Archive for March, 2012

Streamlined offerings from new adult anime titles

Friday, March 30th, 2012

A long anime series of 24-26 episodes will typically change gears halfway through with brand new theme songs, a new story arc and a fresh set of characters. But this spring’s crop sees five titles buck this trend, in a move that has surprised the industry. Cyzo News reports that “Fate/Zero,” “Medaka Box,” “Kimi to Boku 2,” “Jormungand” and “Hirono no Kaera” all have lengthened story arcs and will be keeping the same theme tune throughout the season. This effectively slims down the merchandising package for the season. Sales of DVDs, singles and figurines make up a significant part of the earnings for anime shows, and the move is seen as a reflection of economic hard times in otaku industries.

Fate/Zero's non-increasing cast

The ostensible reason is that anime creators want more time to develop story lines, rather than being forced to come up with fresh ideas every three months (the time needed to air a set of 12-13 episodes). But the real reason may be that while merchandise sales are still strong, the numbers of hardcore fans willing to buy up an entire collection of CD, DVD, and character models is dwindling. The slimline package is a way of enticing fans to splurge on the full set of merchandise instead of picking and choosing.

Japan’s falling birth rate means that  anime aimed at adults (broadcast late at night) has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years among those in their 20s to 30s. During the 1980s, as the number of children fell, the number of kidults hungry for sexier, gorier anime rose. In the latter part of the noughties the number of fans willing to purchase anime merchandise aimed at adults increased. However, unlike  hadcore fans, they opt to purchase only the merchandise that appeals to them. In fact, otaku culture is no longer the preserve of the hardcore nerd. According to Sankei, a recent study by Yano Research Institute showed that one in four Japanese identified themselves as otaku.

Dentsu advertising agency now considers the market so significant that they will be setting up a branch dedicated to studying otaku spending habits. Nevertheless, Cyzo’s article states that last year these otaku were spending less, so watch for the anime industry to keep looking for creative ways to keep the cash flow going.

Ekitame — coming to a station near you soon?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

 

Will shops like Glicoya Kitchen in First Avenue, in Tokyo Station, become destinations in their own right?

Running for the train? Not so fast. According to a trend report released by @Press, Japanese people are spending more time browsing in train stations instead of bolting through them. PR flacks are calling this shopping experience “ekitame,”  combining the words eki (station) and entame (entertainment), to refer to the station shopping mall as an entertaining destination in its own right. Focusing on the continuing success of Tokyo Station’s First Avenue mall, the report hints that this shopping complex may be the shape of things to come.

Instead of just being a convenient place for commuters to kill time,  this station mall exploits the fact that tourists from all around the country pass through Tokyo Station. Two areas of First Avenue are particularly adept at attracting tourists: One is Tokyo Ramen Street,  which has eight outlets operated by famous Tokyo ramen shops; and the other is Tokyo Character Street, which houses over 20 big-name character goods stores.

Over the years, speciality food theme parks have proved popular in other shopping malls in Japan, such as Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City and Dessert Republic in Sunshine City Ikebukuro. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that  Ramen Street has proved a hit since it opened in April last year. It is attractive to  Tokyo day-trippers who might not have the time to trek out to these famous ramen stalls, and long queues regularly form outside the shops. But it’s Tokyo Character Street that’s proved the biggest hit. Since it opened in 2008, around 5 million visitors have checked out the array of character stores, which include Hello Kitty Land and the NHK Character Shop, and this March three more stores opened here.

Looking to raise its profile as a tourist destination, First Avenue will launch a new area called  Tokyo Okashi (Snack) Land on April 14. Comprised of  three “antenna shops” (outlets used by companies to gauge public reaction to trial products) from major Japanese food brands Calbee, Glico and Morinaga, the area will entice visitors with limited edition souvenir sweets and the chance to see confectionery being made in the store.

We think the idea of ekitame might just catch on at other major transport hubs where tourists passing through have the spare time to enjoy browsing in specialty stores. And adding the station to the sightseeing itinerary is certainly an attractive option to the footsore tourist.

Rich Japanese flavors for lean times

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

You might have heard that Japanese food is all about delicate flavor; that seasoning tends to be muted to allow the flavors of the main ingredients to shine. Despite this, according to J-Cast, the current food trend is all about rich, strong flavors. These days packages of instant ramen, potato chips, happoshu (a beer-like beverage) and puddings are often emblazoned with the words “noukou” (rich) or “koi” (strong flavored).

Rich cream stew

Rich cream stew

A recent program on TV Asahi presented by Yohei Onishi demonstrated that in supermarkets there are now 38 products labelled noukou or koi. Out of these Koi Stew, by S&B Foods, has been a hit among consumers. There are two varieties of Koi Stew, one beef flavored and one béchamel cream. Dense, creamy sauces are the reason many Japanese shy away from French cuisine, citing the fact that they are just too rich and difficult to digest, so it’s interesting that S&B’s product has been so successful.

Richer flavors are found not only in processed foods. There’s been a trend in restaurants in recent years for ramen broths to be thicker and richer. We asked Brian MacDuckston, author of the blog Ramen Adventures for his thoughts on this trend: “It’s true, there has been a recent trend to make stronger flavors in ramen. In the past, the soup was simply a vessel to keep the noodles hot. Now, the noodles are a vessel to deliver the soup, often motor-oil-thick, to your mouth. Chefs have a difficult task, though, as the long boiling times required for thickness can easily result in a bitter broth.”

So why the change in attitudes? Economic analyst Kazuyuki Hirano states that in this bad economic climate when salaries are taking a hit, people want to indulge in small luxuries or small extravagances. In summary, the recession is pushing this boom for richer flavors. Consumers on the Asahi show commented, “If it costs the same, I’d prefer a rich taste” and “I feel deep flavors are tastier.”

 

Photo by Mekkjp via Flickr

Pulsastions (03.23.12)

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Hunting a golden Easter egg in Japan

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

During Easter, Disneyland is one of the few places you'll see Easter eggs in Japan

Though most Japanese are familiar with and celebrate Christmas and Halloween (as consumers at least), Easter has yet to impinge on the national conciousness in the same way. But it seems that Disney wants to do something about that. Since 2010 the company has been holding the Disney Easter Wonderland event which involves a parade and an egg hunt. So can Disney ignite interest in Easter in Japan?

According to a survey by Trend Souken, awareness of what Easter is all about is highest among women. In a survey of 300 people in their 20s and 30s, 49 percent of women said they had some idea of what Easter was about, compared to just 37 percent of men. However, what they think it’s about has far more to do with Disney’s message than the religious meaning of Easter. When asked what sprang to mind when they heard the word “Easter,” 89 percent checked “eggs.” Other items were “painting colorful eggs” (64 percent); “spring” (46 percent); “rabbit” (32 percent); and “egg hunt” (25 percent).

Religious connotations don’t really register in this survey report, which is good news for marketers. If more Japanese can be made aware of the fluffy side of Easter, then they’ll be more opportunities to sell cute Easter items and experiences. To some extent the market is already there, at least in Tokyo: 30 percent of respondants said that they had purchased such things as chocolate Easter eggs and in terms of Easter events, 23 percent said that they had participated in egg painting.

Though the potential is there for Japan, or at least its major cities, to adopt Easter in the same way that Halloween has been embraced, along with all the yummy sales opportunities that come hand in hand with that, domestic companies have yet to get behind this drive. Disney is leading this push, followed by Baskin Robbins’ Wonderful Easter campaign, offering Easter ice creams that come in an egg-shaped cups and two special Easter ice cream flavors. This year the foreign-owned Peninsula Hotel has also got in on the act and is selling chocolate Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies at its boutique cafe.

And beyond that? Not much is popping up on Pulse’s radar. Though this survey seems to indicate that young Japanese consumers are ready to spend money in the name of yet another foreign tradition, are Japanese companies ready to take the leap of, um, faith.

Stationery trends worth taking note of

Friday, March 16th, 2012

The start of the new school year in April makes this a great time for Japanese to indulge in their fetish for stationery. Despite increasing digitalization in the workplace, many people still relish the opportunity to write their kanji by hand and the market for notepads and pens is still remarkably healthy. In this post we take a look at a few stationery trends.

Heart shaped scotch tape holder

As usual kawaii (cuteness) is king and products such as  Nichiban’s new heart-shaped scotch tape holders, which can be hung from a school bag on a strap, look set to sell well among the back-to-school school set. But the grown-up female market is all about notebooks, according to Nikkei Trendy. Functionality and high quality are the watchwords here. One example being Midori’s to-do-list notepad from their Ojisan range, featuring little boxes that can be ticked once a task has been accomplished. The on the dot range of notepads by Maruai Select utilizes dots instead of ruled lines or squares and is a creative format, giving the option for users to write horizontally, vertically or use the space for making sketches.

A couple of years ago Ending Note notebooks were a hit with the elderly population, allowing them to write down useful information for relatives to use in the event of their death. The idea of using a notebook to store useful information in has been developed by Kokuyo who’ve brought out a notepad aimed at women that lets them record information about their relationships with other people. There is a space to write out your family tree, a place to record information about people you’ve met on social networks (useful for those who forget who all their Facebook “friends” are) and a place to record information on gifts you’ve received and gifts you ought to give.

King Jim's Shot Note app fuses analog and digital notetaking

Though notebooks are very nice, for those who use them regularly, they do tend to pile up, creating unwieldy mounds of unsorted information. Electronics manufacturer King Jim has come up with an app to solve this problem. Shot Note allows you to digitize and sort your analog notes by taking a photo with your smartphone and uploading it to a database. It automatically resizes the image, cutting off the space left at the corners of the paper and also adjusts the color to be easily read. The app has proved popular and downloads have now exceeded 1 million.

Some stationery makers are looking to the past for inspiration. Okimak, for instance, has revived the craft of kamiko, a waterproof material made from washi paper that has the look and feel of distressed leather. Made by crumpling washi so that it becomes soft and malleable, then coating the paper in tree sap to make it waterproof, Okimak makes really beautiful book covers and pen cases.

Natural Lawson takes it to the next level

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Natural Lawson & food kurkuu. A template for a new kind of convenience store?

If you’re looking for farm fresh, healthy produce, the convenience store isn’t exactly the first place you think of visiting, but there has been a shift in konbini (convenience store) culture in recent years that sees some brands offering healthier options. Busy office workers who want to snack on something other than cup noodles or reheated spaghetti bolognaise now have Circle K’s Think Body range of readymade meals, or 7-Eleven’s range of healthy salads available. But the brand which has really been at the forefront of providing healthier options has been Natural Lawson, and a new concept store that opened in the Gaienmae area last month might be a template for other convenience stores in the future.

A tie-up with online store kurkku, Natural Lawson & food kurkku convenience store offers an amped-up version of the Natural Lawson experience. Offering organic, healthy fare, the store stocks kurkku produce that has been sourced from farmers all over Japan. There’s been a trend in supermarkets of late to give customers a better sense of where their food is coming from, by providing information and often pictures of domestic food producers. Tying up with kurkku is a good way for Natural Lawson to copy this sales strategy in the convenience store. Embracing the slow food movement farm fresh vegetables, meat, fish and fruit are sold alongside the usual ready made meals.

The atmosphere is more posh department store than Kwik-E-Mart, and the brand is aiming to attract the demographic of health-concious female shoppers who are care about the provenance of the food they eat. Other features that make it stand out from the cheap ‘n’ cheerful konbini is its instore bakery, which sells fresh-from-the-oven pastries that can be eaten at the cafe-style “eat-in corner” and a coffee machine that actually grinds fresh beans. At the deli, the food is “produced” by celebrity chef Miyuki Igarashi. Downstairs is kurkku cave restaurant, which serves a healthy menu and has an impressive range of 1,000 wines.

The collaboration also marks another milestone for the kurkku empire, which is bankrolled by Mr. Children producer Takeshi Kobayash and continuies to claim plots of land in this neck of Tokyo.  Lawson, Inc., the second largest convenience store chain in Japan, will surely profit from its association with the eco-hip brand.

At the time of writing it’s not known whether more Natural Lawson & food kurkku outlets will be opened. Most likely that be determined by the success of this experiment. At the very least, perhaps this venture will inspire other konbini to up their game.

Pointing out good deals

Monday, March 12th, 2012

In Japan it seems that almost every company offering goods or services has a point scheme, so much so that some people carry a separate wallet just for customer loyalty cards. Keeping track of what you can use these points for and when they are expire can be a hassle, but if you fail to do so, you could end up losing out.

Get the point?

The end of March is the deadline for using up Eco Points and, according to Otona no Kaisha News, ¥11.5 billion’s worth of Eco Points issued are yet to be exchanged for goods. A government scheme to support eco-friendly practices while invigorating the economy, Eco Points are accrued when buying domestic electronic appliances and can be exchanged for eco-friendly items before the end of the Japanese financial year.

This looming deadline is perhaps the reason why the website Poi Tan (“point search”) suddenly rose to fifth place in Google Trend Word rankings on March 3. Poi Tan aggregates a dizzying array of information on points and air mile schemes to allow users to keep track of their point balances. The website shows visitors how to convert dormant points into other points: for instance,points earned at department store Takashimaya can be converted into ANA air miles. It also alerts you when your points are about to expire.

If after searching Poi Tan, you’re still none the wiser on how to spend leftover Eco Points, then it’s worth bearing in mind that they can be sent as monetary donations to victims or to fund volunteer work in areas affected by the disaster last year. It’s also heartening to know that Tsutaya also run a similar scheme in which points accrued at their stores can be sent to a range of charities including the Japanese Red Cross Society and World Wildlife Fund.

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