• 日本人の生活に合った機械

    [From November Issue 2010]

    Many electric appliances sold in Japan are made to accommodate the country’s customs and climate. A suihanki, or rice cooker, is used to cook Japan’s most staple food, and is found in most Japanese households. Most suihanki have a programmable setting to cook rice at a predetermined time, as well as a warming function to help maintain a certain temperature.

    Panasonic Corporation’s “Steam IH Jar SR-SJ2” series incorporates an abundance of functions. It can cook rice in 13 different ways, including gruel and vinegar rice (for sushi), and milled or unpolished rice. Users can adjust the cooking times and temperature automatically through its liquid crystal display and via voice navigation.

    This cooker also uses various other technologies guaranteeing perfectly cooked rice every time. The inner bowl is composed of multiple layers of specially processed aluminum and stainless steel, all specially coated. This helps maintain a constant temperature, making each grain of rice plump and delicious. Further steaming and warming creates a coating that keeps each grain soft, even after it cools down, making the cooked rice ideal for boxed lunches.

    “We measure the sweetness by machine but confirm it by having people taste it, all in the pursuit of perfectly cooked rice,” explains TAKANUMA Tomoka, a member of Panasonic’s appliance product team. “Also, in order to make the special coating durable, we conducted repeated experiments, and made continual improvements to about 1,000 inner bowls, before getting it just right,” she adds.

    Japan is located in a humid region. Mitsubishi Electric Home Appliance Co.’s “AD-S80LS Futon Dryer” is an appliance that reflects this reality by helping easily dry both futons and pillows.

    To use the AD-S80LS, you place the included thin mat under the bed sheet. Then, when you want to dry the futon, you remove the sheet and attach a hose from the dryer to one corner of the mat and turn it on. The AD-S80LS then circulates warm air to the mat, gently inflating it while completely drying it out.

    “The mat is made with a specially processed fabric, which makes it possible to send out warm air in moderation,” says INAMI Junichi, part of Mitsubishi’s home electric appliance technology department. “A mat has three seams and four breaks. Among the four corners, two are left unstitched. The two open corners are sandwiched with triangle stitches. By experimenting, we discovered that this mat was most effective for drying futons. Sometimes we even worked all night stitching mats for these experiments,” he explains.

    The AD-S80LS has one sensor and a simple computer. With them, it reads the room temperature and automatically adjusts the futon drying temperature. It can make seasonal adjustments to keep the futon warm in winter or cool in summer.

    The AD-S80LS also includes convenient household attachments. With it comes a big blue cover that can be used to dry laundry. Just cover your damp clothes with it, close it around the hose and let the hot air flow in. Boots and shoes can also be dried by inserting the other, adjustable plastic attachments, which can then be inserted and used as boot holders. Finally, the included deodorant sheets can also be attached to the hose to help remove odors from the bedding.

    Panasonic Corporation
    Mitsubishi Electric Home Appliance Co.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo












    文:砂崎 良

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  • 「大油田」東京から生み出されるリサイクル製品

    [From November Issue 2010]

    U’ S Corporation

    The “Tokyo Oil Field 2017” project is now in progress. Their business is to collect and recycle cooking oil used by restaurants and at home in Tokyo. SOMEYA Yumi, the Chief Executive Officer of U’S Corporation, is the one who had the idea of establishing a recycling center where discarded cooking oil could be collected and reused as a natural resource.

    SOMEYA’s parents have been operating a cooking oil recycling factory since 1949. When Someya traveled around Asia after she graduated from high school, she was almost killed by a mudslide in Nepal had she not reacted quick enough to save herself. Afterwards, she learned from the locals that this natural disaster was a result of “cutting down too many trees from the mountains,” and she soon became interested in protecting the environment. She also realized that her parents’ business could directly contribute to solving the problem.

    After she returned to Japan, Someya started working at her parents’ factory and collected used cooking oil by themselves. Before that it has been brought from smaller recycling agents. In 1993 they even succeeded in developing VDF (Vegetable Diesel Fuel) made from all the discarded oil for the first time in the world.

    In order to expand her parents’ business, Someya established U’S in 1997. The new business continues to collect used cooking oil, while also selling VDF, soap, candles and other products made from recycled materials.

    “Our business is well-received by people who recycle because they understand the logic of reusing cooking oil as an ingredient for soap that they can take back home. And since VDF can naturally replace gasoline, it can fuel the oil-collecting trucks and eco-tour buses,” says KASAHARA Takahiro, the company’ publicity agent.

    And now the company is pursuing the “Tokyo Oil Field 2017” project with a plan to collect and recycle all the used cooking oil in Tokyo by 2017. “The amount of used cooking oil coming out of Japan every year is roughly 400,000 tons. Half of it comes from restaurants and gets recycled, but the rest comes from homes, which is just dumped as waste and burned,” explains Kasahara.

    Presently there are now 120 oil-collection stations in and around Tokyo, and their numbers are also increasing in the surrounding prefectures. Their trucks continuously drive around collecting used oil that people from registered shops and homes want to recycle. “We get many requests saying that people want an oil-collecting station nearby, so we are now accepting applications from shops and people who want to cooperate with us,” says Kasahara. Their ultimate goal is to expand their network of “oil field” partnerships domestically and internationally, while providing both the infrastructure and the technology.

    U’ S Corporation











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  • なぜかわいいファッションは人気があるのか

    [From October Issue 2010]

    Nowadays, kawaii fashion originating in Japan is popular all over the world. “Kawaii” is a word to describe something lovable and charming, such as tiny objects, pets, children and young women. It’s often used by women in their teens and twenties. For them, it’s very important whether or not their clothes and belongings are kawaii. And now, women from outside Japan want kawaii clothes and small articles designed in Japan, too.

    Harajuku is a part of Tokyo where you can find a myriad of shops selling kawaii items. PUTUMAYO, a brand with three shops in the area, sells clothes featuring original designs as well as plenty of lace and frills. Lately, customers from a variety of countries come to the shops. “In the past two hours, we’ve had customers from America, Spain and Germany in our store,” says KATSUTA Hiroko, a spokesperson for HYPER HYPER Co., Ltd., which runs PUTUMAYO.

    Laforet Harajuku, a commercial building that houses quite a few stores selling kawaii outfits, also attracts a crowd of non-Japanese customers. 109 in Shibuya and Marui One in Shinjuku are other commercial complexes with kawaii clothing stores, and are much talked about among non-Japanese shoppers these days.

    Sofia LIM, from South Korea, says: “Japan accepts the cultures of many other countries. They start out by imitating, but before long they create special cultures of their own. That’s not imitation but progress. I guess the Japanese are open-minded.”

    More and more kawaii clothing Japanese brands are opening branches overseas. BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT (a.k.a. Baby), a brand whose items were used in the movie “Shimotsuma Monogatari,” opened a branch in Paris in February 2006 and another in San Francisco in August 2009. Baby’s clothes are characteristically adorned with plenty of lace and frills, like dresses from 18th-century Western Europe, a style called “Lolita fashion.”

    UEHARA Kumiko, a designer for Baby, says when their Paris branch opened, Lolita fashion in France was quite different from that in Japan. “Most of their Lolita outfits were black in color and very Gothic in style, which was unique to European fashion. They were wearing a jumper skirt without a blouse, showing some skin,” she says. “But the next time I went to Paris, they were all dressed in the same way as the Japanese. Not only had their garments become more colorful but they were wearing a jumper skirt over a blouse, with everything coordinated properly from head to toe.” When Uehara saw that, she realized that they had studied Japanese Lolita fashion.

    Uehara adds, “Lolita fashion is a style of clothes that is a dream come true for girls, because they can wear the clothes of princesses or the dolls that they admired in their childhood as modern outfits. Lolita fashion is not clothes that you wear to catch other people’s eye, but rather clothes that you wear because you want to wear them.” The whole point of wearing Lolita fashion, she says, is that it makes you feel happy.“Who’s going to feel unhappy to look at or wear something kawaii? Everybody can get a sense of happiness by looking at or wearing kawaii stuff. As far as I’m concerned, kawaii means happy,” she says.

    “Japanese people all have the sensibility to feel that something is kawaii,” says MASUDA Sebastian, owner and designer of a shop in Harajuku called 6%DOKIDOKI. “Behind that sensibility lies their desire to create a world of their own, put their sense of values in there and find their own form of happiness. However, when young people in Western countries say the Japanese word ‘kawaii,’ what they mean is more like cool, neat or fashionable. By using a word that their grown-ups don’t understand, those young people seem to express their antipathy toward adult society.”

    The items at 6%DOKIDOKI, which is located on a backstreet in Harajuku, are characterized by flashy color combinations such as shocking pink and black as well as fresh new designs, and are often described as “shockingly kawaii.” But Masuda’s job is not just designing products. He has acted on stage, and has also produced shows, doing everything from direction to writing scripts. “I wondered whether or not my work was good, but at the store, customers who don’t know me judge my designs in a visible manner, by buying them or not buying them,” says Masuda.

    At 6%DOKIDOKI not only the interior but also the outer walls are painted bright pink. Inside the store, you see a purple wooden horse, mushroom ornaments and a decoration in the shape of a merry-go-round, as well as gorgeous lighting. “Customers from other countries look at the interior and listen to the music played in the store, and they often praise those things as well as the products we are selling,” says Yuka, a store clerk. “Nowadays, earrings made by putting together the hiragana ‘A RI GA TO U’ and a brooch with the kanji characters ‘kakumei’ (revolution) are very popular.” This store is what Masuda considers the embodiment of “kawaii.” Masuda also holds workshops for learning how to move in a kawaii manner or have a kawaii look on one’s face, and takes part in fundraisers to help developing countries, with the motto “Kawaii saves the world!”

    “Young people choose kawaii items to express their feelings of not wanting to be adults. Young people these days think ‘becoming an adult’ equals ‘giving up.’ So by wearing colorful clothes, they say no to wearing gray like adults and assert that they have their own culture and lifestyle,” explains Masuda. “I think that the kawaii culture is even radical, as it is an expression of the young generation’s vast energy. The kawaii fashion in Harajuku is about pursuing what one loves regardless of rules and genres. I believe that the free, flexible ideas and styles in the fashion are what make it so popular outside Japan.”


    Text: SAZAKI Ryo






    日本のかわいい服のブランドが海外に支店を出すことも増えています。映画「下妻物語」にも取り上げられたブランド、BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT(通称ベイビー)は、2006年2月にパリ支店を、2009年8月にサンフランシスコ支店を出しました。ベイビーの特徴は「ロリータファッション」と呼ばれる、西ヨーロッパの18世紀頃のドレスのような、レースやフリルが多くついた服です。


    上原さんは続けます。「ロリータファッションは女の子の夢を現実にした服です。子どもの頃あこがれたお姫様やお人形の服を、現代の服として着られるのですから。人の目を気にして着る服ではありません。自分が着たいから着る服です」。ロリータファションは着るだけで幸せな気持ちになれると上原さんは話します。「かわいいものを見たり着たりして、不幸せに感じる人はいるでしょうか? かわいいものを見たり着たりすると、みんな幸せな気持ちになります。『かわいいは幸せ』と私は思います」。






    文:砂崎 良

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  • 進化するデジタル写真立て

    [From October Issue 2010]

    Nowadays, most cameras are digital. Many photo frames have become digital and multi-functional too.

    Sharp Corporation has developed the “InteriorPhone” JD-7C1 and JD-4C1 phone systems which combine a cordless phone with a digital photo frame. If the corresponding phone number and photo are registered within the “InteriorPhone” directory, the user can make a call just by touching the photo. Conversely, when there is an incoming call from a registered number, the monitor will display that caller’s photo. The unit can also be used as a regular digital photo frame when the phone is not in use. The JD-7C1 also has a function that allows all incoming faxes to be displayed as images on the machine’s monitor.

    The InteriorPhone uses high-speed, infrared communication (an infrared, data exchange system) as well as accepting photos from cell phones and digital camera memory cards. Photos can be viewed as a slideshow, or arranged as a calendar or clock form. The countdown function (4C1 only), which includes messages such as “x days until parents’ school meeting” while displaying the child’s image in the background, is useful because it helps remind people of important dates and events.

    “Today many people have cell phones. So, after pondering what their home phone needs might be, we came up with this phone that displays photos. To make an even more convenient product to be placed in the living room, we added a timer (JD-4C1 only) and some other functions while keeping the touch-panel simple,” says MOTOYA Tamon, the person responsible for Sharp’s product planning.

    FUJIFILM Corporation has also developed a digital photo frame, the FinePix REAL 3D V1. Images taken with the FinePix REAL 3D W1 digital camera can be displayed in 3D form using their specially designed frame. No special 3D glasses are necessary.

    This digital photo frame doesn’t show just one image, but can be programmed to display a succession of images or a number of images simultaneously. It also has an easy search function, enabling the viewer to quickly find their preferred image. You can display 72 small size images at once and search by image category. Additionally, it can also reproduce moving images with stereo sound.

    SAITO Hiroyuki, FUJIMOTO S h i n i c h i a n d MAT SUDA Norihisa, all part of FUJIFILM Corporation’s Department of Research and Development, conceived this idea together. They said that “in order to make a 3D system that can be enjoyed by anybody, anywhere and anytime, we had to take away the need for 3D glasses. With the eyeglasses, 3D images can be seen rather easily, but we wanted them to be seen without them, which took a lot of effort for us to develop.”

    So far this year, many 3D TVs and 3D PCs have been released for family use. Soon, we can expect both photos and films to become even more interesting.

    Sharp Corporation
    FUJIFILM Corporation

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo



    シャープ株式会社は、インテリアホン「JD‐7C1」「JD‐4C1」という製品をつくりました。コードレス電話と一体化したデジタル写真立てです。写真と電話番号をインテリアホンの電話帳に登録しておくと、写真にふれるだけでその電話番号へ電話がかかります。反対に登録している番号から電話があったときには、画面にその写真が表示されます。もちろん、電話を使わないときには、通常の写真立てとして使えます。JD-7C1 にはファックス機能もあり、ファックスを受信すると、その内容を画像として、写真立ての画面に映すこともできます。

    インテリアホンは高速赤外線通信(赤外線を使ってデータをやりとりする仕組み)やメモリーカードを使って、携帯電話やカメラから写真を取りこみます。そして取り込んだ写真を次々に映したり、カレンダーや時計などに加工して表示したりもできます。特にカウントダウン機能(4C1 のみ)は、子どもの顔を背景に「父母会まであと何日」などと表示することができ、予定を忘れないですむと好評です。

    「今は携帯電話を持っている人がたくさんいます。それでは家庭の電話には何が求められるのだろうか、そう考えて写真の飾れるこの電話をつくりました。リビングに置いて便利な製品にするため、タイマーなどの機能を入れ(JD-4C1 のみ)、タッチパネルの使い方も簡単にしました」とシャープ商品企画部の本谷太門さんは言います。

    富士フイルム株式会社は、立体映像を楽しめるデジタル写真立て「FinePix REAL 3D V1」を開発しました。3D写真や動画を撮ることができる同社のデジタルカメラ、「FinePix REAL 3D W1」で撮った映像をこの写真立てに入れると、立体で見ることができます。特別なめがねをかける必要はありません。



    今年に入って一般家庭向けの3D テレビや3D パソコンが増えました。写真や動画は今後、さらに楽しくなりそうです。


    文:砂崎 良

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  • 歴史ブームを支える複製技術

    [From October Issue 2010]

    Marutake Sangyo Co., Ltd.

    In Japan, the number of “rekijo,” women who take an interest in the military commanders from the age of civil wars and know a lot about history, is on the rise. Castles and museums are receiving more visitors and history books are selling well. The “Japanese Traditional Armor” exhibition held in January 2010 in Tokyo, attracted 65,000 visitors. The armor and helmets exhibited were precise replicas of those worn by military commanders 500 years ago in the Sengoku Jidai, the age of civil wars.

    The company that made them was Marutake Sangyo Co., Ltd., established in 1958 in Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture. They initially made bamboo fishing rods. “One day, my father, the founder of the company, TANOUE Shinobu, sold a piece of armor he had repaired for pleasure for quite a high price. After that, he decided to accept orders to repair and make copies of armor and helmets. He also started making replicas,” says representative director TANOUE Kenichi says.

    Before long, the company started to receive orders for armor and helmets for actors to wear in historical TV dramas and movies. They also started receiving inquiries from history museums around Japan. Real armor and helmets are rarely exhibited, and even when they are, the exhibitions tend to be short and the items cannot be touched. This opened the door for a replica armor business.

    The company conducted years of research, sometimes dismantling armor and helmets to learn how they felt and how to make them. In the factory, the iron sheets are cut one by one with metal scissors. Then the sheets are bent and welded to make the parts, which are put together to make the basic structure. From painting and weaving to finishing, 50 craftsmen are involved in the numerous phases of the process.

    The craftsmen’s finished products are delivered to individuals, companies and public facilities, or rented out to local festivals. On Children’s Day, traditionally a holiday where people pray for the growth of boys, armor is displayed at home. Recently, Marutake Sangyo is receiving many orders to make small pieces of armor and helmets that can be worn by children.

    NISHIDA Toshiyuki, one of Japan’s leading actors, plays the role of a ghost of a warrior killed in battle in the movie “Suteki na Kanashibari” (Once in a Blue Moon), which will be released in the autumn of 2011. Marutake Sangyo made special armor that would be good for NISHIDA, who was suffering a pain in his lower back. Kenichi says, “Nishida was very happy with the light and easy-to-move armor.”

    Kenichi is always keen to take on new challenges. In 1990, he opened a tourist facility called “Sengoku Mura” in Satsumasendai City and, since then, has opened a company branch office in Tokyo. In 2006, he started “Armor Wedding,” which lets the groom appear in armor in front of the guests at his wedding reception, an effect that is well received. “Now, I want to do business making T-shirts and accessories with designs of armor and helmets,” he says.

    Marutake Sangyo Co., Ltd.

    Text:Southern Publishing Co., Ltd.
    Photos: TOMIOKA Miwa












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  • 愛される盆栽をつくりたい

    [From October Issue 2010]

    OSHIMA Megumi,
    Owner of Midoriya Nicogusa

    Bonsai (tray cultivation) is a type of cultivation that was born in China and brought to Japan during the Heian period (794 ~ 1192). With bonsai, you grow plants in containers of varying widths, usually measuring 30 or 50 centimeters (cm). At the bonsai shop Midoriya Nicogusa in Kichijoji, Tokyo, they mainly sell small-sized bonsai trees of about 15 cm in height and potted moss of about 5 cm in diameter.

    Shop owner OSHIMA Megumi enjoys answering customers’ questions about bonsai, while also teaching bonsai classes at various cultural centers. She is both a licensed color coordinator and interior decorator. Oshima even designed her shop’s Japanese-styled interior.

    “If you give it enough care, a bonsai will live for decades,” says Oshima. “It will continue to grow and its trunk will get thicker every year. Knowing that it will last, taking care of the tree becomes enjoyable. Even after many years, you will always find pleasure in it.” However, Oshima was not always a bonsai dealer. Initially she worked at an electrical appliance manufacturing company. “It was a stable but predictable job. And I kept wondering if I should continue doing it.”

    Then she encountered bonsai. “I was given a lovely bonsai from a friend but soon let it wither. The regret made me study why it happened and, in the process, I became fascinated with bonsai,” she recalls. Oshima went to bonsai classes and started to sell her own bonsai at flea markets. Before long, she was asked to sell bonsai at a department store. Although her bonsai continued to sell there, she was dissatisfied with some of the conditions and the care given to them. “It’s better to have regrets about something after trying, than not to try at all,” she says. Oshima then decided to open her own shop.

    However, in her shop’s first year, not much sold. “I thought it would be difficult to attract customers with only bonsai so I started the shop as a place to sell bonsai and other variety goods. The problem was that there were already so many variety shops in Kichijoji. Those goods didn’t sell at our shop, and the dead stock just kept accumulating.” But soon after she changed it into a bonsai specialty shop, her number of regular customers increased.

    Some bonsai trees are said to be more than 1,000 years old, with some costing more than 10 million yen. The bonsai sold at Nicogusa, however, only cost around several thousand yen each. “There are various ways of thinking about bonsai,” says Oshima. “Some people are conservative, while others do as they like in cultivating their bonsai. Some say that you should take the time to study proper bonsai technique. Others prefer to leave bonsai to professionals and just enjoy looking at them. There are even those who criticize bonsai as unnatural gardening that forces plants to grow in small flowerpots.”

    For Oshima, it is fine to have various ways of thinking. “I want people to enjoy bonsai more casually. A tree that seems lonely actually has living strength. Some trees endure nature’s severity yet grow quite large. I think the expression of nature’s power is what small-potted bonsai is all about.”

    Midoriya Nicogusa

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    みどり屋 和草オーナー
    大島 恵さん

    盆栽は中国で生まれ、平安時代(794~1192年)に日本へ来た園芸です。通常は30~50センチの鉢の中で植物を育てます。東京・吉祥寺にある盆栽の店「みどり屋 和草」は、主に小さな盆栽を販売しています。高さ15センチほどの木や直径5センチほどの鉢に植えられた苔などです。







    みどり屋 和草

    文:砂崎 良

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  • 花と人を結ぶ花結い師

    [From September Issue 2010]

    TAKAYA, Hanayuishi

    Kyoto resident TAKAYA is a “hanayuishi,” one who decorates people’s hair uniquely with fresh flowers. Takaya invented the word himself to describe the concept of somebody who handles flowers like a stylist treats people’s hair. People who see his work are surprised at how many flowers he uses in his designs. His work has been reported on TV and in other media, bringing him much notoriety.

    TAKAYA was initially a licensed cook of French cuisine. When he was 24 years old he opened a cafe and started decorating the interior with flowers. That’s when he had the idea of creating floral hair styles. “I had a hobby taking photographs, and I imagined taking pictures of women whose hair was adorned with flowers, something I had communed with since my childhood,” he recalls.

    When TAKAYA was a cook, he was fond of food arrangement, a skill he acquired through training. However, his flower arranging was completely self-taught. “I don’t sketch designs. Each flower has its own face. Their conditions change by the moment. And, from the start, I considered speed as an important factor. During a bride’s wardrobe change at her wedding reception, I make it a rule to complete her hair design within five minutes so that it will not slow down the event.”

    For one hair style TAKAYA charges 50,000 yen. Many orders come from women who want to make their special occasion the most memorable day of their lives. TAKAYA charges 300,000 yen for two hair styles during a wedding ceremony. “Everyone has childhood memories of making flower rings with white clover. I would be glad if my decorating their hair brings back such memories,” he says.

    Although it seems like doing this type of work came easily, it was not always so. Because it was such a new art form – neither simple hair design, nor mere flower arranging – his work has sometimes been considered exceptional and other times received critiques concerning his techniques.

    “When I came up with the idea of “hanayui,” I had the image of a Paris Collection. Like producing a fashion show, I take into account the volume of the woman’s hair and face that I’m going to decorate with flowers in order to create a form that will wholly harmonize with her kimono or dress. Since I consider myself an artist, I get most satisfied with good results,” he says.

    TAKAYA’s skills, which accentuate a bride’s beauty, are garnering a lot of attention through his participation in designer KATSURA Yumi’s “Bridal Fair.” In spite of that, his intention now is to teach his staff so that they can eventually take over from him. “I’m aiming at an operation of bridal services that will be carried out by my staff independently. I’m now planning to offer classes to pass on my skills to the general public.”

    While his “hanayui” work is growing, TAKAYA is also conquering new challenges. “I’ve been actively engaged in performance art such as including “hanayui” in original, contemporary dance routines. I also have plans to collaborate with solo performers. I would further like to spread my work into magazines and advertisements too,” he adds.

    TAKAYA, Hanayuishi 

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko













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  • 家族で創るミニチュア・ドールハウスの世界

    [From September Issue 2010]

    Mini Chuubouan
    KAWAI Yukio and KAWAI Tomoko

    For the last 30 years KAWAI Yukio has been running the small factory that he took over from his father. In addition, he and his wife Tomoko also manage Mini Chuubouan, a small atelier housed in a rebuilt part of the factory. At this atelier, they produce and sell miniature kitchen utensils for dollhouses. Yukio is in charge of producing machined ironware while his wife is responsible for hand-making fake food and other small articles out of clay. Their customers come from all over Japan.

    It was because of Tomoko’s hobby that they turned part of the small factory into an atelier. “I’d been attending a dollhouse-making class, and I always wanted miniature pots made of copper, just like real ones,” recalls Tomoko. “When I asked my husband to make them, he agreed to, saying that we can try by making use of our traditional skills.” “Incorporating all of her requests, I made sample pieces one after another, and it took me a few months to produce exactly what she wanted,” Yukio remembers.

    The finished products were made of real copper or stainless steel, and their designs resembled those of real pots. Those miniatures were so well received by Tomoko’s fellow students, that they were soon flooded with orders. “Due to the recession, the amount of work at the factory had been declining, but we got busy with the dollhouse thing as if it was our main business,” Yukio says with a laugh.

    Most of their pieces are no bigger than a 10 yen coin, and Yukio makes them while wearing special magnifying glasses. He pays attention to every little detail by making patterns, smoothing out the surface and attaching the handles, but the machines he uses are mostly outdated ones that he inherited from his father. Yukio believes that his method adds more warmth to them, compared to the ones created with modern computerized equipment.

    Now even their daughter Asami, a fine art college graduate, is involved in their business. “In the beginning, she was just helping us out, but I guess she found it interesting,” says Yukio. “Now the three of us talk about things together when we are working or attending events.” Just like her mother, Asami also makes food and small articles by hand out of clay, and enjoys joining her parents at various organized events.

    Dollhouse artists and collectors can be found all over the world. This past April, Mini Chuubouan participated for the first time in an event held in Chicago, and came away inspired by dollhouse miniaturists from other countries. “We would like to keep creating items that can be highly praised not only in Japan but in other countries as well,” says Yukio.

    Tomoko says that the good problem they are now facing is that they are so busy that they don’t have enough time to create new items. She adds that their website receives an average of about 2,000 hits daily, and on weekends, when many people visit their shop or they participate in events, they just get too busy to do anything else. Despite this inconvenience, Yukio says that they don’t intend to hire additional help because they only want to produce pieces that they are completely satisfied with. “As a family, we understand each other and that makes the creative process work. But the most important thing is to make pieces that will please our customers.”

    Mini Chuubouan











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  • 体の不自由な人の目になり声になる装置

    [From August Issue 2010]

    Currently, Japanese society is working on overcoming many barriers. And many devices to assist the physically challenged are being developed. The AuxDeco (Forehead Sensory Recognition System) developed by EyePlusPlus Inc. is a device to assist the blind. Worn on the forehead, the user can feel through their skin the shape of an object in front of them. For example, if an object is round, this device uses electronic sensors to simulate a round shape on the person’s forehead. If there is a street crossing, the device simulates a horizontal line. This way, through their skin, a user can better distinguish shapes and forms.

    AuxDeco includes a small camera. This camera captures images of objects in front of the user. Then the AuxDeco computer reads and converts the photo’s outline into data. The data is sent through the headband to the forehead. There, 512 installed electrodes recreate the object’s shape via electronic pulses directly onto the user’s forehead.

    KANNO Yonezo, the President of EyePlusPlus Inc. says that “We had to make many improvements on the first AuxDecos’ because they were too heavy, and the electronic pulses were too strong and painful. We also developed a program whereby users could purchase the AuxDeco after training with it for 20 to 30 hours. As a result, recent feedback indicates that the AuxDeco is both convenient and safe.” There are also some social groups offering grants to blind individuals who want to purchase the device.

    Kanno adds that, “It is a good thing for engineers to pursue technological advances. But how new technology is used to help people is the more important issue.” Kanno is currently on a humanitarian support mission introducing the AuxDeco to India and Southeastern Asia.

    Another tool, called the Neurocommunicator, was created by HASEGAWA P. Ryohei, Ph.D, the leader of the Neurotechnology Research Group of the Human Technology Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). This device interprets a person’s brain waves to determine their intentions which can then be transmitted audibly. Using the Neurocommunicator individual patients with severe motor impairment can convey up to 512 different kinds of messages.

    To start, the user puts on the device then looks at one of 8 icons shown on the computer screen in front of them, which include actions such as “eat” and “move.” The computer program analyzes the brain waves and interprets which icon the user is focusing on. The next screen displays another set of 8 icons that are relevant to the initial choice. So if the first icon chosen was “move,” then the next set of icons would include locations such as “bathroom” or “hospital.” After the user chooses their location, another set of icons appears from which the user could choose the action they want to do once they get there. So, if “bathroom” was chosen, then the next 8 icons would include “brush teeth,” and “wash face.” After the user has completed all his choices, in an artificial voice the machine would then say: “I want to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.”

    Three very complicated technologies were required in creating this device. The first was a high-performance, small yet affordable electroencephalograph (EEG); the second was the technology to quickly and correctly decipher the brain wave data, and the third was the program to efficiently create the message. So, after various technological improvements, both an EEG half the size of a cell phone, and a program with the speed to decipher the user’s choices in 3-to-4 seconds, were successfully developed.

    “Since we experiment to deepen the understanding of the human brain, sometimes people speak badly of us and we are referred to as the ‘mad scientists’,” admits Hasegawa. “But with devices like this, we believe neuroscience can provide society with beneficial accomplishments.”

    EyePlusPlus, Inc.
    the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    日本では今、社会全体でバリアフリー化が進められています。そして、 体の不自由な人たちを助ける装置も開発されています。株式会社アイプラスプラスの「オーデコ」(額感覚認識システム)は、目の見えない人を助ける装置です。これを額につけると目の前にある物の形を、肌で感じることができます。例えば丸い物があると、この装置は電気の刺激で額に円の形を描きます。横断歩道があると横線を表示します。このように物の輪郭を額で知ることができるのです。









    文:砂崎 良

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  • インテリアとしても愛される仏像の魅力を伝える

    [From August Issue 2010]

    MORITA Inc.

    MORITA Inc. deals mainly in Buddhist images. The original company, established in 1968, sold carved wooden ornaments called “engimono” (good luck charms). However, their popularity soon waned and while the company tried to find its next product line, Representative Director MORITA Shigeru, who took over the company from his grandfather, noticed the popularity of Buddhist images.

    “First, we were providing hand-carved Buddha images to shrines and temples. But when we started a mail-order business for our customers about eight years ago, we sold 5,000 items in three months. I myself became interested in Buddhist imagery, also finding them attractive,” recalls Morita. His company then started the “Butsuzou World” original brand two years ago to further develop and sell their items to the general public.

    Presently, their main product is the “Real Butsuzou” line of lifelike reproductions of Buddhist images that have been designated as Japanese natural treasures, including Ashura (the aggressive guardians), Senju-Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy with a thousand arms) and Miroku Bosatsu (The Buddha of the Future). Each realistic, miniature copy measures 20 ~ 50 cm in height. And while they are all made with identical silicon molds to ensure excellent detail, they all turn out to be slightly different from one other. The finishing touches are then done by professional craftsmen. Finally, the color and gold leaf is also manually applied.

    For instance, Ashura (63,000 yen) is supposed to be a “very detailed copy of the existing image,” featuring peeling gold leaf to resemble the original 1,300-year old artwork. When “The National Treasure ASHURA and Masterpieces of Kohfukuji” attracted more than 900,000 people in Tokyo, MORITA Inc.’s “Real Butsuzou” brand instantly attracted a lot of media attention. Last year they sold 1,700 copies of the Ashura figure alone.

    Morita, who continues to actively attend department store events across the country, says that “men and women of younger generations look upon Buddha images as fine art, and share new information with me. Most of our customers seem to buy them as interior decorations without much religious motivation. Our product is also popular among people who demand high quality when they buy things such as a camera or a watch.”

    Although Butsuzou World has grown in popularity because of the boom in Buddha images, Morita hopes that its popularity won’t end there. “Through Buddha images, I want to share with the world our beautiful, traditional Japanese culture and spirituality, that we should be proud of. We have to keep on and hand it down to the next generation,” he says.

    MORITA Inc. has a gallery at its main office in Higashi-matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, a retail shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara area, as well as also exhibiting and selling items in various department stores in the Tokyo area. “I want to make Butsuzou World grow into a more stable brand and then open a satellite store in Tokyo within three years. After that, we are thinking about expanding into Europe,” he alludes.

    MORITA Inc.






    たとえば、阿修羅(63,000円)の「細密現存仕様」の場合、金箔のはがれ具合や1,300年を経た風合いまで実物そっくりです。そして、東京だけで90万人以上が来場した昨年の「国宝 阿修羅展」をきっかけにメディアで取り上げられると、リアル仏像はたちまち話題になりました。阿修羅は去年だけで1,700体も売れました。





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