Going to Taichung

I’m about to take a short weekend trip down to Taichung, the most central and third largest city in Taiwan. I’ll probably be back Sunday afternoon, but then I have a translation project to finish so I’ll likely be incommunicado until Monday.


I’ve tried a couple of RSS readers briefly but haven’t found anything that I really loved. I know a lot of you reading this are using various RSS programs, so what would you recommend? For reference I’m running Windows, so don’t bother with any software that only runs on other platforms. Feel free to leave comments or just email me.

Tu-ka’s new cell phone for the elderly

The Japanese cell phone provider Tu-ka has just announced an interesting new phone, designed by Kyocera, with the unique distinguishing feature of being as featureless as possible.

Looking at his phone you may be wondering where the LCD screen and half the controls are. You may be wondering if I haven’t been lying all along about being able to read Japanese, completely screwed up and accidentally linked to a photo of, not a cell phone, but a wireless phone for indoor use. In fact, this is exactly the point.

This phone is specifically designed for elderly people who want to keep in touch with their family more easily or need one for emergencies (a particular concern for old people living alone) but may too confused by even the most basic of modern cell phones, or lack the clarity of vision needed to read the screen or the manual dexterity needed to press such small buttons.

The tagline reads
A cell phone so simple it doesn’t need any explanation. A cell phone specifically designed for talking.

As this diagram explains, the “method of use is almost identical to that of a home phone.”

In all, they list only four features.

* Large buttons: Easy to see, easy to press
* Powerful speaker so your partner’s voice is more easily heard
* A bumpy easy-grip surface
* A battery so large that you only need to charge it once a month

That last claim is the only one that would really stand out as a feature on normal phone. The claimed talk time of about 4 hours doesn’t seem particularly exceptional, but the 840 hours (about 35 days) of standby time is just amazing! I wonder if it actually manages that through battery size, or by leaving out the power-sucking color screens, processors, and internet capable digital transceiver found in typical cell phones.

It turns out that this isn’t actually brand new, but it’s interesting to point out how product designers in Japan are really starting to cater more towards the elderly, which is soon to be, if not already, the fastest growing segment of the population.

Thanks to Joe for the heads up.

Ritsumeikan to Open Confucius Institute

As I reported before, the Chinese government is set to open Chinese language schools called “Confucius Institutes” around the world. This just in from Xinhua tells us that the first such Institute to open in Japan will be at my alma mater, Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto:

Confucian Academy to have 1st branch in Japan

BEIJING, June 29 — China and Japan have agreed to establish the first branch of Confucian Academy in Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto.

The Chinese ambassador to Japan, Wang Yi, hopes the academy will help improve understanding and friendship between Chinese and Japanese people.

Confucian Academy is a non-profit institution, which is devoted to teaching Chinese language and culture.

Calling it a non-profit institution is a little misleading, since it is, after all, funded and created by the Chinese government!

Kuro5hin.org is smarter than me

Some of our readers might have heard about the landmark Supreme Court decision regarding Grokster and the legality of P2P software. As someone deeply concerned about P2P issues I wanted to point you guys in the direction of some enlightened commentary on the subject from kuro5shin:

To quote the ruling itself on inducement:

The rule on inducement of infringement as developed in the early cases is no different today. Evidence of “active steps … taken to encourage direct infringement,” such as advertising an infringing use or instructing how to engage in an infringing use, show an affirmative intent that the product be used to infringe, and a showing that infringement was encouraged overcomes the law’s reluctance to find liability when a defendant merely sells a commercial product suitable for some lawful use.

What this means is that simply making a product that can be used for infringement is not illegal. Even if the overwhelming majority of the people are using the product for infringement it is still not illegal. Grokster, the company, is only in the wrong because it marketed its product as being a tool specifically for infringement. Take note of how I say the company as opposed to the product. The Supreme Court of the United States has just ruled that P2P software is legal. Grokster — the product — is legal, but Grokster, the company, may be sued. I don’t see how one could reasonably want a better decision than that.

Read the rest and learn. Most reporting on the issue, like the above Post article, says the decision means that any P2P service can be sued successfully if it is used for infringement. Kuro5hin disagrees, claiming that the decision merely faulted Grokster because they specifically marketed their product’s infringing abilities. If he’s right (and it looks like he is) then things like BitTorrent would seem to have a much better case — and a more substantial reason to exist in terms of non-infringing uses.

Minomonta’s Broadcast Boo-boo

To many Americans, Japanese television has a reputation for being free of the ludicrous broadcast restrictions of American television, thanks in part to violent/sexually explicit anime and shows like “Banzai!” and “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” (and not to mention the infamous “Chris Farley on a Japanese game show” sketch from Saturday Night Live).

However, one should not be misled. While Japanese and American mores differ (e.g.: talking about/depicting excrement is not nearly as taboo as it is in America), Japanese television, just like its counterparts in the United States and elsewhere, has a myriad of groups influencing programming choices, including pressure groups, politicians, and (most importantly) sponsors. The various pressures exerting on television in Japan have produced a regime of voluntary censorship. A list of “forbidden words” can be found here.

It is with that in mind that I present to you a report on the puzzling remarks of famous Japanese TV host Minomonta (host of the Japanese version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” among many other things):

Minomonta’s painful misstatement — Sponsors furious, drop their support

“If you want a good digestive medicine I suggest you drink beer instead.”

Beer-loving Mino-san, who has appeared in beer commercials, lets his true thoughts slip out

It was found on June 23 that sponsors of TBS’ “Minomonta’s Morning Thwack!” (tr: My creative translation) pulled out of the show after host Minomonta (60), one of Japan’s most famous, made a grievously bad statement during the June 3 live broadcast.

The slip of the tongue occurred while discussing the article “A Doctor-Invented ‘Healthy’ Beer Garden” during a segment reviewing the day’s newspapers.

In a back-and-forth with a female announcer, Mino-san made one of his usual health-related comments, “The yeast in beer improves your immune system.” He then admitted to viewers that every morning he drinks a 50-50 mixture of beer and tomato juice every morning to stay healthy.

That by itself would have been fine, but Mino-san went on: “Everyone, you’re drinking that digestive drink, Biofermine, aren’t you? If so you should really just drink beer!”

Unfortunately, he was too late in realizing that, in fact, Biofermine (Headquartered in Kobe) is a sponsor of the show!

A frantic TBS apologized on the air 3 days later and even put apologies and corrections on its homepage: “Comparing beer, a luxury product, and drugs or quasi-drugs is a ridiculous proposition,” “(the concept of a beer health drink is) a mistake not based on the facts,” and “We are truly sorry.”

But eventually, they said, the company saw the statement as a problem and pulled their support on June 8.

On weekdays, Minomonta currently serves as host of both “Morning Thwack!” from 5am, and Nippon TV’s “Omoikkiri TV” from noon.

Since health-related comments on TV can have a profound effect on the sales of fruits, vegetables, and supplements, the sponsor simply could not let the comment slide.

Comment: Likely due to aggressive marketing, consumers in Japan are obsessed with healthy eating and the homeopathic effects of foods they eat. So in that context it is somewhat easier to understand Mino-san’s unpalatable choice of health drink and also the sponsor’s stern reaction to the misstatement. Thanks for letting me share!

America shocked at Japanese sign: “Ichiro has a small dick” makes it on national TV

Another colorful article from SANSPO.COM (via 2ch news):

The Japanese living in America’s west coast all thought it must be a dream: the words, banned from TV and thus not expected to be seen, were shown clear as day on their TV screens at the Mariners-Padres game on June 26.

In the 9th inning, an incident occurred during the live TV broadcast. An American fan held up a placard in Japanese with a terrible message:

“Ichiro has a small dick!” (イチローには小さいチ●ポがついています — of course there is a certain katakana letter that should go where the circle is)

The shocking scene lasted for about 3 seconds. There are occasionally fans who hold up Japanese-language signs, but almost no one on the broadcast staff in America can read Japanese. Thankfully this did not make it onto Japanese television, but the station was the victim of a cruel practical joke.

It was not a good day for Ichiro. He did not start. This is the first time in the season he has been of the starting lineup and would have been his 74th straight game. Mariners manager Hargrove explained, “It was my decision. Since there’s no game tomorrow he gets 2 days off by not playing today.” He had urged Ichiro to rest many times, but the answer was always no. After discussing for 20 minutes Hargrove made Ichiro rest by “forcible execution.”

Even his one at bat ended midway. “Players who are always in the starting lineup have a different method of getting worked up,” said a quiet Ichiro. Adding insult to injury was the unexpectedly offensive placard.

Comment: I can’t find a picture of the actual placard, but I’m sure you can imagine.

Some comments from 2ch:

  • This looks like the work of Hentai Mask! (tr: NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!)
  • (Written in a fake Korean accent) Some races do some terrible things, nida! But there’s no helping that since Japanese people are hated all around the world, nida!
  • I’m sure it was a Korean-American fan!

  • But wait, it is true that his dick’s small right?
  • My new favorite phenomenon

    The donut phenomenon
    This article about the demolition of a school in Osaka had an interesting explanation:

    At its peak in 1958, the school had 1,270 enrolled students.

    But 30 years down the track, the so-called donut phenomenon” had taken hold.

    Osaka’s downtown population headed for the suburbs leaving a gaping hole in the city center-and a serious shortage of school-age kids. By 1989, Aijitsu Elementary School had just 47 students and it was forced to integrate the following year with nearby Kaihei Elementary School.

    Mmm, donut phenomenon.

    Japanese game industry to self regulate because of GTA 3

    Nope, not brutal at all!

    Major console makers such as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are considering self-regulating game sales to minors after Kanagawa prefecture designated the Playstation 2 game “Grand Theft Auto 3” to be a “harmful publication” under its Prefectural Youth Protection and Development Law because of its extreme brutality. The entire game industry is responding to the recent strengthening of public regulations, and strategies such as requiring identification when customers try to buy games suggested for those over 18 are being considered.

    The Distribution Committee of the industry group “Computer Entertainment Association” (Koei President Kiyoshi Komatsu, Committee Chairman) is collaborating with game makers and sellers on the issue of self-regulation. One maker explained, “We need rules regarding the regulation of sales, but we would like the content of games to remain at the discretion of the industry.”

    Many local governments have moved to regulate game sales after it was reported that the youth suspect in the murder of a teacher at an elementary school in Neyagawa, Osaka, on Feb. 14 was deeply into an action game involving the killing of zombies. Governor Narufumi Matsuzawa of Kanagawa expressed his intention to regulate games containing brutality at the press conference announcing the new law. Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara has publicly agreed with him, calling the regulation “quite an idea”.