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Strong earthquake strikes Chile; no serious damage reported

A strong earthquake struck coastal Chile near the port city of Valparaiso late Monday, causing mudslides and some minor damage, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The 6.7-magnitude quake knocked out some power and phone lines in the region, authorities said.

The temblor was felt in the capital city, Santiago, located 69 miles from the epicenter. A CNN en EspaƱol anchor held onto his desk as the quake rattled the studio during a newscast in Huechurba, a suburb of the capital.

"We could feel the ground shaking," said journalist Richard Madan. "It felt like we were standing on a subway track but multiply that by about 200."

Madan, of CNN's Canadian affiliate CTV, is in Santiago as part of the traveling press for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit there.

Both he and the Canadian delegation were okay, Madan said.

No tsunami warning was issued, according to Chile's Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service, and a preventive evacuation for the area has been lifted. A 72-year-old man died of a heart attack during the evacuation, according to regional Mayor Raul Celis.

The same part of the country was hit with an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in February 2010, killing hundreds of people.
Chile is on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basic that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

iPhone + Cute Puppy = i-Puppy

Some people love their iPhones. Some people love their puppies. Bandai Co., Ltd., which specializes in character-related products from toys to costumes to various Pokemon snacks and gadgets, has figured out a way to blend the two, with its new “Smart Pet”– a kind of i-Puppy.

iPhone + Cute Puppy = i-Puppy

It starts with the robotic body of a dog not quite seven inches tall. Owners download a Smart Pet app onto to their iPhone or iPod touch. Then they nestle it between the floppy ears of the robot, and the iPhone becomes the dog’s face and brain.

The machine then transforms into an animated robotic dog, which will recognize its “owner,” can be “fed,” do more than one hundred tricks, and for all intents and purposes be a man’s best friend–without the necessary daily walks, vet visits, dog chow, and pooper scoopers that a flesh dog would require. (It’s reminiscent of Sony Corp.’s much-beloved Aibo, and has similarities to Bandai’s turn-of-the century digital pet, Tamagotchi.

And the mechanical Sparky can do all sorts of things real dogs can’t. It can help charge the iPhone, serve as an alarm clock, and, should a call happen to come in while the owner is playing with the pet, turn into a hands-free phone set. In another less-normal canine feature, the Smart Pet’s face is removable, so users can take it outside without the body, legs, and tail of the dog. In addition, owners with two Smart Pets—they run in white and black—can use the communication function to synchronize the two dogs as they dance and sing.

The battery-charged Smart Pet is designed so that the robotic dog “learns” more tricks, games, and facial expressions as its owner continues to use it, “playing” chores like feeding the pooch, simulating the relationship between a real dog an its owner. Smart Pets also have a mic and camera installed inside that enable them to do various tricks at the owners’ beck and call.

Smart Pets will run from Y7,800 yen starting April 28. Bandai expects its “completely innovative and new” not-so-furry friend to “not once bore its owners throughout the day,” according to its promotional video. As of now, the Smart Pet will only be available in Japan.

Japanese Journalist Weighs in on the Princess Problem

Should Japan’s royal women be able to stay in the imperial family even if they marry outsiders? One of Japan’s most well-known, and controversial, female journalists says “no.”

Japanese Journalist Weighs in on the Princess Problem
Japanese Journalist Weighs in on the Princess Problem

At a government hearing on Tuesday, Yoshiko Sakurai, a journalist known for her nationalistic comments about World War II, opposed a proposal to reverse the country’s current Imperial House Law, which boots princesses from the royal family if they marry commoners.

That rule is threatening to rapidly thin down Japan’s 23-member royal family, eight of whom are over the age of 60 and three of whom are children - and thus aren’t readily deployable for imperial duties. Of the remaining 12, half are unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30. A spate of weddings could thus leave the royals with only a handful of active adults to attend ceremonies and grace public events.

Tuesday’s hearing was the third in a series that started in January, when Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura announced the government would be reopening the issue when the aim of re-drafting the Imperial House Law. Mr. Fujimura made clear, however, that the issue of allowing a woman to take the throne would not be discussed.

The two previous hearings featured testimony from supporters of letting women remain in the family after marriage. Tuesday was the first time opponents to the suggestion spoke.

Ms. Sakurai, who heads the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, said that “reform of the Imperial House Law is inevitable,” but warned against amendments that could cause “a qualitative change to the system.” In her view, the tradition of preserving the royal lineage through the male bloodline must be defended at any cost. That tradition could be endangered if offspring from non-imperial men were brought into the royal family, she said.

Instead, Ms. Sakurai suggested that the government recognize distant patrilineal relatives as royals. After World War II, she explained, 11 branches of the royal family were stripped of their titles. Four should be reinstated, she said.

“There were too many, so they were cut back. Now we’re in the complete opposite position, why can’t we take the opposite measure?” she asked. “We must craft our society with our hopes and our feelings as Japanese people.”

Ms. Sakurai said she isn’t anti-feminist, however. “This is the age of women. We should create a system where those lively, elegant princesses can continue to be active even after they marry,” she stated, insisting the government must decide how they can continue to support the family in its duties as the emperor and empress age.

Of course, looming behind the princess problem is the bigger one of securing male progeny to carry on the imperial line. Only seven of the 23 members of the royal family, excluding the emperor, are men. The birth of Prince Hisahito, the grandson of current Emperor Akihito and the first boy to be born to the family in over 40 years, will stave off a genealogical crisis for a few generations.

In 2005, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi opened discussion about allowing women to become empresses, but the movement was quickly stopped by his conservative successor Shinzo Abe.

Otaku Smooch: A Kissing Poster for Japan’s Lonely Hearts

When you can’t get close to your heartthrob, the next best thing is usually to settle for an accessory – say, a poster – that you can stare at longingly with no one telling you to stop. But for some Japanese culture fans, the poster pleasures have limits when they want to get physical.

Kissing Poster for Japan’s Lonely Hearts

That’s when one inventive Tokyo college student decided to be a doer: For his graduation project, he developed a digital poster that responds when users lean in for a smooch.

“I really love those posters,” said Keidai Ogawa, a recent graduate of Keio University in Tokyo, in an interview with JRT on Thursday. A self-professed “otaku,” a sub-culture of geeks in Japan who pride themselves on their uber niche interests, Mr. Ogawa has five motionless posters of his favorite anime idols in his bedroom. “But they’re very big and the picture is just there. It seemed like a waste to me, so I wondered if there was a way to get them to move and interact with me that could also be enjoyable for idol fans.”

After mining online anime fan sites and talking with friends, he suspected he wasn’t the only enthusiast who would like his posters to kiss back.

“Most people don’t understand it, but it’s pretty common for otaku to look up at their posters and think ‘I’d like to kiss it,’” said the 22-year-old.

The technology is called “pochuter” - a word that sandwiches the Japanese word for kiss “chu” in the middle of “poster” - and simpler to dissect than the psychology driving the urge to kiss a display screen. The key is an ultrasound sensor placed overhead which detects how far the kisser’s head is from the screen. Based on that distance the “poster” subject leans in for the kiss accordingly. After the moment passes the image blushes coyly.

Mr. Ogawa’s wheels are still spinning: he hopes to keep tinkering with the technology to release it as an app for Apple Inc.’s iPads and Google Inc.’s Android operating system. More elements that will enhance the sensory experience are being brainstormed. Some ideas include layering the screen where the subject’s lips are with a lemon-scented silicon film, or make it so the user can catch a whiff of the “poster’s” shampoo as he leans in, and then have the “poster” whisper sweet nothings. He foresees celebrities being able to use this as an application or digital signage. The challenge for Mr. Ogawa — who this week was among the thousands of Japanese college graduates to join the working masses — will be finding time to work on his projects. He has just become a salaryman, joining what he described as a “big company.”

Mr. Ogawa and his classmates debuted the “kissing poster” at a Keio University design exhibition in Tokyo at the end of March. Since then, the product has received a mix of reviews in both Japan and overseas. Some derided it as the latest symptom of a weird and lonely culture cropping up here. Threads on Japanese online message forums discussed a local media report noting that overseas chatter used the description “forever alone.”

But Mr. Ogawa doesn’t mind. “Generally speaking, some people might think this is weird. And some people have said this is a bad thing, but others have also said they liked it. I don’t mind either way,” he says.

Intel Chips to Power Nissan Vehicle ‘Infotainment’

Intel processors will soon be powering the “infotainment” systems in new Nissan Motor vehicles, the chip company said, continuing its efforts to broaden beyond its core PC market.

Intel’s Atom processor - which is used in the low-end laptops known as netbooks and is starting to appear in some smartphones - will appear in certain Nissan vehicles starting in 2013, the Silicon Valley company said. The chips, which are optimized for the auto market, will power the infotainment system, providing drivers and passengers with features such as traffic information and navigation, as well as movies.

“This is really the starting point of us becoming a significant player in the automotive market,” said Ton Steenman, vice president of Intel’s intelligent-systems group. “It’s clear the car is becoming the next big connected mobile device.”

Thousands of LED ‘Fireflies’ to Float on Tokyo River

Fireflies are celebrated as a sign of summer’s arrival in Japan, and watching the glowing insects dance across streams and ponds is a common pastime on balmy nights in rural parts of the country.

For Tokyoites who can’t make it into the countryside this year to watch the natural spectacle, a more high-tech option is the two-day Tokyo Hotaru (firefly) Festival in May, when more than 100,000 manmade LED-lit “fireflies” will be floated on the city’s Sumida River.

Billed as an event where “city and nature can coexist,” the climax of the festival on the evening of May 6 will see the release of thousands of illuminated globes - each around three inches in diameter - at several locations along the river, which winds through the capital’s east side past the soon-to-be-opened Tokyo Sky Tree.

Around 15,000 “fireflies” will be put into the river by festival attendees (entry to one of the riverside areas is Y1,000 or free for children under elementary school age) with the remainder to be set free by organizers.

This video of a similar event in Osaka last year shows some idea of what to expect.

The “fireflies” are equipped with solar panels and rechargeable batteries in order to make the event as eco-friendly as possible, organizers say. After the festival, organizers say they will scoop up the globes from the river and, although they don’t have a plan for what to do with them after that, they say one option is to keep them for a similar event next year.

Japanese Students Not Hot on Study Abroad

Study abroad isn’t just a luxury, these days it’s a rite of passage for many students around the world. While more and more students in Asia and the U.S. are venturing overseas, a recent survey shows that just 57.2% of Japanese students, once the prototypical image of expat learners during the bubble, are interested in an overseas academic experience.

The survey, published by the Japan Youth Research Institute, polled over 8,000 students from China, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. in 2011. Even though 58.1% of Japanese students had been abroad, they ranked lowest of the four countries in terms of interest in a study abroad experience. In comparison, 82.4% in South Korea and 62.5% in China and were interested.

So why has enthusiasm waned in Japan? It’s not economic reasons, as only 19.5% of Japanese said that money was a barrier. And it’s not because they’ll miss home – only 10.3% said that was a consideration, compared with 30.4% of Chinese, 54.2% of Koreans and 58.1% of Americans.

The biggest reason that Japanese students cited for not wanting to study abroad was that life in their home country was easier at 53.2%, followed by “language barrier” and “lack of confidence in living alone” with 48.1% and 42.7% respectively, three criteria that the other students also ranked highly.

It could be due to apathy among Japanese boys. Some 20.4% of Japanese high school boys surveyed said they had no interest at all in study abroad, the highest of any of the countries surveyed. In comparison, 65.9% of Japanese girls said they were very or somewhat interested.

The lukewarm enthusiasm for study abroad in Japan is not a surprise given other recent data. Up from a low in 1986 of only 14,297 students, the number of Japanese study abroad students has been declining since it hit a peak of 82,945 in 2004, according to the OECD. In recent years, their Asian counterparts seeking an academic experience abroad have surged, and 2.25 million Chinese studied abroad in 2011.

The survey gives some indication of why this might be so when it breaks down the reasons that students do want to study abroad. While all of the 42.1% of Japanese students who wanted to study abroad said they one day wanted to work in an international setting, only 14.4% said going abroad would help them get a job. That’s much different from the goals of Chinese students, many of whom gave better academics abroad and better chances of being hired as incentives for leaving home.

Most Japanese companies have fixed hiring schedules and only accept graduates immediately after they have left school. The rigid system could be a deterrent to Japanese students, compared with their Chinese, Korean and U.S. peers who don’t face such strict hiring practices and might be more flexible to study abroad while at university.

8.9 earthquake hits Indonesia, tremors felt in India

JAKARTA, INDONESIA: Indonesia issued a tsunami warning on Wednesday after an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.9 hit waters off westernmost Aceh province.
People on Twitter said tremors were felt in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India. High-rise apartments and offices on Malaysia's west coast shook for at least a minute.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said a tsunami watch was in effect for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives and other Indian Ocean islands, Malaysia, Pakistan, Somalia, Oman, Iran, Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa and Singapore.

A tsunami watch means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent.

The US Geological Survey said the powerful quake was centered 20 miles (33 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor around 308 miles (495 kilometers) from Aceh's provincial capital.

An official at Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who goes by only one name, said a tsunami warning has been issued.

Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that makes the vast island nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity.

A giant 9.1-magnitude quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, nearly three quarter of them in Aceh.

After Indonesia earthquake, tsunami alert and tremors in India

New Delhi: 
A tsunami of between three to six metres is expected to hit the Nicobar Islands after an earthquake of 8.9 on the Richter scale hit Indonesia.  A tsunami alert -which is less serious than a warning - has also been issued for the Eastern coast of India, the Andaman Islands, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Tremors were felt after that in Mumbai, Kolkata, and the southern part of Chennai.  The tremors lasted for a few seconds.

In Bhubaneshwar, people were seen running out of their homes and offices.  No damage has been reported so far.

Sony to axe 10,000 jobs

TOKYO, JAPAN - Japan's Sony Corp is cutting 10,000 jobs, about 6% of its global workforce, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Monday, as new CEO Kazuo Hirai looks to steer the electronics and entertainment giant back to profit after four years in the red.

The job cuts would be the latest downsizing in Japan Inc where companies from cellphone maker NEC Corp to electronics firm Panasonic Corp are trimming costs in the face of a strong yen and competition from rivals like Apple and Samsung Electronics.

TV makers in particular have been hit hard by the tough business climate as well as sharp price falls, with Sony, Panasonic and Sharp expecting to have lost a combined $17 billion US in the fiscal year just ended.

Investors will closely monitor a briefing on Thursday by Hirai, who formally took over this month as chief executive from Howard Stringer, for further clues on how Sony plans to revamp its business.

"Under a new CEO, it's easier to cut jobs or go in a new direction," said Yuuki Sakurai, head of fund manager Fukoku Capital, which had around $7 billion US worth of assets under management as of end-March 2011.

"One of the things I'd like to see is that they shift their resources to other areas outside TVs ... If they stick to TVs, they may have to fight a war they may not be able to win."

The Nikkei said half of the latest round of job cuts would come from consolidating the firm's chemicals and small and midsize LCD operations.

Sony said last month it was selling a chemical products division, accounting for some 3,000 people, while on April 1 it merged its Sony Mobile display unit, which had about 2,000 workers, with the small LCD panel businesses of Toshiba Corp and Hitachi Ltd into a new firm called Japan Display.

The Nikkei said it was not clear how many of the cuts would take place in Japan or overseas.

As of end-March 2011, Sony had 168,200 employees on a consolidated basis, according to the company's website.

Sony may also ask its seven executive directors who served through the fiscal year to end-March, including Stringer, who is now chairman, to return their bonuses, the Nikkei said.

Sony declined to comment on the report.

Sony announced 16,000 job cuts in December 2008 after the global financial crisis battered demand for its products, but it has not managed to make a profit since then.

The company has forecast a 220 billion yen ($2.7 billion) net loss for the fiscal year just ended, hurt in large part by its ailing TV business.

Sony said last month that Hirai would keep direct charge of the TV business as part of a structural reorganization.

Sony shares closed up 0.6%, while the benchmark Nikkei average ended 1.5% lower. The stock has dropped more than 10% in the past 3 weeks since hitting a 7-month high.

Tsunami-Ravaged Japanese Fishing Vessel Spotted Near Vancouver

(VANCOUVER) -- Just over a year ago, a fishing boat was going about its business near Hokkaido, Japan, when an unimaginable disaster struck -- a giant earthquake followed by a horrific tsunami.

This past weekend, that same boat, now nicknamed a "ghost ship," was spotted about 160 miles off the coast of Vancouver.

The 150-foot freighter is the largest piece of debris to have reached the West Coast of North America since the tsunami that devastated a good portion of northeastern Japan.

No one is believed to be on board the fishing boat. The Japanese government listed its owner as missing.

Canadian authorities don't consider the ship an environmental hazard although it could soon be washed ashore by a major storm.

The boat has also caught the attention of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which anticipated that much of the millions of tons of tsunami debris wouldn't arrive in the U.S. until before next year.

Tsunami-Tossed Boat

A tsunami-tossed boat tossed by giant waves lies atop a building in the city of Otsuchi in northern Japan on May 7, 2011.

The day after the earthquake struck, Mayama was in the city of Yamato documenting the destruction when a woman approached him and led him to the mangled wreck of a car where her dead daughter was trapped.

Despite the devastation around them and no help in sight, she and her husband couldn't leave, and she continued to brush the girl's hair with a comb. "I could see only the hair," Mayama said. "She said it's my daughter, it's my daughter."

The woman explained that she had approached Mayama because she wanted him to take pictures to document their loss. "I've never forgotten that," Mayama said.

One year later, Mayama said he is still searching for the woman so he can give her the photographs.

Picture for Japan tsunami: before and after

In this first of three Big Picture posts on the anniversary of the Japan earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster, we have a series of paired "then and now" pictures, with the first image taken recently paired with a picture from the same vantage point taken during or in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. CLICK ON IMAGES 2 THROUGH 27 TO SEE THE SAME AREA ONE YEAR AGO. This effect requires javascript to be enabled. Outside of Japan's nuclear exclusion zone the country has made a remarkable cleanup of the areas ravaged by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But a quasi-normality reigns, with some formerly devastated areas now orderly, yet not as they were before the tragedy, while other areas bear heavy signs of damage. Several photographers recently painstakingly recreated scenes photographed during the original events. AFP's Toru Yamanaka said the task was very difficult, with many of the visual clues wiped away. Yamanaka said he had to ask local residents where they thought the original photos were taken. In Ishinomaki, he walked into the city hall and showed people a photograph of a piece of land with many stones scattered on it. "All the city officials from one section came out and tried to help me. They stared at the picture all together but still couldn't figure it out. One young woman, also working at the city hall, then shouted: 'I got it!' She pointed out a tiny building in the background that was under construction, and said, 'I know the building.'" The last three images, as well as the first image here, are of Yuko Sugimoto and her son, Raito. Photographed wrapped in a blanket looking for her son, the moment became an iconic image of the disaster. Thankfully, their story has a happy ending, as the pair were safely reunited.