Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Cashing in on Fuji fever

Friday, July 12th, 2013

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lake_Kawaguchiko_Sakura_Mount_Fuji_3.JPG

Commemorative merchandise celebrating this majestic mountain has been flying off the shelves

Since the announcement that Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic landmark, had finally won World Heritage status on June 23, Fuji fever has swept the nation. As souvenirs commemorating the event hit the shelves, sales of Fuji-themed merchandise were brisk. Stores selling climbing gear to those who have been inspired to make the pilgrimage up Fuji have also been doing well.

Loft in Shibuya reported that sales of Fuji merchandise, which had been growing steadily prior to the announcement, suddenly shot up by 150% — the bestselling item being a Fuji-san folding fan that retails for ¥2,100. They’re not anticipating a downturn in trade either: When the shop gets a refit in September there’s going to be a special area in the new “Japan Souvenir” floor dedicated to Fuji souvenirs.

New products also went on sale to commemorate the occasion. Among these is a Mount Fuji wooden cup and ball game that costs a rather eye-watering ¥6,090, and a rubber stamp that incorporates elements of the famous 36 views of Mount Fuji, which would set you back ¥3,360. In addition, blue traffic cones with a snow capped peaks have suddenly popped up in car parks around the country. Formally sold mainly to businesses in the area around Mount Fuji, 300 of these cones were sold in the last month, three times the amount of typical annual sales.

The climbing season for Mount Fuji began this month and shops selling climbing equipment have been cashing in. Sales have also been boosted by the inspiring news back in May that 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura managed to scale the summit of Everest. Mizuno outdoor sports told Sankei Biz that sales of hiking gear for women are almost double that of last year, an indication that the yama girl trend is continuing to climb.

Mizuno outdoor sports store also runs hiking schools and a trip to Mount Fuji for July sold out almost as soon as it went on sale. But hordes of hikers heading for the mountain are putting a strain on local infrastructure. The authorities of Fujinomiya, one of the gateways to the mountain,  have announced that the toilet facilities available will not be sufficient to deal with the increased volume of hikers and are asking climbers to take their own portable toilets with them.

While toilets will be in short supply, Wi-Fi access in the area ought to be excellent. As of June, Yamanashi, one of the prefectures Fuji is located in, has 933 free Wi-Fi spots. Visitors surfing the web might want to download a free new app from Fuji-san Beno, which tells you what events are going on in the area during the day of your visit. More info can be found at Fujiyama Navi. The site launched July 8, and offers tours, hotels, and, of course, Fuji-themed merchandise.

More Fuji goods on our Pinterest board: Mount Fuji mania

Read more about the economics of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site at our sister blog, Yen for Living.

Photo by Midori via Wikicommons

Kimo-kawaii: a chronology in 13 steps

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Kimo-kawaii, the slang that mashes up kimoi (yucky, gross; which is a shorter, slangier version of kimochiwarui, itself) and kawaii (cute, sweet) has become an apt description of more and more things over the years. While aficionados might disagree on what defines kimo-kawaii, generally if something has an eerie, sweet creepiness that makes it hard to look at but harder to look away, it’s kimo-kawaii.

Here are 13 things deemed so in Japan, in chronological order:

1999: Dancing Baby, a funky CG animation, became a meme in United States in the ‘90s (even appearing on the TV show “Ally McBeal”), but it became so popular in Japan that Toyota put it in a Cami ad (above). Young people of the time who had already begun saying kimo-kawaii applied it here in an early use case.

Mid 2000s: Ungirls, the comedy duo comprised of Takushi Tanaka and Yoshiaki Yamane became known as kimo-kawaii, somewhat cruelly, mostly due to their looks. Over the years and depending on whom you ask the assessment seems to change from “Tanaka is kimoi, but Yamane is kawaii” to just deciding that Tanaka himself is kimo-kawaii. Or maybe not even kawaii. . . Last year on the variety show “London Hearts” when Tanaka ranked high (low?) on a list of most disliked celebs, he said everyone should give being him a try because it’s a hellish life, but he will keep doing it as long as he lives.

Kobitozukan

Kobitozukan

May 2006: “Kobito Zukan” originated as a picture book illustrated by Toshitaka Nabata. Literally “dwarf encyclopedia,” these weird little humanoids were first aimed at children. Adult fans, however, greatly expanded the fan base and the dwarves became a popular Nintendo 3DS video game last year. The official online store is also chock full of figurines, which one could argue are an art form all their own.

By the way, 2006 is the year that the word “kimo-kawaii” is considered to have really “arrived.”

August 2007: Face Bank, the piggy bank designed by artist Eiichi Takada that actually pigs out on your savings, went on sale. When you place a coin near its mouth, it opens and swallows the currency — a perfect way to add some kimo-kawaii to your everyday life.

2008  Noi Asano’s manga “Chiisai Oyaji Nikki” (something like “Little Old Man Diary”) about a girl who one day discovers a tiny man began airing as a series of anime shorts  last year and most recently got promoted with latte art at Double Tall in Shibuya.

nishikokun

Nishiko-kun

October 2010 Nishiko-kun (right), the mascot of Nishi-Kokubunji, was born. The “fairy” is one of many regional mascots that have become widespread across Japan in recent years. Unlike its traditionally cute counterparts, however, Nishiko-kun is a lanky, armless thing with a huge head that evokes the image of a happy manhole. His proportions have made for some especially awkward dance moves, but he remains oddly alluring, don’t you think?

October 2010 Jigokuno No Misawa‘s “Kakkokawaii Sengen” comic was collected and published. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the extravagantly eccentric singer known for being the current flag-bearer of Harajuku kawaii fashion, is a big fan of series. In fact, she had a cameo in the comic last year — of course with the artist’s trademark pudgy-faced style.

nameko

Nameko

June 2011 BeeWorks‘s “Mushroom Garden” (aka “Nameko Saibai Kit”) smartphone game series has exploded in popularity since its release two years ago. These nasty-yet-endearing fungi have gained quite the following (ask almost any elementary schooler), leading to an avalanche of merchandise, including a Nendoroid that reaches back to its “Touch Detective” roots on Nintendo DS.

June 2012 Body part jewelry makes a kimo-kawaii splash from across the globe. Handmade in the U.K. and sold on crafty website Etsy, these doodads allowed people to attach ears to their ears, mouths to their fingers and noses to their necks, among other things.

alpaca

Alpaca

Fall 2012: Later that year, the freaky-looking toy with its own language, Furby, relaunched with a smartphone app and a Momoiro Clover Z campaign (including the above commercial).

March 2013: There are plenty of kimo-kawaii videogames, but Cocosola‘s smash hit “Alpaca Evolution” is a textbook example of how strangely addicting bizarre characters can be. Your objective is to absorb other alpacas in a cannibalistic fashion as you mutate into a more and more grotesque creature. A prequel has already been released and it looks like the merch parade is marching along.

June 2013:  Isopods are something like gigantic, aquatic cockroaches. Naturally, the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium decided to make a life-sized stuffed animal based on the critter, because who wouldn’t want to cuddle one? As evidence to the popularity of kimo-kawaii nationwide, all 140 were sold out within a few hours, despite costing a hefty ¥6,090 (around 60 USD) apiece. Another creepy aquatic sensation is based on the NHK television documentary that captured footage of a giant squid  for the first time. With help from the National Museum of Nature and Science, the TV channel is selling a variety of tentacle-related merchandise.

shingeki3

“Attack on Titan” stamps for LINE

June 2013: “Attack on Titan”-branded LINE stamps feature a number of human characters from the anime, but also explore a kimo-kawaii side of the monstrous titans that will give fans a chuckle (or surprise/gross out the unsuspecting friend on the other end of your LINE chat).

This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do we presume to be authorities on the matter. In fact while researching we noticed Tofugu had nicely summarized the trend recently. We’re sure the wave of kimo-kawaii will be good surfing for years to come, so remember this useful word when you come across a sort-of-cute character that makes you feel kind of icky at the same time.

Additional research for this story contributed by Emily Balistrieri. (Full disclosure: Emily is the Japanese-English translator of “Alpaca Evolution.”)

Pulsations (07.05.13)

Friday, July 5th, 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 . . .

Visual Pulse

A singer-songwriter and an illustrator formed a duo called MimimemeMIMI to delight your eyes and ears simultaneously. Their debut single “Sensational Love” goes on sale Aug. 14, but in the meantime, check out this clip of “Mr. Darling.”

 

Pulsations (07.01.13)

Thursday, June 27th, 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 . . .

Visual Pulse

Follow the Yurikamome line at hyper speed as it wraps through Shiodome’s steel canyon’s and coils around Rainbow Bridge in one of the better Tokyo time-lapses we’ve seen.

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Japan by the numbers (06.25.13)

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Tweet Beat: #e3, #ふなっしー, #ジブリファン

Friday, June 21st, 2013

The Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags for each week. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

Was this generation’s console war fought and won at E3?

Last week gamers turned their attention to the action happening at this year’s #e3 in Los Angeles June 11-13. That includes Japanese gamers, who reacted much the same way as gamers elsewhere when it came to comparing Sony and Microsoft‘s press conferences on the 10th.

One person noted they were glad they weren’t interested in the (Xbox exclusive) Halo series, while another was surprised that the price of the #PS4 was lower than they expected (it undercuts the Xbox One by $100).

Nintendo showed off their new lineup via streaming video (#nintendodirectjp) and #pokemonxy got #pokemon fans around the world fired up. One observer of the “Super Mario 3D World” (for Wii U) trailer compared Mario’s cat form attacks to the way another game character, Kirby, sucks up his enemies and steals their powers.

“News flash! Final Fantasy Versus XIII will be sold as Final Fantasy XV on PS4! Yesssssssss”

Of course, a three-day conference had too many game announcements to include in this post, but there is an organized run-down of them all over here.

What the heck is a Funassyi?!

Maybe you’re not familiar with the unofficial yuru-kyara of Funabashi: #ふなっしー (pronounced “Funasshii,” but officially romanized “Funassyi”). Well he’s a pear from Funabashi, Chiba . . . and don’t be thrown off by the unofficial nature of “the fairy of the Funabashi pear.” He appears in Asahi Soft Drink’s Juroku-cha commericals alongside the likes of Sky Tree-neighboring Azumabashi’s Azu-chan and Yoshida-no-udon-buri-chan, who promotes Yoshida City’s noodles with her bowl-shaped head.

But let’s not get distracted. Funassyi leads a bustling life, so bustling it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it’s the real Funyassi or someone ripping him off. The above makankosappo meme pic is pretty great, even if it was posted by a “bot” that collects Funassyi memes such as this mash-up with the manga “Attack on Titan” and not the official account (which boasts over 150,000 followers).

The real source of the current trendiness, though? New crane game-prizes released on June 14:

https://twitter.com/prize_adores/status/345485537668395008

“[Prize Info] Pear fairy “Funassyi Mascot” has boldly appeared! Dazzled by the pear juice, huh. The list of participating stores apPEARs on our official website!”

Studio Ghibli fans unite in hashtag . . . or?

Trend #9, #ジブリファン (“Ghibli fan”), seemed like a no-brainer: Who doesn’t love animated classics such as “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Porco Rosso”?

But why now? In little more than a week, the account @fanghibli amassed thousands of followers on the back of this tag. The account’s bio roughly translates as “A bot for Ghibli fans. I’ll be sharing misc. info, urban legends, funny or heartwarming jokes — anything.” Here’s an example of how the account engaged fans:

“Black hair! (RT @Fanghibli: Which Howl do you like?)”

Strangely, though, by June 19 , every single tweet had been deleted.

What’s even more mysterious is that another account, @ghiblitalk, has appeared, tweeting some of the exact same memes and jokes, racking up followers at the same breakneck speed — over 10,000 in four days.

The account’s bio reads, “I’ll be tweeting interesting or moving Ghibli stories. And maybe some scary stories?!”

Obviously this is only speculation, and the owner may have a perfectly good-yet-unfathomable reason to abandon such a “valuable” account, but one could guess that someone is taking advantage of Ghibli fans to fatten up follower counts just like Chihiro’s parents in “Spirited Away.” For what purpose? Probably not anything allowed by Twitter’s rules.

Pulsations (06.14.13)

Friday, June 14th, 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 . . .

Visual Pulse

Kazuki Yamamoto takes latte art to the next frontier (from Spoon & Tamago): You may have seen latte art before, but probably not like this. If you’re a big enough fan, follow his Twitter page, where he posts daily photos for you to enjoy alongside your cup of joe. Recent caffeinated creations include a version of Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”.

Japan by the numbers (06.11.13)

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

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