Translated from
Happy New Year! We hope that this year treats everyone kindly.

This was the second time that we’ve welcomed the New Year since the great earthquake. In Yuriage Port, Natori City, Miyage, a kite bearing the smiling faces of children from the area stricken by the disaster rose into the sky, near an incinerator used for burning debris. Since ancient times, prayers and dreams have been attached to a kite at the start of the year, delivering these messages to the heavens. It was hoped that the smiling faces of actual children would visit the victims of the disaster on this first day of the year, too.

It was a beautiful day in Yuriage. A crowd gathered to face the New Year’s sunrise in an empty lot underneath the umbrella of the kite and its smiling faces dancing in the sky. As the kite rose into the air there was a chorus of cheers exclaiming how beautiful it was. It felt like the surrounding mood had changed, and there was definitely a ‘hope for the future’.

The crowd was extremely moved at the sight of the children's smiles, and hearts were quivering.

"The smiling faces will ascend to the heavens. We hope that the smiles will create a wonderful new year!"

Let's aim to be people who have an abundance of smiles in 2013.

The chain of children's smiles will spread to our own faces. The smiles will in turn spread throughout the region and the nation, and will then cross the seas, spreading throughout the world and creating peace. Can each person try keeping a happy face in 2013 and see what happens? It is said that a good laugh can activate NK cells and prevent sickness.

"You don't smile because you are blessed. You are blessed because you smile".

It is because of the times that we live in that a quiet, refined, healthy laugh is a necessity. Together, if we do as much work “with dreams of happiness” as possible, we will laugh and make it a great year.

I would humbly like to address the New Year.

We are truly thankful for the extraordinary hospitality we have received in previous years. This year, the MERRY PROJECT celebrates its 13th year. We will increase the number of smiling faces, and to continue the project to make the globe MERRY this year, too, so we ask for your support.

The website ( will be continue to be updated with the latest information.

Please continue to support us.

Smile Get! Japan News Now is a series of sporadic translations highlighting good news, events, and articles from Japan.

Images taken from this page, and are the property of their respective owners.
Do bananas float? Amongst the many questions that Yann Martel posed in his 2001 novel 'Life Of Pi' this is probably the only one that has an answer that can be proved or disproved. Through the experiences of the titular character, Pi, Martel forced the reader to ponder the nature of humanity, the balance between instinct and savagery in ongoing survival, and the way that our beliefs color what we perceive as truth. 11 years later, director Ang Lee has seamlessly blended visual beauty and brutality together to ask Martel's questions once again.

The son of a zoo owner, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is an Indian teen fascinated by the stories that various religions are built upon. His seemingly idyllic life is wrenched away from him when his father is forced to sell the zoo and move the family (and animals) to Canada. During the journey, the ship they are traveling on is struck by a violent storm and, for unexplained reasons, sinks to the bottom of the ocean, leaving Pi on a life raft with only Richard Parker, a large Bengal tiger, for company. In order to survive, Pi has to balance his faith and belief systems with the very immediate problem of death by tiger or starvation.

Just as he did for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lee utilizes hyper-real vibrancy in the colors of the movie to create a world which stirs feelings of fantasy and excitement. The early parts of the movie which take place in Pondicherry are reminiscent of the short lived TV series Pushing Daisies, but better straddle the fine line between reality and twee, never crossing too far into the latter. These colors enhance the 3-D experience, dazzling the senses and making the movie the best argument for 3-D cinema so far.

Sharma delivers a credible performance-believably expressing wonderment at the beauty and power of nature, anger about seeming betrayal by his gods, and even an unnerving zealotry that the rest of us find so frustrating about the religious. However, his performance is overshadowed by the breathtaking special effects. Lee manages to showcase both the fierceness and unparalleled beauty of nature through a soundstage and computers. Although the colors may be fantastical, they are never unbelievable, and viewers will never question whether they are really looking at a tiger (spoilers: for the most part, they aren't).

The triumph of the movie is not merely bringing one of the best novels of the modern era to the big screen; it is its ability to do this while constantly, and unabashedly, asking the questions that the source material presents, without ever preaching or otherwise putting obstacles in the way of a brilliant story. It probably won't make you believe in God the way that Pi would like, but it may make you realize what is truth actually is – it’s whatever you want to be.

I was thinking about starting this post by talking about the fact that I don't really play video games any more, alluding to the tedium of modern games or suchlike, and going on a boring tangent about the lack of progress this generation. But I don't have the writing talent or brain power to make any observations that haven't been written before, and moreover, I can't be bothered. I can't be bothered because Dark Souls has beaten me. It has punched me, kicked me, crushed me, decapitated me, thrown me off a cliff, and burned me. It has left me sitting on my sofa, staring at the floor and wondering what I am doing wasting hour upon hour on this game, and generally feeling depressed about my entire existence. And at this point, I pick up the controller again, move my character, Wee-Bay, away from the bonfire at which he has just awoken after his last death and trudge off towards the next inevitable death to complete another cycle of this entire sad process.

Generally, I don't play games anymore because each time I do, I feel acutely aware of my age, and find myself unable to shake the empty feeling that I am wasting precious moments of my life and should be doing something more productive. I just don't have a carefree, fun experience playing games anymore. So when the PS3 gets started up, it's usually turned off again within 20 minutes. But not Dark Souls. I am 80 hours in and the end is in sight. But I'm broken.

In the past, when I have played a game which allows moral choices (i.e. seemingly every modern game), or an open world game which allows wanton destruction, I inevitably end up playing the role of the good guy, going on stupid errands to make complete strangers happy and altruistically saving the universe while hurting as few completely fake video game people as possible. But last night Dark Souls made me snap. After about four hours of generally positive progress, I seemed to enter some sociopathic state for no particular reason. Any NPC character that I came across ended up chopped into little bits by my katana and getting their loot jacked. There was no mercy for anyone, not even for the characters who had helped me out on my journey.

I can't even say what caused this particular meltdown. There was no rage or animosity involved.  I hadn't died any more than usual and I would have thought that nearing the end of the game would have substantially brightened my mood. Maybe it was cathartic. Maybe I needed to put an end to my belligerent involvement in this grim, joyless world that has so far stolen 80 hours of my life, so there would be no inclination to try out New Game +. Whatever the reason, my actions mean that the game will take that much longer to complete - there are bonfires that I can't use and spells that I can no longer buy.

And maybe I subliminally wanted that to happen; maybe I don't want to escape the dreariness and bleakness. And that is possibly the magic of Dark Souls. Maybe I can have fun with games despite being an old man in video game terms. Maybe it is just that the games aren't as good or imaginative as they used to be. Maybe Dark Souls is one of the top games of the current generation, and being captured by it is no less a legitimate use of time than a good book. I think I’m off to finish Dark Souls – I wonder how long New Game + takes to complete…?
Here it is. A month after it was originally to be released, and barely scraping into the newly scheduled November release date, the new and improved iTunes slides in with surprisingly little of the fanfare which typically comes along with anything Apple do.

I've always had a strained relationship with the software as a Windows user. A few years back, iTunes was ultra crash-happy and fond of slowing mid-range computers to a crawl. Although, over time this has improved to a point where it seems that it's no longer an issue, the basic interface had remained fundamentally the same until now. The thing that made the various little problems with iTunes so annoying was that there were numerous superior media players around, but iTunes had a way of bringing you back.

An iteration or two ago, Microsoft seemed to stumble onto the perfect music organizer with WMP 11. It looked nice, was relatively stable, was intuitive, and had a couple of nice features - my favorite of which was the click to 'add to now playing' function. Other superior options included the likes of the highly customizable, zippy, and stable Mediamonkey and Winamp. However, if you owned an iPod, the easiest option to get the most out of it was to simply use iTunes. In recent years, this has become more entrenched if you own an iPhone/Pad/Touch. Sure, it's possible to get by without ever plugging these things into your computer, but for most of us, the traditional way of syncing these things is the most convenient. So until quite recently, I had always used iTunes rather begrudgingly.

I'll get the only negative I've found about the new iTunes out of the way first. For the most part, it's still rather bland to look at. Staring at the the various shades of grey is like staring at the ultra-sterile interior of  a hospital while you're waiting for a particularly invasive operation. But the key phrase there was 'for the most part'. Apple seems to have taken more than a little inspiration from Microsoft's Windows 8 music app and made the focus of the main window the album. Clicking once on an album cover will expand the the view and display it in a rather pretty manner.

Nice. The background color even changes depending on the album.

If you check out the above screenshot a little closer you'll notice that the side bar has been kicked to the curb. iTunes was always pretty minimalist (as is the way of the Apple), and that's been taken a step further in the most recent release. Type of media is selected via the small button in the top left, with playlists and various sorting options selectable from the bar under the now playing window. Device icons are displayed in the top right. Clicking one of these will reveal a sync screen which remains largely unchanged from previous versions.

Transferring things to your device or various playlists can be performed by drag and drop; just drag something over to the right side of the screen and a side bar will appear in which you can choose where you want to send the item.

Another great feature is the inclusion of a 'up next' system. Click the list icon in the 'now playing' window and your shown a list of upcoming songs. Right click on a song in your library and you can choose 'play next' or 'add to up next'. It's been available in other music managers for years (although Microsoft completely ruined WMP by making it add albums to the 'playing next' playlist instead of single songs), but it would be churlish to complain now that it's here.

However, all of this is just window dressing, it's how the program performs that's most important, and from what I've experienced so far, there really isn't anything to complain about. No freezing. No lag. My iPad suddenly disappeared from the devices list this morning, but I've long since given up any hope of Apple doing anything to improve wifi syncing and sharing (a note to rabid Apple fans - unlike my Android, PS3 and every other thing that syncs and shares with my computer, it doesn't 'just work').

It's quite hard writing a concluding paragraph when everything before it is mostly positive. So I guess there's no need to. Go! Go! Download the new version without delay. It looks like PC users can finally download a new iTunes without having to worry about getting a whole heap of migraines coming along with it.
A cursory glance at the first page of Google results reveals that there is pretty much universal love for the Paperwhite at the moment, so in the interests of being fair and balanced, I think I'll play the annoying kid in the Emperor's New Clothes and be a negative dick (not really, I just have a couple of criticisms).

In a fit of impulsiveness, brought on from living in our wonderful commercial world, a few weeks ago, I purchased a new Kindle after deciding that my Kindle 3 just wasn't up to the job anymore. Just to make it clear, there's nothing wrong with the Kindle 3, but the new one's handle Asian characters (the old one's could only do PDFs), which means now that the Kindle is finally available in Japan, there are a lot more Japanese e-books showing up on the Amazon store. Me being me, I clicked Amazon's 'Buy Now' button without reading the glaring notice saying that the Paperwhites were out of stock and weren't expected to ship until early December. Given that I had already put my old Kindle on Trade Me, this looked like it would become a problem. Fortunately, Amazon got extra stock early and I've had my shiny new Paperwhite for about a week at the time of writing this.What was even better was that I got a great price for my old one, meaning I was essentially able to upgrade for free (I'll save the rant about overpriced electronics in New Zealand for another day).

So, what's the verdict? Well, my primary reason for purchase was to have the opportunity to read Japanese books. Done. Although there's nothing that great on Amazon at the moment, the selection is growing. Plus, you can go into your account and choose from a selection of free dictionaries in various languages, now including Japanese and Chinese, to make the foreign language reading experience easier. For these reasons alone I'm happy with the purchase.

The screen is absolutely beautiful and the ability to adjust the light to suit the environment is a godsend. There is a range of fonts and margin widths, so any speed-readers out there can gulp down chunks of text in a single eye movement. The touch screen is relatively responsive, roughly comparable in speed to the Kindle 3 and using the on-screen keyboard is far more convenient.

But. There is something that I miss about the Kindle 3 - the page turn buttons. Young people will probably sneer at old man Garth and his old-fashioned button pressing ways, but the tactility that the buttons provided was a better interface than the somewhat nebulous screen tap. Nothing wrong with screen taps on a tablet, but the Kindle just doesn't have the same quickness, speed or accuracy about it.

The other problem I have with it is entirely of my own making - the ads. I could have bought the ad-free version, but I honestly didn't anticipate them bothering me as much as they do. They don't inhibit the reading experience in the slightest, only appearing on the bottom of the home screen and when the Kindle is sleeping. However, there's just something about picking up the device and having a Bose speaker system or Lexus shoved into my face that is kind of off-putting; they're like intruders in my personal space. They're bearable for the time being, but I think I'll be paying the extra to get rid of them in the future.

So to sum up, if you want to read some east Asian books, or you found yourself frequently using the old keyboard and equally as frequently wanting to hurl the Kindle through a wall, then the Paperwhite is for you. Even if you just want to nerd out looking at the best e-ink screen yet seen, then you should get the Paperwhite. If, however, you're on the fence and are perfectly happy with your old Kindle or other e-reader, then there's not much reason for an upgrade. Save the money and buy a nice Christmas present for a loved one. Or, don't spend any money and be just as content as you are now - the planet will thank you for it.