Category Archives: Curiosities

Hello Kitty owner turns things around by licensing anything and everything


Source: Pop Crunch

I’ve long been a detractor of Sanrio’s policy of licensing Hello Kitty’s image to appear on just about anything (and some offerings have been downright questionable [NSFW]). But apparently, if you throw hundreds of darts at the board over ten years, you’re eventually going to hit a few bulls-eyes:

Sanrio Co., the Japanese owner of the Hello Kitty character brand, may boost profit after arresting a 10-year slide in sales by slapping its logo on wine, wallpaper and minicars.

The popularity of Hello Kitty, a white cat with a red bow and no mouth, with celebrities including Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, has led the company to focus on licensing and to pare its retail and restaurant businesses (Sanrio intends to shut 40 of its 260 gift shops in Japan over the next three years).

Sanrio almost doubled overseas licenses last year and counts clothing chains Hennes & Mauritz AB and Inditex SA as customers. President Shintaro Tsuji, 82, plans to set up an office in Dubai this month to grow in the Middle East.
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An appearance by Hilton, a reality TV player, at Sanrio’s 35th birthday party for Hello Kitty, and by Gaga, a pop singer, on Japanese television holding a stuffed toy, helped the company boost fiscal 2009 sales 0.8 percent from the previous year, the first annual gain since 1999.

“Hello Kitty’s Zen-like calmness and faceless expression are the major reasons for its appeal across age groups and markets,” said Martin Roll, chief executive officer of Singapore-based consulting firm VentureRepublic.


Note that a major part of the strategy is to “expand beyond Europe, North America, and Japan”—in other words, the developed world might have had enough of Hello Kitty, so now it’s time to endear her to the rest of the world. Click through to see Lady Gaga in a Japanese TV appearance, decked out in Hello Kitty everything:

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White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Update: They are apparently not managed by Johnny’s.


Every girl’s fantasy English teachers?

Meet the EastWest Boys. Assembled by Johnny’s Entertainment Sony Music Japan through an audition process, the group, dubbed a “5 in 300 million miracle,” is being solely marketed and promoted within Japan, where they are competing for the hearts of teenage girls.

For their latest single “Take Me There,” they have entered a promotional tie-up with fashion brand Peach John (whose president was mired in scandal last year over a dead woman in her apartment). They are on the cover of the latest catalog and lucky viewers will be able to catch their song on TV ads.

Here’s a YouTube video of a single that recently got some play on Japanese TV, “This Time”:

Sure, I have seen dozens of cheap, poorly produced Japanese pop acts, and some pretty bad American pop groups as well. But watching Americans run through the exact same half-baked dance routines as SMAP produces a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

Johnny’s has made sure to add a few bells and whistles to maximize appeal – the songs are in simple English, and the melody has enough of a pop-punk/emo feel to seem kind of foreign. This was the tune I saw on a few morning shows promoting the group as a new kind of pop act. Girls attending promotional appearances looked overjoyed to hug their new idols.

The music gets much worse when you watch the videos for songs that people didn’t pay enough attention to. “Yesterday’s Hero” was obviously filmed in the exact same warehouse, and the song is 100% cookie-cutter J-POP – no halfway-redeeming nods to American emo to be found. Are they wearing primary colors to make them look like Power Rangers?

While there’s not much to compare, a much, much more listenable American entrant into the Japanese pop world is Jero, the African American enka singer.

The group’s videos are hosted on an official channel, which is kind of a departure for Johnny’s who until recently had a strictly Internet-phobic PR stance. By offering some of their content for free on the web, they are clearly trying to save some PR money by generating buzz online. The upside of that strategy is it gives us a lot of information on these guys that is usually not available on your typical J-pop group.

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Why does Gyoza no Ohsho need to brainwash its employees?

Earlier this month, Nippon TV aired this segment about Kyoto-based ramen/Chinese food chain Gyoza no Ohsho’s somewhat, um, intense training program for new recruits. Take a look:

This is part 1. Watch parts 2 and 3 on Youtube.

As you can see in the video, the trainers act like drill sergeants, berating the new employees as they memorize and recite company rules, receive intensive training in Japanese-style customer service basics (scream a lot, always smile), and make sure their uniforms are on right. They even have a specially designed calisthenics routine, to “check whether they can do even simple work with their full effort.” At the end, each trainee must step forward to announce their “ambitions” i.e. what they hope to accomplish as Ohsho employees. If they pass, they all seem to break down crying, at which point the trainer comes up and embrace them.

The scene recalls either a Christian revival meeting, a self-help seminar, or perhaps a Marxist self-criticism session.

It’s kind of shocking to watch, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen this style of training on a Japanese documentary. About a year ago, NHK did a feature on the Tokyo University cheer squad where the senior members broke down the new recruits psychologically just like this.

Going viral

Since then, the segment has gone viral on the Japanese web, with the majority recoiling in horror. A minority (my estimate) took the stance that this sort of thing is normal in grown-up society, while others thought this might be the secret to the company’s recent success. (notably, one of the faces in the studio watching the segment was Miki Watanabe, CEO of Watami, an izakaya chain that’s been a similar success story to Ohsho. He said his company does not do that kind of training because that’s not Watami’s “corporate culture”)

One reason the video caught on may be because this is the time when many university students receive job offers after their year-long search for work post-graduation. Most big Japanese companies and many small ones hire groups of new college graduates all at once, with the intention of treating them as lifetime employees. Though Ohsho seems to hire many from the pool of non-college grads, the theme is no doubt resonant at this time.

It’s an enormously important time in a college student’s life, especially in the current bad job environment, because failure to land a decent job can doom one to a lifetime of “non-regular” employment with fewer pay/benefits and less security, or a full-time job at a “black” company with terrible labor practices.

The job market for students who did not finish a four-year university is even worse, but while beggars can’t be choosers, I am sure many would think twice about signing up with Ohsho after seeing this segment.

Ohsho’s response

Perhaps sensing some potential reputation damage, Ohsho has posted a response on its website. But instead of the usual corporate gobbledygook, someone put the time and thought behind an impassioned defense that starts with a challenging question – a career running a restaurant is not a popular choice among today’s youth, so why on earth would a restaurant chain choose to use such a strict training regime?

First and foremost, they explain, Ohsho’s mission is to open Chinese restaurants nationwide that can become deeply entrenched in the culture of each local area. To that end, they do things a little differently from most chains. As any regular Ohsho customer will know (Roy and I are fans), each store has a slightly different menu, and until a few years ago they even allowed some franchise owners to decorate the stores how they wanted.

So to fulfill that mission, they need employees and potential franchise owners that will hone their cooking skills, use their creativity, host events, and otherwise proactively promote their stores as local destinations. None of this is possible unless the employees “find satisfaction and their own reason for existence” in the job.

The thing is, today’s young people have grown up in an era of personal freedom, the letter says. They’ve never been scolded at school or at home. So the first thing Ohsho needs to teach new recruits is that to succeed at Ohsho, acting self-centered in the name of personal freedom just won’t be tolerated. In order to truly shine as an individual, first one must master the basic rules. The point of memorizing the company rules, they say, is to teach what it means to work as a member of society and the importance of rules, consideration, proper etiquette, and teamwork.

Essentially, they argue, Japanese young people today are missing three things: they don’t sweat, they don’t cry, and they don’t understand gratitude. The Ohsho training is intended to fix that, especially the last one. That’s why they do the boot camp.

Are you convinced?

(Hat-tip – J-Cast News)

“Adam Richards” to appear on Japanese TV

According to Yahoo, Adam “Swamp Donkey” Richards, the cruiserweight boxer, will appear on Japanese pay channel Wowow tonight at 8pm, when they will show highlights from his March 13 attempt to take the WBO cruiserweight title away from current champion Marco Huck in Germany, Huck’s home turf:

エキサイトマッチ~世界プロボクシング
アンドレ・ディレル vs アルツール・アブラハム マルコ・フック vs アダム・リチャーズ アレクサンデル・ポベトキン vs ファビエル・モーラ
[初][HV][W] エキサイトマッチ~世界プロボクシング #3 激戦の”スーパー・シックス”、ディレルvsアブラハム! ・S・ミドル級12回戦  アンドレ・ディレル vs アルツール・アブラハム ~3月27日/アメリカ・ミシガン州 ・WBO世界クルーザー級タイトルマッチ  マルコ・フック vs アダム・リチャーズ ・ヘビー級10回戦  アレクサンデル・ポベトキン vs ファビエル・モーラ ~3月13日/ドイツ
出演
解説:ジョー小泉、浜田剛史 実況:高柳謙一 進行:中島そよか

I won’t ruin the match for anyone planning to watch, but suffice to say Huck is still the champion. The Wowow synopsis of the fight notes that while Richards won several titles as an amateur and boasts a fairly impressive professional career, he has so far not gone up against many powerful fighters.

I am happy someone with my name is having some success, but if he ever wins and gets famous it could complicate my life a little bit. From this video he seems like a pretty down to earth guy who can remember every detail of his fights. Also watch for how much exercise he can do without breaking a sweat (it’s a lot more than me):

The toilet god

Here is an interesting song from singer Kana Uemura called “The Toilet God.”

The video (hosted by her record company) is apparently popular, currently checking in with just under a million views. Her album Pieces of Me has hit #10 on the Oricon charts but has since slipped to 17th place. I think part of the buzz comes from the juxtaposition of the silly sounding title and the somber content.

The song tell the story of the singer’s bittersweet relationship with her grandmother and runs about 10 minutes long. The title comes from the grandmother’s original way to get her to clean the toilets. Basically, there’s a goddess in the toilet who will make you grow up to be a beautiful woman only if you make the toilet spotless.

The story, based on Uemura’s real-life experiences growing up and then leaving Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture (incidentally, where I spent a year as an exchange student) is nothing short of heart-breaking: the girl moves in with her grandmother and the two get along until she reaches her rebellious teenage years. They fight and eventually she leaves the house for Tokyo. Two years later, the grandmother falls ill. The singer visits but is soon turned away. The grandmother dies the next day, leaving the singer with no chance to make amends for all the trouble she caused.

This song has a lot of elements that often help spell pop success:

– An attractive singer-songwriter with a guitar – Tear-jerking lyrics – Shout-outs to local dialects (she sings in Kansai-ben)

And to that she has added a twist, the off-color song title.

It’s tempting to call this the pop song equivalent of a keitai novel, but I liked it because it while it is heavy on the pathos, it still rings true because the story is so common and familiar. This song doesn’t offer a voyeuristic look at a dysfunctional family so much as a raw reminder of our own private dysfunctions.

See below for my quick and dirty translation of the lyrics:
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Japan and Oman

Over at ComingAnarchy, I have a post on the unique foreign policy of Oman. In reading about Oman, I read with fascination about the unique relationship that developed between Oman and Japan in the years before World War II.

The story begins when a traveler called Shigetaka Shiga visited Oman during the late winter of 1924. He visited the Sultan’s palace without any appointment, said he was from Japan and wanted to take the opportunity to visit the Sultan, to propose closer friendship between the two countries. After palace servants checked with Sultan Taimur, he welcomed Shiga, and the two had a good conversation about promoting bilateral relations. In this conversation, Shiga later remarked that Sultan Taimur said that Oman, due to its unique history with trading with the Far East, and sitting closer to the Indus River than to Mecca, belonged more in Asia than in Arabia.

Shiga visited as Sultan Feisal was enjoying the last years of comfortable rule in Oman. Born in 1886, he ascended to the throne in 1913, and faced widespread rebellion in the countryside. He was aided by the British, who ultimately brokered a peace that ultimately limited the Sultan’s power to the city of Muscat and the coastal region of the country, and took on great financial obligations to the British personally, which ruined him. He abdicated for financial reasons in 1932 and passed the throne to his son.

After his abdication, perhaps prompted by this chance meeting with Shiga, the former Sultan traveled across Asia to Japan, where he arrived in Kobe. He traveled under a pseudonym and hid his identity to all but top Japanese government bureaucrats. In Kobe, he became acquainted with a young Japanese lady and ended up marrying her in 1936. They settled down in Kobe, and the two had a daughter, Princess Buthaima, who was born in 1937.

During this time, the new Sultan of Oman Sultan Said visited Kobe together with his younger brother, Sayyid Tareq. They visited their father and it was there agreed that, should the new young Sultan die without issue (he did not yet have a son), his younger brother should become Sultan—an understanding that became known as the “Kobe Agreement.”

Taimur lived in Kobe for four years, but he left with his daughter when his wife died, and from there he moved to India. He died 1965 in Bombay, India, but ended his days by commending Japan for providing the highest standards of civilized living.

Sultan Said played an important role in modernizing his country but was unable to end the civil unrest that swept through the interior regions for decades. He was finally ousted and replaced with his son in a palace coup, who became the current Sultan Qaboos. Qaboos served in the British Army as a young man, and he visited Japan in 1964 on his way back to Oman after finishing his service in the English Army. This makes Oman the only country in the Middle East where three generations of leaders have visited Japan.

Such it is that Oman and Japan have a certain special relationship that exists, to a limited degree, to this day. Oman was critical in brokering non-military financial support for Kuwait during the Gulf War. Japan was Oman’s biggest trading partner in the early 1990s. And today Japanese investment forms a critical part of Oman’s oil production infrastructure.

WITNESS the seedy underbelly of the Visual Kei scene

Everyone, stop what you’re doing and read Tokyo Damage Report’s epic piece on the visual kei music scene. The way it’s written makes it hard to quote, but here are some relevant facts. The interview is long but well worth your time. Read to find out:

  • The coming together of of shojo manga and glam rock that created Visual Kei in the 80s.

  • How Japanese recording acts are formed and popularized.

  • How popular bands find ways to maximize revenue from fans (selling photos, lots of “limited edition” merchandise, and special izakaya parties for the most gullible/hardcore fans)

  • Where the labels go to find talent (it’s mostly ex-thugs).

  • Why Japanese record producers—think Yasushi Akimoto of AKB48, Tsunku of Morning Musume, etc.—are so heavily relied upon to produce every aspect of the final product that they become drug-addled auteurs.

  • The typical salary for a visual kei band member (lots of in-kind perks, very little cash)... and why they put up with it

  • The willingness of label bosses to forego short-term financial gain in favor of long-term connections (perhaps an ubiquitous aspect of Japanese business relations)

For some reason he’s been sitting on this gem since 2008! Shame on you, man.

It’s hard to tell the credibility of some parts, but I think it’s easier to swallow as a true-to-life mockumentary than as a faithfully transcripted interview.

To close out, here’s the video for one of my favorite viz-k songs, Luna Sea’s “Tonight”:

Japanese Names, White Faces

Marmot has a post titled “Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Mr. Fujita…” that looks at the case of Scott Fujita, a 6′5″ 250 pound white football player with a Japanese name who plays for the New Orleans Saints. He’s not ethnically Japanese, or even Asian, but was adopted by a family with a Japanese-American father born in the World War II detainment camps. He reportedly feels Japanese in his heart and is a fan of mochi ice cream and Pocky.

Reading the post and the comments reminded me of my meeting with Sailor Nathan Nakano, resident on the USS Kitty Hawk, when I visited as a guest of the Tiger Cruise in Yokosuka in 2006, seeing US military hardware and life on board an aircraft carrier, courtesy ComingAnarchy reader Eddie.


Curzon and Nakano, September 2006

I remember asking Nakano: That’s a Japanese name! What gives? And if I recall correctly, his father’s father was either Japanese or half-Japanese, making him one-fourth or one-eighth Japanese. You can read a news story that quotes Nathan here.

I wonder how many Westerners there are with Japanese names in the world? Marmot’s commenters have a few stories relaying similar stories about white kids with Japanese names due to adoption or stepfather relationships. There’s also a (sorta) opposite case, Haruki Nakamura, the current United States Chess Champion—he was born in Japan to a Japanese father and American mother, but his parents divorced, his mother remarried a Sri Lankan, and his stepfather, FIDE Master and chess author Sunil Weeramantry, taught him chess. So he’s got a Japanese name, but has only non-Japanese parents.

Why are Japan’s beaches so disgusting?

The environment at Enoshima Beach really is a bizarre contradiction for a nation that prides itself on cleanliness and orderly behaviour. I was always led to believe that the Japanese truly respect their natural environment. Or perhaps Enoshima Beach is simply a pressure valve for Tokyoites in summer . . . where they can strip off not just their clothes but also any respect they have for their surroundings.

Matthew Abrahams writing for the Sydney Morning Herald about six months out of season. This is a problem discussed in Japan as well (see this TV report republished on Japan Probe).

There is a ton of amazingly beautiful and (more or less) unpolluted coastline in this country, but it tends to be of the boulder- or concrete-encrusted variety that is pretty useless for beach recreation, like this scene just a stone’s throw from Enoshima.

IMG_0506

I’ll throw out a few explanations of my own for Shonan’s problems.

  1. The few “good” beaches around Tokyo have to accommodate a huge beach-going population—the Tokyo metropolitan area has a population about one and a half times that of the entire Australian continent. Even if most people were meticulously clean, a tiny percentage of bad apples would be enough to spoil the beach for everyone.
  2. Beach visitors in Tokyo generally live very far from the beach (at least half an hour by train) and probably have a more tenuous personal connection to it than your average Australian coast-dweller.
  3. Shonan attracts the lowest common denominator of Japanese beach-goers, as the more well-off prefer to drop a few hundred (or thousand) bucks and visit Guam, Hawaii, Southeast Asia or the Gold Coast. Thus Shonan gets a bigger share of working-class yokels than the urbane Tokyo that many foreigners experience.
  4. As James notes in the Japan Probe piece linked above, Japan has no qualms about drinking in public, and booze consumption inhibits any pre-existing qualms about leaving trash on the ground.
  5. For some reason I can’t figure out, public trash cans are very rare here; if you want to throw something away while walking down the street, you basically have to find a convenience store. Same story at the beach, except there are no convenience stores.

Ichihashi’s very dubious version of events

The latest news on the Lindsey Ann Hawker murder case: alleged perpetrator Tatsuya Ichihashi has confessed. Unfortunately, his story sounds bogus and calculated to avoid a death sentence:

According to the indictment, Ichihashi assaulted Hawker at his apartment in Ichikawa between March 25 and 26, 2007, tied her wrists with adhesive tape and raped her before strangling her to death. Sources close to the investigation said Ichihashi had remained silent over the incident ever since his arrest in Osaka on Nov. 10 this year.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Ichihashi said he started explaining about the events leading up to Hawker’s death after he was first charged with murder on Dec. 2.

“Because she yelled, I strangled her from behind, and she became motionless. After that, I gave her CPR. I didn’t mean to kill her,” Ichihashi was quoted as telling his attorney.

Hawker was alive until dawn on March 26, Ichihashi was quoted as telling his lawyer. The pair reportedly spent some time listening to a Martin Luther King speech via the Internet.

Investigative sources said DNA from body fluid found on Hawker’s body matched that of Ichihashi’s, and that in addition to heavy beating to her face and body, her neck was broken.

The case is slated to be put on a lay judge trial.


I really wish I could know why Ichihashi made her listen to Martin Luther King…