Archive for the ‘Lifestyles’ Category

Flushed with success: Innovative new toilet accessory to offer full body wash

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

The Bathlet could send sales of the Washlet throw the roof.

The eco-friendly Bathlet modification of well-loved Washlet is bound make waves.

In February, bidet-type commodes equipped with built-in washers and pre-warmed seats made news after Japan’s media reported that they were enjoying heady demand by Chinese tourists visiting Japan during the lunar new year holiday.

The reaction to this in Beijing’s state-run media was largely negative. The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party organ People’s Daily, protested tourists misplaced priorities in a commentary titled “Popularity of Japanese toilet seats overstated.”

The writer denounced such purchases as “making a mockery of China’s boycott of Japanese goods” and complained that “Chinese tourists swamping Japanese stores “at a time when the country is facing a sluggish domestic demand is certainly not something to be proud of.”

But politics aside, if one Japanese inventor has his way, Japan’s high-tech toilets may soon be able to offer users — in China as well as Japan — a revolutionary new function. Nagoya-based Arai Industries K.K., a small manufacturer that produces pipe joints, gaskets and other plumbing materials, has taken out a patent on an idea that promises to turn the industry completely on end: a kit that enables bidet-type commodes to be easily and inexpensively converted to a compact shower stall.

“One thing that struck me about the fixtures of ‘Washlet’ type toilets, was the fact that they were considerably overengineered,” Kiyoshi Arai, the company’s president and CEO told The Japan Times at an interview in his Nagoya office. “I figured it wouldn’t be all that difficult to expand on their functions.”

Through trial and error, Arai developed his prototype mostly from spare parts laying around in his factory.

“The key to modification was boost the wattage of the water heating element,” he says. “After that, it was a snap.”

Arai has taken out seven utility patents on his new invention, and registered the trademark “Bathlet.”

His original version, completed in just two months, worked without any hitches but sorely fell short in aesthetic appeal, Arai admits.

“The most serious shortcoming was that it could only supply enough warm water for a one-minute shower, and that didn’t allow enough time for the user to soap up and rinse. So I added a more powerful water heating element that gave about five minutes — maybe a little longer in the summer.”

Arai estimates that if used for one five-minute shower per day, the Bathlet will add approximately ¥280 to a household’s monthly electric bill. On the other hand, however, it’s notoriously stingy with water.

“I decided that making it ‘eco-friendly’ would be a strong selling point — hence the recycling tank and gravity pump, which redirects shower water back to the toilet tank to be reused for flushing,” he explained. “This led to problems at first, because the spout on the bidet kept blowing soap bubbles. We fixed that using microfiber filtration,” Arai smiled.

“The current design is as close to being idiot-proof as possible,” Arai said, chuckling with pride. “Any competent plumber can have it up and running in about half an hour.”

Because tampering with the original commode’s design risks invalidating the warranty, Arai is keen on lining up Japanese manufacturers to market the “Bathlet” as an optional accessory. He has yet to announce a domestic price for his product, but is aiming for under ¥12,000.

With many overseas markets faced with chronic water shortages, Arai believes prospects for exports are “extremely encouraging.”

“We received hundreds of inquiries when we introduced a prototype at the Home Fixtures ’15 trade show in Shanghai two weeks ago,” Arai said.

Arai Industries’ “Bathlet” is just one of a slew of new inventions from Japan designed to appeal to growing numbers of affluent Chinese visitors. Prototypes introduced at a recent trade fair in Makuhari included an electric rice cooker that can be used to steam rou baozi (pork buns) and shaomai (dumplings); for fastidious gamblers, Sani-Pai, an ultrasonic cleaner for sanitizing mahjong tiles after use; and an electric kettle that whistles the first six notes of “The East is Red” to signal the user when the water has boiled.

Seeking pollen protection in Japan with sprays, apps and nose plugs

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

 

While spring in Japan might seem like a time for cherry blossoms and warm weather, for allergy sufferers it means hay fever and everything that comes with it.

This year in particular, Japan seem to be unfairly hit by a harsh combination of high pollen counts along with the particle-laden smog (PM2.5).

Experts say Japan’s high pollen count is most likely due to the country planting countless cedar trees after WWII. And the PM2.5 smog comes from the Gobi Desert, where yellow dust picks up dirt and pollen from China and carries it over to South Korea and Japan. Put these two phenomena together, and this equals weeks of itchy eyes and running noses.

Here are a few examples of how people in Japan combat, or endure, the allergy season:

Masks

Wearing a face mask is the most common weapon used to fend off both illnesses and allergies. But just because you’re under the weather doesn’t mean you can’t look cute at the same time.

For years, companies have created lines of chic and stylish face masks so people can still look fashionable while covering up half of their face. A newcomer into mask fashion includes Australia’s Tecmask with its styles and patterns including, ironically enough, flowers, tartan and more.

If you are looking for practical rather than pretty, there are even masks infused with ostrich eggs, which scientists say help ward off diseases.

Sprays

Sometimes surviving allergy season means more than wearing a mask but spraying yourself down to keep the pollen away.

Fumakilla has a special spray used on your face to keep away things like pollen. The company also has a spray for clothes so you’re not bringing allergens into your home.

Loft carries a spray is safe to use on your clothes, hair and face, and promises not to ruin your make up either. Feel free to coat yourself for extra protection.

Shiseido’s Ihada Allerscreen promises to block out 90 percent of pollen; one squirt gives you four hours of protection.

Nose plugs

While it may not be comfortable, wearing Bio-International’s Pit Stopper nose plugs may be the most effective method for fighting allergies. People can wear the nose plugs underneath their face mask, but since the nose plugs have a transparent color, they’re stealthy. This might be the next best thing to holding your breath indefinitely.

Clothes and glasses

For those more concerned about their eyes than their nose, there are special glasses that help prevent itchy and watering eyes by blocking out pollen. One of the most popular brand of glasses are Jins, which slightly resemble goggles in order to keep out every spec of dust.

Other types of anti-pollen glasses usually resemble regular ones and come in fun designs including Hello Kitty, naturally.

Clothing companies are also introducing items that will help shield you from spring. This year Aoki released a new jacket that it claims will prevent pollen from clinging to your clothes, including down jacket and rain coat styles.

Medication

While some might rely on sprays, masks and  clothes, more people are relying on medication to quell their allergies. According to MarketOptimizer, the allergy medicine industry in Japan is projected to grow from roughly $172 million in 2013 to around $688 million in 2018.

There are also medications available in Japan, including Claritin and Allegra, with certain versions available over the counter. The big selling point is antihistamine with the drowsy side effects.

Apps/Websites

weathernews-pollen-map

The pollen forecast from Weathernews.

While science tries to find a cure for allergies, technology is helping people cope. New apps such as Your City’s Pollen Information gives users a weather forecast-like map of the current pollen count and how it is expected to change throughout the day.

The website Weathernews.jp also has an interactive map that shows the pollen counts for all over Japan, so you can plan ahead if you should bring your sprays and masks.

Tissues

No matter what you do, though. You’re probably going to sneeze, so you might have well treat your nose to the best. Nepia has a line of “adult” tissues, with a rather bizarre marketing campaign.

Allergy sufferers can also make the season a little bit more whimsical with items like the Mount Fuji tissue cover.

Surgery

If you are fed up with the masks and medicine, surgery might be the best last resort.

Doctors are developing new procedures that use lasers to evaporate a layer inside the nose so there are fewer cells that can react to pollen and create mucus. There is also a procedure that improves ventilation in the nasal cavity allowing pollen to flow through rather than getting stuck and irritating sensors. In addition, a few clinics in Japan claim that they can perform such surgeries in less than one hour (recovery time not included).

Do you suffer from seasonal allergies? Got any tips you care to share?

Isetan Mitsukoshi Design Week

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Today, the Isetan Department in Shinjuku launches its Designers Week product fair “Hand Made By For Me,” featuring numerous lifestyle brands across various floors of the Isetan main building. The fair runs till Nov. 5 and with all items also available to purchase, it could be a good opportunity to get a little Christmas shopping in early.

We took a sneak peak last night and selected some of our favorite Japanese designs.

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of “Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

Crafty creators converge on HandMade in Japan Fes 2013

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

More than 2,000 creators converged on Tokyo Big Sight this past weekend for HandMade in Japan Fes 2013. While the range in styles and quality was wide, the creators did share one thing in common: they’re part of the virtual shopping/community site Creema, which is basically Japan’s version of Etsy. The inaugural event, while not yet on the scale of Design Festa, is definitely off to a strong start.

Here are a few of the creations on display that caught our eye. (All photos by Mio Yamada.)

Resting in peace has never been so easy

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The final frontier

The final frontier: One option for sea lovers

As Japan struggles to come to terms with growing numbers of elderly, the death care industry is evolving in response. This past week, for instance, a new website was launched extolling the benefits of scattering ashes at sea and earlier this month a new home grave went on the market.

Traditionally, funerals are a costly affair in Japan, involving a lengthy ceremony and expensive internment at a family grave. As modern office-building cemeteries become increasingly popular, other even cheaper options for burial are trending.

Sansoku Center provides information on scattering ashes at sea

Sansoku Center provides information on scattering the ashes of the dearly departed at sea

Take, for instance, forest internment. An article in Rocket News late last year highlighted this growing trend. New forest cemeteries are becoming increasingly popular. Not just viewed as a cheaper alternative to having your remains stored in a traditional graveyard, forest cemeteries are viewed as being a natural way to dispose of human remains, though, this being Japan, bodies are still cremated in the traditional manner.  Reportedly the first forest cemetery in Japan was established in 1999 in Iwate Prefecture and that since then, they’ve been rising in popularity.

Another option for those who want to get back to nature and also want to avoid costly maintenance fees for an expensive family grave is to have your ashes scattered at sea. This is a fairly new concept for most Japanese, which is probably why the web portal Sankotsu Center, which gives information out on sea burials as well as providing links to companies providing this service, was launched.

According to the website, while forest burials have to be done at designated sites, apart from a stipulation that you be a certain distance from the shore, there are fewer rules about the scattering of ashes at sea. The website has links to 24 companies who provide this service and details just how much you’ll have to shell out for a sea burial. Blue Ocean Ceremony in Tokyo charge ¥296,000 for all the bells and whistles, which includes a Buddhist ceremony, free drinks and space for 24 guests aboard a chartered cruiser. The cheapest option, where you entrust the ashes to the care of a crew who perform a short ceremony and dispose of the ashes with flowers, costs just ¥53,500.

One drawback for relatives, however, may be that with a sea burial, it’s not possible to visit a relative’s grave to carry out traditional ceremonies. But In Blooms, a company that sells funerary altars for homes, have come up with a solution that will also be handy for people who don’t have enough time to visit the family grave. Their Temoto Haka home gravestones have a compartment inside for storing a small amount of a relative’s bone inside. Made in collaboration with Art Glass, these monuments come in a range of colors to match your home décor!

Photo by Adam Kahtava/CC by 3.0

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.

Japan by the numbers (06.11.13)

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

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