Archive for the ‘News/media’ Category

More than one way to keep your heating bill down

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

King Jim's Urapoka brings the kotatsu experience to your work station

In general, insulation in Japanese homes is poor, so that means during winter heating devices have to be constantly on, driving up heating bills and sapping the power grid. Though this winter is predicted to be warmer than most, many Japanese, aware of energy shortages, will be feeling more than usually chilly as they try to cut down on power consumption.

A traditional method of beating this problem is the kotatsu, a low table that has a heating element underneath and a warm blanket hanging down from all sides; by turning up the heat on legs and feet, the main heating device in the room can be turned down, thus saving energy. Modern methods of keeping nice and toasty without resorting to turning up the room heater are understandably catching on. We’ve compiled a list of the best:

King Jim’s Urapoka: This nifty heating device transforms your desk into a kotatsu. After attaching the heat-sealing flaps to the sides of your desk, simply pop the device under your feet to warm up those frozen toes. 30W, ¥7,329.

Behold the Humanoid Sleeping Bag.

Humanoid Sleeping Bag from Doppelganger Outdoor: Specially selected by Nikkei Trendy as one of the best energy-saving products for winter on the market, if you snuggle up in these caterpillar suits, you probably won’t need to bother switching on the heater at all. It’s possible to unzip hands and feet to free them up for work, though the puffy style probably falls outside the bounds of smart casual business attire. ¥11,550.

Heat Tech underwear, Uniqlo: A survey conducted in October by Nikkei BP’s AIDA showed that over 60 percent of Japanese were intending to wear some from of “underwear”(including short and long t-shirts and short and long shorts) to protect against the cold this winter. Most modern innerwear is designed to have quick drying properties and, of this type, over 50 percent of both men and women favored Uniqlo’s heat tech range. This year sales of heat tech products are up 25 percent from last year, according to Sankei Biz.

Nitom’s Transparent Window Glass Film: Since double-glazing is rare in Japan, many people simply opt to insulate by sticking plastic sheeting directly onto window glass. A newish kind of insulation that sticks onto the window frame, rather than directly onto the glass, thus creating an air pocket, is very popular this year. According to Sankei Business, sales of the stuff during November were triple that of the same period the previous year.

Japan puts out a big welcome mat for wealthy Chinese tourists

Friday, December 9th, 2011

This month sees the launch of Japan Premium, a brand new free magazine targeting wealthy Chinese visitors. A collaborative project between KNT! travel agency and Kadokawa magazines, the publication is an attempt to tap into this desirable demographic by featuring stories on shopping and travel within Japan.

Japan Premium targets wealthy Chinese tourists

Glitzy and up-market, the first issue includes a feature on Tokyo Disneyland and shopping in Ginza. Editorial content and advertising is compiled in Japan, but the magazine itself is translated, printed and distributed in China. The first magazine of its kind, it’s yet another sign that Japanese businesses are beginning to actively target China’s new super rich citizens.

Recent years have seen upscale department stores throughout Tokyo begin to broadcast announcements in Chinese as well as in English and Japanese, and other service industries are now getting wise to the power of the yuan too. Take Mazda Car Rental, for instance, which announced this month that it’d just given its website a facelift which includes multilingual support for Chinese customers. The company stated that it took this move in the recognition of the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists.

According to Bloomberg, the numbers of foreign tourists in general dropped by 63 percent after the quake, but since then the numbers of Chinese visiting Japan have bounced back and even exceeded pre quake levels. Figures recorded by Japan National Tourism Organization show that compared to October last year, visitors from Hong Kong were up by 17 percent and those from Taiwan by 2.6 percent.

Though Western tourists are still hesitant to visit Japan due to a combination of fears about radiation and the high value off the yen, Chinese visitors have proved themselves resilient to these concerns. Bloomberg’s article suggests that visitors to Japan from China will continue to increase as the Chinese economy grows ever more powerful. In the face of these developments we expect to see a lot more Japanese companies who cater to wealthy clientele take measures to attract this rapidly growing demographic.

Japan’s top 10 buzzwords of 2011

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Nadeshiko Japan, with head coach Norio Sasaki (center) and captain Homare Sawa (center right), show off their Women’s World Cup trophies. (Kyodo photo)

The news in Japan in 2011 was dominated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the Tohoku region (and proved the worth of Tokyo’s earthquake-resistant architecture). It’s only natural that words related to the disaster and its aftermath made up a good portion of the top buzzwords of the year as chosen by Jiyu Kokuminsha, publishers of an annual book of new and newly important words. However, the mundane and the downright silly mix with the serious in this list, whittled down from an initial 60 nominees, as life did go on for most of Japan, albeit with a new sense of gravity. In descending order, here are the top 10 buzz phrases of 2011 in Japan.

Grand prize-winner: Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン Nadeshiko Japan): This name for Japan’s women soccer team actually made it into the 2004 list of buzzword nominees, but it was the team’s amazing and inspiring victory at this year’s World Cup that brought them into the lexicon. Even the losing U.S. side was moved by the down-to-the-wire win just three months after the quake. Nadeshiko Japan was the first sports team to receive the People’s Honor Award from Prime Minister at the time, Naoto Kan, for the “fighting spirit” they showed against a better-ranked team and the joy they brought the country with their victory. It’s worth noting that the phrase “yamato nadeshiko” conjures up images of self-sacrificing wives of soldiers, and appropriately, Team Japan really did have to hold down days jobs while working to become the No. 1 team.

Continue reading about top buzzwords of 2011 →

Power saving puts Christmas illuminations in a new light

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The Winter Sakura lights along Meguro River are powered by used cooking oil

As is the tradition, Christmas lights are twinkling all over Tokyo. When it comes to Christmas decorations the Japanese, who tend to go wild for the glitziest, brightest possible displays, aren’t exactly famed for their self-restraint, so this year poses the problem of how to accomplish the desired amount of dazzle without being seen as an energy hog.

The most obvious answer, and the most popular one, is to swap out normal bulbs for energy-efficient LED lights. Due to LED bulbs’ power-saving qualities, ad agency Dentsu has rated them as the second most popular product in Japan for 2011.

According to Sankei News, Keikyu Railways and the New Otani Hotel have both switched to LED lights. But Ebisu Garden Palace has not only switched over the bulbs of its gigantic Baccarat Crystal chandelier, it’s also reduced the number of bulbs from 60,000 to 40,000. On top of that a solar power panel has been installed to supplement the power supply. The Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa’s, however, have outstripped this effort by installing an entirely solar-powered display of LED lights in its Japanese garden.

Though the hotel’s garden sounds attractive, our favorite eco-friendly display in Tokyo is the “Winter Sakura” illuminations along the Meguro River. Pink LED bulbs are strung on the branches of trees along the river so that it appears as if the cherry blossom trees are blooming out of season. Better yet, the lights are powered from bio diesel made from used cooking oil collected from homes and restaurants in the area.

Some businesses have decided that the best way to do their bit, however, is to dodge the whole issue by not putting up any decorations. SG Holdings, for instance, who run Sagawa Express Ltd. announced that in light of power-saving measures, they decided to cancel any plans for illuminations that might have been put up at their head office or branch offices. This seems a pity especially seeing as Nikken Release Kyogo Ltd has begun renting out eco-friendly LED Christmas trees to meet the demand for a setsuden (power saving) Christmas.

AKBaby invites fans to breed with their favorite pop idols

Monday, October 31st, 2011

"Won't you make a baby with me?" asks AKB48's Yuko Oshima

AKB48’s Yuko Oshima has just had a baby with Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko — a virtual baby that is. Brandishing a toy baby with a mask depicting the composite infant features of the two parents stuck over its face, Model Press reported that Oshima made the happy announcement to a pack of stunned journalists at a recent press conference. “He’s adorable,” she said beaming at the bemused crowd. “He’s destined to become a high flyer.”

There to promote the launch of AKB’s official site on Nov. 1, Oshima was singing the praises of one of the services available to subscribers. Hardcore fans who cough up ¥1,480 a month will be able to use the AKBaby app that allows them to see what kind of baby they might have in the extremely unlikely event that they got to impregnate their favorite pop idol. The app merges the features of mouth-breathing otaku with those of their most beloved AKB48 member and voila — a downloadable photo of the resulting baby is born.

From Nov. 1 a commercial will be aired nationwide that appears to show Oshima suckling a real live baby (see above) accompanied by the hurl-worthy tagline, “Won’t you make a baby with me?” Oshima was keen to point out that she didn’t really get her boobs out for the campaign shoot. “The photograph was taken in a way that made it look like that,” she told reporters.

Other perks available to members are a little less creepy. Subscribers get an AKB48 email address, tickets to concerts at the AKB48 theater and access to “special content” made exclusively for AKB fans.

The reaction thus far from netizens has been less than enthusiastic: ”It seems too expensive, one year costs more than ¥20,000,” commented one fan. “Who the hell dreamt up this messed-up scheme?” asked another anonymous commentator.

Just in case: Retailers urge customers to buy ahead

Friday, September 30th, 2011

You may never look at those cute Muji handkerchiefs again. Muji’s new emergency awareness campaign encourages people to stock up on everyday “itsumo” basics and to think about how they might be used in a “moshimo” emergency. A temporary display at Muji Atelier (through Oct. 5)  in the flagship shop in Yurakucho presents the “itsumo no moshimo” idea in a space that lies somewhere between a retail space, a gallery and a subtle first-aid class.

A Muji pamphlet urges consumers to think ahead

Simple items from the store are presented in spare Muji style with illustrations that suggest specific, somber uses for them. A black marker and a piece of packing tape become a simple system for leaving a message on your door telling people where you’ve evacuated. A sheet of plastic wrap over your clean plates means that you can eat from the plates and discard the wrap so you don’t have to wash the dishes when water is scarce. (Is that restricted to emergencies?) And those handkerchiefs. Not just handy for drying your hands in the train station bathroom, they also make handy dust masks or tourniquets, or a large one can be wrapped around, say, a small fold-up umbrella to make a splint.

Panasonic has seized onto the same itsumo/moshimo concept with a tagline that could be translated as “convenience any time, preparation for that time.” Their compact solar lights save energy in the good times and could save your evening if the power goes off. Products include a flat solar-paneled light that can be used as a charger for other cellphones and other small electronics, a tabletop lamp that turns on its side to be used as a flashlight and a rechargeable lantern that can stay lit for up to 20 hours.  Their waterproof portable TV that uses OneSeg technology to play broadcast TV over the cellular network can be a simple time killer in the bath or a life line to emergency information.

Weekend volunteering just got easier

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

“Have you been up north yet?” is a common question, six months after the compound disasters of March 11. Over 700,000 people have not only seen first-hand the devastation wrought by the tsunami in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, they have volunteered.

Tohoku Walker's volunteer directory: Let your fingers do the clicking

While volunteers may have met with confusing and even contradictory information at first, there are now quite a few online resources to help match potential volunteers with work that still needs doing. Different government offices are running sites with volunteer information, including the graphically appealing Tasukeai Japan from the Cabinet Secretariat’s Volunteers Coordinator Office, which has general information about how to help and which towns are accepting volunteers. The NPO umbrella organization Japan Civil Network has information about buses that can take groups to the affected areas. Saigai VC has links to government stats and info on volunteer activities as well as links to local volunteer centers.

On the commercial side, Tokyo Walker has set up a site that makes planning a volunteer mission as easy as planning a weekend at a hotspring. The Tohoku Volunteer Yellow Pages lets potential volunteers seek work by clicking on calendar dates and then refining their search by location and by type of  labor. There are buttons for heavy labor like clearing rubble, scraping mud and moving furniture and for less physically demanding work like cleaning and caretaking.

The site provides some things to keep in mind when volunteering, like the importance of making an informed decision about where you’ll go and what you’ll do and leaving emergency contact information with a local volunteer center. It gives the general order of things you need to do, like getting volunteer insurance, double checking that planned transportation routes are accessible and packing your trash out with you. And would it be complete without a sorta cute illustrated guide to the gear you need to bring?

Continue reading about weekend volunteering →

Movies, popcorn and Geiger counters

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

In post 3/11 Japan, Geiger counters continue to be a must-have product, though the range of price and quality varies wildly. Can’t afford one? Why not rent?

CK-3 rental with your DVD, ma'am?

Without much fanfare, home entertainment rental shop Tsutaya has started lending out Geiger counters from its shops in Fukushima Prefecture. The machines are available at six branches in Fukushima, and they are free, one per customer and one time only, with same-day return. Each shop has between 10 and 40 hand-held counters. There’s a ¥1,000 charge per day after the first day. Rental requires only a Tsutaya rental membership card and an ID, including a gaijin card or passport.

A Japanese blogger wrote this past Sunday that there was a line of about 20 people waiting for a Tsutaya in Koriyama to open, and another line formed immediately at the geiger counter rental counter.

Customers can choose whether they would like a counter made in Japan or China. As of Friday afternoon, a branch in Fukushima City had both available. Several other companies, such as Redstar and Level 7, have also been lending out the machines via online request forms, but Tsutaya seems to be the first outlet with simple walk-up availability.

Volunteers at Safecast, a volunteer group that has set up an extensive radiation monitoring system in Japan, are quick to point out that the counters being lent out by Tsutaya detect only the gamma radiation levels in the air and will not detect radiation contamination on surfaces or in food, which they consider the bigger concern right now. “People will obviously try to check the surface contamination and possibly even food, and it will give them readings that are totally off,” wrote a volunteer, who goes by the name Akiba, in the Safecast mailing list. However, he also added, “Anything helps, and there’s nothing wrong with renting geigers, especially if it makes people feel more at ease.”

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