Tuning in: Nintendo’s DS hand-held games console will get a 1SEG TV tuner as an accessory from Nov. 20 (although you can order it from Nov. 8). DS Terebi will allow you to watch digital TV almost anywhere in Japan on the upper screen of your DS, with the console’s touch-screen doing duty as the television control. Priced ¥6,800 from www.nintendo.co.jp, it sounds perfect for watching the “Super Mario Bros.” movie.
Hot fingers: The versatility of human fingers was crucial to our rise as toolmakers and ultimately a dominant species. Hitachi certainly has nothing but respect for the digits. Employing its finger-vein biometric technology, Hitachi has developed a system that allows you to forget your car key and just start your automobile with your index finger. An earlier version of the technology allowed your finger to serve as a key to open car doors, but the latest incarnation not only lets your digit be an ignition key, it can also alert the car to your preferences for seating position, mirror angles and so on. Hitachi also sees potential for your other fingers to get in on the act, controlling your GPS navigation system, air conditioning and the like. It could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Busy hands: Hands can also be put to foul use, and it’s easy to despair of the seemingly never-ending plague of gropers on Japan’s trains. Games developer Takahashi has taken a stand with the ingeniously titled “Anti-Groping Appli.” The name sums it up — a Java-based application for cell phones intended to offer a discrete solution to wandering hands, and other limbs. When a user feels the unwanted intrusion of a groper, but doesn’t want to create a scene, they activate the application and flash the screen of the cell phone in the intruder’s face. On-screen phrases such as “Excuse me, did you just grope me?” “Groping is a crime,” and “Shall we head to the police?” are intended to put a halt to the assault. The program was released in late 2005 but has reportedly become one of the top downloads among cell-phone applications in Japan in recent weeks. Whether that signifies that society has had enough of the gropers, or their prevalence, is open to debate.
Cat snaps: Sanrio has unveiled its latest contribution to Hello Kitty’s merchandising appeal. In late November the company releases a 5-megapixel digital camera shaped like the feline’s head. The camera’s shutter is on the left ear, with the lens in the bow tie. The device has a 2-inch LCD, supports SD memory cards, and has 32 megabytes of internal memory and a 4x digital zoom. It is also a distinctly pocketable 80 grams — not to suggest it is meant to be hidden from public view. Just to cap off the good times, Sanrio is also bringing out a Hello Kitty karaoke machine and CD player. No need to guess what shape that is modeled on, or what the theme song is devoted to.
Drying out: Those not lost in a world of cuteness will know that recent cool nights are a harbinger of the season to come. Winters in Japan are noted for the distinct dryness of the air, a complement to summer’s humidity. One offshoot of the peculiarly parched season is the need for air humidifiers. For the eco-friendly among you, CCP (www.ccp-jp.com) has launched its KZ-500AS, which vaporizes the contents of used PET bottles of up to 500 milliliters. The contraptions cost just ¥3,000, come in a choice of pink, blue, orange or green, and you can also use aromatic oil with them to spruce up the odor. A 500-milliliter bottle of water is supposed to be good for up to four hours of atmospheric enriching.
Hot hot heat: Electronics maker Metro is concerned with the most obvious effect of winter: the chills that cramp the lifestyle of the unprepared. Looking like an attractive ceramic pot, the company’s new product is in fact a halogen heater, making use of technology similar to that employed in kotatsu (a heated coffee table with blanket that many Japanese families use in winter). Details are at www.metro-co.com/products/kotatsu/ halogen/index.html
Tiny chopper: Toy-maker Tomy is more interested in warming your heart with its new toy helicopter, the Heli-Q. Billed as the world’s smallest radio-controlled such device, it is designed to fly for five minutes on a 20-minute charge. Heli-Q is released this month priced ¥3,465.