Archive for December, 2010

Trends in Japan 2010: Twitter

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Twas the year of Twitter in Japan

Twas the year of Twitter in Japan

While gloomy year-end political and economic round-ups are suggesting that happiness was not abundant in Japan this year, there’s no denying that 2010 turned out pretty good for a certain little blue bird in Japan. Twitter soared in Japan this year, attracting some 1o million users and spawning dozens of new words and ways to use the microblogging service. “Japan is the fastest-growing country in the world,” said Twitter CEO Evan Williams when visiting Tokyo this summer for a Tweetup. And it’s about more than being the country that holds the record for most tweets per second.

English, please

Japanese became the second most-used language on Twitter after English. Japanese Twitter users flocked to books and magazines that promised to show them how to learn colloquial English by following native speakers and practicing the language 140 characters at a time. People appended hashtags like #engtweet and #eigodewa to messages to show that they were practicing their English and to find like-minded students looking for microlessons.

Say what?

Twitter brought new words and compounds into the Japanese language, mostly thanking people for doing the things people do on Twitter: foro-ari (thanks for following), oha-ari (thanks for saying good morning), and otsu-ari (for saying “otsukaresama,” a catch-all commendation for a job well done). Could ari-ari, thanking people for saying thank you, be far behind? One neologism that made the big leap from online niches to mainstream usage in 2010 was nau (なう), which means “now” and is used in tweets to  emphasize what one is doing . . . now. The word is popping up on advertising and posters all over Japan, nau.

Look who’s tweeting

Everyone seemed to be getting in on the Twitter act. From politicians such as ex-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (who has Japanese and English accounts) to chatty business tycoons like Masayoshi Son, no one seemed to be too important to dash off the occasional tweet, either formal or friendly. It became a way for them to keep in touch with the masses directly. Hundreds of people who didn’t tweet themselves, whether  because they were too busy or not interested (or long dead), had automated Twitter “bots” tapping out pre-coded versions of their famous quotes and catch-phrases.

More tweeters, more discounts

As the number of people on Twitter grew, so did their collective buying power. People swarmed to flash-marketing sites that offer huge price cuts on specific items or services for limited time periods. Homegrown Groupon clones like Q:Pod and Pom Parade made a strong showing with deeply discounted deals on everything from fancy dinners to spa packages.

Let’s play a game
Marketers got innovative with games and “Twitter toys” that explored new social opportunities for interactive marketing. Espresso Blux’s Twitter samurai drama took a storyline that started on TV commercials and subway posters and was continued with a complex and tongue-in-cheek Twitter campaign online. Uniqlo rolled out one interactive Twitter multimedia mash-up after another, and even convinced thousands of people to queue in a virtual “Lucky Line.”

Year of the rabbit, year of the bluebird?

As all signs for 2011 point to the smartphone market continuing to grow in Japan, it remains to be seen what new directions mobile social media will take. Why not keep the Twitter trend going into the new year by tweeting this story nau?

Trends in Japan 2010: food and drink

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This year’s hottest product, quite literally, was taberu rayu, a spicy sauce that made it into the top keywords of the year and even beat smart phones to the top spot of Nikkei Trendy’s hit product list for 2010. Back in July we reported on how the chili-infused condiment, which contains minced onion and garlic, had gone from a foodie novelty to one of the Japan’s hottest new sauces in just under a year. Figuring out that it tasted delicious on burgers, big-name brands like Mos Burger picked up the trend and ran with it. The chain’s crunchy rayu burger, designed by Terry Ito, was a huge hit this summer.

Sales of All-Free were suspended in August due to high demand

Japan’s unusually hot summer was cited as part of the reason behind the taberu rayu craze (spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather), and other brands profited from the sweltering temperatures as well. Stocks of Japan’s favorite retro ice lolly Garigari-kun were dangerously low at one point during the summer, causing makers to officially apologize to disappointed customers. Suntory also found it hard to keep up with demand for their new All-Free non alcoholic low calorie beer, and in August, according to Daily Yomiuri, were forced to temporarily suspend sales until September.

One of the more unusual food trends to break over the summer was the new Tokyo-based fad for chowing down on a big bowl of ramen noodle broth for breakfast. The idea is for busy workers to stock up on calories ahead of a grueling day, enabling them to either skip lunch or grab a small snack on the fly during the day. While the number of restaurants serving ramen has increased in recent years, the trend hasn’t quite reached epidemic proportions yet. The idea of morning mochi provided an attractive alternative to those seeking a seeking a hearty breakfast at home: Marushin’s Good Morning Breakfast Mochi, launched in April this year, proved much more popular than the company initially expected with sales figures 180 percent higher than the company’s typical mochi sales.

On the marketing end of things, dozens of companies tried to cash in the Ryoma Sakamoto boom, spurred by the popularity of the yearlong NHK taiga drama “Ryomanden.” Be it associated with burgers, soft drinks, ramen chips, curry, or beer — the face of the legendary samurai was everywhere.

Dining out continued to get cheaper during 2010 as izakaya scrambled to outdo each other with cut-price deals. The biggest gimmick of 2010 was offering free drinks of shochu to get customers through the doors. Another gimmick, which isn’t so new but was in full effect during 2010, was the use of cute young girls to entice male custom. We’re not only talking about Hooters’ arrival in Japan, which opened its doors for the first time this year in Japan but other establishments such as Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub and Nadeshico Sushi, which also entered the restaurant market: Both establishments hired bevies of cute girls to serve food to, mostly likely, an exclusively male clientele.

Chapter 2 of e-readers in Japan

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Papyless offers e-book content for cell phones, PCs and Sony's new e-reader

Next year may finally see the e-book make the jump from cell-phone screen to rather more generous-sized e-reader displays. E-readers failed to catch on early in Japan, due to poor sales and limited available content, however, December sees KDDI, Sony and Sharp go head to head with all companies offering new gadgets to entice Japan’s digital book worms away from their cell phones.

On Dec. 10  Sony’s new black-and-white touch screen e-readers – the PRS-650 Touch Edition and PRS-350 Pocket Edition – went on sale. According to Good Reader, the company is already hailing the launch a success and claim that stocks of the Touch Edition are already running low. Sony is also saying that, contrary to its expectations, the device is selling well in bookstores it’ll be hard to guage just how popular the device has been until actual sales figures have been released.

Sharp, which launched its Galapagos tablet this month, will be appealing to a wider market than just book readers. The tablets, which come in two models — the 10.8-inch for home use and a 5.5-inch mobile model — are both multi-media devices with LCD color screens. Running on the Android OS system, Sharp has teamed up with DVD rental giant Tsutaya to provide content for the tablets at the online Tsutaya Galapagos store, which currently sells books but will be offering movies and music in the spring.

In terms of content, both devices are not only compatible with their own dedicated websites but also with other content providers. In Sony’s case e-books can be downloaded both from Sony’s own Reader Store and from Papyless, which offers 15,000 works available to download on cell phones or PC in XDMF format. Content for Galapagos can be downloaded from the Tsutaya site and Renta!, a sister site of Papyless that works with iPhones and gadgets running on the Android OS. Both devices will, in short, benefit from e-bookstores that have been successful in providing content to the already healthy cell phone e-book market.

KDDI’s biblio Leaf SP02 reader, which also launched this month, has a black-and-white screen and has the rather groovy advantage of being able to run on solar power. KDDI’s content store, the LISMO Book Store, currently offers 20,000 books with plans to expand this list to 100,000 by March 2012.

While techies and movie lovers may be drawn to tablets like the Galapagos, we’re thinking true book lovers, or simply people wary of incurring eye strain, will favor the Sony Reader or KDDI’s new device. The proof will not only be in the attractiveness of the devices themselves, but also in the amount of content each device offers. In that sense half the battle will decided by which company is able to offer the widest and most popular range of titles to readers.

Donation with your drink?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Rows of young people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, calling out for contributions are a common sight around Japanese train stations and storefronts at year-end. Now, another familiar row of characters is joining in the call, albeit more quietly: Vending machines around the country are now accepting charitable donations.

The “Heartful Vendor” drink machines were developed by the Red Feather Community Chest Movement (赤 い羽根共同募金), a 64-year-old nation-wide nongovernmental organization dedicated to suppporting social welfare. The vending machines are one idea to try to counteract an overall decline in donations. The organization says giving, which peaked in 1995, started to slide as organizations became more scattered and incidents of charity scams hit the headlines.

The vending machines, of which there are more than 600, make donating to various causes as easy as pressing a “keep the change” button. The last two buttons on the bottom row of drinks are marked “donate ¥10″ or “donate ¥100.” Put in your coins, pick your drink (hot or cold, of course), and then press one of the buttons. A little sterile? Well, it won’t hand you a red feather like the usual money collectors do, but the machines do chirp “arigatou gozaimasu.” It’s also possible to simply donate money without buying anything. (But how could you pass up a hot, canned drink on a cold, winter’s day?) Each machine puts up a sign each month with the previous month’s collected total.

In addition to the Community Chest’s usual causes, some machines’ proceeds are earmarked for specific causes. Recipients include animal preservation projects like the famous deer in Nara and the storks in Hogo, J-League soccer clubs and the breast cancer awareness organization Pink Ribbon.

They’re mostly in workplaces and universities, though some have been spotted on the streets. Would you donate through a vending machine?

Trends in Japan 2010: yama boom

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The phrases “yama girl” and “power spot” both appeared in Jiyu Kokuminsha’s list of the year’s popular Japanese expressions, reflecting the fact that during 2010 Japan’s hills were alive with hordes of young female hikers. These women, attracted by the promise of powering up on spiritual energy, while sporting fashionable threads, were dubbed yama gaaru (mountain girls) by the media and have fueled what’s been called the yama boom.

Yama girls united

Yama girls unit

Companies have been quick to cash in on the trend. Alpine-wear makers have  rolled out new lines with the stylin’ hiker in mind. Hotel Nikko in Nara is unveiled a yama girl plan, offering a discount for female hiking groups. Yama girls also have their very own magazine called Randonnée, which features articles on mountain fashion as well as the more practical aspects of hiking.

When they hit the countryside trails mountain girls wear sensible footwear and bright leggings coupled with cute short skirts. Some like this look so much that they wear it out in Tokyo’s concrete jungle.

Some  alpinists have said, however, that the city streets is where novice hikers should stay. The veterans’ warnings about the volatile weather conditions of Japan’s rugged mountains were proven right a couple of months ago when a group of young hikers got stuck on Mount Sawaguchi  in Kawanehoncho, Shizuoka Prefecture. According to Sankei News, the group of two women and three men were on a yamakon (mountain climbing group blind date), when a sudden change in the weather made them lose their way. Having no map nor compass, they were unable to find their way back to the relatively easy hiking course. Fortuntately, they were rescued two days after they went missing.

If only they had had Mapion’s new cell-phone 3D maps, which went on the market on Oct. 27, just a couple of days before they set off on their hike. The CG-illustrated maps, made to appeal to a younger generation of climbers, are reported to be visually stunning and give the user an easy-to-navigate view of the terrain.

Beautiful scenery is not the only pull of mountain climbing. Another attraction is the power spot, places that are purported to posses large amounts of spiritual energy. Earlier this year we wrote about the increasing growth of this trend and the publishing boom in books about power spots.

According to an article published yesterday in the Yomiuri Online, the power-spot trend shows no sign of abating and large numbers of young visitors continue to visit famous sites in search of enlightenment. While it’s now getting a bit too cold to hike up Japan’s mountains to gather spiritual energy, other urban power spots, such as Meiji Shrine, are still enjoying healthy numbers of visitors.

Glasses-free 3D bursting into focus soon

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Exciting things are happening in the world of 3D entertainment over the next few months as a range of glasses-free 3D products hit big and small screens.

Toshiba's Regza 12 GL1 Series

Coming first in the race to release a 3D glasses-free screen was DoCoMo, with their LYNX 3D SH-03C Android handset, released for sale on Dec. 3. Manufactured by Sharp, the 3.8-inch touchscreen has a 400 x 800 pixel resolution screen that is capable of displaying 3D images that can be seen without glasses. But SoftBank are not far behind. They’ll also be introducing a Sharp Android phone to the market: the Galapagos 003SH which will be on sale from Dec. 17. In terms of content, though, SoftBank, who’ll be offering a range of 3D games like Taiko Drum Master and Biohazard, seem to have got the edge on DoCoMo.

Those unwilling to trade away their iPhones for a 3D-capable handset need not despair: a neat little device called the Palm Top Theatre, clips onto your phone and transforms 2D images into 3D, again without the need for special specs.

TVs are not far behind cell phones, and as we went to post, Toshiba were scrambling to release their glasses-free Regza GL1 Series 3D TV this month. A call to their PR office revealed that they’re still planning to release the technology within the promised deadline. This is bad news for other 3D TV manufacturers, making their efforts look dated before they’ve even had a chance to get going.

The advent of Toshiba’s glasses-free TV comes just in time for the launch of Japan’s first-ever custom-made 3D TV drama. Made in collaboration with Fuji and Sony, “Tokyo Control“ is a drama about air-traffic control. The program will be on air from 19 Jan.

Game lovers, of course, are all eagerly awaiting the release of Nintendo’s 3DS which, according to 3DS Buzz, goes on sale in Japan on Feb. 27. One of the games available to play in 3D will be Konami’s notorious “Love Plus” dating game (shown above). Passionate players will be able to, um, fondle their virtual girlfriends with their fingers instead of poking them with their plastic styluses.

Markets offer a taste of Christmas cheer

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Over the past few decades, Japan has developed its own slightly different ways of celebrating Christmas. Take the phenomenon of the Christmas Kentucky Fried Christmas meal, which began life as a clever campaign by the company and managed to hoodwink the nation into believing that Americans ate roasted chicken to celebrate the day. As ovens are not a feature of Japanese kitchens, KFC was marketed as the next best thing. Ever since the resulting stampede for fried chicken on Christmas Eve has made the company’s cash registers ring with cheer.

So yeah, some imported traditions might get lost in translation (and vice versa), but we’re excited about the rise in popularity of the Christmas market. Modeled on European Christmas markets, the trend has been driven by collaborations with organizations like the Goethe-Institut Japan (an organization funded by the German government), which is keen to introduce its native culture. Last year the first “Marché de Nöel de Strasbourg a Tokyo,” supported by a number of organizations including Air France and Tourism Alsace, brought a little piece of Strasbourg to Tokyo International Forum. Modeled on the Christmas market held in Strasbourg, Alsace, the event, according to Tokyo Walker, was attended by 580,000 people last year and this year it’s being held again from Dec. 10 to 25. The stalls gathered around a real Christmas tree are selling a variety of European food including fresh bread, cheeses, quiche and mulled wine. Also on sale are Christmas decorations and handicrafts from Alsace.

Nearby, at Hibiya Plaza, a rival market has set up shop this year. “Wien Christmas in Tokyo” is sponsored by the Austrian Embassy and Wien Products, among others, and aims to import the feeling of Vienna’s Christmas market to Hibiya. Again, the centerpiece is a genuine Christmas tree around which stalls offer similar fare to the Strasbourg market. They’ll also be a brass band playing classical music to give the market a traditional Viennese feel. The market will be open until Dec. 26.

Besides these markets, we’ve counted a further three being held in and around the Tokyo area: Roppongi Hills Christmas Market (supported by the Goethe Institute) is held on the roof top plaza 2F West Walk until Dec. 25, Tokyo Midtown Marche de Noel is held at B1 Galleria until Dec. 26 and Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market is on until Dec. 25.

While we agree that Col. Sanders bears a resemblance to Santa, for a genuine Christmasy experience, a glass of mulled wine and the scent of a real pine tree beats devouring a bucket of greasy KFC any day.

Pop in to Tokyo’s latest pop-ups

Friday, December 10th, 2010

The “blink and you’ll miss it” pop-up trend is still booming and over this past year numerous establishments have opened up temporarily for business all over Tokyo. If you’d like a taste of pop-up culture, here are three new businesses that have just appeared. Just make sure you get there before the bubble bursts.

Going Merry One Piece Restaurant

Typical fare at Going Merry

Typical fare at Going Merry

The decor of this “One Piece” themed restaurant has been specially designed to resemble the interior of the pirate ship Going Merrry. On the menu of various pirate-themed dishes such as chicken leg branded with a skull and cross bones. Those who want to stock up on “One Piece” booty can purchase the limited edition merchandise on sale until the Dec. 15 in the same building on the second floor. “One Piece” is one of the hottest anime shows out right now, and people planning to visit are advised to ring ahead for a reservation.

The cafe opens Dec. 11 and closes its doors May 31, 2011. Ginza Meza Marche 11 F, Ginza 5-3-13, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 0120-299-034.

Mikey’s Cafe Nescafe

Fans of “Oh! Mikey” better rush down to Harajuku to enjoy a cup of coffee in the charming, but somewhat creepy, company of the Fuccon family. “Oh! Mikey” is a comedy TV show about an American family that have moved to Japan, in which, for some reason, all the characters are shop mannequins and speak fluent Japanese. The opening day of the cafe marked the 10th anniversary of the series and the occasion was also commemorated with the airing of a new episode and the release of the “Oh! Mikey Romance” DVD.

The cafe is open until Dec. 12. Jingumae 1-22-8, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 6439 6555.

Coca Cola Eco Cafe @ RESPEKT

Fill out an eco questionaire with an iPad

This cafe’s rallying call is “Find Your Eco Style” and the space is designed to inspire young people to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. It seats 110 customers and on display are t-shirts, hats and chairs all made out of recycled materials. There are 15 iPads available, which customers can use to fill out a questionnaire about their lifestyle habits. Once customers have filled out the quiz, it’ll suggest ways they can alter their habits to help save the environment. The menu features special cocktails made, of course, with Coca Cola.

The cafe is open until Dec.19  2F Shibuya-ku 1-11-1, Shibuya, Tokyo. Tel: 0120-308-509.

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