New audio platform gives virtual YouTubers the Japanese fan experience

japan times

“Oshikatsu” is the term used to describe devotion toward a particular celebrity in Japan, and when digital entrepreneur Leni Andronicos encountered it for the first time in February, she knew she wanted to be in on the phenomenon.
“Fans in Japan want to invest in their favorite artists,” says Andronicos, 31, from the lounge of the Aman Hotel in Tokyo. “Just learning more about oshikatsu culture made me realize we need to run into the Japanese market headfirst.”

She’s done that with her new audio platform, Oshi. It’s a Japan-centric take on Logcast, a platform she co-founded in 2020 from Stockholm that allows fans to support artists by paying for voice-based content like audio clips (behind-the-scenes recordings, day-in-the-life reports), the chance to take part in virtual meet-and-greet events, and digital “limited-edition collectibles.” Andronicos says Oshi will host Japanese musicians (including a handful from Warner Music Japan), voice actors and — perhaps most importantly — VTubers (virtual YouTubers).

From Ireland to Yamanashi, kimono unlock cultural connections

japan times

Amid the chaos of the pandemic, siblings and fashion design duo Daniel and Siranee Caulfield-Sriklad relocated from London back to their hometown in County Mayo, Ireland, a place they felt gave them time and space to delve into their ancestral heritage.
Alongside COVID-19-induced upheaval, the cyclical nature and fast-paced schedule of the pair’s work in the European fashion industry left them searching for something more personal and meaningful within their careers. Their heritage, which is both Thai and Irish, had long presented Daniel, 35, and Siranee, 29, with an array of questions about belonging and identity. On one side of their family, Buddhist robes are symbolic of their father’s 30-year journey as a practicing monk. On the other branch of the family tree, Western suits are emblematic of their great-grandfather’s career as a tailor in Ireland.

“When identity lies between more than one culture, it can feel challenging to find a sense of belonging,” Siranee tells The Japan Times. “We began asking: ‘How can we use art and design to find a sense of belonging?’”

Ainu culture at the heart of Hokkaido’s mindful tourism pivot

japan times

Shiraoi, Hokkaido – It’s a cold February morning on the banks of Lake Poroto in Shiraoi, Hokkaido. A white blanket of ice and snow covers the water — only footprints lead toward the center of the lake, where holes have been drilled into the frozen surface.
These are spots for freshwater smelt fishing, an ancient tradition which, like so many others in Hokkaido, has been passed down from the indigenous Ainu people who have for centuries called this island home.

Shiraoi’s name also comes from indigenous Ainu language, where shirauoi means “a place of many horse flies.” This small town of around 16,000 residents and one of several active Ainu communities in Hokkaido was also chosen to host the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, which opened its doors on the shores of Lake Poroto in July 2020, becoming Japan’s only national museum north of Tokyo’s metropolitan area — and the only one dedicated to Ainu culture.

‘Cycle train’ services taking off across Japan

japan times

Osaka – So-called cycle trains, or trains on which passengers can carry their bicycles without having to fold or disassemble them, are spreading across Japan.
Faced with a decline in passengers due to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to a rapidly aging population, railway operators in the country hope to attract more users by utilizing the popularity of cycling and taking advantage of tourism resources along their train lines.

East Japan Railway, or JR East, has been operating a cycle train connecting Tokyo’s Ryogoku Station with stations along the Pacific coast in Chiba Prefecture since January 2018. Reflecting its good reputation among cyclists, the 99-seater train used for the service is sometimes fully booked.

TikTok’s newest trend is squeaky clean

japan times

Helsinki – Marie Kondo may have admitted defeat, but a new generation of “cleanfluencers” is taking social media by storm, with millions watching them scour filthy homes and dole out cleaning hacks.
Digging through a mountain of trash, Auri Kananen uncovered a rotten piece of pizza on the floor of a Helsinki flat, with insects devouring it.

“I love cleaning, I love dirt,” declares the 30-year-old Finn, who has far more social media followers than Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru who has admitted embracing the messier side of life since having her third child.

High-tech ‘sassen’ duels are an active otaku’s dream

japan times

It’s an otherwise normal October night in the Akihabara district in Tokyo as tourists and locals alike plod along the glowing neon streets. Young women in maid outfits beckon half-heartedly to men ambling in and out of ramen shops, PC parts suppliers and anime retailers.
Several floors above? It’s fight after fight to the death.

Figuratively speaking, of course — combatants grasp not steel katanas but carbon fiber batons laden with accelerometers and other sensors, all wrapped in foam to soften the inevitable blows. They swing not to maim or kill but for points, though there’s still a palpable, primal aggression in the air when two competitors face off.

Lab-grown poultry nears U.S. plates

japan times

WASHINGTON – California-based cultivated meat company Good Meat has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to bring its lab-grown chicken to market, according to agency documents released on Tuesday.
Several companies are working to bring cultivated meat to market in the United States and must receive approval from both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture before they can sell their products.

Good Meat’s chicken is the second cultivated meat product to receive a “no-questions” letter from the FDA after California-based Upside Foods got the regulator’s green light for its cultivated chicken breast last November. The letter means the FDA accepts the company’s conclusion that its product is safe for humans to eat.

Impure honey flooding EU markets

japan times

Brussels – Around half of the honey imported into the European Union has been tampered with — watered down or laced with cheap sugar syrup — according to an official study published Thursday.
EU health and scientific agencies and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) worked together on the report, which confirmed the suspicions of consumer groups and Europe’s homegrown beekeepers.

Europe imports around 40% of the honey it consumes and has the world’s second sweetest tooth for the sticky breakfast staple after the United States.

Get off the beaten path with some basic Japanese to see the sakura

japan times

Ah, spring. The birds are chirping, the cherry blossoms are blooming — and tourism is booming.
We’ve made it through another year to be greeted by the budding pink blossoms. If, like much of Japan, you’re looking to travel to a great 穴場 (anaba, hidden spot) to see the 桜 (sakura, cherry blossoms), you’re going to need some basic Japanese to get there.

Getting to popular 桜 spots is simple enough in the cities, but once you start going off the beaten path, things get a bit trickier. For this, the simplest phrase you have at your disposal is, “(…) はどこですか?” (… wa doko desu ka?, Where is…?) But that’s really only going to be of assistance when you near your destination.

Celebrate spring with fresh furniture ideas from Japan

japan times

The season of renewal is upon us — that time of the year when the weather gets brighter, gardens bloom into color and many decide to spruce up the home after a good, old-fashioned spring clean. On: Design looks at a few ideas to refresh interiors with spring colors and a sense of orderliness.
New old things

When Masanori Ito established Yes Inc. as a recycling program in 2017, it was in response to his personal dismay at discovering that many discarded household items in Toyama Prefecture were not only vintage but also still in relatively good condition. Now, the initiative focuses on colorfully repurposing two traditional Japanese objects that often find themselves in landfills: paulownia wood tansu chests and hand-carved kibori kuma (wooden bear sculptures) from Hokkaido.

Can ChatGPT plan your next vacation?

japan times

One day soon, in the artificial-intelligence-powered future, a vacation might start by telling your smartphone something like this: “I want to take a four-day trip to Los Angeles in June, whenever airfares and hotel rates are best, using loyalty rewards points. I want to hit a history museum and an amusement park, and then I’d like a 7 p.m. dinner reservation near the hotel at a restaurant with vegan options and a great wine list.” And your phone spits out the perfect itinerary.
But for now, travelers using ChatGPT — the powerful new AI software that is already offering creative cocktail recipes and writing college papers — may have to temper their expectations.

Oded Battat, general manager at Traveland, a travel agency in Bridgeport, Connecticut, asked ChatGPT for outings he might offer his clients going to Tuscany, Italy, to see if it could help him with his work. He got a list of 14 activities, including winery tours and museum visits, with a stop for gelato in the town square of the medieval hill town San Gimignano.

Reina Iizuka: ‘Rugby and football are basically cousins’

japan times

Born and raised in Toronto, Japanese 23-year-old Reina Iizuka was the first female in Canadian history to play men’s university tackle football. Upon graduating last year, she moved to Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, to play professional women’s rugby for the Suzuka-based Mie Pearls. She talks about her sporting transition and her ultimate dream of representing the Japan national team.
1. You made history playing college football, so why change to rugby? It was just chōkan (intuition). I’ve always been very intuitive. So if I feel something, and I feel like it’s the right direction to go, then I just go for it.

2. How familiar were you with rugby before you moved to Japan? I had watched rugby, but I’d never played it before because my high school didn’t have a rugby team. We had a really good track and field team, and the rugby and track and field seasons were in conflict, so I guess my school chose track over rugby. And every season was basically football season, so there was no time to do anything else anyway.

June 2023