Tofugu » Technology http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:00:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Translation, Localization, and Nice Japanese Things: A Q&A with Matt Alt http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/08/translation-localization-and-nice-japanese-things-a-qa-with-matt-alt/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/08/translation-localization-and-nice-japanese-things-a-qa-with-matt-alt/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:00:20 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40634 When it comes to Japanese pop culture, I’m like a lot of fans. Despite years of off-and-on attempts at study, I don’t know the language well enough to follow the original versions of manga, anime, or live-action drama and movies. And yet, I know enough about the culture – and sometimes the language – to be […]

The post Translation, Localization, and Nice Japanese Things: A Q&A with Matt Alt appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
When it comes to Japanese pop culture, I’m like a lot of fans. Despite years of off-and-on attempts at study, I don’t know the language well enough to follow the original versions of manga, anime, or live-action drama and movies. And yet, I know enough about the culture – and sometimes the language – to be annoyed about what translators do to them.

Probably all of you have your own pet peeves. One of mine is when tanuki is translated as “raccoons,” an error with a history going back to the nineteenth century. And as someone who watches a lot of dramas about food, I groan at how even some of the most devoted fansubbers can’t leave well enough alone, and instead come up with many different ridiculous “translations” of “itadakimasu.”

Here on Tofugu, these discussions pop up from time to time. A recent article about a new American production of Doraemon was the occasion for much weeping and rending of garments on our Facebook page. A comment on a recent blog post that compared the anime Yokai Watch and Pokemon bemoaned how boring the English version of Pokemon was, since they’d taken out all the Japanese cultural references. You all know what I’m talking about: it’s like a dysfunctional relationship. We’re totally dependent on translators but, a lot of the time, we hate them. They’re the only reason we have access to the stuff we love and, at the same time, we feel like they are why we can’t have nice things.

So I’ve always wanted to ask a translator some questions. If they love the products of Japanese culture enough to make a career of translating them, why do they mess with them so much? On the other hand, I also thought: maybe, if we understood more about the process, we wouldn’t be so mad all the time.

Well, I was finally lucky enough to have that conversation.

matt-altattack_trilogy

Matt Alt is the co-author of a bunch of cool books about some difficult-to-translate parts of Japanese culture: yokai, yurei, and ninja. I’ve followed him online for a few years, observing that he knows about everything from 1970s robot toys to Japanese giant salamanders. And at some point I discovered what he does for a living: He co-founded a company, called AltJapan, that specializes in translation and localization. In fact AltJapan is working on the translation of the Doraemon manga right now. I wasn’t sure what localization was, but I knew what it sounded like: it’s why we can’t have nice things, right?

matt-alt-of-japanalt

Still, as much as you can tell from just knowing someone on the internet, I felt sure that Matt was a good guy and that his goal would never be to ruin nice Japanese things. He proved both true by being generous enough to answer my questions and – much to my utter shock – managing to convince me for a split second that maybe, just maybe, there was more than ignorance behind calling a tanuki a raccoon.

Q. Localization vs translation in 25 words or less. Go!

Localization is the art — and it is an art — of adapting content into different languages and cultures.

Now I’m going to cheat and go way over 25 words. The idea is for content to “feel” the same in the target language as it did in its native language. The reason “localization” is used instead of “translation,” incidentally, is because it often involves a lot of work beyond just the translation of text: manipulation of layouts, even the content itself in some cases, all with the aim of reducing the barriers for the target audience. If something’s meant as light entertainment in Japan but you need a PhD in East Asian Studies to make heads or tails of the translation, someone messed up.

Q. A good translation isn’t always exact, because word for word accuracy might not convey the intended effect. With puns, for example, a translation has to either change the content or lose the wordplay. You have to change something to convey the spirit rather than the letter of the original, right?

When it comes to Japanese-to-English (and English-to-Japanese) translation, you’re talking about two languages with absolutely nothing in common linguistically. Japanese grammar is the reverse of English, it doesn’t use articles like English does, it has honorifics, and, in casual speech, often omits subjects entirely. All of that has to be accounted for in translation. The longer and more complicated a sentence gets, the more possible ways there are to translate it.

This is why, for example, the translations of Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin feel so different, even when they’re working from the exact same Haruki Murakami texts. It isn’t because one is wrong and one is right. It’s because there’s no precise one-to-one correlation between Japanese and English and translating between them means a constant stream of judgment calls.

doraemon-english-cover

Getting to your specific question, yes, wordplay and puns can be really challenging to translate, particularly if they’re accompanied by specific images. For example, “time flies when you’re having fun” is no problem at all to convey in Japanese conceptually, but it isn’t a set idiom. So if there’s, say, a drawing of a flying clock on the page, readers might not get that joke.

My company is translating the Doraemon manga series right now. There’s one (yet to be released) episode with a gadget that transforms homonyms, words that sound the same, into their different forms. When Nobita points it at some clouds (kumo), it transforms them into spiders (also kumo). Puns with images are extremely difficult to deal with in translation. We handled that one by explaining that it was a tool for learning Japanese and keeping the Japanese homonyms in the English text. But that approach might not work in other contexts.

Q. I get that, in some cases, if everything is translated or reproduced precisely, readers/viewers who don’t know Japanese culture will be confused. But for those of us who do know the culture, stuff that we love gets lost – and I think we also sometimes feel our intelligence is being insulted. Let’s talk about some examples in the upcoming American version of the Doraemon anime that got our readers up in arms. Some of these changes seem necessary and trivial to me: replacing the circle for a grade with F. Others make me want to scream. Are audiences so ignorant that we really need to have chopsticks replaced with forks?

doraemon-english-japan-comparison2

I wasn’t involved in the anime and so can’t comment about the decisions made there. I can only talk about my experience in general.

But my basic stance is that if you are passionate enough about Japanese culture to want to understand every nuance, you’re passionate enough to learn the language and watch or read it in its original form. I wasn’t satisfied with the translations of anime and video games I played as a kid, and that spurred me to study the language so I could do a better job myself.

And now that I am doing that job myself, I can see that things aren’t nearly as cut and dried as I thought they were when I was a kid. Translators don’t work in a vacuum. It’s a service business. There’s a bigger picture, and translators are only one (important!) part of a larger mix. There are broadcast or publishing regulations, technical issues, cultural issues, demographic considerations, legal and copyright issues, budgets, schedules, and all sorts of things that affect the localization process.

If Hiroko and I are asked to make a change that troubles us, we never hesitate to raise the issue with the higher-ups, but there are some cases where we get overruled for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just out of the translators’ hands. Rolling with that is part of being a professional.

Q. Okay, but if these changes are supposed to make the cartoon more accessible, here’s what I don’t get: They haven’t re-drawn the street scenes, sliding doors, etc – all the evidence suggests that the cartoon is still taking place in Japan. So if they’re in Japan, why are they eating American food with American utensils and using American money? Isn’t that confusing?

Again, I wasn’t directly involved in the anime production, only the manga. But as a localization professional, with any production we’re involved with, whether it be a book, a video game, an anime, whatever, we have to clarify who the audience is. Is it for adults? Teenagers? Little kids? If it’s for kindergarteners, it’s entirely conceivable they’ve never used chopsticks before, perhaps never even seen them. The people who read this site are deeply interested in Japanese culture, so chopsticks are a no-brainer, but that simply isn’t the case for everyone. A lot of people, adults and kids, don’t want to learn about Japan. They just want to be entertained. And the Japanese people I know have just as many forks and knives in their kitchens as chopsticks. So it doesn’t feel that out of place to me.

Now, I’m not arguing for or against changing chopsticks to forks. I’m just saying that the people who make manga and anime in Japan, in my experience, are open to nearly any changes that might make them popular abroad. We’ve even had [anime and manga] creators tell us they’re okay with changing the genders of protagonists and things like that! That might come as a shock to foreign fans, but it’s true. And the bottom line is, when you’re talking about a kids’ show, how do children feel? Do they enjoy it? That’s really what’s important in the end.

Q. So part of what you’re saying is, sometimes we have to remember that we’re fans of a show for five-years-olds.

Yes, exactly! And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Q. It works the other way round too. There are Japanese fans of Mickey Mouse, after all.

I did a homestay in Japan back in high school, and recall being shocked at seeing high school kids wearing Sesame Street shirts and openly, unironically loving the show. Guys and girls. For them, it was just a way to learn English with a bunch of cute characters and there wasn’t any context or stigma of wearing something for pre-schoolers.

Q. So in that context, some of those changes I was whining about make more sense now. A five-year-old won’t recognize that those yen bills are money, so whatever is actually taking place in that scene won’t make sense. Whereas if you change them to dollar bills, a five-year-old isn’t going to know that they wouldn’t be using dollar bills in Japan, so that’s not really a problem. And something like what the street scenes look like is a big deal to change but probably not noticeable to a five-year-old. Right?

doraemon-english-japan-comparison1

Speaking from experience on totally different projects, there’s a limited amount of time and money that needs to be spent on the most “high value targets,” so to speak. When you’re adapting something you need to pick your battles. The more changes, the more work, and that means more money.

When you’re translating for fun you can obsess endlessly over your translations, but when you’re a pro it becomes about delivering quality within the limited amount of time and money you’re given.

Q. Moving on from things like eating utensils and money, which exist in all cultures – There are Japanese words/things/whatever that simply don’t have English equivalents. Tanuki are not raccoons or even related to them, and yokai are not ghosts/demons/monsters, for example. To me, if Disney needed the animals in the Ghibli film Pom Poko to be familiar to the American audience, they should have redrawn them as raccoons, not just called them by THE WRONG NAME. Aaargh! If American children can watch a movie about Madagascar with lemurs in it, I think a movie about Japan with tanuki in it would not make their heads explode. As far as yokai, we also seem to be able to deal with mythological beings from other cultures like the yeti, so why use a bad translation for Japanese monsters? To me, those substitutions are fundamentally different. Am I just being crazy because I am a geek about certain things?

pom-poko-gathering

Believe me, Hiroko and I are huge proponents of calling yokai “yokai” even in English. We made a special point of emphasizing that in our book “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.” So you won’t get any argument from us on that front. In fact, a key part of localization as far as we are concerned is when NOT to localize something. The word “yokai” is one example of that, and we often advise clients to leave it as-is when we’re working on their stuff. And even though we weren’t involved, I was really happy to see that the Yokai Watch people left yokai in the title.

Now, not having been involved in Pom Poko either, I don’t know how it was localized, but that is one helluva Japanese movie. It is packed with cultural references both obvious and subtle, and it would be a challenge even for experienced translators like Hiroko and I to do (a challenge we’d welcome!). My inclination would be to let a tanuki be a tanuki, but that doesn’t make the existing localization of Pom Poko “bad.” It just means they took a different approach.

pom-poko-jump

For Japanese, tanuki are a very common, everyday sort of animal with a lot of culture and folklore associated with them. You don’t need to explain that to Japanese audiences and introducing that concept isn’t the point of the film. Calling them raccoons is one way to get that baggage off the table in one fell swoop. Even if, technically speaking, it’s wrong, because tanuki are canines while raccoons are in the bear family. But if the creator agrees, the change makes it more enjoyable for the viewers, and particularly if it sells, then there’s nothing “wrong” from a localization standpoint. It’s just shades of gray. Not everyone who watches that film is going to be as up on Japanese folklore as we are.

Q. I never thought this would happen, but I kind of get it.  The way tanuki are drawn must have seemed like a godsend to translators. It is so stylized that they could be raccoons. The traditional incorrect name is “raccoon” and their folkloric personality is similar. Though I now understand, I still hate it.

While I try to recover from the shock of almost seeing that point of view, let’s move on to something I have less of a personal stake in. Your company also localizes English stuff for the Japanese market, right? I’m curious about this because I feel like American culture dominates the world so much, what’s left about the US that people aren’t familiar with? I’m assuming a children’s cartoon wouldn’t need to substitute chopsticks for forks for a Japanese audience, but I have no idea what you do need to do when going in the other direction. Can you give some examples?

We weren’t involved with it, but I heard quite a few changes were made to Grand Theft Auto V, such as editing out the sex scenes.

I can’t think of any changes to things we’ve done off the top of my head. Most recently, we did the Japanese versions of Capcom’s Lost Planet 3 and Strider, and helped out on the Japanese subtitles for the film Magic Mike. I can’t think of any major cultural changes made to any of those.

But it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. Besides the fact that content is for adults, not kids, there is an absolute hunger for translated content in Japan. If something is big abroad, chances are it’ll get translated into Japanese. Japan as a nation is very interested in foreign ideas and it isn’t at all uncommon to see translated content on bestseller lists.

Meanwhile, with very rare exceptions (such as with manga), there isn’t much of a market for books or films to be translated in the US. Americans don’t seem to be as interested in what’s going on abroad as the citizens of other countries are. It’s isn’t uncommon for foreign content to get totally remade, such as La Femme Nikita, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or the Godzilla films. Even foreign material already in English, like the British House of Cards series, gets remade for American audiences. Americans have a much lower threshold for “foreignness” than Japanese do.

Q. Finally – is there an argument to be made that, even if fans think that Pom Poko and Doraemon are ruined by these changes, we should put up with them? Because in the long run, if they are successful, more Japanese stuff will get translated for us, and maybe even more accurately, right?

The key thing to remember is that this is a business, and the point is to sell product – even in Japan, turning a profit trumps everything else. It isn’t some freeform artistic exploration for creativity’s sake. And when it comes to localization, nobody wants to change anything for the heck of it. That’s more work and effort on top of the already huge effort needed to translate it! They do it because they think it will make the end product more popular and thus more profitable. That’s the name of the game.

As I said before, I think that if you’re passionate enough to get upset about a localization, you’re passionate enough to channel that energy into learning the language. And let me be clear: I am not saying anyone is wrong for expressing their dissatisfaction. I’m not in the business of shutting down personal opinions. What I am saying is to seize that discontent. Passion and emotion are powerful things. Use them to better yourself and, maybe, in the future, better the localization industry. Dissatisfaction with the status quo drove me to learn Japanese as a kid, in the late eighties, when it was far harder to do than it is today. And believe me, I’m not the world’s greatest student or linguist. If I can do it, any motivated person can.

So consider this a challenge – if you think you can do better, do it! Study hard, pay your dues, and wait for the chance to prove that you can. But along the way, you might find things aren’t nearly as black and white as you think.

Check out a few of Matt’s awesome books:

Bonus Wallpapers!

mattaltattack-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post Translation, Localization, and Nice Japanese Things: A Q&A with Matt Alt appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/08/translation-localization-and-nice-japanese-things-a-qa-with-matt-alt/feed/ 22
Three Times Mighty Nintendo Sold Out http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/10/three-times-mighty-nintendo-sold-out/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/10/three-times-mighty-nintendo-sold-out/#comments Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:00:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39650 I hope you’re sitting down, dear reader, because I have some disturbing news. Nintendo has partnered with Nabisco to create a Mario game featuring Oreos, Nutter Butters, and Triscuits. The skateboarding bear from Dizzy Grizzlies is rumored to be an unlockable character. Dear reader, I hope you have remained seated or are planning to sit again, because this second […]

The post Three Times Mighty Nintendo Sold Out appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
I hope you’re sitting down, dear reader, because I have some disturbing news. Nintendo has partnered with Nabisco to create a Mario game featuring Oreos, Nutter Butters, and Triscuits. The skateboarding bear from Dizzy Grizzlies is rumored to be an unlockable character.

Dear reader, I hope you have remained seated or are planning to sit again, because this second paragraph contains more shocking news. Nintendo has been commissioned by NPR to remake Pokemon Red/Blue with the Pokemon replaced with 150 talk show hosts like Diane Rehm, Terry Gross, and Garrison Keillor.

I hope you are now prepared to sit harder than ever, because I have more unsettling news. Nintendo has agreed to create an original game focusing on the adventures of Southwesty, the character mascot for the SXSW Music Festival.

Actually, I have a fourth news. Those previous three newses were all lies. But if they were true, it would make Nintendo seem a little desperate, right? Making games like that would indicate that Nintendo had fallen on hard times. Well, harder times.

But the point remains, games with such blatant advertising tie-ins always feel cheap and weird. Players can sense that something is being pushed on them, which is why, if you’ve got the mun-muns (that means money), you shy away from having in-game endorsements. Even worse would be making a game from the ground up that is centered around a promotion; for example, Nintendo presents, The Legend of L-Bo, the Barilla Macaroni Noodle.

So no, Nintendo is not doing any of these things. But the truth is, it did. Back when Nintendo was the undisputed champeen of the world (of video games), it made three games at the bidding of other companies. This is not the Nintendo with a struggling Wii U or Gamecube. This is the Nintendo that made game developers and consumers bow to them and offer burnt sacrifices of praise. The Ozymandias Nintendo in its prime made three shameless, pandering, promotional games.

These are three times Nintendo sold out.

KAETTEKITA MARIO BROS.

Return-of-Mario-Bros-Header

In 1983, Nintendo released a little game called Mario Bros. which introduced pipes, turtle-stomping, and Luigi. Mario and Luigi ran around on a fixed screen kicking enemies and collecting coins. Nothing too special, but it was hit in arcades and was eventually overshadowed by the legendary Super Mario Bros. in 1985.

But in 1988, Nintendo released Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Mario Bros. Returns) for the Famicom Disk System. And to what did the Mario Bros. return? The exact same game that was made in 1983. There were a few tweaks in the physics and graphics but, at its core, Kaettekita Mario Bros. was identical to Mario Bros. Aside from gameplay, there were a few key differences, namely shameless advertising.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. was sponsored by Nagatanien, which was the the large Japanese food manufacturer that made Mario Curry and Mario Furikake, at the time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-YmrdtvC8A

Before starting a game of Kaettekita Mario Bros., one of three advertisements would play. Mario and Luigi, sometimes joined by company’s CEO, would engage in silliness in front of large advertisements for Nagatanien foods. Surprisingly, only one of them is Mario-related.

But why would anyone pay for a then five-year-old game with advertisements? Because it was cheap and promised free crap.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. was only 400 yen as part of the Famicom Disk Writer service. You could take a Famicom Disk (which was a big yellow floppy disk) to your local merchant and pay a small fee to erase and replace it with a new game, some of which were exclusive to the Disk Writer Kiosks. Kaettekita Mario Bros. was one such game.

So let’s say you had Castlevania, for which you paid 2980 yen. You would take that very good game and pay more money to erase it and, in its place, get a mediocre game with advertisements. But wait, there’s more!

Kaettekita Mario Bros. featured a mode called Nagatanien World. If you could score 10o,000 points in this mode, the game would give up a code that you could send to Nagatanien in exchange for a deck of cards or a keychain. If you scored 20o,000 points, you would get a code to receive Super Mario Bros. 3, which had just been released a month earlier.

This at least makes slightly more sense. You were erasing an expensive game you owned and enduring hours of mediocrity with commercials, all in the hopes of receiving Super Mario Bros. 3.

But the question remains, why did Nintendo need Nagatanien to do this? I understand suckering kids out of 400 yen by making them slave away for the game of their dreams (In 1988, Super Mario Bros. 3 was probably the best game in existence). But why did Nintendo need to put Nagatanien advertising in the game?

ALL NIGHT NIPPON SUPER MARIO BROS.

allnightnipponcover

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. is only slightly less lazy than Kaettekita Mario Bros. and its origins and reasons for existence are a lot clearer.

All Night Nippon (ANN) is a talk radio show that has been airing in Japan six nights a week from 1:00am to 5:00am since 1967. So it’s pretty popular. As the Famicom (The Japanese Nintendo Entertainment System) grew in popularity, ANN started several segments in their show that highlighted and praised its games.

The only information I can find about the reason this game was made is that “a deal was struck”. Fujisankei, who owns ANN, asked Nintendo to make a special version of Super Mario Bros. for a giveaway celebrating All Night Nippon‘s 20th anniversary. But why did Nintendo agree? If Howard Stern starts talking up the Wii U and his parent company asks nicely, will Nintendo make a special Howard Stern version of The Legend of Zelda? I doubt it.

Somehow for some reason, a partnership between Nintendo and Fujisankei was formed and All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. was made. And to say it “was made” means that it was brought into existence. There wasn’t a whole lot of making involved in this title.

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. is basically just Super Mario Bros. with a few cosmetic changes. The goombas and piranha plants are replaced with the pixelated head of ANN DJ Sunplaza Nakano, the characters you rescue from each castle are popular Japanese celebrities from the 80s, and the Fujisankei logo is strewn about here and there. Also the first world is changed from day to night, because All Night Nippon airs at night. That’s it.

The game is a basic hack, which couldn’t have taken Nintendo long to put together. It is unknown how many copies were given away, so existing copies are extremely rare and sell for nearly $1000.

But again, what made Nintendo do this favor for Fujisankei? What did Nintendo have to gain? Sure, they didn’t have to do much work, but why produce a strange, adulterated version of your game just because some DJs talked it up?

YUME KŌJŌ: DOKI DOKI PANIC!

doki-doki-panic-cover-2

Now, we finally get into the good stuff. The good, weird stuff.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic! (Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic!) is better known in the U.S. as Super Mario Bros. 2. You know, the one with the vegetables. This veggie-oriented game was not the Mario sequel that Japanese gamers received. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was basically the original Super Mario Bros. designed to punish and frustrate. When it came time to bring a Mario sequel stateside, Nintendo of America sidestepped the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2. not wanting the Mario series to be known for frustration. Instead, they replaced the main characters of Doki Doki Panic! with Mario heroes and released it as Super Mario Bros. 2.

It would be fine enough if Doki Doki Panic! was an imaginative romp for its own sake. It’s actually a great game! But, it was made at the bidding of Fujisankei, our friends who commissioned All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. But Doki Doki Panic! wasn’t a mere remake or rom hack. It was a full-fledged original game baked from scratch. So why this level of effort? Were the main characters of Doki Doki Panic! stars of their own popular anime series? Were they incredibly popular media characters? The truth is much more shameful.

The heroes of Doki Doki Panic! were the mascots of a festival called Yume Kōjō 87, a carnival held by Fuji TV to promote its fall lineup of shows. Granted, it was a big carnival, but its sole purpose was to promote a television station, and it only lasted from July 18 through August 30, 1987, a mere month and twelve days.

One of the themes of Yume Kōjō 87 was Rio De Janeiro’s Carnival, thus a great deal of mask imagery was used in the promotion and the festival itself. There’s a good deal of flying masks in the commercial above, and below are some stationary, non-flying masks printed on Yume Kōjō 87 phone cards.

yume-kojo-masks

So it’s no coincidence that many of the elements and enemies from Doki Doki Panic! ended up being mask related. The mushrooms, turtle shells, and stage exits in the U.S. version of Super Mario Bros. 2 were all originally masks. Likewise, many of the enemies that hop about and try to murder you wear masks.

Super-Mario-2-Villain-Masks

The shyguy in particular has become a mainstay of the Mario series. So, if you’re slurping up shyguys in the new Yoshi’s Island for 3DS, you can thank Yume Kōjō 87 for inspiring their expressionless, Michael Myers face.

But I digress.  Doki Doki Panic! is a full-length game that Nintendo poured its sweat into. Shigeru Miyamoto, Koji Kondo, and most of the original Mario team worked on this game. All this talent and hard work was expended to promote promotional characters. These characters aren’t even good enough to have their own show. They were created to promote other, better shows! Doki Doki Panic! is a promotion of a promotion. I’m not sure you can go much lower than that, unless you consider the commercials that promoted Doki Doki Panic!

Sell Out Nevermore! Well, Maybe Just One More…

King-Chipmunk

Photo by Tjflex2

So, why did Nintendo, in its mightiest form, kowtow to these other companies? Nintendo was at its bossiest back then, so why let itself get bossed around? Maybe because it was only the biggest chipmunk in Chippy-Nut Kingdom.

Nintendo may have been at the top of the video game world, but back in the late 80s, video games were still a burgeoning children’s novelty. And the burgeoning children’s novelty industry does not trump the food, radio, or television industries. Nintendo was certainly doing well for itself, but it had only recently found incredible prosperity. After 100 years of humbly manufacturing playing cards, it abruptly exploded to an unprecedented level of success, a level inhabited by companies much larger and more sophisticated than itself.

When you suddenly find yourself among the big dogs, you’re probably going to try and make those big dogs your friends. Especially if you’re a chipmunk.

So, in retrospect, it makes sense that Nintendo would do weird, sell-outy favors to make friends. But in the present and recent past, Nintendo has not been known to do favors or work with hardly anyone it couldn’t bully. Even in the difficult days of the N64 and Gamecube, Nintendo mostly kept to itself, not willing to put Cheetos in a Kirby game for a little extra cash. So it sold out a little in the beginning, but it certainly wouldn’t do anything like that again.

Whoops! I spoke too soon.

It seems that, in an effort to boost the appeal of its IP and the Wii U, Nintendo did a cross-promotion with Mercedes-Benz.  Mario Kart 8 and the Mercedes-Benz GLA SUV were both released the same day in Japan, so Mario appeared in a commercial for the GLA and the GLA appears in Mario Kart 8 a downloadable bonus vehicle.

Mario-Kart-8-Mercedes

Maybe this could be seen as more of a コラボレーション (collaboration) the way Japan loves to do, ie. SOMETHING X SOMETHING. But whatever you call it, it’s still promotion. Is Nintendo selling out yet again? Maybe not. Selling out implies that things are going well and the entity is using that success to make a shameless money or power grab. Nintendo is an established and mature company, but it isn’t having the happiest stroll through money town. It may need to team up with other companies now more than ever. Though the little chipmunk is now rather large, even giant chipmunks may need help from big dogs every now and then.

Bonus Wallpapers!

mariotofugu-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources

The post Three Times Mighty Nintendo Sold Out appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/10/three-times-mighty-nintendo-sold-out/feed/ 15
Japan’s Solar Revolution – The Sky’s (Not) the Limit http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 16:00:47 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39745 My neighborhood is changing. When you run everyday, you get to know your surroundings. You learn the locations of the essentials – water fountains, vending machines, and toilets. There are familiar faces and places. You remember which houses have dogs and learn alternate routes for when oncoming trains block your path. And you tend to […]

The post Japan’s Solar Revolution – The Sky’s (Not) the Limit appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
My neighborhood is changing.

When you run everyday, you get to know your surroundings. You learn the locations of the essentials – water fountains, vending machines, and toilets. There are familiar faces and places. You remember which houses have dogs and learn alternate routes for when oncoming trains block your path. And you tend to notice even the smallest of changes- whether it’s the blooming of flowers, a new street sign, the disappearance of a building, or the appearance of a new one.

Years ago I marveled at the number of rice paddies replaced by housing units and convenience stores. Every month another paddy was filled in and construction began. But a new trend has gripped my neighborhood. Instead of buildings, rice paddies are being replaced by new farms – the type that yield energy instead of produce.

The first one appeared next to my apartment building. Next one sprang up by work. They built one by the river too. On a recent run I discovered one in the mountains. It didn’t stop there. They appeared on top of new houses as well. Even older buildings are fitted with them. The black solar panels are popping up everywhere.

Welcome to post-Fukushima Japan.

Wake-up call

Fukushima-Reconstruction-by-Al-Jazeera

The events of March 11th, 2011 forever changed Japan’s perception of nuclear power. Fukushima’s meltdown and the resulting radiation destroyed people’s lives and contaminated the surrounding area, rendering it uninhabitable for years to come.

Fukushima provided a wake up call to the dangers of nuclear power – the worst case scenario became a reality. Suddenly, anti-nuclear groups had a new cause to rally around. Faced with disaster, people on the fence swayed to oppose nuclear power. Those that never gave the topic thought were forced to consider it.

Anti-Nuclear_Power_Plant_Rally_on_19_September_2011_at_Meiji_Shrine_Outer_Garden_03

Photo by 保守

Protests sprang up almost immediately. USA Today reported on one protest that drew an estimated 20,000 people in Tokyo. The article went on to say, “55 percent of Japanese want to reduce the number of nuclear reactors in the country, while 35 percent would like to leave the number about the same.” Popular opinion forced pro-nuclear contingencies to regroup and weather the storm.

Whatever the stance, the dangers of nuclear power became an inescapable issue that forced its way into Japan’s consciousness. Three years later, the issue still weighs heavily on people’s minds and Fukushima continues to shape Japan’s politics and energy policies.

Nuclear Shutdown

ChubuElectricPower_Hekinan_thermal_power_plant

Photo by Jihara19

Fukushima’s meltdown and the resulting outlash against nuclear power led to the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Kanoko Matsuyama of Bloomberg reported, “Japan, which got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power before the Fukushima disaster, now has all 50 of its operational reactors lying idle.”

With 30 percent of it’s power supply derived from nuclear sources, the shutdown had a significant impact on Japan’s energy production and economy. The country scrambled for alternatives.

Despite it’s large population, Japan is a small, resource poor nation. The Japan Times explains, “Japan has long been characterized as a nation with virtually no natural resources like oil, natural gas, coal, iron and copper.” As a result, Japan depends on foreign imports of raw materials and natural resources.

The nuclear shutdown forced Japan to find energy substitutes. How was the lost power production replaced? A look at an NBR report entitled Energy Mix in Japan Before and After Fukushima shows a renewed reliance on fossil fuels. In fact, according to Reuters, Japan’s imports of fossil fuels reached record highs after the 2011 disaster. But high prices, pollution, and dependence on imports make fossil fuels an unattractive long term solution.

What Alternatives?

Shimizu_LNG_Unloading_Arm_and_Mt_Fuji

Photo by Tnk3a

Aside from nuclear power and fossil fuels, Japan has limited options. Difficulties have prevented alternative power sources like hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass and wind power from making significant impacts.

According to The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, the country has already maxed out its large scale hydroelectric potential. Eric Johnston contends that high costs and environmental limits make small hydroelectric operations an unattractive investment.

Biomass (the incineration of organic materials and wastes) would utilize Japan’s trees, its most abundant resource. But as Sumitomo Corporation and Partnership for Policy Integrity explain, biomass’s energy output is inefficient and leaves a significant carbon footprint.

Geothermal energy faces its own share of problems. Deutshe Welle, a German news site reports that while Japan has enormous geothermal potential, “many in Japan are resisting the deep boring that is required to access geothermal energy.” Most raise concerns with the ecological impact. And since drilling time and steep development costs mean no short term profits, geothermal remains an unattractive investment.

Though supported by government subsidies, technological issues hamper wind power’s growth. The Japan Times explains, “Wind power has barely gotten off the ground… because installation costs for small-scale generators are still too high to be profitable.”

A lack of technology and affordability, and environmental limitations, have prevented alternative energy sources from impacting Japan’s power crisis. The FEPC reports that Japan’s renewable energy power percentage stagnated at about ten percent over the last two decades. But change is in the air, or more appropriately – the sky.

Why Solar Power?

Aikawa_Solar_Power_Plant_04

Photo by Σ64

One of Japan’s remaining solutions leaves a limited environmental footprint, requires little investment, and sees almost immediate turnover in production. Unlike the alternatives, it doesn’t involve drilling or a long development time. Deutshe Welle points out it can return income in as little as 12 months. So it should come as no surprise that solar power is gaining a foothold in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Other countries have already embraced solar power. Cleantechnica explains that Germany became one of the first – thanks to its efforts to ease regulations, offer subsidies, and educate its public. Solar power became understandable and affordable and Germany came to dominate the world in solar installation and production.

Japan’s government followed Germany’s example – enacting tariffs to make solar panel installation financially attractive. The FEPC reports, “Electric power companies are required to purchase excess electricity produced by (solar panels) installed on ordinary houses at about twice the previous purchase price.” Thanks to the tariff, solar produced electricity fetches premium prices and leads to almost immediate profits. Equipment and installation costs pay for themselves making solar panels an attractive investment.

The Fukushima Effect on All Scales

Japanese-workers-install-solar-panels

Photo by CoCreatr

Japan’s policies have spurred grassroots solar power operations. Perhaps that’s why so many houses in my neighborhood are being fitted with solar panels. According to Cisaki Watanabe, even convenience stores are getting in on the act: “Lawson sells electricity generated from solar panels to utilities and plans to use the income for more energy-saving equipment.”

In fact, Japan has become a global leader when it comes to small scale solar installations. Solar Buzz reported, “Japan was the clear leader in the small-scale segment (in 2013) with almost 40 percent of the global demand (for solar equipment).”

The Fukushima disaster and booming global market have sparked Japanese businesses to invest in large scale developments as well. The Economist reports, “Sharp, Kyocera, Sanyo and Mitsubishi Electric are investing billions of dollars to double their (solar equipment) production… over the next three years. They expect an increase in demand owing to growing subsidies for renewable energy in America and Japan.”

Large solar plants are popping up across Japan as well. Asiabiomass.jp accounts for large-sale plants in Nagasaki, Okayama, Aomori, Hokkaido, Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. “Instead of just lamenting the current situation, we wanted to take action to make Japan a better place,” Houtoku Energy President Takeo Minomiya, whose company supports large and small scale solar projects in Kanagawa prefecture, remarked in a Japan Times interview.

The Sky’s (Not) the Limit

NASA_solar_power_satellite_concept_1976

Photo by NASA

The power crisis has even sparked some ventures that go beyond the ordinary. For example, Smithsonain Magazine reported on the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, that sits atop artificial islands in the ocean. Solar Internation describes Hydrelio solar panels that seem tailor made for Japan. They float on water, protecting them from earthquake damage while preserving valuable farmland.

Another Japanese solar venture is literally out of this world. In his book, Solar Power Satellites, Don M. Flournoy explains that Japan was the first country to put hard money behind solar plants in space, offering rewards to corporations that can achieve the feat within the next thirty years. With Japan pushing the envelope, solar technology should enjoy significant progress in the decades to come.

Conclusion

setting-sun-in-japan-sea

Photo by mrhayata

Even before the March 11th, 2013 Fukushima disaster, Japanese national policy called for the abandonment of nuclear power by 2030. But The Japan Times reported a recent about-face by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “The (Japanese) government will ‘promote reactivation of nuclear reactors’ if they clear the new safety tests.”

Why would post-Fukushima Japan consider going back to nuclear power? For profit, practicality, and necessity – at this point there just aren’t any realistic alternatives. However, the country is making efforts to change that fact.

Increasing large and small scale solar operations, including those in my neighborhood, are proof. And I’d rather see more solar panels than new convenience stores – how many of those does one town need? Although solar power may only make a small dent in Japan’s carbon and nuclear footprint, it’s a step in the right direction. And with demand spurring new technologies, Japan’s solar power looks to have a bright future.

Bonus Wallpapers!

japansolarrevolution-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources

The post Japan’s Solar Revolution – The Sky’s (Not) the Limit appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/29/japans-solar-revolution-the-skys-not-the-limit/feed/ 29
The Marketing Genius Behind The “Magic” Japanese Necklace http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/14/the-marketing-genius-behind-the-magic-japanese-necklace/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/14/the-marketing-genius-behind-the-magic-japanese-necklace/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 16:00:15 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39418 In 1983, a company named Phiten was founded in Kyoto. The company made products it calls “quasi-drugs,” alternative medicine with pseudoscientific explanations for what each product is supposed to do. Most of them are supposed to harmonize with the human body’s natural energy field, to help you sleep, or energize you, or make you good […]

The post The Marketing Genius Behind The “Magic” Japanese Necklace appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
In 1983, a company named Phiten was founded in Kyoto. The company made products it calls “quasi-drugs,” alternative medicine with pseudoscientific explanations for what each product is supposed to do. Most of them are supposed to harmonize with the human body’s natural energy field, to help you sleep, or energize you, or make you good at sports.

So what? You’ve heard of this before. Why write about this company rather than the dozens or hundreds of others who do the same thing? Thanks to a happy coincidence at the turn of the century, this little Japanese company from the ’80s gets on national TV in the United States, every Sunday night at 8:00.

Energy Fields and Aqua-Metals

phiten-rabbit

Photo by *嘟嘟嘟*

First, a little talk about the claims behind the products. Phiten’s main selling point is its Aqua-Metal technology. According to their sales materials, Phiten products are dyed in Aqua-Metals, “metals broken down into microscopic particles dispersed in water.” They do this with gold, titanium, palladium, silver, and platinum.

This process is supposed to better harness the properties of the metals. What are those properties? The Phiten website says they use gold because “It’s believed that Gold helps to strengthen the immune system. It is a perfect enhancer for the absorption of nutrients, regeneration of tissues, and circulation. Many have also claimed that it is a powerful anti-aging agent.” I hope whoever wrote the ad copy gets a phone call from their high school English teacher about all those weasel words.

Phiten makes a lot of products that straddle the surprisingly thin line between alternative medicine and athletic gear: necklaces, lotions, gels, shirts, and by far the most terrifying, Aqua Gold Drinking Water. And, if you’re privy, you can even buy necklaces and lotions to make your pet feel better too. Phiten’s product line has expanded over time, and the company certainly has as well. But the real story is how this Japanese product made the leap across the Pacific Ocean into America, finding a newer, male-r market for these pseudoscientific gels and creams.

Baseball Stars and a New Sales Strategy

curtis-granderson-phiten

Curtis Granderson is a big proponent of Phiten necklaces, which have helped him hit for a .125 batting average so far this year.

In 2001, in what was either a chance occurrence or a brilliant marketing maneuver, Phiten had its big break in the United States. On one of the Major League Baseball All-Stars trips to Japan they do every so often, future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson found a Phiten necklace and decided he liked it. According to The New York Times, he started the trend in the US.

Phiten has a product that works, which is extremely important. I’ve been asked to use a lot of products, but this is very beneficial because of what I do. Pitching at my age, my body structure gets tired. I’m always trying to find a product that will make me better, to recover quicker, to be stronger, and so when I’m working with a company such as Phiten, and they’re improving and trying to get better, the results of the products I’m using will make me better as well.

– Randy Johnson

The necklaces really caught on in baseball after 2004, when the “cursed” Red Sox swept the Cardinals for a World Series victory, while seemingly everyone on the team was wearing a Phiten necklace.

Due to a confluence of superstitious baseball players and Phiten company reps making their way into Spring Training dugouts, Phiten accessories spread fast across Major League Baseball. The list of players who wear Phiten is too long to print here. The bracelets blend in fairly well, but the necklaces are hard to miss when you watch on television. In every other close-up shot, you and everyone else watching ESPN will see that ropey necklace, usually matched to the team’s color. Baseball players get them for free, and the ones that keep wearing them are free advertising for that corporation in Kyoto. In a handful of cases, those relationships are even extended into paid endorsement deals. Remember that Aqua Gold Drinking Water? Angels pitcher CJ Wilson recommends it!

cj-wilson-phiten

The benefits of what happened with Randy Johnson and the Boston Red Sox are clear today: Look at Phiten’s website and you’ll see a list of “Brand Ambassadors.” Big name baseball players from Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish to Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo sit right up at the top of the page. No one outside of baseball is a household name in the US: the US Men’s Kendo team, softball pitcher Jennie Finch, Japanese pro golfer Hideki Matsuyama. The baseball players are all wearing Phiten’s product on national television, making people like me and a country full of amateur players ask “What’s that hempy looking necklace they’re all wearing?” Without them, what are the odds that I would have ever have heard of Phiten Aqua-Metal necklaces?

You know what? I hear some guys say they help. Some guys wear them because they’re afraid that if they don’t wear them, they’ll miss out on something. I actually wore one of the Phiten bracelets at one time, and I felt that my elbow pain went away. Then I gave it to somebody else by mistake, and he put it in his pocket and said his cheek went numb.

– Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle

The company is now branching out into the NBA and NHL, with hopes of replicating their success on a new market. And unless NBA and NHL players happen to be more resistant to wearing necklaces on TV, what’s there to stop this formula for success from working again?

Hedging Bets and the Logic of Magic

phiten

Photo by Alan Sung

It’s tempting to say baseball players are stupid or superstitious for wearing the necklaces and buying into the hype (the ones who aren’t getting paid to endorse Phiten, that is). But what harm does it do them? They’re not paying for the necklace or the bracelet or the athletic tape, and a lot of their teammates wear them, and who are they to say the pseudoscience and chemistry is made up?

Occasionally you’ll see someone do an informal study on the effectiveness of Phiten wear on sports performance, but the results never say much. In a report for ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” program, Dr. John Porcari of The University of Wisconsin at La Crosse performed a series of tests on the Power Balance bracelets, an American product once very popular in the NBA. He had athletes perform a number of tests based on Power Balance promotional material, demonstrating strength, balance, and flexibility. The athletes would do the test once while wearing a Power Balance bracelet and once wearing a dollar store rubber bracelet, with a wristband covering the bracelet so they would not know which they were using. No matter which bracelet the athletes wore, they performed better in their second tests, either from added familiarity in the experiment, or from the added confidence they got from the switch in bracelet. Porcari proclaimed that the bracelets were a hoax.

Phiten is treading dangerous ground. That American “magic bracelet” company, Power Balance, was forced to pay a $57 million settlement in 2011, practically ending the business. The company claimed that their bracelets improved the wearer’s strength, balance, and flexibility, but when the claim was challenged in a federal court class action lawsuit, the owners had no scientific evidence to back their claims. The owners admitted their claims were false and offered full refunds, then filed for bankruptcy and eventually sold the company.

And a fun little side note: Power Balance, founded by two Californians, claimed its products were based on “Eastern philosophy,” whereas the Japanese Phiten company doesn’t advertise any kind of oriental mystique. Perhaps said “Eastern Philosophy” was just “The Philosophy of Phiten.”

The products are supposed to make you feel better and feel less fatigue, but is that going to be measurable in baseball statistics? And even players did play better when they wear the bracelets, how would you know what is the placebo effect and what is not? If wearing the “magic Japanese necklace” makes an athlete more confident, then he’ll play better, Aqua Titanium aside.

If I were a high school baseball player right now, I might even wear one. At this point, so many baseball players wear them that wearing one makes you look more like a baseball player. And looking like a real baseball player could make other people treat you differently, could make a scout pay more attention to you, and could help you fit in on a team. Fifty dollars is a lot for a ropey-looking necklace, but it’s not hard to imagine real benefits past all the energy field pseudo-science stuff.

“I used to imitate all kinds of people, I would do Barry Zito’s windup. When I batted, I would do what Chipper Jones did. I also wore the wrist tape, the arm bands, the batting gloves, no batting gloves. Whatever you saw somebody doing, you had to do it. These ropes are definitely being worn all the way down through the farm system. You’re going to see people in high school wearing them. If kids today are emulating us wearing the twisted ropes, I’m speechless, in a good way.” – Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland

By gaining so much traction in Major League Baseball, Phiten has managed to warp things so that buying one of their Aqua-Metal antioxidant necklaces is actually a logical decision for a young athlete. You don’t have to buy into their claims to buy a bracelet. That’s what is genius about the company. Now maybe they can ditch the Aqua Gold Drinking Water.

Bonus Wallpapers!

phitensaiyans-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

Sources:

The post The Marketing Genius Behind The “Magic” Japanese Necklace appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/14/the-marketing-genius-behind-the-magic-japanese-necklace/feed/ 7
Mining For Japanese Gold: The Professor Who Teaches Japanese Through Minecraft http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/12/mining-for-japanese-gold-the-professor-who-teaches-japanese-through-minecraft/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/12/mining-for-japanese-gold-the-professor-who-teaches-japanese-through-minecraft/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 16:00:45 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39338 Minecraft… err, マインクラフト! Of course, I think almost everyone knows the game. Either you’ve played it, someone you know won’t shut up about it, or you’ve heard of it through popular culture / the media. To me, I’ve always thought of it as the incredibly addicting, fun, and educational game that I don’t mind seeing […]

The post Mining For Japanese Gold: The Professor Who Teaches Japanese Through Minecraft appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Minecraft… err, マインクラフト! Of course, I think almost everyone knows the game. Either you’ve played it, someone you know won’t shut up about it, or you’ve heard of it through popular culture / the media. To me, I’ve always thought of it as the incredibly addicting, fun, and educational game that I don’t mind seeing kids playing (darn kids and their CoD). The deeper you get into Minecraft the more educational it gets, really!

But, couldn’t the “educational” aspect of Minecraft be taken a step further? I thought exactly this during a month-long binge of Minecraft I had in 2012. Playing on various servers, you would meet people from other countries, Japan included. Mostly, I would see people trying to explain or ask things in the English language. Sure, we were mostly talking about diamonds, pick axes, and survival, but the grammar and the need to communicate was all being learned.

The game itself is simple, it encourages teamwork (or lots of fighting and whining), and communication is fairly realistic, all things considered. You have to talk in the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. Also, you have to explain directions, where things are, what things are there, and so on. It’s a real (virtual) world, after all! Plus, the game is extremely simple to play at first, and builds very gradually to the more complicated, which is similar to how languages are learned. Unlike virtual worlds such as Second Life and MMOs, Minecraft has a very pleasant learning curve that’s almost perfect to learn a language alongside it.

That brings me to James York, English teacher at a Japanese university and PhD student researching language learning in virtual worlds. He has actually built a Japanese class around Minecraft, teaching several classes a year up to the JLPT5 level (at least for right now). Just from seeing how Minecraft encourages language learning from my experience “in the wild” I was really interested to find out how Minecraft could help someone’s language learning in a slightly more organized “class”. So, I interviewed York-Sensei to learn more about how he’s trying to improve how Japanese can be learned.

Q. What’s Your Story?

james-yorkI learnt a lot of Japanese when I joined a Japanese WoW guild back in 2006 and since then have been interested in games/virtual communities as language learning domains. I teach English as an assistant professor at a university in Japan and am also a PhD student researching how spoken language proficiency can best be promoted with virtual worlds. So lets just say Kotoba Miners (editor note: that’s what he’s calling his in-Minecraft Japanese class) is my hobby, but also my job, and will hopefully help me get a PhD.

I started the server originally as a LAN-based server where my Japanese university students could learn/practice English. Then I asked over on Reddit if I could bring my students to their server and if anybody would like to help them learn. The response was really promising and one very generous redactor offered to give me a server with his hosting company to make my own server. Of course I accepted and so became “Mining English” as it was originally called. So, we had Japanese university students learning English with some native English speakers on my own server. Then, the course finished and all the students stopped playing. What I was left with was a server with a bunch of English speakers eager to learn Japanese. It was at this point that the original objective of the server to teach English flipped to learning Japanese.

Q. What were your key takeaways from doing “Mining English”?

That you can’t force people to learn.

Students are sneaky :P (By this I mean that they will often do the bare minimum or cheat. For example, I gave them the task of interviewing a native English speaker on the server, but they actually ended up interviewing each other and then handing that in (haha). I wouldn’t have known unless one of the native English speakers happened to be online at that time and saw them do it.)

Task goals designed by teachers are often misconstrued into something completely different from what students actually do, but we have to roll with that and adapt on the spot.

Slightly negative: The Japanese don’t want to learn English (sweeping statement I know, but true… At least in a structured, Minecraft-based course). I opened the server up to the Japanese Minecraft forums and had very little response. It’s a shame, but I’m glad we became Kotoba Miners. I really enjoy teaching people that are eager to learn!

Q. So why Minecraft?

minecraft-japanese

I experimented with a number of virtual worlds and games as part of my research. I rejected MMOs for lack of control over content and their often extremely specialized discourse (e.g. “Prot Warrior LFG SFK pst”). I also rejected a lot of social worlds (i.e. Second Life) for their painful aesthetics, controls and distance between user and content-creator.

Minecraft is simple. Controls, aesthetics, and gameplay. This means that you spend less time learning how to navigate the game and more time learning and focusing on language.

Q. How is your classroom in Minecraft set up?  How does a typical class work?

Class topics loosely follow the Genki textbook in terms of progression and the overall objective of the class is to get students to a JLPT N5 level.

The overall objective of the class is to get students to a JLPT N5 level. Lesson content is stored on the server in the “JP buildings” JP1 – JP10.

minecraft-japanese

Activities related to the lessons in each building can be found around the building itself:

kotobaminers-book

Classes are not lectures and students speak and interact with others for the majority of class time. Speaking is achieved with the use of TeamSpeak where we all log into the Kotoba Miners server (address: voice.kotobaminers.org). If you are to join the class you should expect the following as a typical class:

  • Start with a review exercise to refresh our memories of previous lessons content (an activity from another JP building).
  • Brainstorm vocabulary.
  • Sometimes I explain a new grammar point, but then other times, students go and Google it and share what they found (student-centered learning).
  • The next main activity is designed to make use of the new grammar point, but also requires the use of grammar/vocabulary that we have covered in the past also.
  • After class, there is sometimes homework (such as to create a similar activity for others to complete the following week) and I provide practice exercises via our LMS (learning management system): languagecloud.co.

Q. What kind of lessons have you created that are unique to the Minecraft interface?

minecraft-japanese2

We do a couple of lessons where students have to play Minecraft in survival for 2 full Minecraft days. They have a number of objectives to complete.

The objectives are given to them in a book. These objectives are pretty specific to Minecraft.

kotobaminers-activity-example

Once the two days are over, pairs get together and compare their experiences over the two days. This is obviously used to practice the past tense in affirmative and negative forms. An example of a conversation might go something like this:

A: 畑は作った?
B: 作らなかった。ダイヤは見つけた?
A: 見つけた!そっちは?
B: 見つけなかったorz
A: あまりできなかったねw

So, you’re doing things and you’re talking about them afterwards. In a regular Japanese classroom you you don’t really have these kinds of shared experiences that you can talk about. But, thanks to Minecraft we can do this. In addition to this we can speak WHILE doing them. Doing the activity itself requires the use of language.

A good example is the “Ice Palace” which is set up so that you cannot clear it unless you communicate with your partner. Here is a screenshot of one of the rooms:

This side has the route to tell your partner:

ice-palace

This side is a row of pressure plates that need to be navigated correctly. If you don’t pistons push the blocks at the top and crush the player.

ice-palace2

Q. What advantages does Minecraft hold over a real world classroom?

minecraft-japanese-3

Learning by dying. Simply put – games offer feedback loops that show/punish you when you do something wrong. And people are more likely to take risks and get things wrong when playing a game than they are in a classroom.

However, the biggest advantage for Kotoba Miners is the fact that people can log in from all around the world at the same time and connect with other Japanese learners and actually practice SPEAKING the language. The majority of students that come to Kotoba Miners that have been studying Japanese in the past invariably say something along the lines of: “I’ve been studying Japanese for a while, but I’ve never actually spoken it…” So I think the lessons we do on Kotoba Miners are a great place to improve your Japanese speaking and listening ability. (as an aside: these skills are generally not looked at as much as reading and writing in the literature on virtual worlds and language learning, and this is why I’m pushing them in my own research).

Q. What’s your language learning philosophy?

  • (Specifically for Japanese) Get the Kanji out the way early on. If you are serious about learning the language, and aiming for a high level of proficiency 6 months to 1 year is not a long time to spend on learning Kanji.
  • Use and SRS. RtK aside, Anki was the most useful tool I had when actively studying Japanese. Not just for vocabulary, but grammar, and even things like famous peoples’ faces, and famous dates etc. Extremely important.
  • Speak, make mistakes and learn. I (very fortunately) was able to learn Japanese while living in Japan. But it didn’t come without an almost uncountable amount of 恥ずかしい moments when I messed up. There is nothing more embarrassing than being told by a 6 year old kid 「なに?日本語変だよ」(What? Your Japanese is strange) but it makes you god damn certain that you will never make that particular mistake again. A famous point on mistakes is that you can do one of two things: speak or not speak. If you speak you get a result “I was correct” or “I was incorrect;” but if you don’t speak, you will never know if you are correct or not, and therefore never actually learn or progress. Get out there and mess up!
  • Read. Can’t understand what they are saying in anime? Start with books. Books should not be overlooked. I started with stories aimed at 小4−5 level (elementary grade 4 and 5) and learned an absolute metric cuss ton of useful language. Especially onomatopoeia which is so important in Japanese.

Q. How does the community outside of the Minecraft game enhance the Japanese language learning experience?

kotoba-miners

I’ll let my students answer this one:

Kotoba Miners the community enhances the language learning experience in every way, and I honestly can’t think of a better resource. Most of all for me is that it keeps me motivated, and I can say for sure I wouldn’t still be studying Japanese if I didn’t come across Kotoba. The way it does this I think is that the topic within the community is always language learning, but the specific activities we do may be things that we just enjoy. Naturally the Japanese learning leaks in to what we’re doing, but it doesn’t feel like I’m burning out on the learning aspect, rather than just enjoying it and getting immersed. For example I love video games; I grew up as a gamer. Within Kotoba I have found friends to game with, on games like Garry’s Mod, League of legends, Osu and more. Since we’re learning Japanese, even though we’re not focusing on it, you can bet a friend will show off some new word or grammar he learned, which will naturally make everyone want to know what it means. Then there is the social aspect, I have people from class as friends now (one of the main reason I got into the language I guess). There are constantly conversations going on within Teamspeak, IRC, the app “Line” on my phone, all in Japanese.

The community has Japanese natives also, so with all this combined it’s hard to get away from the language, I’m virtually immersed so to speak. The thing is, I’m just being social, it’s fun, but I have to learn Japanese if I want to be even better at participating in these conversations, which I want to do. A few weeks ago I even met Cheapsh0t, and a few other guys interested in the Japanese culture. I learned so many interesting things about Japan and got some nice manga just from being involved with Kotoba.

Then there is my imagined rivalry with other students within the community. When I see that they just held a conversation with a native speaker better than I would of, it makes my blood boil. How dare he be progressing quicker than me? You can bet that’s motivated me for the night until I think I could have done what I’ve just seen my friend do. It’s nice to be able to compare myself to others and make sure I’m not slacking. So the community is fun, sociable, and I use it to benchmark my progress, keeping me motivated to keep learn the language.

Let me touch on what I see on /r/learnjapanese lately, which is output. Quite a few of these people are like “output is important, but how do I do it?”. Then things like reading books, news, listening to podcasts, writing journals on lang-8, watching drama’s etc. are all suggested. This is literally, so easy without effort in Kotoba. Podcasts? I can talk to natives or friends and get my listening comprehension and speaking practice. Books? I could open up Line on my phone now and find a whole conversation to read. Grammar? “Hey mate, I didn’t quite understand what this bit meant, can you explain it?” I would ask, rather than searching it up and taking longer than I’d like. Writing journals? Well, I do this on the Kotoba forums, the forums are my favorite part (I can rikaichan everything!).

Honestly I used to use Genki textbook, Japanesepod101, Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide and all that cool stuff. However, I’ve substituted all those for Kotoba, I really think it helps me more and is way more fun. I think Kotoba’s only downfall as a community when it comes to enhancing my language learning is learning kanji, which I use WaniKani for. Besides that, it’s the perfect resource with immersion second to only actually living in Japan.

Q. What are your plans for the future of Kotoba Miners?

kotoba-miners-rust

One thing that I haven’t been spending too much time on is how to study kanji. I personally went the Remembering the Kanji route, and a lot of my current students are using WaniKani, so although it is probably not needed, I’d still like to figure out a way to teach kanji in the Kotoba Miner’s world (James goes on to say that the blocky graphics make this particularly difficult).

Another thing I am focusing on is branching out into other games with our Saturday “Let’s Play” series where we play games in Japanese. We’ve mainly focused on Minecraft up until now, but we’ve got Rust, LoL, and DarkRP coming up, as well as suggestions from current students.

Finally, I think the Kotoba Miners model is usable for other languages, so if any readers would like to use it to teach another language, get in touch!

Q. How can people sign up for your Japanese classes?

We will be starting a new run of our course for EU students at the start of June. You will need a Minecraft account of course. I wrote a guide about signing up.

Currently, classes are Tuesday 11:00 AM and 9:00 PM (JST).

Bonus Wallpapers!

kotobaminers-1280
[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post Mining For Japanese Gold: The Professor Who Teaches Japanese Through Minecraft appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/12/mining-for-japanese-gold-the-professor-who-teaches-japanese-through-minecraft/feed/ 25
Ten Japanese Toys You Might Want to Reconsider Buying For Your Children http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/19/ten-japanese-toys-you-might-want-to-reconsider-buying-for-your-children/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/19/ten-japanese-toys-you-might-want-to-reconsider-buying-for-your-children/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 16:15:37 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=34783 Let’s face it: there are a lot of terrifying children’s toys out there. Walking down the isles of “Toys ‘R’ Us” I can’t help but gawk in awe at some of the items on the shelf, wondering “Who the fudge would buy this for their kid?” As expected, there are not many places in the […]

The post Ten Japanese Toys You Might Want to Reconsider Buying For Your Children appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Let’s face it: there are a lot of terrifying children’s toys out there. Walking down the isles of “Toys ‘R’ Us” I can’t help but gawk in awe at some of the items on the shelf, wondering “Who the fudge would buy this for their kid?”

As expected, there are not many places in the world that take more of a jaw-dropping turn than Japan when it comes to disturbing toys. That being said, here are my top ten most disturbing Japanese toys that I would seriously hesitate giving to any child.

10. Poop and Pee Plushies

41

Japan has a strange relationship with poop. I can’t tell you how many potty-training and poop related children’s toys I’ve come across, but it’s more than I could have ever imagined. Sure, poop jokes are always funny, but somehow the idea of teaching your child to snuggle with their own excrement via plushies just doesn’t sound healthy to me. Please, prove me wrong.

9. H-Bouya USB Toy

Slide62

The H-Bouya is a plug in USB toy in the form of a small boy. I’m not sure what twisted tween-age mind came up with this one, but the H-Bouya’s main trick is giggling and blushing every time you press the letter “h” on your keyboard. In Japanese “h” stands for “etchi,” meaning sex, erotic, or pervert (oh my god, she said “h” hehehehe). The H-bouya also reacts to other love related words like suki (like/love), deeto (date), and much more.

I guess it’s kinda funny, but I’m not sure if the H-bouya is supposed to be amusing for kids or adults. It seems like it would get old faster than the new Ferby which lasted only about 30 seconds after I turned it on.

8. Virus Plush

japan-toy-4 (500x500)

In the past few years, plushies in the shape of diseases have become pretty common in the States, but that’s not the only place. This Japanese plush for babies is modeled after a virus for maximum fun time! Above left is the Japanese virus plush. Below, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). And above right, a small child that appears to be contracting AIDS.

hiv

Am I the only one that sees the resemblance? No? Well, this is sure to be a happy ending. I can’t see how anything could go wrong here.

7. Face Bank

facebank-8

My parents have always taught me the importance of saving money, but honestly, I’ve never really been any good at it. But you know, It’s really a shame that a bank like this one didn’t exist when I was a kid because I’m sure I would have saved money in fear that Satan would devour my soul if I didn’t offer it my lunch money as tribute.

face_bank-20882 (1)

As shown, the Face Bank comes in solid colors and is rather plain – that is, expect for the soulless, haunting eyes and subhuman face protruding from the front of it. The Face Bank will stare you down with its lifeless, chimpanzee face until you appease it with your pocket change. It will then proceed to devour said change with its robotic jaws and then let out a satisfied belch.

There is something truly terrifying about a robotic creature mimicking human-like functions in such a lifeless manner. Seriously, this thing is pure nightmare fuel.

6.Road Kill Cat

1268077223_strannye-igrushki-29

“Mommy? What happened to Mittens?” Don’t even bother conjuring up some BS story about Mittens running  away or going off to play with the neighbors. Just throw your kid this thing and they’ll eventually get the idea. Or, at least it will give them something to do with all those extra Hot Wheels cars laying around the house. I’m sure they’ll be just as happy as the kid on the package- all smiles! :D

5. Rubber Lips

FaceSlimmerPic

Do you remember those old “candy” lips that looked really tasty but actually tasted like freshly waxed baboon butt (and were about the same color)? That’s what these Japanese toy rubber lips reminded me of when I first saw them, only somehow much more disturbing (not at all in a suggestive way). Japanese rubber lips are mobile, so you can preform a range of activities while wearing them including talking, eating hoagies, or even scaring the Milk of Magnesia out of your aged neighbors! Honestly, I’m not sure what the purpose of these things is, but I really don’t want to know.

4. Russian Roulette Toy Gun

T1ZntHXbFhXXaH.X6X

“Hey guys! I’ve got a great idea!” Let’s play with guns!” That’s basically what this Japanese Russian Roulette game says to me. The game includes a toy gun similar to a Nerf gun that “fires” randomly. Young children put the toy gun to their heads and pull the trigger to test their luck. Somehow making the gun shoot out hippopotamus legs instead of bullets is supposed to make this so much more acceptable.

Sounds like a roaring good time to me. In expert mode kids use a real gun!

3. Japanese Pregnant Doll

a96752_bebe (2)

All this time I’ve been deluded into thinking Japan has been coming out with a steadily more shocking line of toys every year, but I was wrong. This 19th century doll showing the stages of pregnancy is on my list of the top 3 most disturbing toys ever. It’s only saving grace is the fact that this doll was originally made as a medical model. However, evidence suggests that it was later used for entertaining children.

a96752_bebe (1)

This, however, raises more disturbing questions. Call me culturally ignorant, but who decided a pregnancy doll was a great thing to use as a child’s play thing? My money is on a doctor giving whatever he had on hand that wasn’t pointy to his children in order to make them shut up, and it happened to be this.

2. You Can Shave the Baby!

1131

This toy has become a sort of myth on the internet and among Japanese toy enthusiasts. However, after doing some research, I found that this toy was originally designed by the Polish artist Zbigniew Libera. Even though this discovery was slightly disappointing, I still think “You Can Shave the Baby” qualifies as one of the disturbing toys ever in Japan.

As you can see, this baby doll comes with hair on all sorts of exciting regions of the body. And you know what the best part is? You can shave it! Unfortunately, it doesn’t grown back, but nothing beats the joy one gets from a good, clean shave. Am I right?

In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t touch this thing with a ten foot pole. Just look at its death glare (it must be unhappy from all that hair). And from the looks of things on the internet, I would say people tend to agree on this subject.

Warning: This video is PG-13

I sincerely hope I’m not the only one here who thinks there is something exceedingly unnerving about having your child shave an infant’s pelvic hair. This is psychopath-making material, right here.

1. Baby in the Microwave Toy

strashnye-uzhasnye-sumasshedshie-yaponskie-igrushki-4

It both encourages me and horrifies me to know that, no matter how desensitized I think I am to ludicrous Japanese inventions, there is always something new to prove me wrong. The baby in the microwave toy is, sadly, exactly what it sounds like: the model of a small child who has been blown up in a microwave. I’m not sure if things could get any more deranged even if I tried.

40009295776a73f2eaf8o

Honestly, I would have loved to be there to see the sales pitch for this one. The man who pitched this must have been a genius (or a great comedian) to convince someone to market this “gem” of a toy.

[hr]

This is just a small sampling of the number of disturbing toys in the world. Unfortunately, there are many, many more both inside and outside of Japan. What is the creepiest toy you’ve ever seen or heard of? Let us know! Share your story with us in the comments section below!

[hr]

Bonus Wallpapers!

creepytoys-1280
[2560×1600] ∙ [1280×800]

The post Ten Japanese Toys You Might Want to Reconsider Buying For Your Children appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/09/19/ten-japanese-toys-you-might-want-to-reconsider-buying-for-your-children/feed/ 27
10 Imagined Futures as Predicted by Anime http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/19/10-futures-predicted-by-anime/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/19/10-futures-predicted-by-anime/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=33937 Last week I wrote a post about robots and space and technology. That got me thinking about the future. And then that got me thinking about anime. A lot of anime gives us a glimpse of what the future might look like one day. Depending on the technology we develop and the choices we make, […]

The post 10 Imagined Futures as Predicted by Anime appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Last week I wrote a post about robots and space and technology. That got me thinking about the future. And then that got me thinking about anime. A lot of anime gives us a glimpse of what the future might look like one day. Depending on the technology we develop and the choices we make, the future could end up being really cool, or even really scary. Which predicted anime futures are the most exciting? Dangerous? Realistic? Well I’ve collected 10 of my favorite predictions here, so get ready to embrace the (potential) future.

Ergo Proxy

After the atmosphere explodes, the remaining members of mankind are forced to live in isolated domed cities scattered across an arid and inhospitable landscape. In a hasty attempt to preserve humanity, a secret human regeneration project is started. The story takes place in one of the domed cities where humans coexist with androids known as AutoReivs. But the AutoReivs get infected with a virus that causes them to become self-aware, and they start murdering people.

All the while, the government is conducting secret experiments on a mysterious human life form called a “Proxy” which is believed to hold the key to the survival of mankind. The humans in the city are grown in artificial wombs and are only grown to fulfill a particular purpose, ensuring that everyone has a place in society.

ergo-proxy

The future in Ergo Proxy does not seem like the kind of future I’d want to live in. Sure, it’s cool to coexist with androids, but not when they’re wanting to kill you. Plus you’ve got these weird Proxy things running around (terrifying) and you can’t travel with any sort of ease as the planet is pretty much screwed over. This future is really interesting to read about and watch, but I would definitely not want to live in it.

Chobits

In the world of Chobits, personal computers are now personal companions, looking and acting like most anyone else. The main character can’t afford his own Persocom, but he finds an abandoned one (named Chi since that’s all she can say in the beginning) which he later discovers might be a “Chobit”, an advanced type of Persocom rumored to have independent thought.

The story explores Chi’s origins and human/Persocom relations. Chi starts to develop feelings for her owner, and her owner struggles with his feelings for her all while teaching her how to speak and act like a normal human/Persocom.

chobits-2

The future imagined in Chobits sounds like a fairly safe, decently realistic near future. Like Kirobo, the robots in Chobits are designed to help humans and be personal companions. That’s great. None of them are killing people, and nothing bad is happening. It does seem a bit unnatural for humans and androids to develop feelings for one another, but perhaps this will become a normal thing one day in the future.

Psycho-Pass

In the not so distant future of Psycho Pass, we see a world without stress. But without stress comes a surprising amount of stress about not being stressed out. Maybe it’s due to the devices which can instantly measure a person’s mental state, personality, and the probability that they’ll commit a crime? If your Psycho-Pass (ha! That’s where the name comes from) Crime Coefficient Index is deemed too high by the Sibyl System (a “computer” system that makes decisions on these things), someone will come and get you for some much needed psycho-therapy (or much needed psycho-death, depending on how high your Index is).

This is all well and good, but some people in this society are secretly  not fans of the Sibyl System. They’re told what they should do for work, they aren’t allowed to do anything that’s stressful, and nobody has any ambition since the Sibyl system decides where you should work and what you should do. Since it wasn’t too long since the Sibyl System was put in place, there are those who remember nostalgic / stressful things like older literature, theater, and philosophy.

In this series there’s a group of people who figure out how to get around the Sibyl System, and that causes all kinds of chaos, because the Dominators (weapons that can only shoot people with a high Crime Coefficient Index) used by the police are unable to do anything. During this period the anime has you question whether it’s good for society to live without stress or not. I’ll let you watch the anime so you can decide for yourself. I wouldn’t want to give too much away.

psycho-pass

This series reminds me a little bit of Minority Report, though a somewhat more realistic version of it. Instead of predicting  crimes, they’re just removing the “bad” elements of society while reducing stress to zero. Crime is at an all time low, but you really have to wonder if that’s actually a good thing or not. I could see a time in our future when scientists are finally able to get an idea of what a “healthy” brain looks like. Then, everyone who doesn’t fit within that “healthy” brain range will… well… hopefully not anything too bad.

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is set in the year 2071 and the entire solar system has been made accessible through hyperspace gates. In 2022, the explosion of an experimental hyperspace gateway messes up the moon pretty bad, resulting in a debris ring and meteor bombardments that end up killing a lot of Earthlings. Many survivors abandon Earth to colonize the inner planets, the asteroid belt, and the moons of Jupiter.

Mars has become the new central hub of human civilization, and interplanetary crime syndicates have their claws in the government and the Inter-Solar System Police (ISSP), limiting their effectiveness. To combat this, a bounty system similar to that in the Old West is established. These bounty hunters deal with fugitives, terrorists, and other criminals. They are often known as “cowboys”, hence the name of the show.

cowboy-bebop

The future imagined in Cowboy Bebop is really cool. I think space westerns such as Firefly are great, and Cowboy Bebop is no exception. Exploring the frontiers of space and bounty hunting sounds pretty appealing. In reality I might not be so keen on experiencing all this danger and excitement firsthand, but it sure is a joy to watch.

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online takes place in the near future and focuses on virtual reality MMOs. In the year 2022, Sword Art Online is released. With a virtual reality helmet known as Nerve Gear, players can experience and control their game characters with their minds.

Nerve Gear is hooked up to the user in such a way so that everything experienced in the game feels like it is actually happening. The first half of the series focuses on a group that is trapped inside Sword Art Online and if they die in the game, they die in real life too.

sao-sword-art-online

This future sounds amazing. I love a good MMO, and a VR MMO sounds like something I would enjoy immensely. We’re already headed in this direction with the Oculus Rift (can’t wait to get one of these once good games start being developed for it), and this seems like something that could happen in the not too distant future. As long as I don’t get trapped in a game (scary!) this future sounds absolutely fantastic.

Robotics;Notes

The year is 2019 and the location is Tanegashima, an island in Southern Japan. Like many Japanese futures (heck, even presents!) robots are involved. In this series, a group of high schoolers in the robotics club at Central Tanegashima High School decide to see if they can put together and build a giant robot. Small robots are pretty easy to do in 2019, but big ones? That’s still a large challenge, especially for a group of kids.

As the series progresses, you get to see what it takes to build a giant robot in the year 2019. You also get to see some battling miniature robots… kind of a futuristic Battlebots. If stuff like this exists in the future you can bet I’ll be watching it on my Occulus Rift. On top of the big and small robots is also a conspiracy that I won’t get into. You should watch the series if you want to know more about that.

robotics-notes

All in all, the life of someone in 2019 as portrayed by this anime seems somewhat realistic to me. Building giant robots isn’t particularly easy, but it’s getting there (you know it will someday if Japan has any say in the issue). There’s a lot more augmented reality going on, and high schoolers still play fighting games on their handhelds. I liked this series because it had a somewhat believable (but not always) view of the future… a future with giant robots appearing sometime in my lifetime. I can dream, anyways.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

In 2000 a global cataclysm destroys most of Antarctica and leads to the deaths of half of all humanity. Thought by the public to have been a meteor impact, the event causes tsunamis, global climate changes, geopolitical unrest, general economic distress, and nuclear war.

Over the next ten years, the organizations known as GEHIRN, SEELE, and NERV achieve a number of impressive scientific achievements, including the creation of giant humanoids known as Evangelions in preparation for the arrival of alien beings known as Angels (which turn out to be responsible for the 2000 incident).

Neon.Genesis.Evangelion

This future sounds terrifying. For the most part, it’s pretty normal (once things settle down post Impact), unless you are one of the characters actually on the show, then your life is pretty messed up. For most of the population, life is relatively unchanged until an Angel shows up, then everything goes to hell.

Living in constant fear of that, plus the huge Evas running around and the collateral damage from them sounds dreadful. Even being one of the kid pilots sounds terrible given the psychological damage they all experience. Don’t get me wrong though – this show is fantastic and I love it to death. I just wouldn’t want to live in it.

Paprika

In the near future, a revolutionary new psychotherapy treatment called dream therapy has been invented. This is made possible thanks to a device called the “DC Mini”. The DC Mini allows the user to view other people’s dreams. The head of the team working on this treatment begins using the machine illegally to help psychiatric patients outside the research facility, using her alter-ego known as Paprika.

The world in Paprika is pretty similar to that imagined in the movie Inception. You’ve got people diving into other people’s dreams, influencing and messing with them. The device can be used for fun, but it can also be used for therapy. Once it gets into the wrong hands – then you’ve got trouble. And that’s what happens in this anime.

paprika

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this technology. I mean, it would be awesome to have my dreams recorded so I could watch them later and really remember what happened, and I’m sure this information could be used to help people struggling with nightmares or people with deep seeded psychological issues.

On the other hand, it sounds terrifying for someone to be able to invade my dreams without my consent or be somehow manipulated by this process. Also, my dreams are my dreams and I wouldn’t want anyone I didn’t trust just eavesdropping on them either.

Steins;Gate

This series doesn’t actually take place in the future at all! In fact, it’s set in the past: Summer, 2010. So how did this series make the “future” list? Time travel. In the series, Rintarou Okabe, “the mad scientist,” discovers that the microwave they’ve been working on is actually a time machine with the ability to send text messages to the past.

A group called SERN (yeah, suspiciously similar to CERN) has been researching time travel as well. In fact, they have tried to send people back in time from the future already, though this has resulted in a lot of blobby, disfigured, and very dead time-traveler messes. More on SERN in a minute. Later, Kurisu (another member of this very casual mad scientist group) figures out how to change their time machine to send someone’s memories back in time, which would allow someone to time travel without dying. Smart girl!

But wait, this post is about the future! Throughout the series, we get glimpses and hints of the future from people in the future who either come to visit or send messages back in time. The actions that Okabe and friends take have a great affect on what happens in the future. If xyz dies, the world will be ruled by SERN due to their time travel abilities. If zyx dies, then World War III will start because someone will have stolen the information needed to build a time machine (and then have sold it to the Russians). Every little action, even ones that seemed inconsequential in the beginning of the series had bigger and bigger future results, especially as Okabe kept traveling back, changing things a little at a time.

steins-gate

While the future in this series is very important, they don’t show much of it. It’s just hints, for the most part. Still, I thought they did a really good job with time travel. It didn’t feel too ridiculous, and I found myself thinking how little actions could affect the future in a big way. A butterfly effect, essentially. The lesson here: if you have a time machine, please don’t mess up the future and keep hopping around until you fix it, okay? Also make sure you can send text messages through time. It’s very helpful if your future self can let you know when you screwed up. Let’s hope future cell carriers don’t charge too much for inter-time texts.

Ghost in the Shell

In the year 2029, the world has become interconnected via a vast electronic network. It’s the internet on steroids. That same network also becomes a battlefield for Tokyo’s Section Nine security force, which has been charged with apprehending a dangerous hacker known only as the Puppet Master.

Computer technology has advanced to the point that many members of the public possess “cyberbrains”. This technology allows them to connect their biological brain with various networks. The level of cyberization ranges from simple interfaces to almost complete replacement of the brain with cybernetic parts, such as in cases of severe trauma.

This can also be combined with various levels of prostheses, with a fully prosthetic body allowing a person to become a cyborg. On the downside, this opens up the brain to attacks from hackers. These hackers can then affect the actions of the person which is really, really scary.

ghost-in-the-shell

This is another future that sounds like it has the potential to be very cool, other than the fact I would be afraid of getting my brain hacked. Today, it’s not very common to get your computer hacked, but even if that does happen, you just reinstall everything or get a new computer or whatever.

But in this case, it would be your brain getting hacked and that can do a lot more damage to you and your life than getting your computer hacked. You can’t exactly reinstall your brain or get a new one, and who knows how much damage a hacker could do controlling you before you could fix the problem? I dunno, this future, if done right, could be cool – but the potential risks to your brain would make me a bit uneasy I think.

Which Future Do You Choose?

So anime has predicted our futures. Some are more realistic than others, but it’s hard to say that none of them are totally impossible. Personally, a VR MMO world sounds pretty fun to me (Blizzard, get working on that, would you?), though the ability to travel through time seems to have its benefits (and pitfalls)… how about you, though? Which one of these (or combination) would you choose for your own life? Let me know in the comments below.

Bonus: Koichi actually wrote about 3 out of the 10 animes above. Can you guess which ones?

Header Image by vagoverto

The post 10 Imagined Futures as Predicted by Anime appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/19/10-futures-predicted-by-anime/feed/ 23
9 Remarkable Places In Japan You Can Visit From The Comfort Of Your Own Couch http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/14/visiting-google-street-view-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/14/visiting-google-street-view-japan/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 16:00:08 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=33531 You could fly to Japan, take the long bus ride to Mount Fuji from Narita Airport, and hike 3,776 meters to the top of one of the world’s highest mountains, or you could see the same sight from the comfort of your own home. Thanks to Google Street View, anyone can visit Japan’s most famous […]

The post 9 Remarkable Places In Japan You Can Visit From The Comfort Of Your Own Couch appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
You could fly to Japan, take the long bus ride to Mount Fuji from Narita Airport, and hike 3,776 meters to the top of one of the world’s highest mountains, or you could see the same sight from the comfort of your own home. Thanks to Google Street View, anyone can visit Japan’s most famous cultural landmarks. Google Street View is a feature added onto Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 360 panoramic views from many locations around the globe.

I’ve stood at the base of Mt. Fuji and visited many of Japan’s most famous temples, and throughout this time I’ve experienced some of my life’s most breathtaking moments. Many of these trips however required me to save a lot of money and put in a ton of effort in planning each visit. So I can’t tell you how amazing it is that we can live in a time where you can easily access many of this incredibly locations right from your own home.

In this post I’ll go through nine of Japan’s most famous locations that you can explore right from home. To see more of Japan’s cities and neighborhoods from Google Street View, simply go to Google Maps and type in the location you’d like to check out. On the map’s zoom controls, you’ll see a yellow pegman. Drag and drop the pegman to any location on the map to see it from ground level. If you don’t see this, it means there’s no Street View available at the moment. That being said, Google is constantly updating its database and will eventually cover most (if not all) of Japan’s major areas.

I chose many of the locations in this post based on two criteria: historical significance and cultural impact. Not to mention they’re just plain cool! Each of them is ordered in terms of their overall popularity, my own personal love for them, and the detail which Google Street View gives you. I hope you like the list I’ve put together for you. Be sure to let me know which one of these was your favorite spot in the comments!

1. Mount Fuji

View Larger Map

I know. It’s not really the same. Sure, the strong feeling of achievement you get when you reach the top of Fuji-san won’t parallel anything that Google dishes out. But with this view, you’re guaranteed no crowds, perfect weather, and none of the painful after effects from climbing more than two miles up.

“The Street View collection covers the highly popular Yoshida trail that takes hikers up the mountain, the full walk around the crater at the top, and the quick zigzag descent,” said Setsuo Murai, representative director of Geo Partnerships for Google Japan, on Google’s official blog post. “We hope these 14,000 panos of new imagery will give climbers a sense of the terrain to expect under their feet — especially all the night-time climbers who shuffle up in the dark to see the sunrise at the crack of dawn.”

Fuji-san was awarded the honor of becoming a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) back in June 2013. This recent achievement spiked tourist’s interest in the site, attracting thousands of people to its slopes this year. Google Street View allows you to avoid all the heavy traffic from hikers crowding Fuji-san’s various climbing paths. Definitely check this one out!

2. Sensoji Temple


View Larger Map

Sensōji is a Japanese Shinto Temple located in the heart of Asakusa, Tokyo. Don’t even bother trying to come here around new years. The crowds number in the thousands and getting anywhere near the main building is next to impossible. Google Street View is the perfect alternative.

When you first arrive at Sensōji, you’ll be greeted by the Kaminarimon, which means “thunder entrance” or “thunder gate”. This is considered one of Tokyo’s most iconic landmarks. A small traditional shopping district known as Nakamise connects the Kaminarimon to Sensōji’s second gate, the Hozomon. Beyond that you’ll find the temple’s main building for offerings and a five storied pagoda.

3. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine


View Larger Map

Itsukushima Shrine is located on Miyajima Island. “Miyajima” itself means “shrine island”, hinting at the city’s most recognizable landmark. Itsukushima was built in a small inlet along the coast of Miyajima. Its famous torii gate is placed just outside the shrine right on the Seto inland sea. During a low tide, visitors can walk out to the torii gate and see it up close. The high tide offers a more photogenic scene (especially around sunset).

Google Street View took the opportunity to capture Itsukushima Shrine’s torii gate during a low tide, so you’re offered a rare glimpse of one of Japan’s most iconic landmarks up close.

4. Himeji Castle


View Larger Map

Himeji-jō is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous castles from Japan’s feudal period. For over 400 years the castle has remained completely unharmed, surviving numerous WWII bombings and severe natural disasters such as the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995.

Himeji-jō is home to many famous Japanese legends, folklore, and other great tales from the past. It is one of Japan’s most important historical landmarks and was also granted status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO back in 1993.

5. Kiyomizu-dera Temple


View Larger Map

Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan’s most famous Buddhist temples. Its name means “pure water” which comes from the Otowa Waterfall upon which the temple is built. Located in forests of east Kyoto, the landmark was originally associated with the Hosso school of Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own branch in 1965.

The temple is known for its traditional wooden construction and an open stage which allows visitors to see the beautiful cherry trees that run along the hills of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera was also added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994.

6. Great Buddha of Kamakura


View Larger Map

The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue which rests on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple in Nara, Japan. Standing at a height of more than 13 meters, the Great Buddha of Kamakura is considered the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. This landmark was built in 1252 and was originally located near the main temple hall.

The Buddha statue is actually completely hollow, and tourists can go inside the structure to view its interior. According to Wikipedia, the notice at the entrance to the grounds reads, “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”

7. Yakushi-ji Temple


View Larger Map

Yakushi-ji is one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. It was built by Emperor Tenmu in the late 7th century as a monument to his late wife. If you take a look at the main building of Genjo-sanzoin Garan located slightly north of the main temple complex, you’ll notice that the structure’s shape is a completely symmetrical octagon. Built in 1981, the complex is a memorial to the Chinese monk Genjo-sanzo, who lived in the 7th century and was famous for his extensive study in Buddhism and travels to India and Central Asia.

Behind this structure you’ll find a building displaying some of the most famous works of artist Hirayama Ikuo, one of Japan’s most celebrated painters who recently passed away in 2009. Google Street View goes into detail here. I can’t imagine how many hours of walking that poor Google mapper had to put in to accomplish this, so definitely take a look at this one.

8. Ogasawara Islands

View Larger Map

The Ogasawara Islands are a chain of volcanic islands that run 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, Japan. Also known as the Bonin Islands, the chain attracts thousands of tourists each year for its warm subtropical climates, crystal clear beaches, and local resorts. The islands were discovered by Ogasawara Sadayori in 1593, who claimed them in the name of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The islands were officially recognized as Japanese territory in 1875. After WWII, the Ogasawara islands were occupied by the United States until 1968 when they were finally returned to the Japanese government. Currently, the only way for regular visitors to reach the islands is by boat. A ferry runs from Tokyo to the Ogasawara Islands regularly, taking around 25 hours to reach the islands. Because the trip to the islands takes so long by boat, whenever tourists or inhabitants have a medical emergency, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force sends a helicopter to retrieve them.

9. Gunkanjima


View Larger Map

Hashima is known by the Japanese as Gunkanjima, meaning “Battleship island.” You might also recognize this island as one of the locations from the very popular 2012 film, Skyfall, where Agent 007 was held captive by the evil Raoul Silva in his secret hideout. The scene was actually filmed on a small island off the coast of Macau, and the production crew ended up using 3D models of Gunkanjima to recreate the look of the island using special effects and elaborate set pieces.

Located off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, Gunkanjima served as a coal mine and a home to more than 5,000 people. With the island measuring only 480 meters by 150 meters wide, Gunkanjima became the most densely populated area in history. To help accommodate so many people in such a small area, the city constructed tall buildings that took up most of the land, making the island look a lot like a battleship.

The mine closed in 1974, and residents were forced to move back to Nagasaki, leaving the island with all its building and equipment behind. Over the next few decades, typhoons and natural weather erosion has caused the remaining structures to look rundown and desolated, giving the island a very spooky atmosphere. Due to the danger of collapsing buildings, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, until 2009, when small guided tour boats allow participants to view the island from selected observation decks.

Google Street View offers a rare opportunity to explore one of the most deserted locations in the world, seeing just how time and weather have affected the surrounding structures. Here’s a cool video of the “making of” of the Street View photos:

Certainly a remarkable looking place, and now you can visit it too! Well, kind of, at least.

[hr]

Google Street View offers everyday people the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most fascinating places. Japan is something that has always interested me, so I can’t tell you how glad I am to have this feature as a resource for my own studies and research. One of the biggest setbacks from traditional media like video and photography is that it only offers you a set rectangular view of things. With a 360 panoramic view, you can see what you want when you want and travel along as if you were really there. There’s nothing better than actually getting to see a place first hand, but this is definitely the closest thing to it.

So what did you think? Were you surprised with how some of these places look in real life? Did you discover anything cool from surfing through Google Street View in Japan? Share screenshots in the comments below if you see any people in horse masks walking around.

[hr]

Bonus Wallpapers

streetview-animated-700

[2560×1600] • [1280×800] • [1280×800 Animated] • [700×438 Animated]

[hr]

Hector is a copywriter and blogger for usb memory direct. In his spare time he runs a Japanese reference site called Japan Finds where he discusses regional, cultural, and historical facts about Japan. Hector is particularly interested in the Edo period, a time where honorable samurai, beautiful geisha, and powerful shoguns roamed the islands of Japan.

The post 9 Remarkable Places In Japan You Can Visit From The Comfort Of Your Own Couch appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/14/visiting-google-street-view-japan/feed/ 19
Japan’s First Robot Astronaut Claims the Future is Now http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/12/japans-first-robot-astronaut-claims-the-future-is-now/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/12/japans-first-robot-astronaut-claims-the-future-is-now/#comments Mon, 12 Aug 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=33667 Space. The final frontier. For humans as well as robots. Japan’s humanoid robot known as Kirobo is the first talking robot astronaut and just recently began his journey into the great beyond. Representing the hope of a nation, the fate of the future rests on this 13 inch robot’s little shoulders. Why is Kirobo being […]

The post Japan’s First Robot Astronaut Claims the Future is Now appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Space. The final frontier. For humans as well as robots. Japan’s humanoid robot known as Kirobo is the first talking robot astronaut and just recently began his journey into the great beyond. Representing the hope of a nation, the fate of the future rests on this 13 inch robot’s little shoulders. Why is Kirobo being sent into space? Will he succeed in his mission? We can only hope.

Kirobo

kirobo2

Derived from the Japanese words for “hope” and “robot”, Kirobo was launched into space by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) along with literally tons of other supplies and machinery just last week. Kirobo was designed as a companion for International Space Station astronaut Koichi Wakata. Kirobo will also help in relaying information from Koichi to another robot on Earth.

The biggest challenge in making this robot was designing it so it could function in zero gravity. The robot talks, and can also recognize different faces and voices. It’s part of a program that aims to provide companionship for the elderly and/or lonely. For anyone who’s seen Robot & Frank (video clip further below), this is a pretty cool step in the direction of a future rife with sci-fi excitement.

KirobotheRobotAstronaut

Kirobo should spend about 18 months on the space station under the care of Koichi. I’m sure the other astronauts will get to play with him too, depending on how selfish Koichi is feeling. Too bad for them Kirobo only speaks Japanese.

The robot is a product of a collaboration between Dentsu, The University of Tokyo, Robo Garage, and Toyota. The overall goal of their Kibo Robot Project is to “help solve the problems brought about by a society that has become more individualized and less communicative. Nowadays, more and more people are living alone.” They hope a conversational robot such as Kirobo would help these people feel less lonely.

Japan, Robots, and the Future

toyota_kirobo

Kirobo is the first of many robots that could improve the health and wellbeing of many people just by being there to talk and interact with. When humans are isolated, psychological and cognitive damage can occur.

Writing in Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano noted that “unmet social needs take a serious toll on health, eroding our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even undermining learning and memory.” This is especially important for those living in Japan, because, as we all know, Japanese people live forever.

Being in space can get pretty lonely at times, and this is where Kirobo comes in. At least the people on the space station have their crew, but not all of them speak the same language as it is an international space station. Plus, this is just kind of a test to see how a robot like Kirobo would function if somewhere down the road we start sending lone astronauts on trips to the Moon, Mars, or beyond. Those people would get pretty lonely, and having a little buddy like Kirobo around would make things a little bit more bearable. Anyone seen the movie Moon?

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84Ewj-BOBuc’]

Also, the technology developed and refined here might one day improve your car (if it’s a Toyota, that is). Toyota is responsible for the voice recognition tech in Kirobo, so what they learn from this experiment will be applied in future car models with voice activated controls.

Kirobo arrives at the station this month, but won’t actually get set up and start speaking until later in the month or early September. Apparently Koichi isn’t even getting to the space station until November, but he’s going to be the first Japanese Commander of the International Space Station, so that’s pretty cool.

Koichi will start getting into serious tests and experiments with Kirobo come December. Why they sent Kirobo separate from Koichi and spread so far apart, I’m not quite sure.

How Did We Get Here? Where Will We Go?

terminator

If you’ve been keeping up with Japanese tech and/or Tofugu, you’ll know that Japan has been at the forefront of humanoid robot technology. Everything from sex dolls to retail store models has already been done (all of which secretly want to kill you). Kirobo is one of many steps towards getting robot companions to those that need them.

I think this is one of the coolest, but also scariest, directions robot tech can head in. How many movies and TV shows have we seen where robot companions go berserk, become self-aware, or cause some sort of harm to their fleshy overlords? I mean, we joked about it before when we were talking about Vocaloids, but actual physical robots like Kirobo pose a much larger potential threat.

Even more than the robots acting on their own, what about hackers and viruses for something to worry about? What if someone found a way to hack into your robot companion and used an Xbox controller to make the robot flush your cat down the toilet and rack up tons of expenses on pay-per-view? The horror! But no, seriously, how terrible would it be to get strangled in your sleep by your robot “friend”? That would be just dreadful.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAmQEWDEpkY’]

On the other hand, how awesome would it be to have a fully capable companion robot? It would be super awesome. Think of how much more productive (or lazy) you could be. The robot could cook and clean for you, freeing up lots of time for you to do whatever.

And while these kinds of robots could help extreme introverts and the elderly, people who don’t get enough social interaction for whatever reason – these robots might also encourage some to not seek social interaction from real people. Why go out into the real work when you have a customizable robot that can do and be whatever you want it to? These are all things to consider as we head down this road.

Let’s Take a Few Steps Back

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eENrLp7nyQg’]

But anyway, let’s get back to Kirobo and space. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. Right now it might seem like kind of like a novelty, and not really all that serious. But everything has to start somewhere, and Kirobo is already getting plenty of publicity since the space station he is going to is an international one, and lots of people care about space and stuff.

Will Kirobo be the catalyst that sparks the world into developing more robot companions like him? Perhaps. Will it happen anytime soon? Hopefully.


So tell me, would you want a companion robot like Kirobo or any other sort of robot like you’ve seen in fiction? Why or why wouldn’t you want one? Share your thoughts about the future and let us know in the comments!


Sites Referenced:
Forbes

The post Japan’s First Robot Astronaut Claims the Future is Now appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/08/12/japans-first-robot-astronaut-claims-the-future-is-now/feed/ 18
Why Japanese Toilets Are Failing In America http://www.tofugu.com/2013/07/22/why-japanese-toilets-are-failing-in-america/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/07/22/why-japanese-toilets-are-failing-in-america/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 16:00:47 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=32856 Anyone who’s been to Japan knows that they have some pretty advanced technology over there. Anyone who’s gone to the bathroom in Japan knows that they have some pretty awesome toilets. No, I’m not talking about the old school squat toilets (yuck), I’m talking about the Japanese toilets of the future. Toilets that talk to […]

The post Why Japanese Toilets Are Failing In America appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Anyone who’s been to Japan knows that they have some pretty advanced technology over there. Anyone who’s gone to the bathroom in Japan knows that they have some pretty awesome toilets. No, I’m not talking about the old school squat toilets (yuck), I’m talking about the Japanese toilets of the future. Toilets that talk to you, wash you, and even warm your bum on a cold morning. Why don’t we have these things in America?

The Superiority of Japanese Toilets

superior-toilet

Photo by Gary Hymes

I’ve written a bit about these insane Japanese toilets before, and with good reason – they’re awesome. They can talk to you, wash you, and even play music for you (both to relax and mask) while you do your business.

But probably the biggest reservation Americans (and others) would have with a Japanese toilet like the Toto Washlet (pictured above), is the bidet (and having a toilet that could potentially become self-aware). Below we have an animated video explaining how the standalone bidets work.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCAiJO-83-E’]

A traditional bidet is just a low oval basin designed for washing your privates. Most Japanese toilets have the bidet feature built in. Many Americans are not fond of the idea of either method. Is there a reason for this? Why yes, yes there is.

Why Americans Think Bidets Are Stupid

bidet-fountainPoop goes WHERE!?!

First, we must travel back in time to the origin of the bidet. These things first showed up in France in the early 1700s. Since then, the bidet has spread far and wide, becoming standard in many European countries, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. An estimated 80% of bathrooms in those areas have bidets in them. America, on the other hand, pretty much has none.

Never in my years have I seen a bidet in America. The reasons for this are shrouded in mystery, but there are some theories. Since it was invented by the French, some believe that the concept was then rejected by the British, and that feeling of rejection carried over to the settlers in America. Some think that American soldiers most often saw bidets in European brothels, and erroneously associated them with immorality.

BrothelStinking European brothels and their bidets!

A reason that stand-alone bidets might not have caught on is that many American bathrooms are not made large enough to house them. Then again, bathrooms could always be made larger, and current Japanese toilets have the bidet built in, so take from this what you will.

In the 1960s, a guy named Arnold Cohen tried to market a bidet in America, but soon realized that 99% of Americans had never even heard of a bidet before. This made people wary of purchasing this strange newfangled butt fountain. In the 1980s, the Japanese company Toto started pushing their toilet/bidet hybrid, and met largely the same issues that Arnold saw twenty years earlier.

kitty-bidetKitty, NO!

Also, interestingly enough, most people who grew up with bidets believe the toilet paper only method to be unsanitary whereas those brought up on TP only believe bidets to be inferior. Unfortunately I’ve never used the bidet feature on the Japanese toilets I’ve encountered, but Koichi has, and he loves them almost as much as full body pillows. I figure I would probably use both the bidet feature in conjunction with TP, but I can definitely recognize the benefits of using a bidet.

Japanese Toilets in America

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iY5ET7OAbk’]

Fancy Japanese toilets are also pretty expensive. The Toto Washlet add-on lids (see above) currently go for anywhere from $300 to over $1000 on Amazon. And that’s just like, your basic model. These forego the separate bidet and just integrate it into the toilet which takes care of any space issues.

But still, these toilets are by no means cheap. Additionally, people tend to be pretty stuck in their ways when it comes to bathroom issues, so there’s not too many people looking to “upgrade” their toilets. Check out this quote from the president of a recent toilet start-up company.

For Americans here in the US, the biggest issues are personal experience with these products and a major reluctance to discuss bathroom issues or change ingrained habits. You wouldn’t imagine how many people giggle nervously or say “gross” when we try to educate them about the advantages of the bidet seat, yet these are the same people that are still using paper – a much inferior way to cleanse oneself.

-Steve Scheer

toilet-ad

Photo by Anne

The reviews for Toto Washlets and other toilets are stellar. The people who actually have them love them. But efforts to spread this enthusiasm to the rest of America have been utterly unsuccessful. Toto has been working hard to push their toilets on Americans but have pretty much gotten nowhere.

Another issue involving expense is that you need a three pronged grounded outlet to plug your Toto Washlet into. Depending on where your bathroom outlets are, this can be pretty inconvenient, and getting a new one installed can cost around $500 or so. Not cheap. There are also cheap bidet attachments that are just bidet only, but those aren’t Japanese so I won’t get into them here.

socket

The people who have actually given Japanese toilets a chance love them. The rest of America just needs to be convinced how awesome they are. They need to be marketed well. However, marketing toilets and toilet accessories probably isn’t the easiest thing to do, but maybe someone will figure out a good way to do this.

It really just seems that people are reluctant to change their toilets because their current ones work just fine and are perfectly sanitary in their eyes. So why spend more time and money upgrading a toilet when their current one works just fine? That’s the argument that bidet marketers need to conquer in the US. Will they eventually succeed? Only time will tell.


So tell me, have you ever experienced a Japanese toilet or a bidet before? Which method (TP or bidet) do you believe is superior? If you don’t have a fancy Toto toilet, what’s holding you back from getting one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

And also, here’s a link to the Toto Washlet website in case you were interested.


Sites Referenced:
Mental Floss
Priceonomics

The post Why Japanese Toilets Are Failing In America appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/07/22/why-japanese-toilets-are-failing-in-america/feed/ 89
Making Friends And Studying Japanese With Japan’s Ultra Popular Social Network, LINE http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/28/line-social-network/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/28/line-social-network/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 16:00:17 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=31790 Imagine a land that is similar to Facebook, but with more yellow pigment added to the blue, turning everything a vivid green. Then, imagine this land as an exclusive club available only to those with smartphones. These people live in a place called LINE, and they share inside jokes, send each other ridiculous stickers, and play games […]

The post Making Friends And Studying Japanese With Japan’s Ultra Popular Social Network, LINE appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
Imagine a land that is similar to Facebook, but with more yellow pigment added to the blue, turning everything a vivid green. Then, imagine this land as an exclusive club available only to those with smartphones. These people live in a place called LINE, and they share inside jokes, send each other ridiculous stickers, and play games among themselves. Oh, and did I mention this magical place known as LINE is actually real?

LINE is a chat-based app that has become the highest-grossing social networking application in the world (mostly through the sale of emoticon-like stickers). LINE has gained popularity in Japan due to already mentioned (but very cute) stickers, chat-centered format, and picky friend-adding system that encourages privacy. So long as you have a cell phone you can join this rich and fruitful social land.

A long time ago Koichi wrote a post about Mixi and using it to study Japanese. One of the problems was that Mixi is a closed social network. You also had to have a Japanese cell phone email to join, making it hard to get in without jumping through the ever-changing loopholes. LINE is a much better social network for real Japanese study, and we’ll get into that in a minute. First, let’s open our history (e-)books.

How LINE Lined Up From Lines

line-characters

After the Tohoku earthquake, the Japanese phone services were not working very well. I myself was in Japan at the time and remember trying to call my host family from school, but the phone lines (haha) were so clogged that I and countless others couldn’t get a dial tone for hours, even days after the incident. To make post-disaster communication easier, the Japanese branch of the Korean NHN corporation instigated a mobile application where people could use data or wifi to make free calls and texts. They named it LINE because during natural disasters, pay phones have been the most reliant way to contact your loved ones, where there are always long lines outside of them. It looks like LINE took some inspiration from the Japanese pay phone as well. Notice the bright green? The coincidence is a little too blinding to ignore.

japanesephones

Fast forward a couple of years. LINE now has 160 million users worldwide and is the number one free app in Japan and many other Asian countries. To put this in perspective, Instagram announced last Thursday that they have 130 million users, yet they launched in October 2010, which is two years before LINE came into existence. That’s incredibly fast growth.

So what is it that makes LINE so popular? Why do they have so many users if it’s just a chat application?

How LINE Works

line stuff
The pink is just one of many soon-to-come customizable themes!

Line is chat-based, so you don’t have to worry about other people seeing those long, strange conversations that you have with your friend on your status like on Facebook. You can only register with a smartphone, ipod, or tablet, and you can have one account per device. However, once you register on your phone, you can download the app onto your Mac or Windows computer and access your account through there as well. You can add friends by user ID, scanning a qr code, or a shake function if you’re with the person irl (that’s “in real life” for those of you who don’t know). From there, chats, free calls through data or wifi, and fun downloadable related apps that connect with your LINE account await you!

One distinguishing chat feature is the group chat option. Once you create a group (of up to 100 people), you can communicate either through chat or through the chat group’s bulletin board. I’m included in groups for friends, classes, clubs, and even one where we just send each other pictures of what we’re eating. Once someone has read your message, a “read by” and “time” message pops up to let you know that your message has been seen. Now you can actually know whether someone is ignoring you or not! (′ʘ⌄ʘ‵)

LINE chats 2

You can also customize the chat background wallpapers for each individual chat! (Challenge mode- for each friend, change the wallpaper to the most unflattering picture of them that you can find.)

LINE’S Fun (And Addicting) Features – There’s Something for Everyone!

All that being said, it’s just a chat application with friends, right? How did something so simple and boring become such a huge phenomenon?

Those of you who use LINE will know that it’s not just chat, it’s so much more. They are feeding you crack under the table, slowly making you dependent and addicted to the service. It’s actually quite a lot of fun and has grown a great deal since its post-earthquake days. Sometimes, it’s those are little features within the chat, like being able to see when a message was read, and the ability to send audio messages, videos, and Japanese-style emoticons that get you. ❤(◕‿◕✿)  (ʘ‿ʘ )ノ✿

Here are some other extra-special in-chat and out-of-chat features. If the little features didn’t get you, at least one of these will cater to your individual personality needs.

For the Bad With Words

IMG_5360

Say you’re chatting with your friend. After searching deep within yourself to identify your emotions, you just can’t find the words to express your feelings.

Don’t worry! LINE has you covered! Just look through your stickers (basically huge emoticons that send one at a time instead of text) and send one of those. Sometimes whole conversations can be comprised of just stickers (although they usually don’t make much sense).

When you join LINE, you get 3 packs of default stickers for free. These are your essentials, and feature the LINE-original characters who are becoming iconic in Japan. Those stickers are great, but if you are yearning for more, there are tons more stickers that you can buy in the shop. Some are LINE originals and some are characters that you already know and love, like Hello Kitty, Stitch, Nameko, and Ojarumaru. New ones come out every week too (I’m holding out for a Kobitodukan set)! If you live in Japan, limited edition free sticker sets come out every once in a while, but not in most other parts of the world.

For the Gamer

line games

If you’re less of a chatterer and more of a gamer, you can still be social and play games with your friends on LINE. From the “more” section on the app, you can find a jumble of fun/addicting games that fit whatever kind of game preference you have. Most of the games are one-play arcade type games that have a certain amount of plays every few hours. When you run out, you can use in-game or out-of-game money to buy new plays, or you can receive and gift free plays to and from friends within the game. I hear this is the future of WaniKani, where you’ll have to pay for more reviews and your Crabigator friends can give you free review sessions (I’m just kidding, of course).

For the Narcissist

photo

A LINE app for the creative narcissistic is the LINE Camera. LINE camera acts as your basic photo editing app, plus purikura-like extras. There are stamps, effects, and brushes available for free and for sale. Make yourself cute, or just make yourself strange like my example above. Your choice.

For the Rest

In addition to Camera are apps like LINE Card (which sends greeting cards) and LINE brush, which is just a fun drawing app. LINE seems to be getting their fingers into everything, but why not when you’re making oodles of yen from your enthusiastic and novelty-hungry userbase.

But What About My Japanese Studies?

Since there’s no way to look for people by real name or look at friends of friends, things may be kind of lonely for those of you without friends on LINE already. One particular LINE-affiliated app, LINE Cafe, is here to rescue you! It can rescue you from your solitude, plus, you can use it to practice your Japanese. How? Well, LINE Cafe is a forum and message board app, where you can meet people from all over who have the same interests as you.

Much like using Twitter to study Japanese by following Japanese tweeters, you can join boards in LINE Cafe to practice both reading and writing. Not to mention that some of these boards are specifically for language study, so people will be a little more forgiving there.

line cafe

From there, you can meet Japanese LINE users and exchange IDs! Or just ask any young person in Japan- they probably have a LINE account.

LINE chat 1

If you’re a fan of Japanese musicians, TV shows, or brands (so many brands), you can also follow official accounts which will send you direct messages with information and updates, kind of like fan newsletters. Also, when they decide to turn their incoming messages on, you can actually talk to the famous person on the other end, or so I’ve heard (I’ve yet to actually see this happen).

After you’ve found your group or person to practice your Japanese with, it’s just a matter of doing it. Whether this is taking part in conversations, reading, or grabbing things to study for later in Evernote, iKnow, or something else, it’s up to you. Mainly, though, LINE is going to be a great way to get interested enough to force yourself to read and practice. It’s all a matter of finding what interests you, though.

Where LINE Is Heading

1a69db89

Picture from the Line Official Blog

(Apparently it’s heading down a railroad track in Taiwan)

In July of 2012, a timeline function was introduced to LINE, turning the app into a real Facebook lookalike, and possibly a competitor. In fact, active Japanese Facebook users went from 17 million to 13 million in the past six months, many of them making the switch to LINE and its more simple platform. I don’t think that LINE will replace Facebook globally, as Americans love their Facebook, but it has definitely taken over Japan in a very short period of time. Because most people in Japan use the internet through their phones rather than computers, an app-based SNS just seems to make more sense than a web-based one!

timeLINE

Most Japanese people who I asked said that they liked LINE because mostly because of the sticker function. So, in a final plead to get Japanese users back, Facebook also released stickers to use on their mobile app. But Japanese users still use LINE.

Do I think that the Japanese facebook users will go back, or will LINE take over? I don’t know. But, the numbers aren’t very pleasant for the Zuckerburger. I’ve already mentioned how active users are declining for Facebook in Japan, but it’s more telling to see how fast LINE has been growing. LINE currently has 160 million users. Compare that to Instagram, which came out a year before LINE, which has 130 million users.  LINE is also very popular outside of Japan too, something that Mixi could never accomplish. 60% of LINE’s users exist outside of Japan. Taiwan has 16 million LINE users and Indonesia has over 23 million. Just from my own experience, I think that the only Japanese people who continue to use Facebook are those who have friends outside of Japan, or are people who are particularly interested in English.

sns fight

That being said, LINE is mostly just popular in Asia though I hear it’s picking up in Spanish-speaking countries as well. How well it does in the English speaking world remains to be seen. If it keeps growing this fast, it’ll be hard to not feel its grip around social media’s neck sooner rather than later. In fact, out of the 160 million on LINE, 50 million of those joined within a 3-month period, making it the fastest-growing social network ever. That’s a lot of people in not very much time!

So what will the future bring? No one knows! I will however say that it isn’t LINE down and being quiet.

If you have a LINE account or have been inspired to create one, post your ID’s in the comments! We’ll add you to our cool new Tofugu group so you can talk about your favorite tofu and fugu dishes.

EDIT: Add the user “tofugu” to be added to the tofugu group!

The post Making Friends And Studying Japanese With Japan’s Ultra Popular Social Network, LINE appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/28/line-social-network/feed/ 162
Going Cashless in Japan http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/12/going-cashless-in-japan/ http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/12/going-cashless-in-japan/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=31518 When the Tofugu team visited Japan earlier this year, we went through the process of trading our dollars for yen (at a great exchange rate, thank you Mr. Abe), a typical step in visiting a foreign country. But recently I’ve been wondering about whether or not that step is even necessary anymore. With everything so […]

The post Going Cashless in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
When the Tofugu team visited Japan earlier this year, we went through the process of trading our dollars for yen (at a great exchange rate, thank you Mr. Abe), a typical step in visiting a foreign country. But recently I’ve been wondering about whether or not that step is even necessary anymore. With everything so digitized and globalized, what’s the point of temporarily trading one currency for another?

American credit and debit cards are laughably primitive compared to the rest of the world. While America is the birthplace of the bank card, the country has fallen behind as the rest of the world has leapfrogged on American technology. Many other countries in the world have bank cards with much more sophisticated security mechanisms than the simple magnetic strip that’s on all of America’s credit and debit cards.

credit-cards

Photo by Thomas Kohler

Most Americans couldn’t care less about how people in other countries spend and secure their money, but it’s funny how actually being in one of those other countries changes your mind.

Like most places in the world, you use cash for pretty much everything in Japan—because in the words of RZA, GZA, et al, “cash rules everything around me”—it’s not always convenient. You have to keep your cash reserves topped off by constantly withdrawing from ATMs, and that can be difficult because not all Japanese ATMs accept American bank cards.

Plus, keeping cash around can be a huge pain. You’ll find those flimsy ¥1 coins piling up over time with no good way to get rid of them (if only vending machines accepted them!), and you have to be rather precise when spending your cash, lest you end up with an extra ¥20,000 burning a hole in your pockets at the end of your trip.

You Have Options

I’ve been thinking a lot about alternatives to cash recently (mostly because I just finished David Wolman’s book The End of Money) and, fortunately Japan has a lot of options.

Despite not being able to use the growingly-popular and supposedly Japanese-created Bitcoin, there is still a diverse patchwork of payment options for both those just visiting Japan and those in it for the long haul.

Prepaid Cards

One of the most common alternative payment methods you’ll see in Japan is prepaid IC (integrated circuit) cards.

These things are veritable Swiss army knives. You pay a refundable deposit to get your card, put some money on it and you can use them at conbini, vending machines, pay for train tickets, as keys for coin lockers, for taxis; hell, the only thing that don’t seem to pay for is your plane ticket back home. Typically, you can buy these prepaid IC cards in train stations around Japan, so they’re easy to purchase.

suica-reader

There are a ton of different kinds of IC cards, but probably the most recognizable is the Suica card, with its cute penguin mascot and the incredible amount of wordplay in its name and marketing. (Read the “etymology” section of the Wikipedia article on Suica and be awed.)

There are some downsides to prepaid IC cards, though. While a lot of the major cards recently became interoperable with each other, they’re still not as universally accepted as cash and other payment methods, and all of the different types of cards can be really confusing. (Does my Pasmo card work in Hokkaido? Do I want to buy a SUGOCA or Hayakaken card?)

Phones

While Japanese phones don’t seem as advanced and cool to Westerners as they used to, they have some features that aren’t available on Western phones; or, at least, aren’t used often on Western phones.

There are lots of different ways that you can use a mobile device to make payments in Japan. Not only do some of the prepaid cards I mentioned above have corresponding mobile apps, but there are other mobile wallet applications that have been in use in Japan for years.

Using your phone to pay for things seems nice and convenient. You always have your phone on you, transacations happen quickly, and you can keep an electronic trail of your spending.

Here’s the downside: Galapagos syndrome.

keitai

Galapagos syndrome is a term people use to talk about things that have evolved to meet the unique needs of their particular environment. Most people use the phrase to talk about Japanese cell phones, which developed very differently from phones in other places of the world.

In the case of making mobile payments, Galapagos syndrome kicks in when it comes to the underlying technology. Japanese phones and Western phones have historically used different technologies to make payments (FeliCa vs NFC), so if you’re visiting Japan and you have a fancy Western phone, don’t count on it working. While Tofugu was in Japan earlier this year our own Viet was unable to use his NFC-enabled Galaxy S III phone to make payments.

Unless you have a Japanese phone, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to make mobile payments.

Fortunately, the Japanese have been making an effort to change that in recent years, producing phones with both payment technologies or just the more universally accepted standard (NFC). It’s very possible that, in the near future, your phone will be able to make payments in Japan and you won’t have to worry one bit about the technology behind it.


For better or worse, it’s hard to go completely cashless in Japan right now. As much as we might want to avoid the hassle of moving exchange rates, compatibility with foreign banks, and just keeping track of physical yen, the time just isn’t right yet to forgo cash altogether.

Still, I think that it’s very feasible that in the next decade or so, it might be possible for you walk right on by the currency exchange window in the airport on your way to Japan armed only with your trusty phone.

Only time will tell how phone charms will factor into the equation.


Wallpapers/GIFs

Once again, our incredible illustrator Aya has provided some full-sized desktop background images and animated GIFs for your enjoyment!

Desktop background (1280×800)
Desktop background (2560×1440)

Animated GIF (700×438)
Animated GIF (1280×800)

The post Going Cashless in Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

]]>
http://www.tofugu.com/2013/06/12/going-cashless-in-japan/feed/ 54