TIME Japan

Japanese Train Breaks World Speed Record

JAPAN-TRANSPORT-TECHNOLOGY-MAGLEV
Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Images Central Japan Railway's seven-car maglev train returns to the station after setting a new world speed record in a test run near Mount Fuji on April 21, 2015.

Officials called the high-speed trip “comfortable”

The world’s fastest train can now zip along at 373 miles per hour.

A Japanese maglev train reached that dizzying speed on a test track near Mount Fuji Tuesday, The Guardian reports. Nearly 50 railway employees were on the train at the time, and railway officials called the high-speed trip “comfortable” for human passengers. The mark sets a new world speed record, eclipsing the standing record of 367 mph, reached by the same train last week.

Maglev trains, short for “magnetic levitation,” hover just above the rails through the use of electric magnets.

Current commuter trains in Japan, already super-fast by global standards, travel at speeds of about 200 mph. The maglev train is scheduled to go into commercial operation by 2027, carrying passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya, a city 180 miles away, in about 40 minutes.

[The Guardian]

Read next: What it’s like to ride Japan’s high-speed levitating trains

TIME food and drink

You Can Now Bathe in Ramen Noodles

The ramen craze just went one step further

Ramen is one of the latest food crazes to sweep America, but when it comes to the noodle dish the Japanese don’t mess around.

Yunessan Spa House in Hakone, a south-eastern town in Japan, is now offering ramen baths for its clientele. The bath, consisting of ramen pork broth and synthetic noodles, allegedly helps improve patrons’ skin.

Ichiro Furuya, the owner of the spa, claims, “Lately people are very concerned about having beautiful skin, and they know the effect of collagen, which is contained in our pork-based broth. At this bath, everybody can have fun and take advantage of the healthy elements of ramen noodles.”

TIME Japan

Japan’s Population Falls to 15-Year Low

More than 1 in 4 people in Japan are now 65 or older

Japan’s population has dropped for the fourth year in a row, bringing it to a low not seen since 2000.

There were just more than 127 million people living in Japan as of last Oct. 1, which marked a decrease of 215,000 people compared with one year earlier, according to newly released government data reported by the Guardian.

The biggest problem for Japan may be the rate at which its population is aging. The number of people age 65 or older in Japan has reached 33 million. More than 1 in 4 people are older than 65 and they outnumber people 14 and younger 2 to 1. The government estimates the population will drop to 86.7 million by 2060, with people over 65 making up 40% of the country.

Though the problem of falling birthrates and aging population is particularly acute in Japan, a similar problem is also brewing in Europe and the U.S. The federal government’s data from late last year showed that 2013 birthrates hit a record low in the U.S. in 2013, down 9% from a high in 2007, as American women delay having children.

TIME animals

Stop Everything: There’s a New Adorable Animal on the Internet

Kittens are so over

If you’ve never seen a baby sea squirt, you’re definitely missing out. The adorable undersea animals have taken Japanese Twitter by storm, and you only need to take one look to realize why.

You can almost hear them singing a chorus in little high-pitched voices.

They actually look like little swarming characters from the Studio Ghibli classic animation Ponyo, which could explain why the Japanese love them so much. But then again, who wouldn’t?

Note: you have to catch ’em young, because it looks like they grow up to be the sea-squirt equivalent of angsty teenagers.

TIME animals

These Baby Otters From a Japanese Zoo Are the Cutest Thing You’ll See Today

They were born on March 2 and opened their eyes about two weeks ago

Pictures of kittens and puppies make the Internet go round, but the Twitter feed of Japan’s Hirakawa Zoo has another variety of tiny creatures that could make it go into overdrive — baby otters.

The Asian small-clawed otters, both boys, were born on March 2 this year.

This one raising the roof shows that they already know how to party.

But like all other babies, they do get tired pretty easily.

They opened their eyes about two weeks ago before turning a month old a few days later, and have apparently gotten a lot heavier (well, in baby-otter terms at least).

And in case you were wondering what they sound like, the zoo has very graciously uploaded an adorable video as well.

Head over to the Hirakawa Zoo’s Twitter page for photos of other exotic cuties, like red pandas. Kittens are so yesterday.

Read next: Watch Live Video of the Newborn Giraffe at the Dallas Zoo

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Veterans

Pearl Harbor’s ‘Unknown’ Dead to Be Exhumed and Identified Using DNA

This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma
Audrey McAvoy—AP This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma

"We will do so with dignity, respect and care”

The Pentagon said Tuesday that the bodies of up to 388 troops killed during the Pearl Harbor attacks, who are buried in “unknown” graves in Hawaii, will be disinterred and identified using the latest DNA technology.

Japanese torpedoes sank the U.S.S. Oklahoma, killing 429 servicemen, during the infamous offensive of December 1941. The sailors and Marines are entombed in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but will be examined at the Hawaii laboratory of the Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Accounting Agency after families were notified Tuesday morning.

The Pentagon is optimistic it can identify the dead with forensic evidence from DNA samples and medical or dental records furnished by relatives. It has already identified 41 servicemen postmortem.

“The Secretary of Defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved ones’ remains will be recovered, identified and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

All identified remains will receive military funeral honors upon return to families.

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

TIME Japan

Japan Court Rejects Bid to Restart of 2 Nuclear Reactors

Posters read "Justice is still alive!!" after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction ordering two nuclear reactors in Takahama to stay offline in front of the court in Fukui, Japan, April 14, 2015
Takuya Inaba—AP Demonstrators gather after the Fukui District Court issued an injunction ordering two nuclear reactors in Takahama to stay offline in Fukui, Japan, on April 14, 2015

A Japanese court rejected regulators' safety approval for nuclear reactors, saying the standards were too lax

(TOKYO) — A court issued an injunction Tuesday ordering two nuclear reactors in western Japan to stay offline, rejecting regulators’ safety approval for the facility ahead of their planned restart later this year.

The Fukui District Court ordered the operator, Kansai Electric Power Co., not to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui prefecture, which is home to about a dozen reactors.

The court criticized the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards for being too lax even with stricter requirements imposed following the Fukushima crisis after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

It said meeting the new standards does not guarantee the safety of the Takahama reactors.

In the wake of the crisis, all 48 reactors in Japan were taken offline for safety checks. None have gone back online except for another two reactors in Fukui for a brief period in 2012 and 2013.

A group of residents and their supporters requested the injunction, saying a massive earthquake exceeding the facility’s quake resistance standards could cause tremendous damage to the region, similar to the Fukushima crisis.

The first two reactors, in southern Japan, scheduled to go back online have also received regulatory approval and are making final preparations toward a planned restart in the summer. But there is also a separate injunction request before a court seeking to halt that.

TIME Japan

Godzilla Appointed Tourism Ambassador in Tokyo

A real-scale head of Godzilla is unveiled at the balcony of a newly-built commercial complex as a new Tokyo landmark at Kabukicho shopping and amusement district in Tokyo
Issei Kato—Reuters A real-scale head of Godzilla is unveiled at the balcony of a newly-built commercial complex as a new Tokyo landmark at Kabukicho shopping and amusement district in Tokyo on April 9, 2015.

"Godzilla is a character that is the pride of Japan"

TOKYO — Fire-breathing, building-stomping Godzilla was welcomed in part of Tokyo on Thursday as a sign of prosperity, not destruction.

The irradiated monster was appointed special resident and tourism ambassador for Shinjuku ward, known for its down-home bars and noodle restaurants.

A Godzilla-size head towering 52 meters (171 feet) above ground level was unveiled at an office of Toho, the Japanese studio behind the 1954 original. Toho is shooting a comeback film this year after a decade-long hiatus.

Godzilla’s standing as an icon has had its ups and downs, but its stature has been reinstated after the Hollywood “Godzilla,” directed by Gareth Edwards, became a global hit last year.

Japan is hoping the biggest star in this nation’s movie history will help lure tourists during a market-opening strategy launched by the prime minister.

At an awards ceremony next to the giant Godzilla head, an actor in a rubber suit waddled to Shinjuku Mayor Kenichi Yoshizumi. However, Toho executive Minami Ichikawa had to accept the residency certificate in Godzilla’s place, since the suit’s claws aren’t designed to grab anything.

The longtime belief is that any place Godzilla destructs in the movies is sure to prosper in real life, Yoshizumi said.

“Godzilla is a character that is the pride of Japan,” he said.

Hiroshi Ohnishi, chief executive of the Isetan-Mitsukoshi department store chain, who heads the area’s tourism promotion, kept referring to Godzilla with the very polite honorific “sama” — used at the end of a name — underlining respect for the creature as a business-drawing landmark for the region.

The fire-breathing “gojira” — as it is pronounced in Japanese, combining “gorilla” and “kujira,” or “whale” — was born a genetic aberration, caused by nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.

The reptilian mutation also symbolized a national trauma over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

The first “Godzilla,” directed by Ishiro Honda, with both an unforgettable score and bestial screech, is revered as a classic.

But in 2004, Toho announced it had made its last “Godzilla,” the 28th in the series.

Toho’s reboot is set for release next year, ahead of Edwards’ sequel for Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, planned for 2018.

Over the years, Godzilla has demolished Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, the Parliament building and several castles in Japan, as well as Golden Gate Bridge and other chunks of San Francisco in the Hollywood version.

Shinjuku ward has not been spared, flattened in three Toho movies. If Godzilla chooses to return, it can now stomp on its own giant head. But Ichikawa told reporters where it will show up was still undecided.

MONEY investing strategy

16 Facts You Never Would Have Believed Before They Happened

"History never looks like history when you are living through it." — John W. Gardner

A reminder for those making predictions.

You would have never believed it if, in the mid-1980s, someone told you that in the next two decades the Soviet Union would collapse, Japan’s economy would stagnate for 20 years, China would become a superpower, and North Dakota would be ground zero for global energy growth.

You would have never believed it if, in 1930, someone told you there would be a surge in the birthrate from 1945 to 1965, creating a massive generation that would have all kinds of impacts on the economy and society.

You would have never believed it if, in 2004, someone told you a website run by a 19-year-old college dropout on which you look at pictures of your friends would be worth nearly a quarter-trillion dollars in less than a decade. (Nice job, Facebook.)

You would never have believed it if, in 1900, as your horse and buggy got stuck in the mud, someone pointed to the moon and said, “We’ll be walking on that during our lifetime.”

You would have never believed it if, in late 1945, someone told you that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki no country would use a nuclear weapon in war for at least seven decades.

You would have never believed it if, eight years ago, someone told you the Federal Reserve would print $3 trillion and what followed would be some of the lowest inflation in decades.

You would have never believed it if, in 2000, someone told you Enron was about to go bankrupt and Apple would become the most innovative, valuable company in the world. (The opposite looked highly likely.)

You would have never believed it if, in 1910, when forecasts predicted the United States would deplete its oil within 10 years, that a century later we’d be pumping 8.6 million barrels of oil a day.

You would have never believed it if, three years ago, someone told you that Uber, an app connecting you with a stranger in a Honda Civic, would be worth almost as much as General Motors.

You would have never believed it if, 15 years ago, someone told you that you’d be able to watch high-definition movies and simultaneously do your taxes on a 4-inch piece of glass and metal.

You would have never believed it if, in 2000, someone said the biggest news story of the next decade — economically, politically, socially, and militarily — would be a group of guys with box cutters.

You would have never believed it if, in 2002, someone told you we’d go at least 11 years without another major terrorist attack in America.

You would have never believed it if, in 1997, someone told you that the biggest threat to Microsoft were two Stanford students working out of a garage on a search engine with an odd, misspelled name.

You would have never believed it if, just a few years ago, someone told you investors would be buying government debt with negative interest rates.

You would have never believed it if, in 2008, as U.S. “peak oil” arguments were everywhere, that within six years America would be pumping more oil than Saudi Arabia.

You would have never believed it if, after the lessons of World War I, someone told you there’d be an even bigger war 25 years later.

But all of that stuff happened. And they were some of the most important stories of the last 100 years. The next 100 years will be the same.

For more on this:

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