Saturday, May 31, 2008

JJNN 10 May 31th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Saturday May 31th, 2008. Today I will be talking about buying smokes in Japan.

Japan is a country of many modern conveniences. There are vending machines on almost every corner that sell things ranging from the normal (soda and juice) to the weird (from used panties to beetles). Though there are vending machines that sell instant ramen, there are no good snack machines. But, anyway, I digress. This week I will be talking about vending machines that sell cigarettes. The original story is told here.

Yep, they sell cigarettes in vending machines in Japan. The major problem with this is that the old machines could be used by anyone. Hell, a five year old with a thousand yen bill could go up to one of the old machines and walk away with a couple of packs of cigarettes. The Japanese government and the Japanese tobacco company decided that really had to change. That is why they started a program called taspo.

Taspo is a system where a smoker has to fill out a form and give proof that they are over 18 years old (the smoking age in Japan). After jumping though all these hoops the person gets a shiny new IC card. They can than go up to one of the cigarette vending machines and touch the IC card to the reader and buy their smokes like normal. You can see a picture of what the card looks like in front of the new high tech vending machine below.

The taspo system starts in most places in Japan on the first of June. Yep, that would be tomorrow. The only problem with this is the fact that only about 10% of all the smokers in Japan actually bothered to get a taspo card. I am wonder if there will be a rush to get taspo cards. Maybe people will just buy them from cigarette stands.

I also want to see all the ways that people find around this system. Just thinking for a few seconds I came up with a few low tech ways for kids under 18 to get smokes. For example the kids could steal or "borrow" taspo cards from their parents or legal friends. They could also just got to cigarette stores and buy their smokes because the people behind the counters in Japan don't really card.

Any way it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 自動販売機(じどうはんばいき). It is pronounced jido hanbai-ki and means vending machines. Maybe I should do a story about those used underwear vending machines.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Friday, May 30, 2008

JJNN 9 May 30th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Friday May 30th, 2008. Today I am going to take a little break from the news and talk about one of the strange pseudoscientific (pseudohistoric?) things that I came upon during my stay in Japan.

It is not a well known fact, but the grave of Jesus Christ (yes, the one of religious fame) is actually in Japan. Don't believe me? Need some proof? What more proof do you need than this:

You got it. That is a street sign that points the way to the tomb of Christ. You may be thinking "Hold on...why would Jesus Christ be buried in Japan?" Now that is a good question! And like most good questions, it comes with a highly entertaining and long answer. Apparently, Christ visited Japan when he was 21 to learn how to become more divine. This would account for the "lost years" in the bible. After he found out what he needed to know (what that could be...the world may never know) he left Japan and went back to Judea. As the story goes, things didn't go well for old Jesus back in the home country. He got arrested and was set to get a good stoning. Well, Jesus was too smart for that. You see Jesus had a younger brother named Isukiri (just go with it!) who took his place at the cross.

Yes! You got it! That wasn't Jesus up there on the cross! It was his brother cursing at himself for being so stupid to take Jesus's place. This begs the question: Does that mean that Isukiri rose from the dead and went to the right hand of his holy father and all that? There are so many theological questions that come out of this idea.

Any way, while his little brother is doing the noble thing and getting stoned to death, Jesus decides to get the hell out of town (probably the smart thing to do). Jesus somehow makes it across Siberia and crosses to Alaska. He takes a boat from Alaska to Japan. Now, I may not be a wiz at geography, but I think Jesus is much worse at it than I am! Maybe he was shooting for America but got lazy along the way.

Any way, Jesus finally lands back in Japan. Instead of dealing the the harsh emotional pains of betraying his brother and running away to a backwards country he decides to go with the flow. He settles down in a place called Herai in northern Japan. Not only does he settle down, but he gets his groove on! He ended up finding a Japanese wife (named Miyuko) and having 3 daughters. Talk about a religious family!

Christ ended up living to the age of 106 before finally dieing. This left the village just one problem. What do they do with the body? Well I guess it seems obvious: bury it. What does not seem so obvious is what they end up labeling the grave. They didn't bother labeling it anything like "Christ's grave." That woudl be too easy. They ended up calling it something like Toraizuka. It was not "discovered" again to be Christ's grave until 1934.

Like I said, it was a long answer. But, I think it is highly entertaining. I think I might go take a look next time I get that far north. The reason why I am getting around to talking about this now is the fact that they have a Christ Festival at this grave ever year on the first Sunday in June. That is coming up fast! I wanted to tell you all about it so you could get your plane tickets in time for the festival. Here is some freaky video of the festival from years past:

There is something just a little bit freaky about ladies in kimono dancing around a cross. Does anyone else feel that way?

Any way I am sure most of this story gets lopped off by Occham's Razor. Not much to say in the way of debunking it because it mainly debunks itself. If there is anyone out there that does not think that this story debunks itself let me know. I will gladly smack you around with the skeptic-fish for a while.

Any way it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 墓(はか). It is pronounced haka and means grave. I wonder what ever happened to Isukiri's grave.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

JJNN 8 May 29th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Thursday May 29th, 2008. Today I will be doing only one story because I am a little busy tonight.

Today's story is about one particular blog in Japan. The original story can be found here. You maybe be thinking that I will be talking about cool new blogging technologies or fads in Japan, but this is going to be going in another direction.

The news story is about a 16 year old high school girl who lived in Osaka. This girl thought it would be a fun thing to take a bunch of thumb tacks and put them into hair wax. Not only did she do it once but she did it many times from February until April. Well, that's not a cool. But, that really has nothing to do with blogs, right? Wrong. The girl though it would be cool to brag about what she did on her blog. She wrote in her blog "I put thumb tacks into hair wax and in a lot of different places in a lot of different stores." She also mentioned that she put nail polish remover into a bottle of tea at a convenience store.

This is the best part of the story: A person who worked at one of the stores read the blog post. That person was able to find another blog the student wrote which listed her birthday and, more importantly, had a picture of her! That information lead to her arrest. The moral of the story: If you admit you do something against the law on your blog make sure it can't be linked back to you.

I guess this is not a big crime, but there have been people in Japan that have admitted to bigger things on the internet in either blogs or BBS. I vaguely remember a story of someone that brutally killed another person and than wrote about it on the internet the next day. Why would anyone do that? I guess it is a new high tech version of bragging. I guess this gives a new meaning to e-penis, huh?

Any way it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 除光液(じょこうえき). It is pronounced jokou-eki and means nail polish remover. I always had fun light nail polish remover on fire when I was a kid. I am not a pyromaniac!

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

JJNN 7 May 28th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Wednesday May 28th, 2008. Today I will be talking about the time of year that I hate the most and more new cell phone technology.

The first news story is very short and it is given here. This time of year is good in Japan. Sure, in the middle of the day it is starting to get hot, but it is still cool in morning and at night (at least least here in Niigata).

The only problem with this is the fact that summer and the rainy season is coming up. There is no going around it, I hate the rainy season. I don't know if anyone who reads this blog lives in a place with a rainy season, but I got to tell you it sucks. It doesn't rain every day, but it is always so hot and humid, especially before an incoming hurricane.

Any way, to the news story. The meteorological observatory in Takamatsu reported that the rainy season is going to visit Japan a week earlier than normal and a full 16 days earlier than last year. Starting today a low pressure front goes over southern Japan and it looks like it will be cloudy and rainy for a while. This all means that the rainy season is coming early and will probably hang out for a while. Bah!

The next news story is yet another story on new cell phone technology. The original story can be found here. This is not really a news story, but more of an advertisement. But, I will grab out all the interesting tech items I can out of the ad. The cell phone itself is called SH906i and is pictured below.

Well the first thing I love about this phone is the touch panel it has. I know, I know, there are a lot of things out now days with a touch panel, but I can't get past how cool it is to control things just by touch. (well, there will never be anything as cool as pushing a big candy colored red button, but you know what I mean.) But, what is more impressive than the touch panel is the amount functions you can control with it. The list includes the phone's TV, the internet browser, full access to your files, the camera, the manga/book reader and other things.

The function that grabbed my attention more than any other one was a new way to lock the cell phone. This phone has handwriting recognition. That's right. You could write in your password and even though another person knows your password they would not be able to get into your phone. This is a cool thing, but someone with this phone can never really be lazy and tell another person to get his/her phone: "Could you get my phone?" "Yeah, but I can't unlock it to answer the phone." "Doh!"

Almost all phones in Japan use blue tooth. As a side note this means that people can use those annoying earphone/microphone things that I hate so much. I hate to see people walk around talking to no one that I can see. But I digress, there are good things that blue tooth can lead to. In the case of this phone, a blue tooth keyboard can be used to type up email on the phone. I am loving this because I write phone email on my cell phone every day and it takes so much time using the number pad on the phone. I just got a new phone last year so I guess I won't be getting this phone, but a guy can dream, right?

Any way it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 手書き認証(てがきにんしょう). It is pronounced tegaki-ninshou and means handwriting recognition. Man I want that phone.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

JJNN 6 May 27th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Tuesday May 27th, 2008. Today I will be looking at two news stories from Japan about food and nutrition.

The first story is about growing food in outer space. The original story can be found here. The Japanese beer maker Sapporo Beer wanted to see if they could grow barley in a space station. With support from Okayama University and some Russian researchers, barley seeds were brought onto the international space station.

At first the scientists wanted to test whether or not the plants would take root at all in a zero gravity environment. As it turns out, even though the seeds were subject to an environment with a lot of natural radiation, the plants did sprout and grow. The people at the station were surprised that the plants were able to grow as they normally do on earth as long as the amount of light and the heat and humidity the barley was exposed to was controlled. Next, the scientists on the earth will look at barley that has been growing on the international space station for 5 months to see if there are changes on the genetic level. Both the representatives of Sapporo Beer and the Okayama University scientists are very happy about the outcome of their experiment and what it could mean to the future of space exploration.

I guess this is one of the many many steps we have to take to get a foothold into long term space exploration. Barley is an extremely durable plant and it can be use to provide many different types of food, but man (or woman) can not live on just barley alone. We have a long way go before we can even think about anything long term in space.

The next story is about vitamin B6. The original story is given here. A research team from the Osaka University has put out a report that said that people that eat a lot foods rich in vitamin B6 have lower chances of getting a myocardial infarction. B6 is a vitamin which can be found in things like rice and garlic.

The study itself went on from 1990 to 2001 and followed a group of 40000 men and women in their 40s and 50s. The subjects of the study were asked about their eating habits and divided into 5 different groups depending on the amount of B6 and other B vitamins they got. It turns out that the group that received the most B6 were subject to the least number of myocardial infarctions (with just over half the people in that group having one). The study also found that in the people who did not eat foods high in B12 and folic acid the chance of a person having a myocardial infarction actually rose.

I wonder about this study actually. I mean, the number of subjects is high (a high n) and it was done over a long amount of time, but I don't know if that necessarily leads to a good study. For one thing, they separated the subjects into just 5 categories. There has to be more ways to separate people than that. To top that off, I wonder if they moved people around from category to category when they changed their eating habits. It also doesn't seem to me that there is a control group for this experiment. Maybe the article that I read just doesn't mention it, but I wonder. I guess the only thing that I can do is wait and see what other news comes out about this.

Any way it is not time for the word of the day. Today's word is 大麦(おおむぎ). It is pronounced oomugi and means barley. Mmmmm...barley tastes like space

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Monday, May 26, 2008

JJNN 5 May 26th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Monday May 26th, 2008. Today I will be presenting two wildly varying topics: one man's personal problem and the possibility of a huge natural disaster in Japan.

The first news story is about a plumber named Nomoto Hiroyuki. The original story can be found here. If there is one thing that Mr. Nomoto likes it is the sound of a lady's voice. I don't hold that against him. I would say that almost all of the men and women across the world have something that revs them up. And, more than that, there are a lot of things more weird than the sound of a woman's voice. (I could tell you stories about ice cubes that would make you shiver.)

One would think that being turned on by a person's voice would not be so bad, and normally that would be true. But, Mr. Nomoto decided to take things to extremes. In just over a year (from July of 2005 to November of 2006) he called the toll-free number of a food company about 500 times. He spent roughly 3100 hours on the phone with the company because he wanted to hear the pre-recorded voice over the phone. He said: "I just wanted to hear a young lady's voice." My advice, go to a bar!

Any way, because toll-free numbers are not free to the company Mr. Nomoto had to pay roughly 3.8 million yen. That is quite the expensive hobby he had there. Maybe now he will think twice before he picks up his phone.

The next story is about one of Japan's symbols. The original story can be found here. When I say "Japan," what is the first thing that comes into your mind? Tokyo? Anime? Rice? I hope at least a few of you (that is assuming that anyone actually reads this blog) said Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji is the symbol of Japan for Japanese people. A few facts about Mt. Fuji: it is 3776m tall, the first person reached the top in the year 663, it is only officially open to climb for about 2 months in the middle of the summer、and according to this source Mt. Fuji has erupted about 25 time in its history.

The most important fact is that Mt. Fuji is an active volcano. For a while it was classified as a dormant volcano, but Japan's meteorological agency changed the the classification again to active volcano. This means that the Japanese (and rightfully) are worried about the next time Mt. Fuji will erupt.

It is says that there is a 50 to 90 percent chance that there will be a major earthquake on the on or just off the eastern and southern cost on Japan within the next 30 years. A new project has been started started by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Also known as MEXT...and as a side note I was employed by MEXT for 3 years) to discover if there could be any connections between future earthquakes and future eruptions. There have been many cases in the distant past that might lead to a connection between earthquakes in the area and eruptions of Mt. Fuji, but no one has exact information about it. The project will connect the few people that watch over the conditions of Mt. Fuji with seismologists.

The 1707 eruption of Mt. Fuji occurred 49 days after a major earthquake in the area, but there were also times in which the eruption did not occur after an earthquake and even times in which the eruption came before the major earthquake. The scientists now think there must be a connection to the plate under the ocean and the eruption of Mt. Fuji.

The scientists on the current project are creating artificial earthquakes in underground structures around MT. Fuji to investigate the connection. They are also digging deep holes around the foot of the mountain and checking the geological conditions of the area.

I wonder how much information they can get about the connection between big earthquakes and the eruption of Mt. Fuji by these methods, but I am all for them finding something. As someone that lives in Japan I wish them all the luck in the world.

I am also adding a new part to JJNN; Word of the day. I will introduce one word in Japanese that has something to do with the news of the day and tell you all how to read it and what it means. Today's word of the day is 富士山(ふじさん). It is read fujisan and means Mt. Fuji.

Any way, that's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

JJNN 4 May 25th, 2008

Hi again and welcome back to JJNN. Today I have two news stories for you.

The first news story is about a robotic soccer team. The original story is given here. While this may spawn images for some people of Isaac Asimov's 3 law robots kicking a ball about with robotic feet on a futuristic soccer field, this is not quite the case. The robots are pictured below with their builders.The people that built the robots are students in Aichi's prefectoral university and they have won the Robo-cup Japan Open 3 years in a row. Their team is called the RoboDragons. They are Japan's representativeentative in the world championship, which takes place in July.

The team was chosen to represent Japan in the sport though a championship that took place at the beginning of May. In 7 games they only lost once. The system that they use to control their team uses a camera on the ceiling above the soccer field. The visual data is fed into a computer which decides the best position for all of the robot players. It than uses radio waves to move the robots.

The team is getting ready to go to the world championship by ramping up the shooting power of the robots and making new strategies for their team. They have to get past 21 other teams to get that prize.

I wish the Japanese team luck and all, but I really wonder if they could find a more useful way to use this kind of robot technology. If only people would put as much time an effort into making actual helpful robots instead of things like robot soccer teams and robot vacuum cleaners (that vacuum cleaner is pure Fail by the way).

The next story is about a newly found type of steel that is strong at very low temperatures. The original article can be found here. The new type of steel is said to be about 6 times stronger than normal steel at lower temperatures. It is made by heating steel up to 500C and than compressing the metal. This causes the crystal structure inside the steel to take on an almost fibrous characteristic.

That's all interesting, but there was one thing about this article that got to me. In the middle of the article it says that the Titanic only sunk because the metal of the outer structure of the ship was weakened because of low temperatures. I wonder if that is really true. Does anyone out there know anything about this? If so, let me know. I would think that hitting a huge piece of floating ice would put a hole into just about anything if it were going fast enough.

Any way, that's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

JJNN 3 May 24th, 2008

Today I will be going over 3 news stories that grabbed by interest. The major question is to go over the perverted one first or last...last!

The first story is about the amount of CO2 measured at different places in Japan. The original story is here. Over the last 10 years, the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in Japan has been going up by an average of 2 ppm (parts per million) a year.

2 ppm may seem a big deal or it may not. Let's do a little calculation to how much that actually is. Assuming that the measurements for CO2were taken at near sea level the number of atoms/molecules in the atmosphere is around 2x1019 (This information is taken from here.) So 2 in every million atoms and molecules would be CO2 or 4x1013 molecules of CO2 on average are going into the atmosphere every year in Japan. Carbon dioxide has a molar mass of around 44 g/mol. 1 mol is 6x1023 so if you work everything out it comes out to about 3x10-9g of CO2 being put into the atmosphere on average every year just detected over Japan. It is up to the people that read this to take of that fact what they will. (By the way, if there is a flaw in my calculations let me know).

Story number 2 is found here. This is a story that hit home for me because of my work as a teacher. Almost all schools in japan have offical web sites, but a lot of them also have the unofficial "ura" (a word in Japanese meaning something like behind the scenes in this case) web sites. Those sites are usually text BBS where students can talk to each other and talk about the school. The only problem with this is that many cases crop up in which a student's real name is said and they are cyber-bullied on the ura-site. Years back, a person living in Japan couldn't go a couple of months without hearing about another case of that happening.

The particular case that is discussed in the news article happened in August of 2006 in Osaka. One jr. high school student was publicly (well on the BBS) slandered by other students from the same school. The posts were found and the owner of the site was told over 88 times by the student's parents to take down the posts. The owner refused and ended up getting sued by the student's parents. He was found guilty and had to pay 550000 yen to the family. But, the student felt she could no longer go to that school so she changed schools and stopped going to her cram school as well. It was found that near 30% of the ura-sites have some sort of cyber-bullying so there will probably be more stories like this coming out in the future.

And, all I really have to say about the last story is "When you've got to go, you've got to go." The orignal story is found here. In Mie prefecture on the 23rd a 38 year old man who worked part time for a news paper was arrested for going up to person's drying laundry and peeing on it. It's a short, but sweet, news story. It also turns out that the newspaper company that that man works for is the biggest rival of the newspaper company that broke the news story. Got to love it.

Any way, that's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

Friday, May 23, 2008

JJNN 2 May 23rd, 2008

Today's news story is about Japan's internet usage. The original story is given here:

So it seems there is a company in Japan called Net Ratings and their job is to collect a lot of data about how Japanese people use the internet. This data can than be used to decide marketing strategies and other such things on the internet.

This company has been gathering data about usage since 2001 (ahh...the days of dial up) and they have been seeing a constant increase in both the average number of pages visited by home computers and the average amount of time spent visiting a particular page. But, as you can tell by the picture below, this upward rate did not last for the number of page views:
What is interesting about this is that in one year the amount of time that everyone looks at the internet from their home has gone up by 18% but the number of pages that everyone looks at went down by 3%. The data says that the average person uses the internet just over 20 hours a month and looks at every page they surf to an average of 41 seconds each. This is way up from the 2001 average of 34 seconds each.

The company that is doing at this work is now planning on expanding their services (can you call what they do a service?) to internet usage at work (best stop looking at porn people!) and use of things like instant messenger and programs that use the internet without actually opening a browser. On top of all that, next year they will be looking into how much people use the internet on their cell phones.

I have a couple of questions about this. First and foremost, do we really need to know this? I mean it is an interesting tidbit, but it doesn't really help anyone outside of marketing. In fact, I think it will make already paranoid people more paranoid. They will start to think that Big Brother (yes, with capital letters) is really out there. And second, does anyone know how they can differentiate if a person is looking at a web page using an office computer or a home computer? If anyone knows how they do this let me know. What do people think of these stats and how they can be used? Let me know.

See you all again tomorrow

Thursday, May 22, 2008

JJNN 1 May 22nd, 2008

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog.

My goals for this blog will be sharing interesting news stories from Japan as seen (and translated) through my own unique perspective. I will tend to look at technology and science news because that is what I know about (well...more science than technology really.)
Also, thanks to a wonderful podcast I have been listening to lately, ( I will sometimes take a look into pseudoscience science with a skeptical eye.

Any way, that introduction is long enough so it is time today's first and only news story.

This story is about cell phones in Japan. I don't know if there is a version of Moore's Law that works for cell phones in Japan, but the rate at which cell phone companies in Japan come up with new things like this makes me think that there must be.

The gist of the article is that starting on June 6th users of NTT Docomo cellphones (the FOMA 902i/703i series of phones) will be able to reach into their home XP or Vista computers and grab audio, video, text and other types of files for viewing on their cell phone. I guess if I could do that I would be as happy as that yellow girl. (see below)

They are planning on upping the anty in the later part of the year by also letting people access the files that might be on their HD/DVD recorder. The screen may be small but nothing beats watching a few episodes of the Simpsons dubbed over in Japanese on the train ride home from work.

Now, from what I can tell there are disadvantages as well. For one it is 525 yen a month and a special program has to be installed onto your computer. The fact that non-windows users can't use the program might be problem for some. Also, I wonder if people would have to pay for packets while using this to watch movies and videos from one's home computer. If that is true, this is going to be truely expensive indeed.

Any way, let me know what you think. Leave comments to help me figure out what direction I should go with this blog. I am thinking of doing something like science or fiction for Japanese science articals if I ever get free time. I hope you enjoy this and see you next time at JJNN.