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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: Face Chocolates

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Workshop to make chocolate doppelgangers, using a 3D scanner and printer, at FabCafe. Photo courtesy of FabCafe

Does it look like me? Workshop to make chocolate doppelgangers at FabCafe. Photo courtesy of FabCafe

Valentine’s Day is big business in Japan. We’ve seen a lot of confectionery one-upmanship, but nothing quite like FabCafe’s jibunsei chocolates (self-styled chocolates).

A chocolate replica of your own face might look more kimoi (creepy) than oishii (delicious), but for the 15 people who participated in a two-day workshop the week before Valentine’s Day, the draw was the experience: getting to test out the 3D scanner and printer used to make the silicon molds. The workshop cost ¥6000, or about twice as much as an overpriced box of Godiva. To see more pictures of the process click on the gallery below.

FabCafe, a café-cum-workspace (with a laser cutter you can rent by the hour—or use to burn your own Valentine’s designs into macarons), is run by Loftwork, an “innovation consultancy;” it is also downstairs from 3D printer showroom Cube. “We were brainstorming together about how the 3D-printing technology could appeal to consumers, when we hit on the idea of Valentine’s Day chocolates,” explained Loftwork PR rep Kazue Nakata.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is for women to give chocolate to men; men return the favor on White Day, March 14. FabCafe is planning similar workshops for men in March. They haven’t officially announced it yet, but keep your calendar open if you’ve always wondered what you or your man would look like as a Gummi Bear.

Check out FabCafe’s own report of the event (in Japanese) and more great photos here.

“Fasting guys” not interested in women – at all

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

The Japanese media is lamenting the decline of red-blooded males and the rise of "fasting guys" in their place. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

The Japanese media is lamenting the decline of red-blooded males and the rise of “fasting guys” in their place. Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

For the last few years, the Japanese media have been dishing out label after label in an attempt to describe the modern Japanese male. The latest tag they’ve pinned on these much-analyzed specimens is the term zesshoku-kei danshi. Literally, “fasting guys,” these are guys so uninterested in women that they don’t even – gasp – have a favorite female TV talent or idol.

The moniker is a play on sōshoku-kei danshi, a phrase coined by the media a few years ago. These so-called “herbivore guys” preferred, like the fabled brontosaurus, to graze peacefully. Which is to say, they showed little ambition in romance, or likely their careers, either. The term proved to be a big hit, resulting in a whole glossary of hilarious spin-off words (see below). But the fasting guys make the herbivores look downright ambitious. In fact, some women have taken a liking to the gentle herbivores and the term has become a lot more neutral than its original critical tone.

Fasting guys exploded on the internet around the end of last year, following a survey of single men released by marriage match-making company O-net. The results were published on sites like Nico News and were subsequently tweeted like mad.

According to the survey, 12.1% of those aged 25-29 and 16.1% of those aged 30-34 – or about 14% total – identified with the “fasting” group. That’s roughly the same percentage as those who self-identified as nikushoku-kei danshi, red-blooded “meat-eating” types.

Of the fasting guys, half reported that they’d never had a girlfriend. Some 70% said it had never once occurred to them to get married.

Tough luck for all the women pining for Sagawa-danshi – the guys who work for the delivery company Sagawa Express and who have been fashioned by the media into pin-ups of the strong, dependable type.

However, not everyone is buying into this new development. The top-ranked commenter on the Yahoo story (to which over 7,000 readers clicked “I agree”) says, in sum: “Of course you’re going to get these results if you survey single men. The ones who haven’t got it together by 30 are going to be the inexperienced or uninterested ones.”

The internet also abounds with warnings of fake fasting guys – ones who pretend to be uninterested in women to mask their own wounding unpopularity with the opposite sex.

Don’t take it too hard, guys. At least you still get to be “guys,” unlike women who, in the past, have been makeinu (“loser dogs” – women who don’t marry, but are probably otherwise successful) and kurisumasu kēki (“Christmas cake” – women unmarried after 25, considered past their sell-by date).

A Glossary of Modern Japanese Males

nikushoku-kei danshi (肉食系男子; carnivore guys): Classic macho guys who go after what – and who – they want.

sōshoku-kei danshi (草食系男子; herbivore guys): Shy guys who don’t make a move; prey for the growing number of nikushoku-kei josei (carnivore girls).

roru kyabetsu danshi (ロールキャベツ男子; roll cabbage guys): Guys who appear to be herbivores but are actually carnivore to the core; named for the classic yōshoku (Japanese-style western food) dish of cooked cabbage stuffed with meat.

asupara bēkon-maki danshi (アスパラベーコン巻き男子; bacon-wrapped asparagus guys): Guys who come across as carnivores but later reveal themselves to be herbivores; named for the yakitori dish.

zasshoku-kei danshi (雑食系男子; omnivorous guys): Guys who will go with whatever works.

zesshoku-kei danshi (絶食系男子; fasting guys): Guys with zero interest in women.

Photo: Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

Hit the road: Japan’s 2013 trend forecast

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

'Long Trail' hiking is Trendy magazine's number one trend pick for 2013

‘Long Trail’ hiking is Trendy magazine’s number one trend pick for 2013.

In 2012 we got cat-ear hair-dos, an increasing appetite for salty mold, and a tower with a silly name. What wonders will 2013 bring? We’ve gone through Trendy’s predictions and came up with a list of themes that look good to us. Basically it boils down to this: smart phones continue to up the convenience factor, and people have to work harder to get away from convenience and to make up for all the energy it saves.

People will get moving – even more

Running and hiking have been big the last few years, and Trendy predicts that this will continue, and that people will invest even more in these hobbies. The magazine anticipates that hikers will head further into the hills, taking to what it calls the “long trails” that are dozens (possibly hundreds) of kilometers long, mostly in the Alps of central Honshu.

Naturally, these overnight trips will require more gear than the yama girls have acquired thus far, including camp stoves and camp stove-operated mobile phone chargers. Hikes deep into the heart of the country also fit in nicely with other growing interests that have been driving travel trends recently, like history and power spots.

Dieting will be more palatable, and fun

One of the biggest hits of 2012 was Kirin’s Mets Cola. Billed as the world’s first health-soda, the product claims to inhibit fat uptake. It got tokuho billing, the government-issued health food label usually reserved for products like bio-yogurt. Trendy anticipates that other ordinary edibles will ramp up their ingredients to qualify as tokuho products, and that 2013 will see more typically sweet things – from donuts to umeshu (plum wine) to teriyaki sauce – getting the low-calorie treatment with sweeteners like D-Psicose. Likewise, “water enhancers” like Kraft’s Mio Energy, which look like colored eye-drops but presumably have a Crystal Lite effect, look to make good, old-fashioned water more palatable to soda addicts.

Fujitsu's "Wandant" dog pedometer automatically uploads data to a cloud. Photo courtesy of Fujitsu.

Fujitsu’s “Wandant” dog pedometer automatically uploads data to the cloud. Photo courtesy of Fujitsu.

Trendy also sees gadgets that gamify weight-loss and fitness, like Nike’s FuelBand and Panasonic’s EW-NK63 pedometer – both of which beam data to smartphones – as being likely hits in 2013.

And (sigh) it looks like Fujitsu has gone and made a pedometer for dogs, the “wandant” (“wan-chan” being the word for puppy). As the pampered puppies of years past are now overweight middle-aged pooches, we’re probably going to see more human-driven weight-loss and exercise trends trickle down to the canine population.

Smartphones work their way further into our lives

Now that we’ve confirmed that Japanese consumers are buying into smartphones, it is likely that we’ll see more crossover products on the market. Expect more digital cameras that allow you to upload photos to a smartphone over Wi-Fi – like Nikon’s new Coolpix S800C, which is also an Android device itself – to hit the market in 2013, says Trendy.

Last year Moleskin introduced its “Smart Notebook” series, which is designed to sync nicely with the popular smartphone app Evernote. According to Trendy, Japanese office and school supply manufacturer Kokuyo (they make those ubiquitous “Campus” notebooks) has now launched its own series of smartphone-ready stationary, CamiApp, along with its own app.

 

J-blip: Sweets Marathon

Friday, January 18th, 2013

So, for the past few years, running has been really, really big in Japan. How do you make something already popular even more attractive? Cake, naturally. We’re guessing that was the logic behind Sweets Marathon, a running race with baked-goods stations set up along the way next to the usual water stations. You can run – and eat – your way through the whole 10k, or do it in a relay with a group of friends. And you can eat as much as of the little bite-sized cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and pudding cups as you like. It sounds a like a recipe for disaster, but the event handlers seem to do a pretty good job of moving everyone along.

Since 2010, there have been 13 of these events held in cities around Japan organized by Tokyo-based International Sports Marketing, Inc. Last month two Sweets Marathons took place at Tokyo Summerland and in Osaka, drawing 3,000 and 4,000 participants, respectively.

Next up is the Gourmet Run, which is already on track to happen in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya early this year. It costs ¥4000 to enter, which is pretty decent for access to a huge spread of regional cuisine – though you have to work for it.

Cat girls and more: Japan’s fashion trends of 2012

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

What was cool – or perhaps more importantly, cute – in 2012? Here are our top picks.

Neko girls

What would a year in Japan be without a newly coined look? This one isn’t exactly head to toe, like say the yama girls of years past. Its pièce de résistance is a hairstyle: the neko-mimi (cat ears), which basically involves twisting and rolling two chunks of hair to resemble cat ears. Then you can wear whatever you like with it, so long as it’s cute. Because cats are cute.

R25 cites model/fashion blogger/pop singer and official Kawaii Harajuku Ambassador (an honor bestowed by the mayor of Shibuya Ward) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as the inspiration. Ms. Pamyu is known for her wacky looks and has also appeared with her hair twisted to resemble devil horns and bat wings. But it was the cat ears that caught on, perhaps because it’s the only style that can realistically be done at home. A neko girl website is packed with do-it-yourself tips and cute pose suggestions.

It’s not just the hair though. Samuel Thomas, Japan Times fashion columnist and Tokyo Telephone editor, told us that anything with cat ears – like hats, headbands and hoodies – were big sellers this year.

These two fans of boy-band Arashi got creative and made their own tattoo stockings with the band members’ names. Photo courtesy of Tokyo Fashion

Tattoo stockings

Cat mania aside, the hit item for 2012 was without a doubt tattoo stockings. Interesting, considering that real tattoos will still get you banned from most public bathhouses (meaning they are still largely associated with the yakuza). However, these stockings, usually nude, are decorated with images that more resemble Western-style tattoos (also called “fashion tattoos” in Japan) – hearts and butterflies and Ed Hardy-like biker designs, for example. Too bad, because some full on irezumi-style tattoo stockings would be pretty cool.

Samuel also tipped us off to the origin of this one, citing Avantgarde, a small boutique in Harajuku, as the locus of the tattoo stocking trend. According to Trendy magazine, Avantgarde has sold almost half a million pairs since September 2011. Their sales on shopping site Rakuten for June through August 2012 were 200 times greater than sales during the same period of the previous year. During summer, really? As it gets colder, we’re seeing the same concept with white or gold patterns on black tights. Not quite the same double-take effect, but a clear evolution of the idea.

Naturally, it’s possible to combine the above two trends and get cat tattoo stockings.

Nameko goods

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

The most popular smart phone game in Japan is called Nameko Saibai Kit (literally “mushroom cultivation kit”). Yes, a simulated mushroom farm. But the mushrooms are, apparently, cute, and have launched a “star” character – the first to come out of a smart phone game.

The game, a free download from Beeworks Games, debuted in June 2011 as a spin-off of another popular game, Touch Detective  (the main character in that has a pet mushroom who helps solve puzzles); to keep things interesting, new seasonal versions are added regularly.

According to Trendy – which ranks nameko goods as the #7 hit product of 2012 – there are now some 50 companies licensed to make mushroom mobile phone accessories, stationery, stuffed animals, etc. In total there are about 800 different goods on the market. Events this past spring to promote new items, at shops like KiddyLand in Harajuku, drew lines with waits of over an hour. Perhaps watching mushrooms grow is good training for patiently waiting in line?

2012: The year in gear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Every year the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) ranks the year’s best new products and services like a sumo tournament, naming a “yokozuna” (champion) for eastern and western Japan. We combed through that, as well as magazines like Trendy (also from Nikkei) and Dime, for the game-changing gear of 2012 in Japan. Some trends we’re noticing are compact, cheaper goods that offer a comparative experience to the full size ones they’re designed to replace and “smart” appliances that work in tandem with smart phones, which had a big year too.

Honda N Box

The kei car from Honda doesn’t look like a kei car. Kei, or “light,” cars are ubiquitous in Japan; unless you’re planning to log long hours on the highway (for which you could just use the train), a small, light car with no power is perfect for traffic-clogged, narrow streets. Also, they cost a lot less to register and insure. But the innovation of the N Box – some 200,000 were sold this year – is that it is much roomier than your average kei. Not American-style minivan roomy, but maybe mini-minivan roomy. Ranked #3 for eastern Japan by NMJ and #12 by Trendy.

Panasonic “smart appliances”

Panasonic launched a new series of appliances that can be controlled remotely by an Android smartphone – meaning you can use your phone to turn on the rice cooker or the air conditioner before you get home (or check that you’ve turned them off). There’s also a scale that sends data to your phone, so you can track your weight-loss progress. We’re not sure what you’d want to communicate to the fridge that’s also part of the lineup, though. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

Mirrorless cameras

2012 saw the market for mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras explode. Mirrorless cameras offered an affordable, compact alternative to a comparatively bulky DSLRs. Pretty much every major manufacturer now has a model out, and this year the prices fell under that crucial ¥50,000 mark. Gear magazine Dime name checks Nikon’s 1 V1, Olympus’ PEN Lite E-PL3, Panasonic’s Lumix GF5X, and Sony’s NEX-C3D in its best buys of 2012 roundup. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

7-inch tablets

Smaller, cheaper tablets won over consumers who had been reluctant to buy into the first generation of full-size tablets. The market was just full of them this year, including imports like Apple’s iPad mini, Samsung’s Galaxy, and Google’s Nexus 7 along with domestic offerings like Toshiba’s Regza AT570 and Sharp’s Aquos Pad SHT 21. Ranked #1 for western Japan by NMJ.

Toyota Aqua

This compact hybrid edged out Toyota’s pricier Prius this year to become Japan’s top-selling car, with 24,192 units sold in October alone. Ranked #16 by Trendy.

Sharp Cocorobo

Not only can this “next generation” cleaning robot be controlled remotely by your smart phone, but it also has a built in camera and wifi so you can actually watch it work through your phone (if you have absolutely nothing better to do), seeing what it sees. You could even get it to send you before and after photos of its handiwork. Ranked #29 by Trendy.

Sony 3D Headset

Sony’s futuristic 3D personal viewing headset, the HMZ-T1, which actually came out late last year, proved more popular than Sony anticipated and the company announced in February that production couldn’t keep up with demand. The company has since launched the lighter HMZ-T2. Ranked #24 by Trendy.

Nintendo WII U

This one came out too late to make the yearly round-ups, but Nintendo’s new high definition system that includes a tablet-like controller that also works on the TV looks to be another game changer.

2012: The year in social media in Japan

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

LINE graph. Courtesy of NHN Corp.

In terms of Japan’s social media scene, 2012 was without a doubt the year of Line. The free application launched by NHN Japan in mid-2011 was initially created to allow free VoIP calls between Line users. This year it quickly snowballed into something much bigger: It now has an Instagram analogue in Pick, a social dashboard like Facebook, and is starting to pick up where the faltering Facebook Check-in Coupon fell off with its own location-based Coupon app. But one of Line’s most popular features is the ever-changing selection of cute stickers that you can add to text messages.

Line’s growth has been astounding: It reached the 50 million user mark at 399 days – more than twice as fast as both Twitter and Facebook. The most recent numbers, for November 2012, claim 80 million users, 36.5 million of whom live in Japan. The number of users shot past Facebook, which has only a little more than half as many users in Japan, with the number apparently plateauing in the last quarter of the year.

This year did, however, see Facebook edge out domestic rival Mixi, which has been faltering. Last June, Nikkei reported that Mixi’s active users for the month of March were 15 million (out of 27 million registered users). Not too bad, except that page views had dropped by 10 million in the past year – a loss of one-third. Mixi recently partnered with social gaming powerhouse DeNA to create a shared social gaming platform that will be live next year. We’ll see if that is enough to save Mixi – it certainly needs something.

And Twitter? While Japan is a distant third behind the U.S. and Brazil in number of accounts, Tokyo is the No. 2 city in the world for sheer number of tweets, according to a report by Semiocast. However, the same report also showed that Japan had the second slowest rate of new user registration after a flurry of growth last year.

Continue reading about social media in 2012 →

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