Archive for October, 2008

Not Sold on Tamagotchi

Your favorite egg on a key chain is back. But this time Tamagotchi comes with a 1.5-inch LCD screen where you can watch him sleep, play and defecate in full color!

This digital work distraction was ahead of its time when it first came out 12 years ago. For many, it was our introduction to alternative reality. Kids, students and adults alike spent hours to feed and poop their pet in hopes they’d become good citizens of cyberspace. But now we’re in 2008, so the question begs: Why should we muster up the energy to play with our Tamagotchi if it doesn’t even have a USB port?

Personally, I think it’s a pipe dream for Bandai to think they could recapture the same consumer fervor in the ’90s when they sold 40 million in two years. Back then, Japanese junior high students were still packing pagers. Today, their cell phones function as a credit card, a camera, a train pass, a game console and an online shopping portal. Heck, you can even use it as a paper weight! In other words, technology today is multi-functional. Anything less would be archaic.

Granted, the new Tamagotchi is far more savvy than the B&W line-drawings of yesteryear. He now lives in a house with cute furniture and indoor plumbing. He can also step outside to enjoy the changing of the seasons. (I can’t even do that in Los Angeles!)

Given that Japanese people love attaching unnecessary trinkets to their bags, I can see them dishing out $50 just to add to the load. But it’s hard to imagine Americans adopting the pet, especially at that price tag. iPods and cell phones are enough of distraction. And a Tamagotchi doesn’t do enough to justify keeping it around.

Maybe for the next version Bandai could tweak it to do my taxes. Then for sure I’ll promise to feed and burp it. \(^_^)/

Himawari

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October 31, 2008 at 11:28 am 3 comments

Combining Talents: Top U.S. and Japanese Talent Agencies Working Together

Nikki Finke, Hollywood reporter extraordinaire who runs the influential website Deadline Hollywood Daily, reports that major U.S. talent agency CAA (Creative Artists Agency), which is jokingly referred to as “the Death Star” at gossipy www.defamer.com, has teamed up with Japan’s biggest agency and entertainment conglomerate, Yoshimoto Kogyo.

CAA represents the most famous actors in the world, including Will Smith, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston, and oh, about 2,000 more.

However, as per guild rules for talent agencies, CAA isn’t technically allowed to produce TV and films. No such restrictions apply in Japan to Yoshimoto Kogyo, which was founded in 1912 and has branches in Tokyo and Osaka. The media group represents famous Japanese comedy duo Downtown (Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada) among hundreds of other Asian talent.

According to Ms. Finke, Yoshimoto Kogyo produces films, owns TV recording studios and owns shares in a large music company. The agency provides a good deal of Japan’s TV comedy programming; the latest is “Seikatsu! Hop, Step, Mitsuwa.”

In some ways, Yoshimoto Kogyo is like Chicago’s Second City Improv, L.A.’s Upright Citizens Brigade, or New York’s Saturday Night Live, in that it cultivates new comedy talent through its “New Star Creation” school. Budding comedians in Japan dream of being discovered there.

It’s almost impossible to turn on the tube in Japan without seeing YK’s handprint. Together, CAA and Yoshimoto Kogyo will probably rule the world…

Sarah S.

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October 28, 2008 at 10:30 am 1 comment

No Monkey Business for eMobile

Have you seen that video about a monkey waiting tables in a Japanese restaurant? It’s the cutest thing, so I’ve been passing it along to everyone on my IM list.

Japanese people must have a fascination for our primate cousins because you’ll find them on billboards, in TV commercials, and even hanging out at high-end bathhouses.

Just a few months ago there was a commercial using a monkey to promote a cell phone company called eMobile. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, he stood at a podium holding the cell phone as the crowd fervently waved signboards emblazoned with the word “Change.” It obviously alluded to Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign slogan, but the question is, was there an intent to belittle the African American candidate?

A handful of African Americans residing in Japan went to the press in protest of what they believed to be racist, and eventually eMobile respectfully pulled the commercial though denying any racist intent.The ad was no more than a nod at the senator’s popularity, its company president said.

Growing up both in the U.S. and Japan, I see both sides of the issue. Though in this case, I’d probably come to the cell phone company’s defense. Historically speaking, monkeys, as well as other animals, have a spiritual presence in Japanese culture. In Japan’s native Shinto religion, gods and goddesses take the form of animals, and monkeys are the protectors of homes, fending off evil spirits and intruders. Admittedly, in modern day Japan, monkeys are thought of as cute and cuddly rather than as noble guardians. But still, ask your average Japanese citizen and I bet they’ll have little understanding of why monkeys and African Americans should never be in the same commercial.

Sometimes I get irked by Japanese friends living here in the U.S. who don’t wince at the use of the word “oriental.” I try my best to explain why it’s such a horrible word only to get a blank stare and a shrug. As much as I want them to be angry, I know they can’t. They weren’t raised here.

I know that eMobile meant no harm in putting a monkey behind the podium. Their company mascot happens to be a monkey so it was simply a ‘natural selection’ to put him in the commercial. Little did they know the flak they would get.

Something like this just goes to show that we’re no longer just citizens of our own country; we’re citizens of the world. And as Japan grows as a popular destination for scholars, businessmen and geeks alike, it’s things like these that companies like eMobile should be aware of from now on.

Himawari

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October 24, 2008 at 10:11 am

Science Fiction Comes to Life

October was a great month for Japanese innovation. On the 7th, the Japanese company Cyberdyne gave a demonstration of its new battery-powered robot suit, dubbed HAL. No, it’s not the scary computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey come to calmly destroy us all. Quite the contrary, in fact; this HAL (which stands for “hybrid assistive limb”) was created to help people who are paralyzed or have decreased mobility.

The suit consists of leg braces and weighs about 25 pounds, and you wear it belted at the waist. The computer anticipates the movement you wish to make and helps you move your muscles automatically. For now, HAL can be rented in 5-year blocks and he ain’t cheap: $2,200 per month.

Other big news: On October 8th, Yoichiro Nambu, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Masukawa won the Nobel Prize in physics. Nambu’s research helps scientists understand how the universe was created after the Big Bang. He’s been developing his theory on broken symmetry since the 1960s, and currently teaches at the University of Chicago. Not to nerd out too much, but Nambu is also considered one of the founders of String Theory, which has become a popular way sci-fi plot twist used in Star Trek: Voyager and even CSI.

Kobayashi seems a bit embarrassed by all the publicity, but I think it’s safe to say all three men deserve to be proud of their accomplishments.

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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October 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

Quickie Mart: Healthy and Cheap?

The other day, I found an article announcing am/pm Japan’s new line of healthy bento lunches. One point made was that amid this economic downturn, Japanese people would rather indulge in a homegrown Japanese meal than a foreign one.

Japan is hardly an immigrant-rooted nation. So most foreign-born dishes – from garlic-simmered escargot to chicken satays – have an air of imported decadence. A so-called “gourmet market (gurume ma-ketto)” is nothing more than a showcase for exotic foods at inflated prices. So as Japanese people start tightening the belt, the general inclination is to ease up on exotic eats. Of course, eating more Japanese food would do the local farmers a favor, too. (Hello, farmers!)

These new bento boxes are stuffed with a hearty array of Japanese vegetables like Satsuma potato, burdock root, mustard spinach (komatsuna) and tofu hamburg, alongside a fluffy bed of multi-grain rice. In a way, it’s a show of national pride with only Japan’s best homegrown ingredients on parade. In the heyday of imperial Japan, bento rice was embedded with a salted plum in homage to the national flag. Of course, after the war they delighted in Western fare to exhibit a degree of sophistication.

Each healthy bento costs no more than $5 – an amazing deal. People sometimes ask me whether I thought food was more expensive in Japan than the U.S. My answer: Heck no! These days I spend over 9 bucks on lunch in Los Angeles – and that’s at the food court! In fact, the way things are going in the U.S. I might as well pack my bags and head for Japan. My money is better spent on a bento than on a 2-for-1 deal at Del Taco!

Himawari

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October 17, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Rise and Shine to a Japanese Breakfast

TravelLady Magazine has a great article on Japanese breakfasts. When I was in Tokyo for my honeymoon a few years ago, I was astounded by the variety of food at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. They had to cater to foreign visitors, so scrambled eggs and other westernized fare were on display, but they also provided traditional food, and it was fun to mix and match from both cultures.

So what is a typical Japanese breakfast?

Salmon, bowl of rice, and miso soup are mainstays. Asagohan, the Japanese word for breakfast, means “morning meal.” Some people enjoy seaweed, fermented soybeans called natto, and noodles, too. Sounds a lot like lunch and dinner, right?

A diet of veggies, tofu, rice and tea is supposedly one of the reasons that “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat.” It’s certainly a healthy alternative to Lucky Charms or Count Chocula.

Still, as evidenced by Krispy Kreme and other high-fat, high-sugar trends recently embraced by the Japanese, breakfast is becoming westernized. According to Japan-Guide, most Japanese eat a combination of Japanese and western food for breakfast these days. The western portion includes fried eggs, yogurt, bread and cereal.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before Sushi-O’s become a reality!

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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October 14, 2008 at 8:30 am

Why You Should Wear Glasses!

At the height of the Sarah Palin media frenzy, Japanese designer Kazuo Kawasaki has received over 9,000 orders for those fashionable specs the Alaska governor sports in her nationwide bid for vice-president. It’s a pair of sleek, titanium frames that – when modeled by the GOP’s first female VP candidate – exudes both smart and sexy.

For women working their way up the corporate ladder, a pair of glasses like those could prove useful in snatching that six-figure salary. ( = vacation in the Bahamas!) For Kawasaki, the payoff amounts to far more. Priced at $400 for overseas buyers, those glasses bump up annual sales by the millions. ( = mansion in the Bahamas!!)

Kawasaki is definitely flying high these days. The engineering professor has been designing glasses – along with syringes, artificial hearts, kitchen sponges and wheelchairs – for decades. He’s done well for himself, but nothing beats this recent boon – all because we Americans are enthralled by the image of a beautiful woman who can do it all.

Image sells. That’s the moral of the story. It reminds me of a couple years ago when every Japanese woman over 30 was going ga-ga over a Korean actor named Bae Yong Joon. He’s the boyfriend who’ll take you for strolls on the beach and draw your name in the sand. He’s the one who’ll cook three-course meals and finish up with an oil massage. He’ll give you roses for no reason other than because he loves you.

The actor wore a pair of glasses, so when word got out that it was manufactured by designer Paul Smith sales went through the roof. Somehow, women thought if they could get their man to wear the $250 specs then their relationship would change for the better. Hah! At best, they could now read the eye chart.

These days, the actor attaches his name to a new brand of kimchi. And of course, everyone’s running to snatch it up. “If I get my boyfriend to eat this, he’ll be more romantic,” they’re probably thinking. Hmm, I wouldn’t bet on it. Get him a stick of gum. That’ll make his kisses sweeter. (^_^)

Himawari

—————————————————————————
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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October 10, 2008 at 9:11 am

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