Hot Pulse

Dominique Ansel caters to Tokyo’s (semi)sweet tooth with cronuts and s’more

June 19th, 2015 by

Dominique Ansel Bakery opens June 20, but expect extremely long queues because Ansel has brought to Japan not only his famed Cronut, but also a vast array of unusual and creative desserts.

Though Ansel has said that he’ll be toning down the sugar levels for the Japanese clientele, this is still definitely a must-do for people with a sweet tooth as we discovered on a recent press preview event.

The bakery’s celebrated Frozen S’more — huge chunks of toasted marshmallow-covered vanilla ice cream on sticks — and Cookie Shot — chocolate-lined cookie cups filled with milk — are being served alongside several Japan-only treats.

Among the exclusive items is the Paris Tokyo. Inspired by the circular metro sign and Japanese bamboo, Paris Tokyo’s small balls of vanilla cream and matcha ganache have a dab of passion-fruit jam and are sandwiched between rings of choux pastry and topped with white chocolate ginkgo leaves.

Then there’s the Maneki Neko Religieuse filled with vanilla cream and yuzu jam, and fashioned in the shape of a smiling lucky cat. If you’re looking for something a bit more mature, though, the traditional Japanese sweet-inspired Mont Blanc Wagashi is a chestnut-paste covered meringue that sits on a bed of gold leaf.

Most of the desserts may be rich and aimed at adults, but the space is for the fun-loving child in everyone. Even the bakery’s brightly lit interiors uses candy-floss colors in a mock Paris subway map that names Ansel’s creations in place of stations, while cute color-matching graphic works by Vahram Muratyan look down on customers from the staircase.

If you need a break from the sweet stuff, the second floor also serves light savory dishes, salads and drinks, and if you’re brave enough to take your kids there’s always the Mr. Roboto melon pan — it’s filled with Hokkaido milk cream, but it can’t be any worse than a regular Japanese melon pan pastry.

Load up YouTube because it’s morphin’ time!

June 9th, 2015 by

Summon your Megazord because the Power Rangers are heading to YouTube — and it’s all in Japanese.


The Rangers are back.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” was a hit children’s show back in the ‘90s that featured campy acting, ridiculous monsters and possibly the best theme song of all time. It was actually based on the long-running “Super Sentai” TV series in Japan, with the Western version featuring American actors mixed with action sequences from Japan.

Toei is now celebrating “Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger,” the season that was adapted into “Power Rangers,” by releasing episodes of the Japanese show online every Sunday. Beginning this June, Toei will post two episodes on its YouTube channel that is dedicated to its “special effects” action shows.

Viewers who grew up with the “Power Rangers” will finally have the chance to see the Japanese counterpart of their favorite show — and there are a lot of differences. For example, in the Japanese show, the Pink and Green Rangers never dated; the Red and Green Rangers were actually brothers; and the Yellow Ranger was a dude!

Oh, and another minor plot change. The Rangers weren’t simply “teenagers with attitude” navigating high school but instead ancient tribal warriors that once co-existed with dinosaurs.

Bra-maker’s Cinderella Taxis aim to deliver the perfect fit

June 4th, 2015 by


If you’re sick of waiting for your pumpkin to turn into a carriage, hail a Cinderella Taxi to get a little extra bibbidi-bobbidi-boo in your life.


Find your perfect look in the Cinderella Taxi.

Coming to Tokyo in June and Osaka in July, this special taxi offers riders bra fittings and makeover services to spread the magic of lingerie-maker Wacoal and its Cinderella campaign.

Just as Cinderella’s glass slippers are perfectly fitted for her feet, Wacoal wants to offer women the chance to get a bra perfectly tailored to their bodies using a 3-D scanner. Before-and-after images are then generated to show customers the change in their silhouette.

As you make your way to your destination, your own Fairy Godmother (i.e., a professional hair and makeup artist) will help you find your new look.

The royal treatment lasts approximately two hours, but the Wacoal beauty consultants’ advice will last long after the clock strikes midnight.

Wear Japan’s past this summer with yukata and monpe

May 22nd, 2015 by


Japan’s summer fashion are starting to appear on store shelves, and increasingly retailers are turning to tradition for new yet tried and true ideas.

This week clothing chain Uniqlo launched a line of colorful yukata for women and girls who don’t have the time or budget for a custom-made outfit. The yukata comes in a variety of colors and designs inspired by Japan’s past.

As Uniqlo often does, the motifs of the women’s yukata are borrowed from famous artists, in this case, the roses and polka dots of Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934) and the fields and flowers of Junichi Nakahara (1913-1988). Girls’ yukata have elements of Japanese summer with goldfish and uchiwa fans adorning the clothes.

To get the younger generation up to speed on retro clothes, Uniqlo will be releasing a series of how-to videos online to show people the proper way to wear yukata. The line goes on sale June 8 with yukata in the affordable range of ¥4,990-5,990.

Loft is also warming up to summer by setting aside a special pop-up for monpe, the multipurpose farming pants made with traditional yet breathable fabrics.

The pants come in a variety of colors and patterns, and in a more flattering silhouette than regularly baggy monpe work pants are known for. Advertising them as “Japanese jeans,” Loft will sell monpe at its Shibuya location for the rest of the season.

The company behind the pants, Unagi no Nedoko, will also be holding special monpe exhibitions in Tokyo, Yame and Fukuoka this summer.

While you’re at Loft, you can also stock on traditional and stylish fans, colorful two-toed tabi socks and straw sandals.

Save your breath and let ‘Suimasen!’ make the call

May 20th, 2015 by


Getting the attention of a server can make some people feel a little anxious. Should I raise my hand? Do I wait to make eye contact? How loud should I yell?

Well rest your nerves (and your voice) because there is a new app that makes eating out a little less stressful for soft-spoken diners.

Suimasen Daikō” (“Excuse Me Agent”) is an application where users simply tap a button and their phone will let out a hearty “すいませ~~~ん!” (“Excuse me!”)

Users can choose between a female voice, a male voice and even an ikemen voice for the cool kids. In addition, there is a bell and buzzer button to grab someone’s attention.

Need to adjust the volume? The app comes with three scene settings ranging from quiet cafes to noisy izakaya.

Suimasen Daikō is now available on iTunes.

Funassyi — Japan’s favorite shrieking pear

May 15th, 2015 by


In a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the British comedian dove into the weird and excessive world of Japan’s yuru-kyara. During his on-air explanation of the nation’s many mascots, Oliver highlighted Funassyi, the giant yellow pear who is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi in Chiba, and included one of his more explosive moments on TV.

Need to know more about Japan’s most popular pear?

At first Funnasyi was rejected as the official mascot of his hometown but unlike other successful official mascots, such as Kumamon of Kumamoto Prefecture, Funassyi has come to symbolize Funabashi despite its lack of government sponsorship and become just as popular as any yuru-kyara.

Funnasyi has appeared in national commercials for the Asahi, released a CD single, and been crowned the Grand-Prix winner at an international trade show for character and brand businesses best license in Japan in 2014 as he traveled across Japan and the world to spread his pear-y special brand of energy.

Here are just a few of highlights from 2014:

Funassyi’s popularity hit a milestone last year when, as he was being featured on CNN in June, the news reporter couldn’t help but laugh throughout the broadcast when she saw the mascot flapping his arms around.

In July, Funassyi tried to kickstart a fashion trend by donning a black cap with a “274” logo (a play on the numbers 2-7-4 with can sound like “fu-na-shi”) and appeared in a TV commercial for Shimamura, a fashion shopping center. The fast-running pear with non-stop squealing had fans wondering how he survived the summer heat in his suit.

In September, FUNAcafe, a collaboration event of Funassyi and Shibuya Parco’s The Guest Cafe & Diner, served a special Funassyi-inspired menu including the “funa” burger (with his face on the burger), nashi pear cake, nashi pear tea and even dandan noodles.

The character’s popularity went international when he visited Hong Kong in October, attending a local shopping mall event and bringing Japanese yuru-kyara culture with him. Judging by this video, Funassyi’s fans in Hong Kong are just as passionate as those in Tokyo.

In December, the toy company “Kitan Club” released a Funnasyi-style version of its famous Cup-no-Fuchiko cup-straddling toys. The brands are literally embracing each other as the tiny figurines can cling to each other in three different kinds of positions and as expected of Cup-no-Fuchiko both can sit on the edge of the cup. The announcement climbed to the top of Fuji Television’s weekly Twitter rankings, beating out the hot issue of Japan’s strict state secrets law.

Funassyi is expanding his brand aggressively by creating Funassyi stories everywhere in Japan. Funassyiland, a Funaasyi goods store, opened in Fukuoka in December. According to Asahi Digital News, Funassyi devotees from as far as Tokyo were making the trek.

Funassyi’s naturally fragile yet good-natured personality seems to be a starting point.

The pear rounded out 2014 on Nippon TV by rocking out with his hero, Ozzy Osbourne, performing a headbanging rendition of Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Funassyi got a little wet and wild when Osbourne dumped a bucket of water on him before pushing him into a swimming pool.

In the same month, whilst making a cameo during a commemorative concert for The Alfee, Funassyi took an untimely tumble but nothing went pear-shaped: the resilient character sprung back into action minutes later.

Without a doubt, Funassyi was a hit in 2014 but only time will tell if the rest of 2015 will keep rewarding the fruits of his labor.

Grow a new boyfriend with ‘ikemen’ seeds

May 13th, 2015 by


Sick of waiting to meet your dream man? Why not grow your boyfriend from the ground up?

That’s the idea behind “Tabegoro kareshi Ikusei Setto” (“Ripe Boyfriend Growing Set”), a line of vegetable seeds that are adorned with cute ikemen.

The manufacturers hope to turn up the heat in the greenhouse as each vegetable features a handsome animated character (Mr. Habanero Pepper has fiery red hair, Mr. Eggplant as smooth purple hair, and so on). Girls are encouraged to buy their favorite boy and watch him grow right before their eyes . . . after some tender love and care.

Gardeners might have to turn the hose on themselves to cool down after reading the salacious details and backstories behind each boy. Spoiler alert — Mr. Mint likes to eat mint chocolate ice cream.

The mail-order males can be purchased for ¥900. Available vegetables include cherry tomatoes, arugula, baby carrots, mint, habanero peppers and eggplant.

Flushed with success: Innovative new toilet accessory to offer full body wash

April 1st, 2015 by

The Bathlet could send sales of the Washlet throw the roof.

The eco-friendly Bathlet modification of well-loved Washlet is bound make waves.

In February, bidet-type commodes equipped with built-in washers and pre-warmed seats made news after Japan’s media reported that they were enjoying heady demand by Chinese tourists visiting Japan during the lunar new year holiday.

The reaction to this in Beijing’s state-run media was largely negative. The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party organ People’s Daily, protested tourists misplaced priorities in a commentary titled “Popularity of Japanese toilet seats overstated.”

The writer denounced such purchases as “making a mockery of China’s boycott of Japanese goods” and complained that “Chinese tourists swamping Japanese stores “at a time when the country is facing a sluggish domestic demand is certainly not something to be proud of.”

But politics aside, if one Japanese inventor has his way, Japan’s high-tech toilets may soon be able to offer users — in China as well as Japan — a revolutionary new function. Nagoya-based Arai Industries K.K., a small manufacturer that produces pipe joints, gaskets and other plumbing materials, has taken out a patent on an idea that promises to turn the industry completely on end: a kit that enables bidet-type commodes to be easily and inexpensively converted to a compact shower stall.

“One thing that struck me about the fixtures of ‘Washlet’ type toilets, was the fact that they were considerably overengineered,” Kiyoshi Arai, the company’s president and CEO told The Japan Times at an interview in his Nagoya office. “I figured it wouldn’t be all that difficult to expand on their functions.”

Through trial and error, Arai developed his prototype mostly from spare parts laying around in his factory.

“The key to modification was boost the wattage of the water heating element,” he says. “After that, it was a snap.”

Arai has taken out seven utility patents on his new invention, and registered the trademark “Bathlet.”

His original version, completed in just two months, worked without any hitches but sorely fell short in aesthetic appeal, Arai admits.

“The most serious shortcoming was that it could only supply enough warm water for a one-minute shower, and that didn’t allow enough time for the user to soap up and rinse. So I added a more powerful water heating element that gave about five minutes — maybe a little longer in the summer.”

Arai estimates that if used for one five-minute shower per day, the Bathlet will add approximately ¥280 to a household’s monthly electric bill. On the other hand, however, it’s notoriously stingy with water.

“I decided that making it ‘eco-friendly’ would be a strong selling point — hence the recycling tank and gravity pump, which redirects shower water back to the toilet tank to be reused for flushing,” he explained. “This led to problems at first, because the spout on the bidet kept blowing soap bubbles. We fixed that using microfiber filtration,” Arai smiled.

“The current design is as close to being idiot-proof as possible,” Arai said, chuckling with pride. “Any competent plumber can have it up and running in about half an hour.”

Because tampering with the original commode’s design risks invalidating the warranty, Arai is keen on lining up Japanese manufacturers to market the “Bathlet” as an optional accessory. He has yet to announce a domestic price for his product, but is aiming for under ¥12,000.

With many overseas markets faced with chronic water shortages, Arai believes prospects for exports are “extremely encouraging.”

“We received hundreds of inquiries when we introduced a prototype at the Home Fixtures ’15 trade show in Shanghai two weeks ago,” Arai said.

Arai Industries’ “Bathlet” is just one of a slew of new inventions from Japan designed to appeal to growing numbers of affluent Chinese visitors. Prototypes introduced at a recent trade fair in Makuhari included an electric rice cooker that can be used to steam rou baozi (pork buns) and shaomai (dumplings); for fastidious gamblers, Sani-Pai, an ultrasonic cleaner for sanitizing mahjong tiles after use; and an electric kettle that whistles the first six notes of “The East is Red” to signal the user when the water has boiled.

More information about the Bathlet can be found here.


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