Made in Japan – Volume 9

Made in Japan – Volume 9

This week:
Portable pocket tube radios, a young straw flute maker/player, a Famicom Theremin, Watermelon Carving Art, Elekit Solar Toy Kits, A UNESCO LEGO Exhibition, Sound Candy, Origamic Architecture, Trash Can Graffiti, More Wooden Bliss, LEDUBEs: Stackable, LEGO-Like LED Cubes, and a Remote Control Robot-Driven Power Shovel.


Portable Pocket Tube Radio Projects
We all know that the natural coloration of vacuum tubes is a sought-after trait in hi-fi stereo systems and guitar amps, but here we have a website devoted to showcasing DIY pocket-sized tube radios. Like so many other proudly-tube products, the cases on these radios are transparent so that they can conveniently show off their “tubeyness.” Kawabata-san of Osaka explains the history behind his obsession:

In Dec. 1954 Texas Instruments and I.D.E.A. in U.S.A. commercialized world’s first transistor radio under brand name of “Regency.” After that, miniaturization of electronic equipments would be accomplished using semiconductors. And development aimed at miniaturization of tube radio would hardly be made. At the beginning of ’70th when I was a junior high school student, tube portable radio had already become extinct and passed into oblivion. In that day, I had an trifling argument with my friend about “which is superior tube or transistor?” In this argument my friend said “We can never make tube portable radio small enough to go into shirt pocket like transistor pocket radio.” I could never refute, and from then, I’ve been thinking to make shirt pocket portable using tubes. And further more, I started to want to know the limit of miniaturization of tube radio, to its summit, nobody had ever reached.

He even does a tube version of the popular Lil’ Smokey portable guitar amp, complete with schematics. Impressive work.

Straw Flute
A variation on the Mr. Wizard’s World standby, here we have a how-to for making a variable-pitch flute out of drinking straws. Not only can this young man make them, but he can play them. See him in another video showing off his skills on the straw flute. Dare I say “Zamfir of the straw flute”? – via MAKE: Japan

Famicom Theremin
Another great video game/noise maker mashup. The batteries are held in the cartridge and the Theremin madness is pumped out the back via a 1/4″ jack. There must be old Famicoms laying around everywhere in Japan, because they keep getting made into all sorts of sweet gadgets. I say “keep ’em comin!” – via MAKE: Japan

Watermelon Fruit Carving
Fruit artist Takashi Itoh takes advantage of the colors available within the layers of watermelon to create images of… just about anything imaginable.

“Watermelon sculpture” entertains the infinite possibility carving on green, white, red part in watermelon. After appreciation, we cool it, and let’s enjoy eating it.

Watermelon Art Tutorial (includes video)

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Elekit Solar Toy Kits
Japanese educational electronics company Elekit has just announced their new line of solar toy kits, which includes a a ropeway car, a frog, a racecar, and a bird (the wings flap, but unfortunately the miracle of solar-powered flight hasn’t happened yet). Their website says they’re not shipping to the U.S. yet, but that could change soon. Their website (English, Japanese) features quite a few other nerd-friendly electronics kits, including some humanoid robot guys, a few tube amp kits, and an animation box.

Japan Unseco LEGO Exhibition
Japan loves LEGO models of real places! Just two weeks ago, we saw an exhibit of famous Tokyo locales done in LEGOs, this week we have a video telling us about 26 UN World Heritage Sites that have been given the LEGO treatment at a shopping center in Fukuoka. – via

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Sound Candy
Here’s yet another hit project from Okude Lab at Keio University. These furry little guys are called Sound Candy, and they are capable of sampling sound and then manipulating the sound via vibration, twisting, turning, speed, and good old-fashioned knob tweaking. At 1:25 in the video, a Sound Candy is cleverly set to respond to the vibration of a knock on the bathroom door by saying “Someone’s in here,” leaving the poor fellow in a clear state of strugglation. As this video demonstrates, the Sound Candy can also be strapped to a dog, or to your head. You can see more behind-the-scenes pictures of the evolution of Sound Candy on their flickr set. Also, I would like to go on record as saying that I think pretty much any DIY project looks cooler when it is covered in fur. Mark my words, fake fur will someday replace the LED as the DIY decoration of choice. You heard it here first.

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Origamic Architecture: Stunning Sculptures Cut Out of Paper

In the Japanese paperfolding art of origami, cutting the paper is frowned upon. But in 1981, Masahiro Chatani, professor of Architecture at Tokyo Institute of Technology proved that papercutting could indeed produce stunning pieces of art. Along with his colleague Keiko Nakazawa, Chatani developed Origamic Architecture, a variation of kirigami (itself a variation of origami where cuts were allowed), where you only needed an X-acto knife and a ruler to create complex 3-dimensional structures out of a single sheet of paper.

There are plenty more photos of O.A. at Masahiro Chatani and Keiko Nakazawa’s websites. – via

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Graffiti Trash Can
Flickr user mayumeromymarch from the The Street Art in Japan flickr pool brought us this graffiti’d trash can yesterday. How on earth could you complain if you woke up one morning and saw that the hoodlums had done this to your trashcan? Something tells me this is owner-sanctioned graffiti, but I can at least dream of a world where Mario and Luigi tag your stuff in the middle of the night.

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More Wooden Bliss
Apartment Therapy posted an article entitled Ten Best Home Wares From Japan…we wish we could get here domestically in which they introduced a few cleverly unavailable pieces of woodworking such as Cube Style (above left), a wooden box that comes apart to reveal that it is actually two chairs and a table; and Hollow (above right), a wooden tray/accessory case for holding your glasses, watch, etc. The 269 Clock is also a wonderfully minimal variation on the wall clock theme. With products as beautiful as these, it’s just a matter of time before they become available outside of Japan.

LEDUBEs: Stackable LEGO-Like LED Cubes
Two of every maker’s things, LEGOs and LEDs, have finally been brought together with LEDUBEs.

LEDUBEs are LED cubes that can be stacked on each other to create any shape that you desire, including massive structures such as the display booth Sankoflex was using at the expo. Each cube can create 2.1 million colors and, while working together, display amazing moving graphics and video.

These bricks can act together as “pixels’ in a larger display made of other LEDUBE bricks, allowing the user to create elaborate animated flashing displays. To really get the effect, check out the movie on their product page. According to Trends in Japan:

All of the content is created on a PC with software, and then loaded into the system with an SD card. Quite simple for the effect produced, but the LEDUBE don’t come cheap either. While they aren’t available for sale yet, the entire display system shown here costs about $4,800 per day, plus $2,400 in programming costs.

Do I see a remake in the works? – via

Remote Control Robot-Driven Power Shovel
Last year at a construction fair in Hiroshima someone was lucky enough to catch this robot-driven power shovel. This creep-tastic robot steers the shovel, pulls levers with its skinny arms, and is manipulated via wireless remote control. Check the link above for more pictures. – via

4 thoughts on “Made in Japan – Volume 9

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like the judo scene on one of those watermelons!

  2. Faye says:

    Your articles are really great. Especially the article on watermelon carving – which is my passion.

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