Hot Pulse

Save your breath and let ‘Suimasen!’ make the call

May 20th, 2015 by

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Getting the attention of a server can make some people feel a little anxious. Should I raise my hand? Do I wait to make eye contact? How loud should I yell?

Well rest your nerves (and your voice) because there is a new app that makes eating out a little less stressful for soft-spoken diners.

Suimasen Daikō” (“Excuse Me Agent”) is an application where users simply tap a button and their phone will let out a hearty “すいませ~~~ん!” (“Excuse me!”)

Users can choose between a female voice, a male voice and even an ikemen voice for the cool kids. In addition, there is a bell and buzzer button to grab someone’s attention.

Need to adjust the volume? The app comes with three scene settings ranging from quiet cafes to noisy izakaya.

Suimasen Daikō is now available on iTunes.

Funassyi — Japan’s favorite shrieking pear

May 15th, 2015 by

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In a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the British comedian dove into the weird and excessive world of Japan’s yuru-kyara. During his on-air explanation of the nation’s many mascots, Oliver highlighted Funassyi, the giant yellow pear who is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi in Chiba, and included one of his more explosive moments on TV.

Need to know more about Japan’s most popular pear?

At first Funnasyi was rejected as the official mascot of his hometown but unlike other successful official mascots, such as Kumamon of Kumamoto Prefecture, Funassyi has come to symbolize Funabashi despite its lack of government sponsorship and become just as popular as any yuru-kyara.

Funnasyi has appeared in national commercials for the Asahi, released a CD single, and been crowned the Grand-Prix winner at an international trade show for character and brand businesses best license in Japan in 2014 as he traveled across Japan and the world to spread his pear-y special brand of energy.

Here are just a few of highlights from 2014:

Funassyi’s popularity hit a milestone last year when, as he was being featured on CNN in June, the news reporter couldn’t help but laugh throughout the broadcast when she saw the mascot flapping his arms around.

In July, Funassyi tried to kickstart a fashion trend by donning a black cap with a “274” logo (a play on the numbers 2-7-4 with can sound like “fu-na-shi”) and appeared in a TV commercial for Shimamura, a fashion shopping center. The fast-running pear with non-stop squealing had fans wondering how he survived the summer heat in his suit.

In September, FUNAcafe, a collaboration event of Funassyi and Shibuya Parco’s The Guest Cafe & Diner, served a special Funassyi-inspired menu including the “funa” burger (with his face on the burger), nashi pear cake, nashi pear tea and even dandan noodles.

The character’s popularity went international when he visited Hong Kong in October, attending a local shopping mall event and bringing Japanese yuru-kyara culture with him. Judging by this video, Funassyi’s fans in Hong Kong are just as passionate as those in Tokyo.

In December, the toy company “Kitan Club” released a Funnasyi-style version of its famous Cup-no-Fuchiko cup-straddling toys. The brands are literally embracing each other as the tiny figurines can cling to each other in three different kinds of positions and as expected of Cup-no-Fuchiko both can sit on the edge of the cup. The announcement climbed to the top of Fuji Television’s weekly Twitter rankings, beating out the hot issue of Japan’s strict state secrets law.

Funassyi is expanding his brand aggressively by creating Funassyi stories everywhere in Japan. Funassyiland, a Funaasyi goods store, opened in Fukuoka in December. According to Asahi Digital News, Funassyi devotees from as far as Tokyo were making the trek.

Funassyi’s naturally fragile yet good-natured personality seems to be a starting point.

The pear rounded out 2014 on Nippon TV by rocking out with his hero, Ozzy Osbourne, performing a headbanging rendition of Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Funassyi got a little wet and wild when Osbourne dumped a bucket of water on him before pushing him into a swimming pool.

In the same month, whilst making a cameo during a commemorative concert for The Alfee, Funassyi took an untimely tumble but nothing went pear-shaped: the resilient character sprung back into action minutes later.

Without a doubt, Funassyi was a hit in 2014 but only time will tell if the rest of 2015 will keep rewarding the fruits of his labor.

Grow a new boyfriend with ‘ikemen’ seeds

May 13th, 2015 by

ikemen-seeds

Sick of waiting to meet your dream man? Why not grow your boyfriend from the ground up?

That’s the idea behind “Tabegoro kareshi Ikusei Setto” (“Ripe Boyfriend Growing Set”), a line of vegetable seeds that are adorned with cute ikemen.

The manufacturers hope to turn up the heat in the greenhouse as each vegetable features a handsome animated character (Mr. Habanero Pepper has fiery red hair, Mr. Eggplant as smooth purple hair, and so on). Girls are encouraged to buy their favorite boy and watch him grow right before their eyes . . . after some tender love and care.

Gardeners might have to turn the hose on themselves to cool down after reading the salacious details and backstories behind each boy. Spoiler alert — Mr. Mint likes to eat mint chocolate ice cream.

The mail-order males can be purchased for ¥900. Available vegetables include cherry tomatoes, arugula, baby carrots, mint, habanero peppers and eggplant.

Flushed with success: Innovative new toilet accessory to offer full body wash

April 1st, 2015 by

The Bathlet could send sales of the Washlet throw the roof.

The eco-friendly Bathlet modification of well-loved Washlet is bound make waves.

In February, bidet-type commodes equipped with built-in washers and pre-warmed seats made news after Japan’s media reported that they were enjoying heady demand by Chinese tourists visiting Japan during the lunar new year holiday.

The reaction to this in Beijing’s state-run media was largely negative. The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party organ People’s Daily, protested tourists misplaced priorities in a commentary titled “Popularity of Japanese toilet seats overstated.”

The writer denounced such purchases as “making a mockery of China’s boycott of Japanese goods” and complained that “Chinese tourists swamping Japanese stores “at a time when the country is facing a sluggish domestic demand is certainly not something to be proud of.”

But politics aside, if one Japanese inventor has his way, Japan’s high-tech toilets may soon be able to offer users — in China as well as Japan — a revolutionary new function. Nagoya-based Arai Industries K.K., a small manufacturer that produces pipe joints, gaskets and other plumbing materials, has taken out a patent on an idea that promises to turn the industry completely on end: a kit that enables bidet-type commodes to be easily and inexpensively converted to a compact shower stall.

“One thing that struck me about the fixtures of ‘Washlet’ type toilets, was the fact that they were considerably overengineered,” Kiyoshi Arai, the company’s president and CEO told The Japan Times at an interview in his Nagoya office. “I figured it wouldn’t be all that difficult to expand on their functions.”

Through trial and error, Arai developed his prototype mostly from spare parts laying around in his factory.

“The key to modification was boost the wattage of the water heating element,” he says. “After that, it was a snap.”

Arai has taken out seven utility patents on his new invention, and registered the trademark “Bathlet.”

His original version, completed in just two months, worked without any hitches but sorely fell short in aesthetic appeal, Arai admits.

“The most serious shortcoming was that it could only supply enough warm water for a one-minute shower, and that didn’t allow enough time for the user to soap up and rinse. So I added a more powerful water heating element that gave about five minutes — maybe a little longer in the summer.”

Arai estimates that if used for one five-minute shower per day, the Bathlet will add approximately ¥280 to a household’s monthly electric bill. On the other hand, however, it’s notoriously stingy with water.

“I decided that making it ‘eco-friendly’ would be a strong selling point — hence the recycling tank and gravity pump, which redirects shower water back to the toilet tank to be reused for flushing,” he explained. “This led to problems at first, because the spout on the bidet kept blowing soap bubbles. We fixed that using microfiber filtration,” Arai smiled.

“The current design is as close to being idiot-proof as possible,” Arai said, chuckling with pride. “Any competent plumber can have it up and running in about half an hour.”

Because tampering with the original commode’s design risks invalidating the warranty, Arai is keen on lining up Japanese manufacturers to market the “Bathlet” as an optional accessory. He has yet to announce a domestic price for his product, but is aiming for under ¥12,000.

With many overseas markets faced with chronic water shortages, Arai believes prospects for exports are “extremely encouraging.”

“We received hundreds of inquiries when we introduced a prototype at the Home Fixtures ’15 trade show in Shanghai two weeks ago,” Arai said.

Arai Industries’ “Bathlet” is just one of a slew of new inventions from Japan designed to appeal to growing numbers of affluent Chinese visitors. Prototypes introduced at a recent trade fair in Makuhari included an electric rice cooker that can be used to steam rou baozi (pork buns) and shaomai (dumplings); for fastidious gamblers, Sani-Pai, an ultrasonic cleaner for sanitizing mahjong tiles after use; and an electric kettle that whistles the first six notes of “The East is Red” to signal the user when the water has boiled.

R2-D2 toy keeps fans company and food fresh

March 30th, 2015 by

R2-D2, the eccentric cylindrical droid from “Star Wars,” has helped save the galaxy time and time again, but now he will help you save electricity.

Mobile gadget company Hamee will be releasing a 10 x 7 cm version of the robot to keep in your refrigerator. He will greet you when you open the door, and panic, if you leave it open.

“Living alone can get a little bleak. We wanted to create something that could welcome you back home at the end of the day,” explains Atsushi Yamashita of the product management team in the promo video.

Although this mini R2-D2 may not be able to project holograms, hack computers or extinguish fires like we’ve seen on the big screen, the company has made sure he looks and sounds exactly like the original by receiving direction from Lucasfilm. It responds to light, but pressing the button on his head works too.

It has 15 types of beeps, including some rare outbursts that you may catch if you are lucky enough. A fan may recognize R2-D2 “lines” from specific scenes in the movies.

Pre-sale orders for the R2-D2 Talking Fridge Gadget are already available, but its official release will be April 30, 2015, at ¥4,320 — just in time for the Star Wars Exhibition, scheduled to take place at Roppongi from April 29 to June 28, 2015.

Ultraman monsters invade your travel show

March 27th, 2015 by

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After getting beat by Ultraman, the bad guys need a vacation.

Channel Fuji TV One is letting the monsters loose in a new travel program called “Ultra Monster Walk.” It will resemble other Japanese travel shows on which hosts visit a featured city’s landmarks, sample local cuisine and soak up the area’s flavor — but this version has a kaiju twist.

In the first out of 12 total episodes, scheduled to air on May 22 at midnight, the monsters invade, er, visit Yokohama and Kamakura.

This isn’t the first time Ultraman’s enemies have taken a well-deserved rest. Last year saw the opening of Kaiju Sakaba, a Kawasaki restaurant-bar themed on the space monsters from the sci-fi TV series that invited visitors to share a pitcher with the costumed evil-doers.

Even Ultraman has to take a break from saving the world once in a while. In May 2014, he flew to Hawaii to help promote Hawaii Tourism Authority’s travel packages. Ultraman even had enough time and money to bring the entire Ultra family to the islands as they tested the waters with surfing and whale watching.

Maybe someday Ultraman and his enemies will bury the hatchet and they can all go on a relaxing trip together. Stay tuned.

Takashi Murakami + Frisk = super-artsy breath

March 20th, 2015 by

For a limited time you’ll be able to freshen your breath by popping a piece of contemporary art into your mouth.

On March 16, Belgian confectionary Frisk launched a special collaborative line of art candy, called Frisk Neo, to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

The collaborator is none other than Takashi Murakami, that superfamous creator of superflat pop art.

Though Murakami’s most expensive art pieces have sold for more than $4 million, the Frisk Neo decorated in his original Kaikai Kiki characters and signature skulls cost less than ¥400.

“We basically bring a piece of art into the pockets of normal consumers,” said chief marketing officer Jan Heelinn in the Frisk Neo x Takashi Murakami official video.

Murakami likens the candies to sculptures in the promo video. Though we shouldn’t expect them to be auctioned at Sotheby’s any time soon, every tin bears the text “Designed by Murakami.”

The local buzzsphere celebrated the pop artist’s foray into breath mints with exclamations of “kawaii!” (cute) and “getto shimashita!” (I got one!).

Not only are the tins customized, Frisk went a step further by reshaping their pellet-like mints into original Murakami motifs. The Blooming Cherry mints are pink and flower-shaped and, as the name suggests, taste like sweet cherry. Pop open the Frightening Mint tin and you will see white-and-blue skulls. You might taste a hint of chilli in the mint — eccentric, like the artist himself.

Frisk Neo is supposedly available in convenience stores nationwide, but our guess it’s a hot-seller so good luck finding a tin.

A photo posted by Tomoya Yamashita (@_txmxyx_) on

Is Burger King’s ‘Flame Grilled’ fragrance a hoax in a bottle?

March 20th, 2015 by

Burger King Japan has developed quite the reputation for its imaginative gastronomic creations, including the black Kuro Burger released last year. However, the result of the fast food chain’s latest experiment isn’t exactly edible.

burger-king-perfume-bottle

Smell it your way

Starting in April, the company will launch a fragrance that will allow fast-food lovers to smell just like their beloved burgers.

The perfume, named “Flame Grilled,” will be sold for one day only and exclusively at Burger Kings in Japan. A free Whopper is included in the purchase (at the high price of ¥5,000), so now you can eat your meal and smell like one too.

The scent will be sold starting at precisely 10:30 a.m., just in time for an early lunch. As only a limited amount of bottles are being produced, Burger King fans will only be able to mist themselves with one bottle per customer.

Many media outlets say they smell a long-game April Fool’s joke, but we’re tempted to believe that their aim is true.

Burger King has even petitioned the Japanese government to make April 1 the unofficial “Whopper Day,” a move that suggests this may not all be pure mischief.

Still skeptical? This isn’t the first time Burger King has tried to appeal to a sense other than taste. In 2008 the chain released “Flame,” a cologne hooked as “the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat.”

Take a look at its disturbing video as proof.

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