The sad truth is that sometimes Japanese consumers are a simple bunch. Forget complex marketing strategies or clever stunts. The way to their hearts is just to put a famous person on the front of whatever it is you’re selling.
Hence why there are so many TV commercials and other ads featuring the same gallery of celebrities. Hence why Hollywood films will have some random Japanese model appear at a press conference to promote the movie. And hence why this free 126-page guide for Hiroshima Prefecture tourism has sold out immediately after it hit the shelves.
It was published and released on July 14th but reprints have already been ordered. How come? Well, in order to give the booklet a push, the folk at Hiroshima made the decision to pay a no doubt not inconsiderable pile of cash to have Perfume to appear on the cover, looking cute and pop like the trio of young girls always do.
Within two hours of launching the campaign website, they had already reached the limit for 2,000 reservations, and now the publishers are getting orders from book stores all over the country, desperate to get their hands on the rare booklet. The initial run of 50,000 copies is almost all gone and the next run won’t arrive until mid-August.
The idea to include Perfume in the “Nakeru! Hiroshima-ken” (literally, “Hiroshima Prefecture that will make you cry!”) booklet and campaign is not as cynical as it sounds, since the girls originally hail from the region (it does, though, time in nicely with the release of their latest single). They also appear in a short PR video and are interviewed in the book.
The best place to get a copy in Tokyo is from the TAU Hiroshima Prefecture Store in Ginza, though at time of writing it no longer has any guidebooks left.
We’ve long struggled to understand the popularity of Perfume. On a superficial level, they are hardly what you might think of as glamorous. Rather, like many idol groups, they are presented as “amateurs” and this is reflected in that basically only one could be called beautiful. But it also shows in their ultimately fairly limited abilities to sing and dance, let alone write their own songs. Their managers are savvy folk and know to employ talented people to make cool music videos and album covers, which raises their sophistication. But what is the appeal of the Perfume girls themselves? Clearly they must have something, as this latest development shows!
Now we just have to see if the Perfume effect can actually increase tourism in Hiroshima.
Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations on past traditions, along comes something that makes your jaw drop.
Makoto Azuma, known for his eye-catching botanical art work such as the greenery sculptures that decorated Shinjuku’s Isetan Department Store when it reopened in 2013, has taken things to the next level, stratospherically speaking.
While he has previous suspended bonsai in the air, this time round he actually launched a new piece called Exbiotanica into space. The two botanical objects were sent where no plant had gone before from a special site in Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nevada, on July 15th.
According to Spoon Tamago, Azuma and his ten-man crew, along with help from JP Aerospace (despite the name, actually US-based) and Fujifilm (thanks for the great images!), launched a version of his Japanese white pine work “Shiki” and an untitled flower bouquet into space using a helium balloon.
T Magazine describe the launch:
The expedition started in the dead of night, at 2 a.m. One hour later, Makoto was already building a bouquet with about 30 varieties of flowers. He started with an aerial plant tied to a six-rod axis and studiously added peace lilies, poppy seed pods, dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, bromeliads and a meaty burgundy heliconia. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said.
The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume. Makoto worked quietly, until the metal rods were covered completely with plants. Then he directed his attention to his bonsai. For this particular project, Makoto chose a 50-year-old pine from his collection of more than 100 specimens, and flew it over from Tokyo in a special box. While readying it for space, he kept it moist and removed a few brown needles with a tweezer.
The two helium balloons went up in the early morning, both covering the same flight path. The helium balloons then burst at around 90,000 feet and parachutes softened the impact after the two vessels fell back to earth. Sadly the dangling bonsai and the flower bouquet both disintegrated during the fall. The vessels returned safely but alas, not the foliage.
After first appearing in 2011 and proving a massive success in both 2012 and in 2013, the spectacular Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 is back. Exploiting Japan’s love of the decorative and the vibrant colors of kingyo goldfish to the max, the Art Aquarium event is popular with couples on dates and families looking for eye candy for the kids.
It opened for the fourth time at the Nihonbashi venue on July 11th. Last year’s edition achieved more than 300,000 visitors and this year the organizers surely hope to match this, pulling out all the stops with 5,000 goldfish and even new aquaria that use mirrors and lens called Paradoxrium and Reflectrium.
Technically speaking, there are two events: Art Aquarium is open from 11:00 to 19:00 while the Night Aquarium is from 19:00 to 23:30. As we said, the two main targets here are surely families and couples, so from 19:00 the lighting and music change, and visitors are allowed to take around drinks with them. There will also be live music from 19:00 on weekends. In other words, expect things to feel more romantic from the evening.
Themed around Edo and the goldfish motifs that populate art from the period, the aquarium is very much steeped in the tones of Japonism. It’s only a small coincidence that the venue is in Nihonbashi, an area that was instrumental in the Meiji and Taisho eras as Tokyo modernized.
There are many different kinds of aquaria featured in the exhibition, from balls to folding screen shapes, and complete with outlandish names like Elegance Dance, Bonborium, and Byouburium. You can see a slideshow and bilingual descriptions on the Art Aquarium website.
Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 runs until September 23rd at the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.
Part gothic Lolita, part heavy metal, Babymetal have just appeared at Sonicsphere along with the likes of Iron Maiden. The three-piece is SU-METAL (16), YUIMETAL (15) and MOAMETAL (15), who certainly know how to scream.
i-D claims that Babymetal’s “eponymous debut album headed straight to the top of the charts worldwide, with a unique sound that merges Slayer with the very best dance mat anthems.” Well, we’re not sure they have their facts right (top of the charts worldwide?) but we like their enthusiasm. “It is awesome. With an incredible energy and a performance unlike anything you’ve seen before, a new legend is born.”
Here are some extracts from the “giggle-filled interview ahead of the band’s very first, very sold-out, London show.”
How was Sonisphere?
SU-METAL: It was the first time that we performed on such a huge stage so before we went on we were very nervous. The audience cheered lots so it made us very happy.
I heard that you performed on the same stage as Iron Maiden, who you’ve said before is your favorite metal band, how was that?
SU-METAL: We actually stayed on to watch their performance and we were like “did we really just play the same stage as them?!” It was really unbelievable.
You met some legendary metal bands too!
SU-METAL: Yes! Backstage at Sonisphere we were wearing BABYMETAL tshirts that reference classic metal bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeath, so people recognise those and come to talk to us. So we took photos with some of the artists which was really cool.
Tell us about the fox god…
SU-METAL: We don’t really know what the fox god like because we’ve never met it, but we always have this message from this little master and we act accordingly. So we’re doing this European tour because of the calling. We’ve managed to achieve so many things that we would never even have dreamed of, so we really feel that there is a fox god leading us.
How does metal music make you feel? Angry? Powerful?
SU-METAL: It is more to do with my relation to the music, but whenever I perform it’s different to how I feel normally. I’m quite shy myself – I don’t actually go out dancing and headbanging but when I become SU-METAL and perform, it’s not embarrassing anymore. So when I perform, there are new discoveries in myself.
You’re supporting Lady Gaga. Are you excited?
SU-METAL: We’re all so excited! It still feels like a dream.
Her sound is very different to kawaii-metal, how do you think her fans will react?
SU-METAL: You’re right — in terms of music we’re completely different, but we ourselves didn’t know about metal music before Babymetal. When we first heard it we thought ‘what the hell is this?!’ but found it very interesting and enjoyed it, so I think the fans of Lady Gaga who don’t normally listen to metal music might feel the same way as us.
If you weren’t in Babymetal, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
SU-METAL: Just going to school and studying like ordinary kids. I don’t think we’d have the opportunity to go abroad or anything like that.
Which characters do you think you’re most like?
MOAMETAL: My favorite animation is “Love Live” and there is a character called Honoka Kosaka and I think I’m most like her, but who I aspire to be like is Nausicaa from “Valley of the Wind”.
YUIMETAL: I would like to be the Little Mermaid so I can live in the sea
SU-METAL: I would like to be the lead girl in Mama-Mia because she’s such a positive thinker.
This is the trailer to the band’s world tour, which kicked off in March in Tokyo.
Two years ago, in a country far, far away… It is a period of pop music. Rebel idols, striking from a hidden base in Japan, have won their first victory against the boring music empire. During the battle, the kitsune-sama fox god revealed his ultimate weapon, BABYMETAL, a kawaii-metal band with enough power to drive the metal resistance and restore musical freedom to the galaxy…
i-D magazine has been a stable for over 30 years now, famed for its wink-and-smile front covers and its coverage of the world’s fashion elite.
Transformers, Anime in Disguise: Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot is an amazing six anime character combo!Written by: Japan Trends on July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments
While the latest Michael Bay Transformers movie is shooting up the box office around the world (though not yet in Japan), it’s worth taking a look at a pretty spectacular local Japanese version. A veritable manga character Transformer!
Celebrating 80 years since the birth of Hiroshi Fujimoto, one of the manga-writing duo Fujiko Fujio, here is Bandai Tamashii’s Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot! We don’t know how to begin describing this. It is made up of SIX Fujiko F Fujio (Hiroshi Fujimoto) characters that combine into one model. The “SF” in the name stands for both “sci-fi” and “sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious), while “Chogattai” is a play on the name of the series (Chogokin) and means “super combo”.
How’s your anime and manga character knowledge? How many of the “parts” can you name?
Okay, here’s a spoiler: The cast is made up Doraemon, Dorami (Doraemon’s sister), Perman, Korosuke (from Kiteretsu Daihyakka), Chinpui, and Gonsuke (from 21emon).
If you wondering what that big thing the Chogattai is carrying, it’s artist Fujimoto’s iconic red beret hat and pen. Another accessory included is the popular time machine from the Doraemon series.
This rather strange but also rather awesome model/toy will get a release in late November.
Chogokin (literally “super alloy”) is a series of die-cast metal toys and models that first appeared in the late 1970′s. It’s pretty geekily Japanese — after all, who names a series after a fake material?! It is undergoing something of a revival at the moment. It’s the 40th anniversary of the model series owned by parent company Bandai, who now release the series through its Tamashii arm.
In recent years Chogokin has only been known for superior scale models of bullet trains, GX-64 Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and other modes of transport. However, of late we have seen an incredible Chogokin Hello Kitty there are more original releases to come, it seems. Look out for a Chogokin model based on the iconic Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamoto!
We remember the good ol’ days when every tech blog was keen-eyed for the latest development from Japan, when mainstream newspapers at least partly seemed to take Japanese fashion seriously, and… well, when our job was way easier! It’s so much harder these days to get other folk excited about Japan, even with the Olympics a few years away and the government’s mega-budget “Cool Japan” juggernaut apparently running at full steam. Japan just ain’t cool anymore.
But Monocle disagrees: Monocle loves Japan. The magazine of choice for hipsters, sophisticates and pseuds has an obsession with things Japanese — well, at least, that certain kind of highly curated and orchestrated “design” world Japan. It might not have anything to do with how ordinary Japanese people live their lives but Monocle at any rate adores Tokyo’s pristine and over-priced coffee shops, its toniest of tony boutiques, the design for exclusive clients by the likes of Kengo Kuma, and so on.
Its issues invariably feature a dose of Japan content from both Tokyo and the regions, and in the past it has put out a mini select store in the FrancFranc in Aoyama and even set up a Monocle Cafe in Marunouchi.
Founder Tyler Brûlé once mused to The Japan Times about what it is that he loves about Japan.
Tokyo is a city with a 24-hour metabolism. Customer service in Japan has an enthusiasm, a sense of “going for it,” that’s consistent. Whether it’s in a convenience store or a hotel, there’s an attention to detail. In the West, in too many cases, doing things “quickly” has become “slapdash.”
Now Monocle is on a mission: to save the Hotel Okura.
The magazine has launched an online petition to have the famous hotel saved from demolition.
It’s the “final checkout,” as they say.
News that Tokyo’s iconic 1960s Hotel Okura is to be reconstructed has been met with outrage from admirers of its unique design. While Tokyo’s changing skyline is what makes it special, demolitions like this threaten its architectural history.
The Hotel Okura is one of the great symbols of Japan’s postwar recovery, along with the Shinkanzen bullet train and Tokyo Tower. It opened two years ahead of the first Tokyo Olympics and its recent guests have included President Obama.
In September 2015 the best bit of the most loved hotel in Tokyo will be torn down by its owners to make way for a 38-storey glass tower. It will be a heartbreaking and irreparable loss.
The 550-room hotel will open 2019, in time for the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo Olympics. Though the 1973 Okura annex will remain, we can bid farewell to the murals, the wood, the tuxedos (on the staff), and the folk art motifs.
As a devotee of Japanese aesthetics, Monocle is taking the redevelopment very personally:
The demise of the Okura is akine to the loss of a good friend. Tokyo will not be the same without it.
As well as this online endeavor, Monocle’s current July/August issue is running a generous six-page photo report paying tribute to the Okura and showcasing the efforts to save it.
Sign the petition on savetheokura.com.
An exhibition based on the massively popular manga “One Piece” scheduled to take place at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul from July 12th has been canceled, it was announced on July 10th.
Organizers said they have made the decision after people realized that numerous motifs in the original manga were reminiscent of the Rising Sun flag, a symbol of Japanese militarism and which has a particularly painful resonance in Korea, a country which suffered from decades as a colony of Japan.
The TV anime version of “One Piece” has already been broadcast in Korea and so the content of the exhibition had previously been judged as harmless, according to the museum. As such, they agreed to rent out a section of the venue for the event. However, after being told that Rising Sun Flag images appeared in the original manga they changed their minds, although no such images were featured in the actual planned exhibits. As the museum is run as a public organization funded by the state they had no choice but to cancel the exhibition.
Like in Japan, Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” is popular in Korea and the exhibition, along with sketches and other materials, was going to feature life-size models of the characters, bringing the world of the manga and anime to 3D life for visitors. It would have been very successful too if early numbers are anything to go by. The events company behind the show said it had received reservations alone from 5,000 people! Not surprisingly they are now looking for an alternative venue for their exhibition since there is clearly demand for it, regardless of the politics.
While it might seem inappropriate or even bizarre to hold a mainstream exhibition (i.e. a piece of entertainment) like this at a war memorial in the first place, the Seoul venue is actually very large and has multiple spaces for all kinds of functions and events.
A similar exhibition opened recently in Taiwan, also a former Japanese colony, apparently without similar issues.
Noriko Takasugi’s “Fukushima Samurai” photography series documents quiet dignity of Japan’s disaster survivorsWritten by: William on July 11, 2014 at 8:41 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
Photographer Noriko Takasugi has devoted herself to going in search of modern-day “samurai” in the devastated region of Fukushima in northeast Japan.
Her “Fukushima Samurai” series, though, is far from being just a cosplay gimmick. It’s a story of identity. As the artist says: “Since 2011, I have devoted my time to capturing the survivors of 3.11. While I am listening to their story, I could not ignore the unique spirit emerging in these people. These photos are part of my long-term project that differs from the major news stories about the disaster, having been investigating the evacuees not as victims, but as part of a 1,000-year-old folk culture of the area and representative of Japanese identity, examining how they are surviving and fighting their fate to retain their sense of self.”
With a background in clinical psychology at Waseda University and training under Daido Moriyama, Takasugi is one of eight photographers engaged since 2011 in the “Fukushima Photo Project”. Her own contribution looks at identity and the relationship between man and the environment.
Her project focuses on participants in Soma-Nomaoi, an annual celebration in Fukushima that is 1,000 years old. The high point of the famous three-day festival in the district sees horsemen dressed in traditional samurai gear race against each other.
The resulting work, “Fukushima Samurai”, is available as a photo book and is an exploration of Japan as a “hidden world” of ordinary human warmth and triumph in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. As Takasugi notes, Soma-Nomaoi “is not just an event but also an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. Here, the samurai way of life, Bushido, corresponds to the concept of chivalry. This sense of identity represents how and why, they live.”
The series of portraits of these unbroken men, still intent on participating in Soma-Nomaoi in spite of the hardships they have faced (death, radiation, the destruction of their homes and businesses), is a quiet reflection on masculinity and the dignity and tenacity required to overcome adversity. It might not be the Hollywood version of the samurai spirit but it’s there all right.
As Takasugi says:
The Nomaoi Samurai warriors portrayed here were once residents in the area close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant but they are no longer allowed to live there. Each of them stands in the places that had a personal meaning to them in the area.
Nomaoi Samurai who stand here were the residents of the area near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They are unable to live there anymore but are able to enter the territory during a day. The Nomaoi men took me to the restricted area, to the places personally meaningful to them, reviving memories of home.
Armored from head to toe with inherited familial flags hanging from their backs, five hundred samurai storm forward recreating a battle scene. Soma-Nomaoi is an annual celebration of samurai culture in Fukushima more than one thousand years old.
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 caused widespread destruction including the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. About two thousand people died in Fukushima, eighty per cent of whom were from the area where the Soma-Nomaoi is held. Due to the radiation, the people were forced to relocate the day after the disaster, with many indefinitely losing their houses, land and jobs.
Despite the harsh conditions, loss of lives and loss of hundreds of their horses and much of their armory, the majority of the surviving Nomaoi men agreed to hold the gathering in 2011, just a few months after the disaster.
Having spent a month with the local people between summer and autumn 2012, I believe Soma-Nomaoi is not just an event but an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival. This unique sense of identity represents not only how, but why, they live.
“It has been tough working there since the disaster,” said one of the portrait subjects, “but I could survive because of Soma-Nomaoi.”
If you’re in Tokyo, be sure to check out Takasugi’s series of “Fukushima Samurai” at the Konica Minolta Plaza until July 14th.
JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing designWritten by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.
Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.
Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).
The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.
JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.
Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.