Archive for June, 2010

Divorcing couples seek solace in ring-smashing ceremonies

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Hammer time for a divorcing couple.

Hammer time for a divorcing couple.

When Hiroki Terai was a child he once asked his parents why there was no such thing as a divorce ceremony and they laughed at him. Now, as Japan’s first professional “charisma divorce planner,” he watches with satisfaction as soon-to-be-former couples join hands on a mallet and smash rings, beginning new, separate lives.

Last March, a friend of Terai’s from college, on the verge of his own divorce, echoed that life-long question. “Japanese culture celebrates both beginnings and endings,” he said. “Why is only the beginning of a marriage marked?” A month later, Terai held his first divorce ceremony for that friend at a restaurant in Shinjuku. Word got out, and it struck a chord. Requests started coming in. After performing a few more on his own, he teamed up with day-trip specialists Friendly Travel to run the ceremonies as a half-day package tour for ¥3,000 per person.

Just get us to the Divorce Mansion on time.

Just get us to the Divorce Mansion on time.

The parting couple meets near Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and rides in separate rickshaws with friends and relatives following on foot to a “Divorce Mansion,” a doppelganger of Japan’s ubiquitous wedding halls. There, they stand before their guests and listen as Terai recounts the circumstances leading up to the decision to separate (they’ve briefed him in individual meetings beforehand). He says that although one side, usually the wife, will often demand a blunt statement about exactly what went wrong, he opts for tact. “I won’t just come out and say ‘he cheated,’” Terai says. “I’ll say something indirect that gets the message across. And I always add that ‘there are surely circumstances known only to the two people involved.’”

The guests of honor each make speeches, and then, as at a Japanese wedding party, one person is chosen to speak on behalf of the assembled friends, preferably someone who has been divorced. This speech almost always starts with “Rikon omedeto gozaimasu” (congratulations on your divorce). The friend emphasizes that divorce is another kind of beginning, and that friends will continue to be there. Up until this point, there’s “a strange sort of vibe,” Terai says. “People don’t know how to respond, whether they should clap or stay quiet.”

Then comes the key moment: the smashing of the rings. “I based it on the image of the cake cutting.” In their “final joint act,” the two each put one hand on a mallet. In a light-hearted stroke of symbolism, the mallet has a frog on it to represent the couple “changing” into singles. (The words for “frog” and “change” are homonyms in Japanese.) After the smashing of the rings, Terai says the mood changes as well. The audience applauds spontaneously, and looks of relief and happiness come over the couple.

Staying with the kaeru theme, the Divorce Mansion’s mascot is a friendly looking pink frog statue Terai had made to order. The battered rings are dropped into the frog’s mouth and left there. Although the statue seems to be giving the peace sign, it’s actually flashing a warning of sorts: Terai said the gesture reflects the fact that, with the most recent stats at 250,000 divorces a year, “two out of six couples in Japan get divorced.”
Continue reading about divorce ceremonies in Japan →

Virtual versions map out real benefits of Tokyo localities

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The beta virtual version of Asagaya went live last week

The beta virtual version of Asagaya went live last week

Virtual versions of Asagaya and Ogikubo in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward went on line last week as local information service Lococom launched beta versions of its newest project, Jimotonow. An extension of the service Lococom already provides, visitors can view tweets from local shops, get coupons for local stores and read shop blogs. Whereas in Locomo you chose the particular area and service you are searching for from drop down menu’s, Jimotonow gives the user more of a feeling of browsing the bohemian streets of these towns and is great way for people who live in the area or are planning to visit, to uncover an interesting little shop or find out about a local festival. The addition of tweets also means that the personalities of local shopkeepers come through.

Waribikiken (discount coupons) are very popular in Japan, and Jimotonow will be going up against already popular websites like Coupon Land and FooMoo. Tokyo-based FooMoo (also known as Hot Pepper) is usually the destination of choice for people looking to dine out; dedicated to restaurants, the site and sister print magazine offers a mind-boggling array of area-specific offers. Similarly, Coupon Land also has a magazine as well as a website and offers not only coupons on dining but also services aimed at women, such as beauty treatments, cosmetic surgery and evening classes.

Jimotonow definitely has the edge of FooMoo and Coupon Land in terms of the range of services on offer. We also like the fact that it has a friendly feel, offering a local flavor that its rivals lack. Many bargain hunters in Japan, however, still favor the old school system of clipping out coupons from a physical magazine and this is where FooMoo and Coupon Land stay ahead of the game by giving out free site-specific magazines at train stations.

Of course many towns already have their own physical guides to the area. In Koenji, for example, the local shopkeepers association distribute a small pamphlet that provides local news and discounts. However, it might make more sense in the future both for the environment and in terms of cost-cutting for local businesses to get on board with websites like Jimotonow.

Online shopping sites for women on the go

Friday, June 4th, 2010

KDDI join the rapidly growing cell phone store business

KDDI join the rapidly growing cell-phone store business

Recent years have seen a big boom in cell-phone shopping sites that cater to time-poor women by allowing them to purchase fashionable items while on the go. If you’re a woman with a full-time job in Japan, chances are, you don’t have much time to go shopping and once you get home, you’re often too tired to browse the web, so shopping with your cell phone really makes sense.

Just last month KDDI partnered up with Okinawa Cellular to launch a new site called AU One La Select aimed at women in their 30s and 40s. The site sells kitchen items, cosmetics, bags and cooking utensils, among other things. Customers can buy items either from their cell phones or via their PCs and payment methods are flexible: you can pay either with credit card, cash on delivery or at a convenience store.

AU One La Select joins a growing number of online sites that have sister cell-phone sites. One of  the most popular is fashionwalker.com,which offers a massive range of fashionable items albeit aimed at users younger than Select. Other popular sites include Select Square and Siamese, the latter of which offers an interesting range of imported brands such as TopShop and Primark. Zozoresort is a fun store that sells upscale brands such as Beams and is probably a hit with fashion-hungry girls who live outside the metropolis.

My personal favorite is the shopping site of free magazine Eruca. Commuters pick up the magazine in the morning and can browse the fashions during the day then perhaps buy themselves a little treat after they get home. Eruca has a street-style section and contains discount coupons for bargain hunters.

They aren’t the only magazine with an online store. Elle has an online store with a mobile sister site and earlier this year we mentioned Mobile Closet, which is a cell-phone only magazine that offers popular teen fashions.

As yet, Softbank and DoCoMo do not have any shopping sites of their own but no doubt if AU One La Select does well, executives at these companies might also decide to jump aboard the cell-phone shopping bandwagon.

Japan by the numbers (06.04.10)

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Sony steps up its e-publishing game

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Coming to a briefcase near you?

Coming to a briefcase near you?

Just before the iPad hit the stores in Japan, Sony announced plans to once again enter the fray of e-publishing. The firm was burned back in 2007 when it was forced to withdraw their e-reader from the Japanese market due to poor sales. But this time, Sony is coming to the fight armed with a content deal that might just put a dent in iPad and Kindle sales. Sony is teaming up with Toppan PrintingKDDI and the Asahi Shimbun to form an e-book content distribution service that will offer readers a range of comics, magazines, newspapers and books. The content will be available to use in conjunction with the company’s new e-reader that is due to be released to the public before the end of the year.

Up till now, publishers have been a little leery of entering the e-book market, but there seems to be a growing acceptance in the industry of the inevitability of the growth of the sector. According to J-Cast, on May 21 a book written by editor and web designer Tashiro Makoto was published on the subject of the future of the e-book publishing. Makoto who has proved himself to be ahead of the curve in this field – he set up an electronic publishing company called Agora Books in March this year – believes that e-publishing doesn’t necessarily spell doom for publishers, agents and books stores but believes that the iPad will have a profound effect on the publishing industry.

It goes without saying that publishers will have to adapt to survive, but it’s not yet clear just how much content will cost and how many titles will be available on Sony’s device which is due to be released in Japan before the end of 2010.

Another fuzzy issue is just what kind of specs Sony’s e-reader will have; whether it’ll resemble the Sony readers already available overseas or be an entirely new product. Poor screen resolution, as well as glare when reading outdoors, also contributed to downfall of Sony’s last attempt at conquering the e-reader market in Japan. In order to stand any chance of success the company will have to address these issues as well. But for now, they seemed to have scored big with their content deal, whether rival publishers like Agora who offer content for the iPad mount a serious threat to them is yet to be seen.

Mixi helps users socialize with new apps

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

pants

“Underwear Calendar” is one of many new Mixi apps. It lets users design their own underpants and keep a log of what they wear.

The development of social networking sites over the past decade has been one of evolution. Sites have boomed and busted, battling for number of users by adding features and functions or marketing to different audiences. Despite recent outrage about privacy settings, the clear winner has been Facebook, with over 400 million users, and the success of outside applications on the platform has pushed Mixi, a Japanese social networking site, to create its own set of applications.

Mixi is an invitation-only networking site where users can create profiles. While Facebook and other sites like LinkedIn rely on users creating a more or less accurate online representation of themselves, Mixi users often obscure their identity and avoid posting pictures of themselves. They then participate in Communities and Groups, having discussions about interests (such as fashion trends like “Forest Girls” and “Witch Girls,” as discussed previously) and interacting with friends.

In May 2009, web journal Neojaponisme suggested that the anonymity reflects a uniquely Japanese fear of the Internet (a fear that may have become more understandable to Americans in the past few months), but the recent boom in Facebook-like applications suggests that Japanese users were just using the site for different reasons, most of which didn’t (and still don’t) require complete transparency.

Altogether, applications are divided into five major categories – Entertainment, Communication, Studying, Useful Tools and Classmates. While some of the most popular applications are Farmville clones, like the game Sunshain bokujo (Sunshine Farm), other applications are providing basic feature extentions. Mixi Calendar debuted on May 11 and in three days topped over 1 million users. Although not as robust as the Facebook Event feature, the calendar application lets you create simple event notifications for friends or for everyone. It also takes comments from others. Applications in the final category, such as Dosokai (Class Reunion) and Dokyusei keijiban (Classmate Bulletin Board), allow users to track down classmates on the service.

“Useful Tools” include many apps that are probably familiar to Facebook users. These include Social Library, an app that lets you manage a digital bookshelf and keep track your friends’ reading lists; My Mixi Youtube, an application to share YouTube clips; and Tsunagari mappu (Connection Map), which draws a graphical representation of your friends.

While not an application, Mixi also recently incorporated Twitter-like status updates into its basic template, even taking the same translation of “tweet” as the official version – tsubuyaku, or “to whisper” in Japanese.

And this wouldn’t be a proper blog post about a Japanese trend if we didn’t somehow incorporate underwear, right? Well, Pantsu karenda (Underwear Calendar) offers female users the ability to create digital versions of their underwear and then note the days on which they wear them. The ultimate goal? Become an “underpants princess” and charm the men who “in actuality pay attention to underwear quite closely, strange though it may be.”

Naturally, there is a commercial tie-in. Image, one of the companies that created the app, runs a mail order catalog that sells – surprise, surprise – women’s clothes, and at the bottom of the application there are links to “recommended items” from the catalog. Unfortunately for panty fetishists, all of the underwear on the site appears to be brand new.

Japanese Twitter marketing campaigns make some noise

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Twitter’s little blue bird has landed in Japan and looks like it might stick around to build a nest: The microblogging site had almost 10 million views in April from Japan. Ninety-five percent of people polled in a recent survey said they knew about Twitter. Granted, goo Research and japan.internet.com surveyed 1,077 people who were already online, so we’d expect higher recognition than if they polled people on the street. But still, a huge increase from 12% in a similar survey taken at the same time last year. The tweet designated as the 15 billionth this past weekend was in Japanese. For the final nudge, Twitter will come pre-installed on 13 of SoftBank’s new phones this summer, and a free Twitter app for NTT DoCoMo’s keitai has just been announced.

From a marketer’s point of view, that’s a lot of potential consumers. How to grab their attention and keep it? The first wave of Japanese corporate Twitter accounts to play with the medium mostly chatted a bit aimlessly and offered Twitter-only discounts. Many of the accounts replied automatically to messages about the company’s product or shop that were posted in the common format “I’m at FamilyMart/eating udon/drinking coffee now.”

Continue reading about creative Twitter campaigns in Japan →

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