Wednesday, November 24, 2004


The Happy Few lucky enough to be getting a Xmas present from me this year will be receiving an Aibo, a robot dog from Sony. He doesn’t do much, just picks up a ball and a bone with a byte, but he responds to affection. Stroke him, and his tail wags; pet his snout and a series of green, red and blue lights on his face sparkle, he stretches his front paws out in pleasure and looks up at you. Of course he behaves well, a bit too well in my opinion: he doesn’t bark, chase cats, piss, fart or shit, eats little electricity, and finds his way back to his battery when he, or you, get tired. He looks more than a little like Snoopy. Was it mere coincidence that I saw a Snoopy products outlet just as I was leaving the Sony area?

Aibo is a snippet at US$1,700, available in black or white. But maybe next year’s puppies will be cheaper.

Aibo’s tail wags.
The children break out in smiles.
Sony’s tills ring out loud.

And if you are not too keen on animals, try a ball, apparently based on the same principle, called Q Healing Creature, because, according to Sony, it has “ feelings and instincts (...) which gives us a sense of what life is really like”. The ball will follow your hand, displaying its array of lights, showing pleasure that you are near, demonstrating that you have at least one pal and admirer. The Q Healing Creature is not yet on the market.

By contrast driving will be all hands-off. I “drove” a Toyota e-car, or rather it drove me, like a five-year-old on a fairground ride. We will be locked into a traffic conveyor belt on the motorways, with our steering and speed automatically controlled.

Sony and Toyota are two of the most successful zaibatsu, the enormous conglomerates which are so central and powerful in Japan, have large showrooms in two shopping centres in Odaiba, a district reclaimed from the sea in the port of Toky,o, and which is so typical of Japanese development projects. It had a shaky start, causing the downfall of mayor Shimachi Suzuki in 1995 though plans for a mega 1996 International Exhibition, but now, with Sony and other big companies there, it has taken off.

Toyota’s mall, Venus Fort, is Italianate, with Roman church facades, Venetian streets, classical fountains, a bright blue Mediterranean sky. What a pity the sky outside was so blue itself yesterday! Sony’s Aqua City is more American, with a quarter-size Statue of Liberty, and an array of mock 1950s shops, including The World of Coca Cola.

The crowds of shoppers on this public holiday, for the shops open every single day of the year, do not come down to the water. A pleasant spot, a park and few people. Over on the mainland contained ships are being loaded and unloaded. Behind the high buildings of the Shinagawa business district. A brightly lit pleasure ferry passes. I take a picture. To the right Rainbow Bridge, reminding me a little of the Golden Gate Bridge. I think of the Thames, the Seine and Hong Kong Island, but Tokyo seems to have turned its back on the sea and its rivers. No cafes, no restaurants, few bateaux mouches. It is because of the earthquakes, I’m told, for the areas near water are often the least safe, liable to instant flooding.

I return to Komaba, where the Students’ Festival is just ending. On Monday the rock groups were poor, the rap and break dancing much better, and the Barber Shop Quartet, or rather Quintet, La Voce, good. For four days students set up food and drink stalls, organized shows, and many camped out. The university provided the infrastructure, and the students did the rest. I went into the Planetarium, set up inside the badminton hall, where a Heath Robinson contraption, made out of coffee and beer cans and old lenses, shows us the night sky. Undergraduate courses are traditionally seen as an easy time between the years of struggle to get in and the long hours of a lifelong job in a big company, which was always a guarantee if you graduated from Tokyo University. Indeed, many of the students I see every day will be responsible for the next generations off Aibos and Q Healing Creatures.


Blogger Marilise Rezende Bertin said...


Managed to get there at last!

Tell me, do I get it all right or am I mistaken?
So many colours, movement, high tech stuff trying to imitate the feelings of people...
What about relationships? A Jap living in a world like this. Isn't he lonely, lost in his own tranlation of this high tech international 'developed' new Japan?

I wonder...



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