Author Archive

Who let the dog boom get out of control?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

dogjacket

Japan’s pet population has grown by over 9 million in the last 10 years. Cats figure into the equation, but it’s the present “dog boom” that gets the most attention, with the spotlight shining on more and more services available for Japan’s canine lovers. In addition to clothing lines and custom-made birthday cakes, dog owners can now keep a memento of their deceased four-legged friend after their death, in what now marks a complete cradle-to-grave cycle.

What’s not mentioned as frequently is how the grave-end of this cycle presents itself to many unwanted pets. Some estimates show that over 300,000 dogs a year are now being put down around the country. There is no simple answer as to why so many pets are abandoned, or even bought in the first place, although it has been argued that Japan’s love of cute and the difficulties of raising children play a role.

Continue reading about the pet boom →

New faces down on the farm

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Farm bootsCombine rising food prices with rejection of the rat race and you’ll begin to understand why the popularity of farming as a hobby – both in Tokyo and the surrounding hinterlands  – continues to grow. It’s not a bad idea, actually, especially when you consider Japan’s wilting food self-sufficiency rate and the fact that nearly half of Japanese working farmers are in their 70s or older.

Programs like WWOOF have been matching farmers with willing workers for decades, but the recession and subsequent corporate layoffs have inspired both part-timers and nine-to-fivers to trade in the work shoes for muddy boots on the weekends. Some travel to plots of land in the suburbs, while others are taking to the rooftops, even in high-street districts like Omotesando. Matsuya department store even has their own line of honey produced by bees buzzing around their Ginza garden. The vegetables in many of these high-rise sanctuaries aren’t always the idealized size or shape, but that’s OK . . .  because Japanese consumers are finally overcoming their aversion to oddly shaped vegetables.

The question to ask  here may be whether or not this return to the dirt will last when (or if) prosperity arrives again, but there’s no doubt that many city-folk enjoy the nostalgia of a farm life they may or may not have memories of. Just take a trip out to Mother’s Farm, a pastoral theme park centered on livestock. Here, families and dates on a day trip may stand in cues for nearly an hour  to milk a cow. If agriculture has become entertainment, can we grow popcorn?

Bonus links:

An artsy Octoberfest weekend in Tokyo

Friday, October 30th, 2009

A map for the Kunst Oktoberfest gallery tour

A map for the Kunst Oktoberfest gallery tour

This may be Tokyo Design Week, but there are a number of interesting art events worth your time as well. Some are best seen this weekend:

1) This Saturday only is the Kunst Oktoberfest, a free bus tour of an impressive number of interesting contemporary art galleries. Simply hop on and off the buses as they snake through Chuo-ku to places like Ginza’s Gallery Koyanagi and TOKYO Gallery+B.T.A.P and Bakurocho’s CASHI and Radi-um von Roentgenwerke. The buses give you around twenty minutes at each gallery before whisking you away to the next spot.

Oh, and did I mention that there will be free COEDO beer on the bus? Here’s a review of last year’s. The map you see on the right can be found on the Japanese press release here.

2) ULTRA 002 just opened at Spiral in Omotesando. What makes this contemporary art fair unique is that is focuses on individual directors instead of the galleries they work for. Here you get to see a single person’s vision in ways other fairs can’t provide. Runs until November 3rd.

3) One of the most talked about contemporary artists in the world right now is Cao Fei. Her ongoing “RMB City” project just opened at the Shiseido Gallery in Ginza and is worth a look. The videos you see there all take place in a virtual city she created in Second Life. This even includes an interview about the project with both the artist and interviewer represented by their avatars. Read The Japan Times review here.

4) The artist Ai Wei Wei is another Chinese contemporary heavyweight whose show “According to What?” is on a global tour, and will be at the Mori Art Museum for only one more week. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. More info on Ai Wei Wei here.

A mouthful of tech marketing

Monday, October 26th, 2009

It’s been an interesting few weeks for Japan’s tech watchers. First there was the CEATEC show, Twitter Japan launch and Engadget meet-up, and now the battle for operating system supremacy rages throughout Tokyo.

Windows 7 was rolled out last week, but had at least two PR blunders on national news. At the same time, hard-core geeks circulated a picture of Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, in front of a Windows 7 promotional booth, the joke being Torvalds’ smile in the face of rival, Microsoft’s (alleged) attempt to mute coverage of a Linux conference happening that same day.

Continue reading about the OS wars →

Moving portraiture by Julian Opie

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Julian Opie's "Clare with Landscape"

Julian Opie's "Clare with Landscape"

Last week SCAI the Bathhouse opened a new showing of recent works by Julian Opie (until Nov. 14). Unlike last year’s solo exhibition at Art Tower Mito, this show focuses on portraiture work, which can be just as engaging as the  walking and dancing LED figures that many people now associate him with.

Opie collects Japanese art, both old (ukiyo-e masters Kitagawa Utamaro and Utagawa Hiroshige) and new (hand-painted anime cels). You’ll see similarly flat and vivid color schemes in these portraits, but they are far from static.  Take “Clare with Landscape” (right), for example. Depicted on a vertical LCD screen, at first glance the subject stands as regal and motionless as a Rembrandt or Rubens. But then she blinks. Her bracelet then twinkles in the light and her earring sways slightly, as if to her own pulse. The landscape behind her is alive as well, with clouds lazily crossing the sky and the sound of crows and passing cars.

Opie has also recently utilized Lenticular printing to give 18th-century portraiture styles a modern spin. Many of his subjects are larger-than-life.  Seen here, wavering slightly as you walk from one side to the other, their faces stare down on you with a depth that is both intriguing and somewhat unnerving.

SCAI the Bathhouse is a beautiful 5-10 minute walk from Nippori Station, past the Yanaka Cemetary.

Julian Opie’s site and wiki

A small interview on Youtube from the “This is Shanoza” series

Bento packaged for the global spotlight

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

How to make an Astro Boy charabento, as show in "Face Food Recipes" and available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

How to make an Astro Boy kyarabento, as shown in "Face Food Recipes," available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

The recession and a growing interest in cost-cutting ingenuity have resulted in an unprecedented amount of bento coverage in the international press. From The Guardian to The Washington Post, major newspapers are spilling plenty of ink over this humble yet refined Japanese tradition.

It’s easy to see why. Bento provide an extremely photogenic platform to explain larger cultural and economic realities for the beleaguered working classes, who in an effort to save money choose the DIY approach to lunch. However, in the New York Times’ opinion blog, “Room for Debate,” several well-known creative minds move beyond proletariat concerns to wax philosophic on the nature of bento and how they represent Japanese society.

John Maeda links traditional boxed lunches to the Japanese “less is more” principal, while Muji creative director Kenya Hara argues that bento preparation is an act of focusing on the beautiful and simple in an ugly, chaotic world. Denis Dutton highlights the love and care placed in a bento’s creation, while Nick Currie (aka Momus) sees bento as a triumph of aesthetics over efficiency.

It would be more than a stretch to call the interest in bento a new trend in Japan. After all, people have making boxed lunches for centuries, and even the buzz around bento boys (弁当男子), those working men who – “gasp!” – prepare their own lunches to save money, goes back at least a few years. But now the kyaraben version of bento are arguably becoming a global art form, with kyaraben contests, budding kyaraben Facebook and Flickr groups, and yes, a Kyaraben iPhone application.

Bonus links:

Japanese agency projects their message well

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

One of the most interesting and innovative new features in the digital camera market is the built-in projector. Right now, only one camera (the Nikon COOLPIX S100pj) has it, but if it takes off, it won’t be the only one for long.

There’s much to love about this promo video put together by Japan’s GT Inc, a creative agency whose work is frequently brilliant. Take, for example last year’s “Love Distance” commercial, which won big ad the Cannes Lions, the advertising world’s version of the Oscars.

Seriously, have you ever seen a commercial for condoms that could make a grown man weep? I’ve only seen one, and this is it.

Thanks to Jean Snow for pointing this out.

 

NYT’s David Pogue chimes in on the S100pj.

Twitter swoops into the Japanese market again

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Have iPhone, will Tweet

Have iPhone, will Tweet

As the tools of Social Networking envelop the globe, Japan’s market remains an elusive jewel that every major player wants in their crown. However, not even the mighty Facebook has been able to usurp local favorite, Mixi and its growing audience. Twitter threw its hat into the ring last year,  but the wildfire growth seen around the globe didn’t catch on here (it’s worth noting that some of the most influential and most followed Twitter users in Japan still hail from other countries). But at a  PR event in Tokyo last Thursday, Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, announced a new strategy: Japan-only mobile site design exclusively for local cell-phone carriers.

Will Japanese users embrace it?

Continue reading about Twitter in Japan →

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