Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Inside Nazo Tomo Cafe

Friday, August 16th, 2013

The other day we brought up the nazo toki (puzzle solving) trend that appears to be building even further with the appearance of Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku’s Theatre Cybird. Though I’ve played “Professor Layton” and used to get a kick out of logic exercises as a kid, I can’t say I am “good” at puzzle solving, so it took some guts for me to walk into the quirky pop-up cafe.

I thought I would warm up with a “cup dessert,” a perilously sweet parfait-like affair with heart-shaped cake, generous amounts of whipped cream, marshmallows, cornflakes, etc., but my true warm-up was the puzzle that came with it.

nazo

Strawberry sauce cup dessert ¥500

The event is put on in collaboration with a romance sim mobile game for girls by Cybird (under the same company group that runs the theatre space) called “Ikemen Oukyū Mayonaka no Shinderera” (something like “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella” in English). In the cafe puzzle, you’re a princess 30 minutes before a ball and you’ve received a letter announcing a crime will occur. However, the message is in code, so you need to get hints from the game’s handsome young men to discover what the criminal is after.

coaster

Coaster prize featuring Leo from “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella”

Now is perhaps a good time to note that you can’t expect to do any of this without good working knowledge of Japanese. The code itself is written in katakana, but you need to be able to read and understand the instructions, too. And don’t waste precious puzzling time looking for furigana. Of course, even though my Japanese was cutting it, the other parts of my mind were embarrassingly dull. Luckily the staff are friendly and will give you further hints until you feel almost as if you solved it yourself — definitely the reason for the 100 percent pass rate compared to the actual missions, of which when I went most did not reach 20 percent.

After picking up my prize coaster, I decided to pass on the rest of the side mission in order to get down to the real business at hand. I wanted to get inside one of those “mission cubes”!

The main draw of Nazo Tomo Cafe is not the cafe at all, but the puzzles awaiting inside each of the six mission cubes. Participation costs ¥1,000. Having never played a Real Escape Game or solved any similar real-life puzzles, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but more in the mood for science fiction than murder or romance, I picked mission six, “Taimu Mashin 765~Mirai wo Sukue~” (“Time Machine 765: Save the future!”).

[Mild spoilers ahead]

Led up some stairs to a short hallway-like room, I was told not to touch anything until after the countdown started. All the puzzles are designed to be solved within 765 seconds (a number too close to na-mu-ko in Japanese, i.e. producer Namco, to be a coincidence), but I knew at first glance it would be impossible for me alone. After a short video explaining (in Japanese with Japanese captions) how the world would end as the culmination of a series of unfortunate events beginning with some guy stubbing his toe, I was faced with a seven-step brain teaser with no hints in sight. How would I push the button to save the planet from certain doom? One of the steps involved playing the Japanese word game “Shiritori,” an example of how cultural fluency can matter as much as the linguistic kind.

[End mild spoilers]

Of course, once I had failed magnificently I thought of various ways I could have tried to proceed in a swifter, more orderly fashion, but so it goes. If nothing else, know that this is not a pencil-pushing game; you’ll be pacing your cube, manipulating objects and hopefully talking things through with your friends along the way.

That’s why it’s called “Puzzle Friend Cafe.” Even just two heads are better than one, so don’t be like me showing up alone. The staff will welcome you gladly (one of them confessed player numbers had decreased a bit since they opened on July 31), but you’ll have more fun, and more of a chance for success, with a pal or five (it seems up to six can play together). I paid once and received a free ticket to try another day, so maybe I’ll see if I can round up a posse for sometime next month; although the cafe closes briefly starting Aug. 25, round two runs Sept. 6-23.

Nazo toki trend goes mainstream

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

A pop-up shop with a difference appeared on the fashionable streets of Shibuya last month. Open until Aug. 25, and again between Sept. 6 and Sept 23, the Nazo Tomo Cafe is a mystery waiting to be solved. Inside, for ¥1,000, customers can team up with strangers or friends to solve a puzzle of their choice. For us the appearance of this cafe is an indication that the trend for real-life puzzle games is really booming.

It all started back in 2008 when SCRAP introduced The Real Escape Game. A real-life version of popular escape games for the PC, players are trapped in a room and have to figure out clues in order to free themselves within a time limit. The idea of making these virtual rooms a physical reality was hugely popular and really took off in Japan. Indeed, SCRAP has even exported the game overseas, holding their first event in San Francisco last December.

Part of the success of the game could be due to the social aspect — players have to collaborate to escape in time. Indeed, as with paint balling, companies sign up employees to play as a team-building exercise. The idea of solving puzzles in a real-life, real-time setting has clearly taken off. Escape games are now held all over the country by a number of different companies. Different kinds of puzzle games have also begun to become popular (for example, games in which teams hunt for treasure) and amusement parks have become popular venues for these larger-scale events.

Sites like Nazo Toki provide information on upcoming events around the country. Indeed, the word nazo toki (puzzle solving) now appears to refer to the wider range of puzzle games that includes escape games. Nazo Tomo Cafe reflects this diversification and the games on offer vary to suit all tastes. Choices include diffusing a bomb or a murder mystery, as well as the classic room escape game.

Produced by Namco and managed by the Nazo Tomo website, Nazo Tomo Cafe has some impressive backing behind it — perhaps an indication that big name companies want to get in on the nazo toki trend. Check back soon for our hands-on report!

Tweet Beat: #allstar

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

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

Politics could not beat enthusiasm for #猫の恩返し (in English, “The Cat Returns”) airing on Friday night, although Nippon Television and TBS radio’s coverage of the Upper House elections under #zero選挙 and #senkyo954 respectively both made it into the top 20 hashtags of last week.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan’s official #日本を取り戻す (“Take back Japan”) was a bit more popular than the demonstration hashtag profiled here a couple weeks ago, #愛国競争 (“patriotism competition”). Meanwhile, boys’ love otaku campaigned under their own hashtag #bl選挙 (“boys love election”).

What came closest to the top spot besides classic anime was baseball. The three #allstar (or the more useful katakana tag, #オールスター) games were played the July 19, 20 and 22.

Oshima’s face on base earlier! I’ve never seen him like this!

The first game ended in a 1-1 tie, which left some fans hoping both teams would hit a bit more the next day.

Some fans were touched as Shohei Otani and Yusei Kikuchi played together. They graduated from the same high school (Hanamaki Higashi) a couple years apart. Normally they’re on different teams, but the All-Star game had them together on the Pacific League side.

“Kikuchi and Otani giving each-other five after the other side went down 1-2-3 was cool.”

“Kikuchi will throw and Otani will protect. Awww.”

One viewer was more interested in the mascots than the 19-year-old rookie Otani:

I’ll never forgive Asahi for cutting this off and running footage of Otani. RT @manayayo Mascot commemorative photograph!

Game 2 saw the Central League team win 3-1, but not before some Osaka Toin grads got away with a comedic skit in play.

“Osaka Toin skit!”

“The Toin group is having fun, huh.”

“Wha?! What are you guys doing, Toin? lololol A Nishioka conspiracy lolololol”

“The Toin showdown between Sho Nakata and Fujinami is funny no matter how many times you watch it.”

“Cute” Takahiro Arai named MVP.

But as usual, not everyone could be pleased;  some disagreed with the choice.

It was fun doing a lot of different cheers. It really is like a festival. I’m relieved the Yakult pitchers didn’t give up any runs.

The final game, on Monday, the 22nd, was technically outside the scope of the data from last week, but the hashtag remained popular as the Pacific League won 3-1.

Hina from the Yakult Swallows official dance team tweeted a cute pic:

Tweet Beat: #孤独のグルメ

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

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

With eel, I don’t really feel like I want to eat it all that often, but sure enough, when I see Goro eating it, I get a bizarre craving.

The #夜食テロ (“late-night eating terror,” a nickname lovingly applied by those who fear for their metabolisms, and embraced by the show) is back! The third season of manga-turned-drama #孤独のグルメ (“The Solitary Gourmand”) premiered July 10 and got more buzz on Twitter than #ショムニ (“‘Shomuni’ 2013″), a manga-based sitcom about office ladies, returning after a 10-year hiatus. However, Goro’s enjoyment of various eel dishes in this episode did not engage Twitter users quite as much as either the Friday Roadshow broadcast of Studio Ghibli’s #平 狸合戦ぽんぽこ (aka #ぽんぽこ, “Pom Poko” as it’s known in English) or the premieres of summer anime #watamote (“No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular”) and #kaminomi (“The World Only God Knows: Goddesses).

As in Masayuki Kusumi and Jiro Taniguchi’s manga, Goro Inogashira (played by Yutaka Matsushige on TV) takes himself out for quiet meals when he’s not working and just eats whatever he feels like.

My wife seems to equate Yutaka Matsushige with yakuza or murderer roles, so while we’re watching “The Solitary Gourmand” she’s sitting next to me saying stuff like, “He must be hungry since he killed about three people today on no breakfast,” or “There must be a weapon built in to the tip of that umbrella and any minute now he’s gonna . . . ” So obnoxious.

The fun thing about the show is that Goro eats at real restaurants. Fans like eating along.

They’re lining up outside the Akabane eel restaurant that Goro went to yesterday.

Apparently, this week’s destination, Kawaei, was overrun after the episode aired. It was quickly booked up and has been selling out of its signature dishes quickly.

This is when it’s cool to be the other kind of “solitary gourmand” — the kind who cooks along.

これでいいのか、鰻のオムレツ。 #鰻 #うなぎ #孤独のグルメ

Is this good enough? Eel omelet. — @kojuroko

Tweet Beat: #七夕, #鯖アニメ, #愛国競争

Friday, July 12th, 2013

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

A tweet is a wish your heart makes

May everyone’s wishes come true. Hikoboshi casually greets Orihime in English.

#七夕 (Tanabata, the Star Festival) takes place at different times depending on where you are in Japan, but July 7 is the first major date. It’s a holiday for making wishes and celebrating the once-a-year reunion of legendary separated lovers Hikoboshi and Orihime. The accompanying decorations make for great tweets, but the concise format (and this tool that allows your text to mimic the shape of a traditional paper tanzaku) is also perfect for sharing wishes.

Write your wish on a tanzaku.

Some people expressed personal aspirations or concerns:

“I want to belong to Amuse.”

“I wanna be a hottie.”

“May I become fluent in Japanese.”

“May my smartphone not break until I can buy a new one.”

“I want friends.”

Some looked outward:

“World peace.”

“May black kigyo go under.”

“May I be able to repay many favors.”

One person wrote a wish for the manga character Detective Conan, and one, instead of wishing, realized that he hadn’t done anything Tanabata-ish at all.

May all my follower’s wishes come true.

Continue reading about last week's top hashtags →

Pulsations (07.12.13)

Friday, July 12th, 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 . . .

  • Sales of adult diapers surpass baby diapers in aging Japan (from Quartz): Some say the adult variety of “incontinence products” are already beating their infantile counterparts in sales. For those looking for new business opportunities, Japan’s shrinking population may not be all bad news. 
  • Spelling your name out loud in Japanese (from LinguaLift): Whether your surname is Smith or Finklestein, for longterm gaijin, spelling a Western name in Japanese can be a headache. Here are some helpful tips to make your next pizza ordering experience less painful.
  • Japan-China white (paper) hot tensions (from Japan Real Time): Controversy in the East China Sea is nothing new, but this year’s official reports from Japan reveal a concerning trend that received a harsh reception from Beijing.
  • Volunteers building ‘Great Forest Wall’ tsunami barrier from earthquake debris (from Japan for Sustainability): On 3/11, the pines planted near the coast tumbled easily from the force of the tsunami and rammed into structures. Now, volunteers have begun planting the first of 90 million trees as part of a natural seawall.
  • Meet Yohio, the Most Kawaii Man in Sweden (from BuzzFeed): On a lighthearted note, check out Yohio (if you haven’t already). Well known for his eccentric, androgynous style, the young Swedish pop sensation is a genuine Japanophile — with the Twitter account to prove it.

Visual Pulse

This impressive little video’s artificial lighting effects will leave you thinking, “How did they do that?”

Tweet Beat: #音楽の日, #ときレス, #シュール

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Each week, the Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

Music Day

The No. 1 trend in Japan last week was #音楽の日 (Music Day), a 13-hour (and 40 minutes) live television extravaganza featuring almost 100 artists. TBS has been producing the show for three years now, and once again SMAP’s Masahiro Nakai and TBS announcer Shinichiro Azumi hosted.

With every new artist came a rush of emoticons and exclamation points.

I was trying to think what Tomohisa Yamashita would sing, and what would would it end up being but “Idaite Senyoriita” …!!! How many years ago is that song from?

I think the last number was great!

At the end of the show, there was a great outpouring of love for the hosts, praising them for their hard work. Nakai is also currently filming the ATARU movie, so fans were worried he would exhaust himself.

Many people recorded the event to watch later, so the tweets are still coming. That said, some apparently missed the memo and thought it was just a day designated for us all to listen to music.

Happy Birthday to Kento Fuwa

It’s not uncommon for fans of celebs to tweet birthday congratulations on Twitter. Even this in this batch of top tags we have #happybirthdayseohyun, wishing Girls’ Generation member Seohyun well on June 28. However, she did not get as much love as Kento Fuwa. Who’s Kento Fuwa? Well…

Happy birthday, Fuwa! Thanks for being born!

Turns out he’s a fictional idol in the world of iPhone/Android game Tokimeki Restaurant (#ときレス [TokiResu] for short). Yes, in the world of otaku fandom, and perhaps especially romance games, the birthdays of favorite characters are quality times to be cherished.

For more info about TokiResu, check out this detailed blog post, but the premise is that you run a restaurant that happens to be next to the company that produces idol groups 3 Majesty and X.I.P. How could there not be a bit of chemistry simmering there? A cute girl who can cook, cute guys who can sing — and what better way to utilize a touch-screen than “skinship” events?

Kento’s fans were thrilled when he showed up in their restaurant to eat birthday cake on June 26, but some went all out in real life.

I made meat-wrapped onigiri, so please come by and have some!

A Kento bento, elaborate strawberry cake, and plenty of fan art made this hashtag a fun one to browse.

Sur-really?

The number eight top tag this week was #シュール. It takes a little more than katakana reading skills to grok that vocab, but it means “surreal.” People use it to tweet things that strike them as out of the ordinary, bizarre or sometimes just kind of funny.

There was a madman at the bowling alley!

The reason it trended so high, though, was that @surrebot appeared posting a bunch of meme-y images and jokes resulting in a pile of retweets. But what’s this? The account gave up and deleted all its content after attracting almost 3,500 followers. Mysteriously, another account showed up and earned about 4,100 followers in two days doing the same thing.

By the way, remember @fanghibli? Two weeks ago we pointed out that account and @ghiblitalk doing a similar dance and speculated that they were up to no good. As it turns out, @fanghibli has indeed been repurposed into a spam account spewing links to a website that pays you for advertising.

“In general, the more followers you have, the more your tweets are worth, so the amount of points you get goes up, too,” says Tweepie’s about page, although it notes that its algorithm will assign low reputation to accounts who are abusing the system.

There’s no proof that @surrebot will turn into a spam account, but let’s hope this trend-and-run scheme is not a trend of its own.

Tweet Beat: #6k_live, #都議選, #進撃の育児

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Each week, the Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

Deep sea voyage live-streamed for the first time

On board mother ship Yokosuka, the research team and Shinkai 6500 pilots continue their strategy meeting, laying out data regarding the underwater expedition zone.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (#JAMSTEC),  the same people who discovered Atlantis’s cousin in May, paired with Nico Live (#nicohou) to stream a deep sea voyage of the same sub, the Shinkai 6500. The Nico Nico page was very honest in expressing their concern about whether the stream would succeed or not: “Will the live broadcasting go well? . . . Not sure. If not, . . .sorry,” but #6k_live appears to have gone off as planned; over 300,000 people are said to have tuned in. The highlight was the discovery of a bunch of shrimp.

Upon seeing the shrimp at 5,000 meters, super Japanese comments started flying, like “Can you eat’em?” “Seems like they’d be good with mayo, right?”

Getting the Tokyo assembly election vote out, or not

Politically minded Twitter users encouraged their fellow citizens to vote in Sunday’s Tokyo assembly election, but turn-out was only 43.05%.

I went to go vote and was surprised by the extent to which it was entirely old people. If that’s the case, there’s no way society will turn out as one young people will like. What good does it do to lament the future after waiving your right to vote? Use this to research and get going!  

One of the main themes once the results came in was the perceived Communist Party “surge” (from eight to 17 seats).

That the party that held power until recently would lose at assembly seats to the Communist Party is just lol.

Some had the feeling that the results of this election will serve as a lesson of what happens when voter turn-out is low, while others couldn’t stop smiling.

Of course there were also those were more concerned with how election coverage disrupted the normal TV schedule.

Pretty much all of today’s late-night anime are at 1? I’m only watching “Kingdom” and “Attack on Titan” so I can cover by recording, but for people watching all of them it’s gonna be chaos. “Kingdom,” “Attack,” “Nyaruko” and “Flowers of Evil” — all four start at 1!

“Titan” children terrorize their parents

In addition to being a successful manga and anime series, “Attack on Titan” is proving to be a veritable meme machine. This time, parents have taken up #進撃の育児 (following the formula straight would yield something like “Attack on Childcare” but that makes about as much sense as “Attack on Titan”) to chronicle the battles waged raising their children by comparing them to the struggles of humans living in a walled-city trying to protect themselves from people-eating giants. Sounds strange, but the results are pretty amusing.

Wall Diaper has been breached by Infant (extra large female type), heavy damaged confirmed in the Bouncer district.

Our 60cm grade is attempting to breach Wall Playpen by standing tip-toed. You can already stand on tip-toe? Amazing!

Some participated by cleverly rewriting well-known dialogue  while others just pointed out how funny the tag is for people familiar with the anime/manga. For more, check out a round-up here or here.

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