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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.

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.

Pulsations (9.28.12)

Friday, September 28th, 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 . . .

Visual Pulse:

Need something to perk you up at work besides coffee? Try Morning Rescue, a Japanese energy drink popularized by the anime “Puella Magi Madoka Magica.” What would you do if a group of men dressed in orange overalls smashed through your ceiling and popped up right next to you so early in the morning?

Today’s J-blip: Gatsby Moving Rubber hair wax

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Men’s hair product Gatsby’s Moving Rubber promises change for all kinds of hair. Their new ad campaign near Shinjuku Station’s West Exit now brings the message to life. Passers-by in one of the world’s busiest train stations can stand under wigs hung at head-height on a big mirror to try out a new ‘do or two. Considering weaving in some dreadlocks or perming up an afro? Forget Photoshop; nothing can give you a clearer picture than this.

With seven different types of hair wax, some of which include Wild Shake, Loose Shuffle and Grunge Mat, the options are widely varied. Gatsby’s colorful pucks are differentiated by texture, holding strength and  hair length. The range has been around for years and is hugely popular both in and out of Japan.

And if you need tips on how to use a particular Moving Rubber, here you go.

Today’s J-blip: Google celebrate’s Doraemon’s -100th

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Doraemon, as most people reading this blog will probably know, is the loveable robot cat hero of the popular manga/anime series. Sparking the imaginations of children since 1969, the popular cartoon character has been featured in 1,344 stories and almost 2,000 TV anime episodes.

In the lore of the series, Doraemon is born on Sept. 3, 2112, and sent back to the present with an inexhaustible pocketful of tricks and tools from the future to keep Nobita, his lazy and unlucky fourth grade co-star, out of trouble.

With  a video tribute that celebrates the blue earless cat’s “minus 100th birthday,” Google Japan seems to be suggesting that the corporate monolith can bring us closer to the future and Doraemon’s time-saving capabilities. Real-life versions of Doraemon’s “bamboo helicopter” and cloak of invisibility — or at least people’s best attempts at them — are only a Google search away.  Via Streetview, Google itself virtually whisks us around the world much like Doraemon’s “anywhere door.” These experiences are no longer just the stuff of cartoons, and the company has cleverly tapped into the popularity of the cat to show the parallels.

And with just the click of a magical hyperlink, you too can find out how the city of Kawasaki is celebrating the minus birthday of its most famous time traveler.

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