Take a tour of a brand new 4 bedroom home in Tokyo.

Being that I am currently in the process of house hunting and have had a long-standing fascination with Japan, this video from the folks at Life Where I’m From┬áthat gives us a guided tour of a brand new four bedroom home in Japan caught my attention. The limited available land in Tokyo requires building homes right next to each other and they tend to be expensive. This particular home is over $400,000.

Check it out:

Note: You may need to click on the Closed Caption button at the bottom right for the English translations.

There are some very cool aspects to this home such as the control panels for filling the bathtub before you ever enter the room and the video intercom to see who is at the front door. I also like how many things are tucked away behind panels. That said, a stove without an oven and the overall cramped aspects of this house (let alone the price) make me glad I’m not living in Tokyo.

The Idiot’s Guide to Japanese Apartments

Back in my early 20’s when I was big into anime and manga I would occasionally entertain the idea of moving to Japan and living the life of an expatriate. Then I looked into what it immigrating to Japan would require and opted to just live in Japan vicariously through anime and manga. The more I learned about Japan the more confident I became in my decision.

However, every now and then I wonder if I didn’t make the wrong decision. Then I see something like this video by Rachel and Jun and any doubts vanish:

In comparison to Japanese apartments (at least in the larger cities), the places I’ve rented are almost palatial in size. Which isn’t to say there aren’t a few features in this video I wouldn’t mind having in my own place. That control panel for filling the tub from any room is pretty wicked cool.┬áThat said, living in Michigan our earthquakes are rare and rather timid so all the earthquake proofing stuff is nothing I need worry about.

I only just discovered their YouTube channel and I’m loving it. They’ve been at it for the last 4 years so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but they tackle all sorts of interesting topics from modern Japanese table manners to gender equality in Japan to how to get an apartment in Japan. Being a Japanophile who decided staying home was a better option, this scratches a long standing itch and is just generally fascinating.

A couple more that I found very fascinating:

There’s several forms of Japanese clothing that I’ve always wanted to try because of how they look or how comfortable they appear to be. I wasn’t aware there had been controversies about it here in the States.

There’s a lot of “trivia” about Japan that makes the rounds. This video takes on some of those claims and whether they’re true.

I don’t know how many other folks who drop by are as fascinated by Japan as I am, but I’m in heaven watching these videos.

Japan quake open thread.

This is an open thread for folks to talk about the quake in Japan that happened yesterday. To say that it is overwhelming in the scope of the damage done is an understatement and I encourage folks to do what they can to help. The 8.9 quake shifted Japan some 8 feet to the east and shifted the tilt of the planet. As bad as that is, the following tsunami made things even worse. Plus ongoing aftershocks which make rescue efforts even more dangerous.

The American Red Cross has mobilized to help and you can donate $10 by texting REDCROSS to 90999 or you can donate any amount you’d like by going to their donation site. Considering that at least one of their nuclear power plants is in danger of going critical things are sure to get worse before they get better. Also you can make use of Google’s Person Finder to try and track down friends and family in Japan.

Here’s hoping all our SEB regulars and their loved ones in Japan made it through OK. Please use this thread to let us know how we can help beyond what I’ve listed here. Or just to let us know you’re alright.

“Cat Cafes” are a growing trend in Japan. (#Blogathon)

Japan is kind of like California in that the trends and fads they get into are things that could probably never happen anywhere else. Take for example the growing trend of Cat Cafes:

TOKYO—“Cat cafes”—where patrons pay $8 to $12 an hour to play with felines while they sip tea—have become a cultural trend, with at least seven of them operating.

At cafe Neko JaLaLa—neko means cat in Japanese—eight staff cats loll on the thick carpet, drape over couches, and almost purr with pleasure in the quiet atmosphere.

I love cats and I agree they can be quite relaxing, but I don’t think I could bring myself to pay up to $12 an hour at a cafe just to hang out with them. Of course it helps that I already have two cats at home that I can hang out with for free. Or at least for the cost of a bag of food, kitty litter, and a few cat toys.

Hmmmm… maybe the cafe is the cheaper option after all.

The reason this seems to work in Japan is due to how many folks have ridiculous work lives. When trying to meet a deadline it’s not uncommon for Japanese workers to never leave their offices. Cubicles with curtains along the edge of the desk so employees can sleep underneath them are not an uncommon sight. When you spend that many hours away from home caring for a cat would be problematic. Thus comes the opportunity for someone to make money with a cat cafe.

It’s a shame that probably wouldn’t work here in Michigan. I could run a shop that serves only tea and a chance to lounge around with cats. I bet it’s quite relaxing.

Korean woman foils Japanese fingerpint system with tape.

Japan spent ¥4 billion (roughly $43 million USD) on a newfangled fingerprint security system to keep undesirables out of their country and it works great unless someone thinks to put tape over their fingers:

The biometric system was installed in 30 airports in 2007 to improve security and prevent terrorists from entering into Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.

The woman, who has a deportation record, told investigators that she placed special tapes on her fingers to pass through a fingerprint reader, according to Kyodo News.

[…] The South Korean woman was deported in July 2007 for illegally staying in Japan after she worked as a bar hostess in Nagano in central Japan, Kyodo said, citing justice ministry sources.

She was not allowed to re-enter Japan for five years after deportation but the Tokyo immigration bureau found her in August 2008 again in Nagano, Kyodo said.

A South Korean broker is believed to have supplied her with the tapes and a fake passport, the Yomiuri said, adding that officials believe many more foreigners might have entered Japan using the same technique.

No word on if the “special” tape had false fingerprints on it or just obscured her own prints enough to fool the system, but it’s still an impressive flaw in an expensive system. Ooops.

Here’s a nice music video called “Christmas in Japan.”

I’m a long-time Japanophile as is evidenced by the massive anime collection I still have. I’m also a big fan of Christmas so it should go without saying that the following song is stuck in my head:

Gonna have that one stuck in my head all day now.

Found via Pharyngula.

When the hell did Domo become big in the U.S.?

Over the weekend we stopped into the local Target store and I was stunned to see huge advertising displays featuring the weirdly cute fuzzy Japanese monster-thingy known as Domo all over the place. That’s a pic of him over on the left. I’ve known about him for years and have a QuickTime movie file on my PC which contains every single one of the short animations he featured in used as station identification shorts for NHK TV in Japan. He’s been fairly popular among anime fans for years, but almost no one outside of the anime subculture knows who the hell he is.

Or at least I didn’t think they did. The fact that Target has licensed him to sell Halloween stuff seems to suggest he’s gone mainstream. Not only was I surprised to see Domo all over the place, but a little kid that walked in with us immediately knew who he was and started calling out his name, “Look mom! It’s Domo!” According to his Wikipedia entry it seems Nickelodeon licensed him in 2006 for 26 two-minute shorts which they just started airing this year. If they were half as warm and fuzzy as the Japanese originals then they were probably a sensation with the kids, as the one child I saw this weekend would attest. And now Target has snapped him up.

Turns out I wasn’t the only person surprised by this as reporter Tom Horgen over at StarTribune.com wrote a big article about him:

In 2003, an American licensing company named Big Tent approached Goda and NHK about bringing Domo to the United States in a bigger way, a deal that eventually led to the Target campaign.

“No, no, no,” Goda remembered saying at the time, hesitant about Domo’s American fate. Goda was unaware that Domo already had a following outside of Japan.

Today, Goda said he’s excited about Domo going mainstream in this country. But he understands why some of the character’s cult followers might be perturbed.

“It’s really difficult to balance the popularity and keeping the core fans,” he said.

But after Goda finally saw Domo in his new American setting, he was pleased.

“When we saw the Target store in Portland and saw Domo surrounded by all that American stuff, I was so happy,” he said.

In fact, Goda has been a fan of American pop-culture since he was a kid. His favorite character? That would be Snoopy, created by Minnesota’s own Charles Schulz.

Like Domo, Snoopy is a cuddly troublemaker and a man of few words. He’s also been a mainstream icon for decades, one that even anti-mass-market geeks like myself have loved.

Earlier in the article Tom brings up the possibility that early fans of Domo here in the states may feel he’s “sold-out” by becoming a mascot for Target:

When underground sensations like Domo hit the mainstream—he also has a deal with Nickelodeon—it can render the original uncool, or even result in cries of “sellout.”

That seems kind of stupid considering Domo was created to advertise a TV network, but I suppose some folks who don’t know his history may fall into that trap anyway. Still it’s kind of neat to see something I’ve been a fan of for years suddenly being popular in the United States. If it makes it a little easier (and not to mention cheaper) to finally pick up a Domo plushie then so much the better.

Zach’s back with a photo blog.

I was once a huge Japanophile being very heavy into anime and manga and just being fascinated with the country itself. I even entertained for awhile in my younger days the idea of moving there and becoming an expatriate. As I grew older and actually learned more about the country and its culture I realized that I’d probably make a pretty lousy expatriate in part because I wasn’t motivated enough to actually learn Japanese no matter how much I kept telling myself I was going to do so and being able to speak the language would be only one of many hurdles I’d have to overcome.

Still the country captures my imagination and there’s more than a few blogs in my RSS reader that are written by expatriates living in Japan. One of the folks I used to read quite often was a fellow who went by the nickname Zach who as I recall did a lot of work in Japanese to English translations, but he shut his blog down awhile ago. Now he’s back with an all new photo blog called Zach awry in Japan and he dropped me an email to let me know about it. Here’s one of my favorites which I hope Zach won’t mind I’m reproducing here:


© Zach awry in Japan. Click to embiggen!

I wish I could shoot such amazing photographs. Photography being another thing I keep telling myself I’m going to learn how to do properly some day.

Anyway, his new photo blog is just getting started and I’m looking forward to seeing more small peeks into a life I once thought of trying to live myself. Good stuff. Go check it out.