Two Cigarette Brands That Are Selling Well in Japan

I just came back from a late night run to the convenience store where I was surprised to see, for the first time in my entire time in Japan, convenience stores selling what people consider to be “B-grade” Japanese cigarettes. It is quite unusual to see these low-end cigarettes at a convenience store.

I wrote before about how the Japanese government insanely raised taxes on cigarettes here. Now, the news is coming out that people have seriously curtailed their smoking and it has hurt government tax coiffures as well as the tobacco industry… Well, duh!

Wakaba cigarettes… Notice the cool and trendy design! ¥220 for twenty 18 mg. cigarettes

It used to be that convenience stores, due to lack of space, only sold the premium brands of cigarettes; Seven Star, Marlboro, Camel, Lark, Lucky Strike, etc… (Japanese cigarette, High-Lite, was considered low-end)… But now since a pack of premium cigarettes costs about ¥420 a pack or more, it seems that sales of the low-grade tobaccos are soaring. Low-grade tobaccos sell for about half what premium brands sell for – between ¥220 ~ ¥250 a pack!

The guy at the convenience store told me that Wakaba cigarettes, especially, are enjoying brisk sales!

Wakaba is a very old brand in Japan and is definitely not considered cool by the younger people (I think it is very cool!)… The other brand the store clerk said was selling well was the other brand that is considered very low-class and only smoked by nearly homeless old men; Golden Bat.

Both these brands are not trendy at all and have the image of depression era Japan…

Good thing, maybe their time has come again!

Hooray for the folks that elect to buy the cheaper stuff. If everyone did the same, the other cigarettes would have to lower their prices!

Hell, and, come to think of it… The older stuff is always better anyway, right?

The Japanese Are Confused About America

I stumbled upon this very interesting photo of a toy that was spotted in a Japanese toy store. This toy was in a collectors toy store in Japan – I think the store in in Gaugedaigaku in Tokyo – but I suspect that this item was made in China… No problem, I’d still buy it….

But, then again, maybe I wouldn’t buy it. It is selling for ¥5,150…. That’s about $62 USD for a plastic doll… Is that what these things sell for now-a-days?

Thanks to I am Bored

Japanese T-Shirts Designs That Totally Rock!

Whenever I surf the Internet I find that the over-all opinion of Japan by Westerners is that Japan is a very strange place.

Maybe. I guess so. But when you’ve been here for a long time, you get used to it and things here seem normal… That’s it! It’s you folks in the west that are all flipped out.

Take these perfectly normal T-shirts.

This one was a buzz on the weird news sites a week or two ago:

Makes sense to me.

Then there’s this one that, while innocent enough, is perverted by you western perverts:

Talking Japan? Gotta have the schoolgirls, right?

But here’s one that seems to have missed the western press and I think that this is the best T-Shirt design ever made. Trust me ladies, if you are looking for a boyfriend, try one of these..

Samurai stuff? Oh yeah, that’s old hat:

Thanks a million to I am Bored

Thanks to Ajikan

Getting a Job in the Music Business in Japan

If you really want to be a famous musician or work in the music industry, and you need advice, great! You’ve come to the right place. I’ve worked in the music business since 1978. So I have a pretty good idea as to what’s going on.

Let me tell you aspiring musician that there is absolutely no way. You have zero chance of making it without a hugely lucky break. This article might be your lucky break… Then again, you’d do well to get a job at a convenience store.

Might as well start of at the beginning with having your dreams crushed like a grape, right?

Trust that, by the time you finish reading this article you’ll realize that, if you want to work in the music business in Japan, you really might as well get a job at a convenience store. It’s really that simple.

But, if you really believe you can “make it,” then good for you… Read on…

Yesterday, I had lunch with Aki Morishita the vice president of Fuji Pacific Music Publishing, the biggest music publisher in the world. Aki also has a very high ranking position at EMI Music Publishing too.

Both Aki and I were joined by a young friend who is a musician and song-writer named Andre Dimuzio. Andre, like many other young musicians, is looking for a break into the music industry.

I think he was very surprised by what both Aki and I had to say.

I think many people know that the old way of the music business is dead; record labels are collapsing all around us and the traditional methods of distributing music have also been turned on their heads.

I’ve also written before about what these changes mean for TV and radio in Japan  herehere, and here.

CD retail is dying, and along with it the labels and TV and radio are dying a slow death too…

Both Aki and I joked about how no one can sell any physical product anymore (CDs, etc.) excepting vinyl for club DJ’s, but it looks like I could be wrong about that too as Panasonic has announced that they will discontinue production and sales of Technics turn tables.

Fans of analog music were dealt another blow when consumer electronics company Panasonic announced earlier this month that it would be discontinuing the audio products within its Technics brand, most notably the legendary line of analog turntables. On October 20, the company said that it was winding down production of the Technics SL-1200MK6 analog turntable, the SH-EX1200 analog audio mixer and the RP-DH1200 and RP-DJ1200 stereo headphones due to challenges in the marketplace. “Panasonic decided to end production mainly due to a decline in demand for these analog products and also the growing difficulty of procuring key analog components necessary to sustain production,” the company said in statement.

Here, all this time, I had thought that DJ specialty record shops in Tokyo, like Manhattan Records, were doing a good business selling vinyl records. Maybe not.

Like I said, the music business is falling apart in Japan and the old order has definitely shot itself in the foot. Aki said that there are rumors that Tower Records Shibuya won’t last to summer 2011. I wrote about that before too. And, after the bankruptcy of a radio station in Nagoya, there are the rumblings of another great upheaval in two big FM stations in Kyushu.

I thought it was interesting that, during the conversation, I mentioned that the only hope for radio stations in Japan was automation – something they do not want to do as people will lose their jobs… But this morning’s news also adds another surprise to the mix.

I had pointed out to my friends that Lawson’s Convenience store runs their own in-store radio station. It is called, “Lawson’s Hot Station” and while it is total and complete pablum, it does the job that Lawson’s needs – and it is a fully automated “radio station.”

Lawson’s = Smart.

Now, Lawson’s takes it one step further as they have taken over HMV records in Japan!

Lawson Inc. intends to use its takeover of HMV Japan KK to attract young consumers, the biggest users of convenience stores, by tapping the major music and movie retailer’s online sales expertise and roughly 4.7 million members. HMV Japan — which rings up half its annual sales of some 30 billion yen online — sends out e-mail showcasing new products to customers based on their purchasing histories. The convenience store operator’s attention was drawn to the passion of HMV Japan customers toward certain genres of music and movies.

Now, young musician with stars in your eyes, here’s a test. Let’s see if you can put two and two together…

Question: If you want a job in the music industry in Japan, you should try to get a job at:

a) a record shop

b) a record label

c) a radio station

d) a convenience store

The correct answer is d.

Chinese “Anti-Japanese” Demonstrations Beginning to Focus on China’s Real Problems

A friend writes about my recent post concerning anti-Japanese demonstrations in China:

The fact is that it’s not happening in Beijing or Shanghai but mostly in central China.  Why?  Because more than 25% of college graduates in China can’t find work.

China is experiencing a hell of a lot more economic pain than they’re letting the world believe.  Rather than admit it to their citizens and take the blame for the anxious climate, they use their propaganda machine to focus every one’s negative energy on Japan.  Better Japan than themselves, right?

Your take on why Japan is so impotent fills in the rest of the picture.

I agree with this whole-heartedly. The Chinese government allows these sorts of demonstrations as they deflect public opinion off the domestic problems (what government in the world doesn’t do this?) and onto some foreign target.

But, now, it looks like the Chinese government might have allowed this Pandora’s Box to open up a few unexpected surprises for them. Now the demonstrations seem to be evolving into protests against inflation and local government corruption. This, as my friend writes, is the true crux of the problem in China.

As Japan Times reports:

Hundreds of Chinese staged protests against Japan on Sunday in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, stirring more discontent after demonstrations in Sichuan Province the previous day. The situation took a strange twist, however, as protesters in Baoji, Shaanxi Province, appeared to vent their frustration with China’s widening income gaps and corruption, carrying green banners that read, “We oppose corruption in the bureaucracy” and “Curb high housing prices.”

This is not a “strange twist” that these protesters would vent their frustrations with the problems that actually do affect their personal lives… I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that the Chinese government does the same thing the US government (or most governments do, for that matter) and use agent provocateurs to drive these protests into the directions that benefit the government in the media and public eye.

The Chinese government certainly does not want these demonstrations to deal with China’s real problems.

But, in China, as in France, many of the people who aren’t asleep do recognize what the real problems are that they are facing in their daily lives… Could it be that the Bread and Circuses routine is coming to an end in China too?

Isomaru Suisan: The Best Raw Fish Restaurant in Futakotamagawa?

Futakotamagawa on the Denen Toshi line (about 10 minutes from Shibuya) is famous for Takashimaya Department store and for having many good upscale restaurants.

It’s true that Takashimaya Department store is there and it is true that there are many upscale restaurants. “Good” is where the problem comes in. There aren’t that many good restaurants.

Isomaru Suisan

Not good for a date… Just great food. The best fish in Futakotamagawa? Yes.

I’ve been to just about every restaurant in the area and “good” is not a word I would use to describe them. “Expensive and just OK” is more like it. I think “good” means delicious and cheap. If they are expensive then they should be delicious. Unfortunately, most restaurants in the area do fit that description; “Expensive and just OK.” Fact of the matter is that the restaurants in the area are, for the most part, a huge let down.

We have a great Yaki Niku (Korean BBQ meat), two good ramen shops and an excellent Yaki Tori (BBQ chicken) in the area. But now, finally, we have a great raw fish restaurant.

The restaurant is called Isomaru Suisan and it looks like a hole in the wall restaurant like the ones you’d see in the famous fish market area Tsukiji in Tokyo.

Don’t even bother going to Isomaru Suisan after 12 noon to 1 pm on a weekday; the lines of people wanting to get in are amazing.

No wonder. For ¥490 you get a delicious bowl of rice with super-fresh Maguro (raw tuna) on it and tea. It is a super deal!

The food is made fresh right there in front of you so you know the place is super clean and the food is amazingly fresh.

“Don” a bowl of rice with your choice of fresh fish on top. All for under ¥600!

I highly recommend Isomaru Suisan. 5 stars for great food for a super cheap price!

Here is a map to the restaurant:

Girls in Maid Uniforms in Akihabara

You just can’t make this stuff up…

With the Japanese male obsession, especially amongst ”Otaku” (geeks), with young girls in uniform, you’d think that this sort of thing would be relegated to the pages of dorky comic books and hostess bars. You’d never expect to see this fetishism bandied about in public, would you?

Oh, yeah. Excuse me. You would. Especially since this is Japan were talking about.

Now, in Akihabara, they are celebrating their fetishism publicly by having “information girls” in maid costumes giving out travel tips and information to tourists.

Breitbart reports:

A short but in-depth tour led by guides dressed as maids has been helping newcomers in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, a home of Japanese subculture dotted with shops including some that are difficult to figure out at a glance.

The tour begins at the tourist center right next to JR Akihabara Station and first heads to a rental showcase shop called Astop. People can use a transparent box as their own ministore to display figure models, stuffed animals or whatever else they want to sell.

At the Bukiya imitation weapons store, the visitors can take a look at Japanese and western swords, military gear and samurai armor. Akiba Garage, which sells micromini hidden cameras and stun guns, is another popular destination.

The highlight of the tour is the maid cafe Usagi no mori L-R (Forest of Bunnies). The tourists can ask waitresses clad in frilly tops and miniskirts to draw figures such as that of a rabbit with ketchup on their omelet.

The two-hour tour for 2,980 yen starts twice a day from 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Courses can be arranged.

Reread that second to last paragraph: “The highlight of the tour is a maid cafe Usagi no mori L-R (Forest of Bunnies). The tourists can ask waitresses clad in frilly tops and miniskirts to draw figures such as that of a rabbit with ketchup on their omelet”!!!??? My god! What a thrill of a lifetime! Jeez! What kind of moronic pervert gets turned on by that enough to pay for it?

Sony Walkman Dies. A Hint of Sony’s Future?

Anyone who was over 18 years old in the early 1980′s remembers the Sony Walkman. It was a compact cassette tape player that revolutionized how people listened to music back then just like how the iPod revolutionized music a few years ago.

Like people today own, or have bought, several iPods, I usually bought a new Sony Walkman every year (I played mine constantly).

1979 Sony Walkman

Those Sony cassette Walkmans were, I think, the Zenith of Japan’s “cool” technical gadgetry. Everyone owned a Walkman.

Well, today, the Walkman has officially died.

From Switched:

After 31 years and over 200 million units sold, Sony is officially putting the cassette model Walkman out to pasture. Introduced in 1979, the portable tape player defined the following 10-plus years of mobile music playback. It was even a leader in the era of optical media, with its Walkman line of portable CD players eventually known as Discman. But in the era of the iPod, the brand name has diminished in value. Radios and digital media players still go by the name Walkman, but the moniker has always referred to the tape-playing model in the collective mind. And as Sony announced that it shipped its last batch of tape-playing Walkmen back in April, we couldn’t help shed a tear for the ubiquitous ’80s gadget.

Actually, this news only applies to people living in the west. The Sony cassette Walkman will no longer be sold outside of Asia. Luckily for us living in Asia, we’ll still be able to buy Sony cassette Walkman’s. The only problem is where do we buy cassettes?

All levity aside, I think this also goes to show just how lost today’s Japanese corporations are when it come to image and branding. More and more, I become convinced that today’s Japanese management do not fully comprehend really what “corporate image” and “branding” really mean.

The subject here is Sony. After the massive success and appeal of the cassette Walkman (and we didn’t call it a “cassette” Walkman back in those days, we just called it, “Walkman.”)  from 1979 to the late 1980′s… The sales and appeal died down a bit.

Then, out of the blue, we were thrilled with Apple’s new iPod. The iPod was not the first MP3 player on the market. There had been many MP3 players on the market for years. Sony even made one…. But Apple’s iPod was marketed well and became the hottest, most desired item amongst the well-to-do and even average music listener. It was a smash success.

After Apple’s iPod dominated the market for about two years, Sony decided to put out their own “new” MP3 player to try to take back market share from Apple’s iPod.

Good idea. but way too little and way too late.

After spending tens of millions on research and engineering, Sony came out with their version of the iPod to great fanfare. I remember hearing much about it because I often go to meetings at a Sony subsidiary company.

I won’t go int too many details, but the Sony device has been a huge money loser.

Have you ever heard of it? No? Yes, you have. They foolishly named it, “Walkman.”

When I first heard the name “Walkman” for the new MP3 player, I really thought, “You must be kidding me!”

Why didn’t they call it “Digi-man”? Or something like that?

So, for many reasons, this new Walkman hasn’t captured the imagination of the public and sales lag. When will Sony pull the plug on this money losing product?

And all, in my opinion, because they don’t understand branding and imaging…

Funny that, you’d think that a company that turned the entire world on it’s ear with a product named WAlkman in 1979 would have learned a few good lessons about image… But then again, I guess not.

More on Turtles and Rare Species in Japan

I had just blogged a “Human Interest” story about my son winning a turtle at the local festival.

Well, maybe I jumped the gun too soon. It seems that, according to my local pet store owner, many of these turtle “fishing” games at the festivals are illegal and operate without a license…

Not only that, the Japan Times reports this morning:

Japan is a major importer of rare plants and animals whose international trade is restricted under a convention on endangered species, according to a new report. The report, prepared by Traffic East Asia-Japan, a group that monitors wildlife trade, was released last week in conjunction with the COP10 international conference on biological diversity being held in Nagoya. Titled “State of Wildlife Trade in Japan,” the report says Japan was the world’s No. 2 importer of living tortoises and birds, and No. 3 in importing orchids in 2007.

Read more here.

Japan to Hire Foreigners!?

Wow! Look at this. Here’s one place that the Japanese government seems to be allowing to practice of hiring foreigners!

(Reuters) - Japan is planning to recruit dozens of foreigners to visit the country and give advice on how to make things more travel-friendly for non-Japanese speaking visitors even as it aims for higher tourist numbers.

The government will pay travel allowances to about 100 native English, Chinese and Korean speakers to visit key cities and come up with ideas on how to make it easier for travelers to use public transport, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, said an official at the Japan Tourism Agency.

Although Japan has made an effort to provide information in other languages in recent years, especially in major cities, these remain hit-or-miss and English still dominates.

But Japan’s National Tourism Organization projects that the number of visitors from China will reach a record 1.5 million this year, many of them high-spending tourists eager to shop for Japanese electronics and other goods.

“What we hear is that there really isn’t enough information on things like how to buy train tickets, or how to use the baths in traditional Japanese inns,” said the official.

“It’s hard for us Japanese to judge how prepared different parts of the country are — we need people to use as monitors who really don’t know Japan at all.”

The official said one way to recruit these travelers could be over the Internet but that they would look at other methods such as asking the relatives of foreign students studying in Japan.

All expenses within Japan will be paid by branch offices of the Transport Ministry, which oversees the Tourism Agency. Part of plane fares to Japan may also be covered.

The information will be compiled by the government as part of a survey of tourism preparedness by late March next year.