Motoko Kakubayashi

A visit to the deep sea cafe - Kagaku

Apr 09, 2014

With dozens of crustaceans bustling over displays and food, this cafe knew how to stand out in one of the most trendy neighborhoods in Tokyo.   Inside the Shinkai Cafe (Deep Sea Cafe) in Tokyo From February to last Sunday, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) opened a special cafe inside major department store Tokyu Hands in Shibuya.  In an area most famous for attracting teenagers and young adults to its shopping malls and night life, JAMSTEC certainly chose the right place to promote its science to a new crowd.   I decided to go and check out this limited-time-only cafe last week, although I admit it took some courage to leave my apartment.   First, with my jeans and sweater look, I was clearly out of place in Shibuya surrounded by girls wearing the latest … Read More

24 metronomes in synchronisation - Kagaku

Sep 21, 2012

  It has been known if you put several metronomes (set to the same frequency, or same number of ticks per minute) on a movable platform, then no matter how out-of-sync you set them up to be at the beginning, eventually all of the metronomes will tick at the same time in the same direction.   A team of engineers at Saitama University, just outside of Tokyo, lead by Professor Tohru Ikeguchi decided to do an experiment with 24 metronomes.  All of them are placed onto a board which hangs from a solid frame by pieces of string.  You can see one of the researchers setting off each metronome quite randomly.  After two or three minutes, they are (pretty much) in synchronisation.   Why?   I’m not a metronome expert, but what I do know is that when one metronome’s … Read More

World’s first smartphone for senior citizens - Kagaku

Jul 24, 2012

With an advanced touchscreen, big icons, automatic sound adjustment during phone calls in noisy places, is waterproof, has an 8 megapixel camera, and a 4-inch display, the Raku-Raku Smartphone F-12D is getting ready to hit shop shelves in August in Japan.   The smartphone was developed by Fujitsu and will be sold by Japan’s largest mobile phone operator NTT Docomo.  Shops started taking preorders for the Raku-Raku Smartphone F-12D last Friday (raku-raku is the series name for mobiles developed by Fujitsu for first time mobile users or senior citizens, which could also refer to the Japanese word for easy or effortless).   Smartphones are big business in Japan.  In November 2011, MM Research Institute in Tokyo had reported just under 43 million mobiles were shipped out to shops in 2011, and about half of those were smartphones.   In order to get ahead … Read More

World’s tallest tower becomes Tokyo’s new icon - Kagaku

May 25, 2012

The world’s tallest tower Tokyo Skytree opened to the public this week.  The broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower uses some of the latest technologies developed by Japanese companies. I read a story outlining a few of the highlights, and here they are: Control device at tip: At the top of the tower (634 metres up) is a vibration control device which detects and balances out movements the tower makes in the wind to millimetre precision.  It also does not need electricity. Strong antenna: The tower’s antenna will not budge in winds blowing up to almost 400 km/h. Super elevator: An elevator developed by Toshiba takes 50 seconds to transport people from ground level to the observation deck 350 metres above.  It’s 10 times faster than the average apartment building’s elevator, and each elevator fits 40 people. Earthquake resistance: Central shaft made … Read More

What to do with 20 million tons of debris - Kagaku

Apr 27, 2012

Piles of debris I saw during a trip up north in Miyagi prefecture in March 2012 Tidy piles of rubbish line the north-eastern Japan coastline where there used to be towns.  The question is, what can you do with so much stuff? The tsunami which hit Japan’s coast on March 11 last year destroyed houses, shops and entire communities, condensing it into more than 22 million tons of debris.  To get a better picture of how much that is, it would take the people living in north-east Japan a decade to generate the same amount of household rubbish. Just before the one year anniversary of the Japan’s devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, I had the opportunity to go up north to see the place for myself.  Around sea level, everything had been wiped out.  From time … Read More

Sushi robot with top speed of 3300-sushi-per-hour - Kagaku

Apr 05, 2012

Spinning, pressing, chopping, and precisely-arranging sushi at speeds man could not achieve is the way for one Japanese manufacturer. Sushi-making robots are on display at a food business expo in Tokyo this week, including a shari robot (shari is prepared sushi rice) and a norimaki robot (norimaki or makizushi is sushi usually wrapped in seaweed, and it’s the most common sushi I’ve seen sold in shops throughout New Zealand). The SSN-FLA and TRS-FMA robots made by food machine manufacturer SUZUMO are capable of making 3300 shari sushi every hour. Then there is SUZUMO’s SVR-NVE norimaki robot, which can be programmed to make 400 thin sushi rolls, 300 normal sushi rolls, or about 280 thick sushi rolls every hour. SUZUMO has an English website if anyone is interested at looking at their product range. Read More

A trip to the doctor in Japan - Kagaku

Apr 02, 2012

Following a visit to my tenth doctor since moving to Tokyo, I think I have seen enough to give an insight into how different it is from seeing a doctor in New Zealand. To get an idea about my medical past, firstly, I was born in New Zealand.  A Plunket nurse came to check up on me when I was a baby, the immunisation nurses pricked my arm when I was at intermediate, and then at university the nurses told me about the things I could catch as an adult if I wasn’t careful.  But for most of the 25 years I spent around the lower North Island I went to one doctor, a GP who lived about 15 minutes from my house in Palmy. I’ve been living in Tokyo for two years now, and yesterday I went to see my tenth … Read More

Bonobo apes look for injured ape - Kagaku

Mar 19, 2012

For the past year in Japan, there’s been a big emphasis on unity following the Japan Earthquake.  Helping a friend in need.  I came across an interesting story in the Yomiuri Shimbun suggesting humans aren’t the only ones with this ability or emotion. Japanese scientists from Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute studying Bonobo apes in Congo saw something totally new in their behaviour.  A search party of 15 bonobos traveling a long distance to find a bonobo who had been injured from a trap a day before. The bonobo got his fingers trapped in a trap set up by locals to capture wild boars.  He managed to break away from the trap but the snare was still clasped around his fingers.  Seven of his fellow bonobos surrounded him, tried to help him remove it, and licked his injured fingers. Read More

A $1.5 million fire experiment to test whether school buildings are safe - Kagaku

Feb 24, 2012

Spending more than a million dollars on building a school and then burning it down doesn’t sound logical, but to a group of Japanese scientists it sounded very logical. These scientists wanted to test how fire-resistant school buildings made from wood were, and the only way to do so was to build their own three-storey high school and burn it down.  They needed to test whether there would be enough time for students to evacuate from the building in the event of a fire, how could the fire spread, and how long could it take for the entire building to collapse. It’s all part of a process to help re-build the forestry industry.  There’s growing support for wooden buildings in Japan, but the problem is the rules for building a three-storey public school are so strict … Read More

Hayabusa movies might be a plus for science - Kagaku

Feb 14, 2012

Over the weekend, the second of three films (four if you include a documentary originally made for planetariums that was later released on the big screen) about the spacecraft Hayabusa opened in movie theatres across Japan. Hayabusa (Japanese for Falcon) was the first unmanned spacecraft that traveled to an asteroid, collected a sample of it, and came back to Earth with the sample intact.  A team of scientists at Japan’s space agency JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) designed and guided Hayabusa during its seven year trip over which it traveled six billion kilometres. I’ve seen movies about science or scientists before, but never so many movies made by different film companies about the same mission.  So what makes it special? For one, it is a story that has inspired Japan.  After it was launched in 2003, Hayabusa experienced power failures, engine breakdowns, … Read More