Japan’s first robot wedding: Maywa Denki’s Frois and Yuki Kashiwagi android Yukirin join together in holy matrimony

Written by: William on May 4, 2015 at 11:03 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Get ready for what tech fans have been waiting their whole lives for: a robot wedding.

The “Robo-kon” marriage ceremony event is being produced Maywa Denki, the cult makers of nonsense machines and music gadgets.

frois yukirin robot marriage ceremony wedding event tokyo japan android maywa denki cay aoyama june yuki kashiwagi akb48

The mechanical bride and groom will be walking (or equivalent motion) down the aisle at Aoyama Cay on June 27th in central Tokyo.

Who are the happy couple?

The “groom” is Frois, a robot developed by Maywa Denki with a head inspired by a bath stool (we’re not kidding), while the “bride” is Yukirin, the android made in the likeness of AKB48 idol Yuki Kashiwagi.

For the occasion — and perhaps copyright reasons — Yukirin has been renamed Roborin by creator Takayuki Todo. Fear not, “she” still looks like Yuki Kashiwagi.

frois yukirin robot marriage ceremony wedding event tokyo japan android maywa denki cay aoyama june yuki kashiwagi akb48

If you want to see Frois and Yukirin exchange their vows, tickets cost ¥10,000 (over $80) and are limited to the first 100 persons.

Shibuya ward recently gave tacit approval to same-sex marriage. Is human-robot marriage next on the agenda?

After all, there are no android receptionists in Japan’s department stores.

Appropriately enough, the MC for the wedding ceremony will be Pepper, the robot co-developed by Softbank and who is “manning” some branches of the mobile phone giant in Tokyo.

We’re looking forward to the way the ceremony will work. Will there be a kiss? And what will they be wearing?!

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Clinique Pop lipstick launched with regram digital campaign, photo booth

Written by: William on April 28, 2015 at 2:58 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

To launch a new lipstick Clinique Pop, New York-based cosmetics brand Clinique has created a digital campaign and pop-up store event at a Roppongi Hills cafe.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

The #ootd_WITH CLINIQUE iPhone app allows you to regram (repost someone’s photos on Instagram) and save photos or videos from Instagram.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

The Clinique Pop Happy Lounge event at Roppongi was held over two days on April 18-19th, offering visitors the chance to try Clinique Pop and then make videos and photos with Clinique Pop digital items at a special photo booth.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

As we know, Japanese consumers love photo booths and these ladies certainly seemed to have a ball.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

Clinique Pop comes in 15 vibrant colors and as such, Clinique has marketed the product in a fun, “happy” way.

While the #ootd_WITH app has been around for some time, it now features special downloadable content until May 17th, such as special digital stamps made by illustrator Shogo Sekine and Cookieboy in Clinique Pop colors. There are also downloadable wallpapers by Sekine in Clinique Pop themes.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

The displays in the pop-up also had a nice spring vibe.

clinique pop lipstick pop-up store cafe roppongi hills cafe photo booth

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To sleep, perchance to dream: Japanese public napping pillows and other sleeping products

Written by: Japan Trends on April 23, 2015 at 9:05 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The new arrival in Tokyo will be surprised by the trains. We don’t mean how efficient the transport system or its modest fares. Nor that the trains run more or less always on time. Or even the notorious rush hour crush.

No, we mean the sleeping.

People seem to have an innate ability to doze off wherever they are: riding a train, on a park bench, at their desk… And if it’s the former, they also seem to have an inherent faculty that tells them to wake up in time for their stop.

This penchant for napping recently inspired a great marketing campaign for a real estate service, and also means you get lots of great “sleeping” products like these pillows.

There was a lot of online buzz in late 2013 about the Ostrich Pillow, a portable pillow for public napping. While developed overseas, the designer was partly Japanese.

Here are some great local examples.

The King Eye Mask is a very smart-looking face pillow that covers your eyes but also gives you support behind, so you don’t get a crick in your neck.

king eye mask sleep nap pillow mask

king eye mask sleep nap pillow mask

The Dictionary Desk Pillow, though, is more unusual. It is designed for use at a desk or table, and takes the classic over-worked student trope to the max: it’s a “book” that functions as a pillow. A clever way to fool your boss or teacher!

dictionary desk pillow sleeping book

If books are not your thing, how about a woman’s lap? Yes, the Hizamakura Lap Pillow Mini Skirt is more risque and is clearly playing on certain male fantasies.

hizamakura woman lap pillow japanese

Stepping back within the boundaries of respectability now, the Igloo Dome Pillow is a mini “tent” that gives you privacy and silence for your nap. Although it requires more space than a wearable eye pillow or mask, it is surprisingly versatile.

igloo dome pillow

The My Dome Pal Travel Sleeping Hood is halfway between the Igloo Dome and a more conventional sleeping mask. It looks rather refined and means you don’t have to worry about other passengers looking at you when you are dozing off on the plane or train.

my dome pal sleeping hood

Talking of wearable items, here are two more extreme examples.

The King Jim Wearable Futon Air Mat proved a big hit when it came out. Part emergency gear, part sleepover set for earnest employees, King Jim’s futon is snug and compact when not in use, and means you walk around with your sleeping bag “on”.

king jim wearable futon office blanket air mat

king jim wearable futon office blanket air mat

In a similar vein, the Doppelganger Outdoors Wearable Sleeping Bag is a coat-suit ideal for camping.

doppelganger outdoor wearable sleeping bag

Finally, two more funny ones.

The Bibilab Twintails Pillow is perhaps the most unusual pillow design we’ve seen in a while, though it is incredibly practical since it can be twisted into all sorts of positions and two people can even use it at once.

twintails pillow cushion bibilab pigtails

Lastly, the Hi-Tech Snore Stopper Pillow is an oldie but a classic. The foam pillow is designed for maximum comfort but uses an audio sensor to detect snoring. It then responds with a light vibration that helps reduce snoring. And the external audio jack also allows you to record the offending snores and monitor the pillow’s effectiveness — or collect undeniable proof of the disruptive habit.

anti-snore pillow hi tech

Of course, Japan’s fondness for sleeping doesn’t only inspire products. The service industry is also here to assist you get some shuteye. Take Qusca, a women-only sleeping cafe in Tokyo, or the more dubious Soine-ya, a place for snuggling up with cute girls.

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Toilet paper promotes awareness of Japan’s semi-legal “danger drugs”

Written by: William on April 22, 2015 at 8:54 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

One of the big social issues last year was the rising usage of semi-legal drugs (dappo), what the police call “dangerous drugs” (kikken duraggu). Due to legal loopholes users did not face arrest for taking these herbs, which are smoked to produce hallucinations, agitation, ecstasy and dulled senses, though there are other potential risks.

In the first nine months of 2014, 74 people died due to the use of such drugs and there were several traffic incidents involving people high on the herbs. 400,000 people are estimated to have used them.

The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law has now been revised to prohibit buying, possessing or using compounds on the list of “danger drugs”. The production, sale or import for medical purposes remains legal, though. In late summer and early autumn 2014, police raided dozens of head shops around the country, but many have continued operating.

dappo kikken drug danger unsafe japan herb semi-legal toilet paper police promotion

The police are on a big drive to discourage people from using these stimulants. In July last year they announced a new name. Previously known as “law-evading” (dappo) drugs, the new label chosen from public submissions was “unsafe” or “danger” drugs.

And now the police have got some help from an unusual source. A paper company in Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture, has produced the “Say ‘No!’ to Danger Drugs” toilet paper. Costing ¥120 (around $1) per roll, the toilet paper tells you about the health risks through six sets of illustrated messages printed on the paper. It was designed in partnership with an anti-drug non-profit organisation.

kikken drug danger unsafe japan herb semi-legal toilet paper police promotion

The manufacturer behind the “Say ‘No!’ to Danger Drugs” toilet paper has previously developed other socially aware rolls, including unique toilet paper with messages about bank transfer fraud and drink driving.

kikken drug danger unsafe japan herb semi-legal toilet paper police promotion

It hopes to sell 100,000 rolls, in addition to being stocked in police or medical facility lavatories.

Japanese toilet paper is not as dull as it sounds. Anime and manga fans can even get One Piece or HappinessCharge PreCure! toilet paper sets.

one piece toilet paper roll anime

A horror story was also once printed on toilet paper and a place in Mie Prefecture even created its own “ninja toilet paper” to promote tourism. In the past we have seen tape measure toilet paper and a local Odawara toilet paper was even printed with messages to encourage people to vote.

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Unusual Japanese curries: Zombies, fruits, Hello Kitty, beetroot, and more!

Written by: Japan Trends on April 20, 2015 at 10:19 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

When we think of Japanese food we think of sushi, noodles and miso soup. But actually there’s plenty of curry in the country’s diet too, especially so-called curry rice, which is basically white rice on a plate with some roux. It’s a staple of the businessman’s lunch.

And every staple gets reinvented after a while, so there are plenty of unusual curry rice dishes out there, from oyster to deer, apple and even fermented beans.

Local regions and tourist spots often create curries using famous produce from the area as a way of drumming up buzz. And curries can even be a form of tie-in merchandise for franchises.

Here are is a selection of some of the most unusual Japanese curries.

Curry of the Biohazard Resident Evil Zombie Roux

The Curry of the Biohazard Resident Evil Zombie Roux is a green herb curry officially endorsed by Capcom, who make the Biohazard/Resident Evil game series. “Have the Biohazard Green Herb Curry and survive,” says the box. It’s less chilling than it sounds. Apparently eating this curry will save you from the zombies, rather than turn you into one.

green herb curry biohazard resident evil zombie capcom

green herb curry biohazard resident evil zombie capcom

Tottori Yamanote Story Hana Kifujin Pink Curry

The Tottori Yamanote Story Hana Kifujin Pink Curry is a garish as it sounds and uses local Tottori Prefecture beetroot. The mock-European theme of Hana Kifujin comes from one of the tourist spots in Tottori, a 1907 French Renaissance-style manor called Jinpukaku. Not just a kitsch idea, the beetroot ingredients help fight anemia and constipation.

pink curry tottori yamanote story beetroot japan

pink curry tottori yamanote story beetroot japan

Regional Fruits Curries

This set of regional fruit curries includes four unique flavors made with produce from prefectures around the country: melon, Japanese cherry (sakuranbo), strawberry, and pear. The fruits come from local growers in Yamagata, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

regional japan curry fruits melon cherry strawberry pear

regional japan curry fruits melon cherry strawberry pear

Dragon Quest Slime Curry

The most visually striking of the curries on our short list, the Dragon Quest Slime Curry is a weird blue roux inspired by the popular video game series character. Add rice and pickles to create the Slime face effect.

dragon quest slime curry

dragon quest slime curry

Hello Kitty Mazekomi Curry Pilaf

No list is complete without at least one entry from Hello Kitty. The Hello Kitty Mazekomi Curry Pilaf is not a roux like the others but a bag of curry pilaf flavoring for adding Hello Kitty-tastic tastes to rice.

hello kitty kamaboko mazekomi curry pilaf rice meal

So, are you feeling hungry now?

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Kirin enters craft beer market with Spring Valley Brewery in Daikanyama

Written by: William on April 17, 2015 at 12:39 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Kirin has cemented its entry into the craft beer market with the opening on April 17th of Spring Valley Brewery, a brewpub in Daikanyama. Another SVB brewpub has opened in Yokohama.

The name derives from William Copeland’s brewery, which was a pioneer of beer production in Japan and became the genesis of Kirin’s own brewery in the early twentieth century.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

In July 2014, Kirin announced that Spring Valley Brewery would be a wholly new subsidiary, offering microbrews served at the two brewpubs sites.

The chic 200-seat Daikanyama space opens at a new development in the neighborhood called Log Road, located along where the tracks of the now underground Toyoko Line used to run.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

There are six brews on tap: 496, Jazzberry, on the cloud, Copeland, Daydream, and Afterdark.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub

While the Daikanyama brewpub has opted for a wooden look, the Yokohama space is brick, in keeping with the spirit of the city famous for its foreign architectural styles.

kirin spring valley brewery daikanyama tokyo craft beer brewpub yokohama

Kirin has already experimented with craft beer-esque brews, including its Kirin Stout, so this isn’t such a giant leap for the 100-year-old company.

However, the major Japanese beer makers have been committing commercial suicide for too long. As young people drifted away from beer, their tactic was to create countless numbers of happoushu and daisan beers — fake beers, essentially — that got around the tax on beer and so could be marketed as cheap ersatz beer. As Japan continued to linger in recession, this worked to keep their annual sales afloat, especially as they were constantly devising new products to make mini spikes of interest. Beer became just another FMCG, as expendable and forgettable as any other snack in the convenience store.

Quality went out the window. Finally we seem to be emerging from this quagmire.

The initial response was “cool beer”, quite literally. Kirin and other major breweries started to market beer as a great drink for the summer through temporary drinking spaces in Tokyo. This was a big success and got younger consumers excited about drinking beer again, even if it was at “sub-zero” temperatures.

Concurrently we then started to see many types of “beer toys” from Takara Tomy and others, designed to help you create the experience of drinking freshly poured foamy cold beer at home or on picnic. The zenith of this was surely when Takara Tomy stepped in to make a product of the Frozen Beer Slushie Maker, which had previously only been available at Kirin’s special summer beer gardens.

kirin ichiban frozen beer slushie maker

And now we have come full circle: Kirin is a microbrewery again.

The Japanese craft beer scene itself has been around since the 1990’s. What’s really changed things in the past few years has been the explosion of craft beer bars, brewpubs and craft beer festivals all over the country, especially in the Tokyo area.

Yona Yona’s ales are now stocked in regular convenience stores and have their own plush restaurant in Akasaka. Even Shibuya got its own craft beer recently.

While sometimes the craft beers have wandered into the gimmicky, breweries like Coedo and Hitachino Nest have seen their beers acclaimed overseas.

Foreign breweries have noticed. Scottish craft beer maker BrewDog saw enough growth in Asia that it opened its a dedicated bar in Roppongi.

There’s an interesting parallel to this: Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser tried to muscle in on the craft beer market in America by appearing at fairs and events with its regular lagers, and has started buying up craft breweries. In response to the growing popularity of craft beer, it even resorted to mocking the culture with a snarky Super Bowl ad that prompted a backlash. Kirin, be warned.

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Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo hires Aiko Chihira, an android guide

Written by: William on April 16, 2015 at 5:08 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Meet Aiko Chihira. She speaks Japanese and wears a kimono. She greets customers and conveys information.

But Aiko’s not Japanese. She’s not even human.

She’s an android made by Toshiba and now she works at Mitsukoshi, the high-end department store in Nihonbashi.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Unfortunately she can’t converse or respond to questions, unlike the more interactive Nao humanoid robot, currently serving Mitsubishi UFJ bank customers, or Pepper, the friendly droid greeting visitors to Softbank stores.

But she blinks, bows, moves her (sorry, its) mouth and lips. She is programmed with human-like facial expressions and can offer a looped vocal guidance to department store customers.

For example, if you want to hear about the layout or an event, this robot will tell you.

She can even communicate in sign language, so at least the uncanny valley is barrier free for the deaf.

toshiba mitsukoshi aiko chihira android humanoid robot department store tokyo japan reception staff

Toshiba describes her as the “quiet type” who is “happy to help people”. Something tells us there might be some male fantasies at play here…

Find Aiko on the ground floor of Mitsukoshi. Sadly, she’s not a permanent addition. She will only be “working” at the store on April 20th and April 21st. She is a promotional feature as part of a longer Toshiba event at the seventh floor Hajimarino Cafe from April 22nd to May 5th.

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Hikaru Skirt: The flashing costume (possibly) set to revolutionize music idol culture

Written by: William on April 14, 2015 at 9:24 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Self-indulgent geekdom gone mad or an inventive play on an otaku motif?

A little while ago there was some buzz about a “flashing skirt” created by Kamakura-based Kayac Inc’s Kiyoyuki Amano.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

The idea behind the Hikaru Skirt was to literally highlight the zettai ryouiki, the “absolute zone” — the area of flesh on a girl’s upper leg between her skirt and her socks. This is a common trope in otaku fantasies and Hikaru Skirt was playing on this by making a skirt that flashes in multicolor, drawing attention to the “zone” in a fun but hopefully not pervy way.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

It actually looks much cooler than it sounds and the public response was good.

Or at least, good enough apparently for this one-off project to evolve into a crowdfunding campaign to commercialize the idea. The aim is to get it out as a product by October 2015.

Will they succeed?

Well, only 16 people have sponsored the campaign so far — 7% of the required ¥3.9 million. But there’s still 49 days to go, so let’s not write off Japan’s designer geeks quite yet.

Judging by the official website, the makers have hopes that the Hikaru Skirt could be a game-changer in music idol culture. The flashing lights change automatically according to music and can be adjusted by your smartphone. Just charge up the skirt by USB and then it can go for 3 hours, which is more than enough time for a leisurely walk around Akihabara or Harajuku.

Here is the group Moso Calibration demonstrating the Hikaru Skirt in action.

Be prepared to pay ¥16,000 (about $130) to claim one of the first skirts as your campaign perk. Presumably if it’s a hit, it will be available more widely in the future.

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Iyashi Octopus Sucker Massager: An octopus pot fishing trap-inspired beauty tool

Written by: Japan Trends on April 10, 2015 at 10:05 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 4 Comments

We’re not going to lie to you: Japan has a history of producing some pretty unusual beauty gadgets. Some are hi-tech, some not so.

Much mocked it may be, the industry is never less than innovative and evolving.

The Iyashi Octopus Sucker Massager is another great example.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

It offers “skin suction” treatment with special suckers, similar to the kind that octopi have on their eight legs. Okay, if that sounds gross, then perhaps this item is not for you!

How does it work? Place your hands or feet inside to get a mini shiatsu-style massage from the suckers, which will “stick” to you and pull on your skin (painlessly, of course).

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

Or you can inverse it so you can apply the same stimulating treatment to your skin elsewhere on your body, such as your neck, arms, legs — or even your face.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

The suckers firmly but harmlessly “pull” on the skin, applying a massage that helps improve blood circulation and the flow of water in the layers of your skin.

iyashi octopus sucker massager shiatsu fishing trap pod japan skin care treatment

The design is actually inspired by the tako-tsubo, a type of earthenware octopus pot fishing trap used in Japan since the Jomon Period. We love the tongue-in-cheek marketing images!

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