Healthy Junk Food for Tokyoites

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — At three locations around Tokyo, local residents are now being afforded the opportunity to munch down on “healthy junk food,” tasty but nutritious plant-based offerings.

The Tokyo-headquartered wellness company Two Inc. is currently serving up vegan food through a pair of brand outlets, 2foods and the Food Tech Park.

2foods cafes in Shibuya Loft, Ark Hills in Roppongi, and in Ningyocho offer 100% plant-based versions of cakes, donuts, brownies, and much more.

The Food Tech Park is located right next to the 2foods flagship outlet in Shibuya, and will provide customers access to cutting edge FoodTech concepts. This includes collaborations with various FoodTech startups, allowing these fledgling companies to reach the general public.

2foods is also developing an online store that will offer vegan dishes for takeaway or delivery.

The firm aims to extend its retail footprint to over a hundred stores globally within the next three years, and has formed a partnership with Kagome, the major Japanese manufacturer and distributor of tomato-based foods, as well as fruit and vegetable juices.

The inaugural promotional video is linked below.

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Drones to Connect Small Island Communities

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — All Nippon Airways (ANA) has formed an agreement with Germany-based drone firm Wingcopter to test strategies for connecting small island communities throughout Japan.

In the initial set of tests conducted between March 21-26, Wingcopter drones made a series of flights between Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture.

The concept is that through the use of these drones medical supplies can be quickly delivered in cases of emergency need. This is meant to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure for remote and underserved communities.

“The ongoing tests of Wingcopter aircraft represent a significant step forward in the creation of a viable drone transportation network,” said Tetsuya Kubo, vice-president of ANA Holdings. “We are excited to partner with Wingcopter as we build on the advances and innovation of previous trials to bring drone delivery one step closer to reality. Once fully realized, a functioning drone transportation infrastructure will help improve quality of life in rural areas across Japan.”

Tom Plümmer, CEO of Wingcopter, added, “Being able to help a global company like ANA open up new business areas and at the same time pursue our mission to save and improve lives, is what we tirelessly work for. We are really looking forward to the next steps and the overall partnership with ANA in Japan and beyond.”

Wingcopter appears to have been selected as ANA’s partner because its fixed-wing drones are able to fly for longer distances and more rapidly than most other unmanned aircraft.

In 2019, ANA Holdings reached a similar agreement with the government of Zambia to conduct field tests with drones to improve the delivery of medical supplies in that African country.

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Japan Biting Into FoodTech

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In the third episode of the Akihabara News podcast Japan Startup Megaphone, venture capitalist Jennifer Perez of the Future Food Fund gives us the lay of land for the emergence of FoodTech startups in Japan.

Perez explains that the Future Food Fund aims to “create a little bit of noise” about the FoodTech sector in Japan, helping fledging startups get off the ground through early investments and community building.

This pioneering project has been supported by partners both within and outside the business sectors that one might expect; including, for example, utility firms and television stations.

“It’s really a wide set of partners that we are working with,” she observes.

Perez notes that this country already has a formidable reputation when it comes to cuisine, so the development of a vibrant FoodTech sector makes a lot of sense. She notes, “There is something inherently good and delicious about Japanese food.”

That said, the ecosystem for business startups in Japan remains largely underdeveloped.

“Money is not really the issue here,” Perez explains, but Japan’s FoodTech startups have tended to lack platforms upon which they could interact with the public and receive needed feedback.

What Japan’s FoodTech needs most of all, however, are a few major success stories in which startups produce impressive exits, whether this be by going public or being acquired by larger firms. Once such a “pattern of winners” is achieved, a heightened level of attention and investment is likely to come to the sector.

The full podcast is linked below.

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Central Osaka in the Covid Emergency

SNA Travel (Osaka) — The presence of the Covid pandemic is still heavily felt in Japan’s second city, Osaka. Covid safety measures are observed in every corner of the prefecture, including social distancing, masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitizer use.

During the previous state of emergency, store operators that agreed to close by 8pm were paid benefits of up to ¥60,000 (US$550) per day. This incentive continues at one level or another, as the intensity of the crisis fluctuates. At any rate, most of the city has been shutting down by 9pm at the latest.

This means that the major entertainment street of Dotonbori, famous for its nightlife as well as its massive food culture, is now a ghost town after the sun goes down. Even the famous restaurants and vendors of Osaka are not available by night.

In the early evenings, touts struggle to convince passersby to go and drink at local bars.

Major tourist destinations, such as the renowned Osaka Castle, typically full of tourists, are currently relatively empty. Crowds are non-existent at the castle, but it still offers a beautiful view of the skyline.

Shinsekai, another major tourist destination famous for the Tsutenkaku Tower is also feeling the impact of Covid. Some areas near the tower are completely barren. Many stores and arcades have their shutters pulled down, even in the middle of the day.

However, there are some more lively areas nearby, with reasonably large crowds of people wearing masks. Some bars and all-you-can-drink venues host groups of people standing outside taking their smoking breaks or just talking.

But again, in the Covid era, the famous nightlife of the city of Osaka is largely absent.

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Japan’s Slow March Towards Innovation

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In the second episode of the Akihabara News podcast Japan Startup Megaphone, neuroscientist Kenichiro Mogi speaks about the different approach that Japanese society and culture has taken towards innovation.

Mogi is a writer and broadcaster who has written nonfiction books regarding the brain and its functions. He also works as a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories.

Innovation is in itself disruptive, he notes, explaining that disruptive innovation leads to “breaking the status quo and challenging the social norm.” He continues, “Japanese people are not good at that,” which can be seen in the examples of the nation’s reluctance to accept firms such as Airbnb and Uber.

One cause for this lack of disruption is “really strict regulations involving the government,” which it “is not ready to relax in any significant way.” Mogi believes that this factor has caused the country’s economy to suffer greatly.

He also contends that, in Japan, the “number one priority is conformity.”

“No matter what your principles might be, privately you are not supposed to express it in public. In Japan there is this famous expression, honne and tatemae. Honne refers to your true heart and tatemae refers to the social self that you are supposed to put on in front of people,” he says.

Mogi further explains that there is a “tradition of not saying too much when you make actions, and those people who speak too much are not so respected in society.” Even in politics, “they don’t really state their case with many words in public, and they are minimalist when they come to public speaking.”

This lack of public discourse is another element which causes a struggle for innovation.

On the other hand, Mogi observes that “on the cultural front Japan is actually very good at disrupting the status quo. You can probably mention manga and anime which have been relatively… free spirited expressions.”

He also references historical examples of rapid disruption of the status quo at the time of the Meiji Restoration and after the Pacific War.

However these may be exceptions because “typically that kind of really rapid social change would happen only from situations becoming really, really dire, and you know people cannot put up with the status quo anymore.”

Another aspect of innovation is kaizen, which is the tradition of modifying concepts and processes from overseas for use by Japanese society.

“Traditionally, Japan has actually incorporated many Chinese cultures into Japan and refined them.” Japan is in a strategic position between China and the United States, allowing it to “cherrypick the better aspects of Chinese innovation and spread it to the world.”

In terms of the future, Mogi explains that there are “two levels.”

“On the individual level, I think Japanese society is making progress, but on the systemic level, especially in politics, they are really stagnant.”

“The greatest challenge is education,” he contends, “I see many talented young people, but they waste their time cramming for entrance exams… the real key is reforming the Japanese education system.”

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XELS Marries Blockchain with Carbon Reduction

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — XELS, a startup based in Tokyo and Hong Kong, is today launching a blockchain platform for buying and trading carbon credits on Bittrex Global, a leading cryptocurrency exchange.

This initiative combines the new technologies that lay behind contemporary cryptocurrencies with the fight against global climate change.

According to the firm, the XELS token will provide both businesses and individuals access to a blockchain-based carbon offset platform, initially focused on tokenized voluntary carbon offset credits.

“We believe that decentralization is the only way that carbon markets can work effectively,” explains XELS founder and CEO Takeshi Nojima. “XELS will enable the industry to maintain open, transparent records–from generation, to sale, to retirement. Making it easy for corporations to transparently offset their carbon without fear of fraud will make them even more willing to combat global warming, and it will pay dividends as far as consumer trust that they’re truly intent on making a difference for the environment.”

Mitch Hammer, project manager at XELS, elaborates in an exclusive interview with Akihabara News, “By recording these credits, storing them on the blockchain, we can really work and verify where the carbon comes from, when it was minted, when it was retired, and really trace it all the way along.”

One of the unique features of this initiative is that it allows, for the first time, individuals to participate in the cap and trade carbon emissions system that was first established under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Hammer adds, “Like any kind of economic model with supply and demand, the more people that are into it, the more people who have access to it, it has a bigger impact. What we aim to do is to make a very simple platform using blockchain that allows people to mitigate their offsets. If you want to buy one ton, you can press a button and purchase a ton, and you can 100% guarantee that goes towards removing one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

As for Japan, a company release notes, “Japan lags behind European nations, where businesses are compelled to buy compliance credits to avoid heavy taxes. XELS is already in talks with numerous listed companies in Japan that are keen to get on board with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s target of reaching net zero domestic emissions by 2050.”

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Hatching Software Engineers for Japan’s Future

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Code Chrysalis, co-founded by Chinese American Yan Fan, is offering a coding boot camp service for foreigners and natives in Japan.

Code Chrysalis is mostly known for its three-month immersive training service. However, the boot camp tries to avoid enlisting coding novices. In the inaugural Japan Startup Megaphone podcast, produced by Akihabara News, Fan explained that the people joining Code Chrysalis typically “make an effort to learn topics on their own, and learn how to code on their own.” The educational services help to “bring them that last step of the way.”

The immersive boot camp hopes to “train up individuals, giving them the skills that they need to be successful.” Code Chrysalis also offers “corporate training so we can go into these large companies and educate and help them train their workforce and educate their executives.”

Fan described boot camps as “ways to disrupt education.” The organization aims to “find a way to bring more software engineers in an industry that was really lacking… There’s a huge dearth of software engineers, especially in Japan.”

Japan’s weakness within the global software industry can be traced back to historic missteps during the 1980s and 1990s. “It’s a huge systemic issue. Japan has been really strong in hardware… Hardware is just a commodity, and software is really what drives value; it’s really what creates businesses,” Fan says.

There are also problems due to the current corporate and educational systems. Fan explains, “the university level electrical and mechanical engineering departments are much stronger than the computer science or software engineering arms. There’s also a very weak connection between employers and software engineering or computer science programs.” Additionally, in the corporate realm, “technology has continued to be underprioritized because the people leading these massive companies are not very tech savvy.”

To add to this, Fan elaborates, “startups in Japan tend to be a lot more inward looking, so their kind of vision is not to take over the world, but just to take over Japan.” This makes the software industry competition much less fierce than other developed nations.

In Japan, women and foreigners may run into roadblocks while trying to pursue a career in software. Fan observes, “there’s just still this mindset that women should not be in engineering.” Also, for non-Japanese, “it’s much more difficult for foreigners to find a job if they don’t speak Japanese.” Despite this, if a foreigner does in fact know the language, “you can find a job… There’s such a huge need.”

Regardless of these challenges, Code Chrysalis prides itself on its graduates that “are making career switches… So not only are you hiring someone who is a software engineer and has the technical skills, you’re also hiring someone who has work experience already.”

Fan closes by pointing out that Japan, a country with so much soft power, “could really make quite an impact in a positive way on the world.”

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Gardens Growing on Tokyo Rooftops

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — About three years ago the Grand Hyatt Tokyo built an organic garden along the urban skyline, allowing the head chef to boast that some of the vegetables being consumed by his patrons had been grown right there on location by the restaurant staff.

“That was probably the first organic hotel garden in Tokyo,” comments Jon Walsh, the New Zealander who was brought in as a consultant to establish this little garden in the sky.

Walsh, who describes himself as probably being “the only native English-speaking professional urban farming consultant in Japan,” first established his company Business Grow in 2002. At first, it was simply a boutique corporate communications company, but for most of the past decade he has shifted its focus to urban farming.

Recently, he says, the business is “going skyward.”

For Walsh, the rising popularity of urban farming is really a no-brainer. It can bring multiple benefits to Japan, including the improvement of the nation’s low food self-sufficiency rate, as well as climate change benefits such as the reduction of heat usage through better insulation and less need to truck food in from the countryside.

Moreover, such organic food is also more healthy: Being fresher means higher nutritional content. People would also consume fewer pesticides.

Much of the infrastructure for urban farming already exists. Basically any sunlit space can be used. “Rooftops are the best places because they typically get the best sunshine,” he observes. “There’s huge potential to grow food in any major city.”

Walsh has many ideas about where we might see such urban farms in the future. “Every supermarket with a flat roof should be growing food up there in a greenhouse,” he contends. He also envisions hospitals with rooftop gardens where patients can get some outdoor time and enjoy gardening for therapeutic purposes.

So far, Walsh has built or supported over forty urban farms in Tokyo.

He notes that “our grandparents basically grew food organically” and now it is time for urbanites to regain some of the skills that people used to take for granted.

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Trash Energy: Another Source for Tokyo Hydrogen

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Ways2H Inc. and its shareholder and partner Japan Blue Energy Co. (JBEC) have announced the completion of a Tokyo facility that will convert waste materials into hydrogen energy. The energy will be used for power generation and fuel cell mobility to meet the demand for renewable hydrogen energy.

Ways2H specializes in a carbon-neutral process that extracts hydrogen energy from waste such as “municipal solid waste, medical refuse, plastics, and organics” without incineration.

The Tokyo facility was completed in cooperation with Chiyoda Kenko, Toda Corporation, and Tokyu Construction. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was also involved in the partnership, as well as researchers from Tokyo University of Science.

Once the waste is gathered, it will be “heated to a high temperature and converted into a gas, from which pure hydrogen is extracted.” This new process will lead hydrogen production away from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

Ways2H CEO Jean-Louis Kindler commented, “Producing renewable hydrogen from waste is a key pathway for increasing global clean energy supplies while addressing climate change and the global waste crisis… This facility was built to support Tokyo’s pioneering efforts on clean energy and waste reduction, and contributes to Japan’s clean hydrogen and carbon reduction goals.”

The energy produced by the new facility will be “enough to fuel ten passenger vehicles or 25 fuel-cell e-bikes” by processing “one ton of dried sewage sludge per day, to generate forty to fifty kilograms of hydrogen.”

There have been other efforts to promote the waste-to-hydrogen clean energy movement. A team of Welsh and Indian researchers based at Swansea University are developing a process called photoreforming that uses sunlight to kill viruses and convert non-recyclables into hydrogen energy.

Another example comes from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology. There, bacteria is used to break down food waste from the institute’s cafeteria and produce clean hydrogen gas.

Naoki Dowaki, JBEC president and Ways2H board member, affirmed, “Renewable hydrogen is an important clean energy fuel for Tokyo and the world.”

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Bringing Street Painting to Tokyo

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Despite an impending storm, the Street Painting Festival Shimokitazawa was held as planned on Sunday. The event pulled in a sizable crowd as people of all ages joined in on the fun.

The event was organized by Kenneth Miller of Island Travel Specialists. Miller has been involved with street art for ten years and has been in Japan for four years, originating from south Florida. In the past, he was fortunate enough to be invited to create art at the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival in his home state. This event has been ongoing for the past 26 years and boasts over 500 artists and 100,000 visitors each year.

Miller wants to bring this street art tradition over to Japan. He explains, “I think Japan is extremely creative, and it’s something I have not seen too much of in Japan. I know it’s in Italy, America, and different places. I’m sure it’s here somewhere… There are amazing artists here.”

Miller explains, “This event was for anybody: kids, great artists to amateurs.” The festival is simply for “creating art; watching art emerge.”

He contrasts it to traditional art galleries, which he says “are about selling things.” Street art, on the other hand, “is about just creating art for people to enjoy.”

There are a few reasons why street art is not as popular in Japan as it may be in some other countries. Miller talks about these challenges as he notes, “things that are different, or changes, are difficult in Japan sometimes… Many people are not comfortable doing something they are not familiar with, especially in Japan, people want to do something and do it really well, instead of just coming for the fun of it.”

Despite these challenges, and the poor weather on Sunday, the event seemed to be a success. More artists showed up than anticipated and the tape roll used to designate canvas spots ran out. One artist was overheard saying, “I feel like a kid again.”

Besides just feeling like a kid, children also joined the artists, adding their own chalk designs to the bare concrete.

When the rain finally brought an end to the proceedings, it did not dampen the mood at all. Rather, the feelings of togetherness were heightened as groups of artists huddled together to take shelter.

“Even when it rains, you still get a family of artists together as you watch your drawings melt into the concrete,” Miller observed.

The Street Painting Festival Shimokitazawa provided a break from the isolation of the pandemic era. One participating artist commented, “this was the first time since Covid we had a chance to go out and do something.”

Miller shared a similar sentiment: The “main thing is bringing people together especially during these crazy times in the world, and sharing art, and sharing life.”

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Toshiba Defends against Dubious Drones

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Toshiba Infrastructure Systems & Solutions Corporation announced that it will be forming an alliance with US-based Fortem Technologies, investing US$15 million into the counter-drone company.

Fortem is a drone security company best known for its SkyDome System, which is described in a press release as “a highly accurate drone detection solution based on Fortem TrueView radars that are easy to install and effective in urban environments. Also part of the system, Fortem DroneHunter is an AI-enabled autonomous drone that can safely capture and remove rogue drones day and night.”

Rogue drones are seen as a potential threat to airspace safety.

Toshiba has also developed and commercialized drone detection technology that uses radio waves to determine the direction and altitude of the flying machines.

The joint agreement seeks to “combine the disruptive innovation of [the] AI-enabled Fortem SkyDome System with the depth of Toshiba’s commercial drone RF detection expertise and advanced radar technology.”

The companies will integrate technologies to offer stratified counter-drone services and expand sales worldwide in a shared network.

Fortem CEO Timothy Bean explains that the partnership “brings added confidence to security professionals who must secure the airspace above their venues, campuses and metro regions.”

On the other end of the deal, Toshiba Infrastructure Vice President Masaki Haruyama said, “We are excited to partner with Fortem, a pioneering counter-drone solution provider with a proven detection system and unique and highly effective interception system. Toshiba has a long history of providing leading technologies of radars. With the perfectly complementary technologies and products of the two companies, we are confident that we can become a global top-tier player in a rapidly growing market, and contribute to safer, more reliable facilities.”

Toshiba has set a goal of earning ¥30 billion (US$280 million) in annual sales in the counter-drone security business by FY2030.

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Japan Post-Rakuten Alliance

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In a joint press conference, the Japan Post group and Rakuten announced they that will be entering into a cross-company alliance, broadening an earlier agreement made last December to strengthen the efficiency of both company’s logistic operations.

The two companies are expanding their tie-up to fields of “finance as well as mobile businesses.” This agreement includes a nearly ¥150 billion (US$1.4 billion) investment by Japan Post in exchange for a 8% stake in Rakuten.

The alliance will attempt to create “a synergy through the convergence of online and offline” utilizing Japan Post’s “access to all households in Japan and a nationwide offline network that amounts for 24,000 post offices across Japan” together with “more than 100 million Rakuten members.”

Japan Post and Rakuten will share resources and expertise to ensure better customer service. For its part, Japan Post will be aided by the incorporation of Rakuten digital technologies in order to expedite and modernize postal services across the nation. Rakuten promises to continuously support Japan Post in its digital transformation.

In return Rakuten “will be able to utilize the spaces inside the post offices to have booths there or counters, and also utilizing their delivery network, where [it] will be able to do marketing activity on an offline basis.” These features are aimed at encouraging new customers to sign up for Rakuten mobile services.

In terms of the future, the joint partnership hopes to “co-develop next generation technology as well, AI routing, and optimal inventory management which utilizes data.”

In addition to the aforementioned collaborations, Japan Post and Rakuten will also work together on cashless payments, the insurance field, product sales, and shared data.

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Bank of Japan Preparing for Digital Yen

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The largest of all possible players in this country, the Bank of Japan, is preparing for a national cryptocurrency, a digital Yen.

“From the viewpoint of ensuring the stability and efficiency of the overall payment and settlement systems,” declared Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, “it’s important to prepare thoroughly to respond to changes in circumstances in an appropriate manner.”

A team of experts to be appointed by Kuroda will complete the initial phase of “basic function testing” by the end of April. At present, no commitment has been made about a launch date.

In the past, the Bank of Japan under Kuroda’s leadership has expressed caution about issuing a digital Yen. For example, Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Masayoshi Amamiya warned as recently as July 2019 that “if central bank digital currencies replace private deposits, that could erode commercial banks’ credit channels and have a negative impact on the economy.”

However, a fresh sense of urgency seems to be taking hold to move forward in part because neighboring China is aggressively moving toward the issuance of a digital Yuan, and Tokyo has grown worried that it might be falling too far behind its larger rival.

The initiative also fits comfortably with the Yoshihide Suga administration’s priorities of stimulating the digitization of business and government services, as well the move toward a “cashless” society.

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The Cheese Guy in Okinawa

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — John Davis, a.k.a. The Cheese Guy, didn’t set out to be a gourmet. Rather, he simply discovered that excellent cheese wasn’t available in Okinawa and he decided to do something about it.

“It was ghastly. It’s just processed cheese,” he recalls. While he loved many things about living in Japan, the absence of top notch cheese left his taste buds wanting.

So Davis, who has lived in various parts of Japan since 1976, began to study up and he bought the equipment he needed, figuring out the recipes and the methods, and was able to stock his refrigerator with the goods that scratched his cheese itch.

But he quickly found that he was not alone. Family and friends tasted his homemade cheese and began to realize that they too had been missing something from their lives. A friend at a bar in Naha put on a Cheese Night with Davis’ creations, and it received a positive reaction from the patrons.

But to really up his cheese game he needed the right milk, not just the stuff that he could buy at the market. This problem was solved when a friend put him in touch with a dairy farmer in Nanjo city who had wanted to make cheese, but didn’t know how. It was a match made in culinary heaven.

Soon, local restaurants, and especially hotels, began stocking his cheese, and many individual customers too began knocking on his door.

“It is, and always has been, and probably always will be word of mouth,” Davis notes in regard to his advertising strategy.

He now has a shop within the JA facility in Nanjo, and makes about fifty different varieties of cheese, including some that incorporate Okinawan flavors. He says that Ozato Basil and Halloumi are currently his bestsellers.

And what does Davis see as the secret of his success? “I think all the imported cheese, certainly in Okinawa but also most of what you get in Tokyo, is frozen. It’s shipped frozen. So even the soft cheeses are to some degree dead… When you make it yourself, it’s alive, and it’s very, very different.”

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Record 15.9 Million Computers Shipped in Japan

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — A record 15.9 million computers were shipped in Japan over the course of the year 2020, with demand boosted by the pandemic and its enhanced teleworking requirements.

This shipping volume was up 1.3% year-on-year and the highest since records began to be collected in 1995. The data was collected by the MM Research Institute.

Aside from the coronavirus emergency, demand for computers was also driven by the GIGA School Program launched in December 2019 by the Ministry of Education, which aims to supply an educational device to every school student and to establish high-speed, high-capacity communication networks in schools across the nation.

In terms of specific products, the big winner in 2020 was the NEC Lenovo, which shipped 5.56 million units, or about 34.6% of the market share.

The average shipping price of computers in Japan was ¥87,788 (US$805) as consumers were mainly drawn to lower-priced options.

Industry analysts forecast that 2021 will see a sharp reversal of the upward trend with much lower sales volumes. The unusual amount of household spending to purchase computers for teleworking and the tailing off of the GIGA School Program is expected to slash demand significantly.

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What to Expect from Super Nintendo World

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Thanks to the lifting of the state of emergency in Osaka Prefecture, Super Nintendo World is set to open on March 18, after much delay. Here is what you can expect from the new addition to Universal Studios Japan.

Originally slated to open in summer 2020, and then again this past February, guests will finally be able to immerse themselves in Super Nintendo World. As a Covid precaution, visitors will be staggered at designated times for the duration of the pandemic. In other words, they will be encouraged to book their “Area Timed Ticket” in advance, offered with an express pass used to beat the crowds. There will also be an “Area Timed Ticket” available for purchase on the day of visit through the Universal Studios Japan mobile app.

To enter Super Nintendo World, visitors travel through a “warp pipe” featuring flashing green lights. Once beyond the pipe, guests will find themselves in Princess Peach’s Castle. This area has music and level portraits. (Fans will recognize these elements from Mario 64.) Exiting the castle will bring people to the main circle.

The entirety of Super Nintendo World hosts iconic scenes from the Mario franchise that people can interact with.

The area’s attractions are enhanced by a mobile app which can be downloaded by scanning a QR code found on Power-Up Bands. The app tells the story of how Bowser Jr. has stolen a golden mushroom. Players must complete challenges and collect keys. When three keys are collected, guests unlock a “boss battle” with Bowser Jr. to retrieve the stolen golden mushroom. There are two additional keys that fans can also collect.

Keys can be found in Goomba Crazy Crank, Koopa Troopa POWer Punch, Piranha Plant Nap Mishap, Thwomp Panel Panic, and Bob-omb Kaboom Room.

The Super Nintendo World app also features a map of the park. On the map you can find the locations of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. Guests can meet their favorite characters and take photos with them.

Besides the interactive story, the Power-Up Band can be used at various touch points to unlock secrets and activities. Visitors can collect virtual coins and stamps, and they can beat challenges to increase their scores. The app features scoreboards that track daily and all-time high scores. The app also contains a scoreboard for the Mario Kart course.

The grounds of Super Nintendo World consist of thematic areas representing key characters and locations within the games. These areas include the aforementioned Peach’s Castle, Toad House, 1UP Factory, and Bowser’s Castle. There is a multi-leveled area with a flagpole on top reminiscent of a traditional Mario level design. There are desert, forest, and ice areas, reminding fans of the variety of “worlds” that the titular character visits in his quest to save Peach.

Besides the interactive story and collectible opportunities, Super Nintendo World also features two main rides. The first is the Mario Kart ride, housed inside the threatening Bowser’s Castle. This ride, which took six years to develop, features AR headset technology and a story titled “Koopa’s Challenge.”

The course was supposedly designed by Bowser himself to finally beat Mario. Riders will race as part of Mario’s team and use items to defeat “koopas” sent by Bowser to ensure his victory. Carts will hold groups of up to four. While waiting in line, patrons can see the inside of the castle adorned with a massive Bowser statue and Mario Kart-themed decorations. Each AR headset is sanitized after use.

The second ride is the more family-friendly Yoshi’s Adventure. People ride on top of a Yoshi as they search for Captain Toad. Using the Captain’s Map, visitors can also search for three mystery eggs. The ride offers a panoramic view of Super Nintendo World.

The area has a gift shop inside the 1UP Factory where Super Nintendo World exclusive merchandise is offered for purchase. There is also the Mario Motors gift shop as another option for merch, especially for Mario Kart-related items.

For food, guests can order mushroom-themed dishes at Kinopio’s Cafe inside Toad House. The interior of the cafe features screens where you can watch as toads prepare your food. Among the available dishes are Mario’s Bacon Cheeseburger, the Super Mushroom Pizza Bowl, and the Piranha Plant Caprese. If guests want dessert, Toad House offers the ? Block Tiramisu. Those just wanting a snack can stop by either Yoshi’s Snack Island or Pit Stop Popcorn.

Universal Studios Japan is in the midst of constructing a Donkey Kong-themed area based on the more recent Donkey Kong Country game series. Once it opens, this area will be located directly adjoining Super Nintendo World.

Finally, Universal Studios is planning to open Nintendo areas in Singapore, Orlando, and Hollywood. The Orlando area has reportedly been delayed until 2025, while the Hollywood area is under construction. This latter area will be smaller than the others and will likely open sooner.

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Yamaha and Honda Join Battery Swap

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Yamaha Motor and Honda Motor have agreed with the European firms KTM and Piaggio to begin a “Swappable Batteries Consortium for Motorcycles and Light Electric Vehicles.”

Swappable batteries development is intended to secure a greener future. The technique has been implemented in India and some European countries. In India, battery swapping is already highly successful, with the market expected to reach US$6.1 million by 2030.

The technology is seeing a faster adoption among two- and three-wheelers. With battery swapping, bikes and scooters are able to be charged on the spot without waiting. In the past, such light vehicles often had to be transported to charging facilities via combustion trucks.

The technology is a more convenient alternative to traditional charging stations which can take between two to six hours for a full charge. It takes about ninety seconds to swap a battery.

The batteries are exposed rather than internal allowing for constant monitoring and easier upkeep.

Battery swapping also lowers costs of electric transportation. Typically the most expensive element of a vehicle is the battery. With swapping, the batteries are owned by energy operators rather than the vehicle owner. Lower costs will allow more people to make the switch to clean transportation.

Yamaha and Honda, along with Italian vehicle manufacturer Piaggio and Austria’s KTM, believe in the promise of battery swapping as a strategy to facilitate the widespread use of electric vehicles.

The consortium is focusing on defining international standards in battery swapping among L category vehicles. such as mopeds, motorcycles, tricycles, and quadricycles. They intend to do this by closely working with stakeholders and international regulators.

According to Yamaha Executive Officer Takuya Kinoshita, “The technical specs and standards that currently differ by regional characteristics or the state of the industry in different markets will be unified.”

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Drone Girls Dream of the Skies

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The all-female “Drone Jo-Plus,” or Drone Girls, team at Kanatta Co. is promoting the appeal of drones by offering educational events for parents and children.

Kanatta Co. aims to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embraced by all United Nations-affiliated countries. Goal number five of the SDGs seeks to achieve “gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The company thus provides a “mechanism” and “community” to allow women to prosper, express themselves, and function in the workforce.

Drone Jo-Plus contributes to the growth of new technologies, and in the process attempts to increase occupational opportunities for women. The group works to spread the appeal of drones by offering “programming learning for educational institutions” and “events at commercial facilities that parents and children can enjoy.”

A recent event was a drone study, experience, and photo session at Mukogawa Women’s University in Hyogo Prefecture. None of the participating students had ever before piloted a drone, so Drone Jo-Plus introduced them to something new.

The young women were permitted to put their hands on a drone for the first time, and were taught about their operational methods. Entertainment, industry, and hobby drones were featured. This study session also allowed the students to hypothesize the future uses of flying machines.

The students then piloted the drones and were encouraged to shoot aerial photos and videos. One student made a promotional video of the university campus using footage recorded during the piloting session.

Drone Jo-Plus holds regular teaching sessions in the Kanto and Kansai regions. These sessions are open to both beginners and to drone pilots who want to increase their understanding and skill level.

This female-led organization also tracks Japan’s ever-changing drone laws, and offers rental services people can use prior to making their own purchases.

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Strong Magma Flows into Burger King Japan

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Burger King Japan has unveiled its Strong Magma Super One Pound Beef Burger, the self proclaimed spiciest “meat wall.”

The Strong Magma comes as a new addition to the Strong Super One Pound series launched last year. This line of burgers includes the Extreme One Pound Beef Burger that replaced buns with two additional patties.

Burger King Japan celebrated the commencement of the one pound burgers with a limited time all-you-can-eat challenge.

The new Strong Magma will only be available until March 11, and even then only after 2pm each day. It may not be available in some locations.

The sandwich has four 100% all-beef patties that are cooked with Burger King’s signature flame grill.

The spice is similar to Burger King’s Spicy Yakuyoke Whopper, which they claim wards off evil spirits. The burger is also seasoned with garlic flakes coated in a sauce that uses powder from Gion Ajiko in Kyoto. The seasoning is known as “Japan’s spiciest golden pepper.” Burger King claims that this sandwich is the hottest in “the history of Super One Pound!”

Apart from the garlic, the sandwich features another original sauce made with doubanjiang.

From the top down, the Strong Magma includes a sesame seed bun, onions, original hot sauce, patties, spicy garlic flakes, two slices of cheddar cheese, and a bun at the base. If this list of ingredients sounds like too much of a challenge, Burger King Japan is offering to serve the sandwich cut in half.

For those who try to conquer the Strong Magma, Burger King is offering an original sticker as a reward that features the logo and reads “I did it.”

The meat behemoth is priced at ¥1,380 on its own or ¥1,680 for a combo including fries and a drink.

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Pokemon: Still Evolving 25 Years Later

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Pokemon is celebrating the 25th anniversary since releasing its first two games, Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green on February 27, 1996.

Pokemon has become a worldwide phenomena and the highest grossing media franchise of all time since its initial video game release. The pop culture giant is showing no signs of slowing down, continuing to produce the highly successful video games, trading cards, movies, and other products.

Pokemon’s 1996 release helped to revitalize the Game Boy handheld video game system, which had not seen a release equal to the popularity of Tetris or Super Mario Land for some time previous.

The game was unique, depending on the link cable of the system that previous games mostly had ignored. Pokemon’s main goal can be summed up with the tagline of the franchise, Gotta catch‘em all! This was an impossible task for gamers playing in solitude because neither Red nor Green contained all 151 original Pokemon. The link cable was allowed players to trade and battle with each other, ushering in a new age of “social games.”

The collaborative nature of the game allowed for it to skyrocket in popularity. Kids encouraged their friends to buy it so they could do battle and trade in their efforts to catch‘em all.

Besides the social factor, the game was popular among children of the 1990s due to its easy gameplay and streamlined story featuring cute monsters. Pokemon was released at the height of Japanese Role Playing Games, or JRPGs, like Final Fantasy. The game mechanics differed from its counterparts by being easy for younger people to pick up and to master the basics.

Pokemon carried this idea of beginner-level gameplay over to the world of collectable trading cards. The cards were released while Magic the Gathering was also spreading in popularity. Pokemon trading cards offered an entry-level experience to kids interested in role playing games. These cards promoted collaboration as players were encouraged to trade, collect, and to do battle with their friends.

The following year, Pokemon released an anime series that has spanned over a thousand episodes and twenty seasons. The success of the anime series led to the production of a film series that is also still ongoing. Pokemon: The First Movie broke box office records in 1998, and the latest film in the series, Detective Pikachu, has continued the tradition of blockbuster hits.

At this point, there have been over 122 games, including spinoffs, which have been released, and more than 368 million game units of various descriptions have been sold.

Perhaps one of the most successful entries of recent is the mobile game Pokemon Go, released in 2016. This too became a global phenomenon like its predecessors. Its success owed mostly to its inventive Augmented Reality gameplay design that forces players to get out and catch Pokemon in the real world. Different areas are home to different Pokemon, a fact which encourages players to go out and explore. Its immersive nature also features the simplicity and collaborative elements of the previous games, such as trading and combat.

In its more than two decades, the franchise has never found itself outside of the zeitgeist of the contemporary era. Pokemon continues to produce exciting new content that preserves the core basics of what made fans fall in love in the first place. Simultaneously, it adds new features and creatures. The game now spans two generations as the children of the 1990s are now having their own kids and encouraging them to share their love of Pokemon.

There is a global community dedicated to the franchise that feels a sense of comradery revolving around their mutual passion. Most fans do not grow out of it. The variety of content also ensures that there is something for everyone, whether it be trading cards, video games, or anime.

In its celebration of 25 years, The Pokemon Company has announced the release of four new games. Two of the games, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, are remakes of the Nintendo DS Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl, originally released in 2006. These games will be available for the Nintendo Switch in late 2021. The third is New Pokemon Snap, where players control a camera to help a research team study Pokemon in their natural habitats. New Pokemon Snap is set to release on April 30. The final game among the new releases is Pokemon Legends: Arceus, an open world twist to Pokemon set in the fictional world’s feudal past. Arceus is planned to release in early 2022.

To add to the new video game content, the company will also be releasing Pokemon 25: The Album. The album will feature Pokemon-themed music from Katy Perry, J Balvin, Post Malone, as well as yet unannounced collaborators from Universal Music Group. The album will be fourteen songs long. According to The Pokemon Company, each song “will be joined by a music video and an exclusive merchandise collection celebrating each artist and Pokemon.” The album will feature Post Malone’s cover of Only Wanna Be With You by Hootie & the Blowfish remixed with the Ecruteak City Theme from Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, which debuted at the P25 Music Virtual Concert.

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