Archive for December, 2009

Trends in Japan 2009: changing gender roles

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

New man? Otomen's main character is in touch with his feminine side

New man? Otomen’s main character is in touch with his feminine side

You’ve probably seen them, preening  in front of station mirrors in public, teasing their hair until it looks just so. Or maybe you’ve seen the beauty products available to them, including foundation and eyebrow tweezers.

No, not the gals; we’re taking about the much hyped new breed of man known as soshokukei (herbivorous). According to the talking heads and pop psychiatrists, the herbivore is more interested in his appearance, less interested in his career and increasingly passive with girls. The phrase was coined by writer Megumi Ushikubo back in 2007 and has caught on so much that some men now proudly describe themselves as herbivores without feeling any social shame. Typical herbivore pastimes include such things as cooking, clothes shopping and eating sweets, and naturally the older generation of carnivorous skirt-chasing careerists are appalled by this new tribe, seeing them as lazy and unwilling to take on the responsibilities of an adult man.

This year a popular TV series was launched depicting just such a man in crisis with his public identity and private desires. “Otomen” tells the story of Asuka Masamune. Adept at judo and karate he appears to be the toughest guy in high school, but behind closed doors he loves sewing and romantic manga. The manga that inspired the TV series was extremely popular, showing perhaps that the character struck a chord, albeit with the young girls at which the drama was aimed.

Continue reading about changing gender roles →

Trends in Japan 2009: fast fashion

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Fast fashion outlets like UniQlo are doing well in the recession

Little could stop the Uniqlo momentum in 2009

It was the year that rocked luxury brand names as Versace made the unbelievable announcement that Versace SpA stores would close nationwide and more affordable brands such as H&M, Zara, Forever21 and Uniqlo began appear in areas once reserved for swanky brand-name fashion. While the world sinking deeper into recession, “fast fashion” retailers proved that there was still a way to make a quick buck. Last month Zara opened their 50th store in Japan (a bigger space in Shibuya) and H&M opened a new branch in Shinjuku. Forever 21, which doesn’t yet have the brand cachet of H&M or Zara, threw down the gauntlet in April with its Japan debut in Harajuku  and, the last time I checked, it was still full of bargain hunters.

In 2009, cash-strapped consumers also benefited from how-low-can-you-go price wars. Uniqlo’s cheaper spinoff store g.u. started selling jeans for ¥990 earlier in the year, which was followed by Don Quijote’s Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) of ¥690 per pair. However, when you consider the wages of the workers making them at factories in Cambodia and China, you might question the true cost of such cheap clothing.

On a more environment-friendly note, some young Japanese girls embraced the recessionista trend of recyling old clothes into a new look. Used clothing outlet Don Don Down  opened two new stores last month, proving that at least some Japanese are willing to wear outfits that are a little rough around the edges. Many of those scouring the nation’s flea markets were fashioning old clothes into new outfits, a process dubbed remaku (remake) and those not handy with a sewing machine could buy the eco-friendly recycled look from stores in trendy areas like Shimokitazawa or Koenji.

As long as the recession continues, the lower priced end of fast fashion is bound to continue reaping a profit (and we’re bound to see more creative and crafty ways to remix and recycle the resulting mountain of thrown-away threads). Despite the trend toward fast fashion U.S. luxury casual brand Abercrombie & Fitch felt optimistic enough to try to break into the Japanese market by opening a new store in Ginza last week. The success or failure of this significantly more expensive store will prove a useful barometer for other luxury brands hoping to expand their markets in these lean times.

Trends in Japan 2009: celebrity drug busts

Monday, December 28th, 2009

The children's decongestants above were not the only powders on the street, apparently

The children’s decongestants seen above were apparently not the only widely distributed powders in Japan this year

One doesn’t have to be an ardent news junkie to know that drugs and drug busts featured prominently in Japan’s headlines this year. From soldiers to pop stars, 2009 will be remembered as a year of disillusionment for many of the Japanese public regarding the “purity” of their heroes.

Still reeling from the marijuana scandal that began with Russian sumo stars in 2008, the search for other pot-smoking wrestlers continued in January, resulting in the first native Japanese to fall victim to the purge (he apparently smoked blunts). All wrestlers were subjected to a number of drug tests, most of which produced nothing. As the scandal unfolded, coverage of Japan’s “Reefer Madness” grew, with statistics showing that use of and arrests involving the devil weed were on the rise in the archipelago. Interestingly enough, as Jake Adelstein explains, it’s not a crime to use marijuana in Japan, but it is a crime to possess it (a retired cop once told him “don’t smoke more than you can eat”).

Not the case with “stimulants,” the catch-all phrase used for hard synthetic drugs and the real source of Japan’s drug problems. The stoner sumo fiasco was completely overshadowed this summer by two stories that continue to reverberate across country. Two celebrities – Noriko Sakai and Manabu Oshio – were accused of using meth and ecstasy, respectively. Both cases were a muckracker’s wet dream, made even more tantalizing to the press when placed in context. On the surface, Oshio’s story was the juiciest, since he had allegedly shared his stash with a bar hostess, who subsequently died of unknown causes. If that wasn’t enough to pique national interest, the event in question happened in a swank Roppongi Hills apartment owned by Mika Noguchi, the founder of lingerie giant, Peach John, Japan’s answer to Victoria’s Secret.

Continue reading about celebrity drug busts in 2009 →

Trends in Japan 2009: virtual love

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Though we’ve not yet quite seen nanomachines building islands out in Tokyo Bay, William Gibson, author of “Idoru,” must have be feeling pretty smug last month when the news hit the Internet that a young Japanese man had married his virtual girlfriend.

But the prophecy of “Idoru,” which envisions a love affair between a rock star and a virtual celebrity, has not yet quite been fulfilled. The important difference being that the virtual character of Nene, created for the dating game Love Plus, is circumscribed by the bounds of her programming while the Idoru of Gibson’s novel enjoys free will.

That being said, Konami’s DS dating game Love Plus contained characters that were so life-like  some women complained their husband’s were neglecting them in favor of spending time with their virtual partners. Indeed, Sal 9000, the groom in the recent cyber wedding, felt compelled to broadcast his relationship to the Web. Though many have suggested that the marriage was simply a playful form of theatre rather than a serious gesture, it seemed that Western media were more tempted to ascribe deeper meaning to the event.

Continue reading about virtual love in 2009 →

Trends in Japan 2009: drinks

Monday, December 21st, 2009

A Suntory higball, just in time for year-end parties

A Suntory highball, just in time for year-end parties

It might be fair to say that this year in booze could be summed up by the giant pile of puke I stepped over on the train platform last night. Though consumers were willing to spend less money on their end-of-year parties, the results witnessed  throughout Japan’s transport network during December are much the same as last year: troops of unconscious party victims lying prostrate over the seats of platforms and trains.

Despite this carnage, there have been efforts by the alcohol industry to encourage sensible drinking. 2009 was the year that saw the three big beverage companies — Asahi, Kirin and Suntory — launch non-alcoholic beers, perhaps in response to raised public awareness of the problems of driving under the influence. Recent years have seen stiffer penalties for drinking and driving, and police are becoming increasingly aware of the problem of drunken cyclists, an issue which had been tolerated in the past.

But nothing fuels a good drinking session like threat of financial meltdown, and if consumer’s budgets were a little tight, the alcohol industry did their level best to provide intoxication at bargain-basement prices. Standing bars that offer cheap drinks and no table charge became less trendy and more ubiquitous, with some offering draft beer for the insanely cheap price of ¥300 a glass. We also witnessed some crazy nomihodai offers such as drink all the vodka you can in an hour for just ¥780.

Continue reading about drinking trends in 2009 →

Price drops can (literally) be music to your ears

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

As the 2000′s come to a close, it doesn’t take reams of market analysis to realize that the last 10 years saw the dismantling the music industry as we knew it. However, a recent series of products may be an indicator of what’s to come in the near future. Of course, music-making games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and various iPhone applications are making a significant impact, but if devices like Yamaha’s Tenori-On enter the mainstream in the next 10 years, it could cement the next decade as when the non-musical made themselves heard.

The original Tenori-On was released in the spring of 2007 to a limited audience. The 16×16 LED buttons correspond to musical scales that, when pressed in any order, create a catchy tune with visual accompaniment. The originally prohibitive price tag (well over ¥100,000) meant that this toy/tool would be used solely by the rich or technophillic. However, two recently-released versions have made the device much more affordable.

The Tenori-On Orange trades in the magnesium-alloy body for plastic and eliminates the removable/rechargeable battery while leaving the original operations intact. The price tag has dropped considerably (around ¥80,000), but for the frugally minded, a stripped-down model now goes for around ¥5,000.

The Bliptronic 5000 LED Synthesizer is not made by Yamaha, but will (hopefully) garner a response next year in the form of their own budget version. Bliptronic’s simplified version has half the input buttons and does not visualize sound like its more sophisticated cousins, but along with the approachable price point, his low-end model is being marketed as a device meant to be played with others instead of as a stand-alone toy, which may help it go far in the ever-present social media landscape. And as you can see from the video above, what’s not to like?

Your move, Yamaha.

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Turning the Japanese household on its head

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Acccording to a poll carried out by the Institute for Advertising Research Softbank’s Shirato Family series of commercials have been voted most popular with Japanese audiences for the third year running. To decide the nation’s favorite ad, the institute interviewed 3,000 respondents, ages 6 to 89. The campaigns in second and third place also came from cell-phone companies: KDDI and NTT DoCoMo, respectively. Fourth place went to Lotte for their extremely successful Fit’s viral-video dance campaign, which featured a catchy song-and-dance routine and challenged viewers to perform the dance themselves and upload it to YouTube.

Much of the success of the Shirato campaign has been attributed to the charms of pop idol/actress Aya Ueto (who plays the family’s younger sister character), but what really makes the commercials stand out is that, despite its depiction of a “typical” Japanese family, the women rule the roost, otousan (father) just happens to be a white dog and onisan (elder brother) is played by African-American actor Dante Carver.

Continue reading about Softbank's Shirato Family commercials →

Show your stripes in the new year

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

The flesh-eating beast gets a kawaii makeover (left); Canon's free paper-craft tiger

The flesh-eating beast gets a kawaii makeover (left); Canon’s free paper-craft tiger

“Tiger tiger burning bright in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

Well, Japanese artists for one, who have not only managed to render the tiger tame, but have also depicted it as being unbelievably cute. If you live in Japan you won’t have failed to have noticed that the Year of the Tiger is about to pounce upon us and the shops are filled with tiger-themed New Year’s cards, stamps and otoshidama money envelopes.

If you’ve got plenty of ink in your printer but no cash in your pocket, you might want to hit Canon’s Web site which has a treasure trove of downloadable resources for the New Year. We really like the paper-craft tiger, but there are also money envelopes and postcards for those that aren’t up to wielding glue and scissors.

If you’re too lazy to buy stamps and post your New Year cards, Japan Post Office have launched a great site that will do the job for you from the comfort of your own home. Templates can be customized with hand written messages (a bit tricky this with a mouse) and photographs, before being sent either to an email address or directly to the addressee’s house.

The tiger symbolizes courage and passion and the year ahead true to economic predictions looks to be one that will be hard fought.

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