Japanese beer makers are in trouble. Retail sales for regular beer have been declining for years now as salarymen who like a can of fizzy lager in the evening opt for cheaper variations. Even happoushu, the first kind of ersatz beer the makers came up with to get round the tax on booze, is no longer popular, usurped by the even cheaper (and even more fake) daisan (“third”) beers.
In other words, no one cares about quality any more. It’s just about the price.
Some people are fighting back, hence the gentle growth in craft beer bars in Tokyo over the last few years, where people are willingly to pay for high-end ales and (over-priced) food.
But what about the big beers? How can they try to whip up excitement in a cynical consumer base?
Kirin has succeeded with its frozen beer campaign, where you can get a beer that not only has a large head — the typical serving style in Japan, much to the exasperation of foreigners — but is even frozen so as to offer a hyper-cool drink for the summer. The result is below-zero beer slushies (at least, for around half an hour, before it melts). They are also advertising this with popular actress Yu Aoi to show that drinking beer is not just for middle-aged businessmen.
Following its successful launch last year, there is now frozen beer on tap at the “Ichiban Garden” spaces in Tokyo and elsewhere. And for 2013 it’s not just the basic Kirin Ichiban Shibori lager but a stout and others, all available with frozen foam to chill you down in the humid months. It has been particularly popular at baseball games at stadiums where the frozen foam head servers are available.
It reminds us also of the success that Asashi enjoyed with its “sub-zero beer”, a special Extra Cold version of its Super Dry lager, which you can get at certain bars with the right equipment. They even opened a special bar for sub-zero Super Dry suds in Ginza in 2010, which had huge lines outside during the summer. Asahi continues its aggressive expansion of special Extra Cold bars, and the number of Extra Cold servers in regular bars and restaurants around Japan.
In the same vein, Takara Tomy has been releasing a series of home beer-drinking gimmick toys. They all make a joke about the word “hour” meaning “drinking time” (Happy Hour etc) and also awa, or foam.
The latest is the Sonic Hour Beer Head Froth Maker, a special platform that uses sonic waves to generate the right “head” that Japanese drinkers want from their beers, even ones that they pour at home out of a can.
The first was the Beer Hour, an unusual beer can pourer that gave you the much-desired foamy head, which was followed by the Beer Jokki Hour, a unique type of beer glass (jokki) that had a very analog-looking switch that generated the right amount of foam.
These people seem to love it, at any rate.
If there’s one thing you’ll notice walking around Tokyo, it’s that people are always on the move. At any given moment of the day, no matter where you are in the city, the sidewalks are jammed with people.
Where do Tokyoites get that extra pep in their step? A good, old-fashioned cup of coffee, that’s where. Although, I’m not sure old-fashioned is the right term.
Coffee, much like everything else in Japan, comes in every variety imaginable.
An easy choice for Japanese and foreigners alike is Starbucks. We all know the logo, and with just under 1,000 stores in Japan, it’s no difficult task finding a Starbucks location. They’ve even released a Frappuccino Loves Fashion booklet to help plan your outfit that your drink will best accessorize.
The free booklet is filled with modern-vintage looks inspired by current Frappuccino flavors. It is laid out as a how-to style guide for the fashion-conscious Starbucks customer. If you’re feeling a floral print, why not pair it with a Mango Passion Tea Frappuccino to complete the overall look? Taken on surface value, the booklet is fun eye candy while reminding us that Starbucks is for everyone, even those with a sweet tooth.
Perhaps something a little less cookie-cutter is more your style? All you coffee aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief. Hipster coffee spots like Omotesando Koffee, which was originally planned as a one-year pop up in a house, are here to stay in Tokyo. There seems to have been an explosion in recent years in uber-cool coffee joints in Tokyo neighborhoods like Shimokitazawa, Aoyama et al, all supremely curated in their beverages and also the world they present for the Monocle-reading crowds.
There is also a risk that some of this slips into snobbery and self-importance. In the case of, say, Bear Pond Espresso, it has even produced its own book and will not make its signature espresso for patrons who dare to turn up after 2pm, since apparently it is by then “too busy” for the barista to concentrate on his art! Certainly some visitors are not pleased with the “overly precious” and unwelcoming atmosphere of the place.
There is a danger of taking yourself too seriously — and a danger partaken not just by the hipster hang-outs. Even Doutor, the most ubiquitous and low-brow of all coffee shop chains in Japan, produced its own piece of navel-gazing literature, Doutor Lovers, with Casa Books, complete with photos by Takashi Honma.
The NY Times recently said that coffee is as Japanese as baseball and beer, given that Japan imports more than 930 million pounds of coffee each year, which is more than France of cafe au lait fame.
But all that coffee is not going into the siphons of exclusive Tokyo coffee shops or even the cheap cups of Doutor et al. Where does a lot of it end up?
It’s the old faithful coffee in a can. Now, I know what you’re thinking. But, here in Japan, drinking a can of coffee, bought from one of thousands of vending machines that litter the streets, is common practice. To put things in perspective, Georgia Coffee cans are Coca Cola’s number-one selling product in Japan. A favorite of busy salarymen, canned coffee (hot or cold, depending on the season) is a quick and cheap solution for that caffeine jolt you need. Extra sugar, no sugar, black, extra creamy… The varieties to choose from are near never-ending. Even Starbucks has its own canned coffee and other drink products that you can get in some convenience stores and vending machines.
In the sub-cultural Mecca that is Japan, coffee culture is alive and deliciously thriving. Grab a cup (or a can!) and enjoy.
For its latest concept bra to announce its new range, Triumph has come up with the Branomics Bra.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. This is a reference to Prime Minister Abe’s “Abenomics”, the fiscal policies aiming to raise inflation, consumption tax and the value of the Nikkei.
Check out the rising arrows, like the surge of the yen in recent months, and the other little in-jokes on economic growth and inflation. The bra is also meant to offer an increase in volume thanks to extra padding, which isn’t a bad metaphor for government policy in general.
It is, of course, just a gimmick meant to promote Triumph International’s regular line-up of bras, so don’t expect to see it on a shop shelf any time soon.
Every season Triumph — which is actually based in Switzerland — has a stunt like this in Japan in which it pays tribute to something topical or trending. This normally results in a bizarre-looking piece of underwear made with unusual materials that must surely be very uncomfortable to wear for any of the unfortunate models who has to show it off to the world press.
Past examples include a metal bra to promote a female revolution (the Women’s Lib movement apparently did not penetrate Triumph’s world), plus a Quit Smoking Bra, a solar-powered bra, husband-hunting bra (not as risque as it sounds), and even a “jury system” bra to celebrate the belated introduction of jury trials in Japan.
For a country with a declining birthrate (and by extension, the population as a whole), Japan’s toy manufacturers are not showing any signs of giving up.
Granted it hasn’t been plain sailing for Takara Tomy, which was formed from the merger of two troubled toy-makers, but every year they continue to release fun and inventive products.
Now comes this Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker, which combines the Japanese love for creative cuisine and their innate silliness (don’t let the austerity of some of the classical arts fool you!).
The subtitle for the product is “okashina”, which is a pun, since it can be mean “strange” or “sweets”. And that’s about right: you can create all manner of bizarre but sugary delights with this candy maker.
Just stick your Chupa Chups lollipop (or similar lollipop) into the Ice Candy Maker and use the funnel to add a warm flavored liquid (examples include juices, cola, milk, melted chocolate, cocoa etc).
Then rotate using the handle and the candy will melt off your lollipop in a few minutes, spinning and making a ginormous blob of sweetness. The last thing to do is store it overnight in the fridge and be patient. The next day you will you very own customized ice treat.
With its emphasis on “spinning” fun and making your own customized summer treats, the Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker also reminds us of Takara Tomy’s hit from last year, the Gurefure Chuchu.
Raising kids is indeed one of the toughest jobs out there. While parenting entails balancing when to treat and when to reprimand your child (of which I’m sure the latter is much harder), Media Active is now offering a helping hand to parents who just can’t get their kids to behave.
The free smartphone app is called Oni kara denwa (literally, “the call from a demon” — though oni can also be translated as “troll” or “ogre”) and the name alone would surely scare your child enough! The idea is that you get the call and then pass the phone to them, making them listen and stop whining.
Simply choose one from the six most typical child discipline situations — not going to bed, not taking medicine, not tidying up etc — and you’ll then get a call from a variety of scary or authoritarian figures, the most popular of which will surely be the “red demon” (Akaoni).
The only “work” required on your side is to pretend that the call is real by responding. Here’s how the conversation might go.
“Hello? Yes. Oh, it’s the Akaoni. Yes, my child is being very naughty again. Here, you can speak to him.” Cue passing the phone to terrified child!
Actually, we think the visual effect of the Akaoni’s face appearing on the screen is probably more than sufficient to produce total obedience.
There are some other, more benign characters too, such as a doctor and even Santa Claus, though Akaoni will surely be the most popular with parents at a loss with rebellious brats.
The idea of using an ogre, according to the CEO, originated from the character of Namahage, where a man dressed up as an ogre walks into people’s houses on New Year’s Eve to see if there’s any naughty kid around, a traditional ritual in some parts of the Akita prefecture.
While the nature of this practice somewhat reminds me of Father Christmas checking his list every year to see who should get a present (or even European figures like Krampus), Namahage does not reward good kids: their job is simply to punish naughty kids by giving them what could be the most traumatic experience of their childhood. Here’s what namahage looks like in “real life”.
In addition to the red ogre, other scary figures are also on call. You can see the latest versions here.
While some people would definitely argue against the use of non-human beings or even the latest technology in parenting, sometimes one’s goodness comes from the fear of greater forces — after all, that’s how the world works, right?
The Japanese have one of these effortless and inimitable attitudes towards religion.
It is both part of their lives, sort of, in the form of Shinto customs, visiting shrines, animistic “power spots”, good luck charms on mobile phones and local matsuri festivals. But these are essentially communal customs or acts that border more on superstition than “belief”.
Of course there are genuine believers too, especially in Buddhism — and even people who follow cults that carry out sarin gas attacks.
But for the most part religion is there to be charmingly indulged in, rather than frightened of, like in so much of the Judaeo-Christian world.
Could you, say, ever imagine an American comic book writer coming up with Saint Young Men and getting away with it? For the uninitiated, it’s the story of the amusing adventures of the Buddha and Jesus in modern day Tokyo, irreverent but also respectful in a charming way. The very fact that the religious figures have been elevated to such entertaining characters is an act of esteem.
Such a comic (and now feature length anime) would be enough to get you killed in certain parts of the west.
Here’s another great example of what I mean.
The Buddha Hair Salon Flower Pot is a series of Buddha heads in a variety of poses and in which you can grow a plant.
There are three types of facial expressions (laughing, angry, meditating) and two colors (red or white), and after a little bit of watering, the result is visually striking “hair” that sprouts up straight.
Can you imagine selling a plant pot of Jesus or even a Hindu god — and not drawing the ire of an institution or the fire and brimstone of fanatics?
In Japan, whether you’re religious or not, you’re allowed to cultivate the Buddha’s locks in order to make your home greener.
The popular anime franchise Evangelion is well know for creating all kind of Evangelion-themed products. To promote the DVD and Blu-Ray release of the latest movie Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo on April 24th, another collaboration campaign started one month ago.
On March 25th the cosmetics brand Creer Beaute released a new line of three special scented sprays which are based on three main characters Ayanami Rei, Ikari Shinji and Asuka Langley. The EVANGELION 2WAY fragrance mist for men is said to make them irresistible to the ladies.
The perfume comes in a stylish 110ml bottle for ¥1,280. Even if you are not a fan of Evangelion this amazing product is worth a try.
Each scent has three elements, a “top”, “middle” and “last”.
TYPE-R (fragrance of the aqua citrus) is the fragrance reflecting the image of Ayanami Rei, erasing her her sadness and painfulness by this refreshing perfume
The top: grapefruit, raspberry, coconut
A middle: jasmine, a ylang-ylang, rose and oceanaut
The last: musk, vanilla
TYPE-01 (fragrance of the fresh musk) is a spicy fragrance inspired by Ikari Shinji
The top: bergamot, lemon, green
A middle: nutmeg, spice of the paper, lilac
The last: woody, umber, musk
TYPE-A (fragrance of the red citrus) is the fragrance of Asuka Langley. Just like her character the perfume fuses passion and sweetness
The top: orange, lychee, apple
A middle: rose, jasmine, cyclamen
The last: musk, umber
Residents in Japan may have spotted that recently Kirin has been featuring Disney characters on its Gogo no Kocha (Afternoon Tea) drink bottle labels.
Just another gratuitous and forgettable ploy to lure youngsters to buy the drink, right?
Yet the really keen-eyed among you — or those who drink a lot of tea — may even have spotted that there are numbers on the labels.
Well, some people at any rate did spot the numbers and were curious. What could it mean?
But after drinking and collecting a few bottles with different numbers, you can line them up and then the answer starts to reveal itself.
A flip book!
Some enterprising Japanese writers went and bought 32 bottles of the tea, which come in three Disney characters (one for each flavor) and each have three different illustrations (on the different sides of the bottle).
Then they lined up the illustrations in numerical order, taking a shot each time.
The results are rather charming.
Here’s Mickey Mouse and his packaging flip book.
And here’s a musical Donald Duck and lackadaisical Winnie the Pooh…
There are lot of superfluous uses of famous characters on packaging and advertising in Japan (and elsewhere), but this is one genuinely innovative ruse of which we think even Walt Disney would have approved.
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to be offered a free ticket to the “Kawaii!! Matsuri”. What is the “Kawaii!! Matsuri?” Well, it literally translates as “Cute!! Festival”. And that is exactly what it is. A celebration of Harajuku and all things adorable.
While I was quickly getting ready to zip over to Sendagaya station I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I really knew, was that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was performing, and that was reason enough to be going.
There were booths from stores like Spins Harajuku, FujiFilm Instapix and an NTT DoCoMo booth, live decorated by Yuka Chocomoo, giving out free, and adorable, mushroom hats to the masses of people.
Harajuku-centric magazines and shops like Kera, Zipper and Laforet had runway fashion shows on the main stage.
And what matsuri would be complete without a parade of Tokyo city mascots? They walked on stage and then unveiled the new mascot of Shibuya, who may I just say, is quite adorable.
The main draw of the event though, were the musical acts playing shows. Tempura Kidz, Sekai no Owari and, as mentioned before, the one and only Kyary Pamyu Pamyu all performed for the crowds.
It’s no wonder Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has such incredibly dedicated fans. There is just something about her. She has this glow, an aura of charisma that emanates from her waif-like personality while she’s performing. Looking around during her show I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was singing and dancing along. It’s true what they say, to know Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is to love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
The “Kawaii!! Matsuri” was an adventure into the adorable, chaotic world of Harajuku, yet in a single confined area. It was kind of intense, but very, very fun.