Archive for October, 2012

Some Japanese women crave a rougher cut of man

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Young, fresh faced and ripped, the nikushokukei danshi is the dish du jour for the modern Japanese woman, according to some media outlets.

Young, fresh faced and ripped. The new ideal guy?

Young, fresh faced and ripped. The new ideal guy?

The word refers to beefy guys who do a physically demanding job and is a reversal of sōshokukei danshi (grass-eating men), a term popularized in 2008 that describes the new breed of gentle, passive men emerging in Japanese society. While sōshokukei reflected an emerging social reality, nikushokukei reveals an a female fantasy that is in part a reaction against the grass-eating males.

It all got started in August when “Sagawa Danshi,” a photo book featuring 51 cute young Sagawa Express delivery guys was published. The book was a surprise hit, going into its second print run in a matter of only two weeks. Excite News reported that a meet-and-greet session last month was attended by more than 100 fans, both male and female, who came to take snaps of their favorite pin-ups.

In September, nikushokukei danshi were featured on Fuji TV’s “Tokudane” show. The show highlighted the success of the Sagawara book and also mentioned the Okinawa Firemen’s Calendar 2012, which sold its first print run of 1,000 copies in just two weeks and a further limited-edition run of 3,000 on the web after a flood of media interest. Profits went to an NPO that raises money for Okinawa’s first-aid helicopter, and they are already taking orders for 2013. Though such news wouldn’t have much impact in the West, where calendars of ripped hunks are nothing new, in Japan it was somewhat of a new phenomenon.

So what, exactly defines a nikushokukei danshi apart from a nice bod? There’s a big clue in the word itself. Shoku can mean either profession or type of diet, depending on the Chinese characters used in the word. It sounds like an antonym of the “grass-eaters” that these guys tower over. But it’s a pun — in this case, the reading of the characters is “physical laborer.” Fuji TV’s show highlighted the fact that nikushokukei danshi get their muscles not from the gym but from doing a job that requires manual labor, hence the popularity of the Sagawa Men and Okinawan fire fighters.

The second important feature of these new pin-ups is that they are wholesome, fresh faced and bright eyed. Journalist Kiriya Takahashi, in an article for Happyism, expanded on this point by stating that their character should come through in their sparkling eyes, and that any hint of lechery or violence is a definite no-no. Takahashi goes further and suggests that what Japan needs in these turbulent times is not weedy sōshokukei danshi but more nikushokukei danshi who can make decisions and emerge as tomorrow’s leaders.

Another word that sums up the nikushokukei danshi physical aesthetic is hoso macho, or slender macho, a term that was popularized back in 2009 with Suntory’s Protein Water ad. Hoso macho refers to guys that are ripped but not obscenely so and is used to describe hunky celebrities, like Hidetoshi Nakata, who work out but still stay svelte. If the term nikushokukei danshi takes off, it will be used to refer to guys who exemplify not just the hoso macho aesthetic but who take it to another level with their fresh-faced charm. Whether the grass-eating types will give up their desk jobs and try to transform themselves into rippling upstanding citizens remains to be seen.

Today’s J-blip: Mister Softee in Tokyo

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Mister Softee in the house

Are you a fan of “soft cream,” in all its lower-in-milk-fat-than-ice-cream glory? Mister Softee, a ubiquitous soft-serve ice cream brand in the United States, has finally made its way to Japan. In a departure from the trucks and simple stands where it’s sold in the U.S., its first concession in Japan is located inside branches of Café Siry, a luxury Tokyo sweets shop.

The grinning cone-head is commonly associated with casual comfort food back in the States, because it’s doled out from trucks and franchises dotted across the country, particularly in the northeast. However, Mister Softee’s surroundings in Japan are sleek and posh: bottles of Veuve Cliquot are being sold alongside the creamy treats. The shop is inside Gyre, the high-end shopping complex in Omotesando. (A second shop, also partnered with Café Siry, is scheduled to open within the month in Sangenjaya.)

While its U.S. counterpart comes in only two flavors — good old chocolate and vanilla — the Tokyo version has over 30 original ones, with six on rotation per week. For the opening, these include avocado and caramel, sea salt and olive oil, and cactus. Ask for the secret menu and you might get a concoction whipped up from whatever the server has on hand to experiment with. (Careful what you ask for — the other day, it was wasabi!)

Professional flautist Andrea Fisher brought the brand to Japan after a five-year stint driving a Mister Softee truck in Brooklyn, New York.  “I thought the kawaii Mister Softee character, along with the fun and yummy menu, would appeal to the Japanese,” she told us. And all those funky flavors? “Vanilla and chocolate just aren’t enough for Japan!” she said.

Fisher says it wasn’t a viable option to go the truck route in Japan, so they decided to start with storefronts. That means there’s no need to gather neighborhood kids with a song from a loudspeaker, so we aren’t sure exactly what they’ll do with her J-pop inflected remix of the familiar jingle. But it’s just as likely to get stuck in your head as the one that blared from trucks when you were a kid.

Can you put new wine in new PET bottles?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

On Sept. 25, Asahi released Ste. Neige Rela, a new line of cute, pocket-size 320-ml PET bottle wines. While it may sound a bit unusual, the introduction of miniature bottles of wine in clear plastic is in line with a general shift in Japan’s wine market and could trigger a trend for wine to be sold in smaller containers in the future.

Pocket-size Ste. Neige Rela

On its website,  Asahi points out that the market for what they call “daily wine” is growing. This year between January and April, sales in this sector were up 112.4 percent, compared to the same period last year. Asahi’s market research revealed that there was room for the trend to speed up if customer perceptions about wine could be altered. Key obstacles they found were that many consumers in Japan still see wine as something for special occasions only, they found the selection process difficult and they were reluctant to drink a whole bottle.

Asahi released the original range of 750-ml PET bottle Ste. Neige wine in May 2011, marketing it as a casual, everyday wine. The product has sold better than expected, and between January and July this year the company reached its sales target for the year: 200,000 boxes (each box contains 12 bottles).

The idea of using PET bottles rather than glass bottles as containers for wine is not entirely new to the Japanese market. PET bottle wines were introduced in 2009 by Mercian, as a way to slash bottle prices to revive the flagging Beaujolais Nouveaux market. However, outside of the Beaujolais Nouveaux market, the idea of cheap PET bottle wine didn’t really take hold until recently. This summer, in particular, that resistance began to erode. In August, Kikkoman started using PET bottles for their French table wine Chapeau Bleu, and in the same month Mercian went nationwide with their PET bottle Bon Rouge range of wines.

One noticeable feature of both Mercian and Asahi’s ranges is that both of these domestically produced wines have a low alcohol content. Rela comes in at just 10 percent and Mercian at 11.5 percent (though the organic wine comes in at 12 percent). Non-alcoholic and low alcoholic beer and chu-hi has been trending in recent years in Japan, so it makes sense to reduce alcohol levels in wine from their typical 12-13 percent mark to appeal to the new breed of responsible drinkers, even if this will raise eyebrows with real wine aficionados.

Suntory has even gone so far as to release a wine that clocks in at just 7 percent. The company has been selling its sparkling rose Wine Can since March 2011. The can, which contains just 250 ml of wine, is another signal that smaller containers of wine may be successful in the future. Indeed, rather than release the product for a limited trial period, the company went straight ahead and added Wine Can to its line-up of regular products. Now that Asahi has got in on the act with their petit PET bottle wine, we think it’s likely other beverage companies will follow suit.

Today’s J-blip: nezo art

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

It is said that the only thing worth stealing is a kiss from a sleeping baby. We completely agree, especially when they are the stars of nezo art (which literally translates as “sleeping position art”).

A recent slumber-time tableau by Mami Koide

The art wasn’t exactly made in Japan. The true pioneer in this genre is Finnish former designer Adele Enersen, who rose to Internet fame with her blog Mila’s Daydreams. She photographed her daughter  sleeping in various artsy dreamscapes realized with props and costumes. She eventually spun that popularity into a photo book, titled “When My Baby Dreams” and published in January 2012.

While Mami Koide has clearly been inspired by Enerson, the 41-year-old illustrator diverges from the master by giving her dream tableaux a slightly more DIY vibe. In fact, in her self-imposed rules, Koide says creators of nezo art should strive to use everyday objects found around the house as their props. It’s all a matter of taste, but we prefer the more amateurish, homey nezo creations.

Koide is not alone in Japan. NAVER Matome has compiled an array of photos contributed by individuals who have chosen to put their little ones on the slumber stage. You can also check the Twitter hashtag #NezoArt for more. And if that isn’t enough, there’s Koide’s recently publish photo book, “Nezo Art Book.”

Today’s J-blip: Virtual Japanese trainspotting

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Obsessed with watching Japanese trains go by? Now you can indulge your hobby regardless of bad weather or friends who just don’t get your hobby — whether you’re in Japan or not.

The website Tetsudonow (“railroads now”) has elevated trainspotting to a new level by allowing viewers to watch virtual trains zip around the major cities of Japan on a Google map mash-up.  Twitter users in Japan were bubbling with excitement yesterday, with some tweeting that the illustrated trains move in real-time. If only. The site’s explanation says that the trains actually move in accordance with their weekday timetables, so the map doesn’t reflect delays, stoppages or weekend schedules.

The navigation tools do, however, let you see the routes of most major railways in Japan at any time of day. To hobbyists’ delight, the trains are all labeled with their actual line colors and approximate shapes, so you can tell a green Yamanote train from a snub-nosed shinkansen at a glance. Click on any moving train to see where it’s coming from and where it’s headed.

Now you can trainspot with a bag of popcorn in one hand and a Coke in the other from the comfort of your swivel chair with no one jostling or judging you. Us? We wouldn’t judge you.

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