Build and customize your own Japanese banjo with the Self-Assembly Shamisen

Written by: Japan Trends on March 26, 2015 at 9:03 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The Self-Assembly Shamisen is, as the name suggests, a shamisen instrument that you can build yourself — and customize!

The shamisen is surely the most famous Japanese traditional instrument. You can see it at Kabuki performances, as well as other traditional events. Geisha play them and they are also part of Okinawan culture as the sanshin banjo.

However, they are expensive. Insanely expensive. Not only are they made solely by specialist artisans, the materials (snake leather?!) and twice-annual repairs all preclude any but those with the deepest pockets.

diy self assembly shamisen kit build customize own

Itouhei have noticed this and come up with this solution.

The Self-Assembly Shamisen is a genuine shamisen but is designed for the player to build themselves. Certain materials and elements of the design have been adjusted to bring down the overall cost, though these choices have the benefit of also increasing durability and reducing the need for regular repairs to the instrument.

Best of all, perhaps, is how this is a shamisen that you can customize with your own paints and patterns.

Here are some snazzy examples.

diy self assembly shamisen kit build customize own

Self-assembly toys and kits are very popular in Japan, as proved by the enduring success of the Otona no Kagaku (Science for Grown-Ups) series by Gakken. Entries in the series include a handmade home planetarium, mini electric guitar, and even theremin.

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A music rave in a Shibuya library? Silent disco at Mori no Tosho Shitsu book bar

Written by: William on March 5, 2015 at 8:32 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

On April 4th, Mori no Tosho Shitsu (Mori’s Library) in Shibuya will be transformed into a club for a silent disco event.

Remember Mori no Tosho Shitsu? It was the crowdfunded “book and beer” library opened by a book worm in Shibuya last year. Not only can you go there for a drink and a bite to eat, if you become a member you can borrow the books, just like a library.

mori no tosho tsyo shitsu shibuya tokyo book bar library silent disco

While there are plenty of public libraries in Tokyo (there’s even one right in the same building as the Cosmo Planetarium), places like Mori no Tosho Shitsu attract interest because their book curation is special. You don’t go there just to see any books; you go there to see THE books the owner has selected. This is similar to the appeal of places like B&B in Shimokitazawa, Village Vanguard, and Shibuya Publishing Booksellers.

Silent discos are nothing new, not even in Japan.

But this is a silent disco inside a “library” in the heart of noisy Shibuya. How cool is that?

mori no tosho tsyo shitsu shibuya tokyo book bar library silent disco

Audiences to the silent disco event will get to enjoy the music through wireless headphones, in the unique bibliographical surroundings of Mori no Tosho Shitsu.

If you like your drink too, you’ll be pleased to know the event is being supplied by Tokyo Craft Beer Mania. Craft beer will be available from ¥500 a glass.

Music is by DE DE MOUSE and others.

mori no tosho tsyo shitsu shibuya tokyo book bar library silent disco

It’s also being billed as a club event, since it starts at 11pm and carries on until 5am.

Tickets cost ¥3,500.

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KISS Face Pack: Wear glam rocker makeup face mask every day, and improve your skin

Written by: Japan Trends on February 18, 2015 at 8:39 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Flamboyant rock band KISS continue to conquer Japan. The makeup-loving rockers have for years been a staple of both summer music festivals and mainstream advertising campaigns.

And now they have joined the likes of Kabuki actors and animals from Ueno Zoo.

The KISS Face Pack comes from the same makers of the brilliant Kabuki mask (now there are TWO of those).

kiss face pack beauty mask japan

kiss face pack beauty mask japan

Isshin Do Honpo Inc has created the KISS Face Pack, a genuine mask meant to be worn by men or women to improve skin. It comes in two different two-packs based on the makeup of the glam metal band’s performers: Starchild (Paul Stanley) and Spaceman (Tommy Thayer), or Demon (Gene Simmons) and Cat (Eric Singer).

kiss face pack beauty mask japan

kiss face pack beauty mask japan

Despite their penchant for tongue-licking guitar solos and rumors of Satan worship, KISS is seen as harmless fun in the land of the rising sun.

KISS also collaborated with Momoiro Clover Z (who also love costumes and contentious makeup) earlier this year for perhaps the strangest musical release of 2015 so far: “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saite Mina”.

The face pack series so far includes JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, the musical Cats, classic Hollywood horror movie characters, Kansai Yamamoto fashion, and even a spin-off Hello Kitty version from different makers.

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Blackface in Japan (again): Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star

Written by: William on February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

It’s a dangerous game to throw the racism card around but this development has succeeded in getting that reaction from most corners.

A photo showing a behind-the-scenes shot from an upcoming Fuji TV show has idol group Momoiro Clover Z and veterans Rats & Star posing in blackface.

momoiro clover z blackface rats & star fuji tv racism japan

New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and others shared the photo on Twitter and it has since gone viral.

Momoiro Clover Z are immensely popular right now, often appearing in mainstream TV commercials for major brands. They have previously teamed up with older music stars, such as their bizarre collaboration single with the rock band KISS.

As Kotaku points out, Rats & Star have a long history of blackface since they debuted in the 1980′s. But while Momoiro Clover Z are no strangers to costumes and dressing-up (the idol group’s concept is arguably a pastiche of anime like Sailor Moon), this is a whole new territory of role-play. Could their management really be so naive in this day and age?

momoiro clover z blackface rats & star fuji tv racism japan

Blackface in Japan is sometimes seen on television, though it is also sometimes adopted more foolishly by students and youngsters.

Unless the (online) controversy succeeds in forcing the broadcasters to change their programming, tune into Fuji TV on March 7th to see Momoiro Clover Z and Rats & Star appear together in blackface on the show “Music Fair”.

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Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens in Aoyama, designed by Kengo Kuma

Written by: William on February 13, 2015 at 9:00 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Red Bull Studios Tokyo opens at the end of this month in Aoyama, in the heart of Tokyo.

It is the beverage brand’s eleventh such studio in the world and is designed by Kengo Kuma. Red Bull will lend out the recording studio for free to certain music artists.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull is celebrating the opening with a three-day series of music events from February 27th, featuring Chip Tanaka/Hirokazu Tanaka. There will be special studio visits, workshops, concerts and more.

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

red bull studios tokyo aoyama kengo kuma

Red Bull’s association with the local music scene already has roots. It held its traveling music event, the Red Bull Music Academy, in Tokyo last year.

red bull music academy tokyo 2014 kengo kuma

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Shikumi Design launches Kagura, a futuristic gesture-controlled musical instrument system

Written by: William on January 16, 2015 at 8:36 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The Bridge has shared a story about Fukuoka-based startup Shikumi Design and their futuristic musical instrument, Kagura.

While the name might imply traditional Japanese music, the “motion perform instrument” system is anything but historical, allowing you to “play” it intuitively through gesture recognition.

kagura motion perform instrument shikumi design gesture recognition

The makers describe as an instrument that “makes it possible to perform music by moving your body, without touching anything.”

It uses a patented technology that recognizes human movements and gestures so that the user can perform music freely.

It generates new music performance with visual effects.You can also append your voice to Kagura, arrange the tempo of music and where to put the sounds on the screen. And you can enjoy all of them by your gesture with the Intel RealSense 3D camera.

As The Bridge writes:

The Kagura app won the grand prize at the Intel Perceptual Computing Challenge competition in 2013. The new version introduced at this time has been upgraded to support Intel RealSense 3D, a new technology available on PCs from Lenovo, Acer, and others, enabling an app to understand and respond to natural movement in 3D with a built-in camera.

However, vision analysis for playing instruments is conducted in 2D, so if you are satisfied with playing instruments only, the app can work with any Windows PC with a built-in camera regardless of whether it supports the RealSense technology.

Currently it is designed for 64-bit Windows 8.1 only, but sure a Mac version is coming soon? iOS and Android mobile versions are also in development. Otherwise, all you need is the app and a webcam.

There is no limit to how many people can “play” it at the same time, though the makers recommend one or two maximum, since it can only recognize two hands simultaneously.

Where can expect to see the Kagura? Well, at special live events, perhaps, since it will be ideal for taking the role of the DJ or VJ to the next level.

Here’s an earlier prototype they made showing how your dance creates music and graphics.

Let’s have this in the 2020 Olympic opening ceremony please!

Learn more and download the app on the Kagura website.

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High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar is Shinjuku/Yoyogi co-working space storing LP records for customers

Written by: William on January 15, 2015 at 8:28 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Music media Spincoaster has launched a new crowd-funding campaign on Makuake to create a music bar they claim is the world’s first to focus on LP and high-resolution audio.

Seating 17, the High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar will play LP records at the request of customers and offer a “record keep” service where customer’s records can be stored for safekeeping at the bar.

music-bar-spincoaster-hi-res-analog-1

This later service may seem strange to an outsider but in space-strapped Tokyo, it makes a very cool alternative to a storage unit rental. (In this way, it reminds of the “library bar” in Shibuya that also had a successful crowd-funding campaign last year.)

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

The makers are also selling the Music Bar as a daytime co-working space — a growing trend in Tokyo — with free Wi-Fi and fixed seats. The evening will see it transform more into the “bar” of its name.

At time of writing, they have already exceeded their initial funding goal of ¥1 million (about $10,000) with nearly 90 supporters, and with more than 36 days still to go they are continuing to collect funds. It seems Tokyo has enough analog music fans to keep this bar in business for a while.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

It will open at the end of March, four minutes’ walk from JR Yoyogi or JR Shinjuku stations.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

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Otamatone Digital: Japan’s tadpole theremin gets a “rock” update!

Written by: Japan Trends on January 9, 2015 at 9:08 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Our love for all things Maywa Denki is no secret. We recently went wild about Mr Knocky, their unique drum toy, and also think their retro Otona no Kagaku Maywa Denki Automa-te Auto Writer Hand is cool as hell.

If you’re a fan of original gadgets, especially musical ones, then Maywa Denki are the folk for you.

The original Otamatone came out a few years and was quite a global hit. It’s seen some updates over the time since but here’s the first major re-release: the Otamatone Digital.

otamatone digital sound toy musical instrument japanese theremin

This is a reinterpretation of the theremin (as we know, a popular instrument in Japan) but it reinvents the musical instrument in terms of look, sound and action.

For a start, it looks like a large musical note (or tadpole) with a face. You use the stem to “play” the notes and then control the “mouth” to adjust the sound that is produced.

The Otamatone Digital can play chords and has a back switch to change octaves. As before, you play the notes along the stem (they even provide you with “stickers” so you can see what you are playing) and vary the sound through the mouth, though now there are improved “modes” so you can create great sounds like a kick drum, snare, bell or cymbal.

Here’s Maywa Denki honcho Novumichi Tosa giving a demonstration.

You can play chords (even “power chords”) and “drums” on this tadpole. A mini theremin rock concert? You bet!

Here are several Otamatone Digital instruments playing “The Frog Song”.

The Otamatone Digital is available in black or white versions.

You can get the Otamatone Digital from Japan Trend Shop.

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“Dreamer Nippon Inemuri” music video pays tribute to sleepy commuters

Written by: William on December 17, 2014 at 9:30 am | In LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

We’ve all seen them. We’ve all pitied them. We’ve all admired them.

Japanese trains are full of odd sights — but perhaps none so odd as the spectacle of people managing to get some shuteye no matter how crowded or what position they are in, whether standing, sitting, kneeing or (unfortunately for those around them) leaning. No matter how fast the train is going, no matter who is watching — the Japanese are able to sleep anywhere.

Even more impressively, they are more often than not able to wake up in time for their stop. It must be some sort of innate ability taught when salarymen join major corporations.

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

A new music video called “Dreamer Nippon Inemuri” is proving popular because it pays tribute to these sleepy commuters, featuring a series of shots of people sleeping while riding a train. (“Nippon Inemuri” literally means “Japan dozing”.)

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

The roughly 50 sleepers were filmed by digital marketing planner Kairi Manabe over two days on public transport. We’re not sure if this counts as infringing on their rights but the results are interesting to watch — not least to admire the tenacity of these train passengers determined to get some sleep no matter what.

The music for the video is by Yusuke Emoto.

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

The video is actually a Web commercial for Home’s, a real estate portal site which offers a function where you can filter searches based on the commuting time. In other words, it’s encouraging you to move somewhere that’s closer to work! “A long, long way to bed” as the video poignantly says at the end…

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