Archive for March, 2010

Wild ideas for new instruments

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

For those still in love with the blips and beeps of their favorite retro games, Bandai’s new Bousou (wild idea) Controller key chain, which goes on sale March 20, is a dream come true. Available for three games – Street Fighter II, Xevious and Family Stratagem – the controller is shaped like an old-school game pad and has a number of buttons that re-create the sounds of the dawn of the digital era.

Bandai's Bousou Controller out March 20

Bandai’s Bousou Controller out March 20

While many might deem these noises highly irritating, instrument designer extraordinaire Yoshi Akai has recently crafted a similar controller in order to demonstrate the musical possibilities of gaming noises. A video of a recent online performance broadcast on Akai’s YouTube channel can be seen here.

Akai’s oeuvre ,which experiments with interfacing digital with analog sound, is fast garnering attention with both digital and print media. Not only are his concepts innovative, but they are also gorgeously crafted with a lovely steampunk aesthetic. Take, for example his Wireless Catcher which translates Wireless Signals into analog sound (as seen the  video at the top). The catcher is a slender metal-plated device with an antenna attached to the top which picks up the wireless frequencies in its immediate range. The metal plating is beautifully engraved with the kind of design you might find one of Jules Verne’s futuristic machines. The device converts the waves picked up to an analog synthesizer which then plays a sound.

Akai's 3-channel lego sequencer

Akai’s 3-channel lego sequencer

Another of Akai’s designs that caught our eye is his 3-channel lego sequencer which allows you to build up sound by placing colored lego bricks on to a board, each different color makes a corresponding sound and the higher the bricks go, the louder the noise created.

Akai’s background is in textile design, which accounts for the exquisite craftsmanship of his machines. The loony genius of his design reminds us of Maywa Denki who, like Akai, not only create their own instruments but also perform internationally. If you’d like to know more about Maywa Denki and see one of their performances, see our previous post.

We’re going to be looking our for Akai’s live performances in the future, but in the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with making our own sweet video game music with the Bousou Controller.

Japan by the numbers (3.12.10)

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Creative spirits inhabit daruma range

Friday, March 12th, 2010

yokai daruma

Funky Daruma Yokai toys from Idea International

Toy collectors are bound to flip over this cute new “Daruma Yokai” series out this month from Idea International. Daruma are traditional Japanese dolls, usually painted red and sold at temples for good luck. According to custom, people paint in one eye of the daruma when they set a goal, and then paint the other after they achieve it. These particular daruma are based on fanciful monster characters from the classic anime “Ge Ge no Kitaro.” The yokai concept was brought up to date by the team at Design Office Nendo, the innovative company behind the recent controversial but achingly cool MD.net mental health clinic in Asakusa. The initial batch of eight characters will include “nedama no oyaji” (eyeball father), “nezumi otoko” (rat man) and “nurikabe” (plaster wall), but there are plans to extend the series if it proves popular.”

A portion of the profits made from the Daruma Yokai series will go to “Made in Japan” a nonprofit organization that supports local craftsmen and businesses in Japan. The organization was founded in 1900 in Gifu Prefecture and helps businesses by holding seminars and workshops for local craftsmen as well as giving financial aid. Their aim is to keep the traditional crafts alive in Japan that might otherwise die out. Dolls cost ¥2,000 but at least you get that warm, fuzzy feeling of  helping keep Japan’s artisan heritage alive.

How to make a Big Bang in show business

Friday, March 12th, 2010

bigbang

Big Bang: Big in South Korea, yes, but they want a bigger bang

In Japan, the mainstream music industry, and Johnny’s Jimusho in particular, is infamous for unyielding, top-down control of its artists, most notably how and where their images are displayed. Naturally, the explosion of fan Web sites, blogs and social networking sites has threatened to erode that control. In many cases, the industry’s response is to flex its muscles even more. Johnny’s has long forbidden digital photos of their pop idols to be uploaded to even major media sites. We’re talking about official photos that promote a movie or TV show in which the agency’s artist stars.

This set-up works in Japan because, as a rule, the media is beholden to the big talent agencies and labels. But what if, one day, Johnnys’ decides to sell its boy bands to a global market – could it keep the overseas media on a similarly tight leash? When that day comes, the agency would do well to study the track record of Big Bang, a South Korean hip-hop boy-band sensation that has obviously figured out a way to make the series of tubes work to its advantage.

Formed in 2006, Big Bang is determined to milk the Web for all it is worth in its aggressive attempts to market the band’s brand beyond South Korea. While the band has the requisite official sites in both Korean and Japanese, several of the band members have me2day pages where they post tweet-like messages in Korean with attached pictures and video. The band also has an extremely open attitude when it comes to fan sites. Fans around the world run a cavalcade of sites devoted to the band and gather on “VIP” (the self-applied name for Big Bang fans) forums whose theme is to promote friendly fandom and prevent “claim wars.” A Tokyo-based fan group named Team.Bigbang has made the band particularly visible via a Twitter account, Flickr account, Facebook page and Blogspot blog. These sites and forums traffic in high-quality photos, snapshots of the band from what appear to be personal mobile phones and even bootleg concert video filmed by fans.

Continue reading about J-pop, K-pop and social media →

The cheapest night out/in

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Koenji's nameless econobar

Koenji's nameless econobar

Setting the bar (geddit?) even lower for cheap spaces to drink and/or enjoy a quiet cigarette in was this new establishment spotted in Koenji last weekend. Japan Pulse already blogged about standing bars that are offering cheap drinks and no table charge in exchange for enjoying your brew in a no-frills environment. But this place takes that frugal concept even further by doubling as a refuge for beleaguered smokers who can enjoy a ciggie in a quiet atmosphere for only the price of a can of vending-machine coffee.

Alcoholic drinks, which can be bought from a hole in the wall, cost a mere ¥300, while soft drinks can be bought for about ¥130 from a bank of machines lining one wall. The bar, doesn’t have a name (such luxuries as signage were probably seen as frivolous), but it does have wide screen TVs showing sports programs to its penny pinching patrons.

For those who want to further strip away the cost of a night out on the tiles, you might want to set up a Skype nomikai with your friends. That’s right; in the digital age drinking at home alone is no longer considered sad. Plus, you’re economizing even more on travel costs when you don’t have to pay to reach a drinking venue. J-Cast reports that this trend is booming and it’s not just Skype that’s being utilized. Twitter users in Japan are using the hashtags  #wanabeer and #twinomi to group together and chat while boozing, be they at home or in a real bar.

Continue reading about online drinking →

Internet Go BOOM: Visual Kei’s Deep Throat

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

This marks the debut of Internet Go BOOM, a series that will look at how topics du jour evolve online in Japan.

The Epicenter

3.1.2010: Tokyo Damage Report posts a nearly 10,000 word anonymous interview with a former executive of a Visual Kei record label. The executive dishes on the state of the industry, exposes harsh working conditions of band members, gives examples of marketing strategies of the executives, and draws a detailed picture of the mob-like connections between different Visual Kei labels.

Between March 1 and March 7 a 74-comment (and counting) discussion ensues between TDR, Visual Kei fans and curious bystanders. DaRC promises to blog further on the topic and interview to “rip holes” in fan girl “dream bubbles.” Mary worries that her money spent on Visual Kei music and merchandise isn’t going to the artists. “Relatively Mature Adult Fangirl” calls some of the interview exaggeration and says that the interview would be more believable if it was about Johnny’s Jimusho. “Don’t want to get kneecapped,” a journalist who covered Visual Kei bands, claims that the rigid control is far worse than U.S. artists experience.

The Aftershocks

3.1.2010: Adamu of Mutantfrog Travelogue, a multi-author blog about East Asian culture and politics, posts a link to the interview. 19-comment (and counting) discussion ensues. Dave worries that sites may be considering the interview actual investigative journalism when it is actually of questionable authenticity. He also notes that the tone of the translation has TDR’s trademark style – casual, lots of pop-culture references, very entertaining. Adamu notes that he called it “a probably true-to-life mokumentary.” In the comments, Roy of Mutantfrog requests David Marx’s opinion.

3.3.2010: Mash Potato Poet, Visual Kei fan and rural poet, expresses mixed feelings of betrayal (on the part of the producers and shadowy label owners) and sympathy (for the band members who are just like sarariimen even if they don’t wear suits).

Continue reading about Visual Kei's Deep Throat →

Japan Inc. testing the Twitter waters

Monday, March 8th, 2010

A cafe in Roppingi Hills urges passersby to follow its Twitter account: @hillscafespace

A cafe in Roppingi Hills urges passersby to follow its Twitter account: @hillscafespace

A year ago, Japan made up only 0.7 percent of Twitter’s global population. Over the course of 2009, however, estimates show the number of users in Japan grew by six to 10 times, with the current number standing somewhere around 4.5 million people. Japanese is now the second most-used language on the network after English – some 14% of of the 50 million tweets per day worldwide are in Japanese.

Naturally, much of that is the usual chitchat and link-sharing, but Japanese corporations and organizations are playing with the potential for word-of-mouth exposure, PR and retail growth. For smaller companies, Twitter allows them to bypass traditional channels and hawk their wares directly to consumers. The majors are using the micoblogging format to widen their reach and project a friendlier, more casual image.

Although Asian Fortune 100 companies lag behind the U.S. and Europe in sheer numbers of corporate Twitter accounts, those that are tweeting average more followers per account. And hundreds of Japanese companies are jumping on the bandwagon.

Many are taking tsubuyaku, the Japanese verb of choice for tweeting, rather literally. The word means mutter or murmer, and that is just what many seem to be doing, often to tens of thousands of followers.  While some big-name retailers, such as Muji, are announcing Twitter-only sales, others seem to be aiming simply to foster camaraderie and boost engagement through the so-called “casual tweet.” Udon chain Katokichi sends out personalized replies to messages about the noodle dish. Hamburger chain Mos Burger has about 30,000 followers on Twitter, but with a large portion of its posts commenting on the weather and the time of day, it’s not exactly pushing the hard sell. Tsutaya predictably sends followers  movie recommendations, but mixes those with chatter and quickie film quizzes, like “What was the name of the Jedi weapon in the Star Wars movies?”  Some restaurants, like are giving discounts to customers who tweet about their meal there on a sliding scale based on the number of followers the tweeter has.

Continue reading about Twitter and business in Japan →

Japan by the numbers (03.05.10)

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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