Justin Bieber visits Yasukuni Shrine: “Thank you for your blessings”

Written by: William on April 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm | In CULTURE | 4 Comments

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.

justin bieber yasukuni shrine visit tokyo

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.

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3D ice sculptures from Suntory Whisky cool your drink, look amazing

Written by: William on April 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

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?!

suntory whisky 3d ice cube rock sculpture shoe temple

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.

suntory whisky 3d ice cube rock sculpture statue of liberty shoe

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.

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Ear Scope Windows by Coden — the hi-tech mimikaki ear pick for cleaning your ears

Written by: Japan Trends on April 22, 2014 at 10:49 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

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 ear scope windows clean ear pick camera

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 ear scope windows clean ear pick camera

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.

coden ear scope windows clean ear pick camera

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 Ear Scope Windows by Coden is available from JapanTrendShop.

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Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha closes down

Written by: William on April 21, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

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).

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

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.

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

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.

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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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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!

[Images 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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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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