Archive for December, 2012

Cat girls and more: Japan’s fashion trends of 2012

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

What was cool – or perhaps more importantly, cute – in 2012? Here are our top picks.

Neko girls

What would a year in Japan be without a newly coined look? This one isn’t exactly head to toe, like say the yama girls of years past. Its pièce de résistance is a hairstyle: the neko-mimi (cat ears), which basically involves twisting and rolling two chunks of hair to resemble cat ears. Then you can wear whatever you like with it, so long as it’s cute. Because cats are cute.

R25 cites model/fashion blogger/pop singer and official Kawaii Harajuku Ambassador (an honor bestowed by the mayor of Shibuya Ward) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as the inspiration. Ms. Pamyu is known for her wacky looks and has also appeared with her hair twisted to resemble devil horns and bat wings. But it was the cat ears that caught on, perhaps because it’s the only style that can realistically be done at home. A neko girl website is packed with do-it-yourself tips and cute pose suggestions.

It’s not just the hair though. Samuel Thomas, Japan Times fashion columnist and Tokyo Telephone editor, told us that anything with cat ears – like hats, headbands and hoodies – were big sellers this year.

These two fans of boy-band Arashi got creative and made their own tattoo stockings with the band members’ names. Photo courtesy of Tokyo Fashion

Tattoo stockings

Cat mania aside, the hit item for 2012 was without a doubt tattoo stockings. Interesting, considering that real tattoos will still get you banned from most public bathhouses (meaning they are still largely associated with the yakuza). However, these stockings, usually nude, are decorated with images that more resemble Western-style tattoos (also called “fashion tattoos” in Japan) – hearts and butterflies and Ed Hardy-like biker designs, for example. Too bad, because some full on irezumi-style tattoo stockings would be pretty cool.

Samuel also tipped us off to the origin of this one, citing Avantgarde, a small boutique in Harajuku, as the locus of the tattoo stocking trend. According to Trendy magazine, Avantgarde has sold almost half a million pairs since September 2011. Their sales on shopping site Rakuten for June through August 2012 were 200 times greater than sales during the same period of the previous year. During summer, really? As it gets colder, we’re seeing the same concept with white or gold patterns on black tights. Not quite the same double-take effect, but a clear evolution of the idea.

Naturally, it’s possible to combine the above two trends and get cat tattoo stockings.

Nameko goods

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

The most popular smart phone game in Japan is called Nameko Saibai Kit (literally “mushroom cultivation kit”). Yes, a simulated mushroom farm. But the mushrooms are, apparently, cute, and have launched a “star” character – the first to come out of a smart phone game.

The game, a free download from Beeworks Games, debuted in June 2011 as a spin-off of another popular game, Touch Detective  (the main character in that has a pet mushroom who helps solve puzzles); to keep things interesting, new seasonal versions are added regularly.

According to Trendy – which ranks nameko goods as the #7 hit product of 2012 – there are now some 50 companies licensed to make mushroom mobile phone accessories, stationery, stuffed animals, etc. In total there are about 800 different goods on the market. Events this past spring to promote new items, at shops like KiddyLand in Harajuku, drew lines with waits of over an hour. Perhaps watching mushrooms grow is good training for patiently waiting in line?

Pulsations (12.21.12)

Friday, December 21st, 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 . . .

  • Ugai: Japanese People Love Gargling (from AcessJ): The Japanese aren’t the least bit bothered by gargling in public restrooms. If you like avoiding colds and want to up your oral hygiene game, maybe you shouldn’t be, either.
  • Omisoka: Japanese New Year’s Eve (from Zooming Japan): 2012 wasn’t as pleasant as you had hoped? Dismiss it from the mind with a bounenkai party: a gathering to forget the year. Learn more about the customs for oshogatsu and you just may find yourself purchasing a kagami mochi or two.
  • Welcome to the World of Tsugaru Shamisen (from A Modern Girl): Know what separates a Tsugaru shamisen from a regular one? This modern girl explains the difference and talks about her experience at a recent performance. She also shares clips of the music.
  • A Requiem Service for Broken Needles-Hari Kuyou (from Iromegane): Even needles get a day of appreciation in Japan; aside from getting their own Shinto service, these pointy tools are stuck into tofu, konnyaku or mochi so that they may have somewhere soft as a final resting place. Ah.

 Visual Pulse

This independent documentary, though only 14 minutes long, offers enough insight on what the ruthless economy has done to its people. Do you think this nation really heading south with no room for recovery?

 

2012: Food and drink trends in Japan

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Whether it be moldy salt, lunch in a cup or frozen soup on a stick, the thriving Japanese food scene spawned a diverse array of surprising culinary wonders this year. Behind the fads, a pragmatic consciousness about healthy eating and a desire to economize were major factors affecting food and drink trends during 2012.

Eating out

According to Nikkei Trendy, the poor economy and the aging population have dealt blows to the high end of the restaurant trade. Enter the low-cost posh restaurant. Massively successful in 2012, a chain of restaurants run by Value Create is serving up top-end French and Italian food designed by “super chefs” in a bistro environment. There are now five “Ore no Itarian” (My Italian) and four “Ore no Furenchi” (My French) restaurants in the Ginza area. Meals cost around  ¥3,000 to  ¥4,000 per head, a huge saving compared to the ¥30,000 per head charged at the poshest restaurants. Nikkei Trendy says that other high-end restaurants are cutting costs and following suit.

A new casual restaurant called Tanita Shokudo turned up on Jiyu Kokuminsha’s 50 top buzzwords of 2012. Run by Tanita, a company that manufactures scales, this hugely popular restaurant in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo serves up the same menu — and nutritional advice — as the company’s own cafeteria to health-conscious customers. This year has also seen a revival of interest in restaurants serving yakuzen (Chinese medicinal) cuisine. Some of these restaurants also advise customers on what dishes might have a beneficial effect on their health. This is a trend we feel might spread in 2013.

Keeping trim

The inevitable diet fad surfaced in 2012 with the appearance of the tomato boom. It was kicked off by the publication of a study that appeared to indicate consuming large amounts of tomato juice would help alleviate metabolic syndrome. Though the trend has slowed somewhat, just as the notorious banana boom did, tomato sales stayed higher for longer than your typical fad.

Continuing on a health tip, one of the most successful new beverages to emerge in 2012 was a health drink — at least according to the Japanese government. Endorsed as the Japanese equivalent of a FOSHU (food for specified health use) by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency, Mets Cola sold so well that its manufacturer, Kirin, met its annual sales target in just two weeks. Popular with health-conscious men and women in their 30s to 40s, the cola contains an ingredient that helps reduce the absorption of fat. Other tokuho (health) drinks that deliver the fizzy pop experience without the calories have also been popular. The trend looks set to continue with more and more products gaining accreditation.

Spicing things up

Another versatile ingredient that’s still trending is koji salt. Combined with salt, koji, a domesticated fungus used in the production of miso, soy sauce and sake, can be used as a marinade that increases the umami (savory) flavors of meat or fish. It also turned up flavoring packaged foods like potato chips and drizzled on salads and grilled vegetables as a dressing at trendy restaurants. Following salt koji’s huge success, salty yogurt also enjoyed a mini boom with a number of cookery books utilizing this rather odd ingredient. Both savory sauces can be homemade, meshing with the trend toward cheaply producing food at home.

Taking it with you

Hot on the heels of the phenomenon of bento danshi (guys who bring a packed lunch to work), home-made lunch boxes continued to be popular in 2012. This time it was women who were behind a trend to pack their lunch into plastic tumblers. Colorful, versatile and fun, the trend for tumbler bento was also great for keeping portion sizes under control and was popular with dieters as well as the budget-conscious.

Keeping things interesting

As well as economizing, the Japanese food and beverage industry continues to innovate, producing a range of weird and wonderful new products. Among our favorites this year were Gari Gari Kun corn soup on a stick and frozen beer suds. In keeping with that, we’d like to raise a glass of the recently released limited-edition Coffee Porter hot beer coffee (got that?) and wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year — a year which will no doubt be filled with delicious new treats.

 

2012: The year in gear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Every year the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) ranks the year’s best new products and services like a sumo tournament, naming a “yokozuna” (champion) for eastern and western Japan. We combed through that, as well as magazines like Trendy (also from Nikkei) and Dime, for the game-changing gear of 2012 in Japan. Some trends we’re noticing are compact, cheaper goods that offer a comparative experience to the full size ones they’re designed to replace and “smart” appliances that work in tandem with smart phones, which had a big year too.

Honda N Box

The kei car from Honda doesn’t look like a kei car. Kei, or “light,” cars are ubiquitous in Japan; unless you’re planning to log long hours on the highway (for which you could just use the train), a small, light car with no power is perfect for traffic-clogged, narrow streets. Also, they cost a lot less to register and insure. But the innovation of the N Box – some 200,000 were sold this year – is that it is much roomier than your average kei. Not American-style minivan roomy, but maybe mini-minivan roomy. Ranked #3 for eastern Japan by NMJ and #12 by Trendy.

Panasonic “smart appliances”

Panasonic launched a new series of appliances that can be controlled remotely by an Android smartphone – meaning you can use your phone to turn on the rice cooker or the air conditioner before you get home (or check that you’ve turned them off). There’s also a scale that sends data to your phone, so you can track your weight-loss progress. We’re not sure what you’d want to communicate to the fridge that’s also part of the lineup, though. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

Mirrorless cameras

2012 saw the market for mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras explode. Mirrorless cameras offered an affordable, compact alternative to a comparatively bulky DSLRs. Pretty much every major manufacturer now has a model out, and this year the prices fell under that crucial ¥50,000 mark. Gear magazine Dime name checks Nikon’s 1 V1, Olympus’ PEN Lite E-PL3, Panasonic’s Lumix GF5X, and Sony’s NEX-C3D in its best buys of 2012 roundup. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

7-inch tablets

Smaller, cheaper tablets won over consumers who had been reluctant to buy into the first generation of full-size tablets. The market was just full of them this year, including imports like Apple’s iPad mini, Samsung’s Galaxy, and Google’s Nexus 7 along with domestic offerings like Toshiba’s Regza AT570 and Sharp’s Aquos Pad SHT 21. Ranked #1 for western Japan by NMJ.

Toyota Aqua

This compact hybrid edged out Toyota’s pricier Prius this year to become Japan’s top-selling car, with 24,192 units sold in October alone. Ranked #16 by Trendy.

Sharp Cocorobo

Not only can this “next generation” cleaning robot be controlled remotely by your smart phone, but it also has a built in camera and wifi so you can actually watch it work through your phone (if you have absolutely nothing better to do), seeing what it sees. You could even get it to send you before and after photos of its handiwork. Ranked #29 by Trendy.

Sony 3D Headset

Sony’s futuristic 3D personal viewing headset, the HMZ-T1, which actually came out late last year, proved more popular than Sony anticipated and the company announced in February that production couldn’t keep up with demand. The company has since launched the lighter HMZ-T2. Ranked #24 by Trendy.

Nintendo WII U

This one came out too late to make the yearly round-ups, but Nintendo’s new high definition system that includes a tablet-like controller that also works on the TV looks to be another game changer.

Pulsations (12.14.12)

Friday, December 14th, 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 . . .

  • Tips & tricks for the game centre, or: the spoils of war (from Tiny Plastic Food): Hate walking away from UFO catchers empty-handed? This self-described blonde, Japanese-speaking game-center addict tells us which game centers (at what time) are most likely to give up the goods — and how to know when to just walk away.
  • A is for Advertising, Part Two (from Vivian in Japan): Blogger Vivian collects posters and scenes around town that make us do a double take. And in Japan, there is a lot of stuff that makes us look again. And again. Also check out part one.
  • Kanji, Kanji Everywhere (from J-List Side Blog): The kanji of the year is out — it is kin, Japanese for gold. Know what is currently the most popular name for a girl? Hint: at present, every other anime seems to have a character with that name.

Visual Pulse

This HDR time-lapse video of Tokyo is perfect for reflecting on city life with a beer in hand. It’s easy to become self-absorbed in this fast-paced society and to forget that things will always continue to keep going, with or without us.

 

2012: The year in social media in Japan

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

LINE graph. Courtesy of NHN Corp.

In terms of Japan’s social media scene, 2012 was without a doubt the year of Line. The free application launched by NHN Japan in mid-2011 was initially created to allow free VoIP calls between Line users. This year it quickly snowballed into something much bigger: It now has an Instagram analogue in Pick, a social dashboard like Facebook, and is starting to pick up where the faltering Facebook Check-in Coupon fell off with its own location-based Coupon app. But one of Line’s most popular features is the ever-changing selection of cute stickers that you can add to text messages.

Line’s growth has been astounding: It reached the 50 million user mark at 399 days – more than twice as fast as both Twitter and Facebook. The most recent numbers, for November 2012, claim 80 million users, 36.5 million of whom live in Japan. The number of users shot past Facebook, which has only a little more than half as many users in Japan, with the number apparently plateauing in the last quarter of the year.

This year did, however, see Facebook edge out domestic rival Mixi, which has been faltering. Last June, Nikkei reported that Mixi’s active users for the month of March were 15 million (out of 27 million registered users). Not too bad, except that page views had dropped by 10 million in the past year – a loss of one-third. Mixi recently partnered with social gaming powerhouse DeNA to create a shared social gaming platform that will be live next year. We’ll see if that is enough to save Mixi – it certainly needs something.

And Twitter? While Japan is a distant third behind the U.S. and Brazil in number of accounts, Tokyo is the No. 2 city in the world for sheer number of tweets, according to a report by Semiocast. However, the same report also showed that Japan had the second slowest rate of new user registration after a flurry of growth last year.

Continue reading about social media in 2012 →

Christmas gift ideas 2012

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Gift-giving at Christmas still isn’t a big tradition in Japan, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. We’ve joined our Japan Times colleagues in doing a little pre-holiday homework for you to take the pressure off. Now all you have to do is whip that wallet out . . .

Tempo Drop

Turning to an app on your smartphone for weather updates, while convenient, can be terribly unexciting. Like a bit of a challenge? With Tempo Drop, you can now forecast the weather by observing the appearance of the liquid in the glass.

S: ¥3990, L: ¥5775, at Cibone

Flex Leather Tray

Too old for a pencil case and too cool for a pencil holder? This minimalistic, sculptable leather tray splits the difference. By the way, know what’s uncool? Not knowing where your supplies are and having to borrow them from the next desk. Tsk.

¥3,990 at 100perstore.com

Hand warmers

With the weather getting frostier by the day — and it hasn’t even started snowing yet! — what could be more useful and relevant than Christmas-y hand warmers? Even the toughest guy would appreciate one in his jacket pocket when battling the cold on the streets.

¥567; all Loft shops

A few Japan Times columnists and editors have also given us a peek at their carefully curated gift lists. You’ll find presents for all your art and design-loving friends as well as stocking stuffers for the film buffs in your life. And don’t forget the folks who love Japanese gadgets! Ho ho ho!

 

Pulsations (12.07.12)

Friday, December 7th, 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 . . .

  • Breastfeeding doublespeak in Japan (from StarryBrooke): A new mother discusses Japan’s seeming inclination towards formula milk and its take on a healthy infant’s recommended weekly weight gain.
  • Dead Sensei Society (from Little Japan): Need to let out a few sniggers at work? This web comic features a “bumbling ex-pat who loves Japan, and reluctantly and inexpertly teaches English in order to stay.” Art imitating life, it seems.
  • The frustration of fruit (Japan As I Find It): Blogger Ciara airs her frustration with the cut-throat prices of fruit in Japan. Has your intake of natural vitamins taken a dip since moving here, too?

Visual Pulse

Good news, Doraemon fans. You’ll soon be able to relive your childhood, for the tubby and resourceful blue cat will be back on the big screen this coming March. Keep your fingers tightly crossed that the world doesn’t end on the 21st of this month…

RSS

Recent Posts

  • Marketers capitalize on university entrance exam time

    This week there is something weighing heavy on the minds of many students who’d like to advance to college: the National Center Test for University Admissions. It’s being held Jan. 18-19. Those with their heart set on a particular school who don’t get a good enough score may choose to spend a year, or in [...]

  • Pulsations 1.13.14

    The first batch of Pulsations in 2014 features a twist on chopstick design, a spectacular holiday illumination in Osaka and more.

  • Feelin’ lucky? The highs and lows of ‘fukubukuro’

    Whether you count fukubukuro “lucky bags” as a thank-you to shoppers, a scheme to unload less popular merchandise at the end of the year or just a way to kick off the New Year’s sales, buying a mystery pile of stuff worth [hopefully far] more than the price tag is a tempting offer to many. [...]

  • Pulsations (12.6.13)

    This collection of Pulsations brings holiday cheer in bento form, a must-see project for font-lovers, a solo stop-motion animation effort and more!

  • Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

    Joysound karaoke announced their top songs of 2013! However, just because they’re popular does not mean they came out this year . . .

  • Tokyo Eggs Benedict Bingo

    Eggs Benedict with awesome bacon, with a near lack of eggs, with raw tuna! Wait, raw tuna?! We sample a handful of Tokyo’s Hollandaise sauces.

  • Pulsations (11.19.13)

    Fashion, art and snacktime collide in this collection of Pulsations! Plus: Doraemon makes his 3D film debut!

  • J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

    Bookseller Tsutaya moves into the lifestyle business and gives consumer more ways to use T-points.

  • Autumn crop of pumpkin, purple potato and pear products

    The change of season prompts a change of snack flavorings – great for those with a pumpkin craving.

  • Tokyo Designers Week 2013

    This year’s Tokyo Designers Week gets its creative juices flowing with more markets, music and a festival vibe.