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Google Maps adds spectacular 45-degree aerial view to select Japanese cities

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has announced that it has added Tokyo, Kawasaki, Chiba, and Sendai to the list of cities worldwide that have the slick 45-degree aerial view feature. Somewhat similar to Apple’s touted ‘flyover’ feature, this view was initially rolled out in 37 US cities as well as 14 international cities last year. Now on Google Maps you can check out iconic locations such as Tokyo Tower or even the new Tokyo Skytree from a 45-degree vantage point. As you can see in the pictures below, the view looks pretty amazing. The 45-degree perspective doesn’t appear right away, but once you’ve zoomed into a certain level, it suddenly kicks in. Eye-candy aside, this is actually a pretty practical feature, especially if you’re trying to scout out a new place you plan to visit. I find myself often confused when visiting some stations, so I expect to make use of it often [1[. You might also want to check out Google’s Streetview compilation of cherry blossom viewing spots. Trees are just starting to bloom in Japan, so if you’d like to scout a spot near you for this weekend, this is a fun resource to explore! Sometimes it feels a little like…

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has announced that it has added Tokyo, Kawasaki, Chiba, and Sendai to the list of cities worldwide that have the slick 45-degree aerial view feature. Somewhat similar to Apple’s touted ‘flyover’ feature, this view was initially rolled out in 37 US cities as well as 14 international cities last year.

Now on Google Maps you can check out iconic locations such as Tokyo Tower or even the new Tokyo Skytree from a 45-degree vantage point. As you can see in the pictures below, the view looks pretty amazing. The 45-degree perspective doesn’t appear right away, but once you’ve zoomed into a certain level, it suddenly kicks in.

tokyo-tower-google-maps

tokyo-skytree-google-maps

Eye-candy aside, this is actually a pretty practical feature, especially if you’re trying to scout out a new place you plan to visit. I find myself often confused when visiting some stations, so I expect to make use of it often [1[.

You might also want to check out Google’s Streetview compilation of cherry blossom viewing spots. Trees are just starting to bloom in Japan, so if you’d like to scout a spot near you for this weekend, this is a fun resource to explore!


  1. Sometimes it feels a little like Mario Bros, coming up in a strange new world after traveling around in a series of pipes. ↩

Survey says virtual pop star Hatsune Miku has gone mainstream

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From electronic products to snacks sold at convenience stores, it seems every possible product or package in Japan is adorned with a character of some sort. In a culture where consumers grow up with manga at their bedsides, many Japanese companies create original characters and leverage them as part of their branding strategy. There are even what are called ‘gotochi’ characters, or “local characters” for every prefecture in Japan. But perhaps the most successful character in terms of recognition is the virtual vocaloid diva Hatsune Miku. That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Tokyo Polytechnic University. The survey targeted those who like to listen to music, polling 1,000 people between the ages of 12 to 39. When asked about their preferred genre, 40% of teenagers answered Vocaloid music (created with voice synthesizing software). When asked about their awareness of vocaloid characters, 95% of all respondents were familiar with Hatsune Miku. Many respondents first became aware of the virtual diva through TV and video sharing sites such as Youtube and Niconico-Douga. This survey is pretty remarkable because a previous poll in 2010 by Yamaha, the company behind vocaloid technology, showed that only 60% were familiar with Hatsune-Miku. That means that…

HatsuneMiku-recognition

From electronic products to snacks sold at convenience stores, it seems every possible product or package in Japan is adorned with a character of some sort. In a culture where consumers grow up with manga at their bedsides, many Japanese companies create original characters and leverage them as part of their branding strategy. There are even what are called ‘gotochi’ characters, or “local characters” for every prefecture in Japan. But perhaps the most successful character in terms of recognition is the virtual vocaloid diva Hatsune Miku. That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Tokyo Polytechnic University.

The survey targeted those who like to listen to music, polling 1,000 people between the ages of 12 to 39. When asked about their preferred genre, 40% of teenagers answered Vocaloid music (created with voice synthesizing software). When asked about their awareness of vocaloid characters, 95% of all respondents were familiar with Hatsune Miku. Many respondents first became aware of the virtual diva through TV and video sharing sites such as Youtube and Niconico-Douga. This survey is pretty remarkable because a previous poll in 2010 by Yamaha, the company behind vocaloid technology, showed that only 60% were familiar with Hatsune-Miku. That means that in a span of less than two years, the vocaloid character has gone fully mainstream.

In the past year alone, Hatsune Miku has been appearing all over the place:

  • Featured at a panel event at Mercedez-Benz fashion week
  • Featured in a fun aumented reality Domino’s Pizza app
  • Vanquish used Hatsune Miku as its model in stores
  • Family Mart, one of the largest convinience store chains in Japan, began to sell original Hatsune Miku merchandise at their stores
  • Google, to promote its browser Google Chrome, has taken advantage of Hatsune Miku in their TV commercials as well. See the video below.

Tomy’s dog-to-human communication toy introduces tots to mobile translation

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For Japanese parents looking for a toy for their baby girl’s next birthday, Tomy’s Ketai Wanko (roughly translated as “mobile dog”) might be a fun option to consider. It’s a cute stuffed dog accompanied by mobile controller that works as a mock dog-to-human translator. When the toy dog barks, you can bring the cell-phone close to its nose, and the noises are translated into language. The dog can say over 300 different phrases such as “pet me,” “sing to me,” or even “I like your what you’re wearing today.” A toy biscuit is also included, and when you feed your dog it will make happy eating sounds or even ask for more biscuits. You can learn more about how it works over on the Tomy website. Keitai Wanko can be purchased for 3,780 yen (about $40) and is available in three breeds: toy poodle, chihuahua and Shiba Inu. In its announcement, Tomy (TSE:7867) notes that as many as 30% of Japanese people have some kind of pet. But of course there are some families that can not enjoy pets for some reason or another. The company hopes that Keitai Wanko could be an alternaitve for such families to teach children…

Tomy-KeitaiWanko

For Japanese parents looking for a toy for their baby girl’s next birthday, Tomy’s Ketai Wanko (roughly translated as “mobile dog”) might be a fun option to consider. It’s a cute stuffed dog accompanied by mobile controller that works as a mock dog-to-human translator.

When the toy dog barks, you can bring the cell-phone close to its nose, and the noises are translated into language. The dog can say over 300 different phrases such as “pet me,” “sing to me,” or even “I like your what you’re wearing today.” A toy biscuit is also included, and when you feed your dog it will make happy eating sounds or even ask for more biscuits. You can learn more about how it works over on the Tomy website.

Keitai Wanko can be purchased for 3,780 yen (about $40) and is available in three breeds: toy poodle, chihuahua and Shiba Inu. In its announcement, Tomy (TSE:7867) notes that as many as 30% of Japanese people have some kind of pet. But of course there are some families that can not enjoy pets for some reason or another. The company hopes that Keitai Wanko could be an alternaitve for such families to teach children to take care of animals.

For real dogs

Tomy-BowLingual

For those with real animals to pet, Tomy has an actual dog-to-human language translator and emotional analyzer called Bow-Lingual. That was released way back in September of 2002, co-developed by Tomy, Index Holdings, and Japan Acoustic Lab.

Bow-Lingual allows owners to communicate with dogs through a wireless mic built into the dog’s collar. The product sold over 300,000 units worldwide and received an Ig Nobel Prize in 2002. There is also a Bow-Lingual iPhone app if anyone wants to give it a try. We’ve not tested it (nor do we actually speak dog) so your mileage may vary!

Yahoo Japan offers to rescue Google Reader refugees

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A number of services are already reaping the benefits of the Google Reader’s impending retirement this coming July. Most notable among them is Feedly.com, which has seen half a million new users since Google made its announcement. But in Japan, the leading internet property YahooJapan (TYO:4689) is poised to capitalize on the opportunity as well. Currently when users log in to their My Yahoo pages they’ll see a link to a promotion of sorts by the company, whereby it explains step-by-step how to export their feeds from Google Reader to import them into My Yahoo. It also explains how to bring your data from iGoogle, which is being retired in November. Yahoo Japan’s ‘My Yahoo’ is much like the product of the same name from Yahoo proper, except for it probably has enthusiastic users. I took a quick walk though the process, and it works pretty seamlessly, although if you’re a heavy feed consumer you’ll likely want to try something a little more robust. Japanese users also have Livedoor Reader, although I’ve never tried that one myself. I suspect, like anywhere else, Feedly will be a popular choice in Japan too. I’m not certain which service I’m going to settle…

yahoo-japan

A number of services are already reaping the benefits of the Google Reader’s impending retirement this coming July. Most notable among them is Feedly.com, which has seen half a million new users since Google made its announcement. But in Japan, the leading internet property YahooJapan (TYO:4689) is poised to capitalize on the opportunity as well.

Currently when users log in to their My Yahoo pages they’ll see a link to a promotion of sorts by the company, whereby it explains step-by-step how to export their feeds from Google Reader to import them into My Yahoo. It also explains how to bring your data from iGoogle, which is being retired in November. Yahoo Japan’s ‘My Yahoo’ is much like the product of the same name from Yahoo proper, except for it probably has enthusiastic users.

I took a quick walk though the process, and it works pretty seamlessly, although if you’re a heavy feed consumer you’ll likely want to try something a little more robust. Japanese users also have Livedoor Reader, although I’ve never tried that one myself. I suspect, like anywhere else, Feedly will be a popular choice in Japan too.

I’m not certain which service I’m going to settle on for my own feeds, although I’m currently testing out Fever for no other reason than Gabe Weatherhead seems to like it [1].

What service you you plan to use for RSS feeds? Do you ever make use of RSS feeds at all these days? Let us know! (Via Impress Internet Watch)


  1. Gabe is cool. Note however that Fever is a self-hosted solution without much support. But so far, I like it too.  ↩

How Japan’s Keio University is reaching out to potential students abroad

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My old school, Keio University, is attracting some attention to its newly launched website, intended to attract students from abroad. Most notably, its two-minute video titled “Shaping History, Shaping Tomorrow,” shot by Australian filmmaker Tim White, exhibits all the charms of the university and Japan as a whole. This is Keio’s attempt to use social media to reach potential students outside the country. Since the video’s initial release last December, it has been played over 113,000 times on Youtube. The video’s creator Tim White noted: I wanted to express what is expected of Tokyo from students all over the world-heritage, cutting-edge technology, rich culture, friendly people, most safe and secure. The project was part of an initiative led by the Ministry of Education. Keio University was founded by Yukichi Fukuzawa in 1858, the same man pictured on the 10,000-yen bill. To check out more of the campus life at Keio University, here is another video, this one from the students of the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design.

keiowebsite-english

My old school, Keio University, is attracting some attention to its newly launched website, intended to attract students from abroad. Most notably, its two-minute video titled “Shaping History, Shaping Tomorrow,” shot by Australian filmmaker Tim White, exhibits all the charms of the university and Japan as a whole.

This is Keio’s attempt to use social media to reach potential students outside the country. Since the video’s initial release last December, it has been played over 113,000 times on Youtube. The video’s creator Tim White noted:

I wanted to express what is expected of Tokyo from students all over the world-heritage, cutting-edge technology, rich culture, friendly people, most safe and secure.

The project was part of an initiative led by the Ministry of Education. Keio University was founded by Yukichi Fukuzawa in 1858, the same man pictured on the 10,000-yen bill.

To check out more of the campus life at Keio University, here is another video, this one from the students of the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design.

A brainwave music player so nice, Japan made it twice

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During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle. Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th. The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before. Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave…

neurowear_600
Japanese digital pop artist Julie Watai wearing Neurowear’s Mico

During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle.

Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th.

The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before.


brainwave_and_musicplayer

Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave that emerge when a user wants to listen to specific type of songs. Then by detecting your brainwave pattern with the sensor on their headset, the music player lets you listen to a series of songs you might like.

The new technology aims to help users who have a difficult time selecting song. The study used a small brainwave sensor and a music player, and the team succeeded in achieving 90% precision, in terms of choosing songs based on what test participants were thinking they wanted to listen to.

Professor Mitsukura and her team have been exploring possibilities of augmented reality (AR), facial image recognition, and sensibility evaluation. The group was previously known for having developed a real-time avatar webcam which was exhibited at Digital Content Expo 2012.

Willcom to sell world’s smallest mobile phone, about the size of a box of mints

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Photo via. k-tai.impress PHS mobile career Willcom and Willcom Okinawa recently made a joint annoucement for the release of the world’s smallest and lightest Frisk-size PHS phone (pictured above). These tiny phones are available for pre-order and will go on sale on March 21. The so-called Strap Phone 2 has been upgraded from its previous version with an added email feature, and is available in three colors, black, white, and pink. PHS phones are known for low power consumption, and this one is no exception. With its movable antenna, the signal detection ability of the phone has been improved as well. Japan’s smartphone penetration is currently just over 40%, so why are these companies still producing [1] out-of-date PHS phones? Such phones typically cost less than regular mobile phones, and are often used at manufacturing factories. They can be used like any regular mobile phone, but when in vicinity of a factory, the call can be made as extention calls within the company. But according to Willcom, the usage of PHS phones is not limited to corporate use. The first version of the Strap phone was made availabe in January of 2012 and sold out rather quickly with an average user…

Willcom-strap-phone-2Photo via. k-tai.impress

PHS mobile career Willcom and Willcom Okinawa recently made a joint annoucement for the release of the world’s smallest and lightest Frisk-size PHS phone (pictured above). These tiny phones are available for pre-order and will go on sale on March 21.

The so-called Strap Phone 2 has been upgraded from its previous version with an added email feature, and is available in three colors, black, white, and pink. PHS phones are known for low power consumption, and this one is no exception. With its movable antenna, the signal detection ability of the phone has been improved as well.

Japan’s smartphone penetration is currently just over 40%, so why are these companies still producing [1] out-of-date PHS phones? Such phones typically cost less than regular mobile phones, and are often used at manufacturing factories. They can be used like any regular mobile phone, but when in vicinity of a factory, the call can be made as extention calls within the company.

But according to Willcom, the usage of PHS phones is not limited to corporate use. The first version of the Strap phone was made availabe in January of 2012 and sold out rather quickly with an average user satisfaction of about 93% according to surveys. With the newer version of the phone, Willcom added more feminine colors to the line to attract female fans.

Of course the size helps too. The Strap Phone 2 weighs about 32g, and the screen size is only one inch. PHS phones have become something of a niche in the age of smartphones, but it does seem like they have a purpose to serve.


  1. In fairness, the production is limited to 12,000 units.  ↩

Japan tech this week: Android developments, restaurant reservations, and standout startups

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We’ve had another fun week here at SD, doing our best to bring you interesting tech stories going down in Japan. But in case you missed any of it, here’s a wrap up below. Readers on mobile might want to check out the features on Readlists or in ePub format. If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here. Features See how one Japanese fashion company has mastered digital marketing 03/08 Japanese curation site Naver Matome boasts 41 million users, cures information overload 03/07 Looking for a job in Japan? Dragon Gate lets you pitch your skills to Japanese companies 03/07 Japan’s Pocket Concierge fills cancelled restaurant reservations with eager customers 03/06 Laying the foundation for Google Glass: Japanese projects that pushed the space forward 03/05 Japan’s DeployGate aspires to be a standard tool for Android development 03/04 Business Japanese game developer Aiming raises $3.2M, eyes overseas expansion 03/08 Tokyo-based advertising startup FreakOut raises $5.3M from Yahoo Japan 03/07 Monetizing Android ads for Asia (and soon the world) Metaps raises $11M in series B 03/06 Japan’s ringtone publisher Dwango partners with pair of media giants 03/04 Incubate…

We’ve had another fun week here at SD, doing our best to bring you interesting tech stories going down in Japan. But in case you missed any of it, here’s a wrap up below. Readers on mobile might want to check out the features on Readlists or in ePub format.

If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here.

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As 2-year anniversary approaches, Great East Japan Earthquake Archive goes online

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Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the National Diet Library have finally launched an online archive of photos, videos, and other infomation relating to the tragic March 2011 east Japan earthquake. It’s currently available for viewing at kn.ndl.go.jp. Media can be browsed and sorted by location (there’s a useful map interface here), media type, and language. And while it’s not the easiest site in the world to navigate, there is a lot of content brought together from external sources under one umbrella [1]. Currently the site provides interfaces in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. It’s far from perfect, but it’s good to see an initiative like this finally get going. The two year anniversary of the disaster will fall on Monday, and since then a number of organizations have curated such collections in the interests of ensuring that we remember what happened. Other archive initiatives Another organization that’s playing a major role in recording the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has been collecting Street View images of the affected areas, cataloguing these as memories on its Memories for the Future website (actually, the NDL’s online archive draws content from here as well)….

great-east-japan-earthquake-archive

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the National Diet Library have finally launched an online archive of photos, videos, and other infomation relating to the tragic March 2011 east Japan earthquake. It’s currently available for viewing at kn.ndl.go.jp.

Media can be browsed and sorted by location (there’s a useful map interface here), media type, and language. And while it’s not the easiest site in the world to navigate, there is a lot of content brought together from external sources under one umbrella [1]. Currently the site provides interfaces in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.

It’s far from perfect, but it’s good to see an initiative like this finally get going. The two year anniversary of the disaster will fall on Monday, and since then a number of organizations have curated such collections in the interests of ensuring that we remember what happened.

Other archive initiatives

Another organization that’s playing a major role in recording the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has been collecting Street View images of the affected areas, cataloguing these as memories on its Memories for the Future website (actually, the NDL’s online archive draws content from here as well). Recently, Google have even been mapping areas in the exclusion zone near the Fukushima nuclear plant.

And then there is also Project 311, which emerged from a ‘Big Data Workshop’ organized by Google and Twitter, a collection of media reports from around the time of the earthquake. Professor Hidenori Watanave has created a Google Earth view of the data, which you can find at media.mapping.jp.

Harvard has also assembled a useful digital archive too, located at jdarchive.org.

As for archiving videos, I’ve made an effort at mapping YouTube videos of the tsunami and earthquake on my own, with about 120 videos collected. Sanna Dullaway has put together a similar collection on Google Maps, which is a pretty extensive archive as well.


  1. Some of the information listed is not online but might be viewable only offline, such as in the National Diet Library.  ↩

Japanese iPhone security solution lets women keep an eye on doorstep stalkers

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Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world, and it usually feels safe enough even for most women to walk home late at night. Each year, approximately just one murder is commited for every two hundered thousand people. But that doesn’t mean that Japanese people are all fearless about their own safety, and occasionally some women might find themselves harassed by stalkers. The total number of stalking complaints in Japan were 752 as of June 2012 which is still very low, but nevertheless is a 60% increase compared to the same time the year before. For women who wish to enhance their security at home, Magrex has invented a wireless door monitoring hardware called Kowagirlie (“Kowa” means scared in Japanese). All you do is place the required hardware on top of your door and download the dedicated app which is available for both iOS and Android. Kowagirlie transfers what’s displayed on the monitor over wi-fi so you can then see who’s at the entrance simply by looking at your smartphone, with no need to approach the door. Kowagirlie records video as well, and users can not only monitor live video but also save images and videos on…

kowagirlie

Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world, and it usually feels safe enough even for most women to walk home late at night. Each year, approximately just one murder is commited for every two hundered thousand people. But that doesn’t mean that Japanese people are all fearless about their own safety, and occasionally some women might find themselves harassed by stalkers. The total number of stalking complaints in Japan were 752 as of June 2012 which is still very low, but nevertheless is a 60% increase compared to the same time the year before.

kowagirlieFor women who wish to enhance their security at home, Magrex has invented a wireless door monitoring hardware called Kowagirlie (“Kowa” means scared in Japanese). All you do is place the required hardware on top of your door and download the dedicated app which is available for both iOS and Android. Kowagirlie transfers what’s displayed on the monitor over wi-fi so you can then see who’s at the entrance simply by looking at your smartphone, with no need to approach the door.

Kowagirlie records video as well, and users can not only monitor live video but also save images and videos on their smartphone. Kowagirlie is 14,800 yen (about $158), and is currently available on Amazon. You can check out the device in action in the video below. (Via weekly.ascii.jp)