• MEMO TO SELF: RELAX

    It's been another busy day at the office. Your feet hurt. Your neck is stiff. Who has time to get a massage? Busy Japanese are now turning to high-tech massage chairs for relief. Our top three picks:Family Robo FMC-5000 ($4,300), launched early this year by Family, automatically detects acupressure points, reclines flat and gives a shiatsu (finger pressure) massage to the neck, shoulders, back, legs, back of the feet and arms. It also recognizes voice commands.Fuji Medical Instruments' Solution Premium VP-900 ($4,500), out since last September, boasts 24 built-in airbags that mildly push your back, shoulders, buttocks, arms, thighs, calves and soles, as well as five different levels of intensity.Sanyo Electric's MasterHand HEC-DR6000 ($4,300), out this month, uses lie-detector technology to sense muscle stiffness: it measures the sweat in your palm and your pulse rate.
  • GADGETS FOR ROAD WARRIORS ARE GETTING SMALLER AND MORE POWERFUL

    This summer, keyboards the size of a pack of gum are replacing cumbersome fold-ups and tiny PDA keyboards--perhaps for good. These keyboards are virtual--bright-red laser beams project QWERTY characters on any surface, like a desk or an airplane tray table, and a tiny camera watches which keys your fingers tap. Although the concept isn't new, the technology has only recently gotten reliable enough for prime time. VKB's iTech Bluetooth virtual keyboard has received good reviews from techie bloggers for ease of use, accuracy at 80 words per minute, and two-hour battery life (vkb-tech.com; $150-$250). VKB, based in Menlo Park, California, is talking with mobile and PDA makers about future products; Siemens' prototype SX1 phone has a virtual keyboard. Say goodbye to hand cramps.A BIG ULTRA MINIGiven that people there use mobile phones for almost everything, one would imagine Japan would not need another expensive PDA. Yet while Sony is getting out of the PDA business this month, Sharp...
  • KOREA: A TUSSLE OVER TREASURES

    Eisei Miki, the head monk of Kakurinji Temple in the western Japanese city of Kakogawa, still shivers with anger when he describes the robbery the temple suffered in 2002. Among the stolen goods: one particularly important painting of the Amida Buddha from Korea's Koryo period (918-1392), which the temple had treasured for hundreds of years. Caught last October, the two Koreans responsible for the theft insisted they were on a mission to reclaim pieces of Korean history, which had been appropriated by the Japanese. Worse, the Korean media and public bought the argument. "Have you heard of anything more ridiculous?" asks Miki.His frustration embodies yet another thorny controversy embroiling Japan and the Korean peninsula: to whom do hundreds of thousands of ancient Korean artifacts in Japan rightfully belong? Koreans accuse the Japanese of plundering the artwork, mostly during their 36-year occupation of the peninsula, and they blame their own government for not seeking the objects'...
  • The Gold Rush

    On the right as one enters the gallery hangs Gustav Klimt's "Nuda Veritas" (1899), a monumental picture of a sensual female awash in glorious gold and blue. And on the left: "Wave at Matsushima," a spectacular gold-and-green six- panel screen by the 18th-century Japanese master Korin Ogata. This is a rare combination in a museum exhibition; curators usually don't mix traditional with modern, let alone Japanese with Western, paintings. But the new exhibition "Rimpa" (through Oct. 3) at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, blends all four. The result is one of the season's most visually gorgeous and conceptually ambitious shows.Curator Ryo Furuta mounted the exhibit to pose one question: what is Rimpa? Literally "the Rin school," the style refers to a centuries-old Japanese art school named after Korin Ogata, its chief exponent. Characterized by the lavish use of gold, silver and bold colors and flat, highly ornamental designs, Rimpa is reflected not only in contemporary Japanese...
  • YOUR NEXT COMPUTER

    One hundred nineteen hours, 41 minutes and 16 seconds. That's the amount of time Adam Rappoport, a high-school senior in Philadelphia, has spent talking into his silver Verizon LG phone since he got it as a gift last Chanukah. That's not even the full extent of his habit. He also spends countless additional hours using his phone's Internet connection to check sports scores, download new ringtones (at a buck apiece) and send short messages to his friends' phones, even in the middle of class. "I know the touch-tone pad on the phone better than I know a keyboard," he says. "I'm a phone guy."In Tokyo, halfway around the world, Satoshi Koiso also closely eyes his mobile phone. Koiso, a college junior, lives in the global capital of fancy new gadgets--20 percent of all phones in Tokyo link to the fastest mobile networks in the world. Tokyoites use their phones to watch TV, read books and magazines and play games. But Koiso also depends on his phone for something simpler and more profound:...
  • Seeing How The Other Half Lives

    Osaka housewife Tomomi Taguchi cautiously opens the door to Lee Won Tae's cozy three-bedroom apartment. Lee, 43, is a middle-class bureaucrat who lives in Seoul with his wife, mother and two children. The apartment's little entrance is decorated with a framed reproduction of a classic Korean painting, an autograph-covered baseball and a replica of Giuliano de Medici's marble head. In the dining room, mail-order catalogs and magazines clutter the table. The modest-size kitchen is packed with appliances, pans and utensils. Taguchi, 51, hesitates, but cannot resist reaching up to open a cabinet, immediately exposing plates, cups, bottles of vitamin supplements and wrinkled tea bags. "Wow, this is just like my kitchen," she exclaims.In any culture, it is against etiquette to open closets in somebody else's house without asking. But here, visitors are encouraged to touch, open and even sit on anything they please. It's the centerpiece of "Seoul Style 2002: Life as it is--with the Lee...
  • Japan's Forest Ire

    Hidden behind a white surgical mask and a pair of goggles, Misako Onishi declares in a feeble voice, "This is a living hell." For the usually perky 32-year-old Tokyo resident, the onset of spring means a runny nose, a sore throat, twitchy eyes and constant sneezing. She's one of 13 million Japanese who battle kafunsho--an allergy caused by cedar pollen--from mid-February through early May. "I expect [Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi-san to act immediately," says the watery-eyed Onishi. "This is more urgent--achoo!--than economic reform."That may be a bit of an overstatement. But Onishi's runny nose is yet another reminder of the ills afflicting Japan's woeful economy. The prevalence of kafunsho is a direct result of decades of poor timber planning: as the country built itself into a powerhouse after World War II, vast tracts of natural-growth forest were replaced with cedar for construction. Now the bottom has dropped out of cedar prices because of slackening demand,...
  • Hideo Kojima

    If Hideo Kojima were a novelist, he would be Jonathan Franzen. If he were a television producer, he'd be David Chase. And if he were a filmmaker, he would be Peter Jackson. Kojima once dreamed of doing all those things, but he became a videogame designer instead. Which means you've probably never heard of him, despite the fact that his most recent creation was as eagerly anticipated among gamers as "The Corrections," season three of "The Sopranos" or the first installment of "The Lord of the Rings" was among regular folk. When Kojima unveiled a nine-minute trailer of the game--an unexpectedly timely counterterrorist adventure set in New York City--for the videogame press last year, the filmlike visuals prompted stunned silence, audible gasps and finally a standing ovation. "We use wind, rain, steam and other effects to make the players feel as though they're really there," says Kojima of his breakthrough achievement, called Metal Gear Solid 2. "It may look like a film, but it doesn...
  • If You Smoke, Don't Tell Dr. Abe

    From the moment Kayoko Ito took her first drag on a cigarette, she felt she could quit anytime. But she never did. Then she signed up for Sotsuen Net (QuitSmokingNet), a mobile-phone-based service for those who wish to break the habit. Four months later the 29-year-old Ito says: "I won't smoke again."Since its launch in February in Japan, Sotsuen Net has attracted more than 5,000 smokers. Each pays a monthly fee of 260 yen ($2.20) - the average price of a pack of cigarettes in Japan - to get the service delivered to their J-Phone mobile phones. A collaboration between Mayumi Abe, a respiratory doctor at Tokyo Women's Medical University, and the publisher Shogakukan, the service offers the kind of feedback you might get from a support group. Each day you visit the site and check either "smoked" or "didn't smoke." If you smoked, an image of an angry Dr. Abe appears with an admonishment ("Do you want to die of lung cancer?").The virtuous see a happy Dr. Abe and a black swan. "The...
  • The Betting Connection

    For decades, gamblers helped finance small-town Japan. Take the city of Hiratsuka just outside Tokyo, where the local government sponsored betting on bicycle races to help fill the coffers. Now fat-pocket gamblers are turning away from the track, and Hiratsuka is doing its best to draw them back. It has dressed up its outdoor velodrome with thousands of white lights, soft jazz and government-subsidized food stands. Scantily clad girls in silver shorts introduce the racers. Despite all this, attendance is down 36 percent from its high in 1992. Revenues are down 53 percent. The track draws a crowd of aging men who clutch a racing form as if it was their last penny. Professionals like Masahiko Aoki hang around, hawking tips for just 80 cents a pop. "Look around," says Aoki, 57, gazing at the crowd. "Everything is declining. The generation of people who came to cycle racing hasn't changed in years."Ever since the seventh century, Japanese have gambled on everything from horses to poetry...
  • Dancing Into Exile

    Ryuichi Sakamoto gazes out the window at the homeland he abandoned more than a decade ago. With his jeans and long hair, he plainly does not belong here, in this staid and proper teahouse on the 41st floor in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. The other male patrons are dressed in impeccable business suits; the women are in pearls. They all do their best to ignore the intruder, except an elderly woman and a man in a dark blue suit who glare at him in ostentatious distaste.They don't recognize him--but they ought to. Millions of Japanese music lovers idolize Ryuichi Sakamoto, 49, one of the country's best-known contemporary composers. Two decades ago he rose to stardom with his technopop trio, Yellow Magic Orchestra. In 1987 he earned an Academy Award with the score he and David Byrne wrote for Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor." Sakamoto remains practically a demigod in the country of his birth--but New York is where he has lived since 1990. He sips his cappuccino and turns his eyes...
  • Japan's Martha Stewart

    Harumi Kurihara insists she is just an ordinary housewife. Seated in the tastefully decorated living room of her central Tokyo house, she grants an interview as several assistants quietly prepare lunch. At precisely noon, Kurihara stands up, walks into her sunny kitchen, puts some finishing touches on each dish and voila: a mouthwatering feast including Thai-style noodle salad with plump shrimps, spicy deep-fried tofu and crisp, thinly sliced lotus root with seaweed. "This is the kind of meal we have every day," she says. ...
  • Mutual Feelings: Japan Falls For Asia

    Back in 1979, Koichi Yasunaga had to see an Asian art show flop. He and other curators launching the Fukuoka Art Museum had planned a trendy opening on 20th-century American art, only to be overruled by the mayor. The hip crowd in Japan was hot for Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, but Fukuoka's mayor, sensitive to the historical connections between the city and other Asian nations, ordered the museum to feature Asian artists. The curators hastily produced a show on China, India and Japan that was ignored by the public and press. "We still have many catalogs left over from that first show," says Yasunaga.Turns out the mayor was just ahead of his time. Today the Japanese art world has turned on to Asia. A large show of Asian oil paintings, organized by the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, is touring the country. A retrospective of Vietnamese painter Le Thanh Thu An recently concluded in Tokyo, where a major exhibit of Asian photography is planned for early 2000. The Fukuoka Art Museum...
  • The Virtual Pet Goes Postal

    Sachio Takahashi dotes on Blue, his beloved tortoise. After a year of e-life together in the central Japanese city of Aichi, the systems engineer says he still checks on his pet every 15 minutes. The virtual turtle responds by smiling, dancing and relaying messages between Takahashi, 32, and his friends. Blue's owner says he knows such love is ridiculous, but he can't help himself: "The way it brings me a letter just melts me."Upwards of half a million Japanese share Takahashi's unlikely passion. The runaway popularity of PostPet 2001, Sony Communications Network's hypercute e-mail program, has been a stunning phenomenon, even in a land with Japan's insatiable sweet tooth for virtual pets like Tamagotchi, Pokemon and Aibo the robot dog. Since the debut of PostPet's first version in late 1997, the program has sold some 580,000 copies in separately packaged form. An additional million or so copies have been sold in "bundled" form, preinstalled on the hard drives of new computers....
  • Japan's Face Fetish

    With a click of the mouse, Misa Kondo gives herself bigger eyes. Click, click. Now she has a smaller nose. The 11-year-old stands back and admires her new image on the computer screen inside Tokyo's National Science Museum. "I could look this cute with only a few changes!" she exclaims. Misa's 9-year-old sister, Kimiko, leans over the monitor, waiting impatiently for her turn. Their mom, Hiroko, glances nervously at the long line of people behind them, worried that her daughters are monopolizing the virtual cosmetic-surgery booth. "This is the first time my children did not get bored within 10 minutes at the science museum," she says.The display holding them in thrall is the centerpiece of the most talked-about show in town: the "Grand Face Exhibition." Since it opened in late July, the show has attracted more than 120,000 visitors with its colorful and interactive exhibits on the human face. In addition to creating their ideal look, visitors can study facial musculature, see life...
  • I Take Thee, For Weekends Only

    Last March families and friends gathered to celebrate the all-too-brief union of Hitomi Yoshida and Kenichi Ando. After an elegant wedding in the northern city of Hakodate and a short honeymoon at a hot-spring resort, the newlyweds went their own ways. Yoshida says she wouldn't have gotten married if it meant losing her career, so she remained at her journalism job near Hakodate. Ando, a university lecturer 550 miles south in Osaka, says he hopes to rejoin her in Hakodate someday soon. As for children, "we'll figure it out eventually," says Yoshida.Now that's a switch. Tired of following in the footsteps of indifferent husbands, Japanese wives are demanding lives of their own. The postwar boom has given women the jobs and the confidence to go it alone, even if they're still under social pressure to get married and have kids. The result is a boom in long-distance marriages, often insisted upon by the woman of the divided house. In a survey of single women in their 30s last year by...
  • Reversal Of Fortune

    It's just a few minutes to curtain, but Ryoko Hirosue, Japan's hottest young actress, has her mind on something other than her lines. Ryoko's ditzy hairdresser stops fussing with the star's coif and takes a peek. Ryoko is using her mobile phone--to move money between bank accounts. "Wow," says the stylist. "I wonder if I could do that." "Yes," Ryoko replies haughtily. "I wonder."In fact, anyone can do nifty things with mobile phones in Japan these days--which is, of course, the point of this endlessly repeated commercial for NTT DoCoMo. In February the company, which is Japan's biggest mobile-service provider, introduced i-mode, which offers 70 services including online banking and train and airline reservations. By last week 185,000 i-mode subscribers were enjoying modest slices of Internet access via their mobile phones--and perhaps looking forward to the larger portions NTT DoCoMo will serve up next March, when it expects to be the first company in the world to offer its...