Robot receptionists to debut

Jan 26, 11:39 AM (ET)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Need temporary help on your company’s reception desk? One Japanese employment agency is suggesting you try recruiting a robot.

For just under 50,000 yen ($430) a month, a fraction of the cost of a human temp, the PeopleStaff agency will dispatch Hello Kitty Robo, a robotic receptionist capable of sensing a visitor’s presence, greeting him or her and holding simple conversations.
The Nagoya-based agency is also offering the services of Ifbot, an elderly-care robot that chats and poses riddles and arithmetical problems to train the brain and help avoid dementia. Spaceman-like Ifbot, which also quizzes people about their health, is aimed at hospitals and old peoples’ homes.

A spokeswoman for PeopleStaff said it would cost more than 300,000 yen a month to employ a person for this type of work, but warned that the robots were not capable of doing everything human employees can do.

What do the Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara have in common?

The new February 2006 issue of Wired has an article on how the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhist sect has gotten involved with Western neuroscientologists to do research into this field.

A decade later, [Doctor Richardson] got a chance to examine Tibetan Buddhists in his own lab. In June 2002, Davidson’s associate Antoine Lutz positioned 128 electrodes on the head of Mattieu Ricard. A French-born monk from the Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Ricard had racked up more than of 10,000 hours of meditation.

Lutz asked Ricard to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion.” He immediately noticed powerful gamma activity – brain waves oscillating at roughly 40 cycles per second – indicating intensely focused thought. Gamma waves are usually weak and difficult to see. Those emanating from Ricard were easily visible, even in the raw EEG output. Moreover, oscillations from various parts of the cortex were synchronized – a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in patients under anesthesia.

The researchers had never seen anything like it. Worried that something might be wrong with their equipment or methods, they brought in more monks, as well as a control group of college students inexperienced in meditation. The monks produced gamma waves that were 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.

Compare with this brief excert I translated the book Aum and I, written by convicted former cult member and medical doctor Ikuo Hayashi.

A book called Bodhisattva Sutra was published in September. The book tells that an initiation using what was later known as PSI had been developed. This was done by reading Asahara’s brain waves during meditation using electrodes, channel them, resonate another’s brain to match Asahara’s brain waves and cause then to have the same experience of meditation.

In the phone call, Asahara said to me, “Krishna Nanda, there is an interesting experiment that I wish to show you. Bring Nurse Komiya and Doctor K, and come quickly to the Seiryu Vihara.

When I arrived, I was surprised to see that there was an honest to God brain wave meter, and a room that has been electrically shielded how one has to for measuring brain waves that they called the shield room had been built. Murai, Nakagawa, and Dr. S has done research and written a program that could read brain waves into a computer and then re-send them.

If they could infuse the data of Asahara’s meditation, it would mean the birth of a new enlightened one, possessing the same “enlightenment” as Asahara.

Which possibility sounds best?

A) Both the Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara are crazy to be interested in this field.

B) Studying the brain waves of a meditative state makes sense, but Asahara’s plan to transfer that state was insane.

C) Asahara had the right idea.

Or am I missing one?

Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s Foot-in-Mouth Disease Takes a Turn for the Worse

Remember this guy? Well he is still perhaps the scariest Japanese politician in recent memory:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Emperor Should Visit Yasukuni: Aso

TOKYO (Kyodo)–Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Saturday it is desirable for the emperor to visit Yasukuni Shrine and told China to stop complaining about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo.

‘From the viewpoint of the spirits of the war dead, they hailed ‘Banzai’ for the emperor — none of them said ‘prime minister Banzai!’ A visit by the emperor would be the best,” Aso said in a speech in Nagoya.

The remarks by the hawkish foreign minister risk further damaging chilled relations with China and South Korea, victims of Japanese militarism before and during World War II who have strongly protested Japanese leaders’ visits to the shrine that honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead.

The last visit by an emperor to Yasukuni was in November 1975 by Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa.

The Class-A war criminals, including executed Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, were enshrined Oct. 17, 1978.

On criticism against Koizumi’s visits, Aso said, ”The more China voices (opposition), the more one feels like going there. It’s just like when you’re told ‘Don’t smoke cigarettes,’ it actually makes you want to smoke. It’s best (for China) to keep quiet.”

(Slightly modified from Nikkei Net, photo plucked randomly from Google images)

The future is a filthy place

And you thought that Taiwan’s cyborg god-pigs were the ultimate runaway technological threat of the 2030’s. Even though they’re a month old already, I only just ran across these truly disturbing photos of China’s first face transplant, and they are just the first taste of the unspeakable horrors to come.

My prediction: Ten years from now Nicholas Kristof will be doing a series on multimedia heavy columns for the New York Times web site about the sad lack of response byinternational humanitarian groups to the new problem of sex tourists in SE Asia buying children to have them smuggled across the Chinese border to underground surgeries where they are transformed into half human/half beast chimaera to fulfill the deviant sexual desires of men (and a smaller number of women) who wish to realize their fantasies of laying with say, a centaur, mermaid, harpy, or some twisted creation of their own mind.
Imagine the furry phenomenon, except instead of just being stupid and slightly hilarious, it is instead the most evil species of crime ever perpetrated by humanity against itself.
On the plus side, if I get into a disfiguring car accident, I can probably go to China and get half of my face replaced with that of some endangered animal species, like a gorilla, or maybe a lion.

Japanese Only?! Outraged over location discrimination

Some of you may have heard about all the great Internet media content sites popping up in Japan recently. I sure have. They’re offering hit shows and the latest music for a small fee, so I couldn’t happier to finally be able to access Japanese TV/music easily from my home in the Washington, DC area. Let’s try these wonderful new services, shall we?

Second Nippon TV: “You can only access this site from within Japan.” Crap!

iTunes Japan: Yes, you CAN access iTunes Japan if you buy a special card from the infamous (Thanks to Wikipedia for the tip). Unfortunately, people overseas can NOT access iTunes Japan without giving J-List (or J-Box) a cut.

Yahoo!Japan Music: “Q: Can I download if I live overseas? A: Yahoo! Music Download is not compatible for purchasing songs from overseas. We are using a system that does not allow downloads from people connected from overseas (from IP addresses outside Japan). Based on the policy of the content providers, the distribution of the content outside Japan is not permitted, so we are using this system. Please understand. Hint: If you cannot download, no charges will accrue.” Huh? Now I’m rejected AND my intelligence is insulted!

Final Fantasy XI (MMORPG): OK, This I can use and play along with thousands of Japanese otaku. Um, thanks but no thanks guys!

Just a small but representative example. Listen up, Japan: I would gladly PAY for a lot of this stuff! PAY! MONEY! And I know there are thousands if not millions of Japanese and non-Japanese people who would similarly pony up. So what’s the deal?

I don’t know for sure, but here are a couple guesses based on what I know about the Japan situation:

1. I don’t know the ins and outs of Japanese copyright law, but I DO know that it is arcane and essentially designed to screw the consumer at every turn. One example: There is no general concept of fair use in Japan, making your run-of-the-mill Ultraman clip a possible lawsuit target! Copy protection on CDs is commonplace, criminal charges were filed against the creator of Winny (a P2P file sharing program in Japan) and of course let’s not forget about Sony’s mistaken belief that they could pull the same crap in the US that they get away with in Japan.

Of course, the recording industry in Japan has had mixed results in its efforts to clamp down on piracy. They made something of a compromise in the 90s to allow CD rental to take hold in Japan (for copying to cassettes and later MiniDiscs) by first making sure they got a percentage of each rental.

Nevertheless, the Japanese content providers, not to mention their consumers, are notorious copyright Nazis (see this iTunes forum post to see what I mean if you can read Japanese). The government, who would of course never miss a chance to suck up to big business, has gone so far as to run train ads featuring celebrities against consumer unauthorized downloads and use of pirated DVDs/designer bags etc. This may have something to do with it.

2. iTunes, for its part, had a hell of a time convincing record companies to go along with its business model (especially since some of them (Avex and Sony) run their own digital services). Not allowing songs (or dramas et cetera) to be distributed abroad could in some way shape of form protect the interests of labels who might have ditribution deals in Asia, where Japanese content is hugely popular. Another worry for the content masters may be that allowing the Chinese, for instance, to download high-quality video of their precious content would only lead to more pirated DVDs.

3. Avex’s service apparently suffered an attack from Turkish hackers in August 2005 (check here to see what it looked like — contains the F word!). Banning foreign IP addresses might be a convenient way to protect oneself from some of the less initiated loser 13-year-old hackers out there.

4. In the end, this is most likely the same logic that is applied to DVD region codes and blocking Japanese video games in the American market and vice-versa. Controlling when and where the goods are sold makes it possible to coordinate marketing efforts (and of course set prices). But, at least in this case, what’s the point if the vast majority of the content offered is a) In a language most people overseas do not understand, and b) Not intended for export? As ADV films has found, the type of people who would seek out your product without the help of a coordinated marketing effort are the same people who will build a market for your product for free.

I haven’t seen too much discussion on this topic (but then I don’t frequent tech forums). So why is this? Does anyone know for sure?

JR, Hankyu Smart Tickets Now Mutually Compatible

This is just one more stop on the long, slow road toward mutual compatibility in so-called high-tech Japan. JR East and West still have separate RFID tickets (Suica and Icoca respectively — click links for image character goodness), but at least they at some point became mutually compatible. Now it looks like there is some hot Private train-on-public train action going on (Abstracted from Nikkei):

Icocca, Pitapa Services Mutual Compatibility Begins, Commemorative Ceremony Held at Hankyu Umeda Station

Mutual use of JR West’s Icoca and the PiTaPa service (which despite its wacky name amazingly does NOT seem to have a cutesy image character associated with it! Oh wait, I should have known…) used on private-owned Keihan, Hankyu, and the public Osaka City Subway (Note: JR East, West, and all other regional branches of JR are also technically private but still considered separate from the 私鉄 or “private” train companies, which are in turn separate from city-owned subway lines.) became mutually compatible starting January 21. Yoshimi Taniguchi of the Kinki Transit Bureau (which collects statistics and manages licenses in addition to apparently administering an interpreter exam for tour guides) expressed hopes that such tie-ups would expand to buses and other modes of public transportation.

Customers praised the convenience of no longer having to buy a ticket when switching lines (Note: Of course, the chief benefit to regular users of both lines would simply be to no longer have to carry an extra card in their wallets…)

There are differences in the two systems, however, that complicate matters: Icoca is a pre-paid service (like Washington DC’s SmarTrip), while “post-pay” PiTaPa collects funds from bank accounts. When customers use PiTaPa for JR, they will have to revert to a prepaid system and insert funds at ticket terminals at the station.

Adam Richards “can knock people out”

I start my new career on February 19, so watch your ass:


It goes without saying that in 2005, boxing needs some new blood to rejuvenate the heavyweight division. Prize Fight Promotions believes it has just the fighter to do the job, and is pleased to present the triumphant return of up and coming prospect Adam Richards on February 19 at the Isle of Capri Casino in Lula, Mississippi.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Adam Richards back in the ring on our February 19 show, and I believe he is just what the heavyweight division needs to get it back to where it used to be in the minds and hearts of the public,” said Brian Young, President of Prize Fight Promotions. “Adam has a stellar amateur background, he’s a personable young man, and maybe most importantly, he can knock people out.” Continue reading Adam Richards “can knock people out”

Blind religious leaders

Asahara isn’t the only religious leader known for his poor vision. An installment of the explainer column this week at Slate discusses a practical reasons why there are so many blind Islamic clerics.

A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Quranic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at this.

Children who can’t see may also get pushed toward the clergy by their parents. Clerics often preach through the artful recitation of the Quran—something a blind person can learn to do as well as anyone else. The same child would be at a severe disadvantage in a conventional classroom, and he’d have a harder time holding down a regular job.

The type of study needed for Buddhism is very different and with the heavy emphasis on Sutra study might not be as comfortable for a blind student, but Asahara’s partial-sightedness caused him to be placed in an environment that allowed his most anti-social tendencies to foster. Look at this excert from an article about Asahara and Aum that I linked to a few days ago.

Smitten at birth with infantile glaucoma, he was blind in his left eye and only partially sighted in his right.

Because of his disability and timid manner, he was bullied and teased constantly at school until his parents enrolled him in a government-funded school for the blind.

He quickly learned that being the only partially sighted child in a class full of blind students had distinct advantages. It wasn’t long before he became the school bully, dominating and manipulating his classmates into doing his bidding.

Have you heard the expression “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”? Have you ever before thought that it could be literally true?

Asahara is of course far from the only blind prophet in history. It’s a common archetype in mythology and fantasy, the most famous example of which is probably the Greek seer Tiresias.

Job opportunity for readers in Japan

I subscribe to the Gaijinpot mailing list just in case something interesting ever comes up amidst the sea of eikaiwa jobs, and today something finally did. If anyone reading these actually applies for the job, please send me some stories.

Working Hour: 10:00~18:15

Business detail All of business of
Airport Mourning-coach Service relating to a corpse and ashes of the Japanese who passed away in foreign country repatriated by air transportation.

All of business of Airport Mourning-coach Service relating to a corpse and ashes of the foreigner who passed away in Japan repatriated by air transportation.

All consultancy business and carrying out of sanctions business about superscription.

Line of business Operation service
Entry service
Departure service
Casketing service
Restorative and make up service
Documentation service
Vicarious execution service for registration
Mourning coach service
Consultation service of the farewell service for
Sale of a funerals-and-festivals article

  • Company Introduction
  • We respond with your urgent calls…
  • 24 hours 365 days.

    When a Japanese passed away abroad.
    Operating procedures when a corpse enters Japan.
    Handling of demise documents issued in foreign country.
    Changed from a foreign coffin to a coffin of Japanese standard.
    A corpse is transported from arrival Airport to destination in a land route and an air route.
    We make the supplementary document which is necessary for demise entry.
    We contact a government office to register demise with and help you.

    We can offer total service that enshrine their corpse and ashes returning to their home from arrival Airport.

    When foreigner passed away in Japan.
    When foreigner passed away in Japan, it is difficult to file for documents based on laws and ordinances.
    Therefore so early as possible, we can repatriate their corpse or ashes to their family by conforming to laws and ordinances and international standard in accumulated know-how.

    We can offer total service to repatriate a corpse and ashes of foreigner from the locus which passed away in Japan to airport of the mother country.

  • Another Aum member sentenced

    The Japan Times has the story:

    The Tokyo District Court sentenced a past key Aum Shinrikyo figure to 30 months in prison Friday and fined him 2 million yen for unlicensed sales of skin ointment in 2003 and 2004.

    Takashi Inoue, 37, who headed the cult’s Tokyo training center, had pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and violation of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.

    “It was not fraud. I did not know that it was a pharmaceutical product that requires a license,” Inoue said during the trial.

    According to the prosecution, Inoue’s gains from selling some of the medicine by falsely advertising it as not including steroids amounted to 4.15 million yen.

    Noda was found guilty in the same court in December of illegally selling the ointment and sentenced to a suspended 18-month prison term. He did not appeal.

    While this doesn’t seem on the surface to have any direct connection with the operations of Aum itself (which was disbanded as an organization in 1997 by court order, and whose teachings were carried on by the successor organization Aleph), the snake oil sale hucksterism of the operation is very much in line with Asahara’s pre-Aum activity. Were they inspired by the scams of their former spiritual guru, or did he suggest the idea to them directly while communing in the astral plane from his prison cell?