Back to Contents of Issue: March 2000

Why is that girl glowing in the dark? Sunshine, an Osaka-based maker of specialty paint materials, launched sales of an artificial fingernail that flashes when its owner's cell phone receives a call. The nail incorporates an LED with a sensor that causes it to flash when a nearby phone receives an incoming call. Available in red and blue LEDs, it's sold with nine non-flashing nails and nail adhesive for ¥3,500.

Hide and seek. Can't remember where you left your cufflinks? Someday in the not too distant future, absentminded and disorganized people may be able to ask their PC where they put them and get an answer. The Environmental Information Department at Keio University claims to have come up with a search engine for physical objects. Using a voice synthesizer attached to your PC, you evoke the object's name, and it will respond to the summons by tweeting a cheerful "Here I am!" to tell you where it is. And as it detects the level of static electricity your body generates, the sound becomes increasingly louder as you approach. The catch: the item in question must be equipped with an infrared transmitter.

Spice of life. Looking back over the past year, the Nikkei Ryutsu Shimbun reports that the market for kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) continues to make gains in Japan, with sales posting an 11.8 percent increase in the June period and an additional 27.4 percent rise in September. The secret of its sales success is attributed to heavier TV advertising, and promotions boosting its properties as a healthy condiment high in lactic acid. The market is gradually segmenting into "authentic" Korean types and milder varieties said to be more palatable with Japanese tastes.

Hitmaker: Those flashy little skate scooters, which go by such brand names as "Micro" and "Kickboard," are being snatched up as fast as trading firms can import them from Taiwan. The chrome-plated, collapsible vehicles, which sell for around ¥15,000, have become the rage among young Japanese, and retailers are selling them as fast as they can take stock. Some stores report backlogs of 20 to 30 customers. Taiwanese manufacturers reportedly had to step up production from January. By midyear, this writer predicts:
1. the police will issue an advisory asking riders to stay off sidewalks;
2. subways, shopping malls, hospitals and government buildings will post signs requesting they not be ridden in the corridors; and
3. schools will take action to ban their students from using them for commuting.

Talk about playing with a full deck. While much attention is focused on the soaring number of crimes by foreigners in Japan, we cannot entirely ignore the reverse. According to the Sunday Mainichi magazine, a team of 52 Japanese attorneys have joined forces to spring five of their compatriots serving sentences in Australian prisons. Of the five, three are brothers who were caught trying to smuggle 13 kilograms of heroin on a flight from Malaysia in June 1992. The three, sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years, insist they were framed into carrying the drugs and tripped up during their trial due to the language barrier. Claiming new evidence that points to their innocence, the defense team is upbeat about gaining their freedom.

Hi-ho silver! Micro Seisakusho has developed a state-of-the-art putter based on technology it developed for hunting guns. The maker, which claims its product is the world's first golf club to use silver in its head, believes the specially treated alloy on the surface that makes contact with the ball will help users achieve greater precision over putts. Be prepared to shell out ¥68,000 at a department store or country club pro shop. Ammunition is extra.

M-commerce is alive and well. The nation's most successful mail-order items in 1999, according to the Nikkei Ryutsu Shimbun, were (company and price in brackets): (1) Magnetic infrared water purifier [NCC, ¥39,000]; (2) orthopedic pillow from Italy [Catalog House, ¥13,800]; (3) rayon denim pants [Simile, ¥2,980]; (4) 8-piece down futon set [Cecile, ¥8,900]; (5) mouton coat [Nissen, ¥9,920]; (6) kerosene space heater [Nihon Sekatsu Kyodo Kumiai Rengo, ¥32,800]; (7) purple yams from Tanegashima [Daimaru Home Shopping, ¥3,000]; (8) non-revealing bathing suit [Mitsukoshi, ¥11,000]; (9) display rack [Daiei OMC, ¥17,800]; and (10) ensemble of 10 fine red wines [Nihon Diner's Club, ¥250,000].

Flame-out. Morita, a producer of hand-held extinguishers and other flame-suppressing devices, asked 329 residents of the Tokyo metropolitan area what item they'd be most likely to grab before fleeing their residence in the event of a fire. The reply given by 61.5 percent of the male respondents was cash and credit cards. For 63.9 percent of females, it was their bank passbooks and inkan (personal seal). While only 6.3 percent of males thought that albums or photographs were worth salvaging, 20 percent of the females said they'd be willing to risk a daring rescue. Says a lot about male sentiment. The folks at Morita must have been shocked to learn from the same survey that 25.5 percent of all respondents said they were clueless as to how to operate a hand-held fire extinguisher.

Take the pain out of potholes. A team of researchers at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology claims to have developed a new type of suspension for ambulance stretchers that it claims will reduce vertical vibrations transmitted to the person lying thereon by as much as 15 percent. After conducting computer simulations of the vibrations to the vehicle chassis, the team developed a coil spring and actuator system to passively absorb vibrations. The team's next project: a device to keep the stretcher from leaning on curves.

Home sweet recap. Mitsui Homes is hard at work making the materials used in its prefabricated houses recyclable. By 2002, the percentage of certain parts, including exterior tiles, insulation, and framing, will be 80 percent reusable. And by 2005, the company expects to raise this figure by another 10 percent. It is also phasing out use of materials containing polyvinyl chloride to ensure that if inadvertently burned as rubbish, no dioxins will be emitted.

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