KFC opens first coffee shop in Japan, Colonel’s Cafe

Written by: William on November 14, 2014 at 9:39 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Kentucky Fried Chicken has entered the coffee shop market in Japan, in a direct challenge to the McDonald’s McCafé format. From November 28th, the Colonel’s Cafe in Kobe will be serving French press espresso and hot teas such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling, as well as cheese cakes and other desserts.

A new type of menu requires a new type of interior. The iconic red has been jettisoned for plants, snazzy flooring, and wooden tables seating 26. In other words, a Japanese city cafe. Much like McCafé, the regular KFC menu will also be available (fear not, the “C” from the name has not warped into “coffee”).

kfc colonels cafe coffee shop japan kobe

A few years ago McDonald’s started opening stylish, spunked-up branches in key areas like Aoyama, Harajuku, Shibuya and so on. Certain restaurants later added standalone branded McCafé “barista” coffee bars offering cakes and lattes alongside the regular McDonald’s counter, starting with the Omotesando branch. KFC also has some of these “luxury fast food” outlets (check out the one in Shibuya near the Apple store, for example). Ever the underdog trying to prove itself, KFC boldly opened a whisky bar in Shimokitazawa in 2012.

For its first coffee shop, KFC has opted to go down a slightly different path to McCafé, opening the debut cafe in a mall at JR Rokkomichi Station in Kobe at the end of this month. McCafé has succeeded, though, because while it expanded the McDonald’s menu to include espressos and fitted in with certain higher-class environs, it ultimately remained the cheap choice and still undercut the prices of Starbucks et al. In my (relatively few) experiences visiting these “posh” fast food restaurants, the clientele is the same. The menu upgrade is intriguing but in the end, the new format is only a cosmetic one that makes the chain sit better in areas like Omotesando.

kfc colonels cafe coffee shop japan kobe

A quick glance at the Colonel’s Cafe menu reveals the prices are a little higher than expected, certainly more expensive than dirt-cheap coffee shops like Doutor. But if shelling out nearly ¥500 for a Mexican coffee sounds too much like a trip to Starbucks, rest assured the ordinary cheap KFC coffee will also be available.

We will have to see if people like the Colonel’s Cafe before branches start appearing in Tokyo. KFC does have at least one guaranteed income boost coming up next month. KFC is actually most popular in Japan at Christmas, where everyone lines up outside in the cold to get chicken on Christmas Eve.

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NEC GAZIRU-F image recognition tech integrates fashion magazine mobile shopping for smartphone, tablet cameras

Written by: William on November 13, 2014 at 9:09 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

NEC has got together with Fashion TV to offer a smartphone and tablet service for mobile eCommerce for apparel items you see in a magazine. If you see an item in a magazine you like, you can use GAZIRU-F to snap a shot of it and be connected to a shopping portal to purchase the product.

The service will be available through an app for the fashion magazine persona from spring 2015. GAZIRU-F will be expanded to 20 further companies by 2016 if it proves successful.

nec fashion tv gaziru-f mobile ecommerce image recognition shopping tech photograph smartphone tablet

NEC has been developing the cloud-based Gaziru technology for a while. Dig Info did a report on it back in 2012.

The name is coined from combining two Japanese words: gazo (image) and shiru (know, recognize).

Similar to Google Goggles or Bing Vision, you can just take a snap of something and get a readout of the information it can draw from a database. No text input is required.

GAZIRU is not restricted to images of 2D objects. Further uses for GAZIRU tech may include helping people operate equipment — take a photograph of something and get an operation manual on your screen in seconds. Likewise there are benefits for health, such as being able to provide nutritional data for certain foods. The educational implications are immense; a museum or exhibition can become interact with further information for visitors who want to know more about a certain item on display.

The days of the humble barcode or QR code are surely limited.

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Man burns himself to death in Hibiya Park in protest at collective self-defense, Henoko Bay base relocation

Written by: William on November 12, 2014 at 8:58 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Police were called at 6:55 p.m. on November 11th with reports of a man who had set fire to himself in Hibiya Park, in central Tokyo.

The man, who later died, had apparently committed self-immolation in protest at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s constitutional reform to allow Japan to engage in so-called “collective self-defense”.

At time of writing, the identity of the man is unknown. The police and fire brigade were able to douse the flames quickly, and the victim was taken to hospital but later died from his burns. He left behind a note protesting collective self-defense, as well as the controversial relocation of the US air base from Futenma to Henoko Bay in Okinawa. He also apparently filmed himself on a camera found on the scene.

protest self-immolation hibiya park japan henoko bay collective self-defense suicide burn death tokyo abe shinzo

Following the previous attempted self-immolation in Shinjuku in June this year, this is the second such dramatic suicide-by-protest Japan has witnessed in response to the policies of the Abe government. However, Japan has a precedent for such acts.

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Nikon repair dead Ontake hiker’s camera, recover digital photographs for family

Written by: William on November 11, 2014 at 8:46 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It has been over a month from the surprising Mt Ontake volcanic eruption in late September, which ultimately killed 57 people.

One of those who perished was Kazuo Wakabayashi (66), from Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture.

It goes without saying that his family struggles to cope with their loss and nothing will bring back Wakabayashi. However, Japanese camera maker Nikon have tried to help in the best way they can.

Wakabayashi was a camera buff who loved to shoot landscapes when he went hiking or fishing. He took a Nikon camera with him on his fateful hike to Ontake and the device was later returned to his family on October 1st, coated in ash and broken.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan

The camera was a new one; he had only bought it in July. The data had also been lost in the disaster and Wakabayshi’s family was only able to view images taken on one day. The rest were gone. Nikon heard about the camera in a Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper article and then offered to repair it for the family.

Though it was damaged beyond repair in the eruption, over 10 days Nikon was able to restore the lens, the filter, and the circuit board, all without charge of course. The camera body was also cleaned up and handed back to Wakabayashi’s eldest daughter on October 30th.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan

They were able to recover the digital data for the family so that they could see the roughly 200 photographs Wakabayashi took before his death and which his family feared had been lost forever.

nikon camera restore repair mt ontake volcano hiker dead kazuo wakabayashi japan

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Create your own latte art coffee foam sculptures with the 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino by Takara Tomy

Written by: Japan Trends on November 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Japan has gone a bit coffee-crazy in recent times. We have seen lots of rather tony cafes and espresso bars opening up around Tokyo for hipsters to sip on froth. Starbucks is the second largest chain of coffee shops. Even convenience stores have also started offering real coffee drinks.

And certain baristas have created a social media storm in a coffee cup. Yes, it’s the latte art trend.

This essentially involves turning the foam of a cafe latte or cappuccino into a temporary sculpture floating on the top of the drink.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

While some have bordered on the truly over-the-top, Kazuki Yamamoto in particular has impressed customers with his artistic skills creating animal figures and sculptures so cute you don’t want to start drinking.

If you don’t have the budget to go to these plush cafes around Tokyo, Takara Tomy has come up with a neat cooking toy so you can make your own latte art at home.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is the latest in Takara Tomy’s growing line of kitchen toys.

It is a special blender gadget that can dispense the milk foam onto the top of your coffee without you having to take a lengthy apprenticeship under Monsieur Yamamoto et al. Instead, just a minute or so to blend, and then control the foam as it comes out of Awa Taccino.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

All you need is some milk and then the Awa Taccino will blend and dispense the milky foam in a way that’s easy to control and “sculpt” into your choice of latte art.

For the final touches, use syrup or chocolate to add extra features like a mouth, eyes, ears and so on.

Here are some ideas to give you inspiration.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is now on pre-order and will be available in early December.

*Update*

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino has got picked up by some major overseas blogs like Wired and Engadget, who seem to love how it resembles a “foam gun”.

Oh, and Takara Tomy made this funny commercial.

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Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version: Sharp’s moe “little sister” character robotic vacuum cleaner goes on sale

Written by: Japan Trends on November 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

After teasing us with the prototype back in the spring, Sharp has now made its moe version of the Cocorobo vacuum cleaner an actual product.

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version will only be available for online orders in November and December, with orders set to be delivered in mid-January. However, if it proves popular, we expect at the least the electronic stores in Akihabara will be carrying this “little sister” model of the cleaner.

Sharp’s Cocorobo is a successful robotic vacuum cleaner series that can talk to you. Add a cute female anime character (“Cocorobo-chan”) and a suitably moe “sister” voice and you have the concept for this Akiba-flavored version.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version is voiced by the 16-year-old actress Ibuki Kido and with illustrations and character design by mangaka Kinusa Shimotsuki. It (she?) can tell you the weather and also greets you with a “Good morning, darling”, and even talks to you about famous regional spots around Japan. Since the voice actress hails from Aomori, Cocorobo-chan even switches into local dialect sometimes.

Sharp debuted the female robot in March and wanted 11 people to test it at home. They got over 1,200 applicants for the trial in just a week, so we can assume they are confident that mass production is going to be worthwhile for their coffers.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

It draws on a cloud for the data to create the “conversations”, meaning it can respond to the season and weather for that day.

Such cuteness comes at a price. It costs a whopping ¥148,000 ($1,200).

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far or your tastes are rather different, we recommend you try out the regular Sharp Cocorobo vacuum cleaners instead.

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Tokyo Designers Week 2014 Photo Report

Written by: Japan Trends on November 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Japan’s biggest design showcase Tokyo Designers Week (TDW) landed again for the year in the Gaienmae Aoyama area.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos

We went along to check out the exhibits. Here are our highlights.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos

tokyo designers week 2014 photos chintai asami kiyokawa

Real estate company Chintai are a regular face at TDW. Here they created a “Tokyo Merry-Go-Round” with artist Asami Kiyokawa.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos clappy pachi pachi

At the Robot Exhibition we liked this “clapping robot”, a kind of large version of the Pachi Pachi Clappy. Maywa Denki also participated in this part of TDW, showing off their latest instrument toy, Mr Knocky.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos noriko yamaguchi keitai girl suit

This was more mysterious. Artist and digital sculptor Noriko Yamaguchi created the “Keitai Girl Suit Chi”, whose entire body is covered in cellphone (keitai) keypads. It was a contemplation on how touch is still important to communication.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos asuna android a-lab uncanny valley receptionist

Here we entered the Uncanny Valley. The android Asuna was a “receptionist” created by A-Lab.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos toyo ink co shintaro kago manga stickers

tokyo designers week 2014 photos shintaro kago manga stickers

This booth was very popular, a manga sticker world presented by Toyo Ink and manga-ka Shintaro Kago.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos kengo kuma dnp tree metal

DNP and Kengo Kuma teamed up with technology that allows you to print directly onto a tree, fusing the texture of metal with wood and promising a “new materiality”.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos tanjo no katachi nihon university

The outdoor schools section featured this “Tanjo no Katachi” by Nihon University, a primitive representation of form itself.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos sebastian masuda container

Staying outside, these kids seemed to love this container installation designed by Sebastian Masuda (an art director for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu).

tokyo designers week 2014 photos hokusai exhibition

It wasn’t all “new” stuff, though. A special pavilion was devoted to the work of Edo-era ukiyoe print artist Hokusai.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos hokusai digital interaction

Here the Hokusai prints came into digital life. Using a special interactive app, holding up your phone brought the flat images into colorful life on your mobile screen.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos shiori yano mothers mountain

Shiori Yano’s “MOTHERS MOUNTAIN” bottled up motifs of street culture.

tokyo designers week 2014 photos sato sugamoto fashion non-verbal communication

Finally, Sato Sugamoto’s “Non-Verbal Communication” shows two “hats of thought” of two people meeting and trying to communicate.

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Neo-Kotatsu: Kotatsu Parka shows the (wearable) evolution of the Japanese heated table

Written by: William on November 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Winter is coming and it’s time to get cosy inside the kotatsu, the traditional Japanese low table with a large blanket and heater underneath. The kotatsu can be a homemade contraption with a regular table, futon and space heater — or they might be purpose-built models with the heater integrated into the table and radiating very snuggly through the futon.

But how about the kotatsu as a fashion item?

Hatra has created a “kotatsu parka”. The new product went on display recently as an example of a wearable “neo-kotatsu” from Kori-Show, by Itochu Fashion Systems.

hatra neo kotatsu parka japan furniture winter wearable itochu fashion

It uses four parkas integrated with “kuronos knit” water-repellant materials and connected by zips so you can climb in and out easily. You can attach it to a low household table, either round or rectangular.

While kind of like a heated version of King Jim’s visionary Wearable Futon Air Mat, it means several people can huddle in and keep warm in the winter but also retain your personal space.

hatra neo kotatsu parka japan furniture winter wearable itochu fashion

The designer from hatra said he was inspired by train seats and also wants to make a similar massage chair in the future. He has been developing the wearable kotatsu idea for a while, since Spoon & Tamago also reported on a prototype version in spring last year.

hatra neo kotatsu parka japan furniture winter wearable itochu fashion

For some reason Itochu Fashion System thought the best way to advertise a Japanese item of furniture was to get foreigners to try it out and pose for publicity photos, but even so we like the look of the “wearable kotatsu“.

hatra neo kotatsu parka japan furniture winter wearable itochu fashion

Orders are being taken for the neo-kotatsu, though it will set you back at least ¥255,000 ($2,500).

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Peach John’s Yummy Mart releases SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas and underwear

Written by: William on November 5, 2014 at 7:44 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 3 Comments

We’re not sure if this qualifies as a “trend” but it made us laugh.

To us, SpongeBob SquarePants has always been a bit creepy, but in Japan the yellow character is apparently a cutie. This must be the reason why he has been chosen as the theme of a new range of pajamas and underwear for Yummy Mart.

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

The six items in the collection — including slippers, eye mask, underwear, and robe — are modeled here by Monika Sahara, Yui Sakuma and Elaiza Ikeda, and go on sale in Yummy Mart stores from November 12th. No surprises, they’ve gone with yellow.

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

Yummy Mart is Peach John’s brand for younger girls. Whereas Peach John has famously and successively combined the cute with the sexy, Yummy Mart has more of an innocent pop and fun vibe.

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

In general, Peach John is a pretty innovative lingerie brand. Its previous ideas include a range of Sailor Moon-inspired cosplay underwear that sells out as soon as new products are added to the range.

yummy mart peach john underwear pajamas spongebob squarepants character clothes

If you’re a SpongeBob fan and want to get your hands on these Yummy Mart clothes, you can contact JapanTrendShop to request a special order.

Way back in 2007, the Associated Press reported on the popularity of SpongeBob among Japanese women and how Viacom deliberately target female consumers in the licensing.

Square and loud, SpongeBob wasn’t supposed to have much chance for success in Japan, a nation famous for its love of more cuddly characters like Hello Kitty and Pikachu.

But the perky, bucktoothed American cartoon is proving the skeptics wrong. “SpongeBob SquarePants” attracts nearly 1.9 million Japanese households to his TV show daily and is raking in a growing share of the $5 billion in annual retail sales for Nickelodeon, the Viacom Inc. unit behind the show.

And he’s doing it by capturing the hearts of Japan’s young women — not children, his most loyal fans in the U.S.

“I started collecting Bob because I think he’s cute and he stands out,” said Mayu Takahashi, a 21-year-old student, shopping in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku district holding a SpongeBob tote bag. “Some of my friends say he’s a creepy kind of cute.”

Well, the jury may still be out on that question but SpongeBob’s success in Japan is now established.

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