Starbucks celebrates spring cherry blossom with sakura-design stores, special drinks

Written by: William on February 3, 2015 at 8:25 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Today is Setsubun, which marks the start of spring in the old lunar calendar.

If you are unfortunate enough to step outside, you may be forgiven for thinking it’s still winter. That would because you’d be right — it is still winter.

But nonetheless, when the kids start throwing the beans in the springs, everyone already begins looking ahead to the spring, and spring in Japan always means one thing: cherry blossom.

Every store or brand seems to run some sort of sakura-themed during the season, even McDonald’s.

If you want to see the real thing, head to Ueno Park or one of the other top spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

And while you’re in Ueno Park, check out the Starbucks, which is going to be transformed especially for the season.

The cherry blossom interiors are courtesy of flower artist plantica and will see the Ueno Park branch and the Sakurabashi branch in Osaka re-designed for the famous bloom season. Both locations have been chosen for their association with hanami.

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

There are also special sakura tumblers and other cups for sale. Even the Starbucks gift cards have got the cherry blossom treatment.

This year marks the fourteenth of the Starbucks sakura series of seasonal menu items.

starbucks spring cherry blossom design menu ueno park tokyo

Convenience stores will also sell Starbucks Discoveries Sakura Latte with Strawberry drinks, while Starbucks branches will offer sakura-designed drinks and foods such as Caramel Sakura Chocolate Latte and Sakura Chiffon Cake.

The drinks and cake are available from February 15th to March 17th, while the two decorated branches will be “blooming” from February 16th in Tokyo and February 26th in Osaka, both ending in early April, as the cherry blossom season itself ends for another year.

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Rakuten Box: Rakuten offers lockers for anonymous package delivery, pickup

Written by: William on January 27, 2015 at 8:55 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Rakuten, the world’s most successful badly designed virtual mall, continues its march into all offline walks of Japanese life. After opening a cafe in Shibuya last year, now it offers a collection service using lockers at stations.

It has teamed up with Japan Post to set up lockers inside Tokyo post offices, as well as 50 other places around the country where customers can collect the item they purchase on the online market.

It ran a trial of the enterprise last year in Osaka and the response was good enough to expand it nationwide. There is a need for the service because sometimes people who live alone are not at home enough to be able to accept deliveries easily — they might prefer to accept a parcel from a locker near their work or college. Likewise, the Osaka trial showed that there are many young women who would prefer not to have delivery men come to their home address.

rakuten box lockers pick up delivery

Rakuten is here using the lockers the Japan post office already offers in around 30 post offices in Tokyo for its own delivery services.

When you purchase something on Rakuten (domestic sales only), you will be able to choose the lockers as a delivery option using Japan Post’s Yu-Pack service. You are emailed a notification and password when the package is placed in the locker, and only you can input the passcode to open the locker. The lockers can hold the delivery for three days, after which unclaimed items are removed.

“Rakuten Box” sites will be set up at 50 locations around Japan over the course of 2015, including at major train terminals. These will function in the same way as the post office lockers, and will surely be popular with people who want to pick up a parcel on their way home from work or college. The lockers don’t yet have refrigeration functions so you cannot use the items for certain food or drink orders.

Currently you can already send packages from all convenience stores and also pick up deliveries at some. With this service, though, the process becomes even more private, which certain kinds of people may prefer or may prefer for certain types of orders.

The service starts in April so look out for Rakuten-branded lockers. The Rakuten Box units may also be popping up in many kinds of locations in the future. Rakuten hopes they will be installed in other shops (there is no fee) so we can likely expect to see them in convenience stores in the near future.

Image source: Tsuhan Shinbun

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Shonan T-Site: Tsutaya’s new chic retail complex in surfer town

Written by: William on January 8, 2015 at 9:03 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

After wowing hipsters the world over with the first T-Site in Tokyo’s upmarket Daikanyama district three years ago, Tsutaya continues its quest to stop being the Blockbuster of Japan and be taken seriously as a sophisticated retailer: Shonan T-Site opened in mid-December, a complex of over 30 stores.

Like its Tokyo predecessor, the new T-Site in the beach resort area of Shonan, some 50km from the capital, is sleek and curated, with an uber-hip bookstore, restaurants, cafes, an Apple reseller, and even a posh FamilyMart convenience store. The same design team, led by architecture studio Klein Dytham, is behind the latest addition to Culture Convenience Club’s money-spinners.

Mark Dytham told The Japan Times: “The goal of the space is, as Tsutaya puts it, ‘cultural navigation.’ In an era when you can get everything online, what’s the point of shopping? I have 13 million Spotify tracks on my phone but don’t know what to play. Virtually everything is available on Amazon. The T-Site projects give you something you cannot get online: curation and concierges who know intimately about which section they oversee, whether it’s cars, food, travel, design, photography, fashion.”

shonan t-site tsutaya

So the white cubes from the Daikanyama complex are still here, along with the range of curated retail options. What is different is the location, of course, since Shonan is a beach area full of surfing and sun. That said, the money is still there, since Shonan is a plush area home to the well-to-do who can afford the long commute to Tokyo (think the elite families who gave us the taiyo-zoku in the 1950′s), and Tokyoites with second homes in the peninsula.

Shonan T-Site is actually part of something bigger and quite exciting — Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (FSST), a model town for the future being developed by Panasonic.

As Panasonic puts it: “[Shonan T-Site is] not a site just for selling products. It’s a base for inspiring residents and visitors to the Shonan area, nurturing new lifestyles, and making this lifestyle known to people outside the town. Lifestyles born in the town called Fujisawa SST have great potential to affect lifestyles in Japan, and furthermore, in the world.”

You can grab a coffee at the customized designer Starbucks or indulge in some designing of yourself since, following in the craze arguably started by the likes of Fab Cafe in Shibuya, you can use 3D printers and laser cutters in the upstairs lounge area, or even try out Panasonic home appliances in a special tryvertising space called Square Lab Ferment.

The Daikanyama complex was touted as an attempt to meet the retail needs for middle-aged or older moneyed urbanites in search of experiences worthy of Daikanyama — quiet, curated, expensive. That said, its demographic is always mixed, full of younger couples on dates in Daikanyama, though they may not necessarily make a purchase.

Shonan has some of this too, since the population is older and life is slower, but there are also plenty of young visitors in the summer, who may want to combine a trip to Enoshima beach with some browsing at T-Site. Look for it to get busier as the weather get warmer.

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Odakyu Department Store offers “kabe-don lucky bags” for male New Year shoppers to seduce women

Written by: William on January 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The popularity of kabe-don seems to show no sign of letting up.

After GU in Ginza “seduced” female (and male) customers by having two hunky models plant their hands on the wall to trap them in a position perfect for a smooch, now Odakyu Department Store is offering kabe-don “dream bags”.

This is a variation on the usual “lucky bags” (fukubukuro) traditionally sold by department stores and other shops during the New Year sales. You don’t know what you get, but the chances are what’s included inside the mystery bag is worth much more than the fixed price.

odakyu department store kabe-don lucky bag fukubukuro dream shopping new year wall seduction item set

A big shift in the lucky bag retail concept has been that customers today can sell on the contents using internet auctions. It means there is now no real demerit to the system. If you don’t like one of the things in the bag, you can just sell it as new to another person online.

And this gets more interesting if the lucky bag includes limited edition or other special items, meaning you can sell them on at inflated prices.

Some department stores instead opt now to offer real-life “experiences” for shoppers who brave the New Year crowds, such as a hug from Funassyi (yes, that’s a real — and expensive — example).

Odakyu is offering “dream bags” for ladies seeking the kabe-don wall thud experience. All right, the department store is not actually offering instant kabe-don sessions for women right there in the store (perhaps that’s coming next year). Instead, the bags are actually meant for men (or women who want to dress their man in the image they desire). Priced ¥10,000 (around $100), the bags each contain a handkerchief, tiepin, cuff buttons, mouthwash, and perfume — the ideal set of items for a man who wants to give his lady friend a kabe-don seduction in a real gentlemen’s guise.

If you fancy trying this out, you’d better hurry because there are only five of the kabe-don “costume” bags available.

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GU holds “Kabe-don” event at Ginza branch, hot guys trap female customers against wall

Written by: William on December 9, 2014 at 9:13 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 5 Comments

UNIQLO spin-off GU recently held a kabe-don event at its Ginza branch as a promo for a holiday season sale.

Does the idea of having a hot guy leaning up against you inside a clothes store, slapping his hand against the wall to trap you in his intimate embrace, inspire you to purchase some fast fashion?

Well, on December 5th GU had a pair of attractive Japanese guys offering just this “service” at its Ginza store.

gu kabe-don event ginza store

gu kabe-don event ginza store

All you had to do was head to the GU outlet in Ginza, pick one of the special holiday season items in the promo, and then ask the men if the clothes suited you. One of the hotties would then tell you how good you looked while doing a kabe-don on you.

Judging by the pictures and official video, the women were apparently pleased to have guys leaning in on them, perhaps because ordinarily they would have to drag their unenthused partners around on a clothes shopping spree. The idea of a guy taking the time to go around with them in a store — and even compliment and try to get romantic between the aisles — is seemingly a fantasy for some female consumers.

gu kabe-don event ginza store

gu kabe-don event ginza store

Kabe-don has been one of the trends of the year, with the Morinaga “Kabe-don” Cafe in Harajuku creating headlines for its sheer audacity (it used an artificial waiter), as well pictures of apparent kabe-don poses spreading on social media.

Kabe-don refers to a certain position where a man places his hand against a wall, keeping his female partner there so he can lean in for a smooch. The kabe part means “wall” while don is the sound of the hand hitting the surface.

gu kabe-don event ginza store

At the GU event some lucky girls got both guys doing a double kabe-don on them. And this wasn’t a sexist event either, since male customers were also treated to the same experience.

gu kabe-don event ginza store

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NEC GAZIRU-F image recognition tech integrates fashion magazine mobile shopping for smartphone, tablet cameras

Written by: William on November 13, 2014 at 9:09 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

NEC has got together with Fashion TV to offer a smartphone and tablet service for mobile eCommerce for apparel items you see in a magazine. If you see an item in a magazine you like, you can use GAZIRU-F to snap a shot of it and be connected to a shopping portal to purchase the product.

The service will be available through an app for the fashion magazine persona from spring 2015. GAZIRU-F will be expanded to 20 further companies by 2016 if it proves successful.

nec fashion tv gaziru-f mobile ecommerce image recognition shopping tech photograph smartphone tablet

NEC has been developing the cloud-based Gaziru technology for a while. Dig Info did a report on it back in 2012.

The name is coined from combining two Japanese words: gazo (image) and shiru (know, recognize).

Similar to Google Goggles or Bing Vision, you can just take a snap of something and get a readout of the information it can draw from a database. No text input is required.

GAZIRU is not restricted to images of 2D objects. Further uses for GAZIRU tech may include helping people operate equipment — take a photograph of something and get an operation manual on your screen in seconds. Likewise there are benefits for health, such as being able to provide nutritional data for certain foods. The educational implications are immense; a museum or exhibition can become interact with further information for visitors who want to know more about a certain item on display.

The days of the humble barcode or QR code are surely limited.

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Shigesato Itoi’s Hobonichi opens first ever store (and gallery), Tobichi, in Minami-Aoyama

Written by: William on August 7, 2014 at 9:04 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Hobonichi has opened Tobichi, a store and gallery in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, where it will hold special events and sell its merchandise. It does has a rather unfortunate name in English (the “bichi” part sounds like another word entirely!) but this is significant because it’s the first ever bricks-and-mortar store for the Hobonichi brand.

Hobonichi (“almost daily”) is one of Japan’s best-kept secrets, despite the valiant efforts of a few. Founded by copywriter Shigesato Itoi, it is a kind of web magazine cum fan club with a carefully managed editorial tone.

It is very hard to define why Hobonichi is so successful, especially with a certain kind of Japanese female urbanite in their thirties. Its business model just wouldn’t seem to work on paper — but then that’s because it’s not on paper, it’s online. The Hobonichi method consists of building up a popular content portal called 1101.com as a “media” and then selling products alongside this. Since the products are fully integrated into the style of the Hobonichi content, this works very well.

tobichi hobonichi store shop gallery minami aoyama tokyo

Hobonichi carries no advertising; its revenue is solely from the branded products it offers to fans, everything from calendars to t-shirts and books. The Hobonichi staple product has always been the daily pocketbook/appointment diary, the Hobonichi Techo, now available in English as the Hobonichi Planner. It is full of the usual cute Hobonichi gimmicks, such as little quotes at the bottom of each page, and inspires creative use of its pages.

The planner is Hobonichi’s strongest seller and they have sold it through their own online shop and in select other stores, such as Loft. Part of Hobonichi’s success lies in how it hasn’t spread too far too fast; it has held back, concentrating on curating the distinctly lackadaisical voice of the 1101.com website and its products rather than only trying to flog ever more products to the greatest number of customers.

The new store is located not far from the Hobonichi office and, on top of being a physical place for stocking Hobonichi goods, will also champion the artists that Hobonichi likes, exhibiting their work for free in the space. As such opening times will vary depending on the event or exhibit it is running, though the exterior alone looks impressive enough. If you’re in the area (very close to the Nezu Museum), be sure to check it out.

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minä perhonen and Isetan team up for designer Kincho Katori Senko mosquito coil

Written by: William on August 1, 2014 at 9:07 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Mitsukoshi Isetan have teamed up with fashion brand minä perhonen (despite the name, not actually Finnish) to offer a new take on a classic item of modern Japanese convenience.

Isetan is currently holding a “future summer gift” event on the ground floor of its Shinjuku head store. This includes a new design for Katori Senko mosquito coils by minä perhonen. Kincho was the first company to make what a now a standard sight in the humid summer in Japan, the coil-designed green poison (using Pyrethrum flower seeds originally from Serbia) that burns slowly with the smell of incense and keeps pesky mosquitoes at bay.

minä perhonen isetan shinjuku kincho uzumaki katori senko mosquito coil repellent incense japan

While its coil product has been copied by numerous competitors, Kincho’s design is still much loved, not least for its rather retro but charming cockerel icon. The status of the Kincho mosquito coils is such that the brand received the Good Design Long Life Award from the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2012. Surprisingly Kincho has not made much of an inroad overseas but you can get a set of two “cans” of thirty coils, complete with holder to keep the coil over the can, of the Kincho Uzumaki Katori Senko Mosquito Coil from JapanTrendShop. Trust us, your summers will be much better!

kincho uzumaki katori senko mosquito coil repellent incense japan

The new minä perhonen version is made with Kincho and has fused the familiar household product with the chic-cute look of the quasi-Finnish brand. Fear not, the famous Kincho cockerel has been retained in all his red glory but the rest of the packaging is recreated in the trademark minä perhonen minimal white.

minä perhonen isetan shinjuku kincho uzumaki katori senko mosquito coil repellent incense japan

Isetan’s fair contains a host of other interesting products, mostly unusual reinterpretations of traditional items and sweets. Like New Year, summer is a time in Japan to give gifts and even convenience stores offer suitable items, such as sets of beer and so on. This custom is known as Ochugen and Isetan is hoping its offerings will persuade people to opt for something a bit more unusual. The fair runs from July 30th to August 5th on the ground floor of Isetan Shinjuku.

minä perhonen isetan shinjuku kincho uzumaki katori senko mosquito coil repellent incense japan summer fair gifts

[Image source]

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Wearable Clothing by Urban Research virtual dressing room vendor lets you try on clothing digitally, purchase online

Written by: William on July 7, 2014 at 9:29 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Wearable Clothing by Urban Research is a virtual dressing room interactive digital unit was recently installed for a trial run in Ikebukuro Parco department. The fashion brand Urban Research created the unit which can be set up anywhere there’s electricity and wifi, and enough space. Like the many next-generation smart touchscreen vendors now commonly found in central Tokyo train stations, it uses a camera to scan the user’s body and in this case lets you browser Urban Research products, “try” them on, and connect to the label’s e-commerce platform so you can purchase them online.

The first test unit was available as a pop-up for use by shoppers (in English, Chines or Japanese) in Ikebukuro from June 17th to 30th. Look out for similar machines in train stations, departments stores and airport terminals; Urban Research plans to install six virtual fitting room vendors in 2014 and to have around 100 units in operation by 2020, including overseas. The brand already has a showroom in Taipei and wants to push the new virtual dressing room to Asian markets in the future, since it is much cheaper than opening up actual branches in new regions. Its online retail arm also currently occupies roughly a 20% share of its sales and it is aggressively expanding on this.

wearable clothing by urban research virtual digital dressing fitting room parco ikebukuro fashion retail

This kind of tryvertising technology has been developing in Japan for several years now. Past successes include Shiseido’s “digital cosmetic mirror”. Japan also has a well-established tradition of “unmanned shops”, from its thousands of varied vending machines to roadside vegetable stalls.

The Wearable Clothing system uses Kinect, a 60-inch LCD display, and an iPad. Kinect is increasingly the software of choice for these augmented reality virtual fitting units; a similar one for Topshop also utilized back in 2011. Urban Research spent a year working on the project with a web development company, spent some ¥20 million ($200,000) to create two initial vendors.

wearable clothing by urban research virtual digital dressing fitting room parco ikebukuro fashion retail

It responds to the user’s movements in real time as you try on your selected item (3D “real-time fitting”, as the makers term it) and even promises to give you a virtual experience of the texture of the clothing materials (so-called “cloth simulation”). As the Time Out blogger put it, “way more satisfying than fiddling with zips and buttons and bad lighting in a real dressing room.” If what you browse or try on takes your fancy, you can then add it to your basket and use the QR code it prints to access the brand’s online store and complete your purchase of the item.

wearable clothing by urban research virtual digital dressing fitting room parco ikebukuro fashion retail

Urban Research is boasting that this is the first example in the apparel industry of a single unit offering a virtual fitting and retail service all in one, as well as coordination with users’ social media.

The Wearable Clothing virtual fitting room is planned to appear next at Tokyo Skytree’s Solamachi mall this August.

The question, though, is whether in Japan, a culture with a very strong customer service ethos, could these types of virtual vendors truly take off and replace staffed stores completely?

wearable clothing by urban research virtual digital dressing fitting room parco ikebukuro fashion retail

[Image sources: here and here]

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