Ten Quirky Objects

Here are 10 objects that pretty much any Japanese person would recognize, but which may not be so familiar to foreigners. How many do you know? (Bonus points for knowing the Japanese name as well.)

There hints above the pictures will become visible if you highlight them. Click here for the answers.

#1 Hint: Kind of the opposite of a lawnmower.

#2 Hint: Usually at least two meters long.

#3 Hint: Not a nunchaka!

#4 Hint: For women who want to look more Western.

#5 Hint: It might help you sleep better.

#6 Hint: Used for cleaning.

#7 Hint: Standard equipment in a soapland.

#8 Hint: Used with something green.

#9 Hint: Associated with death.

#10 Hint: They’re protecting something.

Click here for the answers.

Industrial Wasteland 3

Kawasaki’s industrial zone has a strange, dystopian beauty.

The air stinks, it’s noisy, and the area’s not very pedestrian friendly, but it’s quite an interesting place to take photos in.

These photos were taken on the man-made island south of Kojima Shinden Station. See a satellite image here.

G-Cans Water Tunnel

For years, people living by the Tonegawa, Arekawa, and Edogawa Rivers faced the threat of terrible floods during the typhoon season. Every few years, anywhere between a few dozen and tens of thousands of houses would be inundated with water, and as the Tokyo metropolitan area expanded, the problem was only growing worse.

In the early 1990s, someone came up with the idea of huge underground discharge tunnels for the rivers to prevent flooding. Construction started in 1993, and 13 years later, the G-Cans Water Discharge Tunnel was completed. It’s a really impressive structure, and and the facility is open to tourists. I visited this December and found it to be really impressive.

There are a bunch of videos here. The website and videos are in Japanese, but just click on “broadband” or “narrowband” to watch them.

Official Site (mainly in Japanese): http://www.ktr.mlit.go.jp/edogawa/project/g-cans/frame_index.html

Sign Trucks

One of the latest trends in Japanese advertising is the sign truck. They started appearing a few years ago, but these days if you go somewhere like Shinjuku or Shibuya, they’re everywhere. The trucks drive around and around in a short route through an area with a lot of people, and often play music as well.

According to the website of an ad agency that specializes in sign trucks, they’ll get seen by 400 people per kilometer, 48,000 people per day, and 1,056,000 people per month. They’re not cheap though, and a small 1-ton truck costs about a million yen ($10,000)  per week. The big 40-ton trucks cost more than 2.5 million a week.

This one is advertising the popular new game Monster Hunter 3.

This one looks innocent and says “A must see for women who are worried about finding a job.” When you visit the website, though, it turns out its recruiting female sex workers.

Ikukuru is an Internet dating/marriage site.


This one is a singing duo called Nezumi&.Seiko

This truck advertises satellite TV.

If they’re out of your budget, you could try one of these ad-cycles (adokuru).
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Odd Japanese Blogs – The QR Code Blog

Today’s blog is the third of five himajin blogs that I’m writing about this week. It’s called the QR Code Blog. In case you don’t know, QR codes are those black and white data squares that you often see on advertisements in Japan. You scan them with your cell phone and they will take you to a homepage with more information.
Anyway, this blogger is a real QR code zealot, so much so, in fact, that he’s decided to turn all of the text in his posts into QR codes that can only be read with a cell-phone.

A typical post:

I scanned it with this online QR Code reader and translated it into English:
“I found this QR Code on an exit guide in the Tokyo subway. It helps to get rid of worries about the great numbers of exits in subway stations in the Tokyo area. Each exit has a different QR Code, and if you access it with your mobile phone, you can get a map of the local area of information about shops.”

So far, we’ve seen the Tokyo Stairs Database and the Vending Machine Report. Tomorrow is the Pedestrian Overpass Blog and Friday is the Telekinesis Blog.

Odd Japanese Blogs – The Vending Machine Report

Yesterday, I posted about the Tokyo Kaidan DB (Tokyo Stairs Database), a meticulous cataloging of stairs in Tokyo. Today’s blog is the second of five himajin (someone with too much time on his hands) blogs that I’m writing about this week. It’s called:  “I take photos of a vending machine (almost) every day. Sorry.” The blog has been going since May, 2005, and has over a thousand posts.
An average day is just: “No change” like this:

Every couple of weeks, though, there’s a big excitement in the blog when there is a product change:

The blogger details all the product changes as follows:

If you’re wondering what in the world inspired something like this, it’s explained in the blogger’s profile:

Most-hated phrase: “Keizoku wa chikara nari (Keeping at something makes you stronger.)”
Favorite vending machine: It would be scary if I had one
Short note: I update this blog with a photo of the same vending machine every day (it was replaced on Aug. 8, 2009). I was planning to write every day, but sometimes I take a break. I’m not interested in vending machines and canned drinks.

I don’t like things that take a lot of work, so I tried to think of some kind of content that wouldn’t require any willpower and that I could finish in five minutes a day. That’s how I started doing this. When there are changes, it takes a lot of work, which makes me angry.

It’s like techno where a groove is created when similar things repeat while changing slightly. Sorry, for getting off topic.

I don’t like the saying, “Keeping at something makes you stronger.” I don’t think there are many phrases that are more insulting. Please use it for people who are so stupid you can’t think of anything else to compliment them on.

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

The Kagaku Miraikan in Tokyo’s Odaiba district really is a museum that everyone should see. I went there a month or so ago, and it put me in a good mood for a week thinking about all the ways that technology is going to improve our lives in the next few years. Quantum computing, robots, and incredible medical advances are going to radically change our society, and this amazing museum gives you a tantalizing look at what’s coming.
The displays on robots, the Internet, new medical techniques, and much more are mostly all hands on and informative, and there are dozens of talks and demonstrations (unfortunately all in Japanese) that are just fascinating.
For example, I heard a mini-lecture on why Japan needs the supercomputer that the government tried to slash funding for last year. They explained that one very good reason is that it would take about 30 minutes for a tsunami off the Ogasawara Islands to reach Tokyo. With current computers, they can predict whether the tsunami would hit Tokyo in about two hours. With the controversial new supercomputer, it could be predicted in just two minutes.

Most of the exhibits are bilingual, and they have a website in English with details about how to get there and opening times at: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20091217a3.html

Tokyo Realtime Tours

In the past, tourists in Japan faced the difficult choice of getting herded around on a package tour or wandering around without a guide having no idea what they’re looking at half the time. Personally, I’ve always preferred to travel on my own, but when I ended up going somewhere without a Japanese friend, I always felt like I was missing out on a lot of good information and context.

I recently received promotional copies of White Rabbit Press’s Tokyo Realtime Tours of Akihabara and Kabuki-cho, and after listening to them, I have to say that they are an ideal solution for people who want a personally-oriented guide as they travel around Japan. You’re completely free to go wherever you want and spend as much time as you need, but it’s like having your own private tour with an expert guide who can fill you in on everything you ever wanted to know about what you’re seeing.

The tours are very professionally done, with full color maps, and studio-quality audio. In the Akihabara tour, you’re guided around by Patrick Galbraith, a researcher at the prestigious University of Tokyo who has spent years studying and writing about Japan’s otaku subculture. He really takes you deep into Akihabara, and if you follow the tour you’re bound to find tons of places that you wouldn’t on your own.

For example, he takes you into Radio Town, the maze of tiny shops near the station, a place where I rarely see tourists and explains about its history and some of the interesting shops in it. You learn all kinds of things that take you beyond the stereotypical view of otaku and Japan that are presented in so many books and articles about Japan. You also get taken to a maid cafe, a figure shop, and other interesting only-in-Akihabara attractions.I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how much you think you know about Japan and Akihabara you’ll learn a lot of new, interesting stuff from this tour.

There’s also a real-time tour of Kabuki-cho. It takes you around to various sex shops, love hotel areas, and the famous Golden Gai, a warren of tiny bars. Here again, you really get the inside scoop on one of Japan’s most interesting districts, learning about its history, culture, and what makes the people there tick.

I have to say that I slightly preferred the Akihabara tour, but I think it’s because it’s a lot easier to go into the shops. In the Kabuki-cho tour, you’re sometimes left standing outside a sex club or yakuza headquarters listening to an explanation of what goes on inside. Still, it is an excellent guide to the area, and takes you to a lot of interesting places that most people would never find on their own.

You can download the audio file and a map for $12, or pay $18 and get a full-color photobook and fold-out map as well. There is also a special offer where you buy the physical version of both tours together, you pay just $27 for both. Some people might say that’s almost as much as a guidebook, but when you compare them to the cost of a guide or think about how much more you’re going to enjoy your visit than if you had a little two-paragraph write up in a guidebook, I’d say it’s a pretty good investment.

If you’re interested in the tours, visit: http://www.tokyorealtime.com/

In the interests of full-disclosure, I was offered free copies of the tours, but am not taking any money and was free to say whatever I wanted about them.

Railway Museum

Is it lame to write a blog post about a place you don’t recommend? I went to the Transportation Museum in Omiya, about 30 minutes north of Ueno, because several Japanese people recommended it to me. To be honest, though, I see so many trains every day in Japan that it just wasn’t very interesting. The other thing was that all the displays seemed to be about the trains themselves rather than the people they carried, the workers, or how they affected society.
There were a lot of excited-looking kids there, but unless you’re a real testu-kichi (railroad geek), I’d give this place a miss.

transport museum1
The museum started off  well with this jinsha, a human operated railway car. The first one was built in 1895, and they operated until 1930.

transport museum2
This beautiful old railway car reminds me of an experience I had a few years ago. I saw a poster for a ride on a steam locomotive and thought it might be interesting. When I got there, though, it was only the locomotive that was old-fashioned. The rest of the cars, which had conveniently been obscured by smoke in the poster, were just regular JR train cars, so I basically just rode on a regular train for an hour.

transport museum3

Japan’s first steam locomotive.

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They blow the train’s whistle and rotate it around on an old turntable every day at noon.

The museum is really crowded, far from Tokyo, and expensive (1,000 yen for admission plus 630 yen train fare from Ueno).

The museum’s English homepage is at: http://www.railway-museum.jp/en/index.html

The Green Tokyo Gundam Project

Tokyo’s giant Gundam is currently attracting millions of visitors who come to see the giant steel robot rising up over Shiokaze Koen in Odaiba. It’s official name is the Green Tokyo Gundam Project, and it’s part of a plan to promote Tokyo’s campaign for the 2016 Olympics – they’re trying to make things greener and more environmentally friendly for the games. It’s easy to be cynical about using a giant steel robot to promote the environment, and how there’s nothing really “green” about the souvenir shops and the way it’s set up. When you go there, there are no environmental messages or other things you’d expect from “green Tokyo” campaign. The Tokyo Olympic committee is working with a for-profit company, Bandai, helping them to promote their products in Tokyo’s bid to host the games so that the city can get prestige and the economic stimulus that comes with being a host city.
But maybe this is the future of environmentalism. They’re going to use the money raised from selling souvenirs to plant trees and put lawns in school grounds. If people come and see the Gundam and have a good time, do they need to learn about the environment? If they are encouraged to consume, to buy gundam models and souvenir booklets, as long as the money is going to the environment, you can argue that it’s doing more good than harm. And a green Olympics is better than a polluting one, even if the organizers are doing it as part of their promotion strategy, right? I guess I can’t really convince myself completely, but it is something to think about.

gundam1

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love-hotel-coverBy the way, my book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds is finally available on Amazon.co.jp, as well as Amazon.com. I spent years visiting Japan’s kinky, sex-oriented hotels, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese sources on sex and love hotels to bring you this book.

It’s 182 pages of information about their history, the people who design and operate them, their place in Japanese society, crime, and much, much more. There’s also a love hotel guide with information on how to get to the best hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

For more information about love hotels, please visit my newly updated love hotel page at: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotels.html

To order or find out more about the book, please visit: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelbookintro.htm. There’s also a smaller guidebook, with just the hotel information for 500 yen: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelguide.html.

There are more love hotel-related posts
here.