Japanese customs

The next olympic sport? Synchronized walking, only in Japan

The video of a 47-year-old tradition at Japan’s Nippon Sports Science University went viral in November last year. ‘Shuudan koudou’, which means ‘Collective Action’, is a unique routine where a group of students put up an amazing display of synchronized walking.

On November 14, 77 students performed before a crowd of 11,000 people at the university’s festivities. Their walking routine was similar to military movement exercises or synchronized marching band movements. But they were far more intricate and precise. Watch the video, and you’ll know just how precise. Seriously, the way they move is simply mind-blowing.

synchronized walking

Prior to the program, the students practiced three days a week, for five months straight. Their training included exercises to get them in shape for the dazzling display. They ended up walking almost 1,200 kilometers during practice (roughly the distance between Paris and Rome).

23-year-old Keiko Suzuki, the captain of the team, said: “People say Japanese youngsters these days lack the ability to work collectively in a group, but we just proved that we don’t.” She also said that the training would give them an edge in their job search. “We all mastered this highly disciplined training and made it our habit to stick to strict rules. I believe this experience will be an asset as we enter into the job market.”

Synchronized movements are embedded deep into Japan’s culture. In Japanese schools, morning assemblies have students standing equidistant from each other. The NSSU group movement is a very popular tradition. It is almost like the western equivalent of cheerleading. The complicated routines have been practiced since 1966, and the very first exhibition by female students happened in 2011.

NSSU is famous for producing Olympic gold medalists, sumo wrestlers, and surprisingly, politicians. Many of its graduates go on to work as Physical Education teachers, trainers and coaches. The annual festival is meant to be a display of the students’ athletic prowess.

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Dog Castle – The Coolest Dog House in Japan

Japanese love their pets, but some take their love to a whole new level!

Meet Nanami,  a playful Japanese pooch can claim to be the only dog in the world to be living in a regular castle.

Built as a small replica of Japan’s famous Matsumoto Castle, Nanami’s castle stands 2.5 meters tall and features three rooms. At the front is the main hall, where Nanami can just lay on his belly and watch out for the mailman, while at the back he has a sand-floor room, for cooling down during the hot summer days, and a rear room to hide in during thunderstorms.

Located in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Nanami’s castle took his owner six months to complete, and cost 50,000 yen ($583). While it may not be as old and famous as the real Matsumoto Castle, built in 1504, Nanami can be proud of his new dog castle.

Japanese dog house

Matsumoto castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Japans whacky holidays: Coming of age day

The second Monday of January is Coming-of-Age Day, a national holiday to encourage those who have newly entered adulthood to become self-reliant members of society. (The holiday used to be on January 15, but in 2000 it was moved to the second Monday of the month.) Last Monday we celebrated the coming of age day for 2014.

Local governments host special coming-of-age ceremonies for 20-year-olds, since an “adult” in Japan is legally defined as one who is 20 or over. They gain the right to vote on their twentieth birthday, and they’re also allowed to smoke and drink. But along with these rights come new responsibilities as well, and so age 20 is a big turning point for the Japanese.

Coming-of-age ceremonies have been held since time immemorial in Japan. In the past boys marked their transition to adulthood when they were around 15, and girls celebrated their coming of age when they turned 13 or so. During the Edo period (1603-1868), boys had their forelocks cropped off, and girls had their teeth dyed black. It wasn’t until 1876 that 20 became the legal age of adulthood.

These days, males generally wear suits to their coming-of-age ceremony, but a lot of females choose to wear traditional furisode – a special type of kimono for unmarried women with extra-long sleeves and elaborate designs. For unmarried women, furisode is about the most formal thing they can wear, and so many of them don it to the event marking the start of their adult life.

Coming of Age Day is a joyous occasion in Japan. Although most 20-year-old girls choose to wear a traditional kimono, get their nails painted, and have their hair done up, usually with some curls and a few accessories such as flowers or jewels. But one young adult who goes by the name “Harutamu” on Twitter, celebrated her milestone with some of the most extreme fashion we’ve ever seen. Don’t take our word for it, have a look yourself:

Harutamu crazy hair

Harutama full lenght

▼ Let’s play “Where’s Harutamu?”

Group pic

Don’t worry, Harutamu’s extreme fashion has company. Introducing the Coming of Age dress of Twitter user, “Richu,” who just happens to be Harutamu’s friend:

Richu

If you’re shocked by these ladies’ choice of clothing and accessories, take a look at how they look on the weekend:

gyaru

Harutama and Richu are both part of a gyaru group called Black Diamond. Gyaru are fashion-conscious young women who like to dress in extreme makeup, but we probably didn’t have to tell you that. Upon turning 20 years of age, these girls are now technically adults in the eyes of the Japanese government, but we’re not so sure this is the kind of adult they had in mind. Especially with Twitpic captions such as, “Check out my long-sleeved kimono for the coming-of-age ceremony ♡ mini prostitute ʕ•̫͡•ʔ♡ʕ•̫͡•” (but we have to give her props for adding bear emoticons). As expected, most Twitter users who retweeted Harutama and Richu’s pictures were also unsure if the pair could be considered adults and one user wondered, “What happened to the Japan of old?” But no matter your opinion, we suppose there’s nothing left to say but, “Congratulations!” and hope for the best as these young ladies continue their journey into adulthood.

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Yukata: not quite a kimono

20131019-112939.jpgThe term ‘yukata’ usually refers to the light cotton dressing gown worn after bathing at Japanese style inns; thereby an item of clothing associated with leisure. After the hot spring waters of the onsen have drawn out the stresses and strains of the day, all that remains is to eat, drink, relax and then crawl into the futon – an action most folk get around to clad in said yukata. More often than not, the yukata presented to or left for guest at ryokan are white with a simple blue print pattern and are worn by both sexes.

A more decorative version of the yukata is worn by women at traditional Summer festivals such as the ‘Bon Odori’ and at firework displays. Here the yukata become something of a fashion item and are worn more like a kimono, with a matching obi sash tied at the back. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan in the summer, and luckier still to attend a festival, you’ll find that the dazzling array of color created by the fireworks above is almost matched by that at ground level.

Yutaka as the perfect lightweight and relatively cheap souvenir are best purchased in the streets around Asakusa, Taito Ward, in the shadow of the huge Senso-ji Temple. Don’t be afraid to hold them up to see what they look like but don’t actually try them on – bad form!

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Japanese love their vending machines. Now there is even one for games!

Vending machines are quite popular in Japan, and Google recently put up a few of its own to distribute mobile games to Android users. Engadget reports that the machines offer 18 different games—some of which are free while others require payment—and transactions are made by resting an NFC-enabled phone running Android 4.0 or higher onto a tray below the large touchscreen.

googleplay

Photo credit: Engadget

If you don’t have a compatible device, the vending machine lets you take it for a test run with a Nexus 4, which, unsurprisingly, you do have to give back. Google employees will be present to ensure proper return of the phone.

The Google Play machines can be found in front of the Parco department store in Shibuya and will be there for just over a week. Or, if Japan is too far for you, you can always just tap the Play Store icon on your Android phone or tablet for a similar, albeit less novel, experience.

 

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Festivals and Events for October 2013 in Japan

5-6 October 2013

Event: Oda Nobunaga Festival in Gifu
Location: Downtown Gifu City
Time: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Price of Admission: Free

The festival honours the feats of Oda Nobunaga, a samurai warlord who used Gifu City as a base on his mission to unify Japan during the Warring States (Sengoku) period of Japan. It is a celebration of his contribution towards the construction of Gifu City and the legacy that he has left behind. The must see events are the memorial ceremony at Sofuku-ji Temple (Nobunaga’s family temple) and the samurai warrior parade down the main street.

 

 

 

 

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Nagasaki Kunchi festival

7-9 October 2013

Event: Nagasaki Kunchi Festival
Location: Suwa Shrine Nagasaki
Time: Times vary according to the event
Price of Admission: FREE

The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival is Nagasaki’s most famous festival and has been celebrated for close to 400 years now. The festival incorporates different aspects of both Chinese and Dutch culture, which have played an important part in the city’s history.

 

 

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Takayama autumn festival

9-10 October 2013

Event: Takayama Autumn Festival
Location: Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine Takayama
Time: Times vary according to the event
Price of Admission: FREE

One of Japan’s greatest festivals, it is held twice a year in spring and autumn. The Takayama Autumn Festival is the annual festival for the Hachiman Shrine and is also referred to as the Hachiman Festival. The must see is the parade of elaborately decorated floats called yatai.

Map:

Health and sports day

14 October 2013

Event: Health and Sports Day
National Holiday

Health and Sports Day is a National Holiday in Japan that commemorates the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It is called “Taiku no Hi” in Japanese, and is a day to promote both sports and physical and mental health. A lot of schools in Japan hold their sports festivals on this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jidai Matsuri

22 October 2013

Event: Jidai Matsuri
Location: Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto
Time: 12:00 pm departure
Price of Admission: FREE

The Jidai Matsuri or Festival of the Ages dates from 1895, and sees people dressed in costumes ranging from the 8th century (Heian Period) to the 19 century (Meiji Period), parade from Kyoto Gosho (Kyoto Imperial Palace) to Heian Jingu Shrine. It is one of Kyoto’s three most famous festivals.

Map:


 

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The ‘king of infidelity’ has landed in Tokyo!

ashley_madison

The ‘king of infidelity’ has landed in Tokyo. After finding that enabling affairs can make money in 27 countries, Noel Biderman is bringing Ashley Madison — the world’s largest dating website for married men and women who want a little something on the side — to Japan, his first launch in Asia.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc., which operates ashleymadison.com, the world’s largest dating website for married men and women.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc., which operates ashleymadison.com, the world’s largest dating website for married men and women.

The website of Mr. Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc, has logged 230,000 visits and 70,000 members as of Thursday, only four days after its Japan launch, and Mr. Biderman said he got an early morning phone call from company headquarters saying that members were signing up faster than customer care could screen them. The company had targeted 100,000 members in the first month, and 1.2 million in the first year.

“This might be bigger here than in America,” he said. “We totally underestimated the desire here.”

Why Japan? Mr. Biderman said that infidelity is an inevitability (read: business chance), as well as a cultural constant. Tokyo’s innumerable massage parlors and “love hotels” — short-stay hotels that cater to couples – are encouraging signs of potential demand, he said.

But Ashley Madison doesn’t intend to compete with Japan’s sex industry, which is largely an outlet for male desire, Mr. Biderman stresses. Everything about the site – the name, the pink color scheme, the female-centered advertising – is aimed at drawing in women. The men will find their own way, he said.

In terms of competing with established domestic services, including dating or marriage-service websites, Mr. Biderman says he sidesteps the competition by directly targeting married people looking for something “extracurricular.”

Since Ashley Madison is created specifically with cheaters in mind, members are ensured secrecy and have the ability to completely erase their activity on the site if they choose. Furthermore, members can tap a global network. An Ashley Madison user in Sydney who comes to Tokyo, for instance, can line up a date even before she arrives.

Though the site has officially launched, Mr. Biderman says he’s still working out how he’ll market the service. People aren’t going to blab to their friends about using Ashley Madison, so creating clever advertising that works as a “conversation piece” is key to getting the word out, he said.

The marketing campaign “is clearly going to be around women, in a culturally sensitive way and yet in a way where it becomes viral,” he said. “We’re going to position ourselves as a marriage-saving site, a social network for married people. I think they’ll understand that concept.”

Despite an unexpectedly strong response in Japan, Ashley Madison has yet to score another badge of membership in the Japanese philanderers’ club: a tie up with the country’s infamous “infidelity phone,” an older-model cellphone from Fujitsu Ltd. with industrial-strength privacy settings.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to them and get some sort of Ashley Madison software preloaded on the phone, but we haven’t been able to crack them,” said Mr. Biderman. “They don’t want to be associated with (cheating). I’m familiar with that. People don’t want to be associated with me. Sometimes even my own wife shakes her head at me,” he said with a smile.

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All the rage: animal cafes

In a vibrant city such a Tokyo, many people live in small apartments stacked up on each other creating plenty of high-rise buildings. Because these apartments are often rented, the people are prohibited to own any pets and even if it wasn’t prohibited the places would just be too small. But Japan would not be the modern country as we know it if it had not come up with a solution; animal cafes!

The first animal café was a Neko café (neko means cat) and was neko cafesestablished in 2004. Ever since, the cafes started to gain more popularity and nowadays Japan is full of them.

Cats are not the only animals with cafes dedicated to them, Japan also features dog, goat, rabbit and snake cafes. All of these establishments are created to satisfy the need of the animal lover. People who only like to watch can settle in the café area and look through the glass while enjoying their cup of coffee. But what differs these cafes from a zoo, is that people can actually come in and play or cuddle with their animalistic little friends.

Recently I had the opportunity to check out one of the Neko cafes myself near Ōmori Station (Ota-ku). Before stepping in to the place I had to put on special slippers due to sanitary reasons. I drank some juice while talking to the owner and another guest while in the background the cats were either sleeping or running around, waiting for some attention. The cat area could not be entered without thoroughly washing the hands and putting some kind of sanitary lotion on them. The furry little animals were quite relaxed as I came up to them. It was immediately noticeable which of them were into some quality time and which were not, they turned their heads as I let them smell my hand. In total, the place consisted of approximately 15 cats of which three kittens.

nekonekoneko

While some remained sleeping (in the most uncomfortable positions) the entire time I stayed there, others played around and came to me. All cats looked healthy and happy, which was something I was a little worried about to be honest. Luckily, regulations for animal cafes have recently been changed, some cafes used to stay open until past midnight but they now have a limited amount of opening hours per day. Also, cafes where it gets really busy have created shifts for their cats so they get some rest.

For the first half hour, I spend 600¥. Had I stayed longer than I had to pay per every 10 minutes. The café itself is free of charge, excluding the drinks naturally.

While cat cafes are for non-owners who still want to enjoy their furryIMG_1383 friends, dog cafes are a complete different thing. Here, people bring their own dog to be able to eat with them or spoil them with treats on their birthday. For non-dog owners, there are special places renting dogs for an hour or part of the day, giving them the opportunity to walk the dog around town.

While it probably wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world, animal cafes are all the rage in Japan.

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Japanese Apple fans queue up in 1 km line to get hold of the lastest iphone in Ginza

Apple acolytes got their hands on new iPhones Friday in the global roll-out of two new models, but failure to make headway in China and complaints about the price struck a sour note.

The once-unbeatable king of the smartphones has penned a potentially lucrative new deal with Docomo, Japan’s biggest mobile carrier, but is without a new alliance in the vast Chinese market.

That, and rumblings over the high cost—even of the pared-down iPhone 5C—could mute the fanfare that routinely accompanies launches, observers say.

People pose for photos alongside a pillow bearing the image of Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs outside the Apple store in Ginza on Friday morning.

People pose for photos alongside a pillow bearing the image of Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs outside the Apple store in Ginza on Friday morning.

In Tokyo, diehard fans began lining up last week, and even sat out a weekend typhoon to keep their spot in a queue that grew to around a kilometer in length by opening time, police estimated.

As well as the usual enthusiastic reception in Japan, where most models sold will be bundled with contracts that will see no big up-front payments, the launch marked a welcome new chapter for Apple.

A fresh deal with Docomo, the mobile unit of NTT, has opened up a much wider cross-section of Japan’s cash-rich, gadget-loving consumers after years in which both companies lost market share.

Docomo is looking to reverse years of watching domestic rivals cash in on the iPhone bonanza.

The firm, which has about 42% of the Japanese market, has shed more than 3.5 million subscribers to rivals since 2008, when SoftBank first rolled out the iPhone in Japan, local media reported.

“Docomo’s partnership should be a favorable wind for Apple in Japan,” said Toshihiko Matsuno, chief strategist at SMBC Friend Securities.

The double debut kicked off in Australia when stores threw open their doors to eager crowds at 8 a.m. Friday.

Jimmy Gunawan, 33, was first in line at the company’s flagship Sydney store, but was surprised he only had to stake his place 20 hours beforehand.

“Last year, I got here around the same time and there was already a queue of about 20 people,” the freelance graphic designer said.

A man waits for the release of Apple's iPhone 5 near Apple Store Ginza in Tokyo

Worldwide, some Apple fans were not prepared either to line up or shell out the asking price.

“Wow, $1,129 (U.S.$1,065) for an iPhone 5s here in Australia. That’s simply insane,” tweeted Bill Hutchison, referring to the cost of a 64GB model of the new version, which boasts a speedier processor and a fingerprint sensor.

Another, David Smith, tweeted: “Incredible—Apple charging $99 for iPhone 5c in the USA (with a contract) but $740 in Australia and its $1,200 for 5s – no wonder Android phones are popular.”

The polycarbonate-bodied 5c, supposedly aimed at budget-conscious smartphone shoppers, was widely trailed as Apple’s answer to the onslaught of cheaper, Android-powered models, led by Samsung.

But its hefty $700 ticket price in China will put it out of reach of most consumers in the world’s biggest mobile market.

“It’s not worth the price,” said Wang Ying, a Beijing-based analyst with consultant firm iResearch. Many domestically made smartphones are priced as low as $100.

Apple has not revealed what the “c” stands for, but did not knock down months of media speculation that it was intended to signify “cheap” or “China”.

Wang said Apple also appeared to have missed a trick by not reaching a deal with China Mobile and its 700 million subscribers—the country’s largest carrier.

Currently, Apple has sales contracts with China Unicom and China Telecom.

“Apple’s performance is declining in the world as well as in China,” Wang said. “Cooperating with China Mobile will be a significant channel for Apple to… win more users.”

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Japanese Part-Timers ‘Terrorize’ Employers with Pranks

prank

Stuffing out cigarettes in sushi, wearing pizza dough as a mask and cleaning feet in the dishwasher – these are just some of the stunts part-time workers are pulling to the delight of their Twitter followers and the chagrin of their employers.

While the part-timer pranks may not seem particular unusual to readers outside Japan, the behavior has raised eyebrows in Japan – a nation that takes dedication to work and strict discipline very seriously.Since a man posted a picture of himself lying inside a refrigerated ice cream case at his convenience store job online, local media have unveiled a new case of an employee documenting mischief on Facebook or Twitter almost daily. The trend has even spawned a new expression brimming with hyperbole: “baito tero” or “part-time job terrorism.”All the cases so far have involved workers at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, sparking conjecture that the real cause underlying the misbehavior is the frustration of employees with low-paying, part-time jobs.

Other commentators, however, say social media is to blame.

 

Crazy Japanese part timers“For young people, the most important thing is to stand out and be noticed. For example, since social networks have become popular, cute girls have tried to attract attention knowing that some have become models after being discovered through social media. Whereas in the past, those girls would have been scouted when they were out and about walking around,” Britney Hamada, a comic book artist and television personality said on a television program last week. “That’s just escalated more and more and translated into these kinds of ‘crimes.’”

Nearly a quarter of high-school students in Japan use Twitter, while only 14% use Facebook, according to a September survey of over 4,500 students by ZKAI Co.

Whether the clowning around is down to part-time job dissatisfaction or social media overload, employers have been less than understanding, sometimes taking action that has arguably caused greater inconvenience to customers.

Nagoya-based chain restaurant Bronco Billy Co closed a Tokyo branch in early August to retrain staff after an employee uploaded a picture of himself sitting inside a refrigerator on the job.

Only a week after the closing, however, the company decided to permanently close the branch out of consideration for its responsibility to “provide a comfortable moment for the customer through delicious food, good service and a clean and fun restaurant.”

At a Lawson convenience store where an employee climbed into the refrigerator, Lawson, Inc. removed all ice cream products, dismantled the offending ice cream case and temporarily closed the store. Photos uploaded by curious neighbors show the windows shuttered and the parking lot closed off.

“All our employees and affiliate stores will work as one to regain customers trust so that this kind of thing never happens ever again,” the company said in a statement.

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