Meeting Award-Winning Founder of ROBO GARAGE Tomotaka Takahashi and his robots, Evolta and Robi

Because of the ‘New Arrivals From Japan’ Press Conference today, I got to meet Mr Tomotaka Takahashi, the founder and CEO of ROBO GARAGE. Mr Takahashi’s works have won him awards like the Coolest Inventions 2004 (TIME magazine),ย 33 Persons Changing The Future (Popular Science magazine), and the Guinness World Record for the longest distance covered by a battery-operated remote-controlled model car.

Mr Takahashi is also the Research Associate Professor of The University of Tokyo, Visiting Professor of Fukuyama University and Osaka Electro-Communication University.

Tomotaka Takahashi and Robi:

Tomotaka Takahashi and Robi

Robi can understand 200 Japanese words and has 20 joints which allow it to walk, dance and move. It can also get up from a sitting position, and sit itself back down again too!

One of his robots,ย Kirobo, was the first communication robot in space (Aug 2013)!

Tomotaka Takahashi and Kirobo

Evolta (17cm tall) did a 530m cliff climb at the Grand Canyon. It was powered by just 2 AA batteries during the climb which was for a Panasonic battery promotion video.

Demo of Evolta climbing up the rope:

Tomotaka Takahashi and Evolta

Here’s Evolta setting a world record:

Evolta climbing up the Grand Canyon:

Award-winning Robots:

Tomotaka Takahashi VisiON

Tomotaka Takahashi Louis Vuitton Cup

And here’s something very interesting: A ‘female’ robot

Tomotaka Takahashi female robot

He had been asked if he could create a Barbie-like robot. But he couldn’t as Barbie’s thin frame meant that there was not enough space for all the various parts required.

Tomotaka Takahashi

A Japanese magazine actually came with Robi parts every week so subscribers could build their own Robi after 70 issues! Each issue cost 1990 Japanese yen, or about US$25. The total cost was about US$1750 for subscribers to build Robi! Read more on gizmag. Takahashi-san told us that over 100,000 Robi units were sold in Japan, and next month, Robi will be available in Italy, and then Taiwan after. He also said that unlike robots portrayed in Hollywood movies, Japanese robots are usually “friends” and do not try to take over the world – think Doraemon.

*I have a Robi collectible and stickers for giveaway. Watch out for the blogpost coming soon! ๐Ÿ˜€

SEISHIN: Green Pet – Pet Bottle Water Culture

I was shopping at Clarke Quay’s The Central recently when I came across a store selling all sorts of interesting items. What caught my eye were the “SEISHIN Pet Bottle Water Culture” plant kits from Japan. I bought two of them – one for a cherry tomato plant and one for a wild strawberry plant.

SEISHIN self-watering kits

On the 4th day after I planted those seeds, this is what I see:

* Gonna get cherry tomatoes soon! *

SEISHIN Pet Bottle Water Culture Day 4

The wild strawberries are taking a while longer it seems. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Anyway, here’s the setup video for those who have purchased the kit and can’t read the Japanese instructions:

Set-up Video:

I bought the plant kits from:

Shinnpark

6 Eu Tong Sen Street, The Central #01-43

Price: S$16.90 each

*Update* 10/1/2014: I spotted the Pet Bottle kits at NBC – a gifts and stationery store – in Bugis Junction. They were retailing at S$12.50. OMG, I paid so much more at Shinnpark! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜›

Update: 12 Feb 2014

The cherry tomato plant is growing really well, on the ledge outside my HDB flat window. No cherry tomatoes as yet. Have noticed that the plant is ‘drinking’ quite a bit of water! I have to top up the bottle just about every other day! (Been over a month since I ‘planted’ it)

Pet Bottle Water Culture Green PetHave given up on the wild strawberry plant though. The seeds just won’t sprout – I don’t know why! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Osaka Day Three: Kuromon Market, Kani Doraku, Tombori River Cruise, HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel, Umeda Sky Building, Floating Garden Observatory

We started the day with a visit to Kuromon Market, which was within walking distance from Hotel Hillarys. Then made our way back to Kani Doraku at Dotonburi for lunch. ๐Ÿ™‚

Kuromon Market

KitKat for 298 yen, about S$4

Kit Kat Japan

Totoro Osaka

Fortune Cat Osaka

Lunch at Kani Doraku was an uneventful affair. I had expected LONG queues, but no, there were not many customers when we went by. I suppose there would be queues at dinnertime. Having said that, though, there are THREE Kani Doraku outlets along the SAME street so I suppose the crowd is evenly dispersed! ๐Ÿ˜€ One of the 3 outlets even has a takeaway counter outside the restaurant so those who don’t want to wait or dine-in can grab a bento or some sushi to take away! ๐Ÿ˜‰

We spent a total of 5,400 yen on lunch. I especially liked the crab sushi.

Here’s some of what we ate. Will do another post on Kani Doraku specifically!

Kani Doraku

Kani Doraku Crab Sushi

Kani Doraku Crab Legs

We also went into an arcade called Round 1, and I caught a Hello Kitty plush toy from one of the UFO Catcher machines! ๐Ÿ˜€ Hurray!

The first… of many…

Round1 UFO Catcher Hello Kitty

Then we went shopping. I found a Lowry’s Farm outlet and bought a dress (about 20% cheaper than in SG). We also visited Sanrio Gallery (whoo!) and Disney store. All these were around the Shinsaibashi/Dotonburi area.

Osaka Sanrio Gallery

I’d bring this kitty home, but it’s ginormous:

Sanrio Gallery Giant Hello Kitty

Sanrio Gallery

Kitty made of kitties

One of the reasons why Singaporeans like visiting Japan:

KitKat store in Osaka

And guess what, I spotted a number of cute guys giving out free hugs! OMG!

I get to hug cute Japanese guys for free??!!

Free Hugs from cute Osakan guys

But.. the fiance was just next to me so… nothing happened.

After shopping (and no hugging), we headed for the Tombori River Cruise (free of charge if you have the Osaka Unlimited Pass). The Tombori River Cruise is very much like the cruise along the Singapore River – touristy, plus we did not understand a word from the Japanese guide!

Tombori River Cruise ticket

Dinner was at Shakey’s Pizza buffet! For just 990 yen per pax or S$13, we got to eat to our heart’s content – soup, pizza, pasta, meatballs, fruits. ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve heard that the Japanese don’t eat very much at each meal so I was surprised there are such buffet places. Oh wait, perhaps it is BECAUSE they don’t eat much, that it makes sense to open buffet places – Singaporeans would just whack every meatball there is (I know I did). Muahaha.

Shakey's Pizza Osaka

With our Osaka Unlimited Pass, we also went for a ride on the HEP FIVE ferris wheel. I have a fear of heights so I couldn’t wait to get back down on the ground but someone had fun.

KitKat store in Osaka

I Heart You… sometimes ๐Ÿ˜€

I Heart You

Because of him, we also went up to the freezing cold heights they call the Floating Garden Observatory at the top of the Umeda Sky Building. It was SUPER COLD with icy cold winds – I felt like I had walked into a giant freezer. And guess what, he said we should walk the entire round (I just wanted to run back into the lift!). But walk we did. And nearly died from pneumonia, I guess. ๐Ÿ˜›

Picture taken one second before I became a human popsicle

Floating Garden Observatory

Then we waited to board our Willer Express bus to Tokyo. It was an overnight ride that would take us to Tokyo Station. ๐Ÿ™‚ Having survived the local inter-state trains in China, THIS was a piece of cake. Quite comfy with a pram-like cover to keep out the light:

Spooky picture, but I assure you that’s me…

On the Willer Express bus

We paid a total of 22,800 yen in total for 2 Willer Express rides – to Tokyo and back. We shopped, ate and did touristy stuff in the daytime and shuttled between the cities at night. Kinda cool. ๐Ÿ˜€ Not advised if you have old folks or young kids with you – it’s a long overnight ride!

And that’s it – the end of our Osaka adventures. Will be blogging about the Tokyo part of the trip next. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to say, though, that I think the people in Osaka are much friendlier than the people in Tokyo – as if you don’t already know that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Click for:

Day One of Osaka

Day Two of Osaka

Osaka Day Two – Osaka Castle, Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Hotel Hillarys, Dotonburi, Shinsaibashi

I chose the Hotel Keihan Tenmabashi for its proximity to Osaka Castle. It’s a 5-10 minute stroll to the Castle from the hotel and we headed there right after a breakfast of yummy strawberries and cherry tomatoes. [See the post on Day One]

Beautiful sakura! ๐Ÿ˜€

Osaka Castle Sakura

Osaka Castle

In front of Osaka Castle

Spotted: someone’s wishes for good health, success at work, to meet a good man and have $ to get married! ๐Ÿ˜€

Wishing for a good man

Osaka Castle Sakura x Me

I love him ‘cos he makes me laugh! XD

Osaka Castle Sakura x Derek

Sakura

Osaka Castle flowers

With the Osaka Unlimited Pass we had bought at the airport, we received free entry into the Osaka Castle Museum (which would otherwise cost 600 yen). Osaka Castle is open from 9am to 5pm, and there’s a (costume) photo opportunity available within for 300 yen per pax.

Osaka Castle Photo Opportunity

With the Osaka Unlimited Pass, we also visited a restaurant offering 10% discount with every 1000 yen spent. We ordered a Udon + Katsu bowl which cost 1050 yen, and which tasted SO delicious! Ok, just about everything in Japan tastes good, so…

Osaka Castle Udon + Katsu Bowl

Then a spot of shopping.

I went delirious with joy when I spotted a store selling a “value pack” of goodies – a Hello Kitty stationery set which costs just 500 yen. It was a great deal because the individual items within were being sold separately for 420 yen! If you are a Hello Kitty fan, you must be NUTS not to buy the pack. ๐Ÿ˜€

It even comes with Hello Kitty poker cards! LOL

Hello Kitty stationery pack

Hello Kitty Phone Accessory

Hello Kitty Sakura Socks

From Tenmabashi Station, we then took the train to Higashi Umeda Station, walked to the Hankyu Umeda Station, then boarded the train to Ikeda Station. From there, it was a short walk to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. [To get there from the station, exit right, go down the stairs then take another right. If in doubt, just ask the traffic warden or any passerby – apparently the museum is quite famous!]

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

At the museum, you will be shocked at the long line of people waiting to enter the cup decorating area. There are actually classes being conducted upstairs but prior booking is required so I did not get a chance to make my own ramen noodles. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum ramen class

Queue inside Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

Inside Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

Apparently, I’ve been doing the pose all wrong. Must learn from this little girl:

Kid posing inside Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

Second Kid posing inside Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

I paid 300 yen for a cup, right out of a vending machine, no less. And while I doodled, the fiance had a good nap! ๐Ÿ˜€

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum cup vending machine

And tadah, my creation!

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum my cup creation

Then it was time to get the instant noodles into the cup – I believe it took 8 turns of the wheel but kids had a lot of fun here!

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum noodles into cup

Then choose your preferred soup base and toppings.

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum ramen ingredients

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum choosing ramen ingredients

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum my ramen toppings

Then get it sealed, vacuum packed and put the cup into an inflatable (sling) bag. And you may parade your creation down the street back to the subway. ๐Ÿ˜›

Don’t do this if you have to board a plane later ah!

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum my cup noodles

Throw your coins into this machine and get your train tickets. I don’t quite remember how it works already!

Train Ticket Machine

After the ramen museum, we headed over to Hotel Hillarys [Namba Station, Takashimaya store exit], which is quite a hit with Singaporeans. It is not uncommon to hear Singlish in the lobby and drink bar area!

Hotel Hillarys drinks bar

Hotel Hillarys comics

Hotel Hillarys shampoo bar

Hotel Hillarys hotel room

I LOVE the toilet!

Hotel Hillarys toilet

Apparently, Hillarys is popular because of the FREE DRINKS (yes, you read that right!), free choice of toiletries, free comic books, and I believe free bicycle rental too. They were even nice enough to give us a room upgrade, but kept us on the same floor as the lobby and drink bar. So we walked out in our pyjamas to get free flow drinks – very convenient, ya? ๐Ÿ˜€

You can also sign up to be a Hillarys member to get better room rates for 2 nights’ stay or more. They’ll also give you free breakfast!

Hotel Hillarys price list

After checking in, we headed to Dotonburi and Shinsaibashi.

Kani Doraku

The famous Kani Doraku!

Outside Kani Doraku

Cute erm… Waiter? Mascot? Dinner? XD

Cute japanese waiter

No prizes for guessing what this place sells:

Sushi place

Since everyone was posing for pictures here, I made him volunteer. Ha!

Pose

I found my… twin?

Twin

Dinner was at Saizeriya, which we enjoyed! We visit Saizeriya in Singapore, so we know their food’s yummy. We spotted a Sushi Zanmai outlet but we were already very full. Will have to visit Sushi Zanmai next time! Osaka, I’ll be back!

Our dinner at Saizeriya:

Saizeriya Dinner

As for shopping, the fiance brought me to a used goods store (I never thought I’d buy anything there). And I found an Adidas jacket that looks brand-new. And at 1600 yen, it seemed like quite a steal so I bought it.

Adidas jacket

On the way back to the hotel, I also bought a tweed jacket for mum at only 500 yen, and two pairs of pretty socks at 60 yen a pair. <- Crazy price, I know. Two other ladies “digging” in the sale bin with me were chatting about how they can never find such cheap socks in Singapore. I pretended to be Japanese and quickly went to make payment. ๐Ÿ˜€ Singaporeans – we can never walk away from a good bargain.

Supper: green tea + hot chocolate from the hotel’s drinks bar, and snacks we bought –

Supper

Hotel Hillarys also provides free breakfast buns, at the drinks bar – again, great thing to stay on the same level: just walk out, get some, come back in and sleep some more ๐Ÿ˜‰

Hotel Hillarys breakfast buns

And that’s Day Two of my Japan trip.

Day Three:ย Kuromon Market, Kani Doraku, Tombori River Cruise, HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel, Umeda Sky Building, Floating Gardenย Observatory

Osaka Day One – Rinku Premium Outlets, Hotel Keihan Tenmabashi, Camomilla Milano

Just last month (March 2013), I traveled to Japan for the first time in my life. ๐Ÿ™‚ Needless to say, it was a memorable experience! The fiance and I visited both Osaka and Tokyo, and while I loved Tokyo’s Sanrio Puroland, I have to say that I love Osaka and its people more.

We arrived at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport on 19th March 2013 in the morning and took the train shuttle to the Arrival Hall.

* Flight via Jetstar: S$897.20 for two pax (return) – Not the cheapest though!

* Exchange rate was about S$1 : 74 yen

I’d done my research and knew what had to be purchased at the Airport…

First, we bought the Osaka Unlimited Pass [2,700 yen for 2 days] from the Travel Desk on Level 1 (Terminal 1). Then we went to get tickets to the Doraemon museum [1,000 yen] from the Lawson Convenience Store on the second floor. The tickets had to be purchased via the Loppi machine within the store but everything was in Japanese! I had to ask one of the cashier staff to help me decipher what’s on the screen. It was a pain, really! Because tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum were sold out for all of the timings I had prepared, then most of the tickets to Doraemon were sold out too. Even the staff got frustrated with the system.

Lawson's Loppi Machine

But we finally got the tickets we wanted and we headed to both Daiso (everything at 105 yen) and then a fast food restaurant called First Kitchen. I have to state this upfront: I do not eat fast food in Singapore, but when I am overseas, well, I make exceptions! ๐Ÿ˜€ Anyway, we paid 500 yen for a set meal and shared it. This would be the case for many meals in Japan – we’d either order a large set to share or order two different mains and then switch plates halfway through. We call it “half and half” but that’s just one silly thing we do as a couple. ๐Ÿ˜€

Kansai International Airport First Kitchen

After filling our bellies, we decided to head to Rinku Premium Outlets – we spotted an advertisement on the train shuttle service towards the Airport Arrival Hall and decided that since it seemed rather near, we should check it out too.

There’s a shuttle bus service between the Airport and Rinku Premium Outlets for 100 yen each way – the bus stop is right outside the terminal. Here’s a tip: When you get there, head over to the customer service counter to get a tourist discount booklet before you buy anything ok? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Because everything at the Outlets was (strangely) expensive, we simply ate at the foodcourt, utilizing a 10% discount coupon from the above-mentioned booklet and left.

Right at the entrance to Godiva:

Rinku Premium Outlets Godiva

Literally a half and half meal ๐Ÿ˜€Half and half at Rinku Premium Outlets foodcourt

We took the JR [1030 yen] to Tennoji then switched trains to Tenmabashi [230 yen]. From Exit 3 of the Tenmabashi Station, we turned right and RIGHT before us, just a few steps away, was our first hotel… Hotel Keihan Tenmabashi.

Taking the JR

Hotel Room in Hotel Keihan Tenmabashi

Toilet in Hotel Keihan Tenmabashi

It was quite a shock to discover that their toilets are SUPER SMALL. It’s just a tiny washbasin cramped between a small bathtub and the toilet seat. Also, the room becomes VERY HOT at night because of the heater (sorry, no aircon this season) and the staff had to be called in to unlock and open the window! Thankfully, their service is very prompt, as if they had been lying in wait outside our hotel room.

The night’s stay cost S$74.20 so I really shouldn’t complain, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰

I love the hotel’s proximity to the Railway Mall though. I made a serendipitous discovery there – there’s a Hallmark/Camomilla Milano store there! As you probably know, I’m a fan of Camomilla Milano’s accessories, especially their Hello Kitty collections. So, to find a store there in Japan, when I least expect it, was great! I bought a Hallmark Hello Kitty bag that was on sale, at just 1995 yen or about S$27! ๐Ÿ™‚ The fiance also bought some shirts at a men’s store, at 4725 yen for 3 shirts.

Railway Mall Camomilla Milano Hallmark storeHallmark Hello Kitty bagRailway Mall men's store

We also visited Daiso once again (HUGE store there) and bought some superb mochi ice cream! How come Daiso Singapore doesn’t sell ice cream?! ๐Ÿ˜›

Daiso Mochi ice cream

We bought some takeaway sushi and bento sets and headed back to our hotel for a very lazy dinner indeed. And oh… some yummy strawberries for breakfast. ๐Ÿ˜€

Strawberries in Japan

And that’s the end of Day One in Japan. ๐Ÿ˜€

Day Two:ย Osaka Castle, Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Hotel Hillarys, Dotonburi,ย Shinsaibashi

Day Three:ย Kuromon Market, Kani Doraku, Tombori River Cruise, HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel, Umeda Sky Building, Floating Gardenย Observatory