Now this is going to be fast.
Kyodo News has reported that Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) has formally filed an application today with the Japanese transport ministry to build a maglev (magnetically levitated train) line between Tokyo and Nagoya.
Maglevs in Japan go back to the 1980′s. There are two trains, HSST by Japan Airlines and SCMaglev by the Central Japan Railway Company. The HSST train uses imported German technology, making the SCMaglev Japan’s only real homegrown maglev. One of the HSST models is the popular Linimo train, built for the 2005 Expo in Aichi, though it is relatively slow by maglev standards.
JR Tokai’s SCMaglev (Superconducting Maglev) started development back in 1969 but went through a radical redesign in time for a new test in 1987. Tests have been continuing on special tracks in Miyazaki and Yamanashi. In 2003 the SCMaglev achieved record speeds of 581 km/h (361 mph). The government deemed it ready for commercial rollout in 2009 and since then plans have been proceeding for the new linking the capital and Japan’s third city, to be followed by a further line connecting Nagoya with Osaka by 2045.
If the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry give the go-ahead, JR Tokai may start building the new SCMaglev in October, though we will have to wait until at least 2027 before the actual line is operational! But if that sounds like a long time to twiddle your thumbs, then consider how time you (or your kids) will save hopping from Tokyo to Nagoya in the future. As we know, the Shinkansen bullet train is fast. But this maglev will cut the 100 minutes that express takes down to a mere 40! Once extended to Osaka, a trip between Tokyo and Kansai will be just over an hour.
The cost of the construction of what may be the world’s fastest train is estimated at ¥9 trillion.
JR Tokai and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also hope that the SCMaglev will be adopted in America as an intercity system fit to meet the challenges of such a vast nation.
Batman no longer lives in Gotham. He’s fighting crime in Japan!
Japanese social media has been abuzz with some amazing images of Batman driving in his Batpod along the highways in the Tokyo area.
Okay, it’s not quite as good as it sounds. This “Batman” was spotted by motorists on the roads of Chiba, the prefecture next to Tokyo.
Some images of “Chi-battoman”, as he’s been dubbed, was snapped on Sunday afternoon and the images went viral on Twitter.
Other pictures soon followed.
All right, it’s not exactly Christopher Nolan but you’d still be impressed if you saw this Caped Crusader drive past you on the expressway.
We’d not sure how legal this Batpod is. At least at one point the driver attracted the attention of the police.
Of course, cosplay (costume play) on the mean streets of Japan is nothing new.
And if you want to drive around the city like you’re playing Mario Kart for real, you should check out Akiba Cart in Akihabara. It rents out go-karts that can be driven legally on regular roads. Not surprisingly, it attracts plenty of fun video game cosplay.
Another day, another crazy use of English in the world of Tokyo retail?
But no, this isn’t another new entry in the long annals of places in Japan with unfortunate English names. The innuendo is deliberate.
Opening on Omotesando on September 5th, Shag — see what we mean? — is Japan’s first mainstream nightclub devoted to fashion and fetish. The name was inspired by Sex, the legendary boutique run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.
Over three floors Tokyoites will be able to enjoy attending dress-code-only events that promise something a bit more exciting than the usual brand flagship stores that line the city’s most exclusive strip.
We love the concept behind Shag and its neat three words of copy: Bizarre Style Factory.
Cinematic influences should also be apparent.
The ground floor main hall space Asylum takes its cue from the cult 1997 British film “Preaching to the Perverted”, while the second-floor bar Cat Milk Bar is both erotic and stylish, in the manner of “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). Lounge bar Utamaro back on the ground floor again, is meant to be a cross between “Bladerunner” and the 1987 Japanese film “Yoshiware Enjo”. (For the uninitiated, Yoshiwara is the area of east Tokyo where the historical pleasure quarter was located, and even today it is home to a healthy sex trade.)
There are private karaoke rooms and a range of different cubbyholes to drink and make merry (we like the sound of the “Secret Relax Sofas” on both the floors). The people behind Shag hope the club will be hired out for events and parties.
It will make a very welcome contrast to the tony and pampered designer stores and expensive eateries of the Aoyama area, even if it might actually be more at home in Shinjuku or Akihabara.
Should we be too surprised by the arrival of a fetish nightclub in Aoyama? Well, Omotesando is already home to the quirky and popular Condomania… so perhaps no!
ISIS has apparently captured a Japanese men in Aleppo with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Although still unverified and as yet to appear in the mainstream media at time of writing, images and videos have emerged of the man being held prisoner in Syria by ISIS (IS) soldiers. The man appears disheveled and slightly bloodied, but apparently not seriously injured.
According to links and videos shared initially by Thoton News Japan and others, his Islamic State captors claim he wouldn’t be dressed like he is if he were a photographer. They also claim he has a gun and demand to know why.
The Japanese man answers he is half a doctor, half a photographer. He says he got the gun from a dead soldier.
Here is the video of an impromptu interrogation seemingly immediately after his capture. He gives his name but the music soundtrack makes it hard to hear. It might be Haruna Yukawa, who seems to be a military contractor of some kind, working in Syria through his “private military company” PMC Japan. The first video shows the man being forced to repeat what his captors say.
While there was some earlier online speculation, the man does not seem to be the Japanese extreme tourist and amateur photographer Toshifumi Fujimoto, who has been known to turn up in war zones.
We will be updating as we learn more. For now, we hope the man is treated humanely and the Japanese government can assist him.
Update (August 18th)
The Japanese Embassy in Syria has said that they received information about the man’s capture on August 16th and are currently treating it as a kidnapping.
The videos originally posted have already been removed by the users. We found the first video elsewhere and reposted it.
Update (August 19th)
The consensus is that the man held captive is indeed military contractor Haruna Yukawa and he is certainly not a photographer or doctor, and that he has ties to the FSA, opposed by the Islamic State and the Syrian government.
However, Mr Yukawa’s fate is still uncertain and many of the original videos posted on YouTube have disappeared. This is unusual, since IS et al usually have no qualms about boasting of their activities in dealing with infidels and the like.
He would likely have considerable information that would be valuable to the enemies of the FSA and this may be too valuable to IS simply to execute a pesky foreign adventurist involved in their war. Japan also has a record of paying generous ransoms to so-called “terrorist” groups in the past and the IS may even be hoping for something along those lines (given the size and resources of the Islamic State, though, this is a long shot).
Update (August 27th)
Reuters has investigated and found out more about Yukawa’s background. It seems he is not the mercenary people thought he was.
[Images via KhabarTV.]
While this may all sound very esoteric (and very Japanese), apparently drop and other “twin tail” merchandise are so popular that they have launched their own official online shop now. If you’re surprised, bear in mind that Twin Tail Japan has almost 40,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 16,000 likes on Facebook (a LOT more than JapanTrends!).
Using the free Japanese EC platform Base, you can now get yourself drop goodies like iPhone covers, towels, bags and clothes.
So do you want your own drop t-shirts? By the way, they costs $100 each!
We’ve not sure how drop’s actual idol music career is padding out — the trio made their live concert debut in July — but they seem to have a busy calendar, with more events coming in August in Shibuya and elsewhere. What do you think of the girls’ talents?
But if the drop apparel and other merchandise doesn’t take your fancy, how about a book of photos with pigtail cuties armed with machine guns? Yes, it really does exist.
Hobonichi has opened Tobichi, a store and gallery in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, where it will hold special events and sell its merchandise. It does has a rather unfortunate name in English (the “bichi” part sounds like another word entirely!) but this is significant because it’s the first ever bricks-and-mortar store for the Hobonichi brand.
Hobonichi (“almost daily”) is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets, despite the valiant efforts of a few. Founded by copywriter Shigesato Itoi, it is a kind of web magazine cum fan club with a carefully managed editorial tone.
It is very hard to define why Hobonichi is so successful, especially with a certain kind of Japanese female urbanite in their thirties. Its business model just wouldn’t seem to work on paper — but then that’s because it’s not on paper, it’s online. The Hobonichi method consists of building up a popular content portal called 1101.com as a “media” and then selling products alongside this. Since the products are fully integrated into the style of the Hobonichi content, this works very well.
Hobonichi carries no advertising; its revenue is solely from the branded products it offers to fans, everything from calendars to t-shirts and books. The Hobonichi staple product has always been the daily pocketbook/appointment diary, the Hobonichi Techo, now available in English as the Hobonichi Planner. It is full of the usual cute Hobonichi gimmicks, such as little quotes at the bottom of each page, and inspires creative use of its pages.
The planner is Hobonichi’s strongest seller and they have sold it through their own online shop and in select other stores, such as Loft. Part of Hobonichi’s success lies in how it hasn’t spread too far too fast; it has held back, concentrating on curating the distinctly lackadaisical voice of the 1101.com website and its products rather than only trying to flog ever more products to the greatest number of customers.
The new store is located not far from the Hobonichi office and, on top of being a physical place for stocking Hobonichi goods, will also champion the artists that Hobonichi likes, exhibiting their work for free in the space. As such opening times will vary depending on the event or exhibit it is running, though the exterior alone looks impressive enough. If you’re in the area (very close to the Nezu Museum), be sure to check it out.
The results have been announced of a survey by Video Research of five commercial TV broadcasters in Kanto (the area including Tokyo and Yokohama), Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe etc) and Nagoya. The survey looked at the celebrities appearing in TV commercials in the first half of 2014.
In all three regions the top ranker was actress Aya Ueto. However, the surprise came in the results for AKB48, seven of whose members or ex-members appeared individually in the top twenty for the same period last year — but this year they only managed one entry.
Last year Atsuko Maeda, Mariko Shinoda, Yuko Oshima, Haruna Kojima, Haruka Shimazaki, Mayu Watanabe, and Yuki Kashiwagi all had slots in the top twenty (some of these idols were already ex-members by this point but their claim to fame rests solely in the group). This year, while AKB48 as a group still has its fair share of campaigns, the only individual idol in the top twenty was Mayu Watanabe, currently seen as the most popular idol in the group. Watanabe also only ranked in the Kanto region; she wasn’t popular in Kansai or Nagoya.
Japanese TV commercials are dominated by celebrities, models and actors. It is not seen as shameful or damaging to the career to appear in commercials, even when they seem only to appear in TV commercials rather than do genuine acting jobs. (Aya Ueto is a case in point.)
Of course, these results are not for nationwide campaigns, so we should write off the AKB48 juggernaut just yet (after all, AKB holds the Guinness World Record for the most number of appearances in different television commercials in a single day… 90!), though it is a worrying decline for its accountants. The pop idol group’s mainstream success is largely dependent on its appearance in lucrative advertising campaigns (sometimes for completely incongruous products or services), since the concerts, events and music sales are generally seen as confined still to its (not insignificant) otaku fan base.
But with the “graduation” of some of the most recognizable faces from AKB in the last two or three years — going on to mixed careers in acting and music — the group itself has lost some of its visual appeal. The proliferation of “sister groups” around the country and the rise of some of the idols in those groups has also possibly diluted the prominence of the original team’s hard-core members. As Finance Minister Taro Aso recently remarked, AKB48 is a case of the sum being stronger than the individual parts (i.e. the members).
It might also be that sponsors have finally wised up to how having scantily-clad young girls associated with their services doesn’t do their reputations much good (especially abroad) or that, ultimately, the ads weren’t paying off in higher sales.
Aside from their sexually provocative songs and presentation, the AKB48 way of doing business has been criticized for being damaging to the Japanese domestic music industry, plus the merchandising exploitative to consumers. There have also been accusations of sexual hypocrisy (members aren’t allowed boyfriends and get punished for infringements) and links between its management and the mafia.
Intriguingly, a media report about the survey was a major listing on Yahoo! News in Japan yesterday but has since been deleted. Yahoo! News article regularly disappear in such a fashion but rarely quite so fast. Could it be that AKB’s powerful friends (who include the Prime Minister!) put pressure on the news portal to remove the unfavorable article? Or are we getting paranoid?
The Japanese summer is very hot — hot and humid. The up side of this is you get great festivals and fireworks, and also yukata, outdoor music events, and trips to the beach.
But trying to go about your normal life in the muggy, oppressive heat can be horrible, especially if you are one of the millions of poor souls who have to schlep to work on the rush hour trains. The air-conditioning may be on full blast but there is just too much heat, too much sweat and too many people.
There is another side to this season and that is you get lots of unusual summer products and gadgets. We’ve already covered some of the best “cooling” beverage trends in Japan, plus last year ran a basic guide for staying cool in the dog days.
How about trying some of these more unique ways to keep your temperature down?
This special parasol keeps off the sun’s brutal rays but also gives you a “visor” so you can still watch the sports match or other outdoor event.
The name says it all. You haven’t lived till you’ve tried this. While the taste may not to be everyone’s liking, there’s no contesting the originality of the concept and the ingenuity of the drink as a way to beat the summer heat.
THere is a whole series of these Kuchofuku “air-conditioned” clothes, from shirts to pants, helmets, jackets and even bee-keeper suits! Also check out the Deoest range of “odor-eliminating” clothes that are made with special materials to kill bad smells.
Similar to the 3 Way Cool Arm Cover, this mask will keep off ultra-violet rays and ensure you don’t lose that pale complexion. Given that in the west women mostly want to get a healthy-looking tan, this may seem strange but the appeal of these kinds of products in Japan is that female beauty is often associated with fair skin. Women want to do sports and be out and about during the summer, but don’t want to sacrifice their beauty.
Our final selection is here to prove that tie-up merchandise really does come in all shapes and forms. This desk fan is for aficionados of the popular video game franchise, though you might not want to let your boss see you
playing with it using it at work.
This article by Yulia Mizushima first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
When I first moved to Tokyo, I was living on ¥1,000 a day while renting half a room in the cheapest of cheap share houses. I didn’t care though — this is one of those special few cosmopolitan cities where you can experience the best of it for free, if you know where to look. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of ten top free things to do in Harajuku, pop culture hub and stomping ground of Tokyo’s most fashionable trendsetters.
Pic by Jacob Ehnmark, used under a Creative Commons licence.
1. Release your Inner Street-Style Photographer
Harajuku is known for being home to Japan’s most wildly fashionable brands, so much so that people dedicate their wardrobes to its unique and peculiar style. Roam through Yoyogi Park or wander across Harajuku Bridge and bring your best camera, because this is one of the few places in the world where your photo subjects will gladly pose (and even dance for you!) without demanding spare change. Girls in French maid outfits, boys in “visual kei” punk rock glam, girls and boys cosplaying their favourite anime characters or dancing to 1950s American rock music and paying homage to the iconic rockabilly lifestyle. Sundays are when Harajuku’s magic really happens. Bring a full battery and an empty SD card.
Pic by Mikael Leppa, used under a Creative Commons licence.
2. Get Lost on Takeshita-dori
If you find yourself stuck in a sensory-overload daze, surrounded by toys, clothes and a lot of unidentifiable knick-knacks that make you want to gag from their sheer cuteness, it’s a safe bet that you are on Takeshita-dori (“dori” meaning street in Japanese). This famous pedestrian-only street is known for its trendy boutiques, game centers and a super Daiso store, where you can buy anything you can dream of (as long as it’s worth ¥100).
Yoga pic via Shutterstock.
3. Yoga at Yoyogi Park
If there’s one thing in Tokyo that’s really expensive, it’s space. Luckily for those interested in or committed to yoga, over 100 acres of Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park is free to use as you wish. It’s perfect if you can’t afford an expensive gym membership. You can go solo, or you can go with English Morning Yoga, one of Meetup.com’s most popular events in Tokyo. After a cheap, hour-long class in simple English you’ll receive a muesli yogurt breakfast snack. It’s a fun way to meet new people and kickstart your day. Yoga enthusiasts of all levels are welcome, you just need to bring your own yoga mat and towel. Every Wednesday at 8am.
4. Escape to a Spiritual Oasis
Being in a dense and overly-stimulating city like Tokyo can wear you down, but you can rejuvenate by making a visit to Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu). Enter Yoyogi Park through Aoyama 1-chome and stroll through the Avenue of Ginko Trees. This nature-lover’s walk is lovely anytime of the year, but especially so in the autumn, when the leaves change color and park visitors are surrounded by 360° of unbelievably vivid shades of red and gold. From there, you can drift northwards through the park until you’ve reached the shrine’s landmark entrance, the 40-foot tall Meiji Jingu Torii (gate).
Once you’re inside, you can cleanse your hands and mouth at the purifying water fountain as a mark of respect to the shrine’s Shinto customs. Then, if you like, you can throw a coin into the offerings box — the amount is totally up to you – deeply bow twice, make a wish, clap your hands twice, and bow once more. Remember to take your hat off first if you’re wearing one. Take your time at the shrine, but bear in mind that it’s a place of great respect for Japanese people.
Pic by Hikosaemon, used under a Creative Commons licence.
5. Crash a Wedding
Just kidding. Please do not actually crash a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony if you are lucky enough to witness one while visiting Yoyogi Park’s Meiji Jingu Shrine. The procession is quite a sight to see: a parade of two priests, two shrine maidens, the couple, and a long trail of friends and family. Tourist or local, you’ll be blown away by the colour and beauty of it. Just make sure to stay out of the way and thank your lucky stars you brought that long-range zoom lens.
6. Play Inside a Manga Book
You know that shopping mall with the kaleidoscope of mirrors as an entrance? Tokyu Plaza Omotesando, that’s the one. It’s a short walk down Meiji-dori from Yoyogi Park or Harajuku Station. When you get there, go up to the fifth floor and you’ll find yourself in a quirky indie gift shop designed like a giant manga book. While Tokyo’s Tokyo (that’s the name of the store) is famous for its collection of “sofubi” vinyl art toys, the store has a wonderful collection of books, toys, clothes, and other sought-after collectables. It’s a decently large space, perfect for anyone looking for some art-porn.
Pic by Yusuke Kawasaki, used under a Creative Commons licence.
7. Pop by NHK Studio Park
Only a 10-minute walk from Harajuku Station, NHK Studio Park is part of the headquarters of NHK – the public broadcaster. While it’s not the most thrilling of attractions, it is an interesting place to visit for an overview of Japan’s national broadcasting history, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at some of Japan’s most famous dramas, sports, entertainment, news, and anime shows. You can also try your hand at voice dubbing activities and, if you’re there at the right time, watch live tapings in the studio. There are hour-long tours conducted in Japanese and English – these are free for children, ¥150 for high school students and ¥200 for adults.
8. Dress like a Harajuku Girl (or Boy)
There is no “one way” to dress in Harajuku style, because its constantly changing. But what better way to immerse yourself in Japan’s subculture than by joining in the fun? There’s only one rule when dressing for Harajuku: be creative and open-minded! Mix and match your favourite styles, go bold, and don’t hold back. Harajuku girls and boys have well-known styles like gothic Lolita, cute Lolita, punk rock glam, French maid, schoolgirl, and cosplay, but that doesn’t mean you have to pick just one. Feel free to mix different styles and even cross cultures if you’re daring. Go all out, there’s so much you can do in terms of accessories, make-up, colors, layers, DIY customization, etc. As a tourist, you might have the urge to go crazy with your camera, but try to repress your inner photographer, because you’re going to be the subject of many photographers once you’re there. Be ready to say “cheezu!”
Tokyo Skyline pic by marc ember, used under a Creative Commons licence.
9. Enjoy the Tokyo Skyline View
Night is when Tokyo really shines, but what kind of cheapo pays ¥1,000-2,000 to get into the typical tourist sightseeing platforms like Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower? Omotesando’s Two Rooms Bar and Grill lets their customers take in the gorgeous northern Tokyo skyline free of cover charge. Instead of that entrance fee, treat yourself to a martini on their fifth floor outdoor terrace.
If you’re more of a sunshine person, head over to Wired Café 360 after a long day of shopping (or just window shopping) in Harajuku. This circular café mostly consists of ceiling-high windows that provide a serene backdrop of the foliage on the terrace. Oh, and there’s free Wi-Fi!
10. Recycle Your Clothes
It’s not just free, it might even add a few extra yen to your wallet. Tokyo has a unique second-hand store setup that outshines Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” any day. The thrift shops that will buy your clothes are very picky though; you can’t just throw them your old gym sweater and expect some cash. Some not-so-cheapo-friendly Harajuku stores, like Komehyo and RagTag (both of which also have other branches throughout Tokyo) will only take designer brand apparel! Parting with your once-treasured clothes and accessories can be a bit emotional, which is why Pass the Baton (Omotesando, walking distance from Harajuku) honors that relationship by carefully interviewing each seller and adding a story and biography to each item. They even let the seller decide the price!
If you are more serious about getting hard cash for your clothes, think about applying to be a vendor at the Yoyogi Flea Market. Vendor applications cost $40, and although schedules tend to be irregular, during peak seasons, the “Free Market” can provide space for up to 800 vendors. Read more about Tokyo’s flea markets.
Extra Summertime Activities:
Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival (Aug 16)
Summertime is yukata time in Japan, and what better place to show off your threads than the streets of Harajuku? A trip to Japan is not complete without the traditional Japanese experience of relaxing in a yukata with friends and enjoying copious amounts of beer and street food while watching an amazing fireworks show. You can expect typical Tokyo crowds, so get there early.
Pic by Yamamomo Koubou, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi (Aug 23, 24)
Dancers from all over Japan (and even other countries) show off their best moves in the “Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi” parade. This colourful and energetic mixture of traditional and modern Japanese artistic culture attracts over 800,000 locals and tourists every year. Originally from Koichi city, the Yosokai festival was created in 1954 by their local Chamber of Commerce, apparently to combat the psychologically negative effects of the economic recession. With over 90 teams and a total of around 5 000 dancers seemingly competing against each other to be the loudest and most spirited, you’ll definitely be shouting and clapping along with them.
Looking to explore Shinjuku too? Here are ten free things to do there.