Blackface in Japan (again): Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star

Written by: William on February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

It’s a dangerous game to throw the racism card around but this development has succeeded in getting that reaction from most corners.

A photo showing a behind-the-scenes shot from an upcoming Fuji TV show has idol group Momoiro Clover Z and veterans Rats & Star posing in blackface.

momoiro clover z blackface rats & star fuji tv racism japan

New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and others shared the photo on Twitter and it has since gone viral.

Momoiro Clover Z are immensely popular right now, often appearing in mainstream TV commercials for major brands. They have previously teamed up with older music stars, such as their bizarre collaboration single with the rock band KISS.

As Kotaku points out, Rats & Star have a long history of blackface since they debuted in the 1980′s. But while Momoiro Clover Z are no strangers to costumes and dressing-up (the idol group’s concept is arguably a pastiche of anime like Sailor Moon), this is a whole new territory of role-play. Could their management really be so naive in this day and age?

momoiro clover z blackface rats & star fuji tv racism japan

Blackface in Japan is sometimes seen on television, though it is also sometimes adopted more foolishly by students and youngsters.

Unless the (online) controversy succeeds in forcing the broadcasters to change their programming, tune into Fuji TV on March 7th to see Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star appear together in blackface on the show “Music Fair”.

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Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens in Aoyama, designed by Kengo Kuma

Written by: William on February 13, 2015 at 9:00 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens at the end of this month in Aoyama, in the heart of Tokyo.

It is the beverage brand’s eleventh such studio in the world and is designed by Kengo Kuma. Red Bull will lend out the recording studio for free to certain music artists.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull is celebrating the opening with a three-day series of music events from February 27th, featuring Chip Tanaka/Hirokazu Tanaka. There will be special studio visits, workshops, concerts and more.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull’s association with the local music scene already has roots. It held its traveling music event, the Red Bull Music Academy, in Tokyo last year.

red bull music academy tokyo 2014 kengo kuma

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Shibuya ward proposes recognition of same-sex couples

Written by: William on February 12, 2015 at 9:31 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

A proposal to give recognition same-sex couple has been submitted to Shibuya City, one of the wards in central Tokyo.

A bylaw proposal will be submitted to the ward congress in March which would allow for the certificates to be issued recognizing same-same couples, reports Kyodo News. If approved, it would be effective from April 1st and the start of the 2015 fiscal year.

It would make Shibuya the only governing body in Japan issuing such documentation to same-sex couples.

japanese celebrity lesbian couple same-sex marriage shibuya

While the certificates would have no legal power, they might help same-sex couples get apartments together or in situations when a hospital only permits a patient to have visitors from family members.

The proposed document would be a “proof of partnership” and be available for anyone living in Shibuya ward aged 20 or over. It would be “equivalent” to marriage but not a genuine marriage certificate.

While the proposed change won’t challenge the legal authority of the current constitutional interpretation of marriage in Japan, Shibuya would be offering a completely “separate system” to marriage that may nonetheless be a first step towards legalization.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been growing in Japan.

In late last year the model and television personality Ayaka Ichinose (34) and actress Akane Sugimori (28) (pictured above) announced that they were a couple and planned to “marry” (ceremonially) in Tokyo in April.

2014 also saw more developments. Hotel Granvia in Kyoto now offers a “gay weddings” service, in cooperation with a local Buddhist temple, joining Tokyo Disneyland in accommodating gay couples who want to marry in Japan.

And as we wrote back in December, June 2014 also saw a lesbian couple submit a wedding application to Aomori City, which was rejected on constitutional grounds. They are now suing the city. The 23rd Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival included a reading of the play 8 by Dustin Lance Black, which portrays the federal trial that led to the overturning of Proposition 8 in California. This was followed by a play, Invisible Neighbours, about same-sex couples in Japan at the largest performing arts festival in the country.

But despite Japan’s rich history of gay and other types of sexuality, the officials are in denial. Openly gay celebrities are fairly rare and only a very small number of people in politics are out of the closet, none of whom serve in the national Diet. Prominent politicians are not known for their support of gay rights. Quite the opposite — the then governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, called homosexuality a “genetic defect” in December 2010, without repercussions.

Gay photographer Ryudai Takano was forced to cover up his male nude portraits at an art museum after the police complained (you can read a recent interview with Takano about the incident on Tokyo Art Beat).

If approved in Shibuya, there is still a lot of work to be done to persuade the general public. While the Prime Minister’s wife is a noted supporter of LGBT rights, a survey in March 2014 found that over half of people did not agree with same-sex marriage, though homosexuality itself is relatively accepted compared to other Asian nations.

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Dollfie Dream Snow Miku: Cute winter-themed Hatsune Miku doll by Volks

Written by: Japan Trends on February 11, 2015 at 9:10 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, if you don’t have someone to spend February 14th with this year, then call on Miku.

Yes, the darling of the otaku world, virtual idol Hatsune Miku, has become many incarnations over the years, from an opera to racing bikes, and a music effects unit.

She previously teamed up with doll maker Volks to create a special limited-edition Miku doll in the Dollfie series. Now they are back with the Dollfie Dream Snow Miku, a winter-themed version.

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

This may be one of those things which only fans can find interesting, but we love the attention to detail, from the headphones to the gloves and the overall blue theme (as opposed to her usual turquoise).

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

It’s only available in limited numbers through a complicated reservation system, though Japan Trend Shop may be able to get you one if you ask nicely.

This isn’t Miku’s first time as a commercial doll product by any means. She has also been recreated as Blythe and Pullips dolls.

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Nike to open women-only sports studio in Shibuya

Written by: William on February 10, 2015 at 8:57 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Nike is opening a women-only sports space in Shibuya for the spring.

Opening March 3rd at a location nine minutes’ walk from Shibuya Station, Nike Women’s Studio features a basement training studio and other training programs across two floors.

The first floor will be a store, while the basement training studio is for Nike Training Club members and with running, dance, yoga and other “sports experiences” on offer for visitors.

nike women only sport studio shibuya tokyo pop-up store

To promote the opening, Nike has recruited 20 famous women to operate its Nike Women Twitter account. The women include figure skater Miki Ando, dancer Koharu Sugawara, and fashion model Jessica Michibata. The selection deliberately seems to include more women from the world of fashion than sport, indicating that Nike is trying to push the brand as a lifestyle choice, rather than just as orthodox sports. It will be interesting to see how this approach evolves as we head towards the 2020 Olympics.

nike women only sport studio shibuya tokyo pop-up store

nike women only sport studio shibuya tokyo pop-up store

It will be open only until May 31st, 11:00-20:00. The address is 1-15-8 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.

More details will appear on the Nike campaign site from February 13th. Other tie-in campaigns include a “virtual marathon” in Nagoya.

This isn’t the first pop-up Nike store by any means. Previous ventures include The Pivot Point, a special Nike Air Force 1 running shoes showcase store that was also in the Jinnan area.

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Three-hour wait for coffee at trendy new Blue Bottle Coffee Tokyo branch

Written by: William on February 9, 2015 at 8:35 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

Good things come to those who wait, they say.

But it’s bad news if you’re a hipster desperate to get your lips around a cup of black stuff from the latest trendy coffee shop in Tokyo.

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

The lines at Blue Bottle Coffee (“the Apple of the coffee shop world”) are so huge there are reports that people were waiting up to three hours just to get in on the first day on February 6th. Let’s be exact here; this isn’t a night club or a restaurant. It’s a small coffee bar in a slightly run-down part of Tokyo (Kiyosumi).

It begs the question: How far can the hipster coffee shop boom go in Tokyo?

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

From the faux warehouse feel of Cream of the Crop Coffee to the curated vintage of Fuglen, the watered-down diner serving watered-down beverages that is On the Corner in Shibuya, the chic uber-minimal Omotesando Koffee, the you-cannot-relax fussiness of Obscura in Sangenjaya and the IMA Concept Store in Roppongi, and the despised snobbery of Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa — haven’t we now had enough of these places?

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

Is there room for any more in this crowded market?! Judging by the anticipation on Blue Bottle Coffee’s first day, it would seem yes!

People starting queuing hours before the branch opened. At 10:30 in the morning the line was stretching down the road just to get into Blue Bottle Coffee, where a cup will cost you around ¥500. 200 people lined up patiently in the early February chill to get their hands on an individually brewed cup of coffee made from beans roasted for a full 48 hours, as Blue Bottle is famous for.

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

Blue Bottle was founded in California in 2002 and plans to open another Tokyo branch in March. No surprises that the second outlet will be in Aoyama.

About the opening CEO James Freeman said: “Tokyo has always been an inspiring place for me, from the architecture to culinary traditions. I’ve always hoped Blue Bottle would have a home here. Opening in Kiyosumi has been a wonderful collaboration between our new and dedicated team in Tokyo to the Bay Area transplants who have moved to Japan to help us brew delicious coffee.”

blue bottle coffee tokyo kiyosumi wait long line three hours

While the hipsters are waiting in line for their over-priced roasted beans, they could feast their eyes on the recent Japanese translation of the James Carr hipster satire comic: Hipster Hitler.

hipster hitler japanese translation

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Media Ambition Tokyo 2015 transforms city into media art showcase

Written by: William on February 6, 2015 at 9:41 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Media Ambition Tokyo returns for another year, transforming Tokyo into a media art bonanza.

In the grandiose words of the organizers, Media Ambition Tokyo “takes an experimental approach to urban implementation.”

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture lexus intersect

This is the third time Media Ambition Tokyo has been held, showcasing cutting-edge technology and art crossovers. The previous two festivals had a combined audience of 120,000 people.

The eight venues across Roppongi, Aoyama, Odaiba, Iidabashi and Shibuya include Midtown and Intersect by Lexus.

Ever worker-bee media art unit Rhizomatiks have partnered up with Lexus to create a video and sound installation inspired by the LFA supercar.

The title for the “1,220″ installation might sound cryptic at first but it’s a reference to the height of the car. Visitors will lie down in a space with the same height and experience a series of landscapes passing right above them on a huge LED screen.

When we watch a screen, we first detect what we see as nothing more than light before it gradually takes form inside our brains. Light captured by our retinas travels to the visual cortex at the back of our brains, and this is where light is first recognized as an image. We are not normally aware of this process, but our emotional reactions to the images we see are triggered by the conversion that takes place in that short span. “1,200” is an attempt to have visitors experience that journey of light attaining meaning across a distance that represents the height of the Lexus LFA.

The winter is nearly over but if you feel like ice-skating artistically, you should check out “Skate Drawing” at Midtown, an interactive art piece where the paths traced by skaters on the ice are displayed on a video screen. Once again it is by Rhizomatiks.

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

In Shibuya, Tokyo Anarchitecture sounds like the kind of thing to get Tumblr bloggers excited:

Tokyo Anarchitecture is a photography series which evolves around space representations and experience of the reality. Breaking up then reconstructing pictures of huge urban plants shot in various spots in the world, Olivier Ratsi plays with the perception of our daily urban environment in aim to question its references.

media ambition tokyo 2015 Olivier Ratsi installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

The award for most-scary-sounding installation likely goes to “The Fifth Sleep”:

At the crossroads between video game and cinema, The Fifth Sleep is an immersive installation offering a unique experience : Giving a spectator the chance literally to travel into the interior of the most mysterious of organs, the brain. Using an HMD (head-mounted display), the spectator navigates in a 3D environment generated in real-time, and can interact in a story in which he gradually becomes the main character. The spectator thus participates in a team of scientists’ experimental project aiming to test the Proteus, a nanorobot camera that can be injected inside the human body… An unusual journey through landscapes never before observed, in the heart of a labyrinth where each of your choices will determine the patient’s fate.

Other participants include sculptor Kohei Nawa and teamLab.

media ambition tokyo 2015 rhizomatiks installation sound video the fifth sleep ice skating drawing architecture

The period varies per exhibition and installation event, but most start on February 11th and run until later in the month, though some events continue into March.

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Kenji Goto 2010 tweet goes viral, spreads message of peace and fraternity

Written by: William on February 4, 2015 at 8:38 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

As now know, freelance journalist Kenji Goto was murdered by members of the Islamic State last week, following the similar beheading of his acquaintance Haruna Yukawa, the wannabe military contractor.

The politicians are trying to use the incident as a springboard to increased powers for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to act overseas.

Meanwhile, most people are in shock and consoling themselves with Kenji Goto’s journalist achievements. A veteran of the Middle East, Goto was far from an enemy of the Arab people.

Though some online reactions had been concentrating on mocking the footage released by IS — though we don’t think anyone is laughing now — others have been sharing images of Goto when he was at work as a journalist.

Within this, a four-year-old tweet has gone viral proving that Goto was humane and above all, a friend to the people of the Arab world.

kenji goto murdered beheaded japanese journalist islamic state

Goto tweeted in Japanese on September 7, 2010:

Close your eyes and remain patient. It’s over once you get angry or yell. It is almost like praying. Hating is not the role of humans; judgement is God’s domain. It was my Arab brothers who taught me this.

At time of writing this has been retweeted over 35,000 times and favorited nearly 40,000.

kenji goto anti war tweet

His mother, who has shown herself to be outspoken — using her first press conference when Goto was still held capture to rail against nuclear power and the government — has warned against the dangers of such mass emotion, though.

“I believe this sorrow must not create a chain of hatred,” said Junko Ishido.

Already some pundits are posturing that Goto’s murder (significantly, not Yukawa’s) could be a “9/11-like” watershed for Japan. Abe has already spent much of his time as prime minister in beefing up the legal ability of Japan to wage war.

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Starbucks celebrates spring cherry blossom with sakura-design stores, special drinks

Written by: William on February 3, 2015 at 8:25 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Today is Setsubun, which marks the start of spring in the old lunar calendar.

If you are unfortunate enough to step outside, you may be forgiven for thinking it’s still winter. That would because you’d be right — it is still winter.

But nonetheless, when the kids start throwing the beans in the springs, everyone already begins looking ahead to the spring, and spring in Japan always means one thing: cherry blossom.

Every store or brand seems to run some sort of sakura-themed during the season, even McDonald’s.

If you want to see the real thing, head to Ueno Park or one of the other top spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

And while you’re in Ueno Park, check out the Starbucks, which is going to be transformed especially for the season.

The cherry blossom interiors are courtesy of flower artist plantica and will see the Ueno Park branch and the Sakurabashi branch in Osaka re-designed for the famous bloom season. Both locations have been chosen for their association with hanami.

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

There are also special sakura tumblers and other cups for sale. Even the Starbucks gift cards have got the cherry blossom treatment.

This year marks the fourteenth of the Starbucks sakura series of seasonal menu items.

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

Convenience stores will also sell Starbucks Discoveries Sakura Latte with Strawberry drinks, while Starbucks branches will offer sakura-designed drinks and foods such as Caramel Sakura Chocolate Latte and Sakura Chiffon Cake.

The drinks and cake are available from February 15th to March 17th, while the two decorated branches will be “blooming” from February 16th in Tokyo and February 26th in Osaka, both ending in early April, as the cherry blossom season itself ends for another year.

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