Archives for the month of: July, 2010

The original iPhone, launched by Apple Inc in 2007, raised the bar for global cell phone manufacturers and service providers, who were essentially producing and selling mobile telephones that offered a few other basic communication options and some primitive functionality. iPhone and the efforts of Google with their Android mobile software have truly transformed the cell phone into the portable computer the marketing men had long touted it as being and consumers are better off. In Japan, however, customers have long enjoyed the benefits of advanced technologies and the phone companies and their handset manufacturing partners continue to outdo themselves as they progress in leaps and bounds from generation to generation of device.

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William Gibson, in his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, which is partly set in Tokyo, writes about an otaku culture in Japan that obsessively reproduces vintage garments such as the famous Buzz Rickson’s wartime jackets – one of which is worn by the novel’s protagonist – for modern consumption, with an attitude so reverential that the original imperfections are reproduced in the remakes by the Japanese manufacturers along with the most insignificant details of the referenced item.

Such idolization of past icons seems a contradiction in a culture where there’s a disregard for the old as witnessed by the easy destruction of old city buildings and the rush to purchase the latest consumer wares to replace the old. Great value is, however, placed on these authentic reproductions and there is a love of Americana among various fashion tribes in this city. In particular, vintage American workwear, classic denim and military gear is highly valued, not only among the devotees of vintage labels; it also finds its way into the wardrobes of many fashionable Tokyoites.

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Through his body of work, Isamu Noguchi, the celebrated Japanese-Amercian sculptor, landscape architect and furniture designer, provides a brilliant example of how the creative dimensions can be explored at the nexus of Eastern and Western culture. Born in the USA to a Japanese father and American mother, Noguchi moved between the two cultures throughout a long and productive life marked by many impressive milestones. Eastern and Western culture, traditional and modern influences and various artistic collaborations helped to shape the artist’s work.

 

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Tokyo’s culture of convenience is fueled by an exhaustive array of stores that are open daily till 8 or 9 pm, tens of thousands of 24 hour convenience stores and millions of vending machines. Japan’s leading apparel retailer, Uniqlo, has seized on the concepts of the vending machine and convenience store and combined them with slick retail design and limited edition products to create a unique shopping experience in their UT Store Harajuku.

Spotlight

  • There are estimated to be about 5.5 million vending machines in Japan, about half of which dispense canned and bottled drinks.
  • Customers have the added convenience of paying the machines by smart card or credit enabled phone (saifu-keitai) on an increasing number of machines.
  • There are more than 43,000 convenience stores (combini) in Japan; the Seven-Eleven chain is the largest with more than 12,700 stores.
  • Seven & I Holdings Co, Ltd, owner of Seven-Eleven Japan convenience stores and supermarkets, is Japan’s largest retailer.
  • Uniqlo began trading in 1984 in Hiroshima and now has more than 800 stores in Japan and has begun expanding into international markets with 140 stores in countries such as the UK, China, France, Russia and the USA.
  • Fast retailing Co. Ltd, owner of Uniqlo, is Japan’s largest clothing company; sales forecasts for 2010 are US$9 billion.
  • Fast retailing founder and head Tadashi Yanai is Japan’s richest person.

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Tokyo/Glow is 2 minutes 10 seconds of moodily lit, exquisitely framed and masterfully edited time lapse footage that is at once a dazzling depiction of Tokyo by night, a quirky melancholy and humorous narrative and a brilliant commercial for hip US shoe manufacturer, The Generic Man.

 

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Masamichi Katayama is the creative mind behind Wonderwall Inc., and in a city famous for groundbreaking design, he has become one of the hottest names in Japanese retail design. Katayama’s work can be found throughout Tokyo’s coolest shopping districts, his style at its most expressive in various Bape (A Bathing Ape) stores and the Nike flagship store in Harajuku. Katayama’s work has a pop sensibility, with its playfulness and cultural references, his love of detail and mixing of elements, and his interior design infuses the spaces he creates with their own individual personality.

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Tokyo is a city of architectural extremes that houses some truly sublime works. While there’s scant regard for preservation of the old, the love of the new is evident in the constant renewal of and experimentation in architecture throughout the city. Presented here a selection of Tokyo’s more innovative buildings of the last few decades. Some, like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings and Yoyogi National Gymnasium, emphasize their form, while many others use light, either artificial or natural, in interesting ways, making for impressive viewing day or night.

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The spirit of zen has been transformed into urban cool by the ultimate lifestyle retailer MUJI. Zen principles of simplicity and absence have been harnessed to create a world of minimalist utilitarian products from socks and lamps to a car and house.

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