Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Heartbroken employees get time to tend their wounds

Reuters reports that a small Japanese firm, Tokyo based Hime & Company, is offering paid time off to female employees recovering from break-ups. Those 24 years or younger get one day off a year, those between 25-29 get two days and those over 30 get a whole three days to wallow in self-pity - the reasoning being, the older you are, the harder you fall.
It's already possible for Japanese women to take paid time off when they have their periods, so I guess this is going one step further. But doesn't this kind of move panders to the male view that women are emotionally and physically fragile, incapable of ploughing through? Luckily though Hime & Co are a strictly female outfit so they don't have to keep up a tough front at work, but many Japanese women don't take time off for periods because they are afraid of appearing weaker and losing out for promotion.
My view is that this is a splendid idea, it's really tough going to work with a broken heart, whether you're a man or a woman.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strike a light!

Ping magazine reports on an art exhibition in Omotesando that features matchboxes designed by different artists. The above is my favourite, but then I've got a big sweet tooth for cute, why else would I be in Japan? The exhibition at the Opa gallery finishes 28 January, so hurry to catch it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Go large!

Took this shot of a jubilant sumo wrestler outside Ryogoku stadium. I was spending the day with members of the wonderful Tokyo Camera Club. Next time we're going to Akihabara to snap some geek culture, if you'd like to join, click here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gaijin butler cafe

Phwoor! Meet the sexy male butlers of Shibuya. Yet another mutation of the maid cafe - a butler cafe that employs cute Western guys to wait on "princesses". Read all about it in my article for the Japan Times today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Homeless woman left to die in street

Mainichi reports that a starving homeless woman who was taken to city hall to get food, died in the street before she was able to eat what was given to her - a packet of dried rice that needed hot water added to it. This is the kind of story that really disgusts me in relation to attitudes to the homeless here. Firstly, didn't the ambulance men have the decency to buy her a sandwich? Secondly, you don't give a starving person a meal they have to prepare, especially if they are too weak to prepare it. Thirdly someone should have invited her inside to eat it, not left her lying outside with not even a blanket for cover.
Homeless people get little or no support from the government or charities and are expected to fend for themselves collecting old comic books to sell or cardboard to recycle. However even these paltry sources of income are under threat. Stations have taken to putting locks on recycle bins and local councils have now started fining people who take away cardboard boxes, see Daily Yomiuri
The tragedy is that councils manage to make a loss on their paper recycling enterprises but the private companies who pay the homeless for their efforts make a profit. Soon this kind of sight may be a thing of the past:

Gropers get a strap on

Pink Tentacle reports that a Japanese mail order catalogue has sold out of fake subway straps. The product is meant to show women on packed commuter trains that the men (above pictured) do not have their hands free to wander. The product is marketed to men who worry about being falsely accused of groping. Wandering hands on the subway is a big problem in Japan. But lordy surely there is a saner way of proving your innocence.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

8-bit festival

Atari attack! An all-night celebration of primitive electronic music, the line-up including my favourites YMCK. Saturday 26 Jan, Star Pine's Cafe Kichijoji. Go to the Famicon site for details.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Statues and windflowers

Wandering around a Buddhist cemetery in Ryogoku, I came across these statues decorated with plastic windflowers. I'm guessing that these are children's graves as there were offerings of juice boxes nearby instead of the usual sake or beer.

Monday, January 7, 2008

World's most expensive stress toy

Who can resist this cuddly cyber seal? Paro responds to human touch by cooing and wiggling about in a very cute and 'realistic' way (pretty sure normal baby seals would put up with this much manhandling). Used to help the elderly who are unable to look after pets of their own, the robot has proved a big hit, many claiming that, like an ordinary pet, he is useful in combating depression and stress. Costing upwards of 350,000 yen (around 1,500 pounds), those who fall for Paro's charms are looking at a hefty price tag. I tried Paro out at the great robot exhibition in the National Science Museum and, while, the movements seemed natural, beneath the fur you can sense the metallic limbs beneath, totally rigid and inflexible. Unlike normal pets, but more in keeping with standard cyber pet behaviour, Paro throws a tantrum if ignored. At the exhibition there was always someone on hand to stroke Paro so I didn't get to witness his cyber rage. If it's anything like a Furbee fit or a Tamagochi tantrum, I was probably spared an ugly sight. A big fuss is being made about this robot - Danish film director, Phie Ambo, is currently making a film about Paro's therapeutic effects - but I can't really see how different he is from these previous incarnations of computer cuteness and more importantly why he is so expensive.
Spot the difference.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Too many dentists not enough doctors

It seems that not a week goes by without some new story of people being turned away from hospitals for treatment, due to a lack of trained physicians, and dying as a result, as per this article in Mainichi. Imagine my surprise then to find out that Japan has a surplus of dentists. According to Japan Times, there are more dentists in Japan than convenience stores and many are in dire straights financially. In most countries dentistry is a cushy high-earning job. Wonder if all too many of these dentists fell for this dream instead of the more humanitarian goal of saving lives.

End of Winter Party

Electronic music is a medium that inherently appeals to bedroom musos, who, luckily for us are prepared to spend innumerable hours alone perfecting that particular blip or bleep. A self-contained form of expression which, can sometimes give voice to the furious howls of disconnected souls. So it seemed with Ametsub who performed tonight at Shibuya O-Nest's "End of Winter Party". With only a crescent moon slice of face visible, the other side shadowed in hair - even before he sent out his all-out sonic attack - it was clear that he was setting up barriers. Only those tough enough to withstand the unpleasant whines and random blasts of sound are those privileged to be allowed in. A challenge is all very well but isn't music in some part about beauty as well as aggression? This is why Kashiwa Daisuke, who threw loops of piano passages into the the bit-stream, making them ricochet and decay in ways that were heartbreakingly beautiful, stood out from the crowd of electronic artists. His music is at once both aggressive and tender and, for me, created that miraculous state, where you are, for awhile, totally immersed, made transparent as the snowstorm of noise blizzards through you. Shuta Hasunuma with his almost dance music, that suddenly fractured at odd moments, catching you off guard and making you draw breath with awe at his creativity, seemed, unlike Hasunuma, slightly handicapped when he tried to draw in more organic noises - with a live bass and drums.
The most outstanding act of the night came from Shugo Tokumaru who, elfin-faced and barefoot, presented his music unclad of it's usual technological trickery. Stripped down you find that the acoustic version, is indeed the seed for his magical toy-fairground sound (see earlier post for review of ST's style), the musicianship was breathtaking. A close second highlight of the night were Group_Inou (pictured above), a couple of geeky kids straight from a scene of Weird Science, the best description I can give of them is rap accompanied by a mashup of Bach and Eurovision songs played on a Bontempi organ.

BTW the pic isn't mine, mine was too rubbish so I lifted it from their site, gomen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Prime minister's YouTube address falls on deaf ears

Japan's new prime minister Fukuda Yasuo has posted a New Year's speech in English on YouTube. In it he puts world peace and cleaning up the environment high on the agenda. However, his dour face (never once cracking a smile) and staccato delivery hasn't gained much of a global audience, at the time of writing he'd only been viewed 609 times and nobody has yet posted a comment.

Hair for Life

This commercial, currently running in Japan, advertises hair implants. Although you never actually see someone having hair sewn into their heads, instead you get the technique demonstrated on a plastic scalp. Presumably the company decided that getting hair sewn onto your bonce with needles involves some amount of blood and therefore wouldn't look too appealing on TV. What's weird though is that at the end, there's a shot of some hair which has been implanted into someone's forehead being tugged at to demonstrate the implant's strength. Did they think that this would not freak out the viewing public and who is the poor unfortunate who got hair sewn onto his face?
Click on the link to view the horror: