Blogs

SCI-TECH

Who stopped the rain?

People living in Japan might have noticed that the rainy season, which usually occurs sometime between May and July depending on the area, hasn’t been all that rainy these days. In fact, this week for the most part has been a onslaught of relentless heat and scorching sunlight. This type of weather is expected to continue in much of the country, despite the fact that Japan is more or less in the middle of what’s normally the rainy season.

An average rainy season isn’t much better really. It’s just a different kind of suffering in the form of inescapable humidity that sticks to you everywhere and all the time. Basically, it’s like comparing rotten apples and rotten oranges.

▼ And let’s not forget wet socks.

Image: Pakutaso

But it’s the bright, intense kind of heat that is expected to continue at least until the end of June, in most cases with the temperature soaring even higher, and it’s causing the Japan Meteorological Agency to wonder if the rainy season might already be finished. If that’s the case, it could be a strong contender for the shortest rainy season on record.

At the moment the baiu front, which brings the rainy season to Japan each year, is being held back to the north by the La Niña phenomenon. La Niña is characterized by a large-scale movement of warm water from equatorial South America across the Pacific Ocean, towards the eastern parts of Asia.

▼ To learn more about La Niña, consult your local YouTube channel.

This has implications on the weather all over the world in different ways, but for the time being it is making things extra hot and uncharacteristically dry in …continue reading

    

QR codes for the 'LeaveHomeSafe' COVID-19 contact-tracing app are seen outside a shopping mall at the first day of a vaccine passport roll out, Hong Kong, 24 February 2022 (Reuters/Tyrone Siu).

Author: Lurong Chen, ERIA

Digitalisation — the use of digital technologies and digital-enabled solutions in socio-economic activities — has triggered global changes that are wider and less predictable than ever before. With digitalisation, the world economy is set to become better connected, smarter and more efficient. Accelerating digital transformation is key to unleashing Asia’s potential in global competitiveness and long-term development and is a core component of the region’s policy package for post-pandemic recovery.

Despite ongoing recessionary drag from the pandemic, digital solutions provide an effective alternative for services and business activities in the face of government measures to limit mobility and empower people and businesses to grasp new market opportunities. Within two years, more than 600 million e-commerce users entered the online market, driving the world’s total e-commerce revenue up by nearly 25 per cent from 2019 to 2020 and 17 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

Markets for online services — particularly education and food delivery — expanded quickly, thanks to higher-than-expected growth of digital platforms. The size of the market has increased by nearly 50 per cent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s total revenue from these services reached US$466 million by the end of 2021.

There is also evidence that COVID-19 has accelerated the transformation towards a cashless society. Among ASEAN’s population of 680 million, half now use digital payments to pay for products and services.

The internet has become an integral part of daily life. Especially during the pandemic, online solutions have efficiently substituted offline practices in many areas — from doing business online to working and studying from home. This has changed people’s mindsets on digitalisation.

But many consumers and producers experienced hardship during the pandemic, not only from health threats caused by the virus, but also because …continue reading

    

Digitalisation minister Takuya Hirai (R) poses for a photo during the launch ceremony of Japan's Digital Agency in Tokyo on 1 Sept 2021, alongside Hitotsubashi University honorary professor Yoko Ishikura, who assumed the top bureaucrat post of digital supervisor at the new agency which aims to accelerate digitalisation of local and central government services (Photo: Reuters/Kyodo)

Author: Naohiro Yashiro, Showa Women’s University

Japan’s most recent regulatory reform plan is digitalisation — a crucial part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ‘New Capitalism‘ agenda that seeks to prevent excessive profit-seeking activities. Better utilisation of the digital economy is necessary to overcome labour force shortages brought about by a rapidly declining working-age population. Fortunately, the momentum for digital reform has survived the recent leadership transition.

Initiated by former prime minister Yoshihide Suga, the government’s Digital Agency was established in September 2021. Its primary task is to revise over 40,000 existing laws and legal procedures relating to online services — an undertaking that will take at least three years to complete in order to overcome the compartmentalised jurisdictions of various ministries of state.

There are three fundamental steps to realising digital administration in Japan.

The first step is to establish agile governance. Unlike existing rigid regulations, agile governance requires flexible rules that can quickly adapt to rapidly changing technologies and economic circumstances. Automatic monitoring systems should, for example, replace the current schemes based on human supervision. Drones and sensors could quickly replace human observation for regular safety checks on bridges and tunnels. Better regulation using recent technology would vastly reduce the costs of maintaining security for both government and the private sector.

The second step is establishing one-stop digital services to replace mandatory paperwork or in-person reporting. Although most residents in Japan are identified by a ‘My Number’ digital ID, many administrative procedures — such as a change of address — require in-person appointments and physical paperwork.

Most administrative procedures could be done online, as in many other OECD countries. When an individual reports their data to a government agency by using a service, the data should automatically be shared with other institutions — reducing administrative costs by an estimated 20 per …continue reading

    

Even dirty diapers are tamed by the unrelenting chill of Clean Box.

As the sweltering summer hits Japan, a lot of unpleasant things come with it, from blisteringly dangerous heat to everyone’s least favorite houseguests, cockroaches. But one other awful side-effect of summer is that garbage really starts to stink, especially in Japan were many people eat fresh fish on an almost daily basis.

Here to remedy some of these problems is Nakanishi Kinzoku Kogyo and their product the Clean Box. By blending the technology of a standard kitchen freezer with the highly sophisticated design of a rubbish bin, Clean Box can store your refuse, especially the organic stuff, at -11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) thus arresting the production of bacteria known to raise a stink.

That temperature might seem like an arbitrary homage to Spinal Tap, but surprisingly the cutoff for diapers to smell horrible is said to be -10 degrees, so lowering it by one degree provides added diaper protection while conserving power and wear on equipment.

Nakanishi Kinzoku Kogyo got the idea back in 2017 when they read people discussing putting garbage in their kitchen freezers to eliminate smells online. That lifehack never really caught on because people weren’t crazy about putting dirty diapers next to their frozen peas, so the company decided that instead of putting garbage in freezers they could put a freezer inside a waste bin. A 2016 survey found that about one in five people have tried putting garbage in the fridge or freezer, and among them only about one and five continued to do so.

Clean Box’s development wasn’t without its challenges. Accommodations for air flow, coolant, and condensation needed to be made …continue reading

    

Finger may one day flip people off with superhuman speed and precision.

The University of Tokyo was the location of a unique scientific breakthrough. A team led by Professor Shoji Takeuchi has successfully cover a robotic finger with living skin made by culturing human skin cells. Now, where have I heard that before…

Oh yeah… Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine. At least it promises to be a marked improvement over the silicon that androids nowadays tend to use. In addition to never quite overcoming uncanny valley, silicon rubber is said to have issues with repairs and sensors.

Skin is also just the first step in combining organic matter with machines, and opens the door for incorporating nerves and sensory organs such as olfactory receptors which can detect scents. Another important addition will be some form of blood vessels that can nourish the skin, because at the moment it can only survive outside the cell culture for about an hour.

▼ A news report showing the finger

The skin is about 1.5 millimeters thick, consists of epidermis and dermis layers, and connects to the metal frame by a series of mushroom shaped fasteners. Since the skin is made of living cells, it has the potential to heal itself with the addition of a collagen sheet to the wounded area.

While these developments may also help skin transplants in humans, a major benefit is the creation of three-dimensional models that can be used to accurately test pharmaceuticals and cosmetics on instead of animals. This skin can also be used to cover prosthetic limbs to make them look more realistic.

And leave it to online comments to come up with other entertaining uses for robots with lifelike flesh.

“Are you sure that’s a finger they made?”
“The University of Tokyo has ushered in a new era of adult toys.”
“The U.S. …continue reading

    

Source: Grape

The 24/7 non-stop physical, mental and stressful aspects of parenting makes raising children in the 21st century essentially a full time job. With endless nights of lack of sleep, never-ending cycles of cleaning, the learning curve for both child and parent, and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, the position comes with a minimal amount of “me-time” and is not for the faint of heart.
Luckily, Japanese entertainment company TAKARA TOMY has designed a product that can take on a specific parental responsibility, which in turn frees up some time for mum and dad to use however they wish.

The product in question is Coemo – a story-telling speaker that, through Artificial Intelligence (hereafter AI), reproduces the voices of parents.
The child-rearing support gadget has a free content collection consisting of 60 various stories and songs from both Japan and the rest of the world.

Coemo’s state-of-the-art AI synthetic speech synthetic technology “Coe Station” is able to reproduce a natural story-telling voice that copies the emotional expressions and intonations of loved ones. This imitation can help children to relax, as familiar voices of mum and dad (or other loved ones) read out their favourite stories.
In addition, Coemo comes with built in sound effects and background music that match each individual story. These elements add a further touch of entertainment and realism to the abilities of Coemo.

Content already installed on the device includes a range of stories from across the globe, such as a selection of Grimms’ fairytales and traditional Japanese folktales, nursery rhymes and music box melodies.
A bonus feature is the collaborative content that has been produced with professional sleep company “BRAIN SLEEP”. This includes 5 original Coemo content, such as soothing sleep music and “Nerumae Taisou” (pre-sleep exercises) that have been designed …continue reading

    

Source: Gaijin Pot

Computer literacy is basic, nontechnical knowledge about computing and software. However, it should also include digital literacy, such as knowing what websites may be harmful or how to interact with others online.

Japan is at the forefront of creating cutting edge technology to solve societal problems, and anyone looking for work in Japan has likely encountered the standard IT job posting. But while the country often stirs images of Blade Runner, many people in Japan are actually not very tech-savvy.

Both the young and old seem to struggle with basic computer skills. So, why is this? Is there anything being done to change it? What does this mean for those searching for jobs in Japan?

After looking at the research and reporting over the last few years, things in the present start to make a little more sense.

A look inside some of the research

Photo: iStock/ Maroke
Your average input for one email in Japan.

An article published in the Shonan Journal noted that “Japanese youths’ digital literacy is falling behind other developed countries.” For example, many students in Japan may have been taught how to use PowerPoint but rarely sit down and make a presentation.

Does this sound a bit strange? Well, there may be a reason as to why this is. In Japan, a traditional lecture style of education is still the norm, whereas an active learning style is adopted in many other countries.

So it appears that the nation’s youth are technically being educated on using specific programs, they lack the opportunity for actual hands-on experience. Essentially, this means students may not be be pushed to take an active role in their education. Japan’s …continue reading

    

Poor Mr. Muffinstuff…

Despite humans’ long lasting relationship with cats, there are still many mysteries to the feline mind. Their preference of GU jeans and fear of circles are but a few of the many secrets locked behind those stoic eyes.

However, researchers at Kyoto University and Azabu University in Kanagawa have been steadily learning more and more about cats’ psyches. Their latest research has found that in homes where three or more cats reside, they can learn each other’s names.

This was determined in a similar way to Kyoto University’s 2016 study which found that cats have a rudimentary understanding of physics. Nineteen test subjects were shown photos of different cats on a computer, including ones that they cohabitate with, while also saying a name. In instances where cats the subjects knew were displayed but a different name was called out, the subjects would stare at the image for about a second longer than usual, indicating that they realize something is not right and are in thought.

“Oh jeez, I’ve been pronouncing it ‘Cumberbunch’ this whole time.”

But before you go thinking, “Aha! I knew that cat I lent money to was just pretending it didn’t know me,” a similar study was carried out with human faces and names, but with less successful results. Test subjects didn’t seem to acknowledge mismatched humans as clearly as they had with other cats, but the research found that the longer-lasting the relationship and the larger the family of the home the cat lives in, the more likely it is to remember human names.

Research fellow Saho Takagi with Azabu Unviersity explained to NHK that she herself is a cat fancier and wanted to learn …continue reading

    

Experimental utensils make food shockingly delicious.

One of the big drags of getting older is not being able to eat with abandon any more. Nowadays just looking at the amount of salt my kids pour onto their food is enough to give me heart palpitations, but it sure would be nice to indulge in those strong flavors without risking a lifestyle disease.

Food producer Kirin and Meiji University seem to agree and through extensive research have developed a pair of chopsticks that can stimulate the taste of salt in foods with low salt content. This still unnamed device does this simply by sending a weak electric current right into your food.

The trick was finding just the right electrical waveform that affects the ions such as sodium chloride that are responsible for salty tastes so that the saltiness they produce is enhanced. As an added bonus, this current also affects the ions in monosodium glutamate, which is responsible for the umami flavor of foods like miso soup.

▼ Behold! The waveform of saltiness

They then conducted tests by feeding subjects a gel with a particular salt content and asking them to rate how salty it tasted in order to set a benchmark. They then fed them a gel with salt reduced by 30 percent. Interestingly, the test subjects’ scores also reported a surprisingly accurate drop of about 30 percent in perceived saltiness.

In the final test, subjects were served the same reduced-salt gel but ate it with the electrified chopsticks. As a result the perceived saltiness scores rose by 50 percent, making the reduced-salt gel taste saltier than the original salty gel.

▼ In this …continue reading

    

You won’t believe your eyes when playing this version of the classic puzzle.

There are few puzzles as famous and enduring than the Rubik’s Cube, and there are few countries that have embraced the puzzle game quite like Japan has. In the years since 1980 when the love affair between Japanese people and Rubik’s Cube began, a Mario stop-action animation made entirely from these cubes was crafted and the smallest official version was also released here.

But the game itself and its fundamental mechanics haven’t changed drastically over the years. While it continues to present challenges to new generations of puzzle solvers, those who have already mastered the Rubik’s Cube are left to come up with new and inventive ways to solve it, like this guy who can do it while juggling three of them — something which never ceases to amaze me.

So, MegaHouse, the subsidiary of Bandai Namco that’s licensed to produce Rubik’s Cubes in Japan, set out to create the most difficult version ever made. That’s no easy feat, since any drastic change to the puzzle’s deceptively simple design would threaten to make it cease to be a real Rubik’s Cube.

As a result, MegaHouse developed Rubik’s Cube Impossible: a standard Rubik’s Cube except for the fact that some of the colored squares change colors depending on the angle you look at them.

The surprisingly simple design change doesn’t even really rely on any new technology, but boy does it ever gum up the works. In fact, it would seem that these flickering colors would actually have the strongest effect on veteran speed cubers who would suddenly need to be very sure of what color they glanced at while twisting and turning the unit at high speeds.

In the above promotional video, the impossible cube was given to two speed cubers …continue reading