Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

by Amina Khan

One day, gardeners might not just hear the buzz of bees among their flowers, but the whirr of robots, too. Scientists in Japan say they’ve managed to turn an unassuming drone into a remote-controlled pollinator by attaching horsehairs coated with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly.

The system, described in the journal Chem, is nowhere near ready to be sent to agricultural fields, but it could help pave the way to developing automated pollination techniques at a time when bee colonies are suffering precipitous declines.

In flowering plants, sex often involves a threesome. Flowers looking to get the pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts need an envoy to carry it from one to the other. Those third players are animals known as pollinators — a diverse group of critters that includes bees, butterflies, birds and bats, among others.

Animal pollinators are needed for the reproduction of 90% of flowering plants and one third of human food crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Chief among those are bees — but many bee populations in the United States have been in steep decline in recent decades, likely due to a combination of factors, including agricultural chemicals, invasive species and climate change. Just last month, the rusty patched bumblebee became the first wild bee in the United States to be listed as an endangered species (although the Trump administration just put a halt on that designation).

Thus, the decline of bees isn’t just worrisome because it could disrupt ecosystems, but also because it could disrupt agriculture and the economy. People have been trying to come up with replacement techniques, the study authors say, but none of them are especially effective yet — and some might do more harm than good.

“One pollination technique requires the physical transfer of pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab from male to female flowers,” the authors wrote. “Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort. Another approach uses a spray machine, such as a gun barrel and pneumatic ejector. However, this machine pollination has a low pollination success rate because it is likely to cause severe denaturing of pollens and flower pistils as a result of strong mechanical contact as the pollens bursts out of the machine.”

Scientists have thought about using drones, but they haven’t figured out how to make free-flying robot insects that can rely on their own power source without being attached to a wire.

“It’s very tough work,” said senior author Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.

Miyako’s particular contribution to the field involves a gel, one he’d considered a mistake 10 years before. The scientist had been attempting to make fluids that could be used to conduct electricity, and one attempt left him with a gel that was as sticky as hair wax. Clearly this wouldn’t do, and so Miyako stuck it in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle. When it was rediscovered a decade later, it looked exactly the same – the gel hadn’t dried up or degraded at all.

“I was so surprised, because it still had a very high viscosity,” Miyako said.

The chemist noticed that when dropped, the gel absorbed an impressive amount of dust from the floor. Miyako realized this material could be very useful for picking up pollen grains. He took ants, slathered the ionic gel on some of them and let both the gelled and ungelled insects wander through a box of tulips. Those ants with the gel were far more likely to end up with a dusting of pollen than those that were free of the sticky substance.

The next step was to see if this worked with mechanical movers, as well. He and his colleagues chose a four-propeller drone whose retail value was $100, and attached horsehairs to its smooth surface to mimic a bee’s fuzzy body. They coated those horsehairs in the gel, and then maneuvered the drones over Japanese lilies, where they would pick up the pollen from one flower and then deposit the pollen at another bloom, thus fertilizing it.

The scientists looked at the hairs under a scanning electron microscope and counted up the pollen grains attached to the surface. They found that the robots whose horsehairs had been coated with the gel had on the order of 10 times more pollen than those hairs that had not been coated with the gel.

“A certain amount of practice with remote control of the artificial pollinator is necessary,” the study authors noted.

Miyako does not think such drones would replace bees altogether, but could simply help bees with their pollinating duties.

“In combination is the best way,” he said.

There’s a lot of work to be done before that’s a reality, however. Small drones will need to become more maneuverable and energy efficient, as well as smarter, he said — with better GPS and artificial intelligence, programmed to travel in highly effective search-and-pollinate patterns.

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-robot-bees-20170209-story.html#pt0-805728

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.

One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.

The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, according to a company press release, factoring injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered. Automation of these research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster, the release says.

Fukoku Mutual will spend $1.7 million (200 million yen) to install the AI system, and $128,000 per year for maintenance, according to Japan’s The Mainichi. The company saves roughly $1.1 million per year on employee salaries by using the IBM software, meaning it hopes to see a return on the investment in less than two years.

Watson AI is expected to improve productivity by 30%, Fukoku Mutual says. The company was encouraged by its use of similar IBM technology to analyze customer’s voices during complaints. The software typically takes the customer’s words, converts them to text, and analyzes whether those words are positive or negative. Similar sentiment analysis software is also being used by a range of US companies for customer service; incidentally, a large benefit of the software is understanding when customers get frustrated with automated systems.

The Mainichi reports that three other Japanese insurance companies are testing or implementing AI systems to automate work such as finding ideal plans for customers. An Israeli insurance startup, Lemonade, has raised $60 million on the idea of “replacing brokers and paperwork with bots and machine learning,” says CEO Daniel Schreiber.

Artificial intelligence systems like IBM’s are poised to upend knowledge-based professions, like insurance and financial services, according to the Harvard Business Review, due to the fact that many jobs can be “composed of work that can be codified into standard steps and of decisions based on cleanly formatted data.” But whether that means augmenting workers’ ability to be productive, or replacing them entirely remains to be seen.

“Almost all jobs have major elements that—for the foreseeable future—won’t be possible for computers to handle,” HBR writes. “And yet, we have to admit that there are some knowledge-work jobs that will simply succumb to the rise of the robots.”

Japanese white-collar workers are already being replaced by artificial intelligence

Thank to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

By Brigitte Steger

The Japanese don’t sleep. This is what everyone – the Japanese above all – say. It’s not true, of course. But as a cultural and sociological statement, it is very interesting.

I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s. At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep. The lifestyle of this era is aptly summed up by a wildly popular advertising slogan of the time, extolling the benefits of an energy drink. “Can you battle through 24 hours? / Businessman! Businessman! Japanese businessman!”

Many voiced the complaint: “We Japanese are crazy to work so much!” But in these complaints one detected a sense of pride at being more diligent and therefore morally superior to the rest of humanity. Yet, at the same time, I observed countless people dozing on underground trains during my daily commute. Some even slept while standing up, and no one appeared to be at all surprised by this.

I found this attitude contradictory. The positive image of the worker bee, who cuts back on sleep at night and frowns on sleeping late in the morning, seemed to be accompanied by an extensive tolerance of so-called ‘inemuri’ – napping on public transportation and during work meetings, classes and lectures. Women, men and children apparently had little inhibition about falling asleep when and wherever they felt like doing so.

If sleeping in a bed or a futon was considered a sign of laziness, then why wasn’t sleeping during an event or even at work considered an even greater expression of indolence? What sense did it make to allow children to stay up late at night to study if it meant that they would fall asleep during class the next day? These impressions and apparent contradictions led to my more intensive involvement with the theme of sleep for my PhD project several years later.

Initially, I had to fight against prejudice as people were reluctant to consider sleep a serious topic for academic enquiry. Of course, it was precisely such attitudes that had originally caught my attention. Sleep can be loaded with a variety of meanings and ideologies; analysing sleep arrangements and the discourse on it reveals attitudes and values embedded in the contexts in which sleep is organised and discussed. In my experience, it is the everyday and seemingly natural events upon which people generally do not reflect that reveal essential structures and values of a society.

We often assume that our ancestors went to bed ‘naturally’ when darkness fell and rose with the Sun. However, sleep times have never been such a simple matter, whether in Japan or elsewhere. Even before the invention of electric light, the documentary evidence shows that people were scolded for staying up late at night for chatting, drinking and other forms of pleasure. However, scholars – particularly young samurai – were considered highly virtuous if they interrupted their sleep to study, even though this practice may not have been very efficient as it required oil for their lamps and often resulted in them falling asleep during lectures.

Napping is hardly ever discussed in historical sources and seems to have been widely taken for granted. Falling asleep in public tends to be only mentioned when the nap is the source for a funny anecdote, such as when someone joins in with the wrong song at a ceremony, unaware that they have slept through most of it. People also seem to have enjoyed playing tricks on friends who had involuntarily dozed off.

Early rising, on the other hand, has clearly been promoted as a virtue, at least since the introduction of Confucianism and Buddhism. In antiquity, sources show a special concern for the work schedule of civil servants, but from the Middle Ages onwards, early rising was applied to all strata of society, with “going to bed late and rising early” used as a metaphor to describe a virtuous person.

Another interesting issue is co-sleeping. In Britain, parents are often told they should provide even babies with a separate room so that they can learn to be independent sleepers, thus establishing a regular sleep schedule. In Japan, by contrast, parents and doctors are adamant that co-sleeping with children until they are at least at school age will reassure them and help them develop into independent and socially stable adults.

Maybe this cultural norm helps Japanese people to sleep in the presence of others, even when they are adults – many Japanese say they often sleep better in company than alone. Such an effect could be observed in spring 2011 after the huge tsunami disaster destroyed several coastal towns. Survivors had to stay in evacuation shelters, where dozens or even hundreds of people shared the same living and sleeping space. Notwithstanding various conflicts and problems, survivors described how sharing a communal sleeping space provided some comfort and helped them to relax and regain their sleep rhythm.

However, this experience of sleeping in the presence of others as children is not sufficient on its own to explain the widespread tolerance of inemuri, especially at school and in the workplace. After some years of investigating this subject, I finally realised that on a certain level, inemuri is not considered sleep at all. Not only is it seen as being different from night-time sleep in bed, it is also viewed differently from taking an afternoon nap or power nap.

How can we make sense of this? The clue lies in the term itself, which is composed of two Chinese characters. ‘I’ which means ‘to be present’ in a situation that is not sleep and ‘nemuri’ which means ‘sleep’. Erving Goffman’s concept of “involvement within social situations” is useful I think in helping us grasp the social significance of inemuri and the rules surrounding it. Through our body language and verbal expressions we are involved to some extent in every situation in which we are present. We do, however, have the capacity to divide our attention into dominant and subordinate involvement.

In this context, inemuri can be seen as a subordinate involvement which can be indulged in as long as it does not disturb the social situation at hand – similar to daydreaming. Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away’, they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when active contribution is required. They also have to maintain the impression of fitting in with the dominant involvement by means of body posture, body language, dress code and the like.

Inemuri in the workplace is a case in point. In principle, attentiveness and active participation are expected at work, and falling asleep creates the impression of lethargy and that a person is shirking their duties. However, it is also viewed as the result of work-related exhaustion. It may be excused by the fact that meetings are usually long and often involve simply listening to the chair’s reports. The effort made to attend is often valued more than what is actually achieved. As one informant told me: “We Japanese have the Olympic spirit – participating is what counts.”

Diligence, which is expressed by working long hours and giving one’s all, is highly valued as a positive moral trait in Japan. Someone who makes the effort to participate in a meeting despite being exhausted or ill demonstrates diligence, a sense of responsibility and their willingness to make a sacrifice. By overcoming physical weaknesses and needs, a person becomes morally and mentally fortified and is filled with positive energy. Such a person is considered reliable and will be promoted. If, in the end, they succumb to sleep due to exhaustion or a cold or another health problem, they can be excused and an “attack of the sleep demon” can be held responsible.

Moreover, modesty is also a highly valued virtue. Therefore, it is not possible to boast about one’s own diligence – and this creates the need for subtle methods to achieve social recognition. Since tiredness and illness are often viewed as the result of previous work efforts and diligence, inemuri – or even feigning inemuri by closing one’s eyes – can be employed as a sign that a person has been working hard but still has the strength and moral virtue necessary to keep themselves and their feelings under control.

Thus, the Japanese habit of inemuri does not necessarily reveal a tendency towards laziness. Instead, it is an informal feature of Japanese social life intended to ensure the performance of regular duties by offering a way of being temporarily ‘away’ within these duties. And so it is clear: the Japanese don’t sleep. They don’t nap. They do inemuri. It could not be more different.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160506-the-japanese-art-of-not-sleeping

by Kristy Puchko

Northwest of the majestic Mount Fuji is the sprawling 13.5 square miles of Aokigahara, a forest so thick with foliage that it’s known as the Sea of Trees. But it’s the Japanese landmark’s horrific history that made the woods a fitting location for the spooky horror film The Forest. Untold visitors have chosen this place, notoriously called The Suicide Forest, as the setting for their final moments, walking in with no intention of ever walking back out. Here are a few of the terrible truths and scary stories that forged Aokigahara’s morbid reputation.

1. AOKIGAHARA IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR SUICIDE DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD.

Statistics on Aokigahara’s suicide rates vary, in part because the forest is so lush that some corpses can go undiscovered for years or might be forever lost. However, some estimates claim as many as 100 people a year have successfully killed themselves there.


2. JAPAN HAS A LONG TRADITION OF SUICIDE.

Self-inflicted death doesn’t carry the same stigma in this nation as it does in others. Seppuku—a samurai’s ritual suicide thought to be honorable—dates back to Japan’s feudal era. And while the practice is no longer the norm, it has left a mark. “Vestiges of the seppuku culture can be seen today in the way suicide is viewed as a way of taking responsibility,” said Yoshinori Cho, author of Why do People Commit Suicide? and director of the psychiatry department at Teikyo University in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.

3. JAPAN HAS ONE OF THE HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES IN THE WORLD.

The global financial crisis of 2008 made matters worse, resulting in 2,645 recorded suicides in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. The numbers reached their peak in March, the end of Japan’s financial year. In 2011, the executive director of a suicide prevention hotline told Japan Times, “Callers most frequently cite mental health and family problems as the reason for contemplating suicide. But behind that are other issues, such as financial problems or losing their job.”

4. SUICIDE PREVENTION ATTEMPTS INCLUDE SURVEILLANCE AND POSITIVE POSTS.

Because of the high suicide rate, Japan’s government enacted a plan of action that aims to reduce such rates by 20 percent within the next seven years. Part of these measures included posting security cameras at the entrance of the Suicide Forest and increasing patrols. Suicide counselors and police have also posted signs on various paths throughout the forest that offer messages like “Think carefully about your children, your family” and “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.”

5. IT’S NATURALLY EERIE.

Bad reputation aside, this is no place for a leisurely stroll. The forest’s trees organically twist and turn, their roots winding across the forest floor in treacherous threads. Because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves. But more jarring than its tricky terrain is the feeling of isolation created from the stillness; the trees are too tightly packed for winds to whip through and the wildlife is sparse. One visitor described the silence as “chasms of emptiness.” She added, “I cannot emphasize enough the absence of sound. My breath sounded like a roar.”

6. DEATH BY HANGING IS THE MOST POPULAR METHOD OF SUICIDE AMONG THE SEA OF TREES.

The second is said to be poisoning, often by drug overdose.

7. A NOVEL POPULARIZED THIS DARK TRADITION. . .

In 1960, Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto released the tragic novel Kuroi Jukai, in which a heartbroken lover retreats to the Sea of Trees to end her life. This romantic imagery has proved a seminal and sinister influence on Japanese culture. Also, looped into this lore: The Complete Suicide Manual, which dubs Aokigahara “the perfect place to die.” The book has been found among the abandoned possessions of various Suicide Forest visitors.

8. BUT IT WAS NOT THE START OF THE FOREST’S DARK LEGACY.

Ubasute is a brutal form of euthanasia that translates roughly to “abandoning the old woman.” An uncommon practice—only resorted to in desperate times of famine—where a family would lessen the amount of mouths to feed by leading an elderly relative to a mountain or similarly remote and rough environment to die, not by means of suicide but by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. Some insist this was not a real occurrence, but rather grim folklore. Regardless, stories of the Sea of Trees being a site for such abandonment have long been a part of its mythos.

9. THE SUICIDE FOREST MAY BE HAUNTED.

Some believe the ghosts—or yurei—of those abandoned by ubasute and the mournful spirits of the suicidal linger in the woods. Folklore claims they are vengeful, dedicated to tormenting visitors and luring those that are sad and lost off the path.

10. ANNUAL SEARCHES HAVE BEEN HELD THERE SINCE 1970.

There are volunteers who do patrol the area, making interventional efforts. However, these annual endeavors are not intended to rescue people, but to recover their remains. Police and volunteers trek through the Sea of Trees to bring bodies back to civilization for a proper burial. In recent years, the Japanese government has declined to release the numbers of corpses recovered from these gruesome searches. But in the early 2000s, 70 to 100 were uncovered each year.

11. BRINGING A TENT INTO THE FOREST SUGGESTS DOUBT.

Camping is allowed in the area but visitors who bring a tent with them are believed to be undecided on their suicide attempt. Some will camp for days, debating their fates. People on prevention patrol will gently speak with such campers, entreating them to leave the forest.

12. THE SUICIDE FOREST IS SO THICK THAT SOME VISITORS USE TAPE TO AVOID GETTING LOST.

Volunteers who search the area for bodies and those considering suicide typically mark their way with plastic ribbon that they’ll loop around trees in this leafy labyrinth. Otherwise, one could easily lose their bearings after leaving the path and become fatally lost.

13. YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CALL FOR HELP.

Rich with magnetic iron, the soil of the Suicide Forest plays havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and even compasses. This is why tape can be so crucial. But some believe this feature is proof of demons in the dark.

14. NOT EVERYONE WHO GOES THERE HAS DEATH ON THEIR AGENDA.

Locals lament that this natural wonder is known first and foremost for its lethal allure. Still, tourists can take in gorgeous views of Mount Fuji and visit highlights like the distinctive lava plateau, 300-year-old trees, and the enchanting Narusawa Ice Cave.

15. GOING OFF THE PATH CAN LEAD TO GHASTLY DISCOVERIES.

The Internet is littered with disturbing images from the Suicide Forest, from abandoned personal effects snared in the undergrowth to human bones and even more grisly remains strewn across the forest floor or dangling from branches. So if you dare to venture into this forbidding forest, do as the signs suggest and stay on the path.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/73288/15-eerie-things-about-japans-suicide-forest

Police in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, have arrested a 71-year-old woman on suspicion of setting her son’s room on fire.

Eiko Sasaki is suspected of setting fire to her son’s room at around 9 a.m. Sunday, Sankei Shimbun reported. The fire spread and destroyed the 50-square-meter apartment.

According to police, Sasaki has admitted to the charge and was quoted as saying that she was upset with her ​​50-year-old son for letting magazines pile up in his room, so she decided to burn them.

Sasaki said she lit a newspaper and threw it into the room while her son was out.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/71-year-old-torches-her-sons-room-for-not-cleaning-up-mess

A series of photos sees Japanese dads jumping next to their daughters
They are part of a new book by Japanese photographer Yûki Aoyama
The book’s title roughly translates as Daughter and Salary Man

Sick of awkward father-daughter portraits? Well one photographer has found an effective – if a little odd – way of making them more interesting.

Japanese photographer Yûki Aoyama’s latest series of images capture po-faced teenagers pictured next to their fathers leaping into the air.

In each picture the daughter looks directly into the camera smiling while her father pulls a dramatic pose.

The images are from the 37-year-old’s latest book which roughly translates into Daughter and Salary Man.

According to the photographer’s website the images allow the father who usually has to act serious to express his fun side by being ‘a hero jumping the sky, enfold(ing) strong excitement and hope.’

http://translate.google.com/translate?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.co.uk&sl=ja&u=http://yukiao.jp/

Salary man may refer to the choice of clothing in the shoot which sees each dad in a sharply dressed suit.

The images see the fathers pull energetic poses despite their age with some of the expressions of the older fathers looking slightly pained.

Very little else is known about the pictures or why they have come into existence but they are already drumming up plenty of interest online for their curious nature.

<img sr

c=”https://itsinterestingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/dads1.jpg&#8221; alt=”” width=”460″ height=”613″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-8855″ />

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3021238/Bizarre-Japanese-trend-fathers-photographed-JUMPING-daughters.html#ixzz3WovRtiSv

Misao Okawa, the world’s oldest person according to Guinness World Records, has died at the age of 117.

Okawa passed away Wednesday morning in Osaka, Japan, Tadahi Uchimura, a local official from the city told CNN.

She left behind three children, four grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Okawa was born on March 5, 1898.

Her family ran a Kimono shop in Osaka, Satoshi Yoshioka, an employee at the nursing home where she had lived since 1997 told CNN.

“She was a person with mild character, and loved to eat so much. Her favorite food was sushi and udon noodles,” Yoshioka said.

“She had eaten a lot of cake for her birthday last March 5. ”

“However, in the last 10 days she stopped eating. I think eating was her motivation to live, and when she lost it, she passed away.”

According to Guiness World Records, the oldest person ever was Jeanne Louise Calment, who died at age 122 in 1997.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/01/asia/worlds-oldest-person-dies/index.html