Made in Japan volume 2

Made in Japan volume 2

Welcome to the second installment of Made in Japan, a weekly roundup of links to maker-type activities from Japan.

furuta_title01.jpgMaking the Future with Robotics
The bilingual Japan-based PingMag has a sister site called PingMag MAKE that is devoted to showcasing the “life stories of people who are building today and exploring tomorrow: craftsmen, engineers, entrepreneurs, and inventors” in a weekly interview format. This week they interview robotics engineer Takayuki Furuta, and his development of robots at the fuRo Future Robotics Technology Center. According to Mr. Furuta, “In our aging society, we’ll be able to use robotic technology while preserving human dignity in fields like medicine, social services, and care for the elderly,” and this interview provides insight into how he plans to use robotics in response to Japan’s aging population problem, handicap accessibility, and other social issues.


An interesting Japanese take on the “hack” concept, the word “urawaza” is a combination of two words, “ura” meaning “back, reverse side” and “waza” meaning “trick” or “feat.” Although this word most commonly applies applies to video game cheats, it also came into use in Japanese TV shows such as Ito-ke no shokutaku (The Ito Family Dinner Table) to describe the viewer-submitted “life hacks” that were introduced on the show. Chances are, you may have seen one of these urawaza life hacks already. Remember that cool video on how to rapidly fold a t-shirt that was so popular during the great YouTube boom? Sure enough, that’s an urawaza from the Ito Family TV show. But please, do not let that be the only urawaza you ever hear of. Check these urawaza videos out – they’re all in Japanese, but the expression and presentation is so over-the-top that it doesn’t really matter if you can’t understand the words:

  • 3 carpentry tricks – Here they show simple tricks on you how to saw veneer board so that it doesn’t fray, how to prevent a board from splitting when nailing near the end edge, and how to use a strip of cardboard to nail things in high places.
  • How to make ice in 30 minutes – Ever had a guest coming over and realized you don’t have any ice ready for your beverages? Sure, we all have! It normally takes over two hours to make ice in the freezer using the traditional ice tray method, but by filling aluminum baking shells about halfway full of water and placing those on an aluminum tray in the freezer, you can have Reese’s peanut butter cup-shaped ice in just 30 minutes! The man in the lab coat (a professor from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology) tells us that this works because aluminum is better at transmitting heat away from the water than the thick plastic ice trays that are most common. However, if the aluminum cups were crowded together on the tray and touching each other, the water heat was simply transmitted to the other cups, and they took a whole hour to become ice instead of the amazing 30 minutes, so they recommend leaving enough space so that the cups aren’t touching.
  • Stop a baby’s crying with the sound of slurping – Here they claim that the sound created by this slurping falls mostly at around 7000Hz, which is right within the 6000-8000Hz range that infants can hear in the womb, therefore causing a calming effect. This slurping, originally a technique used to get the full flavor during wine tasting, caused six out of the ten babies they tested to stop crying.
  • Super-fast boiled potato peeling – Before boiling the potato, cut a thin line all the way around the middle of the potato, then boil as you normally would. When it’s done boiling, submerge the potato in ice water for ten seconds, take it out of the water, and squeeze off the skin from both sides. The potato retains heat from the inside despite being submerged in the ice water. They claim that it works with a variety of potatoes.
  • Seal off a bag of chips without using a chip-clip.
  • Urawaza + Cute Overload = ? – A lazy rabbit finally makes itself useful by doubling as a letter opener. Not an official Ito-ke urawaza, but truly amazing.

Also, Lisa Katayama from the TokyoMango blog has written a book in English all about urawaza called Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan that is now available for pre-order. If you enjoyed these urawaza, then this book is sure to be a good read.


The Hands Grand Prix
Quite possibly one of the coolest stores in Japan, Tokyu Hands has been called a “Maker paradise” here on this very blog for its interesting vibe and curious selection of DIY-friendly products. I recently discovered that this self-proclaimed “Creative Life Store” hosts a yearly handmade crafts competition called the Hands Grand Prix. If gobs of kanji don’t give you a headache, then you should check out this page that shows the finalists from last year’s entries (or what the heck, have a Dada laugh with the Google Translate version). There are some really astounding projects here. My favorites are the semi-automatic rubber band rifle made entirely out of wood, the wooden clock, and the wire camera. The top three grand prize winners are found on this page, but I can’t seem to find a direct link to it, so to see them you have to click on the second box down on the left of the gorilla(?) arm holding the bone, like this:
Sorry it’s so gaijin-unfriendly. Strangely enough, there seems to be very little web coverage of this event, so if any of you readers out there know of any news footage or better pictures of this event, your assistance will be rewarded with many internet street cred points.


Extreme Pencil Carving
If you thought that Japan had the market cornered when it comes to pen-twirling, then you are probably right. Well, it looks Japan might have a similar area covered as well: Pencil carving. Part of the JAD Project, these are the creations of Mizuta Tasogare and Kato Jado, and make interesting use of the wood/graphite medium to create chains, swirls, spirals, and other seemingly impossible forms. Like so many of the best maker projects, this one is equally as “why?!” as it is “wow!”


Do-It-Yourself Railroad Crossing
Did you read that story a few weeks back about the guy who got into some trouble because he painted his own crosswalk in front of his house in Muncie, Indiana? In similar news, here’s a Japanese news video about a 73 year-old man from Hiroshima who built his own railroad crossing so that he wouldn’t have to walk the additional 100 meters to the nearest official railroad crossing in order to get to the field across the tracks from his house. The construction seems a little bit more crude than the official pedestrian railroad crossings in Japan, but I think he got his point across.

Satoshi Masuoka, 73, an unemployed man, stands accused of forcible obstruction of business.

Masuoka paved with asphalt an approximately 1-meter-wide, 3-meter-long path crossing the JR Geibi Line in front of his family home in Hiroshima’s Asakita-ku and obstructed safety inspections of the railway tracks between Aug. 15 and Dec. 18 last year, local police said.

“I made the path, but I didn’t obstruct their business,” Masuoka was quoted as telling police as he denied the allegations.

The trains ran without trouble over the self-made “crossing,” whose pavement covered the sleepers along the railway tracks.

Masuoka was supposed to use an approved crossing about 100 meters south of his home, but because it was too far, he had filed a request with the Hiroshima branch of West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) to build a crossing near his home from around 1999. JR West turned him down.

Via Japan Probe.

The Devices of PythagoraSwitch
Here we have a series of wonderful Rube Goldberg-type contraptions, one after the other, complete with a mind-melting soundtrack. These come from PythagoraSwitch, an educational children’s show broadcast on Japan’s NHK network. In between segments of the show, they run these Rube Goldberg machines, which are accompanied by the infectious “Pitagora Suitchi” song at the beginning and end of each run. This video compiles what feels like a 100 but is actually more like about 20 of these feats of physics. I must warn you though, there is something strangely hypnotic about this video, and if you watch it, this song will take over your brain. In a good way, though. Interestingly, this puppet-based program uses the “Pitagora Suitchi” song throughout the show as a way of drawing attention to points that are designed to help children recognize and exercise divergent thinking.


Based out of Nagoya, Japan, the MOBIUM is a “mobile museum” housed in a converted Isuzu passenger bus. The MOBIUM travels throughout Japan and is equipped with a video projector, sound system and music performance space, and salon/café area. The outside of the bus is made out a chalkboard-type material that people are encouraged to draw on, creating an ever-evolving graffiti of the conscience of those who come to visit the MOBIUM. The MOBIUM performance space has been host to many musical events ranging anywhere from laptop tweakage to earthy guitar folk. Although there English section of the website is reported to be “coming soon,” there are enough pictures there so that you get the idea. Here’s a rough translation of the MOBIUM credo: “The MOBIUM is a moving expression space; allowing art, music, projection, drama performance, to be brought to places that might not normally have much interaction with the arts, hoping to promote cultural exchange.” If you read Japanese, they keep a nice blog of their travels, projects, and performances, and even if you don’t, just checking out the pictures can be pretty inspiring. Think of it as kind of a Japanese version of John Benson’s amazing White Bus/venue in Oakland (hmmm, it didn’t say anywhere, but wouldn’t it be great if the MOBIUM ran on vegetable oil too…). Here’s the MOBIUM official website, although the blog is where most of the good photo documentation seems to take place.

That’s it for this week. I already have some great ideas for future installments, but if you know of an interesting Make-type activity from Japan, then please do send it my way!


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