Japanese Fish Art – Gyotaku

Japanese Fish Art - GyotakuIf you’re like me the phrase Japanese Fish Art conjures images of Koi in berets with paint on their fins. I say paint, because I think sculpture is definitely out of the question. As it turns out, Gyotaku (as it is known is Japan) is actually a printmaking art that uses real fish.

The word Gyotaku literally translates to “fish rubbing”. As you might expect the name is self-explanatory. The process involves painting a fish, then creating an impression of the painted fish. It’s not unlike wood block printing – except for the part where they use real fish.

Gyotaku originated in the mid-1800’s when Japanese fishermen began making impressions as a method of preserving the record of their catches. It was only a matter of time before non-fishermen began to notice the artistic merits of the catch records.

Gyotaku print makers face a variety of challenges, not the least of which is finding fresh fish to paint. However, it’s worth noting that Japanese fisherman are still the primary practitioners of Gyotaku. As a result, the fish prints are somewhat like the American sports fisherman’s mounted fish (except that it’s possible to actually eat the fish after the Gyotaku print is made). One Japanese fishing magazine holds a regular competition for the largest catch of the year. Judging is performed by examining Gyotaku.

As the popularity of Japanese Fish Art has caught on art students around the world have begun exploring the process. For the novice artist, the challenges of fish painting can be even more daunting. In response at least one art supply company has developed a line of rubber fish specifically for the print making process. Purists will undoubtedly snicker, but art teachers everywhere are grateful.

Otaku Transform Akihabara Into A Nerd Nirvana

Otaku Transform Akihabara Into A Nerd NirvanaWhere do cultural hermits go when they finally leave the house? Akihabara, of course. Tokyo’s Electric Town has long been known as a Mecca of electronic components and all manner of high-tech gadgets. Recently, the district has attracted a number of new businesses that have transformed the area into the ultimate destination for the city’s growing Otaku sub-culture.

“Otaku”, an ultra-polite form of the word “you”, first gained wide-spread usage among Japanese anime and manga fans in the early 80’s. Usage of the word has alternated somewhere between derogatory and complimentary ever since.

In the 80’s and 90’s Otaku were seen as obsessive adolescents who lived in a fantasy world of manga and anime. In the 21st century Otaku have finally grown up. They’re now men in their 20’s and 30’s who live in a fantasy world of manga and anime. As a result, many of them actually have jobs (but not families) and the buying power that goes along with being a single, employed, cultural obsessive.

Recent studies indicate that Otaku spend $19 billion per year on their various obsessions. Needless to say, that kind of spending power has caught the attention of entrepreneur’s anxious to cash in on the Otaku fantasy world.

Traditionally Akihabara has been a center for retail electronics and a source of parts for the PC building crowd. It was only a matter of time before the natural geek-ness of Akihabara began to attract Otaku. These days new businesses are just as likely to be cosplay (costume) cafe’s with costumed waitresses who cater to every Otaku need (and believe me, they can be a needy lot).

At Cafe & Kitchen Cos-Cha, young Japanese women dressed as French maids greet Otaku with the phrase “Welcome home, master” (I suppose an American version would have the women dressed as genies). The At Home cafe features waitress/maids who speak to the Otaku in squeaky cartoon voices. For an extra fee they’ll change costumes before serving coffee.

Otaku seeking something a little more exotic than French maids can head over to Little BSD (Beauty’s Satanic Dining). In contrast to the cafes, Little BSD is more of a traditional Japanese bar — except for the part where costumed waitresses (aka “little beauty Satans”) shape rice balls into triangles and hand feed hungry Otaku.

There’s more than just costumed waitresses to attract Otaku to Akihabara. A variety of businesses cater to a range of Otaku interests. From comic books, anime, and video games, to vintage computers and the bewildering array of electronic components that Akihabara has long been known for – there’s a wide range of merchandise to lure the curious Otaku out of hiding.

It seems only natural that Tokyo’s Otaku would see Akihabara as a home away from home. The new businesses catering to their specific needs may actually be addressing a serious problem that has begun to concern Japanese sociologists. Experts estimate that Japan has nearly 1 million shut-ins nation-wide. Surprisingly (or not, given what we know about Otaku) most of those are men in their 20’s and 30’s who live at home with their parents. If it takes costumed waitresses to get these men out of their houses, then so be it.

Drinking Made Quick and Easy

Drinking Made Quick and EasyA new trend in drinking establishment is catering to Tokyo’s “drink and run” commuter culture. Standing Bars have started popping up near subway and train stations throughout the city. With no tables or chairs to get in the way, commuters are free to stand and drink, then move quickly to their next destination.

Given the difficulty in finding a seat on Tokyo’s subways I assume that the target audience for these bars has been conditioned to stand through just about anything.

Women in particular seem to be attracted to the standing bar. Female patrons have noted that the setting frees them to move around more easily, thus avoiding the risk of being stuck sitting next to someone they don’t care to be around. It’s also harder for strangers to tell if a women is alone or with friends.

Naturally, the new drinking format has prompted a new drinking fad – cup sake. The single serve sake bottles come with glass cups that have started to turn into something of a collectible. Buschi in Shibuya offers 20 different types of cup sake. The new popularity of cup sake marks something of a comeback for a drink that was previously thought to be more appropriate for working class middle-aged men. Now it seems the young hipsters can’t get enough of the stuff.

It will be interesting to see how this trend evolves. A few standing bars have actually moved into subway stations. The next logical step would be for Japan Rail to hire cocktail waitresses and begin serving drinks on the train during rush hour.

The Cool Biz Look Sweeps Japan. Sort Of.

The Cool Biz Look Sweeps JapanThe Japanese government has officially launched the Cool Biz initiative, designed to promote more casual business attire and save energy during the summer months. While you would expect to hear cheers from Salarymen around the country, the reaction to the new program has been decidedly mixed.

First of all, there’s the all important question of what to wear. The standard uniform of Japanese business has become an integral part of the identity of the Salaryman.

There have been reports of businessmen arriving at their offices in suits hoping to get fashion tips from others in their office, only to find that their peers are taking the same approach. It seems no one wants to be the first to jump on the Cool Biz bandwagon.

Fortunately Environment Minister Yuriko Koike anticipated this problem and has a solution: fashion shows for businessmen. Of course, this plan assumes that the same men who don’t want to give up their traditional business attire will suddenly start attending fashion shows.

Somehow Koike has managed to rope a number of high profile executives into modeling a variety of well ventilated suit alternatives. She hopes that the mere sight of executives from Sanyo and Toyota strutting down the runway in bamboo mesh shirts will bring on the Cool Biz revolution. “This isn’t simply a fashion show,” she said. “I hope this will be part of a change to a new kind of lifestyle.”

Just in case the fashion show approach doesn’t work, Koike has a backup plan. She’s enlisting the help of the Salarymen’s spouses. “I’d like wives to ask their husbands when they’re wearing a necktie, ‘Why don’t you think more about the Earth?'”

Meanwhile, a Japanese think tank is playing up the economic advantages of the new program, noting that Biz Cool could add up to 100 billion yen to the economy as businessmen replace their summer wardrobes.

So it’s good for the environment AND the economy? What’s not to like?

Apparently plenty, if you’re a traditionalist. Japan Today published a full page of Salarymen’s excuses for not participating in the voluntary program. Among other things, they are concerned that they’ll have a harder time drawing a line between time off and work time.

Still, there’s some indication that a few businessmen are giving Cool Biz a fair chance — and hedging their bets in the process. As one businessman noted, “I thought I should keep a tie in my jacket pocket for a while, just in case of emergencies.”

There’s some indication that even PM Koizumi is backing off the program a bit. Last week he told reporters “Don’t take it too seriously. I’m just saying you should relax with no tie. I’d like everyone to think for themselves what they ought to wear, because (the rule) is not obligatory.”

Given the fact that most office buildings will have the thermostat set to 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) I’m guessing that quite a few Salarymen are going to reconsider Cool Biz later this summer.

Stay tuned to Planet Tokyo for further updates.

Sales of Crash Helmets to Decrease as Hand Straps Increase

Rush Hour TrainIf you’ve ever had the privilege of riding the train through Tokyo during rush hour, you will either be amused or grateful to learn that the number of rails and hand straps on the trains will be increased. Apparently, your fellow passengers are not safety devices.

There are no rules regarding capacity on the trains, though there is an estimated standing space of 0.3 square meters per person. We just picked up ruler and that’s not a whole lot of space for standing. Based on our experience, you can fit a lot of people in that little fraction of a square meter — especially if not everyone is touching the floor.

Increased strap and hand rail capacity will be phased in, thanks to passengers who responded to train company surveys with an overwhelming “Yes!” when it came to the issue of having something to hold during commutes. Again, we remind you: fellow passengers do not appreciate bear hugs from strangers. Train safety has become a high profile issue due to a recent train crash. However, even before that tragedy, concern was growing:

Fumio Yoshikawa, vice chairman of the Japan Railfan Club, said, “Because trains now travel faster than before, passengers sometimes feel nervous when a driver brakes suddenly.”

Egyptian Cotton, Out; Royal Weddings, In

Imperial HotelWe don’t know much about investment strategy here at Planet Tokyo, but we do know a potential windfall when we see one. Forget market research, abandon charts and graphs, avoid market caps (whatever those are) — especially if you’re investing in hotels. Where other hotels focus on customer service to increase profits, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo has stumbled across a surefire way to up its share price: host a royal wedding.

When it was announced that Princess Sayako (also known as Princess Nori) would be married at the hotel — the first Western-style hotel in Tokyo — share prices leaped up over 20%. Yes, share prices increased by double digits courtesy of a wedding announcement. Because the wedding isn’t until November, we are holding back on purchasing a few shares of stock for our portfolio. We are unsure whether it’s a long-term or short-term investment.

In completely unrelated news, we note that the Princess will be giving up her royalness upon her marriage. Something about marrying a commoner. We are unclear on the rules of royalty, but vaguely recall her brother marrying a commoner and remaining Crown Prince. This is why we will never be invited to dinner at the Palace.

From a recent interview with Princess Sayako regarding what she will call her new husband:

As for the names we may use for each other, that is something we have not yet really thought about as yet perhaps because there has been no real need so far, but come to think of it, there are no specific names by which we call each other. I believe that these are things that will come naturally with time.

Salarymen Victims of Global Warming

Salarymen Victims of Global WarmingIn a campaign to save energy during Japan’s increasingly hot summers, Prime Minister Koizumi has done the unthinkable. He’s asked Japan’s salarymen to shed their traditional coats and ties. In fact, he’s requested that all of Japan’s office workers dress less formally during the summer months.

In a country that prides itself on tradition, formality, AND following the instructions of authorities, this latest order is bound to cause some serious cultural confusion. It has been suggested that the suit and tie have become so ingrained in the Japanese mindset that the average Japanese businessman may not know how to dress in a “freestyle” fashion world.

Some recall the failure of “casual fridays” in the mid-90s when workers became stressed out while trying to determine what to wear on the day they were supposed to be relaxing. Others have suggested that a new business uniform be developed for the summer months.

Japan’s Environmental Ministry is stepping in to provide some guidance for bewildered workers. The Ministry has dubbed the new look “cool biz” and will be staging fashion shows featuring high profile business executives sans coat and tie.

It’s almost certain that some interesting new fashion statements may arise as a result of this new edict. The time may finally be right for former prime minister Hata’s eco suit (pictured) which failed to generate much enthusiasm when it was originally unveiled in 2000.

While the Japanese seem to be (grudgingly) willing to give the new mode of attire a try, the new program has generated some interesting reactions internationally. An editorial in the Khaleej Times laments that one of the last places on earth that still knows how to dress will soon be emulating modern America. The commentator continues by noting that he misses the days when everyone used to dress like Eisenhower.

Attack of the Giant Platypus

Giant PlatypusYou would think by now the Japanese would be used to giant monsters. Yet for some reason the arrival this week of a giant platypus at the World Expo has left many Japanese perplexed. One of the most common questions posed by visitors to the Australian pavilion was “What does it taste like?”

Presumably the would-be platypus eaters asked their question before the giant monotreme attacked the Danish royal couple (pictured here moments before being swallowed whole).

According to news reports the 12 meter long beast was finally subdued after a chorus of school children were brought in to sing the Japanese national anthem. I vaguely recall something similar working on Mothra.

It’s probably worth pointing out that this sort of thing is bound to happen more frequently now that Godzilla has announced his retirement. I can only imagine what sort of creatures will be stepping in to fill the void left by the king of lizards.

Vending Machines To The Rescue

Rescue Vending MachineWhen I contemplate a hypothetical situation where I might need emergency assistance in Japan two things come to mind:

First, the emergency number is 119 instead of 911.

Second, how the heck do you tell dispatch where the emergency is?

Fortunately finding out your exact location could be just as easy as locating the nearest vending machine. Japan has almost six million vending machines selling every imaginable consumable (and quite a few that you would never imagine). It’s been said that Japan has one vending machine for every 20 people. Japan’s vending machine operators are now reportedly banding together to add address stickers to vending machines.

Having been lost a few times on the streets of Tokyo I think this is a great idea. I’m actually kind of surprised it took this long for someone to think of this. Not only will these stickers help with emergency services, but they’ll also help lost tourists.

Just one question. Since the buildings of Tokyo are numbered in the order they were built (and not sequentially as they are in most other parts of the world), how will these vending machines be numbered?

Love, Tokyo Style

The publishing world has been buzzing about Trainman, the supposedly true story of a young man who spies his true love on the train…and the chat room denizens who help him capture his heart. “Densha Otoko,” or “Trainman” by the pseudonomynous Hitori Nakano has Japanese (and surely United States) publishers scrambling for more stories of love in our high tech world.

Some Japanese book publishers have formed new divisions, with researchers spending their days searching chat rooms for good narratives. Surely there must be “writers” with names like jimboT436 who aren’t yet aware that their messages to cynthias2ndhusband, met by a witty put-down from Pocket- Rocket, are actually a perfect opening chapter for a story with the paperback sales punch of Jackie Collins.