Archive for May, 2011

Camping packages fit for a city slicker

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Your tent is ready, madam

Camping out under the stars on a summer night can be a magical experience: the fresh air, the scent of wood smoke, a collapsing tent . . .

OK, so that last one is a bit of a problem, but what if you didn’t have to pitch your own tent, or even light your own campfire? Recently many campsites have begun offering amateur campers hassle-free camping holidays, which include a pre-pitched tent as part of the package.

Qkamura (holiday village), for example, has a teburade kyampu (hassle-free camp) plan, which includes a tent and all the items necessary for an awesome barbecue (ingredients, seasoning, fuel, charcoal and BBQ pit). A one-night stay, which includes breakfast and dinner, is a reasonable ¥5,000 per adult.

Qkamura’s campsites are located near sightseeing spots and onsens but amusement parks are also getting in on the game. Resort Pleasure Forest amusement park, for instance, do a camping package that includes norihodai (a full day’s pass on all rides). Prices for breakfast, dinner and a pre-pitched tent start from ¥7,500 for adults and ¥6,800 children.

Our favorite plan though is the hime kyampu (princess camp) at Kitakaruizawa Sweet Grass campsite. Taking the hassle-free camping concept to another level, this is a butler service version of outdoor life for pampered city princesses: Throughout guests’ stay, “butlers” are available to cater to their every whim. Naturally, such service doesn’t come cheap: For a party of  three, prices range from ¥11,000 to ¥15,000. Sweet Grass also offers some native Indian-style tents to stay in, as well as cabins with a “Totoro” theme.

The trend is logical spinoff of an overall increase in interest in the great outdoors, which has been particularly strong among young women (see the yama girls trend). Packages are pitched at beginners who don’t want to be bothered with lugging around a tent and barbecue gear. Money Zine says these plans are increasing and the summer will see the trend heat up.

‘Secret society’ takes a national stool sample

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

After you, um, go about your business on the toilet, do you check the results? The answer from most Japanese appears to be a resounding yes, according to a mysterious organization that has been conducting surveys on the ins and outs of digestion. Delzmarl, which dubs itself a “secret society,” has just published the results of its second investigation into the bowels of Japanese citizens online and come up with some interesting statistics.

The second report was based on information collected from 3,617 male and female respondents between March 1 and April 30. According to the poll, seven out of 10 (66.9 percent) respondents said they checked the state of their morning poo in the loo before flushing. The top three qualities checked by respondents were quantity (83.3%), color (80.7%) and texture (47.9%).  Surprisingly, smell came in at only 20.3%. There was a difference in what the sexes looked out for: 79.1% of men looked for color, while 81.5% of women were concerned with quantity.

The playfully illustrated website is now conducting its third survey on the average Japanese digestive tract, this time focusing on problems and concerns about bowel movements. The first question concerns constipation and asks respondents what they think is the cause. Those who fill out the survey are entered into a lottery to win one of 500 cell phone straps that resemble the human colon and double as plastic exercise tubes (as the video above demonstrates). The survey results are to be published June 30.

According to Delzmarl, “our waste is a barometer of our health” and “to have healthy poop we need lactic-acid bacteria.” Though the website is registered to Tohokushinsha Film, we’re guessing that Yakult, maker of the probiotic milk-like drink of the same name, is behind the survey, though you’ll have to check out Delzmarl’s privacy policy to see a mention of the company. We know that Japanese generally have a healthy sense of humor when it comes to poop, but perhaps Yakult is shy about directly asking its consumers about their daily dumps?

Super cool biz and signs of a setsuden summer

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

For most people in Tokyo, life two months past the March 11 quake and tsunami is back to usual. But it’s not as if nothing at all has happened. In addition to paying keener attention to minor rattles (will it get stronger? was that just the tail end of a much bigger quake elsewhere?) and keeping go-bags at the ready, the signs are small, but they are there. Signs in store windows, from convenience stores to fashion outlets, carry the ubiquitous cheer “Gambarou Nippon.” Company mascots, from Lee Jeans’ Buddy Lee to KFC’s Colonel, are joining in the rallying cry. Waiters at the hip Good Morning Cafe wear subtle red buttons with the same message.

Many are wondering if the coming summer will really bring the promised  electricity cut-backs. Setsuden (energy-saving) measures are at once an attempt to stave off power reductions and a taste of what they would entail. What’s cooler than Cool Biz? Super Cool Biz.  This year’s incarnation of the power-saving and sweat-inducing measures runs two months longer than last year and relaxes the standard business dress code even more. Where last year the most that  a hot-under-the-collar salary man could get away with was ditching the coat and tie, this year he can lose the collar altogether. T-shirts, jeans and Hawaiian shirts will be permitted under the Ministry of Environment’s new guidelines. (Only nice jeans, though. Standards specify “no rips or holes.”)

Continue reading about setsuden measures →

Pucker up! It’s Kiss Day in Japan

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

The groundbreaking "Hatachi no Seishun"

Check your breath and find a friend (or a kiss transmission device): Today, May 23, is “Kiss Day” (キスの日) in Japan.

The phrase is trending on Japan’s local Twitter ranking, mostly, it seems, due to tweets from people saying they had no idea that it was indeed Kiss Day. The day commemorates the date in 1946 when the first Japanese movie with a kissing scene was shown in Japan. The movie was “Hatachi no Seishun”  (20-Year-Old Youth) directed by Yasushi Sasaki and starring Kaoru Aikawa and Michiko Ikuno. The kissing scene is reportedly brief, and the actors are said to have protected their mouths from each other with gauze. But the moment was daring enough to sell out cinemas at the time. It also is said to have started debates about the meaning and appropriateness of showing kissing in films, including whether or not it was a properly Japanese — or hygienic — activity, according to the book “The Japanese Film: Art and Industry.”

Will summer colas quench thirst for new flavors?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Just the thing when you're parched?

When it comes to beverages, the Japanese tend to mix it up a bit and are always thirsty for new flavors and innovations. To quench that thirst, this month three new colas are being launched on the market, just in time for the summer months ahead. As this year is going to be a particularly hot one, with general aircon usage severely curtailed, here’s a quick round-up:

We’re betting this year that the front-runner is going to be Pepsi Dry. Following on from the hugely successful limited-edition novelty flavors of shiso, baobab, Mont Blanc and azuki, the gimmick this time is that the drink is not so sweet. Half as sweet as normal colas, the Suntory drink is designed to be refreshingly dry on a hot summer’s day. On sale from May 24, Pepsi Dry will cost ¥140.

Bridging the gap

Asahi have countered with a healthy cola, which contains vitamin C, vitamin B6 and caffeine. A crossbreed of energy drink and cola, Dodekamin Energy Cola is made to give you a jump start when your energy is flagging. It’s definitely going to appeal to sweaty salarymen battling with the heat under difficult conditions. Launched May 17, the drink costs ¥140 for a 500 ml pet bottle.

Our final cola is a limited edition number sold exclusively at Family Mart and AmPm. Definitely coming under the novelty cola category, Sakuranbo (Cherry) Cola, is unlike any cola we’ve seen before and its shocking pink color almost seems to disqualify the drink from the cola category. We’ve not tasted this particular concoction yet but Colawp.com remarks that it does have an intriguing sweet and sour flavor. The drink, manufactured by Suntory, went on sale on May 3 and costs ¥147.

 

 

 

Table for one? Right this way

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Eating yakiniku alone can be embarrassing but a new restaurant aims to change that

Many people in Japan feel that slapping some meat down on a sizzling grill while chatting about your day is a fundamentally social experience. That’s probably why you’ll get some strange looks if you go into a yakiniku restaurant and ask for a table for one. But a new restaurant in Ueno has taken away the stigma for lonely yakiniku lovers.

Hitori (one person), which opened on April 14, caters exclusively to solo diners. Each booth in the restaurant is equipped with its own grill and servings are just enough for one. The layout is reminiscent of an Internet cafe as the booths shield the diner from prying eyes, allowing them to indulge their carnivorous gluttony without shame.

Rocket News, who went to evaluate this new dining experience, gave it the thumbs up, describing the meat as extremely reasonable for the price: slices of karubi (beef ribs), for instance, come in at ¥250 and harami (tender meat from the diaphragm) is ¥190. They also think the restaurant will be a big hit with female diners.

According to “What Japan Thinks” a survey taken in 2009 by DIMSDRIVE shows that Japanese diners are particularly reluctant to eat yakiniku alone: Only 4 percent of respondents said they often ate out alone at yakiniku restaurants. The survey also showed that while women are comfortable eating out in fast food restaurants and cafes, they were significantly less likely to eat out alone in sushi bars, ramen stores, beef bowl restaurants and izakaya (taverns).

(more…)

China: the next frontier for konbini

Friday, May 13th, 2011

A local 24-hour convenience store in the city of Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Aiming to export Japanese convenience store culture, four big Japanese companies are laying plans for expansion into China. Seven Eleven, Lawson, Mini Stop and Family Mart are all intending to open more stores in the near future, going up against both domestic and other foreign competitors for a lucrative slice of China’s convenience store pie.

While China has its own convenience store chains, such as Kedi, which has over 700 outlets in Shanghai and other parts of China, there’s no particular chain dominating the market nationwide, leaving the field open for Japanese names, as well as Tesco and Wallmart (who operate under the name of Smart Choice, or Hui Xuan in Chinese), to take the lead. And it’s not just the big players who are competing; China also has an abundance of privately run local stores.

According to Nikkei Trendy, big convenience store chains in China have the image of being cheap and rather fashionable. In addition they stock foreign goods unavailable in locally run stores. Japanese convenience chains stock items like bento pack lunches and onigiri rice balls which are perceived by the Chinese public as being high-quality products. The Chinese media, who’ve been taking note of the convenience-store wars, have been impressed with the standard of service at Japanese convenience stores compared with that of locally run small businesses.

As in Japan, convenience stores don’t just limit themselves to selling everyday goods; it’s also now possible to pay utility bills and make purchases over the Internet using a Lakala terminal. These terminals are proving very popular, and there are now over 40,000 spread across 246 towns and cities in China. Having one of these terminals available in-store appears to be a key factor toward winning over the market in China.

Plans for expansion by Japanese firms are as follows: Lawson aims to have opened 10,000 stores by 2020;  Family Mart wants to increase the number of stores from the existing 400 stores into 4,500; Seven Eleven, who opened 100 stores in Beijing and Tianjin in 2010, wants to open 50 in Chengdu by the end of 2011; and Mini Stop is slated to 200 shops within five years.

One difficulty that Japanese businesses might encounter is anti-Japanese sentiment. At the end of 2010 when tensions were running high over the Senkaku Islands issue, Japanese retailers Ito Yokado and Isetan suffered damage at the hands of protesters. However, at present, the market looks set to expand throughout 2011.

Photo: Prince Roy

 

‘GeGeGe’ birthplace becomes tourist magnet

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

NHK's morning drama GeGeGe no Nyobo

In pursuit of ghostly fun and games, visitors flocked to the city of Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture during the recent Golden Week holidays (April 29-May 3). A shopping arcade in the hometown of quirky cartoon artist Shigeru Mizuki was the main attraction for day-trippers hoping to catch a sighting of their favorite “GeGeGe no Kitaro” characters. Despite a general drop in domestic travel due to the March 11 quake, visitor figures recorded by city’s sightseeing association, were up dramatically when compared the same period last year, according to MSN news.

The city is still riding high on a craze for “GeGeGe no Kitaro” that’s been sweeping the nation recently. Many fans have had their interest in the artist piqued by “GeGeGe no Nyobo,” a NHK TV drama that aired last year from March 29 to Sept 25. Based on the autobiography written by Mizuki’s wife Nunoe Mura, the drama details the couple’s life after their arranged marriage, and the struggles and hardships before Mizuki’s career really took off.

As the wife of a one-armed war veteran many year’s her senior, Mura at first finds it difficult to understand her work-obsessed husband. However, the couple grow to accommodate each other’s foibles in the gentle asadorama (morning drama) series. The same story was told in a movie of the same name released in Japanese theaters in November 2010.

“GeGeGe no Kitaro,” Mizuki’s biggest success, was a manga that featured various yokkai (spirit monsters) and retold the story of “Hakaba no Kitaro” (Kitaro of the Graveyard), which originally appeared as a kamishibai (paper play) in the 1930s. Over the holidays, bisitors to Sakaiminato’s Mizuki Road were able to enjoy a nostalgic kamishibai performance of the story as well as visit the famous kappa spring and view statues of GeGeGe no Kitaro characters.

 

RSS

Recent Posts

  • Pulsations 1.13.14

    The first batch of Pulsations in 2014 features a twist on chopstick design, a spectacular holiday illumination in Osaka and more.

  • Feelin’ lucky? The highs and lows of ‘fukubukuro’

    Whether you count fukubukuro “lucky bags” as a thank-you to shoppers, a scheme to unload less popular merchandise at the end of the year or just a way to kick off the New Year’s sales, buying a mystery pile of stuff worth [hopefully far] more than the price tag is a tempting offer to many. [...]

  • Pulsations (12.6.13)

    This collection of Pulsations brings holiday cheer in bento form, a must-see project for font-lovers, a solo stop-motion animation effort and more!

  • Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

    Joysound karaoke announced their top songs of 2013! However, just because they’re popular does not mean they came out this year . . .

  • Tokyo Eggs Benedict Bingo

    Eggs Benedict with awesome bacon, with a near lack of eggs, with raw tuna! Wait, raw tuna?! We sample a handful of Tokyo’s Hollandaise sauces.

  • Pulsations (11.19.13)

    Fashion, art and snacktime collide in this collection of Pulsations! Plus: Doraemon makes his 3D film debut!

  • J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

    Bookseller Tsutaya moves into the lifestyle business and gives consumer more ways to use T-points.

  • Autumn crop of pumpkin, purple potato and pear products

    The change of season prompts a change of snack flavorings – great for those with a pumpkin craving.

  • Tokyo Designers Week 2013

    This year’s Tokyo Designers Week gets its creative juices flowing with more markets, music and a festival vibe.

  • Flip a skirt a month in 2014

    Kaori Kato’s Skirt Flipping Calendar enters its second year, while sticky notes debut.