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Pocket-sized personal transporters could soon be seen on the streets of Tokyo

walkcar

Photo courtesy of WalkCar

Technology | Fri Aug 7, 2015 2:06pm EDT

Reuters: A Japanese engineer has developed a portable transporter small enough to be carried in a backpack that he says is the world’s first ‘car in a bag’.

Twenty-six-year-old Kuniako Saito and his team at Cocoa Motors recently unveiled the lithium battery-powered “WalkCar” transporter, which is the size of a laptop and resembles a skateboard more than a car.

The slender WalkCar is made from aluminum and weighs between two and three kilograms (4.4 to 6.6 pounds), depending on whether it is an indoor or outdoor version.

Saito expects to see many other uses for his transporter, as he says it has enough power to help people push wheelchairs with ease. The lightweight aluminum board is stronger than it looks, and can take loads of up to 120kg (265 pounds).

It reaches top speeds of 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 miles per hour), for distances of up to 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) after three hours of charging.

Its developer says it’s also extremely simple to ride. Once the rider stands on it the WalkCar starts automatically, while simply stepping off stops the vehicle. To change direction, the user just shifts their weight.

Best of all, there is no need to find a parking space, because it fits into a small bag when not in use.

Saito said his studies in electric car motor control systems sparked the idea for the new kind of ride.

“I thought, “what if we could just carry our transportation in our bags, wouldn’t that mean we’d always have our transportation with us to ride on?” and my friend asked me to make one, since I was doing my masters in engineering specifically on electric car motor control systems,” he told Reuters.

Saito says he is confident that WalkCar goes beyond bulkier devices such as the Segway or Toyota’s Winglet.

“Maybe I just see it that way, but it seems to me that the U.S. is always the one which invents new products and Japan is the one which takes those products and improves on them to make a better version of it. But here in this case, the WalkCar is a totally new product I have started from scratch. So I also I want to show the world that Japan can also be innovative,” he said.

Saito says customers will be able to reserve their own WalkCars from autumn 2015 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. The futuristic skateboard will have a price-tag of around 100,000 Japanese Yen (about $800). Shipping is expected to begin by spring 2016.

Check out this link for a cool video:?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS-Bdy6nf80

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Tourism boom drives Japan to convert offices into hotels

Tourism boom drives Japan to convert offices into hotels

"Business-class" cabins are seen at First Cabin hotel, which was converted from an old office building, in Tokyo, July 3, 2015. Record tourists to Japan are stretching the ability of hotels to accommodate them in a sector constrained by high costs, forcing developers to think out of the box for means to quickly increase lodging options without breaking the bank. Picture taken July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai - RTX1MBVO

By Junko Fujita

BUSINESS JUL. 31, 2015 - 07:30AM JST

TOKYO (Reuters) ? Record tourists to Japan are stretching the ability of hotels to accommodate them in a sector constrained by high costs, forcing developers to think out of the box for means to quickly increase lodging options without breaking the bank.

Japan is on target this year to beat the record 13.4 million visitors in 2014, helped by a weak yen and easier visa requirements for some Asian countries. The government is aiming to attract 20 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics, to revitalize the world???s third-biggest economy.

The rising influx of tourists is already squeezing existing accommodation supply in Tokyo, which has about 100,000 hotel rooms. Just 7,600 rooms are scheduled to be added in the next three years, according to STR Global, a research firm for the hotel industry.

The slow pace of growth is due to rising land prices and construction costs. One quick solution: convert old office buildings into hotels with tiny but stylish rooms that can rent for under US$30 a night, less than half the rate for a cheap business hotel.

???Converting an office building into a hotel is an ideal way to respond to the immediate need for hotel rooms,??? said Yukari Sasaki, senior managing officer at property developer Sankei Building Co. ???Building a hotel from scratch costs too much money now because of high construction costs.???

Sankei, a unit of Fuji Media Holdings Inc, which owns the conservative Sankei newspaper, converted a 35-year-old office building in Tokyo???s electronics-geek district of Akihabara into a hotel in under a year and for less than $8 million.

The hotel, called Grids, charges ?3,300 ($27) a night per person for a bunkbed and up to ?5,000 ($40) for premium rooms with tatami mats.

By comparison, the average room rate at Tokyo???s lowest-ranked business hotels has risen 11.7 percent from a year earlier to ?9,500, according to STR Global.

???The market for this type of hotel is still tiny, but it has potential to grow bigger in major cities where hotel demand is strong,??? said Tomohiko Sawayanagi, managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle in Tokyo.

Also, as more office towers are being built, older and smaller office buildings become less attractive. Such properties could be better used as hotels, industry people say.

???Some office buildings can generate higher returns when converted into hotels because we can expect further increases in foreign visitors to Japan,??? said Yuji Sakawa, deputy general manager at B-lot Co, a Tokyo-based real estate investor.

COMPETITION

Last year, B-lot converted a 28-year-old office building near Tokyo???s popular Tsukiji fish market into a hotel called First Cabin, where ?5,500 will get you a ???business-class cabin??? with a single bed.

Another ?1,000 buys you space to open a suitcase.

In March, B-lot sold First Cabin to Hong Kong-based property investor SIS International Holdings Ltd, and is now converting a 30-year-old office building in Shinjuku, a popular destination for Asian tourists, into a bunkbed hotel.

Competition will come from the likes of home rental website Airbnb, which has listed thousands of properties, even at the risk of running afoul of the law.

Current regulations on short-term rentals are strict: owners are not allowed to legally let their homes without a license, hotel-style reception desks and minimum room sizes.

But there is hope. As part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe???s economic growth strategy, his government has designated special zones across the country where a range of regulations will be eased, including laws related to short-term lodging.

In the meantime, property developer Sankei plans to convert more office buildings into low-end hotels. Its Grids property in Tokyo is slated to be torn down eventually to make way for an apartment building.

???But if tourism is still booming, we may rebuild it as a new hotel,??? Sankei???s Sasaki said.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015. Click For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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Japan’s First Robot Manned Hotel

At Japan’s Weird Hotel, receptionists, porters, concierge are all robots to save labor costs

By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer

Check out the Photo Gallery: http://www.wral.com/business/image/14774321/?ref_id=14774320

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

SASEBO, JAPAN ? From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s an automated trolley taking luggage up to the room, this hotel in southwestern Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labor costs.

Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, insists using robots is not a gimmick, but a serious effort to utilize technology and achieve efficiency.

The receptionist robot that speaks in English is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one that speaks Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes. “If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says. The visitor still has to punch a button on the desk, and type in information on a touch panel screen.

Henn na Hotel, as it is called in Japanese, was shown to reporters Wednesday, complete with robot demonstrations, ahead of its opening to the public Friday.

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

Another feature of the hotel is the use of facial recognition technology, instead of the standard electronic keys, by registering the digital image of the guest’s face during check-in.

The reason? Robots aren’t good at finding keys, if people happen to lose them.

A giant robotic arm, usually seen in manufacturing, is encased in glass quarters in the corner of the lobby. It lifts one of the boxes stacked into the wall and puts it out through a space in the glass, where a guest can place an item in it, to use as a locker.

The arm will put the box back into the wall, until the guest wants it again. The system is called “robot cloak room.”

Why a simple coin locker won’t do isn’t the point.

“I wanted to highlight innovation,” Sawada told reporters. “I also wanted to do something about hotel prices going up.”

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

Photo: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

Staying at Henn na Hotel starts at 9,000 yen ($80), a bargain for Japan, where a stay in one of the nicer hotels can easily cost twice or three times that much.

The concierge is a doll-like hairless robot with voice recognition that prattles breakfast and event information. It cannot call a cab or do other errands.

Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, and the government is trumpeting robotics as a pillar of its growth strategy. Robots have long been used here in manufacturing. But interest is also high in exploring the potential of robots in human interaction, including helping care for the elderly.

Robotics is also key in the decommissioning of the three reactors in Fukushima, northern Japan, which went into meltdowns in 2011, in the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl.

One area Henn na Hotel still relies on human beings is security.

The place is dotted with security cameras, and real people are watching everything through a monitor to make sure guests stay safe and no one makes off with one of the expensive robots.

“And they still can’t make beds,” said Sawada, who has also engineered the rise of a popular affordable Japanese travel agency.

He has big ambitions for his robot hotel concept and wants to open another one soon in Japan, and later abroad. He is also eager to add other languages, such as Chinese and Korean, to the robots’ vocabulary.

A block-shaped robot that was scuttling around in the lobby had been brought in to do room service, delivering beverages and simple snacks. But it wasn’t ready to do that yet.

Outdoors, Sawada also demonstrated a drone that flew in to deliver a few small jars filled with snacks. He said he wanted to eventually have drones perform in shows for guests.

Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi, AP

Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi, AP

In the hotel’s rooms, a lamp-size robot in the shape of a fat pink tulip called Tuly answers simple questions like, “What time is it?” and “What is the weather tomorrow?”

You can also tell it to turn the room lights on or off. There are no switches on the walls.

Sawada is keeping the hotel half-filled for the first few weeks to make sure nothing goes wrong.

He also canceled at the last minute the overnight stay planned for media. The robots simply weren’t ready.

___

Follow Yuri Kageyama: twitter.com/yurikageyama

Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Quirky Pics Around Town

A Collection of Quirky Photos Around Tokyo (as only in Tokyo)

tokyohackginza1Number 1:

Members of the human statue street performer group named “Tokyo Hack” get shoppers’ attention as they march in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district Sunday, April 12, 2015. The main street in Ginza shuts the traffic and opens for shoppers during the day on Sundays. They have also been spotted on the subway. ?(Source: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

tortoisewalker21Number 2:

Residents in Tokyo have recently reported several sightings of possibly the most patient pet-walker in the world: an elderly man who takes his enormous African spurred tortoise (or sulcata) out for walks around town. Photos of the pair have been making the rounds of social media networks. (Source: Straits Times, Rocket News 24, Bored Panda)tortoisewalker3

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All About Ramen

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Ramen noodles, one of the main favorites in the Japanese diet, have become one of Japan???s most well known foods abroad. And while it is often thought of as a quick, go-to fast food meal, it can, as highlighted in the world-famous Itami Juzo film, Tampopo, also be savoured slowly by connoisseurs. The key feature about ramen is that it keeps renewing itself and is a cuisine that is often updated, reinvented and modernised. From the traditional chashu (roast pork loin) pork bone soup ramen, we now can find curry ramen, spicy garlic ramen, tomato and basil chicken ramen, and even lemon soup ramen.

jeffreyfriedlfieryramen

Kyoto Fiery Ramen by Jeffrey Friedl

Ramen are, generally, wheat-based noodles that are served in a meat, fish, soy, or miso-based broth with sliced meats and vegetables. Regional ramen dishes vary in their presentation, preparation, flavor, and ingredients. But in a nutshell, main differences are often the type of soup stock and shape of the noodles. For instance, Sapporo ramen is associated with a rich miso ramen, while Kitakata (northern Honshu) is known for its thick, flat curly noodles. Yokohama ramen called Ie-Kei consists of straight, thick noodles in a soy and pork bone broth similar to tonkotsu (pork bone) soup, while Hakata ramen (Fukuoka, Kyushu) is known for its milky, pork-bone broth.

regionalramenHere we highlight two well-written guides about the regional differences, as well as in depth description of the ingredients:

A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan by Nate Shockey and ?The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

Also, check out ANA???s popularity ranking here: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/contents/ramen/ and incidentally, there is also a Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama: http://www.raumen.co.jp/english/

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Omiyage Japan Style

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By Richenda Elledge

If you are looking for a modern omiyage (souvenir in Japanese) to give to friends back home, the list can be exhausting. Usually what comes to mind are Japan-made knives, plastic key chains and magnets in sushi or ramen motif, chopsticks, daruma dolls, yukatas, and Maneki Neko (beckoning cat) figurines. There are some favorites of locals that make great souvenirs as well. Here is a quirky selection of items used by locals that would make cool omiyage:

iwako1Iwako Puzzle Erasers

You may have come across interesting looking erasers at shops like Tokyu Hands, or even passed out as rewards at your neighborhood children’s dentist. These are usually puzzle-type erasers, where you can take sections apart and put them back together again. Much loved by local kids and adults for decades, these low-cost items (usually JPY60 for one eraser or JPY378 for a small pack) make an original and quirky gift without breaking the bank.

iwako31A little history: IWAKO was founded in 1968 (formerly known as Iwasawa Kogyo). Asking why erasers always have to be rectangular, IWAKO started making erasers with different shapes. While this manufacturer makes a variety of plastic products, they are perhaps best known for their high-quality puzzle erasers. IWAKO erasers are made entirely in Japan and they are tested to be safe, following international toy safety guidelines. Interestingly, every year, two hundred groups of children visit their factory in Saitama Prefecture to see their production line as well as to input ideas for new creations.

For more info and extensive list of their products: http://www.iwako.com/IWAKO/

tshirtfactory1Customised T-shirts

My T Factory makes original and customised T-shirts on the spot. They have a few branches in Tokyo, in places with high concentrations of visitors; such as Ueno, Harajuku and Shibuya. There are tons of designs to choose, which they will then print onto a t-shirt then and there, along with personalised names or message. Designs vary and Japan motifs are just one of many different kinds.

myt2A great choice (and affordable since the starting price is JPY2480 for a printed end product), not only for souvenirs but as presents for any occasion. Offering a wide selection of sizes, including children sizes, they also do personalised dog clothing. For more details and address: http://www.myt-factory.com/index_en.html

frixionlightFriXion Erasable Pens

Generally speaking, Japanese-designed stationery are like no other, and the range of stationery choices in paper, pens, stickers and notebooks found in Japan are unrivalled. Leading stationery maker, Pilot Corporation makes a series of pens, felt-tips, highlighters and coloring pencils under the FriXion name and they are truly unique. These pens (starting from JPY100 for a basic model) have become a staple in many people’s pen cases. They are highly effective erasable pens with heat-sensitive ink. The way it works is that the heat generated by the friction of rubbing the special eraser (installed at the end of each pen) causes the ink to become clear. FriXion ink ???erases??? due to Pilot???s exclusive thermo-sensitive ink technology. When rubbing, the ink heats up to over 65属C and becomes invisible. FriXion pens have a special erasing tip which allows the paper to be heated quickly without damaging it. An interesting tip ideal for youngsters: one can write a secret message on a piece of paper, by first writing the secret message then erasing it. Reveal the message by placing the paper in the freezer for a few minutes. The ink will reappear at temperatures under -12属C. Neat! Probably best not to use on legal or official documents.

11996519225_b5ebb7f9cc_zKit Kat with a Japanese Kick

Nestle launched its first boutique in Japan for one of its major product lines, Kit Kat. The KitKat “Chocolatory” store located within the Seibu department store in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, stocks exclusive varieties of the chocolate bar created in collaboration with Japanese chocolatier, Takagi.

11994724216_df8fb45f3c_zAccording to Nestle, 650 KitKat fingers are consumed every second around the world and, in Japan, the brand has been the country???s favourite chocolate since 2012. Its success has been fuelled by the launch of hundreds of unusual and innovative special edition flavours to meet Japanese consumers??? experimental tastes and sense of style. KitKat fans in Japan have been able to choose from varieties including Purple Potato, Cinnamon Cookie, European Cheese, Bean Cake and Wasabi - unwrapping sticks of pale green, delicate pink and lilac chocolate that look and taste very different from those anywhere else in the world. Flavors found only in Japan: Roasted Tea, Strawberry Cheesecake, Rum Raisin, Apple, Green Tea, Mandarin and Lemon, Azuki Red Bean Toast, and Wasabi.

Other listings of more traditional omiyage covered by the media:

https://www.pinterest.com/ristini/souvenirs-from-japan/

http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/6328/Essential-Tokyo-souvenirs

http://muza-chan.net/japan/index.php/blog/must-have-souvenirs-travel-tips

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Tokyo’s Fantastical Dining

alice11

Theme Restaurants in Tokyo

By Richenda Elledge

Tokyo is a mecca for gastronomical delights, from award-winning Michelin-starred restaurants to fusion izakayas and street vendors. The restaurant business is one of the most competitive industries in the city. Some Tokyo eateries have taken a more creative route, and have created special themed places. Here are a few — and by no means is this the entire list — that are truly quite out of this world.

alice21Alice???s Fantasy Restaurant
This theme restaurant chain is about Lewis Carroll???s Alice in Wonderland. The atmosphere of the restaurants is very cute and friendly; a suitable place for families. There are several branches around town including areas like Ginza, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and two in Shinjuku, and they all have different names such as Alice in a Labyrinth (Ginza) and Alice in Magical Land (Shinjuku).

Customers are immersed in a sense of fantasy and surrealism and the design of the interior is centered around images and descriptions straight from the novel; such as, playing card dining tables, giant tea cup booths, a magic forest, and heart-shaped chandeliers. And of course, the menu matches the theme with dishes labeled after the story characters. Dishes include the Cheshire Cat Tail Pizza and Burgundy-style Braised Beef Cheek in Queen of Hearts Red Wine Sauce. Even for non-fans of Alice in Wonderland, these restaurants are a feast for the eyes. http://www.alice-restaurant.com/

selfkitchenSelf Kitchen, Higashi Nakano
Located in Higashi-Nakano, the owner here rents out the professional-grade kitchen and living room-like area for anyone who needs a space for their culinary activities. Pick and choose ingredients from the impressively stocked fridge and well-equipped kitchen. The charges are for usage fee and the ingredients used. Drinks are available to order, and non-cooks can also amuse themselves with a variety of games, reading material and the pinball machine.?http://profile.ameba.jp/oyaji-seihin/

alcatrazer1Alcatraz E.R.
Very creepy and one of Tokyo???s most crazy theme joints, the Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya is styled after a hellish, prison hospital. Not for children, nor the squeamish, this eatery is definitely unique and one-of-a-kind — the kind that can only exist in a city as unique and ???different??? as Tokyo itself. Brace yourselves, the menu includes human intestines (actually a long sausage in a kidney dish) and various impossibly spicy delectables, while drinks include the Nounai Hassha (???brain buster???), which is a vodka-based cocktail in a life-size mannequin. Venture there at your own risk. ?head. http://alcatraz.hy-system.com

christoncafeChriston Cafe
Not for the spiritually-sensitive, the Christon Cafe in Shinjuku is decorated with a wide range of religious paraphernalia. This theme restaurant offers Asian-European fusion food. It is operated by the Diamond Dining, which operates other theme restaurants; such as King of Pirates (Daiba), Vampire Cafe (Ginza).?http://www.diamond-dining.com/shops/christoncafe/

ninjaNinja Akasaka
One of the more popular attractions for travellers, the Ninja Akasaka is a ninja-themed izakaya. The restaurant’s interior involve cave-like passageways, bridges, ponds, and gardens. The restaurant???s signature ninja-inspired courses include Shuriken (star-shaped blades) grissini, vegetables Mont Blanc, ninja-style kurage (fried chicken), and special stone-boiled soup. Since it???s tourist-friendly, the establishment also offers vegetarian or halal-friendly courses for customers. This well-known establishment has been visited by celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Lady GaGa.

The customers are also entertained by the staff whom are dressed in the appropriate Ninja attire. To top it off, an illusionist visits each table to perform magic tricks and the staff get properly into character, sneaking around the corridors as if preparing to assassinate a target. http://www.ninjaakasaka.com/

robotRobot Restaurant
Large robots, motorcycles, and carts carrying scantily-clad women run across a brilliantly bright floor and female dancers in various sexy costumes dance away. That pretty much sums up the theme of the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Despite the fact its name includes the word ???restaurant???, the establishment is primarily a place to watch the live show over drinks and consume an optional bento dinner. Nevertheless, since its opening, it has garnered popularity from customers who describe it with words like ???shockingly good fun???, ???a wide ride??? and ???surreal entertainment???. The waiting room is already another world, surrounded by mirrors and bright colored lights. More than half of the patrons are estimated to be foreign visitors. The show starts with women in costumes starting a glamorous dance set to a taiko (Japanese drum) performance. Next, a performance that includes a marching parade and motorcycles, and a spectacle involving large robots run for about ninety minutes. During the latter half of the show, large robots appear one after another. The charge for the show is 6,000 yen and the bento box is 1,000 yen. http://www.shinjuku-robot.com/

Animal-themed cafes:
It may have started with felines but it certainly did not end there in Tokyo. Cat cafes are indeed very yesterday and here are two of the more unique animal cafes.

goatcafeSakuragaoka Cafe (Goat Cafe)
There are a plethora of animal cafes around town particularly cat cafes, but one of the most eclectic choices is Sakuragaoko Cafe, which houses two resident goats, Sakura and Chocolat. Customers can interact and even sign up to take one of the goats for a walk. Located in Tokyo???s bustling Shibuya district, besides the goats, the cafe offer a decent food and drinks menu. The cafe itself also has a calm, laid back atmosphere, ?encouraging chilling out and long conversations over coffee. The lights are low and the seating is comfortable and in lounge style. The restaurant opens for long hours extending to 4am and offers both lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday. Wifi is also available. No website but here is the address and phone: ???150-0031 ??延根??醇??莪桁?堺??筝???削??鐚?鐚?鐚? 膀???違????? (just paste this into Google for map, it’s a stone’s throw from the train station) Tel: 03-5728-3242

owlcafe2Fukuro No Mise (Owl Cafe)
Gaining popularity since the first owl cafe opened, there are now a few owl cafes around Tokyo. Fukuro No Mise, located in Tsukishima station, was the first to offer this idea back in 2012. Only open for a few hours each day, entry into the establishment goes by a system where several one-hour time slots are offered on the given day. Only a small number of people are allowed to enter at each time slot, and unfortunately reservations in advance are not allowed, which means queuing up before the cafe opens is suggested. At the given time slot, customers have one hour to interact with the owls while consuming the included drink. No food is served at this establishment, the experience is really all about the owls. As the rules are given in Japanese, it is useful to be able to converse in Japanese; although English is available on Fridays. The cafe is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. http://ameblo.jp/fukurounomise/

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