World goes wild for Facial Fitness Pao Smile Trainer, endorsed by Cristiano Ronaldo

Written by: Japan Trends on August 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

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.

facial fitness pao mtg japan ronaldo strange beauty tool

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.

facial fitness pao mtg japan ronaldo strange beauty tool

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.

facewaver japan beauty tool

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.

bakusho mondai japan comedians baldness aga news

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”.

The Facial Fitness Pao Smile Trainer is available for overseas deliveries via the JapanTrendShop.

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ISIS claim capture of Japanese “photographer” (or “doctor”) in Aleppo, Syria

Written by: William on August 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 13 Comments

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.

japanese photographer doctor captured prisoner isis syria aleppo haruna yukawa fighter

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.

japanese photographer doctor captured prisoner isis syria aleppo haruna yukawa fighter

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.]

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Hello Kitty in space: Japan launches Hodoyoshi satellite with popular Sanrio cat character on board

Written by: William on August 15, 2014 at 8:25 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sometimes it can seem that Hello Kitty, Sanrio’s popular cat character, is everywhere. Her cute iconic image adorns a nearly Mt Fuji-sized mountain of merchandise, from clothes to books, pens, gadgets and even vacuum cleaners.

But Hello Kitty just went one, astronomical step further. She has now headed into space. Going boldly where no Japanese kawaii character has gone before, Hello Kitty has been sent into space on a government-funded mission.

Following in the wake of another example of Japanese culture that recently entered space (bonsai plant sculptures!), the government is apparently so keen on its Cool Japan campaign that promotes the nation through the soft power of “cute” pop culture and subcultures that it wants to advertise this even to extraterrestrials. (Okay, we’re joking. The ostensible goal of the stunt is to encourage private company investment in satellite technology and research.)

hello kitty launch space satellite hodoyoshi japan

Kitty-chan (well, a 4-cm [1.6"] Hello Kitty figure) is on board the Hodoyoshi-3 satellite, which is 50 x 50 x 70cm (8 x 8 x 28″) in size and costs $40 million. Hello Kitty has pride of place looking out of the window down at Earth and all her admirers. The satellite launched back in June but only this week did the organizers manage to get the right image of Kitty on board with the Earth in the background.

The special Hello Kitty in space website declares: “Hello Kitty is standing by to deliver your messages from space.” Sanrio has asked fans to submit 180-character messages on the theme of “Thank You From Space” for Kitty-chan to “send” to us earthlings. Ten messages will be selected from entries and transmitted once per day in late August and early September. Submissions can be made in English or Japanese. There will be then be another round of submissions in September with a different theme for the messages.

Hello Kitty is on an all-time exposure high at the moment, with Sanrio launching a tidal wave of campaigns and tie-ups as part of a 40th-anniversary celebration. Examples include a special Hello Kitty train in Wakayama and a remarkable Chogokin “robot” model.

Incredible as this news is, though, it is apparently not Hello Kitty’s first mission into space.

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Gay Japanese photographer Ryudai Takano’s “obscene” artworks censored by police

Written by: William on August 14, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Local police in Nagoya have demanded that the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art remove 12 artworks by Ryudai Takano that depicted male genitalia.

As first reported by Art Info, the action came after members of the public claimed some of Takano’s artworks were “obscene”.

Takano, who is openly gay, is taking part in the group show, “Photography Will Be”, which includes 150 photography and film exhibits by nine major Japanese photographers.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

The museum has not complied with the police but instead proposed to cover up the “offensive” exhibits with a kind of veil.

Takano, no doubt aware that you should only pick the fights you can win, agreed to the museum’s idea. “These photos express the subtle, delicate sense of distance when one person touches another. There is no violence here. Instead of concealing this intervention made by the public authorities, I wanted to make it visible.”

In Japan, the depiction of genitalia is ostensibly taboo, as dictated by the conventional interpretation of a law introduced when Japan was westernizing and attempting to imitate the “morality” of Europe and America. This is why pornography is pixellated and why typically even mainstream films have scenes with full-frontal nudity similarly obscured. The latter has eased recently for scenes that are obviously comedic in tone.

ryudai takano gay japanese photographer censor police artworks nagoya exhibition cover up

Freedom of expression in art is not protected in Japan, despite the immense flourishing of creativity in all fields and concomitant strength of cultural industries like cinema and publishing.

However, there are double standards. When there was a vogue for “hair nude” photo books — i.e. full-frontal, non-censored photography — a few years ago, there were no issues preventing the major release of books featuring the likes of Rie Miyazawa and other famous actresses au naturel. Photographers like Kishin Shinoyama who have stuck to depicting women, especially celebrities, fully nude have usually be able to escape the censor.

But if you are a female artist or gay male, it’s a different matter. The arrest of Megumi Igarashi (Rokudenshi-ko) in July sparked worldwide attention, not least because her “crime” was to turn her genitalia into digital data that could be distributed. Igarashi was practically unknown at the time but has since rocketed to fame. However, even being established in your field does not guarantee protection. Gay Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee, well used to shooting stars for major contracts, found himself in trouble with the police for showing male genitalia in a Tokyo gallery. He was arrested, along with his gallerist and publisher.

And yet Japan has one of the largest porn and adult industries in the world, stores like Condomania prominently and proudly stand on Omotesando, and sex toy brands like Tenga are now known across the globe. Isn’t this missing the woods for the trees?

Censorship and police crackdowns are nothing new. Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s artists would find themselves in the dock for depicting sex or nudity. The most notorious cases are the obscenity trials for the films “Black Snow” by Tetsuji Takechi and “In the Realm of the Senses” by Nagisa Oshima.

But as the late Oshima defiantly said in court: “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.”

“Photography Will Be” runs, in its censored form, until September 28th.

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Japan Twin Tail Association’s drop pigtail idol group launches official online shop

Written by: William on August 13, 2014 at 11:30 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Remember the intriguing Japan Twin Tail Association that we reported on back in May? That was when the organization launched its own pigtail hair idol group called drop.

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!).

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

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!

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

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.

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

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Kentaro Kobayashi’s stage design celebrated in exhibition at Spiral

Written by: William on August 12, 2014 at 11:42 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Spiral Garden in Omotesando will be celebrating the stage design work of protean Japanese comedian, actor, writer, director and artist Kentaro Kobayashi.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

The “Art Made by Kentaro Kobayshi for Comedy Skits and Theatre” exhibition and will feature Kobayashi’s designs for his theatre work and his comedy shows, including costumes. Running from September 19th to October 5th, visitors can enjoy props, sets, pictures and more. The exhibition is free of charge.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art
 
Kobayashi is most famous overseas as one half of comedy deo Rahmens with Jin Katagiri.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

Rahmens were responsible for “The Japnese Tradition” (watch below), an hilarious parody of “this-is-Japanese-culture” videos, and also for the Japan version of those annoying Get a Mac Apple ads (he played the laidback Mac).

Kobayashi is the driving creative force behind Rahmens, though, and he also has a prolific solo output, including theatre shows, manga and more. In a marked different to other peers working in comedy or even in stage entertainment, Kobayashi trained as an artist. He studied at Tama Art University and as such his work often features elaborate sets and props, and sometimes bravado sketches interacting with digital media.

kentaro kobayashi spiral exhibition design art

Here are a couple of famous examples, Hand Mime and Drop.

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Nenrin Mini Healing Speaker, an audio speaker made from 30-year-old Kyoto cedar

Written by: Japan Trends on August 11, 2014 at 11:47 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

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.

nenrin mini wood speaker audio kyoto cedar

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.

nenrin mini wood speaker audio kyoto cedar

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.

nenrin mini wood speaker audio kyoto cedar

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.

The Nenrin Mini Healing Speaker is made to order and is available for international deliveries through JapanTrendShop.

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Toyo tire tread marks inspire Japanese yukata fashion

Written by: William on August 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 2 Comments

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.

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono 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.”

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

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.

toyo tire tread mark yukata fashion japanese kimono summer wear

[Hat tip to @nippon_en]

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Fun’iki Ambient Glasses: iPhone-integrated “smart spectacles” with light notifications coming to your eyes soon

Written 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.

Already spotted by Engadget and others at CNET Japan Live 2014, Matilde’s Fun’iki Ambient Glasses mean you can “see” your smartphone without needing to look at it.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

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.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

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.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

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.

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

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).

fun'iki ambient glasses iphone smartphone integrated light led notifications handset japanese

Bad news for Android users, though. The Fun’iki Ambient Glasses only support the iPhone at present.

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