Former Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School Japanese idol group members (and fans) sued by management for dating

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

In a possibly unprecedented move, the management of a Japanese idol group is suing two former members, their parental guardians, and the fans they had relationships with for damages.

MovingFactory, the management and label behind the seven-girl idol group Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School has named both the two members, the fans and the parents in the lawsuit, which was made public yesterday.

Formed in 2012, Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School is not as famous as other idol groups like Perfume, AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, but still has a reasonable fan base. Its single “STARTING OVER”, released in March, got to No.7 on the Oricon weekly singles chart.

In April this year it was suddenly announced that one of the members was leaving due to “health issues” and then in July another member was said to be taking a “break” from event appearances. New members were announced (the group now has eight members).

However, it was not until August that the reasons for the departure of Miho Yuuki (19) and Sena Miura (22) were made clear when a producer explained at an event that the two had been dating fans, which breached their contracts with MovingFactory. They were fired and the management even went so far as to reveal the names of the fans, which led to people tracking down their social media accounts and photos.

Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School japanese idol group sued lawsuit relationship with fan

And now it has emerged a lawsuit has been filed for over ¥8.2 million (in excess of $75,000) for damages as a result of the girls’ actions. The two members are named in the suit, as are the men who had relationships with the girls.

“The parental guardians signed contracts that said the members would not have relationships with fans and would not neglect their work,” the management was quoted. “They have betrayed the members of the group and all their fans. We cannot forgive this.”

It was not until yesterday that the lawsuit was confirmed, though rumors about it had been circulating since mid-August when MovingFactory explained why the two members had left. One of the men in question wrote a blog post claiming that as an ordinary citizen he was free to have a relationship with someone and that he had received notice of a lawsuit. The other man went so far as to make a public apology via a YouTube video (since taken down).

There is a recent similar case. Last month the management company for idol group N Zero announced a lawsuit against a member and a fan for having “private contact”.

While there have been some scandals of this nature before, what usually happens is the “shamed” member is fired or punished. AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was demoted and even shaved her head in a bizarre act of public self-humiliation, while fellow member Rino Sashihara was exiled to a Kyushu “sister group” for a similar romantic episode, though her fan base has since exonerated her and turned her into one of the most popular members in the AKB sphere.

Some have criticized the management of idol groups for moral hypocrisy, demanding that female members be all pure and innocent while actually selling them as sex objects and profiting from the sexualization of young girls. In fact, as is alleged with former AKB48 member Tomomi Kasai, there are cases where relationships with the idols are condoned but only when it is with the (older) male management themselves.

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Okashina Tamago Mawashite Purin Egg Flan Maker: Takara Tomy’s latest food cooking toy

Written by: Japan Trends on September 11, 2014 at 9:47 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Japan is a nation obsessed with food and also, so people say, childishness. And so it is only natural that the two things would be combined at some point. The result is cooking toys, which Takara Tomy in particular has been really pushing over the past three years.

The latest is the Okashina Tamago Mawashite Purin Egg Flan Maker, which allows you to cook egg flan just by moving a lever back and forth for two minutes.

okashina tamago mawashite mawashite purin flan egg maker toy japanese

Part a game, part a genuine way to make a dessert, the video promoting the product is frankly remarkable.

This cooking toy trend has been rolling out over the last couple of years now.

Takara Tomy started it off in 2012 with the Takara Tomy Gurefuru Chuchu, a kind of mini-blender attachment to make orange juice inside the fruit itself.

takara tomy gurefuru chuchu toy fruit juice maker

Just watch this video and you will see the instant appeal of the product!

Others then followed in the “Okashina” (literally “silly”) series, including the Takara Tomy Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker and the Okashina Banana Juice Mixer.

takara tomy chupa chups ice candy maker toy

Invariably the products are all marketed with a suitable silly video, usually with an annoyingly catchy song and music. And sometimes dancing too.

Another recent example is the Maracas de Popcorn, which combines making popcorn with a musical instrument (yes, these are also maracas).

maracas de popcorn japan food cooking toy musical instrument

No surprise that there is also a funny video.

Besides the tone of the marketing, something common to most of the cooking toys is also that they do not require batteries or electricity for the most part, instead relying on a bit of elbow grease and the enthusiasm of kids. They are also actually very simple technologically but rely on the fun pop design, and the accompanying “action” (or even dance) to appeal to kids and parents.

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Infinity of Flowers: teamLab and Gucci create interactive digital floral installation

Written by: William on September 10, 2014 at 1:56 pm | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

teamLab has got together with Gucci to create “Infinity of Flowers”, an interactive digital installation at the Gucci Shinjuku store from September 13th.

Visitors will be able to “touch” the flowers on the screen and see them bloom, scatter, grow and wither. The installation using a computer program to “paint” the flowers in realtime on the screen. The imagery on the display is created spontaneously by the system. We look forward to the video that will surely be made.

teamlab gucci infinity of flowers digital installation shinjuku japan tokyo

There will also be a teamLab work in display in the 8-meter window that faces Shinjuku-dori.

teamLab is an award-winning group of “ultra-technologists” working with digital experiential media. Its previous projects include a remarkable high school musical, an amazing digital mural of Tokyo at the Skytree, smart clothes hangers in a department store in Shibuya, and many more. This Shadow Dance and Shadowgraph video from early 2011 was a hit, not least because it seemed to adhere to everything we love about Japan — samurai swords and technology!

teamLab already has a florally-themed installation, “Time-blossoming Flowers”, at the new KITTE department store in Marunouchi.

team lab flower installation kitte tokyo marunouchi

They have a new permanent installation, “Vortex of Water Particles”, at Narita Airport’s Terminal 1 North Wing (joining their other installation at the South Wing that started last year).

“Infinity of Flowers” will run from September 13th to September 28th at the third-floor event space at Gucci Shinjuku. Entry is free.

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New Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll is a sell-out

Written by: William on September 9, 2014 at 9:47 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Was this inevitable? The fashion doll series Blythe and otaku idol character Hatsune Miku have got together.

While Blythe is now licensed by Hasbro and originally American, the dolls with oversized heads are popular in Japan. The doll starred in a TV commercial for the department store Parco in 2000 and Takara made new editions of the dolls in 2001.

The new Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll was put on pre-order on Junie Moon, a shop on the Rakuten platform, from 12pm on September 5th and immediately sold out. They then went on pre-order on the Takara Tomy online store yesterday and not surprisingly also sold out.

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

The limited edition doll is priced ¥20,000 (nearly $200) plus tax and if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, expect it to shop in early February 2015.

Hatsune Miku, the virtual idol first created for the Vocaloid system, has since become a veritable industry in its (her?) own right, responsible for racing bikes, an opera, and more.

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

The Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll features a tie, ribbons, a skirt and boots, and Miku’s trademark turquoise hair.

What do you think? Cute? Weird? Or both?

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

It’s far from the first time that the idol has become a physical doll, though. Pullip Dolls previously created a 12-inch doll of the Vocaloid star.

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“Toy Tokyo” explores Japan’s capital city in blurry, lo-fi photography

Written by: William on September 8, 2014 at 10:23 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

“Toy Tokyo” is a new photography book by Manami Okazaki, a collection of 26 interviews and images.

New from Kingyo Books, “Toy Tokyo” features “the work of several photographers who are either from, or are shooting in Japan. While generic, commercial, travel photography based on stock has become the norm, ‘Toy Tokyo’ captures the exhilaration of travel photography and life on the road, in one of the world’s most intense locations.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book

Photographers included in the book are: Frederic LeBain, Takeshi Suga, Cory Lum, Taiju Fubuki, Yusuke Abico, Genqui Numata, Hodachrome, Jorge Sato, Michael Feather, Katherine Oktober Matthews, Leo Berne, Kevin Meredith, Tommy Oshima, GHST WORLD, Kevin Meredith, Rei Sato, Paolo Patrizi, Sean Lotman, Jorge Sato, Remo Camerota, Michael Lyons, Martin Cheung, and Naga.Design by Cakefortiger.

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book jorge sato

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book taiju fubuki

You can read comments from some of the contributing lo-fi photographers over on GUP Magazine.

For example, here is what Michael Feather (responsible for the image below) says: “The reason I went with the pinhole is partly because commercial work is mostly digital, so to get away from that aspect, and with digital now, and iPhone and smart phones, we can shoot anything any time and stick a filter on it. You are playing around. You don’t start out with an actual vision, you just snap away. Whereas, when you start using something like a pinhole, with film, you start to think about what you are doing. You have made a conscious decision at the start.”

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book michael feather

toy tokyo manami okazaki photography book sean lotman

“Toy Tokyo” is promised as the first in a series of location-specific toy camera photography books. It is available for $30 from Kingyo Books.

Australia-born Okazaki is the author of other coffee table books like “Kimono Now”, “Wabori” (on traditional Japanese tattoos) and “Kicks Japan” (about street culture and sneakers).

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Tokyo Cheapo’s September-October Cheapo Calendar: 5 Autumn Events Not to Miss

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on September 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

Early autumn is a great time to be in Tokyo. Except for the odd typhoon, the weather is just right, and there are heaps of free events to enjoy. Here’s our pick of five particularly awesome ones, bringing you the best of Japanese culture both traditional and contemporary.

1. Nezu Shrine Festival: September 20th-21st

nezu shrine festival tokyo
Nezu Shrine Festival Photo by Guilhem Vellut used under CC

A festival with a long history, held at a Shinto shrine with an even longer one. Nezu Shrine, most famous for its azalea festival in spring, was officially established in 1705, but is said to go back more than 1,900 years. The story goes that it was founded by the legendary priest Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (give him a Google) in Sendagi, and then moved to its current location. The shrine’s Annual Grand Festival was first held somewhere around 1714.

Well-known but not well-publicised, the Grand Festival, or reitaisai, is a chance to see the traditional Shinto dances Urayasu-no-mai and Sanza-no-mai (the latter featuring fearsome masks), as well as taiko drumming and some very old mikoshi (portable shrines) being paraded around. It’s also a good opportunity to try typical Japanese festival food from stalls that will be set up in the shrine precincts. Think takoyaki, yakisoba, squid stuff and various foods on sticks.

The Grand Festival is not to be confused with the newer Shitamachi Matsuri held at the shrine on October 20-21st — also a worthwhile event to check out.

More info here.

2. Tokyo Game Show 2014: September 20th-21st

tokyo game show
Tokyo Game Show photo by LonelyBob

Happening on the same weekend as the Nezu Shrine Festival is one of the world’s biggest gaming shows (don’t worry, you’ll have time to do both). First held in 1996, Tokyo Game Show has grown like crazy, attracting close to 300,000 visitors last year. Some people come on tours to Japan just for this event. There are booths by all the major game companies (except Nintendo… yes, really), with chances to try the latest games. You’ll find everything from romance sims to huge titles, indie stuff, smartphone games and merch.

You can expect cosplay, skimpily clad girls (cough, gender issues in gaming, cough cough), and possibly some important industry announcements. Rumors are afloat that something big will be going down about Final Fantasy XV and maybe PS4 too.

1,000 yen and a couple of hours of queuing (seriously, go early!) outside Makuhari Messe will get you in. More info here.

3. Narita Fireworks Festival: October 11th

narita fireworks festival

Most of Japan’s mega fireworks shows happen in summer, but this is an autumn one — and a fairly big one, too. 10,000 shots will be fired into the sky above Chiba’s Narita City, making for a decent display with a variety of shapes and possibly even a couple of cartoon character designs in the mix. Just 10,000 people are expected to attend, making it a much more chilled event than the unbelievably crowded Edogawa and Sumidagawa Fireworks Festivals held earlier in the year (10,000-12,000 shots go off at those shows too).

The venue, Narita Daikata Newtown Sports Square, is a few kilometers from JR Narita Station. There will be buses running both ways, but if you get stressed, it’s a short 5-10 minute taxi ride (just bear in mind that taxis are not all that cheapo-friendly).

More info here.

4. Oeshiki Festival at Ikegami Honmonji Temple: October 11th-13th

oeshiki festival ikegami honmonji temple
Oeshiki Festival Photo by raccoflickr used under CC

A Buddhist festival commemorating the anniversary of the death of Nichiren, a revered Buddhist teacher who lived during the Kamakura period (700-800 years ago). The event is marked across the country, but this version is the most notable as it was at Ikegami Honmonji Temple that Nichiren passed away. He is also said to have founded the temple in 1282 (it underwent reconstruction over the years, though).

The highlight of the festival and an incredibly beautiful experience is watching 3,000 people carry 10,000 lights along a 2km route through the streets. For this rite, called mando, sacred lanterns are decorated with cherry blossoms and hung on 5m poles. Prayers are chanted to drums and flutes in the background.

This is a popular event, and the road from the station to the temple can get crowded – so get there early to secure a good vantage point. The mando has been held on the 12th in previous years, but it’s a good idea to check the temple website ahead of time to confirm.

More info here.

5. Japan Robot Week 2014: October 15th-17th

japan robot week tokyo

If you’re in Tokyo, you need to go to this event simply for the stories and social cred at cheapo dinner parties later. The expo is all about service bots — showcasing technology that it’s hoped will revolutionise fields like nursing, life support, disaster response, farming and more, and in so doing help Japan’s “aging society” problem.

Look out for “Excretion Support” robots, as well as something termed “Hand” in the Medical Robots category. Is it a bionic hand? A hand-shaped robot? Let us know, if you find out.

If you get bored, you can always check out the vacuum show that will apparently be happening on the premises too. Did someone say Roomba?

More info here.

Bonus event: Ohara Naked Festival

This event sounds a lot more scandalous than it really is. Partly nude men cart a portable shrine down to the sea and dunk it in the water. It’s good clean fun.

For more events, like the Ramen Festival, check out our regularly updated Events pages and sign up for the weekly Cheapo Weekend events wrap.

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Animal Rubber Bands: Zoological ways to tie things up

Written by: Japan Trends on September 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Some of the best household items in Japan come courtesy of the brand Plus D, which works with a range of individual designers to come up with fun, original and practical objects.

Past successes include the Cup Men, a cameleon “hanging man” object that keeps the lid of your instant noodle cup shut while the hot water is working its magic, and then tells you by its changing color when your meal is ready.

We also loved the Kaba crayons and the Cao Maru face stress balls.

animal rubber band wide set japanese design

Now here are the Animal Rubber Bands, stationery items that are guaranteed to liven up your work station.

There are two sets — Zoo and Pet. The former has an elephant, giraffe, hippo, ostrich, kangaroo and rhino, while the latter features a dog, cat, rabbit, duck, pig and turtle. (Apologies for the nitpicking, but who calls a “pig” or “duck” a pet?!)

animal rubber band japanese design pet zoo

The Animal Rubber Bands come courtesy of Passkey Design, a product design team set up in Tokyo in 1994. It consists of Yumiko Ohashi and Masanori Haneda.

These are actually the “wider” version of an earlier design. This model is more durable (because the bands are thicker) and is ideal for wrapping up a notebook, lunchbox, bag of potato chips, and so on.

animal rubber band wide set japanese design

Or just using to create fun ways to make animal scenes on your desk. After all, we are always looking for new strategies for distracting us from our duties at work.

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Roboko: Shinjuku Kabukicho Robot Restaurant gets its own mascot character

Written by: William on September 4, 2014 at 8:08 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

It generated enough headlines when it opened and now it will surely get some more.

The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku Kabukicho launched in late 2012 on a wave of publicity, not least for its enormous budget and advertising campaign featuring the eponymous robot vehicles been driven. Even if it wasn’t your thing, admit it — you were curious too, right?

And now the Robot Restaurant has its own mascot character, Roboko. (Strictly speaking, they have simply rebranded their robotic vehicles that star in the show as a mascot.)

Roboko is taking part in Japan’s “battle of the mascots”, last year won by Sanomaru. The robotic vixen is entry #55 in the corporate character competition in the Yuru-kyara Grand Prix, which is decided by public voting.

roboko robot restaurant kabukicho shinjuku mascot character yuru-kyara grand prix competition

We’re not sure about Roboko’s chances against the likes of Kumamon and Funassyi, but you can’t knock them for trying. Last year there were 1,245 regional mascots and 335 corporate characters in the running. The top two regional mascots (the corporate ones get a separate ranking) had over 1 million votes each! (In other words, entering the competition is great for getting more exposure.) The 2013 Grand Prix’s top corporate mascot was Kosuke, the character for the Japanese Cooperative Insurance Association.

The restaurant has made over 10 of its “robots”, with the first ones on display in the entrance as they were apparently actually too big to fit in the final space. They reckon this makes Roboko perhaps the largest yuru-kyara in Japan!

shinjuku kabukicho robot restaurant tokyo

As we wrote in a review last year, we found the Robot Restaurant a bit half-baked. There aren’t any genuine “robots” in the show, more like vehicles that that the dancers ride around on. And despite the risque outfits, it’s not really an adult show nor a regular idol event — something that sits oddly in between. And the staff at the reception were just like you’d expect from a venue located in Tokyo’s most notoriously sleazy district, i.e., pretty unwelcoming.

It also felt significant that around half the clientele were foreign (the restaurant ranked 16th on a recent list of most popular sightseeing spots in Japan for overseas visitors). Anyway, we don’t want to sound too snarky, we are sure that the show must have some appeal and we wish Roboko all the best in the competition. We would say “break a leg” but we doubt that’s physically possible for her.

Voting continues until October 20th, with the winners announced in November.

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Japan introduces roundabout junctions nationwide

Written by: William on September 3, 2014 at 9:04 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

People from Britain, like myself, often forget that many other countries don’t have roundabouts. The idea of a circular junction with no traffic lights, where the unspoken rules of the road define who gives way and who pulls out and when — this frankly baffles non-Britons when they first witness the workings of one of the nation’s iconic roundabouts.

While standardized and made famous in the UK during the 1990′s, there are roundabouts today in places as far apart as Qatar, New Zealand, China and France. And now Japan.

There has been some speculation about Japan introducing signal-less roundabouts in the past but they’ve finally done it. There are 15 operating in 7 prefectures around Japan, as of September 1st. There are actually around 140 circular intersections in Japan, with some of these now legally designated as roundabouts.

japan roundabout junction roads

In 2012 six unsignalized intersections were tested in Karuizawa, Nagano, and then further tests were carried out in Shizuoka and Shiga prefectures.

Motorists in Japan, with its danger of electrical blackouts from the frequent earthquakes and other natural disasters, are actually possibly safer off with roundabouts, as they can be used without power. Roundabouts are not only better for the environment, they are also said to reduce accidents.

And if the idea of giving way to oncoming motorists without a signal to tell you to stop sounds like a recipe for traffic mayhem, remember that the Japanese a polite bunch. We predict the roundabout will be a success in this land of small cars and good manners.

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