Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations on past traditions, along comes something that makes your jaw drop.
Makoto Azuma, known for his eye-catching botanical art work such as the greenery sculptures that decorated Shinjuku’s Isetan Department Store when it reopened in 2013, has taken things to the next level, stratospherically speaking.
While he has previous suspended bonsai in the air, this time round he actually launched a new piece called Exbiotanica into space. The two botanical objects were sent where no plant had gone before from a special site in Black Rock Desert outside Gerlach, Nevada, on July 15th.
According to Spoon Tamago, Azuma and his ten-man crew, along with help from JP Aerospace (despite the name, actually US-based) and Fujifilm (thanks for the great images!), launched a version of his Japanese white pine work “Shiki” and an untitled flower bouquet into space using a helium balloon.
T Magazine describe the launch:
The expedition started in the dead of night, at 2 a.m. One hour later, Makoto was already building a bouquet with about 30 varieties of flowers. He started with an aerial plant tied to a six-rod axis and studiously added peace lilies, poppy seed pods, dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, bromeliads and a meaty burgundy heliconia. “I am using brightly colored flowers from around the world so that they contrast against the darkness of space,” he said.
The scent of the flowers was stronger and more concentrated in the dry desert breeze than in their humid, natural environments, and the launch site was redolent with their perfume. Makoto worked quietly, until the metal rods were covered completely with plants. Then he directed his attention to his bonsai. For this particular project, Makoto chose a 50-year-old pine from his collection of more than 100 specimens, and flew it over from Tokyo in a special box. While readying it for space, he kept it moist and removed a few brown needles with a tweezer.
The two helium balloons went up in the early morning, both covering the same flight path. The helium balloons then burst at around 90,000 feet and parachutes softened the impact after the two vessels fell back to earth. Sadly the dangling bonsai and the flower bouquet both disintegrated during the fall. The vessels returned safely but alas, not the foliage.
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.
Green House Beach Ball Inflatable Waterproof LED Solar Lantern floats, lights up, collapses flat as a pancake!Written by: Japan Trends on July 18, 2014 at 9:13 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments
Heading to the beach this summer? Of course, you’ll need a beach ball.
But does your beach ball light up?
No. This one does, though. The Green House Beach Ball Inflatable Waterproof LED Solar Lantern is just as awesome as it sounds.
It floats. It lights up. It charges itself by sunlight. It collapses flat!
Just blow it up and then turn it on. You can hang it up, leave it on the ground, let it float in the bath or in a pool… Just as long as you don’t fully submerge it, you shouldn’t have to worry about leakage or damage, so it’s great for having in the garden during night parties (on the grass, by the pond) since the odd splash from a drink will be fine and even morning dew on the lawn won’t affect it.
Gizmodo featured the Luci Hands On last year, a cheap inflatable LED lantern, but we prefer the design on this Green House one. It’s a beach ball!
A full hour of sunny weather gives the Beach Ball Solar Lantern enough juice to go for 5.5 hours (on low setting), and on a full charge (around 20 hours) it can stay bright for up to 17 hours.
While not quite as cool as the Balloon Lamp, we reckon this will be much appreciated by folk with big gardens or people who like to go camping. There are two slightly different color versions (clear or white).
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.
Part gothic Lolita, part heavy metal, Babymetal have just appeared at Sonicsphere along with the likes of Iron Maiden. The three-piece is SU-METAL (16), YUIMETAL (15) and MOAMETAL (15), who certainly know how to scream.
i-D claims that Babymetal’s “eponymous debut album headed straight to the top of the charts worldwide, with a unique sound that merges Slayer with the very best dance mat anthems.” Well, we’re not sure they have their facts right (top of the charts worldwide?) but we like their enthusiasm. “It is awesome. With an incredible energy and a performance unlike anything you’ve seen before, a new legend is born.”
Here are some extracts from the “giggle-filled interview ahead of the band’s very first, very sold-out, London show.”
How was Sonisphere?
SU-METAL: It was the first time that we performed on such a huge stage so before we went on we were very nervous. The audience cheered lots so it made us very happy.
I heard that you performed on the same stage as Iron Maiden, who you’ve said before is your favorite metal band, how was that?
SU-METAL: We actually stayed on to watch their performance and we were like “did we really just play the same stage as them?!” It was really unbelievable.
You met some legendary metal bands too!
SU-METAL: Yes! Backstage at Sonisphere we were wearing BABYMETAL tshirts that reference classic metal bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeath, so people recognise those and come to talk to us. So we took photos with some of the artists which was really cool.
Tell us about the fox god…
SU-METAL: We don’t really know what the fox god like because we’ve never met it, but we always have this message from this little master and we act accordingly. So we’re doing this European tour because of the calling. We’ve managed to achieve so many things that we would never even have dreamed of, so we really feel that there is a fox god leading us.
How does metal music make you feel? Angry? Powerful?
SU-METAL: It is more to do with my relation to the music, but whenever I perform it’s different to how I feel normally. I’m quite shy myself – I don’t actually go out dancing and headbanging but when I become SU-METAL and perform, it’s not embarrassing anymore. So when I perform, there are new discoveries in myself.
You’re supporting Lady Gaga. Are you excited?
SU-METAL: We’re all so excited! It still feels like a dream.
Her sound is very different to kawaii-metal, how do you think her fans will react?
SU-METAL: You’re right — in terms of music we’re completely different, but we ourselves didn’t know about metal music before Babymetal. When we first heard it we thought ‘what the hell is this?!’ but found it very interesting and enjoyed it, so I think the fans of Lady Gaga who don’t normally listen to metal music might feel the same way as us.
If you weren’t in Babymetal, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
SU-METAL: Just going to school and studying like ordinary kids. I don’t think we’d have the opportunity to go abroad or anything like that.
Which characters do you think you’re most like?
MOAMETAL: My favorite animation is “Love Live” and there is a character called Honoka Kosaka and I think I’m most like her, but who I aspire to be like is Nausicaa from “Valley of the Wind”.
YUIMETAL: I would like to be the Little Mermaid so I can live in the sea
SU-METAL: I would like to be the lead girl in Mama-Mia because she’s such a positive thinker.
This is the trailer to the band’s world tour, which kicked off in March in Tokyo.
Two years ago, in a country far, far away… It is a period of pop music. Rebel idols, striking from a hidden base in Japan, have won their first victory against the boring music empire. During the battle, the kitsune-sama fox god revealed his ultimate weapon, BABYMETAL, a kawaii-metal band with enough power to drive the metal resistance and restore musical freedom to the galaxy…
i-D magazine has been a stable for over 30 years now, famed for its wink-and-smile front covers and its coverage of the world’s fashion elite.
Transformers, Anime in Disguise: Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot is an amazing six anime character combo!Written by: Japan Trends on July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments
While the latest Michael Bay Transformers movie is shooting up the box office around the world (though not yet in Japan), it’s worth taking a look at a pretty spectacular local Japanese version. A veritable manga character Transformer!
Celebrating 80 years since the birth of Hiroshi Fujimoto, one of the manga-writing duo Fujiko Fujio, here is Bandai Tamashii’s Chogokin Chogattai SF Robot Fujiko F Fujio Character Robot! We don’t know how to begin describing this. It is made up of SIX Fujiko F Fujio (Hiroshi Fujimoto) characters that combine into one model. The “SF” in the name stands for both “sci-fi” and “sukoshi fushigi” (a bit mysterious), while “Chogattai” is a play on the name of the series (Chogokin) and means “super combo”.
How’s your anime and manga character knowledge? How many of the “parts” can you name?
Okay, here’s a spoiler: The cast is made up Doraemon, Dorami (Doraemon’s sister), Perman, Korosuke (from Kiteretsu Daihyakka), Chinpui, and Gonsuke (from 21emon).
If you wondering what that big thing the Chogattai is carrying, it’s artist Fujimoto’s iconic red beret hat and pen. Another accessory included is the popular time machine from the Doraemon series.
This rather strange but also rather awesome model/toy will get a release in late November.
Chogokin (literally “super alloy”) is a series of die-cast metal toys and models that first appeared in the late 1970′s. It’s pretty geekily Japanese — after all, who names a series after a fake material?! It is undergoing something of a revival at the moment. It’s the 40th anniversary of the model series owned by parent company Bandai, who now release the series through its Tamashii arm.
In recent years Chogokin has only been known for superior scale models of bullet trains, GX-64 Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and other modes of transport. However, of late we have seen an incredible Chogokin Hello Kitty there are more original releases to come, it seems. Look out for a Chogokin model based on the iconic Tower of the Sun by Taro Okamoto!
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.
An exhibition based on the massively popular manga “One Piece” scheduled to take place at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul from July 12th has been canceled, it was announced on July 10th.
Organizers said they have made the decision after people realized that numerous motifs in the original manga were reminiscent of the Rising Sun flag, a symbol of Japanese militarism and which has a particularly painful resonance in Korea, a country which suffered from decades as a colony of Japan.
The TV anime version of “One Piece” has already been broadcast in Korea and so the content of the exhibition had previously been judged as harmless, according to the museum. As such, they agreed to rent out a section of the venue for the event. However, after being told that Rising Sun Flag images appeared in the original manga they changed their minds, although no such images were featured in the actual planned exhibits. As the museum is run as a public organization funded by the state they had no choice but to cancel the exhibition.
Like in Japan, Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” is popular in Korea and the exhibition, along with sketches and other materials, was going to feature life-size models of the characters, bringing the world of the manga and anime to 3D life for visitors. It would have been very successful too if early numbers are anything to go by. The events company behind the show said it had received reservations alone from 5,000 people! Not surprisingly they are now looking for an alternative venue for their exhibition since there is clearly demand for it, regardless of the politics.
While it might seem inappropriate or even bizarre to hold a mainstream exhibition (i.e. a piece of entertainment) like this at a war memorial in the first place, the Seoul venue is actually very large and has multiple spaces for all kinds of functions and events.
A similar exhibition opened recently in Taiwan, also a former Japanese colony, apparently without similar issues.