Archive for October, 2012

Tokyo Designers Week 2012

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

It’s that Tokyo Designers Week time of year again. The main event sees the usual collage of temporary structures (shipping containers, a huge dome tent, etc.) on the lawn at Meiji-jingu Gaien. The theme – which to be honest doesn’t really sound like a theme at all – is Hello Design! Interpret that as you like.

New this year is a section on architecture, with a collection of models, both experimental and ones that are or will be real structures. There’s also an art fair run by Gallery Tagboat and a whole row of digital content exhibitions. All of which means that there is actually less of the usual stuff – like chairs and lights. Hello Design?

There is more product design action over at Design Tide, being held at Tokyo Midtown, where the nendo Bottleware collection we featured earlier this week is on display. There’s also a whole gaggle of exhibits and installations at shops and galleries around Tokyo (though mostly around Aoyama) under the banner Tide Extension. So yes, there is plenty to see!

All together, it’s mostly Japanese designers, both established and just out of school, but there are quite a few other nationalities represented, too. Taiwan, Singapore, Norway and Israel, for example, all have booths this year. Several Korean universities occupied containers along with their Japanese counterparts in the student section.

Tokyo Designers Week runs until Nov. 5 (and Design Tide until the 4th). There will also be a mega PechaKucha night at the main event on Oct. 31.

Or just stay in and check out our gallery. (Photos by Rebecca Milner. Click on the thumbnails to read more about each photo.)

Today’s J-Blip: Red Bull Curates Canvas Cooler Project

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Artist and fashion designer Akiyoshi Mishima at work on the Red Bull Curate Canvas Cooler project. (Photo by Hiro Ikematsu)

After visiting New York, London and Milan, the Red Bull Curates Canvas Cooler Project has landed in Tokyo. The project invited 21 local artists to take a Red Bull cooler as their canvas. We scored pictures of some of the artists at work in their studios and at play during the opening party at SuperDeluxe. See the finished results for yourself at the Red Bull Japan HQ in Shibuya. The exhibition starts today and runs through Nov. 7. (Click on the thumbnails to read more about each photo.)

Today’s J-blip: Coca-Cola Bottleware

Monday, October 29th, 2012

The iconic Coke bottle was designed in 1915 with the goal that “a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.” The bottle architecture has since undergone many variations and recently has even had a Karl Lagerfeld edition, but its newfound usage as tableware surely takes the Coke — er, cake.

Japanese design firm nendo has teamed up with the legendary beverage company to produce Coca-Cola Bottleware. This collaboration is primarily a collection of bowls and we can see its novelty factor already. These green-tinted, clean-cut dishes are completely recycled from the distinct “contour bottles” and are hand-manufactured by artisans located in Aomori, northern Japan. Since when did exquisite traditional crafts become so contemporary cool?

Prices range from ¥5250 for a dip dish to ¥14,700 for a large bowl. Each design is limited to a quantity of 500, so get your sticky-Coke-stained-hands on them fast at CIBONE Aoyama from Oct. 31. They also go on exhibition the same day they go on sale at DesignTide Tokyo 2012 till Nov. 4.

Suitably inspired to make your own bottleware? We can’t guarantee that as many people will be appreciate it, but at the very least, if one is broken, you can always just make another.

Pulsations (10.26.12)

Friday, October 26th, 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 . . .

  • Ramen Competition on the street (from Adele Wong): What looks better than a bowl of yummy ramen? A bowl of yummy ramen meant for photographing. Blogger Adele Wong shows us how one event made sure everyone got perfect  pictures of their seemingly perfectly crafted food.
  • Tanaka Hisashige (from James Calbraith): Author James Calbraith follows in the steps of Google and pays tribute to this master innovator of the late Edo Period. Oh, and you have Hisashige to thank for your trusty Toshiba laptop.

Visual Pulse:

Neurowear’s wearable cat ears is now complete with the latest addition of a wearable cat tail that is controlled by brain waves. Want to express your excitement at seeing a friend but too lazy to say so? Let this nifty thing do the talking.

The secret allure of the surgical mask

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Who is that masked woman? (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Last month in Nagano, despite sweltering temperatures, a number of high school students were spotted attending school wearing surgical masks. This wasn’t hayfever season, nor were there any colds going around, so why were these teenagers covering their mouths and noses up? They were simply following a national trend for date masuku,  surgical masks that are just for show. (That’s read “dah-te,” nothing to do with dating.)

A journalist for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun asked students why they were wearing masks and got some surprising answers. One girl commented, “I’m shy about being seen without my makeup on.” Worryingly, another boy said, “I feel safe with it on.” Another 16-year-old female high school student explained that, “The mask hides the acne around my mouth.”

While this looks — on the face of it — like a problem created by low self-esteem, one that teenagers might grow out of, Japanese Wikipedia states that research done by Asahi Shimbun back in 2011 showed that adults are reaching for the date mask, too. Many began by using surgical masks for health reasons and then continued because they found that they enjoyed wearing a mask.

A writer under the name of Tama Tsupi, a self-confessed former date mask addict, wrote about the issue for Gadget News earlier this year. “Tsupi” began using a surgical mask to protect herself against hay fever and infection, but gradually came to find that she got a pleasant feeling from wearing a mask. Stressed at work, she found it useful for those times when she couldn’t be bothered to do her make up properly, or when she had trouble relating to others.

Though she’s now kicked the habit, she has stuck up for mask wearers by stating that covering up part of the face can have the effect of highlighting a person’s beauty. In the piece, she evangelizes about the unexpected cosmetic effect she experienced when wearing a mask. She points out that it’s common practice in Japan for people to upload shots of themselves to social networking sites that hide part of their face. These shots are both flattering to one’s vanity and protect one’s private image in the public domain. She writes: “Don’t you think this technique could be put to good use not only in a photograph, but in reality?”

The origin of the term date masuku (伊達マスク)is apparently connected to the Sendai’s famous daimyo Date Masamune. Problem is we’ve yet to figure out how the family name of this fierce, one-eyed warrior has come  to mean “vainglorious,” as seen in the similar terms date megane (prescription-less glasses) or date otoko, which essentially means dandy.  This YouTube video even suggests a connection with the true surname of the masked hero of Tiger Mask. So there you go. Think of it as being somewhere between vanity and anonymity.

Today’s J-blip: customizable Tirol chocolate

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Love those little ¥20 Tirol sweets that are konbini fixture, but get frustrated when they don’t have the flavor you want? Good news, control freaks: You can now customize them online at My Tirol. What better way to welcome trick-or-treaters than with Japanese chocolate made and packaged according to your own preferences?

Tirol, as you like it.

Tirol sweets are easily distinguished by their uniform square shape and varied, bright wrappers. They are offered in a wide assortment of flavors, including kinako mochi and creamy anmitsu, that seem to be made available on a rotational basis. Since one square is only 35 calories, they make great treats for dieters who can’t resist a confection after every meal. Can’t have just one? These little yummy blocks also come in packs of 8. Willpower? What’s that?

Create your own pack of Tirol chocolates by choosing the top layer, the filling and the bottom layer. Does caramel chocolate and gouda cheese chocolate filled with mochi gummy sound delicious, or at least intriguing? You’re in luck — with a few clicks, it, or any one of 625 combinations, can be on its way. A list of ingredients that can trigger allergies pops up after every combination. You choose the packaging, and one even gives you the option to include a message. Forget flowers; this is the new sweetest trick in the book.

Thirty cubes of three different customizations will set you back ¥2,680 plus shipping fees. Granted, it’s way more expensive than the off-the-shelf Tirols, but it’s not every day you can have a strawberry-almond-kabocha chocolate.

Today’s J-blip: ‘Yurei Attack!’

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Who you gonna call?

Want to get rid of that strange woman who’s been watching you sleep at night, the one whose feet aren’t touching the ground? Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt may have just the help you need in their recently published little encyclopedia, “Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide.

The authors offer deep insight into yurei, figures in Japanese folklore who died under savage circumstances and who are now doomed to seek revenge until someone gives them proper funeral rites. The book also tells you why there is (probably) no need to be afraid. In addition to a biographical fact sheet and background story for each yurei, the book details how every one executes its attack and, more importantly, how to survive an encounter should you have the misfortune — or fortune, depending on your tastes in adventure — of meeting with an impassioned Japanese spirit. Already being haunted? This book may just be your saving grace.

Embellished with dozens of colorful illustrations, the guide not only embodies information on 39 unfriendly and vicious Japanese specters but discusses haunted places in Japan and the occult games one may play if trying to invoke a demon. For what, we don’t know, and we’re not going to ask — though if you do attempt these games we won’t be expecting to hear from you anytime soon.

Oiwa, of the famed kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan, is one of the featured ghosts, and it is recommended that one visits the Tamiya Shrine at Yotsuya if bedeviled by her. We’ve been there, and the shrine, albeit small and set right in the middle of a residential area, does have something creepy about it. But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, right? Not that we were being haunted. Unless nightmares count . . .

Whether out of plain interest or out of the desperate need to combat your own yurei attack, you can purchase the guide through Amazon Japan. Also check out its predecessors “Ninja Attack!” and “Yokai Attack!” That should cover your bases against just about any made-in-Japan misfortune that may befall you.

 

Bunpei Yorifuji’s ‘Wonderful Life with the Elements’

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Remember that kid who doodled all through your chemistry class instead of taking notes? Now imagine if that kid had an encyclopedic knowledge of the elements as well as a knack for drawings that made everyone giggle behind the teacher’s back.

Bunpei Yorifuji’s Wonderful Life with the Elements

That’s the feeling we get flipping through Bunpei Yorifuji‘s “Wonderful Life With the Elements.” Yorifuji is well known for his series of Tokyo Metro manners posters that urged riders to, among other things, “do it at home.”

Though the pull-out periodic table poster looks at first like a random collection of whimsical yellow guys, every part of each endearing little dude is carefully designed. From their ages, hair styles, and clothing (or lack thereof) to their weight and facial hair, every, well, element of each element matters and tells you something about each substance. (It might remind kanji nerds of the way kanji radicals add up.)

Most of the elements get their own pages. Illustrations show key properties (toxic thallium is soft like butter) as well as where they turn up in daily life (“Sodium compounds are great for housework!”) and beyond (boron is key in both fake movie snow and roach poison). There’s a section on eating the elements that compares the elements contained in a Japanese vs. a Western breakfast.

We learn which elements like to stick together for good, like the “digital semiconductor trio.” Troublemakers are grouped together, too, like the elements that were used to attack subways in Tokyo as sarin gas and to poison a pot of curry in Wakayama. They appear as benign-looking acrobatic combinations, perhaps suggesting that the elements themselves aren’t evil.

We wonder if future editions might address elements that have gained new prominence. Things have changed since the original Japanese version (元素生活, genso seikatsu) came out in 2009. Japanese scientists created Ununtrium for the first time just last month. Cesium, the subject of thousands of post-Fukushima articles, gets no more than a nod as a natural timekeeper, and there’s no mention of the problems that iodine can cause when its radioactive version is ingested.

The English version, published by geeky U.S. imprint No Starch Press, is available in Japan through Amazon.com or Amazon.jp. The original is at bookstores all over Japan and online. There is a bit of Japanese scattered throughout the book, including each element’s Japanese name and Chinese character, but not their readings. The book may be too late to help many of us pass our chemistry tests, but it’s a great second chance to get to know the elements as the individuals they are.

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