Toshiba’s Smart City of Tomorrow

Toshiba have launched a new marketing campaign aimed at promoting their vision of the Smart Cities of the future. The, not hugely catchily titled, M/E/S/S/A/G/E “Symphonic Balance Of Smart Community” uses Facebook and is a pretty fun video that users can personalize.


The lego town in the video represents Toshiba’s smart city with the balls rolling around in it color coded to represent the different green energy alternatives or technologies needed for the community to function. Visitors to the site are instructed to link to their Facebook accounts and can then type in a personalized message into the site. A fun video is then played which features different avatars and characters from your Facebook friends as the balls which roll around the town symbolizing the ways in which energy and technology are used to make it function. The final scene then has the balls roll down to display your personalized message which can be captured and uploaded onto your Facebook wall.


The site also links to “Toshiba’s Technology Vision for Innovation” page which shows off some of the company’s leading technology that they see “contributing to safer and more comfortable lifestyles and a sustainable society”. As with many major industrial companies in Japan this year, Toshiba have ramped up their CSR activities since the energy concerns precipitated by the Fukushima power plant events, focusing particularly on society and new energy saving technology. Companies have seen the new focus on energy as an opportunity to push a message to the public showcasing their sustainable commodities in a way that isn’t just focusing on their reaction to environmental issues but more trying to prove that they are doing their part to help the country in it’s time of need and attain energy security.


It is this strategy, of focusing more on the concrete real issues that the public can actually see and benefit from, whether it be in staving off energy shortages or simply meaning lower prices for petrol, that stands to have far greater chance of success in driving new green technology, not just in Japan I would argue but further afield. Focusing on real tangible activity rather than the tired practices of images of polar bears or arctic ice melting, that the everyday consumer has no true connection with, which will align the consumer more coherently, and ultimately therefore really driving investment into sectors that work toward a real sustainable future.

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Creation Project 2011 Combines Tradition and Design

Nine months on from the East Japan disaster creative efforts continue aimed at providing the help needed in the North of Japan. However as time passes the media’s focus shifts elsewhere and many engaging projects are not getting the attention they deserve. The ongoing “Creation Project 2011” is a good example of such a project that hasn’t garnered much public exposure, but continues to help those affected. In this project local designers used dyed fabric made by craftsmen from four prefectures that were hit by the earthquake and tsunami (Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki), and created personal messages through designed tote bags. The bags are currently exhibited, and will progress until December 22nd, at the Recruit Creation Gallery G8, Ginza.


The whole project saw 180 Japanese and a few International creators collaborate with Zensenken, an organization of young craftsmen in Japan. “Creation Project” refers to the wish for re-creation or revival of the damaged areas in the North of Japan through creative efforts. “Shirushizome” used in the process of creating the bags also draws on traditional practices from the area, a traditional hand dyeing technique that originated in Heian Period (794-1185). Originally, a hand dyed banner indicated family crest and status, and was attached to each of the personal belongings such as tools, sign curtain hung at shop entrance etc.


Each designer expressed his or her personal message through the traditional hand-dyed bags and it is interesting to see the diversity and creativity of each designer, and their personal message and intention, and how they communicate this through design. Shin Matsunaga, for example, who is an established Japanese Graphic Designer created his interpretation of a new symbol for Japan’s revival.


Takayuki Soeda who currently participates in a long term (10 years) disaster relief project “Arts for Hope” that uses arts as a communication tool in disaster areas, created a bag design with the project’s logo and tying in the two efforts nicely.


Another of the designs that caught our eye was from creative team “Semitransparent”, a company that blends the latest media technologies and design. Their creation consisted of a dazzling patterned bag that represented a basic but fashionable concept in typical Japanese style. Product designer Hitomi Sago expressed her worries on the effect of nuclear energy by passing message of “no nukes- yes to green energy” in response to the Fukushima crisis.


“Creation Project” is a nice example of a very personal window into Japanese designer’s hearts, intentions and wishes, and the expression of their tendencies and influences. Needless to say, all profits (6,000Y a bag) are going directly to the affected areas.

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Pet Pampering Taken To A New Level

It’s said that dogs are a mans best friends, well it certainly seems to be the case in Japan! Dogs here enjoy particularly unique, rather over indulgent care, with their lifestyle at times exceeding our own. Being dressed in designer clothes, weekly pampering in beauty salons and spas, personal nutritionist and physical activity trainers, and even holistic care consultants. It is interesting to witness such humanistic attitude towards pets in Japan where they often take the emotional place of families and the pet Chihuahua or Toy Poodle is pushed around in a baby stroller like their very own child. On the back of this a number of shops and locations aimed at enhancing the relationship owners have with their dogs have sprung up around Tokyo in the last few years.


Green Dog
Green Dog is a center for holistic life, situated in the upscale Tokyo Mid Town district, among high class restaurants, designer shops and museums. The objective of the center is to create a “joyful life with your partner (the dog)”. In order to achieve that Green Dog offers a wide variety of holistic treatments, including a free health consultation that follows careful selection of quality health products, i.e. carefully planned nutritional food and supplements, exercise advices, and suggestions for stress relief, although just how much stress a pampered dog can have is debatable!


Their “prestige trimming and grooming spa” focuses on the entire “physical and spiritual condition” (of the dog of course), saying “it is not about beauty only”. They have a wide variety of holistic cares at the spa; aroma massage, ayurveda pack, micro bubble, rock salt bath and mud pack costing anywhere between $150 – $400.
The center, with its two branches, also offers a medical clinic, custody hotel and a discipline study room that includes various training. They advertise being able to “deepen the trust between the owner and the partner, while advising on how to achieve balanced life style between the two individuals”. Green Dog also runs a blog which among other things has a corner called “today’s dinner”; suggestions of baking recipes or just a ten minutes toast.

dog's holistic care

Dog Petit Resort
Imagine the Ritz Carlton for dogs and you wouldn’t be far off here! On offer here owners can let their dogs experience swimming therapy, hotel, dog run yard, and very exclusive trimming courses including aromatherapy and relaxing massage and even designer cut and color. The center offers, as well as a swimming pool, a hydro-therapy area for rehabilitation or just for fun. For rehabilitation program there is even an option for a water treadmill therapy.


Not just reserved for the Japanese public dogs here can even experience the dog onsen (Japanese traditional natural spring baths) which follows shampoo and massage. The onsen is known for its health benefits, apparently also for dogs, and is healthy for expanding the blood vessels, which in turn benefits the blood circulation. Moreover, the site promotes that the warm water tranquilizes and naturally reduces pain or stress.

Pariero Mall Harajuku
Pariero mart Harajuku

Pariero Mall Harajuku is located at the very center of the fashionable shopping street, and is definitely standing up to the standards of the area. Seasonal wear collections, brand name goods, stylish accessories, owner items- such as carry bags and key chains, designed doggy bags and even Halloween costumes can be found these days.

We also shouldn’t leave out the feline friends either who enjoy just as much a pampering, Cat Prin is a design brand for cats’ fashionable items and more. You can check the site but don’t miss the video.
While child rearing in Tokyo becomes a less attractive option, having a pet becomes more and more popular. Beyond the fact that Japanese ladies can accessorize the pets and accessorize themselves with the pets, this phenomena also has a psychologically emotional benefit especially amongst the declining birthrate in Japan.

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Fashion Brands Transform Ravaged Rice Fields

We have previously talked about the number of innovative projects that have sprung up in the wake of the events in North Japan. Another fantastic project that caught our eye at the recent Tokyo Fashion Week, and is already harvesting results, aims at turning damaged lands in the Sendai area into fertile grounds for fashion. The big collaboration project that now includes more than 20 apparel manufacturers and retailers, was initiated by people from the textile and fashion industry such as Kondo Kenichi of Taishoboseki Industries,, in order to commence cotton farming in Tohoku area, where hundreds of hectares of land were devastated by the tsunami.


In the tsunami the rice paddies in these areas were not only destroyed, but left with high concentration levels of saline. “When the salt concentration level in the soil exceeds 0.2% it is impossible to grow rice on it, but cotton can grow on soil with 0.5% to 0.6% salt concentration” says Kondo.
The attempt of the Tohoku Cotton Project aims to create long term employment for the rice farmers by planting cotton crops on what used to be rice farms before the disaster. The cotton seeds were provided to affected farms and Taishoboseki buys up the cotton crops to spin them. The spun yarn is used to create commercial products and will eventually reach consumers.


Actual product sales are expected to commence in January 2012 and since the demand is already higher than anticipated, Taishoboseki plans to blend harvested cotton with other organic cotton to create approximately 20 tons of yarn.

The project is generating a lot of attention, especially after the recent Tokyo Fashion Week where top fashion designer Yuma Koshino announced her participation in the project and will be launching her products together with Japan Airline (JAL) for her next collection.


Other apparel brands such as Urban research, Lee and Lowrys Farm to name a few, are also delivering their message “Don’t forget Tohoku! We are still alive!” with the vision of seeing in the near future a sea of white cotton fields that spread far and wide all over the Sendai area and more importantly give residents employment and a new sustainable lifestyle.

Images courtesy of Openers

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iBousai Evacuee Support Kits for Wellness and Lifestyle

While it’s certainly not pleasant to think about future disasters in Japan (or anywhere else), they do happen, and with them come instant problems with displaced people, broken infrastructure, and sanitation needs. Since we cannot prevent most of these problems, we can only do our best to alleviate the symptoms, and the difference between the aftereffects of the earthquakes in Japan as opposed to Haiti can be summed up in one sentence: Wealth is Health.

Thus, the creative iBousai emergency kits from the Ritsumeikan University Research Center for Disaster Mitigation of Urban Cultural Heritage (yes, that’s the name) are simple solutions to very First World problems. In fact, most would be seen as luxuries during the even the best times in the Third World.


The iBousai come in four varieties currently being developed:
Kirei (Beautification): Essential oils and other products for women
Miru (Medical Care): Gauze, alcohol, and other wound treatment
Kaeru (Going Home): Maps, mini radio, and items to assist in travel
Yoru (Nighttime): Socks, whistle, and other items needed in the dark

Additional products in the kits are soaps, LED lights, mobile alarms, dry shampoo, and other toiletries.


For future disasters, these types of kits are not only compact and easy to ship, but they are designed to improve the quality of life for people living in extenuating circumstances. It might seem trivial to receive essential oils during a tragedy, but the goal of the project is to be useful for both physical and mental health, and that’s an admirable goal.

Good Design Award 2011

Renowned for bringing together not only the best in design but also those that are functionally outstanding, the 2011 Good Design Awards Exhibition is currently displaying the finalists for this years coveted prize. From children’s play things to industrial tools, vending machines to fireworks the exhibition represents the best of what the Good Design Awards have come to stand for in its 30 year history.


This year judges have been given the (rather ambiguous) phrase “To be reasonable” to help them in deciding the winning products that are striking in design but enhance peoples lifestyles at the same time.
Amongst the designs on display that the public can vote for are the playful “15.0% Ice Cream Spoons” from Lemnos and Terada Design Architects. The simple and clean design is made from aluminum which has a “high thermal conductivity” meaning the body temperature of the users hand, “slowly melts the ice cream making it easier to scoop”.


Also on display was STAMP iT from D-Bros. whose shop in Tokyo is set up around a large central table where customers can create personalized stationary, cards, bags, iphone covers and a whole range of other things. Almost antique in their look it is a nice twist on the modern day mass produced market that we are used to.


Another playful item that is nominated comes from Jakuetsu and is titled “Omochi”, meaning a Japanese rice cake. The children’s play thing is shaped according to its namesake and is designed for young toddlers to clamber all over it from all angles.


Regular visitors to Japan Trends will also remember the “Designer Fireworks” we uncovered some time ago. Part of the designs that were selected from “Kyushu-Chikugo genki-project” included very similar amazingly intricate fireworks, that are almost too good to set on fire.


The “Kyushu-Chikugo genki-project” aims at using design to revitalize regions through creating jobs around different products, where the whole process from design to production is taken into consideration.


Showing that striking design can be applied to even the most mundane items, the whole set of tools product from Nishimura is a beautiful example of Japanese design strength in the product and the packaging vessel it is contained in. Paying as much attention to detail and craftsmanship in the boxing as well as the product, the whole thing would look as at home in a display case as it would in a tool shed.


The awards even encompass architectural design including the above construct of outdoor brand Snowpeak’s headquarters by Taisei that blends the shape of the land into the building itself, keeping in with the brands environmental image. Along similar environmental theme also was the slope stability tool, basically a huge screw into the earth, that anchors the earth alongside trees. The cedar wood dining table and chairs drew on the natural theme, creating a beautiful smooth finish and elaborate patterning on the surface.

The exhibition is on display at Tokyo Midtown Design Hub until 13th November.

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Monocle Cafe Tokyo Launch Party

Global affairs magazine Monocle continued it’s expansion into new sectors over the weekend, opening up it’s first ever Monocle Cafe. Friday saw the opening party of the new Mens Hankyu department store in Tokyo which houses the new Monocle Cafe along with 8 floors of luxury mens brands.


The spacious cafe, in the basement of the department strore, also houses a small MONOCLE shop which is an addition to the other two MONOCLE shop’s in Osaka and in Tokyo’s upscale Aoyama neighborhood in the FrancFranc store. Natural materials have been used in the design of the interior which features furnishings from Japanese classic furniture brand Maruni, whose furniture was designed in collaboration with Naoto Fukasawa. The whole design concept is in keeping with Monocle’s image and branding, a modern approach which also takes into account traditional methods, clean and simple.


Regular visitors to Japan Trends will also remember the smiling face of Eiichi Kunitomo, pictured below. Kunitomo is the barista and man behind Omotesando Koffee, and he has been put in charge of overseeing the coffee and sweets menu at the new Monocle Cafe. This is certainly good news for coffee lovers who can expect the same high level of coffee found at Kunitomo’s own tiny space, (with the actual Monocle Tokyo office being just behind Omotesando Koffee, I expect frequent visits have certainly influenced this!).


“We’ve long been interested in doing a cafe and are excited by the prospects of doing something with such a talented team in Tokyo. We want the Monocle cafe to offer the best tastes and experiences found on our editors’ travels and this means great coffee, cosy classic dishes and excellent desserts,” says Tyler Brûlé, MONOCLE’s editor-in-chief.


The opening of the cafe comes as Monocle also launch their own international 24-hour web radio service, Monocle 24. The service launches live today and features “a pacy mix of current affairs, business, culture and music”.

The Monocle Cafe is located in the Hakyu MEN’S department store, B1 and is open 10am – 11pm.

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Future Retail with Smart Hangers

109 Men’s department store in Shibuya has gone hi-tec with it’s shopping experience by introducing digital interactive clothes hangers to one of it’s shops. The hangers, from Japanese company Team Lab, interact with digital displays above the products, triggering certain images and videos to be played when the hangers are picked up by a shopper.


The hangers look the same as a normal hanger but with a larger middle area which contains an embedded RFID chip. When handled by the shopper the hanger’s chip sends a signal to a computer which controls specific displays around the store corresponding to the position of that hanger.

In the shop we tried it out in, the display infront of the item automatically changed to display the product as well as other items that might go with it. The hanger can also be programmed to change the store’s background music, lighting and any other visuals programmed.


This interactive visual merchandising not only catches the eye of the consumer and drives through further purchasing through recommendations, but also logs details and aggregates data as to how popular an item is or how effective its positioning is in store. It is also a particularly unobtrusive form of marketing that blends in with the shop itself adding to the shoppers experience in a far more natural way.

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Girl’s Handbags Exposed in Smartphone Campaign

You can tell a lot about a lady from the contents of her handbag, or so Japanese mobile provider NTT DoCoMo think. They have teamed up with fashion and lifestyle magazine “Tokyo Graffiti” for a new campaign, “Handbag Interview“, emptying out the private contents of girls handbags for all to see and judge.


Visitors to the campaigns website can view the contents of 57 girls from various backgrounds laid out on the screen before them along with the smartphone they use. Items in the bag also have little speech bubbles describing why this particular item is something they never go without. The campaign lets you glimpse into the personalities of the girls on display and in doing so are introduced to the different smartphones as extensions of their lifestyles and fashion. At the bottom of the screen you can click on each girl and find out more about them. Featuring some pretty interesting information on their use of their smartphone and how their fashion and lifestyle ties into their phone choice.


There is a nice play on the Facebook like button where other girls can award hearts for the “Kawaii” (Cute) level of how they view the bag and it’s contents. The interactive videos are split up with different nuggets of information on smartphone usage amongst females.


It is actually a fairly substantial source of information on this particular demographic and the campaign presents this in a very well thought-out way. If you don’t want to sit through all 51 girls you can also use the search page, filtering your search based on age, occupation or smartphone. The group of girls to choose from is pretty diverse, featuring subjects with professions from a professional cocktail maker to a maid cafe waitress, doctors to lawyers and everything in-between.


We have recently been involved in a in depth international smartphone project of our own at CScout Japan, and it has been particularly interesting exploring how different personalities effect not only the design of what certain users look for but also how they use their smartphones in different international markets. Looking at the difference between Japanese preferences and tendencies to other global markets there is certainly a contrast, particularly amongst the female market. In Japan where accessorizing is popular the smartphone is an extension of the user’s image more so than their international counterparts. Likewise we discovered in the research how the Japanese market is much more open to color than the western markets who showed more preference to texture.

For more information about the smartphone market in Japan check out our ongoing roundup posts here or contact CScout Japan about our research.

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3.11 Picture Book Project Brings Smiles to Kids

In the months since the disasters hit up in the North of Japan a number of innovative movements have sprung up to try and offer assistance and relief to the hardest hit areas. We came across one such project this weekend, the “Ehon Project” (Picture Book Project), a mobile kids picture book library that is bringing smiles and relief to children who lost everything.


The project started in the few weeks after the tsunami hit on 3.11 by Chieko Suemori, an editor of children books, founder of Suemori Books. Originally it was set up to collect picture books from around Japan to be sent up to the evacuation shelters to be distributed to the many children who had lost their parents or family. As the movement grew and it received support from various Japanese companies, the decision was taken to build small mobile libraries which could be loaded up with books and tour the areas so kids instead of receiving the books as charity had chance to pick out the books they want as if in the library.


I chatted with the very cheerful and energetic Halhiko Suemori (pictured below), a coordinator of the project who told us how “many young children have been donating their old picture books and writing letters of support to the children who will receive the books in Iwate, “it is touching how much comfort it gives them, children are helping other children who lost everything.” The project has already collected over 50,000 books from all over Japan and is now raising funds for the Ehon Cars.


So far the organisation has managed to raise enough funds to buy and customize one of six mobile libraries it will send to the area. “Our idea is to custom-furnish lightweight vans as mini bookmobiles we will call “Ehon Cars” that can be driven by our volunteer staff and will be relatively inexpensive to maintain and fuel”. The cars and the volunteers aprons are also emblazoned with the Ehon Project logo which is a fantastically simplistic eye-catching design from Sotocoto, a popular Japanese web magazine focused on the environment.


The aim is to then donate the Ehon Cars to local communities in the area once the project is over,”when the vehicles are handed over, they will of course be packed full of picture books!”. For those wishing to donate you can visit the project website here with full instructions in English.

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