Archive for June, 2008

FCX Clarity, Honda’s Zero-Emission Car, Arrives from Japan

This ties in with my post a few weeks ago about Japan’s potential as a Green leader. Last November, Honda unveiled its new zero-emission car at the Los Angeles Motor Show. On Monday, June 16th, the first wave of vehicles arrived in Southern California to a celebrity welcome reception. There are only a handful of lucky owners so far, including Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind),
but they’re doing their best to spread the word.

The Honda FCX Clarity runs on synthesized energy from hydrogen, gas and oxygen from the air. It also contains a back-up lithium battery. According to Honda, “the car is two times more energy-efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a traditional, gasoline-powered car.”

Why are the cars only available to a select few in California? Because in most U.S. cities, refueling is not an option. Here in L.A. there are several hydrogen filling stations (okay, Torrance and Irvine aren’t exactly the greatest places on earth, but you’ve gotta start somewhere). Japanese customers will begin receiving the cars this fall.

You’d think the FCX would resemble a fantasy car of the future, but actually it doesn’t look all that different from a Civic.

With the price of gas skyrocketing, Honda isn’t the only manufacturer looking to ramp up exploration and production of alternative-fuel cars. Japan’s #1 car company, Toyota, is not about to relinquish its hold on consumers and announced plans for a plug-in hybrid in 2010, as well as their own version of the hydrogen fuel cell by the end of 2008.

May the best car win!

Sarah S.

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June 27, 2008 at 1:28 pm 1 comment

Tricks Aren’t Just for Kids

emember that thumb-separating trick you did when you were a kid? If you tried it today, your friends would probably kick you in the crotch (Am I the only one with violent friends?). But do it in Japan and you might actually get people OOH-ing and AHH-ing in amazement.

Quick, visual gags go a long way in Japan. And now they’ve gone high-tech. Imagine yourself coaxed into going to the beer garden with the boss after work. You’re a 21-year-old new recruit and he’s a grumbling 65-year-old with whom you have nothing in common. You have no idea what to talk to him about. So what do you do? Take out your iPhone and entertain him this:

It’s called iBeer and it’s one of many silly applications created for Apple’s iPod/iPhone line. When my brother in Japan told me how happy he was to finally get his iTouch last October (iPhone is set for release on July 11), I knew it was the start of a new trend. He quickly downloaded iBeer and started showing his friends how many he could chug without getting drunk. And then came others: iBug (a potato beetle runs around your screen), iWash (a bikini girl squeegees your screen), iWater (you get the idea), iPopcorn, iX-ray…

Then recently a Japanese guy created iPong:

I’m assuming it’s not just a visual trick and that it’s using the Touch’s built-in Wi-Fi to bounce around all three screens. The application’s creator, Kondo-san, only programmed for one ball to be used, but in the future he’ll offer more balls to create havoc on the screen. It looks like fun and opens the mind to other possibilities with this kind of technology.

Americans might underestimate the demand for utterly inane forms of entertainment like this in Japan. But believe me, whether you’re out with coworkers or new friends, mindless distractions are a necessary form of social lubrication. Very seldom are Japanese (that I know at least) keen on getting into impassioned talks about personal views. Unless you really know the person you keep the conversation light. Very light. So after exhausting all discussion points on today’s weather, what do you do? Take out your iPod of course, and have a beer! (^_^)/

Himawari

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June 24, 2008 at 10:50 am

A Japanese School Finds Success in Chicago

The Daily Herald (give it up for my hometown newspaper!) has a story on a Japanese school, Futabakai, smack dab in the middle of Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago. Much like The American School in London does for U.S. ex-pats, Futabakai offers an opportunity for Japanese kids temporarily living in Illinois to receive the same education they would get at home. And once they return to Japan, they won’t have to scramble to catch up with their peers because they’re all on the same page.

Funded by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, with textbooks and teachers supplied by the Japanese Government, Futabakai is a year-round school that teaches kindergarten through 9th grade. My favorite quote from the article comes courtesy of English teacher Diane Strack, who seems appreciative of and stunned by her all-Japanese students:

“Kids get homework but want more; they thank you after class for teaching.” (They also bow after lessons. Sounds like a dream come true for most western educators.)

The story got me thinking about the Nova scandal last November. Since the big bankruptcy, many teachers who lost their jobs stayed in Japan to work for Nova’s replacement, G. Communications, but it hasn’t been easy.


Japan News Review reveals that a lawsuit has been filed alleging that G. Communications did not honor the teacher contracts it set up seven months ago. And how’s this for irony: remember how Nova was considered the McDonald’s of eikaiwa? Well, it seems G. Communications owns a series of franchised restaurants, which is how they make most of their money…

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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June 20, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Dragon Ball Z you’ll know what I mean when I say “gravity-defying hair.” Fluttering against the wind, Goku’s golden locks pack as much punch as his iron fist.

So take Goku and multiply him by about 3 million and there you’ll have the young male population of Japan. Unlike in the U.S., guys aren’t afraid of moussing up their mane at the risk of looking girly. Wax, gel, spray, bleach — hair products of all kind sell big. In fact, not using them is a telling sign that you don’t care about presentation. Perhaps you’re an otaku (geek) whose only friends are online, or maybe you’re the dreaded hikikomori (isolationist) who never ever leaves his room. Not even to pee. Either way, you’re not getting chicks. …Well, unless you’re Densha Otoko.

And if Japan were to elect a fashion muse it would be boy-band member Takuya Kimura (Kimu-Taku for short). The smoking hot singer may be past his youthful prime (he’s 35; most boy-bands still can’t grow facial hair), people still look to him for what’s in vogue. When I was living in Japan, guys would catch him on TV then go out and get his ‘do. So everywhere I went I’d see Kimu-Taku clones struttin’ their stuff around like they ‘da man. They were all so cute, like collectible toys.

Kimu-Taku does well for himself just on selling hair products alone. Recently, you can find him in commercials (called “CM” in Japanese) promoting Gatsby hair products:

He does a whole series of CMs all of which are just as cheesy, glamorous and ultra flaming. One thing for sure, Japan has ventured a long way from its macho-man Samurai roots. Tokugawa Ieyasu must be turning in his grave. Personally I think it’s pretty cool. Just think, in a few more years you’re gonna start losing your hair anyway. So why not have fun with it while it’s there? (^_^)/

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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June 17, 2008 at 7:23 pm 6 comments

Are Speedos the Key to Japanese Olympic Glory?

Who knew the science and art of creating the “world’s fastest swimsuit” was this complicated? Earlier this year, Speedo joined forces with NASA to concoct a cutting-edge, ultrasonically welded body suit called the LZR Racer. It’s been wind tunnel tested and contains polyurethane panels to “reduce drag” (skin friction). Apparently it feels seamless to the swimmer, and every Olympic hopeful in Beijing this summer probably wants to get his or her hands on one.

Until recently, Japanese swimmers were not allowed to wear Speedo brand. Forbes.com says that in the past, Japanese swimmers were contracted to select their swimwear from one of three Japanese firms: Mizuno, Asics or Descente.

For awhile it looked like the Japanese Swimming Federation wasn’t going to budge on its stance, but on Tuesday, June 10, the ban was lifted – under threat of possible revolt, specifically led by Kosuke Kitajima, a famous Japanese swimmer, who, while wearing the LZR Racer, won the Japan Open this month. The 25-year-old set new records at the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events (in which he shaved a full second off his previous time), so who can blame him for wanting to keep up the winning streak?

Kitajima caused a minor scandal four years ago at the 2004 Olympic games in Greece, when he was accused of using “an illegal dolphin kick” at the start of his race. However, no whistle was called during the meet and he went on to claim the gold. To see if Kitajima wins again this year, tune in to the Olympics on NBC starting August 9th. Teams will be announced mid-July, and you can check your predictions against this guy’s.

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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June 13, 2008 at 9:00 am

Hip-Hop Power Goes Far

Quick, how many people can you name in the photo below?

bape

Give yourself two points for Kanye West; three points for hip-hop mogul Pharrell Williams. Ten points awarded for naming the guy in the middle: fashionista Tomoaki ‘Nigo’ Nagao.

These ruffnecks don’t just party hardy with the apple-bottom honeys, they’re purveyors of a multi-million dollar business stretching from Tokyo to Los Angeles and just about every other hip-hop/fashion-loving metropolis in America.

Nigo is the captain of a starship he calls A Bathing Ape (Bape for short), a streetwear brand known for its bright, bold colors and patterns. Loyal followers throw down $50 for a monkey-emblazoned trucker hat or $230 for a pair of sneakers; though 14 years ago when the struggling fashion student/DJ started the company, he figured a good way to sell a product was by simply giving it away to friends. His brilliant idea was to produce everything in short runs — make everything a ‘limited edition’ collector’s item.

Pharrell came around a few years later. Introduced through a mutual friend, the two decided to launch the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, two brands whose threads and soles Pharrell flaunts at every camera-flashing scene.

On the day that picture was taken, Nigo celebrated the opening of his first Bathing Ape store in Los Angeles. He welcomed hip-hop glitterati and showed off his latest wear to reporters. Pharrell and Kanye personally dropped by to congratulate him.

Nigo may not speak much English, but that hasn’t stopped him from building an empire. Leave it to a monkey to climb to the top! (^_^)


Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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June 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm

More Cat News: Tama the Train Stationmaster

This blog has become quite pet friendly lately. We’ve discussed Japan’s love for Chihuahuas and the popularity of cat cafes.

Now meet Tama, a tortoise shell-colored cat who was hired last January by Wakayama Electric Railway Company as a mascot / stationmaster. She sits outside the Kishikawa line and draws a crowd to the western entrance. (Her official duty is to greet passengers, and she’s paid in cat food.) She’s nine years old (er, 45 in people years??), and a hit with passersby who can’t resist coming over to photograph her in her rakish “super stationmaster” cap.

The Associated Press says, “[Tama’s] job makes cultural sense in Japan, where cats are considered good luck and are believed to bring in business.”

Apparently the tactic is working; since last year, the Kishikawa line has increased its number of passengers by about 200,000.

Tama’s fame appears to know no bounds. She already has a photography book out, a series of postcards bearing her likeness, and, according to Wikipedia, she will appear in a documentary about cats. (Why not make her the main character? It’s a classic story: stray cat with humble beginnings rises to the top of the transportation industry…)

For all things Tama, check out Japan Probe’s extensive coverage. If you’re now experiencing cute overload, (or ultra kawaii – thanks, Himawari!!) I apologize, and I promise to curb my pet obsession in my next post.

(Or you could read about that angel-of-death-cat for a shot of the macabre.)

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. ? Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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June 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm

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