Problems with Water

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In Japan there is large prefecture called Saitama which is located north of Tokyo. This prefecture has lots of problems with flooding because the main part of the prefecture is in a kind of natural bowl in the ground and in this area there are 5 pretty big rivers which flood several times a year. So to stop this flooding problem they made a HUGE complex of tunnels under the prefecture and the rivers called the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel (quite a mouthful!) This discharge channel is connected to all 5 of the rivers which are the ones that flood, and if some of them do flood the discharge channel sucks the water in and then lets it out in a much bigger river just outside of the natural bowl the prefecture is located in. You can get a guided tour and go down into the huge water storage chamber of the discharge channel. Flood water isn’t clean of course so when the water clears from the chambers there’s a ton of mud left over and they actually lower a bulldozer down through the roof of the chamber so they can bulldoze the mud out again!

Tsukuba Space Rocket

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Tsukuba is a city famous for its science universities, companies and museums and it is also the location for Japan’s Space Agency. There is a park near Tsukuba Station and in the park there is a real space rocket next to the Tsukuba Space Museum. It looks pretty impressive!

Special Forecast

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Every country has weather forecasts, but in Japan because the Japanese really, really like the autumn season when the leaves change colour on the trees before they fall, they have special forecasts for when and where the leaves will turn red, yellow orange and gold! This screen is in a train station so even people going to work can plan when to take a day off to go to see the beautiful autumn leaves. That’s quite cool, isn’t it!

P.S. They have the same kind of forecasts for the cherry blossoms in the spring.

Brainy Curtains!

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At the moment (until 6th November) at Tokyo Roppongi Midtown there is a design exhibition called ‘Design Touch‘ and one of the exhibits is an arrangement of curtains that you can control by just using your brain! It’s called the ‘Curtain Wall Theatre’ and visitors use a brainwave sensor to open and close the curtains.
Volunteers go up to a little platform and put on a headset which attaches gently to your forehead and left ear. In front of you is a little computer screen that says how much brain activity you are creating. If your brain activity is at 30% or under then the curtains in the exhibit will close. If your brain activity is 70% or higher then the curtains will open!
When my brother and I tried the sensor we could both get our brain activity up to 100%, and right down to 20% or lower. But when our mum and dad tried their brain wave activity seemed to stick around 40-65%!
It’s fun to use the sensor, but it needs a lot more work until we can do stuff like drive our car or prepare our meals using this brainwave technology or something similar. When I tried it sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. For example sometimes I lowered my brain activity (looking at the floor and thinking of nothing) and it said my brain activity was going higher! But it was fun, and it was also fun to interact with the exhibit by walking and running through it when someone else was moving the curtains with their brainwaves!

P.S. The weird silver tube thing behind the curtains is nothing to do with the exhibition. It’s a piece of art!!

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Ms. Junco Chihara

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This Japanese woman isn’t quite what she seems. Her name is Junco Chihara but she’s actually a robot – an android who works on the information desk in the Aqua City Mall on Odaiba, Tokyo. She is not yet advanced enough to answer questions that you ask her directly, but you can use a touch screen next to her that has a selection of pre-programmed questions that you can choose from. As well as asking her about the Mall, and about transport and tourist information, you can also ask her questions about herself and her life. Some of the answers are quite strange, for example she doesn’t like avocados, her favourite food is melon and she is a late riser and only gets up at 9am!

The Doctor of Trains!

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One of the rarest things in Japan is this bright yellow shinkansen train (shinkansen is the Japanese name for Bullet Trains, and literally means ‘new main line’). This train is called Doctor Yellow – because it looks after the health of the tracks and it’s yellow! It’s the track test train for the high speed lines to make sure the tracks are in good, safe condition. Doctor Yellow is only 7 carriages long (a normal passenger shinkansen has 16 carriages) but each carriage weighs exactly the same as a normal shinkansen carriage so it can test the tracks and the pantograph wires as if it really were a proper shinkansen. Doctor Yellow carries lots of equipment to measure every aspect of the rails and tracks. The Doctor Yellow trains test the Tokaido (Tokyo to Osaka) tracks about 3 or 4 times a month. The schedule is top secret, so that it why it is such a rare sight. This was the first time I have ever seen it so it was very exciting!

PS: you can read more about Dr. Yellow here and here.

Fantastic Fries

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There are lots of different types of vending machines in Japan but this one is special because it actually cooks the food for you before delivering it to you. It sells fried potatoes, chicken & chips, hot dogs, yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls) and fried rice. We went for the French fries which took 110 seconds to cook (it tells you how long you’ll have to wait under the picture of each different food). When they arrived they were super-hot – too hot to eat! They were also very greasy and the taste was only so-so. So unless you are very hungry, they’re probably not something you’d eat twice! But anyway the vending machine was really cool!

World’s Fastest Train

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The current fastest train in the world is the Maglev bullet train (the Japanese call it ‘Linear’) which was invented in Japan. It uses magnetic technology so it levitates above the track without touching it. Of course when it starts it’s on wheels, and then as it picks up speed the wheels fold up (like an aeroplane) and the magnets kick in, so that it hovers. The Maglev can travel at around 505 km/hr. That is why the Maglev in this photo is missing its nose – when we took this picture it was doing a full speed test run!
We saw the Maglev at the test line in Yamanashi Prefecture. There’s a visitor centre that’s worth going to see (although it’s not easy to get to without a car). The Maglev is scheduled to be opened to the public between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027 (I want to be the first to ride on it!).

A Friendly Robot

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This is Ashimo. He is famous because he is an advanced robot whose job is to make people comfortable about the idea of being around and living with robots. Ashimo can: kick a football, hop on one leg, reply to you if you talk to him and he can pick stuff up and give it to you on command. You can see him at the Miraikan Museum on Odaiba Island, Tokyo. He gives a little show a few times a day for people to watch.