Business giants and celebrities in Japan take on the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

Written by: William on August 28, 2014 at 10:40 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

It seems that you can’t claim to be famous these days unless you take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

In Japan there have been a fair few big names enjoying the fun of the charity campaign this month. While Ayumi Hamasaki and other pop stars nobly undertook to get drenched in cold water, the biggest headlines were actually generated by businessmen accepting the 24-hour challenge.

Most notably, buckets of cold water were dumped on SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son (and Japan’s richest man) did it, as did Yasushi Akimoto, the head of the company behind AKB48, Akio Toyoda (of Toyota), and even Kumamon, the regional mascot for Kumamkoto Prefecture.

softbank masayoshi son ceo ice bucket challenge als japan

Masayoshi Son was the only major businessman we know of in Japan who had the guts to pour the water over himself. We’d expect nothing less from the self-made millionaire. However, we presume that the SoftBank Pepper robot, a celebrity in its own right now, is safe from the water? Who knows what it would do to the circuitry.

This video features a roundup of the most famous Japanese celebrities taking on the ice bucket challenge.

Other local celebrities who have taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge include figure skater Mao Asada, singer Kaela Kimura, EXILE’s Takahiro, and AKB48′s Mayu Watanabe, as well as figures from the worlds of sports, rakugo, tennis, politics, comedy and more.

There is a timeline of some of the significant Japanese ice bucket challengers on Jonathan Axup’s blog. We’re still waiting for the Prime Minister to comply!

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Funassyi fans! Head down to Funa Cafe in Shibuya Parco for dishes dedicated to the pear mascot

Written by: William on August 21, 2014 at 12:10 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Funassyi just can’t be stopped. The pear (nashi) character that famously started off as an unofficial yuru-kyara mascot for Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture has become so popular that he now has his own cafe, the Funa Cafe.

He came out of nowhere in 2012, ranking a mere 506 out of 865 regional mascots from around Japan in one major “mascot contest”.

Funassyi is now on TV regularly, he has launched a veritable industry of DVDs, CDs, magazines, photo books, toys, games… everything.

Why is he so successful? Well, he can jump very high and pretend to play the guitar. And that’s about it as far as his special skills go. But perhaps it’s because he started off as an unofficial city mascot and people embraced the yellow underdog.

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

In September you can get a taste of Funassyi at the Funa Cafe in Shibuya Parco Part 1. Opening at The Guest Cafe & Diner on September 2nd and running for a limited time only until September 30th, customers can enjoy drinks, food, sweets and more, all with a Funassyi twist.

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

Take a look at these pictures and you’ll get an idea about how inventive the Funassyi-themed menu is!

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

The organizers have gone to a real effort here, creating a host of pear dishes and drinks, everything from pear juice soda to noodles. There will also be around 30 special items on sale, including aprons, mirrors, and more.

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

funa cafe funassyi shibuya parco mascot tokyo

It’s actually the third themed cafe of its kind at the venue, following the wildly popular My Melody Cafe and Kiki and Lala Cafe which saw lines three hours long. It’s also a recreation of the Funa Cafe that appears in a picture book published by Parco.

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Stay in a Hello Kitty hotel room at the Tokyo Keio Plaza in Shinjuku or Tama

Written by: William on August 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Recently many people were excited by the artist-designed rooms at the Park Hotel Tokyo that let guests stay in spaces incorporating calligraphy and matsuri-inspired colorful murals. We’ll have to wait until 2016 for that project to be completed, when there should be an entire hotel floor of customized art rooms.

But if Hello Kitty is more your thing, you’re in for a real treat if you stay at the Keio Plaza Hotel in either Shinjuku, central Tokyo, and Tama, west Tokyo.

hello kitty hotel room keio plaza tokyo tama shinjuku

There are two types of rooms: Kitty Town and Princess Kitty.

Kitty Town is a pop design more suited for friends and families to stay in, while the Princess Kitty is filled with pinks and reds, and is probably better suited to couples or female guests who want to feel like a princess.

hello kitty hotel room keio plaza tokyo tama shinjuku

The Keio Plaza Shinjuku features four rooms of both designs (eight rooms in total), while the Keio Plaza Tama has four rooms in the Kitty Town design only.

Reservations will be taken from September 1st. The rooms at the Shinjuku Keio Plaza cost ¥71,000 (around $700) for 1-3 persons. The Keio Tama Plaza rooms cost ¥28,000 (around $270) for single individuals, ¥31,000 (around $300) for two, or ¥35,000 (around $340) for three. (Prices are not including service charges or tax.)

hello kitty hotel room keio plaza tokyo tama shinjuku

The Keio Plaza Tama is also near Sanrio Puroland, the theme park for Sanrio characters like Hello Kitty, so we can see the hotel rooms being very popular with visitors wanting to give their day in the world of Sanrio a perfect finish.

Hello Kitty is on a mission for maximum exposure this year as it’s the fortieth anniversary since the Sanrio cat character came into our lives. So far we’ve seen Hello Kitty launched into space (!), a Hello Kitty train in Wakayama, and a tie-up with the Chogokin model series.

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Hello Kitty in space: Japan launches Hodoyoshi satellite with popular Sanrio cat character on board

Written by: William on August 15, 2014 at 8:25 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sometimes it can seem that Hello Kitty, Sanrio’s popular cat character, is everywhere. Her cute iconic image adorns a nearly Mt Fuji-sized mountain of merchandise, from clothes to books, pens, gadgets and even vacuum cleaners.

But Hello Kitty just went one, astronomical step further. She has now headed into space. Going boldly where no Japanese kawaii character has gone before, Hello Kitty has been sent into space on a government-funded mission.

Following in the wake of another example of Japanese culture that recently entered space (bonsai plant sculptures!), the government is apparently so keen on its Cool Japan campaign that promotes the nation through the soft power of “cute” pop culture and subcultures that it wants to advertise this even to extraterrestrials. (Okay, we’re joking. The ostensible goal of the stunt is to encourage private company investment in satellite technology and research.)

hello kitty launch space satellite hodoyoshi japan

Kitty-chan (well, a 4-cm [1.6"] Hello Kitty figure) is on board the Hodoyoshi-3 satellite, which is 50 x 50 x 70cm (8 x 8 x 28″) in size and costs $40 million. Hello Kitty has pride of place looking out of the window down at Earth and all her admirers. The satellite launched back in June but only this week did the organizers manage to get the right image of Kitty on board with the Earth in the background.

The special Hello Kitty in space website declares: “Hello Kitty is standing by to deliver your messages from space.” Sanrio has asked fans to submit 180-character messages on the theme of “Thank You From Space” for Kitty-chan to “send” to us earthlings. Ten messages will be selected from entries and transmitted once per day in late August and early September. Submissions can be made in English or Japanese. There will be then be another round of submissions in September with a different theme for the messages.

Hello Kitty is on an all-time exposure high at the moment, with Sanrio launching a tidal wave of campaigns and tie-ups as part of a 40th-anniversary celebration. Examples include a special Hello Kitty train in Wakayama and a remarkable Chogokin “robot” model.

Incredible as this news is, though, it is apparently not Hello Kitty’s first mission into space.

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Gay Japanese photographer Ryudai Takano’s “obscene” artworks censored by police

Written by: William on August 14, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Local police in Nagoya have demanded that the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art remove 12 artworks by Ryudai Takano that depicted male genitalia.

As first reported by Art Info, the action came after members of the public claimed some of Takano’s artworks were “obscene”.

Takano, who is openly gay, is taking part in the group show, “Photography Will Be”, which includes 150 photography and film exhibits by nine major Japanese photographers.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

The museum has not complied with the police but instead proposed to cover up the “offensive” exhibits with a kind of veil.

Takano, no doubt aware that you should only pick the fights you can win, agreed to the museum’s idea. “These photos express the subtle, delicate sense of distance when one person touches another. There is no violence here. Instead of concealing this intervention made by the public authorities, I wanted to make it visible.”

In Japan, the depiction of genitalia is ostensibly taboo, as dictated by the conventional interpretation of a law introduced when Japan was westernizing and attempting to imitate the “morality” of Europe and America. This is why pornography is pixellated and why typically even mainstream films have scenes with full-frontal nudity similarly obscured. The latter has eased recently for scenes that are obviously comedic in tone.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

Freedom of expression in art is not protected in Japan, despite the immense flourishing of creativity in all fields and concomitant strength of cultural industries like cinema and publishing.

However, there are double standards. When there was a vogue for “hair nude” photo books — i.e. full-frontal, non-censored photography — a few years ago, there were no issues preventing the major release of books featuring the likes of Rie Miyazawa and other famous actresses au naturel. Photographers like Kishin Shinoyama who have stuck to depicting women, especially celebrities, fully nude have usually be able to escape the censor.

But if you are a female artist or gay male, it’s a different matter. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) in July sparked worldwide attention, not least because her “crime” was to turn her genitalia into digital data that could be distributed. Igarashi was practically unknown at the time but has since rocketed to fame. However, even being established in your field does not guarantee protection. Gay Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee, well used to shooting stars for major contracts, found himself in trouble with the police for showing male genitalia in a Tokyo gallery. He was arrested, along with his gallerist and publisher.

And yet Japan has one of the largest porn and adult industries in the world, stores like Condomania prominently and proudly stand on Omotesando, and sex toy brands like Tenga are now known across the globe. Isn’t this missing the woods for the trees?

Censorship and police crackdowns are nothing new. Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s artists would find themselves in the dock for depicting sex or nudity. The most notorious cases are the obscenity trials for the films “Black Snow” by Tetsuji Takechi and “In the Realm of the Senses” by Nagisa Oshima.

But as the late Oshima defiantly said in court: “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.”

“Photography Will Be” runs, in its censored form, until September 28th.

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Japan Twin Tail Association’s drop pigtail idol group launches official online shop

Written by: William on August 13, 2014 at 11:30 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Remember the intriguing Japan Twin Tail Association that we reported on back in May? That was when the organization launched its own pigtail hair idol group called drop.

While this may all sound very esoteric (and very Japanese), apparently drop and other “twin tail” merchandise are so popular that they have launched their own official online shop now. If you’re surprised, bear in mind that Twin Tail Japan has almost 40,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 16,000 likes on Facebook (a LOT more than JapanTrends!).

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

Using the free Japanese EC platform Base, you can now get yourself drop goodies like iPhone covers, towels, bags and clothes.

So do you want your own drop t-shirts? By the way, they costs $100 each!

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

We’ve not sure how drop’s actual idol music career is padding out — the trio made their live concert debut in July — but they seem to have a busy calendar, with more events coming in August in Shibuya and elsewhere. What do you think of the girls’ talents?

But if the drop apparel and other merchandise doesn’t take your fancy, how about a book of photos with pigtail cuties armed with machine guns? Yes, it really does exist.

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

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Kentaro Kobayashi’s stage design celebrated in exhibition at Spiral

Written by: William on August 12, 2014 at 11:42 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Spiral Garden in Omotesando will be celebrating the stage design work of protean Japanese comedian, actor, writer, director and artist Kentaro Kobayashi.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

The “Art Made by Kentaro Kobayshi for Comedy Skits and Theatre” exhibition and will feature Kobayashi’s designs for his theatre work and his comedy shows, including costumes. Running from September 19th to October 5th, visitors can enjoy props, sets, pictures and more. The exhibition is free of charge.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art
 
Kobayashi is most famous overseas as one half of comedy deo Rahmens with Jin Katagiri.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

Rahmens were responsible for “The Japnese Tradition” (watch below), an hilarious parody of “this-is-Japanese-culture” videos, and also for the Japan version of those annoying Get a Mac Apple ads (he played the laidback Mac).

Kobayashi is the driving creative force behind Rahmens, though, and he also has a prolific solo output, including theatre shows, manga and more. In a marked different to other peers working in comedy or even in stage entertainment, Kobayashi trained as an artist. He studied at Tama Art University and as such his work often features elaborate sets and props, and sometimes bravado sketches interacting with digital media.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

Here are a couple of famous examples, Hand Mime and Drop.

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Sasebo schoolgirl killing prompts cancelation of anime series “Psycho-Pass” episode

Written by: William on August 1, 2014 at 4:02 pm | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Japan has been reeling the last few days in the wake of the Sasebo schoolgirl murder in which 15-year-old Aiwa Matsuo was killed by an unnamed classmate, possibly helped by a friend. The victim was reportedly dismembered and decapitated in the perpetrator’s home.

Sasebo is a small city in Nagasaki that by coincidence also had another horrific school student murder ten years ago. The new incident, as shocking as it is, may well ignite a moral panic as is so often the case, though for now TV broadcasters are rushing to respond appropriately.

psycho pass episode cancel sasebo murder killing anime

As part of this, one seemingly harmless piece of entertainment found itself comprised over unfortunate coincidences in its content and the Sasebo killing. The result was that an episode of the anime series “Psycho-Pass” due to air on Thursday was canceled since it featured a storyline eerily similar to the recent Sasebo incident. In place of the fourth episode of the “Psycho-Pass” Extended Edition series, Fuji TV aired episode five instead.

Art imitates life, as they say, though in this case perhaps it was a case of animation being too close to life. The unaired episode of the crime series apparently featured a schoolgirl who was also dismembered and decapitated, and then displayed like a kind of sculpture.

The “Psycho-Pass” website says there are no plans at present to broadcast the canceled episode.

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Japanese vagina artist Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) launches “deko-man” artwork sale to pay legal bills

Written by: William on July 30, 2014 at 10:50 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It garnered headlines worldwide and made a fringe figure the talk of the town. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) on July 12th ostensibly for “distributing obscene materials” after she made data for a 3D printing of her genitalia available to supporters of her crowdfunding campaign ignited a scandal.

She was arrested by ten (yes, ten!) officers, sparking a serious debate over whether she was being punished for being a woman who dared make a thing (literally) out of her you-know-what. There is also the question of whether art was being censored by the state, not to mention how in a nation with a mammoth sex industry, a correspondingly vibrant adult toys market, and the per-capita largest porn business in the world, why were the police so bothered about one woman making a kayak out of her genitalia? And any cursory glance at Japanese mythology or historical art genres like shunga prints would convince you that sexual liberty and nudity should form a healthy part of society.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

But this is contemporary Japan, which has a long history of double standards in this area. Although there have been countless full-frontal photography books featuring female celebrities over the past decades — strictly speaking, showing genitals or genital hair is interpreted as “obscene” — and released into the mainstream to great success, last year Leslie Kee was arrested for exhibiting images of naked men in Tokyo. Freedom of expression is not protected for artists and, for example, a couple of years ago a major performing arts event in Tokyo (name retracted on recommendation!), upon being told by the city that they could not allow a public festival to program sexually explicit work, had to ask a director to re-configure a play featuring nudity so that the vital “bits” were hidden from view.

In the end, police decided not to indict Igarashi for now but she still has potential charges (carrying up to two years in prison and a fine) hanging over her. The prosecutors have inadvertently turned Igarashi into a martyr for both feminist and artist causes, though, and would be foolish to continue with their persecution.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Igarashi was released after six days. But getting arrested is an expensive business. Even if charges are not brought or — very rare in Japan! — you are acquitted, you still have to foot your lawyer’s bill.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Always one to utilize her grassroots support, Igarashi has turned to her fans now to help cover the costs. Her gallery has launched a sale of her vagina-inspired “deko-man” (decorated vagina) artworks and she promises in a tweet to use the proceeds to pay her legal team.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

Rokudenshi-ko’s mission to reclaim what is hidden, what society deems “obscene”, into something playful and ordinary is here manifest in cute vinyl figurines of female genitalia. You can get pink or gold versions of “Manko-chan”, or even a glow-in-the-dark one! They cost between ¥2,100 ($21) and ¥2,800 ($28), though some of them won’t be available until late August.

japanese vagina artist megumi igarashi rokudenshi-ko arrest artworks deko-man kayak boat

See the Shinjuku Ganka Gallery online shop for more. If they put up an English website with PayPal options, we reckon this would be very popular overseas too!

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