Archive for the ‘Style/fashion’ Category

Cat girls and more: Japan’s fashion trends of 2012

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

What was cool – or perhaps more importantly, cute – in 2012? Here are our top picks.

Neko girls

What would a year in Japan be without a newly coined look? This one isn’t exactly head to toe, like say the yama girls of years past. Its pièce de résistance is a hairstyle: the neko-mimi (cat ears), which basically involves twisting and rolling two chunks of hair to resemble cat ears. Then you can wear whatever you like with it, so long as it’s cute. Because cats are cute.

R25 cites model/fashion blogger/pop singer and official Kawaii Harajuku Ambassador (an honor bestowed by the mayor of Shibuya Ward) Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as the inspiration. Ms. Pamyu is known for her wacky looks and has also appeared with her hair twisted to resemble devil horns and bat wings. But it was the cat ears that caught on, perhaps because it’s the only style that can realistically be done at home. A neko girl website is packed with do-it-yourself tips and cute pose suggestions.

It’s not just the hair though. Samuel Thomas, Japan Times fashion columnist and Tokyo Telephone editor, told us that anything with cat ears – like hats, headbands and hoodies – were big sellers this year.

These two fans of boy-band Arashi got creative and made their own tattoo stockings with the band members’ names. Photo courtesy of Tokyo Fashion

Tattoo stockings

Cat mania aside, the hit item for 2012 was without a doubt tattoo stockings. Interesting, considering that real tattoos will still get you banned from most public bathhouses (meaning they are still largely associated with the yakuza). However, these stockings, usually nude, are decorated with images that more resemble Western-style tattoos (also called “fashion tattoos” in Japan) – hearts and butterflies and Ed Hardy-like biker designs, for example. Too bad, because some full on irezumi-style tattoo stockings would be pretty cool.

Samuel also tipped us off to the origin of this one, citing Avantgarde, a small boutique in Harajuku, as the locus of the tattoo stocking trend. According to Trendy magazine, Avantgarde has sold almost half a million pairs since September 2011. Their sales on shopping site Rakuten for June through August 2012 were 200 times greater than sales during the same period of the previous year. During summer, really? As it gets colder, we’re seeing the same concept with white or gold patterns on black tights. Not quite the same double-take effect, but a clear evolution of the idea.

Naturally, it’s possible to combine the above two trends and get cat tattoo stockings.

Nameko goods

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

Mushroom character goods inspired by the smart phone game Nameko Saibai Kit. Photo by tsukacyi from Flickr

The most popular smart phone game in Japan is called Nameko Saibai Kit (literally “mushroom cultivation kit”). Yes, a simulated mushroom farm. But the mushrooms are, apparently, cute, and have launched a “star” character – the first to come out of a smart phone game.

The game, a free download from Beeworks Games, debuted in June 2011 as a spin-off of another popular game, Touch Detective  (the main character in that has a pet mushroom who helps solve puzzles); to keep things interesting, new seasonal versions are added regularly.

According to Trendy – which ranks nameko goods as the #7 hit product of 2012 – there are now some 50 companies licensed to make mushroom mobile phone accessories, stationery, stuffed animals, etc. In total there are about 800 different goods on the market. Events this past spring to promote new items, at shops like KiddyLand in Harajuku, drew lines with waits of over an hour. Perhaps watching mushrooms grow is good training for patiently waiting in line?

Christmas gift ideas 2012

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Gift-giving at Christmas still isn’t a big tradition in Japan, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. We’ve joined our Japan Times colleagues in doing a little pre-holiday homework for you to take the pressure off. Now all you have to do is whip that wallet out . . .

Tempo Drop

Turning to an app on your smartphone for weather updates, while convenient, can be terribly unexciting. Like a bit of a challenge? With Tempo Drop, you can now forecast the weather by observing the appearance of the liquid in the glass.

S: ¥3990, L: ¥5775, at Cibone

Flex Leather Tray

Too old for a pencil case and too cool for a pencil holder? This minimalistic, sculptable leather tray splits the difference. By the way, know what’s uncool? Not knowing where your supplies are and having to borrow them from the next desk. Tsk.

¥3,990 at

Hand warmers

With the weather getting frostier by the day — and it hasn’t even started snowing yet! — what could be more useful and relevant than Christmas-y hand warmers? Even the toughest guy would appreciate one in his jacket pocket when battling the cold on the streets.

¥567; all Loft shops

A few Japan Times columnists and editors have also given us a peek at their carefully curated gift lists. You’ll find presents for all your art and design-loving friends as well as stocking stuffers for the film buffs in your life. And don’t forget the folks who love Japanese gadgets! Ho ho ho!

The secret allure of the surgical mask

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Who is that masked woman? (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Last month in Nagano, despite sweltering temperatures, a number of high school students were spotted attending school wearing surgical masks. This wasn’t hayfever season, nor were there any colds going around, so why were these teenagers covering their mouths and noses up? They were simply following a national trend for date masuku,  surgical masks that are just for show. (That’s read “dah-te,” nothing to do with dating.)

A journalist for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun asked students why they were wearing masks and got some surprising answers. One girl commented, “I’m shy about being seen without my makeup on.” Worryingly, another boy said, “I feel safe with it on.” Another 16-year-old female high school student explained that, “The mask hides the acne around my mouth.”

While this looks — on the face of it — like a problem created by low self-esteem, one that teenagers might grow out of, Japanese Wikipedia states that research done by Asahi Shimbun back in 2011 showed that adults are reaching for the date mask, too. Many began by using surgical masks for health reasons and then continued because they found that they enjoyed wearing a mask.

A writer under the name of Tama Tsupi, a self-confessed former date mask addict, wrote about the issue for Gadget News earlier this year. “Tsupi” began using a surgical mask to protect herself against hay fever and infection, but gradually came to find that she got a pleasant feeling from wearing a mask. Stressed at work, she found it useful for those times when she couldn’t be bothered to do her make up properly, or when she had trouble relating to others.

Though she’s now kicked the habit, she has stuck up for mask wearers by stating that covering up part of the face can have the effect of highlighting a person’s beauty. In the piece, she evangelizes about the unexpected cosmetic effect she experienced when wearing a mask. She points out that it’s common practice in Japan for people to upload shots of themselves to social networking sites that hide part of their face. These shots are both flattering to one’s vanity and protect one’s private image in the public domain. She writes: “Don’t you think this technique could be put to good use not only in a photograph, but in reality?”

The origin of the term date masuku (伊達マスク)is apparently connected to the Sendai’s famous daimyo Date Masamune. Problem is we’ve yet to figure out how the family name of this fierce, one-eyed warrior has come  to mean “vainglorious,” as seen in the similar terms date megane (prescription-less glasses) or date otoko, which essentially means dandy.  This YouTube video even suggests a connection with the true surname of the masked hero of Tiger Mask. So there you go. Think of it as being somewhere between vanity and anonymity.

Bicqlo – Bic Camera meets Uniqlo – is here!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012


JR Shinjuku Station on opening day for Bicqlo. (Rebecca Milner photos)

Bicqlo—the much-hyped Bic Camera and Uniqlo mash-up store—opened in Shinjuku today. And for those who weren’t aware yet of its impending existence, the floors of the JR station in Shinjuku were papered with announcements. Plenty did seem to know, as there were plenty of people inside (and plenty of press leading up to the opening). It wasn’t H&M-opening crowded (no lines to get in after the initial early birds got inside), but there was still a healthy line for the dressing room and enough pushing and shoving to make one question Japan’s prevailing image as a polite and orderly place.

So what exactly is Bicqlo? Sadly, not much more than an ordinary Bic Camera with a Uniqlo sandwiched in the middle. Fans of both brands might be tickled to hear the familiar Bic Camera theme song give a nod to Uniqlo, or see Uniqlo staff wearing Bic Camera-style happi coats. The merchandise, however, save for a few in-store-only Uniqlo items, is essentially the same.

It is all also the same color. As Uniqlo mannequins wearing the brand’s new fall line-up and accessorized with Bic Camera goods (cameras and electric kettles, for example) demonstrate, everyone seems to be working from the same color forecasting charts. Good news for those who want to match their jeggings with their appliances.

However, we’re wondering what Uniqlo is doing matching its clothes with suggestions of housework. The brand has worked so hard over the last few years to give itself a more fashionable image, first with the now-closed UT store in Harajuku and then through its designer capsule collections (with designers like Jun Takahashi no less) and, most recently, by sharing real estate with the decidedly upmarket Dover Street Market in Ginza. Paired with a vacuum, even if it is a sexy Dyson, that down vest just doesn’t look anything but functional — but perhaps that’s back where we’re at, economy-wise.

Indeed the bargain-basement prices that both stores are offering throughout the opening weekend (Sept. 27-30) seem to be the real attraction here. Those who spend ¥7,000 or more can also try their luck at winning limited edition collaboration goods from a gashapon-style capsule game. And, for the time being, you can exchange ¥1,500 worth of Bic Camera points for a ¥1,000 “Bicqlo Coupon,” which can be used at the Uniqlo here. (Unfortunately, it’s a one-way trade: Uniqlo purchases do not earn you points at Bic Camera.)

We’ve been seeing heaps of name-brand collaborations in Japan recently, like the Mos Burger meets Mister Donut shop Mosdo (which also plays on the Japanese fondness for squashing two words together to make a catchy new one). We also like the crossover advertising campaign that pairs Softbank’s popular and endearing “Shirato family” with the iconic Suntory Boss character, played by Tommy Lee Jones; like the individual campaigns, this mash-up is just plain clever.

Bicqlo wins on convenience: It really is useful to be able to pick up socks and printer cartridges in the same place. But as far as innovation, or even novelty, is concerned, isn’t the concept — cheap clothes and electronics in one store — essentially that of any big-box store, the likes of which are littered all over the (gasp!) suburbs?

Today’s J-blip: Gatsby Moving Rubber hair wax

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Men’s hair product Gatsby’s Moving Rubber promises change for all kinds of hair. Their new ad campaign near Shinjuku Station’s West Exit now brings the message to life. Passers-by in one of the world’s busiest train stations can stand under wigs hung at head-height on a big mirror to try out a new ‘do or two. Considering weaving in some dreadlocks or perming up an afro? Forget Photoshop; nothing can give you a clearer picture than this.

With seven different types of hair wax, some of which include Wild Shake, Loose Shuffle and Grunge Mat, the options are widely varied. Gatsby’s colorful pucks are differentiated by texture, holding strength and  hair length. The range has been around for years and is hugely popular both in and out of Japan.

And if you need tips on how to use a particular Moving Rubber, here you go.

Today’s J-blip: Suteteko

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the hot and sticky Japanese summer months, staying cool can be a challenge. However, a resurgence in traditional suteteko (say stet-eh-ko) is making it a little bit easier. Fear not — these aren’t your grandpa’s long johns! Contemporary sutekeko are pants made of light-weight, breathable material and fall just below (or above) the knee. Once a boutique item (that we spotted a year ago), they are now available from major retailers like Uniqlo as well as dedicated shops. Great for lounging around the house, walking your dog or even on a first date if you dare . . . If it doesn’t go well, at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing it wasn’t because of your sweaty legs.

We’ve pinned a sampling of some of the huge variety of patterns and colors. Follow this and Japan Pulse’s other boards on Pinterest.

Today’s J-blip: K-Pocke pocket

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Form meets function, but unfortunately not fashion. K-Pocke (say “kay po-kay”) is a new line of shirts with a uniquely designed pocket to safely secure your mobile device. Shake, rattle and roll all you want. Nothing will fall out due to the convoluted way it’s constructed, they claim. I’m as worried as the next person about dropping my phone. Unfortunately, I’m more worried about looking like Steve Urkel. Cool innovation, but it might have a better chance if it were still the 90’s — and if pants didn’t have pockets.

Beauty treatments get busy with the fizzy

Friday, June 15th, 2012

From carbonated face washes to machines that blow bubbles, quite a few fizzy products are making a splash in the Japanese cosmetics market this summer. Far from dismissing these as gimmicks, 54 percent of women interviewed said that they had tried a carbonated beauty product. Trend Souken published a report that indicated Japanese women are ready to embrace beauty products injected with carbonic acid in a big way, with 87 percent of the 501 women questioned responding that they were interested in becoming bubblier beauties.

By far and away the most popular sparkling product so far, according to News Searchina, is Chocola BB Sparkling, a sparkling nutrition drink that contains niacin, iron and vitamins B1, B6 and C. In the eight  months since it was launched last May, it has sold 10 million bottles in Japan. That’s an impressive figure, especially considering that absolutely no claims are made as to the efficaciousness of its carbonated bubbles for increasing a lady’s beauty.

But spurious claims aplenty have been made about the effectiveness of bubbles when applied to the exterior of the skin. The marketing blurb for Dr. AI Acnes Labo Gel Pack, for example, claims that carbonic acid is the active ingredient in a compound that helps reduce redness and repair damaged skin for acne sufferers. The tiny bubbles in Kanebo’s Blanchir Superior: White Foam Totalizer skin lightening wash are supposed to promote good circulation for smooth, fresh skin.

The real money spinner might be gadgets that produce bubbles. Mitsubishi Rayon Cleansui Company’s Sparkling Bath is a bath that produces carbonated water. Options include the Sodabath, Carbonated Bath, and, alas, the Sparkring Bath. The website stops short of making any pseudo-scientific claims by simply stating that in Germany, sparkling spa baths have long been thought to be good for the body. If you can’t stretch to buying a bath, then how about the Plosion from MTG, a dinky little bottle that sprays out a mist of beauty lotion fizzing with bubbles, a snip, ahem, at ¥47,500. If you’re really short on cash you could even try bunging some face cream into an old Soda Stream to enjoy a cut-price bubbly beauty treatment.


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