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.
Muji have created their first new model home in five years with the Tate no Ie, the “vertical house”.
The new three-story, wooden Tate no Ie stands on a 66.93 square meter lot. The model version is 4.5m (14.8 ft) wide and 8.19m deep (26.9 ft).
This is downstairs.
This is the living room.
And where the family cooks and eats…
And this is the bedroom.
This is the kids’ room.
This is the central staircase.
Artist Asami Kiyokawa, known for her extravagant combination of embroidery and photography, and collaborations with top models and actresses, has got together with Starbucks Japan to create a special Starbucks Card that uses augmented reality.
Kiyokawa’s design is an unsurprisingly floral effort that features a prominent butterfly motif. By using the smartphone AR app junaio with the card, you can watch as the butterfly comes to life and seems to fly.
The AR Butterfly Starbucks Card will be popular with female patrons, no doubt, especially those who want to have gold butterflies fluttering around their coffee cups. Users can take pictures of the scenes they create and then share them on social media.
It will be available from most Starbucks outlets around Japan from June 4th as a gift card of ¥1,000 (or more) while stocks last.
Starbucks is now the second largest coffee shop chain in Japan, present in all but one prefecture. It frequently launches these kinds of campaigns to maintain its brand image in the face of its expansion. These include a collaboration with the studio nendo to create special coffee mugs, a “Japanese crafts” coffee shop in Meguro, and publishing its own “frappuccino fashion” magazine.
You might think there isn’t much room for further development in the design of the humble flower vase. But you’d be wrong.
Designed by Fumiaki Goto/224 Porcelain, the Hanabunko is a flower vase handmade from Hizen Yoshida-yaki ceramic from the Saga region. The minimalist design comes in either a blue or white color, and functions as both a book shelf divider and vase. It even comes with a “book cover” that you can slip off.
JapanTrendshop describes it as “a cute twist on flower pressing. This time you don’t press flowers between the pages of a thick book. Instead, a flower can stand up comfortably right between the books on your shelf. The Hanabunko Flower Vase is a slender vase that at a glance looks like a book and can act both as a way to decorate your library and as a divider to help organize your titles.”
The name literally means “flower paperback”; bunko are the small-format paperback books in Japan that slip perfectly into your pocket or bag. These are usually novels and cheap to buy.
The Hanabunko makes for a clever, unobtrusive and attractive tool for separating the various sections in your library. You can stand it up vertically or lay it down horizontally, and it will be equally at home among paperbacks or larger hardback volumes.
The Hanabunko is now available from JapanTrendShop.
Top Japanese design studio nendo has designed this coffee mugs for Starbuck’s in Japan.
Sold at Starbucks branches throughout Japan, the mugs have a print on the bottom that makes it look like the cup is full of coffee. This means when they are drying or sitting upside down on your kitchen shelf, your cup will still seem brimming with coffee! Just be careful not to get confused over which end to drink from.
They cost 1,200 yen (about $12) and are available in either latte, caramel macchiato or Americano versions.
It’s not the first time that nendo has worked with Starbucks brand in Japan. In late 2012 it created Starbucks Espresso Journey, a special pop-up shop in Tokyo dedicated to the chain’s espresso drinks.
Visitors could learn more about lattes, cappuccinos and cafe mochas in the “library” space. It featured bookshelves with books in nine colors, each corresponding to a different drink.