Author Archive

Pulsations (10.15.13)

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Here’s a new batch of 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 . . .

The Mystery of Japanese “Sauce” (from Just Hungry): You may know the sweet brown concoction as “tonkatsu sauce” but it’s not only for drizzling on breaded pork. What is it, anyways?

Asleep at the wheel (from Ikimasho!): A short-term foray into taxi driving turned into 15 years.

Feel better fast: Eight home remedies from the little old ladies of Japan (from RocketNews24): Is that a cold coming on? Learn how to say no to germs in the language of Japanese DIY medicine.

Looking for Scary Faces (from Japanese Streets): A regular club event called Heavy Pop had an early Halloween party. Check out this great photo collection!

Koloro wagon teaches little kids to be organized (from Spoon & Tamago): It’s a wagon! No, a shelving unit! No, a bunch of baskets! Actually, the new “storable furniture” designed by Torafu Architects is all of the above.

Exploring the GSC Offices with wooser (Part 1) (from Kahotan’s Blog): If you ever wanted to check out the inside of hobby figure maker Good Smile Company’s office, here is your chance, with a cute character guide.

The Successor to Duck-Lips is Sparrow Face (from Kotaku): Will just smiling for the camera ever be good enough again?

Video Pulse

Design Taxi tipped us off to this cool navigation app that is more fun than a map. Can’t find the Sunshine Aquarium? Just follow the penguins!

Rent a dude for ¥1,000: an interview with Takanobu Nishimoto of Ossan Rental

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

“In Japan, old guys get a fair amount of ridicule, basically bad-mouthing. That had been kinda ticking me off, so I was thinking if we could create a bunch of good — not looks-wise, but lifestyle-wise — fun, older guys, then maybe the value of older guys would be seen.”

Meet professional ossan Takanobu Nishimoto

Meet professional ossan Takanobu Nishimoto (Emily Balistrieri photo)

That seed grew in the mind of Takanobu Nishimoto, a 46-year-old jack of all trades, and blossomed into what is now known as Ossan Rental (“Old Guy Rental”). Thanks to the unusual brand name, the experiment attracted customers early on, and later, the attention of social media and web watchers on sites like NariNari and Kotaku.

So who rents themselves out for ¥1,000 an hour? How did Nishimoto find time between his college and vocational school lectures, fashion consulting, modeling and everything else? As I learned more about him, my curiosity was definitely piqued. And part of me wanted to confirm that he is simply a guy doing something interesting . . . and not a creep, as some people might assume.

I requested an interview and got an enthusiastic “yes.” When I asked him to choose a cafe where we could relax and chat, as if I were renting him, he suggested one on a fifth floor overlooking Shibuya.

His introduction was as casual as his button-down shirt and jeans. “Hello, I’m Ossan Rental,” he says, half laughing, perhaps realizing how goofy that sounded. We order tea and coffee and get right into it.

“Outside of work there’s a distance between older guys and young people.  I think it’d be cool if we could connect more. I’m 46. There aren’t many opportunities to talk to people in their 20s in our private lives. I thought it would be neat if I could set up opportunities to make that happen.

“I would go to Tsutaya or some rental shop and think, ‘If older guys were lined up on the shelves, that would be something.’ But how would you order them? Well, putting them in a cart would work. And then you could return them by mail. Well, ‘returning by mail’ would be parting ways at the mailbox, but . . . (laughs).”

This past February he turned his crazy Ossan Rental vision into a reality.

Continue reading about ossan rental →

Pulsations (09.11.13)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Here’s a new batch of 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…

Japan’s Real-Life Kick-Ass Is Very Helpful (from Kotaku): A friendly guy helps locals carry strollers or luggage at a station where this is no elevator or escalator. Oh, and he’s dressed as a Power Ranger.

An ‘Origami’ Chair Folded From A Single Wooden Strip (from DesignTaxi): This chair concept was inspired by Japanese paper-folding techniques.

The Notorious MSG’s Unlikely Formula For Success (from Buzzfeed): Get your facts straight on that delicious taste, umami, including how University of Tokyo chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered the man-made version.

Kiritoshi House by Sugawaradaisuke (from Dezeen): Looking at these pictures, it feels like this must be something much more than a two-bedroom house in Chiba, and yet . . . it’s a two-bedroom house in Chiba.

Famed Photog Yasumasa Yonehara Wants Kids to Tack Back Fashion for Themselves (from MTV81): “The culture informs their choice of clothing – but these outfits aren’t exactly practical. I want cosplay kids to stay true to themselves after removing their outfits.”

The old-timey treat that’s back in style thanks to Hayao Miyazaki (from RocketNews24): Everyone’s curious to try the “Siberia” cake featured in “The Wind Rises” and luckily, you can!

Control Bear Store Tokyo — Beyond Character Goods (from Tokyo Telephone): As mentioned in this month’s On Fashion in The Japan Times, Control Bear now has its own shop in Harajuku. This post goes in-depth!

Video pulse

“The Light Shooter” is a first-person shooter with a peripheral you’ve never seen before — a real, stringed bow, no arrows necessary.

 

10 charming things believed by little kids in Japan

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

bug photo

Great great grandma?

Certainly everyone has some embarrassing things they thought were true as a kid. Me, I thought that chipmunks were baby squirrels. A recent 2ch forum thread (later rounded up and commented on at Itashin!) took up this at times awkward topic and we selected 10 particularly cute ones. Note that our highlights are mostly skewed toward things that seemed unique or particularly Japanese (e.g. not Santa, although he came up). Please remember that since it was just a forum conversation, these are not necessarily widespread beliefs.

When I was little I thought (paraphrased from Japanese) 

. . . that there was a city in the United States called Downtown.

. . . that when you got married kids would just show up from somewhere.

. . . that all TV was live and how amazing it was that the actors in the commercials could do exactly the same thing every time.

. . . that there was only one ambulance in the world (and how amazing that was).

. . . that during Obon our ancestors came back as bugs.

. . . that if I told a lie I would be forced to eat 1,000 needles.

. . . that the bamboo shoots in ramen were pull-apart chopsticks soaked in soy sauce.

. . . that you went from: kindergarten —> elementary school —> middle school —> high school —> college —> Tokyo University (I thought Tokyo University was where you went after college).

How about you? What sorts of things did you believe when you were a kid?

Pulsations (08.23.13)

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

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 . . .

Clever naming has New York diners raving about Japanese-style cod roe and pigs’ feet (from Rocket News 24): How you market your food may have as much to do with success as how you cook it.

Japanese Banana Art Is So Damn Appealing (from Kotaku): One artist unpeeled a banana and saw potential.

Tokyo Disneyland’s Halloween Vinylmations are revealed (from Tomopop): Sio designed spooky versions of Minnie and Donald that glow in the dark.

shinobu koizumi’s useful snow-like objects won’t melt away (from designboom): Salt crystals can mimic the frosty white stuff quite convincingly.

LT Josai – A new shared living space in Nagoya (from Spoon & Tamago): You’ll want to move in when you see these pictures.

 

Video pulse

Earlier this month, six Japanese cigar box jugglers traveled to Canada to meet one of the world’s greatest, Eric Bates. From the video they ended up with it looks like they had an awesome time, and of course you can see lots of impressive cigar box juggling.

Pulsations (8.18.13)

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

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 . . .

Bon odori: dancing for the spirits of the ancestors (from Tokyo Food File): This simple post appreciates traditional dancing at a summer festival on the beach.

Tama — the station master cat who raised over $10 million and helped save a train line (from Spoon & Tamago): This profile of the real-life maneki-neko features plenty of photos.

Wild Japan (from Noel’s Garden Blog): A visit to Japan yielded some great flora pictures.

Top five things to do at the Hakodate morning fish market in Hokkaido (from Texan in Tokyo): A guide to a fish market that is, at least going from this account, quite different from Tokyo’s Tsukiji.

Mark Smith’s 1/144th Scale Gem Collection (from Aviation of Japan): Model hobbyists like the ones who wrote this detailed post were interested in the work of Jiro Horikoshi way before the latest Hayao Miyazaki film.

So, How’s That Japanese Manga on Steve Jobs? (from Kotaku):  Take a look inside the comic based on Walter Isaacson’s biography of the Apple co-founder.

 

Video Pulse

This year’s World Hiphop Dance Championship took place in Las Vegas Aug. 7. Three Japanese teams made it to the junior finals after battling through a prelim featuring 34 teams from around the globe. Two were penalized for noncompliant clothing or overusing props, but JB Star Jr. (4th place) managed to jam out to “Gangnam Style” among other tunes in their mix free of point deduction.

 

Inside Nazo Tomo Cafe

Friday, August 16th, 2013

The other day we brought up the nazo toki (puzzle solving) trend that appears to be building even further with the appearance of Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku’s Theatre Cybird. Though I’ve played “Professor Layton” and used to get a kick out of logic exercises as a kid, I can’t say I am “good” at puzzle solving, so it took some guts for me to walk into the quirky pop-up cafe.

I thought I would warm up with a “cup dessert,” a perilously sweet parfait-like affair with heart-shaped cake, generous amounts of whipped cream, marshmallows, cornflakes, etc., but my true warm-up was the puzzle that came with it.

nazo

Strawberry sauce cup dessert ¥500

The event is put on in collaboration with a romance sim mobile game for girls by Cybird (under the same company group that runs the theatre space) called “Ikemen Oukyū Mayonaka no Shinderera” (something like “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella” in English). In the cafe puzzle, you’re a princess 30 minutes before a ball and you’ve received a letter announcing a crime will occur. However, the message is in code, so you need to get hints from the game’s handsome young men to discover what the criminal is after.

coaster

Coaster prize featuring Leo from “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella”

Now is perhaps a good time to note that you can’t expect to do any of this without good working knowledge of Japanese. The code itself is written in katakana, but you need to be able to read and understand the instructions, too. And don’t waste precious puzzling time looking for furigana. Of course, even though my Japanese was cutting it, the other parts of my mind were embarrassingly dull. Luckily the staff are friendly and will give you further hints until you feel almost as if you solved it yourself — definitely the reason for the 100 percent pass rate compared to the actual missions, of which when I went most did not reach 20 percent.

After picking up my prize coaster, I decided to pass on the rest of the side mission in order to get down to the real business at hand. I wanted to get inside one of those “mission cubes”!

The main draw of Nazo Tomo Cafe is not the cafe at all, but the puzzles awaiting inside each of the six mission cubes. Participation costs ¥1,000. Having never played a Real Escape Game or solved any similar real-life puzzles, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but more in the mood for science fiction than murder or romance, I picked mission six, “Taimu Mashin 765~Mirai wo Sukue~” (“Time Machine 765: Save the future!”).

[Mild spoilers ahead]

Led up some stairs to a short hallway-like room, I was told not to touch anything until after the countdown started. All the puzzles are designed to be solved within 765 seconds (a number too close to na-mu-ko in Japanese, i.e. producer Namco, to be a coincidence), but I knew at first glance it would be impossible for me alone. After a short video explaining (in Japanese with Japanese captions) how the world would end as the culmination of a series of unfortunate events beginning with some guy stubbing his toe, I was faced with a seven-step brain teaser with no hints in sight. How would I push the button to save the planet from certain doom? One of the steps involved playing the Japanese word game “Shiritori,” an example of how cultural fluency can matter as much as the linguistic kind.

[End mild spoilers]

Of course, once I had failed magnificently I thought of various ways I could have tried to proceed in a swifter, more orderly fashion, but so it goes. If nothing else, know that this is not a pencil-pushing game; you’ll be pacing your cube, manipulating objects and hopefully talking things through with your friends along the way.

That’s why it’s called “Puzzle Friend Cafe.” Even just two heads are better than one, so don’t be like me showing up alone. The staff will welcome you gladly (one of them confessed player numbers had decreased a bit since they opened on July 31), but you’ll have more fun, and more of a chance for success, with a pal or five (it seems up to six can play together). I paid once and received a free ticket to try another day, so maybe I’ll see if I can round up a posse for sometime next month; although the cafe closes briefly starting Aug. 25, round two runs Sept. 6-23.

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of ”Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

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