Archive for January, 2012

Danshikai: deals for dudes’ night out

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Following on the success of the joshikai trend, which saw pubs and hotels offering discounts to all-female groups, the service industry has been setting its sights on repeating the same thing for men with their promotion of danshikai — all-male get-togethers. According to Money Zine, a number of hotels and izakaya (pubs) are now offering special danshikai deals.

Ryofukuen in Izu is offering beauty treatments ... to groups of guys.

Currently on restaurant database site Guru Navi, there are 117 establishments offering special packages to men-only groups. A closer look, though, reveals that the danshikai offers, which are often all-you-can-drink deals, are simply repackaged joshikai campaigns. Seeing as all-male groups have been frequenting izakaya since time immemorial, it’s hard to see danshikai as being anything other than the standard lad’s night out … only cheaper.

But what about a weekend away with the guys? Will the joshikai-vacation formula work for men? Is the average Japanese male keen to bunk up with his buddies? Well, if  he is, there are 40 offers from hotels and ryokan available on trip-planning site Rakuten Travel.

Most danshikai campaigns amount to a night’s lodging at a cheap rate, but with a few extras thrown in. At Daitokan in Ito Onsen, for instance, it costs just ¥5,000 per person per night (for a group of four or more), and this price includes a free “danshikai map” of the area. Ryokufuen in Izu provides a men’s beauty treatment as part of their plan.

Sweets plans have also surfaced. Last year the danshikai plan at The Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa offered a choice of nomihodai (all you can drink), tabehodai (all you can eat) and a “sweets plan” (all the cake you can eat) … and according to Money Zine, the sweets plan proved to be a hit.

Is this a sign of the herbivorous times? The link has yet to be made, but whatever the case may be,  if there are indeed large groups of men out there hankering for beauty treatments and all-you-can-eat-cake pig-outs, their needs will be indulged, at a discount.

Companies connect with free mobile apps

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Enticing smartphone users with high-tech functions and original content, Japanese businesses have begun engaging customers by releasing custom mobile apps for free download. In the process, they’re managing to slip in a strong marketing messages into the pockets of loyal fans and potential customers.

Wego's app offers style tips from the store's staff

On Jan. 24, Doutor, a national chain of coffee shops. launched their Doutor AR app. Made to be used in conjunction with the free magazine It’s My Times, the app displays animation and text on the user’s smartphone via augmented-reality technology. Users simply hover their phone’s camera over special points on the magazine to view these extra features. The magazine, available only in Doutor shops, is designed to be read while customers relax with a cup of coffee. This app, available only until the end of February, is a clever way to attract more readers while also boosting brand profile. One of the attractions of downloading the app for readers of the magazine is the opportunity to watch and listen to a song performed by cover star Lisa Ono.

Another brand that is creatively engaging with smartphone app technology, is Wego. On Jan. 10 the second-hand clothes chain launched its own branded app, which offers free wallpaper, a GPS-aware store locator, staff blogs and photos of staff with information on how they coordinated their look. The app also seems to be yet another mutation of the charismatic shop assistant cult (shop assistants gaining near celebrity status).

Of course not everyone desires style tips from super trendy shop assistants. Dechau Pachinko parlor is targeting a slightly different user (predominantly male perhaps?) with its Dechau Girls Calendar 2012, a free Android app that utilizes the ever-popular beach babe. In case you didn’t know, the Dechau Girls, who have been touring pachinko parlors since 2007, cheer on players and hand out candies and hot towels. While they’re usually dressed in bright skintight outfits, this free calendar app gives fans a chance to see the girls relaxing at the beach in itsy bitsy bikinis.

The final app on our list also has a straightforward, unsophisticated appeal. Chiyoda, a company that owns over 1,100 shoe stores nationwide, has launched an app that provides users with discount coupons. Once users enter their personal info (date of birth, sex, location of the store they’re visiting), they can then receive coupons tailored to their needs. Nothing fancy — you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours — but for a country that’s obsessed with customer point cards and coupons, this is an app that’s bound to stick.

Fresh nabe ideas bubbling up

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Konabe Shabu Shabu Dining Nabe Sennin, where customers get to create their own nabe

Cuisine featuring nabe, the traditional Japanese hot pot, has been at to the top of the dining trends in recent years. Curry nabe, tomato nabe, collagen nabe, pizza nabe . . . They’re all popular nabe trends that have bubbled up. Since we covered the topic in 2010, according to Nikkei Woman Online, nabe trends have stayed hot during the winter months, especially on the restaurant scene. Here are a couple of restaurants who are rewriting the rule book:

The use of Western ingredients like tomato sauce and cheese has been one of the most noticeable trends in nabe, so it comes as no surprize that Koshitsu Modern Dining in Tachikawa, Tokyo, has come up with a shabu shabu broth that contains red wine. The fish-based soup is designed to be used for cooking wagyu (Japanese beef) in. The red wine soup is served alongside a cheese fondue style dipping sauce, making this a distinctly Western-style dish.

The dish, which costs ¥1,800, is designed to be consumed with a glass of wine and the restaurant carries a decent selection of domestically produced wines. Adapting traditional Japanese dishes to make them a better match for wine has been in vogue for some time and we’ve seen restaurants such as Kappo Odajima craft their menus to create a culinary harmony between Japanese food and wine. It seems only natural then that nabe also get this treatment. Domestic wines, which tend to have more delicate flavours that blend well with Japanese cuisine, are also proving increasingly popular, so we think Koshitsu’s nabe dovetails well with both these trends.

Rather than try to come up with a totally new nabe variety, one restaurant is letting customers do it themselves. At Konabe Shabu Shabu Dining Nabe Sennin in Shibuya, Tokyo, diners begin by choosing from a variety of 15 basic nabe soups, then on to a basic dipping sauce such as sesame or ponzu to which they can mix in a range of 30 spices. In the final stage, they can select extra ingredients — veggies, meat or fish — for their nabe at a self-service counter. Popular nabe soups include: Cloudy Chicken Wing Collagen Nabe and Pork Kimchee Gochujang (spicy Korean sauce) Nabe. According to Nikkei Woman Online, this winter popular seasonings are Asian ginseng and ginger, both of which are purported to be good for boosting the immune system.

Part of the fun of nabe in a restaurant is  that you are the cook, preparing it on a portable stove at your table. Though staff are on hand to give advice if needed, we’re guessing that customers will only have themselves to blame if they cook up something really stomach-churning.

2012 trends: consumer ‘neta,’ relocating and regional flavors

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

On Jan. 10 Recruit, a corporation that has its fingers in a number of different pies, including tourism, recruitment, real estate and publishing, published its trend forecasts for 2012. Though Recruit has a vested in fulfilling its own prophesies, a few predictions really did seem on the mark. Here’s the best of the bunch:

  • Free word of mouth: The rise in the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter during 2011 obviously brought more young Japanese closer together, and more than ever, marketing divisions wanted to tap into the consumer posses that make recommendations. Recruit’s free magazine R25 predicts that the big thing this year will be companies finding clever ways to provide netizens with opportunities to write neta (amusing stories). The shy consumer on the social network will have something to post, sans that nasty self-promotional aftertaste, and the company gets a free, natural-tasting word-of-mouth plug. Sounds like super-stealth marketing to us, but we’ll see.
  • Relocating: When the earthquake occurred, many of those working in Tokyo were unable to get home after train services were cancelled. Being stranded in Tokyo was that bit more stressful for working couples who had children. In light of this experience, Recruit’s real estate website SUUMO predicts that double income families will be looking to either relocate to locations closer to work, or seek employment closer to home. Centrally located compact apartments for those who can’t change jobs but want to cut the commute may prove popular in April (the busiest month for real estate agents in Japan). For added peace of mind and extra childcare support, many couples will also be considering moving closer to their parents, or even moving in with them, and that might mean that large apartments that can accommodate three generations could be in demand.
  • Gotouchi-ism: According to Jalan Research Center (a subsidiary of Recruit), the quake in 2011 sparked a resurgence of pride in all things Japanese, particularly in the unique charm of different localities. Gotouchi means “your home town” and has been a buzzword used particularly in connection with the b-kyu gourmet boom: a trend for simple regional cuisine. Last year as well as gotouchi gourmet, there was a rise in interest in gotouchi idols — pop groups who promote their localities. Following on from this it’s predicted that tourists taking holidays within Japan in 2012 will be seeking a gotouchi experience: to connect with the everyday lives of the locals by paying to participate in activities that offer a taste of the local lifestyle. Though Recruit don’t specify what this might exactly entail, we think it could be making crafts, or even going out into the fields and working alongside farmers.

Incubators set the stage for big things

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

As the job market continue to prove unstable, or simply elusive to many of Japan’s disenfranchised young, it’s heartening to see that more opportunities for startups. Offering up a chance for entrepreneurs in the tech industry to get their businesses up and running, venture capital firms, such as CyberAgent Ventures, Samurai Incubate Inc. and Open Network Lab, offer advice, funding, and sometimes even office space, in return for a stake in these new businesses.

While it’s taken time for the model of startup incubators to catch on in Japan, it would appear to be truly thriving these days. CyberAgent Ventures, for example, will be opening up Start-ups Base Camp, Japan’s largerst ever startup office space, on Feb. 22 this year. A subsidiary of Cyber Agent, the company plans to house up to 100 new businesses in over 1,200 sq. meters of office space centrally located in Aoyama,Tokyo.

Having got in on the ground floor of Snapeee, which saw 500,000 downloads of their photosharing app in the space of just two months last year, Cyber Ventures seems to have a canny eye for spotting potential successes. Another notable startup successes nurtured with this model last year by a different startup incubator was Giftee, a creative service used to send gifts in the post to friends by utilizing Facebook and Twitter. The service has been picked up by Muji, and, as we mentioned last year, used as part of a campaign for Creap creamer.

Giftee was fostered by Open Lab Network, a startup incubator that, according to TechCrunch, is in the vanguard of the movement. In TechCrunch’s story, Hironori Maeda, the man in charge of overseeing Open Lab Network’s facility outlined some of the reasons why startup incubation was slow to get going in Japan: “Launching a startup, where there is a lot of uncertainty and unsuitability, does not fit a culture where harmony and stability are strongly emphasized.”

Maeda went on to say that the current unstable job market and the uncertainties surrounding the recent disaster has encouraged young people to throw caution to the wind and take a gamble. The news that KLab Ventures and SBI Investment have joined forces to found Startup Laboratory in December last year seems to offer further proof that venture capitalists are willing to throw their lot in with these budding entrepreneurs.

2011 trends: Social media in Japan comes of age

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

2011 was the year that social media came into its own in Japan. When phones went down on March 11, Japan connected with Twitter, mixi and Facebook in record numbers. Social media went from being a curiosity to a lifeline. Connecting online wasn’t just for the users, either; in 2011, the social media sites started friending each other.

Mixi and Twitter announced a partnership in November, possibly to shore up against a rapidly growing Facebook. With growth spurred by the movie “The Social Network,” Facebook was named the no. 2 “hit product” of 2011 by Nikkei Trendy magazine. While earlier in the year it looked like Facebook was getting left behind by Japan’s own social media sites, a November Nielsen report showed Facebook pulling ahead in the last quarter to surpass Mixi for the first time with some 11 million users. However, Mixi quickly issued a statement saying it actually had about double the 8.4 million active users that Nielsen had reported, since many people access the site from their cellphones, which the Nielsen report didn’t track.

As before, mobile remains a major access mode for online content in Japan. Whether or not Mixi actually feels threatened by Facebook, the tie-up with Twitter suggests it’s watching its back.

In another partnership, Google+ partnered with pop idol juggernaut AKB48 and its regional versions, for a total of almost 90 individual accounts. The performers have swamped the top 100 most popular users list in Japan, leaving only a handful of spots for other idols and Japanese tech gurus.

Two of the largest social networks in Japan are mobile gaming sites. GREE and Mobage Town have over 20 million users each. Mobage Town’s parent company DeNA has been making acquisitions in international markets including China, the U.S. and Chile, again showing the importance of collaboration for social sites.

Continue reading about social media in Japan →

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