HondaJet makes its first flight in Japan as it nears full-scale production in the US

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RocketNews 24:

After several decades of research, development, and testing, the HondaJet is almost ready for delivery. But even though the business class jet, which the Japanese media has referred to as the “realization of the company founder’s dream,” is nearing certification through test flights in the United States, it hadn’t actually made an appearance in the skies of Japan…until this week!

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It was apparently the dream of Soichiro Honda, engineer and founder of Honda, to have his company produce a jet. In fact, it’s been over half a century since the founder proclaimed that the company was entering the aircraft business in 1962. The first significant steps in producing aircraft were taken in 1986, and since then, the company has spent countless hours on research, development, and design in the United States, where the HondaJet has been developed and will be manufactured, partly in conjunction with GE.

Though the jet has not yet finished certification, it has made numerous flights in the United States with potential customers and orders are already being accepted. Despite its airworthiness and the sort of high-tech features you’d expect from Honda, the HondaJet never actually flew in Japan until April 23, when it landed at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

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The jet holds up to seven people and sells for 4.5 million dollars in the United States. It also apparently has 17 percent better fuel efficiency than most other jets in the same class, so just drop that little tidbit, if you’re having trouble justifying the cost to your spouse or board of directors! But you’ll have company if you decide to order now. Honda reports that it’s gotten over 100 orders between North America and Europe and it expects to start making deliveries in the US “soon.”

For those of you in Japan right now, you can catch the HondaJet on display at Sendai Airport, Kobe Airport, Kumamoto Airport, Okanan Airport (in Okayama), and Narita Airport in Tokyo on various dates over the next two weeks. You’ll be able to view the aircraft parked and catch some flight demonstrations as well.

If you’re ready to buy a HondaJet of your own, you can find a list of dealers here. Sadly, they only list North American and European locations, so if you want one in Japan, it looks like you’ll have to import it yourself!

Muji (Japan) furnishes Narita International Airport’s new Terminal 3

Universal Studios to open theme park in Okinawa

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RocketNews 24:

For folks in the Kanto area, theme parks tend to mean Tokyo Disneyland, and for people in the Kansai area, they mean Universal Studios Japan, or USJ for short. But what about Okinawan residents? We suppose they could just fly to Osaka or Tokyo if they get bored with their beautiful beaches and old-lady idol groups, but they don’t have much actually in the prefecture.

However, it looks like things are going to change for theme-park-ride-starved Okinawans: It was revealed today that USJ is planning to open a second park on the tropical island!

Of course, things are still in the very early planning stages for USJ Number 2, and a location hasn’t even been decided yet. But there are a few details that have been released.

First, it looks like the theme park will be smaller in scale than USJ in Osaka–which seems sensible. Okinawa’s population is just over 1.4 million, while there are over 18.7 million people in the Osaka metro area–not to mention all the theme park lovers coming from farther out.

Unfortunately, that smaller scale will bring another downside for Harry Potter fans: The themes won’t include movies! Obviously, we don’t know what themes will be included, but Okinawans can always hope they change their mind.

▼And USJ Osaka just built a new Jurassic Park area too!

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As for why USJ has chosen Okinawa, where you would think the beaches, castles, hiking, and diving would be enough to keep anyone busy, it seems that USJ is looking to expand. It turns out that they’re simply running out of room in Osaka and started looking elsewhere, including outside of Japan. In the end, they decided on Okinawa thanks to the government’s enthusiasm and offer of support. What exactly that support would be is unclear, though we imagine it’s easier to build a theme park when the locals actually want it built there!

Obviously, Okinawa has a much smaller population than the mainland, but they do see plenty of tourists. In 2013, for example, 6.4 millions tourists visited Okinawa, and while we’re sure beaches are great, we can only imagine beaches and roller coasters are an even bigger draw! And with plane tickets from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Okinawa coming in at just over 30,000 yen (a bit more than US$247), we can see this working out as a great destination for people who want to get away–but not too far away.

▼Even minions need a vacation sometimes!

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But before you start strapping on your sandals and getting in line, we should point out that Glenn Gumpel, the CEO of USJ, emphasized that this was all still in the planning stage.

Narita Airport shuttle buses – Cheaper than the train, but which bus is best?

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RocketNews 24:

Most tourists to Japan will come in and out through Tokyo’s Narita Airport. But like many international airports, Narita is not exactly on the doorstep of a major destination city, and travellers headed for Tokyo will usually make the 60-kilometer (36-mile) journey to the metropolis via the Narita Express, a high-speed rail service with a single-trip fare of 3020 yen (US $25.34).

What’s perhaps less well-known is there are two budget bus services that take you from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station for as little as 900 yen. Tokyo Shuttle and The Access Narita seem to offer similar airport shuttle services, but which is the better option?  And can they match the Narita Express in comfort and convenience? We sent one of our Japanese reporters to test out both services and find out!

First things first, let’s have a look at the vital statistics for each service.

1) Fares and times

Tokyo Shuttle: Reserved seats for all services cost 900 yen ($7.55) and can be booked online in English. The walk-up fare is 1,000 yen, or 2,000 yen on early morning services (before 5 a.m.).

The Access Narita: Tickets cost a flat rate of 1,000 yen ($8.38); you can also book online, but the website is in Japanese only.

Both services run approximately every 15-20 minutes (except services before 5 a.m. which are less frequent), with journey times of 60 to 80 minutes. By comparison, the Narita Express leaves every 30 minutes, with a journey time of just 53 minutes, although it doesn’t run as early in the morning as these buses.

2) Routes

Tokyo Shuttle operates between Narita Airport and locations in Tokyo: Ginza Station, Tokyo Station, Shinonome Shako, and the Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.

▼ That’s right, you can get a shuttle bus direct from the airport to the retro wonderland that is arguably Tokyo’s coolest hot spring!

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The Access Narita, meanwhile, runs between the airport, Ginza, and Tokyo Station, and also runs a service between Tokyo and the major hotels at Narita airport. So if you’re staying near Narita Airport before flying home, The Access Narita is a good bet.

▼ They also get a bonus point for that unnecessary “The” in their name, although we immediately docked that point again because “The Access Narita” isn’t actually written on their buses anywhere.

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3) Location of Tokyo bus stops

When heading to the airport on your way home, you’ll need to be able to find the bus stop. Tokyo Shuttle’s stand was a little way away from Tokyo Station, and our reporter had a hard time finding it. The Access Narita, however, was close to the station exit and easy to find. He felt this gave it the edge in terms of convenience.

Tokyo Shuttle buses, operated by Keisei, are easily identifiable, unlike The Access Narita which is operated by different bus companies depending on the time of day.

▼ What bus company is this? We’re sure you’ll figure it out.

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 4) Onboard facilities

With tickets purchased and bus stops located, it was time to ride to Narita Airport! Next up, our reporter wanted to check out the facilities available on each service.

Tokyo Shuttle’s buses have electrical sockets and Wi-Fi which could be very handy if you’ve just arrived in the country (don’t forget your adapter!). The Access Narita, on the other hand, has more leg-room and an onboard toilet.

▼ Tokyo Shuttle gets a bonus point this time though, for those lacy seat covers.

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▼ Although there are still some Tokyo Shuttle services that don’t have Wi-Fi and electrical outlets yet, ours did, as marked on the exterior of the bus.

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▼ The Access Narita looks pretty similar, but boasts “wide seats” for extra comfort.

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 ▼ A choice between charging your electrical devices, and having access to a bathroom? It’s the ultimate 21st-century dilemma…

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We think this contest is almost a tie, to be honest, but our Japanese reporter felt that the extra leg-room and onboard restroom made The Access Narita the winner in his book. He offered the following words of advice for new riders:

  • When you ride the bus from Tokyo to the airport, an official comes onboard and checks tickets and ID. So keep your ticket and passport accessible, not buried in the bottom of your bag under all those souvenirs.
  • If you don’t make a reservation, it’s possible the bus might be full and you might have to wait for the next one. So we recommend either booking in advance online, or leaving a little extra time to get to the airport on your return journey.

With these points in mind, you should be able to enjoy a cheap and easy trip from Narita to Tokyo!

Why is Japan such an unpopular tourist destination?

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RocketNews 24:

You would think that a country like Japan, rich as it is in both traditional culture and technical innovation, as well as plenty of weird and wacky things you’ll never see elsewhere, would be a huge hit with tourists. But as it turns out, Japan is actually not such a popular destination for people traveling abroad. Join us after the jump to find out why.

Tourism from abroad brings in around 900 billion yen per year for Japan. To put it in perspective, France makes around 5 trillion, the UK 3 trillion, Germany 3.7 trillion, and America 11 trillion yen from tourism. It might look like just a matter of zeroes on paper, but that’s a significant difference.

▼Two Asian countries feature in this top 10 ranking of the most popular tourist destinations, and neither of them is Japan.

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▼Even compared to other Asian countries it doesn’t measure up well. Japan attracts fewer foreign tourists than Malaysia, South Korea, and Singapore.

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So just why is this beautiful country which has so much to offer such an unpopular holiday destination?

Publicity problems

Firstly, Japan needs more and better quality advertising. With the world now connected by the internet you can easily communicate with people half-way around the globe as though they’re right there with you in your room, and people are becoming more interested in other cultures. Japan needs to be able to self-promote, and articulate to the wider world exactly why people should come and visit.

China has size on its side, Thailand has its resorts and backpacker culture, Cambodia has its historical ruins; people visiting Asia for the first time have so much choice on where to go, so proper promotion is extremely important for a country hoping to stand out on a platter already crowded with delicacies. And right now, Japan just isn’t getting itself out there enough.

But what about cool Japan, the government drive to get more foreigners interested in Japan?

There have been attempts to come up with advertising campaigns, certainly, but they’ve fallen woefully short. Celebrities have huge star attraction here, but the PR gurus don’t seem to have caught on that using Japanese stars to advertise Japan just doesn’t work, since people outside of the country often have no clue who they are unless they already interested in Japan, hence these ads are essentially preaching to the choir. Japanese boy band Arashi’s tourism advert, a part of the government’s official Visit Japan campaign, seems more like a music video aimed at teenage girls; not exactly the demographic with the money to spend on flights, hotels and sightseeing.

Skytree-high costs:

The top reasons people from Europe and the USA don’t come to Japan is that it’s both too far and too expensive. Since the island is pretty much tethered where it is there’s not much that can be done about the former, but surely there could be some workarounds regarding the latter. Accommodation and transport are very expensive and on top of that are the costs of food, souvenirs and so on, so with a high-valued yen people are bound to look to cheaper options such as Asia, where even the poorest of student travelers can survive.

Lost in translation:

Then there’s the fact that it’s not very easy to go on holiday here without knowing the language, because of the comparatively low level of English of most native Japanese folks. Even in the midst of Tokyo you can find yourself stuck due to language issues, and once you get out of the city there are still many supposed sightseeing spots that don’t have any English signs. Japanese also isn’t like languages which use the Roman alphabet, so travellers can’t simply type a written word into their dictionary or translation app (though hopefully one day soon they’ll be able to scan them), so the average not-overly-adventurous traveler is severely limited when they find they can’t even read restaurant menus or the names written on signs at train stations. Japanese people also tend to be quite shy and reserved, even if they do have a smattering of English, unlike other countries where people will go out of their way to try to communicate with you even if they don’t speak a word of your language.

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Japanese-only convenience:

Japan is often said to be an incredibly convenient place, epitomized by the ubiquitous conbini, and this is true if you are actually living there. Unfortunately, it can still be very inconvenient for travelers and people staying short-term.

Firstly, actually getting into the city can be a bit of a pain since its busiest international airport, Narita, is located quite far out of central Tokyo. Then, when you want to pay for your train or bus ticket you might find yourself in a bit of a bind since Japan is still a mostly cash society and there are many places that do not accept credit cards. On top of that, ATMs that accept foreign cards are few and far between and are often closed outside of regular business hours; something we’ve noted before as a particular irk of living in Japan. And forget hopping online to check your route or research places to visit as, despite Japan’s reputation as a technologically advanced country, there are still very few places with wi-fi, free or otherwise. You also can’t buy cheap mobile phones with disposable SIM cards, making keeping in touch with other members of your group difficult.

All in all these factors all contribute to the reality that people aren’t going to be inclined to come and visit unless they already have an interest in Japan.

▼”I’ve been waiting for visitors for so long my legs have fallen asleep.”

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But all is not lost! 

The number of foreign visitors to Japan has been increasing recently, and during the New Year period department stores reportedly saw three times more foreigners coming to their start-of-year sales than the previous year. More places including shrines are stepping up their game and starting to provide wi-fi access, and Tokyo Metro has launched a free wi-fi service aimed at tourists across 143 of their stations. Furthermore, a bank on the road leading to the Grand Shrine at Ise has begun offering a foreign currency exchange service since many people were saying that it was inconvenient not to have any exchange services nearby. These are all signs that Japanese companies are starting to think more about catering to people visiting from overseas. The growth in tourists can also be attributed to the recent weakening of the yen brought about by Abenomics, making things cheaper for Americans and Europeans, and department stores are publicizing the fact that duty-free shopping is available for foreign visitors.

And of course with Tokyo hosting the Olympics in 2020, the country is going to experience a definite surge in foreign visitors. The questions now are whether or not Japan will be ready for them, and if the Games will have a lasting effect on the tourism industry in the future.

4 Things women are banned from doing in Japan

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Women have been prohibited from doing certain things (entering places, using facilities, etc.) for as long as civilization has existed. Restrictions are still common, albeit usually in religious contexts only. While religions themselves evolve and change with the times and bans are lifted, it doesn’t mean all of them get an update.

As women, we all know the purported reasons behind these bans: women are “impure” because we menstruate (the same impure biological process that allows us to give life to men), we are the physically weaker sex, and we distract men with our beauty. Yada, yada, yada.

Today, in our Women in Japan Series, we take a look at four things women are still not allowed to do in Japan. I’ve divided them into bans and semi-bans. Bans allow no women; semi-bans allow women–but only sometimes.

Of course, it’s high time these restrictions were lifted. While much headway has been made in the past, such as the lifting of the rule preventing women from climbing Mount Fuji, other bans are proving more stubborn despite protests by Japanese women’s groups. Will these restrictions be lifted anytime soon? Only the Japanese people can decide.

1. Ban: Climbing to the top of Mount Omine

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Reason: Women are a “distraction”

If you’ve ever dreamed of climbing Mount Omine in Nara Prefecture (officially known as Mt. Sanjo)–a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 100 most famous mountains in Japan–we hope you’re not a woman. You might be surprised to learn that UNESCO doesn’t take gender into consideration when awarding World Heritage status, but heritage sites that ban the entire female race can be found in Burma, India, and Greece as well as Japan.

Mt. Omine won World Heritage status as part of a larger category of Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. In fact, the popular Kumano Pilgrimage route goes through the sacred area but makes allowances for women hiking through this part. They are still prohibited, however, from climbing up to Ominesanji Temple at the top of the mountain.

This interdiction is carried over from the old days when, according to Shinto tradition, it was felt that women’s alluring nature would distract male pilgrims from their ascetic duties. Well, perhaps all women were drop-dead gorgeous then, or maybe during those days it was de rigueur for women to hike around naked. But that’s certainly not the case today. Besides, you’d think the real test of a pilgrim seeking religious purity via the strict denial of worldly pleasures, would be to insist that he strictly deny himself worldly pleasures!

▼This sign says: nyonin kekkai (女人結界), or “Women Banned”

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 ▼Just in case you don’t believe us, here’s a sign straight from the temple, complete with translation especially for foreign enchantresses.

Women banned sign

For information on updates to this rule, I made a quick call to Oku Japan, who runs off-the-beaten-track tours to places such as the Kumano Pilgrimage. One of their female guides confirmed the exclusion and said that in recent years they have started taking steps to soften it. She says that while it’s unlikely anyone would try to stop you from entering the mountain path, the local people still take pride in the rule and there may be friction if you enter. She doesn’t recommend pushing the limits.

At any rate, despite the edict seeming inimical to tourism, who are we to decide what local people should allow and not allow within their heritage sites? And one should never disrespectfully trample upon religious traditions. But we can still hope that more softening will take place to the degree of baby softness, and that women will be able to hike up the mountain some day, even while menstruating.

There is one part of the mountain, called Mount Inamura (稲村ヶ岳) that is sometimes referred to as Nyonin Omine (女人大峯), or “Women’s Ōmine,” reserved for ladies. Let’s hope there’s a bar set up there with sake and hors d’oeuvres.

 

2. Ban: Entering the sumo ring, taking part in sumo competitions and rituals

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Reason: women violate the purity of the sumo ring

The Sumo Association claims that since women have traditionally not been allowed to take part in sumo activities through the centuries, that it would be a dishonor to all of their ancestors to change it. Well, that pretty much seals the case since we can’t get permission from the ancestors. Or can we? Why not get in touch with the Itako fortunetellers of Aomori Prefecture, known for their ability to talk with the dead? Surely this is just a formality and all she has to do is run the idea past the sumo ancestors. With the impressive Japanese women in martial arts these days, and the recent ignominy from a decade of scandals, you’d think women would get tacit approval from the ancestors as well. Besides, there have been suggestions that women’s sumo did play a role in some Shinto rituals in the past, so we could clear that up at the same time. Hey, it’s worth a try because as it stands now, women are not allowed to enter the sumo ring even to present prizes to the wrestlers (and yes, women are chosen to give prizes).

And, as with most things that claim women are impure, we’re not that impure since we’re expected to assist our sumo wrestler spouses in their duties, and, should we be married to a stable master, to dedicate our time to helping out those training under him. So there you go: “Behind every successful man is a supportive (impure) woman.”

I might even be fine with excluding women from the sumo ring if the law were a bit more fungible and allowed women to create their own professional league. This is truly long overdue since women’s sumo, called onnazumo, has been around as an amateur sport since the early 18th century. It is now a modern female sport in Japan that includes women of all ages. Yet it is still forbidden from having professional status.

 

3. Semi-Ban: Staying in capsule hotels

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Reason: Targeted towards businessmen

You may have heard that many of Japan’s capsule hotels are men-only. That’s not true; almost all are men-only. To most people it’s enough to say that the rule doesn’t exist anymore because there are now capsule hotels that allow women. But if a woman just randomly rocks up to a capsule hotel, she’s going to be turned away 99 times out of 100. So it’s more correct to say that women are still not permitted at most capsule hotels.

This budget accommodation, where you stay inside a capsule-like tube, used to be the exclusively for males because such it targeted business men and those who drank until late enough at night to have missed the last train home to the suburbs (the occasional drunk business woman presumably had to either sleep in the gutter or hope she had enough money left over to stay at a higher priced hotel). Some capsule hotels are recognizing that women also work long hours and tend to drink and miss the last train home, and thus have added women’s floors. But not many. Don’t expect to find any that accept females in the countryside. I know–I slept outside once while on the Shikoku Pilgrimage because all the local hotels were full and the one nearby capsule hotel didn’t accept women.

Here are a few female-friendly capsule hotels with English websites: Asahi Plaza in Osaka. Green Plaza in Tokyo and Nine Hours which has long been one of our favorites and has two locations: Narita Airport and Kyoto.

4. Semi-Ban: Becoming sushi chefs

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Reason: Women’s hands are too warm, so could ruin the flavor of the sushi.

This subject has been discussed in much detail in several English media outlets, and it was declared an urban myth by National Public Radio in the U.S.. But the fact remains that many Japanese people still believe women shouldn’t be sushi chefs. And while men are happy to have their wives make sushi at home, the denizens of the kitchen are rarely seen preparing it at restaurants, considered to be the domain of male chefs.

Jiro Ono, owner of the Michelin 3-star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, has a son who told Speakeasy (the Wall Street Journal blog) that women shouldn’t become sushi chefs because they menstruate. In the interview he said, “To be a professional means to have a steady taste in your food, but because of the menstrual cycle women have an imbalance in their taste, and that’s why women can’t be sushi chefs.” He didn’t elaborate on their chances of becoming sushi chefs after menopause.

Of course this is just pabulum to appease the restaurant elites. We know the truth–put a beautiful woman behind the sushi bar and you’ll sell a lot more sushi!

Well, with all the ballyhoo about menstruation and impurity, it’s a wonder women can succeed in anything at all. Yet we do, all by our little menstrual selves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a busy schedule today distracting ascetics and pandering my feminine charm to any male passerby–it’s all in a typical day of a pre-menopausal woman!

New ‘9 Hour’ Japanese airport hotel looks straight out of ‘The Fifth Element’

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Next Shark:

Leave it to the Japanese to make the most high-tech and convenient solution for a problem we all hate — delayed and cancelled flights. Introducing “9h Nine Hourshotel, an accommodation found in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and downtown Kyoto that will make you feel like you are in a futuristic movie. 9h is as science fiction as you can get, with sleeping pods that resemble honeycombs and locker rooms and personal showers that can refresh any weary traveler.

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9h is also very practical, especially for delayed passengers staying for just short durations. You can stay anywhere from one hour to 10 days, according to the website. Booking ahead at Narita will cost around 3,900 yen ($32.92) per night, and last-minute deals reach up to 6,440 yen ($54.29). However, delayed passengers can also just stop in for a nap or quick shower, which can cost just a few dollars each according to time spent.

9h directions

When you check in, you receive a pod number, locker key, towel and a robe which you return when you check out. What 9h doesn’t offer or allow is food, however, so you will have to eat whatever is available in the airport.

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The term “nine hours” refers to the standard time for a refreshing stay — one hour to shower and get ready for bed, seven hours to sleep, and one hour to relax and prepare for your journey ahead.

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Sections are separated by gender, and each sleeping unit is built with a Panasonic sleeping system to induce sleep and wake you up by adjusting the brightness of the light.

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If you are ever in Japan, you should definitely stay here. So far, the hotel has garnered positive reviews.