Laser Communication in Space

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tsukuba-based startup WarpSpace has selected its laser supplier for the communications network which it will soon establish in outer space.

WarpSpace was founded in August 2016 based on personnel who mainly have associations with the University of Tsukuba and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The primary challenge the firm aims to solve relates to the fact that there are many operators of low Earth orbit satellites which are having growing difficulty transmitting high volumes of information from their satellites (routinely engaged in Earth observation missions) to their ground stations. This is because a sort of bottleneck has developed when it comes to gaining permission to use specific radio frequencies. Moreover, the number of radio frequency bands available is in any case limited.

The solution soon to be offered by WarpSpace is its WarpHub InterSat system. This will involve putting its own satellites into medium Earth orbit, where they can collect customer satellite data via laser communication and then relay it, again by laser, to the ground stations in an uninterrupted and near realtime fashion.

This service will be made available to customers–low Earth orbit satellite operators–on a commercial basis.

WarpSpace expects that its WarpHub InterSat system will be launched into space and made operational in stages over the course next few years.

In the latest news, it was announced last week that WarpSpace has selected Munich-based Mynaric as its supplier for its communications lasers, in particular Mynaric’s Condor Mk 3 terminals.

Mynaric executive Tina Ghataore commented, “We are grateful for WarpSpace to entrust us with the laser communication capabilities needed for their optical data relay satellite network.”

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Toyota Transformation Doubtful

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The leadership shuffle at the top of Toyota Motor Corporation came as a surprise, at least in terms of its timing, but there’s yet little reason to expect any dramatic transformation in the giant Japanese automaker, which is in increasing danger of becoming roadkill in the shift toward zero-carbon transportation.

President and CEO Akio Toyoda will be stepping away from the day-to-day management of the firm in April and handing the reins to 53-year-old Koji Sato, who is currently in charge of the Lexus brand.

However, Toyoda isn’t going very far. He will become chairman of the board and possibly has his eye on becoming chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) as well. That reality, plus the fact that many of Toyoda’s older henchmen will still be senior executives in the company, suggests that Sato’s scope for making any major changes will be extremely limited.

At least for the time being, he won’t be his own man, and he might have been selected precisely because his is not interested in any major alteration of direction.

While Toyota Motor’s resources remain enormous at this juncture, Akio Toyoda’s enduring skepticism that electric vehicles (EVs) are the primary technology of the future may have put the company on the path to obsolescence. Tesla, rising Chinese automakers, and even some of the traditional Western automakers have embraced EV technology and are already poised to offer low-cost models to the market that Toyota may be hard-pressed to compete with.

Additionally, it’s not clear that the Japanese automaker has fully grasped the degree to which software will be integral to future transportation systems.

Certainly, Toyota’s first mass-market EV, the bZ4X stumbled out of the gates last year, subject to a recall and stop-sale order. While sales have now resumed, the firm is only planning to try to sell 10,000 units in the US market this year, and its global sales network very much prioritizes older hybrid technologies.

Specifically in the US market, Toyota is also grappling with the fact that under the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, buyers of EVs will not receive the US$7,500 federal tax credit if they purchase one of the Toyota models.

This bearish picture stands in sharp contrast to Tesla, which even now earns roughly seven times as much profit per vehicle as Toyota does.

Indeed, in last week’s earnings call for the final quarter of last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made clear that he doesn’t even consider Toyota to be a serious competitor in the EV market. Rather, he stated, “the Chinese market is the most competitive. They work the hardest and they work the smartest. So a lot of respect for the China car companies that we are competing against. And so, if I were to guess, there is probably some company out of China as is most likely to be second to Tesla.”

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Hyogo Bids to Become eVTOL Base

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The Hyogo Prefectural Government is becoming increasingly proactive in its effort to emerge as a base for Japan’s eVTOL industry, in part to take advantage of the 2025 World Expo in neighboring Osaka Prefecture.

In its latest moves, the prefecture is scoping out potential vertiport sites, preparing subsidies and promotional events, and has signed a cooperation agreement with eVTOL-maker SkyDrive.

Hyogo Governor Motohiko Saito announced this week that his administration wants to identify about three potential vertiport sites, and he suggested that one of these might be the planned Phoenix Business Site, currently a landfill along the coastline of ​​Amagasaki city. This site has the advantage of being only about 2.5 kilometers from the manmade island of Yumeshima, where the 2025 Expo will be held.

After personally inspecting the area, Governor Saito declared that it has “great potential,” adding that “we would like to support test flights and the dissemination of information to the residents of the prefecture.”

The prefectural government is asking private companies to consider commercial operations of eVTOL, and is promising to be supportive of route surveys and test flights within the prefecture. In FY2023, the prefecture is offering up to ¥10 million (US$77,000) in subsidies for each project that aims to establish eVTOL-related businesses within the prefecture.

The prefecture is also planning to host a “Next-Generation Air Mobility Conference” (provisional name) to discuss ways to disseminate information and increase public awareness about the potential of eVTOLs. This will likely be held by March next year.

Overall, the prefectural government has budgeted a total of about ¥50 million (US$385,000) for eVTOL industry promotion in the April 2023-March 2024 period.

As an early step, the prefecture signed a cooperation agreement this week with Japan’s leading eVTOL-maker, SkyDrive. While it is not clear exactly what this partnership will entail, the announcement speaks of “development and social implementation of flying cars through the promotion of industrialization, achieving disaster prevention and mitigation, and building momentum for the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo.”

Last year, it should be recalled, the prefectural government also created the Hyogo Advanced Air Mobility (HAAM) lab, a virtual laboratory aiming to promote the eVTOL industry, foster social acceptance, support the efforts of student researchers, and to develop human resources necessary for the industry to prosper.

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SkyDrive Nests in South Carolina

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Japan eVTOL-maker SkyDrive has decided to make South Carolina its base for entry into the US market, following up on an initial invitation it received last July.

Last year, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) introduced SkyDrive executives to an office hub program based in Beaufort (along South Carolina’s Atlantic coastline between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia) called the Landing Pad. The Japanese firm was provided–for a period of ninety days–free office space and assistance from local agencies and businesses in order to accustom itself to local conditions.

While SkyDrive was not obligated to stay in Beaufort after the program ended, it was the objective of the local authorities to encourage the company to nest within the local area, and this goal has now been achieved.

SkyDrive CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa explained that “the decision to make South Carolina our home base and our window into the US market was an easy one considering that it is a significant player in both the commercial and military aviation industries, and it is home to more than four hundred aerospace and aviation companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. I sincerely believe that the vast number of resources available in South Carolina will provide SkyDrive with a substantial platform that enables us to achieve our goals.”

Harry M. Lightsey III, Secretary of Commerce at State of South Carolina Department of Commerce, celebrated the decision: “The future of advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and vehicle industries is here, and South Carolina is proud to welcome SkyDrive, an industry innovator, to our rapidly growing aerospace cluster. SkyDrive’s advanced electric propulsion technology and sustainable transportation implications are the perfect fit for South Carolina’s business roster and the state’s growing business development goals. South Carolina extends a warm welcome to SkyDrive and we look forward to supporting the company on its journey to continued growth and success.”

In addition to locating its US offices in South Carolina, SkyDrive has also announced that it is studying “practical use cases” for the SD-05 eVTOL in cooperation with two local airports. First is the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, which hosts more than 25 daily flights and is served by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, as well as major cargo firms. The other is the Greenville Downtown Airport, which is home to various flight schools and the Military History Center Museum, among other things.

James D. Stephens, Airport Director at Greenville Downtown Airport, commented: “Greenville Downtown Airport is partnered with SkyDrive to assist with the modeling of an Federal Aviation Administration-compliant advanced air mobility ecosystem that will serve our local region and state. We’ve done so because the airport needs to know what the infrastructure developmental needs will be in the future. We believe that the impact of advanced air mobility in Greenville will create a new form of transportation that eventually becomes part of the normal transportation processes within our community and around the world.”

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Okada Manila Projects a New Normal

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — After the dramatic battle for control witnessed last year, the Okada Manila casino resort in the Philippines, now firmly back in the grasp of Tokyo-based Universal Entertainment, is presented as having entered a “new normal.”

The resort’s new Tower Villas have been promoted in the Philippine Star, its new Spanish restaurant Las Flores has opened its doors, and events such as beauty pageants and its Grand Fireworks Display have drawn public attention.

Meanwhile, billionaire Kazuo Okada, who made his bold challenge to reassume control of the resort last year, is now on the defensive, facing a charge of “Grave Coercion” filed by the the Philippines Department of Justice. In a December communication to the media, Okada complained of betrayal and vowed to recover his lost businesses “from the hands of the criminals” who took them from him.

For its part, Universal Entertainment, in the hands of those alleged criminals, also speaks of illicit behavior, declaring the period when Okada’s agents took control of Okada Manila as an “illegal occupation.” In their quarterly report to shareholders issued last month, they wrote:

The performance of this business was impacted by the illegal occupation of this property from May 31 to September 2, 2022, by a group acting under the instructions of Kazuo Okada. Despite the negative effects of this occupation, Okada Manila is performing well… the number of guests has recovered to near the pre-pandemic level.

While the financial results for the July-September quarter came in at a loss of ¥1.6 billion (US$12.3 million), the company clearly expects better performance in 2023.

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Drone Flight Spacial Information System for Japanese Cities

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Kobe-based Swift Xi and its partners have signed an agreement with the government’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to develop a 3D spacial information system, which is intended to safely guide drones–and ultimately eVTOLs–through Japan’s urban landscapes.

Swift Xi is a Japan joint venture between Swift Engineering, headquartered in San Clemente, California, and the Kobe Institute of Computing. The firm provides data and IT services, logistics, and full-service operations of autonomous and robotic technologies.

Alex Echeverria, President of Swift Tactical Systems, another group company, explains that “this project, with its goal of creating a 3D spatial information infrastructure, will establish safe flight paths for unmanned aerial vehicles and urban air mobility corridors in urban areas… driving the development of new infrastructure that will enable the safe and efficient operation of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles and create new value using spatial identification.”

Hiro Matsushita, chairman and CEO at Swift Group, added, “We would like to be the very first team in the world to establish a safe 3D spatial information infrastructure system.”

Four other firms are involved in the project:

Kitakyushu-based map publisher Zenrin will develop a flight risk management system prototype, which will make flight plans using algorithms designed to maintain flight safety.

Tokyo-based Space Service Innovation Laboratory (SSIL) will design specifications and build the 3D spatial information infrastructure.

Tokyo-based LocationMind will provide dynamic data on the flow of people, etc., to decrease flight risks and test the usefulness of its spoofing protection system.

Finally, Osaka-based Intelligent Style will create the database architecture.

Through this collaboration, NEDO aims to render spatial identification into a standard index, making it easier to search, integrate, and utilize in a machine-readable format.

Aside from drones and eVTOLs, the system is expected to have applications for self-driving cars and automatic delivery robots as well.

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Marubeni Puts Cash Down for Vertical eVTOL

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Marubeni Corporation has put its money where its mouth is, making a pre-delivery payment for 25 eVTOLs produced by UK-based Vertical Aerospace.

Back in September 2021 the two firms announced their alliance within the Japan market, with Marubeni making a conditional preorder for up to two hundred VX4 eVTOLs, which Vertical is in the process of developing and licensing.

It was suggested at the time that this partnership might make possible flights between Tokyo Station and Narita Airport with only fourteen minutes of flight time.

More recently, however, their attention seems to be focusing more on Osaka, where the local government is actively promoting the future air taxi industry, and is aiming to lead the rest of the nation in regard to this new form of transportation.

In this connection, Marubeni has been conducting proof-of-concept demonstration trials in preparation for the 2025 World Expo in Osaka. This has involved helicopter flights between Osaka and Wakayama in order to test market conditions and to prepare the public for future eVTOL services in the Kansai region.

As for the payment which Marubeni has just made, senior executive Satoshi Takechi explained: “I am confident that our continued joint efforts with Vertical Aerospace, such as evaluating the requirements for eVTOL operations… will accelerate the development of the advanced air mobility market in Japan.”

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Vertical Aerospace Founder and CEO, added, “We are delighted to have reached the next milestone in our partnership with Marubeni. Japan is a wonderful country which is embracing the promise of eVTOL, as it will connect cities and regions like never before. We look forward to our joint efforts to build the ecosystem for zero-emissions travel in Japan.”

For Vertical, this was the first time that a customer in Asia made a pre-delivery payment.

The VX4 is a relatively large fixed-wing eVTOL which has the capacity to carry a pilot and four passengers. Its flight range is expected to be about 160 kilometers.

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National Exams for Level 4 Drone Pilots

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — In the wake of last month’s lifting of the ban on Level 4 drone flights, the national exam system for prospective drone pilots has been launched.

About forty people took the written portion of the exam this week, representing the first batch of drone pilots for flights over populated areas. The candidates must also pass practical tests in the event that they haven’t already been certified by a nationally-recognized drone school.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism believes that the first actual Level 4 flights will commence before the end of March.

The drone licenses will be handled by the authorities in a similar fashion to a driver’s license, except that there will be first- and second-class qualifications conferring a different range of permissions.

Maximum takeoff weight for drone flights has been set at 25 kilograms.

When serious accidents occur, these will be investigated by the Japan Transport Safety Board, which is under the auspices of the ministry.

Level 4 flights are expected to unlock the full potential of drone services in Japan such as package delivery, security patrols, and disaster relief.

The functioning of the new system is also likely to have an impact on how eVTOL air taxi pilot licenses are handled in the future.

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One Piece Film Red Tops 2022 Box Office

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — One Piece Film Red can take a bow, having officially become the top grossing film in Japan for the year 2022.

Its box office takings of ¥19 billion (US$147 million) smoked the second-place finisher, Top Gun Maverick, by over 40%.

Also coming in for special praise has been the film score composed by Yasutaka Nakata, especially the theme song New Genesis performed by Ado.

This animated musical fantasy action-adventure film was directed by Goro Taniguchi, and produced by Toei Animation. It was the fifteenth feature film of the One Piece series. The original manga was launched over a quarter century ago in 1997.

One Piece Film Red hit Japan’s movie theaters last July.

The movie itself focuses on the series’ main protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, and his Straw Hat Pirates as they travel to the island of Elegia, where a famous singer named Uta will have her debut concert. The adventures launch from there.

It is generally acknowledged that Red is more accessible to long-time fans of the series as opposed to newbies joining for the first time, but it is definitely regarded as one of the best entries in this long-running franchise.

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Moonstruck on Tottori Sand Dunes

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tottori Prefecture aims to play a major role in Japan’s space exploration industry by offering up a portion of the Tottori Sand Dunes as an experimentation zone for Moon walks.

The idea emerged in recent years that the sandy surface conditions of the Tottori Sand Dunes bear some resemblance to the surface of the Moon, especially at night.

This has led in the last couple of years to a Tokyo-based company called Amulapo offering Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tours at night in which participants reenact the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, including the planting of a flag on the surface of the “Moon.”

The Tottori Prefectural Government, is taking the concept seriously, establishing the Tottori Sand Dunes Lunarization Project, and investing ¥200 million (US$1.6 million) last year to set it up.

The main element will be the Tottori Sand Dunes Lunar Demonstration Field, which is expected to be completed in March. This test field is, according to the project’s webpage, meant “to introduce cutting-edge technology to the prefecture’s industries, such as the construction industry, and to develop human resources” for the space industry.

The prefectural government’s goal is that by providing the lunar test field and through public subsidies and other supportive policy measures, the Tottori Sand Dunes area will eventually develop into a cluster of space-related companies and research institutes.

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Lost in Shinjuku Station

SNA Travel (Tokyo) — Shinjuku Station is one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations–and for good reason! From its bustling streets to its many entertainment options, the Shinjuku Station area has something for everyone, though perhaps not much peace and quiet.

Shinjuku Station is not only an important transportation hub right on the main Yamanote loop line, but also a destination of its own due to its large number of restaurants, shops, and other points of interest. Five railway companies possess lines that meet at Shinjuku, but the most notable, as always, is JR East.

But any new visitor to Tokyo (as well as a good many veterans of Japanese life) needs to understand that the station itself is a maze. For example, there are over two hundred entrances and exits.

Experienced hands know that the best way to avoid becoming hopelessly lost is to decide exactly where they want to go from the outset and then keep a keen eye out for the overhead signboards and colored floor lines to help them get there.

It is by far the world’s busiest train station, with more than 3.5 million people flowing through it on an average day. Navigation can sometimes be a challenge even for those who know what they are doing.

With so many people, there are also so many businesses crowded both within and without the station. Whether in the mood for a quick bite or searching for something more unusual, Shinjuku Station and its environs has many options for eating, shopping, and fun.

Those who get lost (as many surely will), Shinjuku Station also has helpful English-speaking staff scattered around the facility who provide directions and recommendations for sightseeing in the area.

Those wanting to explore the surrounding neighborhoods should first decide which exit best suits their needs.

At the South Exit are Takashimaya, a major department store, and the Shinjuku Bus Terminal. As revitalization efforts have progressed, this area has become a hotspot.

East Exit is where visitors will find two other department stores, Isetan and Alta. Isetan is upscale and features artistic window displays by renowned designers, selling high quality food, clothing, and household goods. The trendsetting community at Studio Alta has gained international attention. Also from the East Exit are found the most popular nightlife areas, Kabukicho and Golden Gai.

The West Exit, also crowded with restaurants, shops, and hotels, leads to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Even those who spend an entire day in and around Shinjuku Station and won’t come close to exhausting its possibilities.

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Namco Akihabara Coming in March

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — While the official announcement is pending, a major entertainment facility named Namco Akihabara will open next to Electric Town in March.

As the name suggests, video game publisher Bandai Namco will be the owner and operator, though most details about what the facility will contain are not yet known. However, at least some cabinet arcade games have been seen being delivered into the building.

The location is quite prominent, just outside JR Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit. It is the same building which for many years served as Sega Akihabara Arcade Building 4. After Sega Sammy sold its arcades division to Genda Gigo Entertainment in November 2020, it became Gigo Akihabara Arcade Building 4. That arrangement, however, lasted less than two years. The arcade closed down last September.

Now Bandai Namco is taking over, trying to reenergize a facility which has suffered both from the general structural decline of the video game arcade industry, as well as the specific shock delivered by the Covid pandemic and the long closure of Japan’s national borders.

Bulletin boards make clear that the staff recruitment process for Namco Akihabara is currently underway for the planned March opening.

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Top 7 Filipino eSports Players of All Time

The Filipino esports scene has come a long way. A few years back, esports tournaments were hosted in tiny cafes where players were paid meager amounts. A few years later, the players are earning millions of dollars in mega-events held in massive arenas with thousands of roaring fans. With this growth, several Filipino players have emerged and become household names.

These players have competed in some of the largest arenas and have won loads of cash. Houston G. O’Keefe, an online casino betting analyst and content creator, says Filipino esports players have been an inspiration to the general public as well as to the online casino Philippines scene. They have entertained esports fans as well as provided betting enthusiasts with an avenue where they can wager on different matches and games. This article notes the all-time top seven Filipino esports competitors.

Jake Puchero

Better known as Xmithie, Puchero is a professional esports player. The League of Legends professional player has several major awards to his name. Initially, a Warcraft 3 Dota player, Xmithie moved to League of Legends in 2011. Throughout his decade-long career, he has earned more than US$300,000.

Kim “Gabbi” Villafuerte

This is a familiar name for those who follow esports gambling in the Philippines. He has dominated the esports scene for some time, having started playing when he was only seven years old. Like Puchero, Gabbi started with Warcraft 3 Dota. His strong talent has earned him a place at the top and helped him make close to US$400,000 during his short stint in the esports space. According to sports commentators, he still has a long way to go, and it is just a matter of time before he becomes the top-earning athlete.

Abed Yusop

He is ranked as the only player who has achieved a distinction for reaching Matchmaking Rating (MMR) two times. In the Filipino esports world, Abed is considered the most talented player. He also ranks as the youngest player to have participated internationally. Yusop made his first appearance at the international level when he was only fifteen years old. To date, this player is clocking almost US$400,000 in cash won.

Nico “Eyyou” Barcelon

Some have described Eyyou as the most underrated player. He has excellent potential to become the best esports athlete in the country. This player is a superb Dota 2 player and a brilliant coach. He has played in several national and international tournaments where he has bagged awards and nearly half a million dollars throughout his career.

Marc Polo Luis Fausto

Commentators describe him as one of the players who put Dota 2 on the map. His reliable and effective play saw him accomplish significant feats in the field. Although he kicked off his career when he was only eleven, he has grown from strength to strength to become one of the best players in the country and the world. He is among the three players who have won World Electronic Sports Games twice. Although his meteoric rise is now slowing down, he has carved out a name for himself to be remembered.

Carlo “Kuku” Palad

Known by his game name Kuku Carlo, he is the most controversial–all the more so due to his use of inappropriate language. He is also one of the most adored esports players in the Philippines. He started his career in Dota 2, pushing on hard to become one of the best-known faces in the Filipino scene. eSports fans and enthusiasts adore him for his carefree and lighthearted demeanor as well as his taste for controversy.

Djardel DJ Jicko Mampusti

Currently playing for the team Fnatic, Djardel is one of the most talented and skilled Filipino Dota 2 players. With his immense talent, he has been a great inspiration within the esports fraternity, and a great supporter for his team.

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High-Tech Cars Will Afeela Good

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Sony Honda Mobility offered a glimpse of its plan to create the next generation of automobiles at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Under the brand name Afeela, the joint venture between the electronics firm and the automaker will launch an Electric Vehicle (EV) “that expresses its vision of creating a new relationship between people and mobility.”

While not too many specifics were revealed as it showed off its prototype, it was highlighted that the vehicle will have dozens of cameras and sensors on both outside and inside, as well as feature a major entertainment space “seamlessly integrating real and virtual worlds.”

The basic features would seem to be that the Afeela brand will be fully electric, will incorporate some level of autonomous driving, and will be designed to keep passengers well entertained while on the road.

It was also revealed that two additional partners have been brought in to make contributions to Afeela–Qualcomm Technologies and Epic Games.

Details about the vehicle’s performance, price, etc., are all pending.

There is still quite a bit of time before these vehicles will be seen on the highways. The targets laid out by the company are that preorders are planned to begin in the first half of 2025, sales by the end of 2025, and delivery from spring in 2026, starting in North America only.

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Lycoris Recoil Tops Anime Viewer Ranking

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Lycoris Recoil emerged as the favorite anime television series of 2022, according to a poll of Japanese anime fans conducted in December.

The anime series was created by Spider Lily and Asaura and it aired from July to September last year.

Lycoris Recoil tells the story of a government-sponsored all-female task force of assassins and spies called Direct Attack who disguise themselves as high school students. Their mission is to maintain the peace in Tokyo through the secret elimination of criminals and terrorists. The focus of the story is particularly on its two lead characters, Chisato Nishikigi and Takina Inoue.

The thirteen-episode run was produced by Sony-owned animation studio A-1 Pictures and broadcast on Tokyo MX.

The poll conducted by Anime! Anime! had over 8,200 respondents.

In the wake of the success of Lycoris Recoil, the girls with guns creation has also appeared in manga form and has a spin-off light novel. Starting this weekend, there will also be a stage play that will run at the Tennozu Galaxy Theater in Tokyo which will run until mid-month.

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Four Zones Opened to Offshore Wind Farms Bids

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The central government began soliciting bids at four additional offshore zones for wind power development, effectively marking the launch of the second round in the process.

Two of the new zones lay off Akita Prefecture, one in Niigata Prefecture, and one in Nagasaki Prefecture. All of them face toward the Sea of Japan where the waters tend to be shallower and thus better facilitate fixed-bottom wind turbines.

Several dozen national and international firms are expected to bid in a highly competitive environment, with June 30, 2023, set as the deadline for submissions.

This round will evaluate bids under a somewhat different set of criteria. In last year’s initial round, evaluation was heavily weighted toward the consortiums which offered the lowest price. While that remains true for this round as well, more consideration will be given to the speed at which the wind farms can be constructed.

Indeed, there was some controversy a year ago when Mitsubishi Corporation-led consortiums swept all three zones awarded last year by offering much lower prices but relatively slow development timelines.

Both rounds are based upon the centralized bidding system established under legislation effectuated in 2019. However, some smaller offshore wind farms are being developed under local government initiatives, such as the 140MW Akita Noshiro Offshore Wind Farm, which has just begun delivering electricity this month, and the 112MW Ishikari New Port project expected to come on line about a year from now.

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Nomura Launching Crypto Trading Platform

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Tokyo-based investment bank Nomura Holdings is planning to launch its own cryptocurrency trading platform in the coming months, even as the industry as a whole is reeling under the spectacular collapse of FTX Trading.

Nomura announced in September that it was establishing a digital assets subsidiary called Laser Digital with its headquarters in Switzerland.

Nomura President and Group CEO Kentaro Okuda explained that “staying at the forefront of digital innovation is a key priority for Nomura… We look forward to sustainable growth in this new business.”

The number of employees at Laser Digital is expected to exceed fifty people early in the new year.

While it could be argued that the FTX Trading scandal is a major reputational blow for the entire cryptocurrency industry, Laser Digital Chief Executive Officer Jez Mohideen tried to put a positive spin on the development in a recent interview with Bloomberg. He declared that “the latest events in the crypto market will provide an opportunity for us as it will drive institutional investors to digital asset firms backed by traditional finance houses.”

He added that he expected the company to become profitable within two years.

The company will have three parts to its business: cryptocurrency trading, asset management, and a venture capital fund.

Laser Digital’s trading platform, which will cater mainly to institutional clients, hedge funds, and the wealthy, is expected to be operational by the end of March.

Aside from its headquarters in Switzerland, the firm also has offices in Dubai and London. In the next stage it is expected to roll out its services in Tokyo as well.

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2025 World Expo Recruits eVTOL Operators

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition has opened its recruitment process for eVTOL operators, which is expected to be a key feature of the event.

Advanced air mobility services are anticipated to become a major point of attraction within the Future Society Showcase Project Exhibition, one segment of the World Expo in Osaka. In this context, the organizers of the event will select the companies that will offer these services within the next month.

The announcement of application guidelines and the launch of the recruitment process began yesterday. The deadlines ahead are as follows: deadline for questions from potential operators is January 17; deadline for submission of applications is January 20; and the deadline for signing of memorandums of understanding is January 27.

The public announcement of the eVTOL operators which have been selected will come at the end of January.

The operators are expected to provide eVTOL air taxi services for visitors to the World Expo between a vertiport at the Yumeshima site and at least one other offsite location, such as Kansai International Airport or central Osaka. The distance between these points is about 30 kilometers.

The 2025 World Expo is being designed to become the event which heralds the full-scale arrival of the eVTOL industry in Japan.

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Japan Enters Offshore Wind Era

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Japan has now entered the offshore wind power era in earnest as part of the Akita Noshiro Offshore Wind Farm, the nation’s first of commercial scale, is now adding electricity to the grid.

The 33-turbine 140MW offshore wind farm cost its Marubeni Corporation-led consortium about ¥100 billion (US$750 million) to construct. It utilizes 4.2MW Vestas turbines.

Once fully operational, this farm is expected to supply annual electricity generation sufficient to power about 130,000 ordinary Japanese households.

Keiji Okagaki, president and CEO of the Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, declared, “Akita is blessed with very good wind conditions and has excellent offshore geological features. We also had a lot of support from the local government.”

The electricity generated by the farm is being supplied to the Tohoku Electric Power Company under a twenty-year contract.

The project was awarded to the Marubeni consortium in February 2015. The construction process took about two years to complete. It is divided into two locations, one off the coast of Akita Port and one off the coast of Noshiro Port.

Presently, only the twenty windmills off of Noshiro Port are running, though they are expected to be joined by the thirteen off of Akita next month.

The next commercial-scale wind farm to open is expected to come next year with the completion of the 112MW Ishikari New Port project, but it may be a couple years after that before the next one is added.

While the Japanese government has committed to a large-scale buildout of offshore wind, it is not going being realized until the second half of this decade.

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Exploring Akihabara Electric Town

SNA Travel (Tokyo) — Anyone who is familiar with anime culture has heard of Akihabara. It is the home of diehard fans of Japanese anime, manga, and games.

Unlike many other train stations in Tokyo, JR Akihabara Station is not difficult to find, nor is it a challenge to navigate. It sits conveniently on the Yamanote Line, not far from Tokyo Station. Once on the train platform, signs for Electric Town are everywhere, guiding visitors into the heart of the Akihabara district.

The central exit opens into a pedestrian area where many people gather in the daytime. Street performers can often be found there, as well as young girls aiming to become Japanese idols.

Off to the right side from the station exit is the modern-looking UDX Building, which sometimes hosts anime and convention events. It also has an information office open during the day, where visitors can score useful maps and event announcements. The UDX Building is also a good place for those looking for a quiet place to get food, as it contains many restaurants.

The heart of Akihabara, however, is not the immediate station area, but a little further down at Chuo Dori, the wide main street that forms its central thoroughfare. In the colder months, it is blocked off to automobile traffic on Sundays, becoming a pedestrian “heaven.”

While Akihabara has long been a symbol for Japanese high technology as well as anime, it is sadly true that not very much has changed along Chuo Dori for decades, making it just as much about nostalgia as about the cutting edge of the 2020s.

But it is that very blend which gives the area its unique charm: its anime culture, technology, bright lights, collectables, games–one of the original inspirations for the Blade Runner aesthetic.

Impossible to miss are the young women touts for the maid cafe outlets. This is the only place in Japan where they are seen out on the sidewalks, holding signs and calling out to customers to choose their establishment. The atmosphere of these maid cafes can be unique and entertaining, but in general the quality of the food and drink tends to be uninspiring.

Akihabara began its journey into oddity far back into the early 20th century. It was once a major venue for the Tokyo black market. This legacy can be sensed most clearly by visiting the tiny stalls of Electric Town, quite near the station. It is worth a casual stroll, looking at all the LED lights and specialized devices for the DIY types.

Beyond Electric Town, there are many other electronics, gaming, and memorabilia shops awaiting discovery.

Also collected along Chuo Dori are video game arcades. In particular, there are many retro games to (re-)experienced here.

Most visitors to Tokyo stay in another part of the city and make Akihabara part of a day trip, but there are accommodation options for those who want to base themselves in the anime capital. There is even an esports gaming hotel in the area.

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