Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A.I. Channel; Japan's first artificial Vlogger?

AI Channel

AI Channel is a new YouTube channel featuring a virtual vlogger.
The channel features a character named Ai-chan. The name is a play on words that mixes Ai (a traditional Japanese girls' name) with the term A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). Actually, the full name of the character is AI Kizuna.

Currently, A.I. Channel has about 413,000 subscribers, which is impressive considering the channel only began six months ago.

AI is portrayed as a high school girl. Stylistically, she is similar to vocaloids such as Hatsune Miku, with a uniform similar to a member of a Japanese pop idol group. The trademark aesthetic of the character is the central point of the channel's marketing; the AI Chan Instagram feed and Twitter page are full of stylistic adaptations of the character art.

The computer generated character model is voiced by an actual person; an un-credited female voice actor. The voice actor is very positive and upbeat about all of the activities on the channel.
There is occasionally a guest on the channel and in previous episodes that guest is also rendered into a cell shaded 3D  ("2.5D") character.

Here you can see The Anime Man giving a good introduction and a glowing review to AI:

The animation seems to be rather simple and based upon some sort of motion capture that translates the actors' motions into motions for AI. Probably using something like a Microsoft Kinect and/or apps that use camera data to overlay corresponding animations the way that SnapChat filters work.
There may also be a additional effort that is put into post-production effects judging by the exaggerated, anime style facial expressions that are often used. It is hard to tell how many people are working in this channel given the technical requirements behind what is being presented.

The content of the channel is similar to other game channels in that the vlogger records their game experience, their reaction appears onscreen in smaller video window that is layered over the screen capture of the video games.

The types of games vary; they include mobile and PC games but the most interesting games featured are the VR systems. Especially the HTC Vive. Vive games such as the action focused Overheat and creative arts spaces of TiltBrush that take advantage of the Vive hardware.

There have been several videos on this channel that are not focused on games. This include an AI to AI interview with Siri (the iPhone interface), walks around real world locations (using Google StreetView), a yoga demonstration (that shows off the movement ranges of the computer model) and chatting with real life fans.

Another interesting thing about this channel is that the AI chan actor sometimes makes some effort at speaking English. Maybe she is studying English. There are also English subtitles for every episode which are very good. This is unusual for Japanese YouTube channels.

I have been enjoying this channel. I recommend it for people interested in studying Japanese or learning about some obscure new release games. Recently, AI Kizuna has been appearing in various collaborations and is on her way to becoming a game industry celebrity, so we can probably expect to see her on the list of the top 100 Japanese YouTubers soon.

Noble, from the Lost Pause channel pointed out that this is not the first time that an artificial avatar has appeared as a the host of a YouTube vlog; that distinction goes to Barbie (the famous doll manufactured by Mattel).


Monday, April 17, 2017

Wish fulfilling jewels of Japan; Houju and Giboshi

Symbolic jewels of Japan; Houju and Giboshi

The sacred jewels are a common theme in Japanese architecture, Buddhist statues and art.
These jewels stem from the same source and can be divided into two types; houju and giboshi.

Houju 宝珠
The houju are a decorative theme used in Buddhist iconography. They are in the shape of a ball or onion. The are sometimes depicted as having a flaming halo. These jewels represent the power of purification and are believed to have the ability to fulfill wishes. The kanji used for houju literally mean treasure (宝) jewel (珠).

The large number of figures in Buddhism makes it difficult to distinguish them in visual depictions. To solve this problems, there were a number of items introduced to Buddhist iconography to help differentiate the many different characters. These items are called jimotsu (持物), simply meaning "held things." These can include items such as an axe, bow, a ringing staff (shakujo), lotus, vajra / kongousho (a kind of hand tool that is pronged on each end), a palace, rope, rosary, lotus, mini-Buddha and many more.

The houju is a jimotsu of several deities. The most popular of these being Jizou (地蔵). Jizou is the bodhisattva that saves souls after death. Jizou is also seen as the protector of children; the roles combine in respect to the souls of fetuses, which being too undeveloped for reincarnation are left to Jizou who smuggles them into the afterlife in his pockets/sleeves.
Jizou statue.
The statue is identified as Jizou by the items it holds.
Near Daunin Temple in Kyoto
 Jizou statue at Koyasan temple (Wakayama prefecture).
The artist may sculpt characters in a different fashion but the items help identify this as Jizou.
As well as Jizou, Kokuzou and Kichijouten also hold a houju.
In Buddhist statues of the many-armed Kanon you can see the statue holding different jimotsu in each hand.
In rare cases you can see a houju with the fox statues associated with Inari. These foxes are often holding various treasures with the mouths, paws and tails such as keys, scrolls, kemari balls and houju.
Daienbutsu-ji, procession of the masked buddhas.

Giboshi 擬宝珠
The term giboshi, 擬宝珠, literally means imitation (擬) houju. That is because giboshi are designed to imitate the appearance of the houju jewels. The giboshi are used as decoration in a number of different roles. Most notably, the giboshi are often used to cap the roof of a temple (these are usually built in the four-sided/pyramid shape with a single point while Shinto shrines have a ridge-line at the top). 

Other uses of the giboshi include a mixture of sacred and secular.
Posts are often capped with decorative giboshi to prevent weathering of the wood; including the porch posts of shrines and temples as well as the posts on bridges.

Tosa Shrine in Osaka.
Fresh, bright brass giboshi protected under the eaves of the roof.

Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto.
The patina has been defined by the millions of visitors who touch the giboshi at this famous spot.
Kasuga Shrine in Nara.
The posts of this bridge have giboshi caps.
You can see the patina on the metalwork.
Imamiya Shrine in Nishinomiya.
The giboshi, rails and posts are all bronze.
The famous Taiko-bashi bridge of Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka
You often see giboshi on top of the incense burners  lanterns around shrines and temples.

Stone lanterns (石灯籠)
Fushimi Inari in Kyoto (maybe?)

Shigi Temple in Nara Prefectuce.
Statue of Kokuzou, the bodhisattva of wisdom.
Identified by the houju in one hand and the other hand making the in sign for wish granting.
A parade near Arashiyama, paying homage to processions of ancient nobles.
Sometimes you see the houju on parade floats like this and  mikoshi portable shrines.
Tanzan Temple in Nara prefecture.
Note the hanging lanterns 擂り灯籠, post caps and stone lanterns.

Various types of lanterns at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine.
Heijokyo Palace in Nara.
A replica of a houju from the Nara period (710-794).

The shape of houju and giboshi; spheres, flames and ...onions?

The shape the you usually see for houju and giboshi has a bulbous shape that is designed to resemble a peach. However, the older depictions of houju are more spherical. The spherical depitions usually pre-date the Sengoku period of civil wars and the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The Momoyama period derives its name from the Momoyama (peach hill) site where Hideyoshi Toyotomi built Fushimi Castle in Kyoto. The momo in Momoyama does not refer to the trend of peach shaped houju but it is a convenient coincidence for houju history.

Heijokyo Palace in Nara.
Note the spherical shape of the giboshi.
This complex is buildings is a reproduction of buildings 

It was during the Momoyama period that the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West was first published (1592/Ming dynasty) by Wu Cheng'en. This novel has been popular reading in Japan and Eastern Asia, much in the way that Homer's The Odyssey is a classic in Western society. Early in Journey to the West one of the major plot points involves Sun Wukong (the monkey king) who eats the peaches of immortality from the heavenly peach garden, after which Sun Wukong fights a celestial army and is unstoppable until he is detained by the Buddha. There are a few other references to the special qualities of peaches but this is the best known in literature, also, the story has strong Buddhists connections so it is easy to see why it influenced Buddhist art and architecture.
Japan also has its own domestic stories which refer to peaches. The most famous of which is the story of Momotaro (the peach boy) who is born out a mysterious giant peach that was floating down a river. Momotaro grows up to display great strength, vitality and heroism thereby adding to the virtues associated with peaches. While the Momotaro story is originally associated with Okayama prefecture the exact date of its creation is unclear but early prints of the story can be seen in the Edo period.
Ancient Japanese mythology refers to peaches in the story of Izanami and Izanagi in which Izanami journeyed to the land of the dead (in a story that resembles the Greek tales of Orpheus and also the story of Persephone), when Izanagi fled the world of the dead he used various items against the ghouls that were chasing him. The final thing he used to stop the ghouls were peaches before he sealed the entrance to the land of the dead.

In Buddhist paintings and metallic sculptures you often see the houju/giboshi with a flame-like aura around it. This is kalled an kaen houju (火焔宝珠). The kaen houju add artistic flair to the houju and represent impressive examples of metal working. You can usually see the kaen houju on top of temples or bronze lanterns (kondou dourou, 金銅灯籠).
Yakushiji Temple in Nara prefecture.
A beautiful example of a kaen houju.
This giboshi is the cap of an eight-sided building.

A stone houju with an added brass kaen.
Oyamazaki Kanonji, near Ibaraki.
Street lamps near modified to look like kaenhouju.
In front of Hasedera Temple in Nara prefecture.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Virtual girlfriends

Virtual Girlfriends

A company in Tokyo, Gatebox, has developed a product with the vague and unassuming name of "Virtual Home Robot." This item is being popularly referred to as a sort of "virtual girlfriend."

Gatebox produced a short video which has been circulating around the internet along with a lot of social commentary from the mainstream media and excited speculation for technologists and futurists.

The system costs 298,000 yen (about $2,600), so it is not a casual purchase.

The marketing of the video is clearly projecting an emotional value onto the product. The man in the ad seems to have a very lonely life and the Virtual Home Robot is shown as a surrogate for his affection. The hardware of the device lets includes a microphone for voice input (similar to the Siri feature on iPhones) with built in networking that is compatible with smart home equipment (appliances that can be remotely controlled through a internet/network connection). Smart appliances are the next logical step following the evolution of timer switches, remote controls and wireless home networks. Recently the market has been filled with smart home devices that are controlled by smartphone apps; security cameras, door locks, rice cookers, lights, thermostats, coffee makers and sprinklers.
The Virtual Home Robot is an attempt to tie the various functionalities of smart appliances together through a single interface that appeals to a human desire for interpersonal connection. This is reminiscent of the 2013 Spike Jonze movie, Her.  Her is about a lonely working man (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes emotionally attached to an operating system through which he interacts with constantly and provides him with a sense of companionship.

The concept presented in Her is not new, but it does offer an interesting reflection of current trajectory of technology in its time. The 2002 anime series Chobits is a Japanese equivalent which was created at a time when the internet was gaining traction in transforming society and is the story of a world where computers take the form of cute young women who physically accompany their "masters" through the world.
The difference between the two portrayals, Her vs Chobits is the notable transition from physical presence to subtle emotional support seems to be  in line with the way we utilize the wireless web. However there are some people who have chosen the less conspicuous route for taking artificial companionship with them, out into the world. The Washington Post had a photo-journalistic piece about a man in Japan who thinks of his life-size "love doll" as the "perfect partner."

I have seen instances of this in Osaka, in which an older man pushes such a mannequin about in a wheelchair.
Surprisingly his human, female companion was supporting the effort.
Despite the subtle, judgmental gaze of polite Japanese bystanders.
In Japan, a lit has been made of the declining birthrate, various new forms of social isolation, and increasing ages for leaving home and getting married.
A popular new term in this atmosphere is sou shoku danshi草食男子 (herbivore men) referring to the passive men who do not actively seek out relationships with women. The reverse is called niku shoku danshi 肉食男子(carnivorous men), meaning men who aggressively hunt for women. 
The current social trend is showing no end in sight for the growing number of sou shoku danshi, lonely singles and demand for new forms of comfort in an increasingly compartmentalized society.

Recently the resort town of Atami hosted a special event for men who play the game Love Plus (a high school dating sim for the Nintendo DS by Konami) which accomodated fans with special apps that allowed players to pose next to their virtual girlfriend for smartphone photos. Beyond phones and handheld games there are also more immersive VR headsets which are boasting new programs aimed at delivering new experiences to lonely users; such as eating a romantic Christmas cake, or attending a wedding ceremony with your virtual girlfriend with a VR headset available at an actual wedding chapel.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sake barrels in Japan

 Kazari-daru; decorative sake barrels at shrines

Kazari-daru 飾り樽
You can often see large stacks of barrels at Shinto shrines, especially around New Year's. These are empty barrels that are used for decoration. The term is a combination of two word; kazari 飾り (decoration) and taru 樽 (wooden barrel). 
[note that the "taru" becomes "daru" when used in a compound word].

Shrines receive donations from their patrons; regular visitor may drop a few coins, a community of sponsors will donate large sums and breweries will supply the alcohol (beer as well as sake) that flows during festivals and ceremonies. Usually, the actual alcohol is given in the form of smaller, off-the-shelf containers. The vast majority of the kazari-daru were delivered empty.

Often the kazari-daru are stacked into impressive walls of barrels. If these were filled with sake, you could easily imagine the danger of these falling on people. Since they are empty they do not require the construction of heavy duty supports.

Kazaridaru at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine for New Year's.

Kazaridaru at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka.
Sumiyoshi Shrine has its own sacred rice field.

The Otaue Shinji, a rice planting ritual at Sumiyoshi Shrine held in early June.
This is the rice used to make sake for the shrine.

Komo-daru 菰樽
Komo-daru is the general name used for these barrels when they are put into use carrying various liquids. The word komo refers to the straw mat that is wrapped around the barrel and used as a decorative label. The barrels are made of cedar slates that are bound together with bamboo braids.

Traditionally these barrels were used for commercial transport of bulk liquids including oil, soy sauce and lacquer. 

In modern manufacturing, the wooden barrels are not used for brewing or storing sake because the wood affects the taste of the sake, which is undesirable (unlike the famous famous charred oak flavoring of Kentucky's bourbon). For this reason sake is brewed and stored in steel tanks. The wooden sake barrels, sake-daru 酒樽, that are seen in modern events (such as weddings and large ceremonies) should only hold the sake for a few days before being served.

Here is a komo-daru stacked on top of a simple taru.
Kagami Biraki  鏡開き
Since the samurai era there has been a tradition of smashing the top of the barrel and laddling out the sake in a ceremony known as kagami biraki. Kagami Biraki literally means "mirror opening" - 鏡開き, referring to the smashing of the brittle, circular lid. In this ceremony, the binding ropes are cut to expose the wooden lid which is then smashed with a wooden mallet (kizuchi, 木槌) allowing the sake to be served with a bamboo laddle (take-shaku, 竹勺), often into wooden drinking boxes which are meant to add a pleasant smell to the sake. 
Sometimes at the ceremony, people opt out of the smashing part because it may spill some of the contents and risk getting the VIP covered in sake when they take the honor of opening the barrel.
You can check the link here for instructions on how to open a barrel; the text is in Japanese but the illustrations are good. Note that part of opening process is using a small net/filter to skim the splinters of the broken lid off the sake.

The barrels can hold about 72 liters. You can compare this to a bourbon barrel which holds 195 liters or the "pony keg" used for beer which holds 29.33 liters.
Purchasing a komo-daru for a special event can be financially burdensome. So at events where the hosts are expected to present a komo-daru there is the option of saving money by purchasing a barrel with a false bottom (agezoku). The false bottom can drastically reduce the volume of sake inside (thereby reducing the weight and cost). 

A full komo-daru is 60cm deep, holding 72 liters and cost about 127,800 yen.*
An agezoku barrel can reduce the volume to 18 liters and 40,750 yen.*
*These numbers are from the Shochikubai brewery/Takara Holdings web page. This seems to be the most popular brand that I see at shrines. Please leave a comment if you know a cheaper source.

The town of Fushimi has a number of historic breweries.
The miniature kazari-daru have the brand labels of several such breweries.
Sometimes you can buy these miniature decorative barrels at breweries (about 4000 yen).
This display is featured outside of [Keihan] Chushojima station.

酒樽 gacchopon in Osaka for 300 yen.
"Kaiun (better fortune)! Sake barrels & wooden boxes."
You can also see the miniature mallets and a miniature recreation of a kagami biraki.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Teachers Selling Their Classes?

Teachers Selling Their Classes?: 
The practice of selling contracts in Japan.

For English teachers in Japan, there are several ways to earn a living. Most English teachers work at brick and mortar institutions where large numbers of students enroll and are locked into lengthy courses, then the institution hires teachers to instruct those classes. In that arrangement the teacher is focused on classes and the administrators take care of advertising, enrollment and staffing.
That arrangement leaves the teacher dependent upon the employer, with limited control of classes and a cap on their potential earnings.
Enterprising teachers can take on private lessons. This usually means going to site of the client's choosing, such as a home, cafe, meeting hall or school. Often the clients for these lessons are a group of mothers who pool resources so that their kids can have an English lesson together (usually after school) and the mothers can hang out and socialize. 
Adult lessons are also popular, but in the case of adults there is less likely to be a coordinated effort by the clients to organize sizable numbers of students. Individuals want a language lesson on their own schedule with as much flexibility as possible.
Sometimes, teachers build classes by laboriously distributing fliers; this can mean THOUSANDS of fliers being stuffed into neighborhood mailboxes.

But what happens when the teacher is ready to move on and leave their private lessons? 

They could notify students that the teacher will no longer be available, then students could look for a new teacher. Often, the group of students is being managed by a middle-men (often one of the students or parents) who collects the lesson fees and pays the teacher. The teacher could find another instructor (a friend or trustworthy colleague) who could take over the class. The teacher could post the position on a job board and look for replacements.
Another option that has existed for sometime is the practice of selling the class to a new teacher.

How the contract selling practice works
Teacher 'A' has a class (or classes). Teacher 'A' moving away (often to a different country). Teacher 'A' offers the position for sale (using personal networks or public job boards such as Facebook, Craigslist, etc.). The new teacher transitions in (perhaps the old teacher provides an introduction, perhaps some guidance is provided for the curriculum, perhaps some teaching materials are handed over...). Teacher 'B' takes over. Students enroll and resign, sometimes in significant numbers as these are extra-curricular arrangements that tend be less-committal. When teacher 'B' is ready to leave they have the option of selling the class again, recruiting a new teacher by other (more conventional) means or notifying the clients and letting them make new arrangements for themselves.  

The controversy
After five years in Japan, I have only seen one instance of a class being sold. The job in question was posted on a Facebook page for local English teaching jobs and the comments section for the post erupted in controversy and vitriol. 
Most of the comments were negative, viewing this as a greedy practice that exploited the job market.
The supporters insisted that it was a common, though declining, practice.

A third group of people came into the situation; they were policing the message board itself:
  • Was the initial post was in the spirit of job posting community?
  •  Are the people commenting contributing to a positive atmosphere?
  • What are the moral responsibilities of the teacher?
  • What is impact of the practice on the job market?
  • ...
The discussion became extremely heated and attracted about 60 comments (and one "like"), while other posts on this page usually only get around three comments.

The original post was asking 35,000 yen for an 80 minute kindergarten class that met twice a month (on Friday mornings, a difficult time slot for part-timers) and payed 6000 yen per class. It was a one year contract for the teacher (the job was being posted in the middle of the school year), individual students were free to leave anytime.
 Here are some examples of the reactions:
  • "...I find the offer to be distasteful..."
  • "...never use a job board as a discussion board again."
  • "...The practice of asking for money from someone who is taking over your class is a long held 'tradition' here in Japan. ..." [English school owner]
  • "Good grief. If you're not interested, just kindly ignore the post. You guys are the reason the internet sucks... you jackals. ..."
  • "...I think it is expensive 15,000 or so would be fairer..."
  • "...This used to be the norm. Newbies get over yourselves." [an English teacher who has been working in Japan for over 20 years]
In follow-up questioning (17 months later), the person selling the job reported that they found a replacement teacher who paid the full asking price and that the students were happy: 
  • "...worked out great. Everyone was happy. Same guy is still there."

Benefits? An objective look
Supporters make several points for continuing the practice:
  • Rapid turnover can be a problem among ex-pat teachers. Asking for an entry fee, would weed out some of the teachers who may flippantly abandon a post. In the above example, the entry fee is equal to three months of revenue. This pushes the new teacher hold on to the class longer if they recover the purchase cost.
  • Even if the new teacher needs to evacuate the position after a short time, that teacher will not be a financial loss as long as they sell the contract again and secure a new teacher for the client(s). 
  • Classes CAN be a profitable commodity. Finding new employers/clients/students can be a laborious process that consumes time, money and resources. Bidding for a contract/class could be economically advantageous, so it would be easier [perhaps] to receive a line a credit for the venture if the bidder did not have the cash on hand.
The opposition position
English teachers in Japan are often young entry level individuals, living in a foreign country living on a relatively low income, with low job security, constrained by immigration limitations, with limited support and less credit-worthiness than a native Japanese person.
For these reasons, the job market is filled with a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck who could not spare enough cash to enter into these arrangements (in the above case, the fee is comparable to one month of rent). People who have only their labor to rely on could easily get squeezed out of a market if capital were required to enter menial positions and larger businesses could buy up more and more classes taking the profit potential of the market.
It is unclear how prevalent this practice really is. This practice may exist behind closed doors as a handshake agreement between acquaintances or opaque networks, even if it has become extremely rare in the popular publications of the English community and the open air internet boards (which drew a lot of fire from opponents in the above case).

In any case the practice has been declining by all observable measures. 
Hopefully, everyone in the English teaching sector can continue to make Japan a more fulfilling, harmonious, international and prosperous place for all parties (teachers and students). 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Voice of the Sea; English translation for a Japanese song

Voice of the Sea
by Kinta Kiritani (Urashima Tarou in the AU ads).

This song is sung by the actor who plays Urashima Tarou in a series of cell phone commercials.

Urashima Tarou is the story of a fisherman who saves a sea turtle. The sea turtle takes him to a kingdom beneath the sea where Urashima spends his time pleasantly with the princess of the sea. Feeling that he has been away from home for too long he returns to the normal world, leaving the hospitality of the supernatural and eternal sea princess. After returning to his village Urashima Tarou finds that many, many years had passed. The people that he once knew were gone and only and only the oldest man in the village remembers him. That old man was a boy when Urashima Tarou disappeared. Later time catches up Urashima because he left the world in which he would have been immune to aging.

This story is similar to the America folk-tale of Rip Van Winkle (who fell asleep in the woods and woke up decades later).

The Story of Urashima Tarou is actually set in a real place. Urashima shrine is located in the far northern part of Kyoto prefecture. Making Urashima Tarou a resident of Kansai. Every year the Urashima Shrine has an event, the Ennen Sai festival, which includes a theatrical performance of the Urashima Tarou legend.

Last year the song "Voice of the Sea" was released in Japan. It has been very popular and the YouTube video has received over 78 million views so far.
In the video you can see the other mythical characters that are featured in the ads for the phone company, AU. They are Kaguya (the bamboo princess), Kintarou and Momotarou.

I like this song, so I wanted to make an English translation that matches the beat (76bpm) and syllable structure of the Japanese original.

Below, there are three versions of the song. Each divided into 22 lines.
The first version is the Japanese version written in Japanese and aligned to the left.
The second version is the Japanese version written in Romaji and aligns to the center.
The last version is the English version, aligned to the right.

1.空の声が 聞きたくて 2.風の声に 耳すませ 3.海の声が 知りたくて 4.君の声を 探してる

5. 会えない そう思うほど に 6. 会いたい が大きくなってゆく 7. 川のつぶやき 山のささやき 8. 君の声のように 感じるんだ

9. 目を閉じれば 聞こえてくる 10. 君のコロコロした 笑い声 11. 声に出せば 届きそうで 今日も 歌ってる 12. 海の声にのせて

13. 空の声が 聞きたくて 14. 風の声に 耳すませ 15. 海の声が 知りたくて 16. 君の声を 探してる

17. たとえ僕が おじいさんになっても ここで 歌ってる 18. 君だけを想って

19. 海の声よ 風の声よ 20. 空の声よ 太陽の声よ 21. 川の声よ 山の声よ 22. 僕の声を 乗せてゆけ

Umi no Koe
1. Sora no koe ga kikitakute
2. Kaze no koe ni mimi sumase
3. umi no koe ga chiritakute
4. kimi no koe o sagashiteru

5. aienai sou omouhodo ni
6. aitai ga okiku natteyuku
7. kawa no tsubuyaki yama no sasayaki
8. kimi no koe no you ni kanjirunda

9. me o tojireba kikoeketekuru
10. kimi no korokoro-shita warai goe
11. koe ni daseba dodokisou de kyou mo utateru
12. umi no koe ni nosete

13. Sora no koe ga kikitakute
14. Kaze no koe ni mimi sumase
15. umi no koe ga chiritakute
16. kimi no koe o sagashiteru

17. tatoe boku ga ojisan ni nattemo koko de utatteru
18. kimi dake o motte

19. umi no koe yo kaze no koe yo
20. sora no koe yo taiyo no koe yo
21. kawa no koe yo yama no koe yo
22. boku no koe o nosete yuke

Voice of the Sea
1. I want to hear the voice of sky

2. Listen to the voice of the wind
3. I want to know the voice of the big blue sea
4. Your voice is the one that I am searching for

5. I can not meet you, but you are with me in heart

6. I want to meet but we have grown apart
7. The babbling of the river, the whisper of the mountain
8. I feel like I am hearing your voice everywhere that I go.

9. If you close your eyes you will hear it too

10. Your laughter rings like a soothing bell
11. Raise you voice, sing out loud, today I will sing as well.

12. On the voice of the sea

13. I want to hear the voice of sky

14. Listen to the voice of the wind
15. I want to know the voice of the sea
16. But it is your voice that I am searching for.

17. Even if I must sit here until I become an old man I will sing, it's true

18. I'll still be thinking of you.

19. Voice of the sea, to the voice of the wind

20. Voice of the sky, to the voice of the sun
21. From the voice of the river, to the voice of the mountain
22. I raise my voice too for it to be carried along.

Big in Japan; YouTubers

Big in Japan; YouTubers

Every culture has its own unique tastes in popular culture. Sometimes those tastes seem bemusing from an outside perspective.

YouTube gives an outlet for new people to produce novel, untested new material. These ideas can sometimes strike a chord with audiences in surprises ways, "going viral" and propagating through society. 

This can be especially true in Japan. Many people argue that Japan is a mono-culture and this is quantifiable in the herd mentality observed in many of the fad products in Japan's entertainment industry. Usually, one of the main sources puts something out and if something receives attention, then focus turns on that and others try to capitalize on that momentum.

I am not saying that this is a bad thing. I often try to incorporate fads and capitalize on the zeitgeist when presenting materials as an English teacher.

Some recent examples of popular fads in Japan are the recent PPAP and the Koi Dance. Two years ago the fad was Rassen Gorelai, which people are now hard-pressed to remember.

The follwing is a look at some interesting YouTubers on from Japan based on the list of most subscribed channels from SocialBlade. 

#1. はじめしゃちょー(hajime)
The number one YouTuber in Japan parodies popular songs and takes bathes in unusual substances (gelatin, cola/mentos, fake money, skin cream).
Subscribers: 4.97 million    Video Views: 3.59 billion

#2. HikakinTV
A beatbox star who reviews novelty products from his apartment. His games channel is #5. His beatboxing channel (which recently hosted Ariana Grande), HIKAKIN is #11.
Subscribers: 3.99 million     Video Views: 3.1 billion

#3. avex
 The pop idol music channel.
Subscribers: 3.26 million     Video Views: 4.4 billion

#4. Yuka Kinoshita
This is a cooking show with a cute and cheerful girl.
Subscribers: 2.9 million     Video Views: 902 million

#6. RRcherrypie
A bizarre twist on a cooking show. This channel, which is completely voiceless, sometimes walking through the making of sweets. Sometimes there are English notes on the screen. The top videos on this channel and the usual style of this channel involves playing with a detailed toy kitchen.
Subscribers: 2.55 million    Video Views: 2.43 billion

#14. Japão Nosso De Cada Dia
The top foreign language channel in Japan is this Portuguese show which reviews Japanese products and culture. The popularity of this channel demonstrates the significant presence of Brazilians in Japan, ethnic Japanese people in Brazil, and the interest in Japan overseas.
Subscribers: 1.64 million    Video Views: 269 million

#19. Kan & Aki's CHANNEL
Kan and Aki are two kids who go on vacations with their family and play with toys in front of a camera.
Subscribers: 1.58 million     Video Views: 3.6 billion

#21. Jeamileth Doll
A channel about makeup and how to apply it. Japanese women seem to really be into makeup and a big deal is often made of the drastic effects makeup has on a woman's ability to distinguish herself from the crowd.
Subscribers: 1.53 million     Video Views: 158 million

#28. Venus Angelic
The most subscribed English language channel in Japan. A young girl who makes videos about makeup, food, cafes, cosplay and Japanese culture. She also followed the Japanese YouTube fad of getting into bathtubs full of unusual substances.
Subscribers: 1.41 million    Video Views: 219 million

#38. The Anime Man
A popular English channel. The host is half Japanese and half American man who talks about anime and Japanese culture. He also collaborates with a number of other English speaking YouTubers on anime topics.
Subscribers: 1.08 million     Video Views: 147 million

#59. Rachel & Jun
This was a popular English speaking channel that focused on life in Japan for an international couple; Rachel (an American? woman) and Jun (a Japanese man). They sometimes interview other people r film their travels around Japan.
Subscribers: 850,000     Video Views: 106 million

#83. ProWrestling Shibatar ZZ
Pro wrestling has a long running niche of popularity. This channel features the hijinks of a professional wrestler. He films skits, interviews an AV (porn) actress, goes to restaurants, dates, reviews products and [of course] wrestles.
Subscribers: 646,000     Video Views: 377 million


Monday, April 3, 2017

Interesting Vending Machines in Japan

Unusual Vending Machines in Japan

The vending machines in Japan are notable for their quantity and novelty. The number of vending machines per capita in Japan is unusually high, with over 5.5 million units in use. Large vending machines companies have saturated the market by placing vending machines everywhere that has foot traffic.

Many of these machines use standard vending machine equipment that simply repackages unusual products to fit inside.

A popular feature of Japanese vending machines are the inclusion of hot drinks along with the cold. These machines keep drinks (such as water, cola, etc.) cold with the normal coolant condensing equipment then uses the exhaust heat to warm to compartments for the hot drinks (coffee, tea, etc.).

An alcohol vending machine selling 1 liter cans of beer.
 -in southern Osaka.

A panty vending machine in a roadside booth.
The neighboring machines sold adult magazines, DVDs, toys, ...etc.
- Higashi Osaka

An adult DVD vending machine.
DVDs for 1000 yen.
This booth was next to a parking lot between metal working shops.
There were various other adult vending machines.
No age verification on the machines, the curtains at the entrance indicate that only people over 18 are welcome.
The machine has "security cameras in use" sign taped to the front.
-southern Higashi Osaka

An adult vending machine selling toys, lotion and a leash.
Note the steel bars attached to the outisde, the plexigass (which seems to have a cigarette burn?) and the wires inside the plexiglass. With all the security, it is hard to see what is even being sold.
-again, Higashi Osaka

A rest area vending machine that sells Gundam-themed T-shirts in compressed tubes.
 -en route to Mt. Fuji (Shizuoka?)
Wine and beer for sale. Goldfish are not for sale.
Alcohol vending machine.
Notice the addition of the specialized ID card reader to restrict access to adults.
The goods in this machine are also more expensive than what you usually see in machines.
 - Osaka, Uehonmachi area
Vending machine. Cold and hot drinks.
There is a roulette function, giving you a small chance at a free drink when you pay.
Egg vending machine. The doors open to reveal entire cartons of eggs.
 This machine is outside a small poultry farm.
-Osaka, near Deto station
The are sometimes special variations of international brands.
Such as this Pepsi "Refresh Shot" which is like a high caffeine energy drink.

The machine says "cigarettes" at the top but look closely;
this machine has been re-purposed to sell printer ink cartridges.
-Den Den Town Osaka

Plastic bottles of dashi (soup stock) with flying fish inside.
-near Korien station, Osaka
A closer look at the flying fish (ago).
700-750 yen.
A milk vending machine near Nipponbashi.
I am not sure I would trust milk from a vending machine in the summer.

An umbrella vending machine machine at Sanjo Station in Kyoto.
The makers of this machine thought outside of the box and parted with the usual vending machine shapes.
Here the umbrella is released from the rack by motorized levers after you insert the money.

A coffee vending machine from a train platform.
There are hot and cold drinks.
The machine has a built in tablet screen playing ads.
You can pay using your train card [PitaPa].
You can adjust the levels of sugar, cream and bean density.
There is also an option for you drinks to be served luke warm (ぬるめ).