Competitive aquatic plant designs look more like gorgeous jungles than fish tanks

Some of the aquariums look like they could be a screenshot of a scene from Princess Mononoke.

Every year since the early 2000s, Aqua Design Amano, a company that produces aquarium accessories, has digitally hosted the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest, a world-wide competition for hobbyists to share their love of aquarium design. It’s a serious competition that requires a lot of hard work, as contestants cannot win simply by plopping some plants into a tank, taking a photo, and calling it a day; they must not only arrange a beautiful and original design, but one of the criteria for judging is a perceived long-term maintenance of the layout, so a living, working tank environment is a must. To enter, contestants may submit only one photograph of their fish tank, and it must be taken from the front to be accepted.

Recently, the winners of the 2017 competition were announced, and the top 27 pieces are really impressive. Since it’s a hobby that requires a lot of skill and care, it’s not surprising that the results can be quite breathtaking. What is surprising is that many look like they aren’t underwater, but rather could be photos of jungles deep in Africa or in the Amazon. They showcase the incredible talent of a little-known hobby that’s well worth taking the time to browse.

Take this year’s winner, for example: “Congo” by Josh Sims, from Malaysia. With its thick, tree-like plants and lush green tones, you can’t help but see a jungle in this photograph. But no, it’s not a snapshot of the Congo Rainforest, it’s merely a 150 x 60 x 50 centimeter (59 x 23.6 x 19.7 inch) fish tank. Impressive!

Second place winner Junmiao Xu’s “Seclusion” is another beautiful forest-like aquascape. It features ancient-looking trees with dangling vines that really remind one of the forest in Princess Mononoke. While gazing at the landscape you almost expect to see the Forest Spirit appear in the gap!

“Between the Clouds” by Yufan Yang of China is the ninth-place winner, and another forest-like scene, but this one looks like a forest in the sky. The whimsical, flowing way in which the light permeates the space between the plants gives the impression of a forest that has grown as high as the clouds.

“Back to the desolation” by Yong Liu of China, the thirteenth place winner, is also a forest scene, but from a different perspective: standing under the trees. The plants reach their tendrils towards the center, giving the perception that the viewer is standing in a clearing of a forest, looking up at the sky through a gap in the trees. It’s hard to believe that this shot is really of the front of a fish tank.

Interestingly, most of the pieces that actually resemble underwater scenes earned lower rankings. For example, almost alone among the winning entries is a piece that looks like it was taken while scuba diving in the ocean. Japanese designer Katsuki Tanaka’s fourteenth-place winner, “ORO!”, contains a beautiful rising assortment of mossy rocks that gives the appearance of coral reaching up to the surface of the ocean. The fact that the plants actually look adrift in the water really makes a difference in the appearance of this one, unlike the other pieces, whose plants appear to be still.

There was a lot of criteria for judging the competition, including technical skill, originality, presentation of natural atmosphere, and overall composition and balance. But the design is not the only thing that matters: half of the total maximum score of 100 points is allotted for the perceived health of the aquatic life and the layout’s suitability as a natural habitat for fish, so each submission must be a living, healthy, functional ecosystem, as well as a work of art.

It must take a lot of diligence and attention, but it’s such an interesting form of art and expression of creativity. And for such a little-known hobby, there really is a very talented following of artists! Color me impressed, but considering I have never been able to keep fish alive, I think I’ll settle for my no-maintenance miniature Art Aquarium instead.

Images: Aqua Design Amaro
Reference: The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest

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Kabuki stagehand taxi service starts, offers silent cab drivers that’ll give you a story to tell

With their drivers’ faces hidden, these taxis are a peek into Japanese theater culture.

With their white-gloved drivers, automatically opening rear doors, and doily-decorated interiors, Japanese taxis are a unique slice of the country’s modern culture. But Yokohama-based taxicab operator Sanwa Kotsu, which also serves the Tokyo area, occasionally likes to add in a dash of traditional culture to its services as well.

Previously, Sanwa Kotsu let passengers engage in a bit of yabusame horseback archery-inspired target shooting from the back of its cars, and now it’s offering the pageantry of kabuki and other classic forms of Japanese stage art with its new Kuroko Taxi service.

Kuroko are the stagehands employed in Japanese theater productions, most commonly seen in kabuki and bunraku puppet plays (and, if you’re a fan of 1990s-era fighting video games, the Neo Geo hit Samurai Shodown). Dressed from head to toe in black, including a cloth face cover, kuroko’s monochrome outfits are supposed to be interpreted as not being part of the scene, and so audiences are supposed to ignore their presence and focus on the actors, scenery, and props. The irony, however, is that kuroko attire is so iconic as to be instantly recognizable.

▼ Sanwa promises that the drivers are always smiling, even if you can’t see their mouths.

Just like their stage counterparts, Sanwa Kotsu’s Kuroko Taxi drivers remain completely silent, greeting passengers with a written welcome to the cab.

As such, the company recommends the service not only for those who want a memorable, uniquely Japanese journey, but also those who just aren’t in the mood for small talk. But while the kuroko drivers won’t be doing any speaking, they are equipped to understand your words, as their cabs are outfitted with Google translation-compatible technology that allows them to understand more than 100 languages, including English, Sanwa Kotsu says.

▼ Keeping the car as clean as his clothes.

Oh, and don’t worry. When the car is in motion, the drivers remove their face covers in order to properly see their surroundings and ensure you get to your destination safely.

Given the niche marketing, Kuroko Taxis are available by reservation, with the online form found here.

Source: Sanwa Kotsu via IT Media
Images: Sanwa Kotsu

Older female fans’ steamy comments about gold medal skater Yuzuru Hanyu spark debate online

Some call the sentiments creepy, while others say they mirror their own.

Right now, few people are the object of more admiration in Japan than Yuzuru Hanyu. At the PyeongChang Olympics, the 23-year-old figure skater recently captured his second consecutive gold medal, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the men’s singles event in 66 years.

Add with his boyishly reserved demeanor, delicate smooth-faced features, and slender build, Hanyu is also seen as incredibly attractive by many Japanese women. However, more than a few Japanese Internet users are saying that the comments made about the skating star by a pair of older female fans are over the line.

Twitter user @hiro_tyun recently shared the comments, which were originally recorded by Japanese women’s interest magazine Shukan Josei when Hanyu was 20. The magazine quoted a 41-year-old housewife as saying “I want to comfort and heal him in the way an older person can,” while a 47-year-old woman employed as a civil servant coyly declared “I want to teach Yuzu-kun all sorts of things.”

“There’d be a huge commotion if you switched the genders around and had 41 and 47-year-old men saying that about a 20-year-old woman,” said @hiro_tyun, prompting close to 30,000 likes and agreements from commenters such as:

“’I want to heal him.’ That’s creepy.”
“I’m a woman, and even I think they’re being creepy. If they were men, someone would probably report them to the police.”
“That’s being harmful to Hanyu, not healing. Instead of talking about teaching him things, she should learn from Hanyu’s grace and dignity.”
“What pervs.”

On the other side of the debate, though, were those who shared, or at least could understand, the passionate fans’ sentiments.

“These days, there are some young men who’re strongly attracted to older women. So while it’s not true for everyone, some guys would be happy to be in this situation.”
“How shameless those women are…and how embarrassed I am for not finding anything unusual in their comments.”
“When a woman says these things, my first reaction is that she’s just showing her maternal side, but if a guy says it, instead of sounding paternal, it just makes him seem like a pervert.”
“Idol otaku say the exact same things about idol singers, so I don’t think there’s anything particularly scandalous about the women’s comments.”

It’s worth pointing out that in Japan, legal adulthood begins at 20, so while the women may have been more than twice Hanyu’s age at the time the comments were made, he was, in the eyes of the law, a grown-up.

If Hanyu’s fanbase is going to become any less passionate, then perhaps newly famous silver medalist Shoma Uno should be mentally prepared for similarly steamy sentiments, even if he’d rather be playing video games than dating.

Source: Twitter/@hiro_tyun via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso

Samurai road rage as man attacks motorist with replica samurai sword on Japanese expressway

Tailgating incident isn’t exactly the sort of duel of honor told about in tales of yore.

Japan’s expressways are often clogged with traffic, but if you’re driving in the middle of the night, you usually won’t run into too much congestion. Even still, an incident that occurred in Aichi Prefecture before dawn on Wednesday shows that having to share the road with even one other vehicle is too much for some drivers to calmly deal with.

According to the Aichi Prefectural Police, at around 2 a.m. in a westbound section of the Tomei Expressway, which connects Tokyo and Nagoya, a 43-year-old truck driver from a delivery company based in Ibaraki Prefecture moved into the passing lane to overtake a passenger car in front of him. However, after the pass was completed, the driver of the car began aggressively tailgating the truck.

The truck driver then pulled over onto the shoulder of the expressway in Nisshin City. The driver of the car did likewise, and as the motorists exited their vehicles, the car’s driver began shouting “Why don’t you get out of the damn way! I’m in a hurry!”

Despite his self-professed lack of time, the driver of the car still had enough time in his schedule to then brandish an approximately 60-centimeter (two-foot) replica katana, which he then attacked the truck driver with. Specifically, the police report says the car driver “pounded on” the truck driver with the weapon, suggesting that its blade was not sharpened. Even without a cutting edge, though, the assailant managed to break the truck driver’s right knee after landing multiple blows. The driver of the car then got back in his vehicle and drove off, either because he realized the logical fallacy of spending time beating on someone when you’ve presumably got preexisting pressing appointments, complaining about someone being in your way after they’ve already pulled over to let you pass, or because he feared the imminent arrival of the authorities.

The truck driver then contacted the police, who are now searching for the driver of the car, said to be in his 20s or 30s, and are treating the attack as an attempted homicide.

In light of the events, SoraNews24 would like to remind everyone that while out on the road, it’s always smarter to remain in your vehicle rather then stepping out of it to engage in late-night altercations, because should you happen to encounter someone with road rage who’s armed like a samurai, Japan’s real-life ninja are probably too busy to come to your aid.

Source: Livedoor News via Hachima Kiko, YouTube/ANNnewsCH
Top image: Gahag

Japanese train station stirs up nostalgia with beautiful rural setting and one-carriage train

A stop-off here is like a scene from an anime movie.

For people living in crowded cities in Japan, nothing tugs at the heartstrings more than a picturesque image of a tiny train station in the middle of the countryside. When it comes with an unmanned wooden building and a single-carriage train that quietly shuttles people back and forth, the wave of nostalgia becomes so intense that it’s almost too beautiful to bear.

One such train station has come to everyone’s attention in Japan recently, thanks to updates on social media, like this tweet from Twitter user .

The beautiful images show a day in the life of Chiwa Station, which sits on the Inbi Line in Okayama Prefecture.

Surrounded by nature and wildlife, the station building itself is filled with remnants from yesteryear, charming everybody who lays eyes on it. Dating back to 1931, when the station first opened, the wooden building still stands as it did so many decades ago, like a museum dedicated to preserving a sense of travel during the Showa Period (1926-1989).

To see just how peaceful and beautiful the train station is, check out this relaxing video below:

In the video, the one-carriage train can be seen stopping quietly at the station, picking up local passengers with only five Tottori, Chizu-bound trains per day, and six services running to Tsuyama.

Both services depart from the same platform, which is unmanned and has no automatic ticket vending machines.

Stepping inside the station building is like stepping back in time to the Showa Era, with an old phone and wooden furniture adding to the nostalgic atmosphere.

While the video was shot during the warmer months of the year, during winter the station looks equally beautiful under a blanket of snow.

People travel from all around Japan to spend some time here, discovering all the little details inside the station while soaking up the rural atmosphere.

While Japan’s bustling cities have a lot to offer, towns in the countryside – and their tranquil train stations – often have a magical quality of their own, which makes them look like they’ve jumped straight out of an anime movie.

If you ever find yourself down Okayama way, be sure to hop on the train for a ride through the picturesque countryside. You might want to enjoy it while it lasts, though, because if this “time-travelling” Twitter user’s prediction is correct, the Japanese capital will be moving from Tokyo to Okayama by 2075.

Source, images: YouTube/oht3236

One in four young Japanese adults say love is a pain in the butt【Survey】

Is love dead?

While it’s not a universally held sentiment, some people will tell you that love hurts. It turns out that in Japan, for a surprising number of young people, love can also just be a pain.

Japanese matchmaking service Partner Agent recently polled a total of 1,960 men and women between the ages and 20 and 29 or 40 and 49. Among the questions asked were “Do you want to have a romantic relationship, or do you think that romance is an inconvenient pain?” Among the 20-29 demographic, 24.5 percent were of the latter opinion.

While they didn’t specify exactly what made romance seem like a bother, at least part of their reasoning seems to be a lack of enthusiasm about actively trying to meet a special someone. Almost half of the young adults, 47.5 percent, said that it’s best to just wait to naturally meet your eventual spouse, compared to 24.8 percent, who favored actively looking for a lifelong partner, and 27.6 percent who were undecided. In keeping with roughly one in two young survey participants taking the passive approach, 53.7 percent of the young adults said they’ve never been to a gokon, a Japanese group date in which an equal number of unattached men and women, with most meeting for the first time, go out to see if they’re compatible with anyone else in the group.

But if love is a pain to some of the respondents, at least it’s not particularly expensive. 40.1 percent of the young adult participants said they spend less than 10,000 yen (US$91) a month on dating expenses. That might be connected to the fact that 40.9 percent said they’d prioritize their personal time over spending time with a romantic partner, as opposed to 32.3 percent who said their lover comes first.

Still, all this doesn’t mean that romance is dead in Japan. 57.8 percent of the young adults said they still hope to fall in love. It’s also worth bearing in mind that singles are generally more likely to fill out dating surveys, and while some extroverts genuinely enjoy playing the field, for a lot of people mingling and trying to meet new people is an intimidating chore, so for those saying love is a pain, part of the reason might be because they’re simply not at the fun part of a relationship yet.

Source: PR Times via Livedoor News via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

Hayao Miyazaki says Studio Ghibli once stood up to Harvey Weinstein with a Japanese samurai sword

According to Hayao Miyazaki, the act meant “I defeated him”.

Ever since news of sexual abuse allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein broke last October, more and more disturbing claims have surfaced, detailing the mogul’s extensive use of intimidation and bullying tactics in order to satisfy his personal desires and face down anyone who appeared to stand in his way.

While many people were forced to relent to Weinstein’s menacing ways, one man and his team in Japan refused to let the producer mess with them, standing up to him in a most memorable fashion: with a Japanese samurai sword.

The story, which has resurfaced in the midst of the Weinstein scandal, was first told by Studio Ghibli director and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki in an interview with The Guardian in 2005, back when Weinstein was still a respected, albeit feared, Hollywood producer.

At the time, Miyazaki was in Venice promoting his latest film, Howl’s Moving Castle, and the rare interview was said to be the first one the director had agreed to in 10 years. While the discussion mostly revolved around his craft, at one point the interviewer asked whether the rumour about him sending a samurai sword to Harvey Weinstein was actually true.

Miyazaki confirmed the story, saying, “Actually, my producer [Toshio Suzuki] did that”, before going on to reveal that the sword was sent after Weinstein, who was in charge of handling the U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, bombarded him with an “aggressive attack” and “all these demands for cuts”.

The sword was sent to Weinstein in the post with the following message attached: “No cuts”.

Weinstein, who was known for editing down movies to his liking, eventually backed down from making any cuts to Princess Mononoke’s U.S. release, and as Miyazaki recalled the story to the interviewer, he smiled and said “I defeated him.”

Source: Metro via The Guardian
Featured image: Flickr/Big Ben in Japan
Insert image: Flickr/Mark Vegas