Two things Japan is famous for just came crashing together big time: idols and robots.
AKB48′s fans have become notorious for spending vast amounts of time and money on merchandise and tributes to their favorite idols. But this takes the crown, we think. One particularly skilled and devoted admirer of AKB48 idol Yuki Kashiwagi showed his affection for the young idol by creating a realistic working robot of her!
Yukirin Robot may be missing her arms but she makes up for it with her luscious hair and cute long face that mimics the real-life singer she is based on.
Let’s compare. This is the “real” Yuki Kashiwagi.
And here the robotic tribute.
Not bad, huh?
The Yukirin (based on Yuki Kashiwagi’s nickname) android, whose eyes and head can move but who apparently lacks the ability to speak, was on exhibit at Niconico Chokaigi 3, a spin-off conference-style event of the popular streaming site, Niconico (formerly Nico Nico Douga). The event is touring the country at the moment, giving locals at every venue a chance to shine and show off their talents in various tech fields.
Over the weekend it was held in Suzaka City in Nagano Prefecture. On Saturday, visitors were greeted by the AKB48 starlet in robotic form.
Although Yukirin’s appearance at the recent Nagano edition of the touring “conference” has stirred up interest online, the robot was already seen in public in June at another Niconico Chokaigi event. As reported by Nihongo.com, Yukurin was developed by Takayuki Todo, a post-grade media art student who made the android for his graduation project.
Yukirin Robot works using an Xbox Kinect sensor in its (her?) chest to respond to people so the eyes will meet yours… just like you are meeting the real Yuki Kashiwagi at an AKB48 handshaking event. And the materials? Apparently it’s wood. We look forward to the upgrades!
It’s not just the Yukirin Robot, though. There were many other examples of the geeky but creative and fun creations that Nagano had to offer.
So there you have it. Japan is officially living in an uncanny valley. Its mobile phone shops are staffed by robots, it expends large amounts of science budgets on making creepy children androids, and now even its idols are robots.
Here is a documentary called Emoji Among Us, now available on Dissolve.
This short documentary (more like a trailer for a documentary) declares that emoji have become infused in our lives and communication, but are not always fully understood. Not surprisingly, the footage makes ample use of emoji-style characters.
As the makers say: “Emoji have become an inescapable part of our daily lives. This short film examines the far-reaching impact these very special characters have had on our society. Made entirely with footage from Dissolve… and 68 of our emoji friends.”
British viewers will immediately note how the narration apes the David Attenborough style of nature documentary that have been such hits for the BBC over the years.
“Since they first appeared on our shores earlier this decade, these charming and versatile figures have capture our hearts,” as the opening intones.
Before you get too excited, we should point it’s not actually Sir David, though, but apparently a voice actor called James Gillies. However, as the narration heavily hints, this whole documentary is kind of a spoof of TV nature shows.
As opposed to the American-made emoticon, emoji are of course a Japanese invention. The name means “picture word” or “picture character”, and so emoji are typically pictographic. First created by Shigetaka Kurita at NTT Docomo for the pioneering i-mode platform in order to lure all-important young users back to the digital fold, emoji were a hit as they allowed users to inject some cuteness and fun into their messaging. Not just a gimmick for youngsters, though, emoji in fact could be very useful in helping navigate communication when Japanese can be ambiguous. What may sound formal or cold is nonetheless often a standard response to something, and with an emoji added, the intended warmth and friendliness properly comes through. Eventually emoji conquered the world.
While emoticons and emoji can be used in the same way and as names are sometimes used interchangeably, they are technically created in different ways (most obviously, emoticon come from user-generated text) and emoji are ultimately limited since they are predefined images in code form that your computer or phone reads.
After first appearing in 2011 and proving a massive success in both 2012 and in 2013, the spectacular Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 is back. Exploiting Japan’s love of the decorative and the vibrant colors of kingyo goldfish to the max, the Art Aquarium event is popular with couples on dates and families looking for eye candy for the kids.
It opened for the fourth time at the Nihonbashi venue on July 11th. Last year’s edition achieved more than 300,000 visitors and this year the organizers surely hope to match this, pulling out all the stops with 5,000 goldfish and even new aquaria that use mirrors and lens called Paradoxrium and Reflectrium.
Technically speaking, there are two events: Art Aquarium is open from 11:00 to 19:00 while the Night Aquarium is from 19:00 to 23:30. As we said, the two main targets here are surely families and couples, so from 19:00 the lighting and music change, and visitors are allowed to take around drinks with them. There will also be live music from 19:00 on weekends. In other words, expect things to feel more romantic from the evening.
Themed around Edo and the goldfish motifs that populate art from the period, the aquarium is very much steeped in the tones of Japonism. It’s only a small coincidence that the venue is in Nihonbashi, an area that was instrumental in the Meiji and Taisho eras as Tokyo modernized.
There are many different kinds of aquaria featured in the exhibition, from balls to folding screen shapes, and complete with outlandish names like Elegance Dance, Bonborium, and Byouburium. You can see a slideshow and bilingual descriptions on the Art Aquarium website.
Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 runs until September 23rd at the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.
We remember the good ol’ days when every tech blog was keen-eyed for the latest development from Japan, when mainstream newspapers at least partly seemed to take Japanese fashion seriously, and… well, when our job was way easier! It’s so much harder these days to get other folk excited about Japan, even with the Olympics a few years away and the government’s mega-budget “Cool Japan” juggernaut apparently running at full steam. Japan just ain’t cool anymore.
But Monocle disagrees: Monocle loves Japan. The magazine of choice for hipsters, sophisticates and pseuds has an obsession with things Japanese — well, at least, that certain kind of highly curated and orchestrated “design” world Japan. It might not have anything to do with how ordinary Japanese people live their lives but Monocle at any rate adores Tokyo’s pristine and over-priced coffee shops, its toniest of tony boutiques, the design for exclusive clients by the likes of Kengo Kuma, and so on.
Its issues invariably feature a dose of Japan content from both Tokyo and the regions, and in the past it has put out a mini select store in the FrancFranc in Aoyama and even set up a Monocle Cafe in Marunouchi.
Founder Tyler Brûlé once mused to The Japan Times about what it is that he loves about Japan.
Tokyo is a city with a 24-hour metabolism. Customer service in Japan has an enthusiasm, a sense of “going for it,” that’s consistent. Whether it’s in a convenience store or a hotel, there’s an attention to detail. In the West, in too many cases, doing things “quickly” has become “slapdash.”
Now Monocle is on a mission: to save the Hotel Okura.
The magazine has launched an online petition to have the famous hotel saved from demolition.
It’s the “final checkout,” as they say.
News that Tokyo’s iconic 1960s Hotel Okura is to be reconstructed has been met with outrage from admirers of its unique design. While Tokyo’s changing skyline is what makes it special, demolitions like this threaten its architectural history.
The Hotel Okura is one of the great symbols of Japan’s postwar recovery, along with the Shinkanzen bullet train and Tokyo Tower. It opened two years ahead of the first Tokyo Olympics and its recent guests have included President Obama.
In September 2015 the best bit of the most loved hotel in Tokyo will be torn down by its owners to make way for a 38-storey glass tower. It will be a heartbreaking and irreparable loss.
The 550-room hotel will open 2019, in time for the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo Olympics. Though the 1973 Okura annex will remain, we can bid farewell to the murals, the wood, the tuxedos (on the staff), and the folk art motifs.
As a devotee of Japanese aesthetics, Monocle is taking the redevelopment very personally:
The demise of the Okura is akine to the loss of a good friend. Tokyo will not be the same without it.
As well as this online endeavor, Monocle’s current July/August issue is running a generous six-page photo report paying tribute to the Okura and showcasing the efforts to save it.
Sign the petition on savetheokura.com.
As Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to change Constitution, AKB48′s Haruka Shimazaki fronts Self-Defense Forces recruitment videoWritten by: William on July 8, 2014 at 8:18 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment
A recruitment campaign ad fronted by a sweet-looking, innocent pop music idol? Only in Japan.
“You and Peace” declares Haruka Shimazaki, the 20-year-old pop singer and member of idol group AKB48, who is the face of a new Self-Defense Forces recruitment commercial.
The SDF has a long history now of using moe motifs and Gravure idols in its recruitment campaigns and other promotional materials. It continues to do this because it increases applications among young men, no doubt charmed by the faux innocence of the visuals.
While this may cause a mixture of amusement, embarrassment or even mild shock to outsiders, this time the stakes are higher. The government is ramming through a change to the law to allow for so-called collective self-defense which lets Japan help defend its allies abroad (as opposed to strictly self-defense of Japan only). It is widely seen as the first step towards changing Japan’s much-lauded pacifist Constitution and has met with mass protests around Japan for weeks now, and even a shocking self-immolation in Shinjuku that was inexplicable ignored by much of the mainstream Japanese media.
Though its budget is larger than many nations with very active militaries and spending was boosted in 2013, Japan’s armed forces are still officially only for “self-defense”. As per the controversial Anpo security treaty, the USA promises to step in help defend Japan in the worst case scenario — hence the continued presence of American bases, especially in Japan. As thanks for hosting the US military, Japan benefits from American protection. Ostensibly its own forces, then, are for wasting money on purchasing equipment and arms it won’t need and to be used in major disasters — the SDF proved itself indispensable during the Tohoku crisis in spring 2011.
We might wonder if a male spokesperson might be a better choice: for example, a member of Exile, a J-pop supergroup of 19 men. They are one of the most successful and recognisable pop groups in Japan, with their own magazine, TV show, and over a dozen chart-topping albums. They regularly appear half-clothed on advertisements and billboards, and represent the pinnacle of mass-market masculinity. Also, Abe clearly has access to them: He invited them to perform at an ASEAN banquet only a few months ago. Wouldn’t an Exile member in fatigues be a great encouragement to get young men to rush to the nearest recruitment centre?
In short: no, because it would be too realistic. If one of these popular young men appeared in a military advertisement, it would be too easy to imagine that young man being killed in a war – and, by extension, for a young man watching the commercial to imagine themselves dying. Or, for anyone with a son or brother to imagine that person dying.
Instead, the aim behind using AKB 48 seems to be an attempt to appeal to a specific male desire to protect “their” women, all while cleverly sidestepping the possibility of danger.
Most countries’ military commercials give a glorified version of military service – bravery, sacrifice, adventure. We see images of men and women holding guns, sitting in tanks, and actually preparing for combat. This commercial does none of that.
Instead, the SDF commercial spends more time on close ups of the pretty girl’s face than anything else. The rest of the shots are mainly dedicated to pictures of young men standing at attention or running with tote bags. The last shot of a uniformed soldier is a smiling man hugging a young girl, with the caption “Disaster Relief”.
In other words, there is no mention of armed combat. The cutesy voiceover tells the viewer that the military is a place that is “like the sky, full of unlimited dreams”. This is no longer a military recruitment spot, this is an invitation to Tokyo Disneyland.
“War without actual war”? Yes, a fantasy for sure but no one is talking about this particular elephant in the room.
Japan’s forces have been participating in United Nations peace-keeping operations abroad for years now and SDF personnel were eventually sent to Iraq to assist the American mission (collective self-defense in all but name). However, essentially the SDF is untested in combat and whatever the saccharine appeal of Haruka Shimazaki, the reality of war is very far removed from the artificial world of idols. Any new recruits may one day soon find themselves having signed up for more than they expected…
Wearable Clothing by Urban Research virtual dressing room vendor lets you try on clothing digitally, purchase onlineWritten by: William on July 7, 2014 at 9:29 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments
Wearable Clothing by Urban Research is a virtual dressing room interactive digital unit was recently installed for a trial run in Ikebukuro Parco department. The fashion brand Urban Research created the unit which can be set up anywhere there’s electricity and wifi, and enough space. Like the many next-generation smart touchscreen vendors now commonly found in central Tokyo train stations, it uses a camera to scan the user’s body and in this case lets you browser Urban Research products, “try” them on, and connect to the label’s e-commerce platform so you can purchase them online.
The first test unit was available as a pop-up for use by shoppers (in English, Chines or Japanese) in Ikebukuro from June 17th to 30th. Look out for similar machines in train stations, departments stores and airport terminals; Urban Research plans to install six virtual fitting room vendors in 2014 and to have around 100 units in operation by 2020, including overseas. The brand already has a showroom in Taipei and wants to push the new virtual dressing room to Asian markets in the future, since it is much cheaper than opening up actual branches in new regions. Its online retail arm also currently occupies roughly a 20% share of its sales and it is aggressively expanding on this.
This kind of tryvertising technology has been developing in Japan for several years now. Past successes include Shiseido’s “digital cosmetic mirror”. Japan also has a well-established tradition of “unmanned shops”, from its thousands of varied vending machines to roadside vegetable stalls.
The Wearable Clothing system uses Kinect, a 60-inch LCD display, and an iPad. Kinect is increasingly the software of choice for these augmented reality virtual fitting units; a similar one for Topshop also utilized back in 2011. Urban Research spent a year working on the project with a web development company, spent some ¥20 million ($200,000) to create two initial vendors.
It responds to the user’s movements in real time as you try on your selected item (3D “real-time fitting”, as the makers term it) and even promises to give you a virtual experience of the texture of the clothing materials (so-called “cloth simulation”). As the Time Out blogger put it, “way more satisfying than fiddling with zips and buttons and bad lighting in a real dressing room.” If what you browse or try on takes your fancy, you can then add it to your basket and use the QR code it prints to access the brand’s online store and complete your purchase of the item.
Urban Research is boasting that this is the first example in the apparel industry of a single unit offering a virtual fitting and retail service all in one, as well as coordination with users’ social media.
The Wearable Clothing virtual fitting room is planned to appear next at Tokyo Skytree’s Solamachi mall this August.
The question, though, is whether in Japan, a culture with a very strong customer service ethos, could these types of virtual vendors truly take off and replace staffed stores completely?
Sumitomo 3M has created a special website for creating fashion items online, controlled by the volume of your voice. The “Scotch Summer Holidays Family Kousaku Paper Fashion Kids” (or just Scotch Kousaku — “Scotch handicrafts”) allows users to design their own clothing using the internal mic in their computer and voice recognition. By printing the design out, budding fashionistas can then assemble the pieces together using scissors or paper cutters.
Scotch Kousaku is live now and is available until August 31st, making it a cool activity for parents to give kids to do at home while they are off school.
The Scotch brand has been doing these kinds of online campaigns locally for kids and parents every summer since 2012 and 2014′s one is built around the idea of turning children into young designers.
The site is only in Japanese but is fairly easy to navigate. 3M provides you with ten wallpaper designs — a few basic clothes (t-shirts, dresses etc) and accessories (bags, hats) that are plain to get you started. You then supply the colors and patterns by selecting certain options — and shouting! The colors then respond to the volume and tone of your voice. For example, the more noise you make the more various multicolored leaves, splashes, circles and other patterns will appear.
Since kids are well-known for being loud, this is the perfect way to vent their vocal and creative skills.
Here is one we tried making… All right, we’re not natural fashion designers! Clearly we aren’t loud enough.
Here are some examples that 3M have put on the website to give you inspiration. They are downloadable as PDFs.
The clothes come in three sizes: Small (100-110cm), medium (110-120cm) and large (120-130cm).
Sumitomo 3M likes to do these kinds of campaigns to liven up the potentially mundane world of adhesive tape and Post-its. A few years ago they even had a very funky pop-up store in Omotesando that was more like an arts and crafts outlet than a shop to buy stationery.
There are no details available at present but the Scotch Kousaku website also promises a bricks-and-mortar store from late August where kids can try their hand at designing clothes.
For really releasing the need to shout, though, we recommend the Shouting Vase!
We’ve already seen the Animal Face Pack, which took animals from Tokyo’s famous Ueno Zoo and turned them into beauty tools.
Now how about taking this fashion idea even further?
Zoo Jeans is a range of clothing designed by tigers and other animals. Huh? Yes, we’re not lying.
Zoo Jeans, the maker say, are “the only jeans on earth designed by dangerous animals”.
The denim materials have been wrapped around tires and rubber balls and then given to the animals to play with. They “roar, gnaw and claw at their toys,” as the organizers say! The materials are carefully reclaimed from the creatures and, complete with claw and bite marks, are made into the final jeans by a small factory in Okayama.
There are three models, each with the scratches and bites of their respective “designers”: lions, Ussuri brown bears and Bengal tigers.
Here’s a kind of making-of gallery…
You can then wear jeans that make you look like you have survived a battle with nature’s most fearsome beasts… and lived to tell the tale.
An initiative by the zoo’s volunteer suppporters’ club, all the clothes will be displayed at Kamine Zoo in Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, from July 6th to July 21st.
The tiger and lion jeans will be available for one week only on Yahoo! Auction, starting on July 7th. Profits from the sales will be donated to the WWF and Kamine Zoo.
Here’s a video showing how they did it.
This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
Sumida River Fireworks Festival. Pic by Tokyo Times, used under a Creative Commons licence.
If you’re in or near Tokyo this summer, you don’t want to miss these events. The season starts with a bang, as fireworks festivals explode around the city from late-July to the end of August. You’ll find that the Samba Carnival in Asakusa is one of the hottest things in the city (next to the temperatures), closely rivalled by the mega dance event that is Super Yosakoi. Keen on checking out one of the three great Shinto festivals of Tokyo? How about a huge comic event? Scrap your expensive travel plans – Tokyo has all you need for a sizzling summer.
1. Fireworks Festivals: Late July – End of August
Pic by Taro Yamamoto, used under a Creative Commons licence.
While summer might not have a distinctive floral marker (except maybe for the sunflower) like other seasons in Japan do, it does have a whole lot of “fire flowers”, a direct translation of the Japanese word for fireworks, hanabi. Some of the bigger fireworks festivals include those in Kamakura and Tamagawa, as well as the Jingugaien Fireworks Festival, which takes place at the Jingu Stadium, and the Edogawa Hanabi Taikai. The two mega events, however, are the Tokyo Bay Fireworks Festival — an 80-minute celebration of 12,000 fireworks, and the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival — an intensely crowded event featuring 90 minutes of blasts and roughly a million people.
Other noteworthy shows include ones in Showa Kinen Park, Hachioji, Itabashi and Katsushika City. Don your summer kimono (yukata), grab some cheap beer and enjoy the shows.
2. Fukagawa Festival: August 13th-17th
Pic by Hamachi, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Along with the Kanda Matsuri and Sanno Matsuri, the Fukagawa Festival is one of the three big Shinto festivals of Tokyo. The event is probably most famous for its gigantic water fight-slash-procession, which only happens every third year — the good news is this year is one of those years! The last time that the hon matsuri, or “proper festival” version (with the drenching part) took place was 2012 — originally it was scheduled for 2011, but due to the earthquake, it was postponed. The organisers decided to stick to the original schedule for 2014 though, which means that the next watery affair will only take place in 2017. The idea behind the splashing and spraying is that the water is purifying — but on a practical level, it also cools the participants down.
You can expect a grand parade of 120 portable shrines, or mikoshi, with some huge ones in the mix. There will be taiko drumming, music and more. The festival, believed to have started in 1642, is centered around Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, which was built in 1627.
3. Comiket 2014: August 15th-17th
Pic by jeriaska, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Tokyo’s Comiket, or ”Comic Market” is a celebration of all things comic-related, regularly attracting crowds of over 500,000 people. Tens of thousands of manga artists sell their self-published dojinsha (independent) works, with a huge variety of genres and styles on offer. You can pick up some pretty rare stuff, and some people later flog their finds on internet auction sites.
Entrance to Comiket is free, unless you want to dress up — cosplaying will cost you ¥800. You can expect a fair few wacky outfits in addition to incredibly detailed representations of characters from manga and anime.
This is one event where arriving late is better than getting there early — to avoid lengthy queues, those in the know advise arriving around noon. The next Comiket will take place in winter and is a slightly smaller event than the summer version.
4. 33rd Asakusa Samba Carnival: August 23rd
Pic by Chen Qu, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Gaining immense popularity over the years, the Asakusa Samba Carnival has become one of Tokyo’s major summer festivals. The event sees 18 teams compete for the carnival title, with samba floats, drummers and, of course, lots of dancers with minuscule and or colourful costumes, and enormous feathered head dresses. Prepare to jostle your way through masses of telephoto lenses! The carnival kicks off at 1pm and should be all over by 6pm.
If you’re keen for a taste of what to expect (as well as lots of tasty Brazilian food), check out the Brazilian Day celebrations at Yoyogi Park on July 19-20th.
5. Super Yosakoi 2014: August 23rd-24th
Pic by முதல் அ வரை, used under a Creative Commons licence.
If you’ve ever wanted to see authentic Japanese dance, this is a fantastic event to check out. 6,000 dancers in teams from all over the country compete annually in the Super Yosakoi dance contest, with colourful costumes and impressive moves. The atmosphere in Harajuku and Omotesando is electric, with stage performances as well as mammoth 5-8 hour parades.
The yosakoi dance originated in Kochi Prefecture in 1954 as a modern take on traditional summer dance. One of its defining characteristics is the use of small wooden clappers called naruko, originally used to scare birds away from rice fields. Dancers often use other props too, like drums and banners.
Check out the Cheapo Weekend every Thursday for more budget-friendly events!