Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Well, after a bit of a rut as well as just chilling out around Christmas time, I decided to renew my efforts to find the robots! So I headed out towards Odaiba to see the science and technology museum. Apparently they have Asimo there (which I saw already at the Honda showroom---see my facebook profile pic). But once I finally got there, and after paying the expensive train fee (Odaiba is an island on reclaimed bay land), it turned out it was closed for New Years holidays. New Years is the most important holiday in Japan, important like Christmas in the West. Anyway, since I was already there and it was sunny out I decided to just take a walk around and see what I could see. Eventually I stumbled upon a mall/shopping complex. The inside was quite interesting, done up with imposing pillars, archways to look like a Roman street. Painted sky blue ceiling with clouds. Low lighting, and some italian restaurants with "terraces" on the "street front." Disneyland-esque. The Continental Europeans that I know would be aghast and disgusted. Kind of funny.
I walked through past the shops, kind of bored that I ended up in yet another mall, when I exited to find myself upon something. The Toyota showroom! Would I actually get to see robots today? So I went inside, kind of excited. Mostly just showroom cars, like you would think. But one area struck me. It was dedicated to hybrid vehicles. It had what you might imagine, some displays that explained Toyota's role in solving the world's environmental crisis and their amazing technology. Various screens, games, and activities to entertain kids. But what I also found was a series of displays that set out to explain how Japanese society, culture, language, food, etc. are all hybrid.

You can't really read them from these small thumbnails I guess. But basically they explain how the Japanese language is a hybrid, how the characters of written Japanese are hybrid characters, how the writing system itself is a hybrid of the different character sets (hiraganda, katakana, kanji). It explains how the silk road created hybrids between East and West. Food is at the "Hybrid Restaurant" is also hybrid, such as curry udon and california rolls. Traditional Japanese tools are "filled with hybrid wisdom" and Japan "has a rich culture of color combinations" that represent "the changing of the season and the beauty of nature." All of this I found very fascinating. What message is being sent? Some seem perhaps contradictory--the image of multicultural mixing versus ideas of Japanese singularity. And the relevance and links seem a bit difficult to see. What do environmental-minded hybrid cars have to do with ideogram/phonogram mixing in Japanese linguistics? These displays would seem to be aimed at children--families were the only ones in that area of the showroom, mostly so the kids could play with the various screens and activities (such as mixing colors). Most people just looked at the cars, or lined up for the various simulators. The focus on hybridity seems also relevant in light of the robots, which I eventually came upon (bingo!). Toyota had on display a humanoid robot that plays a trumpet (which is demonstrated at certain scheduled times), as well as two or three robot-walking assistants.

The walker robots seem a bit creepy to me. Anyway the display which you can partly see behind the second photo explains how they are part of a plan towards sustainable living. Perhaps they are supposed to be a more fuel-efficient system of transport, it wasn't completely clear to me. The display explains that "harmony through technology" is one of the goals--fitting technology and humans together in a society, a society that therefore seems to be hybrid. The i-foot robot in the top picture apparently "feels just like your own arms and legs." Kind of like Toyota's version of Gundam I guess.
I don't really think that a lot of people would necessarily or enthusiastically buy into all this, but then its interesting the way in which Toyota positions itself in relation to popular ideas like the environment or traditional Japan.

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