Fast Company - How Japan's Line App Became A Culture-Changing, Revenue-Generating Phenomenon 5-15min

Less than four years after Line’s launch, the company says that more than 560 million people worldwide have registered as members, the majority of them in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. One hundred eighty one million users log in to the Line app each month. While that’s a smaller user base than WhatsApp (700 million monthly active users according to research firm Canalys), Facebook Messenger (500 million), and Tencent’s WeChat (480 million), Line has done a remarkable job of turning its popularity into a growing, diversified business. ... Its reported revenue of $656 million in 2014 comes from a range of sources that few rivals can match: It sells games that can be played solo or with other Line users; those digital stickers, which can be purchased to express a dizzying array of emotions; marketing deals with brands and celebrities that want to reach its user base; and merchandise such as the products at the Harajuku shop. ... Spy on other passengers in the Tokyo subway, and there’s a more-than-decent chance that you’ll spot a salaryman or schoolgirl interacting on their smartphone with Brown, Cony, or one of the app’s other hyperlovable mascots. Visit a restaurant and a small placard at the cashier invites you to follow the business on Line in return for discounts. On billboards, the characters endorse chewing gum. Visit an electronics store and you’ll find them in plush form, as prizes in a coin-operated crane game. ... "The turning point," Idezawa says, "was when we released stickers." ... The Japanese call cuteness kawaii, and find it surprisingly meaningful. "The word ‘kawaii’ in Japanese literally means ‘acceptable of affection’ or even ‘possible to love,’" explains Kotaku’s Ashcraft, who says that it’s used to refer to everything from babies to dogs to clothing. Kawaii imagery is "used to soften things, making them more palatable and even more friendly. That's a reason why it's not uncommon to see cute characters in everything from public safety posters to home-loan brochures."

Financial Times - Shinzo Abe interview: ‘I am convinced our road is the only way’ < 5min

Japan’s leader is basking in his economic plan’s initial gains but admits tough reforms lie ahead ... There is a confidence, almost a swagger, about Shinzo Abe. After 10 months in office, the good news just keeps coming. ... Since Japan’s prime minister launched his “Abenomics” plan to reflate the economy, inflation is up, the yen is down and share prices are higher by nearly two-thirds. In the first half of this year, Japan grew at a pace of roughly 4 per cent, making it the best performing Group of Seven economy by some way. Business confidence is at a seven-year high and Mr Abe’s popularity rating is above 60 per cent. Victory for his party in July’s Upper House elections means, barring the unexpected, he should be in power until at least 2016 – nothing to sniff at in a country where recent prime ministers have come and gone without trace. ... In an interview with the Financial Times on Friday, Mr Abe appeared to be basking in his new-found success. ... His willingness to gamble on bold – some say reckless – policy action marks a big shift from recent leaders who have appeared paralysed by Japan’s legendary economic problems.

The New Yorker - The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. 5-15min

A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0. ... Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. ... Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. ... If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. That’s the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.

Rolling Stone - The Rise and Fall of a Bitcoin Kingpin 5-15min

How a bullied geek forged an empire out of digital currency, and became a suspect in a half-billion-dollar heist ... During his reign, bitcoin, the leading form of virtual currency, rose in value from approximately a quarter to more than $1,200. The Wall Street Journal estimated that at one point Mt. Gox was processing 80 percent of all bitcoin transactions in the world. At its peak, the company traded more than $4 million a month. ... in February 2014, it was discovered that a half-billion dollars worth of bitcoins simply vanished from Karpeles' exchange, leaving customers around the world unable to withdraw their funds. It's the largest online heist in history. (Estimates vary on the exact amount. Many have reported $450 million; Karpeles says it could be as high as $650 million.) Some — including even those who worked closely with Karpeles — suspected it was an inside job. ... Mt. Gox was originally a site McCaleb had made for people to exchange Magic cards (thus the name — Magic: the Gathering Online Exchange, or Mt. Gox for short). But by July 2010, he'd devoted it to bitcoin instead, setting it up as the currency's first online brokerage ... According to Karpeles, the problem stemmed from what's called a "transaction malleability," a software flaw that allowed people on the outside to manipulate the bitcoin transactions and steal money from the exchange. At first, he tells me, he had no idea how much bitcoin was missing, but the deeper he dug, the worse it became

California Sunday Magazine - White Gold < 5min

The stuff of ancient legend and high-end cuisine, matsutake mushrooms bloom briefly in the forests of Oregon. Subsistence harvesters flock there, hoping to find buttons that can earn a fortune in Tokyo’s bustling wholesale markets, halfway across the world. ... With a firm texture and notes of cinnamon and saffron, this fungus tastes like no other. It’s especially prized in Japan, where the name means “pine mushroom”: The flavor lends a subtle accent to rice and seasonal dishes such as dobin mushi, a seafood broth steamed in a clay teapot. Formerly abundant in the island country’s red pine forests, modern wilderness management and disease have made the mushroom scarce. As much as 90 percent of the matsutake harvested in Oregon is now exported to Japan. Before that country’s economic bubble burst, the highest-grade buttons, dressed up in a gift box with ferns and orange blossoms, could fetch upward of $100 each at auction in Tokyo’s Ota Market. No wonder pickers in the U.S. referred to the mushrooms as “white gold.” ... These days foragers are fortunate to get $15 a pound.

BBC - Why is hi-tech Japan using cassette tapes and faxes? < 5min

This is a country that uses people to do the work of traffic lights and where big-name companies running 10-year-old software is the norm. ... "Japanese companies generally lag foreign companies by roughly five-to-10 years in adoption of modern IT practices, particularly those specific to the software industry," says Patrick McKenzie, boss of Starfighter, a software company with operations in Tokyo and Chicago. ... Yoji Otokozawa, president of Tokyo-based IT consultants Interarrows, says Japan Inc. is poor in digital literacy because small businesses, not multinationals, rule the country. ... "They usually use postal mail, or fax for their communications. We sometimes receive a fax, written by hand which means such firms don't even use word processing software like Word."

The New Yorker - The Commercial Zen of Muji < 5min

Muji was launched in Japan in 1980, as Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “no-brand quality goods.” It was intended to be a generic line for the Seiyu Supermarket Group, boasting the tagline “Lower prices for a reason.” Initially, Muji included only forty different products, mainly food and household goods. Today, it is an independent two-billion-dollar company, selling more than seven thousand items ranging from furniture to soap. It keeps prices low by paying close attention to processing and packaging (most of Muji’s paper products are unbleached), and by using undesirable and industrial materials, which are cheaper in bulk (it once famously sold “U-Shaped Spaghetti,” made from the discarded ends of pasta). ... According to its 2015 year-end report, Muji is currently in what it calls its “jump” phase (preceded by “hop” and “step”), defined by growth abroad and efficiency at home. ... Muji has succeeded in part by incorporating the aesthetic consequences of cost-cutting into its design philosophy.

Bloomberg - Djibouti Is Hot 5-15min

Thomas Kelly, the American ambassador here, likes to say that Djibouti today feels like what Casablanca must have felt like in 1940. “All the different nationalities elbowing into each other,” he says. “All the intrigue.” ... About 4,000 soldiers and contractors live here, and they include commandos from Joint Special Operations Command, the team that undertakes the military’s most sensitive counterterrorism operations. After the 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a 150-member rapid response team was established at Camp Lemonnier, assigned to handle future threats to diplomatic personnel abroad. Djibouti is also the U.S. military’s regional hub for drones, and it sends thousands of Predators and Reapers across the region each year.

FiveThirtyEight - The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making 5-15min

The shikiri (pre-match ritual) takes several minutes. The wrestlers clap to attract the attention of the gods, lift their hands to show they are unarmed, stomp the ground to scare away demons and throw salt in the ring to purify it. They repeatedly crouch as if about to start the match and then stand up after a few moments of glaring at each other. When they are finally ready, they creep toward their starting stance. ... There is no bell. The match starts with a tachi-ai (initial charge), which generally happens the instant the opponents are set. ... Harumafuji lunged from his crouch, low, exploding toward Hakuho in an effort to take control of the bout early. Instead, he caught a quick palm to the face — and then air. His momentum carried him clear out of the other side of the ring, like he’d tried to bull-rush a ghost. ... Commentators didn’t quite know what to say; one of the English announcers let out a long “hmmmmm.” The crowd booed its champion. ... This is not normally how a match of this scale plays out. Side-stepping an opponent’s charge is legal but considered beneath the dignity of top sumotori. The move is known derisively as a henka (変化), which translates to “change” or “changing,” while connoting the root “strange” (変). That it would be used by an all-time great in one of the most consequential matches of his career was strange indeed. ... The first known professional tournament was held in 1684, and the first sumo organizations began issuing written rankings in the mid-1700s — just in time to document the rise of sumo’s most legendary figure.

Sportsnet - The Next Babe Ruth 16min

Shohei Otani is the greatest thing to happen to baseball in a century. Not only is he Japan’s best pitcher—featuring a high-90s fastball and three strong secondary offerings—he’s also one of the country’s best hitters. Blessed with a towering frame and unteachable athleticism, Otani dominates on the mound and absolutely rakes at the plate. He’s a staff ace who hits in the heart of the order on the days between his starts. ... He’s a player many scouts believe is ready to step into MLB today as a front-of-the-rotation starter or an everyday outfielder with a middle-of-the-order bat—or maybe both. ... Outside of a couple brief, failed experiments, no one on this side of the Pacific has even tried what Otani is doing in a century—and certainly no one has done it as successfully. Ruth isn’t just a tall comparison for Otani—he’s the only comparison. ... Yes, Otani, a multi-millionaire and one of the most recognizable celebrities in Japan, lives in a dorm not unlike the one you inhabited during university. ... He says instead of going out, he fills his free time reading about training and nutrition or watching films about sports

Financial Times - Electric cars: China’s battle for the battery market 8min

CATL, which had capacity to produce 7.6 gigawatt hours of batteries last year according to Goldman Sachs, says that by 2020 it plans to produce more than the gigafactory, the Tesla Motors and Panasonic joint venture that opened in Nevada in January and is expected to be the largest producer in the US. That would potentially make it the biggest battery factory in the world. ... Backed by aggressive government policies —ranging from subsidies for electric vehicles to restrictions on foreign rivals — China’s battery companies are beginning to dominate an industry which has been led for three decades by South Korean and Japanese manufacturers such as Panasonic, which makes the battery cells for Tesla cars. ... As carmakers invest more heavily in electric vehicles the lithium-ion battery will be a key technology for at least the next decade ... worth $40bn by 2025 and dominated by China.