Breathe easy – Toyota redesigning Prius plug-in hybrid to double car’s all-electric range

Toyota’s Prius is designed for one purpose, and it’s not to deliver the sort of exciting performance that will seduce you into taking a spirited drive through a moonlit mountain pass (that’s another car’s job). No, the Prius promise is that it will get you from Point A to Point B in the most energy-efficient way possible.

But while the standard hybrid Prius remains a popular choice for eco-conscious motorists, sales of its plug-in variant have been stagnant. Toyota is hoping to change that, though, with an updated Prius that can travel roughly twice as far under purely electric power than the current model.

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Free Wi-Fi now available on Tohoku Shinkansen, inside Tokyo’s Yamanote Line stations

Every now and then, Japan takes a shine to something that’s new to it but much more common overseas. Chairs, for example, were pretty much nonexistent in the country until the late 1800s, but now you’ll find them in just about every home except the most bare-bones of bachelor pads. Beer (one of the greatest beverages to enjoy while sitting on said chairs) is another foreign concept that’s gained mainstream popularity.

Likewise, although it’s taken some time to catch on, the number of places offering free Wi-Fi in Japan has been steadily increasing over the last few years, and is now available on the Tohoku Shinkansen and all of the stations on Tokyo’s most convenient train line.

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Perovskite promises power-producing paint for pennies per pint

Back in 2009, a research team from the University of Tokyo led by Professor Tsutomu Miyasaka found that a substance called perovskite had the potential to generate solar power. However, at the time it only had a very weak power conversion efficiency (PCE) of about four percent and would break down in just a few minutes.

Because of these sizable flaws, not could practical use could be made of perovskite and the discovery lay dormant for a few years. Then, after a Korean team managed to double the PCE in 2011, research into the material was reignited. Now as scientists around the world continue to work on it, the PCE has become well above 20 percent and comparable with the standard silicon-based solar panels that we see today.

With perovskite being drastically cheaper to produce, more flexible to use, and now as efficient as regular solar panels, could we be on the verge of a solar energy revolution?

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This restaurant has a new secret weapon: a robot that slices the perfect noodle faster than any human

China has a new celebrity, and it’s not another 7′ 6″ giant who can dunk a basketball or martial-arts master taking center stage in American action movies.

It’s a noodle-slicing robot named Foxbot, who can be found at Dazzling Noodles, an open-kitchen restaurant chain in North China’s Shanxi province.

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Japan Post, IBM, and Apple to develop senior-friendly tablets

On 30 April, a joint announcement was made by Apple, IBM and the nation’s private postal service Japan Post regarding a new project that aims to change the lives of Japan’s aging population.

The three companies are combining their expertise to develop a line of iPads with specialized apps for senior citizens. Designed by IBM in conjunction with elderly care services in the works by Japan Post, it is hoped that the tablet computers will help to reduce the burden on younger generations as they care for an increasing number of aged family members.

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It’s difficult to say if this Japanese power unicycle is cool or not

Starting this summer, Japanese company Onewheel will offer a limited number of these Onewheel i-1 motorized unicycles. Their revolutionary design and features are sure to make prospective buyers think long and hard about whether they’re actually really cool or incredibly lame. Even their catchphrase “What is this?” feeds the ambiguity.

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Shocking gap between TV and Blu-ray versions of same anime prove you get what you pay for

There’s an odd paradox to anime in Japan. There’s no easier place to watch anime completely free, as just about every series of note airs on regular broadcast television. At the same time, fans pay far more for anime TV series’ subsequent Blu-ray releases in Japan than any other market, with prices of 5,000 yen (US$42) and up for individual discs containing just two episodes.

So what’s convincing Japanese fans to shell out so much cash for something they already have access to without spending anything at all? For some it’s a patron-of-the-arts-like sense of pride that comes from financially supporting the cultural works they love, but for others, it’s the shockingly wide gap that’s sometimes present between the artwork in the broadcast and home video versions of the same anime.

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New custom-made Sony earphones come with a price tag so high you won’t believe your ears

The latest in Sony Engineering’s product innovation line in inner-ear monitor (IEM) earphones has just been released with pre-sale advance orders available from April 29 at the Tokyo Hearing Care Centre in Aoyama.

The designers at Sony Engineering have developed “Just ear” earphones which are uniquely engineered and custom-built earphones designed for optimal sound quality to enhance the consumer’s listening experience. And they come with a price tag so high that you won’t believe your ears.

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Android app allegedly allows users to find and hire muscle to beat up whomever they want

One thing that Apple fans tend to bring out during the enormous Android vs iPhone flame wars is apps. While both systems have a huge number of applications, people often claim that those on iOS are either better or cover a broader range. We won’t even pretend to have an opinion on whether or not this is true, but it looks like Android may have Apple beat in at least one area! Though we’re not so sure Google will be proud of this accomplishment.

It looks like there might be an Android app in China that you can use to find some tough guys to rough people up for you!

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Could this creepy old guy actually be…a robot?!

This weird old guy was spotted at the AsiaWorld Expo, an electronics expo held in Hong Kong recently, creepily undressing people with his eyes, as he stared lasciviously at passersby like some kind of RocketNews24 writer on a weekend bender.

Just as people were about to call the police, we presume, it was revealed that the creepy old guy, whose first name is, inexplicably, Ham, is actually just a robot that happens to look like a filthy old lecher…which kind of is maybe almost creepier.

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Japan’s awesome, eco-friendly, old-school water heaters (and how to use them)

Japan may seem like a futuristic wonderland, what with its high-tech toilets and their array of functions that clean your bottom, heat your cheeks, and even provide sound effects to cover the natural ones that accompany your bathroom business. But technology is constantly evolving at a rapid rate, and each new innovation replaces something that used to be cutting-edge.

Case in point; every spring, thousands of young Japanese people leave home and move into their first, low-rent apartment to start school or a new job, and you can expect at least a couple will be shocked when they go to take a shower, discover this giant contraption next to the tub, and have no idea what it does.

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Guy supposedly finds himself sneaking a smoke at work on Google Street View

The fact that cameras are just about everywhere these days has all but guaranteed that you’ll get caught doing anything even remotely socially unacceptable unless you do it in the privacy of your own home (and even then you better make sure you close the curtains).

Gone are the days of anonymously ringing the crazy cat lady’s doorbell and running away, or sneaking in to your local Masonic Temple to uncover their nefarious, cult-ish deeds (true story!). You can pretty much forget about doing anything in an elevator.

Oh, and, better be sure to tell your supervisor before you take that smoke break, or the ever watchful, judging gaze of the Google Street View car might out you to your employer, as a Japanese Netizen apparently found out recently.

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3-D printer “Lunchbot” will put pretty patterns on your rice while you get ready for work 【Video】

As a kid growing up in the 80s, I had imagined that by the year 2015, we’d either be waging war against an army of unstoppable killing machines of our own creation or zipping to work by hoverboard (or perhaps in phallus-shaped train pods) while enjoying eggs ‘n’ bacon in tablet form. Alas, science has let me down on both fronts, with the closest thing I have in my life to robot warfare being Apple constantly bugging me to sign in to the Cloud or Facebook suddenly deciding that we all have to download a totally separate smartphone app just to receive private messages.

But at least we can now let machines make our bento lunches look pretty while we’re busy ironing a shirt or looking for the keys to our stupid, dead dinosaur-fuelled cars. Say hello to Lunchbot.

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Series of steamy shojo manga illustrations takes on the sizzling topic of IT security

It’s one of the all-time classic scene setups of Japanese girls’ comics. Our heroine finds herself in a secluded hallway of her school, alone with a handsome but mysterious male classmate. He turns to her and dramatically pounds the wall behind her, executing a perfect kabe-don before leaning in close to tell her a secret.

So what’s the dramatic line going to be this time? “I love you?” “We actually met years ago and were childhood friends befire you lost your memories?” “Don’t hug me, or I’ll transform into a dog?”

How about, “Don’t you know how important protecting your smartphone password is?”

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Proposed facial recognition system would send warning emails to families of pachinko addicts

For a country that doesn’t have any businesses officially classified as “casinos,” Japan has a ton of places to gamble. By far the most common are pachinko parlors, which you can find within a short walk of just about every major train station in Tokyo and Japan’s other large cities.

But with so many places to gamble, and many of them allowing customers to purchase the balls used to play for as little as one yen (less than a penny) each, it’s easy to get sucked into the siren song of the pachinko parlor. Seeking to help gamblers keep their wagers within their limits, one company is now proposing using facial recognition software to inform you, or your family, when you’re gambling too much.

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Tokyo’s busiest train lines to get luxury “one-man” express pods by next April

Japan is well-known for its packed commuter trains. For decades, smartly dressed men and women have shuffled wordlessly into train cars each morning, all painfully aware that they will soon be getting up-close and personal with total strangers and have nowhere to run, hide, or even breathe freely until their stop. Glove-wearing station staff pack passengers in as tightly as they’ll go without them popping out the other side, each firm shove accompanied by a polite word or phrase thanking passengers for moving all the way inside the car or warning them to keep their various appendages clear of the (just barely) closing doors.

But earlier today, Japan was given a glimpse of a much more civilised, luxuriant commuting experience that may soon put an end to these sardine-can shenanigans. Better yet, this logistical revolution is coming soon: not twelve months from now, commuters will be able to zip into Tokyo in style, lying back in comfortable faux-leather chairs inside sleek, aerodynamic private pods that resemble something out of Minority Report.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the next generation of luxury travel, and its name is Kosoku.

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Otaku ears-New line of earphones is designed specifically for listening to anime songs with

For anime music fans, the appeal of the songs is more than just their connection to the shows they serve as anthems for. Over the years, anime songs have evolved into a genre in and of themselves, often employing fast, even frantic tempos and an even greater proportion of young female vocalists and electronic sounds than Japanese pop music in general.

So now that there are certain baselines the anime music scene has established for itself, it’s time for the hardware end of the musical experience to catch up, which is the promise made by these new sets of earphones specifically designed for listening to anime songs with.

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Feeling the generational gap recently? The top 20 things that Japanese youth are distanced from

Have you ever felt worlds apart from the generations above you? 

The topic of Japanese youth distancing themselves (purposely or not) from “things of the past” is something that pops up every now and again on Japanese variety shows. Most recently, an online research group also decided to tackle the topic, asking 500 people what they felt like young people are becoming more and more separated from in today’s world.

Today, we present the top 20 replies for “Things that Japanese youth are distanced from.”

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Awesome new electric motorcycle looks like something out of “Akira”‘s Neo Tokyo

Despite working a boring office job and having lived in Tokyo for long enough that not even schoolgirl uniforms, random cosplayers or the neon wash of Kabukicho really give me pause anymore, there are still moments when I look around at all the futuristic bizarreness and think, Is this real life? Or am I living in the dystopian anime world of Akira?

Maybe it’s the abnormally tall buildings, the dingy arcades that look like they’re right out of that early Akira scene. Maybe it’s the male hosts with their impeccable dress and gravity-defying hair, or the life-size, moving Gundam of Odaiba. Or maybe it’s because every once in a while a vehicle like this new electric motorcycle will come roaring down the street like its giving chase to an escaped Replicant or something.

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Want to see this impressively huge AR Titan? No problem, just fire up your personal drone

The hit anime Attack on Titan has really captured Japan’s imagination. For some reason, the idea of giant naked people eating regular sized humans really resonates with the Japanese psyche. So, it logically followed that various entities have attempted to recreate the scale of the series’ titular Titans in real life. Through Universal Studios’ impressive statues to, of course, a porn set and beyond, a lot of attempts have come close to capturing the pants-wetting terror of seeing a Titan in real life.

But none have come as close to a true-to-scale Titan as this private (!!!) augmented reality (AR) hobbyist who has managed to project a massive AR Titan dancing giddily in the Japanese countryside. And all you’ll need to see it for yourself is a multi-thousand dollar personal drone. You know, no big deal.

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