Archive for September, 2011

Just in case: Retailers urge customers to buy ahead

Friday, September 30th, 2011

You may never look at those cute Muji handkerchiefs again. Muji’s new emergency awareness campaign encourages people to stock up on everyday “itsumo” basics and to think about how they might be used in a “moshimo” emergency. A temporary display at Muji Atelier (through Oct. 5)  in the flagship shop in Yurakucho presents the “itsumo no moshimo” idea in a space that lies somewhere between a retail space, a gallery and a subtle first-aid class.

A Muji pamphlet urges consumers to think ahead

Simple items from the store are presented in spare Muji style with illustrations that suggest specific, somber uses for them. A black marker and a piece of packing tape become a simple system for leaving a message on your door telling people where you’ve evacuated. A sheet of plastic wrap over your clean plates means that you can eat from the plates and discard the wrap so you don’t have to wash the dishes when water is scarce. (Is that restricted to emergencies?) And those handkerchiefs. Not just handy for drying your hands in the train station bathroom, they also make handy dust masks or tourniquets, or a large one can be wrapped around, say, a small fold-up umbrella to make a splint.

Panasonic has seized onto the same itsumo/moshimo concept with a tagline that could be translated as “convenience any time, preparation for that time.” Their compact solar lights save energy in the good times and could save your evening if the power goes off. Products include a flat solar-paneled light that can be used as a charger for other cellphones and other small electronics, a tabletop lamp that turns on its side to be used as a flashlight and a rechargeable lantern that can stay lit for up to 20 hours.  Their waterproof portable TV that uses OneSeg technology to play broadcast TV over the cellular network can be a simple time killer in the bath or a life line to emergency information.

Traditional charcoal keepin’ it fresh

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Bamboo charcoal is the secret of Sususu's deodorizing power

Concepts often earn the title of “traditional” because they do their job effectively over the centuries. Take the role of charcoal in Sususu, an eco-friendly and attractive house plant that that doubles as a deodorizer. The soil contains tiny particles of odor-eating bamboo charcoal. Fungal bacteria in the charcoal absorbs unpleasant odors in the home rather than masking them with cloying scents.

The soil for Sususu comes in either rectangular or square block shapes and there are three varieties of plant to choose from (two varieties of Sansuberia and one of Pachira). We reckon it’s a nice decorative alternative to using a big aerosol can filled with perfume. However its price tag of ¥2,480 puts it shelf above those oridinary deodorizers.

Sususu is not the only product on the market that utilizes the traditional odor-eating charcoal. Take Dr. Smith’s  bamboo charcoal pillows, which were recently featured at Loft department store in Shibuya. They tout not only deodorizing properties, but also the ability to reduce the humidity in the room by absorbing moisture to create “the perfect sleep environment.”

If you don’t fancy sticking your head on a pile of burnt wood or having the hassle of looking after a plant, then it’s possible to simply buy bamboo charcoal on its own. Taketora sells the stuff on its web shop. Placed around the home in wicker baskets, this blackened bamboo looks surprisingly attractive and works both to reduce humidity and bad smells. Wish we’d known about this product a month ago when Tokyo was both stinky and unpleasantly sweaty!

Weekend volunteering just got easier

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

“Have you been up north yet?” is a common question, six months after the compound disasters of March 11. Over 700,000 people have not only seen first-hand the devastation wrought by the tsunami in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, they have volunteered.

Tohoku Walker's volunteer directory: Let your fingers do the clicking

While volunteers may have met with confusing and even contradictory information at first, there are now quite a few online resources to help match potential volunteers with work that still needs doing. Different government offices are running sites with volunteer information, including the graphically appealing Tasukeai Japan from the Cabinet Secretariat’s Volunteers Coordinator Office, which has general information about how to help and which towns are accepting volunteers. The NPO umbrella organization Japan Civil Network has information about buses that can take groups to the affected areas. Saigai VC has links to government stats and info on volunteer activities as well as links to local volunteer centers.

On the commercial side, Tokyo Walker has set up a site that makes planning a volunteer mission as easy as planning a weekend at a hotspring. The Tohoku Volunteer Yellow Pages lets potential volunteers seek work by clicking on calendar dates and then refining their search by location and by type of  labor. There are buttons for heavy labor like clearing rubble, scraping mud and moving furniture and for less physically demanding work like cleaning and caretaking.

The site provides some things to keep in mind when volunteering, like the importance of making an informed decision about where you’ll go and what you’ll do and leaving emergency contact information with a local volunteer center. It gives the general order of things you need to do, like getting volunteer insurance, double checking that planned transportation routes are accessible and packing your trash out with you. And would it be complete without a sorta cute illustrated guide to the gear you need to bring?

Continue reading about weekend volunteering →

This season’s fashion hit or flop?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Schoolyard fun for adults, Aku G Dou's randoseru rucksack updates a kids' classic

Would you be seen out and about wearing a white lab coat or how about donning an elementary school child’s rucksack? Judging by the buzz on the web, looking like you’re about to dissect a small mouse or alternatively like you’ve stolen some poor kids’ bag might be all the rage this fall.

In August, Classico Style launched a new website to promote their line of designer lab coats. Showing a bunch of good-looking Westerners posing for the camera in their dashing white coats, Classico Style is looking to broaden the appeal of their product line. Winners of the medical furniture category of the 2009 International Design Awards, the company has been praised for making well-tailored lab coats. Not content with targeting just doctors and scientists, J-Cast reports that Classico Style is hoping to broaden their appeal to other professionals such as designers and artisans, and perhaps even beyond to the man on the street.

We reckon that while swanning around in a well-made white coat and impersonating a busy surgeon might be fun, you’d be well and truly rumbled if someone called on your services while out and about.

No such difficulties with Aku G Dou’s adult randoseru. Elementary school students are generally seen sporting these leather rucksacks, but Aku G Dou has made their own version specially for adults. The rucksacks which are designed to fit the broader frame of an adult come in red and black and are adorned with metal studs that rock the playground style, making it that little bit edgier and perhaps a little less ridiculous.

Aku G Dou (who sell only one other kind of bag besides the randoseru, a cool bucket bag) have quite an impressive marketing pitch for their brand. Their spiel is a way too long to quote in full but here’s a snippet: “When you were a kid, the popular children in class were those that could run fast or those that studied well, but the one that really made your heart beat fast was a hero of the shadows, that naughty kid. Behind the candy store or the game center, he’d show you his father’s sexy ballpoint pen or a strange doll, sometimes that evil kid would make things that couldn’t be spoken of . . .  If he grew up what kind of thing would he show you? With these thoughts Aku G Dou was born.”

This high-concept item, comes with a similarly high price tag of ¥88,200. Despite this, we reckon the bag shows potential as it’s the perfect size for accommodating laptops or tablets. It’s also important to bear in mind that these bags don’t come cheap in any case, the children’s versions usually average around ¥40,000 to ¥50,000 (though prices have been coming down in recent years).  While we have our doubts about whether lab coats take off, we can see the potential for this item to become a modest hit.

Tough commute? Let these apps ease the pain

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

It’s a fact of life in the big cities of Japan that the morning commuter trains will be jammed packed. There’s really no way around it for bedtown residents but luckily for the country’s million of 9-to-5 salaried workers,  this summer saw the launch of three new apps that can quite literally help commuters out of a jam, or at least make it a bit more bearable.

Komirepo: The name says it all, komi, meaning crowded and repo, a contraction of the loanword report, this app lets you know which routes are most crowded. Each route is given a rating from one through six – one  meaning you’ve got plenty of space to sit down in and six meaning get ready to go bumper to bumper with a bunch of strangers – allowing you the option to switch to a less congested line. The information is updated by users in realtime, making it a largely reliable service. Made by Navitime, a software provider that already provides a huge range of apps to help with navigating your way around Japan, Komirepo is free of charge, but unfortunately not available in English.

Densha de Suwaru: Though Komirepo is great for those who suffer from claustrophobia, it’s not a surefire solution for those who really need a seat, especially in Tokyo where virtually all routes are busy during rush hour. Users of this app form alliances with other commuters, letting each other know what route they’re riding, which carriage they’re on and when they’re about to vacate a seat. This requires sacrificing a certain amount of privacy as you have to let others know what you look like, but it does it in such a cute way that it seems churlish to object. To let that seat-hungry member of your group know who you are, you simply create and dress up a cute little avatar of yourself, letting them know your age group, hair style and choice of clothing. Once they’ve spotted you they can simply sidle up and wait for you to leave the train.

Densha de Go! Yamanote Sen: Once you’ve got yourself seated, you’ll need something to pass the time. Why not pretend that you’re in control of driving the train (see video above). This Yamanote Line version is the latest release in a series of games by Taito that realistically simulate the experience of driving a train on actual routes within Japan. Excitement within the game is somewhat sacrificed to realism, as goals include things like keeping to the timetable, but it’s pretty much a must for train geeks.

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