The Self-Assembly Shamisen is, as the name suggests, a shamisen instrument that you can build yourself — and customize!
The shamisen is surely the most famous Japanese traditional instrument. You can see it at Kabuki performances, as well as other traditional events. Geisha play them and they are also part of Okinawan culture as the sanshin banjo.
However, they are expensive. Insanely expensive. Not only are they made solely by specialist artisans, the materials (snake leather?!) and twice-annual repairs all preclude any but those with the deepest pockets.
Itouhei have noticed this and come up with this solution.
The Self-Assembly Shamisen is a genuine shamisen but is designed for the player to build themselves. Certain materials and elements of the design have been adjusted to bring down the overall cost, though these choices have the benefit of also increasing durability and reducing the need for regular repairs to the instrument.
Best of all, perhaps, is how this is a shamisen that you can customize with your own paints and patterns.
Here are some snazzy examples.
Self-assembly toys and kits are very popular in Japan, as proved by the enduring success of the Otona no Kagaku (Science for Grown-Ups) series by Gakken. Entries in the series include a handmade home planetarium, mini electric guitar, and even theremin.
For such a ubiquitous apparel chain, UNIQLO demonstrates a healthy tendency to innovate. Every year its UT t-shirts change and it always works with a massive range of designers and famous franchises to create original collectible clothing.
While in the past these have included pop series from anime and cinema, this time UNIQLO has sought out inspiration from the past.
The Shochiku Kabuki x UNIQLO Project kicks off with a series of t-shirts and other items on sale from March 26th.
Shochiku is a film and theater production company, and runs the Kabuki-za in Ginza, the most famous Kabuki theater.
In the words of the official press release, the new project will “present to the world Japan’s traditional culture in the form of
modern pop culture through Kabuki and clothes.”
Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke IV will be the “Project Ambassador” and the line will go on sale in 14 markets around the world. The launch is actually happening first in France — Japan has an obsession with France as the pinnacle of high culture and the affection is reciprocated — on March 20th, a week ahead of the Japan release.
The new series will include t-shirts, lounge wear, bandanas and tote bags. The designs will include motifs from the Ichikawa yago as well as kumadori stage makeup. Full details of designs will be released on March 19th.
“I believe Japan can rightfully take pride in the artistic traditions and beauty of Kabuki, which we have been promoting ever since our foundation in 1895. Working together with UNIQLO has given us the opportunity to express Kabuki’s bold, yet delicate, aesthetics on clothing in a way never seen before to millions of UNIQLO fans around the world,” says Jay Sakomoto, Shochiku President and CEO.
The new range is a very nice boost for Kabuki, which was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2005. While not as inaccessible as Noh, it is nonetheless an esoteric taste today and most Japanese have trouble understanding all the complex stylistic points, let alone the actual language (performances are surtitled). Foreign tourists, though, are always fascinated by its color and flair, and the right people seem to know this, as evidenced by upcoming March opening of a “Kabuki Gate” at Narita Airport. This spring really will have a Kabuki flavor.
There is a precedent for this from the beauty industry. Isshin Do Honpo Inc has had great success with its series of Kabuki face packs. Like the UNIQLO t-shirts, they too have been made with the help of genuine Kabuki performers and reflect the makeup of characters in real Kabuki plays.
This is the true “cool Japan”: traditions mixed with modern convenience and lifestyle.
Fancy a spot of Kabuki before you step onto a plane?
Yes, if you want your taste of traditional Japanese at the airport, from this spring you can.
Narita International Airport Terminal 1’s South Wing will host the Kabuki Gate, featuring costumes, props, and other Kabuki-themed items.
Strangely, it’s actually located in the area after you have passed through immigration for departures. So only people who are leaving Japan (i.e. tourists who already spent time there or Japanese passengers) will get their chance to experience the Kabuki Gate. The logic of this feels peculiar to us: surely you want to enchant tourists coming into Japan, so as to encourage them to go see the real thing?
There are tablets in the Kabuki Gate where you can take your picture and then match it to Kumadori Kabuki makeup. The final image of yourself as a Kabuki star can then be sent to your own phone.
Of course, there is also a shop selling Kabuki merchandise and the costumes will be changed seasonally. Unfortunately you can’t try on the costumes or any actual makeup. Instead, for this we recommend the Kabuki Face Pack series, which also has the added benefit of helping your skin (ironically, also sold at Narita Airport — or otherwise on Japan Trend Shop).
The Kabuki Gate opens March 27th and is free to enter.
As we head towards the 2020 Olympics, expect to see more and more of these overtly “Japanese” initiatives everywhere as the powers that be attempt to present their preferred image of the nation to everyone.
This article by Katie Reilly first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
So you want to get dressed up, do the whole kimono thing while you’re in Tokyo? These timeless outfits are not exactly cheap, but that’s why kimono rentals exist. You can experience wearing one for a short time without having to spend an enormous amount of money. Plus, by renting you have someone there to help you with the tricky business of putting it on.
Kimono are the traditional clothing of Japan. While they are not generally seen on a daily basis today, they are still often worn by women and sometimes men for festivals and special occasions. Traditionally kimono were made of silk, though nowadays there are cheaper ones made with less expensive fabrics. Kimono are wrapped so that the left side covers the right, adjusted for height, and are secured with an obi. These are sashes that keep the fabric in place and are tied in the back. Kimono are a beautiful aspect of Japanese culture and fun to experience.
The Omotenashi Kimono Experience (“omotenashi” loosely translating as hospitality) provided by the Nihonbashi Information Center is a reasonable way to try out kimono. At ¥5,500 it won’t be the cheapest thing you do in Tokyo, but it’s good value for the service it offers.
You start by picking out your favorite pattern and color of kimono from the selection they provide, and match it with an obi of your choice. You then move into a second room where their staff will help you put on the kimono. As it is a rather complicated process to attempt by yourself for the first time, they will take care of it for you. It is recommended that you wear or bring an undershirt, as you may want it for extra coverage since you will only be wearing undergarments beneath your kimono. The whole process of getting into a kimono takes about 20 minutes.
After you get into your kimono, you can take some photographs in the tatami room. There are a couple of Japan-esque parasols that can be used when you pose. Once you have taken all the inside photos you want, you choose your zōri (traditional shoes worn with kimono) which are worn with white tabi (traditional socks that divide your big toe from the rest of your toes) and head out for a stroll. While you are out, you can store your belongings in a bag that the center provides and they will keep it for you until you return.
A prime spot for photos, just behind the Coredo building.
The kimono experience can be paired with the guided Best of Japan tour offered by the Nihonbashi Information Center, but if you do the kimono experience separately you are free to wander wherever you want (which we prefer). You have until 6 pm to return the kimono, giving you enough time (if you start at lunchtime) to go sightseeing and take photographs around the city. While they’ll give you a pamphlet on places to see in Nihonbashi, you shouldn’t feel limited to that area. Asakusa is our recommended destination, as there are many shrines and temples there that are good spots for snapping kimono pics.
The kimono experience is only offered on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm (with the 6 pm kimono return), and it’s best to book in advance as they seem to fill up quickly. You can do that online, and you can also schedule a group if you would like to do it with friends or family.
The Omotenashi Kimono Experience can be found in the Kyorakutei Room on the third floor of COREDO Muromachi 3, which is easy to get to from Mitsukoshimae and Nihonbashi Stations. The information center is in the basement floor of the same building, and the staff can give you advice on what can be seen in the area. You can also do a geisha experience (that whole white make-up thing is not part of the regular kimono experience) and tea ceremony for additional fees.
The building where it all happens.
Think you might like to get one of your own? Here’s a cheapo guide to buying kimono.
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
Engimono are good luck charms and talismans, and come in all shapes and sizes, from Daruma dolls to Maneki-neko, the beckoning cat. They are particularly associated with the Eto (Chinese zodiac) and so often are given in the form of small ornaments to celebrate the New Year.
Perfect for finding a gift for the holidays, examples of engimono will be on sale at the special Found Muji Aoyama store from December 5th to December 25th. Found Muji is the Muji brand for showcasing items not made directly by the famously minimalist retailer but nonetheless fit into its philosophy. Engimono talismans, being small and simple, are a good match.
Found Muji will feature charms from all over Japan, from Miharu-goma wooden horses from Fukushima, dolls from Chiba and Sewa stick figures from Hokkaido. All are made by local regional crafts workers and with varying materials.
Everything comes back into fashion. And that includes Japanese loincloths. Fundoshi are usually only seen on the bodies (and buttocks) of men taking part in Japanese festivals or on sumo wrestlers (technically called mawashi).
But how about girls? Yes, fundoshi for women is a thing.
Actually, for the past few years people have been talking about this. Even venerable Japanese subculture guru Danny Choo blogged about it back in 2009.
Wacoal were pretty pioneering in this with their Nana Fun fundoshi for women product back in 2008 (sadly no longer on sale).
It led to the start of a trend and a revival in fortune for fundoshi. The Japan Fundoshi Association was even set up a little while later to promote the loincloth. And if you thought that February 14th was Valentine’s Day, you are very much mistaken. It is (also) Fundoshi Day… since 2013 at any rate.
Retailers have sprung up to cope with the demand. Ai Fun is an online store that specializes in “stylish” fundoshi for women. Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku has a shop called Desk My Style with around 60 kinds of fundoshi on sale for men and women. Apparently they are popular with women in their thirties. There is even growing interest in the trend in other parts of Japan. A specialist fundoshi select store, Teraya, opened in Nagasaki City last November.
As part of this, we recently saw the release of a “mook” for fundoshi. Mooks are a popular element of the Japanese magazine publishing world, semi-regular magazines or spin-off booklets which often include merchandise. In this case, the Fundoshi Panties Loincloth Underwear Mook includes a pair of fundoshi. While officially unisex, the cover and magazine make it clear that this loincloth is being marketed squarely at the girls.
But fundoshi are not just being promoted for girls (and men) because they are novel or traditional. There are health benefits, such as improved blood circulation. Most importantly, fundoshi loincloths are being suggested as excellent nighttime wear for women to help them sleep.
When in Rome, as the saying goes. And so when in Kyoto, wear a kimono. There’s nothing pretentious about getting into “costume”, so to speak, and exploring Japan’s old capital in a kimono. It’s fairly common to see both Japanese tourists (men and women) doing it.
But kimonos are not designed for walking fast and are certainly not designed for riding a bicycle — which is a shame, because Kyoto is a city ideal for cycling around, its layout being in the old grid system of Japanese capitals (see Nara).
Enter the KOTO LX-20, a kimono bike — that is, a bicycle designed for riders wearing kimonos.
Its concept might have traditional clothing in mind but the design itself feels retro and pop — not dissimilar to a Brompton — with the bottom bar set very low so your straight and long kimono won’t have issues with the pedals and so on. The chain looks fully covered so getting oil on the kimono also shouldn’t be a problem.
There are current three versions, each in its own wa (Japanese) color: OBOROZUKI (light blue), YUUGAO (white) and KOMURASAKI (purple). Wearing a matching kimono the best effects while cycling around Gion.
The bikes costs ¥48,000 ($440) and come with a snazzy leather saddle and three gears (there are some slopes in Kyoto). The KOTO LX-20 went on sale in April this year in Kyoto — has anyone seen them around the city? — but were recently showcased on Japaan.com and Rocket News 24.
We’re not sure if they are available for rental yet but surely it’s just a matter of time before kimono rental shops and hostels offer them.
Japan is a land full of cyclists, both of the hipster variety, the designer variety, and just the humble mama-chari “granny bike” variety. And so now we have the “traditional” Japanese bike, of sorts.
Here you can see the KOTO LX-20 in action around the old capital.
While Japan might at times seem just to be one concrete jungle, there’s still a lot of nature around and even some cities maintain a rare balance between the forests of old and the convenience (stores) of new. Kyoto is one, where you can walk from Gion to the mountains in a relatively short amount of time.
Wood is of course the consummate Japanese material. It is used traditionally for houses, temples and bridges. However, wood also burns down easily, which is not great in a country prone to earthquakes and natural disasters.
And so, along with the demands of cheaper materials and urban living, wood has been replaced by concrete in most people’s domiciles. However, there are still craftsmen trying to make use of the material in new ways. And the traditional need not preclude the commercial.
Here’s a great example. The Nenrin Mini Healing Speaker is an audio speaker made with genuine Kitayama Kyoto cedar wood allowed to grow for 30 years before harvesting. The name plays on “Nenrin”, meaning growth ring, and the speaker is the result of a five-year development partnership between Kyoto Natural Factory and a Kyoto precious wood dealer.
There are two log designs and colors. You can get either a natural or dark finish, while the Jinshibo version is “treated” and polished, and the Deshibo speaker is 100% natural.
Since the wood is so old, not surprisingly the speakers don’t come cheap. However, knowing your speaker comes from sustainably-harvested materials will give you the moral high ground over your friends and their cheap made-in-China boomboxes, not to mention that this is a real work of art and with the natural materials enhancing the sound quality.
It reminds us of the Bon Bon Sound lacquerware speakers (sadly no longer available) from a few years back that combined superior audio quality with beautiful artisanship.
JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing designWritten 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.
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 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.
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.