People in Japan may not know Yutaka Foods but if you’ve bought any Japanese food in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, the chances are it was imported by them.
Yutaka Foods has just released an ad, Japanese Diorama, that revels in Japan’s “miniature” image, using a series of intricately detailed models of Japanese settings.
The commercial referenced how we associate Japan as the land where everything is “tiny” but also pays homage to its love of miniatures.
Model-making culture is alive and kicking in Japan, from impressive museum models (take a trip to the Ghibli Museum or the Edo-Tokyo Museum to see what we mean) to “fake food” samples at restaurants, while hobbyists still enjoy the art of making papercraft models and die-cast models like the innovative Tamashi series by Bandai.
The video was made by GetNewDesign, a London design agency.
Here’s what James Reeve, who runs GetNewDesign, had to say about the making of the ad.
The 70-second ad was shot in London using miniature models painstakingly created by our team of model makers. (It took them 5 weeks to build 5 different sets.) The actual shoot took 5 days and the entire video was shot on 16mm film. We wanted to use traditional film cameras to give the video a sense of nostalgia that you can only achieve with a real film grain.
Even better than the real thing.
So reads the tagline and these models truly live up to that: for the first few seconds you cannot tell they are replicas.
There are trees and moss, stone steps and a lantern. Also look out for the perfectly made sunken hearth (iori), sliding doors, tatami mats, and even shrine gates.
Here’s the video.
Here are some images from behind the scenes, showing the scale of the models.
Manami Okazaki has released a second edition of her book “Kokeshi, from Tohoku with Love”, featuring interviews with 23 kokeshi artisans as well as 200 photos documenting how the unique wooden dolls are made in northeast Japan.
Okazaki, the author of several books about aspects of Japanese culture, from tattoos to toy cameras, wrote the first edition as a charity project. It sold out in 18 months and now is available again in a new expanded version.
We spoke to her about her new book.
Q. Why did you choose to write about kokeshi?
Manami Okazaki: There are a couple of reasons. When I was interviewing people for a previous book I wrote on kawaii culture, many mentioned kokeshi as having the same design sensibilities as modern cute character design. Designers such as Bukkuro (known for designing the Taiko no Tatsujin game) find kokeshi designs inspirational. Traditional types of kokeshi, like a lot of kawaii characters, lack any facial expression (famously, Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth), and their simplicity leaves a lot to the imagination.
Since 3/11, the country began to focus on the Tohoku region, and kokeshi became a kind of mascot for the region. There were exhibitions at trendy places like Claska and PARCO gallery, events in Koenji, and a slew of gorgeously designed publications like “Kokeshi Jidai”, which all instigated a boom in kokeshi culture. I write a lot about kawaii culture in any case, and kokeshi aligned with the notion of shibu kawaii (subdued, old school cute).
Last but not least, my grandparents on my mum’s side lived in Onagawa post-war, and my mum grew up there. I am really grateful I experienced Japanese rural life there, and have great memories of visiting them. We also went to Naruko and kokeshi studios when I was a kid, so there is a sense of nostalgia for me as well. I should also add that my mum’s childhood home was swept away in the tsunami, and in an instant, many people died, and the town she grew up in disappeared. When I went up post-tsunami, the playground I used to play in was lined with coffins.
Nothing in life is permanent, but books leave behind a legacy that carries on for generations — it is one way to leave behind a culture. It is not the only way, of course, there is a scholar who did her doctoral dissertation on kokeshi, and there are also documentaries, but it is the way I am familiar with.
Q. Why do you think the first print sold out? Why is there a strong interest in kokeshi?
Manami Okazaki: I think there was just a hole in the market, there are some books which are beautiful, but have little to no text and, are a decade old, and expensive.
The book is in English, so it is intended for an audience abroad — a lot of people recognize kokeshi, and like them, but in reality, a lot of the items that are called “kokeshi” in English are plastic mass-produced products in the likeness of geishas. If you do a google image search for kokeshi in English, most of the images are not kokeshi, but kitschy cartoony toys. I met an owner of a kokeshi shop in Paris who had never seen a real kokeshi in his life, and was asking where he can get wholesale quantities!
I think people were curious to know what these well-known dolls really were. I think there is also a general interest in artisan culture due to things like the slow life movement, and influential taste-makers like Kinfolk and Monocle magazine celebrating crafts.
They are imperfect, as they are made by hand, and each one is different. Asides from that, they are very cute!
Q. What do you think the role of kokeshi is for Japan today? As crafts? Design? Toys?
Manami Okazaki: Mainly as interior decoration items and souvenirs. They started as a kids’ toy, and girls were dressing them up and carrying them on their back. During the Showa era, adults became enamored in them, instigating the first “kokeshi boom”. Tadao Watanabe, a kokeshi artisan in Fukushima told me, “Suddenly, these toys became a thing for urban intellectuals, and they would take dolls out of kids’ hands!”
They are also connected to tourism — they are a souvenir from the hot spring villages in Tohoku where they are made, and people would travel around collecting them. In the Showa era it was “collectors with big backpacks”. Nowadays it is Shimokitaza type, crafty and designer-y young females.
Q. What are the challenges facing kokeshi culture today?
Manami Okazaki: Primarily, the lack of successors and the aging demographic of the current artisans. The apprenticeship is grueling and lengthy, and there is little financial incentive to become a kokeshi maker. It is the same for all the artisans in Japan, across the board.
Q. What are some of the most unusual kokeshi you have encountered? And the most innovative?
Manami Okazaki: Prior to this kokeshi boom, a lot of young people thought that orthodox kokeshi with their demure expressions looked a bit creepy. In response, artisans usually make two types: the very traditional types that are true to their lineage, and ones that are hyper cute — with hats, in the shape of cats, sitting on beer barrels, with manga eyes, and so on. Recently, fashion retailer BEAMS collaborated with kokeshi maker Yasuhiro Satou, using both artificial blue ink, and indigo, as Japan has a rich heritage of indigo dying. Blue is never found in traditional kokeshi, so it was dubbed the “denim head” and they sold an incredible amount!
By and large, they are artisans, not artists though, and their main interest is in dutifully protecting their heritage. They try and “catch” new customers by making hyper kawaii types, in the hope that these some customers eventually get deeper into kokeshi culture, and go for the traditional types. This is something I also saw in the kimono industry as well; the casual, creative styles were seen as a bridge to the “real thing”.
Q. Have you made any significant changes/additions to this second edition?
Manami Okazaki: Yes. It is a second edition ,though, not a new book, so please keep this in mind if you have the first edition. The second edition has all the bells and whistles. It has a thick, textured hard cover, 100% FCS paper from sustainable sources in Europe, two times higher grade paper, larger format, 60 more photos, 3 more profiles, sections on how to buy kokeshi, and added information on Tohoku folklore.
Q. Why did you make the first edition a charity project?
Manami Okazaki: I think it makes sense as kokeshi are from Tohoku. Post-tsunami, almost everyone I knew was working on charity projects, and chipping in where they could, from making books to hosting band gigs and holding charity events. I felt there was a shift in consciousness amongst young people, and a reassessment about the way they (over) consumed. I remember around ten years ago, if you told someone to watch their water consumption, not use so much plastic or packaging, and whatnot, they would think you were a hippie (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). I don’t think many mainstream young people prior to 3/11 had even thought about charity, but everyone I knew, from fashion houses to underground artists were doing something.
It was a charity book, but mostly I am hoping it inspires people to visit these charming hot spring villages and to check out Japan’s artisan crafts. Kokeshi tourism is a really great way to experience rural Tohoku culture, and see craftsmen at work in their own studios.
“Terminator Genisys” gets unlikely promo with Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel schoolgirl cosplay dance videoWritten by: William on June 22, 2015 at 4:58 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments
How do you promote the new Terminator movie in Japan?
Simple. You dress up a dancer in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform and have her perform deep under the ground. Crank up the iconic Terminator theme melody with a special dance remix… and you probably have a recipe for viral success.
Take a look.
The slinky performer is sailor uniform music idol Manako.
Okay, so this may not be wholly official but it’s still better than anything the forthcoming movie’s PR team could have come up with.
Architecture fans will instantly recognize the setting.
It’s the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, a vast flood water facility located in Saitama. The epic storm drain is like a video game level come to life — appropriately sci-fi for the film.
Quite what a dancing schoolgirl has to do with Terminator Genisys is anyone’s guess but since the franchise jumped the shark a long time ago, cosplay silliness is probably the last thing that can damage it now.
This article by Tiffany first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
While Japan has its own share of street food, street food culture just isn’t as common in Japan as it is in Southeast Asia, where locals and tourists alike flock to weekend or night markets to chow down.
That’s not to say that Japan has a shortage of comfort food. Osaka’s Dotonbori is a great place to get your fill of Japanese comfort food; and areas like Hokkaido and Hiroshima have alleys dedicated to their regional specialties: miso ramen and okonomiyaki, respectively. But actually buying and eating food on the streets, and in a market-like setting? Aside from Fukuoka, which has areas dotted with street food stalls, hardly any other areas where you can regularly expect street food vendors come to mind – especially not for Tokyo!
Nevertheless, the humble yatai at festivals are, for many, the best opportunities to try some Japanese street food. In fact, one could say that the atmosphere at a Japanese festival can be likened to that of a food market.
Translating to “stall,” yatai isn’t exclusively used to refer to stalls that just pop up at festivals. Fukuoka’s yatai open nightly, and the few ramen or sweet potato carts as you may see are also known as yatai. They also don’t just refer to food stalls, as many festivals also have stalls where visitors can play games and win prizes. In this article, though, I’ll be focusing on yatai food at festivals. It’ll be summer festival season soon, after all, so now’s a good time to talk about yatai food.
When a festival is going on in Japan, you can bet that there’ll be yatai, and after attending one festival after another, you can more or less get an idea of what food to expect. Whether it’s festivals at temples and shrines, or school festivals, there are certain foods that just happen to be associated with yatai, and here are some of them. Yatai food usually costs no more than ¥1,000, with the average price being about ¥500.
No festival is complete without good ol’ yakisoba. This simple-to-prepare dish consists of fried noodles (which is what the word “yakisoba” literally translates to, anyway), strips of pork, and cabbage. It’s then garnished with katsuobushi (bonito flakes), benishoga (pickled ginger), and/or aonori (powdered seaweed), and some also add mayonnaise to it.
Kushiyaki is a catch-all term for grilled, skewered meats, the most popular type being yakitori. Yakitori can be thought of as a another sub-category, since there are different kinds, including momo (thigh), tsukune (chicken ground into meatballs), and kawa (skin). Yakitori aside, it’s also not surprising to see beef, pork, and fish (usually known as shioyaki, which means “salt-grilled”). You’ll also occasionally see other kinds of grilled seafood, like squid and scallop.
You can read more about okonomiyaki here, but put simply, it’s a savory pancake. Aside from the non-negotiables (cabbage, okonomiyaki sauce, and, of course, the batter), anything goes for the rest of the ingredients. Okonomiyaki, after all, translates to “as you like it.” Common okonomiyaki ingredients are pork and seafood.
These are octopus balls, made of the same batter that’s used to make okonomiyaki. The sauce is even similar. Interestingly enough, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and takoyaki share some basic ingredients. (A friend of mine once made okonomiyaki, then mixed the leftover cabbage, katsuobushi, benishoga, and aonori with noodles to make yakisoba.)
Since oden is a dish consisting of various ingredients (mostly variants of tofu and fish cakes) immersed in a hearty broth made of dashi (soup stock) and soy sauce, it’s popular in wintertime, but you can still find stalls selling oden even in warmer months. Oden can be an acquired taste for some foreigners, though, mostly because of how some think that it looks unappealing.
“Jaga” means potato, and “bataa” is the Japanese way of saying butter. Put those together and what do they make? A baked potato with butter.
Brought over by Turkish migrants in Japan, kebabs are arguably one of the most popular international foods in Japan. In many urban areas (Tokyo, for instance), you’re bound to encounter at least one kebab stand, stall, or cart. Kebab vendors have been known to participate in festivals, too!
Frankfurters and American dogs
Frankfurters are pretty self-explanatory, but as for American dogs, they’re corn dogs. Don’t call them corn dogs in Japan, as you’ll most likely be met with confusion.
Choco banana and candied apples
While candied apples are not as ubiquitous, you’d be hard-pressed to find a festival without choco banana, which is, as the name implies, a banana coated in chocolate.
It’s Japanese for cotton candy, and is quite popular among children.
A specialty of Nagasaki Prefecture, castella is a sponge cake that was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Whereas castella is typically rectangular, baby castella come in small, round, bite-size pieces, and have fillings inside.
That’s pronounced “ah-geh,” by the way. Age-aisu means fried ice cream. It’s not a common sight at festivals, but for some reason, it’s quite popular at school festivals. It’s basically fried breading wrapped around ice cream, creating a contrast of hot and cold flavors.
Kakigorri | Photo by 世書 名付 used under CC
This popular summer treat consists of fluffy shaved ice, colored syrup, and a sweetener. It comes in different flavors, but if you want to try something different, go for matcha, ramune (soda pop, which I’ll get to later), or Blue Hawaii (which tastes like pineapple with milk)
Taiyaki is a fish-shaped pastry (with a pancake-like texture) with red bean paste as filling, although some variants have custard, cream, matcha, or even savory ingredients as filling.
Aside from these drinks, of course you can also find alcohol at festivals!
This is a uniquely Japanese soda, mostly because of the design of its bottle, which has a marble seal. It’s a fixture at summer festivals. Its original taste is lemon-lime, but it also comes in other flavors.
This refers to bubble tea, although it seems that the bubble tea craze never really took off in Japan the way it did elsewhere.
Bonus Points If You Spot a Yakiimo Cart
Yakiimo (Baked Sweet Potato)
Yakiimo (or baked sweet potato) is the original Tokyo street food. To indulge, you’ll have to spot a sweet potato vendor pushing around a cart or driving around in a truck equipped with a stone oven in the back. If you try to find some at a summertime festival, know that they’re not exactly festival food and definitely more of a winter/autumn thing; however, if you are here during summer and want to give it a taste, you’re more likely to find some during the evenings. Also, yakiimo vendors are slowing becoming extinct, so if you see one, don’t hesitate to get one as a real cultural treat (pardon the pun).
Read on Tokyo Cheapo
The Chinese government has cracked down on Japanese anime, banning the broadcast online of 38 titles via various Chinese websites and online services.
There is no suggestion that it is because they are Japanese per se but popular titles like Attack on Titan (soon to be a live-action movie), Death Note and Parasyte have been blacklisted from appearing online.
Eight websites have been completely shut down and another 29 received warnings or fines, reports Kyodo.
Senior Ministry official Liu Qiang stated, “The list is the result of evaluations by investigators, reviews by the ministry and the opinions of experts. It aims to guide websites in the proper review and importation of comics and animations.”
You can see the full list of banned anime here.
It isn’t just online either. A film festival in Shanghai set to show Attack on Titan has been forced to pull the eight Japanese entries from its line-up.
According to Kyodo, the anime are condemned by the Chinese authorities because they “encourage juvenile delinquency, glorify violence and include sexual content.”
Rumors of a blacklist have been circulating for a while, with the Chinese government investigating anime like Blood C that “lure minors to delinquency and glamorize violence, pornography, and terrorist activities”. New regulations required websites to get approval to stream foreign media content.
China has a history of banning anime from television and video games.
Omotenashi Tokyo: Volunteer tourist guides available for foreign sightseers, with special branded uniformsWritten by: William on June 8, 2015 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
We try to avoid ranting on this site since no one wants to read consistently negative content. However, we haven’t made any secret of our cynicism about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, whose plans currently exist of wholesale ignoring the problems in Tohoku to build a ton of real estate in the bay area, knocking down one perfectly good stadium and replace it with a calamity, and AKB48 potentially set to represent Tokyo at the opening ceremony.
And now comes these new Tokyo sightseeing volunteer guide uniforms, set to be worn by unpaid tourist guides. Inbound tourism from Asia is booming, as any trip to Shinjuku or Ginza will reveal. As part of various schemes to enhance tourist services, a new team of volunteers will be available in certain Tokyo districts to offer guidance. The name Omotenashi Tokyo was chosen from 882 proposals.
Introduced by a beaming Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, we think the volunteer guides’ uniforms look like costumes from a manga set in a Japanese fantasy version of a 1950’s English boarding school. There’s even a hat and an inexplicable bag. And don’t even ask us about the clownish tie. Oh, and of course the obligatory Japanese “rising sun” motifs and the “Omotenashi” — the Olympic buzzword — branded on the back.
Designed by Tamaki Fujie, there are two types of uniforms. From June 19th male and female pairs of volunteers (can Tokyo not afford professionals?) will be manning the streets of Tokyo offering multi-lingual guidance to lost tourists, initially as a trial run only on Fridays and weekends in Shinjuku and Ueno. From 2016 the areas where you will be able to see the uniformed volunteers will increase to include popular tourist destinations like Asakusa.
So… what do you think? Terrible uniform design or fun and effective?
We want to showcase the incredible “ice cream face” art of Makoto Asano.
He posts the faces, carved out of mini Häagen-Dazs ice cream pots, on his Instagram account. He’s been working on the project sporadically since at least 2012 (with a brief dabble in non-Häagen-Dazs ice cream and even bananas!)but has only now just started to attract attention.
Since Häagen-Dazs produce so many different flavors and seasonal specials, there is a wealth of colors and textures to choose from. And Asano responds with an inventive range of faces, expressions and styles.
But we wonder: does he eat them afterwards? And if so, does the “sculpting” affect the taste?
“Schoolgirl Animals” is an exhibition currently running at BAMI Gallery in Kyoto until May 31st, featuring an array of beguiling images of female school students in their uniforms and other schoolgirl paraphernalia, but with incongruous animal heads.
The solo exhibition showcases the work of Takumi Kama. His stunning portraits include schoolgirls combined with a zebra, cheetah, monkeys, giraffe, deer, and more.
Schoolgirls are a continual obsession for artists and designers in Japan, especially their uniform as a motif.
Photographers like Yuki Aoyama have made whole careers out of series of schoolgirl images and the results aren’t necessarily sleazy (though that taint does also, unmistakably, linger).
The recent Design Festa featured an “interchangeable schoolgirl uniform” by Maori Iguchi.
“Schoolgirl Animals” also taps into the culture in Japan for moe anthropomorphism, specifically kemonomimi. This is most famously expressed in the form of catgirl characters, where anime or illustrated figures have cat tails and cat ears (nekomimi) — something even clothes for pet-owners like to indulge in!
Otouto no Otto (My Brother’s Husband): New Gengoroh Tagame manga raises issue of same-sex parenting and marriage in JapanWritten by: William on May 25, 2015 at 2:46 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments
Contributing further to the continuing public discourse in Japan about gay rights and same-sex marriage, the first volume of Otouto no Otto (My Brother’s Husband) was published as a paperback on May 25th.
Published by Futabasha, Otouto no Otto is written by Gengoroh Tagame, whose website says he creates “gay erotic art”. Clearly that also includes manga too and this new bara manga seems relatively mainstream compared to his more risque other titles. It is currently being serialized in Gekkan Action.
Otouto no Otto not only raises the timely issues of gay parenting and same-sex partnerships, it also examines interracial couples too. The story revolves around Yaichi and his daughter Kana, who are visited by Mike, the Canadian husband of Yaichi’s twin brother.
Tagame, who is openly gay, has a growing reputation overseas and his work has been translated into French and English. He is arguably the most influential gay manga-ka today.