Friday, July 31, 2009

Modern Japanese Ruins...

If you've been to this li'l blog before, you probably know I love Peter Payne's J-List side blog. He posts something informative and amusing almost everyday, and when I have nothing to tell you myself I can always count on Peter Payne to spark something. Today's entry was no exception, with a fun discussion of Japan's narrow streets and the strange situations this sometimes causes. I get the blog delivered to my inbox and it's one of the very few advertising-related emails I don't send to the junk folder.

However, as much as I enjoyed the blog entry, what really caught my eye was listing below it for "Restocked photobooks of Old Tokyo." Haikyo Hyoryu - Images of Destruction in Japan. Modern ruins. I'm a visual person and fascinated with imagery of decay and decrepitude. I mean, architecturally. Don't link me to any of those websites with disease imagery or gross photos of accident aftermaths, please. I checked out the books on J-List itself and so should you. I don't mean to shill transparently for the company (that's what the ad up top there is for! Shop early, shop often... Christmas is just five months away!), but at the very least check out the photos they've posted.

There's nothing sadder than abandoned amusements meant for children. You know how Toy Story 2 really milks that concept for all it's worth with toys-- the real thing is infinitely more melancholic. The other images are hauntingly beautiful, otherworldly. Some of them literally look like monuments of some long-lost civilization out among the distant stars, one we reached too late in our space-warping starships. While you're at it, look at the book about the nostalgic stairs of Tokyo, too. For the observant, Japan is just a miracle to behold. From the tacky to the sublime, from the ludicrous to the poignant, Japan has it all.

However, I do have to warn you not to scroll down too far. J-List sells some adults-only products and if you keep going? Well, that way lies... nudity! And madness! And bare-assed naked people! Without any clothes on to cover their nakedly nude naked bodies!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Japanese Professor Creates Baseball-Playing Robots!

It had to happen. My impression of Japan is it's a pretty robot-and-baseball-happy country anyway, so it was only a matter of time before some genius combined these two things into a sort of high-tech Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of fun. Ishikawa Masatoshi (that's Ishikawa-sensei to you and me, Russ) of the University of Tokyo has invented a couple of robots who can pitch and hit.

My favorite part of this article is this little snippet:

Ishikawa is also working on getting the batting robot to be able to hit to all parts of the field.

Good luck, Ishikawa-sensei. The Atlanta Braves tried the same thing with Ron Gant back in the 90s and he was never the same hitter after that. And then he broke his leg.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yet Another Solar Eclipse Flop...

Yesterday, some cosmic joker scheduled a solar eclipse and rain for the same day here in Japan. So instead of seeing the first eclipse visible in this area in 46 years, we saw lots of gloomy clouds and people with umbrellas, which are visible here approximately every 46 minutes. It rains a lot in Japan, in case you don't know. And this has been the story of my life. I remember another washed-out eclipse years ago, when I was in elementary school.

It's probably just as well. A few people in scattered areas enjoyed this rare astronomical treat, but a science magazine and other well-meaning groups distributed 50,000 solar eclipse viewers-- including some with clear lenses. Prior to the eclipse, the Japan Science and Technology Agency issued warnings not to use the defective viewers or risk blindness.

They should have distributed umbrellas!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Old Folk Gather...

A few weeks ago I characterized the crowd outside our school as a lot of bums. And bums there may be, but I've spent the last few days studying them and now I'm forced to admit most of them are the elderly.

They're probably just happy to get out of their houses on these sweltering afternoons we have here in Japan during the summer months. There's no real relief from the heat unless you're willing to turn your A/C on full power and turn your house into a self-contained Siberia, but that's an expensive option. And not as social as lounging about on a bench outside a supermarket, chatting with others your age and socio-economic status and feeding pigeons.

And sometimes playing harmonica.

The shouter-guy seems to have either moved on or else given up his attention-getting antics. Most of the people are wizened little ladies in shapeless, floral-pattern dresses. They sit hunched on the wooden benches in groups and talk about whatever it is little old ladies like to talk about here in Hamamatsu. Or else they just stare. There's always something to see. Pedestrians and bike riders, young people, businesspeople, other elderly people, pigeons and crows scavenging for crumbs. It reminds me of an earlier time I've only read about or seen in movies, when people were more social and gathered in the town center to be part of a community. Old men played checkers in the park and gossiped and old women complained about them.

And it beats sitting home and watching TV all day.