Hatsune Miku + Gakken create Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard

Written by: Japan Trends on April 8, 2014 at 8:16 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Another day, another intriguing Hatsune Miku collaboration.

From expensive opera productions to every piece of merchandise an otaku can get his hands on, Hatsune Miku is not just a virtual idol, she’s a veritable industry in her own right.

Now her paymasters have got together with Gakken, the company behind the Otona no Kagaku (“adult science”) series of magazines that always come with some sort of model or build-it-yourself kit.

Hatsune Miku Gakken Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard

The latest issue of Otona no Kagaku is bound to sell out fast because it features a Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard. The nifty DSX-39 digital pocket keyboard is preloaded with samples of Hatsune Miku’s unique vocals. Just use the touch stylus to play five sounds in the signature eVocaloid style.

Hatsune Miku Gakken Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard

You can vary the octave and do other tricks. Here you can see someone trying it out.

If you’re a fan of Hatsune Miku, you can order your own Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard via JapanTrendShop.

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Japanese music market blamed for global sales decline

Written by: William on March 20, 2014 at 11:45 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

While the Japanese media always seems to be dominated by upbeat reports of the “millions” of sales that AKB48 ostensibly achieves, the real story of the Japanese music industry is one of serious decline — so chronic that some are now blaming it for a drop in global music sales.

Japan is called the world’s second largest music market, meaning its 16.7% decline is one of the reasons why the overall world music shrank by 3.9% last year, according to figures released by
International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

This is in contrast to Europe, where sales are healthy all things considered (the first grow in 13 years), and even in the US digital sales were up a few percent. Take out Japan’s share (accounting for around 20%) from the global figures and you actually get a very small increase in sales.

akb48 japan global music decline sales drop

But Japan market is highly localized, along with South Korea’s, with US artists hardly making a dent. In Japan, this is particularly troubling, since now the major releases and “winners” of the charts are dominated almost solely by the rosters of Johnny’s and AKB, creating a very uniform and static market.

Japan is yet to fully embrace the digital music market. Instead, the music industry pressured the government to introduce new criminalization for downloads, which has left a sour taste in the mouth of digital native consumers. The question everyone is asking is: Why is the industry not trying to move forward and doing something new? As far as Japan’s music industry is concerned, it could still be 1995.

The real “success” of groups like AKB48 lies in the creators’ admittedly clever marketing and sales tactics, where handshaking and other event tickets are included with CDs along with perks like “election voting”, artificially pushing up sales when fans purchase multiple singles.

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Naturalist CW Nicol advertises K-Pop band Tohoshinki/TVXQ’s new album “Tree”

Written by: William on March 17, 2014 at 10:56 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

This might be the most bizarre advertising collaboration we’ve ever heard of… but one guaranteed to become a meme.

Welsh-born, naturalized Japanese naturalist (get it?) CW Nicol has loaned his avuncular charms to a new TV commercial. Nothing so special about that, except that this is a pretty incredible matching of ecological campaign and writer, and pretty-boy Korean pop.

tohoshinki tvxq tree album cw nicol

“I’ve seen lots of trees around the world,” says Nicol in Japanese. “Each and every tree has its own individuality. Isn’t that wonderful?”

And then comes the twist.

Nicol chuckles and uses a word we never thought he’d utter.

“But there isn’t any tree as beautiful or sexy as this.” And he leans against a tree with a copy of the TVXQ album “Tree” attached to it.

TVXQ (Tong Vfang Xien Qi) are a veteran Korean boyband, now reduced to two members, and known in Japan as Tohoshinki. Their new album “Tree” was released in Japan on March 5th.

Here’s the ad.

CW Nicol is famous for campaigning for Japan’s precious woodlands and has been a familiar bearded face on Japanese TV for decades.

K-pop has suffered a bit of late. The massive boom that saw its fortunes accelerate from subculture to the mainstream with the arrival of Girls Generation in Japan a few years ago have wound back as Japan and Korea lock horns over old issues about the war. Royalties are said to have fallen 40% in the past year. Japan is K-pop’s biggest overseas market by a long, long way, and is said to be one reason why operating profits for SM Entertainment, a major K-pop record label, were 70% down compared to the previous year.

With the worrying and distracting rise of race hate, the moneymen are looking to use novel advertising schemes to create talking points that put aside historical differences.

TVXQ (Tohoshinki) themselves are still very popular in Japan, last year playing two dates at a Kanagawa stadium to 140,000 fans. And if the inventiveness of their marketing team are anything to go by, they should be able to keep riding the wave of K-pop stardom in Japan for some time to come.

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AKB48 now recruiting new member over 30 years old

Written by: William on March 5, 2014 at 11:54 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Fancy joining AKB48?

It was announced yesterday that the idol mega group is now recruiting a new member to join the ranks for a limited time only. The newbie will be over 30 years old, a stark contrast to the ever-younger girls in the group, typically in their teens or early twenties.

The Adult AKB48 Auditions campaign is looking for a female idol to join the group from April 12th to August 31st. She can be a professional or amateur, married or single — but she must be 30 or over.

She will be a central part of advertising fronted by AKB in the spring and summer, as well as participate in concerts, hand-shaking events and more. The whole thing is part of a campaign for Papico, an ice cream product by Glico.

akb48 over 30 years old new member recruit

We look forward to seeing an older AKB girl, though it remains to see how far they are prepared to take it. After all, Japanese women tend to look much younger than they are and there are plenty of famous models and actresses in their forties and fifties still regarded as beauties. But will AKB genuinely accepted a middle-aged “idol” or rather opt for a “still” cute-looking lady just into her thirties?

At present, the oldest member of AKB48 is Haruna Kojima (just under 26 years old). Mariko Shinoda graduated last year in July when she was a ripe old 27.

Applications for the new “older” AKB48 idol have already opened and close on March 28th. Ladies, what are you waiting for?!

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Mamoru Samuragochi, Japan’s “modern-day Beethoven”, not sole composer of his music

Written by: William on February 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Work by the composer of the most famous pieces of Japanese contemporary classical music from this century is now alleged not to have been composed wholly by its official creator.

The score for Mamoru Samuragochi’s piece Sonatina for Violin was set to be published and released on February 11th but this has now been cancelled. It is also planned to be used as the music for skater Daisuke Takahashi’s solo in the showcase program at the upcoming Sochi Olympics this month, though this too may not be able to go ahead now.

Samuragochi — though sometimes written “Samuragoch,” this is apparently the preferred Romanization of his name, rather than the literal “Samuragouchi” — lost his hearing at the age of 35 and has also composed for video games such as “Biohazard” and “Onimusha”. He is a self-taught composer and a second-generation hibakusha, both his parents having suffered the Hiroshima bombing. His condition led to him being hailed (or hyped) as a modern-day Japanese Beethoven.

mamoru samuragochi japanese composer beethoven deaf

Hiroshima is the most famous work by Samuragochi.

“I hope listeners will feel the darkness of hopelessness and the gentle light hope that follows,” he said in 2011 when Hiroshima was released as a CD in the wake of the Tohoku disaster. It went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

Now aged 50, he began to suffer from hearing issues when a high school student but relying on absolute pitch, he could continue to compose. According to his official profile, he “suffers from neurotic depression, anxiety neurosis, and chronic headaches and has a persistent ringing in his ears, but composes by relying on his perfect pitch.”

Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima was completed in 2003. It was then premiered at a the meeting of the Group of Eight leaders in Hiroshima in 2008.

It has now been alleged that a third party actually composed much of Samuragochi’s oeuvre. Samuragochi’s agents announced that his lawyer had received a message claiming that Samuragochi had composed only the overall structures, while the finer details had been done by someone else without credit.

“I’ve been told that there are certain circumstances that make it hard for the person (who composed the works) to come out in public, and Samuragochi has come to describe himself as the sole composer,” the lawyer told Kyodo News.

Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima has also not always met universal acclaim, being criticized as too “commercial” by some classical music reviewers.

It has been reported that Samuragochi has already accepted the claims as true and expressed remorse. His ghost writer is a college music teacher Takashi Niigaki, who had received a fee from Sakuragochi to compose his music for the past ten years.

An interview with Niigaki was set to be published, which prompted the revelations at last.

*Updated*: Niigaki has said that he does not believe that Samuragochi is even deaf!

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Mieru Record with Otowa: a manga music box mechanical organ

Written by: William on December 10, 2013 at 5:11 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

This is an awesome innovation on what many people would say is a dying medium. And the best thing about it is that it doesn’t resort to digital or technological gimmicks. It just takes two very analogue things and makes them even better.

Mieru Record is a combination of a music box and a manga comic strip. With the former you usually have a cylinder, but there are types which use a punched tape strips of paper for the music box to “read” as musical notation, like the book music read by mechanical organs.

Mieru Record, a project which explores ways to fuse sound and manga, added manga cells to the music box punched tape strip, creating a manga music box organ, the Mieru Record with Otowa.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

In other words, it is a book that you listen to — and music that you read.

The idea is that the sounds and music accompany the manga strip both in terms of the melody and also the speed. As you turn you control the speed of the soundtrack, which in turn controls the speed with which you read the manga images that are revealed.

See how it works in practice with this video. Note how you slow down to read the parts with dialogue and then speed up over the more visual cells.

I guess this is like the pianists who used to accompany a silent film back in the days before talkies.

Mieru Record is a project that started earlier this year and this Mieru Record with Otowa is still only a prototype, so don’t expect it to be on sale any time soon.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

It worked with seven manga artist to create the music box’s music roll paper, and the results were exhibited in a book store and gallery in Tokyo over the summer.

mieru record with otowa manga music box

With more sophisticated music roll strips and organs we reckon you could create all kinds of audio manga experiences.

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Lady Gaga turned into Gagadoll sex doll by Tokyo’s Orient Industry

Written by: William on December 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

As a promo for her new album ARTPOP in Japan, Lady Gaga and Universal Music Japan asked Japan’s most prestigious sex doll maker, Orient Industry, to create the Gagadoll.

Can you tell which is the “real” Gaga in this picture?

gagadoll lady gaga orient industry sex doll

Here’s the official description:

Japan’s latest and finest technologies were put into the creation of the “GAGADOLL”. It’s the world’s first life-size human-shaped listening station that closely resembles Lady Gaga. The bone conduction system enables one to listen to her songs and message.

The “GAGADOLL” was inspired by the concept of “ARTPOP” and this masterpiece made by Japan’s master craftsmen has been highly-praised by Lady Gaga herself.

Orient Industry are more craftsmen than “adult toy” manufacturers, and their commitment to extreme detail and realism is legendary. From movable fingers and eyes to a myriad variations in body, bust and face, they provide customizable life companions for those who dare to desire one.

The Gagadoll is not on sale but it can be booked for events and appearances, according to the official website.

ARTPOP opened at number one in Japan and no doubt this marketing stunt can’t have hurt sales.

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“Song for Japan”, the TV Singing Contest for Foreigners: How genuine is it, really?

Written by: Mina on November 18, 2013 at 11:14 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Nippon TV’s Song for Japan might seem like a typical singing contest except for the fact that none of the contestants are Japanese. It’s a contest that is exclusive to foreigners, presumably for the purpose of showcasing gaijin singers on stage first and foremost, for the entertainment of the Japanese. I consider this program to be more like a talent show rather than a singing competition because it’s not really the vocal skills that contestants are judged on — but on how well they can impress the audience with their unusually Japanese language talent, to say the least.

It’s one thing to say that we Japanese all love anyone who is genuinely interested in Japan and willing to show their love of Japanese songs. But why does the contest need to be so segregated, as if to say that one must first prove themselves alien to this country?

singing_contest_foreigners

Often on the show we hear comments from the judges saying how perfectly a contestant can sing in Japanese. They say it with such good-hearted spirit it’s as if  they feel grateful for foreign singers who remind them once again of just how great Japan is. To me, this sounds a little fake, as if the entire show is scripted. They called for foreigners who love Japanese songs, so they simply got what they expected. OK, maybe enough about the contest.

Some of the winners from past contests have gone on to their professional debut in Japan.

Chris Hart is perhaps one of the best vocals in Japan’s music scene today.

chris_hart_j-pop

On October 30th, his latest single “Yume-ga-samete” was released from Universal Music Japan, a duet with Japan’s all-time queen of music idols, Seiko Matsuda.

Diana Garnet is another winner of the contest who recently made her professional debut on the label Sony Music.

diana_garnet_j-pop

And now Nicholas Edwards has released his first mini-album “Skies”, which hit the shelves on October 9th courtesy of Warner Music Japan.

nicholas_edwards_j-pop

We’ve all seen Jero, an American enka singer who found himself at the center of media attention not necessarily for his singing talent alone but rather for the novelty of being the first black enka singer ever. This catchphrase, by the way, was repeatedly used in a variety of media coverage, which no doubt made him experience both the best and the worst of being a foreign singer in Japan. He is actually one of the very few foreign singers who made a success here.

The Japanese would surely praise anyone who shows their love of J-pop and Japan through singing, but things become a little different when it comes to business. Are they good singers because they are foreigners singing in a non-native language or does their singing talent come first? That’s what they have to prove themselves once they pass the first phase of fame.

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Maywa Denki celebrates 20 years with music video

Written by: William on October 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

One of our favorite Japanese enterprises, Maywa Denki, has made a typically originally and hilarious group music video to celebrate twenty years since it was founded.

Maywa Denki is part music band, part art unit, inspired by the medium-sized production companies that have been the backbone of Japan’s manufacturing and technology growth. They create unique products, run special kids’ workshops, perform concerts and more.

maywa denki japanese music art unit

Its hits include the Otamatone sound toy, a remake of the classic Theremin, and many other “nonsense” machines and musical products.

maywa denki japanese music art unit

And not only are these designers talented folk, they certainly don’t take themselves seriously at all, as we think you can tell from the video!

Produced by Novumichi [sic] Tosa (he’s the guy on the bottom row), past employees include the sound designer Yuri Suzuki, another one of our favorite Japanese talents. The founder styled the unit from the name of his father’s old manufacturing firm, though Maywa Denki itself was originally signed to Sony Music Entertainment and is now managed by entertainment giant Yoshimoto Kogyo.

Even better news than this video? There is going to be a twentieth anniversary concert at Akasaka Blitz on December 13th!

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