Hikaru Skirt: The flashing costume (possibly) set to revolutionize music idol culture

Written by: William on April 14, 2015 at 9:24 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | 1 Comment

Self-indulgent geekdom gone mad or an inventive play on an otaku motif?

A little while ago there was some buzz about a “flashing skirt” created by Kamakura-based Kayac Inc’s Kiyoyuki Amano.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

The idea behind the Hikaru Skirt was to literally highlight the zettai ryouiki, the “absolute zone” — the area of flesh on a girl’s upper leg between her skirt and her socks. This is a common trope in otaku fantasies and Hikaru Skirt was playing on this by making a skirt that flashes in multicolor, drawing attention to the “zone” in a fun but hopefully not pervy way.

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

hikaru skirt zettai ryoiki otaku kayac amano moso calibration flashing music idol japan

It actually looks much cooler than it sounds and the public response was good.

Or at least, good enough apparently for this one-off project to evolve into a crowdfunding campaign to commercialize the idea. The aim is to get it out as a product by October 2015.

Will they succeed?

Well, only 16 people have sponsored the campaign so far — 7% of the required ¥3.9 million. But there’s still 49 days to go, so let’s not write off Japan’s designer geeks quite yet.

Judging by the official website, the makers have hopes that the Hikaru Skirt could be a game-changer in music idol culture. The flashing lights change automatically according to music and can be adjusted by your smartphone. Just charge up the skirt by USB and then it can go for 3 hours, which is more than enough time for a leisurely walk around Akihabara or Harajuku.

Here is the group Moso Calibration demonstrating the Hikaru Skirt in action.

Be prepared to pay ¥16,000 (about $130) to claim one of the first skirts as your campaign perk. Presumably if it’s a hit, it will be available more widely in the future.

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Idol support app Cheerz to feature at overseas events: Japan Expo, Connect Japan, J-Pop Summit Festival

Written by: William on April 1, 2015 at 9:09 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Cheerz is an app for showing your support for certain idols. It allows users to browse selfies and photos taken by over 250 music idols.

Users can then “cheer” the photos they like, which raises the ranking of an idol. The top-ranking idols then take part in special events and feature in Cheerz books.

cheerz app idol japanese music support otaku ranking cheer

The app will be showcased at a forthcoming series of Japanese pop culture and subculture events overseas, including Connect Japan in Thailand in May, Japan Expo in France in July, and J-Pop Summit Festival in America in August.

The idols on Cheerz will be joined from Arpil by new ladies, including regional idol groups like Orange Port and Star T, and the unfortunately named Soft Prick Kei Guso Drop.

cheerz app idol japanese music support otaku ranking cheer

Bands like Guso Drop join the growing popularity of “kawaii metal” around the world, led especially by Babymetal.

cheerz app idol japanese music support otaku ranking cheer

The Cheerz app has acquired a cult following. Since it started in late 2014, it has accumulated 50 million “cheers” from fans. The first Cheerz photo book with the most popular idols was published in march.

cheerz app idol japanese music support otaku ranking cheer

cheerz app idol japanese music support otaku ranking cheer

Cheerz is also available in Japanese, Chinese and English, and they even have an English slogan:

It’s up to you whether you find an [sic] new diamond or support your favorite idol!

Unfortunately, we have no idea what that really means but presumably they will sort out the linguistic issues before they head overseas.

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Dollfie Dream Snow Miku: Cute winter-themed Hatsune Miku doll by Volks

Written by: Japan Trends on February 11, 2015 at 9:10 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, if you don’t have someone to spend February 14th with this year, then call on Miku.

Yes, the darling of the otaku world, virtual idol Hatsune Miku, has become many incarnations over the years, from an opera to racing bikes, and a music effects unit.

She previously teamed up with doll maker Volks to create a special limited-edition Miku doll in the Dollfie series. Now they are back with the Dollfie Dream Snow Miku, a winter-themed version.

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

This may be one of those things which only fans can find interesting, but we love the attention to detail, from the headphones to the gloves and the overall blue theme (as opposed to her usual turquoise).

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

hatsune miku snow doll dollfie volks winter

It’s only available in limited numbers through a complicated reservation system, though Japan Trend Shop may be able to get you one if you ask nicely.

This isn’t Miku’s first time as a commercial doll product by any means. She has also been recreated as Blythe and Pullips dolls.

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Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version: Sharp’s moe “little sister” character robotic vacuum cleaner goes on sale

Written by: Japan Trends on November 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm | In COOL PRODUCTS | 1 Comment

After teasing us with the prototype back in the spring, Sharp has now made its moe version of the Cocorobo vacuum cleaner an actual product.

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version will only be available for online orders in November and December, with orders set to be delivered in mid-January. However, if it proves popular, we expect at the least the electronic stores in Akihabara will be carrying this “little sister” model of the cleaner.

Sharp’s Cocorobo is a successful robotic vacuum cleaner series that can talk to you. Add a cute female anime character (“Cocorobo-chan”) and a suitably moe “sister” voice and you have the concept for this Akiba-flavored version.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

The Premium Cocorobo Imouto Version is voiced by the 16-year-old actress Ibuki Kido and with illustrations and character design by mangaka Kinusa Shimotsuki. It (she?) can tell you the weather and also greets you with a “Good morning, darling”, and even talks to you about famous regional spots around Japan. Since the voice actress hails from Aomori, Cocorobo-chan even switches into local dialect sometimes.

Sharp debuted the female robot in March and wanted 11 people to test it at home. They got over 1,200 applicants for the trial in just a week, so we can assume they are confident that mass production is going to be worthwhile for their coffers.

sharp cocorobo imouto premium vacuum cleaner robot anime moe character otaku talking akihabara

It draws on a cloud for the data to create the “conversations”, meaning it can respond to the season and weather for that day.

Such cuteness comes at a price. It costs a whopping ¥148,000 ($1,200).

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far or your tastes are rather different, we recommend you try out the regular Sharp Cocorobo vacuum cleaners instead.

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Korg Miku Stomp Effect is a Hatsune Miku-inspired effects unit for guitar duets

Written by: Japan Trends on September 17, 2014 at 8:34 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

Korg, although respected as a premier electronic musical instrument and accessories maker, still likes to have fun every now and then.

That’s why in the past it has released such items as Hello Kitty Guitar Tuner in collaboration with Sanrio.

And now it has created the Korg Miku Stomp Effect for Hatsune Miku, the virtual character originally created for the Yamaha Vocaoloid system that has since become a mini industry in its own right.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

Hatsune Miku has inspired an opera, Blythe fashion dolls, racing bikes and more. She also recently became the Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard for gadget kit makers Gakken.

Korg’s contribution is the rather snazzy-looking Korg Miku Stomp Effect. Korg is obviously at home with Hatsune Miku, who was born out of electronic music. This new Korg Miku Stomp Effect, to be released in October in Japan, allows you to have a guitar duet with Miku, singing in her unique Yamaha eVocaloid style.

Here’s a trailer hinting at the kinds of sounds you can create.

Korg says the aluminum diecast body on the effects unit is decorated with a specially commissioned original illustration.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

There are 11 different lyric patterns and you can also input and customize your own lyrics. Korg are being a bit coy about how this will work. Apparently there is going to be a dedicated iPhone app but complete details are not yet available, plus they do not promise it can work with “English” but do say it can work with up to 6,000 characters in either Hiragana, Katakana or Romaji — but the latter is essentially writing Japanese in the Roman alphabet so it should in theory be possible to program Hatsune Miku to sing what you want to the tune of “Senbonzakura”.

This will have to confirmed in late October when the Miku Stomp Effect goes on release here. We can’t wait to see what Hatsune Miku fans create with their new musical toy.

Check out further details and specs on JapanTrendShop.

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Former Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School Japanese idol group members (and fans) sued by management for dating

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

In a possibly unprecedented move, the management of a Japanese idol group is suing two former members, their parental guardians, and the fans they had relationships with for damages.

MovingFactory, the management and label behind the seven-girl idol group Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School has named both the two members, the fans and the parents in the lawsuit, which was made public yesterday.

Formed in 2012, Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School is not as famous as other idol groups like Perfume, AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, but still has a reasonable fan base. Its single “STARTING OVER”, released in March, got to No.7 on the Oricon weekly singles chart.

In April this year it was suddenly announced that one of the members was leaving due to “health issues” and then in July another member was said to be taking a “break” from event appearances. New members were announced (the group now has eight members).

However, it was not until August that the reasons for the departure of Miho Yuuki (19) and Sena Miura (22) were made clear when a producer explained at an event that the two had been dating fans, which breached their contracts with MovingFactory. They were fired and the management even went so far as to reveal the names of the fans, which led to people tracking down their social media accounts and photos.

Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School japanese idol group sued lawsuit relationship with fan

And now it has emerged a lawsuit has been filed for over ¥8.2 million (in excess of $75,000) for damages as a result of the girls’ actions. The two members are named in the suit, as are the men who had relationships with the girls.

“The parental guardians signed contracts that said the members would not have relationships with fans and would not neglect their work,” the management was quoted. “They have betrayed the members of the group and all their fans. We cannot forgive this.”

It was not until yesterday that the lawsuit was confirmed, though rumors about it had been circulating since mid-August when MovingFactory explained why the two members had left. One of the men in question wrote a blog post claiming that as an ordinary citizen he was free to have a relationship with someone and that he had received notice of a lawsuit. The other man went so far as to make a public apology via a YouTube video (since taken down).

There is a recent similar case. Last month the management company for idol group N Zero announced a lawsuit against a member and a fan for having “private contact”.

While there have been some scandals of this nature before, what usually happens is the “shamed” member is fired or punished. AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was demoted and even shaved her head in a bizarre act of public self-humiliation, while fellow member Rino Sashihara was exiled to a Kyushu “sister group” for a similar romantic episode, though her fan base has since exonerated her and turned her into one of the most popular members in the AKB sphere.

Some have criticized the management of idol groups for moral hypocrisy, demanding that female members be all pure and innocent while actually selling them as sex objects and profiting from the sexualization of young girls. In fact, as is alleged with former AKB48 member Tomomi Kasai, there are cases where relationships with the idols are condoned but only when it is with the (older) male management themselves.

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New Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll is a sell-out

Written by: William on September 9, 2014 at 9:47 am | In COOL PRODUCTS | No Comments

Was this inevitable? The fashion doll series Blythe and otaku idol character Hatsune Miku have got together.

While Blythe is now licensed by Hasbro and originally American, the dolls with oversized heads are popular in Japan. The doll starred in a TV commercial for the department store Parco in 2000 and Takara made new editions of the dolls in 2001.

The new Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll was put on pre-order on Junie Moon, a shop on the Rakuten platform, from 12pm on September 5th and immediately sold out. They then went on pre-order on the Takara Tomy online store yesterday and not surprisingly also sold out.

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

The limited edition doll is priced ¥20,000 (nearly $200) plus tax and if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, expect it to shop in early February 2015.

Hatsune Miku, the virtual idol first created for the Vocaloid system, has since become a veritable industry in its (her?) own right, responsible for racing bikes, an opera, and more.

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

The Hatsune Miku Meets Blythe: Eclectic Super Idol doll features a tie, ribbons, a skirt and boots, and Miku’s trademark turquoise hair.

What do you think? Cute? Weird? Or both?

hatsune miku blythe doll meets eclectic super idol limited edition japanese vocaloid otaku

It’s far from the first time that the idol has become a physical doll, though. Pullip Dolls previously created a 12-inch doll of the Vocaloid star.

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Japan Twin Tail Association’s drop pigtail idol group launches official online shop

Written by: William on August 13, 2014 at 11:30 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Remember the intriguing Japan Twin Tail Association that we reported on back in May? That was when the organization launched its own pigtail hair idol group called drop.

While this may all sound very esoteric (and very Japanese), apparently drop and other “twin tail” merchandise are so popular that they have launched their own official online shop now. If you’re surprised, bear in mind that Twin Tail Japan has almost 40,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 16,000 likes on Facebook (a LOT more than JapanTrends!).

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

Using the free Japanese EC platform Base, you can now get yourself drop goodies like iPhone covers, towels, bags and clothes.

So do you want your own drop t-shirts? By the way, they costs $100 each!

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

We’ve not sure how drop’s actual idol music career is padding out — the trio made their live concert debut in July — but they seem to have a busy calendar, with more events coming in August in Shibuya and elsewhere. What do you think of the girls’ talents?

But if the drop apparel and other merchandise doesn’t take your fancy, how about a book of photos with pigtail cuties armed with machine guns? Yes, it really does exist.

japan pigtail idol group drop twin tail otaku music

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As Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to change Constitution, AKB48’s Haruka Shimazaki fronts Self-Defense Forces recruitment video

Written by: William on July 8, 2014 at 8:18 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 3 Comments

A recruitment campaign ad fronted by a sweet-looking, innocent pop music idol? Only in Japan.

haruka shimazaki akb48 sdf recruitment ad commercial

“You and Peace” declares Haruka Shimazaki, the 20-year-old pop singer and member of idol group AKB48, who is the face of a new Self-Defense Forces recruitment commercial.

The SDF has a long history now of using moe motifs and Gravure idols in its recruitment campaigns and other promotional materials. It continues to do this because it increases applications among young men, no doubt charmed by the faux innocence of the visuals.

While this may cause a mixture of amusement, embarrassment or even mild shock to outsiders, this time the stakes are higher. The government is ramming through a change to the law to allow for so-called collective self-defense which lets Japan help defend its allies abroad (as opposed to strictly self-defense of Japan only). It is widely seen as the first step towards changing Japan’s much-lauded pacifist Constitution and has met with mass protests around Japan for weeks now, and even a shocking self-immolation in Shinjuku that was inexplicable ignored by much of the mainstream Japanese media.

Though its budget is larger than many nations with very active militaries and spending was boosted in 2013, Japan’s armed forces are still officially only for “self-defense”. As per the controversial Anpo security treaty, the USA promises to step in help defend Japan in the worst case scenario — hence the continued presence of American bases, especially in Japan. As thanks for hosting the US military, Japan benefits from American protection. Ostensibly its own forces, then, are for wasting money on purchasing equipment and arms it won’t need and to be used in major disasters — the SDF proved itself indispensable during the Tohoku crisis in spring 2011.

The new AKB48 Haruka Shimazaki commercial comes at a Rubicon moment. As the scholar Dexter Thomas lucidly points out in a recent column for Al Jazeera:

We might wonder if a male spokesperson might be a better choice: for example, a member of Exile, a J-pop supergroup of 19 men. They are one of the most successful and recognisable pop groups in Japan, with their own magazine, TV show, and over a dozen chart-topping albums. They regularly appear half-clothed on advertisements and billboards, and represent the pinnacle of mass-market masculinity. Also, Abe clearly has access to them: He invited them to perform at an ASEAN banquet only a few months ago. Wouldn’t an Exile member in fatigues be a great encouragement to get young men to rush to the nearest recruitment centre?

In short: no, because it would be too realistic. If one of these popular young men appeared in a military advertisement, it would be too easy to imagine that young man being killed in a war – and, by extension, for a young man watching the commercial to imagine themselves dying. Or, for anyone with a son or brother to imagine that person dying.

Instead, the aim behind using AKB 48 seems to be an attempt to appeal to a specific male desire to protect “their” women, all while cleverly sidestepping the possibility of danger.

Most countries’ military commercials give a glorified version of military service – bravery, sacrifice, adventure. We see images of men and women holding guns, sitting in tanks, and actually preparing for combat. This commercial does none of that.

Instead, the SDF commercial spends more time on close ups of the pretty girl’s face than anything else. The rest of the shots are mainly dedicated to pictures of young men standing at attention or running with tote bags. The last shot of a uniformed soldier is a smiling man hugging a young girl, with the caption “Disaster Relief”.

In other words, there is no mention of armed combat. The cutesy voiceover tells the viewer that the military is a place that is “like the sky, full of unlimited dreams”. This is no longer a military recruitment spot, this is an invitation to Tokyo Disneyland.

“War without actual war”? Yes, a fantasy for sure but no one is talking about this particular elephant in the room.

Japan’s forces have been participating in United Nations peace-keeping operations abroad for years now and SDF personnel were eventually sent to Iraq to assist the American mission (collective self-defense in all but name). However, essentially the SDF is untested in combat and whatever the saccharine appeal of Haruka Shimazaki, the reality of war is very far removed from the artificial world of idols. Any new recruits may one day soon find themselves having signed up for more than they expected…

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