Archive for March, 2010

Will a coven of Witch Girls grow in Japan?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Warming up the powerstone

Recharging the power stone

I share an apartment with five Japanese people – two girls and three guys – and on Sunday night I walked into our kitchen to discover one of the girls recharging her power stone. The stone was pink and smooth, some kind of quartz or something. She said she bought it in Peru. Recharging it involved sitting next to our stove, which is ventilated by a hood, and holding a smoking piece of white sage under the rock. “It stinks!” she yelled 10 minutes later before walking back into her room. “It smells like medicine!”

My other female roommate once went to a fortune teller. She said it cost ¥15,000 for an hour and a half, during which time she could ask anything. She collected business cards from her friends at work and brought them along, generously offering to use some of her time to ask about their future. “She told me this girl was going to have a lot of problems,” she told me in a low voice, holding one of the business cards in her hand.

“So what are you going to tell her?” I asked.

“I’ll make something up. Something nice.”

As the success of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” have proved, the supernatural is a big hit with just about everyone, especially girls. In Japan, the recent tendency to classify girl-fashion trends has merged the natural and supernatural into “Witch Girls.”

Continue reading about "witch girls" in Japan →

Get your gold-plated invite to designer discounts

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Anyone for polo? Big discounts on Ralph Lauren available

Anyone for polo? Big discounts on Ralph Lauren available

Gone are the days when shoppers dedicated to buying up discounted brand-name goods would have to sleep on the pavement overnight in order to get their mitts on the best bargains. These days bargain hunters in the know are seeking out membership to exclusive online clubs that allow them access to discounted brand name items not available to the general public.

Glamour Sales is one such company and the only one to have been started within Japan rather than from an existing overseas parent company. Launching in August of last year they now boast 130,000 members who are all drawn by discounts on designer clothing of anywhere from 50 to 80 percent and cosmetics from 20 to 50 percent.

To join, you must be invited by an existing member or by one of the site’s trend advisors. “It is in a way a club, making it invite-only, means that everybody is connected somehow and it becomes a community,” said Sabrina Watanabe, marketing and PR director of Glamour Sales. The 50 trend advisors are all fashion professionals, be it stylists, designers or make-up artists, who keep the buzz of the site alive by blogging and using Twitter to help members track current trends. And, of course, members receive newsletters with details of the latest discounts.

To cement this sense of community, Glamour Sales holds regular events for its members. In December, for example, members could attend an exclusive event at the posh restaurant Beige Alain Duccase Tokyo which is located on the top floor of the Chanel store in Ginza and receive exclusive Christmas cake and macaroons.

The brands the company sells are pretty high end, hot clothing labels such as Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Diesel and Calvin Klein; cosmetics include YSL, Givenchy and Giorgio Armani. Not stopping with fashion and beauty,  the site also features discounts on other items like holidays, cars, restaurants and Riedel glasses.

While top-end brands are losing out on the high street at the moment, these Internet clubs might be a way for them to get through tough economic times. Teaming bargains with an online community that can both make you feel connected and give you style tips can only be a winning formula.

Roppongi Hills back on top

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

A bird's eye view from the Roppongi Hills' Sky Deck

A bird’s eye view from the Roppongi Hills’ Sky Deck (Satoko Kawasaki photo/The Japan Times)

Real-estate tycoon Minoru Mori has got something to celebrate this weekend. Not only is his Roppongi Hills complex hosting Roppongi Art Night, but J-Cast reports that occupancy of its office space is now up to 95 percent, recovering from a slump two years ago which saw occupancy at 85 percent. The icing on the cake for Mori is that, if early reports are to be believed, Mori Tower will soon gain a prestigious new tenant in the summer of this year: Google Japan. When Roppongi Hills opened their doors in 2003, the complex had no problems attracting high-profile clients, especially in the dot com industry, with Livedoor, Yahoo! Japan and internet shopping giant Rakuten all in residency. Not only that, but many company presidents decided to live the dream of the high rise inner-urban community by also living in the building, namely Takafumi Horie of Livedoor, Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani and CyberAgent Susumu Fujita. And so the phrase “Hills zoku” (the Hills clan) was born.

Continue reading about Roppongi Hills bouncing back →

Japan by the numbers (03.25.2010)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Japan by the numbers (03.24.10)

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Big (only) in Japan? Beer salesgirls

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

beergirl

A beer uriko hard at work at the Waseda-Keio baseball game.

This marks the debut of a series where we ask “Big (only) in Japan?” We have a hunch but we want to hear from you. Have you seen this outside of Japan? Let us know in the comment section below.

In Japan, the end of March brings warmer weather, cherry blossoms and the start of the baseball season. Opening Day for the Pacific League was on March 20, and the Central League opens March 26. Lead by self-organized cheerleading teams, the crowds will chant elaborate cheers and songs (often a different cheer for each player), wave flags, jump up and down, and in the process work up a serious thirst for an ice cold beverage.

Enter the beer salesgirl – in Japanese, biiru no uriko (ビールの売り子). In Japan, “Hey, beer man!” will not only earn you strange looks because you are yelling in English – additionally, no men serve beer at baseball games here. The task is instead performed by young women who wear special backpacks that contain a miniature keg of beer. Dressed in short shorts and team uniforms, they move throughout the stadium seats, serving fresh beer right off the tap to reenergize the hordes.

Continue reading about biiru no uriko →

Masks off, plugs in: New allergy tools go inside the nose

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Nose PitWhen people sing the praises of Japan’s four seasons and their motifs, spring is all about sakura. But for the sniffly, runny-eyed 13% of Japan’s population with kafunsho (hay fever), spring is the dreaded allergy season and the sugi is the only tree that matters. The fast-maturing cedars were planted en masse in the 50s for their wood and now blanket the country in misery-inducing pollen that sends millions running from February to April for piles of pills, gallons of anti-itch eye drops and mountains of masks.

Though the pollen counts are supposed to be only about half as bad as last year, morning weather forecasts still include daily pollen count maps dotted with teary, scrunched-up cartoon faces.

Allergy sufferers may try anything for a little fresh air: electronic purifiers that claim to cleanse vast areas or portable ionic purifiers that hang from the neck. Cosmetic and supplement maker DHC sells an anti-pollen “Double Blocking Mist” for spraying on fabric that the company says sells out every year.

Many keep it simple, though. Last year, surveys showed that paper masks were the go-to pollen protector for some 60% of allergy sufferers. Could it be that this year, after a long winter of swine-flu precautions and mask hysteria, people have had it with the ER look?

Continue reading about hay fever in Japan →

Tell them Twitter sent you

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Looking for a bargain on past-life regression or new crystals for your fingernails?  Savings could be just a hashtag away. A mashup of the Japanese pronunciation of Twitter and the word for discount gives tsui-wari, anglicized to “twiwari.”

Searching #twiwari on a Twitter page or visiting twiwari.jp is like walking down a restaurant-packed street near a train station in any city in Japan on a Friday night: a non-stop stream of offers for all-you-can eat izekaya, half-price beers or a free dish of nuts to go with a happy hour cocktail.

Twiwari logo

Places that don’t usually post touts on the streets in sandwich boards are also getting in on the online action. Neighborhood businesses all across Japan are putting up offers on Twitter for services ranging from hair straightening in Hokkaido to pre-summer air conditioner cleaning in Kyushu.

For most of them, getting the discount is as simple as saying “I saw it on Twitter.” Say those magic words to the manager at Higonoya Yakitori, and get an entire ¥2380 bottle of shochu.

Steak House Texas ran a (rather complicated) one-day special where lunch customers could get free extra burgers depending on the number of followers they had. Too much math? They’ve since simplified to a free pint of beer or an extra 100-gram helping of meat to grill.

Dozens of national dry-cleaning chains have joined forces on Twitter to offer a 20% discount for the entire month of April.  The name of the promotion  – koromogae nau – is pure J-Twitterese, combining an old word for changing one’s wardrobe from one season to another with a snippet of Twitter-only slang that signals what the writer is “doing now.” But in a low-tech twist, the offer is claimed by printing out the coupon and filling it out by hand.

Continue reading about twiwari discounts on Twitter →

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