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Ginza Cozy Corner takes dessert into hyperdrive with ‘Star Wars’ cakes

October 22nd, 2015 by

One Japanese confectionary vendor is about to find the Force deep within a sweet tie-up.

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The (caloric) force is strong with this one.

Ahead of the December release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Ginza Cozy Corner, which has outlets nationwide, has made a line of “Star Wars” sweets that are truly out of this world. The treats themselves are all based on people from the the films, and regardless if the characters were good or evil, the desserts will end up being sweet.

The cake set includes Darth Vader, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, an Ewok, a Stormtrooper, C-3PO and R2-D2, each having its own unique taste. The yellow C-3PO cake is lemon-flavored; the white R2-D2 one is cheese mousse; and so on.

If that wasn’t enough to satisfy sci-fi fans, Ginza Cozy Corner is also releasing a “Star Wars” tin and pouch filled with the store’s original creations. They will also be selling an R2-D2 sponge cake that is covered in white frosting and colored biscuits.

The “Star Wars” collection will be sold at select stores beginning Nov. 1, and the nine-piece cake set will sell for ¥2,000.

For more information, visit the Ginza Cozy Corner website.

Warning: This viral video of high school girls might make you blush

October 21st, 2015 by

Cosmetic company Shiseido has recently uploaded a YouTube video that is blowing viewers’ minds with a bona fide twist.

In the promo video, titled “High School Girl? — The Makeup Secrets of High School Girls,” the camera weaves through a classroom full of drop-dead cute young women who pout and wink like true pop idols. But everything is not as it seems.

The camera zooms in on the page of a book that one girl is reading. The small text reads “Did you notice the boys in this classroom?” As the camera backs out of the room, the viewer realizes that — SPOILER ALERT — they’re all dudes.

The big gender-flipping reveal highlights the transformative properties of Shiseido’s makeup, which give you the tools to be whatever you want to be (granted, having veteran hair & makeup artists helps).

Whether this invokes deeper commentary on herbivore men or gender fluidity or whatever, the bottom line is Shiseido has struck viral-video gold.

[This behind-the-scenes video shows how the makeup specialists pulled it off.]

Sharp dials up the fan service to celebrate 20 years of ‘Evangelion’

October 20th, 2015 by

For those who have always dreamed of owning an Evangelion robot, this might be the closest you get.

Just in time for the 20th anniversary of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”  a mecha lover's wet dream (Kyodo photo)

Just in time for the 20th anniversary of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” a mecha lover’s wet dream (Kyodo photo)

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” animated series, Sharp is releasing a special smartphone that pays homage to the show both in the device’s hardware and software.

The phone itself is detailed in purple and green with a backside decorated with an Evangelion mech. Naturally the phone’s custom interface echoes the show’s iconic purple and green coloring. For the extra devout, there’s a special themed phone cover.

Perhaps the biggest fanboy perk is 365 different wallpapers that feature illustrations and concept art from the show. Its calendar app will reveal a new wallpaper each day of the year. In addition, the phone will have original character voices and sound effects from the anime.

“Evangelion” fans can apply for the phone, which costs a hefty ¥84,240, at 7-Elevens nationwide on Nov. 2 (or register online). Make sure to suit up and grab yours because the company only plans to make 30,000 units, to be divvied out in December (5,000) and April (25,000).

Tokyo plugs into Google Play Music

October 16th, 2015 by

If you haven’t heard the latest news from Google Play, you may have missed your opportunity to tune into a Google Play Billboard. From Oct. 8-24, music lovers can head over to Shibuya to, literally, plug into a selection of over 3,500 songs.

The Google Play Billboard is meant to give visitors a much-needed chance to try out its new music service. After LINE launched its music-streaming service in July, followed only weeks later by Apple Music, as Google Play Music seemed to be stuck in buffering mode with no plans to enter the market. However, after finally launching in September, Google has been going to all lengths to make Google Play Music stand out from its competitors.

Located on Supeinzaka near the Shibuya Parco department stores, the Google Play Billboard may appear, from a distance, to be any other advertisement. Within the billboard itself is 1,300 individual headphone jacks, however, continuously streaming music from noon-8 p.m. everyday. Each jack features a different song, and the song selection changes over time so that you’ll never know exactly what you’re plugging into.

Just watching all the careful efforts that went into the construction of the billboard is like watching a symphony.

The 3,500 songs that make up the Google Play Billboard playlist are hand-picked from submissions from the public that people voted for on the official Google Play Music website. The public were given six different categories to vote on — “a song you’d like to play when your significant other comes over”; “a song for when you feel that your heart is going to break”; “a song you’d personally want to leave for the next generation”; and so on.

These categories, which play into people’s emotional connection with music, resulted in hundreds of songs featuring both a wide variety of both Japanese and Western music. Visitors to the Shibuya billboard can anticipate everything from Mary J. Blige to AKB48, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to The Rolling Stones.

Additionally, anyone who signs up for Google’s streaming service by Oct. 18 will be able to listen to the Google Play Billboard’s 3,500 songs unlimitedly for free, as well as pay a lifetime reduced rate of ¥780 per month.

After only a week, the Google Play Billboard has made quite a splash on social media, thanks to the hashtags #GooglePlayMusic and #渋谷3500万曲ビルボード (Shibuya 35,000 song billboard).

Regardless of whether Google’s PR campaign hits the right note or falls flat, the Google Play Billboard has certainly proven that music can bring us all together.

J-blip: Ipsa’s Face Melody

September 5th, 2015 by

Every face has a name, a story and . . . a song? That’s the idea behind cosmetic company Ipsa’s newest creation.

We should, uh, take it at face value, but the company claims that its Face Melody program can measure the user’s appearance and write a unique tune based on their attributes. The application will even create a personalized song title for your fantastic face.

Users can go to Ipsa’s website, upload a picture of their face and watch as the program measures their smile level, face balance, face color and lightness. Then Face Melody will generate a song based on a special algorithm and produce a trippy music video complete with 3-D effects and psychedelic visuals.

Go to the Face Melody website to hear your song.

Japan celebrates the GIFs that keep on giving

August 21st, 2015 by

GIFs — which stands for graphics interchange format, don’t you know — have made the Internet an even more enjoyable place than before, and we have the receipts to prove it.

These digital designs were technological wonders back in the days of AOL and Netscape (Google it, kids). But they eventually went from high-tech animation to cliched novelties.

In recent years, the retro aesthetic of GIFs has been making big comeback. Nowadays, instead of flashing text, they often reference classic signifiers in pop culture and have become a sort of emotional shorthand, a form of emoji.

They’re now a hip way to express a gamut of feelings — excitement, annoyance, surprise . . . Name an emotion and there’s bound to be the perfect GIF for it. That’s why sites and apps such as Giphy and Nutmeg are becoming the must-have tools for when a smiley is just not enough.

They are not only being used just to express LOLs and winks, but recently GIFs have entered the realm of boda fide art. This year Japanese artist Toyoi Yuuta set Tumblr ablaze by posting a beautiful series of 8-bit GIF creations depicting sometimes melancholic, sometimes surreal scenes of life in Japan.

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Thousands of users reblogged the pieces as the designs invoked memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and took the seemingly trite medium of GIFs to a new level.

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The artist Segawa 37 took the genre a step higher for Adobe’s GIF contest by giving a modern twist to classic works of “the floating world.” Segawa 37 humorously tweaks the time-honored woodblock prints by including things such as a spaceship swooping in and beaming up Mount Fuji or a group of kimono-clad travelers watching a shinkansen train zoom by.

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Segawa 37’s GIF set also includes pieces that rely more on aesthetics than humor, including paintings of the warm glow of lanterns in Edo’s Yoshiwara district and people watching the Sumida River fireworks.

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It seems that GIFs are beginning to get the artistic credit they deserve, and some are even making the jump from computer screens to galleries. The GIF Exhibition will be held Sept. 5-13 at Tokyo’s Tetoka and will feature a variety of works from around 10 artists. Although the pieces may be over in a flash, visitors are encouraged to slow down and take in every frame.

GIFs have gone from Internet meme to art, but where will they go next? It’s anyone’s guess.

Smart absolutions: Send off your sins with just one click

August 6th, 2015 by

Advances in technology have enabled us to converse with anyone, anywhere, and globally distribute information — and unlimited cat pictures! — in the blink of an eye.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Sumaho ooharae: Just rub and send.

Now, thanks to an online service from National Depart’s Kitokami, we can be rid of our sins with a click of a button.

Kitokami users have two options. Smartphone Ooharae is free smartphone service that enables users to absolve themselves of sins by merely rubbing and breathing on a human-shaped figure displaying on their smartphone screen and clicking the “send sins” button. The figures, imprinted with the name, age and gender of the user, will later be printed out and purified with a sacred fire at Bizen no Kuni Soushagu, a shrine in Okayama.

Web Ooharae is a slightly more tangible version of the service. Customers can purchase wood or paper cards online to be delivered to their homes. After doing the required rub-and-breathe routine on the card, customers will mail them to the shrine to be purified. The cards come in shapes of cats, dogs, bicycles and more, and are priced at ¥1,000 to ¥2,500.

Although Kitokami’s approach is novel, mention of the ooharae custom can be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest record of history, which dates back to the 700s. Ooharae is a Shintoist ritual that takes place every year on June 30 and Dec. 31 and other days when necessary. In this ritual, participants transfer their sins and impurities onto nademono, human-shaped paper cutouts. They then blow three breaths on the paper, and Shinto priests recite prayers as they burn the sin-carrying papers in a sacred fire.

Bizen no Kuni Soushagu will light the fire on Aug. 1, 8, and 15 at 9 p.m., so customers should make sure their sins get there on time.

Attack of the plant hunters, green carnivores and fleshy girls

August 4th, 2015 by

A selection from the exotic green world of Seijun Nishihata, whose plants are currently on display at Ultra Plants Exhibition at Ginza's Pola Museum Annex.

A selection from the exotic green world of Seijun Nishihata, whose plants are currently on display at Ultra Plants Exhibition at Ginza’s Pola Museum Annex. (Rina Yamazaki photos)

Living in a concrete jungle, it’s not surprising that many Japanese are eager to bring wildlife back into their lives.

Plant hunter Seijun Nishihata, at Yoyogi Village (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Plant hunter Seijun Nishihata, at Yoyogi Village (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

One pioneering figure in this field is plant hunter Seijun Nishihata. The fifth-generation representative of major plant wholesaler Hanau Co., he travels around the world in search of unique flowers and plants. Whether it’s down to his charm, his Kansai-influenced sense of humor, his sense of adventure or the exposure he received on the documentary TV show “Jounetsu tairiku,” Nishihata clearly has struck a chord with many people.

This summer, Nishihata is presenting a sample of this green world in the form of “Ultra Plants Exhibition,” at Ginza’s Pola Museum Annex. The selection of rare plants includes a desert rose from Yemen, a prickly tree from a Madagascar thorn forest, and a rare flower from the Indochina peninsula (which was supposed to be featured on Nippon TV’s “Sekaiichi Uketai Jugyou” until staff realized that its smell was too strong). Many of Nishihata’s favorite seasonal plants are also displayed throughout the year at Yoyogi Village’s garden.

Qusamura is another Japanese company that’s cultivating this market for green exotics. Run by “plant sculptor” Kohei Oda, its mission is to find one-of-a-kind plants that are beautiful in unconventional ways. Oda also travels widely in search of unusual plants, some of which can cost as much as ¥70,000.

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Prices of plants sold on Qusamura’s website range from ¥1,000 to ¥70,000.

In addition to selling plants, Qusamura has held multiple art exhibitions this year, such as “Kurogane and Koppaku,” where plants and flowers were presented in bowls created by ceramic artist Shiro Hamanaka. This May, Oda collaborated with American ceramic artist Adam Silverman to release “Grafted,” a collection of photographs of Qusamura plants adorned in Silverman’s pots.

For those who are more into seeing exotic plants in action, several venues throughout Japan —  Osaka, Kyoto, Kochi, Kanagawa, and Tokyo, to name a few — are exhibiting carnivores from the plant this year. In addition to showing how plants that look like cobras attract and digest insects, the exhibitions will present experiments that investigate whether the carnivorous plants’ digestive fluids can melt more than just insects.

According to T-SITE news, Staghorn ferns are the newest trend in interior plants. Just as its name implies, staghorn ferns resemble the shape of deer horns. Some say it also looks like flying bats. Fern fans and interior decorators love this plant because it’s an epiphyte, an acrobatic type of plant that grow on other things, walls or ceilings; no pots necessary.

A photo posted by aki (@hibi15) on

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