Pop idol group Perfume turn Hiroshima Prefecture tourism guidebook into mega hit

Written by: William on July 23, 2014 at 8:48 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

The sad truth is that sometimes Japanese consumers are a simple bunch. Forget complex marketing strategies or clever stunts. The way to their hearts is just to put a famous person on the front of whatever it is you’re selling.

Hence why there are so many TV commercials and other ads featuring the same gallery of celebrities. Hence why Hollywood films will have some random Japanese model appear at a press conference to promote the movie. And hence why this free 126-page guide for Hiroshima Prefecture tourism has sold out immediately after it hit the shelves.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

It was published and released on July 14th but reprints have already been ordered. How come? Well, in order to give the booklet a push, the folk at Hiroshima made the decision to pay a no doubt not inconsiderable pile of cash to have Perfume to appear on the cover, looking cute and pop like the trio of young girls always do.

Within two hours of launching the campaign website, they had already reached the limit for 2,000 reservations, and now the publishers are getting orders from book stores all over the country, desperate to get their hands on the rare booklet. The initial run of 50,000 copies is almost all gone and the next run won’t arrive until mid-August.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

The idea to include Perfume in the “Nakeru! Hiroshima-ken” (literally, “Hiroshima Prefecture that will make you cry!”) booklet and campaign is not as cynical as it sounds, since the girls originally hail from the region (it does, though, time in nicely with the release of their latest single). They also appear in a short PR video and are interviewed in the book.

The best place to get a copy in Tokyo is from the TAU Hiroshima Prefecture Store in Ginza, though at time of writing it no longer has any guidebooks left.

nakeru hiroshima perfume tourism booklet magazine guide sold out popular

We’ve long struggled to understand the popularity of Perfume. On a superficial level, they are hardly what you might think of as glamorous. Rather, like many idol groups, they are presented as “amateurs” and this is reflected in that basically only one could be called beautiful. But it also shows in their ultimately fairly limited abilities to sing and dance, let alone write their own songs. Their managers are savvy folk and know to employ talented people to make cool music videos and album covers, which raises their sophistication. But what is the appeal of the Perfume girls themselves? Clearly they must have something, as this latest development shows!

Now we just have to see if the Perfume effect can actually increase tourism in Hiroshima.

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JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing design

Written by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.

Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).

The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.

[Via Nippon.com]

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JR West creates Hello Kitty train for Wakayama tourism this autumn

Written by: William on June 18, 2014 at 9:03 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Japan Rail knows how to attract customers. In between rolling out snazzy new bullet trains and other technological advances, it periodically customizes JR Yamanote Line trains to look like a chocolate product or a manga and anime franchise.

From September, a special Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running on JR lines as part of its Wakayama Destination Campaign. The sightseeing train will be an express with all seats reserved.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

JR has consulted with locals and got advice about the sightseeing spots to include on the design. The prefecture is famed for the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ten years now. Southern Wakayama is also home to Taiji, one of the (controversial) centers of Japanese traditional coastal whaling and dolphin hunting, and its Whale Museum is on of the tourist destinations featured on the train, along with a uniformed Hello Kitty.

The interior of the train will also be painted with characters but the design has yet to be announced.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

Although JR West is trying to push how it has worked hard to find a design that shows off the locality of the region, we have yet to find a tangible reason for the choice of Hello Kitty other than her apparently universal popularity (after all, Kitty-chan is not even Japanese, she is meant to be British). Perhaps someone can enlighten us? Sanrio, never afraid to license out its character to all and sundry, must be happy with the extra coffers, though.

The Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running for 33 days on weekends and holidays from September 13th to December 14th, 2014.

Wakayama must have a thing for felines and locomotives. The fortunes of the small Kishigawa Line were famously reversed by the promotion of Tama the cat to station master.

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Dogo Onsenart: Top Japanese artists re-design hotel rooms in old hot spring resort

Written by: William on January 25, 2014 at 8:26 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Heading to a Japanese onsen (hot spring) is one of the best trips you can do in Japan during the winter.

But the exclusive onsen resorts don’t come cheap and they need to keep innovating to attract people to pay top dollar rather than just head to one of the spas in the cities.

Dogo Onsen is one of the oldest hot spring resorts in Japan but it isn’t resting on its laurels. It has set up the Dogo Onsenart 2014 festival in ten hotels and Japanese inns (ryokan). This includes some pretty cool and flashy re-designing of hotel rooms as special art concept resorts for the festival.

fujiwo ishimoto hotel chaharu dogo onsen art

Sites include Chaharu Inn, Takaraso Hotel, Dogo-kan, Hotel Kowakuen, Hotel Hanayuzuki and Hotel Horizontal. The Onsen Art Collection also changes the streets and outside of the onsens themselves.

There are also special art souvenirs, an artist residency, and one-off events such as Art Parade, which will be held on July 20th involving dance choreographer Kaiji Moriyama.

Participants include the ubiquitous Yayoi Kusama and her trademark polka-dot pumpkins Takaraso Hotel.

yayoi kusama dogo onsen art hotel

yayoi kusama dogo onsen art hotel

Even the seating cushions get the polka dot treatment!

yayoi kusama dogo onsen art hotel

yayoi kusama dogo onsen art hotel

If you are visiting Dogo for a dirty weekend away, stay at this room in Hotel Kowakuen with some erotic photos by Nobuyoshi Araki. You need to be at least 18 years old to stay at this room.

nobuyoshi araki dogo onsen art hotel

nobuyoshi araki dogo onsen art hotel

And for more literary tastes, the poetry of Shuntaro Tachikawa features in all kinds of places in this room.

shuntaro tanikawa dogo onsen art hotel

shuntaro tanikawa dogo onsen art hotel

There is also fashion designer Akira Minagawa’s re-design for at Hotel Hanayuzuki.

akira minagawa dogo onsen hotel hanayuzuki

Other participating artists include Stephen Mushin and Mimi Shinko.

“We’d like visitors to enjoy ‘the chemical reaction’ of the guest rooms and the audacious ideas of the artists,” a festival official said.

The Shikoku district already has plenty of mixture of modern art and tourism, not least the successful Setouchi Triennale and the “art island” of Naoshima, as well as the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum near Takamatsu.

Produced by Wacoal/Spiral, Dogo Onsen Art then comes at an opportune time but we need to see how it competes in the summer against such major art events as the Yokohama Triennale. However, there is no Setouchi Triennale this year and it might be a great stop-off after visiting Naoshima.

The art hotel rooms have been available to guests since the end of December but the festival does not fully open until April 10th. It then runs until the end of 2014. There are a total of 10 rooms that are available for overnight stays and viewings until mid-January 2015.

See more images on YouPouch.

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One Piece characters promote local specialties and regional tourist attractions

Written by: Mina on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Sometimes I just wonder.

Japan is such a small country (geographically speaking, at least), so why do they even have to divide themselves into forty-seven prefectures and compete against each other? Recently I wrote a post on the result of recent survey which basically defined Japan’s most and least attractive places. The battle of yuru-kyara mascots is another means through which we get to know the undiscovered parts of this string of islands. Maybe we are all subconsciously waiting for super heroes who could represent all that Japan has to offer and unite us all together.

And One Piece might just offer the gang of heroes to do it.

one piece 3 oku

Now that the manga series has sold over 300 million copies, One Piece has no doubt proven its worth to be the ultimate representative of all prefectures in Japan. In the 3-Oku [300 million] campaign, forty-seven characters from One Piece appear on ads in local newspapers to represent each prefecture in collaboration with various local specialties, events and tourist destinations across the nation.

one_piece_tokyo_skytree

Although almost all the featured items in these ads can be seen on the cover of major guidebooks, it’s a new approach that each prefecture is taking to show what they are proud of — whether it be the Tokyo Skytree (above), the hot springs of Gunma, Nebuta Festival of Aomori, Sasakamaboko (fish cake in the shape of a bamboo leaf) of Miyagi — or wara natto (natto wrapped in rice straw) for Ibaraki (below), recently announced the most unappealing prefecture in Japan.

one_piece_campaign_ibaraki

About two-thirds of the ads have been revealed on the website so far, and we have yet to see the remaining works.

In addition to newspaper ads, One Piece posters can be seen on the walls of seven major stations across the country (Sapporo, Sendai, Shibuya, Nagoya, Umeda, Hiroshima and Nishitetsu Fukuoka Tenjin) from November 4th to 26th at intervals of a week or so.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the manga, I do have to admit that One Piece is loved by so many that it has the power to surpass regionalism, which sometimes can get really ugly and messy.

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Ibaraki, the “most unappealing” prefecture in Japan, attempts comeback

Written by: Mina on November 6, 2013 at 11:14 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Out of all forty-seven prefectures in Japan, which do you think is the most appealing?

Since 2006, Brand Research Institute has been conducting an annual survey, one of the biggest kinds in Japan, to make a ranking of all the prefectures in Japan based on their attractiveness. Survey participants are asked to answer questions on various factors that help determine how attractive and appealing a place is, such factors being its degree of recognition, its exposure, the impressions you have of it, your willingness to travel or move there, or purchase local specialties.

The top five prefectures come as no surprise. Hokkaido is once again awarded the title of the most appealing prefecture in Japan, the title it has owned since the research started. Kyoto comes in second, followed by Okinawa, Tokyo and Kanagawa. We would probably get the same list of prefectures (though the order might vary a little bit) if we asked the same question anywhere in the world.

In fact, it’s not only the top ranked prefectures that catch our attention. The bottom ones often become a topic for discussion as well. This year, Ibaraki made a “comeback” as the most unappealing prefecture in the country, jumping down from being 46th place last year. Ibaraki in fact had ranked 47th for three years in a row from 2009, which ironically made the prefecture famous as the most likely candidate to get the dishonorable title of the most unattractive prefecture in Japan.

What’s more, its reclaiming of the lowest rung comes only a few months months after Ibaraki launched a big campaign in July this year to promote itself, with the cheerful (or self-deprecating?) choice of Yoshimoto‘s two young comedians, Yuji Ayabe and Naomi Watanabe, both of whom are from Ibaraki.

So what do they do now?

ibaraki_campaign_yoshimoto

Don’t you (dare) look down on Ibaraki! says their new slogan, though the tone in the original is softened by the heart symbol in the middle. Ayabe and Watanabe are once again facing the desperate need to show what Ibaraki has to offer to the rest of the world, other than being the all-time favorite for a booby prize.

ibaraki_promotion_tourism

Located in the northern part of Kanto, Ibaraki has yet to prove its worth against its flashy competitors in the region. If Andes Quincy melons, Hitachi Autumn soba and Hitachi beef are not good enough, then how about a visit to Kairakuen Park or Fukuroda Waterfall? Japanese netizens seem to love the underdog spirit shown by this new campaign, and Ibaraki is already creating a big buzz on the web.

So far their new strategy is working just fine, but will they be able to make a jump up next year? Or the real question is, do we want to see them move up in the ranking? Already we are finding ourselves more and more attracted to this prefecture, so who cares if they climb a bit in the rankings?

As with anything, how we look at things means much more to us than the things themselves, don’t you think?

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Amachan: NHK drama effect repeats economic boom for Tohoku

Written by: William on August 21, 2013 at 11:37 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

A colleague recently brought back the customary omiyage souvenir from their Obon summer vacation to Miyagi prefecture and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the traditional mochi sweets packaging had been rebranded with Amachan.

Amachan is the “morning TV novel” drama currently being broadcast on NHK, written by Kankuro Kudo and starring Rena Nonen in the title role of a Tokyo schoolgirl prone to making surprised faces, the more so after she moves to Sanriku in Tohoku to become a sea urchin diver (known as ama).

amachan nhk drama series

Other than getting everyone repeating its jejeje catch phrase, the estimates are that the series will double tourists to the northern Honshu region — especially hard-hit after the Tohoku disaster in 2011 — and have an economic impact of around 3.3 billion yen (over $30 million) for this year alone! Visitors numbers are right up, as is consumption and manufacturing for Iwate prefecture tourist gifts. The boost expects to create new jobs for almost 500 locals.

It is a little surprising that Amachan has been such a hit, as NHK usually has more success with its evening period dramas. The ultimate example was Ryomaden, which was about Ryoma Sakamoto, the Bakumatsu hero. The immensely popular drama spawned a pantheon of spin-off goods and a major tourism boom to Sakamoto’s home province in Kochi prefecture in Shikoku. Estimates of the financial benefits of “Ryoma Fever” for Kochi go as high as 50 billion yen!

Amachan still has some way to go. Other morning dramas, such as Teppan, generated a knock-on effect for Hiroshima to the tune of 10 billion yen during and after it was broadcast in 2010.

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Toilet meals, solo vacations: Being by yourself comes at a high price

Written by: Mina on May 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

You can argue with me on this, but in Japan, there are two days a year when the idea of being alone might affect you emotionally — these are Valentine’s Day and Christmas (or Christmas Eve, to be exact). These two days have been traditionally hated by singles for one obvious reason. They feel like they are the only loners in the world while everyone else seems to have their significant other. Of course, this is part of the media propaganda and business marketing which forcibly brainwashes us into thinking that being alone is the worst crime ever committed in this country.

Jokes aside, though, if we play with the idea too much, it turns into depression. According to one survey that was conducted back in February, out of 2,459 respondents, 12% said they had eaten their meals in public toilets.

Let’s admit it. Toilets indeed can be our ultimate sanctuary where we can get away from others and expose the most inner, private part of ourselves (figuratively speaking) without worrying about how people might judge us. However, using public toilets as a place to eat is a completely different story.

public_toilets

The question is, why do they have to isolate themselves in toilets to eat meals? One possible answer can be found in years of “school lunch” experience. Of course, a lot of things have changed since when I was in school, but I’m sure that many of the respondents would agree with me on my argument that as kids, we were all taught to act in a group.

The No Child Left Alone act (as if there was such a thing) was apparent in almost any scene at school especially when it came to lunch. While it does make sense to have all kids have lunch at the same time, why did we have to sit in a group? In most cases, groups (or han , as we called them) were formed according to the seating arrangement of a classroom. Maybe it was part of education, trying to make us learn the importance of cooperation with an implied message of when you get older, you will have to get along with ones that you don’t want to get along with or maybe it was the school’s desperate attempt to teach us we could all be good friends if we just gave each other a chance. This short clip shows a typical classroom scene at lunchtime.

Considering that the majority of people in Japan have had years of education which adhered to this virtual act, the survey result can be seen as a sign of our unconscious sense of guilt and shame. Or am I taking this too seriously?

When we look at the other side of the story, though, there seems to be a growing demand for so-called ohitorisama (literally means ‘one person’) service. Club Tourism is offering a variety of package tours for those who want to travel alone. Below you can find their list of “promises” that would make the participants of this tour less conscious about being on their own. The first three are the most appealing: All participants are on their own. You will get a room on your own. You will get to use two seats on a bus. (This means that no one will be sitting next to you!)

package_tour_travel_alone

Perhaps it’s safe to say that we are double-sided. We seek to be alone sometimes in order to confirm that we are not alone after all.

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Battle of the Mascots: official vs. unofficial “yuru-kyara” characters

Written by: Mina on May 7, 2013 at 5:19 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

As Japan’s population continues to decline, we see more and more non-human characters pop out and come to life on a daily basis. The yuru-kyara boom which started less than a decade ago is now gaining momentum and dominating our everyday lives.

Yuru-kyara refers to a character or a mascot representative of a city or a prefecture, whose primary mission is to promote and vitalize its local culture and community. The name yuru-kyara is an abbreviation of two words: yurui which means “loose”, and kyara – character.

japan mascot character yuru-kyara

They are not meant to be lovable in the obvious way that facilitates money-making like other commercial figures (Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Snoopy etc) or anime characters — at least not when they were first introduced to the scene. This notion obviously is starting to change as we see more and more people see monetary value in the popularity of their promotional mascot characters, which is completely understandable.

For example, the very popular Kumamon mascot, Kumamoto’s yuru-kyara, is estimated to have generated around 640 million yen for the prefecture, and the sales of Kumamon merchandise totaled over 2,500 million yen in 2011.

While many of these characters are now becoming more like commercial figures, here I would like to introduce a lesser-known newbie, a native of Funabashi City, Chiba, and one which is not even approved or supported by the local government. This unofficial mascot called Funassyi is a “pear” fairy (the word for pear in Japanese is nashi) and looks like, well, a yellow pear with a face.

funassyi_yuru_kyara

Despite its unofficial status and supposedly low publicity, Funassyi ranked 506th in the 2012 yuru-kyara “grand prix” popularity contest, out of 865 entries, which I guess isn’t too shabby. Now Funassyi is everywhere.

Incidentally, the winner of the 2012 Grand Prix was Barii-san, the simple but huggable character for Imabari in Ehime, and who jumped up from being second place last time. That’s him below.

japan mascot character yuru-kyara barii-san ehime imabara

Perhaps what makes Funassyi quite different from many others is that he is a talking mascot (and he talks a LOT) and appears to be a bit wacky as well. In this clip, his talk starts around 1:00 in (after a spot of dancing). Notice the enthusiastic waves and responses he gets from the crowd.

So why hasn’t Funabashi City adopted him? The answer is rather obvious – because they don’t want to. Instead, they recently announced their own “official” city mascot named Funaemon, who has no resemblance whatsoever to Funassyi.

This is Funaemon below, a more conservative and “human” yuru-kyara than the pear that is Funassyi. But which is the better mascot?

funabashi_funaemon

Will this move be enough to kick the unofficial yet one-and-only Funassyi out of the game? It seems like the odds are against the bureaucrats!

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