Friday, July 29, 2005


TEPCO seems to be trying to rebrand itself as a lifestyle company instead of simply a provider of broadband infrastructure with these recent ad campaign.


Glico has released Breo which not only gives you fresh breath, but also a clean tongue.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

DoCoMo goes SUICA

NTT DoCoMo and JR East have announced a basic agreement to discuss joint development and management of common infrastructure for the JR East's SUICA Card and DoCoMo's "Wallet Phone" (an IC card integrated into the upcoming handsets which includes credit card function). Both are based on the FeliCa technology, and cooperation between DoCoMo, JR East and FeliCa owner Sony were announced earlier this year.

Up to now, some DoCoMo handsets contained a IC Card that could only be used as a cashcard and was based on a different and incompatible technology (Edy). Does this mean that DoCoMo plans to abandon the system in favour of SUICA because of its far higher penetration rate? A SUICA compatible mobile would surely be a customer magnet, as it could function as a train pass/ticket, cashcard and credit card.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Motorola M1000

NTT DoCoMo has just released the Motorola M1000, a handset that can run MS Word, Excel, PDF and PowerPoint (further details at Mobilemag).

Motorola seems to be responding to the fact that foreign-made handsets are facing huge difficulties in being accepted by Japanese customers, who have high expectations not only in technological specifications, but also design and user-friendlyness. The M1000 might signal that Motorola has given up on trying to catch up with Japanese manufacturers in this field, and instead focus on a completely different type of handset which no Japanese manufacturer has come up with so far - a cross between PDA and mobile phone targeted at business users. It will be interesting to see whether this strategy is successful.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The SUICA penguin

One of the new ads for the SUICA IC cards, which can not only be used as rechargeable traintickets, but also as cashcards when shopping. They are accepted in most shops in or around train stations. The penguin is the SUICA mascot - originally featured only in comic-book style drawings, it has recently entered the real world in the adverts. Shops accepting the SUICA card for payment can be spotted by an inflatable penguin at the shop entrance.

The name SUICA is not so much a pun on the word for watermelon as explained on Wikipedia, but refers to the Japanese expression "sui sui" which means "to move quickly", referring to the fact that moving through the ticket barrier with SUICA takes less time than with regular tickets.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Zen Cafes

Logo of Ony, a recently very successful chain of restaurants serving Japanese rice balls (onigiri) in a japanese-retro interior. Popular especially with working women in their 20s, it was also mentioned in an article in the IHT on the trend towards Zen Cafes a while back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Vodafone goes Hello Kitty

Another week, another new concept from Vodafone to woe customers. This time it is exclusive Hello Kitty content for one of its new handsets, the Sharp V501sh. Obviously the strategy of appealing to customers with an international image (yes, David Beckham also appeared in the company's ads in Japan) has not worked, and so Vodafone is trying to at least partly "re-localize" its brand. However, I wonder if Hello Kitty really is the way forward - such content would probably be much more successful in the US.

Update: And there is also a version targeting guys, featuring Gundam.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Found Muji

Muji has taken on the concept of select shops with Found Muji, a new section in the Muji Yurakucho store where products outside the normal Muji range sourced from all over the world are sold.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

au meets the force

Adverts for the au Star Wars campaign featuring exclusive content accessible only from au handsets.

DoCoMo Mushrooms

The Mushrooms - introduced as mascotts for the Family Discount campaign - are proving so popular that DoCoMo has produced three short animated films with them, which can be viewed only via DoCoMo handsets.

au by KDDI - new adverts

Adverts for the functions of the latest handsets by AU/KDDI.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Discount store wars?

The BBC is reporting on discount stores at war in Japan but getting some of the background wrong – if there is a war taking place then it is not only between convenience stores and discounters, but a larger battle that involves also 100 Yen Shops and supermarkets. The main battlefield, however, is among the convenience store operators themselves, as they are looking for new markets and sources of revenue.

Convenience stores – although limited to a surface of 100sqm – sell everything one needs in daily life, from precooked food to make-up and underwear, but no fresh produce such as fruit or vegetables. In the last years, they have also continuously expanded the services they offer – now you can draw money, pay bills, buy concert tickets at all stores and even drop your dry cleaning at some stores. What all convenience stores have in common are a very similar selection of products, more expensive prices compared to supermarkets, a bright atmosphere bordering on the sterile and often sleep-deprived staff (most are open 24 hours).

100 Yen shops have been around since the 1980s, and experienced massive growth during the economic crisis in the 1990s. Their range of products includes everything from household goods to clothes and non-perishable food at a standard price of 100 Yen, and the products on sale are mostly of surprisingly good quality.

The company Ninety-nine Plus has adapted this concept to supermarket products with its Shop 99 and offers a range similar to a normal supermarket (i.e. including fresh fruit, vegetables etc) at the standard price of 99 Yen (some products are more expensive at 199 or 299 Yen). The store is popular especially with working singles, as they need fresh food products in small quantities outside the opening hours of normal supermarkets, but also bargain-hunting housewives.

Convenience stores are therefore being put under pressure both from supermarkets (which have been making efforts to expand their opening times) and discounters such as Shop 99 and the infamous Don Quijote. To fight back, convenience stores are moving away from the standard convenience store concept and branching out in a number of innovative directions:

1) Focus on organic food and high quality (Natural Lawson)
2) Try new store concepts and product lineups (Famima)
3) Copy the 100 Yen Shop model (Lawson, am/pm)

The aim of convenience stores is not only to increase their overall market share, but also diversify their customer base away from male consumers in the 20-30 age group to include housewives and elder people. Convenience stores are therefore not simply "going discount", but working on a number of different store concepts and trying to figure out what works and what does not. But this does not mean they are forgetting about their main stores - a further battlefield are premium brands of well-known manufacturers or even brands and products developed exclusively for a particular chain (see the Schweppes Grapefruit drink below, which is exclusively available at Family Mart).

Saturday, July 09, 2005


The movie Densha Otoko (Trainman) has been released on Thursday. It is the latest media release based on a thread on the popular message board 2 Channel, where in 2004 an Otaku sought advice on how to approach a beautiful girl he had rescued from a drunk on the train and fallen in love with. As a clumsy geek who has probably never talked to a woman before, his chances of dating the designer-clad "Miss Hermes" would normally be zero. However, a huge number of helpful replies and encouragement ensued, while he kept asking for advice and posting about his progress until the happy end. Published as a book - hyped as the first ever novel to be taken from the Internet - it turned into a bestseller with more than 1.5 million copies sold, and was followed by several comicbook releases and a TV drama.

Regardless to whether this story is true or not, an interesting aspect is that both male geeks and single careerwomen refuse to conform to the still fairly rigid gender roles in Japanese society and therefore make a much less strange combination than the storyline would like to have us believe. Otaku choose to dedicate their life to their obsession with Manga or other trivia, opting out of the salaryman lifestyle of total dedication to the company. Single careerwomen refuse their assigned role by doing exactly the opposite and choosing work and a self-determined lifestyle over marriage and life as a housewive. Both groups are viewed very negatively in Japan - Otaku is definitely not a positive expression, and the name for single careerwomen in their thirties, "Makeinu" (underdog) is even worse.

According to this probably not completely fact-based article, some women are finally realizing this and start to discover Otaku as perfect husband material. An Otaku might be strange - but is bound to be much less demanding and macho than a high-flying salaryman at one of the big companies for example, and there is no need to worry about him having an affair.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Rerakkuma (the "relax bear"), is a character popular especially with girls in junior highschool and highschool. Apart from toys, straps for mobile phones and other merchandise, there is also a game for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. The book pictured above offers relief "at times when you feel stressed out and every day seems the same."

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Amamia Hotaru is the heroine of a new manga that has become a huge success with working women in their 20s. In contrast the older generation of women in their 30s who have experienced the bubble economy, have worked hard for their careers and sometimes sacrificed their private life for it (often stereotyped as unmarried careerwomen), this new generation finds both work and relationships a bother, and instead chooses to live a carefree life focussed on personal interests, friends and hobbies. Find out whether you are one of them by answering the following questions (true/false):

* I eat meals and snacks while standing in the kitchen
* The only times my heart pounds is when I climb the stairs
* Matchmaking parties are simply a chance to drink
* I often talk to myself
* I do not remember my own bra size
* I only write very short SMS, and am often late in answering them
* I complain about things and try not to put too much effort in them
* I often get excited by health programmes on TV
* My fridge contains only the leftover wrapping of a sixpack

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Vodafone again

This is the website for the new Vodafone mobile mentioned below. Quite entertaining. And yes, it is trying to show that Vodafone rocks!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Kitkat Tumbler Pack

KitKat is a steady source of innovation in the Japanese market for sweets. Apart from flavours exclusive to the Japanese market (caffe latte, green tea, cheesecake are just the most recent examples), they come up with clever sales ideas like the Tumbler Pack - a thermos mug for hot and cold drinks sold with 4 Kitkat minis inside.