Archive for May, 2011

Bringing nihonshu into the mix

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Fancy a sake and tonic? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar are hoping the answer from young drinkers will be a hearty yes as they attempt to carve out a new niche in Japan’s crowded drinks market. The bar, which bills itself as the world’s first specialist sake cocktail bar, opened in Ginza on April 20 and is a collaboration between seven different sake brewers who are using the venture to raise the profile of the much-maligned sake cocktail.

Yep, that's what they call a sake bomb.

Though sake cocktails, such as the sake bomb, have made a splash overseas, the concept has yet to gain traction in Japan, according to Food Stadium. Many of the sake producers I spoke to at Foodex, a couple of years ago seemed to view the concept of mixing sake with anything as an aberration, but some were trying to run with the concept with a special stand serving cocktails shaken by bow-tied bartenders from snazzy silver shakers. This new venture is simply raising the profile of a campaign that has yet to gain momentum.

If they can pull it off, the rewards could be huge. Suntory’s campaign to promote the highball has brought the company a whole new generation of whiskey drinkers, who like the idea of whiskey as a sophisticated drink but are put off by the high alcohol content. Nihonshu suffers from the same image problem whiskey did years back: it’s perceived as both expensive and way too strong. Many young drinkers instead prefer to instead drink shochu with a mixer which allows them to enjoy the tipple without getting immediately smashed.

The SAKE nic (¥580) is at the forefront of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar’s campaign to reinvent sake in Japan: The drink is a blend of seven different sakes mixed with tonic and a sliver of orange peel, and is designed to be refreshing and zesty. Their other trademark drink is the Sake Espuma (¥630): sake blended with a special machine that gives the drink a beer-like frothy head. In addition to offering 150 types of sake cocktails, the bar is covering its bases by also offering classic spirit-based cocktails, whiskey and beer.

But a small band of sake producers don’t have the advertising clout that a huge company like Suntory possesses, so even if they can get people drinking these cocktails, it’s going to take awhile for the trend to take hold. In the hopes that trend will catch on elsewhere the bar will be holding sake cocktail workshops for restaurateurs and other promotional events.

Can sake shake off its old geezer image and get with younger drinkers? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar have certainly got their work cut out for them. According to C Scout, a 2009 survey of women aged 20-30 showed that 75 percent of them hardly ever drink nihonshu and that’s just the demographic they’re aiming to turn around.

Photo: Marcelo Teson

Merchandise boosts ‘K-On!’ movie sales

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Though the “K-On!” movie is yet to open in the future on Dec. 3, J-Cast observed that on movie tickets completely sold out on April 29. Why had the sales spiked so much prior to the movie’s release? It turns out that ardent fans were desperate to get their hands on limited-edition merchandise.

Movie goers who order a ticket to see “K-On!” in advance get the perk of a clear plastic file that depicts a character from the anime drama. There are five files to collect and fans have been buying up to five tickets together in order to collect each one. Some fans even camped over night to get their mitts on these desirable slivers of brightly colored plastic. Stocks are now running low and a cinema in Kumamoto, for instance, reports that it has run out of the special files.

“K-On!” merchandise has been insanely popular. Back in November last year we reported on Lawson’s “K-On!” campaign. The convenience store sold specially branded K-On! snacks as part of a special campaign, some of which were so popular that they immediately sold out. This caused a huge commotion on the net among disgruntled “K-On!” fans who pride themselves on owning complete collections of all “K-On!” merch.

If you haven’t heard of “K-On!” before, here’s the takeaway: It’s a gentle, light comedy, bursting with saccharine sweet cuteness. Debuting in April 2009 on TBS, it follows the fortunes of five cute high school girls who decide to start a music club and a rock band is born.

The runaway success of the K-On! movie campaign is sure to inspire marketers to get busy to create similar limited-edition items.

Hacking for a safer world

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Tokyo HackerSpace describes itself as “an open community lab, studio, workbench, sewing circle, machine shop+” for people into “technology, building things, gardening, cooking, science, sewing, digital art, [and] gaming+.” In more concrete terms, THS is a rented house between Ebisu and Meguro where every surface is piled with soldering guns, circuit boards and packing foam. Even the window is obscured by a self-watering hanging garden made of repurposed bottles, containers and tubing. Part of a global movement, the group’s twenty-some members pay a monthly fee to keep the materials for their projects there. Until now, that has meant sewing supplies, electronics, tool boxes and a semi-functioning electronic piano. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, sheets of solar panels and boxes of geiger counters and their components have taken a prominent place among the organized chaos of the HackerSpace.

Tokyo HackerSpace is currently working on three main projects to help the people affected by the disasters. The one that’s received the most attention is Safecast, a project with international backing designed to provide independent radiation readings throughout Fukushima prefecture, with plans to expand beyond there later. Pieter Franken, one of the project’s leaders at THS, said, “Ideally we’d have stationary monitors placed throughout the region, but there’s a worldwide shortage of geiger counters right now.” For now, the group has created mobile monitors they call “bento geigies,” for the way the parts pack neatly into their plastic box. International Medcom donated 10 geiger counters that cost hundreds of dollars each. The hackers have bundled them with GPS loggers, wifi devices and custom circuitry that outputs the data stream to a laptop to create roving broadcasting kits that can be mounted on cars to “take radiation readings the way Google street view takes photos,” Franken said. (While the circuitry seemed seamless, two of the hackers looked a little unsure about whether the nylon straps they’d attached to the kit would be long enough to attach it to the car, lent by a local dealer.) The data is going up on Safecast.org, the organization’s own site and also to pachube, an open-source map displaying all kinds of global environmental data.

Continue reading about Tokyo Hackerspace →

Disaster preparation with a difference

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Emergency koala biscuits from Lotte

Disaster gear tends to be, well, a little frumpy, or, in the case of Japan’s rather weird disaster hats, just downright ludicrous looking. So what’re trend-conscious Tokyo-types to do when the ground starts shaking for the trillionth time? Some are turning to Danish brand Yakkay for the answer. Their trendy hard hats have been selling like hot cakes since the quake hit, according to Tokyo Walker. Though they’re aimed at cyclists, the hats on sale at Rotator Store, Marui’s specialist bicycle store, have been worn elsewhere. Marui’s PR manager points out that they have been spotted on train passengers as they make their commute to the office.

So what other funky disaster-related products are out there? Here are but a few:

  • Silver Hello Kitty disaster kit: Though this kit does contain the dreaded quilted disaster hood, it also has a funky pink Hello Kitty bandana inside to don once the tremors have subsided, allowing kids to regain their street cred. Also inside are a blanket, torch, pillow and pouch. Demand appears to be high. At the time of writing this item is sold out on Jishin Bousai Netto (Earthquake Disaster Prevention Net) and Amazon.
  • Black rhino disaster kit: Again for kids, but we think adults could get away with sporting this funky matte-black rhino-shaped bag. Contents include: a whistle, a torch, aluminum sheet, tissues, pen and memo pad, cotton gloves and hand towel.
  • Silver disaster jacket for dogs: Dogs need to stay safe too. This stylish coat can double as a stretcher for injured dogs and is waterproof in case it pours down. Inside its pockets are items that humans will find useful in an emergency.
  • Lotte Koala Biscuits: If you’re forced to eat boring old dry biscuits, you might as well have them in funky shapes. This five-can set of emergency treats will do nicely.
  • Blue jumpsuit: Politicians wearing this stunning sky-blue item will be able to show that they’ve really taken charge in an emergency. The suit also signifies that they are working hard alongside the common man to bring an end to a crisis. Supposedly, anyway. Watch out for grumpy movie directors who might sneer at your stylish threads. They’re just jealous!

 

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