Back to Contents of Issue: July 2000

Fat of the land. In the two decades spanning 1979 and 1998, Japanese males in all age groups became considerably porkier. Indeed, more than 25 percent of those between 20 and 70 are regarded as obese (by the Ministry of Health & Welfare's definition thereof), with those in the 30 to 40 bracket exceeding 30 percent. For women, particularly those in their teens and twenties, the skeletal look is in. More than 20 percent in these segments are regarded as underweight.

Substantial withdrawals. The 3 Rs don't come cheap in Tokyo. A survey by the metropolitan government determined that before the average first grader makes his first trip to school, his family will have laid out an average of ¥182,183. In addition to uniforms, items of purchase might range from a study desk to a leather knapsack and musical instrument. If all the items are purchased at a department store, the price goes up to ¥236,624; buy the same items at a supermarket and you pay only ¥137,838.

All I want for Christmas. Japan's electronics manufacturers are grinning over the healthy 4.4 percent growth being projected in world markets for audio-visual products and electronics games. The star attraction will be DVD players, sales of which -- - at 12 million units -- - will represent a whopping 75 percent growth. Will this spell the end for VHS?

We're blushing. When DaCapo magazine asked teenage girls in Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku districts what they would find most embarrassing, the top three situations stated were: 1) While with a group of peers, being the only one whose mobile phone does not ring (stated by 80 percent); 2) Being seen stooping to pick up a 1-yen coin (80 percent); and 3) Fumbling the lyrics of a familiar song during karaoke (77 percent).

Melts in your mouth, not in ... Developing ice cream that doesn't melt would seem to defy natural principles regarding the movement of molecules in suspension (or whatever). But let's not get carried away. What we have here are cream bars packaged in an all-new type of insulated foil that Kanebo Foods claims makes for melt-resistant contents. And indeed at the ambient room temperature of 25 degrees Celsius, the package has been tested to keep ice cream in reasonably solid form for as long as one hour. (And possibly even longer, if you like to live dangerously.) Kanebo's new wrapper is composed of styrofoam onto which aluminum foil has been applied via an evaporation process, creating a material more resistant to the transmission of external heat. In addition to reassuring housewives who had heretofore been reluctant to schlep home frozen dessert from the supermarket during the warmer months, Kanebo is hoping its new hard-to-melt packaging will attract picnickers, hikers, et cetera who hope to get the ice cream at least a reasonable distance from the store before taking a bite.

Open sesame. Kudos to the YKK affiliate YKK Architectural Products, which recently put on sale a motorized sliding door equipped with a wheelchair detector. When the chair's occupant approaches, the door slides open gently. Closing speed is user adjustable, and the door also incorporates a sensor on the other side to keep it from closing on anyone who needs to take his time making it through, waiting until that person has passed 20 centimeters beyond the door before starting to close. Its 2-meter height should handle just about anyone short of the geezers at the home for retired NBA players. Prices start from ¥315,000.

Play it again, Bill. For software moguls such as Mr. Gates or others who really and truly have everything they could possibly ever want or need comes this shopper's dream: a piano with a built-in personal computer. Called the Silent Ensemble Pro 2000, it features a Pentium III CPU, LCD color monitor, CD-ROM, DVD drives, and the usual assortment of sharps and flats. Computer operation is performed by the touch-screen monitor, allowing the piano to perform solo (via software or the Internet) or accompanied by a human pianist. Yamaha makes it, and its yours for just ¥330,000, although at the moment the product has only been released in the US.

Gas panic. The good news. You can save ¥2 a liter by pumping your own gas. Now for the bad news: you'll consume a lot of fuel trying to find a self-service station in Japan. Idemitsu opened its latest in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in April, but it's one of only 15 it operates around the nation. The new station may wind up getting your money anyway; it also operates a convenience store on its premises, and one corner of the shop displays a music software consignment from Tower Records.

Share and share unlike. Peripheral manufacturer Compal just introduced a digital USB terminal that allows data to be input to as many as six Windows computers from a single keyboard. Another version enables the use of a single keyboard, monitor and mouse for three independent terminals. Why would anyone want to? It seems such applications have a great appeal for conferencing applications and at exhibitions. Compal's input and output devices go for ¥18,800 and up -- - around half the price of earlier analog versions.

Star-spangled banners. Internet ad revenues in Japan are surging. After posting 70 percent growth in 1999, the figure this year is closing in on ¥30 billion. According the White Paper issued by the Japan Internet Association, they are expected to reach 40 billion in 2001 and approach ¥70 billion by 2003. In addition to banners on home pages, one new approach likely to be adopted is the displaying of ads linked to mail services, which would be flashed while messages are being downloaded from the user's server.

Things that go bump in the morning. France Bed announced the launch of a new mattress designed, well, to launch sleepers out of the sack. The MS2000S comes equipped with a vibrator linked to a timer that can be preset to jiggle the sleeper into consciousness. The vibrator functions for one minute, gradually increasing its strength in six increments -- - with the strongest slightly below the magnitude of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. If the sleeper is shaken but still not stirred, four minutes later this mattress from hell shifts directly to the mechanical bull mode.

Should've called this one "Blubberfish." Got a fugu? Point us to it:

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