Shibuya Scramble Crossing recreated in 1/100 scale paper model as stop-motion animation

Written by: William on July 2, 2015 at 5:49 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

We recently featured a beautiful video featuring miniatures of traditional Japanese architecture and gardens.

Well, here’s the modern-day version!

This is a contemporary Tokyo landmark in minimal 1/100 scale.

shibuya scramble crossing tokyo intersection model terada mokei paper 1/100 scale stop motion animation

The Terada Mokei team have created a stop-motion animation of the most famous intersection in the world — Shibuya Crossing in front of Shibuya Station, informally known as “Scramble Crossing”.

shibuya scramble crossing tokyo intersection model terada mokei paper 1/100 scale stop motion animation

The animation features around 1,000 different “characters” called Genki-kun, made using paper models from the Terada Mokei architectural models. Look out for tiny buses, cars and more.

The animation was directed by Tomohiro Okazaki, with production direction by Naoki Terada.

shibuya scramble crossing tokyo intersection model terada mokei paper 1/100 scale stop motion animation

Terada Mokei also produced this cool 1/100-scale sumo wrestling model.

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“Kokeshi, from Tohoku with Love”: An interview with Manami Okazaki about her book

Written by: William on June 24, 2015 at 8:32 am | In COOL PRODUCTS, CULTURE | No Comments

Manami Okazaki has released a second edition of her book “Kokeshi, from Tohoku with Love”, featuring interviews with 23 kokeshi artisans as well as 200 photos documenting how the unique wooden dolls are made in northeast Japan.

Okazaki, the author of several books about aspects of Japanese culture, from tattoos to toy cameras, wrote the first edition as a charity project. It sold out in 18 months and now is available again in a new expanded version.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

We spoke to her about her new book.

Q. Why did you choose to write about kokeshi?

Manami Okazaki: There are a couple of reasons. When I was interviewing people for a previous book I wrote on kawaii culture, many mentioned kokeshi as having the same design sensibilities as modern cute character design. Designers such as Bukkuro (known for designing the Taiko no Tatsujin game) find kokeshi designs inspirational. Traditional types of kokeshi, like a lot of kawaii characters, lack any facial expression (famously, Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth), and their simplicity leaves a lot to the imagination.

Since 3/11, the country began to focus on the Tohoku region, and kokeshi became a kind of mascot for the region. There were exhibitions at trendy places like Claska and PARCO gallery, events in Koenji, and a slew of gorgeously designed publications like “Kokeshi Jidai”, which all instigated a boom in kokeshi culture. I write a lot about kawaii culture in any case, and kokeshi aligned with the notion of shibu kawaii (subdued, old school cute).

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Last but not least, my grandparents on my mum’s side lived in Onagawa post-war, and my mum grew up there. I am really grateful I experienced Japanese rural life there, and have great memories of visiting them. We also went to Naruko and kokeshi studios when I was a kid, so there is a sense of nostalgia for me as well. I should also add that my mum’s childhood home was swept away in the tsunami, and in an instant, many people died, and the town she grew up in disappeared. When I went up post-tsunami, the playground I used to play in was lined with coffins.

Nothing in life is permanent, but books leave behind a legacy that carries on for generations — it is one way to leave behind a culture. It is not the only way, of course, there is a scholar who did her doctoral dissertation on kokeshi, and there are also documentaries, but it is the way I am familiar with.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. Why do you think the first print sold out? Why is there a strong interest in kokeshi?

Manami Okazaki: I think there was just a hole in the market, there are some books which are beautiful, but have little to no text and, are a decade old, and expensive.

The book is in English, so it is intended for an audience abroad — a lot of people recognize kokeshi, and like them, but in reality, a lot of the items that are called “kokeshi” in English are plastic mass-produced products in the likeness of geishas. If you do a google image search for kokeshi in English, most of the images are not kokeshi, but kitschy cartoony toys. I met an owner of a kokeshi shop in Paris who had never seen a real kokeshi in his life, and was asking where he can get wholesale quantities!

I think people were curious to know what these well-known dolls really were. I think there is also a general interest in artisan culture due to things like the slow life movement, and influential taste-makers like Kinfolk and Monocle magazine celebrating crafts.

They are imperfect, as they are made by hand, and each one is different. Asides from that, they are very cute!

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. What do you think the role of kokeshi is for Japan today? As crafts? Design? Toys?

Manami Okazaki: Mainly as interior decoration items and souvenirs. They started as a kids’ toy, and girls were dressing them up and carrying them on their back. During the Showa era, adults became enamored in them, instigating the first “kokeshi boom”. Tadao Watanabe, a kokeshi artisan in Fukushima told me, “Suddenly, these toys became a thing for urban intellectuals, and they would take dolls out of kids’ hands!”

They are also connected to tourism — they are a souvenir from the hot spring villages in Tohoku where they are made, and people would travel around collecting them. In the Showa era it was “collectors with big backpacks”. Nowadays it is Shimokitaza type, crafty and designer-y young females.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. What are the challenges facing kokeshi culture today?

Manami Okazaki: Primarily, the lack of successors and the aging demographic of the current artisans. The apprenticeship is grueling and lengthy, and there is little financial incentive to become a kokeshi maker. It is the same for all the artisans in Japan, across the board.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. What are some of the most unusual kokeshi you have encountered? And the most innovative?

Manami Okazaki: Prior to this kokeshi boom, a lot of young people thought that orthodox kokeshi with their demure expressions looked a bit creepy. In response, artisans usually make two types: the very traditional types that are true to their lineage, and ones that are hyper cute — with hats, in the shape of cats, sitting on beer barrels, with manga eyes, and so on. Recently, fashion retailer BEAMS collaborated with kokeshi maker Yasuhiro Satou, using both artificial blue ink, and indigo, as Japan has a rich heritage of indigo dying. Blue is never found in traditional kokeshi, so it was dubbed the “denim head” and they sold an incredible amount!

By and large, they are artisans, not artists though, and their main interest is in dutifully protecting their heritage. They try and “catch” new customers by making hyper kawaii types, in the hope that these some customers eventually get deeper into kokeshi culture, and go for the traditional types. This is something I also saw in the kimono industry as well; the casual, creative styles were seen as a bridge to the “real thing”.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. Have you made any significant changes/additions to this second edition?

Manami Okazaki: Yes. It is a second edition ,though, not a new book, so please keep this in mind if you have the first edition. The second edition has all the bells and whistles. It has a thick, textured hard cover, 100% FCS paper from sustainable sources in Europe, two times higher grade paper, larger format, 60 more photos, 3 more profiles, sections on how to buy kokeshi, and added information on Tohoku folklore.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

Q. Why did you make the first edition a charity project?

Manami Okazaki: I think it makes sense as kokeshi are from Tohoku. Post-tsunami, almost everyone I knew was working on charity projects, and chipping in where they could, from making books to hosting band gigs and holding charity events. I felt there was a shift in consciousness amongst young people, and a reassessment about the way they (over) consumed. I remember around ten years ago, if you told someone to watch their water consumption, not use so much plastic or packaging, and whatnot, they would think you were a hippie (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). I don’t think many mainstream young people prior to 3/11 had even thought about charity, but everyone I knew, from fashion houses to underground artists were doing something.

It was a charity book, but mostly I am hoping it inspires people to visit these charming hot spring villages and to check out Japan’s artisan crafts. Kokeshi tourism is a really great way to experience rural Tohoku culture, and see craftsmen at work in their own studios.

manami okazaki kokeshi from tohoku with love design book japanese culture

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Shaun in Japan: Shaun the Sheep takes over Tokyo in Evangelion, Hello Kitty designs

Written by: William on June 12, 2015 at 10:08 am | In GO SEE | No Comments

Go hunting for Shaun the Sheep in Omotesando this June in a special art and charity event called “Shaun in Japan”.

The Shaun-hunting event has already been a success in the Aardman Animations character’s native UK in the form of two “ewe-nique charity arts trails” in Bristol and London. 50 specially created Shaun sculptures were exhibited in the British capital and 70 in Bristol, a city in the far west of England. Kids were encouraged to go searching for all the sculptures in the “flock” as part of days out in the cities. The celebrity-designed sculptures were then sold off for charity at the end of the respective events.

shaun in japan tokyo sheep sculpture omotesando tokyu plaza harajuku hideki anno evangelion hello kitty

The “Shaun in the City” trail now arrives in the Japanese capital. (Wallace & Gromit is popular in Japan, even if some of the British jokes may go over viewers’ heads!) While the trail is not as big as the original UK versions, the designs of the sculptures have been considerably localized.

“Shaun in Japan” takes place from June 12th to June 25th, and features seven Shaun the Sheep sculptures at the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku designed by Japanese artists like acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno.

shaun in japan tokyo sheep sculpture omotesando tokyu plaza harajuku hideki anno evangelion hello kitty

No surprises but Hideki Anno’s contribute is an Evangelion Shaun!

The Shaun sculptures measure 130cm in height. Only four designs have been unveiled so far, but they include a Hello Kitty Shaun and Sugar Sugar Rune Shaun!

shaun in japan tokyo sheep sculpture omotesando tokyu plaza harajuku hideki anno evangelion hello kitty

Aside from Anno, other designers and artists involved include manga-ka Moyoco Anno (who wrote the comic Sugar Sugar Rune), calligrapher Tomomi Kunishige, character designer Yuko Yamaguchi, manga-ka Ikuto Yamashita, and sweets artist Osamu Watanabe.

The British Council and Sanrio are also participating.

The fifth-floor Hands Cafe at the Tokyu Plaza will also offer special Shaun the Sheep menu items.

shaun in japan tokyo sheep sculpture omotesando tokyu plaza harajuku hideki anno evangelion hello kitty

“Shaun in Japan” is also being touted as a charity event, though the details are yet to be announced.

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How to survive the rainy season in style: Japan’s best umbrella design

Written by: Japan Trends on June 9, 2015 at 9:11 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | 1 Comment

The rainy season is upon us: get ready for several weeks of rain around Japan.

Any visit to a major store in Tokyo will mean you are confronted with a mountain of products designed to help you combat the wet time of the year. From umbrellas to raincoats, boots and towels, there is no end to “rainy season” merchandise.

Here is our pick of some the most interesting umbrellas in Japan.

UnBrella Upside Down Umbrella

Designed by Hiroshi Kajimoto for +d/H-concept, the UnBrella Upside Down Umbrella is awesome as it name sounds. No one will forget you in the rain when you unleash this umbrella! It works brilliantly and is super easy to open up and protect you from the elements.

unbrella umbrella upside down

It can stand up on its own, ideal for when you have nowhere to prop your umbrella up against. It will also keep the wet part of the umbrella inside once you’ve closed it, meaning things don’t get dripped on when you put it away after coming indoors. Instead, the water runs off while enclosed by the folds of the canopy.

unbrella umbrella upside down

unnurella Water-Repellant Umbrella

Made with special water-repellant coating technology by Komatsu Seiren, the unnurella (literally, the “un-wet umbrella”) by WPC and Kazuya Koike of Doogdesign can just be shaken once and the rain droplets will be all gone. Your umbrella will now feel dry and you can take it around without fear of getting your clothes or other people wet when you ride public transport.

unnurella water repellent umbrella japan

Vegetabrella Lettuce Umbrella

One of the funnest and most eye-catching entries on this list, the Vegetabrella Lettuce Umbrella looks like a romaine lettuce head.

vegetabrella lettuce umbrella salad japanese

Japan is famous for its “fake food” restaurant displays and having a general obsession with cuisine. Perhaps it’s only natural that Yurie Mano (h concept) came up with a salad-like way to keep off the rain. Folded up and wrapped in its cover, this parasol could easily be taken for a romaine lettuce. Opened up, it protects you from the elements as well as shows the world you like your greens!

vegetabrella lettuce umbrella salad japanese

Nippon-Ichi Fujisan Umbrella

The Nippon-Ichi Fujisan Umbrella is a tribute to one of the most instantly recognizable symbols in the land of the rising sun. The design on the canopy forms the famous snow-capped Fuji shape as seen from above but (and here’s the really cool thing), it’s made up of mini triangular Mt Fujis too! The name in Japanese is also a clever pun, meaning both “Mt Fuji” and “Fuji umbrella”.

nippon ichi fujisan umbrella

Shippo Tail Umbrella

A really self-indulgent choice this one but we love it. The Shippo Tail Umbrella by MicroWorks truly makes rainy days fun. The umbrella canopy is tied up with the tail of an animal, who then accompanies you around as you ward off nature’s elements. Made using leftover materials, these colorful umbrellas are environmentally friendly too. There are several different colors and three animals: monkey, cat or momonga – the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel.

shippo tail umbrella microworks animal

So now you know how to stay dry in style, folks!

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Omotenashi Tokyo: Volunteer tourist guides available for foreign sightseers, with special branded uniforms

Written by: William on June 8, 2015 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

We try to avoid ranting on this site since no one wants to read consistently negative content. However, we haven’t made any secret of our cynicism about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, whose plans currently exist of wholesale ignoring the problems in Tohoku to build a ton of real estate in the bay area, knocking down one perfectly good stadium and replace it with a calamity, and AKB48 potentially set to represent Tokyo at the opening ceremony.

And now comes these new Tokyo sightseeing volunteer guide uniforms, set to be worn by unpaid tourist guides. Inbound tourism from Asia is booming, as any trip to Shinjuku or Ginza will reveal. As part of various schemes to enhance tourist services, a new team of volunteers will be available in certain Tokyo districts to offer guidance. The name Omotenashi Tokyo was chosen from 882 proposals.

omotenashi tokyo uniform volunteer tourist sightseeing guide uniform tamaki fujie

Introduced by a beaming Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, we think the volunteer guides’ uniforms look like costumes from a manga set in a Japanese fantasy version of a 1950’s English boarding school. There’s even a hat and an inexplicable bag. And don’t even ask us about the clownish tie. Oh, and of course the obligatory Japanese “rising sun” motifs and the “Omotenashi” — the Olympic buzzword — branded on the back.

omotenashi tokyo uniform volunteer tourist sightseeing guide uniform tamaki fujie

omotenashi tokyo uniform volunteer tourist sightseeing guide uniform tamaki fujie

Designed by Tamaki Fujie, there are two types of uniforms. From June 19th male and female pairs of volunteers (can Tokyo not afford professionals?) will be manning the streets of Tokyo offering multi-lingual guidance to lost tourists, initially as a trial run only on Fridays and weekends in Shinjuku and Ueno. From 2016 the areas where you will be able to see the uniformed volunteers will increase to include popular tourist destinations like Asakusa.

omotenashi tokyo uniform volunteer tourist sightseeing guide uniform tamaki fujie

So… what do you think? Terrible uniform design or fun and effective?

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Sonia Rykiel opens library-themed store in Aoyama, Tokyo

Written by: William on May 15, 2015 at 9:02 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sonia Rykiel has opened a new store in Aoyama, the designer fashion district of central Tokyo. Located at the former Jil Sander Navy flagship address, the shop features a unique interior with striking red fittings and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The Japan branch is part of a global campaign. The designer’s flagship store in Paris recently featured 50,000 books as a pop-up makeover themed on the history of the Left Bank. A similar theme is going to transform the London store in May.

In partnership with artistic director Julie de Libran, publisher Thomas Lenthal and artist André Saraïva, the launch is to present the Sonia Rykiel autumn-winter 2015 collection.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The two-floor, 165-square-meter Tokyo location features a carpet with artwork by Saraïva, as well as an exclusive fragrance created especially by Daniela Andrier.

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

sonia rykiel tokyo aoyama store pop-up library book bookshelves shop

The new Sonia Rykiel boutique can be found at 5-2-12 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku.

We’ve seen a growing interest in bibliophilic spaces in Tokyo.

Bookstore Junkudo began to offer special overnight stays for bookworms in 2014, while Mori no Toshi Shitsu is a book-themed bar in Shibuya that opened last year.

And although it’s now long-closed, Nakameguro was once home to Combine, a kind of hipster book lounge bar-cafe, for many years.

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A different kind of soft power: Japanese toilets and lavatory technology heading overseas

Written by: William on May 14, 2015 at 1:22 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

The Japanese government has faith in soft power, hence all the “cool Japan” campaigns.

This might be J-Pop. It might be anime. It might be cuisine.

But there’s another unusual source of “cool” in Japan — toilets.

toto washlet hi-tech toilet technology japan

While the actual “Japanese” toilets (i.e. squat toilets) as they were originally designed are slowly disappearing except for some unfortunate train stations or far-flung corners of the land, makers like Toto have impressed the world and gone viral with their successful toilet technology innovations… like the talking toilet, the heated seat, the Otohime modesty sound blocker, and more.

The Japanese household toilet is as much an awesome part of what makes Japanese homes so different as tatami mats, sliding doors and futons. And the Japanese take them seriously. Junichiro Tanizaki waxed lyrical about the Japanese toilet in In Praise of Shadows, while a major toilet-themed exhibition at the Miraikan last year saw lines of kids with poop-shaped hats on climb into a giant toilet bowl. We are not kidding about that last one.

gallery toto narita airport toilet showroom dytham klein

Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham recently created Gallery Toto, a toilet “digital gallery” showroom at Narita Airport to demonstrate the wonders of the Japanese privy.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Toto is one of the exhibitors at Tokyo Designers Week.

According to news reports, the government wants to help Japan’s eco-friendly, forward-thinking toilet makers:

The government will support firms and organizations in the industries to obtain an international standard for household and similar electrical appliances certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission to boost the export of toilet products, including those equipped with warm-water spray options, according to the sources. It also plans to establish a system by the end of this fiscal year that would reward efforts to keep restrooms neat and clean.

Apparently wealthy Chinese tourists have taken an interest in Japanese toilets, with their multiple spray options and functions.

Toto, which is nearly 100 years old, makes one fifth of its sales overseas. A surge in Chinese wealth has finally seen it make profit in the market.

Could Toto et al be the answer to thawing the icy relations between China and Japan? Yes, toilet diplomacy could be a “thing”.

The Toto Washlet has been a multi-million-seller since it was introduced in 1982 and some 70% of Japanese households possess a toilet or toilet seat with enhanced functionality — on par with market penetration of computers and digital cameras.

Perhaps some day soon in the future, just as so many people now drive a Japanese automobile, most people may be sitting down on a Japanese toilet whenever nature calls.

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fukutegami turns clothes into a letter

Written by: William on May 13, 2015 at 9:08 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | 1 Comment

Turn your clothes into letters to be sent in the mail. That’s what fukutegami does.

The clever concept was launched on the crowdfunding platform Readyfor? and cleared its target of ¥550,000 ($4,500). Now it’s going to be send out to the funders in mid-June and eventually will be a regular product sold online or in shops.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

With fukutegami you write a “letter” directly onto the clothes (the name itself is a play on the words fuku — clothes — and tegami, letter), fold the clothes into an “envelope”, and then send it to someone in the mail. In these days of digital communication (how many school students today have actually even handwritten and sent a physical letter?!) it stands out as a great way to show someone you care.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

You write onto the “letter” space on the inside of the clothes, so your private message to the receiver is not shown on the outside. Wash the clothes and words will disappear, thanks to the qualities of the textiles. The clothes are designed to be folded into an “envelope”-like shape, and with a space to write the address and add the stamp. The set includes a pen and even a stamp.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

The unique product doesn’t come cheap, though, planning to retail for around ¥12,000 ($100).

It works best with a plain white shirt, since that most resembles letter paper. But the design can be adjusted for different colors and different types of clothing.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

It was developed by a media design grad student at Keio University. Masako Yokoi previously honed her idea through workshops and regional versions. Then she turned to crowdfunding to make it happen as a general product.

fukutegami clothes white shirt send mail post item letter japanese keio masako yokoi

It is being made in partnership with three factories in Iwate, Kyoto and Osaka.

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Tokujin Yoshioka’s “Kou-an Glass Tea House” on show to public in Kyoto temple

Written by: William on April 8, 2015 at 8:42 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Tokujin Yoshioka is one of Japan’s most famous and popular designers, known for his use of transparent materials.

“Kou-an Glass Tea House” started life as a small-scale model at Glasstress 2011 at the 54th Venice Biennale.

Now a full-scale reproduction of the glass teahouse is on display at a temple in Japan.

tokujin yoshioka kou-an temple kyoto seiryuden shonen-in glass tea house transparent

Kansai Art Beat has more on the event:

Yoshioka has been interested in the Japanese conception of nature which is characterized by its distinctive spacial perception that involves the sensory realization of the surrounding atmosphere through what may be described as signs of energies or aura. Such a sensual appreciation of nature’s intrinsics and beauty can be recognized in Japanese tea ceremony practice.

Until April 30th, 2016 visitors can experience Yoshioka’s work at Seiryu-den, which is part of Shoren-in Temple.

tokujin yoshioka kou-an temple kyoto seiryuden shonen-in glass tea house transparent

The tea house has been installed on a platform 220 meters (721 ft) above ground, offering a stunning view of the old capital.

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