Continuing earthquakes in Kumamoto have moved a GPS observation station nearly one meter

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RocketNews 24 (by Preston Phro):

Strong earthquakes are expected to continue for another week.

The continuing earthquakes that have hit the island of Kyushu for the last four days have wrought significant destruction on the region and resulted in the loss of 41 lives. Beloved historic sites have seen extensive damage, and landslides and a small eruption from the volcano Mount Aso have only added to the disaster and anxiety in the area.

The severity of the earthquakes can be difficult to comprehend, but recent news stories show just how much they have changed the face of the land. According to NHK, one GPS observation point in Minimi Aso moved southwest 97 centimeters (38 inches). The same observation point rose 23 centimeters (about 9 inches). Another observation point moved east-northeast 75 centimeters (about 28.7 inches) and fell 20 centimeters (about 7.87 inches).

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The tremors and aftershocks have yet to stop and NHK reports that over 400 have been detected between the first earthquake on April 14 and noon on April 17. Japan’s meteorological agency expects strong tremors to continue for some time and have called for vigilance in the area, indicating that the earthquakes with a seismic activity of “weak 6” may continue for around another week. Currently, 11 people have been reported missing.

In addition to the earthquakes striking Japan, a massive earthquake has also hit Ecuador, resulting in the deaths of 28 people.

Air Bonsai: Levitating magnetic bonsai trees by Hoshinchu

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Despite the visual beauty and life-giving nature of plants, there’s always been one main problem with our vegetative friends: plants can’t fly. A small company called Hoshinchu based out of Kyushu, Japan, recently set out to fix the problem that evolution forgot by inventing the Air Bonsai, a system for magnetically levitating small bonsai trees several inches above a small electrified pedestal. The system allows you to create your own miniature Avatar-like worlds with tiny trees or shrubs planted in balls of moss, but is also powerful enough to suspend special ceramic dishes of fragments of lava rock.

Air Bonsai is currently funding like crazy on Kickstarter and is availble in a number of configurations starting with a base DIY kit for $200 that requires you to use your own plants up to more elaborate designs that may only ship in Japan.

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Rare footage of volcanic lightning storm captured during eruption of a Japanese volcano

German videographer Marc Szeglat managed to capture video of an extremely rare volcanic lightning storm in the plume of Sakurajima, a highly active volcano location on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The phenomenon, also known as a dirty thunderstorm, occurs when particles from the eruption collide to produce static charges.

Black Mont Blanc: The most loved ice cream in Japan you can only buy in Kyushu

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RocketNews 24:

Usually when people talk about “culture shock,” we think of moving to another country–but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. It can be anything from moving from one prefecture to another or even just moving into the city from the country or vice versa.

Of course, you can’t get much more “city” than Tokyo, so, of course, many Japanese people moving here from more rural areas might experience a bit of culture shock. And today we’ll be looking at one such example for one of our Japanese writers who came to the metropolis from Kyushu! Hint: it involves delicious ice cream.

▼We’ve marked Kyushu on the bottom-left and Tokyo on the right.

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Of course, moving from Kyushu to Tokyo isn’t exactly the same as, say, moving to Japan’s capital city from France or Germany, though it certainly does present a host of new things to learn. For Takashi Harada, one of our writers for the Japanese side of RocketNews24, there was naturally a lot to get used to, least not the ocean of people inhabiting the city. But one of the biggest differences for him was the food–to be specific, the lack of a certain ice cream bar.

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Called “Burakku Monburan,” or “Black Mont Blanc,” the ice cream bar (pictured above) is one of the most popular in Kyushu. Unfortunately for homesick Kyushu natives living elsewhere in Japan, the dessert is sold almost exclusively on the mostly-rural island. However, it seems that the ice cream bar is so popular and so common in Kyushu that most who live there never even consider that it’s not really available anywhere else.

In fact, according to our writer, the ice cream is a bit like local “soul food” and everyone from child to adults eat it. So, when Takashi stopped by a local convenience store in Tokyo, he was taken aback to find it wasn’t on any of the shelves. It’s not quite as bad as being allergic to fish in Japan, but it was a bit of a shock to our writers, and we can imagine that it would be enough to ruin your night if you’re really looking for some comfort food after moving halfway across the country!

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It would be like if Garigari-kun suddenly disappeared from all the convenience stores!” he explained. While that might not mean much to you if you’ve never had one of Japan’s most popular popsicles, it would certainly be a shock to most Japanese people.

By now, you’re probably wondering what makes this Black Mont Blanc ice cream bar so special, but it’s apparently just vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate and cookie crumbs. That’s…actually, that sounds really good, even if it is still freezing in Tokyo right now! But it’s not just the ice cream itself–the bar was first produced 45 years ago, and we suspect its long life has been part of cementing its popularity. Kind of like an edible security blanket.

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Now, we mentioned above that it’s almost exclusively sold in Kyushu. Apparently the manufacturer has started branching out a little bit, and you can now find it at limited stores. For example, it’s available at Summit in Tokyo, some 7-Elevens in the Kansai area, and you can buy it online, too.

Anime pillow responds to your rubbing with moans and groans, gets angry if you get too grabby

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RocketNews 24:

A proper anime character huggy pillow seems to have become a critical component of the full fetish and fantasy regalia of a well-rounded otaku, but there are certain things you just can’t do with such a 2-D crush. Sure, anime girl pillows will let you squeeze them and passionately insert your sweet nothings into their non-existent eardrums, but no matter how fervently romantic you become, you can’t expect any sort of pillow talk from your pillow.

Unless, that is, you’re curled up beneath the sheets with the Ita-Supo, the first talking huggy pillow that responds to your touch with verbal responses, including angry outbursts if you get too grabby.

Developer Koichi Uchimura used to be a researcher at Kyushu Institute of Technology. While we’re not sure what precise field of academia he was involved with at the Fukuoka Prefecture university, his current mission in life is developing new technologies with which to “support people’s otaku life.”

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No stranger to the allures of anime huggy pillows, or dakimakura, as they’re called in Japanese, Uchimura nonetheless was feeling unfulfilled. “When we’d sleep in the same bed, I’d start to think, ‘I wish she could talk,’ so I wanted to make that a reality.”

The result was Rina Makuraba, whose family name is a pun on makura, the Japanese word for pillow.

 

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The Ita-Supo isn’t as rudimentary as a button-activated speaker inside a pillowcase, though. As Uchimura explains in the product’s introductory video, “If you don’t rub her, she won’t make any sounds. You have to rub her.”

▼ The inventor is happy to demonstrate his technique.

 

You can probably already see where this is going: straight to the breasts, which in this instance are accompanied by Rina meowing like a pleased kitty cat…

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…followed by an excursion in Crotchland, which elicits a breathy, “No, not there,” but capped with a telltale heart mark to show she’s being coquettishly consensual.

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“For otaku, this is the dakimakura of their dreams,” asserts Uchimura. But while that claim might make you imagine that Rina will let you do whatever you want with her, that’s actually not how the system works.

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As shown in the video, the sensor responds differently to different kinds of stroking. Mash your palm over Rina’s chest, and she’ll get upset, saying, “Hey, that hurts!” and “Hey, hands off!” Uchimura even alludes to a cumulative effect, where a continual lack of gentleness will put Rina in such a bad mood she’ll stop talking to you altogether.

On the other hand, a smoother, more measured groping will instead produce a string of increasingly positive reactions.

“What’s gonna happen if I start to love you even more than I already do?”

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Otaku who’re worried about a limited phrase set ruining the mood by making it feel like they’re making out with a 1994 Sega Genesis sports game announcer will be pleased to know that the Ita-Supo comes preloaded with over 500 speech patterns. Uchimura says that expansions are also planned, which can be downloaded to your smartphone, then transferred into the pillow.

Despite proudly referring to Rina as his wife in the video, Uchimura seems to have no qualms about sharing, or even selling, his anime spouse, and his campaign on Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake has already raised 302,000 yen (US $2,560) of the 500,000 yen it’s seeking. 20,000 yen will get you your very own touch-responsive dakimakura, featuring either Rina or alternate Ita-Supo stars Shion Kamitsuki and Shiho Natsuki.

▼ Shion and Shiho’s family names aren’t as pun-tastic as Rina’s, but they do both contain the kanji character for “moon,” keeping with the nocturnal image of pillows (and bedtop hanky-panky).

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If you’re feeling like your bed is both too lonely and too quiet, you can throw some cash at Uchimura right here. Who knows, if the response is positive enough, maybe for his next project he’ll equip that giant six-meter (19.7-foot) anime dakimakura we saw last month with a megaphone.

London’s best ramen bars


Time Out:

From Kyushu-style tonkotsu made with long-simmered pork bone broth, to simple soy sauce based soup, we’ve seen a spate of ramen joints open in London.

Here’s a pick of where to grab a steaming bowl of thin wheat noodles in broth. Do you agree with the choices?

Ippudo

3 Central St Giles Piazza, WC2 8AG

The speciality here is tonkotsu with pork loin slices, crunchy kikurage (cloud ear mushroom) and thin, own-made noodles (in the dish called Shiromaru Hakata Classic). Vegetarians are not left out at Ippudo: there’s a seaweed and mushroom broth-based version that’s topped with fried tofu. Sadly, this is another no-bookings restaurant, and despite running to 80 covers, queues have been enormous so far.

Kanada-Ya

64 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LE

Founded in Japan in 2009, this award-winning tonkotsu specialist arrived in London in September 2014. Small, brightly lit and minimal, it is not the place for a leisurely meal. And it has a serious downside: lengthy mealtime queues outside its doors. But this is exceptional ramen, using smooth, rich, seriously savoury tonkotsu broth – one of the best we’ve tried in London.

Bone Daddies

30-31 Peter Street, W1F 0AT

The flavours are bold; the dining room is tightly packed; the staff are friendly. Bone Daddies is a gusty New York-style ramen bar with blaring rock music and a range of seriously rich ramen dishes.

Sasuke

32 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7LR

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In Tokyo there’s a whole, maze-like restaurant devoted to ninjas with stealthy staff dressed the part. Now London also has its own ninja-inspired venue, named after the fictional Edo period warrior Sarutobi Sasuke. But you won’t find any trick doors or throwing stars at this Soho ramen bar. As for the ramen, our miso version was hearty enough to fuel any covert mission.

Seto

5-6 Plender St, NW1 0JT

There are just a handful of varieties on offer at Seto, like soya sauce (shoyu), miso and Korean pickled cabbage (kimchi). All are made with an earthy chicken and pork bone broth and filled with pleasingly chewy noodles. Another ramen shop staple, pork gyoza dumplings, make a good choice too with crisp bottoms and bouncy wrappers.

Shoryu Ramen

9 Regent Street, SW1Y 4LR

Shoryu Ramen, japanese noodle joint, 9 Regent Street, SW1Y 4LR

Run by the same people as the Japan Centre across the road, Shoryu mix authentic Japanese flavours with a little bit of innovation. Specialising in tonkotsu ramen, made with a long-simmered pork bone broth, the bowls are filled with bouncy noodles and include a choice of unusual toppings like wasabi stalks and spicy-pickled mustard leaves. There’s a second branch in Soho.

Tonkotsu

63 Dean Street, W1D 4QG

Another champion of the long-simmered pork bone broth variety of noodles in soup stock, Tonkotsu serve theirs topped with slices of tender pork, beansprouts and half a marinated soft-boiled egg. They also offer a veggie noodle soup here – something you don’t see so often at ramen joints. There’s a second branch in Haggerston.

Coral in Japan’s Ogasawara Islands being threatened by Chinese poaching ships

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RocketNews 24:

 

While the vast majority of Japan’s population is crammed onto its four largest islands, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido, the country’s territories extend much farther out to sea. For example, if you head about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of downtown Tokyo, you’ll come to the Ogasawara Islands, one of Japan’s most remote settlements.

We’ve talked about the Ogasawaras before, and how their beautiful ocean scenery has been helping to attract tourists, to the archipelago. Recently, though, the islands have been seeing an increasing number of extremely unwelcome visitors, in the form of ship coming from China to poach coral.

Japanese authorities and Chinese fishing fleets regularly butt heads in the disputed Senkaku Islands. Things are usually a lot more peaceful, however,  in the Ogasawaras, which presumably have less strategic importance due to their greater distance from mainland Asia and Taiwan.

The Japanese media has a lot more eyes on the ordinarily low-profile Ogasawaras these days, though, with reports of groups of as many as 200 Chinese vessels  gathering to harvest red coral, which is then transported back to China for sale. Xiapu County, a district of Ningde City on the coast of the East China Sea, is said to be the base of operations for many of the poachers.

Xiapu

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In order to recoup the fuel and labor costs for their voyage to Japan, some of the poaching vessels spend two months out of port, employing techniques such as camouflaging their Chinese markings in to avoid arousing suspicion. The coral they gather is then sold illicitly sold in Xiapu, and with more product available than what’s needed to supply local demand, buyers also come from Shanghai to purchase large quantities to resell in other markets that are more lucrative still.

Japanese fishermen in the Ogasawara complain that the poaching activities are already disrupting their catches. Environmentalists and tourism promoters are likewise angry over the illegal practice, given that the slow speed at which coral develops makes any damage an ecological tragedy.

 

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China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement denouncing the illegal gathering of red coral, and has expressed its intentions to work with its Japanese counterparts in addressing the problem. At least a portion of the Xiapu public is unhappy with the poachers as well, as illustrated by an interior goods shop with a notice posted reminding customers that, “Recent poaching of red coral on the open seas has been staining our town’s image.”

The authorities have also offered rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,640) for information regarding poaching activities, and anecdotal evidence points to black market sellers becoming less brazen and open in the trafficking of their ill-gotten goods. Here’s hoping the countermeasures continue to be effective, giving the Ogasawara Islands’ coral the earliest possible start on its healing process.