Archive for July, 2011

Apartment dwellers go potty for growing their own veggies

Friday, July 29th, 2011

John Moore's organic workshops has become increasingly popular

Over the past few years a trend for growing potted vegetables has been taking root on balconies throughout urban Japan. Driven by an increased interest in organic produce, many have been deciding to have a go at growing their own produce on tiny strips of sun-kissed balcony. Now with the crisis at Fukushima utmost in many people’s minds, the idea of growing your own vegetables is even more attractive.

Since the mid-noughties, a bumper crop of books containing the words “veranda saien” (balcony vegetable garden) have been published. Indeed, March this year alone saw three new titles hit bookstore shelves. “Easy to Grow Vegetables in Containers and Pots,” for example, shows budding gardeners how to grow veggies including cress, carrots, egg plants and cucumbers. According to Nikkei Trendy who reported on the “boom” back in summer 2008, one of the easiest plants to grow on a balcony are baby tomatoes, but as we reported a little while back, “green curtains” grown from goya have also been popular with those who want to use foliage to provide natural shade for their windows.

John Moore, a British resident of Japan, teaches classes in Tokyo on how to grow organic vegetables. Moore says that he has noticed a significant rise in the number of pupils recently.The numbers to our workshops have been increasing for the past three years. Safe food, safe DNA for the next generation and clean safe living is foremost in Japanese people’s minds, and also in the minds of overseas customers of food from Japan,” he said in a recent email interview. “On balconies, or inside the house in various places, good food can be safely grown, no insects, no climate worries, no nuclear worries, etc.”

As concerns about the safety of produce mount and vegetable-centric cuisine grows in popularity we think the trend looks set to spread even further. Japan’s cities are notoriously short on green spaces, so this is trend also has the advantage of making the concrete jungle look that little bit more leafy and pleasant.

Fukulog shares its looks with Asia

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Focusing on Asian cities, Fukulog World Snap was launched this month

Don’t you hate it when you’ve created that perfect look, but apart from parading yourself up and down the boulevard, you’ve got no one to show it off to? How are you to know if your ensemble is spot on or way off target? Social fashion site Fukulog provides a solution. Every day 70 to 100 users post their look on the website for other users to see, comment on and approve of. The site, which was launched late 2009 in Japan, is now so popular that the company behind the project is set to launch the concept on the global stage.

Since Fukulog launched its Facebook page in February this year Honey Entertainment, which manages Fukulog, noticed that the site was making waves overseas. In a recent press release the company announced that over 67,000 of their Facebook fans were foreigners (at the time of writing the total number of fans of the page was 70,257). Reacting to this popularity the company launched Fukulog World Snap on July 15. Initially focusing on Singapore, Taipei, Shanhai and Hong Kong, Fukulog has recruited fashionistas from those city’s to upload portraits of trendy types spotted out and about.

Despite the fact that the Facebook page currently caters to foreign fans by including posts in English, phrases like “to share your favorite fashion coordinates” suggest that they’ve got a ways to go before they become a truly international site. Fukulog’s main site is currently only accessible in Japanese, but Honey Entertainment is aiming to provide the service in English and Chinese by September this year.

So, what’s so great about this service that gives it the potential to go global? As opposed to other street-fashion sites, it doesn’t have invisible arbiters telling users what’s hot or not. All users can vote freely and upload their own looks freely. Furthermore, users post info about where they purchased clothes and the site easily links to those stores’ websites. The site, which allows you to browse via brand ranking, is also a good barometer of what’s trending now on the streets of Japan.

A win-win for Nadeshiko and Japan’s merchants

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Takashimaya's Nadeshiko commemorative dessert

As Japan welcomes back its women’s soccer team from their world cup triumph, Nadeshiko fever grips the nation. While the team’s victory is sure to spur women’s interest in soccer, it has also inspired the nation’s merchants. From sushi restaurants to department stores, special celebratory offers are the order of the day.

Sponichi Annex reports that Nadeshiko Sushi in Akihabara (which existed long before the women’s team was dubbed Nadeshiko) has been supporting the women’s team since it began kicking butt around the middle of the tournament. While the team battled it out on the field, the staff of the restaurant proudly wore its colors and when they won, the sushiya celebrated by dropping their ¥980 set meals to ¥700. In nearby Kanda, Izakaya Nadeshiko also discounted its sashimi set from ¥1,200 to ¥600. The izakaya naturally benefited from its name, as it popped up in online searches for the women’s soccer team’s name.

Over in konbini land, Family Mart is selling commemorative goods and holding a special thanks sale in honor of the Nadeshiko team up until July 25. Customers who buy items such as beer get entered into a lottery to win prizes.

Takashimaya will be selling a range of commemorative items from July 23 in honor of the victory. The department store also got on the ball quickly and invented a new Nadeshiko commemorative dessert. The blue and green lemonade jelly confection, which has a cute white-chocolate soccer ball perched on top, is available at the store’s rooftop beer garden for ¥420.

Not surprisingly, publishers are seeing brisk sales with Nadeshiko-related content.  According to Sankei News, a book titled “Homare” by  team captain Homare Sawa was sold out by July 18 at Kinokuniya stores across the country. Book 1st also sold out of “Honmare” as well as “Nadeshiko Power” (a book by teammate Sasaki Norio) before the final. The company is now placing an order 10 times as big as the last order for fresh copies.

Because no one was expecting the ladies’ team to beat the odds and come out on top, manufacturers were caught unawares. So we’re betting there will be plenty more Nadeshiko-related tie-ups to come.

Campaigns urge foreigners to pleeease visit Japan

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Japan’s tourist industry is in dire straits. In May, figures collected by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Association) showed that the number of foreign tourists visiting the country had dropped by 50.4 percent compared to last year. Though that’s a slight improvement on April, during which numbers were down by a massive 62.5 percent, it’s not as if foreigners are flocking back to Japan in droves. Fears of seismic activity, tsunami and, of course, radiation, are all keeping the numbers of overseas visitors down. So what’s it going to take to lure visitors back to the land of the rising sun? Here are few of the current “pleeease visit Japan” campaigns.

To increase the numbers of bums on airplane seats between Japan and Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific launched their “We Love Japan” campaign last month. Giving away 500 flights between Hong Kong and Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo, the company hoped to boost numbers of tourists as well as restore the confidence of Hong Kong citizens in Japan.

Another way of getting people back into the country is to demonstrate how safe it is, and that’s the modus operandi of the “Travel Volunteer in Japan” campaign. Created by Magellan Resorts travel agency, the competition offers the chance for one lucky winner to travel the length and breadth of the country for a total of 100 days. Reporting back on the experience to the world, the traveler will hopefully show just how safe Japan now is for tourists. Open to all non-residents, the closing date is July 31.

Though these campaigns by private companies really seem to be on the right track, Japan’s own tourism agency appears to be at a bit of a loss when it comes to bringing the tourists back. A campaign video titled “Message From Japan” (see above), which was shown in over 133 countries at airports, embassies and even in New York’s Times Square, features boy band Arashi extolling the joys of their native country. Japan Probe quite rightly pointed out that Arashi, while well-known in Asia, are completely unknown in other parts of the world. We agree that choosing native artists with an international profile, or at reasonable handle on English, might be a better approach. Luckily, last month Lady Gaga flew into Japan to lend her support, which probably did a lot more good than this this costly Arashi promo.

What do you think? Are you ready to visit Japan?

Life is sweet … for some men

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Though Japanese men get to hog the chocolates on Valentine’s Day, the rest of the year, sweets, cakes and other confectionary are traditionally the domain of the fairer sex. Or so they say. The truth is, loads of Japanese guys have a sweet tooth. As the younger generation of men discard outdated mores of masculinity, many are now unashamed to scoff down a strawberry parfait in public.

So it’s no surprise that sweet-toothed men are now getting together to discuss their love of sugary treats. On June 10, for example, men gathered in a café in Ebisu to attend the Amatou Danshi (sweet-toothed men’s) Café. The aim of this event was for men to discuss the merits of a range of sweet treats, which included Earl Grey jelly and rich chocolate confections. Organized by Amadan (甘男, the kanji literally means sweet man but is a shortening of the phrase Amatou Danshi) website, this event was the latest to bring together men with a secret passion for pastries. Every three or four months Amadan members get together to indulge their vice, bringing along their own sweets and cakes to compare and contrast with other men.

Amadan was founded in 2008 as a forum and information portal for like-minded males. According to Shibuya Keizai Shimbun, Tooru Hikino, the website’s founder, said that he wanted to create a space where could share their passion for sweets. The website includes information on new products, special features, including interviews with up-market pastry chefs and a calendar allowing members to keep abreast of confectionary-related events. Users can pass on tips and recommendations via Twitter.

So who are these amadan men? We’re guessing that many members might fall into the soshoku danshi (herbivore men) demographic of young males who reject traditional masculine values by taking a great deal of care with grooming and are not too fussed about aggressively pursuing women. A passion for cooking and sweets, fits right in with this lifestyle choice.

Confectionary companies could well start targeting this new market more aggressively; Morinaga Chocolate has already sponsored a play called Amadan about a cute bunch of boys who are fighting to keep their high school dessert club alive (see video above). There’s marketing opportunities for cafes and hotels there too: Last year Nagoya Tokyuu Hotel held an amadan gentlemen’s day where men were able to order a salad and dessert buffet on top of the standard lunch for just ¥500 extra.

Are you an amadan man? Or do you think that men ought to stick to chugging beer and devouring meat?

 

Doing your bit for setsuden? Here’s your discount

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Save energy, save money

Online restaurant guide Guru Nabi (short for “gourmet navigator”) has introduced a series of mobile coupons linked to power-saving efforts this summer. The coupons are in effect from June 30 to Sept. 30, the period during which businesses have been asked to reduce power consumption by 15%. In a first for Guru Nabi, the discounts are available for smartphones as well as Japanese keitai. (The coupons are only available from the mobile version.)

Some bars have half-price drink specials when the temperature (outside, we hope) goes above 35 degrees.  Restaurants have been encouraged to come with topical and fun discounts. A sushi place gives a free piece of sashimi to customers who say “I don’t need any air conditioning!” Another will take 10% off the bill for a rallying cry at the cash register of “Gambare, setsuden [Let's do our best to save power]!” Others reward customers for coming in in super cool biz attire, like Hawaiian shirts or open dress shirts with no necktie. That freebie paper fan you got handed on the street could actually be worth something, too — some places will take ¥1,000  yen the price of the meal for patrons carrying them.

Some seem playfully unconcerned about applying to a wide audience. For one, people with the syllables or kanji for “setsu” “den” “natsu [summer]” or “toku [value]” in their names get a discount. That’s great for the Setsuko’s and Natsumi’s out there, but people with non-Japanese names might be at a slight disadvantage. There’s still a chance  — anyone named Denis out there? Try your luck and let us know how it goes.

The latest and greatest gear for keeping it cool

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Despite early predictions of a mild summer, almost 7,000 people called ambulances for heatstroke this June across Japan — three times more than the same time last year. Some spots in the country hit record high temperatures they hadn’t seen in 50 years, Kyodo News reported. Official advice is to drink plenty of fluids and to be sensible about setsuden. But there’s only so much water you can drink. Manufacturers are to the rescue with products for every inch of the body and home.

This year sees an expansion of the sprays, gels and lotions that we saw last year, as well as a burst of subtle variations on the cool wraps that were spotted wrapped damply around necks last year. The use of high-tech fibers means the wraps can stay cooler with less dripping. At the same time, there is a return to basics that pre-date air-conditioning: Wooden screens, wicker pillows and bamboo sheets remind us that there were plenty of cool ideas in Japan long before microfibers and rechillable elasto-polymers. Start waving your paper uchiwa and check out our finds.

Found any yourself? Tweet your photos to @japan_pulse.

Cool drinks and eats to beat the heat

Monday, July 11th, 2011

From cold curry sauce to garlic sweets, this summer sees the launch of weird and wonderful products aimed at beating the season’s intense heat. Here are but a few:

Chilled Hiroshima okonomiyaki: This revolutionary product developed by the Tokugawa restaurant chain has been making waves on the web as Japanese get their heads round the mindboggling concept of cold okonomiyaki. Made in the Kansai style, it contains strips of meat and cabbage with a special ponzu-based sauce and dried bonito flakes on top. It has a lighter texture than your average stodgy okonomiyaki, making it easy summer eating. Because you don’t need to use a microwave to make it, it also helps you do your bit for setsuden (power saving).

Chilled curry: This chilled sauce is designed to be poured on top of cold noodles. The concept of chilled curry sauce for noodles was introduced by Yamasa last year, so the fact that House Foods has jumped on the bandwagon this year proves that the concept has staying power.

Stamina candy: Containing plum, salt and garlic, we’re guessing these candies are not for the faint of heart. However, the ingredients are purported to counteract the effects of heatstroke, so I suppose it’s worth sucking on one of these when temps become unbearable. We love the picture of a burly builder on the front of black packaging that gives the product a macho vibe.

Ring Jelly: Released by Mister Donut in June, these doughnut-shaped jellies come in four refreshing flavors: strawberry, coffee, pineapple and grape. Alongside these wobbly treats, Mister Donut is also really pushing the chilled doughnut concept this season (normal doughnut stuck in a fridge), which we’ve seen gradually gathering momentum in Japanese donut outlets over the past few years.

Menthol Shock: Despite the fact that refreshing menthol products are trending right now, This Nihon Life gave this beverage a test run and came back with the verdict that the experience of drinking it is “akin to swallowing 350ml of carbonated Listerine.” Have you given it a shot?

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