Archive for the ‘New products/services’ Category

Wear Japan’s past this summer with yukata and monpe

Friday, May 22nd, 2015


Japan’s summer fashion are starting to appear on store shelves, and increasingly retailers are turning to tradition for new yet tried and true ideas.

This week clothing chain Uniqlo launched a line of colorful yukata for women and girls who don’t have the time or budget for a custom-made outfit. The yukata comes in a variety of colors and designs inspired by Japan’s past.

As Uniqlo often does, the motifs of the women’s yukata are borrowed from famous artists, in this case, the roses and polka dots of Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934) and the fields and flowers of Junichi Nakahara (1913-1988). Girls’ yukata have elements of Japanese summer with goldfish and uchiwa fans adorning the clothes.

To get the younger generation up to speed on retro clothes, Uniqlo will be releasing a series of how-to videos online to show people the proper way to wear yukata. The line goes on sale June 8 with yukata in the affordable range of ¥4,990-5,990.

Loft is also warming up to summer by setting aside a special pop-up for monpe, the multipurpose farming pants made with traditional yet breathable fabrics.

The pants come in a variety of colors and patterns, and in a more flattering silhouette than regularly baggy monpe work pants are known for. Advertising them as “Japanese jeans,” Loft will sell monpe at its Shibuya location for the rest of the season.

The company behind the pants, Unagi no Nedoko, will also be holding special monpe exhibitions in Tokyo, Yame and Fukuoka this summer.

While you’re at Loft, you can also stock on traditional and stylish fans, colorful two-toed tabi socks and straw sandals.

Save your breath and let ‘Suimasen!’ make the call

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015


Getting the attention of a server can make some people feel a little anxious. Should I raise my hand? Do I wait to make eye contact? How loud should I yell?

Well rest your nerves (and your voice) because there is a new app that makes eating out a little less stressful for soft-spoken diners.

Suimasen Daikō” (“Excuse Me Agent”) is an application where users simply tap a button and their phone will let out a hearty “すいませ~~~ん!” (“Excuse me!”)

Users can choose between a female voice, a male voice and even an ikemen voice for the cool kids. In addition, there is a bell and buzzer button to grab someone’s attention.

Need to adjust the volume? The app comes with three scene settings ranging from quiet cafes to noisy izakaya.

Suimasen Daikō is now available on iTunes.

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.

More information about the Bathlet can be found here.

R2-D2 toy keeps fans company and food fresh

Monday, March 30th, 2015

R2-D2, the eccentric cylindrical droid from “Star Wars,” has helped save the galaxy time and time again, but now he will help you save electricity.

Mobile gadget company Hamee will be releasing a 10 x 7 cm version of the robot to keep in your refrigerator. He will greet you when you open the door, and panic, if you leave it open.

“Living alone can get a little bleak. We wanted to create something that could welcome you back home at the end of the day,” explains Atsushi Yamashita of the product management team in the promo video.

Although this mini R2-D2 may not be able to project holograms, hack computers or extinguish fires like we’ve seen on the big screen, the company has made sure he looks and sounds exactly like the original by receiving direction from Lucasfilm. It responds to light, but pressing the button on his head works too.

It has 15 types of beeps, including some rare outbursts that you may catch if you are lucky enough. A fan may recognize R2-D2 “lines” from specific scenes in the movies.

Pre-sale orders for the R2-D2 Talking Fridge Gadget are already available, but its official release will be April 30, 2015, at ¥4,320 — just in time for the Star Wars Exhibition, scheduled to take place at Roppongi from April 29 to June 28, 2015.

Shochiku Kabuki x Uniqlo

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Iconic Japanese clothing store Uniqlo has a tradition of teaming up with other companies to create unique clothing lines drawing from both pop culture icons and traditional designs, especially when it comes to their UT collections.

In 2011 they created more than 30 products with Manga Entertainment based on the popular manga/anime series Naruto.

On the UT floor, customers will find designs paying homage to Keith Haring and Andy Warhol rubbing shoulders with time-honored motifs from Eirakuya, Japan’s oldest cotton textiles trading company.

This month Uniqlo is collaborating with kabuki powerhouse Shochiku Co. to produce a new clothing line inspired by the traditional motifs of Japan’s most famous cultural export.

The line, comprising more than 60 items, will be launched in Paris on March 20 before hitting shelves in Japan on the 26th.

Ennosuke Ichikawa IV, one of kabuki’s most prominent stars, will play a new role as the project’s ambassador. Given the insular tendencies of the the kabuki world, this is quite a milestone.

The T-shirts serve as the collection’s focal point with designs invoking patterns seen in kabuki costumes and the bold colors of kumadori, kabuki stage makeup.

The project was created to merge traditional Japanese art form with modern clothing, featuring pieces with traditional colors and patterns formatted to contemporary designs.

The collection includes both men and women’s clothing as well as accessories and totebags.

Building on the success of its special Nippon Omiyage tees, Uniqlo clearly sees the value of more Made in Japan designs targeted at tourists who want to wear their love of Japan on their short sleeves.

Will Line put the brakes on Uber with its taxi app?

Monday, March 9th, 2015


In the not-so-distant future, it might be considered quaint to hail a taxi with your hand instead of using a smartphone app.

Line Corporation, after expanding its mobile business with game apps and online purchases, is expanding its smartphone messaging platform with a new service called Line Taxi for users to book cabs in Tokyo via its app.

Launched in January, users simply type their address into the app and, with GPS, the taxi’s dispatch time appears on the map. The taxi ride is automatically paid for using a pre-registered credit card, so there is no need to worry about having cash on hand. Line hopes the app will be useful for people who don’t want to fight over cabs during rush hour.

Competitor Uber, a taxi booking app that’s already available in 55 countries, already expanded its service to Tokyo last spring and has many similar features to Line Taxi.

However, along with Uber’s global expansion has come a series of huge bumps in the road, including an Uber driver being accused of raping a passenger in India in December 2014, and in the same month in Australia, Uber was harshly criticized for jacking up prices during the hostage situation in downtown Sydney. (They quickly apologized for the snafu.)

Uber has also come under fire after testing out its services in Fukuoka. The government told the company to suspend its pilot project as the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry believes that the smartphone application service likely violates the Road Transportation Law prohibiting unlicensed taxi services.

Although Line Taxi doesn’t have the premium service of luxury cars like Uber, the face that Line’s partner is Nihon Kotsu, Japan’s largest taxi company, means there might not be a big gap between the two. More than 3,000 taxis will be connected to Line, and the company plans to include more than 23,000 taxis for its service nationwide.

Currently Line Taxi is only available in Japanese and the fare has to be paid with a Japanese credit card, but the app is expected to become more foreigner-friendly in the future and expand coverage throughout Japan. The company first said that they wanted to take their taxi service global since previewing it last October.

So what’s it going to be? Will you get in Line?

#pulsepresents: gift idea grab bag

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Stumped about what kind of Christmas gift to give the Japanophile in your life? Here’s a grab bag of possibilities, prepared by Japan Pulse’s elves. And you can follow us on Twitter for more #pulsepresents, tweeted daily.

Commemorative Tokaido Shinkansen KitKats


Trainspotters will love you forever if you can track down a package of these cool limited edition KitKats, sold in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen. The packaging, depicted a number of classics, can be folded into a mini train. The flavor is, inexplicably, frozen mikan.

Jagarico Panic

In this hot potato-style game, which requires the actual potato snack, players take turns opening up the container to remove a crunchy potato stick. The loser has to draw a penalty card which, in this video, includes a tissue nose probe. Ew.

“The Art of Setting Stones”

For your stressed-out friend, we suggest “The Art of Setting Stones” an overview of traditional Japanese gardens, which describes how the gardens are both “a microcosm of the natural universe and a clear expression of our humanity.”

Ki no Kami Snap Animals

The “Wooden Paper” Snap Animals series lets kids build their own toys by snapping together shapes to construct various animals.

Cardcaptor Sakura Cosmetics

Card Captor Sakura Cosmetic Kit

Cardcaptors of the Clow, expect the unexpected blemish now! A new cosmetic kit featuring Sakura’s magical tools doubles as cute trinkets from the anime and manga series, as well as lip balm and foundation.

Funagata Bags

Designer Kazumi Takigawa has created a new type of canvas bag that has a similar look of the typical brown paper bag but with the functionality and durability of a tote. Each bag is handmade in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Hello Kitty, Hello 40

On her anniversary, 40 fans — from comic artists to toy creators — pay homage to world’s most famous mouthless feline.

J-blip: Kokoro Scanner knows what’s in your heart of hearts

Friday, October 17th, 2014

The recently released Kokoro Scanner (“mind scanner”), from Takara Tomy, is attracting attention with its simple yet clever concept.

The head-mounted toy supposedly monitors small heart rate changes and flags fibbers with a colored light system. A green light means you’re in the clear; yellow means you’re only telling half the truth; red means guilty as charged. The fact that user can’t see what color the light is just adds to the fun.

Retailing at a mere ¥2,700, this is clearly a poor man’s lie detector. Does it work? We’ve yet to test it, but our professional advice is, IT’S A TOY, so Truth or Dare? Yes. Court of law? Uh, no.

The Kokoro Scanner goes on sale Oct. 30 and can be ordered on Takara Tomy website.


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