Archive for August, 2010

Japan by the numbers (8.5.10)

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Big (only) in Japan? Rooftop beer gardens

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Hankyu Top Beer Garden

Quaffing brews in the beer garden on top of Hankyu department store

The global economy is in shambles. Summer temperatures and humidity have reached record levels all across the northern hemisphere. In Japan this means two things for certain – an increase in the sales of odorless underwear and an increase in the sales of cheap no- and low-malt beer and beer-like beverages. However, this year real beer has also made a small comeback thanks to a boom in beer gardens.

While beer gardens are a Bavarian tradition (the term comes from the German “Biergarten”), the Japanese have been at the game since 1953, when one debuted on top of the New Tokyo Osaka Daiichi Seimei Building, and they’ve added their own unique touches to the fun. Technically beer gardens can and do happen on the ground (or below ground, in which case they are called “beer terraces”) or in any open area with enough space, but in Japan there is a romantic attachment to ones held on the roofs of department stores and other tall buildings. This makes them top draws in late summer after the rainy season has passed and when fireworks season has started.

Generally the drink service at beer gardens is “nomihodai” (unlimited refills) for a set period of time (90 minutes to two hours), and often food is included as well, putting the ¥3,000-¥4,000 ticket within the budgets of many consumers.

This year Yomiuri and Nikkei Shimbun have both noted that the customer base has also diversified. While the rooftop atmospheres lit with lanterns evoke a Showa-era scene filled with smoke and businessmen, more and more women are taking advantage of the offerings, and some beer gardens are offering healthier, low-calorie fare that incorporates hijiki seaweed and burdock as well as sweets such as tai-yaki. Nikkei Trendy Net also noted that there are more women working and therefore probably more women who want to take advantage of the liberating atmosphere of beer gardens as a form of stress relief.

On a linguistic sidenote, in Japanese beer is normally written “biiru,” but when put next to the Japanese “gaaden,” it is written and spoken “bia.” Japanese commenters on Yahoo! note that this is because it’s closer to the English pronunciation of the word “beer,” but that begs the question why it isn’t always pronounced like that.

Photo: Karl Baron

Costume changes made easy in Harajuku

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Wikicommons image courtesy of Nicholas Wang

Dai-henshin! COS-Pa powder rooms come to the rescue of damsels needing a quick change.

Ever wondered how those Harajuku chicks manage to transform themselves from ordinary high school girls into extravagant Gothic Lolita princesses? Part of the secret lies in those little suitcases they trundle around with them which store all the make-up and frou frou outfits necessary to expedite a full henshin. Traditionally these costume changes take place in the rather limited and pongy spaces of train stations or department store bathrooms, but just last week a far sweeter-smelling option become available for those girls in the know.

Just at the bottom of trendy Takeshita Dori is a changing space that can be rented for as little as ¥200 for 30 minutes where girls can titivate themselves to their hearts’ content. The basic package gives them a booth in a room that fits eight people, but for those prepared to pay more, it’s possible to hire a private room that they can share with a group of friends. The rooms come equipped with irons for smoothing out the creases of frilly Bo Peep dresses and straightening irons and curlers for creating the perfect coiffure.

COS-Pa Mini powder rooms are located on the second floor of the newly opened URATAKE Girl’s Style complex, which opened on July 31. It also houses lockers where girls can stash their school uniforms and, best of all, banks of Print Club sticker machines for taking snaps of the new transformations.

This isn’t the first COS-Pa powder room. The company debuted its first shop in March 2008 in Shibuya. The Shibuya branch is slightly more lavish and caters to an older clientele of women in their 20s to 40s who are looking for somewhere to chill out and change out of their office gear before a night out on the tiles.

In a city that’s packed to the gills, the concept of renting a little square of privacy, be it in an Internet café booth or a karoke box, has long been popular, so there’s no doubt that ventures such as COS-Pa are likely to prosper in the future.

Photo taken by Nicholas Wang

Taking social games to the next level

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Tonchidot's World Hero game allows you to hunt monsters in the real world with the aid of your cell phone

Tonchidot’s Sekai Yuusha (Global Hero)  allows you to hunt monsters in the real world with the aid of your cell phone

Social gaming is about to become very big in Japan: On July 29 Softbank announced that it was teaming up with American game maker Zynga in a bid to promote the format in Asia. Zynga Japan will be developing games similar to Farmville to appeal to the Asian market. They’ll be competing with locally made products that have already been coming out on the Japanese cell-phone market. These include games such as Naishoku, which re-creates the “fun” of manual labor with production-line tasks such as putting heads onto countless plastic frogs. If this trend takes off commuter trains could soon be filled with people relaxing after a hard day’s work by completing mindless tasks on their cell phones and posting the results to their network of friends.

But it’s not all drudgery on the social gaming front. Tonchidot, makers of augmented reality application Sekai Camera, have announced the upcoming release of a social augmented reality game that will have players not only communicating via the Web but also meeting up for drinks to discuss the game. Sekai Yuusha (World Hero) has been dubbed an ARPG, combining elements of Augmented Reality and Role Playing Games. Once players chose from a range of three possible character types – warrior, magician or monk – they can begin their quest by roaming the real world in search of monsters to battle and riddles to solve, collecting treasure and medals along the way.

The Sekai Camera app, which was released on the Japanese market last year with much excitement, allows users to interact with floating tags that have been placed virtually in real locations. The tags appear on the screen of your cell phone when you point your camera at them, presenting you with an augmented reality vision of the real world. Players of Sekai Camera games are not just exploring virtual space but are moving about in the real world. Monsters in Sekai Yuusha will have to be sought out in physical locations.

The social element to Sekai Yuusha will be directed through a dedicated Twitter communication tool with which players can exchange information about the game and decide to form alliances in order to do battle with monsters. There will also be 505 real locations around Japan where players can meet up and discuss their quests over a tankard of ale.

By taking the action out of the virtual into the actual world, the social element involved in AR games will far surpass anything other social game formats might offer. In my book this beats assembling plastic frogs or planting eggplants in virtual spaces any day.

RSS

Recent Posts

  • 100 years of Japanese beauty in one minute

    Cut is setting its lens on Japan as it shows the dramatic changes Japanese women have gone through in the past century.

  • Studio Ghibli on a roll with licenses for new toys

    Nibariki has new wind-up toys inspired by Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”

  • ‘Japan Sumo Cup’ is possibly the most Japanese thing ever

    In this rhythm game, players choose a real sumo player, ride an actual race horse and compete against characters from “Street Fighter.”

  • YouTubers in Japan with 100,000 fans and counting

    YouTube threw a big celebration for more than 20 YouTubers living in Japan who have over 100,000 subscribers.

  • Finding laughs in translations that have lost the plot

    The Orikaeshi Honyaku Dictionary site, which boasts the catchphrase “from Japanese to Japanese,” roughly translates as “Chinese whispers.”

  • Japan tricks out the Halloween treats

    Halloween is a time to carve pumpkins, enjoy a few scares and, most importantly, shovel as much candy as humanly possible into one’s own mouth. While the practice of door-to-door trick-or-treating may not be a thing in Japan, the custom of eating special Halloween snacks certainly translates. Plenty of companies, both overseas and domestic, are […]

  • Ginza Cozy Corner takes dessert into hyperdrive with ‘Star Wars’ cakes

    One Japanese confectionary vendor is about to find the Force deep within a sweet tie-up. Ahead of the December release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Ginza Cozy Corner, which has outlets nationwide, has made a line of “Star Wars” sweets that are truly out of this world. The treats themselves are all based on people […]

  • Warning: This viral video of high school girls might make you blush

    Cosmetic company Shiseido has recently uploaded a YouTube video that is blowing viewers’ minds with a bona fide twist. In the promo video, titled “High School Girl? — The Makeup Secrets of High School Girls,” the camera weaves through a classroom full of drop-dead cute young women who pout and wink like true pop idols. […]

  • Sharp dials up the fan service to celebrate 20 years of ‘Evangelion’

    For those who have always dreamed of owning an Evangelion robot, this might be the closest you get. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” animated series, Sharp is releasing a special smartphone that pays homage to the show both in the device’s hardware and software. The phone itself is detailed […]

  • Tokyo plugs into Google Play Music

    If you haven’t heard the latest news from Google Play, you may have missed your opportunity to tune into a Google Play Billboard. From Oct. 8-24, music lovers can head over to Shibuya to, literally, plug into a selection of over 3,500 songs. The Google Play Billboard is meant to give visitors a much-needed chance […]