Rakuten Box: Rakuten offers lockers for anonymous package delivery, pickup

Written by: William on January 27, 2015 at 8:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Rakuten, the world’s most successful badly designed virtual mall, continues its march into all offline walks of Japanese life. After opening a cafe in Shibuya last year, now it offers a collection service using lockers at stations.

It has teamed up with Japan Post to set up lockers inside Tokyo post offices, as well as 50 other places around the country where customers can collect the item they purchase on the online market.

It ran a trial of the enterprise last year in Osaka and the response was good enough to expand it nationwide. There is a need for the service because sometimes people who live alone are not at home enough to be able to accept deliveries easily — they might prefer to accept a parcel from a locker near their work or college. Likewise, the Osaka trial showed that there are many young women who would prefer not to have delivery men come to their home address.

rakuten box lockers pick up delivery

Rakuten is here using the lockers the Japan post office already offers in around 30 post offices in Tokyo for its own delivery services.

When you purchase something on Rakuten (domestic sales only), you will be able to choose the lockers as a delivery option using Japan Post’s Yu-Pack service. You are emailed a notification and password when the package is placed in the locker, and only you can input the passcode to open the locker. The lockers can hold the delivery for three days, after which unclaimed items are removed.

“Rakuten Box” sites will be set up at 50 locations around Japan over the course of 2015, including at major train terminals. These will function in the same way as the post office lockers, and will surely be popular with people who want to pick up a parcel on their way home from work or college. The lockers don’t yet have refrigeration functions so you cannot use the items for certain food or drink orders.

Currently you can already send packages from all convenience stores and also pick up deliveries at some. With this service, though, the process becomes even more private, which certain kinds of people may prefer or may prefer for certain types of orders.

The service starts in April so look out for Rakuten-branded lockers. The Rakuten Box units may also be popping up in many kinds of locations in the future. Rakuten hopes they will be installed in other shops (there is no fee) so we can likely expect to see them in convenience stores in the near future.

Image source: Tsuhan Shinbun

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JR Ultraman stamp rally: In search of retro monsters at Tokyo’s train stations

Written by: William on January 26, 2015 at 8:43 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

You might think in our CGI world today there would be no time for retro science fiction where guys dressed up as hairy monsters and others as suited superheroes. But you’d be wrong.

Ultraman remains popular in Japan. And we don’t just mean that the old episodes are getting DVD re-releases. It’s popular in that you get an Ultraman Monster Bar, Ultra Seven hashed beef, and even Ultra Seven designer eyewear.

The latest is an Ultraman stamp rally at JR East stations in Tokyo and surrounding areas, running now until February 27th.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

Each of the 64 stations has a different station with a character or kaiju (monster) from the Ultraman universe. Collect ten stamps to claim an original Ultraman pog. There were other merchandise prizes but they’ve already been snapped up. Collect all 64 stamps and get a special item of memorabilia from the Tokyo Station concierge.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

There is also a lottery with further prizes for small numbers of rally finishers. Well, the prizes aren’t jaw-dropping — but they are not the point. People love the challenge.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

We’ve personally seen people queuing to get their Ultra stamp at some of the major stations that the the “goals” for the rally.

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

ultraman stamp rally jr east station train kaiju monster retro science fiction

Stamp rallies are common in Japan, loved by train enthusiasts and kids alike. The JR Yamanote line has a well-known permanent stamp rally where each station has a nice stamp with its own history. Temporary stamp rallies like this one are usually part of a promotional campaign for a mall or certain area to boost visitor numbers, such as a commercial district in a port.

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Five Historical Facts You Might Not Know About Akihabara

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on January 23, 2015 at 7:49 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

With its profusion of shops selling manga and games along with the ubiquitous maids trying to lure you to their cafes, Akihabara has become one of the most distinctive and interesting parts of Tokyo. It wasn’t always like this though. Here are what we consider to be some lesser known historical facts about Akihabara.

akihabara tokyo night
Source: Warren Antiola on Flickr

1. It Hasn’t Always Been Known as Akihabara

The Akihabara name only came about after a major conflagration in 1869 which cleared the once densely populated residential area leaving an open field which was retained as a fire break. Initially, it was actually known as Akibabara. The current pronunciation dates from the twentieth century.

2. “Electric Town” Started as a Black Market

After World War II there was a demand for radios and radio parts — met by open air vendors in Akihabara. This unregulated market was eventually brought under control by the Douglas Macarthur led GHQ, but the trend was started. The outdoor stalls moved indoors into dense alley-like malls. While many of these have disappeared, you can still see some on the left as you leave Akihabara Station from the electric town exit.

3. Akihabara was the Scene of One of Japan’s Biggest Mass Killings in Modern Times

At midday on Sunday, June 12th 2008, a solitary attacker drove a 2-ton rented truck into a crowd in Akihabara. He then jumped out of his vehicle and proceeded to stab people indiscriminately. In total, 7 people were killed and 10 were injured. One of the consequences of the attack was that the “hokousha tengoku” (pedestrian heaven — the closure of Chuo-dori to vehicular traffic so pedestrians can walk freely in the road) was suspended until 2011.

4. It was a Major Source of Income for the Aum Shinrikyo Death Cult

A normal weekday commute turned into a nightmare for thousands of people riding the Tokyo subway when the Aum Shinrikyo cult launched a sarin gas attack on multiple trains on the subway system. 13 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 were injured. Later, it was discovered that a major source of income was a successful Akihabara-based computer business which sold cheaply assembled computers. Since members lived communally and without money, Aum was able to assemble the computers more cheaply than anywhere else.

akihabara maid cafe
Source: Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr

5. The First Maid Cafe opened in March 2001

The very first cafe which kicked off the craze was Cure Maid Café which opened (and remains) on the sixth floor of a nondescript building just off Chuo-dori. The maid craze was allegedly inspired by the frilly but form fitting uniforms worn by the waitresses at the American-inspired Anna Miller restaurants that used to be dotted around Tokyo. Although the maid craze has died down somewhat, there are still dozens of cafes in the area — each trying something slightly different in order to stand out.

If you’re interested in Akihabara, Tokyo Cheapo is releasing a Cheapo’s Guide to Akihabara. You can find out more here. The guide is free to download on January 23rd.

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Islamic State (IS) threat to kill Japanese hostages quickly inspires social media meme spoofs

Written by: William on January 21, 2015 at 11:11 am | In CULTURE | 3 Comments

Well, it didn’t take long.

The threat by IS to execute two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, in retaliation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge in Israel to help fight Islamic terrorism has already inspired an internet meme.

It comes amidst speculation that the original video posted by IS is actually a fake. In it, Goto and Yukawa are dressed in orange jumpsuits while a knife-wielding man says they will be killed unless a $200 million ransom (the amount Japan committed to fight IS) is received within 72 hours.

is terrorist capture japanese kenji goto haruna yukawa execute ransom

The hashtag #ISISクソコラグランプリ is seeing a lot of spoof images featuring the posing alleged Islamic State militant and his two captives, but with “extra” flourishes. (The meme hashtag — “shitty collage grand prix” — is a common one for sharing funny images online among Japanese netizens.)

These are a few of the many examples that have appeared so far, some of which are very inventive.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof disney

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

Here the hostages hold point cards for an electronics store.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof yodobashi camera point card

Now the three have become the big personae non gratae of 2014: scientist Haruko Obokata, politician Ryutaro Nonomura, and composer Mamoru Samuragochi.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof Haruko Obokata politician Ryutaro Nonomura composer Mamoru Samuragochi

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

Surely this isn’t allowed for an Islamic State soldier? They are holding Tenga “onacup” sex toys!

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof tenga onacup

Two of the three have become certain famous North Koreans posing for a photo.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof north korean kim

Their faces are now decorating an itasha.

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof itasha

Dreaming of okonomiyaki

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof dream okonomiyaki

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

islamic state japanese hostages meme internet spoof

When two lives are potentially in the balance, is this incredibly coldhearted? Or is it the only possible reaction to such a mindless act as to threaten to murder two innocent people for something their government has done?

Arguably, if the IS video does turn out to be a fake, then laughing at the extremists is the best policy. But if it’s real and Yukawa and Goto are killed (or are already dead), then the joke will definitely no longer be funny.

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Ieyasu Tokugawa canned eggplant and miso meat sauce celebrate 400 years since death of Shogun

Written by: William on January 21, 2015 at 8:48 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Cultures usually mark important anniversaries with a ceremony. In Japan they produce special food… in a can.

2015 is the fourth centenary of the death of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun and whose rise to power signalled in the start of the stable Edo Period. To celebrate, Hagoromo Foods, probably most famous for their “sea chicken”, has created two special canned dishes with ingredients related to Ieyasu.

The “meat sauce” cans feature either eggplant or haccho miso, which is a specialty of Aichi Prefecture.

tokugawa ieyasu hagoromo shogun meat sauce eggplant miso food canned

Priced ¥800, the cans are being sold only in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures from January 16th.

Each can is 250 calories and serves 2-4 people.

The eggplant might sound a bit random but it’s associated with the idea of hatsuyume — the first dream of the year. Apparently the first Tokugawa ruled was fond of eggplant, along with Mt Fuji and falconry. So if in your first dream of the new year you see all three, then you are in for an auspicious twelve months.

tokugawa ieyasu hagoromo shogun meat sauce eggplant miso food canned

Canned food in Japan can be pretty awesome, even the stuff sold at the convenience store. You can also spot some pretty original canned offerings at vending machines, including soups and desserts.

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Nico Nico Douga Self-Switching-Off Robot: A gloriously “useless” gadget

Written by: Japan Trends on January 20, 2015 at 8:31 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

One of the top Japanese internet memes of the past few years finally becomes a real product.

The Nico Nico Douga Self-Switching-Off Robot was created by user Kairoshi as a video uploaded to his Nico Nico Douga channel. It is a “pointless” gadget: you flip the switch on top of the black box and then a hand appears to turn it back the other way. That’s it.

nico nico douga self switching off robot gadget japaanese

It apeared at the Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Symposium in 2013 and spawned many more videos like the one below.

Now this “useless” gadget that turns itself off has become an actual product so you can recreate the eternal battle of man versus machine.

It’s only been made in very limited numbers so don’t expect it to last very long.

Of course, the boffins among you will already know that Kairoshi’s gadget is a rift on the Ultimate Machine created by American mathematician Claude Shannon in the 1950′s. This plain box, conceived with Marvin Minsky, also switched itself off but otherwise did “nothing”.

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JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Face Pack turns Hirohiko Araki manga into skin care tool

Written by: Japan Trends on January 19, 2015 at 8:57 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The makers of the Kabuki Face Pack just keep on finding new source material for skin care tools that blow all the competition out of the water.

Combining Japan’s love for dressing up (cosplay) with its robust beauty industry, the face packs by Isshindo Honpo have so far featured the likes of Cats, Ueno Zoo animals, and even Hollywood ghouls.

jojos bizarre adventure face pack beauty skin care tool

Now comes two face packs inspired by the popular manga and anime series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

jojos bizarre adventure face pack beauty skin care tool

The JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Face Pack is a genuine beauty tool, like regular face packs designed to reinvigorate your skin and help fight the signs of aging.

This time the masks are based on the Stone Mask and the Star Platinum. As JoJo fans will know, the Stone Mask was featured in the first story in the JoJo series, while the Star Platinum is the Stand of Jotaro Kujo, from Stardust Crusaders.

jojo bizarre adventure stone mask

The pack includes both masks… so which do you want to be?!

cat_tights

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Shikumi Design launches Kagura, a futuristic gesture-controlled musical instrument system

Written by: William on January 16, 2015 at 8:36 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The Bridge has shared a story about Fukuoka-based startup Shikumi Design and their futuristic musical instrument, Kagura.

While the name might imply traditional Japanese music, the “motion perform instrument” system is anything but historical, allowing you to “play” it intuitively through gesture recognition.

kagura motion perform instrument shikumi design gesture recognition

The makers describe as an instrument that “makes it possible to perform music by moving your body, without touching anything.”

It uses a patented technology that recognizes human movements and gestures so that the user can perform music freely.

It generates new music performance with visual effects.You can also append your voice to Kagura, arrange the tempo of music and where to put the sounds on the screen. And you can enjoy all of them by your gesture with the Intel RealSense 3D camera.

As The Bridge writes:

The Kagura app won the grand prize at the Intel Perceptual Computing Challenge competition in 2013. The new version introduced at this time has been upgraded to support Intel RealSense 3D, a new technology available on PCs from Lenovo, Acer, and others, enabling an app to understand and respond to natural movement in 3D with a built-in camera.

However, vision analysis for playing instruments is conducted in 2D, so if you are satisfied with playing instruments only, the app can work with any Windows PC with a built-in camera regardless of whether it supports the RealSense technology.

Currently it is designed for 64-bit Windows 8.1 only, but sure a Mac version is coming soon? iOS and Android mobile versions are also in development. Otherwise, all you need is the app and a webcam.

There is no limit to how many people can “play” it at the same time, though the makers recommend one or two maximum, since it can only recognize two hands simultaneously.

Where can expect to see the Kagura? Well, at special live events, perhaps, since it will be ideal for taking the role of the DJ or VJ to the next level.

Here’s an earlier prototype they made showing how your dance creates music and graphics.

Let’s have this in the 2020 Olympic opening ceremony please!

Learn more and download the app on the Kagura website.

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High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar is Shinjuku/Yoyogi co-working space storing LP records for customers

Written by: William on January 15, 2015 at 8:28 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Music media Spincoaster has launched a new crowd-funding campaign on Makuake to create a music bar they claim is the world’s first to focus on LP and high-resolution audio.

Seating 17, the High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar will play LP records at the request of customers and offer a “record keep” service where customer’s records can be stored for safekeeping at the bar.

music-bar-spincoaster-hi-res-analog-1

This later service may seem strange to an outsider but in space-strapped Tokyo, it makes a very cool alternative to a storage unit rental. (In this way, it reminds of the “library bar” in Shibuya that also had a successful crowd-funding campaign last year.)

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

The makers are also selling the Music Bar as a daytime co-working space — a growing trend in Tokyo — with free Wi-Fi and fixed seats. The evening will see it transform more into the “bar” of its name.

At time of writing, they have already exceeded their initial funding goal of ¥1 million (about $10,000) with nearly 90 supporters, and with more than 36 days still to go they are continuing to collect funds. It seems Tokyo has enough analog music fans to keep this bar in business for a while.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

It will open at the end of March, four minutes’ walk from JR Yoyogi or JR Shinjuku stations.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

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