Social Networking Site for Mahjongg Fanatics

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There’s a new social networking site in Japan called "Nani Kiru," which is aimed specifically towards mahjongg fanatics hoping to bond across the fuzzy green table and online. You register, log in, and then you answer a series of questions related to the game (i.e. what moves you would make when faced with specific situations). You can even make your own questions for others to answer, and then see how people respond on message boards. It sounds simple and very niche, but apparently tons of people have been anticipating the launch of such a site. More features and apps to come as the site ages.

Link (Japanese)

Vanity Webcam Makes You Look Pretty

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I know it looks like this girl is just admiring herself in a mirror placed strategically next to her laptop, but that mirror is actually a webcam from Thanko—not only is it recording her live, but it’s shining a bright white light on her that makes her look like a supermodel. Highly recommended for those who have been trying to score dates using video chat.

Cell Phone Software for Eye Recognition

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Oki Electric‘s newest cell phone software is an iris recognition system perfect for spies and other mysterious people who don’t want anyone else to use their cell phones, ever. The algorithm-based software is compatible with Windows Mobile 2003, XP, and Symbian (used on most Nokia handsets), and scans your eye via a component in or around the cell phone camera. Comes out end of the month.

Link

Tokyo Web Trend Map 2007!!

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In this neatly color-coded and detailed graphic, Information Architects Japan has located the top 200 Web sites worldwide—including everything from Google to Wikipedia to BoingBoing to Fake Steve Jobs—and mapped them to match the Tokyo subway system. Each train line is color-coded by genre, and the "forecast" shows potential for growth and success based on their research. The digits on the bottom right signify whether they’re Web 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0. I could sit here and analyze this map forever, but lucky for me, the makers of the map have done this already. An excerpt from their Web site:

  1. Google has moved from Shibuya, a humming place for young people, to
    Shinjuku, a suspicious, messy, Yakuza-controlled, but still a pretty
    cool place to hang out (Golden Gaya).
  2. Youtube has conquered Shibuya.
  3. Microsoft has moved to Ikebukuro, if you know what I mean.
  4. Yahoo is in Ueno, a nice place but nothing going on there.
  5. Wikipedia now is in Shimbashi, the place for the square and hard-headed Salaryman, like the Wikipedia watchdogs.
  6. The Chinese line runs parallel to the “share line” which starts with the main pirates…
  7. Paper info designer Tufte is right below the Federated Media, right
    before joining with the interactive information design circle in a 90
    degree angle.
  8. “You” are in the Emperor’s palace, in the center of the network.

Link (Thanks, Chris!)

Japan’s Version of Digg: Everyone’s Topics

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Minna no Topics (Everyone’s Topics) is Japan’s version of Digg, the oh-so-popular news site that lets users submit and vote on stuff they like. But while Digg seems to have a stronger emphasis on technology and science-related content, Minna no Topics is full of life hacks and personal advice. For example, the first post on yesterday’s top page (shown here) is about credit policy; the second is about how to hook up with a married woman; and the third is about getting divorced after finding out your partner’s cheating on you. And instead of text-only Digg pages, these have animated icons indicating the type of post you’re looking at.

Minna no Topics launched in March, and is operated by Yahoo! Japan.

Scary Microsoft Windows 3.1 Commercial

Can you imagine loving Windows so much that you have to have it on your dinner plate? This silly little commercial features a scary castle in the middle of a thunderstorm, doberman pinschers, and a geeky Microsoft fanatic having dinner with the creepy guy who presumably lives here.

Even though all the hype’s over the MacBook series these days, Japan’s still very much Windows-based.

(Thanks, Chris!)

New YouTube Graffiti Site Lets You Draw All Over Videos

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Rakugaki.in
is a new Web site (launched a couple days ago) that lets you draw graffiti all over your favorite YouTube videos without the hassle of uploading or editing anything. Here’s a test run I did on a series of old school Japanese TV commercials. Problem is, my "rakugaki" (graffiti) kinda sucks. I guess I could have put more time into making sure it fits the characters that wear it, and that it doesn’t stay on the screen longer than it’s supposed to.

Rakugaki.in is the newest invention of Satoru Yano, the man who created Jimaku.in, which lets you write captions for your YouTube video, and Moza Moza Movie, which lets you use custom-made stamps—or "mozaiku" (which is what the Japanese use to sensor porn)—to bleep out parts you don’t want your kids (or your boyfriend) to see.

If any of you try it and come up with something worth sharing, please include the URL in the comments section. (The sites are in Japanese, but you can use your computer’s translator to try to make sense out of it. Once you get to the editing screen, it’s pretty self-explanatory.)

Google Book Search Japan Launches

Picture_2Google Book Search, the search engine’s find-a-book-and-read-an-excerpt app, launched in Japan today. Very exciting. It’s really useful when you need to find some obscure fact that you don’t quite know how to find otherwise because it doesn’t fit neatly under one category, or something. I once got offered a job at Google to help launch Book Search Japan. If I had taken it, I probably would be able to tell you a lot more about the program—but I didn’t. Then again, if I had taken the job, I probably wouldn’t have this blog and I wouldn’t be able to tell you about it anyway. So yeah. That’s all I have to say about that.

Link (Japanese)

What Japanese Celebrity Do YOU Look Like?

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Send a picture of your face to male@kaocheki.jp or female@kaocheki.jp to find out. They’re kind of picky about what pictures are recognizable (has to be clear, just your face, full frontal, etc) but if it does work, you should get an immediate reply with the name of the Japanese celebrity you look like. If you don’t read Japanese, then send me the text and I’ll translate.

The above is who Kaocheki said my friends and I resemble. Hahaha.

Read more about Kaocheki here.

Made in Japan Virtual Worlds Coming This Winter

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This winter, expect to see the Japanese population in online worlds multiply as some of the country’s greatest animators collaborate on projects to create virtual Tokyos that combine anime-grade visuals, creative freedom, and virtual real estate.

Here’s what we know so far:

Studio 4°C—a collaboration of the genius minds behind classics like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service—is designing a world called "Cyber Megacity: Tokyo’s 0th Ward." The press release promises many surprises ahead as the best animators in the world experiment with new media.

Production I.G.
(Ghost in the Shell) and Studio Pierrot (Naruto) are collaborating with gaming companies and news organizations to create "meet me," a metaverse catered specifically toward a Japanese audience. Smart idea—if you know anything about the conception of user-friendly in Japan vs. the US, it’s totally different. Plus, with the kinds of creative minds working on this thing, meet-me could just kick Second Life out of cyberspace.

I’ll keep you guys posted as I find out more.

Anime News Network (via Jean Snow)

Face Recognition Software Used to Compare You With Celebs

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A company called J-Magic created this cool new service called "FACE CHECK" (Kaocheki) that tells you what celebrities you look like—for real, not in your imagination. All you have to do is take a picture of yourself with your cell phone camera and then email it to male@kaocheki.jp or female@kaocheki.jp. The company will scan your face and send you back three photos of celebrities that look like you based on Oki‘s face recognition software. 15 million users have taken advantage of this service since its launch last month, making it one of Japan’s newest cell phone obsessions.

Link

Order Books Online, Pick Up At Convenience Store

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Rakuten Books just started a cool new service that lets you order books online and then have them delivered for free to your nearest Family Mart. (Family Mart is a convenience store chain with 7000 branches nationwide. i.e. there’s one in every neighborhood.) You don’t have to put any of your personal information online to do it, either. Here’s how it works, and refer to the lovely red-and-white illos above for reference:

1. Pick your desired products online.
2. Choose "pay at convenience store" from the drop-down payment option menu.
3. Choose the Family Mart nearest you from the delivery method menu.
4. Wait for an email that says "Your books are on their way to the convenience store."
5. Go to Family Mart and pick up your books at the cash register.

So easy and cool! Plus I love going to convenience stores because they have the best candy selection ever.

Hi-Tech Umbrella With Flickr and Google Earth

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This is Pileus, an umbrella devised by two researchers in Keio University’s Media Design department that has a pre-installed Flickr uploader and wi-fi so you can browse your photo gallery while you walk in the rain. A little bit distracting, sure, but no more than text messaging on your cell phone or playing your DS Lite.

Pileus also has Google Earth-driven GPS, a built-in camera, compass, and a motion sensor. It’s just a prototype for now, but its co-creators are actively seeking commercial interest.

Pileus (via <3Yen)

Second Life Launching In Japan

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Big news for Japan-based MMORPG-ers: The Japanese version of Second Life is about to launch! You can sign up for the beta version now.

Did I ever tell you about the month I spent in Second Life on assignment for Wired? It was crazy! I got so many wildly inappropriate sexual messages from online weirdos, befriended former sex workers who now run escort services online, people who left their real life husbands for their second life husbands, and some dude who called himself Dr. something-or-the-other, a self-proclaimed sexual harassment specialist. And I got paid by the hour to do this.

Ginza’s Ubiquitous Tech Experiment

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The streets of Ginza are tapped with over a thousand tiny RFID chips that are a part of the Tokyo Ubiquitous Technology Project, a billon-yen experiment by the Japanese government to see how helpful it is to tourists, the elderly, the disabled, and other disoriented people to have location and resource information continuously streamed into their consciousness via an iPod-like portable device. Every time someone walks by a tagged location, the device picks up its signal and brings audio and video reports of, say, the Apple store’s newest featured items or the history of the Mitsukoshi department store. It also provides maps and directions.

The project is in an experimental stage right now, but it’s available 4 languages, and similar infrastructure may end up stateside soon. (According to the Japan Times, some US cities are already showing interest.)

The Japanese Uncyclopedia

Picture_4_9The Uncyclopedia is the Web’s parody response to Wikipedia, the notoriously unreliable but  nonetheless useful user-edited free online encyclopedia that’s quite popular among the online community in Japan. (I forget the exact numbers, but a much higher ratio of Japanese people use Wikipedia than do Americans.) The Uncyclopedia’s logo is a broken potato named Sophia. And if you go to the Japanese main page but you don’t read any Japanese, you get this message that links you to the English page:

For non-Japanese-speekers:
Use the fackin’ Engrish varsion, you freaking BAKA!

Hahahaha….

Taspo RFID Card For Cigarette Vending Machines

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Big news for underage smokers: You won’t be able to buy cigarettes on the streets anymore.  A new system, called "Taspo" (Tabacco Passport), goes into effect in 2008, requiring every smoker to carry around an RFID card issued only to people 18 and over if they want to make a cigarette vending machine purchase. Cards will be issued for free (plus whatever amount of money you put on it), but purchase will require a photo ID and other identification documents.

Currently, 65% of the 30 million smokers in Japan purchase their cigarettes through vending machines, so this is a big step in the Tobacco Institute of Japan‘s initiative to raise awareness on the dangers of smoking.