Tag: ‘Hokkaido’

JAXA testing space solar power system

08 Feb 2008

Space Solar Power System --
For decades, scientists have explored the possibility of using space-based solar cells to power the Earth. Some see orbiting power stations as a clean and stable energy source that promises to slow global warming, while others dismiss the idea as an expensive and impractical solution to the world's energy problems. While the discussion goes on, researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have begun to develop the hardware.

JAXA, which plans to have a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) up and running by 2030, envisions a system consisting of giant solar collectors in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth?s surface. The satellites convert sunlight into powerful microwave (or laser) beams that are aimed at receiving stations on Earth, where they are converted into electricity.

On February 20, JAXA will take a step closer to the goal when they begin testing a microwave power transmission system designed to beam the power from the satellites to Earth. In a series of experiments to be conducted at the Taiki Multi-Purpose Aerospace Park in Hokkaido, the researchers will use a 2.4-meter-diameter transmission antenna to send a microwave beam over 50 meters to a rectenna (rectifying antenna) that converts the microwave energy into electricity and powers a household heater. The researchers expect these initial tests to provide valuable engineering data that will pave the way for JAXA to build larger, more powerful systems.

Microwave Space Solar Power SystemJAXA says the orbiting solar arrays, which have the advantage of being able to collect energy around the clock regardless of the weather on the ground, will need to transmit microwaves through the earth's atmosphere at frequencies that are not affected by the weather. The researchers are now looking at using the 2.45GHz and 5.8GHz bands, which have been allocated for use with industrial, scientific and medical devices.

JAXA ultimately aims to build ground receiving stations that measure about 3 kilometers across and that can produce 1 gigawatt (1 million kilowatts) of electricity -- enough to power approximately 500,000 homes.

[Source: Hokkaido Shimbun]

Happy fun snow creatures

31 Jan 2008

With winter in full force, now is the perfect time to explore the frozen wilds of the Japanese web in search of happy fun snowmen.

Snowman --

Arguably the best place to see snowmen is the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's most celebrated winter events. This photo (by Flickr user kozyndan) shows a sea of snowmen (yuki-daruma) built by visitors to the festival, who attach written wishes for good luck.

Snowman --

The week-long festival held in early February is home to Japan's largest snow and ice sculpture competition, and all sorts of wacky snow creations can be seen at venues around town -- like this giant chihuahua and Asimo.

Snowman --

Or your favorite anime character. (Photo from Jonas's Travels in Sapporo website.)

Snowman --

Or much more impressive creations like these dinosaurs. For more pictures from the festival, try a Google image search for "札幌雪祭り" (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri).

Of course, the Sapporo Snow Festival is not the only place to encounter snowmen -- they appear wherever there is snow.

Snowman --

This photo, taken in the town of Kuroishi (Aomori prefecture), shows what is proudly labeled as Japan's largest snowman. The 31-meter-tall (100 ft) monster has a face composed of local agricultural products, such as charred apple trees for the eyebrows, seashells for the eyes, rice for the cheeks, apples for the mouth, daikon radishes for the ears, and carrots for the collar.

Snowman --

This Namahage folk demon was spotted at last year's Lake Tazawa Snow Festival.

Snowman --

These glowing snowmen were seen standing watch at Kanazawa castle.

Snowman --

And this one. Haven't we seen this somewhere before?

Sometimes happy snowmen can be found where there is no snow -- like in Tokyo. For this year's Kanda Yuki-Daruma Fair in late January, organizers trucked in 70 tons of snow from rural Gunma prefecture and built 30 large snow creatures on the sidewalks of Kanda.

Snowman --

Here is a snowy incarnation of Baikinman, an evil character from the Anpanman anime series. (Photo via Mycom.)

Snowman --

And here are Kurohige Kiki Ippatsu (Pop-up Pirate game) and Shiisaa (a mythical Okinawan creature). For more from the Kanda Yuki-Daruma Fair, see these photos.

Photo: Strange clouds over Sea of Okhotsk

20 Jun 2007

Strange clouds over Hokkaido --

This photograph, taken June 18 from a Japan Coast Guard aircraft off the northeastern coast of Hokkaido, shows a bird's-eye view of cloud streets over the Sea of Okhotsk. According to the Sapporo Meteorological Observatory, these low-altitude stratocumulus clouds were rolled into long, distinctive ribbons after becoming trapped in air currents. While it is not uncommon for wind to form such patterns in stratocumulus clouds, photos that clearly show the clouds rolled into strips are rare, says the observatory.

UPDATE: Watch the video.

[Source: Mainichi]

Artificial blood vessels made from salmon skin

12 Mar 2007

Artificial blood vessels made from salmon skin --- Researchers from Hokkaido University have created artificial blood vessels using collagen derived from the skin of salmon. The researchers, who replaced the aortas of rats with the artificial blood vessels, claim to be the first to create and successfully test artificial blood vessels made using collagen derived from marine animals.

The researchers decided to use salmon skin for regenerative medicine applications after seeing large amounts of the skin go to waste in local seafood processing operations. On Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, seafood processors discard about 2,000 tons of salmon skin each year -- enough to yield an estimated 600 tons of collagen. In addition, there are no known viruses transmitted from salmon to humans, so the use of salmon collagen is regarded as relatively safe. Scientists have created artificial tissue from bovine (cow) and porcine (pig) collagen in the past, but there have always been concerns over the possible transmission of infectious diseases such as BSE (mad cow disease).

One problem the researchers faced early on was the salmon collagen's poor resistance to heat. Because salmon collagen ordinarily melts at about 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit), it could not be used as a tissue replacement in humans. But by developing a process that forms the collagen into fibers and strengthens the bonds between molecules, the researchers were able to raise the melting point of the collagen to 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit).

The heat-resistant collagen was used to create blood vessels with an internal diameter of 1.6 mm and a wall thickness of 0.6 mm. When grafted into rats, the artificial blood vessels demonstrated the ability to expand and contract along with the heartbeat, and they were shown to be as strong and elastic as the original aortas.

Nobuhiro Nagai, from Hokkaido University, says the researchers plan to test the blood vessels in larger animals such as dogs. One day they hope to see their biomaterial used in humans as a replacement for damaged blood vessels, he says.

The research results are set to be announced at a meeting of the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine (JSRM), which is scheduled to begin in Yokohama on March 13.

[Source: Mainichi]

Dual-mode vehicle: half train, half bus

27 Nov 2006

Dual-mode vehicle (DMV) -- A dual-mode vehicle (DMV) that looks like a minibus and runs both on conventional railway tracks and paved roads was tested on the Gakunan railway in Fuji city (Shizuoka prefecture) on the night of November 24. The 28-passenger test vehicle was developed by the Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido) in a project that began in 2000.

Technicians aboard the DMV evaluated the safety and ride quality during the series of tests on rail and road. After the 3-km railway portion of the test course, the vehicle stopped at a railroad crossing, retracted the railroad wheels and switched to street mode in a mere 10 seconds.

A number of local governments around Japan have shown interest in introducing DMVs because they are inexpensive to manufacture and run. In addition, DMVs conveniently allow passengers to travel from train stations to their final destinations without having to transfer vehicles. DMVs appear to be particularly attractive in rural areas with limited public transportation because they allow railways to offer more versatile and efficient services.

In April 2007, JR Hokkaido will begin operating DMVs along part of the Kushiro line in eastern Hokkaido.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

Giant interactive squid robot in the works

20 Jul 2006

Giant squidIn squid-crazy Hakodate, squid fishing is big business, the local specialties include shio ramen (squid-topped ramen) and ikasomen (raw squid cut into the shape of somen noodles), the summer festivals have residents busting squid-like moves in a dance called ika-odori (a squirmy version of the traditional bon dance performed at summer festivals throughout Japan), and the city fish is the squid. It is therefore unlikely that anyone was surprised when, on July 18, a group of Hakodate residents made an official announcement regarding plans to create a giant robotic squid for the city.

The citizens' group, called "Robot Festival in Hakodate," aims to create a new symbol for Hakodate, one of the leading tourist destinations in Hokkaido -- and what better symbol than a giant robotic version of the city's favorite creature?

Members of the group include university professors specializing in robotic engineering, who will work to incorporate cutting-edge technology that will allow the robot to be controlled remotely via the Internet. Development will be led by Hitoshi Matsubara and Hidekatsu Yanagi, information architecture professors at the School of System Information Science at Future University-Hakodate (FUN). Matsubara will handle the robotics research and development, while Yanagi will handle design. Students from the university, along with Hakodate high school teachers and students and others in the local manufacturing industry, will contribute ideas in brainstorming sessions.

The group has chosen "light" as the design theme for the robot -- a choice based on the night view from Mt. Hakodate, a popular local tourist attraction where visitors can marvel at the twinkling lights of the city and squid fishing boats offshore. In line with this theme, the entire body of squid robot will be covered in lights that blink as the robot moves. In addition, the robot will be equipped with a set of wireless receivers and will have its own homepage featuring a set of controls that allow remote users to move the robot's tentacles and eyes.

The developers plan for the robot to stand 5 meters (16 feet) in height. After an intial 1.5-meter prototype is completed this November, work will begin on the larger final version, which the group aims to unveil in a parade at the Hakodate Port Festival in the summer of 2007.

Masao Fujii, chairman of the citizens' group, says, "We hope to create a high-quality robot that attracts a lot of attention and makes people want to come to Hakodate."

The total cost of the robot is expected to be somewhere in the 30 million yen range (US$250,000). The group hopes to cover much of that cost with membership fees, so they are now recruiting members.

[Source: Hokkaido Shimbun]