Archive for August, 2010

Wedding plans get expecting couples to the church on time

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Pretty Chapel's tag line reads: "For couples who don't have time or money but want a fabulous wedding."

Pretty Chapel’s tag line reads: “For couples who don’t have time or money but want a fabulous wedding.”

Quickie wedding specialists Sugukon Navi have just overhauled their site and taken the bold move of creating a section specifically aimed at pregnant brides called Sugukon Maternity. According to PR Times, the company decided that as many clients buying speedy discount wedding packages had a baby on the way, they might as well be upfront about it on the website.

The Sugukon Maternity Plan is an all-inclusive package for the shotgun wedding of your dreams. The total cost of the wedding comes to around ¥1,850,000 (about $21,600) for 60 guests and includes catering, flowers, rent for venue and wardrobe, and more. While this may seem steep, Ateam, the company behind Sugukon, say sthat it’s heavily discounted and that the couple choosing this plan will save as much as ¥800,000 (around $9,300).

Brides can rent a maternity wedding dress from a range of over 20 styles and if the reception venue is near, they can keep the dress on after the ceremony. All the venues have been selected for their liberal attitude to brides with a visible bump, meaning the couple won’t be bothered by disapproving looks from the staff.  Sugukon assures customers that there is a wide range of swanky venues (“famous hotels and popular restaurants”) to choose from.

If the price tag for the Maternity Plan is a bit high, you can opt for the cheaper ¥1,460,813 (about $17,000) Sazukari Plan. Sazukari is a polite way to say there’s a baby on the way, so the plan provides for couples who’ve got a certain sense of urgency. A wedding can be put together with only a month’s notice, making sure you get to the church on time before you hit the maternity ward. Better still, you can defer payment till after the wedding. It’s traditional in Japan for guests to pay to attend the wedding, so this means that the expecting couple won’t have to pay out of their own pockets beforehand.

Sugukon Navi is not the only company offering such a service: Pretty Chapel and Sweet W also do all-inclusive maternity plans, indicating that attitudes toward pregnant brides are changing considerably.

Japan by the numbers (08.16.10)

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Pulsations (08.13.10)

Friday, August 13th, 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 . . .

Summer’s ‘hottest’ ice treats

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Stocks of Gari Gari Kun were running dangerously low during July's heat wave

Stocks of Garigari-kun were running dangerously low during July’s heat wave

It’s official: This summer is a scorcher. According to Japan’s meteorological agency, July was 1.42 degrees hotter than the seasonal average. It was so hot in fact that Akagi, makers of Garigari-kun (Mr. Crunchy), one of Japan’s favorite summer time treats, officially apologized to the country on Aug. 3 for the recent shortage of their popular range of frozen desserts, which had apparently been flying out of the stores. When the the news of this popsicle stampede reached us, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at what’s popular and new on Japan’s frozen treat scene.

Collect cow points for prizes.

Collect cow points for prizes.

According to the Nikkei’s POS information service, the No. 1 sold aisu (popsicle or ice cream) this year is a peculiarly Japanese treat: the Azuki Bar from Imuraya. Also No. 1 last year, the Azuki Bar is said to have a pleasant texture that comes from using real azuki beans (sweet beans).

Second place is held the European Sugar Cone. Climbing up an impressive seven places from its No. 9 spot last year, the cone’s popularity reflects the fact that Japanese have an appetite for Western as well as homegrown flavors.

What both these leading products have in common is their value: the Azuki Bar and the European Sugar Cone come in packs, making them an extremely reasonable frozen treat.

My personal favorite value-for-money ice lolly is Lotte’s Hokkaido Vanilla Bar. Once you’ve eaten the lolly, you can collect the cow points displayed on the popsicle stick to claim free prizes, which include cow-pattern lunch boxes and cushions.

Haagan Dazs' salty butter biscuit was one of this year's new products

Haagan Dazs’ salty butter biscuit was one of this year’s new products

This year also saw a slew of new products hit the shelves, the most intriguing (or off-putting, depending on your perspective) of which is Moringa’s Camembert Ice Cream, which apparently has a distinctive salty taste.

Speaking of salty flavors, Häagen-Dazs also released a Salty Butter Biscuit flavor to the Japanese market this year which I can confirm is totally yummy. Another slightly weird one was Futaba’s Lemon Ice Milk, which must be employing some serious voodoo-style food science dark artistry to prevent the whole thing from curdling.

Other fruit-based products were a little more down to earth: Eskimo brought out a banana version of their Mow ice cream this year, and Glico also launched a new fruit flavor with their Yuzu Sherbet.

If you’d like to know more about Japan’s frozen treat scene, we recommend you read this article from Ping Magazin, which has a great photo gallery and interesting information on the history of Japan’s popsicle culture.

Tachiyomi: Do it on your device

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Browse the latest magazine with Seven Net Shopping's tachi-yomi app.

Browse the latest magazine with Seven Net Shopping’s tachi-yomi app.

Japan came a little late to the Twitter party, but it has quickly made up for lost time.  And it’s not just individual users that have been fueling the Twitter boom.  Forward-thinking Japanese companies have also embraced the micro-blogging revolution in a big way, by developing Twitter marketing campaigns, offering Twi-wari discounts, incorporating Twitter into social games, and mining Twitter for valuable customer feedback.

The latest Japanese practice to be Twitterized is the fine art of tachiyomi (立ち読み) – browsing comics and magazines for free before you purchase them.

Tachiyomi, which literally means “stand and read,” can be observed 24/7 at one of the over 40,000 convenience stores or many of the bookstores in Japan. Most stores will allow customers to stand in front of the magazine rack and read through the comics with impunity.

Yamasa Shoyu, a soy sauce company, has taken the term and applied it to the manga-based marketing campaign for their new disposable 200-ml packs of soy sauce. The series is titled “Soy Sauce Magician” and is written by the manga team Masayuki Izumi, which consists of writer Haruki Izumi and artist Masayuki Kusumi, who have released several food-themed manga. By scanning a barcode on the product with their mobile phones, customers can finish reading a comic, the beginning of which has been posted on Twitpic.

Seven Elevens will start selling the packs of soy sauce on Aug. 9, and they will be available at other convenience store chains from Aug. 23. Beyond Twitpic, the two-comic series is being promoted on  Twitter and YouTube. While the comic is mostly just a silly ode to shoyu, highlighting the various uses of the miracle sauce, Yamasa Shoyu gets points for spirit.

Yamasa Shoyu has released a mini-comic they've termed "tachi-yomi." It highlights various uses of soy sauce.

Yamasa Shoyu has released a mini-comic they’ve termed “tachi-yomi.” It highlights various uses of soy sauce.

Seven Net Shopping, the online arm of Seven and iHoldings that runs the Seven Eleven convenience stores, offers a more realistic digital version of tachiyomi for iPad and iPhone with their new app “Seven de Tachiyomi.” The free app is a digital bookshelf where you can browse popular magazines (such as Brutus, Pia, Real Design and Pen) and even a few books. The number of preview pages varies by magazines from three to 20 or so. Unfortunately that’s as far as the digitalization goes – customers looking for more will have to order a paper version of the magazine from the Seven Net Shopping site or, ironically, be forced to get up and haul themselves to the closest brick-and-mortar konbini to buy a copy

Toy cameras use digital to keep it analog

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hot on the heels of the toy camera trend, which saw photography buffs embracing cheaply made vintage cameras like the Lomo and Holga for their blurry over-saturated aesthetic, comes the toy digital-camera (トイデジカメ) boom, in which hobbyists bypass the expense of developing film while still achieving the same analog effects.

Although purists may turn up their noses at such inventions as the Digital Harinezumi, whose shape recalls a old-school film cartridge, the camera has been a such a big hit in Japan that its maker, Tokyo-based SuperHeadz, has released the Harinezumi 2++. Shots can be framed the old-fashioned way by using the square, plastic viewfinder above the lens, and pictures and film can be shot in monochrome or Super-8 style color. Because the image is deliberately grainy and fuzzy, image quality is not a priority with these types of cameras: Harinezumi 2++  shoots its nostalgic pictures at only 3 megapixels. And, in case you were wondering, harinezumi means “hedgehog” in English. Go figure.

SuperHeadz has also cannily promoted the toy-camera trend by publishing photography books via its publishing arm, PowershovelBooks. Titles include books such as “Toy Camera Zoo,” which is filled with bright, fuzzy images of animals captured by toy-camera enthusiasts. To further fuel the fire, SuperHeadz will be putting on a special Harinezumi photo fair, Aug. 20-29, at Laforet’s event space in Harajuku, where new colorful versions of the Harinezumi will be available to buy and a new product is set to be unveiled.

SuperHeadz isn’t the only Japanese company producing toy digital cameras. Vistaquest recently released the waterproof VQ8950, the latest in their toy digicam range, which includes the VQ1005, a miniature 1.3 megapixel camera that clips onto a key ring. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the big-name camera manufacturers throw their hats into the ring?

While the charm of these cameras is undeniable, we do have to point out that it’s possible to achieve the same toy-camera effects on iPhone apps or with image software such as Analog Color, so it’s hard to say what edge the lo-fi digicams have, excepting, of course, their cool retro designs.

Toy-camera enthusiasts hungry for more info on the Japanese scene should visit the Toikamera (トイカメラ) website, which is filled with camera news, forums and photo galleries.

Entame tours: Let us entertain and guide you

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

KNT Entame tours

KNT! Entame tours


Ever dreamed of high-fiving your favorite J-pop star or hanging out in the woods with a dreamy Korean crooner? Travel agency KNT! has put together all its up-close-and-personal themed tour packages on one website: KNT! Entame.

Tours are divided into genres: Korean and Chinese pop culture; music; anime and games; and “others.” There are plenty of choices for the growing K-pop crowd. Trips to Seoul can include a “fan meeting” with boy band Big Bang, where participants can enjoy a private mini-concert, a chat with the guys in the band and a “high-five session” (less strenuous than a handshake, more intimate than a bow?). For more one-on-one time with a star, the “Summer Holidays with S.H.S” is a three-day getaway at a resort outside of Seoul with singer Shin Hye Sung.

The music-themed trips are pretty wide ranging, from a trip to Shizuoka for a show by Japanese band AAA to a flight to Los Angeles to see the Jonas Brothers. While AAA will pose for a picture and hang out a bit, fans of the Jonas brothers will have to settle for some concert swag.

That last “other” category includes more trips with event-themed giveaways and meet-and-greet components, like a bus tour to the WWE Summer Slam, which will include T-shirts that aren’t otherwise available in Japan and special to-be-announced events on the bus. Those who prefer to keep the words “surprise” and “pro-wrestling” as far separated as possible might prefer an overnight stay at an onsen in Kagoshima with former Takarazuka star Haruhi Ryouga. The actress, affectionately called Ahi-san, will take photos with tour participants, give autographs and stop by each group member’s room.

Then there’s the plan that’s getting all the English press: the Love Plus Plus tour, a romantic overnight stay in coastal Atami that seems like it was designed just to get people to say “Did you see what the Japanese are doing?” The bus trip for fans of the dating-simulation video game from Konami is pitched as “the first summer vacation with your girlfriend.” While it is possible to book the tour for two actual people, the “girlfriend” they’re referring to is the one in the game. Local shops and sites are participating, and the magic of augmented reality technology can put the digital girls into iPhone photos. The day when she can give you a high-five, though, is still to come.

Pulsations (08.07.10)

Saturday, August 7th, 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 . . .

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