Archive for the ‘New products/services’ Category

Bandai’s projection-mapping candy toy: Hako Vision

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Bandai’s Candy Toy division is known for those inexpensive character-driven toys packaged with just enough sugar to score shelf space where food is sold so that parents can use them to reward kids for being good at the grocery store. Their anime tie-up rosters includes Kamen Rider, Pokémon, Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, One Piece, Yokai Watch and more. With the initial round of Hako Vision releases, however, they’re doing something a little different. Did you ever imagine you’d be watching recreations of popular projection-mapping shows rigged up with your smartphone and a cardboard box? While chewing grape-flavored gum?!

You can think of it as the latest evolution of shokugan (“candy toy”) culture that supposedly has its roots in Meiji Era collectible cards that came packed in cigarettes (definitely not for kids), or a new direction in diorama construction for the 21st century. As of Jan. 27, there are two kits available for ¥500 each: Tokyo Michiterasu 2012 “Tokyo Hikari Vision” and the Tokyo National Museum’s ”Karakuri” (2013). The package itself  is the stage for the miniaturized versions of these special events (“hako” means “box”), so don’t go tearing it up to get inside. Once you set up the scale model of the building to be projected on and the reflecting panel, all you need is the lighting, which you provide by pulling up a specially made video on your smartphone and laying it on top like a roof to your cardboard theater.

Projection-mapping itself seems to be all over the place lately. Even just in the past several months The Japan Times has noted Tower of the Sun Beam Painting, Art Aquarium 2013, “live” Hatsune Miku shows presented by NTT Docomo, and Yokohama Odyssey. On the horizon, Disney (pioneering projection-mapping tech for years — since building the Haunted Mansion ride in 1969 according to Projection Mapping Central) is debuting a new show mapped to Cinderella’s Castle at Tokyo Disneyland May 29th.

As for the future of Hako Vision itself, Bandai already has big plans. Instead of just continuing to reproduce shows people have already seen life size, they’re creating original videos to go with Mobile Suit Gundam figures. Giant mecha familiar to fans of the anime, Gundam and Zaku II, each get their own video helmed by creative director Ryotaro Muromatsu of Naked Inc., the same company that produced the video for “Tokyo Hikari Vision.” The new kits go on sale April 14.

Needless to say, if Hako Vision catches on, the licensing possibilities at Bandai are nearly endless. And now that the kits are out in the wild it’s not hard to imagine fans of the tech creating their own models and fantastic videos to go with them.

 

J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Tsutaya's new book store meets all your lifestyle needs

Tsutaya’s new book store meets all your lifestyle needs

Following on the success of Daikanyama T-Site, an upmarket complex targeted at an older demographic of book lovers and one that included satellite boutiques for cameras, bikes and pets,  bookselling behemoth Tsutaya has opened  a new similar envelope-pushing book store in Honjō-Waseda, Saitama.

By offering objects for sale related to a particular hobby or interest, the concept of the new store, which opened its doors on Nov. 2, is to sell not only books, but also a new lifestyle and, of course, to maximize profits.

Make no mistake, though. The lifestyle being hawked here is a far cry from the tony Daikanyama T-Site. Catering to a more suburban and middle-class set, the store is divided into seven zones: cookery, interior decorating, beauty, kids, business, the arts and travel. In the cookery zone, cooking utensils and tableware are laid out next to cookbooks and in-store cookery demonstrations should further whet consumer’s appetite for purchasing more than just a recipe book.

As more entertainment content — be it books, DVDs or games — becomes digitized and downloadable, could this mark the final chapter of the bookstores? The writing is on the brick-and-mortar wall.

Tokyo Designers Week 2013

Monday, October 28th, 2013

This year’s Tokyo Designers Week’s main event at Meiji Jingu-Gaien has had a bit of a makeover. As “Creative Fes,” it now includes a music venue, various food stalls and a market of hand-crafted goods. But, of course, the main focus remains design, and the event’s new Asia Awards, which includes categories for design schools, young creators and professionals, pulled in plenty of entries.

From architectural constructions to jewelry, we took a look at what the students and pros had to offer, as well as perused our old favorite — Designboom Mart. This year, we also found an extra favorite spot: the TAPAS Spanish Design for Food exhibition, which not only made us hungry for more, but proved that design can have a great sense of humor.

Flip a skirt a month in 2014

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

The original run of Kari Kato‘s “Skirt Flipping Calendar” did so well that it’s back this year in two colors:

two colors

Gray is new for 2014.

While the thrill of most novelty calendars is spurred by anticipating what the next month’s image will be, in this case, every month looks more or less the same…

jan

Weekends and holidays are color-coded.

…which is not to say there’s no thrill here, because when all 12 skirts are flipped — well, you’ll have waited for all year, so let’s not spoil it. If you want to see how 2013 was rung in, check here.

The new sticky notes seem even more fun.

Write and fold.

Write and fold.

Gigazine‘s example cracked me up, but really, I can’t think of a place to stick these that wouldn’t be entertaining.

niku

“There’s nikujaga in the freezer. Zap it and eat up! – Mom” Aww.

The calendars run ¥2,100, while the sticky notes are ¥680 for 20. They’re available through Village Vanguard or directly on Kaori Kato’s site.

It’s amazing how design can take something that would be totally inappropriate in real life and make it not only whimsically cute, but functional. Anyone planning on watching the days go by with one of these pin-up girls?

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.

Rent a dude for ¥1,000: an interview with Takanobu Nishimoto of Ossan Rental

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

“In Japan, old guys get a fair amount of ridicule, basically bad-mouthing. That had been kinda ticking me off, so I was thinking if we could create a bunch of good — not looks-wise, but lifestyle-wise — fun, older guys, then maybe the value of older guys would be seen.”

Meet professional ossan Takanobu Nishimoto

Meet professional ossan Takanobu Nishimoto (Emily Balistrieri photo)

That seed grew in the mind of Takanobu Nishimoto, a 46-year-old jack of all trades, and blossomed into what is now known as Ossan Rental (“Old Guy Rental”). Thanks to the unusual brand name, the experiment attracted customers early on, and later, the attention of social media and web watchers on sites like NariNari and Kotaku.

So who rents themselves out for ¥1,000 an hour? How did Nishimoto find time between his college and vocational school lectures, fashion consulting, modeling and everything else? As I learned more about him, my curiosity was definitely piqued. And part of me wanted to confirm that he is simply a guy doing something interesting . . . and not a creep, as some people might assume.

I requested an interview and got an enthusiastic “yes.” When I asked him to choose a cafe where we could relax and chat, as if I were renting him, he suggested one on a fifth floor overlooking Shibuya.

His introduction was as casual as his button-down shirt and jeans. “Hello, I’m Ossan Rental,” he says, half laughing, perhaps realizing how goofy that sounded. We order tea and coffee and get right into it.

“Outside of work there’s a distance between older guys and young people.  I think it’d be cool if we could connect more. I’m 46. There aren’t many opportunities to talk to people in their 20s in our private lives. I thought it would be neat if I could set up opportunities to make that happen.

“I would go to Tsutaya or some rental shop and think, ‘If older guys were lined up on the shelves, that would be something.’ But how would you order them? Well, putting them in a cart would work. And then you could return them by mail. Well, ‘returning by mail’ would be parting ways at the mailbox, but . . . (laughs).”

This past February he turned his crazy Ossan Rental vision into a reality.

Continue reading about ossan rental →

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!

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