First suspected Ebola case in Japan: Man arriving at Haneda Airport from west Africa tested for virus

Written by: William on October 27, 2014 at 10:39 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The Japanese media is reporting Japan’s first suspected case of Ebola.

A man arriving at Haneda Airport on the evening of October 27th after spending time in Liberia was showing symptoms of a fever. He was taken to the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Shinjuku. The man is said to be in his forties.

Test are being done and the government has said they cannot confirm that he has had contact with an Ebola patient.

The unnamed man is a 45-year-old journalist, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and police. He had been resident in Liberia from August until October 18th, after which he came to Japan via Belgium and the UK.

ebola case suspect japan man test haneda airport

He has a very high fever of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and tests are being done to see if he has been infected by a tropical diseases, including the Ebola virus.

The results of initial tests will arrive in the early hours of October 28th.

There has been scrutiny about Japan’s ability to cope with the arrival of Ebola in the country and screening has been introduced at airports where disembarking international passengers are asked if they had visited countries in west Africa.

Update (October 28th)

Good news: The tests came back negative for the Ebola virus. The patient is being held for further days in hospital as a precaution. It has also now been reported that the journalist is not Japanese but a Canadian citizen.

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Finnair lets Tokyoites be surrounded by virtual aurora experience in Roppongi

Written by: William on October 24, 2014 at 9:00 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Roppongi has its fair share of bright lights and other-worldly experiences, though this is certainly something new.

Finnair is sponsoring a stimulated aurora experience event at Tokyo Midtown on November 7th and November 8th.

Finnair Aurora will showcase various Scandinavian tourist destinations for discerning Roppongi visitors but best of all is the “aurora booth” attraction, which will provide a virtual aurora experience for those who can’t make it to the other side of the planet to see the real thing.

finnair aurora midtown roppongi virtual experience event

There will also be a booth where you can superimpose yourself over the aurora to create a special commemorative image of your “trip”.

For the linguists out there, there will be customized badges which can be printed using a “Finn Generator” that converts your name into Finnish.

And after all that traveling around the Arctic Circle, no doubt you will be parched. Not to worry, aurora-themed drinks and Glühwein will be one hand, as well as other Scandinavian snacks.

Japanese people really love the aurora and sightseeing trips to the various parts of the world where you can see the light spectacle are very popular. Flights depart for Finnish cities offering vistas of the autumn aurora from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, setting you down in 9.5 hours. (For the unlucky ones without the vacation budget, there are aurora home planetarium devices instead.)

Finnair Aurora is open 13:00-17:00 on November 7th and 11:00-21:00 on November 8th at Tokyo Midtown’s Canopy Square.

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100 yen shop toy guns and musical instruments customized to look amazingly realistic

Written by: William on October 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Japan’s 100 yen shops are treasure troves. Enter these Aladdin’s Caves and you can find almost anything you need for your kitchen or home, plus all kinds of surprising items you didn’t even know existed, let alone could be purchased for a dollar.

Despite the price (these days actually ¥108 due to sales tax hike), the quality is usually pretty good (in proportion), though you’d best not buy batteries and so on if you want them to last more than a couple of weeks.

And some creative people have proved that with some skill, you can make even a cheap 100-yen-shop toy look amazing.

Take Twitter user @m_kondo3, a photographer specializing in cosplay and survival games (a growing fashion and cosplay trend in Japan).

He took some plastic toys from a 100 yen store and painted them so they look incredibly real. When he shared them online, he got a massive response — nearly 10,000 retweets at the time of writing.

Take a look. This is a plastic toy gun.

100 yen store shop gun ray toy customize paint amazingly realistic

And now here’s the “real” thing.

100 yen store shop gun ray toy customize paint amazingly realistic

Likewise a plastic trumpet…

100 yen store shop trumpet instrument musical toy customize paint amazingly realistic

…becomes a genuine-looking musical instrument.

100 yen store shop trumpet instrument musical toy customize paint amazingly realistic

Okay, ultimately this is just the visuals. A bit of paint doesn’t mean you can start zapping alien invaders with your ray gun or blowing out great tunes, but it does prove that creativity and skill can do wonders with any materials.

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Japanese fundoshi loincloths back in fashion… for girls

Written by: William on October 10, 2014 at 11:34 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Everything comes back into fashion. And that includes Japanese loincloths. Fundoshi are usually only seen on the bodies (and buttocks) of men taking part in Japanese festivals or on sumo wrestlers (technically called mawashi).

But how about girls? Yes, fundoshi for women is a thing.

Actually, for the past few years people have been talking about this. Even venerable Japanese subculture guru Danny Choo blogged about it back in 2009.

fundoshi loincloth japan women girls trend

Wacoal were pretty pioneering in this with their Nana Fun fundoshi for women product back in 2008 (sadly no longer on sale).

It led to the start of a trend and a revival in fortune for fundoshi. The Japan Fundoshi Association was even set up a little while later to promote the loincloth. And if you thought that February 14th was Valentine’s Day, you are very much mistaken. It is (also) Fundoshi Day… since 2013 at any rate.

Retailers have sprung up to cope with the demand. Ai Fun is an online store that specializes in “stylish” fundoshi for women. Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku has a shop called Desk My Style with around 60 kinds of fundoshi on sale for men and women. Apparently they are popular with women in their thirties. There is even growing interest in the trend in other parts of Japan. A specialist fundoshi select store, Teraya, opened in Nagasaki City last November.

fundoshi loincloth japan women girls trend

As part of this, we recently saw the release of a “mook” for fundoshi. Mooks are a popular element of the Japanese magazine publishing world, semi-regular magazines or spin-off booklets which often include merchandise. In this case, the Fundoshi Panties Loincloth Underwear Mook includes a pair of fundoshi. While officially unisex, the cover and magazine make it clear that this loincloth is being marketed squarely at the girls.

fundoshi loincloth japan women girls trend

But fundoshi are not just being promoted for girls (and men) because they are novel or traditional. There are health benefits, such as improved blood circulation. Most importantly, fundoshi loincloths are being suggested as excellent nighttime wear for women to help them sleep.

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The Snap Up by en route, a crowdsourced fashion show on the streets of Tokyo

Written by: William on October 8, 2014 at 10:36 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Last month United Arrows’ en route brand ran a special “crowdsourced fashion show” on the streets of Omotesando and Harajuku.

In the words of Contagious.com, The Snap Up campaign saw “fashion brand encourage the public to act like the paparazzi in Tokyo”.

We’re a little late to the party with this story but because it’s pretty cool, we reckon it still merits a write-up one month after the fact.

En Route sent models for three hours wearing its 2014 autumn-winter line out into the streets during the Vogue Fashion Night Out, the annual bonanza which sees lots brands and stores in Omotesando running special evening events.

en route the snap up crowdsourced fashion show tokyo streets vogue fashion night out 2014 campaign united arrows

Members of the public were invited to hunt for the wandering models, take their pictures, and then upload them via the dedicated The Snap Up iPhone app. These were then judged in realtime and uploaded to the campaign website. The selected images netted the photographer a small cash prize of ¥1,000 (under $10).

en route the snap up crowdsourced fashion show tokyo streets vogue fashion night out 2014 campaign united arrows

And apparently there was a mysterious “Cashier Man” also walking the streets. If they stumbled across him, you could swipe your phone on his arm and claim money on the spot. Nice! According to Contagious.com,1,000 people took 27,000 photos.

en route the snap up crowdsourced fashion show tokyo streets vogue fashion night out 2014 campaign united arrows

Here’s a trailer giving you a taster of the campaign.

Although the photos themselves no longer seem to be available, on The Snap Up website you can even watch a four-hour-plus “live” video of the event.

En route is aimed at men and women in their thirties, centering around fashion and sports under the concept of “Wearable Tokyo”. It opened its first store in Ginza in September, shortly after it ran The Snap Up campaign.

en route the snap up crowd sourced fashion show tokyo streets vogue fashion night out 2014 campaign united arrows

In Japan privacy has more respect than other places and TV shows will typically blur out the faces of random people who happen to walk into shot during filming. There has also been a lot of brouhaha recently about fans snapping photos of celebrities without explicit permission from the person being lensed.

And so for a brand to encourage profligate photography and indiscriminate social media sharing is quite a bold marketing move, locally at least.

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Yumetenbo plus plumprimo: A new Japanese fashion shopping app for pocchari plus-size ladies

Written by: William on October 8, 2014 at 9:05 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Japanese women are known for being on the slender side but beauty of course comes in all shapes and sizes. As such, we have seen a shift towards a greater mainstream acceptance of larger ladies in the Japanese fashion world, which is typified by women with spider-thin arms and legs and chopping board-thin bodies.

A pioneer in this was La Farfa, the first fashion magazine in Japan for women who can be described as pocchari — an informal Japanese word that can be translated as “chubby”, though its nuance is not at all negative (quite the opposite, the word often has a cute connotation).

The launch of La Farfa was followed by Japan’s first pocchari fashion show, featuring only women of a certain size range.

plusprimo yumetenbo app fashion japanese women larger size plus chubby pocchari

And now we have Yumetenbo + plumprimo, a new Android and iPhone app on the Yumetenbo (“Dream Platform”) system that showcases the apparel brand plumprimo, which as its name suggests, is exclusively for plus-size women.

plusprimo yumetenbo app fashion japanese women larger size plus chubby pocchari

plusprimo yumetenbo app fashion japanese women larger size plus chubby pocchari

Yumetenbo runs a fashion e-commerce service for women. The new partnership with plumprimo will allow users to search for plus-size plumprimo items on Yumetenbo + and buy them through the Yumetenbo platform. While there are a lot of niches in Japanese fashion and, as we said, you might be forgiven for presuming Japan didn’t have much demand for plus-size digital fashion tools like this, the makers are hoping for 10,000 downloads of the free app in a year.

plusprimo yumetenbo app fashion japanese women larger size plus chubby pocchari

Here are some examples of plumprimo’s range.

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Photographer Matthew Pillsbury shoots Tokyo in long-exposure glory

Written by: William on October 6, 2014 at 8:20 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Tokyo is a city that is a paradise to photographers; it opens up just so many opportunities for images — the technology, lights, crowds, fashion, subcultures, architecture, businessmen, seasons, festivals… We would venture that Japan has been responsible for more Flickr accounts that any other “source materials” but of course, we may be wrong there.

And so with such competition out there competing for eyeball space, it takes a project with something special to stand out. And while there are legions of talented photographers — local or expat — resident in the city, perhaps Matthew Pillsbury succeeded because he’s an outsider — he’d only come to Tokyo once before he started creating the images for his new show, aptly titled “Tokyo”, showing at Benrubi Gallery in New York until October 25th.

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

“The growing use of technology in our lives has simultaneously allowed for instantaneous global communication, but it also can isolate us by favoring virtual contact as opposed to real-world interaction,” he told Slate.

While making his epic long-exposure shots of various locations throughout the city he ran into classic Japanese bureaucracy, which made getting permission to shoot in some places difficult. Shoots at some locations, such as a sumo tournament, ultimately did not work out because the management would not allow him in. We would have loved to see a long-exposure sumo bout!

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

Phillsbury usually works in color but we can certainly see why he broke his own rule for this series.

How many of the places in the photographs do you recognize?

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

matthew phillsbury tokyo long exposure photography

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Times Car Plus – Affordable Car Sharing for City Dwellers

Written by: William on October 3, 2014 at 7:40 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Greg Lane first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

While it’s great not needing to own a car in Tokyo (with all the incumbent expenses) there’s no question that it can be fun or sometimes necessary (big shopping trips) to get behind the wheel. That’s where car sharing services – like Times Car Plus – come in really handy, and for much less money than you might expect.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus

Times Car Plus is a service run by the company that operates the Times Car 24 parking lots which seem to sprout up on vacant land whenever a building gets demolished. There are literally thousands of locations dotted throughout the metropolis and beyond, so there is more than likely one nearby wherever you are in Tokyo. While the carparks are almost ubiquitous, not all of them have Times Car Plus cars available. Small parking lots may have only 1 or 2 cars while the bigger ones may have up to 10 or more cars available.

Getting Signed Up

Although sign-up and reservation is all in Japanese (if you don’t read Japanese, you’ll definitely need a friend to help). When you sign-up, you’ll have the option of joining as a corporate member or as an individual. If you have your own company in Japan, you’re best to sign-up as a company as it’s cheaper. Individual membership fees are ¥1,030 a month while the company plan has no monthly fees. The individual plan however, does include ¥1,030 worth of free driving each month, so if you use it regularly it will balance out.

After you’ve entered your information in the website, you’ll be given a few options to complete the membership. The fastest way is to head to the one of the Times Car Plus offices with your Japanese driver’s license. If everything is OK, they’ll hand you your membership card – which you need to unlock the cars.

How It Works

Reserving the car is relatively easy – even if you don’t speak much Japanese. Just install the Android or iPhone app, play with the map until you find a car nearby that meets your search criteria and then click the reserve button. This is where the system breaks down slightly – you’ll be sent to the mobile web page (which you’ll need to sign-in to) to complete your booking. When it’s time to pick up your car, head to the designated car park, put your card over the touch scanner on the back window and then climb in. The car will then start talking to you, telling you to remove the key from the device in the glove box. Then, you’re free to drive off. When you return it (to the same car park) you just do this in reverse.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Using the map, you can find nearby cars that fit your search criteria, then book them.

The Charges

Times Car Plus has a super simple system for charging. If you just want to grab a car and start driving, the cost is ¥206 for each 15-minute interval. So if you drive around for an hour, you’ll be charged ¥824. There are no charges for fuel or mileage. If you need to fill up, there is a fuel card attached to the driver side visor which you can use almost anywhere. If you do stop to fill up, they even give you a 15-minute free bonus. The ¥206 fee is for what they term “basic” cars – Suzuki Swifts, Mazda Demios and even larger Toyota Prius and Honda Fit Shuttles. If you want a “premium” car, the pay as you go fee is ¥412 for each 15-minute interval. The premium cars include BMW 116s, Mini One Crossovers, all electric Nissan Leafs (leaves?) and Audi A1s. However, if you reserve one of the longer time packs, you can get the premium cars for the same price as the basic ones. For example, if you get the 6-hour pack, you can choose any car you like and the total stays at ¥4,020. The only condition is that the premium cars are popular, so you should make sure you reserve early.

car sharing services tokyo japan times plus
Nothing like a Chiba traffic jam to remind you how awesome the train system is.

After you’ve completed your trip, you’ll be sent an email summary of your trip – with surprising detail. Listed, is the total time of rental, distance covered, maximum speed reached (I hit 99mk/h), emergency accelerations (apparently I had two), emergency braking (zero) and any subsequent penalties. The fact that it records everything means you should think very carefully before opening up the throttle on a deserted country road. As the maximum speed limit in Japan is 100km/h, presumably if I had gone a few kilometres an hour faster, I would have incurred a penalty.

Special Deals

In addition to the 6 hour pack, there are 12-hour packs, 24-hour packs, early night packs, late night packs and all night (strangely termed “double night”) packs – each with a mileage component. They also run regular campaigns. For example, there is currently a whole weekend pack during autumn for approx. ¥9,000. Generally, for longer rental periods, you may find places like Niconico Rentacar to be better value.

So how is it?

It generally works really well. However, you are sharing the car with others, so you’re hoping that the previous occupants cleaned up properly after themselves. On my first experience, the car was spotless. On the second, it contained rubbish, empty drink containers, food crumbs and even two boxes of cigarettes – all of which I had to throw away. After you’ve returned the car, Times Car Plus sends you an email asking about the state of the car which gives you the chance to tell them that it contained rubbish – so presumably the previous driver will get a black mark against their membership or some kind of penalty.

The actual driving is more fun than I expected. Tokyo’s blade runner style road system with tunnels, multilevel bridges and elevated motorways taller than a 10-storey building and toll booths every 5 minutes can seem intimidating, but you’ll likely find traffic levels much lower to what you’re used to at home and finding your way around isn’t difficult at all. If you can’t use the Japanese sat nav system, Google Maps turn by turn instructions also work pretty well.

Alternatives

Car sharing has really taken off in Japan recently. In addition to Times Car Plus, there is Orix Car Sharing and a another company called Careco – both of which partner with other car park providers to offer similar services so if Times Car Plus is not available near you, these may be good alternatives. We hope to review both of these at some time in the future, so stay tuned!

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Extreme readers stay overnight at Junkudo bookstore in Tokyo

Written by: William on October 2, 2014 at 9:27 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

There are many kinds of bibliophiles and bookworms in Japan. There are the hipsters who hang out at pristine artsy bookshops like T-Site in Daikanyama or Nadiff in Ebisu, et al. There are the manga fans who chase down rare titles at Mandarake or the serious aficionado searching for that first edition among the dusty shelves of Kanda. There are the socialites who would flock to Combine (now closed) in Nakameguro and now go to events at B&B in Shimokitazawa or the Mori no Tosho Shitsu “beer library” in Shibuya.

And then there are people who love being surrounded by books so much they want to stay overnight in a bookshop.

Junkudo, one of the main bookstore chains in Japan, has apparently spotted a demand for this kind of service and that’s why they are offering lucky group of customers the chance to do a “try living in Junkudo tour” on November 1st in the Kasumigaseki Press Center branch in Tokyo.

junkudo stay overnight sleeping service accommodation tokyo book store bookshop japan tour

Of course, guests are allowed to read the books and magazines during the overnight stay. Junkudo recruited applicants for the trial run until September 30th, having been inspired to offer the service after receiving requests on social media from people keen to “live” in Junkudo.

The bookstore night camp will run from 5pm on November 1st until 8am on November 2nd. Reading lights will be kept on for late-night sessions with your tome of choice. You have to bring your own sleeping bag and other equipment (we recommend the King Jim Wearable Futon, aimed at officer workers pulling in all-nighters), and though it’s free to stay overnight, Junkudo asks you to purchase at least one book or magazine.

junkudo stay overnight sleeping service accommodation tokyo book store bookshop japan tour

Junkudo received a lot of applicants and so will hold a lottery in October to choose who gets to experience the bookshop sleepover. There will be three sets of six guests at the bookstore-cum-hotel, though we imagine if it’s a success in terms of publicity Junkudo will make it a regular fixture.

jts_may2013

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