Category Archives: japan

Wendy’s rolls out caviar and lobster burgers

Regular readers know I’m somewhat duty bound to try new fast-food creations, which has led me to ingesting monstrosities such as KFC’s Double Down and Burger King’s Bacon Sundae. It was with horror, then, that I learned of Wendy’s new lobster and caviar burgers.

Yes, it’s true. The $16 burgers are available for a limited time only in Japan, which ordinarily might save me from my bizarro obsession, except that I’m planning a trip there relatively soon as part of the research on my next book, Humans 3.0. I’m dreading it because I loathe all forms of seafood, but the idea of a caviar burger seems too rich to pass up, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Ironically, my trip is going to revolve around studying life-extending technology. Japan, and especially the island of Okinawa, you may know, has some of the longest life expectancies in the world, largely thanks to healthy diets. It’s safe to say they got there by avoiding the likes of Wendy’s.

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in burgers, japan, wendy's


Robot butt unveiled in Japan

It’s hard not to love Japan, for all the profoundly weird stuff that comes out of it. From the bizarre dekotora art trucks to the Lolita girls who dress up like Victorian dolls, Japan has never wanted for strangeness. Which is why the new robot butt created at the University of Electro-Communications should come as no surprise.

As the designers put it, the realistic-looking butt is designed to respond to slaps, caresses and finger pokes. “Shiri,” which is Japanese for “ass” (of course), is essentially silicon skin on a “rigid urethane skeleton” that is controlled by motors and airbags.

Check out the video, which is mostly safe for work but really, really weird. I got a little creeped out watching it:

One quick gander at the video and it seems pretty obvious where and how Shiri is likely to first be used. Keep in mind that Japan is the country that popularized brothels where you can pay to have sex with dolls. Fully functional sex robots likely just took another step toward realization.

On the other hand, the robot butt is something of an important invention. If the goal of certain roboticists is to eventually build a perfect simulacrum of the human body, they were eventually going to have to turn their attention to the posterior. After all, you can’t start such a project if it’s not going to have an end. (Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week, be sure to tip your waitress.)

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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in japan, robots


Big Mac = lonely in Japan

In what has to be some of the saddest news I’ve heard in a while, fast-food consumption is on the rise in Japan. In and of itself, that’s not actually the sad part. It’s the reason why it’s growing that’s a little disheartening.

Fast-food joints such as McDonald’s are the only restaurants that accept single diners, Bloomberg News reports. And, according to consumer trends research firm NPD Group, single-person households are on the rise. “The only restaurants available to single parties are fast food,” an NPD analyst told Bloomberg. “McDonald’s has a counter where single diners can go and hook up their PCs and just browse on the web.”

Put those two facts together and the fortunes of fast-food chains look good. Fast food is the only restaurant category to improve in Japan last year. The chains, such as McDonald’s and those owned by local company Zensho, are seeing their stocks appreciate as a result.

Perhaps one of the other reasons McDonald’s is doing well in Japan is its well-trained crew. If you missed the news back in March, the chain has partnered with Nintendo to train its staff on the video game maker’s DSi portable console. The fast-food chain is spending more than $2 million on the devices and custom-built games, which train crew how to make burgers, clean restaurants and so on.

It’s yet another way in which fast-food companies are similar to the military. You may remember reading the news here about how the U.S. military is using Microsoft’s Project Natal system - now known officially as “Kinect” - for research and training purposes.

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Posted by on July 5, 2010 in food, japan, mcdonald's, video games


Adult content fueling 3D TV in Japan

With two major electronics manufacturers, Sony and Panasonic, launching their 3D televisions here in Canada this week, a familiar story is starting to percolate: that porn is fueling the new technology.

According to a Bloomberg story, adult content is quickly filling the void (ahem) that 3D TV makers are facing. “Adult videos will likely be an incentive for consumers to buy a 3D TV,” a Barclays Capital analyst in Tokyo told the wire service. “It’s worth paying attention to the move because it’s lack of content that’s hindering expansion.”

We haven’t seen any hard (ahem) numbers yet, and because this is porn we’re dealing with, we are unlikely to ever see them, so we only have logic and past experiences to go on. The VCR is a well-cited example of what’s likely going on now. In the early 1980s, when Hollywood studios were busy suing the likes of Sony because they were worried that the new technology would spread piracy, there was a dearth of content for people interested in the VCR. The studios released movies in dribs and drabs so there wasn’t much for the videophile to choose from. Porn companies were only to happen to provide, so films such as Debbie Does Dallas and Behind the Green Door found themselves atop (ahem) rentals lists for months, if not years, at a time.

With 3D, it’s not a case of the studios worrying about the technology - it’s just that they’re not producing quality content at a quick enough pace. Sure, if you like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Monsters Versus Aliens or a host of other animated movies, 3D TV is for you. But for fans of real films, there’s virtually zip out there.

I had a conversation the other day with my colleague Eli Glasner, who does film reviews for the CBC, and we agreed that so far, 3D films are nothing but a gimmick. Avatar was perhaps the only movie that really used 3D effectively and made it part of the story and experience, largely because it was incorporated into every step of the production. But pretty much every other live-action film has tacked on 3D in post production as a simple gimmick in an effort to sell more tickets (or get people to pay more for their ticket). Eli said as much when Clash of the Titans came out, while I came to the same realization while watching the latest Shrek movie the other week. At several points during the movie, I took off my glasses and thought, “Hmmm, nothing’s different, so what’s the point?”

Getting back to the Bloomberg story, Japanese porn companies see the lack of content as an opportunity and are gearing up for it. Producer S1 No.1 Style (love the name!) has two 3D movies ready to go, helmed by its two biggest stars, Mika Kayama and Yuma Asami. The company said it took three months to make the movies, or about triple the time it normally takes. That would make Sakon, the producer, the James Cameron of porn.

Adult entertainment aficionados are getting giddy with anticipation: “I need something dramatic to justify replacing my TV. This could be the motivation,” said one potential buyer.

Sony, Panasonic and the others must be quietly happy this is happening. It’s too early for any sales numbers yet, but judging from what I’ve heard from readers and potential buyers, 3D really isn’t a selling point for anyone but the hard-core (ahem) gadget nerds who simply must have the newest stuff. Porn may just provide enough content to keep TV sales alive while Hollywood studios get up to speed with producing Avatar-calibre 3D films, if they ever do.

My suspicion, ever since 3D TVs made their big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January, is that 3D won’t be a major selling point for televisions for very long. I imagine that in a year two, regardless of the porn industry’s influence or not, 3D will be a standard feature of all TVs and manufacturers will be back to battling each other on things like screen size and thinness.

And my apologies for all the innuendos above. Sometimes it’s difficult to resist.

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Posted by on June 9, 2010 in 3D, japan, sex


Robot oversees wedding in Japan

Another week, another robotic first in Japan. Robot makers in the country have already created robots that can play the violin, kick a soccer ball and dance up a storm. Now, we can add “officiate a wedding” to the list.

Tokyo-based robotics maker Kokoro built the robot minister that presided over a wedding on Sunday. In true, Wizard of Oz fashion, the robot was remote controlled by an operator who sat behind a curtain nearby. The whole shindig was evidently a publicity stunt for Kokoro, whose main job is building animatronic dinosaurs, as the bride is an employee of the company.

Kokoro does do some impressive stuff. Check out some video of one of their other robots, the Actroid, which does a reasonable job of passing for a human:

The wedding robot - known as an I-Fairy - does prove what some American robotics companies have been saying about their Japanese counterparts, that they’re expensive and largely useless. According to the Associated Press story, the I-Fairy costs about $68,000 and works mostly by remote control (a few are evidently in operation in Singapore, the U.S. and Japan), which means it’s a pretty costly toy that actually does little.

Compare the I-Fairy to something like the $300 Roomba vacuum cleaner, made by Boston’s iRobot, and it’s pretty clear which country’s robotics companies are pushing the envelope. And who are those companies’ main customers? The military, of course.

(Photo courtesy Associated Press)

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Posted by on May 17, 2010 in japan, robots, war


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