During our trip to Japan, my study abroad group and I mostly used the Japanese transit system to get to and from our site visits. While it was somewhat of a hassle to spend most of our money on the subway, using the Suica card relieved some of that stress. The Suica, or “Super Urban Intelligent Card” is a rechargeable smart card that you can use to pay your subway fare without the use of physical cash. It was developed by the East Japan Railway Company, and it’s mostly used in the Kanto region of Japan.
The way that you use the Suica card is that you place whatever amount of money you have on the card at one of the ticket vending machines at the station. Once that’s done, you place the card on the reader as you pass through the gate. After that, you ride the train to the next station. The fare gets taken out of the amount you originally had on the card depending on the distance from the station you started from to the station that you got off. The card uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology which uses radio waves to transfer information from a tag that’s attached to the card. If there’s not enough money on the card, you can pay the difference at the ticket gate.
One thing that’s amazing about the Suica card is the convenience that it brings. It helps relieve traffic congestion in the stations, and its really easy to use. Another thing is that not only can you use the card for getting on the subway, you can also use it to buy things. You can use the Suica at most convenience stores that carry it, and there are vending machines in the station that have card readers if you want to get something refreshing while waiting for the train. Another great thing about the Suica card is that the card has an expiration date of 10 years, so you can use the card for significant amount of time before it expires.
While the Suica card is easy to use, there was one minor issue. There were a few times where I tried to use my card, and it wouldn’t scan correctly. While it wasn’t a big deal, it was somewhat frustrating not knowing what to do when this happened to me the first time. If this happens, you can go to the ticket gate, and the attendant will take care of the situation.
JR East also developed a version of the Suica that can be used on mobile devices. Just like the card, you can put money on it and use it to pay your subway fare and to buy snacks at the convenience stores. The only major difference is that the mobile version of the Suica allows you to view most of your past purchases.
Using the Suica made my experience with the Japanese transit system a lot more convenient. It’s really simple to use, you can use it to ride the train and buy food, and it saved me some money. It would be great to see the U.S. use RFID technology in this particular way someday, it would definitely make things a whole lot easier.
After we visited DNP, we went to FutureScope, which is a company that distributes services and content for mobile phones. FutureScope is a member of the Fields Corporation Group, which primarily develop and sell pachinko machines. Fields is made up of other companies like Lucent Pictures and Digital Frontier for example. Lucent Pictures is a company that mainly produces animated features, some of which has won the Best Animated Feature Award. One interesting fact about FutureScope is that they actually own the distribution rights for the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, which is like Gundam, another popular series in Japan.
Afterwards, we met the group that worked for Digital Frontier, which is a motion picture company that specializes in full CG (computer generated) animation. Some of their most well know work include the live action versions of Death Note and GANTZ, both of which are very popular in Japan, the most recent animated Resident Evil movie, and they even worked on the animation for Metal Gear Solid 4. Digital Frontier also houses one of Asia’s largest motion capture studio, it would be interesting to see if that’s true or not.
After our visit with FutureScope, our professor took us all out for a yakiniku dinner. Yakiniku is where all of the meat is delivered raw, and we cook it ourselves in a table top grill. Some of the meat was interesting to say the least. While they did have the standard beef, there was also cow shoulder, tongue, and stomach. I think it would be wise for someone to actually do a little bit of research about yakiniku before they decide if they want to try it, just as a forewarning. It was nice to get everyone together before we went our separate ways, I really hope we all can get together again when we return to East Lansing.
We had a busy day ahead of us during our last day in Japan. The first company we visited was Dai Nippon Printing. One interesting fact about DNP is that it started out as a printing company originally, but since then the company changed its focus to information services. DNP is another company that’s using Augment Reality technology. Ironically enough, they’re actually working with JR East to create the app that uses 3D maps for their stations that I mentioned in the last post. I really would like to see Augmented Reality technology used more in the U.S., there are a lot of companies that can benefit from using this technology for their products.
Afterwards, we got to see a mini interactive art exhibit that DNP had in partnership with the Louvre Museum. The art exhibit was pretty interesting, there were many touch displays that showed information on some of the paintings in the actual museum. In one of the rooms, we actually one of the paintings that the Louvre donated to the company for the exhibit. There was a interactive kiosk that lets you edit the painting any way you want it to look. It would be interesting to see if other museums decide to have interactive exhibits in the future. It’ll be a great way to learn about the subject matter of the exhibit, and it would be a lot more engaging than just looking at the exhibits themselves.
Our trip to the Research and Development center for the East Japan Railway Company (JR East for short) was probably the most interesting of all the places I’ve been to. It was somewhat weird to hear a railway company talking about innovation, but I was really impressed with some of the things they showed us.
JR East is one of seven railway companies that make up the Japan Railways Group, who were originally the Japan National Railways, which was privatized on April 19, 1987. JR East employs 59,650 people, their group revenue for 2011 was $30 Billion, and they serve 16 million passengers daily. While we were there, we had the chance to try out some of the prototypes they’ve been working on. As a bonus, they even allowed us to take pictures of their prototypes.
One prototype that stuck out the most to me was the Kamishirube (kami- paper, shirube- directing post) information station. Kamishirube allows users to look up different information by placing your brochure on the kiosk and tapping the icons that pop up. If this type of technology ever gets implemented, it’ll be a great way for people find their destination in the train station.
Another thing that they showed was the Smart Navigation app, which allows you to see a 3D map of the station by holding your mobile phone in front of a AR (Augmented Reality) marker. The app is only being made for the Japanese market, but it’ll be interesting to see if it ever gets released in America one day. I really had an awesome time at JR East, it’ll be awesome to see all of the technology that I saw to be put into use when I come back to Japan.
Visiting NTT DoCoMo is arguably one of my favorite companies we visited during our trip to Japan. DoCoMo is the leading mobile phone provider in the country, and after witness some of their technological innovations, I can see why they’re so deserving of that title. We visited the company’s Research and Development lab, and one thing I can say is that the United States has some catching up to do in terms of mobile technology.
The amount of technology they had to offer was amazing. Some prime examples included a mobile app that can tell if your hungry or not, a ring that allows you to turn on the TV by tapping your index finger and thumb in a specific sequence, and a translator that can translate whatever you say into any language. But one of the innovations that drew my attention the most was a pair of augmented reality goggles. To those that don’t know what augmented reality is, it’s basically a type of technology that allows you to view 3D images in a real world environment. These goggles allowed you to view a magazine without turning a page, also they allowed you to view a 3D map of a city.
I’ve only seen augmented reality used in gaming like with the releases of the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita handhelds, but to see it used in such a way was awesome. While augmented reality isn’t as prevalent in the U.S., it was cool to see the Japanese use the technology in other areas other than gaming. It’ll be interesting to see if this specific product, and the other innovations I’ve seen will make the market one day.