyota FT-EV II
With a range of 90 kilometers (56 mi) and a top speed of around 100 kph (62 mph), the FT-EV II -- which stands for "Future Toyota Electric Vehicle II" -- is designed for short-distance urban driving.
Despite the vehicle's tiny size, there is seating for four inside. The designers were able to free up interior space by removing items found in traditional vehicles, such as the brake and acceleration pedals, which have been replaced by joystick controls. Other features include a dye-sensitized solar panel, electric sliding doors, and a retro-futuristic interior.
Toyota FT-EV II
By incorporating a variety of communications functions into the dashboard, Toyota aims to demonstrate how the electric vehicle might function as a powerful information device in the networked society of the future.
Toyota FT-EV II
In addition to connecting with navigation services, the FT-EV II can download music and movie content, make recommendations tailored to individual preferences, and communicate with the driver's home network, thus allowing the driver cruise the information superhighway while tooling around town. [More]
Equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, the new Kiyora is powered by a fuel-efficient 1.3-liter gasoline engine that gets up to 75 mpg with the help of regenerative braking, advanced aerodynamics and a system that shuts the engine off at stops. [More]
Honda's EV-N concept, which looks like a 21st-century version of the classic Honda N600 of the late 60s and early 70s, has a solar roof that charges the battery-powered motor, interchangeable seat fabrics, and a car-to-car communications system in the front bumper.
Using the latest in balancing technology obtained from Honda's ASIMO robot, the U3-X is capable of detecting slight changes in weight shift and adjusting its directional path accordingly. By leaning, the rider can steer the U3-X forward, backward, side-to-side and diagonally, as seen in the video below.
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- Honda CR-Z
Although Honda still calls it a concept car, the CR-Z hybrid hatchback is slated for production early next year in Japan.
During normal driving, the all-wheel drive Hybrid Tourer is powered by a 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged gasoline engine. The vehicle's two electric motors are used for low-speed driving and recharging the lithium-ion batteries, and for providing an boost when extra acceleration is needed. [More]
The PX-MiEV's front and rear wheels are powered by two permanent magnet synchronous motors, while a 1.6-liter gasoline engine powers the front wheels and works as a generator. The vehicle's smart control system automatically switches between the various driving modes depending on the vehicle speed, battery level, and road conditions.
A 3-way battery charging system allows the vehicle to be charged using either a 100-volt or a 200-volt domestic supply, or a high-power quick-charging station. In addition to powering the motors, the battery can also supply electricity to user's home during the daytime when domestic power consumption is highest, and it can be used used as an emergency power source in the event of a natural disaster. Devices can also be plugged into the vehicle's 100-volt AC auxiliary socket in the rear luggage compartment.
The PX-MiEV uses heat reflective glass and paint for a cool interior. Each of the four seats is equipped with an individual air conditioner, while a negative-ion aroma humidifier and oxygen enricher improve the comfort level and reduce fatigue.
Safety features include a monitor that displays a composite image of the vehicle's immediate surroundings, as well as a driver monitoring system that uses a camera to detect drowsy eyes. If the system detects a lapse in concentration, the driver is alerted by a series of attention-getting lights, sounds, vibrations, and smells. [More]