I grow my own stash

A normal Subway restaurant in Tokyo:

Or IS it?

Well, obviously not. In this Subway, they grow their own hydroponic lettuce for use in the store.  They call it “831 Lab“:

As far as I know, this is a special trial only run in a few stores.

The name “831 Lab” is interesting in itself.   Numbers in Japanese can be pronounced in various ways.  One way you can write 8-3-1 is Ya-San-Ichi, which you could shorten down to get “ya-sa-i”.  “Yasai” in Japanese means “vegetable”, so, 831 Lab is the “vegetable lab”.

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Light goes on, mind gets blown

Japan isn’t as futuristic as it’s cracked up to be.  Tokyo is easily the Blade-Runner-iest place around, but it’s still not Blade Runner.  As I’ve repeatedly noted, no robots walking the street, for instance.

Every now and then, though, you see something which makes you remember why Japanese technology is great.

Japanese long-haul trains often have first class carriages called “Green Cars”.  The major differences to a normal carriage are that you get more comfortable seats, tray tables, and much less crowding than when you mix with the *cough* commoners.

Naturally, this costs a little extra.  Just for the experience, I decided to give this a go recently.

Interestingly, you can’t buy a Green Car ticket outside the station.  Only once you’re at the platform can you buy  an upgrade.  However, you don’t get a paper ticket. The upgrade is only registered on your chargeable smart card (called a Suica).  So, if you can’t show anyone physical proof you’ve bought a Green Car ticket, and you’re already on the platform, how do train employees verify that only those with Green Car tickets are in the Green Car?  All is explained:

…or in other words…

Above your seat is a sticker and a status light.  The sticker is actually a contactless smart card reader.

Touch your card to the sticker, and the light above your seat turns green to indicate you’ve now registered your seat.  Of course, you can only do this if you’ve bought the Green Car upgrade previously.

So, it’s easy for the conductor to just look down the carriage and see the freeloaders sitting in a seat with a red light above it.

Even smarter is the reuse of information byproducts.  When you buy the upgrade, you need to tell it where you’re disembarking, since this affects the price.  Using this information, the lights above those getting off at a particular station can automatically be turned red, ready for another passenger to sit down and register themselves.

Rest of the world, learn from Japan.  They may not have replicants yet, but they do have awesome transport systems.

Don’t be wet

Happy 2011 from Japan!  For a country which loves fireworks – and if you haven’t been to a Japanese fireworks display, you can’t even begin to understand what this means – the changing of the date is a very low-key affair.  On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people cluster outside shrines, waiting.  At the stroke of 2011, no “Woo!”.  No kissing, awkwardly or otherwise.  No songs.  No fireworks.  People just get on with the business of paying their respects in an orderly fashion.  If the shrine has a bell, they might make some noise with that for a bit.

TV, however, is a different affair.  Most entertainers have a hectic night, with various family variety specials trotting out something everyone from toddlers to grandma can enjoy.  Perhaps no entertainers are busier than those from Johnny’s, aka The Boy Band Factory Dominating Japanese Pop Culture With Suspiciously Mafia-like Iron Fisted Power.  That might roll off the tongue better in Japanese.

Just about all of the biggest somewhat-androgynous boy bands from Johnny’s like SMAP, Arashi and one hundred others are slickly packaged products deployed in ads, movies, music videos and variety shows.  The Johnny’s web site doesn’t even contain pictures of their stars, such are the lengths they go to protect the valuable image of their commodities.

Want in to the Japanese music biz?  Let me give you slightly more than the no chance you have.

What you need to know about pop music in Japan that that English is the coolest language ever invented.  If you’re reading this, congratulations!  I guarantee you would be much cooler in Japan than wherever you are now.  Yes, you, even you.  So, songs often employ the use of some English to make them more sophisticated.  Like these guys:

Don’t be wet!  Get a grip (if you step)

(From today) We are Fighting Men

Don’t think. Feel! Bring it on (don’t think, let’s go)

Do you think you could do better (but not much better)?  Looking to add “Boy Band Lyricist (2011-2011)” to your resume?  Applications will be graded for curious grammar, awkward phrasing and improper Use of capitalisation.