There are two important foreign dignitaries in Japan right now.
One is the President of the United States of America and the other is, well, Justin Bieber.
The former is the reason why there are currently police officers inside every station, standing on boxes and trying to look important. (I think they are ostensibly there to prevent a terrorist attack.)
But perhaps they should be keeping an eye on Mr Bieber instead.
After all, Justin Bieber has a habit of alienating various nationalities and ethnic groups through his antics, from signing “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber” in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum, to apparently not knowing where Germany was in a live interview, and calling Indonesia “some random country”.
Now young Justin has lost himself a generation of fans in China, Taiwan and Korea by visiting the most controversial place in Japan, Yasukuni Shrine.
Note the surprisingly large number of “likes”.
The shrine houses millions of Japanese war dead. Unfortunately these also happen to include over 1,000 war criminals. Although Japan has at least one neutral and official war memorial in Tokyo, Yasukuni has become the place of choice for the ultra right and conservative politicians to pay their respects.
Given that State Shinto played an intricate role in the post-Meiji militarization of Japan and that Yasukuni also houses a revisionist museum, it is no wonder the visits of prime ministers and leading Japanese politicos never fail to infuriate Japan’s Asian neighbors who suffered so miserably at the hands of Japanese imperialism. (As happened only days ago when a throng of lawmakers went to Yasukuni.)
And into this maelstrom wanders our innocent Canadian singer.
“Thank you for your blessings” he writes under his Instagram picture (since deleted), a record of his visit to the shrine this morning.
Oh dear. Sure, Justin can’t be expected to know the finer details of Japanese politics, Shinto and all that jazz. But does he not have a publicity advisor or two to help him out?!
*Update*: Mr Bieber has posted an apology and explanation for his visit to Yasukuni.
Now this is an innovative way to cool down your drink.
While we still love the quietly industrial and precise ice sphere offered by the Ice Ball Mold, there is something to be said for having “3D-milled ice cubes”. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in not understanding exactly what that means but when the results — including a miniature Japanese temple — are this stunning, who cares?!
“3D on the Rocks” as the stunning ad campaign declares.
A shark. The Statue of Liberty. An astronaut. A space rocket. Michelangelo’s David. A high-heel shoe. Design ideas were submitted by members of the public which were then selected to be made by drilling into a block of ice.
The ice sculpture is then placed into the whisky glass to melt and cool the beverage. Artistically a bit of a waste but what a great concept!
Here’s the ad to give you more of an idea of how the ice shapes are made.
Traditionally in Japan people clean their ears using a bamboo ear pick (mimikaki). This is actually said to be much safer and more hygienic than the typical cotton bud swab people use in other countries, which can even give you a perforated eardrum if you are not careful. Instead an ear pick scrapes up rather than pushes down and is much better suited to the drier type of ear wax common to Asians.
The mimikaki is especially the case if you have someone else do it for you and, it has to be said, this is a bit of a fantasy for some Japanese men, who like the idea of placing their head in a woman’s lap and having her gently take care of his ear. Wives traditionally performed this task along with hostesses. There are even mimikaki ear-cleaning parlors that function as places for men to get their ears cleaned while also soothing their soul. As the woman attends to their ear canal, they relax and tell her their woes.
And then there is Coden.
Coden may not be as glamorous or famous as some of Japan’s other manufacturers but it actually has a leading reputation all over the world for its industrial tools such as endoscopes. The snake-like cameras allow you to see right inside machinery and down pipes so you can perform important repairs and maintenance.
Coden also make some endoscopes and camera devices for ordinary consumers such as this Ear Scope Windows. As the name suggests, it is compatible with Windows software and is a fiber optic curette tool that means you can literally see what is going on deep down in your ear canal right on your computer screen.
Well, that may sound a bit morbid but being able to see inside your ear is not only a matter of curiosity. It could be very useful if you are suffering from pain and need to investigate safely, plus it also makes an ear-cleaning session much safer since you can attach an ear pick directly to the camera.
The end of an era.
Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha will cease publication in the wake of the bankruptcy of its publisher, Inforest Publishing. The title first went on sale in October 2005 under a different name, it went on to become famous as the magazine of choice for gyaru. It promoted a unique kind of overtly glamorous look and featured actual hostesses as models.
Koakuma Ageha’s name meant “little demon swallowtail” (a play on agejo, another name for women who work as bar hostesses) and its target was female readers in their late teens and twenties. It spawned several “sister magazines” and special editions, such as Kimono Ageha (gyaru in kimono), Ane Ageha (for slightly older gyaru) and I Love Mama (for young gyaru mothers, naturally).
Not only was it a media platform for disseminating gyaru and hostess culture, it also provided fashion and beauty tips, as well as dealing with the “darker” side of the lifestyle, such as depression, sex and other problems that may result from being a hostess.
It first came out as a special issue of Nuts, a magazine targeting Shibuya gyaru. This was so popular that circulation was increased within days and a follow-up came out in April 2006. It then lost the Nuts umbrella and from October 2006 became a separate monthly magazine in its own right.
It hit circulation highs of 400,000-plus (who would have thought there could be so many wannabe hostesses and gyaru?!) in 2009-2010 and was defying the economic slump that claimed many other major magazine names in Japan. However, it has now apparently fallen victim to declining advertising revenue and the woes of its parent company.
There was some publicity during the auditions where a few famous performers and celebrities got down to the final candidates.
The winner was announced in Yokohama on April 17th.
In the end, the privilege of being a temporary thirty-something idol in Japan’s biggest money-making factory of music and scanty clothing has gone to a 37-year-old housewife named Mariko Tsukamoto.
Tsukamoto was born in 1976 and is a trained ballet dancer, but otherwise a complete unknown in the entertainment or idol worlds. Her officially listed “hobby and special skill” is “raising kids”. Some of the girls in AKB are young enough to be her children so perhaps she can put her skills to good use in the dressing room.
She beat 5,065 other candidates (including an 82-year-old woman!) and will now have to balance looking after her two kids with her duties in AKB48 until August 31st. Presumably a new career in showbiz also awaits her once her AKB stint is done.
Tokyo Dome City will be converted into a remarkable planetarium event this summer. TenQ is a space museum that opens on July 8th in Tokyo Dome City, complete with a 11-meter “Theater Sora” that gives a view over Planet Earth in 4K.
There is also a projection mapping room so you can experience humanity’s ideas about space. Hajimari no Heya might look like a set from the “Cube” sci-fi movies but it promises to educate and entertain visitors with the ideas we have had about the universe from ancient times to the modern age.
Admission is ¥1,800 for adults. Pricy but it looks worth it.
Been there, done that. Sometimes it seems that fashion has little new left to offer. But then along comes another neat innovation that proves you wrong.
Fashion models strutting their wear down a red carpet catwalk is hardly new but when it’s inside a commuter train in Tokyo, well, then it feels pretty original. On April 14th this is just what happened, with a fashion show being held inside a moving train on the Keio Inokashira Line between Shibuya and Kichijoji stations.
The event was a promo for a opening of the new Kirarina shopping mall at Kichijoji Station on April 23rd. The show used three carriages in the specially convened train, featuring 14 male and female models including Karen Michibata (sister of Jessica, the future Mrs Jenson Button).
Although it wasn’t open to the public, the models showcased apparel from ten stores in Kirarina to around 100 invited members of the press and industry insiders.
We would hope this becomes a regular fixture on trains around Japan. It would certainly be one way to liven up the daily commute to the office!
Despite the recent ruling on March 31st by the International Court of Justice that Japan must stop “scientific” whaling and the government’s initial announcement that it would abide by the ruling, now comes the news that Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research filed briefs at the end of last week in the US District Court in Seattle saying it intends to resume whale hunting in the Southern Ocean as early as fiscal 2015.
Japan previously responded to the court ruling by saying it would abide by the decision but added it “regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision”.
Some saw the way the government responded to the result of the lawsuit first launched by Australia several years ago as a way of keeping its integrity — not caving in to the anti-whalers — while finding a exit plan for its loss-making whaling program.
However, this has been thrown to the wind now since the Japanese government plans to resume whaling as soon as the fiscal year in 2015. It will adjust its “research” program, such as by reducing the number of whales it will hunt.
The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd — locked in a legal dispute with Japan over whaling and in a physical dispute every whaling season — has deplored the new development after the ICJ ruled against Japan. The ICR has said that the new program will not run counter to the ICJ’s finding, since that affects only the whaling in Antarctic waters.
Japan’s whaling is a gross example of tatemae — holding face and officially abiding with he 1986 moratorium to which the nation signed up. Other countries like Norway and Iceland rejected that decision and continued whaling commercially. But Japan instead resumed whaling simply under another guise of “scientific research”, saying it was catching whales to prove that their numbers were sustainable. The loophole has allowed Japan to continue whale hunting through the government-backed ICR and then sell the meat commercially. However, whale meat is no longer popular in Japan and due to the scale and age of the fleet, coupled with the tenacious resistance offered in the ocean by Sea Shepherd, whaling costs Japan much more than the sales the haul bring.
“The myth that this hunt was in any way scientific can now be dismissed once and for all,” said Greenpeace upon the recent ICJ decision.
The irony is that current methods of whaling were introduced to Japan by the West and that one of the primary objectives for Commodore Perry’s famous Black Ships arriving in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century to demand it begin trading with foreign states was so that America could take advantage of the rich whaling waters to the north of the archipelago. (Whales were a big source of oil at the time.)
Whether you agree that whaling should be banned or not, it seems much more logical if Japan just abandons the pretense of the science and follows the examples of the Scandinavians in openly whaling for cultural reasons. (Japan has a long history of hunting whale and dolphin meat, though traditionally it was coastal whaling.)
We feel that Sea Shepherd and other militant environmentalist groups target Japan for racist reasons while mostly ignoring the European whalers (when was the last time you heard of someone ramming a Norwegian whaling boat?). However, that aside, the perceived duplicity of the “science” and “research” only further aggravates the situation. An honest commercial whale hunt would turn the clashes between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese fleet on the high seas into a less political one.
Almost no sight says “Tokyo” more than Shibuya’s “scramble crossing”, the immense intersection in front of the Hachiko exit of the station in which multiple banks of pedestrians converge on each other like a battle scene from a movie.
Trying to weave through the crowds can be tricky, especially as many are tourists or visitors intent on taking pictures, and trying to take an unusual diagonal route across the flow can literally feel dangerous at times.
These days we are all glued to our smartphones, perhaps especially in Shibuya since we are searching for that hard-to-find store or bar. This reduces vision to a twentieth of what it is ordinarily, meaning you are much more likely to collide with other people or objects, or fail to spot hazards. Phone carriers campaign for their customers to use their products responsibly and safely, and this includes walking while using your trusty friend to search, mail or chat.
How many times have you sighed when someone almost ran into you because they were doing something on their handheld screen, or when you have been held up by someone in front moving at a snail pace due to being preoccupied by sending an email?
As phone carrier NTT DoCoMo say:
One in five people texting while walking are involved in an accident or injuries.
Staring at the smartphone screen while walking distracts your attention from what is going on around you and is very dangerous.
And it is not only dangerous for you, but there is also the possibility of causing other people to be in a major accident.
Today, there is no end to the number of people text while walking.
Well, this video might very well increase awareness of this most modern of problems.
What would happen if all the pedestrians using the famous crossing at Shibuya were all simultaneously looking at their phones?
Well, NTT DoCoMo has created a minor internet meme with this video simulation of that scenario. Since March 28th the video has been viewed nearly 2 million times.
The simulation calculated 1,500 pedestrians walking at speeds of 3, 4 of 6 kph. The pedestrians were created at the average height and weight for Japanese people.
The video then shows the “chaos and comedy” in the 46 seconds until the lights turn red again, all recreated in memorable SIMs.
446 collisions. 103 people falling over. And 21 dropped (and damaged) smartphones.
Less than half the pedestrians made it to the other side of scramble crossing without incident.
So… you have been warned!