Archive for the ‘New products/services’ 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.”)

A Tale of Two Limited-Edition Burgers: Lotteria’s Twin and McD’s Gold Ring

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Limited-edition fast food campaigns are made to lure in people exactly like me. I just don’t really eat all that much McDonald’s. I’m not the kind of person who would rather starve than eat a flimsy cheeseburger, but I also need to avoid putting my system into salt shock by eating — what I admit — are pretty tasty fries.

The point for me is, when it comes to fast food, pursuing the novelty is the pleasure. Last week there were two very different novelties to pursue: Lotteria’s Twin Burger and the Gold Ring at McDonald’s.

It takes two

“Lotteria’s new Twin Burger is not to be confused with a double burger.” Rocketnews 24’s headline issued what to me was a clear challenge. “Not to be confused”? Why confuse a double burger with a sandwich that aligns a tartar-sauced, deep-fried shrimp patty with a two-tone cheeseburger on a long bun . . .  when you can make it a double burger.

Here is the curious oblong package you are handed at the register when you order the Twin Burger:

The partly unsheathed twin

The sheathed Twin

You could eat it like this and get the same 801 calories, but what fun would that be?

The unsheathed Twin

The unsheathed Twin

And so, armed with a straw, I began the dismantling process:

L2.5

Soon, a new, more formidable burger emerged:

photo-1

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. For starters, it was going to be hard to get it in my mouth without getting tartar sauce and cheddar grease everywhere. And then even once I managed to do that, what would it taste like?

“It has flavors,” I managed, after the first bite.

photo-2

“Actually, it works fine. Surprisingly edible.”

And that’s when it dawned on me I had basically created a fast food surf  ‘n’ turf burger. In a way, it was anti-climatic.

The worst part was the aftertaste, but that has zero to do with whether you eat it horizontally or vertically. Unlike our next contender, the Twin is available through the end of the month (July 31), and for one coin (¥500) at that, so if you feel inspired to try this union of two popular Lotteria burgers, head on over. However, it would be a mistake to take this post as a recommendation.

Put a ring on it

On July 6, McDonald’s launched its one-day-only premium Quarter Pounder “Jewelry” series with the Gold Ring: a kaiser roll just barely wrangling two colossal slabs of smoky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a quarter pound of beef, and the gold ring itself, a round of pineapple. The slathering of BBQ sauce, featuring over 10 spices, makes this stack a slick mess. That said, it was quite the production number.

McDonald’s president Eiko Harada was quoted, “Other companies might be able to develop the same quality of food, but they can’t offer it at the price, scale or speed that McDonald’s can.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the rest of that statement, when ever-ready intern Eric and I descended on my local McDonald’s on Saturday we laid a flavor foundation picking at our fries for well over 10 minutes before our burgers finally came, so I’m not entirely sure if that was the speed he is referring to. In any case, they did  arrive (two of the 24 the location was prepared to purvey) with a bow and a prompt to examine the included documentation. The illustration on the card below was probably the best part of the whole meal.

The invitation

The invitation

Out of the bags, into the boxes. First slide obi-like wrapper off, then life the box lid up, remove the inner wrap:

The deboxing

The deboxing

The bacon made us shudder in terror. Neither of us were able to eat it all.

photo-9

Thick enough?

I had Eric take the first bite:

Digging in.

“My first impression of the thing was pretty good,” he said. “The smoky bacon, soft Monterrey Jack and tangy BBQ sauce combined well. A few bites in, however, and certain ingredients got overwhelming. Notably, the bacon and pineapple. The former was just way too thick. I had to remove several pieces to get through the sandwich. And the pineapple made the burger tough to eat and was too sweet alongside the already sugary sauce.”

photo-11

Inside the Ring

Allow me to loudly proclaim ditto on the bacon. These shields of pork can only be called such since they come from the same area of the pig’s belly. It’s really too bad, because I think the sandwich could have benefited from the crisp that (what many would argue) “properly” fried bacon would have brought. The sauce was less sweet than feared and even had a bit of kick thanks to those 10+ spices.

As Eric walked away, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in the Golden Arches,” but I felt nothing. The utter lack of necessity, combined with a flavor that ended up still tasting somehow like McDonald’s despite being completely new, bred neither love nor hate.

This food was not only fast but fleeting. July 6 was supposedly the only day the Gold Ring would be available, but Black Diamond day is coming up fast. Adventurous eaters ready for McDonald’s spin on a truffle burger should mark their calendars for this Saturday, July 13.

Watch this space.

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.”

 

Marketing that enters your brain through your nose

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

On Meiji Dori, between Harajuku and Shibuya, I recently came across a tall futuristic titanium-silver contraption staring down at the street with what looked like six portholes. When I got closer, I found it had a window display of small bottles with three signs below saying “touch here!”

Being the tragically curious Alice in Wonderland type, I did.

As soon as my hand passed over a sensor, a cool fragrant mist drifted out from a blower above and descended over my head. Naturally, I touched the other two panels . . . And then the first one again . . . and then the other ones again . . . then the first one yet again — and I was just considering doing it all again, despite how daft I looked with my nose in the air, when it happened . . .

I discovered how scent-marketing works: I saw the store behind the silver machine and walked straight in.

This is how @aroma, an aromatherapy and scent-marketing company, is enticing customers into its first Tokyo store.  And once you’ve been lured you in, there’s a whole range of essential oils for you to explore — this time invoked by 15 buttons.

Japan has no shortage of retailers selling essential oils, but @aroma has a few things that puts it notch above.

First is its gadgetry — the outdoors Aroma Shower mega diffuser is a novelty and staff will also let you test the store’s range of  sleek personal diffusers (battery and USB powered). But most impressive is its Aroma Oil Blender. Hooked up to 15 different bottles of essential oils, you can push a few buttons of your choice to create your own blend and it will be dispersed in a mist above your head. If you like your custom scent, the staff will make it on the spot for you to purchase (allow for a 30-minute wait, though).

@aroma products are marketed with a design-conscious consumer in mind; no flower-child or pot-pourri aesthetics going on here. The packaging is simple and brightly color-coded, while the naming of the essential-oil ranges is no nonsense — Design Air, Clean Air, Botanical Air or Eco Air.

And, as a Japanese company, it also focuses on native fragrances with three of its lineups. Botanical Air Japan includes a woody Mount Koya scent, a Kyoto cedar one and a Japanese citrus yuzu one. Sense of Japan uses fragrances associated with the country — including hinoki wood, perilla and sandalwood — and is named with words associated with Japanese tradition, such as Sei (purity) Miyabi (Kyoto aesthetics) and Iki (Edo aesthetics). The Message Aroma range uses Japanese phrases as names, including the virtually untranslatable Otsukaresama (the thing you say when you finish work — a concoction of hinoki, pine, marjoram, sandalwood, clary sage, and kopa iba) and Gambate (try hard! — spearmint, rosemary, niaouli, tea tree and lime).

But what about the aromas that lured me in the first place? It started with a floral Stylish Glamour, followed by an original blend called Scent of Tokyo. And when the real smell of Tokyo returned, the minty Eco Air -2 Cool Feel was enough to make me want to follow my nose into the store.


A whiff of scent marketing in Japan

Japan, it appears, is at the forefront of scent marketing. At least, plenty of scent marketers like to quote Japanese companies on the subject.

Skyword Scent Strategy states research carried out by fragrance producer Takasago. When computer users worked with different fragrances, it found the following:

  • 20% fewer typing errors with lavender-scented air
  • 33% fewer errors with jasmine-scented air
  • 54% fewer errors with lemon-scented air

Micro Fragrance is rolling out Japan’s largest-ever scenting program and using thousands of Prolitec diffusion systems to pump a Pomegranate Fusion fragrance into possibly the smelliest places in country — every single Maruhan pachinko parlor.

Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology announced in April that it’s working on a Smelling Screen display system, which will release different odors depending on what is being shown on the screen.

Japan’s household goods market is seeing a boost in scented goods, particularly fabric-softeners, which some people are preferring to the smell of perfume.  Lenor is even suggesting you mix laundry scent boosters to create your own personal aroma.

Soymilk cream to give dairy cream a run for its money?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Press conference to launch soymilk cream

Various company reps stand proud at a news conference to launch soymilk cream

Soymilk drinks have been trending in recent years in Japan. Increasingly thought of as a healthier alternative to milk, soymilk is also a convenient substitute for those who are lactose intolerant. But have you heard of soymilk cream? Created by Osaka based Fuji Oil, this new ingredient was introduced with great fanfare onto the Japanese market in April this year and since then, products containing the ingredient have been appearing on the market.

Made with the USS (Ultra Soy Separation Technology) invented by Fuji Oil, soymilk cream is created using a centrifuge that separates a mixture of pounded soybeans and water out into soymilk cream and low fat soymilk; a process that closely resembles the way dairy cream is created. Just like regular cream, soymilk cream can be used to thicken and give a creamy taste to soups or sauces and can even be whipped. It can also be used to make mayonnaise (by adding salt and vinegar) or cakes, acting as a replacement for egg whites.

The catch is that, though it has been released for sale to food manufacturers and restaurants, it’s not yet available as a basic ingredient in stores. But the fact that both Nikkei Trendy and Tokyo Keizai picked up on the launch  indicates that this latest novelty ingredient has the potential to have a big impact on Japan’s food industry. Nikkei Trendy reported that though the product officially went on sale in April, they’d already sold out due to pre-orders from food manufacturers.

So where can you get a taste of this miraculous new ingredient. Well, expre-su cafe in Tokyo Station sells a weird and wonderful sounding strawberry vinegar soymilk cream concoction to passing commuters. Furthermore, just last month Cold Stone Creamery launched an acai and soy gelato containing the stuff. With a healthy, organic image and a slightly inflated price, the product looks to be aimed at the high-end health conscious market.

Fuji Oil might do well to concentrate on selling the ingredient to manufacturers marketing luxury products. Tokyo Keizai has pointed out that a drought last year pushed up the price of soy beans and that the falling value of the yen has the potential to do further damage to companies producing soy products. It’s not all doom and gloom though, currently the market for dairy products in Japan is worth two trillion yen, while the soy product market is worth ¥300 billion, meaning there’s huge room for expansion.

The latest funky food flavors, coming soon to a konbini near you

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Japan is known for its seasonally flavored foods. Swing by your local konbini in the fall and you’re likely to encounter limited-edition beverages, snacks and candies that weren’t on the shelves a few months earlier.  Some companies pump out more flavors than others, with Nestle’s Kit Kat chocolates alone having dozens of varieties. This summer, manufacturers are debuting a number of interesting flavors to entice convenience store shoppers.

  • As if summer needs to be any hotter, Tohato will begin selling habanero pepper and lemon-flavored corn chips in late July. We’re excited about this one, despite the sinister face on the bag. The company will also be debuting yogurt-honey Caramel Corn and arrabbiata-flavored chips, which arrive in Japan this month.
  • A few weeks ago, we reported on our taste test of the Pepsi-flavored cheetos, which hit the shelves Monday.
  • More directly on the beverage front is Suntory’s Boss Black Sparkling. Best served cold, this carbonated coffee hopes to refresh and awaken those gulping it down on a hot summer afternoon. (Note: If you preferred your fizzy coffee hand-poured, Excelsior Caffé has begun offering a “Perriespresso,” which combines Perrier sparkling water with the chain’s espresso over ice.)
  • The average konbini has a pretty impressive array of instant noodles, but how many of them would satisfy a hankering for Italian? Maruka Foods is now selling peperoncino-flavored instant yakisoba, which combines the convenience of instant noodles with the Italian pasta sauce made form garlic, oil and chillies.
  • A few weeks back, Luna began selling its mint-flavored yogurt. This seems like it could be a crowd-pleaser, with the soothing mint and cooling yogurt making for a perfect way to fend off afternoon drowsiness during the dog days.
  • For dessert, check out Kabaya’s ramune-flavored chocolate  that fizzes just like the soda pop.

Japan by the numbers (06.25.13)

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

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