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Quirky Things Around Town Archive

Creating Kimonos to Represent Different Nations

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Imagine kimonos that represent different countries in the world. The Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project seeks to create a collection of 196 kimono, each representing a different country. Currently, 55 have been completed, and the organization has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help secure the finances it needs for the remaining 141. The Kimono Project aims to showcase Japanese kimonos, which embody and which are designed in the Japanese spirit of wa, which means harmony.

India

Kimono representing India

According to the organization, harmony is the foundation of friendship and goodwill among people. It aims to reach beyond borders and beyond racial, religious, and economic differences by promoting the idea of “living peacefully together,” and desires to convey this message of harmony among the nations through the beauty and art of the Japanese kimono. In the Kimono Project, prominent Japanese kimono craftsmen create kimonos that expressly reflect a country’s unique culture and characteristics.

The goal is to make 196 unique kimonos, each representing a different country participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Jordan

Model wearing Jordan's version

For more information and more designs of the kimonos, follow this link: http://piow.chips.jp/piow/english/

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Automate washing clothes with the Laundroid

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Hate doing laundry? Very soon this task could be automated. In a recent article published by Bloomberg (written by Yuji Nakamura & Hiroyuki Nakagawa), a Japanese company has created a “laundry robot” called the Laundroid.

laundryrobot31According to the Bloomberg article (here is an excerpt): Shin Sakane, head of Seven Dreamers Laboratories Inc, received 6 billion yen ($53 million) from partners, including Panasonic Corp., last month to advance “the Laundroid” — a robot Sakane is developing to not only wash and dry garments, but also sort, fold and neatly arrange them. The refrigerator-size device could eventually fill the roles of washing machine, dryer and clothes drawer in people’s homes. Sakane (aged 45), whose earlier inventions include an anti-snoring device and golf clubs made of space materials, said the funding will bring closer his dream of liberating humanity from laundry.

Sakane wouldn’t disclose how Laundroid works, but patents show that users dump clothes in a lower drawer and robotic arms grab each item as scanners look for features such as buttons or a collar. Once identified, the clothes are folded using sliding plates and neatly stacked on upper shelves for collection. The goal is to eventually get the price of the full version to less than about JPY300,000.laundryrobot2

Users will still have to do some tasks, such as partially buttoning shirts, ensuring clothes aren’t inside out, and bunching socks before putting them inside the machine. That’s because even the best machine-learning applications can’t figure out how to fold a pair of socks. At the moment, each item takes about 10 minutes to fold, which Sakane attributed to the time necessary to scan each part of the clothing and communicate via Wi-Fi with a central server. He is working to get it down to 3-to-5 minutes, but said the robot was designed to be used passively while users are doing something else or out of the house.

Photo credits: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

For the entire Bloomberg article: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-01/robot-inspired-by-a-space-odyssey-will-relieve-you-of-laundry

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Cat Walkway? How convenient for their walkabouts!

For the latest architecture and design news, there is no better place than Dezeen Magazine. Here we share a photo of a Tokyo-based home that has a special walkway for the owner’s cat! For the article, visit: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/11/06/graphic-designer-house-studio-tokyo-japan-cat-walkway-do-do/

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Famicon Stationery Coming Your Way this December

famicon-accessoriesFrom Spoon & Tamago: Famicon Stationery Lets Adult Gamers Relive Their Childhood

An interesting blog post from creative site Spoon & Tamago featuring another great Omiyage (souvenir) from Japan. I think this will appeal to adults in their forties as they relive this childhood icon through these super cute products.

Here is an excerpt. For the whole article, visit: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2016/11/28/famicon-stationery-lets-adult-gamers-relive-their-childhood/#more-38889

famicon-accessories-3Stationary company, San-Ei is releasing a line of items inspired by the 1980s video game console, Famicon by Nintendo. San-Ei’s lineup of Famicon-inspired items includes pencils and pens, clear folders and memo pads that all can fit snug into the Famicon tote bag. There’s also a ringed notebook that’s designed to be the exact same length and width as the original. The items are set to go on sale December 23 but many of them are available for pre-order through Amazon.

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Cool Tokyo: The 100 Views of Tokyo By Shinji Tsuchimochi

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Today we highlight an interesting artist that has drawn one hundred hip illustrations of modern Tokyo.

The Tokyo 100 Views project was created by Shinji Tsuchimochi, a Japanese artist. The illustrations depict life in modern Tokyo revealing a surrealistic calm and tenderness with the hustle and bustle of city life, coupled with elements that are unique to Tokyo and Japanese culture.

Inspired by Edo-period Ukiyoe artwork, particularly Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, Tsuchimochi began illustrating the 100 views of Tokyo a few years ago, and has recently completed the 100th illustration.

Follow this link to see the artist’s website that showcases all the illustrations: https://www.behance.net/shinjitsuchimochi

shinji-tsuchimochi-100shinji-tsuchimochi-100bshinji-tsuchimochi-100c

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Japanese stationery now sprouts herbs in your garden with the Blooming Pencil

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Recently published in Rocket News24, is a writeup on the next generation in Japanese omiyage — a pencil that can be planted to create a small plant. Here is the article: the Blooming Pencil. An excerpt is reprinted below.

3Once its life as a pencil is over, this innovative piece of stationery will colour your garden by blooming into a variety of edible plants. From Minecraft erasers to iced tea-scented pens and pretty bow-trimmed rubber bands, Japanese stationery has always fascinated us with its unusual, innovative designs. Now it has a creative solution to the problem of pencil ends, which are usually discarded once they become too short to hold and use. Instead of letting them go to waste, there’s now a way to have them breathe life into something that’s both beautiful and edible at the same time.

8While the Blooming Pencil functions as an ordinary pencil, the coloured lead ends at the banded section, with the small remaining portion embedded with plant seeds. Each pencil comes with the name of the plant written on the pencil itself, along with the recommended months for planting. The red-coloured pencil blooms into lotus flower, or Chinese milk vetch, a perennial herb from the pea family that’s often used in Chinese medicine to boost the immune system. This pencil stub is recommended for planting in September or October.

In addition to the Chinese milk vetch plant, there are four other types of blooms available: mini tomato,  aalvia farinacea (mealy sage), white clover; and basil. Eating something grown from your pencil might be a strange concept, but it reflects an idea that’s close to home for the products’ distributors, who also run the Bunbougu Cafe in Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando district.

The cafe brings the joys of stationery to the world of dining, with paper tablecloths for customers to draw and scribble on, so the addition of pencil-grown herbs to the menu seems an organic next step. The pencils can be purchased from their online store for 340 yen (US$3.10) each.

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Lessons from the Bees: The Rooftop Hives of Central Tokyo

Today, we share an translated article published in the English page of Nippon.com (originally written in Japanese by Sakurai Shin and published on May 12, 2016. Photos © Nagasaka Yoshiki). Back in 2006, the Ginza Honey Bee Project set up hives on the top of a multistory building in central Tokyo. A decade on, the project is a regular supplier of honey to local businesses and continues to provide food for thought on the relationship between the urban and natural environments.

Here is the article: Lessons from the Bees: The Rooftop Hives of Central Tokyo

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

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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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