Archive for the ‘J-blip’ Category

Today’s J-Blip: Safecast iOS app

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Screenshots of Safecast’s new iPhone application, showing the area around Fukushima Dai-ichi with different filters

In Japan, cute bouncy mascots are often relied on to raise awareness about campaigns or officious entities. We have our doubts, however, about whether the new mission of Kibitan — to steer kids clear of potential hotspots in Fukushima — will have much of an effect. Call us cold-hearted, but when it comes to radiation, we prefer data — reliable, independently gathered data.

For bringing peace of mind to residents of post-3.11 Japan, or travelers thinking about coming here, nothing has come closer than Safecast. We reported on Safecast Japan shortly after last year’s disaster, when the team of volunteers with Geiger counters was building up their operations at Tokyo HackerSpace.

Comprised of radiation experts, industrious hackers and citizen data-collectors, Safecast is still tirelessly cataloging radiation readings and transforming the raw data into user-friendly maps. They’ve come a long way: From an initial Kickstarter campaign, the group is now funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Safecast recently launched an iOS application. Its most attractive feature is the “virtual Geiger counter,” which shows you their collected radiation readings, plus readings from the U.S. Department of Energy, for your current location. It’s strangely addictive. There is also a bunch of filters to play around with, which allow you to look specifically for, say, Cesium 137. Best of all, it’s free.

Apparently you can also hook up your own Geiger counter to the app and send readings back into the Safecast system.

Kibitan, we suggest that you download this one now.

Safecast and U.S. Department of Energy readings for the greater Tokyo area as seen on the Safecast iPhone app.

Today’s J-blip: Otoshidama Kit Kat

Friday, November 9th, 2012

The snake and the Kat.

There are many perks to being a kid in Japan, and receiving money just because it’s New Year is one of them. As if that isn’t enough fun, Kit Kat will soon be releasing the otoshidama version for the fourth year in a row. Being an ’80s kid doesn’t seem all that cool now, does it?

Otoshidama is the money children get from adult relatives during the New Year. It usually comes sealed in a prettily patterned envelope. On this year’s otoshidama box, Kit Kat, in collaboration with Japan Post Holdings, features a cute snake on the package to represent the Chinese zodiac sign of the upcoming year and a message can be written on the back of the package to wish your addressee luck.

Kit Kat product collectors, take note: If you’re fortunate to get your hands on the special edition you’ll get Kit Kat gift envelope. Oooh.

And while we’re on the topic. Have you noticed that Kit Kat has been more saku saku (crispy) in recent years? This Japanese snack blogger lets you know what she thought of the otoshidama Kit Kat for the Rabbit year.

Crunchiness aside, you should purchase your own New Year money pack, which will be on sale at local post offices Nov. 1-Jan. 13.

Today’s J-blip: Mangazara

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Ahahaha! Is that your salad laughing at you?

These manga-inspired plates are making it fun to play with your food again. Award-winning product designer Mika Tsutai created these plates (or zara) to look like frames straight out of a Japanese comic. They are designed so that when food is carefully positioned just right, it will seem to jump into a story. Always felt like you could hear your salad roaring with laughter? Or wanted to underline the satisfying thwack of your knife chopping up a tonkatsu? These plates bring the illusion to life and product website Comicalu has a list of their specifications. Dishes in the collection are priced at ¥2980 a piece and can be purchased at the Tsutaya entertainment chain in Japan.

Today’s J-Blip: Red Bull Curates Canvas Cooler Project

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Artist and fashion designer Akiyoshi Mishima at work on the Red Bull Curate Canvas Cooler project. (Photo by Hiro Ikematsu)

After visiting New York, London and Milan, the Red Bull Curates Canvas Cooler Project has landed in Tokyo. The project invited 21 local artists to take a Red Bull cooler as their canvas. We scored pictures of some of the artists at work in their studios and at play during the opening party at SuperDeluxe. See the finished results for yourself at the Red Bull Japan HQ in Shibuya. The exhibition starts today and runs through Nov. 7. (Click on the thumbnails to read more about each photo.)

Today’s J-blip: Coca-Cola Bottleware

Monday, October 29th, 2012

The iconic Coke bottle was designed in 1915 with the goal that “a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.” The bottle architecture has since undergone many variations and recently has even had a Karl Lagerfeld edition, but its newfound usage as tableware surely takes the Coke — er, cake.

Japanese design firm nendo has teamed up with the legendary beverage company to produce Coca-Cola Bottleware. This collaboration is primarily a collection of bowls and we can see its novelty factor already. These green-tinted, clean-cut dishes are completely recycled from the distinct “contour bottles” and are hand-manufactured by artisans located in Aomori, northern Japan. Since when did exquisite traditional crafts become so contemporary cool?

Prices range from ¥5250 for a dip dish to ¥14,700 for a large bowl. Each design is limited to a quantity of 500, so get your sticky-Coke-stained-hands on them fast at CIBONE Aoyama from Oct. 31. They also go on exhibition the same day they go on sale at DesignTide Tokyo 2012 till Nov. 4.

Suitably inspired to make your own bottleware? We can’t guarantee that as many people will be appreciate it, but at the very least, if one is broken, you can always just make another.

Today’s J-blip: customizable Tirol chocolate

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Love those little ¥20 Tirol sweets that are konbini fixture, but get frustrated when they don’t have the flavor you want? Good news, control freaks: You can now customize them online at My Tirol. What better way to welcome trick-or-treaters than with Japanese chocolate made and packaged according to your own preferences?

Tirol, as you like it.

Tirol sweets are easily distinguished by their uniform square shape and varied, bright wrappers. They are offered in a wide assortment of flavors, including kinako mochi and creamy anmitsu, that seem to be made available on a rotational basis. Since one square is only 35 calories, they make great treats for dieters who can’t resist a confection after every meal. Can’t have just one? These little yummy blocks also come in packs of 8. Willpower? What’s that?

Create your own pack of Tirol chocolates by choosing the top layer, the filling and the bottom layer. Does caramel chocolate and gouda cheese chocolate filled with mochi gummy sound delicious, or at least intriguing? You’re in luck — with a few clicks, it, or any one of 625 combinations, can be on its way. A list of ingredients that can trigger allergies pops up after every combination. You choose the packaging, and one even gives you the option to include a message. Forget flowers; this is the new sweetest trick in the book.

Thirty cubes of three different customizations will set you back ¥2,680 plus shipping fees. Granted, it’s way more expensive than the off-the-shelf Tirols, but it’s not every day you can have a strawberry-almond-kabocha chocolate.

Today’s J-blip: ‘Yurei Attack!’

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Who you gonna call?

Want to get rid of that strange woman who’s been watching you sleep at night, the one whose feet aren’t touching the ground? Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt may have just the help you need in their recently published little encyclopedia, “Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide.

The authors offer deep insight into yurei, figures in Japanese folklore who died under savage circumstances and who are now doomed to seek revenge until someone gives them proper funeral rites. The book also tells you why there is (probably) no need to be afraid. In addition to a biographical fact sheet and background story for each yurei, the book details how every one executes its attack and, more importantly, how to survive an encounter should you have the misfortune — or fortune, depending on your tastes in adventure — of meeting with an impassioned Japanese spirit. Already being haunted? This book may just be your saving grace.

Embellished with dozens of colorful illustrations, the guide not only embodies information on 39 unfriendly and vicious Japanese specters but discusses haunted places in Japan and the occult games one may play if trying to invoke a demon. For what, we don’t know, and we’re not going to ask — though if you do attempt these games we won’t be expecting to hear from you anytime soon.

Oiwa, of the famed kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan, is one of the featured ghosts, and it is recommended that one visits the Tamiya Shrine at Yotsuya if bedeviled by her. We’ve been there, and the shrine, albeit small and set right in the middle of a residential area, does have something creepy about it. But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, right? Not that we were being haunted. Unless nightmares count . . .

Whether out of plain interest or out of the desperate need to combat your own yurei attack, you can purchase the guide through Amazon Japan. Also check out its predecessors “Ninja Attack!” and “Yokai Attack!” That should cover your bases against just about any made-in-Japan misfortune that may befall you.

 

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.

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