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 | 1 Comment

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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Goodsmile Racing’s new Hatsune Miku GT racing bikes are awesome

Written by: William on June 25, 2014 at 9:19 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Following the 2013 bikes and other merchandise, HRM Goodsmile Racing Bike Project has created three new snazzy Hatsune Miku racing bikes.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

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).

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

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 gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Goodsmile Racing has been competing in Japan’s famous Super GT car race in Vocaloid idol-themed vehicles for several years now.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Now they are holding the GSR Cup Cycle Race on September 6th at the New Tokyo Circuit. Look out for Hatsune Miku bikes galore!

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

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.

love plus bike water bottle

love-plus-bike-jersey

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Glico Papico White Sour ice cream re-design goes cute for summer with updated female moe mascot

Written by: William on June 16, 2014 at 9:16 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

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.

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

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.

glico papico white sour ice cream

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.

glico papico white sour ice cream design packaging history

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.

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

And here are some of the unsuccessful entries.

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

glico papico white sour ice cream contest otaku moe girl pixiv

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.

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Japan Twin Tail Association launches drop, the world’s first pigtail hair idol group

Written by: William on May 28, 2014 at 9:24 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Move over AKB48. There’s a new idol group in town and they’ve got pigtails. In fact, that’s their main asset.

The “Japan Twin Tail Association” has been around for a little while, promoting their love of all things pig tail (called “twin tail” in Japanese). Back in 2012 the association declared February 2nd “Twin Tail Day” (put it in your diary) and has launched numerous photo books and other merchandise to push its tastes on the rest of the world. One of the most esoteric of these must be the series it produced earlier this year of pigtail girls posing with guns.

japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku machine gun

Now they have made a plunge into the big time with the launch of the first pigtails specialist idol group, drop.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol group girl otaku

Misato Misaki, Hikari Takiguchi and Shizuka Sugino were all born in 1994 and are veterans of various TV ads and other “twin tail” projects. Together they form drop, who will perform their first live performance on July 6th at the Idol Yokocho Summer Festival 2014.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku

We’re a little confused that the girls don’t have pigtails in the traditional sense but I guess there is some room for interpretation in the twin tails universe.

drop japan twin tail pigtail idol girl otaku

Idol groups are a dime a dozen these days and you have to stand out somehow to make a difference. Will drop have what it takes? Only time will tell.

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Takashi Murakami directs Hatsune Miku video “Last Night, Good Night (Re:Dialed)”, re-mixed by Pharrell Williams

Written by: William on May 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Artist Takashi Murakami has directed the music video for virtual idol Hatsune Miku’s song, “Last Night, Good Night (Re:Dialed)”. It has also been re-mixed by Pharrell Williams, whose “Happy” has inspired some neat Tokyo videos recently.

last night good night re-dialed takashi murakami hatsune miku pharrell williams

Not surprisingly, then, Murakami has put Williams into the video. He’s the black guy with the hat.

The song is actually not new, dating from last year. But this new collaboration is a promo for Murakami’s feature-length film debut “Jellyfish Eyes”, currently screening in America until early June, on a tour organized by Blum & Poe, Murakami’s American gallery.

Billed as “a big screen tale of poignant memories and wondrous dreams,” it was, however, not a success in Murakami’s native Japan. The film had a troubled production, with Murakami frequently rejecting his animators’ efforts to make the characters he had created move in the way he wanted. The financial losses — Murakami and his company apparently poured in some $7 million — and the unhappy scenes behind-the-scenes have likely scuppered Murakami’s vision of two sequels.

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Dance with idol Ayami Muto with this Ezaki-Glico Seventeen ice cream Shibuya vending machine

Written by: William on April 10, 2014 at 11:51 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Vending machines come in all shapes and sizes, and seem to sell everything from books to snacks, drinks, used panties and more.

But how about a vending machine that lets you have a private dance with an idol?

For one day only, Shibuya’s Marui City will let fans do just that.

It’s being organized by Ezaki-Glico, one of Japan’s biggest sweets makers, and especially as a promo for their long-standing Seventeen ice cream brand. While it is common to see Seventeen vending machines all over Tokyo, this is a whole new kind of experience.

ayami muto seventeen vending machine glico ezaki dance idol shibuya ice cream

The idol in question is a newbie, Ayami Muto, who is making her debut this spring.

On April 26th, brand ambassador Ayami Muto will be dancing on a big display on the Seventeen Ice Original Vending Machine, which changes depending on the flavor of Seventeen ice cream you choose. Ayami’s costume colors will also be different in each video to match the flavors, of which there are, not surprisingly, seventeen.

Dancers will have their movements digitally regenerated as computer graphics, to be put together later as a special animated video. If you dance correctly matching Ayami’s choreography then you can get yourself a complimentary ice cream — perfect as the weather turns hotter.

ayami muto seventeen vending machine glico ezaki dance idol shibuya ice cream

Vending machine boffins will probably have already spotted that this ice cream idol vendor is very similar to the Dance Dance Revolution vending machine from Coca-Cola that was a big hit in Korea in 2012.

Dancing with Ayami is free and Ayami herself is expecting to turn up in Shibuya as well at around 14:00, though we expect a dance with the physical idol might be asking too much.

Check out the vending machine from 11:00 to 19:00.

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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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Sharp goes moe for Premium Cocorobo with imouto anime character

Written by: Japan Trends on March 26, 2014 at 9:32 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

When Sharp first released its Cocorobo, the world was pretty impressed. Here was a low-cost robotic vacuum cleaner that could respond to its owner’s commands and be controlled by Android and iPhone devices, not to mention go about cleaning your home on its own accord. While it certainly isn’t a RC mop by any means, it is perhaps the most futuristic way to clean your home that we’ve encountered on a mass level.

Following strong sales, Sharp came up with a new version, the Mini Cocorobo for people with more compact residences (very common in space-strapped Japan). So what to do next? What are target consumers are there?

Of course, otaku!

premium cocorobo cleaner vacuum robot moe anime character

Sharp has develoepd the “Premium Cocorobo”, which is decorated with a cute moe girl character and features a imouto younger sister-like voice. What more could you want? Okay, so this isn’t going to be everyone’s tastes, but we still find it pretty cool that Sharp is doing this.

The voice is by Ibuki Kido and the illustration by mangaka Kinusa Shimotsuki. And unlike a real anime girl character (or real girlfriend), this one won’t get all tsundere on you and refuse to do the housework!

premium cocorobo cleaner vacuum robot moe anime character

Before you get too excited, though, the current Premium Cocorobo is just a trial. They are testing the new features of the vacuum cleaner by recruiting people to sample it in their homes for a month. We imagine competition will be fierce for places.

Fingers crossed Sharp will make this into a full commercial product to add to the Cocorobo robotic cleaners already on the market.

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5 “Wacky Japan” myths we don’t agree with (and why)

Written by: Japan Trends on February 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Japan is a country that seems to inspire more than its far share of stereotypes and myths. The overseas media is also complicit in perpetuating many of the images of Japan that make it seem weird, exotic and unfathomable. What irk the most are the ones that mold Japan as a nation of wackos with bizarre tastes in fashion, beauty, sex and entertainment. This isn’t just Japan; the western media continually likes to mock and belittle Asian countries. Would Psy have been such a hit if there hadn’t been a “weird dance” (actually originally very tongue-in-cheek)?

Here are five we particularly dislike and feel are wrong (in whole or in part), and also harmful and patronizing.

Mascot obsession

Yes, there are mascots — lots of them.

The Self-Defense Force has them, as does the police and even the Japanese Communist Party. Some days it feels like you can’t get away from mascot characters, on TV, advertising or merchandise. But that doesn’t mean people are stupid or only interested in something because of a mascot.

funassyi yuru kyara japan mascots

Mascot culture has been a big success story for regional tourism, hence why it has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. This is a fascinating social development and offers lessons in tourism. But also don’t confuse it with the idea that everyone in Japan walks around with mascot toys in their bags.

A nation of geeks

This links in with the mascot thing. Sure, manga and anime are popular here. hHwever, one of the biggest mistranslations and inaccurate use of language concerns the idea of “subcultures”. If we had a yen for every time we saw the words “anime subculture” in Japanese or English. More often than not, it’s being used incorrectly. What’s important here is how manga and anime are indeed mainstream — but in the sense that cartoons and comics are part of popular culture in America too. No one calls American geeks because of how successful “The Avengers” was, right? But the movie was seen by thousands of non-fans too.

What has changed in recent years is that certain types of manga and anime have risen in status — by which we mean subcultural content previously associated mostly with hardcore fans, especially science fiction. However, manga and anime itself is not a subculture. Quite the opposite: they are part of pop culture. So just because they are a visible element in Japan, it cannot be correlated solely with “geeky” culture.

he Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light

The difference is that there is a whole wealth of anime and manga that can be enjoyed by adults too, not to mention the tens of thousands of titles specifically meant for older audiences (and we don’t mean “adult content” either). This is like how there are graphic novels and the likes of Robert Crumb in America, plus a quality Pixar animation is entertaining for all ages.

That’s what’s interesting; not that everyone in Japan is an otaku because they read comics even after the age of 18, but that there are comics that cater to predilections that go way beyond superheroes. If you look at the annual list of bestsellers, Japan has some of most varied reading tastes. What was the biggest box office hit recently in Japan? Yes, it was an anime. But it was Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises”, which frankly is as mainstream as any Disney picture.

What makes us doubly angry is that “Cool Japan” is also getting it wrong, promoting a subculture — something for a select taste — as representative of all that’s good about Japan. And so we have embarrassments like AKB48 (not even a true example of genuine otaku culture anymore) performing at the ASEAN gala banquet.

Weird beauty

We have been guilty of helping with this myth ourselves. Sure, there are some bizarre beauty gadgets in Japan. But they are genuine skincare and health tools, no matter how odd the pictures sometimes look. From electric nose-lifters to face sliming mouthpieces, there is a whole pantheon of frankly visually alarming gadgets out there. But we actually think these are pretty amazing and not just to be scoffed at.

japan wacky beauty gadget crazy bizarre cosmetics tool

Either way, they are unusual items that are used by a minority of people. It’s not the case that everyone women is walking around with wacky mouthpieces jutting out of their jaws in a quest to retain their youthful beauty.

And at the end of the day, the beauty trends that should really be grabbing the headlines are the amazing quality of Japanese cosmetics and make-up, from Shiseido to Kanebo and shu uemura.

Sexual disfunction

The catalog of articles here would be notorious and too long to list, but the perennial claim is one of two extremes or even both at the same time: the Japanese are not interested in sex anymore, and/or they are super kinky and like to get their kicks at strange fetish clubs or through 2D characters.

There are extremes in every culture and we love how Japan, free of the notion of original sin and other moral hangups in the monotheistic world, is able to find a way for more unusual sexual customs to exist alongside the so-called mainstream. But they are just that: fringe elements. As healthy and often refreshing (if mind-boggling) as they are, the majority of men in Japan are not interested in pursuing anime girls or even Akihabara “idols”.

japan sexual disfunction dysfunction no romance moteki film

And we find it laughable this image that young people are not interested in sexual relations (any reporter who writes an article on this should go and visit a college campus or nightclub).

Japan is prohibitively expensive

Not so “wacky” this one but we still hate it always gets rolled out as a stereotype to explain how “opaque” and formiddable the lifestyle in Japan — especially Tokyo — is. Japan is not expensive. Sure, if you take the average apartment in America and Europe and compare it to a similar size in Tokyo, it will seem crazy. But no one lives like that. Things are compact in Japan (not small, compact) and you have to adjust your scale a little. In fact, it is far more affordable to live alone in Tokyo and go out for meals on a very regular basis than other cities.

tokyo most expensive city world

What is expensive? Up-front fees for apartments, though this has improved recently. Some fruit and vegetables. Hostess clubs. Shinkansen bullet train tickets.

Everything else is pretty reasonable, not least because consumption tax is relatively low (it’s going up this spring, though) and prices have hardly changed in over ten years (the up side of the “Lost Decade”). You can shop at UNIQLO et al if you are on a budget and there is a host of great eating-out options for as little as ¥1,000-¥2,000 yen for a nice meal. Try getting an apartment for one, paying for daily transport costs, utility bills and going out half a dozen times a week in New York or a major European city… and then you’ll see what we mean.

And if don’t believe us, head over to Tokyo Cheapo for some tips on enjoying yourself in Japan on a budget.

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