Archive for July, 2010

PR News wants you to tweet the news

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Let us boost your retweets!

Let us boost your retweets!

Twitter’s march through Japan’s business landscape continues as PR News launches Social Release, a service that uses Twitter streams and Facebook pages to distribute press releases.

While companies pay to have their press releases pushed out onto the service, Twitter users spread the word for free by signing up for a separate service called Social Post. By doing so, these users allow PR News to distribute press release links via their Twitter streams. Users can choose the genres they’ll shill for and the ratio of their tweets that they will allow to be PR. The default setting is to send out ads for all topics, frequently.  The tweets come up with “[Social Post]” tagged at the beginning or end, lest followers wonder why you’ve suddenly started speaking PR-ese and spouting random links.

The service is included in the price of putting out a conventional release on PR News, or, as a separate package,  starts at ¥38,000 for a single blast. Monthly rates are around ¥70,000.

PR News says that more than 65,000 Twitter and Facebook users have already signed up to be part of Social Post. This must sound attractive to companies needing exposure, but initial reaction is mixed. One user who experimented with it complained that the system was “uzai” (annoying); another said he wanted to disconnect his account from it, though at least a few more PR blurbs went out after his WTF tweet.

The potential benefits on the company side, however, are clear: Their messages will be coming out in semi-natural sound bytes, from the virtual mouths of thousands of users at once. It will be interesting to see who is willing to give a portion of their content over to spontaneously posted, luck-of-the-draw links, though we can see this as perhaps appealing to understaffed corporate Twitter accounts or niche news accounts as a way to bulk up their chatter. PR News says it’s aiming to have 1 million accounts spreading the word by March of 2011.

It strikes us as a bit like giving people a pile of flyers and asking them to hand them out to their friends, again and again. For free. To sweeten the so-called deal, for a limited time, PR News is offering registered social posters the chance to win a book voucher worth ¥500. Would this be enough for you to carry a sandwich board? If so, you’ve got until July 26 to sign up.

Wish upon a lucky star: ema cartoon craze

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

These ema at Chichibu shrine are the work of Sugar and Salt, a blogger who is doing a pilgrimage of Japan's shrines

These ema at Chichibu Shrine are the work of Sugar and Salt, a blogger who is doing a pilgrimage of Japan’s shrines

On a recent visit to Chichibu Shrine, I was surprised to find a few ema (wooden prayer plaques) decorated with colorful anime characters. While it’s common for ema to be decorated with pictures of animals significant to the Shinto religion (most typically horses), anime ema are a little out of the ordinary, so I decided to do some digging.

The ema pictured above are the work of blogger Sugar and Salt, who has been doing a pilgrimage of the country’s shrines since November 2009 with the aim of putting up 108 anime-themed ema. But Sugar and Salt is not alone in his/her quest. Just last week on July 7, armies of otaku converged at an unremarkable shrine in Washinomiya, Saitama, to put up “Lucky Star” ema which were for sale, one day only, at Washinomiya Station. The shrine was a setting for the popular anime and since 2007 on the occasion of the “Lucky Star” twins’ birthday votive plaques have been a big tourist draw. Sugar and Salt was reportedly there him/herself to pick up one of the limited-edition plaques.

Another attraction for anime fans is Kitano-Tenmangu in Kyoto, which was visited by the girl-band cartoon sensation K-On! during an episode depicting a school trip. It’s typical for ema to be inscribed with personal wishes and most of the K-On! plaques are drawn by budding musicians who are hoping to improve their skills on the guitar.

Anime-style illustrations have also been proliferating in gokoku jinja (shrines to commemorate war dead) due to a surge in interest in the Sengoku Period. The period of civil unrest lasting from 1560 to 1619 has been the subject of many popular TV series recently. Particularly popular with women, who are getting a little cheesed off with those wussy herbivore men, many ladies are visiting shrines like Migagi’s Gokoku Jinja and putting up ema that contain comic book-style illustrations of the heroes of the day. Sankei JP report that there were mixed reactions to the ema from older visitors to the shrines, some of whom thought the plaques were a little disrespectful to the war dead.

In Tokyo’s Rihouji Shrine (another gokoku shrine), there are many painted ema of Benten sama (the goddess of art and wisdom) in a cartoon style. The young men who put these ema up usually write a little prayer alongside the illustrations asking for success in work. A Buddhist priest at the site noted that the quality and number of the ema has risen as visitors try to outdo each other.

Sales of ema and o-mamori (good luck charms) are an important source of income for shrines, so we’re wondering if, for example, like o-mamori that have characters like Hello Kitty printed on them, shrines will keep up with the times by beginning to sell ema with anime characters already printed on them.

Shopping site lets you ask nicely

Monday, July 12th, 2010

buy me somethingFrom cooking sites to hotel plans just for women, Japanese companies are looking for ways to take advantage of women’s purchasing power.  But a new mobile site Oneda.li is skipping the purse strings altogether and going for the power of the “please.” The online mall is designed to make it easy for a woman to entreat a “lover or close friend” to buy her what she wants. “Onedari” means to wheedle or plead for something. The site seems to be a typical online shopping market, with cosmetics, wallets, golf gear and even body jewelry. Instead of a “buy” button, though, it has an “onedari” function that sends an email request to the lucky guy, telling him what the girl wants. If he agrees to buy it, he clicks through and next thing you know, the delivery guy is ringing her doorbell.

So much out there to buy – hard time keeping track of it all? Check out Shopping Pink, which some of you guys will be disappointed to find out is quite literal – it’s a shopping list, and it’s – get this – pink. Cute fonts, lacy edges, glittery backgrounds. It lets you make shopping lists and cross stuff off as you go. In pink. It pretty much does what the name suggests, and, as several semi-satisfied customers have commented, nothing more. You were expecting . . . what?

Still not sure what to pester the love of your life for? “Handbag inspiration” is as close as Mirror, Mirror Handbag. “It’s just like downloading a handbag encyclopedia and shopping guide,” including a pronunciation guide spoken by “native speakers,” to your Apple mobile device, the copy says. It’s a guide, not a shopping tool, so it only has approximate price ranges. But, then, why would you want to worry your pretty little head about that?

Speaking of wheedling, why not follow Pulse on Twitter, and give our Facebook page a thumbs up? Pleeeeeease?

KFC goes for finger-lickin’ health-conscious goodness

Friday, July 9th, 2010

KFC is set to debut a new health-conscious menu featuring Oven Roast chicken and an array of sandwiches at it's Shibuya-dori location.

KFC is set to debut a new health-conscious menu featuring Oven Roasted chicken and an array of sandwiches at its Shibuya-dori location.

Earlier this year McDonalds rebranded 13 of its stores in Tokyo locations, such as Shibuya and Roppongi, giving the inside and outside appearance of the stores a facelift, perhaps to better match their swankier Japanese surroundings. More recently, Nikkei Trendy is reporting that Kentucky Fried Chicken is undergoing a more drastic rebranding of its own, pitting the Colonel and his Christmas chicken giant against Ronald McDonald’s fast food empire.

The first KFC restaurant debuted in Japan in November 1970 in Nagoya and quickly gained popularity, riding a boom in Western culture that can be partially attributed to the Expo ’70, the World’s Fair held in Osaka. Since then KFC in Japan has become strongly connected with Christmas, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign that was inspired by a group of foreigners who, unable to find turkey, decided to celebrate Christmas dinner with fried chicken.

KFC in Japan has long been forced to innovate to survive the cut-throat fast-food industry. With this new marketing campaign, however, KFC clearly wants wants to tap into the health-conscious market of women and young people. The centerpiece of their experimental “next generation” menu, available only at the Shibuya location, is Oven Roasted ChickenAdvertising material eschews french fries, giving the option instead of salad and tea. Included is a marinade sauce heavy on bell peppers. In addition to a variety of salads, the menu also includes a Brazer (ブレイザー) chicken fillet sandwich, a broccoli chicken roll and an avocado shrimp sandwich. This move to healthier fare is ironic given that the U.S. KFC is currently hawking the Double Down, a sandwich that replaces bread with two cuts of fried chicken.

KFC might be best served imitating Subway rather than McDonalds: The sandwich maker has been successful with vegetable-centric advertising.

KFC might be best served imitating Subway rather than McDonalds: The sandwich maker has been successful with vegetable-centric advertising.

Nikkei Trendy seems impressed with the new items and equally so with the décor, which is sleek and chic, not unlike the McDonalds changes. While the main opponent of KFC may be McDonald’s, the company might be best advised to look closely at the marketing campaigns of Subway. The sandwich maker has firmly established the fact that in Japan, Subway is about vegetables. The company name is always given as “Subway (of vegetables)” (野菜のSubway), and their slogan is “Put vegetables into every day” (毎日に野菜をはさもう). It is unlikely, however, that KFC’s changes will be able to match Subway’s commitment to freshness: On July 6, the company opened a new location called the Yasai Lab Marunouchi Building in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo. The “Lab” will feature organic vegetables grown hyrdoponically on-site. Fresh veggies from the in-store gardens will be available starting in October.

The Shibuya-dori KFC location will debut the new menu on Friday, July 9.

Toilet humor to celebrate 30th anniversary of Toto’s washlet

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

“Constipation is reading two comic books cover to cover.”

This summer children up and down Japan will be trying to master the art of crafting similarly scatological phrasing as Toto’s 6th Toilet Senryu (poem) Competition gets underway. Winners of the competition not only receive a high tech toilet seat, they also get their poetry printed on limited edition bog roll thus reaching a wide audience of captive readers.

The quote above was one of last year’s winners and exemplifies the noble art of the senryu. Senryu, with its traditional 7, 5, 7 meter is similar in structure to haiku, but lighter in style than its more serious cousin, often containing bawdy humor rather than deep observations on nature. The meter rules of Japanese poems are a little different from Western ones: The ‘on’ units don’t equate exactly to a syllable. For example, this is how the poem quoted earlier breaks up into units:

be.n.pi.de.su (constipation is), 5 on

ma.n.ga.ga.ni.sa.tsu (two manga), 7 on

yo.mi.o.wa.ru (finish reading), 5 on”

Word play in senryu is also common. Take this winning entry from a previous year, which has fun with different meanings of the word kami (紙, paper or 神, god): “I just made it/Buddha is here/but kami is not.”

This year’s competition is very special for Toto as they mark the 30th anniversary of their hugely popular washlet. Visitors to their online gallery can see how far the washlet has come over the years by sliding the cursor over the timeline. These days, toilets in Japan have moved beyond heated seats and bidet sprays to offer a dazzling array of functions, such as automatic sensors that lift the seat as you enter a room and music to mask the sound of those embarrassing toilet-time noises.

The next generation of Toto’s washlets will even be able to talk to you. If you’re interested in experiencing the latest in washlet technology, you can actually operate a prototype of the Neo Test Type-02 toilet, which is installed in the Museum of Science and industry in Chiba, remotely from your computer and see the results over a live feed. The Type-02 can tell your “fartune,” read you the news, weather or stock reports and flatter you if you press the “brown nose button.” For more talking toilets, see  Toto’s website and listen as the toilet reads out last year’s winning entries.

Pulsations (07.07.10)

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

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.

The resiliency of the DPJ will be tested in the upcoming Upper House election and Japan’s blogging wonks and stat-spotters are all over it. Here’s a sampler of their observations and predictions:


Joshikai jamboree: Girls check in for a night out

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

No boys allowed. Hotel slumber parties for women only.

No boys allowed. Hotel slumber parties for women only.

Recently hotels across Japan have started offering special packages and huge discounts for weekday guests.

Having visions of a romantic getaway? That’s not exactly what the hoteliers have in mind. These deals are strictly for joshikai, women’s get-togethers. Credit for this trend should go to the second coming of those New York City ladies who brunch (“Sex and the City 2″ made almost ¥1.3 billion in Japan in less than a month) and marketing aimed at encouraging single women in their late twenties and thirties spend their disposable income. According to Yahoo Value Insight, there’s been a significant jump in the number of restaurants,  spas and hotels offering women-only services this year.

Some hotel packages have special themes. All the slots for the “Sex and the City” package at the Royal Park Shiodome Tower sold out. Rooms on this plan come with clothes inspired by the movie for playing dress up and taking pictures. The Sweets Stay at a triple room in the Akasaka Excel Hotel includes room-service delivery of a whole cake with seasonal fruits.

During office-party season in March and April, the Shinagawa Prince Hotel had a mid-week package for about half the regular price per person based on the selling point that it’s near the train station. “You work hard, why not enjoy a little luxury and then roll right into work the next day?” the campaign suggested.

The Royal Park Hotel in Nihonbashi has a Summer Skin Care package. A stay comes with a gift pouch of skin treatments including bath salts, and the room has three special este treatment machines from Panasonic’s NanoCare line: the Night Steamer, Ion Steamer and, er, a hair dryer. They also have a “woman traveler desk” set up in the lobby.

Tokyo Disney Resort has a package for mothers and adult daughters, with a choice of several nearby hotels and entrance to the park.

The Westin in Ebisu now has a Ladies’ Executive Plan that comprises a dinner, including the hotel’s own branded beef from molasses-fed cattle; use of the executive club lounge; and a luxe room with touches, like a marble vanity, meant to appeal to women.

At the cheaper end of the spectrum, Super Hotel City Kumamoto, way down in Kyushu, will guarantee two rooms next door to each other so groups can hang out and enjoy the on-site natural hotspring all together. They don’t mention too many fancy amenities, but prices start at under ¥2,500 per person per night.

Nozomi Hattori, a 37-year-old librarian living in Tokyo, spent a night at the Westin in Ebisu with two girlfriends. They got individual spa treatments at the hotel’s Le Spa Parisien, then ordered room service and watched DVD’s. “It wasn’t too expensive, but it was luxurious,” she says. “I felt like a celebrity.”

Good news and bad news for manga lovers

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Magajin allows manga fans from around the world to collaborate

Magajin allows manga fans from around the world to collaborate

Last month, there was both good and bad news for manga fans. Just as a new site aimed at fostering crosscultural connections between manga fans launched, Japan’s Digital Comic Association declared war on foreign sites that offer downloads of unlicensed translations of manga, commonly called scanlations.

In the past, scanlation sites acted as gateways into the otherwise inaccessible universe of Japanese comic book culture. These days, with Japanese publishers, which include big names such as Kodansha and Shogakukan, putting out more translated versions, the scanlators are viewed as drains on potential revenue.

So far, the Digital Comic Association hasn’t pursued any legal action, but if they do, sites such as MangaFox and OneManga, who offer pirated translations, are likely to be among the first to be targeted by the association. Though publishers are well within their rights to crack down on these unauthorized versions, consider this: Fan translators are, by default, serious otaku and thereby more likely to explain Japanese customs in footnotes rather than adapt their versions to suit foreign audiences. Will manga lovers accustomed to learning about Japan straight from the source be willing to switch to a localized product?

Meanwhile, Magajin, an international website for manga enthusiasts, recently opened its doors to the world. The site, which has a multilingual interface and allows budding manga artists to collaborate across national borders, actually encourages scanlation of work uploaded to its site as a means for new artists to reach a wider audience. “At Magajin,” reads the site’s press release, “scanlators are not an enemy of manga artists, but rather they can help out the community, and truly contribute to yet to come great works in Japan.”

Founded by manga enthusiast Akiko Naka, the site allows users to help each other out with translations as well as being a kind of interactive gallery in which users can comment on each other’s work.

It’s yet to be seen whether Japan’s manga publishers will be able to successfully wipe out scanlation copyright infringement. For the time being, at least Magajin will be a welcome outlet for frustrated fans; publishers looking for new talent would also be wise to keep their eyes on this new testing ground.

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