Meet Mariko Tsukamoto, the latest member of AKB48, aged 37

Written by: William on April 19, 2014 at 9:40 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

As previously reported on JapanTrends, AKB48 has recruited a new older female member for its ranks as part of a spring and summer campaign for Papico, an ice cream product by Glico.

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.

mariko tsukamoto akb48 idol housewife 37 years old

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.

mariko tsukamoto akb48 idol housewife 37 years old

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.

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Tokyo Dome City hosts TenQ space museum and planet earth theater this summer

Written by: William on April 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

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.

tokyo dome city tenq

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.

tokyo dome city tenq

Admission is ¥1,800 for adults. Pricy but it looks worth it.

tokyo dome city tenq

tokyo dome city tenq

And if you can’t get to Tokyo Dome City this summer for the event, you can always get yourself the next best thing, a Sega Toys Homestar Planetarium, designed by Takayuki Ohira.

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Fashion show held inside Keio Inokashira Line train in Tokyo

Written by: William on April 16, 2014 at 12:05 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

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.

kirarina fashion show train keio inokashira line tokyo

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).

kirarina fashion show train keio inokashira line tokyo

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.

kirarina fashion show train keio inokashira line tokyo

kirarina fashion show train keio inokashira line tokyo

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!

[Image via Asahi and FashionSnap.com]

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Despite ICJ ruling, Japan to resume “scientific” whaling in fiscal 2015

Written by: William on April 15, 2014 at 7:25 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

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.

japan whaling hunt scientific continue

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.

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Simulation video of Shibuya Scramble Crossing pedestrian smartphone chaos is online hit

Written by: William on April 14, 2014 at 7:25 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

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.

ntt docomo shibuya scramble crossing video pedestrian smartphone use simulation

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.

…However,
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.

ntt docomo shibuya scramble crossing video pedestrian smartphone use simulation

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.

ntt docomo shibuya scramble crossing video pedestrian smartphone use simulation

The video then shows the “chaos and comedy” in the 46 seconds until the lights turn red again, all recreated in memorable SIMs.

The results?

ntt docomo shibuya scramble crossing video pedestrian smartphone use simulation

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!

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US Embassy Tokyo creates “Noriko’s Study Abroad” drama series with yuru-kyara TOM

Written by: William on April 11, 2014 at 11:44 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Tears. Tantrums. And a yuru-kyara mascot character.

The Public Affairs Section/Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has produced a very original video promoting studying abroad in America. Noriko’s Study Abroad Story Episode 1 “I want to study in the U.S.” promises to be the first in a series of a drama episodes documenting the travails of a girl with her sights set on going overseas to learn more.

noriko study abroad us embassy

But rather than simply focussing on the “amazing experience” young Japanese men and women can have in the States, the approach is more domestic and realistic. It starts by showing the difficulties of persuading your father about the benefits of spending a year in the New World.

Here’s how they write it up:

Noriko is a Japanese college student who is thinking about studying abroad in the U.S. But when she tells her friends and family about her idea, their response is not quite what she was expecting…

But the biggest surprise is the yuru-kyara (mascot) who appears at the end to comfort the troubled girl and offer her some life lessons.

noriko study abroad us embassy

Noriko first announces her intention to study abroad in America to her parents but gets an obstinately negative response from her father. She then asks an older peer for help. But it’s not until TOM (“the U.S. Embassy Tokyo social media friendship ambassador”, a caption tell us) turns up that she gets some decent advice.

We don’t want to spoilt it too much. Take a look at the five-minute first episode for yourselves…

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Dance with idol Ayami Muto with this Ezaki-Glico Seventeen ice cream Shibuya vending machine

Written by: William on April 10, 2014 at 11:51 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Vending machines come in all shapes and sizes, and seem to sell everything from books to snacks, drinks, used panties and more.

But how about a vending machine that lets you have a private dance with an idol?

For one day only, Shibuya’s Marui City will let fans do just that.

It’s being organized by Ezaki-Glico, one of Japan’s biggest sweets makers, and especially as a promo for their long-standing Seventeen ice cream brand. While it is common to see Seventeen vending machines all over Tokyo, this is a whole new kind of experience.

ayami muto seventeen vending machine glico ezaki dance idol shibuya ice cream

The idol in question is a newbie, Ayami Muto, who is making her debut this spring.

On April 26th, brand ambassador Ayami Muto will be dancing on a big display on the Seventeen Ice Original Vending Machine, which changes depending on the flavor of Seventeen ice cream you choose. Ayami’s costume colors will also be different in each video to match the flavors, of which there are, not surprisingly, seventeen.

Dancers will have their movements digitally regenerated as computer graphics, to be put together later as a special animated video. If you dance correctly matching Ayami’s choreography then you can get yourself a complimentary ice cream — perfect as the weather turns hotter.

ayami muto seventeen vending machine glico ezaki dance idol shibuya ice cream

Vending machine boffins will probably have already spotted that this ice cream idol vendor is very similar to the Dance Dance Revolution vending machine from Coca-Cola that was a big hit in Korea in 2012.

Dancing with Ayami is free and Ayami herself is expecting to turn up in Shibuya as well at around 14:00, though we expect a dance with the physical idol might be asking too much.

Check out the vending machine from 11:00 to 19:00.

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Snoopy Chaya is a Peanuts-themed maccha green tea cafe in Yufuin, Kyushu

Written by: William on April 10, 2014 at 11:21 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Snoopy and green tea? Whatever will they think of next.

Actually, this isn’t such a big shock, since Snoopy is a popular character in Japan, though this is still a pretty original way to utilize the lovable Peanuts pooch.

Snoopy Chaya is a maccha (matcha) green tea-themed cafe opening in Yufuin in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, on April 19th. It will be serving up maccha sweets and cakes, as well as “Snoopy omelet rice” and a host of other things, including Snoopy merchandise.

snoopy cafe chaya green tea matcha maccha yufuin oita kyushu japan

While Charles M. Schulz may not immediately spring to mind when you fancy some “wa” deserts, this will no doubt prove a super popular eatery. This is being advertising as “shop #1″ so others may soon follow!

snoopy cafe chaya green tea matcha maccha yufuin oita kyushu japan

Check it out from April 19th at 1524-27 Yufuincho Kawakami, Yufuin City, Oita Prefecture.

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FamilyMart opens first combined convenience store-karaoke in Tokyo

Written by: William on April 9, 2014 at 12:01 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Take two things Japan does very well — and combine them!

Just when you think there isn’t much more room for innovation with the world of karaoke, along comes FamilyMart with a new branch, FamilyMart + Karaoke DAM Kamata Minamiguchi Ekimae.

The chain has got together with karaoke parlor Dam to launch this special half-conbini, half-karaoke singing joint at the south exit of Kamata Station, in west Tokyo. The 27-room parlor opens on April 17th and if it succeeds, it could be the start of a new business model.

family mart karaoke convenience store tokyo kamata

This isn’t just a collaboration between two service industry chains and a simple “combined facility”. They have come up with a way to fuse the services, so customers are now allowed to purchase food and drinks from the convenience store and then take them into the karaoke box. For example, normally at a karaoke parlor, you can only order from the menu — and sometimes they have complicated one-drink mandatory rules. Either way, the drinks will usually be pretty poor (watered down beer) and the food is of the deep-fried and fast variety. Plus it will cost you more than a convenience store, naturally.

This way you can get a bit more choice and things will be cheaper. The new store also presumably doesn’t need to hire more staff and set up extra facilities to handle the cooking and drink preparation.

After all, convenience stores in Japan already offer a host of services, from dry-cleaning drop-off and pick-up to ticket purchasing, paying for online purchases via Amazon and other vendors, courier drop-off, and even buying tickets for special garbage disposal.

Karaoke Dam has 369 karaoke parlors around Japan, while FamilyMart currently has over 10,000 stores nationwide. That’s a lot of chances, then

Brian Ashcraft at Kotaku ponders if the next step is allowing the karaoke singing to take place actually inside the convenience store!

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