Archive for March, 2013

Makankosappo: high school girls conjure up a special force

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Joshiko Dragon Ball Z redux

Trending-setting high school girls are at it again. The latest extracurricular craze is call Makankosappo, which is the name of the move that killed the main character Goku in the popular anime.  In homage to Dragon Ball Z, these clever high school girls, through the magic of photography and careful timing, are staging scenes in which they blast away their classmates with powerful ki (気), or “special beam cannons.”

The creative variations on the Makankosappo theme keep coming, and so far the the love shown on Twitter has resulted in more than 20,000 retweets. Can’t say we’re surprised. They’ve got special power that forces you to smile.

First spotted on Livedoor News 

J-blip: Google Street View Cherry Blossom Edition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Google Street View

People come from all over the world to get a short glimpse of Japan’s blooming cherry blossoms. Google is taking advantage of this worldwide sakura passion to show off their virtual-tour map feature with Street View Sakura Edition, which shows cherry blossom scenes not only in normal pictures but also as 360-degree panoramas. It’s actually more like Path View, as in most of the scenes you can navigate off the main roads.

While you don’t get to see petals actually scattering to the ground, it’s always warm and sunny on Street View, even as clouds and rain are subduing some of the peak viewing days in the real world this spring. The Blossom Edition features sites from Kyushu all the way up to Aomori, including about 50 different spots, and gives information such as the number of cherry blossom trees, the area they cover and, in some cases, the history of the locations. Even someone in Japan wouldn’t be likely to have the luxury of seeing all these locations without this technology.

If you are in Japan and looking for spots to look at the blossoms, check out our post on hanami technology. But hurry! The blossoms came out ahead of schedule this year and won’t last long. For more virtual cherry blossom viewing, check out our page of reader  cherry blossom photos and hanami experiences from last year.

J-blip: Take splat — teenage girls delight in cream puff war

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

High school girls are taking a cream puff to the face in celebration of their birthdays

High school girls are taking a cream puff to the face in celebration of their birthdays

Cream puffs, or choux cream as they are commonly called in Japan, are flying through the air and exploding messily in the faces of unsuspecting schoolgirls. According to Livedoor News, the phenomenon of “ganmen shyu kuri-mu” (in-your-face choux cream), is trending right now on Twitter amongst high school girls. The idea is to lob a cream puff into the face of your friend to celebrate their birthday, or indeed any other happy occasion. It seems that rather than being upset at being assaulted in this way, those attacked are happy to post photos of their faces smothered in cream along with comments like: “I just got choux creamed in the face ( ̄▽ ̄)♡.” or “Thanks for my ‘in-your-face choux cream’ and thanks for the towel. This has been the best birthday.” Tweets of choux cream attacks are still coming thick and fast.

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Koe moe apps find their voice on smartphones

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Melting the coldest of hearts and turning the most rigid of spines to jelly, certain voices can have an almost magical effect on us.  This effect has been dubbed “koe moe” (vocal charm) in Japan and, according to a recent study carried out by Trend Soken, Japanese apps with that “moe” voice are seducing smartphone users in droves. The report, published at the end of February, included a survey of 500 young male and female smartphone users. A whopping 82 percent of respondents said they had downloaded apps that have an enjoyable vocal element.

To satisfy the predilections of this growing market, some developers have been recruiting the talents of seiyu (voice actors) who have established a name for themselves in the anime industry. Seiyu have proved to be big draws for the game industry, so it’s no surprise that there is a big buzz around “Girlfriend,” a smartphone dating game in beta testing that employs the talents of more than 60 seiyu, including Yui Horie, Hitomi Harada and Haruka Tomatsu.

Moe koe apps are not limited to games. “Rodoku Shojo” (Young Girl Reading Aloud) has, according to Japan Internet, been a massive hit, with downloads hitting the one million mark this month. The concept is simple: a young animated girl in a school uniform reads a book of your choice in a sugary voice. Check out the video above to get an idea. The app “Dentaku Girl” (Calculator Girl)  a friendly face and voice on your calculator. It’s possible to get Dentaku Girl to change her outfits as she reads out calculations to you from your screen background. In this way koe moe adds a personal touch to smartphone apps, increasing their user appeal.

About 66 per cent of respondents said that they preferred a certain kind of voice in a member of the opposite sex. Preferences were revealed to be highly personal: While a high-pitched girly tone can grate on one person’s nerves like a fork down a blackboard, it could just as easily make a grown-up businessman weak at the knees. One 29-year-old guy described his preference as “a little nasal and cute.” Another 36-year-old guy admitted a weakness for a “low and calm, charming voice.” A 19-year-old woman said she was into “a deep calm voice that makes you feel tenderly protected.” While a 25-year-old woman stated a liking for “a husky voice that sounds a little decayed.”

Boys who like girls’ manga for girls who like boys who like boys

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

boyz

Playing with a loaded gun

If you go down to the Boys’ Love section of Animate in Otome Road in Ikebukuro today, you’ll most likely see, alongside the crowds of fujoshi (“rotten girls”) browsing the stacks for a fix of sugar sweet boy-on-boy romance, the occasional guy checking out the mildly titillating depictions of young gay love. Yes, Fudanshi are boys who like manga written by girls for a female audience about boys who like boys, and, according to J-Cast, they’re on the rise.

Though Boys’ Love — yaoi — is a niche genre that’s been going strong for some time, with a fervid if furtive following of female fans, up until recently it was thought that men had little or no interest in the scene. Indeed, with their own, far more explicit “bara” (or Mens’ Love) titles, gay men have generally scorned the rather treacly voyeuristic erotic fantasies of female Boys’ Love authors.

Now, however, more and more fudanshi are coming out of the woodwork. J-Cast reports a lot of fudanshi activity on Twitter. Tweets tend to be imagined romances between pop idols or favorite anime characters, as well as discussions between those who share the same interests. A 2chan fudanshi thread has also attracted a lot of traffic. One 2chan user explained how he got into the genre: “My eyes were opened thanks to the influence of my sister.”

The influence of older sisters, a fondness for shōjo manga (young girls’ manga) or mistakenly buying a boy’s love dōjinshi (amateur manga title) featuring a well loved character from a favorite manga or anime, were all reasons cited for stirring up a passion for boy’s love in male hearts.

Taimatsu Yoshimoto,  a self-described fudanshi who does research into the history of the otaku, agrees that fudanshi appear to have increased lately. He’s quoted by J-cast as saying, “It’s a hidden hobby, but around ’05 to ’06 society began to be a lot less censorious of fujoshi, that is, those who’d previously hidden it would introduce themselves as fujoshi. On Mixi and Twitter men calling themselves fudanshi started to appear.”

Fudanshi can, of course, be gay, but they are also bisexual or even straight. “Fudanshi Nante Yomu no?” is a blog by Tamaki, a self-confessed Boys’ Love manga fan. In his profile he describes his sexuality this way: “If you had to sum it up in one word, I’m gay. I’m not interested in any other guys apart from my boyfriend, but because I like women I guess you could say I’m bi.”

It’s hard to say just how many fudanshi there are out there as Boys’ Love continues to be a secret passion even among female fans. However, we were interested to note that the Japanese Wikipedia page on Otome Road states that fudanshi have been spotted shopping for Boys’ Love in the area.

Photo courtesy of Jamiecat.

Photo report: FOODEX Japan 2013

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

FoodEx is the largest trade exhibition for food and drinks in Asia, with about 70,000 visitors checking out the products presented by hundreds of participating companies. I was lucky to enter as press; otherwise, visitors must be affiliated with the food industry — and pay ¥5,000 — to enter.

The FoodEx menu is global, including everything from  cherry beer from Germany and premium Mexican tequila to top-class French and Chinese dumplings. The event was a rare chance to try out both well-known and exotic foods and even see professionals making them.

In addition to booths offering traditional Japanese favorites such as udon and maguro sashimi, there were plenty of innovative twists, such as dorayaki, a sweet snack made of two pancakes and a red-bean filling, that came in coffee and tomato flavors.

While I was there I was lucky to catch the World Sushi Cup Japan 2013, where top chefs from around the world were competing … and presenting a wide range of styles that you would not normally see in Japan, like the flower makizushi above.

Qusca: a good place to nap on the job

Friday, March 1st, 2013

 

A bed at Qusca "nap cafe." Photo by Rebecca Milner

A bed at Qusca “nap cafe.” Photo by Rebecca Milner

Qusca, Japan’s first “o-hirune cafe” – literally “nap cafe” – opened last December in Tokyo’s Akasaka neighborhood. The name speaks for itself: It’s a place to go for a quick rest. The area is a business district, and Qusca (which is for women only) is targeting businesswomen who work in the area.

In Japan, the word “cafe” has come to be synonymous with any sort of third space. Manga kissa (kissaten is the old Japanese word for coffee shop) are essentially places where people go to read manga (and, increasingly, to watch DVDs, play video games, sleep and even, if rumors are to be believed, have sex). Coffee is available, but incidental.

Qusca, too, has a coffee shop element: a space where customers can read magazines, charge their mobile phones, use the WiFi and have a cup of coffee, tea or juice. But its raison d’être is the nap room. Here, under dim lights, there are two single beds and four reclining chaises. Each is draped in netting – which sort of looks like a mosquito net – offering some privacy. There are lockers for valuables, a shelf of pillows and blankets, and a vanity table stocked with hair irons, hair spray, lotions and even cosmetics.

The vanity table at Qusca nap cafe. Photo by Rebecca Milner

The vanity table at Qusca nap cafe. Photo by Rebecca Milner

Japan is often portrayed as hyper-clean, almost sterile, but Qusca isn’t the only place where people can dip into shared cosmetics (there is sanitizer for the brushes). Cluxta, which is essentially a well-stocked powder room with an entrance fee in Ikebukuro station, has been running for several years now, and it also has a wide selection of shared makeup and hair-freshening supplies. Cluxta is a space for women in transition – a recognition that, for better or for worse, women wear many hats and would likely take advantage of a place to change those hats. Qusca seems to run on similar logic.

When I visited Qusca on a weekday around 5 p.m., I was the only customer. The receptionist told me that Qusca sees the most customers during the lunch hour, which makes sense: It’s the only sanctioned free time in a traditional office structure. However, with more research supporting spurts of productivity interspersed with periods of rest, encouraging employees to take advantage of such sleeping spaces might be a good idea.

In college, my friends and I used to fantasize about a place like Qusca. We’d drive from campus to the nearest city, about 45 minutes away, to go shopping or to a museum and then stay through the evening until the early morning, eating, drinking and dancing. But to have a space in the interim to rest, and to put on the sort of eye makeup that looks ridiculous in daylight, would have been ideal.

Qusca costs ¥150 for 10 minutes. This sounds awfully cheap until it isn’t, though the price includes all the coffee and juice you can drink. At 30 minutes it equals the price of something elaborate from Starbucks. At two hours, you’d get more value out of visiting a public sauna, which, in addition to having a resting area, also has hot baths and saunas. Still, the hour I spent at Qusca left me relaxed and refreshed and I would visit again. I’d love to see nap cafes go ubiquitous, like Starbucks. Because how many times have you bought a cup of coffee when all you really wanted was to get off your feet and use the bathroom?

Sure, you can catch some sleep on the subway – certainly many people do – but Qusca is betting, like Cluxta and Ippuku, the “smoking cafe,” that people would pay a little extra to sleep, put on makeup or have a cigarette in a more congenial setting, which puts an interesting spin on the concept of small luxuries.

J-blip: Ramen cake

Friday, March 1st, 2013

At Machi no Kumasan (“The Town Bear”) bakery in Takasaki, they’ve recently added ramen, soba and pork katsu to their menu. That’s right, a bakery. A closer look shows the dishes are actually sweets made of pudding, chocolate and creamy Mont Blanc chestnut paste cunningly shaped to look like savory dishes. Not surprisingly, they’ve gone viral on the web.

We called Ken Ichikawa, the bakery’s head chef, to get the sweet low-down. “I wondered if we could make a cake that looked exactly like the ramen on instant noodle packages,” he said. Obviously, it was a success since many customers are fooled by the lovingly crafted details … from the ramen noodles in the glassy soup to the slices of pork (chashu) sitting on top.

Even Ichikawa himself says he is amused when a customer comes in and orders a ramen. “It’s a funny thing to hear that in a bakery, no?” he says with a laugh. The ramen cake is the same size as a regular bowl of ramen, about 18 cm across. Ichikawa says that on busy days, they make about 40 of them a day.

Ichikawa says he’s thinking of ending the ramen cakes at the end of the month. As for the next surprise, Ichikwawa said, “That’s a secret.”

Machi no Kumasan is at 1436-2 Minami Oorui Takasaki-shi, Gunma-ken

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