Archive for August, 2011

Ikumen: raising new father figures in Japan

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

The Ikumen Project, a government campaign launched last year to encourage Japanese men to take a more active role in parenting, is gathering momentum. Seminars aimed at men on how to develop parenting skills are now being held across the country and father figures who take time out of their work to spend time with their kids are currently being applauded in the media.

Though Japanese men traditionally take responsibility for providing financially for the family they bear little of the burden of childrearing, however with more women now in work, it makes sense to rethink these traditional gender roles. The iku in ikumen stands for ikuji, meaning “child rearing,”  so an ikumen is a guy who actively participates in the lives of his children.

Ikumen parenting events focus on encouraging men to take part in activities together with their children. Activities at a recent event in Mie Prefecture, for example, aimed at men in their 20s-40s, featured balloon and beanbag play, as well as a workshop on how to make airplanes with paper and bamboo.

The event in Mie was organized by local government, but there are other organizations supporting the ikumen campaign. NPO Ikumen Club, for instance, holds childcare seminars and dispenses advice on parenting through their website. Particularly focused on getting men to simply read a story to their children, the website features recommended books and tips on storytelling.

Ikumen are clearly good for a company’s image too. Papa Park!, run by entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo, sets a good example by promoting the ikumen credentials of stars in its stable.  Like comedian Ryo Tamura, for instance, who was recently interviewed in Sankei News about parenting his 7 and 3 year old sons.

One of the best advertisements for ikumen came with the recent release of the live-action adaptation of the manga classic “Bunny Drop.” The plot centers on Daikichi, a 30-year-old salaryman who suddenly finds himself responsible for the upbringing of six year old Rin, the illegitimate child of his grandfather. Not surprisingly, the movie is endorsed both by Ikumen Club, who clearly sees it as a vehicle to raise the profile of the campaign.

Movies, popcorn and Geiger counters

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

In post 3/11 Japan, Geiger counters continue to be a must-have product, though the range of price and quality varies wildly. Can’t afford one? Why not rent?

CK-3 rental with your DVD, ma'am?

Without much fanfare, home entertainment rental shop Tsutaya has started lending out Geiger counters from its shops in Fukushima Prefecture. The machines are available at six branches in Fukushima, and they are free, one per customer and one time only, with same-day return. Each shop has between 10 and 40 hand-held counters. There’s a ¥1,000 charge per day after the first day. Rental requires only a Tsutaya rental membership card and an ID, including a gaijin card or passport.

A Japanese blogger wrote this past Sunday that there was a line of about 20 people waiting for a Tsutaya in Koriyama to open, and another line formed immediately at the geiger counter rental counter.

Customers can choose whether they would like a counter made in Japan or China. As of Friday afternoon, a branch in Fukushima City had both available. Several other companies, such as Redstar and Level 7, have also been lending out the machines via online request forms, but Tsutaya seems to be the first outlet with simple walk-up availability.

Volunteers at Safecast, a volunteer group that has set up an extensive radiation monitoring system in Japan, are quick to point out that the counters being lent out by Tsutaya detect only the gamma radiation levels in the air and will not detect radiation contamination on surfaces or in food, which they consider the bigger concern right now. “People will obviously try to check the surface contamination and possibly even food, and it will give them readings that are totally off,” wrote a volunteer, who goes by the name Akiba, in the Safecast mailing list. However, he also added, “Anything helps, and there’s nothing wrong with renting geigers, especially if it makes people feel more at ease.”

How about a hot bath … in sawdust?

Friday, August 26th, 2011

A relaxing bath in sawdust is just the thing for beautiful skin

Sawdust has more uses than sopping up blood on a butcher’s floor or providing a cosy bed for pet beetles, according to Café Googirl: It’s now trending as a beauty treatment.

Enzyme baths, filled with sawdust from cedar and cypress trees, are said to improve circulation, cleanse skin and help with muscle pain, among other health claims. Enzymes from vegetation and fruit ferment within the sawdust to produce heat and it’s said that this fermentation provides the skin-enhancing “magic.”

The “bathing” here involves getting buried up to the neck in sawdust by rake-wielding salon staff. The heat generated by fermenting enzymes then brings the temperature up to around 40 degrees centigrade. Café Googirl says you need to sit in the bath for between 20 and 30 minutes.

The treatment, which actually started in Hokkaido in the 1940s, can be experienced at salons around the country: Hi no Ki in Tokyo; Ogakuzu Koso Yoku Sakura, with branches throughout the country; and Yu Shin Ion Koso Ogakuzu Furo in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, which opened early this year. Though Yu Shin Ion claims that its baths can help with “irregular periods,” its main clientele, according to Asahi Shimbun, appears to be men returning from trips to a nearby fishing spot.

Salon owners seem to believe that there’s almost nothing these feisty enzymes can’t cure. Ion House Sayama, based in Saitama, says that a 20-minute dip will help with complaints including acne, anemia, hypertension, arthritis and even obesity. While we can’t vouch for that, we don’t be surprised if this unconventional treatment catches on.

Pulp it up: new directions for paper design

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Last month Kamigu, an online store selling creative paper products, opened its virtual doors for business. Paper vases, dioramas, wall hooks, coasters, figurines and packaging all created by Japanese designers are on sale. Providing a platform for designers to get their work out there in the world, Kamigu is making high design affordable and accessible.

Small world: One of Naoki Terada's paper dioramas, available on Kamigu

We were particularly enchanted with the Architecture Model Series, designed by architect Naoki Terada, which are 1/100th scale dioramas of typically Japanese scenes like cherry blossom picnics, construction sites or Tokyo streets.

Of course beautiful paper art is nothing new to Japan. This is the birthplace of  washi and origami after all, but there has recently been a resurgence of interest in the possibilities of paper. Japanese designers, such as Shin Tanaka and Tetsuya Watabe (Kami Model), have enthusiastically taken part in the global paper toy movement, and we feel Kamigu is just the next step along that journey.

Cheap to produce and ship, paper designs are the perfect medium for creators who want to play around with new ideas. Take the Nanibird, an avian paper toy template from Japan-based illustrator Josh McKible. On the Nanibird web nest, designers working within the parameters of Creative Commons showcase their original versions of this “Urban Paper” creation, and most of the designs are free to download so you can assemble your very own Nanibird.

Fans of origami might also want to check out the work of German artist Anja Markiewicz, who has been creating what she calls “Nano Origami” from teensy pieces of paper. Created using a toothpick and a lot of patience, she then encases her work in plastic orbs that can be worn as jewelry.

Those with an interest in paper arts can also visit the Paper Museum in Tokyo’s Kita Ward. The museum’s permanent collection houses over 40,000 paper-related items and visitors can find out about washi as well as modern paper-making techniques there. They even have a paper-making workshop on Saturdays.

Hot-looking guys for free

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Take me, I'm free! BACS magazine is filled with gorgeous young ikemen

 

Picking up up hot-looking guys at your local convenience store just got a whole lot easier. BACS is a free magazine aimed at ikemen (cool, good-looking guys) in their teens and twenties. Launched last month, the magazine advises aspiring ikemen on how to do their hair and makeup (and, yes, we know some of you will think this deeply wrong).

The cosmetics market for men in Japan is expanding and magazines like BACS are really going to help drive that growth. According to Yahoo News, the first month’s issue includes an interview with a makeup artist, a feature on how to create ikemen hairstyles and a women’s discussion on the topic of ikemen.

Part of BACS’ agenda is to recruit and foster new ikemen talent and its website features a section for aspiring ikemen idols to apply to become models. The chief editor emphasizes in Yahoo News that they’ll be supporting and scouting Japanese ikemen talent, so that Japanese talent doesn’t lose out to Korean stars.

The cover star of the first issue of BACS is Hamao Kyousuke, an actor who’s appeared in the stage version of “The Prince of Tennis” and the movie “Takumi Kun Series.” As “Takumi Kun Series” is based on a Boys Love novel that features passionate relationships between a number of sexy young boys at a high school, we’re thinking that BACS might just also be aimed at women too.

The fact that BACS is also behind the Mune Kyon Tokei (chest-tightnening clock) site gives further credence to this theory. A spin on the hugely popular Bijin Tokei, in which hot women pose with a chalkboard that tells the time, Mune Kyon Tokei is, well, the same thing, only with hot guys. Visitors to Mune Kyon Tokei can vote on whether they find particular guys hot or not and then view the top-rated guys.

‘Support angels’ are always there, thanks to AR and AKB48

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Ever get the feeling your computer support techs are playing around in their futuristic offices? No? Not even just a little? Hewlett Packard’s summer “Support Angels” campaign features TV commercials with members of all-girl pop group AKB48 enacting that fantasy.

Yes, there is an interactive experience, powered by augmented reality, embedded in this promotional fan. Pretty cool, no?

Meanwhile, in the real world, the company is launching a campaign for new new 24/7 support service in Japan that blurs the line between offline and online advertising. They’ve set up a big interactive display outside the east entrance of Shinjuku Station, a popular night-out meeting spot. A TV screen, the size of a small stage and ringed in neon, plays a slideshow of AKB48 members posing in headsets and the OL-of-the-distant-future costumes from the commercial. People hanging around the area are encouraged to interact digitally and physically: Tweets that are hashtagged “support angel” (#サポートエンジェル)  scroll instantly across the screen. And at smaller monitors nearby, people can win prizes by taking a quiz. (Electronics are the big prize, but everyone who plays will get at least a branded bottle of water.)

You can take the interactive experience home, too. On a recent hot night, they were giving out paper fans. The disks have a silhouette of a woman in a box on them. When you go to the website and aim the fan just so at your computer’s webcam, the silhouette activates an AR version of AKB48 member Yuko Oshima. You can interact with the image and use your webcam to take a photo side by side.

Can she help with your tech troubles? Nah. “It’s called ‘Support Angels’ because it’s like they’re always looking out for you,” said a young man staffing the display outside Shinjuku Station. “The support people aren’t really AKB48,” he clarified. But the AR gadget gives you something to play with while you’re waiting for a real tech to fix your computer.

Men look to shed a few years off their aging skin

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

While the cosmetics industry has women slathering their faces with a variety of high-price lotions and potions, up until recently Japanese men have been relatively immune to the pseudo scientific claims of anti-aging creams. But it looks like that’s all set to change as manufacturers begin to bring out a range of products that promise to return elasticity and shine to middle-aged men’s skin.

Nivea’s Revitalizing range has proved popular

The breakthrough brand, according to Nikkei Trendy, on the Japanese market has been Nivea. When the company’s Revitalizing series was launched in 2006, sales that year were an impressive ¥3.5 billion, but they have steadily climbed and in 2010, almost doubled to ¥6.2 billion. Nivea’s success is thought to be down to both straightforward advertising, which simply states the product is for men who feel their skin is lacking tautness and looking a bit dull. It’s also thought that men who are embarrassed to ask advice about anti-aging cream feel they can trust the brand because they are familiar with it through their mothers or wives.

Otsuka pharmaceuticals were next to follow suit. In September 2008 they launched a range of moisturizing products for men called UL.OS. Their research indicated that though young men spend a lot of money on facial washes or on aftershave, only 10 percent were moisturizing. The range includes a lotion, milk and cream. The packaging is minimal and, compared to women’s moisturizing products, the price is extremely reasonable (200 ml of Skin Lotion costs just ¥1,890).

Lucido, a company that makes cosmetics for men, is boldly advertising that it has created a range for 40+ men. While this might not look too glamorous on packaging, the company reckons a no-nonsense approach is something that men, who are worried about losing their looks, will appreciate.

Lucido looks as though it might have a trump card up its sleeve with a new product launch at the end of the month. “Slightly Tinted Moisturizing Cream” is somewhere between foundation and a moisturizer; the product can cover unsightly blemishes while also, of course, replenishing the skin with essential oils. We think it might be a hit with men who might otherwise shy away from buying make-up products.

As companies target this potentially lucrative market, drugstores are giving over display space to men’s anti-aging creams. It looks like many in the industry are hopeful that they can revive the fortunes of the flagging cosmetics market (which has been rather depressed since 2008’s financial crash) as well as bring the luster of youth back to crinkling skin.

A close shave for Japanese women

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

In the never-ending battle to remove unsightly hair, some Japanese women opt for a close shave. According to J-Cast, a kao sori (shaved face) boom is gathering momentum across Japan. Specialist salons offering kao sori services are increasing in number and earlier this year, a new specialist shaving razor for women was launched on the market.

So why the hell do women want to scrape their faces with a razor? The main reason is to get rid of downy hair around the mouth and cheeks, but Beauty Face, a specialist kao sori salon, claims there are other benefits, such as a noticeably whiter, brighter and softer skin.

While barbers were the first to offer a ladies’ shaving service (being as they specialize in wielding a razor), many women were reluctant to enter a male-dominated environment. Female-friendly salons, however, are a different matter. Since Beauty Face was opened in 2004, business has steadily grown, and the company now has 70 salons across the country. Beauty Face is not the only ones offering this service. We also spotted Soru on the web, a salon in Kanagawa, offering women’s face shaving. There’s also Napoli in Ebisu, Peau D’Ange in Shinjuku and Rev-own, who have  10 shops in Kanto and three shops in Kansai.

Beauty Face is keen to promote the concept of the ladies’ shave and has teamed up with Kai, a company that sells razors and beauty products, to conduct a dermatological study into the benefits of face shaving. The companies claim that if you use a razor correctly the amount of moisture and natural oil in your skin increases.

No matter how well you shave, facial hair grows back at around the 20-day mark, so you’ll be in need another shave by the time the month is out. As a simple face shave costs ¥2,362 in a Tokyo branch of Beauty Face, it might be more economical to do it yourself. Kai’s new lady’s face shaver went on sale in March this year and is targeted at women who’d like to shave their face in the comfort of their own homes.

Kai’s PR manager stresses the need to take care when shaving delicate facial skin and to avoid doing so when you’ve got sunburn. The woman in the video above demonstrates the correct face-scraping technique for those curious about the process. However, be warned. J-Cast says plenty horror stories of stinging, painful skin and even bloodshed can be found on the web.

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