Archive for March, 2011

Post-quake aid on a musical note

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

All Tomorrow's Parties' fundraising event Made in Japan will raise money for the Japanese Red Cross

The music industry both at home and abroad is rallying to raise funds for disaster-hit areas in the northeast of the country. Though it’s perhaps easy to be cynical about the motivations of artists to get involved with good causes, Japan’s disaster victims indisputably need the funds, as well as the morale boost that comes from knowing that music fans across the globe are digging deep to support them in their time of need.

One of the most heart-warming stories to come out of the domestic music scene was news that Johnny’s Jimusho would be lending their trucks to the relief effort. Cancelling all performances for the month of March, the agency’s pretty boys were instead loading up trucks to be sent north. Stars like Hideaki Takizawa helped to load the trucks with much needed relief supplies that included items like toilet paper and antiseptic. Johnny’s acts are also working on a special CD whose proceeds will be donated to a tsunami relief charity.

Across the Pacific Ocean in the U.S., a who’s who of top pop and rock icons took part in the “Songs For Japan” charity album project. Now available on iTunes for $9.99, artists on the 38-track album include Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters and Justin Bieber. With royalties waived, every cent is going straight to the Red Cross relief fund. This week, Kyodo reported that it was iTunes’ top-seller in 18 countries.

One of the artists on the CD, Ne-Yo, has also showed his moral support by going ahead with his post-quake dates in Japan and donating some of the proceeds to relief efforts. The artist felt it was the right thing to do, giving fans something to smile about in a difficult time. Not all foreign artists scheduled to play Japan during March agreed with Ne-Yo’s stance, though. Ke$ha cancelled her Japan dates out of respect for the victims. A statement on her website reads: “My heart is with Japan right now through this disaster and these hardships. I genuinely don’t think right now would be appropriate timing for me to perform in Japan given the content and the spirit of my show, which is all about feeling exuberant, rowdy and wild.”

While the question of whether concerts in Japan are appropriate at this time is a thorny one, plenty of charity concerts abroad are going ahead. The international indie scene has been particularly quick to mobilize itself behind the cause. As soon as the news of the tragedy became apparent, organizers of SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, which already had 20 Japanese acts on the bill rallied to collect funds at the festival for the American Red Cross relief effort and raised in excess of its target $100,000. In New York on March 27, acts from Japan and elsewhere, including Sonic Youth, Sean Lennon, Cibo Matto and Yoko Ono, performed at a concert to raise money for Japan earthquake relief efforts. In the U.K. All Tomorrow’s Parties, which just held its first-ever festival in Japan before the quake, have organized a fundraiser slated for April 21. Acts on the “Made in Japan” bill include LFO, Fuck Buttons and Squarepusher.

A more mainstream music fundraiser, to feature as yet to be announced global music talent, is currently being planned in London for April. The event is organized by Live Nation and will take place at Wembly Arena. Also coming up in April is a special fundraiser being held at Manchester’s iconic Hacienda on April 22. “From Manchester to Japan With Love” will be headlined by Basement Jaxxx and funds raised will go to the Japanese Red Cross.

Show your support with quake-aid T-shirts

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Zozotown's T-shirt has the names of all supporting brands on its back

Since the quake hit Japan on March 11, devastating northeastern parts of the country, people worldwide have shown their support by giving generously to charities organizing relief efforts in hard-hit regions. Japanese celebrities and brand names are also encouraging people to donate by organizing benefits and releasing special T-shirts, with profits going to the cause. Here are some of the tees that you might want to think about.

Online shopping mall, Zozotown’s Start Today t-shirt, impressively gives all of its ¥2,100 price tag directly to the Japanese Red Cross Society. In collaboration with its numerous suppliers (including A Bathing Ape and X-Girl), Zozotown takes care of the manufacturing, handling and postage charges (within Japan). The front is emblazoned with the message “Start Today,” and on the back are the names of all the suppliers who are collaborating in the relief project. The T-shirt can also be bought by overseas buyers (with additional postage costs). At the time of writing an impressive ¥309,908,000 had been donated to the cause.

Chinatsu Wakatsuki's charity t-shirt

AA, the solo project of Ueda Kishi of the rock band Mad Capsule Markets, has come up with a striking black t-shirt that boldly makes its point with “We’re Not Alone” printed on a clenched fist. It costs ¥3,500 and all proceeds, again, go to the Japanese Red Cross. Hardcore rock band Brahman have teamed up with fashion brand Virgo to create their charity tee, also at ¥3,500, with proceeds being donated to relief efforts. On the front, “Wake Up” is printed over a arresting image of a figure with its arms raised, while its back simply states  “Re:Birth.”

Singer Ayumi Hamasaki’s simple “H♥PE” shirt is a feminine white tee, with a pink heart as the “o” in “hope.” Designed in collaboration with ViVi fashion magazine, it’s available for ¥1,500. Similarly using the heart symbol, celebrity idol Chinatsu Wakatsuki, who runs her own successful, if rather unfortunately named brand, W♥C, has based her design on the iconic “I ♥ NY” T-shirt. Her “I ♥ Japan” tees cost ¥2,100 on the W♥C website with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Designers, too, have come together to create original tees, including several international names that can be found on T-shirt printing company Sweatshop Union’s Rebuild project (all tees are ¥1,400 with all profits going to the Japanese Red Cross) and on Tomodachi Calling, with shirts for around $45.

Taro Okamoto towers above 2011

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Taro Okamoto's struggle to complete the "Tower of the Sun" is the subject of a new NHK drama.

Last year was samurai Ryoma Sakamoto’s year, as a huge surge of interest, largely generated by an NHK dramatization of his life, lead to countless product tie-ins. This year the dead celebrity du jour looks set to be artist Taro Okamoto, who will also be getting his own NHK show in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. A slew of exhibitions are also sure to revive the public’s interest in this iconoclastic painter and sculptor.

The NHK drama is titled “Taro’s Tower,” in reference to “Tower of the Sun,” which Okamoto created for Expo ’70 in Suita, Osaka. The first episode, which aired on Feb. 26, focused on the period between 1967 and 1970 when Okamoto battled to complete the tower in time for the World’s Fair. The structure is one of his most iconic works, and though it’s rather weather-worn, it still stands in the Expo Commemoration Park in Suita, Osaka.

Inside the “Tower of the Sun” there used to be a structure called “Tree of Life,” which represented the strength of life heading toward the future. Staircases winding round the inside of the “Tower of the Sun” allowed you to view it up close. Since “The Tree of Life” no longer exists the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum has commissioned a 1:20 scale model of the art work. Standing just 2.5m tall, the replica, made by model shop Kaiyodo, allows visitors to see details that you couldn’t with the 50-meter original.

Other museums are also holding special events in memory of Okamoto. The National Museum of Modern Art will be holding a 100th anniversary exhibition, which kicked off March 8. The show’s theme — confrontation — references the fact that Okamoto challenged the values of traditional Japanese society. About 130 works, including paintings, sculptures, photographs and design, will be on display.

At Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Kawasaki, an exhibition titled “100 years old Admirable Taro” will run until April 3. The curators have chosen 27 items from their collection of 818 works. Of particular note is a primitive shrine that Okamoto crafted out of traditional materials in celebration of folk art.

Though the art world is buzzing with Okamoto-related exhibitions, the craze for the artist hasn’t yet shown signs of reaching the same dizzy heights of last year’s Sakamoto boom. As yet we haven’t found any anniversary tie-in products, we did stumble upon these rather groovy Okamoto Children’s Day koinobori (carp kites), which were on sale as limited editions last year. Let’s hope they re-release them in time for this year’s Children’s Day.

“Tower of the Sun” photo by Ryan McBride [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

You want that green tea to go?

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Twist, shake and drink: Karatsuya's bottles of Marugoto Rokucha Benifuuki come with tea powder in the cap

Hot black tea may be the ultimate make-anywhere beverage — what’s easier to carry than a tea bag? But green tea is almost always made in Japan from loose tea, the leaves either dried for basic rokucha or powdered as matcha. This requires a small pot with a filter, or, at the least, a mesh strainer. As the centerpiece of the tea ceremony, matcha usually comes packaged in a pretty – but not particularly pocket-friendly tin. Don’t tell the nice lady who taught you about the traditional tea ceremony, but there’s a movement afoot for tea that is shaken, not stirred.

Some new kinda kick: Green Tea Espresso from Birouen

Manufacturers at this year’s international food trade show Foodex had a few solutions for making fresh green tea on the go. Green Tea Espresso, on shelves this spring, comes in six single-serving envelopes of intense powdered tea packaged in a plastic cup with a domed lid, a cross between a coffee cup and a martini shaker. Shake a packet of the powder with some milk and ice, and you’re good to go.  Don’t expect the syrupy green tea latte you find in convenience stores or coffee chains – this stuff has a bitter kick. “Just like only a small percentage of coffee drinkers like espresso, we only expect a small percentage of people who like green tea to like this,” said a Birouen rep as he whipped up a batch at Foodex. “But those who like it, really like it.”

Karatsuya has another shake-and-go tea option that’s a little milder. Despite the delicate sakura petals on the bottle, Marugoto Rokucha Benifuuki [whole leaf benifuuki tea] has just a touch of a chem-lab feel to it. It’s a bottle of spring water from Kirishima in Kyushu with a dose of powdered green tea sealed into the cap. A strong twist releases the powder into the bottle. Shake and drink for dark, cold green tea that’s always freshly made. The company claims that using the entire leaf doesn’t waste the vitamins, fiber and allergy-fighting properties that get left behind in brewed tea. To combat hangovers, another type has liquid turmeric extract (ukon) in the lid.

Sukidaccha's pen-like containers for powdered tea

The Sukidaccha portable tea containers look like fat magic markers, but they’re actually is filled with powdered tea, which can be release via a soft rubber opening. One pen can hold enough powdered tea for about 24 cups. It comes in a variety of teas, such as oolong and rooibos. The container can be bought by retailers in lots starting at 500 units and filled and decorated as they like, so keep an eye out for pens with original decorations and fillings.

A representative from Asahara Manufacturing pointed out that it doesn’t have to be used just for Japan’s most traditional drink. In addition to various powdered beverages (caramel hot cocoa, for example), he said it will be sold filled with spicy wasabi salt by Tamuraya. Just be careful not to mix it up with the tea, OK?

Click for more treats from Foodex 2011 …

New-style ramen targets female noodle-lovers

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Old school ramen, high in calories and sodium, is often seen by women as a naughty treat.

Traditionally, men tend to make up the majority of customers in ramen shops. Because it’s high in calories and sodium, and low in vitamins and fiber, ramen is often looked on by women as a naughty treat. But new styles of ramen that feature a lighter stock and healthier ingredients are proliferating, and this has had the knock-on effect of attracting more female customers.

According to Nikkei Woman Online, one of the driving forces behind the trend is Italian ramen. Taiyo no Tomatomen Next, in the Shinjuku MyLord shopping complex, specializes in making a ramen with a light tomato and chicken soup stock. In Ebisu there’s a little mobile ramen stall that serves up Genova Ton Shio Ramen, which has basil and cherry tomato on top of a salty soup stock. Both shops appear to be extremely popular with women: 90 percent of Taiyo no Tomatomen’s customers are female.

Though the lighter soups are attractive to women on a diet, the fusion aspect of the meal is winning points. Taiyo no Tomatomen do a cheese topping for one of their noodle soups, and fresh cream is the surprise ingredient in Boku no Miso Ramen, served at restaurant chain Ramen Kagetsuarashi. The butter bolognaise-style ramen, designed by celebrity chef Tatsuya Kawagoe, also contains ground pork and three types of miso paste.

But it’s not just about Italian fusion. One ramen shop in Takadanobaba has made a collagen ramen aimed at women. Potano San No Beji Pota Soup, which is also high in fiber, is said to give you glowing skin. In Nakano, the cooks at Heibon make Yasai Tappuri ramen, which is filled with 12 different kinds of veggies, including bean sprouts, cloud ear mushrooms and carrots. Reportedly popular with women, the dish is only available one day a month.

Presentation also appears to be a factor in attracting female clientele. Nidaime Ebi Soba Keisuke in Takadanobaba uses elegant crockery and serves up a shrimp soba in a sweet teacup. Their sweet shrimp and white soy sauce ramen is also popular with women and around 40 percent of the store’s clientele are female.

Women who want to find out more about female-friendly ramen stores can consult Jyosei Ramen-bu (Women’s Ramen Club) or read the book written by the website’s authors. There’s also a website All Japan Women’s Noodle Association which, since 2009, has been introducing not only ramen but other kinds of noodles to female gourmets across the country.

Will girls take the bait of fishing fashion?

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Will fishing girls follow in the footstep of mountain girls?

Fueled by a desire to get fit and out of the city, not to mention the prospect of a funky new wardrobe, Japanese women have been exploring the great outdoors in ever-increasing numbers. The running trend, followed by the yama (mountain) girl trend, have been a boon for vendors of outdoor/sports wear. But what about more sedentary girls who like the clothes but don’t fancy breaking a sweat? If the hype keeps up they might soon be a new less-active outdoor tribe to join.

Recently, Nikkei Trendy tipped fishing as the next big thing for women in 2011. In keeping with the pattern, the women of this nascent trend have been dubbed “tsuri jo” (fishing woman) or “tsuri garu” (fishing girl), though we’ve yet to hear about these phrases enter common parlance so marketers have their work cut out for them this year.

Cool gear, though, might hook them. The ransuka (running skirt) and yamasuka (mountain skirt) did wonders for popularizing running and mountain climbing. Will the tsurisuka be next? As far was we know, manufacturers aren’t exactly targeting fisherwomen yet, fishing gear maker Daiwa Globe Ride has at least gone out of its way to make fishing cool. Last month, the brand teamed up with uber-hop fashion label A Bathing Ape to create a line of cutting-edge fishing gear under the label of  A Fishing Ape, comprising camouflage-patterned fishing jackets and lures.

If Daiwa casts its lines right, it could make a pretty profit off of tsuri girls. According to Insight Now!, other manufacturers of cheaper fishing gear from Taiwan, China and South Korea could also get into the game. Will they be successful in luring the young female market? A sign of things to come can be seen at  Japan Fishing Festival, March 25-27. A seminar for female fishers has been scheduled, as well as a meet-n-greet vent for the anglers’ idol, Aica. Will she become a role model for budding tsuri jo?

Photo by Kintaiyo [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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