Archive for September, 2010

Japan by the numbers (09.17.10)

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Privacy not an issue for geolocation apps

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Facebook have announced that Japan is the second country in the world to receive Facebook Places

Facebook announced that Japan is the second country in the world to receive Facebook Places

This week’s news that Japan is the first country outside the U.S. to to get Facebook Places might have come as a surprise to many. While social networks abound here, online privacy kerfuffles are common and the average Japanese prefers avatars and pseudonyms to real names and identities. Would this nation really embrace an application that broadcasts their movement in the real world?

In case you haven’t heard, Facebook Places is a geolocation app that allows users with GPS-friendly cellphones to “check in” whenever they arrive at a location  – and “check out” when they leave. This effectively makes your movements transparent to your social network online, so you can meet up with nearby friends, if you wish. But Facebook aren’t exactly foisting this app on a hostile market: Similar platforms such as  Livedoor’s Roketacchi (Location Touch), BrightKite and Foursquare have already proved popular here.

However, it seems odd that geolocation software is such a hit, seeing as traditionally personal privacy online is closely guarded in Japan. Google came under a barrage of criticism when they launched Google Street View, with many complaining that private moments and dirty laundry had been unnecessarily displayed online. The upshot was that the company were forced to reshoot its footage at a lower angle – at considerable expense. Privacy is a big issue even among users of social networking services such as Mixi, where many users veil their identity and avoid posting pictures of themselves.

So why the popularity? A recent article in TNW Asia points to the rise in popularity in Western apps, following on from the runaway success of the iPhone, which is now almost as ubiquitous on the streets as Louis Vuitton handbags. If this is the case, does this mean that a Western laissez-faire attitude to online privacy will follow suit?

Perhaps. Or maybe it will be more of an adopt-and-adapt model: Though Japanese are signing up to Facebook in droves, many users are still loathe to use real head shots for their profile picture.  (Many of my Japanese Facebook friends prefer to obscure their faces or put up a photo of an inanimate object instead.)

Those who chose to embrace geolocation services might feel that the benefits outweigh the negatives. This year, for example, DJ Naka_tei made dubious history when he revealed his location in an Akihabara toilet and made a public appeal on Twitter for toilet paper; he was rescued within 20 minutes.  It’s times like these when sacrificing your online privacy is not such a pressing issue.

Pulsations (09.13.10)

Monday, September 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 . . .

Publishers flock to next-generation newsstands

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

SoftBank's Viewn service allows users to read a wide range of publications for a flat monthly fee

SoftBank’s Viewn service allows users to read a wide range of publications for a monthly fee

Spurred on by the early innovations of mobile-phone carriers, namely DoCoMo’s i-mode platform, Japan’s publishing industry was quick to get its content on the small screens of cell phones – and charge handsomely for it.  But the times they are a-changin’ again, with new options in print-promotion strategies, distribution channels and business models.

In June, online magazine store Magastore, which was previously mainly orientated toward iPhone/iPad users, went Android-friendly, thus opening its doors to all au and DoCoMo smartphone users (before, it was only available for DoCoMo users on the i-mode platform). Launched last year, Magastore provides content from 20 Japanese publishers, including major-league names such as Asahi Shimbun and Sony. Magazines can cost up to ¥500 and popular titles include Spa!Newsweek and Oz Magazine.

Since Magastore became widely available to their rivals, SoftBank, who exclusively sell the iPhone in Japan, went one better by launching Viewn (ビューン )  in the same month that Magastore went live with Android. Aimed at iPhone users and SoftBank’s 3G customers, Viewn offers free content from 31 different kinds of newspapers and magazines for a flat fee of ¥450 a month, with the first month free. Viewn boasts famous titles such as fashion magazine CanCam and news daily Mainichi Shimbun, but content is limited: Users have to put up with banner advertising and can access only selected articles.

Readers only interested in reading a particular article can now benefit from a website that went live this month. Providing individual electronic versions of articles published in magazines and books, G-Search Mitsuke! offers users a cheaper alternative to buying the entire publication. An article from The Economist, for example, costs ¥210, as opposed to buying the entire print publication at ¥650. As J-Cast points out, though, the problem is there’s a delay between the print edition’s release and G-Search Mitsuke!’s digital version. G-Search Mitsuke! articles can be read on virtually any cell phone, but the clunky PDF format doesn’t exactly promise an easy read.

Though G-Search Mitsuke and Magastore titles are available to users of all the big three cell-phone carriers, Viewn is exclusively in the clutches of SoftBank, meaning we can expect au and DoCoMo to continue to play catch-up.

Japan by the numbers (09.10.10)

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Japan’s depilation revolution: Smooth skin is in for men

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

According to the makers of Mudage Jolie (Unwanted Hair Jolie), too much male body hair is a serious turn off. The words “NG (no good)” and “not sexy” are stamped across an image of a man sporting a bushy chest rug. While the Mudage Jolie is designed to thin over abundant body hair, some companies like Ya-Man are suggesting men get rid of body hair altogether. Their recent advertising campaign for a product called No!No! for MEN features three hairless Western men frolicking happily about, until a hairy gorilla gatecrashes the party.

With so many hair-removal products on the market, are we really to believe that Japanese men are now so averse to body hair that they’ll shave their chests, legs and armpits? Being the curious type, I asked a friend – we’ll call her Midori – who works at a laser hair removal clinic for the inside scoop. “Yes, I have male customers at my clinic,” Midori said. “There are a lot more than there were five years ago. The treatments they get are all the same as ladies get – hair removal from legs, arms, chest, back, bottom, tummy, face, etc.”

Midori said the reasons vary: Some clients are transgender and some just don’t want to be bothered shaving their beards every morning. “The most common (treatment) is beard removal or reduction,” she said. Although beards or designer stubble can be seen on the streets and even occasionally on TV, bearded men are often perceived negatively in Japanese society. Outside of hipster circles, there’s a general feeling that men who sport beards or 5 o’clock shadows are too lazy to shave and might be sloppy in other areas of their lives.

The municipal government of Isesaki in Gunma Prefecture even went so far this year as putting a ban on beards for all male employees after they received complaints from citizens who said they found bearded men “unpleasant.” While a first for local government, this is not an isolated case: The Yomiuri Giants insist on clean shaven players and Seven-Eleven Japan Co refuse to hire bearded men.

Whether it be professional or aesthetic decision, smooth-skinned, hairless men are on the rise. So what’s your take on hair-free men: turn on or a turn off?

Pulsations (09.08.10)

Wednesday, September 8th, 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 . . .

Death notebooks promise organized, happy endings

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

What would you get your dear old mum for her 60th birthday? A photo album of favorite family moments? A lovely plant for her garden? A last will and testament? Eh? Well, the tax accounting firm Iwayama Naoki Zeirishi Jimusho, which is selling the Life Design Book, a kind of cheap and cheerful alternative to drawing up a will with a solicitor, thinks it’s a lovely idea. “Those celebrating their 60th birthdays will be pleased to receive this,” reads the blurb.

Living and Ending is not just designed with the elderly in mind

"Living and Ending" is not just designed with the elderly in mind

“Ending notes” (エンディングノート) are basically notebooks that make the event of death or hospitalization a lot easier on relatives. As well as containing important information such as bank account details, it’s also possible to document who you want to inherit the family silver and to make requests about the kind of funeral service you’d like to have.

The notebooks started appearing around 2002 and since then a number of companies have got on the bandwagon, promising punters that using this simple document will take a great weight off their minds. They also claim that the process of filling out the notebooks is a positive experience. “Open hearted! Bright! Cheerful! This ending note is a pleasure to receive!” continues Iwayama Jimusho on their website, which insists that writing out their dying wishes will give aged parents a positive nostalgic feeling.

Stationery companies are not only setting their sights on the elderly, Kokuyo S&T Co Ltd. is releasing a new funky ending note on the market at the start of September. Called a “useful notebook for those ‘what if’ situations,” Kokuyo S&T’s product is illustrated with colorful manga and aimed not only at senior citizens, but customers over 30. Again, the emphasis is on the fun you’ll have filling in the pages.

If colorful cartoon characters aren’t enough to guide you through the process of drafting your last wishes, then Happy Ending Note, yet another company touting ending notes, run free seminars on how to fill in the book correctly.

Happy Ending Note’s “I Am Who I Am” costs ¥840, Kokuyo S&T’s “Living and Ending” is ¥1,470 and the trendy “Life Design Book” costs ¥2,100. If you’re thinking of giving this as a birthday present to a parent, it might be an idea to sweeten the pill with a box of chocs. At these prices it would churlish not to.

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