Posts Tagged ‘China’

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

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

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.

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.

China: the next frontier for konbini

Friday, May 13th, 2011

A local 24-hour convenience store in the city of Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Aiming to export Japanese convenience store culture, four big Japanese companies are laying plans for expansion into China. Seven Eleven, Lawson, Mini Stop and Family Mart are all intending to open more stores in the near future, going up against both domestic and other foreign competitors for a lucrative slice of China’s convenience store pie.

While China has its own convenience store chains, such as Kedi, which has over 700 outlets in Shanghai and other parts of China, there’s no particular chain dominating the market nationwide, leaving the field open for Japanese names, as well as Tesco and Wallmart (who operate under the name of Smart Choice, or Hui Xuan in Chinese), to take the lead. And it’s not just the big players who are competing; China also has an abundance of privately run local stores.

According to Nikkei Trendy, big convenience store chains in China have the image of being cheap and rather fashionable. In addition they stock foreign goods unavailable in locally run stores. Japanese convenience chains stock items like bento pack lunches and onigiri rice balls which are perceived by the Chinese public as being high-quality products. The Chinese media, who’ve been taking note of the convenience-store wars, have been impressed with the standard of service at Japanese convenience stores compared with that of locally run small businesses.

As in Japan, convenience stores don’t just limit themselves to selling everyday goods; it’s also now possible to pay utility bills and make purchases over the Internet using a Lakala terminal. These terminals are proving very popular, and there are now over 40,000 spread across 246 towns and cities in China. Having one of these terminals available in-store appears to be a key factor toward winning over the market in China.

Plans for expansion by Japanese firms are as follows: Lawson aims to have opened 10,000 stores by 2020;  Family Mart wants to increase the number of stores from the existing 400 stores into 4,500; Seven Eleven, who opened 100 stores in Beijing and Tianjin in 2010, wants to open 50 in Chengdu by the end of 2011; and Mini Stop is slated to 200 shops within five years.

One difficulty that Japanese businesses might encounter is anti-Japanese sentiment. At the end of 2010 when tensions were running high over the Senkaku Islands issue, Japanese retailers Ito Yokado and Isetan suffered damage at the hands of protesters. However, at present, the market looks set to expand throughout 2011.

Photo: Prince Roy

Pulsations (10.04.10)

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

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