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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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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More cast photos released for upcoming stage version of “Naruto”

Written by: William on January 14, 2015 at 8:02 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

More photos have been released for the upcoming stage musical version of beloved anime and manga “Naruto”.

“Naruto” recently ended its long, successful manga serialization, leaving the door open for a second life on film or stage.

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

As the publicity photos suggest, though, the new theatrical version has a grittier look than the manga. It is being dubbed a “live spectacle” rather than a play or musical, so expect lots of visuals rather than a sensical story.

Starring Kodai Matsuoka as Naruto, the jury’s still out on whether the adaptation will beguile or betray fans when the curtain goes up.

Starting in March, the production will tour four venues in Japan in Tokyo, Osaka, Miyagi and Fukuoka, before going on to Macao, Malaysia and Singapore.

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

naruto stage musical adaptation theater version costumes cast

Big-budget stage adaptations of manga and anime are a growing trend in Japan.

“One Piece” is being turned into a Kabuki play this autumn, while the spring sees “Death Note, the Musical”, with music by veteran American composer Frank Wildhorn.

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Tatsuo Horiuchi’s Excel Art New Year Card 2015 for the Year of the Sheep

Written by: William on January 7, 2015 at 8:47 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

The 74-year-old artist Tatsuo Horiuchi continues to prove that age and technology can mix very well, as can tradition and computer software.

Horiuchi might well be almost halfway through his eighth decade on this planet but he continues to wow people with his artworks created entirely using Microsoft Excel. Typically these are traditional Japanese landscapes, of the kinds you might find on a folding screen panel.

His beautiful Nengajo (New Year card) for 2015 put any postcards you might have purchased from a convenience store to shame.

Naturally he chose a lamb and sheep as the main motifs (2015 is the year of the sheep).

tatsuo horiuchi japanese nengajo new year card 2015 excel art

tatsuo horiuchi japanese nengajo new year card 2015 excel art

Forget spreadsheets, use autoshapes to connect and color custom shapes with Excel and the results can be this magnificent.

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

Horiuchi has been tinkering away at Excel art since his retirement and has even attracted international attention for his work.

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

tatsuo horiuchi japanese autoshapes microsoft excel art spreadsheet software

See more over on Tatsuo Horiuchi’s website.

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Will the Tokyo 2020 Olympics be the “eco Olympics”?

Written by: William on January 6, 2015 at 8:59 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

When Tokyo made its ultimately successful bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it emphasized how its Games would be compact and ecological.

The Olympic Village to house athletes for 2020 Games in Tokyo will be a futuristic “hydrogen town”. Power and hot water will be generated from hydrogen gas supplied by stations and pipelines built by the city in other locations. These would feed into a network of clean hydrogen energy fuel cells.

tokyo 2020 olympic games athletes village eco hydrogen power cells sustainable

But the “eco Games” have already been controversial, not least for the decision to award the biggest feather in the contractors’ caps — the new Olympic Stadium — to a foreign architect, Zaha Hadid, and for a design that looks like a spaceship. So much for the green Olympics. Outrage over the cost and size of the stadium, far in excess of the original allocation, has led to it being scaled back dramatically. That said, the new stadium is still going to cost $1.37 billion, possibly the most expensive stadium in the world. “We aim to build Japan’s National Stadium to boast to the world,” said the Japan Sport Council. Leading Japanese architects have instead responded that Hadid’s stadium is a white elephant, a “turtle”.

The existing national stadium is going to be demolished this month. The new venue was proposed because the current one does not meet Olympic standards nor is it up to today’s levels of anti-seismic safety.

tokyo 2020 olympic games athletes village eco hydrogen power cells sustainable zaha hadid national stadium design

Clean energy automobiles is one area that no one would dispute Japan has been a pioneer. Toyota has become the top car manufacturer thanks to its hybrid electric vehicles, while the Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling all-electric vehicle. This trend looks set to continue as we approach the Games. Toyota have just released the Mirai, a sedan that is world’s first mass-market fuel-cell car in Japan. Even the buses to transport athletes in 2020 will be hydrogen-powered.

tokyo 2020 olympic games athletes village eco hydrogen power cells sustainable

Sustainable energy is the elephant in the room in Japan. The immense furore over nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima crisis has turned the argument predominantly into one of the risks of nuclear power versus the need for the so-called “nuclear village” system, which was erected by the government in the post-war period. However, the real issue is not only if nuclear power stations, especially old ones built decades ago, are sensible in a nation with so many natural disasters. The task at hand is not so just clean energy for the 17,000 athletes living for a few weeks at Harumi, but green energy for the whole of Japan.

The Olympic Village section of the 2020 Games proposal specifically highlights the eco nature of the plan.

Construction of the Olympic Village will produce minimal greenhouse gas emissions through a comprehensive and verifiable greenhouse gas reduction plan. It will be developed in compliance with the Tokyo 2020 Sustainability Strategy, and the “Green Building Program” and the “Tokyo Vision 2020” long-term urban plan. The CASBEE Urban Development standard will be applied, and specific elements of the LEED ND (Neighbourhood Development) standard applied where practicable.

Since the Olympic Village site is a stepping stone in the “Wind Trail” described in “Tokyo Vision 2020″, it has been designed so comfort zone winds will easily pass through. Landscaping, green roofs and walls are actively planned. These efforts are also incorporated in guidelines of the TMG’s development programmes. Implementation of environmental measures will be an incentive for development in the private sector.

It goes further to discuss the legacy of the Games in terms of sustainability.

The Olympic Village will become an urban residential “smart city pioneer model”, where Japanese sustainability technologies are assembled.

In other words, the Village will become a model for further smart city development rolled out over the rest of Tokyo and Japan.

If the Tokyo government is sincere about this, they have a lot of work to do.

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Tokyo Cheapo’s Guide to Tokyo Love Hotels

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on January 5, 2015 at 8:51 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Selena Hoy first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

Ready for some lovin’? Perhaps you live in a guesthouse, a tiny apartment with paper thin walls, or with too many roommates/relatives/children/grandparents all up in your business, and not in a good way. You could go to a regular hotel, but respectability is boring. Plus, who doesn’t love mirrored ceilings, jacuzzi tubs, and complimentary flavored rubbers? Erhm…

tokyo love hotels

Enter the Tokyo love hotel, or rabuho (rub hotels?). Though this idea might seem sleazy to people used to the idea of no-tell motels back home, love hotels are super clean and used not only by trysting lovers, but middle-aged couples looking to get away from the live-in in-laws (and vice versa). Also called fashion hotels, couple hotels, and leisure hotels, these kitsch havens offer fun themed sleeping (or not sleeping) experiences for prices comparable to business hotels. Additionally, there are a few workarounds that can save you some extra yennies.

Who

While most Tokyo love hotels tend to be anonymous, often with no human interaction (other than with your special friend) during the transaction, there have been reports of some people being turned away for being not the “right” clientele. These stories of refusal include same-sex pairs, groups larger than two, and non-Japanese looking (or speaking) people. However, we have never been turned away, and have visited quite a few establishments.

tokyo love hotels

What

Love hotels can be identified by their creative names and kitschy façades. Witness: Hotel Casa Nova, XO Shinjuku, Casablanca Ikebukuro, Hotel Zebra, Ramses Club, Hotel Adore, Hotel Ring My Bell, need we go on? Often adorned with neon colors, and gaudy decór, most love hotels have some degree of boudoir fancy that makes them easily identifiable. Indoors, you’ll find rooms decked out with themed decorations (or bland themeless rooms if it’s really budget), fancy bathrooms with showers for two, jet baths, etc., and a TV stocked with all kinds of, ahem, special channels. Unlike biz hotels, you don’t have to pay extra for the juicier programs.

There will also sometimes be room service, vending machines with various toys, karaoke machines, disco lights, costume rental for some spicy cosplay, and more. We’ve stayed in rooms decked out with: flowers, figurines, and tinkly lullaby music playing overhead (creepy), a Chinese opium den themed room, a pole smack in the middle of the room, velvet paintings, the list goes on. The bathrooms tend to also be even more well stocked with toiletries than your average hotel: shampoo, conditioner, lotions, creams, hair products, and of course, contraception. Two seems to be the standard for free condoms, so if you’re planning a marathon, you may want to come prepared.

When

Rabuho famously have “rest” (休憩) times (lasting about 2-3 hours) and “stay” (宿泊) times (overnight). Rest rates start around 3000 yen, while stay rates are about two to three times that of stay. Check in times for a stay start pretty late – think 10 p.m. or even later, checking out around 10 or 11 a.m. One bargain to look for: “service” or “free” time (サービスタイム or フリータイム) is the best deal, typically because the hours are off peak/inconvenient. For example, taking a room from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. might be half the cost of the stay rate. Of course, rates vary by location, and you might not want to sleep the daylight hours away, but for night owls, dancing fools, all-night-karaokers, and people willing to mess up their circadian rhythms for a deal, service time just might be your jam.

tokyo love hotels

Where

These hotels can be found all over the city and country, but the biggest areas in Tokyo for concentrations of hotels are Uguisudani near Ueno (82 in the greater ward), the Dogenzaka “Love Hotel Hill” area of Shibuya (71), Shinjuku’s Kabukicho (94), and Ikebukuro’s East, North, and West Exits (108) according to Happy Hotel. The site (in Japanese) has a fairly comprehensive listing of hotels, with addresses, ratings, pictures, and even some coupons for things like free drinks or a thousand yen off the room price. But for the more spontaneous, a good bet is to just stroll around one of the districts, look for one whose aspect and prices fit your fancy, and saunter in.

tokyo love hotels

How

Love hotels can be identified not only by their fetching fronts, but by the signs advertising rest and stay prices. Once inside, you’re likely to encounter a big board with pictures of various rooms and their prices. Rooms that are lit up are available; if they’re dark, they are occupied. Choose a room, and either press the button on the board itself, or on a nearby machine. Occasionally, you will have to deal with a human to whom you’ll tell your choice, but the clerk will usually be behind a small window in a wall, with only hands visible. Eye contact is almost never made. Unless it’s an old lady at the desk — then brace yourself for awkward greetings and no less awkward thanks on the way out. But either way, your secrets are safe here.

Sometimes you’ll get a key, but often you’ll be directed to just go to the room, where the door will be unlocked. Once in, the door locks automatically. Some hotels do not allow re-entry, so when you leave, be ready to pay. Payment is usually at a machine: sometimes in the room, sometimes by pneumatic tube (yes, really), and occasionally through the tiny window with the floating human hands. Typically, payment is made on exiting, and they’ll charge you if you’ve overstayed. Sometimes though, you do pay up front.

tokyo love hotels

Finally, some hotels offer membership cards. Just like at the supermarket or the coffeeshop, you can earn points, discounts and free stays with your loyalty to a certain chain. Prices for these cards vary; some of them are free, while others take a small membership fee. Kind of a modern notch-on-the-belt (or bedpost) system. This will either give you great delight, or make you realize that you might save money moving into an apartment with thicker walls and fewer roommates.

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Christmas Eve in Tokyo celebrated by mass Santa cosplay in Shibuya

Written by: William on December 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

There is Christmas, and then there is Christmas in Japan.

Christmas in Japan is actually really all about Christmas Eve. And forget churches and family time. It’s more of a date night than anything, and the “traditional food” is KFC chicken and strawberry shortcake. And if you’re not confused enough already, a trip to Shibuya, as Kai-You showed us, will throw you into a cosplay bonanza that has very little to do with anything that happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

And as we saw with the Halloween celebrations in Shibuya, young Japanese Tokyoites will jump at any chance to dress up in costumes and have fun.

Here was Gravure model Misaki Shimoda leading the festivities.

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya misaki shimoda

And the line for KFC…

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya kfc chicken queues lines

Santa(s) arriving by motorbike.

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay motorbike

Among the crowds in Shibuya were many Christmas-themed cosplayers (Santa, reindeers, etc), though not all the costumes seemed to be right season.

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

christmas eve japan tokyo shibuya santa cosplay

All images via Kai-You.

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Japanese lesbian celebrity couple “marry” in Tokyo, want to adopt

Written by: William on December 22, 2014 at 8:41 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Former Gravure model and television personality Ayaka Ichinose (34) and actress Akane Sugimori (28) have announced that they are a couple and will marry in Tokyo next April.

This follows the news earlier this month that Hotel Granvia in Kyoto is offering a “gay weddings” service, in cooperation with a local Buddhist temple, joining Tokyo Disneyland in accommodating gay couples who want to marry in Japan.

japanese celebrity lesbian couple ayaka ichinose akane sugimori

Japan, needless to say, does not legally allow gay marriage, and so these “marriages” are all purely ceremonial. Article 24 of the Constitution of Japan is interpreted to mean only men and women may marry.

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.

While there are some famous openly celebrities in Japan — perhaps most notably Akihiro Miwa — Ichinose and Sugimori might be the only open LGBT couple in the entertainment industry. Ichinose came out in 2009 and met Sugimori at a gay bar in Shinjuku in late 2012. They also now say they hope to adopt a child, though again their chances here are surely slim.

Japan has a rich gay history but LGBT rights get short shrift in the mainstream media, despite some estimates that around 5% of the population may be a sexual minority.

In the recent Lower House election former Toshima ward assemblyman Taiga Ishikawa failed to become Japan’s first elected openly gay member of parliament.

In June a lesbian couple generated headlines when they submitted a wedding application to Aomori City, which was rejected on constitutional grounds. The 23rd Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in July included a reading of the play “8″ by Dustin Lance Black, which portrays the federal trial that led to the overturning of Proposition 8 in California. Could a similar court case in Japan be a possibility in the future?

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Top Google Search keywords and search trends in Japan in 2014

Written by: William on December 17, 2014 at 8:26 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Google has shared shared the top search terms in Japan for 2014.

google search keywords top results buzz trend japan 2014

Here are the top search terms, which were of course originally in Japanese and so vary slightly from the translation or English equivalent.

Overall Searchword Ranking

1. Yahoo
2. YouTube
3. Facebook
4. Weather forecast
5. Rakuen
6. Amazon
7. Pazudora (Puzzle & Dragons)
8. News
9. Yahoo! Auction
10. Twitter

Trending Words

1. World Cup
2. Yo-Kai Watch
3. Sochi Olympic
4. Typhoon
5. “Frozen”
6. Kei Nishokori
7. Yuzuru Hanyu
8. Dengue fever
9. Ken Takakura
10. Mt Ontake

Trending News

1. World Cup
2. Sochi Olympics
3. Typhoon
4. Dengue fever
5. Mt Ontake
6. Ebola virus
7. Nobel prize
8. Earthquake
9. Asia Games
10. iPhone6

Trending Males

1. Kei Nishikori (tennis player)
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (figure skater)
3. Ken Takakura (actor)
4. Ryutaro Nonomura (politician)
5. Takajin Yashiki (singer, TV personality)
6. Mamoru Samuragoch (composer)
7. ASKA (musician)
8. Sota Fukushi (actor)
9. Noriaki Kasai (ski jumper)
10. Robin Willians (actor, comedian)

Trending Females

1. Haruko Obokata (stem cell biologist)
2. Mao Asada (figure skater)
3. Ayaka Shiomura (politician)
4. Zawachin (celebrity impersonator)
5. Kanna Hashimoto (music idol)
6. Nippon Erekiteru Rengou (comedy duo)
7. Seiko Yamamoto (wrestler)
8. Takako Matsu (actor)
9. May J. (singer)
10. Keiko Kitagawa (actor)

Trending Deceased Persons

1. Ken Takakura (actor)
2. Ken Utsui (actor)
3. Eiichi Ohtaki (actor)
4. Takajin Yashiki (singer, TV personality)
5. Robin Williams (actor, comedian)
6. Keiko Awaji (actor)
7. Takako Doi (politician)
8. Junko Ouchi (fashion critic)
9. Yoshiki Sasai (stem cell biologist)
10. Akio Sanpei (writer)

Trending TV Dramas

1. “Hirugao” (Fuji)
2. “Ashita mama ga inai” (NTV)
3. “Hanko to Anne” (NHK)
4. “Gochisousan” (NHK)
5. “Shitsuren Chocolatier” (Fuji)
6. “Massan” (NHK)
7. “First Class” (Fuji)
8. “Roosevelt Game” (TBS)
9. “Kuroda Kanbei” (“Gushi Kanbei”) (NHK)
10. “Gomen ne seishun” (TBS)

Trending Characters

1. Doraemon
2. Jibanyan (from Yo-Kai Watch)
3. Funassyi
4. Pikachu
5. Kumamon

You can also check our round-up of the top trends of 2014 in Japan, as well as the Twitter buzz words.

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