A little over a week ago people around the world began talking about a particular, and peculiar, Japanese beauty gadget.
Plus ça change, we hear some of you say.
But the Facial Fitness Pao Smile Trainer became the latest Japanese oddity to sweep the globe’s digital spheres not just because it is a rather unusual item but because its marketing prominently features Real Madrid football star Cristiano Ronaldo.
We’re not really sure of the connection between the biggest soccer player in the world today and a beauty gadget — surely Ronaldo of all people doesn’t need this! — but he appears in the posters and even a TV commercial.
Significantly, Ronaldo doesn’t actually try to use the Pao himself!
How does it work? All you do is pop the bar-shaped tool in your mouth and bob to swing it up and down. It will then help exercise your cheeks to give you a better, younger smile. The unique rhythmical technology is simple and charming, and has been created in consultation with experts so it’s intuitive but effective. You are meant to use it for two 30-second sessions per day and the balanced exercise created by the Pao apparently has a 94% success rate!
While a lot of people write these products off as more the usual “wacky Japan” nonsense — and it can understandably make expats in Japan angry that blogs like this even feature them — we think there’s more to it than that.
This is a genuine beauty gadget. But it is novel, bordering on the silly. The makers are aware of that and so, rather than risk being laughed at,they turn it into a marketing strategy. The silliness becomes if not part of the appeal, at least a way to gain attention and also to offset any unease people feel about these kinds of anti-aging products. It’s quite typical of Japanese companies to do this. Marketing for male baldness is also quite tongue-in-cheek in tone and one major campaign a few years ago for hair loss services successively employed two famous comedians. Laughter can be a greater way of communicating.
Not all beauty gadgets do this. Plenty of massage tools and so on are marketed and sold in perfectly ordinary ways. But this also makes certain products like the Beauty Lift High Nose that are both unusual in their design, functionality, and (perhaps, by extension) their presentation really stand out.
The MTG has obviously spent a lot of money. Firstly, they snagged Ronaldo to front the ads and brought him to Japan for a promo event. Everything is well-made. The music in the videos and the bright visuals make it very slick and professional. They made a special Pao website and spent money on getting decent copy and photos done. Many Japanese beauty products often come across as even more bizarre because the marketing, while sophisticated if you accept our argument above, is nonetheless quite cheap and shoddy. But here MTG have also got some other actors and models involved — keen-eyed Japanophiles might have spotted the ubiquitous veteran foreign performer Ian Moore, from the Navitime ads — and invested in lots of advertising. For us, the results are less wacky Japan and more United Colors of Benetton.
On a final note, keep in mind that this is not just Japan. The BBC also recently ran a very “wacky Japan”-esque article about a Chinese beauty trend called the “face-kini”.
While Japan might at times seem just to be one concrete jungle, there’s still a lot of nature around and even some cities maintain a rare balance between the forests of old and the convenience (stores) of new. Kyoto is one, where you can walk from Gion to the mountains in a relatively short amount of time.
Wood is of course the consummate Japanese material. It is used traditionally for houses, temples and bridges. However, wood also burns down easily, which is not great in a country prone to earthquakes and natural disasters.
And so, along with the demands of cheaper materials and urban living, wood has been replaced by concrete in most people’s domiciles. However, there are still craftsmen trying to make use of the material in new ways. And the traditional need not preclude the commercial.
Here’s a great example. The Nenrin Mini Healing Speaker is an audio speaker made with genuine Kitayama Kyoto cedar wood allowed to grow for 30 years before harvesting. The name plays on “Nenrin”, meaning growth ring, and the speaker is the result of a five-year development partnership between Kyoto Natural Factory and a Kyoto precious wood dealer.
There are two log designs and colors. You can get either a natural or dark finish, while the Jinshibo version is “treated” and polished, and the Deshibo speaker is 100% natural.
Since the wood is so old, not surprisingly the speakers don’t come cheap. However, knowing your speaker comes from sustainably-harvested materials will give you the moral high ground over your friends and their cheap made-in-China boomboxes, not to mention that this is a real work of art and with the natural materials enhancing the sound quality.
It reminds us of the Bon Bon Sound lacquerware speakers (sadly no longer available) from a few years back that combined superior audio quality with beautiful artisanship.
Toyo Tire and Rubber Co., Ltd. has created a series of yukata based on the tread designs of three of its tire products.
Here are what the Toyo tire tread yukata look like, modeled by Toyo employees. While you might associate tire treads with a somewhat rough or dirty image — since they are the parts of the tire that are gripping a road surface — or at least to be rather brawny or tough, the resulting yukata are as colorful and fun as you’d expect from the summer wear.
Yukata are, of course, Japanese summer kimonos and a frequent sight at firework displays and festivals in the hot months, though we’ve never seen any designed from tires!
“In order to give customers a sense of the rich expression of our tires,” Toyo says, “which are renowned for their original designs, we had our tread designs tailored into the patterns for yukata, a garment commonly worn during summers in Japan. By transposing the originality of tires, normally thought of as a simple round, black object, into the feminine world of color dimensions apart, we have created another unique touch point distinctive of Toyo Tires.”
The particular tread patterns come from popular Toyo tires PROXES R1R, OPEN COUNTRY M/T and NANOENERGY 0, while the dyeing in the yukata is in a traditional style.
The bad news is that that tire tread yukata are not for sale, though Toyo, after announcing the project back in July, promises to use the yukata at company promotional events.
[Hat tip to @nippon_en]
Fun’iki Ambient Glasses: iPhone-integrated “smart spectacles” with light notifications coming to your eyes soonWritten by: William on August 8, 2014 at 10:18 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 5 Comments
How would you like to use your phone while it remains snug in your pocket or bag? These glasses bring us one step closer to this.
Here’s how the makers sell it:
FUN’IKI Glasses are linked to your smartphone, and their multicolored LED lights + sound signals from their micro speaker will notify you of numerous information without you ever taking any action. No more hassle of checking your smartphone every single minute and they look cool. We believe that FUN’IKI Glasses will be a part of your daily life in the most seamless way.
The Fun’iki Ambient Glasses remind us of the JINS Meme Glasses, which we reported on back in May, though there the focus was on notifications to the wearer’s physique. This time it’s all about handset and online interaction.
The glasses have arms with built-in speakers, plus six full-color LED lights and a lithium-ion battery that charges up via USB. It features an ambient light sensor (meaning light is brighter in dark environments) and an accelerometer, not to mention Bluetooth and Wi-fi. Oh, and Morse code for some unfathomable reason.
Using a free dedicated app, you assign the various lights and sounds to different notifications, such as email, phone call, social media updates, and so on. So if you see a “red” glow, it means you’ve got a message from someone or the weather has changed, your stock has jumped in value…
If you’re desperately waiting for that mail but don’t want to appear rude at a meeting by always checking your phone, you can just let the glasses tell you instead. Likewise, you can get schedule reminders without having to, well, check your schedule.
It’s like “a Tinker Bell”, as Matilde says!
The Bluetooth Smart technology comes from Nordic Semiconductor, while help has also been provided by Paris Miki and the Institute of Advanced Media arts and Sciences.
The designers even reckon that, with its changing lights, the Fun’iki Ambient Glasses will make you stand out at social gatherings and look cool, like a sort of mini illumination show. There is even a special “party” mode with disco-friendly light patterns, plus a “relax” setting offering gentle hues to help you calm down after a long day of reminders and notifications.
A current Makuake crowdfunding project has raised well over the ¥3 million (about $30,000) target with still more than 30 days left to go! The campaign is offering funders the chance to get a pair of glasses for ¥10,000 (about $100), a more than 50% discount on the regular retail price of ¥23,000 (about $230).
Bad news for Android users, though. The Fun’iki Ambient Glasses only support the iPhone at present.
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 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.
Mitsukoshi Isetan have teamed up with fashion brand minä perhonen (despite the name, not actually Finnish) to offer a new take on a classic item of modern Japanese convenience.
Isetan is currently holding a “future summer gift” event on the ground floor of its Shinjuku head store. This includes a new design for Katori Senko mosquito coils by minä perhonen. Kincho was the first company to make what a now a standard sight in the humid summer in Japan, the coil-designed green poison (using Pyrethrum flower seeds originally from Serbia) that burns slowly with the smell of incense and keeps pesky mosquitoes at bay.
While its coil product has been copied by numerous competitors, Kincho’s design is still much loved, not least for its rather retro but charming cockerel icon. The status of the Kincho mosquito coils is such that the brand received the Good Design Long Life Award from the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2012. Surprisingly Kincho has not made much of an inroad overseas but you can get a set of two “cans” of thirty coils, complete with holder to keep the coil over the can, of the Kincho Uzumaki Katori Senko Mosquito Coil from JapanTrendShop. Trust us, your summers will be much better!
The new minä perhonen version is made with Kincho and has fused the familiar household product with the chic-cute look of the quasi-Finnish brand. Fear not, the famous Kincho cockerel has been retained in all his red glory but the rest of the packaging is recreated in the trademark minä perhonen minimal white.
Isetan’s fair contains a host of other interesting products, mostly unusual reinterpretations of traditional items and sweets. Like New Year, summer is a time in Japan to give gifts and even convenience stores offer suitable items, such as sets of beer and so on. This custom is known as Ochugen and Isetan is hoping its offerings will persuade people to opt for something a bit more unusual. The fair runs from July 30th to August 5th on the ground floor of Isetan Shinjuku.
The slim and silent mini robot has been created by Speecys, who have applied for a patent for the “motion figure system”. Speecys’ Tomoaki Kasuga previous spent time at Sony working on the AIBO and we know how successful that turned out to be.
The demo video is pretty poor quality but I think you can see the nimbleness of the “karakuri” (automata). It is able to swivel its head and feet with an impressive degree of agility. It even kind of dances…
According to the Speecys specs, it has 20 axes (three in the waist, three in each leg, four in each arm, and three in the head), plus it is able to host voice functions and BLE and wifi connections.
While the head design is rather unpleasantly reminiscent of Pyramid Hill, the main drawback would seem to be the platform or stand the MF201 apparently requires for its motor.
Speecys showcased the Motion Figure System MF201 at a recent public event in order to search for commercial partners. If they are able to find the right business deal, they hope to sell it in the ¥50-100,000 ($500-$1,000) range. Obviously it needs to be turned into some sort of “character” before it can function as a toy or entertainment piece for kids or grown-ups.
I guess the question now is: will they make a mini AKB48 android version?
Fancy having Namie Amuro on your cup?
If you recall, Koppu no Fuchiko (literally “Fuchiko on the edge of the cup”) was originally a Gachapon capsule toy created by Kitan Club. The mini mini Office Lady figure perches or hangs from your cup. A simple but cute idea — and it took off. There have been several series, a pop-up cafe in Harajuku, and the capsule toy has even now become a piece of merchandising for Japan’s biggest pop diva, Namie Amuro.
This isn’t as random as it sounds, since Amuro is a famous example of hattoushin bijin, a beautiful girl with her head one-eighth the size of her body. In other words, she kind of looks like a doll!
To coincide with Amuro’s latest arena tour, there is going to be a new Fuchiko model called “Diva who came down to earth to sit on your cup” — or just “Koppu no Fuchi no Amuro” for short. Look out for it around Japan from August 22nd, when her tour kicks off in Shizuoka. It will be sold through Namie Amuro’s website, Tower Records online store, and at Amuro’s concerts as part of a ¥3,000 ($30) concert pack.
As miniature J-Pop divas go, this is quite well done. Amuro’s trademark knee-high boots and hairstyle have been faithfully replicated on this mini toy, which measures a very petite 50mm. But does she sing?