Real estate search app ad parodies hikikomori

Written by: William on January 28, 2015 at 9:06 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Shota Mori is a performance artist who became famous for his Taxi Driver-inspired “iPhone quick draw” system.

Now he has starred in a funny parody web ad for @nifty, a real estate portal site.

It rather boldly mimics the style of a TV documentary about hikikomori (shut-ins). In it Mori plays a young man who never leaves his room. He spends his days playing video games.

After nine years of hikikomori life, he discovers the @nifty app for searching for a better place to live. His life is radically transformed and he becomes first a singer, and then even a politician.

shota mori hikikomori parody nifty ad

Suddenly we are in a news show watching footage of the new Mori speaking like a politico.

Finally he becomes prime minister but has to resign because he once again used the app, and ended up choosing to move to a place better than the official PM’s residence.

shota mori hikikomori parody nifty ad

There are English subtitles (of shaky quality).

Japanese real estate services have created clever web ads before, such as the Dreamer Nippon Inemuri” video which filmed people sleeping on trains in Tokyo.

Most mainstream services would steer clear of such a socially sensitive issue. It’s perhaps a measure of how “normal” hikikomori has become as a social problem that it can be fodder for marketing, as well as an example of how edgy advertising campaigns can be in Japan if they dare to not rely on the latest celebrities for endorsements.

To remind us of how Mori got started, here is one of his iPhone Quick Draw gadget demonstrations.

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Rakuten Box: Rakuten offers lockers for anonymous package delivery, pickup

Written by: William on January 27, 2015 at 8:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Rakuten, the world’s most successful badly designed virtual mall, continues its march into all offline walks of Japanese life. After opening a cafe in Shibuya last year, now it offers a collection service using lockers at stations.

It has teamed up with Japan Post to set up lockers inside Tokyo post offices, as well as 50 other places around the country where customers can collect the item they purchase on the online market.

It ran a trial of the enterprise last year in Osaka and the response was good enough to expand it nationwide. There is a need for the service because sometimes people who live alone are not at home enough to be able to accept deliveries easily — they might prefer to accept a parcel from a locker near their work or college. Likewise, the Osaka trial showed that there are many young women who would prefer not to have delivery men come to their home address.

rakuten box lockers pick up delivery

Rakuten is here using the lockers the Japan post office already offers in around 30 post offices in Tokyo for its own delivery services.

When you purchase something on Rakuten (domestic sales only), you will be able to choose the lockers as a delivery option using Japan Post’s Yu-Pack service. You are emailed a notification and password when the package is placed in the locker, and only you can input the passcode to open the locker. The lockers can hold the delivery for three days, after which unclaimed items are removed.

“Rakuten Box” sites will be set up at 50 locations around Japan over the course of 2015, including at major train terminals. These will function in the same way as the post office lockers, and will surely be popular with people who want to pick up a parcel on their way home from work or college. The lockers don’t yet have refrigeration functions so you cannot use the items for certain food or drink orders.

Currently you can already send packages from all convenience stores and also pick up deliveries at some. With this service, though, the process becomes even more private, which certain kinds of people may prefer or may prefer for certain types of orders.

The service starts in April so look out for Rakuten-branded lockers. The Rakuten Box units may also be popping up in many kinds of locations in the future. Rakuten hopes they will be installed in other shops (there is no fee) so we can likely expect to see them in convenience stores in the near future.

Image source: Tsuhan Shinbun

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Five Historical Facts You Might Not Know About Akihabara

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on January 23, 2015 at 7:49 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

With its profusion of shops selling manga and games along with the ubiquitous maids trying to lure you to their cafes, Akihabara has become one of the most distinctive and interesting parts of Tokyo. It wasn’t always like this though. Here are what we consider to be some lesser known historical facts about Akihabara.

akihabara tokyo night
Source: Warren Antiola on Flickr

1. It Hasn’t Always Been Known as Akihabara

The Akihabara name only came about after a major conflagration in 1869 which cleared the once densely populated residential area leaving an open field which was retained as a fire break. Initially, it was actually known as Akibabara. The current pronunciation dates from the twentieth century.

2. “Electric Town” Started as a Black Market

After World War II there was a demand for radios and radio parts — met by open air vendors in Akihabara. This unregulated market was eventually brought under control by the Douglas Macarthur led GHQ, but the trend was started. The outdoor stalls moved indoors into dense alley-like malls. While many of these have disappeared, you can still see some on the left as you leave Akihabara Station from the electric town exit.

3. Akihabara was the Scene of One of Japan’s Biggest Mass Killings in Modern Times

At midday on Sunday, June 12th 2008, a solitary attacker drove a 2-ton rented truck into a crowd in Akihabara. He then jumped out of his vehicle and proceeded to stab people indiscriminately. In total, 7 people were killed and 10 were injured. One of the consequences of the attack was that the “hokousha tengoku” (pedestrian heaven — the closure of Chuo-dori to vehicular traffic so pedestrians can walk freely in the road) was suspended until 2011.

4. It was a Major Source of Income for the Aum Shinrikyo Death Cult

A normal weekday commute turned into a nightmare for thousands of people riding the Tokyo subway when the Aum Shinrikyo cult launched a sarin gas attack on multiple trains on the subway system. 13 people lost their lives and more than 6,000 were injured. Later, it was discovered that a major source of income was a successful Akihabara-based computer business which sold cheaply assembled computers. Since members lived communally and without money, Aum was able to assemble the computers more cheaply than anywhere else.

akihabara maid cafe
Source: Jesslee Cuizon on Flickr

5. The First Maid Cafe opened in March 2001

The very first cafe which kicked off the craze was Cure Maid Café which opened (and remains) on the sixth floor of a nondescript building just off Chuo-dori. The maid craze was allegedly inspired by the frilly but form fitting uniforms worn by the waitresses at the American-inspired Anna Miller restaurants that used to be dotted around Tokyo. Although the maid craze has died down somewhat, there are still dozens of cafes in the area — each trying something slightly different in order to stand out.

If you’re interested in Akihabara, Tokyo Cheapo is releasing a Cheapo’s Guide to Akihabara. You can find out more here. The guide is free to download on January 23rd.

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High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar is Shinjuku/Yoyogi co-working space storing LP records for customers

Written by: William on January 15, 2015 at 8:28 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Music media Spincoaster has launched a new crowd-funding campaign on Makuake to create a music bar they claim is the world’s first to focus on LP and high-resolution audio.

Seating 17, the High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar will play LP records at the request of customers and offer a “record keep” service where customer’s records can be stored for safekeeping at the bar.

music-bar-spincoaster-hi-res-analog-1

This later service may seem strange to an outsider but in space-strapped Tokyo, it makes a very cool alternative to a storage unit rental. (In this way, it reminds of the “library bar” in Shibuya that also had a successful crowd-funding campaign last year.)

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

The makers are also selling the Music Bar as a daytime co-working space — a growing trend in Tokyo — with free Wi-Fi and fixed seats. The evening will see it transform more into the “bar” of its name.

At time of writing, they have already exceeded their initial funding goal of ¥1 million (about $10,000) with nearly 90 supporters, and with more than 36 days still to go they are continuing to collect funds. It seems Tokyo has enough analog music fans to keep this bar in business for a while.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

It will open at the end of March, four minutes’ walk from JR Yoyogi or JR Shinjuku stations.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

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University of Tokyo releases “encyclopedia” book of “beautiful” female students

Written by: William on January 13, 2015 at 8:40 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Sexist or working to challenge stereotypes? This is a project bound to divide.

We might be forgiven for thinking that female students at Japan’s top college, the University of Tokyo, could be called brainy, or even nerdy. Heck, that doesn’t need to be a bad thing, right? Nor does it preclude being a nice person or having glamor.

Well, students at the University of Tokyo themselves seem to be worried about this. So worried, apparently, that they have persuaded a bunch of the college’s female enrolees to pose for photos in a campus club photo book.

Todai Bijo Zukan University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia photo book female student hot cute

Reports the Asahi Shimbun, Todai Bijo Zukan (University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia) first went on sale last May at a college event and sold out. It was followed by another volume, which increased the print run from 300 to 1,000. A third volume is set for release this May, a bonanza issue with portraits of 50 female cuties.

One student featured is Yu Yoshiuchi (22), who says, “At first, I thought it must be an indelicate project from a male standpoint. But it’s true people think female students in private universities are more cheerful, so I thought it would be great if we could change that impression.”

Todai Bijo Zukan University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia photo book female student hot cute

Todai Bijo Zukan University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia photo book female student hot cute

Most university students spend their college days obsessed with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if they are so inclined), but this state of affairs is chronic at the University of Tokyo, where the male-to-female student ratio is apparently 8-to-2! You can bet that the Stems UT club members who conceived the project had no shortage of volunteers to help scout female subjects and do the interviews and shoots.

The club members came up with the project because they wanted to “promote the fact that our school has a lot of cute women, even though many people may not think we do.”

The books also include the students’ scores on the standardized tests they took to enter the university as indicators of their intelligence.

So is this sexist? Or just a sweet way to try to change prevailing attitudes towards clever students?

Todai Bijo Zukan University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia photo book female student hot cute

Todai Bijo Zukan University of Tokyo Beauties Encyclopedia photo book female student hot cute

You might think that after the whole Haruko Obokata fiasco, where the media went into a frenzy over a beautiful female Japanese scientist, that prestigious institutions might be treading carefully when it comes to this kind of area. Apparently the male undergrads don’t think so!

Let’s not worry about these ladies too much, though. As Yoshiuchi says, “If male students go too far (in the photo sessions), I make sure to stop them.”

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Shonan T-Site: Tsutaya’s new chic retail complex in surfer town

Written by: William on January 8, 2015 at 9:03 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

After wowing hipsters the world over with the first T-Site in Tokyo’s upmarket Daikanyama district three years ago, Tsutaya continues its quest to stop being the Blockbuster of Japan and be taken seriously as a sophisticated retailer: Shonan T-Site opened in mid-December, a complex of over 30 stores.

Like its Tokyo predecessor, the new T-Site in the beach resort area of Shonan, some 50km from the capital, is sleek and curated, with an uber-hip bookstore, restaurants, cafes, an Apple reseller, and even a posh FamilyMart convenience store. The same design team, led by architecture studio Klein Dytham, is behind the latest addition to Culture Convenience Club’s money-spinners.

Mark Dytham told The Japan Times: “The goal of the space is, as Tsutaya puts it, ‘cultural navigation.’ In an era when you can get everything online, what’s the point of shopping? I have 13 million Spotify tracks on my phone but don’t know what to play. Virtually everything is available on Amazon. The T-Site projects give you something you cannot get online: curation and concierges who know intimately about which section they oversee, whether it’s cars, food, travel, design, photography, fashion.”

shonan t-site tsutaya

So the white cubes from the Daikanyama complex are still here, along with the range of curated retail options. What is different is the location, of course, since Shonan is a beach area full of surfing and sun. That said, the money is still there, since Shonan is a plush area home to the well-to-do who can afford the long commute to Tokyo (think the elite families who gave us the taiyo-zoku in the 1950′s), and Tokyoites with second homes in the peninsula.

Shonan T-Site is actually part of something bigger and quite exciting — Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (FSST), a model town for the future being developed by Panasonic.

As Panasonic puts it: “[Shonan T-Site is] not a site just for selling products. It’s a base for inspiring residents and visitors to the Shonan area, nurturing new lifestyles, and making this lifestyle known to people outside the town. Lifestyles born in the town called Fujisawa SST have great potential to affect lifestyles in Japan, and furthermore, in the world.”

You can grab a coffee at the customized designer Starbucks or indulge in some designing of yourself since, following in the craze arguably started by the likes of Fab Cafe in Shibuya, you can use 3D printers and laser cutters in the upstairs lounge area, or even try out Panasonic home appliances in a special tryvertising space called Square Lab Ferment.

The Daikanyama complex was touted as an attempt to meet the retail needs for middle-aged or older moneyed urbanites in search of experiences worthy of Daikanyama — quiet, curated, expensive. That said, its demographic is always mixed, full of younger couples on dates in Daikanyama, though they may not necessarily make a purchase.

Shonan has some of this too, since the population is older and life is slower, but there are also plenty of young visitors in the summer, who may want to combine a trip to Enoshima beach with some browsing at T-Site. Look for it to get busier as the weather get warmer.

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

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

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

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

tokyo 2020 olympic games athletes village eco hydrogen power cells sustainable

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

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

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

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

tokyo 2020 olympic games athletes village eco hydrogen power cells sustainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tokyo Cheapo’s Guide to Tokyo Love Hotels

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

This article by Selena Hoy first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

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

tokyo love hotels

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

Who

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

tokyo love hotels

What

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

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

When

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

tokyo love hotels

Where

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

tokyo love hotels

How

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

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

tokyo love hotels

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

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Odakyu Department Store offers “kabe-don lucky bags” for male New Year shoppers to seduce women

Written by: William on January 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The popularity of kabe-don seems to show no sign of letting up.

After GU in Ginza “seduced” female (and male) customers by having two hunky models plant their hands on the wall to trap them in a position perfect for a smooch, now Odakyu Department Store is offering kabe-don “dream bags”.

This is a variation on the usual “lucky bags” (fukubukuro) traditionally sold by department stores and other shops during the New Year sales. You don’t know what you get, but the chances are what’s included inside the mystery bag is worth much more than the fixed price.

odakyu department store kabe-don lucky bag fukubukuro dream shopping new year wall seduction item set

A big shift in the lucky bag retail concept has been that customers today can sell on the contents using internet auctions. It means there is now no real demerit to the system. If you don’t like one of the things in the bag, you can just sell it as new to another person online.

And this gets more interesting if the lucky bag includes limited edition or other special items, meaning you can sell them on at inflated prices.

Some department stores instead opt now to offer real-life “experiences” for shoppers who brave the New Year crowds, such as a hug from Funassyi (yes, that’s a real — and expensive — example).

Odakyu is offering “dream bags” for ladies seeking the kabe-don wall thud experience. All right, the department store is not actually offering instant kabe-don sessions for women right there in the store (perhaps that’s coming next year). Instead, the bags are actually meant for men (or women who want to dress their man in the image they desire). Priced ¥10,000 (around $100), the bags each contain a handkerchief, tiepin, cuff buttons, mouthwash, and perfume — the ideal set of items for a man who wants to give his lady friend a kabe-don seduction in a real gentlemen’s guise.

If you fancy trying this out, you’d better hurry because there are only five of the kabe-don “costume” bags available.

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