Archive for May, 2010


Toilet Doko Desu Ka?

Bathroom breaks are a fact of life. No matter what culture you’re from or how you feel about the world, when nature calls we all think along the same line. In Japan one can find toilets similar to the thrones back in the United States. However there are also toilets with extreme upgrades over our well known American toilet, as well as extreme downgrades. Most toilets in Japan have heated seats the help protect users from cold shock syndrome upon placement of their posteriors. There are some toilets that have automatic lid lifters that tend to scare unsuspecting users. I almost broke the door of the bathroom I was using the first time I was put in front of an automatic seat lifter. The final feature of the upgraded toilet is the washing features it offers. If one is inclined to use it all that needs to be done is the press of a button and the toilet will help clean you out. With all the features of washing toilets it’s hard to know why squatting toilets can still commonly be found in Japanese restrooms.

Toilet

Toilet

Move over America, it doesn’t look like baseball is your favorite pastime anymore. You haven’t witnessed a live baseball game until you’ve seen one here in Japan. First thing to note some of the nicest security you’ll see anywhere. Yes, the guards at the gates will search you bags but they’re not pushy or irritating about it like the security back home. Second, if you’re entering the arena with a drink from the outside of any kind the associates will graciously pour it into a nice plastic cup for you and thank you for buying tickets to the game. Third, the prices inside the stadium are actually fair, still more expensive than outside goods but not to the level where complaints can be deemed necessary. Finally the crowd, absolutely everyone at the stadium is excited to be there, and the home team receives non-stop praises and chants from their loyal fans. The fans may be loud but they’re fun and extremely nice. There was a super fan sitting in front of us who taught us some of the cheers rather than laughing at our ill fated attempts. I don’t think I can experience a baseball game in America quite like the one I was a part of here in Japan.

Dr. C. Enjoying Baseball

The subway system in Japan is an essential part of life for most Japanese people. Since most locals don’t have drivers licenses a subway provides them with a cheap and efficient alternative. Entry into the subway system can be achieved many different ways. Casual users can use the ticket master to buy a pre-paid entry ticket which gets recycled into toilet paper after the transactions are complete. Heavy users can purchase a subway card. In Tokyo there are two major cards Pasmo and Suica. Pasmo is more of a direct subway card handled by the Tokyo subway companies where Suica is the card put out by Japanese rail company JREast. Once you’re in possession of a subway card, you can charge it at any ticket station and use it as much as you want. Pasmo and Suica are not only earth friendly, they’re also multifunctional. Patrons can use their cards to purchase goods from vending machines and from stores inside and sometimes even outside the subway tunnels. With all the uses for a subway card the Japanese have something better than a license that is also more eco-friendly.

Pasmo

Pasmo

I’m writing this post from one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen in Japan, a place named ManBoo, a “manga kisa” or internet cafe. This place is basically like a high-tech Japanese youth hostile, for 15 dollars or 1480 yen a night you are given access to a private booth. This private booth contains a computer with all the essentials, a 21 inch HDTV, a safe to secure your money, a DVD player with remote control, a great pair of head phones, and access to whatever video game system the company decides to make available. The private booth isn’t the only thing you get for the price, users of the manga kisa are also given access to all the drinks and ice cream they can possibly stomach in the time provided. There is also hot food available but that does cost a bit extra, can’t have it all I guess. Oh and did I forget to mention the fact that the private booth comes with a beanbag chair and that the booth itself is a padded leather seat that’s comfortable enough to sleep on. Overall the manga kisas are an extremely comfortable places to stay at extremely affordable prices, eat your heart out youth hostiles.

In the United States if one desires to be self-reliant they need a driver’s license if they hope to go anywhere. There are not many places in the U.S. where other forms of transportation are available or affordable. That’s why coming to Japan is a bit of a culture shock because it’s basically turning this mentality on its head. There are many different forms of public transportation available in Japan, and it is more common for a person to use a subway to get from point A to B rather than a car. As an American, the idea of not having a driver’s license is extremely odd because back home it’s hard for someone to be successful without one, although there are those rare cases. In Japan I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that most individuals probably don’t have a license due to how expensive it is to own a car here in Japan and how cheap it is to ride the subway, take a train, or charter a bus.

Another Unrelated Cool Pic

Another Unrelated Cool Pic

While walking around Japan you’ll find vending machines absolutely everywhere. These vending machines sell a variety of goods from hot and cold drinks, ice cream, noodle cans, meal tickets, and even French fries. Really almost anything you can imagine could very well be sold in the vending machines in Japan. Besides being a marvel of variety, Japanese vending machines are also a marvel of technology. In America if you want a hot or cold drink you have to find a specialized machine for one or the other. In Japan both drink types can be offered from a single machine. If you’re in a hurry some machines allow you to buy products with your subway card which is a great way to extend its usability. I can’t help but be amazed at how well maintained the vending machines are here even the ones hidden in back alleys. No matter where you find a vending machine in Japan it’s always clean, well stocked, and one-hundred percent functional.

VendingMachine

VendingMachine

Here in Japan there are convenience stores everywhere, all along the streets one sees multiple signs for AM/PM, Lawson, 7/11 and the like. In the US, a trip to the convenience store usually implies a late night snack, or a beer and tobacco purchase. In Japan one can get these items and I dare say that convenience stores in Japan offer so much more. They are comparable to mini super markets in America, and as such it is where most Japanese people go when they need supplies for whatever reason. Food, toiletries, health and beauty products; all of these items can be found within the shelves of a “konbini”. Due to their popularity, they are able to offer better prices and more options than those of their American counterparts. Besides the usual candy and soda aisles we find in America, a Japanese convenience store is stocked with pre-prepared meals that come in little boxes known as bento. Bento boxes can hold a variety of different meals. I’ve seen some that have beef rice bowl (gyudon), pork cutlet with sauce (katsu), and many different varieties of cooked fish, seafood, or sushi. Some Japanese convenience stores have meal cards at the counter. For around 300-700 yen the clerk will cook you a meal of your choice detailed on the meal cards. With all the aforementioned information it’s hard to argue the usefulness of the Japanese convenience store.

Picture unrelated but cool!

Picture unrelated but cool!

While here in Japan I can’t help but be jealous of the mobile technologies available to them through their keitai denwa (portable phones). I’ve seen all kinds of weird and cool gadgets attached to the cell phones here and I can’t help but wonder when America will catch up with some of the Japanese innovations. Having a digital camera attached to your cell phone is nothing new back in the United States, but having a cell phone built around a digital camera is new entirely. I’ve seen a cell phone with a rotatable screen that had a full size camera lens that took ten megapixel shots. To compare to America’s best, the i-phone only has a three megapixel camera. I’ve also seen cell phones with built in solar panels to help power users up while they’re on the go. Being stuck with a Tracfone back home I’m not certain if there are cell phones capable of streaming television shows in America, but in Japan streaming TV to your mobile phone is fast and smooth.

cell phone

cell phone

On our recent visit to Future Scope and Lucent Pictures we were introduced to many 3-D translated movies, which are old movies that were re-mastered to use stereoscopic 3-D. I was skeptical about 3-D technologies and 3-D televisions but after the demo from Lucent Pictures I’m excited about the new wave of 3-D technologies. It’s surprisingly clearer with the newer technologies which shouldn’t shock anyone but I just never expected that the technology would have jumped as far as it did. What’s great about upcoming 3-D tech is the fact that it focuses more on depth rather than the dumb pop-out tricks of the past. This new focus is great for immersion into the movies or television shows because it feels more like watching the events through a window rather than a flat screen. With its new clarity, focus on depth, and old school 3-D pop-out tricks I can easily say that I’m excited instead of annoyed by the upcoming 3-D revolution.

FutureScope

FutureScope

We went to DNP (Dai Nippon Printing) on May 13th where we were witness to some of the most advanced holographic, 3-D, and touch sensing technologies in the world. The exhibition that caught my eyes more than any of the others was a machine currently in use in Louvre according to our guides. It was a table capable of sensing objects placed on it and using them to build a 3-D display on a monitor that can be viewed from all angles, it was pretty cool. The more I think about the exhibit the more I get excited about other possible uses for it. One example is with current generation video games. Customization is presently popular in mainstream video games today and I believe the scan table (as I shall call it) could be beneficial to the current trend. Artistic players could customize their characters outside of the game using the method of their choice and use color objects for artistic touches.

Did you know?

Did you know?

Otaku is the geek culture of Japan, its a world of people who obsess over things like anime and video games to the umpteenth degree. It’s a subculture that carries a bit of a negative image in the eyes of the Japanese mainstream culture. This negative image has lead to some tragic incidents like the Akihabara Massacre on June 8th 2008 where a man named Tomohiro Katō ran a truck through a crowd of otaku until it was inoperable. He then continued to attack people on foot with a dagger, in all ten people were injured and seven people died. Despite their negative image however the otaku culture has proved to be highly profitable to businesses that provide video games, manga, and anime to them, such as D3 Publishing. Personally I’m intrigued by the otaku sub-culture, being a bit of a geek myself it’s an interesting note that nerds/geeks aren’t just looked down upon in America. I just hope peoples’ misunderstanding of geeks doesn’t lead to an event similar to the Akihabara Massacre in the United States or anywhere for that matter.

Akihabara

It's a me chilling with Mario

Otaku is the geek culture of Japan, its world of people who obsess over things like anime and video games to the umpteenth degree. It’s a subculture that carries a bit of a negative image in the eyes of the Japanese mainstream culture. This negative image has lead to some tragic incidents like the Akihabara Massacre on June 8th 2008 where a man named Tomohiro Katō ran a truck through a crowd of otaku until it was inoperable. He then continued to attack people on foot with a dagger, in all ten people were injured and seven people died. Despite their negative image however the otaku culture has proved to be highly profitable to businesses that provide video games, manga, and anime to them, such a D3 Publishing. Personally I’m intrigued by the otaku sub-culture, being a bit of a geek myself it’s an interesting note that nerds/geeks aren’t just looked down upon in America. I just hope peoples’ misunderstanding of geeks doesn’t lead to an event similar to the Akihabara Massacre in the United States or anywhere for that matter.

Today we met with the vice president of D3 Publishing, a company involved in publishing manga, anime, and video games targeted towards the otaku (geek) crowd. One of their most recent games Dream C Club was published exclusively for the X-Box 360. The fact that D3 chose to support the X-Box 360 with its abysmal track record in Japan peaked my curiosity and I asked him why the 360 was a commercial failure in Japan. His first answer was because it’s not Sony or Nintendo something every outsider was thinking. All joking aside he informed me that one of the biggest weaknesses X-box 360 has going for it is the lack of brand saturation in the Japanese market. This is due to the laziness of Microsoft Japan and a lack luster or even non-existent marketing campaign. His answer was fascinating and a great lesson in the importance of a powerful advertising campaign and what it could do to help the X-Box 360’s success in Japan.

D-3 courtesy of Radin

Dream C Club D-3 photo courtesy of Radin