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Welcome to the first installment of Made in Japan, where I’ll be doing a weekly roundup of interesting links to maker-type activities from Japan.

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Recycling to Create Musical Instruments
Here’s a great video that shows that the Maker spirit is alive and well in Japan. It’s a video of the annual All-Japan Handmade Instrument Idea Contest held in the city of Kawasaki. This video features a man playing “In The Mood” on a saxaphone made of plumbing pipe, a film canister, and a rubber balloon; a “choir” of six printers synchronized by software to play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; a 4th grader playing his favorite baseball team’s fight song on an instrument made of empty cans and chopsticks; a “trombone” made from an empty can, as well as a few other fun entries. A 49 year old housewife took the grand prize for the event, winning 500,000 yen (about $5,000) by playing a talented rendition of “Ode to Joy” with her honking plastic bottle+straw+ramen cup instrument. It’s great to see the kids going up against adults and recycling at the same time. Japan is known to have one of the most comprehensive (and confusing, for the uninitiated) recycling programs in the world, and now I think I understand why: They are saving all that stuff for their submissions to this contest ;-) Via Japan Probe.

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A Collection of iPhone Applications by Masayuki Akamatsu
Although the iPhone is not usable in Japan yet (and some suspect it may never succeed in the Japanese market, see below) this collection of iPhone apps is brought to you by Japanese Max/MSP guru, teacher at IAMAS, and member of the Breadboard Band, Masayuki Akamatsu. This page contains lots of great iPhone apps, including an app that turns your iPhone into a Max/MSP controller, an app that simulates a scrolling LED banner on the screen of your iPhone, as well as many other projects that illustrate Mr. Akamatsu’s interesting approach to software hacking on consumer electronic devices. This approach is also reflected in the many interesting Max/MSP objects he has created, perhaps the most famous being his object that interfaces the Wii Remote with Max/MSP. I recently interviewed Mr. Akamatsu about his various projects, and I’ll be posting an English translation of the interview next week. Check it!

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Why The iPhone Might Not Cut it In Japan
Many people say Japan’s cell phone technology has been three years ahead of the US for a while now. This article points out why the features offered in the iPhone might not be of interest to Japanese cell phone users who have been using the internet, sending email, paying for purchases at stores and vending machines, and watching live TV with their phones for quite some time. Via electro^plankton.

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Amazing Japanese Snow Sculptures
Japan is home to many winter festivals and events, and often these are accompanied by lavish snow creations. As one might expect, these snow and ice creations are often crafted in the cute, funny style that is synonymous with Japanese culture (and yes, this collection of photos includes the mandatory Hello Kitty snow sculpture). Via Pink Tentacle.

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Kaseo’s Circuit Bending Gallery
Kaseo is known throughout the international circuit bending scene for his clever, stylish hacks and meticulous documentation. To really get what he’s all about, be sure to check out the video of Kaseo playing an orchestra of circuit-bent Pikachus. Kaseo’s bends of rare and weird Japanese noise-making toys are especially interesting for the Japanophile gaijin out there. This well-documented site includes pictures and mp3 samples of all his projects. Bleep!

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An English Interview With Japanese Mad Scientist/Inventor Dr. Nakamats
Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu is an eccentric inventor and renaissance man of the old-school style. After selling his patent for the floppy disk to IBM in 1979, he has since gone on to develop over 3,000 fascinating (if not sometimes dubious) inventions, including the Pyon-Pyon Flying Shoes. Always busy with something interesting, he has been a candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election, has appeared on Late Night With David Letterman, has photographed every meal he has consumed for the past 34 years, and plans to live to be 140 years old! His inventions and his curious philosophy are a true inspiration for makers everywhere. Via the wonderful PingMag.

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Gainer
Hailing from the Programmable Device Project at IAMAS in Japan, Gainer is an open-source environment for interfacing your computer with electronic sensors and other interfaces. Similar in purpose to the Arduino and other microcontroller-based physical computing interfaces, this environment is made to be easily interfaced with Flash, Max/MSP, Processing, etc., and is made to be easily implemented by artists, musicians, and other creative types without an extensive electronics background.

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Methods for Making Natto in North America
Natto is a popular fermented soybean dish from Japan. Although natto is widely considered to be a polarizing food even by Japanese people (it seems as though half of the Japanese population loves it, and half of them can’t stand it), if you are one of the people out there who likes it (imagine Vegemite mixed with stringly soybeans), then this tutorial on how to ferment your own natto is the best way to get fresh natto outside of Japan. I have purchased natto here in the United States, but it is frozen and imported from Japan, and once it’s thawed it simply doesn’t taste same or have the same consistency as the fresh natto you can find in Japan (the amino acids crystalize over time, giving the natto a sandy texture if it’s not fresh). I have tried the method described here using natto bacteria from a store-bought natto pack, and I can say that with a little practice you can have more natto than you know what to do with for a very very low price. Natto has been proven to be a very healthy food, and with all this talk lately about probiotics, maybe now is the time for the adventurous eaters of the world to give this stuff a shot. Who knows, maybe natto will be the next kombucha, and you can tell all your hipster friends that you knew all about it back in ’08! Try a pack of this stuff from your local Asian supermarket, and if you get hooked (you know you will, it’s fermented soybeans!), give this DIY tutorial a shot. About 236,000 tons of natto are consumed in Japan each year. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Update: I was just now hipped to the fact that the new issue of our sister publication, Craft, has a natto recipe in it. Was I right or was I right? Apparently natto is the new big thing.

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Gameboy-shaped Bricks

The original Gameboys are lovingly sometimes referred to as “bricks” because of their rectangular shape and because girthy build. Here we have real bricks that are made in the shape of classic Gameboys. What Gameboy nerd wouldn’t want the path in their front yard to be paved with these? Or better yet – a house made of Gameboy bricks? Available in a variety of colors, too. The perfect building material for that backyard NanoLoop studio you’ve been contemplating! After all, they’re only about $40 each.

Correction: Oops! As the astute reader Philip has pointed out, it appears as though these bricks are actually made by a fellow from the Netherlands, not in Japan. Sorry about that, these internets can be tricky. In further support of the Gameboy = Brick theory, however, I did come across this article citing the Gameboy as one of the most bombproof gadgets of all time, so maybe they would work as a building material all by themselves…

Have an interesting link to a Make-worthy project, story, or person from Japan? Send it this way!


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