It’s long been no secret that otaku and other “undesirables” are targeted by overseas governments keen to suppress what they consider a subculture that veers into the realm of “child pornography”.
However, now even a harmless example of inventive merchandising has come under threat.
An otaku apparently tried to use a special decorated The Idolmaster (Aidorumasutā) credit card in America but was suspected of fraud because the card contained “cute” pictures and might be mistaken for a “toy”.
Apparently, the otaku’s bank Mitsui Sumitomo then vouched for the authenticity of the card and the otaku was allowed to escape the clutches of the anti-moe brigade.
It has to be said, though, that the sources of this story are from the Japanese interwebs and we cannot verify this with any original news story from America.
This is an awesome innovation on what many people would say is a dying medium. And the best thing about it is that it doesn’t resort to digital or technological gimmicks. It just takes two very analogue things and makes them even better.
Mieru Record is a combination of a music box and a manga comic strip. With the former you usually have a cylinder, but there are types which use a punched tape strips of paper for the music box to “read” as musical notation, like the book music read by mechanical organs.
Mieru Record, a project which explores ways to fuse sound and manga, added manga cells to the music box punched tape strip, creating a manga music box organ, the Mieru Record with Otowa.
In other words, it is a book that you listen to — and music that you read.
The idea is that the sounds and music accompany the manga strip both in terms of the melody and also the speed. As you turn you control the speed of the soundtrack, which in turn controls the speed with which you read the manga images that are revealed.
See how it works in practice with this video. Note how you slow down to read the parts with dialogue and then speed up over the more visual cells.
I guess this is like the pianists who used to accompany a silent film back in the days before talkies.
Mieru Record is a project that started earlier this year and this Mieru Record with Otowa is still only a prototype, so don’t expect it to be on sale any time soon.
It worked with seven manga artist to create the music box’s music roll paper, and the results were exhibited in a book store and gallery in Tokyo over the summer.
With more sophisticated music roll strips and organs we reckon you could create all kinds of audio manga experiences.
Omotenashi means “hospitality” and that is what we know and love Japan for. But, of course, this is not where the dreams of a tolerant and friendly society end. If you have ever visited or lived in Japan and you proudly have a tattoo you might well have experienced discrimination you have never even thought of. Fitness centers, public bath houses, swimming pools and even parts of public beaches are increasingly refusing access to people who have a tattoo.
While years ago this illegal “rule” was just limited in some way to family spa lands and some more private clubs, it has now spread into public areas, and even international hotels such as the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo are refusing access to their spa facilities unless you are wearing a full-cover body suit to cover your tattoos. Asked for the reason, the official statement of a Ritz Carlton Executive in Tokyo was: “It is a Japanese custom and we respect it”.
I see. As a German I cannot help remembering the history lessons we had to endure over and over again at school. For so many years we barely learned anything else than about our terrible Nazi history not so long ago. We saw Jewish people getting refused access at first, later to be branded with first stars on their cloth and then tattooed numbers. We saw pictures of them walking and living separately from us “Aryan” Germans. Of course it did not end with the Jewish people. Basically anybody that could possible harm the society (which one?). And it was a lot. In the end we killed 6 million people and we could have surely killed more if we had not run out of cash that we stole from the people we killed and put into camps.
Anyway, when I went to stay in South Africa for a year at the age of 17, Apartheid was still in bloom, also we could think it was the final bloom. Nevertheless, i saw people separated by skin colour when they entered buses or went to toilets. In good establishments you would barely see a “kaffir” (black person) except as a waiter. It was quite an experience to be thrown back into history and just a few years later experience the fall of apartheid. Nelson Mandela died a couple of days ago. Thank you for what you did!
Japan, I love you! But what are you doing? Have you not learned your history lessons? Do you really want to go down that road?
We could argue that tattoo is a symbol of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, which had its high time back in the 1980′s. People are scared of them and the tattoos make them feel uneasy during relaxing time at the spa or in the gym. People fear for their kids, so they have a special space where people with tattoos are not allowed.
Ok, just the fact is that there are barely any incidents where “normal” (non-Yakuza) people are involved. Yakuza incidents are usually limited to within their groups and even the definition of Yakuza is very fuzzy. Many of the Yakuza do not have tattoos and some could pass as a normal salaryman or bank manager from their appearance.
In any way, a tattoo is hardly a way of recognising a “bad person” (悪い人). And even if that person might be a “bad person”, it does not mean that he (or she, in fact… the rule applies also to the ladies) will in any way interrupt the business or annoy the other guests.
Japan, this is discrimination and I would like you to stop it. Also, by the way, it’s against the law. Please consult your lawyer.
It might be hard for you to think that you can just change a rule like that overnight. Ok, take your time but start today. You have six more years to go before the whole world will be looking at you. When world-famous athletes and millions of foreign guests will flock to Japan. To experience the Olympics but also a country that is admired in the West for its hospitality and kindness.
Foreign media will report about every little corner and cultural aspects and you can be sure that refusing entry to foreign visitors to onsen (hot springs), one of Japan’s most valuable tourist assets, is not going to stand good in the light of an open, global society.
Thank you so much for your consideration!
Can you tell which is the “real” Gaga in this picture?
Here’s the official description:
Japan’s latest and finest technologies were put into the creation of the “GAGADOLL”. It’s the world’s first life-size human-shaped listening station that closely resembles Lady Gaga. The bone conduction system enables one to listen to her songs and message.
The “GAGADOLL” was inspired by the concept of “ARTPOP” and this masterpiece made by Japan’s master craftsmen has been highly-praised by Lady Gaga herself.
Orient Industry are more craftsmen than “adult toy” manufacturers, and their commitment to extreme detail and realism is legendary. From movable fingers and eyes to a myriad variations in body, bust and face, they provide customizable life companions for those who dare to desire one.
The Gagadoll is not on sale but it can be booked for events and appearances, according to the official website.
ARTPOP opened at number one in Japan and no doubt this marketing stunt can’t have hurt sales.
Every year the publisher Jiyukokuminsha picks the word or phrase that has apparently created the most hype or buzz during the past twelve months.
You can read an excellent overview of the buzzword candidates over on Nippon.com.
But we finally found out the winner yesterday and it was surprising because it wasn’t one word — but four, the first time in prize’s 30-year history.
So, what beat “Abenomics” — the prime minister’s dubious fiscal policy — or “Kontororu sareteiru” — the prime minister’s even more dubious boast to the IOC in Buenos Aires that Fukushima was “under control”?
Well, these four contenders, that’s what.
This phrase was made famous by the popular NHK morning drama Amachan, set in the world of pearl divers in northeast Japan. It is an expression of surprise in the Iwate dialect.
An Olympic-themed one, where newsreader-turned-tarento Christel Takigawa used the phrase (meaning “hospitality”) as a concept buzzword promoting Japan. Takigawa’s presentation at the IOC has no doubt meant a massive financial boost to her career too.
A more esoteric one meaning “double payback”, it was popularized by the Hanzawa Naoki, a TV drama about a banker. We guess it didn’t help that Hanzawa was played by actor Masato Sakai.
“How about now?” might sound like a rather anti-climatic example of a buzzword, but then you haven’t thought about the hype created by university cram school instructor Osamu Hayashi, who has been featured in mountains of TV commercials this year.
So TV or televisual buzzwords seemed to have the most impact this year, ahead of more general social phenomenon or memes.
On November 23rd, Studio Ghibli’s latest film Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) was released in all theaters across Japan.
I have already seen a number of reviews so far, most of which are specifically focused on how different the film looks, compared to other Ghibli works from the past. But I would like to take a different approach.
Director Isao Takahata is famous for his depiction of real life, while his longtime friend and another Ghibli guru Hayao Miyazaki uses fantasy as a basic setting of his stories.
“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is based on a Japanese folktale from the tenth century called Taketori monogatari – or ”The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. It’s a story about an old bamboo cutter who finds a tiny baby girl inside a bamboo stalk and together with his wife raises the baby as his own. The girl grows up to be a woman of ordinary size and of extraordinary beauty. She is approached by a number of suitors, but she somehow manages to reject all proposals. Finally, she reveals her biggest secret to her parents that she was sent from the moon as a result of some “promise” that she made and must return there. In the end, an emissary from the moon takes her back to where she belongs, leaving everyone in tears. It definitely doesn’t sound like a happy ending, doesn’t it?
One could easily argue that this film might be the most “fantastic” of Takahata’s all past works. Yet the primary focus of the story is not the encounter between humans and aliens but answering many questions of why. Why was she sent from the moon in the first place? Why was she sent to earth? Why was she so sad when she left earth? Why did she need to return?
The tag line reads “The crime and punishment of a princess”, which implies that this is not a simple feel-good story of a lunar princess who comes down to experience life on earth. Takahata says in one interview that the earth and the moon stand opposite from each other: while the moon might represent sanctitude but without any color or life of its own, the earth is full of life, hardships – and joy.
If the earth was considered ultimate hell where all sinners are sent to serve their sentence, Princess Kaguya would be happy to return home, which is obviously not the case here. Perhaps this is where he portrays realism over fantasy, in an imaginative story setting where he suggests that life on earth might at times be too cruel, yet it does have something that even heavenly beings from above envy.
Sometimes I just wonder.
Japan is such a small country (geographically speaking, at least), so why do they even have to divide themselves into forty-seven prefectures and compete against each other? Recently I wrote a post on the result of recent survey which basically defined Japan’s most and least attractive places. The battle of yuru-kyara mascots is another means through which we get to know the undiscovered parts of this string of islands. Maybe we are all subconsciously waiting for super heroes who could represent all that Japan has to offer and unite us all together.
And One Piece might just offer the gang of heroes to do it.
Now that the manga series has sold over 300 million copies, One Piece has no doubt proven its worth to be the ultimate representative of all prefectures in Japan. In the 3-Oku [300 million] campaign, forty-seven characters from One Piece appear on ads in local newspapers to represent each prefecture in collaboration with various local specialties, events and tourist destinations across the nation.
Although almost all the featured items in these ads can be seen on the cover of major guidebooks, it’s a new approach that each prefecture is taking to show what they are proud of — whether it be the Tokyo Skytree (above), the hot springs of Gunma, Nebuta Festival of Aomori, Sasakamaboko (fish cake in the shape of a bamboo leaf) of Miyagi — or wara natto (natto wrapped in rice straw) for Ibaraki (below), recently announced the most unappealing prefecture in Japan.
About two-thirds of the ads have been revealed on the website so far, and we have yet to see the remaining works.
In addition to newspaper ads, One Piece posters can be seen on the walls of seven major stations across the country (Sapporo, Sendai, Shibuya, Nagoya, Umeda, Hiroshima and Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin) from November 4th to 26th at intervals of a week or so.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the manga, I do have to admit that One Piece is loved by so many that it has the power to surpass regionalism, which sometimes can get really ugly and messy.
Nippon TV’s Song for Japan might seem like a typical singing contest except for the fact that none of the contestants are Japanese. It’s a contest that is exclusive to foreigners, presumably for the purpose of showcasing gaijin singers on stage first and foremost, for the entertainment of the Japanese. I consider this program to be more like a talent show rather than a singing competition because it’s not really the vocal skills that contestants are judged on — but on how well they can impress the audience with their unusually Japanese language talent, to say the least.
It’s one thing to say that we Japanese all love anyone who is genuinely interested in Japan and willing to show their love of Japanese songs. But why does the contest need to be so segregated, as if to say that one must first prove themselves alien to this country?
Often on the show we hear comments from the judges saying how perfectly a contestant can sing in Japanese. They say it with such good-hearted spirit it’s as if they feel grateful for foreign singers who remind them once again of just how great Japan is. To me, this sounds a little fake, as if the entire show is scripted. They called for foreigners who love Japanese songs, so they simply got what they expected. OK, maybe enough about the contest.
Some of the winners from past contests have gone on to their professional debut in Japan.
Chris Hart is perhaps one of the best vocals in Japan’s music scene today.
On October 30th, his latest single “Yume-ga-samete” was released from Universal Music Japan, a duet with Japan’s all-time queen of music idols, Seiko Matsuda.
Diana Garnet is another winner of the contest who recently made her professional debut on the label Sony Music.
And now Nicholas Edwards has released his first mini-album “Skies”, which hit the shelves on October 9th courtesy of Warner Music Japan.
We’ve all seen Jero, an American enka singer who found himself at the center of media attention not necessarily for his singing talent alone but rather for the novelty of being the first black enka singer ever. This catchphrase, by the way, was repeatedly used in a variety of media coverage, which no doubt made him experience both the best and the worst of being a foreign singer in Japan. He is actually one of the very few foreign singers who made a success here.
The Japanese would surely praise anyone who shows their love of J-pop and Japan through singing, but things become a little different when it comes to business. Are they good singers because they are foreigners singing in a non-native language or does their singing talent come first? That’s what they have to prove themselves once they pass the first phase of fame.
Out of all forty-seven prefectures in Japan, which do you think is the most appealing?
Since 2006, Brand Research Institute has been conducting an annual survey, one of the biggest kinds in Japan, to make a ranking of all the prefectures in Japan based on their attractiveness. Survey participants are asked to answer questions on various factors that help determine how attractive and appealing a place is, such factors being its degree of recognition, its exposure, the impressions you have of it, your willingness to travel or move there, or purchase local specialties.
The top five prefectures come as no surprise. Hokkaido is once again awarded the title of the most appealing prefecture in Japan, the title it has owned since the research started. Kyoto comes in second, followed by Okinawa, Tokyo and Kanagawa. We would probably get the same list of prefectures (though the order might vary a little bit) if we asked the same question anywhere in the world.
In fact, it’s not only the top ranked prefectures that catch our attention. The bottom ones often become a topic for discussion as well. This year, Ibaraki made a “comeback” as the most unappealing prefecture in the country, jumping down from being 46th place last year. Ibaraki in fact had ranked 47th for three years in a row from 2009, which ironically made the prefecture famous as the most likely candidate to get the dishonorable title of the most unattractive prefecture in Japan.
What’s more, its reclaiming of the lowest rung comes only a few months months after Ibaraki launched a big campaign in July this year to promote itself, with the cheerful (or self-deprecating?) choice of Yoshimoto‘s two young comedians, Yuji Ayabe and Naomi Watanabe, both of whom are from Ibaraki.
So what do they do now?
Don’t you (dare) look down on Ibaraki! says their new slogan, though the tone in the original is softened by the heart symbol in the middle. Ayabe and Watanabe are once again facing the desperate need to show what Ibaraki has to offer to the rest of the world, other than being the all-time favorite for a booby prize.
Located in the northern part of Kanto, Ibaraki has yet to prove its worth against its flashy competitors in the region. If Andes Quincy melons, Hitachi Autumn soba and Hitachi beef are not good enough, then how about a visit to Kairakuen Park or Fukuroda Waterfall? Japanese netizens seem to love the underdog spirit shown by this new campaign, and Ibaraki is already creating a big buzz on the web.
So far their new strategy is working just fine, but will they be able to make a jump up next year? Or the real question is, do we want to see them move up in the ranking? Already we are finding ourselves more and more attracted to this prefecture, so who cares if they climb a bit in the rankings?
As with anything, how we look at things means much more to us than the things themselves, don’t you think?