Kirin enters craft beer market with Spring Valley Brewery in Daikanyama

Written by: William on April 17, 2015 at 12:39 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Kirin has cemented its entry into the craft beer market with the opening on April 17th of Spring Valley Brewery, a brewpub in Daikanyama. Another SVB brewpub has opened in Yokohama.

The name derives from William Copeland’s brewery, which was a pioneer of beer production in Japan and became the genesis of Kirin’s own brewery in the early twentieth century.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

In July 2014, Kirin announced that Spring Valley Brewery would be a wholly new subsidiary, offering microbrews served at the two brewpubs sites.

The chic 200-seat Daikanyama space opens at a new development in the neighborhood called Log Road, located along where the tracks of the now underground Toyoko Line used to run.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

There are six brews on tap: 496, Jazzberry, on the cloud, Copeland, Daydream, and Afterdark.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

While the Daikanyama brewpub has opted for a wooden look, the Yokohama space is brick, in keeping with the spirit of the city famous for its foreign architectural styles.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub yokohama

Kirin has already experimented with craft beer-esque brews, including its Kirin Stout, so this isn’t such a giant leap for the 100-year-old company.

However, the major Japanese beer makers have been committing commercial suicide for too long. As young people drifted away from beer, their tactic was to create countless numbers of happoushu and daisan beers — fake beers, essentially — that got around the tax on beer and so could be marketed as cheap ersatz beer. As Japan continued to linger in recession, this worked to keep their annual sales afloat, especially as they were constantly devising new products to make mini spikes of interest. Beer became just another FMCG, as expendable and forgettable as any other snack in the convenience store.

Quality went out the window. Finally we seem to be emerging from this quagmire.

The initial response was “cool beer”, quite literally. Kirin and other major breweries started to market beer as a great drink for the summer through temporary drinking spaces in Tokyo. This was a big success and got younger consumers excited about drinking beer again, even if it was at “sub-zero” temperatures.

Concurrently we then started to see many types of “beer toys” from Takara Tomy and others, designed to help you create the experience of drinking freshly poured foamy cold beer at home or on picnic. The zenith of this was surely when Takara Tomy stepped in to make a product of the Frozen Beer Slushie Maker, which had previously only been available at Kirin’s special summer beer gardens.

kirin ichiban frozen beer slushie maker

And now we have come full circle: Kirin is a microbrewery again.

The Japanese craft beer scene itself has been around since the 1990′s. What’s really changed things in the past few years has been the explosion of craft beer bars, brewpubs and craft beer festivals all over the country, especially in the Tokyo area.

Yona Yona’s ales are now stocked in regular convenience stores and have their own plush restaurant in Akasaka. Even Shibuya got its own craft beer recently.

While sometimes the craft beers have wandered into the gimmicky, breweries like Coedo and Hitachino Nest have seen their beers acclaimed overseas.

Foreign breweries have noticed. Scottish craft beer maker BrewDog saw enough growth in Asia that it opened its a dedicated bar in Roppongi.

There’s an interesting parallel to this: Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser tried to muscle in on the craft beer market in America by appearing at fairs and events with its regular lagers, and has started buying up craft breweries. In response to the growing popularity of craft beer, it even resorted to mocking the culture with a snarky Super Bowl ad that prompted a backlash. Kirin, be warned.

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Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo hires Aiko Chihira, an android guide

Written by: William on April 16, 2015 at 5:08 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Meet Aiko Chihira. She speaks Japanese and wears a kimono. She greets customers and conveys information.

But Aiko’s not Japanese. She’s not even human.

She’s an android made by Toshiba and now she works at Mitsukoshi, the high-end department store in Nihonbashi.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Unfortunately she can’t converse or respond to questions, unlike the more interactive Nao humanoid robot, currently serving Mitsubishi UFJ bank customers, or Pepper, the friendly droid greeting visitors to Softbank stores.

But she blinks, bows, moves her (sorry, its) mouth and lips. She is programmed with human-like facial expressions and can offer a looped vocal guidance to department store customers.

For example, if you want to hear about the layout or an event, this robot will tell you.

She can even communicate in sign language, so at least the uncanny valley is barrier free for the deaf.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Toshiba describes her as the “quiet type” who is “happy to help people”. Something tells us there might be some male fantasies at play here…

Find Aiko on the ground floor of Mitsukoshi. Sadly, she’s not a permanent addition. She will only be “working” at the store on April 20th and April 21st. She is a promotional feature as part of a longer Toshiba event at the seventh floor Hajimarino Cafe from April 22nd to May 5th.

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Live-sized Patlabor model stands guard at Himeji Castle

Written by: William on April 16, 2015 at 9:03 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

How best to advertise road safety and an upcoming movie?

Easy. Stick a full-size replica of the animation character Patlabor AV-98 in front of a World Heritage site.

patlabor robot model himeji castle movie film promo

The Patlabor model is part of marketing for an upcoming live-action adaptation release of the Patlabor series.

On April 15th visitors to Himeji Castle got their chance to see the Patlabor AV-98 Ingram model up-close as it stood guard in a park in front of the famous white citadel.

The castle has only just reopened after a long series of restoration works. Since Patlabor is a police patrol machine, the local cops used the occasion to announce a traffic safety campaign, calling on bicyclists and motorists to drive with care. Apparently local citizen groups in Himeji saw that the Patlabor robot had been in nearby Kobe on April 12th and asked for it to be sent next to the home of the White Egret Castle.

patlabor robot model himeji castle movie film promo

The final episode in the film series, The Next Generation Patlabor: Shuto Kessen, will open at movie theaters in Japan in May. To promote the film the life-sized model used for the movie has been touring Japan, which is certainly one original take on the usual press junket.

The Patlabor model was also previously seen in Tokyo’s bayside area.

See more images on Getty.

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Funassyi Fantasy World: Funassyi’s first exhibition, at Shibuya Parco Museum

Written by: William on April 15, 2015 at 9:23 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Everything you ever wanted to know and see about Funassyi in one place? Then head to the Parco Museum at Shibuya Parco Part 1 from April 24th for “Funassyi Fantasy World”, the first exhibition by the insanely popular unofficial Funabashi City mascot.

funassyi fantasy world parco shibuya exhibition

The hyperactive yellow pear now has its own TV anime series and came out as a pacifist in front of the world press. Shibuya Parco also previously hosted a temporary Funassyi cafe last year.

“Funassyi Fantasy World” promises archive videos, photographs, toys, merchandise and more.

funassyi fantasy world parco shibuya exhibition

There is an interactive augmented reality booth where you can have fun with the giant yellow fruit, though that might freak some visitors out. Are we the only ones who sometimes find the mad jumping antics a bit scary?

funassyi fantasy world parco shibuya exhibition

This being a Funnassyi event, the organizers’ eyes are on the coffers, so there are plenty of tie-in products and merchandise for sale too, including Funnassyi gacha gacha vending machines with magnets and badges.

funassyi fantasy world parco shibuya exhibition

The exhibition is resident at Parco Museum until May 17th, before touring to Sapporo Parco (May 22nd — June 8th).

Entry costs ¥500 for adults but is free for kids of elementary school age or younger.

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Hikaru Skirt: The flashing costume (possibly) set to revolutionize music idol culture

Written by: William on April 14, 2015 at 9:24 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Self-indulgent geekdom gone mad or an inventive play on an otaku motif?

A little while ago there was some buzz about a “flashing skirt” created by Kamakura-based Kayac Inc’s Kiyoyuki Amano.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

The idea behind the Hikaru Skirt was to literally highlight the zettai ryouiki, the “absolute zone” — the area of flesh on a girl’s upper leg between her skirt and her socks. This is a common trope in otaku fantasies and Hikaru Skirt was playing on this by making a skirt that flashes in multicolor, drawing attention to the “zone” in a fun but hopefully not pervy way.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

It actually looks much cooler than it sounds and the public response was good.

Or at least, good enough apparently for this one-off project to evolve into a crowdfunding campaign to commercialize the idea. The aim is to get it out as a product by October 2015.

Will they succeed?

Well, only 16 people have sponsored the campaign so far — 7% of the required ¥3.9 million. But there’s still 49 days to go, so let’s not write off Japan’s designer geeks quite yet.

Judging by the official website, the makers have hopes that the Hikaru Skirt could be a game-changer in music idol culture. The flashing lights change automatically according to music and can be adjusted by your smartphone. Just charge up the skirt by USB and then it can go for 3 hours, which is more than enough time for a leisurely walk around Akihabara or Harajuku.

Here is the group Moso Calibration demonstrating the Hikaru Skirt in action.

Be prepared to pay ¥16,000 (about $130) to claim one of the first skirts as your campaign perk. Presumably if it’s a hit, it will be available more widely in the future.

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YouTube Space Tokyo and Toei open samurai drama studio for YouTubers to create own ninja movies

Written by: William on April 13, 2015 at 8:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Google Japan has opened YouTube Space Tokyo, a production studio for YouTube users to film, edit and create original videos.

Made in partnership with film studio Toei, the space also features a set that can be altered into four different period settings. Ever wanted to make a YouTube video on a samurai soundstage? Now’s your chance!

youtube space tokyo studio set samurai drama period jidaigeki toei roppongi hills youtuber

Or at least, it is until May 20th.

YouTube Space Tokyo is located on the 29th floor of Roppongi Hills and joins other studios in Los Angeles, London and elsewhere. It offers tutorials on sword-fighting, special effects and filming. Additional shoots can be done at Toei’s Eigamura in Kyoto, a kind of theme park cum film studio.

The soundstage is currently being used by popular YouTubers such as Asahi Sasaki, Chuck Johnson and Rin Rin Doll. You need to have over 5,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel to qualify (the more subscribers you have, the longer you can use the studio). For collaborations between several YouTubers, the studio can be rented for up to six months.

There are also workshops and a “creators’ cafe”, plus other events.

youtube space tokyo studio set samurai drama period jidaigeki toei roppongi hills youtuber

Toei is famed for its samurai dramas (jidaigeki), a genre usually associated with an older demographic. Now YouTube is making its young and funky again. It’s a notable collaboration between the leader of the digital revolution and one of the stalwarts of Japan’s conservative film industry.

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, YouTube has been heavily promoting local semi-celebrity YouTubers, hoping to harness grassroots support for the platform. Japan is YouTube’s biggest success story in Asia and it wants to build on its achievements with the help of Japanese-language online stars like Bilingirl, Hikakin, and Hajime.

While the samurai studio is only available until May, the YouTube Space Tokyo is not going away, so look out for more interesting tie-ups in the future.

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Iyashi Octopus Sucker Massager: An octopus pot fishing trap-inspired beauty tool

Written by: Japan Trends on April 10, 2015 at 10:05 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 4 Comments

We’re not going to lie to you: Japan has a history of producing some pretty unusual beauty gadgets. Some are hi-tech, some not so.

Much mocked it may be, the industry is never less than innovative and evolving.

The Iyashi Octopus Sucker Massager is another great example.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

It offers “skin suction” treatment with special suckers, similar to the kind that octopi have on their eight legs. Okay, if that sounds gross, then perhaps this item is not for you!

How does it work? Place your hands or feet inside to get a mini shiatsu-style massage from the suckers, which will “stick” to you and pull on your skin (painlessly, of course).

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

Or you can inverse it so you can apply the same stimulating treatment to your skin elsewhere on your body, such as your neck, arms, legs — or even your face.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

The suckers firmly but harmlessly “pull” on the skin, applying a massage that helps improve blood circulation and the flow of water in the layers of your skin.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

The design is actually inspired by the tako-tsubo, a type of earthenware octopus pot fishing trap used in Japan since the Jomon Period. We love the tongue-in-cheek marketing images!

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Narita International Airport Terminal Three for budget airlines opens with running track design, Muji furniture

Written by: William on April 9, 2015 at 8:53 am | In LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

Narita International Airport’s much-anticipated third terminal opened on April 8th.

Three years in development, Terminal 3 is exclusively for low-cost carriers and short-haul flights.

The design has been handled by Nikken Sekkei, who also designed Tokyo Skytree. The terminal also features furniture by Muji and creative direction by PARTY.

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party opens

The design concept was “more than 2 into 1″ (sic), a nod to how the terminal has been made with around half the budget ordinarily consigned to a new airport terminal construction project.

The floor of the terminal features blue running tracks (now you really can spring for your flight) and other minimal but striking flourishes. The designers wanted to create a positive impression of “low cost” and so opted for chic simplicity.

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party opens

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party opens

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party opens

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

narita international airport terminal 3 lcc budget airline running track design muji furniture party open

The development of Narita International has been immensely controversial. Ever since the site was first proposed it has been protested at every stage, especially by local farmer residents and left-wing activists. During the 1970′s in particular the demonstrations were violent and several people ultimately died, including police officers.

The new opening of the third terminal may be another small step towards realizing the full original plan of the airport. When it opened in 1978 it was ultimately reduced to a small fraction of its planned size. A second runway was added but a third is still stalled.

The government hopes Narita will become a hub for flights coming in and out of Asia. However, this dream is hampered by Japanese airports’ high landing fees and Japan’s location on the edge of the continent. Moreover, there is also strong competition from other passenger flight and freight hubs in Asia, such as Hong Kong or Incheon, as well as Tokyo’s original airport, Haneda, which also has international flights again.

Narita previously opened the “Kabuki Gate” at Terminal 1, featuring Kabuki costumes and props.

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Tokujin Yoshioka’s “Kou-an Glass Tea House” on show to public in Kyoto temple

Written by: William on April 8, 2015 at 8:42 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Tokujin Yoshioka is one of Japan’s most famous and popular designers, known for his use of transparent materials.

“Kou-an Glass Tea House” started life as a small-scale model at Glasstress 2011 at the 54th Venice Biennale.

Now a full-scale reproduction of the glass teahouse is on display at a temple in Japan.

tokujin yoshioka kou-an temple kyoto seiryuden shonen-in glass tea house transparent

Kansai Art Beat has more on the event:

Yoshioka has been interested in the Japanese conception of nature which is characterized by its distinctive spacial perception that involves the sensory realization of the surrounding atmosphere through what may be described as signs of energies or aura. Such a sensual appreciation of nature’s intrinsics and beauty can be recognized in Japanese tea ceremony practice.

Until April 30th, 2016 visitors can experience Yoshioka’s work at Seiryu-den, which is part of Shoren-in Temple.

tokujin yoshioka kou-an temple kyoto seiryuden shonen-in glass tea house transparent

The tea house has been installed on a platform 220 meters (721 ft) above ground, offering a stunning view of the old capital.

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