“Welcome to Japan where everything is slightly different” is the opening gambit for this two part special of the BBC’s flagship technology show and rarely have eight words summed things up so profoundly. The country’s fascination with robots is a common theme throughout these ‘Click‘ shows and it is keen to use them to promote a high tech image of Japan for the millions of visitors ready to visit these shores in the build up to the 2020 Olympics.
Japan used to be a technological world leader and many western people continually think of it as a huge technologically advanced country and it still is…… but certain aspects of society are so backward (use of fax machines, limited acceptance of credit cards, over-reliance on paper for administration) and it does seem to me at times like so much time and investment is being placed on unnecessary toilet innovations. Each to their own though I guess! The Panasonic Museum in Osaka features briefly and is a good reminder of great days gone by where such classic inventions like the walkman, the VHS and the DVD can be seen.
We’ve been spoiled for choice regarding programmes on Japan recently as the Okinawa episode of ‘Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown‘ (S06E03) aired on CNN in between these twenty-five minute episodes of ‘Click‘ which were on the BBC on October 10th and 17th. There’s also been a Japan special of ‘The Travel Show‘ which I may review at a later date.
‘Click‘ was at the huge four-day electronics expo CEATEC in Chiba testing out the latest R&D and concept tech. I’m certainly no tech expert and my interest in new gadgets and gizmo’s is pretty minimal. In fact you could say that I’m from the Karl Pilkington school of thought in that everything has pretty much been invented and now we’re just mucking around.
Sure enough there was plenty of concept tech on offer at CEATEC such as gyrating exoskeletons, smelly phones and pizza recognition. translation glasses, drone detectors, autonomous baggage robots, clothes folding robots (four minutes per item!) and other things with a uniquely Japanese flavour such as the RoBoHon (robot phone) which can dance, take your picture and project that on to the table. One assumes it can also make an actual call or, as is more important these days, send an e-mail or SMS.
Furthermore, there’s a table tennis robot that is useful for practice and learning the game though it sadly cannot cope with the spin shots of a human. There’s also a mobile phone app that tells you how fat you are by placing the phone on your belly button and moving it round your stomach. It’s to be used by factory workers rather than consumers though in order to monitor the health and fitness of employees.
The second episode offered less in content but was the more memorable episode of the two. It opens up by telling the viewers that if you’ve only visited Tokyo then you haven’t really been to Japan. The presenter Spencer is first in Kyoto where he visits Fushimi Inari Shrine for reasons unknown. It’s a tech show so no idea why that bit was included!
Next, he’s at Huis Ten Bosch; the Dutch theme park in Nagasaki where nearby is the unique Henn Na Hotel (henna is the Japanese word for strange) which is manned by a robotic dinosaur on reception and energy saving ambitions aplenty throughout. This is undoubtedly the highlight of the show and it was very funny watching the presenter interact with the dinosaur. The hotel sadly declined to let the BBC go behind the scenes where the human side of things are in operation. Overall, a fantastic novelty place and one I’m keen to explore one day.
Other highlights of this show included a cemetery like no other in Nagoya and the worlds largest indoor farm in Miyagi-ken; a 25,000 square foot warehouse designed to stimulate the agricultural industry which is suffering from unusual weather patterns, ageing farmers. For agriculture to continue they need to turn to technology to keep it going into the future as the number of farmers continues to dwindle.
The often-derided pun gets a good airing for a short section on cats. A cat cafe in Tokyo is briefly seen and we see a street view akin to Google Maps but this one of Onomichi in Hiroshima-ken is one that lets viewers explore places that only cats know about and is seen at cats-eye level. The question is who on earth would be interested in such a thing!
Of most interest to me though (apart from the Robot Hotel!) was a ‘Back To The Future Part II‘ (1989) reference feature about a man near Nagoya who has a Delorean car that could, in theory, run on 100% bio-fuel if it wasn’t for a law stating that cars in Japan can only run on 10% ethanol and 90% oil. His company uses large processing plants to extract sugar from the cotton in used clothes and turn it into bio-ethanol in an idea not too dis-similar to that seen in “the future” in the movie which is actually today!!