Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha closes down

Written by: William on April 21, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

The end of an era.

Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha will cease publication in the wake of the bankruptcy of its publisher, Inforest Publishing. The title first went on sale in October 2005 under a different name, it went on to become famous as the magazine of choice for gyaru. It promoted a unique kind of overtly glamorous look and featured actual hostesses as models.

Koakuma Ageha’s name meant “little demon swallowtail” (a play on agejo, another name for women who work as bar hostesses) and its target was female readers in their late teens and twenties. It spawned several “sister magazines” and special editions, such as Kimono Ageha (gyaru in kimono), Ane Ageha (for slightly older gyaru) and I Love Mama (for young gyaru mothers, naturally).

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

Not only was it a media platform for disseminating gyaru and hostess culture, it also provided fashion and beauty tips, as well as dealing with the “darker” side of the lifestyle, such as depression, sex and other problems that may result from being a hostess.

It first came out as a special issue of Nuts, a magazine targeting Shibuya gyaru. This was so popular that circulation was increased within days and a follow-up came out in April 2006. It then lost the Nuts umbrella and from October 2006 became a separate monthly magazine in its own right.

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

It hit circulation highs of 400,000-plus (who would have thought there could be so many wannabe hostesses and gyaru?!) in 2009-2010 and was defying the economic slump that claimed many other major magazine names in Japan. However, it has now apparently fallen victim to declining advertising revenue and the woes of its parent company.

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Japanese government funding dating services to boost birth rate

Written by: William on March 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

In between pushing through a controversial secrecy bill and annoying its Asian neighbors, the Japanese government is hoping to combat the country’s chronic birth decline in a pretty unexpected way.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration assigned 3 billion yen ($30 million) for birthrate-boosting programs in this fiscal year’s extra budget, which include consultations and marriage information for singles, reports Bloomberg.

konkatsu marriage hunting spouse dating services machikon japan

Yuriko Koike is one of Abe’s politicians leading the efforts to increase the fertility rate, currently a very poor 1.41 per woman.

Under the central government’s program, prefectural governments can apply for grants of up to 40 million yen for new projects to support marriage, pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. Party expenses are excluded from this allocation with participants paying for themselves.

The Kochi government plans to apply for help to set up a consultation booth for people seeking spouses. Ibaraki prefecture intends to use funds for projects such as improving its existing marriage-support centers.

The rise of spouse-hunting services — called konkatsu and closer to traditional matchmaking than the kinds of dating services popular in the west — has been a signature of the Heisei era in Japan, where uncertainty over social status and employment has created a less confident generations who wait much longer to get married, if they bother at all. This isn’t such a problem — in fact, it’s far better than the situation before where many marriages were still more or less arranged for people of a certain class — but it will put a strain on the social welfare system. More singletons and less babies means less money coming in and more going out on people with no dependents to cover their health costs. Japan is a demographic time bomb, set to lose a third of its population by 2060.

Funding konkatsu services is all very well. However, isn’t this missing the wood for the trees? The government is still reluctant to provide maternity and paternity leave and benefits on a par with European nations. One major factor that isn’t being addressed is that many women don’t want to get married and/or have babies because they know it will likely spell the end for their career. It is much harder to return to work and taxation literally makes the extra salary worthless after you have accounted for childcare expenses. And this is before we even start talking about the severe lack of kindergartens.

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AKB48 now recruiting new member over 30 years old

Written by: William on March 5, 2014 at 11:54 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Fancy joining AKB48?

It was announced yesterday that the idol mega group is now recruiting a new member to join the ranks for a limited time only. The newbie will be over 30 years old, a stark contrast to the ever-younger girls in the group, typically in their teens or early twenties.

The Adult AKB48 Auditions campaign is looking for a female idol to join the group from April 12th to August 31st. She can be a professional or amateur, married or single — but she must be 30 or over.

She will be a central part of advertising fronted by AKB in the spring and summer, as well as participate in concerts, hand-shaking events and more. The whole thing is part of a campaign for Papico, an ice cream product by Glico.

akb48 over 30 years old new member recruit

We look forward to seeing an older AKB girl, though it remains to see how far they are prepared to take it. After all, Japanese women tend to look much younger than they are and there are plenty of famous models and actresses in their forties and fifties still regarded as beauties. But will AKB genuinely accepted a middle-aged “idol” or rather opt for a “still” cute-looking lady just into her thirties?

At present, the oldest member of AKB48 is Haruna Kojima (just under 26 years old). Mariko Shinoda graduated last year in July when she was a ripe old 27.

Applications for the new “older” AKB48 idol have already opened and close on March 28th. Ladies, what are you waiting for?!

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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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Miss International Ikumi Yoshimatsu launches online petition against entertainment industry stalking

Written by: William on January 16, 2014 at 5:49 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Miss International, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, who famously came forward recently about the remarkable stalking she suffered at the hands of Japan’s entertainment world movers and shakers, has now gone one step further.

Not content with just exposing the bullying tactics of the Japanese entertainment industry, treating women as fodder to be churned through the assembly belt of the geinoukai, she has now launched a petition to take her cause onto the political platform.

yoshimatsu ikumi miss international japan stalking entertainment industry

Stalker Zero is her online petition and you can sign it now. (Japanese page here)

In it, she addresses Prime Minister Shinzo Abe directly:

As you know, I am the first Japanese woman to be crowned Miss International in the 52-year long history of the pageant. Since winning my crown in October 2012, I have been the victim of stalking, intimidation, threats, extortion and blackmail by a powerful Japanese talent agency executive known to have ties to organized crime.

This man tried to abduct me from a TV studio, made threatening calls to my family, and hired private investigators to stalk me, peep into my windows and photograph my home.

The Japanese organizers of the Miss International 2013 world grand prix even asked me to “Play Sick” and “Keep Quiet” in order to appease my stalker after he made threatening phone calls to their sponsors. Because of this, I became the first Miss International titleholder in the 52-year history of the pageant prevented from passing my crown to my successor. I fear for my life and require 24hr security.

I went to the police with more than 30 exhibits of evidence including recordings and photographs. As is typically the case in Japan, the police did nothing more than offer to increase patrols in my area. They did nothing to assure my safely or to punish my stalker.

Japan’s entertainment industry has many open secrets, not least its connections with organized crime. It also has a stranglehold over the mainstream media, commanding a near monopoly of how its stars are treated and presented.

Being a model or entertainer in Japan is not what it’s cracked up to be. They are salaried and their private lives are harshly controlled.

When Yoshimatsu went public with the stalking she had suffered, no major Japanese media outlet covered what should have been a sensational story.

But clearly Japanese people care; her blog has been read by millions.

Some may discard Ms. Yoshimatsu’s campaign as the wining of a pretty girl who should have known what a cut-throat industry she was getting herself into. Yes, modeling and entertainment are not for the thin-skinned. But Japan’s problems with its entertainment industry are emblematic of many of the dilemmas affecting citizens across all walks of life, in companies, schools and more. It is an archetypal example of the misogyny in Japan that means rapists get lenient punishments and Japan’s gender equality ranking is among the lowest for industrialized nations, 105 out of 136 countries!

By signing her petition and lending her your support, this beauty queen might just make one hell of a difference.

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Tamagawa Eizai hosts Masked Beauty Contest

Written by: Mina on December 19, 2013 at 11:18 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It’s that time of the year.

Ever since I was a little kid, I have been told the same lesson. Make sure you wash your hands and gargle when you get home. And if you ever get a cold, be sure to think of others who are sound and healthy, before anything else. The best way to show that you are considerate enough of others when stepping on a crowded train while suffering from a high fever and runny nose is, of course, to wear a face mask.

No one wants to get sick, yet a company that specializes in making surgical masks and other pharmaceuticals somehow has to promote their products.

Tamagawa Eizai seems to have found the perfect way to shed light on their Fitty masks with a one-of-a-kind competition, a Masked Beauty Contest.

mask_beauty_contest

The winner of the contest will receive a prize of ¥300,000 and will get cast in one of their TV commercials (though it might not be the lead role.) Two runner-ups will get ¥100,000 and a package of assorted company products. There are some other prizes as well, which reward each recipient with the assorted package and a gift card worth of ¥20,000.

Anyone who lives in Japan can apply. The contest runs from December 1st to February 28th, 2014. Simply send one picture of yourself, the best shot that gives judges a sense of the real you hidden behind your mask, and a catchphrase to accompany it. Winners will be decided by online voting and company employees.

Here is the TV commercial for the featured Fitty mask.

What do you think? Can face masks be beautiful?

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Bra vending machine by une nana cool Fun Fun Week, now in Shibuya

Written by: William on August 9, 2013 at 10:36 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

One of those myths about Japan is the used panties vending machine. Well, these blogger at least has heard of genuine panty vending machines (at least the machines were real, though we can’t vouch for the validity of the “used” factor) but at any rate, they were very much in areas of town not visited by most of the population.

Now this may well do something to off-set the myth — or it might just tip the balance further into the “wacky Japan” zone.

Wacoal, one of the country’s leading lingerie makers, will be offering products from the wireless bra series Fun Fun Week by its subsidiary une nana cool for a limited time in Shibuya Parco. Okay, nothing new there, right? Except that the new autumn collection products are being sold via a vending machine.

japan bra vending machine une nana cool

So there you have it. A bra-dispensing vending machine.

You can purchase your bras at the vending machine from August 9th to 31st at Shibuya Parco, and then from September 1st to 30th at the une nana cool store in Futako-Tamagawa.

No decent pictures are available of the vending machine itself yet, but no doubt after it opens today there will be some floating around. Will this perpetuate more myths? Or are une nana cool bras cute enough to raise above the sniggering tide?

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Triumph “branomics” bra pays tribute to PM Abe’s economic policies

Written by: William on May 9, 2013 at 11:29 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

For its latest concept bra to announce its new range, Triumph has come up with the Branomics Bra.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. This is a reference to Prime Minister Abe’s “Abenomics”, the fiscal policies aiming to raise inflation, consumption tax and the value of the Nikkei.

triumph branomics bra 2013

Check out the rising arrows, like the surge of the yen in recent months, and the other little in-jokes on economic growth and inflation. The bra is also meant to offer an increase in volume thanks to extra padding, which isn’t a bad metaphor for government policy in general.

It is, of course, just a gimmick meant to promote Triumph International’s regular line-up of bras, so don’t expect to see it on a shop shelf any time soon.

triumph branomics bra 2013

Every season Triumph — which is actually based in Switzerland — has a stunt like this in Japan in which it pays tribute to something topical or trending. This normally results in a bizarre-looking piece of underwear made with unusual materials that must surely be very uncomfortable to wear for any of the unfortunate models who has to show it off to the world press.

triumph branomics bra 2013

Past examples include a metal bra to promote a female revolution (the Women’s Lib movement apparently did not penetrate Triumph’s world), plus a Quit Smoking Bra, a solar-powered bra, husband-hunting bra (not as risque as it sounds), and even a “jury system” bra to celebrate the belated introduction of jury trials in Japan.

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Ashipita help Japanese women walk better, look better

Written by: Japan Trends on April 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Fashion and beauty aids often overlap, and here’s a great example of one product that does it in a medically proven way too.

We spotted these recently at a trade fair and feel they desire some exposure.

It’s tough being a Japanese woman — and this is meant without any chauvinism or irony intended! Japanese society puts a lot of emphasis on female beauty and it’s very rare to see women without make-up on. And with this of course comes the prerequisite high heels. All of this takes a strain on skin and feet.

ashipita dx foot support women beauty japan

The Ashipita DX is a new kind of footwear to help posture and blood circulation.

ashipita dx foot support women beauty japan

It is designed to be easy to slip onto women’s feet when they are working or commuting, or even doing more strenuous activities, like yoga or exercise.

ashipita dx foot support women beauty japan

If you suffer from swollen feet due to all those office hours imprisoning your feet in tight shoes, the Ashipita DX will assist your feet returning to a healthier shape. They also support your posture so you use the whole of your foot, stimulating and strengthening your foot in a natural arc suitable for walking. And perhaps best of all, they aid blood circulation and thus keep you warm in the winter.

ashipita dx foot support women beauty japan

The design has already been patented in four countries and was developed at the University of Nagoya.

At the moment there are two colors available, black and beige, and three sizes.

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