Archive for November, 2009

Eco batteries bring new meaning to the term “juiced”

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Anyone who’s had their laptop or cellphone run out of juice at a crucial moment can attest to the limitations that present power storage methods have on technology, but a product from Aqua Power Systems Japan may indicate an amazing new advancement: the water-powered battery.

At their present capability, NoPoPo (No Pollution Power) Eco batteries have enough power to save lives during a disaster since they can run on the smallest amount of fluid (drinkable or bodily), which means that someone lost in the woods or trapped under rubble could recharge their flashlight easily with a few drops of whatever is available.

But don’t start peeing on your laptop just yet: For the time being, NoPoPo batteries have significant limitations — just the double-A form is available and can only run low-powered items like flashlights and toy trains (see video above) but if they find a way to expand capacity, the NoPoPo could revolutionize how – and for how long – we work and communicate on electronic devices.

They may also represent an interesting twist in environmental policy, as the mercury, lead and other hazardous chemicals in today’s used batteries cause considerable harm when burned or left to rot in landfills.

In earthquake-prone places like Japan, however, practicality will sell more units than quixotic concerns. I mean, what’s going to power your Wii and Nintendo DS when the “big one” hits?

Lotteria stands behind its Superb BLT Burger

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Lotteria's Zetsumyo BLT Burger

Lotteria's Zetsumyo BLT Burger

From Dec. 4, fast-food chain Lotteria is releasing what its believes to be an “Zetsumyo (Superb)” BLT Burger and if customers aren’t satisfied they can demand their money back. This is the second time Lotteria have run a money back campaign, back in July they did a similar promotion for its “Zetsumyo Burger.” The price of the BLT burger starts from ¥420, which is just that little bit more expensive than your average fast food burger.

If you want to take advantage of the offer, you’ll need to be quick as it runs for only two weeks.

We think “money back if you’re not satisfied” offers are pretty rare in the food industry in Japan. What do you think? Have you heard of similar offers? Will you be trying the Zetsumyo BLT Burger?

School uniforms remain a cultural conundrum

Friday, November 27th, 2009

The schoolgirl uniform means different things to different people

The schoolgirl uniform means different things to different people

Ah, the Japanese schoolgirl, that perennial trendsetter and object of adoration. Few items of clothing evoke such a spectrum of emotions as her attire (be careful when Googling it). Once considered a sartorial example of the East’s rigid conformity, Japan’s schoolgirl uniform has now reached such a globally iconic status that earlier this year the government tried harnessing its powers through “Kawaii Diplomacy.”

For better or worse, it may be working. On Tuesday, the Asahi Shimbun reported that CONOMi, the Niigata-based company making nanchatte seifuku (fake school uniforms) has seen its business booming, not only here in Tokyo but in China, South Korea, Australia and Brazil.

There are dozens of ways to extrapolate why this is, and for each there seems to be a journalist and TV producer poised to explain it to us. But beware, culture critics and Asian-desk correspondents, for Momus is on to you. On his fantastic blog, he vents his frustration with Western documentaries that claim insight into Japanese street style, of which the schoolgirl uniform is an integral component:

“Every Western documentary that purports to be about Japanese style is in fact a documentary about the Western concept of free will.”

A hyperbolic statement to be sure, but the point is valid: Western journalists almost invariably project their own ideas of conformity onto the schoolgirl’s fashion choices, but if they really wanted to know what uniforms mean in Japan today, they should ask the people who actually wear them. The simple fact is that schoolgirl and kogyaru style do not fit neatly into the conformist vs. rebel dichotomy set up by so many aspiring documentary makers. The lines between the traditional and evocative have blurred too far, and there’s a case to be made that many of the blazer-and-skirt-wearing tribe are not “rebelling” against anything, but are instead reveling in the spotlight that society has placed on them.

If this is the case, then the government-funded “cute diplomacy” program is the biggest spotlight yet.

More:

Motherload of inventions at Make: Tokyo

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Yesterday was the first day of the fourth Make: Tokyo meeting held at the Ookuyama campus of Tokyo Institute of Technology. Organized by Make Magazine, it showcases the work of inventors who are not affiliated to large companies. Instead, students, start-ups and hobbyists were there to display their work and share ideas. As you might imagine, the work ranged from the ingenious to the just plain silly, with all shades between. Here are some things that caught my eye.

The prize for most outstanding use of an everyday item had to go to Jinno for his Rainbow Engine, a beautiful kaleidoscopic machine, whose main part consisted of a disk made from Scotch Tape that, when filtered through another disk, created the beautiful display of colors you can see in the video below.

Continue reading about the 4th Make: Tokyo Meeting

Japanese now a little less lost in translation

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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If technology is truly meant to bring us all closer together, then recent translation services are doing their part to make the world a smaller place.

Flashy items like NEC’s translation glasses and the new iPhone application that can convert text from pictures will get plenty of attention once they’re tested and widely distributed, but in 2009 a number of other innovations have already begun to affect how Japan’s residents interact with the world and each other.

Google has certainly been at the forefront. Their “Translate this page” links are now built into Japanese search results, and the dedicated Translate application has made huge strides in turning select phrases, web pages and PDF documents into your preferred tongue. Google Reader has opened the blogosphere even further with the option to change RSS feeds into English or other languages. Twitter, the year’s other web darling, continues to grow in popularity here, and the Tweetie iPhone application‘s translate function is helping more non-Japanese speakers to keep better track of the country’s 140-character community.

Continue reading about translation services →

Mottainai fashion makes big strides

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Second-hand and remade dresses from Akarikaoku

Second-hand and remade dresses from Akarikaoku

We reported earlier this week that fast fashion names such as Forever 21 and H&M are becoming more popular than brand names with Japanese shoppers during the recession. But it’s not just cheaper brands that are thriving; second-hand clothing stores are also doing a roaring trade.

Used clothing outlet Don Don Down opened two new stores in Japan just this month (one in Sapporo and one in Tokyo) and is due to open another in Tokushima in December. Don Don Down, whose full shop name is the rather unwieldy “Don Don Down On Wednesday,” employ a rather unusual concept to get customers through their doors: Every Wednesday the price of items is radically reduced. Thus a top that started out at ¥5,000 gets progressively cheaper each week: First reduced to ¥3,000, then to ¥2,000, then ¥1,000. The cheapest possible price for an item is ¥100. A huge range of clothes are on offer, from brand names to cheap and cheerful items, so the starting price can vary from ¥10,000 to ¥100.

Read more about recessionistas →

Manga publishers go back to the drawing board

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Manga are still popular, but are losing out to cell phones and the internet

Free manga browsing at a convenience store

In a recent interview with Monocle Magazine, Japanamerica author and pop culture stalwart Roland Kelts was asked about Meiji University’s plans for a manga library. “When you make a Rock and Roll museum, it means that Rock and Roll is dead,” he said. “And when you build a manga museum, to some extent it means that there is an end in sight.”

Perhaps in its present form, yes. Kelts doesn’t believe that manga are going away, but domestic sales are down, with print media competing with – and frequently losing to – digital platforms on cell phones and the Internet. Don’t worry, he explains, manga are just in the process of adapting to the new landscape. Downloadable manga for your cell phone are but one example.

Continue reading about evolving forms of manga →

Champagne flowing for H&M in Japan

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Jimmy Choo bags at H&M

Jimmy Choo bags at H&M

While designer brands such as Versace have been taking a hit of late in Japan, this doesn’t seem to be the case for mainstream names that deliver fashion at affordable prices such as Uniqlo, Forever 21 and Top Shop. Friday saw the opening party for the new H&M store in Shinjuku, and the company showed its confidence in the brand by passing out free champagne to all event attendees.

Though shoppers are downsizing, Japan’s love of designer names continues unabated, and customers are finding that they no longer need to go to up-market areas like Ginza to get their hit of luxury fashion. H&M, for instance, have enlisted the talents of shoe and handbag designer Jimmy Choo, whose name has long been synonymous with high end, exclusively priced fashion, to lure Japanese shoppers to their store. At ¥29,990 for a bag, Choo’s range hasn’t exactly dropped to rock-bottom prices, but it is more suited to the wallets of the nouveau not-so-rich.

Continue reading about H&M in Japan →

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