Archive for the ‘Style/fashion’ Category

Plenty of room for passions to grow

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

Though Japan is a nation of passionate hobbyists, it’s also a country in which space is at a premium. This poses a dilemma for otaku who spend years amassing huge toy collections, gearheads who want to work on their greasy motors, or arty types who want room in which to slap around some paint without ruining the tatami. Rather than renting out a cheap apartment or storage space, a new solution has been supplied by Reise Hobby, a company that offers versatile units for hobbyists to rent.

Founded in 2006 as a subsidiary of Reise Box storage company, Reise Hobby now own 30 buildings in Kanto and Kansai that house more than 200 “loft” or “maisonette type” spaces. Each space has two floors with private access via a garage door; the lower garage area serves as a workspace, while the upper area can be used as a storage space. This style has proved extremely popular, according to Nikkei Trendy: When the company opened up their new Tama Center in December 2011, half the units were snapped up on the first day they were first offered for sale.

Though users are generally male, the kinds of hobbies they pursue are diverse, ranging from those who want to store bikes or cars to artistic types to avid collectors. Some people rent units just to have a private space of their own, sort of like a secret club house. Units do not come cheap: A 41-sq.-meter unit at their Tama Center, for instance, costs ¥84,000 a month. However, on the plus side, these spaces are well-equipped with toilet, water supply, air conditioner, 50 kw electricity supply a month, electrical outlets and free Internet access. Add to this the freedom to customize the space as you please and these units look increasingly attractive.

If the rental fee still seems steep,  there are places where you can rent time in a shared space. The increased interest in railways, for example, has resulted in a number of businesses offering track rental time on train dioramas. Models IMON, for instance, offer track time in locations across Tokyo, in Harajuku, their rental layout costs¥2,100 for just under two hours and rental of trains comes extra. Since 2010, the Akihabra Washington Hotel even has a special room for densha otaku (train geeks) who can bring along their own trains and whizz them round a diorama of Akihabara for a rather pricy ¥23,000 a night.

The rent-a-space entrepreneurs are also amateur seamstresses. As we mentioned a few years back, there’s been a surge of interest in “remake” fashion (restyling second-hand clothes) and some stores like Sewing Machine Cafe & Lounge Nico, which opened in Setagaya in September 2011, have caught on to this and are offering sewing machine time for budding clothes designers for a small fee.

For some, hiring a space in which to practice their craft becomes the step from being merely an enthusiast to becoming a full-fledged professional. In our next post, we’ll take a look at how new kinds of shared rental spaces are cutting down costs and helping budding entrepreneurs build connections.

The bags that came from another dimension

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Maybe it was inevitable that the country that made manga world-famous would fall for a bag that looks like it was peeled out of the pages of a comic book. JumpFromPaper‘s whimsical bags (above), with their eye-fooling primary color blocks and heavy outlines, jumped up the ranks of trending topics on Twitter in Japan last week under the keyword “2-D bag.” The burst of attention coincided with TV personality Terry Itoh introducing the line on the mid-day variety show “Sukkiri!!” The bags’ designers are based in Taiwan, and though there are many retail outlets carrying the bags there, in Japan they are only available online for now.

Mihara Hideaki’s bags have a slightly more serious lineage. The designer’s bio says he studied leathercraft in Florence, but it’s not his leather work that’s getting second glances for some of his latest bags. The (variously spelled) Trompe L’oeil bags have belts and buckles, leather tassels and decorative chains printed onto canvas bodies. The great big buckles may not be fooling anyone, but the thinner faux straps look convincing, and the silk scarves printed on the sides of some look like they could flutter right off.

Acrylic designer Masako Ban takes that feeling of slightly retro whimsy and goes in the opposite direction. While JumpFomPaper makes 3-D bags that look flat, Ban uses holographic lenticular material on some of her messenger bags and handbags that gives their flat surfaces a disorientingly three-dimensional and rather futuristic look.

You don’t need to spend a lot to get in on the eye-fooling action, though — just get into the check-out line at Isetan. Brain magazine reports that the venerable department store, which has long had distinctive plaid paper shopping bags,  has also added a paper bag with a photo-realistic print covering it that makes it look like a wicker basket. The bag is for purchases from their food shops.

Why all the trickery? Maybe it’s a way to play with luxe designs at a budget price. Or maybe people just want to make you look twice.

Companies connect with free mobile apps

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Enticing smartphone users with high-tech functions and original content, Japanese businesses have begun engaging customers by releasing custom mobile apps for free download. In the process, they’re managing to slip in a strong marketing messages into the pockets of loyal fans and potential customers.

Wego's app offers style tips from the store's staff

On Jan. 24, Doutor, a national chain of coffee shops. launched their Doutor AR app. Made to be used in conjunction with the free magazine It’s My Times, the app displays animation and text on the user’s smartphone via augmented-reality technology. Users simply hover their phone’s camera over special points on the magazine to view these extra features. The magazine, available only in Doutor shops, is designed to be read while customers relax with a cup of coffee. This app, available only until the end of February, is a clever way to attract more readers while also boosting brand profile. One of the attractions of downloading the app for readers of the magazine is the opportunity to watch and listen to a song performed by cover star Lisa Ono.

Another brand that is creatively engaging with smartphone app technology, is Wego. On Jan. 10 the second-hand clothes chain launched its own branded app, which offers free wallpaper, a GPS-aware store locator, staff blogs and photos of staff with information on how they coordinated their look. The app also seems to be yet another mutation of the charismatic shop assistant cult (shop assistants gaining near celebrity status).

Of course not everyone desires style tips from super trendy shop assistants. Dechau Pachinko parlor is targeting a slightly different user (predominantly male perhaps?) with its Dechau Girls Calendar 2012, a free Android app that utilizes the ever-popular beach babe. In case you didn’t know, the Dechau Girls, who have been touring pachinko parlors since 2007, cheer on players and hand out candies and hot towels. While they’re usually dressed in bright skintight outfits, this free calendar app gives fans a chance to see the girls relaxing at the beach in itsy bitsy bikinis.

The final app on our list also has a straightforward, unsophisticated appeal. Chiyoda, a company that owns over 1,100 shoe stores nationwide, has launched an app that provides users with discount coupons. Once users enter their personal info (date of birth, sex, location of the store they’re visiting), they can then receive coupons tailored to their needs. Nothing fancy — you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours — but for a country that’s obsessed with customer point cards and coupons, this is an app that’s bound to stick.

Tokyo Designers Week 2011

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Here’s a selection of what blipped on our radar at Tokyo Designers Week 2001, a multi-ring circus of design innovation. This year the organizers put an emphasis on Tohoku reconstruction, the environment, food and loooove.  And as in past years, the student work was just as eye-catching as that from professionals.

From amateur endeavors to corporate PR, from high art to crass commercialism, from sleek motocycle prototypes to dried squid light shades, the annual event literally offered something for everyone.

Photos by Mio Yamada

DesignTide Tokyo 2011

Friday, November 4th, 2011

As it does annually DesignTide Tokyo gave us a peek at prototypes, celebrated innovation and showed us how elegant ideas are worth their weight in gold.

Click on the thumbnails below to see what turned our heads.

Photos by Mio Yamada

This season’s fashion hit or flop?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Schoolyard fun for adults, Aku G Dou's randoseru rucksack updates a kids' classic

Would you be seen out and about wearing a white lab coat or how about donning an elementary school child’s rucksack? Judging by the buzz on the web, looking like you’re about to dissect a small mouse or alternatively like you’ve stolen some poor kids’ bag might be all the rage this fall.

In August, Classico Style launched a new website to promote their line of designer lab coats. Showing a bunch of good-looking Westerners posing for the camera in their dashing white coats, Classico Style is looking to broaden the appeal of their product line. Winners of the medical furniture category of the 2009 International Design Awards, the company has been praised for making well-tailored lab coats. Not content with targeting just doctors and scientists, J-Cast reports that Classico Style is hoping to broaden their appeal to other professionals such as designers and artisans, and perhaps even beyond to the man on the street.

We reckon that while swanning around in a well-made white coat and impersonating a busy surgeon might be fun, you’d be well and truly rumbled if someone called on your services while out and about.

No such difficulties with Aku G Dou’s adult randoseru. Elementary school students are generally seen sporting these leather rucksacks, but Aku G Dou has made their own version specially for adults. The rucksacks which are designed to fit the broader frame of an adult come in red and black and are adorned with metal studs that rock the playground style, making it that little bit edgier and perhaps a little less ridiculous.

Aku G Dou (who sell only one other kind of bag besides the randoseru, a cool bucket bag) have quite an impressive marketing pitch for their brand. Their spiel is a way too long to quote in full but here’s a snippet: “When you were a kid, the popular children in class were those that could run fast or those that studied well, but the one that really made your heart beat fast was a hero of the shadows, that naughty kid. Behind the candy store or the game center, he’d show you his father’s sexy ballpoint pen or a strange doll, sometimes that evil kid would make things that couldn’t be spoken of . . .  If he grew up what kind of thing would he show you? With these thoughts Aku G Dou was born.”

This high-concept item, comes with a similarly high price tag of ¥88,200. Despite this, we reckon the bag shows potential as it’s the perfect size for accommodating laptops or tablets. It’s also important to bear in mind that these bags don’t come cheap in any case, the children’s versions usually average around ¥40,000 to ¥50,000 (though prices have been coming down in recent years).  While we have our doubts about whether lab coats take off, we can see the potential for this item to become a modest hit.

How about a hot bath … in sawdust?

Friday, August 26th, 2011

A relaxing bath in sawdust is just the thing for beautiful skin

Sawdust has more uses than sopping up blood on a butcher’s floor or providing a cosy bed for pet beetles, according to Café Googirl: It’s now trending as a beauty treatment.

Enzyme baths, filled with sawdust from cedar and cypress trees, are said to improve circulation, cleanse skin and help with muscle pain, among other health claims. Enzymes from vegetation and fruit ferment within the sawdust to produce heat and it’s said that this fermentation provides the skin-enhancing “magic.”

The “bathing” here involves getting buried up to the neck in sawdust by rake-wielding salon staff. The heat generated by fermenting enzymes then brings the temperature up to around 40 degrees centigrade. Café Googirl says you need to sit in the bath for between 20 and 30 minutes.

The treatment, which actually started in Hokkaido in the 1940s, can be experienced at salons around the country: Hi no Ki in Tokyo; Ogakuzu Koso Yoku Sakura, with branches throughout the country; and Yu Shin Ion Koso Ogakuzu Furo in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, which opened early this year. Though Yu Shin Ion claims that its baths can help with “irregular periods,” its main clientele, according to Asahi Shimbun, appears to be men returning from trips to a nearby fishing spot.

Salon owners seem to believe that there’s almost nothing these feisty enzymes can’t cure. Ion House Sayama, based in Saitama, says that a 20-minute dip will help with complaints including acne, anemia, hypertension, arthritis and even obesity. While we can’t vouch for that, we don’t be surprised if this unconventional treatment catches on.

Hot-looking guys for free

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Take me, I'm free! BACS magazine is filled with gorgeous young ikemen

Picking up up hot-looking guys at your local convenience store just got a whole lot easier. BACS is a free magazine aimed at ikemen (cool, good-looking guys) in their teens and twenties. Launched last month, the magazine advises aspiring ikemen on how to do their hair and makeup (and, yes, we know some of you will think this deeply wrong).

The cosmetics market for men in Japan is expanding and magazines like BACS are really going to help drive that growth. According to Yahoo News, the first month’s issue includes an interview with a makeup artist, a feature on how to create ikemen hairstyles and a women’s discussion on the topic of ikemen.

Part of BACS’ agenda is to recruit and foster new ikemen talent and its website features a section for aspiring ikemen idols to apply to become models. The chief editor emphasizes in Yahoo News that they’ll be supporting and scouting Japanese ikemen talent, so that Japanese talent doesn’t lose out to Korean stars.

The cover star of the first issue of BACS is Hamao Kyousuke, an actor who’s appeared in the stage version of “The Prince of Tennis” and the movie “Takumi Kun Series.” As “Takumi Kun Series” is based on a Boys Love novel that features passionate relationships between a number of sexy young boys at a high school, we’re thinking that BACS might just also be aimed at women too.

The fact that BACS is also behind the Mune Kyon Tokei (chest-tightnening clock) site gives further credence to this theory. A spin on the hugely popular Bijin Tokei, in which hot women pose with a chalkboard that tells the time, Mune Kyon Tokei is, well, the same thing, only with hot guys. Visitors to Mune Kyon Tokei can vote on whether they find particular guys hot or not and then view the top-rated guys.

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