Posts filed under ‘Japanese Business’

Mixi to the Rescue?

How many logins and passwords for websites do you have to keep track of? Just off the top of my head I can think of ten…It’s enough to drive me insane trying to remember them, or even to remember to use them (MySpace, I’m talking to you). Sometimes less is more. Ditto with the platform and style; Craigslist is famously bare-bones but effective. Leaving out the bells and whistles on a website can be a wise move if it means delivering what people truly want all in one place.

Mixi, Japan’s most popular social networking site, combines aspects of MySpace, Craigslist, Facebook, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Amazon and iTunes. According to the Washington Post, Mixi grabs 15 million users and 14 billion page hits per month. 1 in 5 Japanese people with Internet access are members.

Bulletin boards,job opportunities and blogging are the three main draws, but there are also music plug-ins and DVD / book reviews that link to places where you can purchase the products immediately. Unlike MySpace, where you are expected to constantly update the look and style of your personal page, on Mixi there is no way to alter the design or coding, and anonymity is preferred (forget about plastering your personal info out there for all the world to see). Membership is restricted to invitation from current users only — much like Gmail used to be — and users must be 18, as well provide a Japanese cell phone contact number. For these reasons, Mixi will probably remain insular and never catch on outside Japan.

If could pare down my logins and passwords to one each, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Then again, the grass is always greener: “Mixi Fatigue” is already on the rise…

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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August 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm 1 comment

iPhone: Don’t Believe the Hype?

My brother was one of the thousands to get an iPhone when it came out on July 11. He lives in the sticks of southern Kyushu so all he did was glide into the store and lay down the cash. It was a breeze compared to Tokyo. When it comes to cell phones, Japan is a bountiful candy store. Even so, he and every other tech geek was itching to get this new American idol. It’s sleek, comes with a multi-touch display, and if Americans were lining up for it then, goddamnit, so should they.

Soon after bringing home his new toy he realized things were amiss. For one, both phone and 3G Wi-Fi signal were spotty. Granted, rice fields outnumber cell phone towers in the area, but then again he’s never had problems with previous phone carriers.

And when he finally started texting friends, it never went through. iPhone carrier Softbank (no, not a bank) created exclusive email addresses for their customers (@i.softbank.jp). But they’re so exclusive that other cellphones are unable to recognize it, so they’re filtered out. My brother fell completely out of the loop with friends. Like many young people today, he prefers to text than call. Must’ve been like being the only kid benched on the playground.

There’s other drawbacks with this new phone: not being able to use cute emoticons integral for playful conversation; having to use both hands to operate the thing; and not having a loophole built in for charms. These all might seem trivial to most Americans. But believe me, for Japanese school girls it’s like removing oxygen from the atmosphere. I nearly died after coming back to the U.S. and realizing I couldn’t string in my Hello Kitty plushie to my clunky Nokia.

So obviously the brains behind the 3G iPhone were drinking on the job when they decided to approve the phone for the Japanese market. But the question remains: Why would thousands of people line up for hours, or in some cases days, to purchase an obviously flawed product? My guess is that they were simply attracted to iPhone’s unique touch screen. That’s something completely new to them. But $200 for something you can press your greasy fingers against? Silly, if you ask me. Then again, this is a country that eats bread topped with corn and mayonnaise. Silly is the norm.

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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August 5, 2008 at 10:04 am

Taxicab Confessions: New Ranking System Lets You Pick a Good Driver

Ever wish you could tell right away if your taxi driver was a good one? In London, the cab drivers must pass strict tests, but in most cities it’s all a crap shoot. How many times have you found yourself trapped in a taxi with a chain-smoker, a dawdler who takes the longest route, someone who treats you rudely or a speed demon who swerves in and out of lanes while you fear for your life?

In Japan, there is now a handy-dandy vetting system. (Thanks, Stippy!) Cabs with three stars on top of the roof let you know at a glance that the driver has passed a test from the Tokyo Taxi Center and has been designated a “Master Driver.” This means a perfect record of customer satisfaction, as well as no traffic violations. Here’s the punchline: only about 10% of taxi drivers qualify right now.

It’s still good news for passengers who disembark at Shimbashi station, near the Yurikamome line, because they can head directly to a stand that provides Master Drivers only.

Regardless of who your driver is in Japan, it’s becoming less likely that you’ll get stuck with a cab that smells like an ashtray; Koichi Yasui, a self-employed taxi driver since 1975, has been fighting to make all taxis smoke-free. He was sick of the effects of second-hand smoke each time his passengers lit up. (Some even insisted on keeping the windows closed.) He filed a lawsuit in 2005, and now 60% of cabs are smoke-free.

Smoking is still fairly popular in Japan. According to the Christian Science Monitor, 40% of men smoke and 13-15% of women do. A total ban on smoking in taxis may be a ways off, but at least there are more options for those who want them.

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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August 1, 2008 at 12:30 pm 1 comment

No Job Too Big or Too Small For the Benriya of Japan

Part actor, part handyman, the benriya of Japan are problem-solving jack-of-all trades, available for hire by companies or individuals to do jobs that are, well, a bit odd.

Benriya, which means “convenience-doer”, typically advertise in the yellow pages, online and by word of mouth, and work unlicensed from home or through an association. They might be hired to perform errands or chores, or even asked to deal with people whom the client finds unpleasant, such as a neighbor.

Sometimes benriya get hired by companies to stand in line outside shops or restaurants to make the place look more appealing to passersby. Lines are obvious indicators of popularity, of course; at the insanely well-liked Krispy Kreme in Shinjuku, customers might wait more than an hour for a delectably soft glazed. But now I have to wonder: is everyone standing there because they long for that sugary goodness, or have a few of them been sent there undercover as marketing tools? Perhaps some were hired by people who didn’t have time to stand in line and would rather pay for their donuts to be delivered.

Occasionally, benriya are asked to get really personal. It’s not unheard of for them to pose as friends at a wedding to round out a guest list or make the bride or groom appear more popular in front of the new in-laws.

If you’re single and want your family members to stop bugging you about your dating life, you could hire a benriya to act as your significant other over dinner (does that sound like a bad romantic comedy?). The possibilities are endless. There’s even a slightly risqué manga series called Benriya-san (“Mr. Convenience”), if you’d rather live vicariously.

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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July 25, 2008 at 10:05 am

Hurray for H&M!

They’re just two letters of the alphabet, but in the fashion world ‘H’ and ‘M’ are capital go-getters.

The Swedish clothing retailer has over 1,500 stores across the globe and this fall it’s headed to Tokyo. But can H&M — the king of low-cost mass production — survive in a high-fashion mecca?

Most observers would say, “Heck no!” Japanese women are high-maintenance; they wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than Louis Vuitton.

In reality, those girls are just a fraction of a bigger population. I know plenty who are just as comfortable in jeans and a hoodie. They shop at places like Uniqlo, where simple cotton tees don’t stretch over $20. And then there’s Takeshita Road in Harajuku where it’s all about trendy-cheap. African guys posing as Americans will entice you with knock-off Pumas. If business is slow, you can use your wilies to bargain them down — though flirting helps, too.

By far, my favorite places to shop are the too-embarrassed-to-show-my-face department stores. Remember Target before they pronounced it “tar-jay”? My parents bought all my clothes there. That and frozen TV dinners. Being a kid I despised that fact. But now that I’m older I can appreciate a good bargain. Apparently, so do Japanese consumers, because just beyond Tokyo central you’ll find plenty of second-tier department stores (Ito Yokado, Jusco, Daiei, to name a few) prospering from their red-tag sales. And they’re great because you can find a treasure trove of patent leather boots and T-shirts with badly-written English. They make great gifts for friends back home.

So is Tokyo ready for H&M? In this economy, yes. Girls love fashion. And girls, even Japanese ones, love a good deal. Sure, the stitching isn’t perfect, but it’s still cute and girls heart cute.

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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July 22, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Robot Love

With the amount of texting, blogging and Twittering inundating our lives, you’d think we’d be socially filled to the rim. Yet, more than ever our lonely souls long for real companionship.

That’s why scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology came up with Paro, the robotic seal. He’s a 6-pound pup who nods, blinks and squeals like the real thing, or at least what you’d imagine the real thing to do. Cat and dog robots are so commonplace that there’s a high expectation of what they can do. Marine animals, on the other hand, capture the imagination.

Retirement home residents in Japan have welcomed Paro with open arms, passing him around the table to say ‘hi,’ stroke his head and occasionally sneak a kiss on the nose. Old people love him because he keeps them smiling yet won’t knock them to the ground.

And now, Japan is sending Paro to U.S. retirement homes to help stimulate the minds of those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism and other mental diseases. At $5,000, he’s no dime-store plush toy. But if he can compel a dementia patient to remember his name the following day then I’d say he’s worth his weight in gold. (^_^)

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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July 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm

100 Cards in 1

Back in August 2007, I wrote about Japan’s increasingly impressive electronic-cash cards. In Japan, with a quick swipe of a Pasmo or nanaco card, you can pay for public transportation on railways and buses, as well as a startling variety of retail (ranging in quality from 7-Eleven to high-end department stores). Unlike with credit cards, there are no monthly payments, late fees or carry-over, because the cards are bought and re-upped in advance. They seem to work just about everywhere.

Since August, more advances have been made that boggle my mind. Now you can truly have your entire life — including the key to your apartment – on a single electronic card.

Tokyu Security has come up with a whole new variety of add-ons to the popular Pasmo cards, such as GPS tracking, which has the dual (and slightly creepy) ability of tracking children or employees (!). Perhaps best of all, Pasmo cards can offer a way out of the “missing keys syndrome” that affects so many of us. New apartment complexes will be outfitted with Pasmo access points, both into the building, and into individual’s homes.

But that’s not all. According to Reuters,
“Japan’s finance ministry has already given permission to an age-identifying smart card called ‘taspo’ and a system that can read the age from driving licenses.” People trying to buy cigarettes from vending machines will have to prove that they’re 20 (the legal age in Japan) before the transaction will work. I always wondered about the legality of those beer and cigarette vending machines.

So okay, if you’re a smoker, you’ll have to carry two cards around. Everyone else will make do with one.

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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July 3, 2008 at 10:16 am

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