Archive for December, 2010

The fast track to love in Aomori

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

What do orchards, a giant dog sculpture and huge paper lantern floats have in common? The answer is that they can all be found in Aomori, the rather chilly city that sits at the northernmost tip of Honshu island. JR East who opened up an extended high-speed train route to Shin-Aomori on Dec. 4, is hoping that the combined charm of these things will be enough to attract Tokyoites, sparking a boom in local tourism.

The “My First Aomori” campaign is now in full swing and centers around a series of TV commercials that depicts a blossoming love affair between a handsome young train station employee who’s come from Tokyo to work in Aomori and a beautiful local girl. So far seven episodes have been released, showing the opening of the new Shin-Aomori Station and, most recently, the couple dating while sightseeing around the region.

Initial responses to the campaign have been positive, according to Sankei News, a shop in Chiyoda Ward that exclusively sells products from Aomori, was given a face-lift in time for the launch of the new route and did brisk business on that day. Popular items were Aomori apple juice and garlic jam.

However, bearing in mind the fact that snow has already begun to fall in the region, we’re thinking visitors who are interested in strolling around Aomori’s orchards might put that trip off till summer. Visitors in winter will be limited to snow sports, onsen (hot springs) and the Aomori  Art Museum, which houses an impressive collection of work by world-famous artist Yoshitomo Nara, who was born in the city. But there’s another reason to visit in winter: The city is a convenient stop-off point for visitors traveling up north for the Sapporo snow festival in February.

The real Aomori tourism boom will probably come in summer when the more temperate temperatures up north will attract those looking to escape the sweltering heat of a Tokyo summer. Tourists will be also be drawn to the annual Nebuta Festival, which is held on Aug. 2-7. Every year Aomori is packed with tourists who come to see the parade of colorful paper lantern floats that flow through the city streets at night. With the trip from the capital to Aomori now even quicker, the streets of Aomori look set to be packed even more tightly.

Real New Year’s greetings to virtual addresses

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Last year, people in Japan exchanged some 2 billion New Year’s greeting cards called nengajo (年賀状). As long as they’re marked appropriately and posted in the specially marked mail slots between Dec. 15 and 25, they’ll be delivered to friends, family and business associates nation-wide (by an army of holiday part-timers) on Jan. 1.

WebPO

A middle man between you and your online friends

Technology has taken some of the work out of addressing, writing, stamping and mailing them in the last few years.  Any number of Internet and keitai sites allow exchange of e-greetings by Web mail or mobile phone. Apparently, though, nothing beats flipping through that nice fresh stack of real cards, signed, sealed and delivered on the first day of the year. Now several services are preserving the personal paper touch while taking the work out of addressing them by sending real nengajo via virtual addresses.  Even if you don’t know your online friends’ e-mail addresses — or even their real names — you can send them the cards.

The two main services offering this feature are Japan Post’s WebPO and Net-nengajo. For either one, you select the cards and choose your message online, addressing the card to an e-mail address, social network profile name or Twitter handle.  The service then tells the recipient a card is waiting and asks for a real-world name and address. This goes directly onto the card without ever being revealed to the original sender. Mixi has a similar nengajo system in place for exchanges among its own members.

Continue reading about next-generation nengajou →

Japan by the numbers (12.03.10)

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Deck the halls with bottles of plastic . . .

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

This Christmas light show is quite literally garbage. High-class department store Takashimaya has decided to deck out the southern terrace area surrounding their Shinjuku store with Christmas illuminations constructed entirely out of discarded PET bottles and LED lights. The results, which include a PET bottle Christmas tree, UFO and giant man, are actually quite impressive, transforming the space into a clear plastic paradise.

The theme for the exhibition, which was installed by light artist Hiroyuki Morikawa, is “ancient ruins and outer space,” hence the UFO. Though we weren’t quite sure where the ruins fit in to the display, we loved the “Pet Tron” PET bottle screen, which showed passersby a pixellated otherworldly image of their faces.

Morikawa constructed part of this PET bottle world with the help of a group of children. The children assembled pet bottle stars with the artist’s guidance that were then either placed on top of lamp posts or piled up to create a splendid Christmas tree. You can see footage of this workshop towards the end of the video above.

Morikawa, a professor of Information Design at Tama Art University, is well known in Japan for his work with LED lights, such as this playful interactive installation piece constructed at MOA in April this year. The Shinjuku display will be lit up until Dec. 25.

Charismatic shop assistants are back in style

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Shop assistant Ainyan updates her cell phone blog every day with exhaustive details about her diet, hair style, makeup and clothes. To the uninitiated, Ainyan’s blog, illustrated with blurry shots of her hugging friends in purikura photo booth or looking up cutely into the camera, looks amateurish, almost as if it were made for a limited audience of friends only. But Ainyan is somewhat of a celebrity in the world of keitai (cell-phone) blogging. Last week her blog was the No. 1 cell-phone blog on Crooz, a mobile blog portal aimed at young women, and next month her makeup secrets will be disclosed in a cosmetics magazine.

Ainyan' cell phone blog

Ainyan' cell phone blog

According to J-Cast, Ainyan’s popularity is an indication that the trend of kyarizuma teiin (charismatic shop assistant) is back. The trend first surfaced over a decade ago when attractive shop assistants in exclusive stores began to gain celebrity status. These new celebrities were often featured in fashion magazines, dishing out beauty and fashion advice. The trend resulted in customers visiting stores to get a glimpse of these retail idols and often sales of whatever outfit their icon was wearing at the time. It was great business for the stores and some clerks made names for themselves. According to Tokyo Kawaii, the success of charisma teiin Yoko Morimoto lead to a book and the launch of her own fashion brand.

This time, however, the trend is driven by cell-phone blogs, which are commute-friendly. The reason why girls are so interested in Ainyan’s blog, rather than those of her contemporaries, is that she works at the Wakatsuki Chinatsu concession in the teen paradise of Shibuya 109, which puts her at the pinnacle of gyaru style. She’s not the only one enjoying celebrity status, another 109 shop assistant called Morimayu, who again works in 109 (for TutuHA), is also highly regarded as a teen style icon and has appeared in fashion magazines such as Popteen.

The charm of the blogs for young girls is that they can relate on a personal level to both Morimayu and Ainyan. Morimayu has a rant about periods in one post while Ainyan discusses her body image issues with disarming frankness: “I think I’ve lost weight around my stomach and a little around my calves but my butt is still a problem!!!”

Both girls are working their newly found fame for all it’s worth, and it’s pretty obvious from reading the blogs that there’s some none-too-subtle product placement going on. Considering the fact that these girls work long hours for not a lot of pay, it’s hard to begrudge them for milking their new celebrity status to the fullest.

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