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Fans irked by a nuclear-free Doraemon

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

A reference to Doraemon’s internal nuclear power plant has been erased for the Big Doraemon Dictionary

Japan’s antinuclear movement is still going strong, but when the news came out  that Doraemon, everyone’s favorite robot cat, had lost his nuclear power source, fans were not impressed.

@FUKUBLOG, a sharp-eyed Twitter user, posted a photograph of the Big Doraemon Dictionary, in which the reference to a power source for Doraemon has been erased from the page. The original version shows that Doraemon is powered by his own nuclear reactor which, rather than plutonium or uranium, runs on anything he eats. Indeed, built with future technologies, Doraemon has so far been able to run around and fly in the sky without triggering an internal meltdown.

The reason for this omission is more than likely related to the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Doraemon fans, however, are not reacting well to this PC makeover. “So how on earth is Doraemon powered then?” tweeted one.  “A non-nuclear Doraemon isn’t Doraemon,” wrote another.

When the story was reported in Byokan Sunday, 2chan users reactions included: “So what should we do after this change? He moves by solar-powered battery or something?” and “This kind of deletion is not necessary.”

Many others were worried about the future fate of Atom Boy and his rather unfortunately named younger sister Uran-chan (Uranium girl). Will they be switched to alternative energy sources?

Today’s J-blip: kabe-don

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Picture the scene: A blushing girl is dashing off somewhere when all of a sudden a tall handsome guy slams his hand against the wall in front of her, she’s flustered, there’s nowhere to hide, their eyes meet and . . .  If you’re a fan of shōjo manga (manga aimed at teenage girls), you’ve no doubt seen this scene countless times and maybe even groaned a bit as the hackneyed plot device is once again wheeled out. The situation has been nicknamed “kabe-don” by manga fans, as “don” is an onomatopoeic word for thunderous sound, in this case created by a hand slamming into a kabe (wall).

This month a spate of parodies that turn the situation on its head have been produced by playful Twitter users, giving rise to the “semi-don,” and the “ten-don,” among others.

A whole new vocabulary has been born: There’s the “standard” don where a boy blocks a girl’s escape with one arm and the “slightly wild” don in which her escape is blocked by a leg. But the most popular parody by far has been the semi-don (cicada don) that, according to J-Cast, was first posted by a Twitter user on Oct. 13 as a panel of four drawings riffing on the kabe-don idea. The final panel shows a girl being completely cornered by a boy who is blocking her exit not just with both hands, but both legs too, like an insect clinging to a wall. The tweet was retweeted more than 20,000 times and lead to a number of people posting tribute photographs of themselves performing this difficult feat.

Following on from the cicada don we’ve now had the “ten-don,” in which a girl is cornered by a giant bowl of tempura and rice, the Pteranano-don, in which the flying dinosaur traps its prey in a corner and most successful of all with more than 10,000 retweets the “neko-don” featuring a pile of cats in a corner, presumably on top of their victim. Because “don” could also refer to a drum beat, it’s also common to see kabe-don parodies featuring WadaDon from Namko’s “Taiko: Drum Master” game taking the role of the “ore sama” (guy who’s a bit full of himself) lead.

Twitter is the perfect medium to disseminate this kind wordplay coupled with a one-shot visual gag, and it seems like manga fans both young and not so young are having a ball creating and re-tweeting kabe-don parodies. When it all dies down, we’re wondering which manga cliché will next receive an online dressing down. We vote for the one where a guy trips over a girl and lands on top of her, inadvertently touches a boob and receives a slap.

The secret allure of the surgical mask

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Who is that masked woman? (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Last month in Nagano, despite sweltering temperatures, a number of high school students were spotted attending school wearing surgical masks. This wasn’t hayfever season, nor were there any colds going around, so why were these teenagers covering their mouths and noses up? They were simply following a national trend for date masuku,  surgical masks that are just for show. (That’s read “dah-te,” nothing to do with dating.)

A journalist for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun asked students why they were wearing masks and got some surprising answers. One girl commented, “I’m shy about being seen without my makeup on.” Worryingly, another boy said, “I feel safe with it on.” Another 16-year-old female high school student explained that, “The mask hides the acne around my mouth.”

While this looks — on the face of it — like a problem created by low self-esteem, one that teenagers might grow out of, Japanese Wikipedia states that research done by Asahi Shimbun back in 2011 showed that adults are reaching for the date mask, too. Many began by using surgical masks for health reasons and then continued because they found that they enjoyed wearing a mask.

A writer under the name of Tama Tsupi, a self-confessed former date mask addict, wrote about the issue for Gadget News earlier this year. “Tsupi” began using a surgical mask to protect herself against hay fever and infection, but gradually came to find that she got a pleasant feeling from wearing a mask. Stressed at work, she found it useful for those times when she couldn’t be bothered to do her make up properly, or when she had trouble relating to others.

Though she’s now kicked the habit, she has stuck up for mask wearers by stating that covering up part of the face can have the effect of highlighting a person’s beauty. In the piece, she evangelizes about the unexpected cosmetic effect she experienced when wearing a mask. She points out that it’s common practice in Japan for people to upload shots of themselves to social networking sites that hide part of their face. These shots are both flattering to one’s vanity and protect one’s private image in the public domain. She writes: “Don’t you think this technique could be put to good use not only in a photograph, but in reality?”

The origin of the term date masuku (伊達マスク)is apparently connected to the Sendai’s famous daimyo Date Masamune. Problem is we’ve yet to figure out how the family name of this fierce, one-eyed warrior has come  to mean “vainglorious,” as seen in the similar terms date megane (prescription-less glasses) or date otoko, which essentially means dandy.  This YouTube video even suggests a connection with the true surname of the masked hero of Tiger Mask. So there you go. Think of it as being somewhere between vanity and anonymity.

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.

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.

BK’s Kuro Burger to ignite new trend?

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Burger King’s limited edition Kuro Burger

True to its name,  Burger King’s new Kuro Burger has a jet-black bun. The secret ingredient is a dash of bamboo charcoal that BK claims brings out the flame-grilled flavor of the beef. The ketchup is blackened with squid ink. But why? The company says its celebrating its fifth year in Japan with a burger that “defies common sense.” No comment. Aside from the inky ketchup, the burger is the same size and has the same toppings as a regular Whopper, and at ¥450, it costs only ¥30 more. The burgers will be on sale for a limited time starting Friday, Sept. 28.

Could bamboo ash become a trend in cuisine?  Chikutan Hime (Bamboo Charcoal Princess) webstore sells a range of black snacks, including peanuts, senbei rice crackers, and sweet fried karintou. If the hue fits, but you’re not keen on eating burnt wood, then you could get in line in Shibuya for a squid-ink baguette at upmarket French bakery Gontran Cherrier.

Today’s J-blip: Gari Gari Kun corn soup ice pop sold out in three days

Monday, September 10th, 2012

From horsemeat-flavored ice cream to tomato-flavored chocolate, the Japanese have amazed the world with their  appetite for weird and wonderful confectionery. Frozen soup on a stick is the latest novelty product to hit the jackpot in Japan’s convenience stores. According to Rocket News, within just three days of being released on Sept. 4, stocks of Gari Gari Kun Rich Corn Soup Flavor popsicles have completely sold out, forcing the company to announce that sales will be suspended for a short while. J-Cast points out that there was a huge amount of pre-launch buzz on the web by consumers eager to find out what this new frozen treat might taste like. Twitter has been abuzz with positive reviews like, “It’s surprisingly tasty.” Not convinced? We can’t guarantee that it’s delicious, but the video above proves that at the very least, it’s inspiring some creativity.

New Japanese tourists: have social network, will travel

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Users post original ideas for adventurous holidays on Trippeace to find new traveling companions

Fancy learning how to ride an elephant in Laos? How about shouting your New Year’s dreams from the top of Ayer’s Rock in Australia? Trippeace, a “social travel service,” is helping a new generation of Japanese travelers make their wildest vacation dreams a reality. Since its launch in August last year, the site has picked up over 20,000 members, over a thousand of whom have taken part in group vacations.

The project is the brainchild of Ian Ishida, a 22-year-old university student, and the idea is to enable young Japanese to experience a different kind of vacation. Members post ideas for a holiday and via Facebook, Twitter or Google+, they can discuss the details with other interested parties. Once a concrete travel plan has been made, Trippeace acts as a travel agent, making all the travel arrangements for participants. With a 10 percent commission on these arrangements, according to an article in Nikkei Trendy, Trippeace had made ¥200,000,000 by June this year.

It’s a remarkable achievement, seeing as this generation of young Japanese is much less adventurous when it comes to traveling abroad than the previous generation. Immigration statistics compiled by the Ministry of Justice show that overseas travel by young Japanese has fallen significantly from a peak in the mid-’90s.

Ishida isn’t the only one to come up with this concept. A similar service called Grvel was launched in December 2011. The name is pronounced “guruvelu,” a mash-up of “group travel.” But although Grvel made a selling point of offering group discounts to users who got together for a proposed trip, the lack of recent activity on the site seems to suggest that the scheme isn’t taking off in the same way as Trippeace. For those who want to cut out the middleman and book trips themselves, Taviko, a service that has been running since 2011, focuses on helping users find fellow travelers for whatever destination they have in mind via Facebook and Twitter. But again, it hasn’t seen anything like the level of traffic as Trippeace.

Canny marketing seems to have contributed a great deal to Trippeace’s success and the website is currently offering to pay the travel expenses of the first group to recruit 100 participants for a trip idea. Ishida is hoping this helps get 100,000 people registered for the service by October this year, with a view to possibly taking the service global in the future.

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