Japan may well be the land of home electronics (Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba et al) but on the whole apartments and houses are small. It only takes a few appliances for things to get very cluttered. But Japan is also the land of great design solutions to problems.
And so we have what we like to call “origami humidifiers”. Okay, so they’re not actually made from origami paper but they do work by evaporation rather than batteries or cords. In other words, the humidifier is a filter that water in a dish passes through to release moisture into the dry air. And they conjure up fantastic natural imagery that can transform clinical and bare Japanese urban apartments.
One recent example is the Uruoi Animal Forest, a veritable landscape painting of creatures and natural scenery. There is a trio of zoological sights here. Spot the wolf, the stag and the rabbits, each in its own vibrant colors.
The Uruoi humidifiers are a new series. Misty, on the other hand, have been around for a while and there are several variations on the market.
We especially love the Misty Tree, which is just that — a filter designed to look like foliage.
It also comes in a baby version.
The Misty Garden Second Apple Green will make you feel more like a gardener.
The most compact we’ve seen in a while is the Tower Pot Humidifier, which you pull out into a standing humidifier filter.
Meanwhile the Room Mist is now a standard model in this mini genre. It even comes in Hello Kitty and Disney versions.
As the humid summer gives way to the dry autumn and winter, perhaps it’s time to pop a humidifier like this on your desk?
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.
Kobayashi is most famous overseas as one half of comedy deo Rahmens with Jin Katagiri.
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.
Here are a couple of famous examples, Hand Mime and Drop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mitsukoshi Isetan have teamed up with fashion brand minä perhonen (despite the name, not actually Finnish) to offer a new take on a classic item of modern Japanese convenience.
Isetan is currently holding a “future summer gift” event on the ground floor of its Shinjuku head store. This includes a new design for Katori Senko mosquito coils by minä perhonen. Kincho was the first company to make what a now a standard sight in the humid summer in Japan, the coil-designed green poison (using Pyrethrum flower seeds originally from Serbia) that burns slowly with the smell of incense and keeps pesky mosquitoes at bay.
While its coil product has been copied by numerous competitors, Kincho’s design is still much loved, not least for its rather retro but charming cockerel icon. The status of the Kincho mosquito coils is such that the brand received the Good Design Long Life Award from the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2012. Surprisingly Kincho has not made much of an inroad overseas but you can get a set of two “cans” of thirty coils, complete with holder to keep the coil over the can, of the Kincho Uzumaki Katori Senko Mosquito Coil from JapanTrendShop. Trust us, your summers will be much better!
The new minä perhonen version is made with Kincho and has fused the familiar household product with the chic-cute look of the quasi-Finnish brand. Fear not, the famous Kincho cockerel has been retained in all his red glory but the rest of the packaging is recreated in the trademark minä perhonen minimal white.
Isetan’s fair contains a host of other interesting products, mostly unusual reinterpretations of traditional items and sweets. Like New Year, summer is a time in Japan to give gifts and even convenience stores offer suitable items, such as sets of beer and so on. This custom is known as Ochugen and Isetan is hoping its offerings will persuade people to opt for something a bit more unusual. The fair runs from July 30th to August 5th on the ground floor of Isetan Shinjuku.
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.
Sumitomo 3M has created a special website for creating fashion items online, controlled by the volume of your voice. The “Scotch Summer Holidays Family Kousaku Paper Fashion Kids” (or just Scotch Kousaku — “Scotch handicrafts”) allows users to design their own clothing using the internal mic in their computer and voice recognition. By printing the design out, budding fashionistas can then assemble the pieces together using scissors or paper cutters.
Scotch Kousaku is live now and is available until August 31st, making it a cool activity for parents to give kids to do at home while they are off school.
The Scotch brand has been doing these kinds of online campaigns locally for kids and parents every summer since 2012 and 2014′s one is built around the idea of turning children into young designers.
The site is only in Japanese but is fairly easy to navigate. 3M provides you with ten wallpaper designs — a few basic clothes (t-shirts, dresses etc) and accessories (bags, hats) that are plain to get you started. You then supply the colors and patterns by selecting certain options — and shouting! The colors then respond to the volume and tone of your voice. For example, the more noise you make the more various multicolored leaves, splashes, circles and other patterns will appear.
Since kids are well-known for being loud, this is the perfect way to vent their vocal and creative skills.
Here is one we tried making… All right, we’re not natural fashion designers! Clearly we aren’t loud enough.
Here are some examples that 3M have put on the website to give you inspiration. They are downloadable as PDFs.
The clothes come in three sizes: Small (100-110cm), medium (110-120cm) and large (120-130cm).
Sumitomo 3M likes to do these kinds of campaigns to liven up the potentially mundane world of adhesive tape and Post-its. A few years ago they even had a very funky pop-up store in Omotesando that was more like an arts and crafts outlet than a shop to buy stationery.
There are no details available at present but the Scotch Kousaku website also promises a bricks-and-mortar store from late August where kids can try their hand at designing clothes.
For really releasing the need to shout, though, we recommend the Shouting Vase!
The Racing Miku Hatsune Miku GT comes in three models: HRM-Extreme (for racing), HMR-9 (high performance model for hills and slopes), and HRM-x (the fashionista’s choice).
The bikes are only made to order and come with eye-watering price tags. The HRM-Extreme comes in at ¥580,000 ($5,700) plus tax, while the HRM-9 and HRM-x are more reasonable ¥198,000 ($2,000) and ¥138,000 ($1,300) plus tax respectively.
Made using super lightweight esrMagnesia metal alloy, the bikes also include many components produced by top bike parts maker Shimano.
Goodsmile Racing has been competing in Japan’s famous Super GT car race in Vocaloid idol-themed vehicles for several years now.
Now they are holding the GSR Cup Cycle Race on September 6th at the New Tokyo Circuit. Look out for Hatsune Miku bikes galore!
And if Hatsune Miku isn’t quite to your taste or if you can’t get enough of cute anime girls, you can also get Love Plus cycling jerseys and water bottles, based on the popular SIM dating game.
Glico’s Papico ice cream has upped the marketing for its summer campaign and this apparently means appealing to the inner moe in every Japanese consumer.
The frozen snack has relaunched with new packaging featuring an updated slinky female mascot in three designs, though we wonder if the results are little too much for non-otaku.
As the summer heats up, it’s the peak season for beer companies and ice cream bands.
It seems that otaku motifs are seeping into all walks of life now. The question is whether skimpily-dressed schoolgirls on the wrapping of a ice cream would make you buy it.
Papico is a tube containing ice cream that can usually be seen being sucked furiously on by school kids in the hotter months. One pack contains two tubes and there are multiple flavors.
The packaging for the “white sour” version has traditionally featured the Papico character Howaitosawa/Whitesawa (a joke on “white sour”), a sweet young girl — a sort of Japanese Milky Bar Kid — who has appeared on the wrapping in various forms since 1975. Glico found that without the girl, sales actually dropped.
This is how the packaging has changed over the years.
Out with the old, as the adage says. Glico launched a contest in April and May to have people re-design the packaging and the girl by submitting illustrations via pixiv. The winners were then picked from these and have made their way onto the final product, which went on sale on June 9th.
Here are the three winners.
And here are some of the unsuccessful entries.
In some ways we shouldn’t be surprised as Papico is the same Glico product that is currently running a campaign with idol group AKB48, including recruiting a new thirty-something temporary housewife idol into the band. We guess they really were intent on changing the image of the product!
Don’t worry. If you’re a fan of the original retro Papico White Sour design, it’s not going away for good. Once the moe-packaged Papico products are sold out, Glico says they won’t be making any more.
Toyota has once again collaborated with Znug Design to produce another fun Camatte booth for the Tokyo Toy Show.
Following the Camatte’s first appearance in the 2012 and 2013 editions of the fair which allowed kids to play around with car panels, now comes a double treat for both design and automobile fans.
The Camatte Lab is divided into two zones. The Tech Lab gives visitors an unusual up-close look at the inner workings of the car. The hands-on Design Lab is more creative, letting visitors customize a Camatte vehicle.
The Tech Lab features a Camatte57s without its body panels so you can see how the steering gear and differential gear box work. The internal parts are shown moving when the steering wheel and accelerator are operated.
The Tokyo Toy Show booth features multiple screens so even the driver can see in detail what is going on with the mechanics from every angle.
The neighboring Design Lab has a Camatte57s Sport vehicle with special LEDs projecting onto the hood. This means visitors can customize the sports car by displaying their own digital drawings with the LEDs. Kids, get your crayons ready!
The system scans the drawing and then projects it onto the car. Here are some of Toyota’s ideas for designs.
Toyota bills Camatte as a “customizable, sporty, family-oriented concept” that will “free your imagination”. The name is inspired by the Japanese word for caring, meaning both “caring for others” and “caring for cars”.
The Tokyo Toy Show 2014 is open to the public this weekend at Tokyo Big Sight.