Archive for June, 2010

Pulsations (06.30.10)

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are …

Morning ramen, breakfast of Tokyoites

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

First slurp of the morning to ya.

The new early bird special: quick, cheap and filling ramen

Summer is here, finally, in all its hot, sticky, muggy-with-a-chance-of-rain glory. What better way to recover from a jammed morning train and get ready for the work day than with a nice . . . steaming bowl of ramen? That’s how a growing number of Tokyo office workers are starting their days, if Walker Plus is to be believed.

Asa-raa, Japanese shorthand for “morning ramen,” is something of a tradition in other parts of the country like Shizuoka and Fukushima. Now it’s making inroads into Tokyo Metro city limits, with an increasing number of shops in business areas offering morning-only deals. Mezamashi TV reported that there were only 20 or so ramen shops open in the morning 10 years ago. The Japanese website Ramen Database now lists 65 shops in Tokyo that are open either early or non-stop, with some ladling out noodles as early as six or seven.

A quick bowl of noodles in the wee hours is to many hungry Japanese drinkers what a late-night slice of pizza is to a New Yorker or a curry for a Londoner. In contrast to the heavy booze-sopping broth popular in the late-night incarnation, the breakfast version often features a lighter soup, fewer toppings and a smaller portion of noodles. Keika near Shinjuku Station opens at 6:30 am, and Hinomaru in Shinbashi opens at 6.

The appeal? Those interviewed on Mezamashi said the top draws were that it was cheap, quick and filling. The early bird specials are often ¥100 or so less than the rest of the day, with many at the magical ¥500 “one coin” price point. Some said that with a belly full of noodles, they were fortified enough to wait until after the noon lunch rush subsided to get lunch, while some said a bowl of asa-ra let them skip lunch all together.

Skipping lunch could make after-work drinks on an empty stomach a little rough. And thus the day might end as it began, with a nice… steaming bowl of ramen.

Have you tried ramen in the morning? Would you?

The link for Mezamashi TV is on its own down here because we wanted to warn you that it launches loud.

Ramen photo by mahiro1322.

Designers rock the yukata

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Mamechiyo Modern gives a modern twist to traditional dress

Mamechiyo Modern gives a modern twist to traditional dress

Yukata, obi and geta are getting a fresh lease on life as designers and even high-street stores give traditional Japanese wear a contemporary twist this summer. One of the best places to check out the cutting edge of this trend is Marui One in Shinjuku where spider web print cotton yukata, geta with cute bows and even skull motif obi can be seen.

Comme Ca store's polka dot yukata

Comme Ca store’s polka dot yukata

Ya Ya, who do striking lightning bolt jinbei and funky lizard clips, are selling their line on the second floor of Marui One  until July 29. Mamechiyo Modern, who is based in the same building (on the second and fourth floors), also does a great range that includes funky striped geta and really wild obi with playful motifs.

From July 2-5 Mamechiyo Modern will be running a special exhibition at Marui One of traditional wear made by students of Oda Kimono School in collaboration with the Mamechiyo brand. The idea is for the students to re-imagine classic designs for the modern market. Visitors will be able to buy some of the creations they come up with, so if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth popping by.

The idea of reinventing the kimono is nothing new, out on the street, creative young Japanese have been doing their own thing for awhile by spicing up old kimono with inventive accessorizing. TokyoFashion.com has got a great snap of a cute couple rocking the traditional look Grimoire’s recent Dolly-Kei party.

Now high street stores are also getting in on the action: Comme Ca Store is selling sweet polka dot yukata and UniQlo have gone one better with this playful tie-dye style dot print yukata. With so many interesting new designs coming out, it’s certain that this summer’s festivals are going to be livened up with some fun and funky re-workings of traditional dress.

Who will feed the Haruki Murakami fans online?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Shinchosha's Web site for "1Q84" is mostly a marketing gimmick but also has a map marked with important locations from the novel.

Shinchosha’s Web site for “1Q84″ is mostly a marketing gimmick but also has a map marked with important locations from the novel.

Haruki Murakami has been an early adopter of technology for quite a while. In “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words,” Jay Rubin describes how in 1987, after struggling with written copies of “Norwegian Wood,” Murakami made the switch to a word processor. In 1990, while writing at Princeton as a Visiting Scholar, he upgraded to a computer. Even his Web presence was forward thinking: From 1996 to 1999 he wrote a Web site for Asahi Shimbun, the core of which was correspondence with readers. His responses to reader questions have been anthologized in several volumes. So it comes as a surprise then that in recent years Murakami’s Internet presence has been largely corporate, disappointing and at times even ignored.

While the Asahi Web site is now offline, publishing house Shinchosha created a new website for Murakami’s most recent novel, “1Q84,” this past March. The site is, for the most part, a marketing scheme. It includes “blog parts” (an embeddable jpg animation to advertise the novel on websites), a list of Murakami’s previous works (conveniently only those published by Shinchosha) and a blog, which is run by Shinchosha employees. The blog began in March and counted down until the release of the third volume of “1Q84″ in April, along the way highlighting the variations in printed advertisements for “1Q84″ as well as the release of new paperback versions of Murakami’s older novels.

The site does offer two points of interaction for readers. The first is a Google map marked with locations from the novel, allowing readers to follow along with the adventures of Aomame and Tengo, the book’s main protagonists. The second, and more notable, is a collection of “1Q84″-themed illustrations provided by readers and fans and released every month. Each of the illustrations is the reader’s version of the letter Q and they range from weird to cute, much like the content of Murakami’s fiction.

While the Japanese site is surprisingly corporate, it does have its points of interest. The English site, too, started with a bang but is starting to show its cobwebs. Random House created the site in 2005 and included links to reviews and resources as well as a screensaver for download. The most interesting resource may have been a roundtable between Murakami translators Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, but even that had previously been available on the Random House Web site. The blog-like News section showed promise at first, posting links to forum discussions, information about release dates and other Murakami-related news. Sadly, the section has been ignored for the past few years: There have been no updates since July 2008, and the only updates in 2008 (all two of them) were notifications about the publication of Murakami’s running memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Murakami's English Web site has gone by the wayside: It hasn't been updated for nearly two years.

Murakami’s English Web site has gone by the wayside: It hasn’t been updated for nearly two years.

The most surprising Web-based gaff, however, is the lack of an official Twitter presence. The new medium of social interaction is still relatively young, so we can probably excuse the 61-year-old author for not being aware of how he is being represented there, but it’s almost inexcusable that his publishers have allowed Twitterers to host @haruki_murakami (English) and @Murakami_Haruki (Japanese). (The latter has over 60,000 followers!) Both are unverified and post quotes from his works and other witticisms that fit Murakami’s personality. One example from the Japanese account is “yare yare,” a phrase that many of the author’s narrators use as a sigh of resigned acceptance; clearly these must be accounts run by fans of the author who are having a laugh. The English account has only posted a dozen or so tweets, but the Japanese account updates in spurts once a week.

This is especially surprising given the fact that there are clearly people keeping an eye on Murakami’s Web representation. In February 2010, Will, author of the blog Wednesday Afternoon Picnic, was posting his own translations from a collection of short stories titled “Yoru no kumozaru” (“Night of the Spider Monkey”). He was contacted by representatives of Murakami and asked to remove the translations as they were unauthorized and “amount to copyright infringement.” While it’s understandable that Murakami would seek to protect his representation in English, it’s also ironic given that Dimitry Kovalenin released his Russian translation of “A Wild Sheep Chase” online in 1996 before he was able to have it published in 1998.

This Murakami Web paradox shows that in the last decade Murakami may have withdrawn even further from the rest of the world. He had long been known as reclusive, especially after 1987 when “Norwegian Wood” thrust him into the pop cultural spotlight, but the real shame is that editors and publishers around him have not provided Web-savvy advice about how to create an effective Internet identity.

Japan by the numbers (06.28.10)

Monday, June 28th, 2010

New drinks crackle and fizz with invention

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Super carbonated and super caffeinated Pepsi Strong Shot

Super carbonated and super caffeinated Pepsi Strong Shot

Summer’s here and silly season has officially been declared on cold drinks, with the industry releasing the latest in novelty products to a market thirsty for outlandish new inventions. While jelly drinks are still riding high, Japan’s food scientists have been busy dreaming up new gimmicks in order to conquer the competition. Here’s our pick of the bunch:

Haro Haro Pocho Pochi Cola from Mini Stop

Haro Haro Pocho Pochi Cola from Mini Stop

  • Energy Shaker from Meiji is a twist on the standard jelly drink: the wobbly stuff is actually good for you, containing minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Like a typical jelly drink, you have to shake it around before drinking to break up the jelly into easily digestible pieces. The drink is also high in caffeine and is designed as a pick-me-up for worn out businessmen or budding athletes, though we’re betting it’s more popular with the former demographic.
  • Caffeine junkies can also get their kicks from imbibing Pepsi Strong Shot, a new product that does what it says on the can. Not only does it have extra caffeine but it’s also more carbonated than your average Pepsi. The warning on top of the can instructs you to refrain from drinking it immediately; apparently if you don’t wait 15 seconds the sheer fizziness of the beverage will overwhelm you, though what it actually does is just make you burp a awful lot. You also have to be careful where you open it so you don’t, ahem, froth over other people.
  • While Energy Shaker and Strong Shot are strong contenders for the crown of most outrageous concoction, Mini Stop’s Haro Haro Pochi Pochi Cola is the flamboyant queen of the new beverage releases. Pochi Pochi is an onomatopoeic word to denote the popping sensation you feel in your mouth when you imbibe the tiny candy pieces contained within this drink, but the excitement doesn’t stop there. On top of the cola is a layer of jelly and on top of that a swirl of ice cream. It costs ¥268 and is 238 calories, more than twice the calories contained in a Energy Shaker. Bring it on!

Pulsations (06.23.10)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Pulsations? Glad you asked. They’re links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are …

For when raindrops keep falling on our heads

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Raindrops keep falling on my head...

A rainy day Inokashira park

Rainy season officially hit Tokyo last week, turning the bright, modern, clean city into a fetid stew of steaming heat. This year has seen temperatures soar above 30 degrees and humidity levels of over 80 percent, making for a decidedly muggy atmosphere. As we do battle with mold, bad hair and body odor, Japan Pulse takes a look at some ingenious products that can help us get through tsuyu (rainy season).

First up is the Eco Spray, which was released on the market this month. When you start to feel the heat, simply squirt yourself with this “magical” spray to cool down. It’s eco friendly because you can simply refill it with water… Er, so what makes this different from a spray you can buy in the 100 yen store? Well, the magical part is that the water is always kept cool. While this spray might provide quick relief, in the long run, it’s only going to add to your personal pong, as anyone who’s been stuck on the Yamanote line recently will attest: Damp sweaty clothes give off a rather unpleasant stench. This is where aroma sprays come in handy. Designed to mask sweaty stench, you can quite literally come up smelling of roses.

How about not getting wet in the first place? While raincoats are a popular option, even for dogs, they can get hot and sticky inside. Fashionable rain ponchos are a more breathable option and we’re loving these rain stoles from Corazon that come printed in super-cute designs.

Not Converses but Cream Puff War rain boots

Not Converses but Cream Puff War rain boots

The humble umbrella is still a firm favorite during the rainy season and a few twists on the conventional design have come out on the market recently. We like the Samurai umbrella, whose handle resembles the hilt of a noble warrior’s sword and the asymmetric design (made for withstanding high winds) of Senz umbrellas from the Netherlands. The Senz brollies are even available to rent for free at Shibuya Parco from this month as part of the Shibukasa campaign. Aimed at decreasing the amount of brollies that get needlessly discarded every year, Shibukasa is a project allowing customers at Shibuya stores to borrow umbrellas for free when there’s a sudden downpour. When you return an umbrella at a participating store you get a ¥50 discount voucher for your honesty. Nice.

Stylish and pricey rainwear abounds, but we really dig the rain boots from Cream Puff Wars, which are a far cry from dorky galoshes. They come in purple, green, polka-dots and your basic black. And you can’t beat the price: ¥2,900.

If you’re still suffering and want to escape the soupy air of Tokyo, try heading north to the cooler climate in Hokkaido. From the start of July JR Hokkaido are offering a seven-day rail pass for only ¥10,000. Hokkaido is the only area of Japan that escapes the rainy season altogether making it my favorite antidote to tsuyu.

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