Last November I wrote about kairo, the omnipresent disposable pocket warmers favored by so many Japanese during the cold winter months (Kairo keep Tokyo Warm). They've been a mainstay in Japan for decades.
In retrospect, it's amazing that somebody else hadn't already thought of it, but in late 2006 Sanyo introduced a rechargeable kairo that employs the company's eco-friendly eneloop batteries.
Once charged, they stay warm for up to seven hours and they can be recharged 500 times. An on-off switch lets you put on the heat whenever you want. They've definitely caught on and sales are expected to be three times higher than last year. They sell for about 4,000 yen at major electronics shops and about 75% that on Japanese online shopping sites like Rakuten.
If you're like us, by now you're neck deep in year-end parties, and you may be already suffering from bonenkai (忘年会）burnout—so common in Japan at this time of year.
Just remember that you can always spice things up—especially at BYOB bashes—by bringing along something unexpected.
Cocktess Curry Chamery, a new drink from the same folks who manufacture Ramune, might do the trick. It's curry-flavored non-alcoholic bubbly that is sure to induce some wide-eyed "eeeeehhhhhh"s and plenty of giggles.
Containing honey and apple juice along with curry spices, it doesn't taste too bad either.
Lawson, Japan's second largest convenience store chain, recently announced that it will introduce a voluntary carbon offset program in April of 2009. Carbon offsetting involves companies or individuals mitigating their own carbon emissions by purchasing the market value of actual reductions made by others who've implemented pollution-cutting measures.
In the case of Lawson, the company has agreed to partner locally with Tokyo University, which is diminishing carbon emissions on its campuses by replacing equipment and lighting with energy efficient alternatives. Internationally Lawson will be purchasing offsets from an Argentine wind farm.
Apparently, Lawson will also make it possible for consumers to counter their own polluting through programs implemented at company stores. For instancethe chain plans to introduce carbon offset products as well as a system that lets customers buy back carbon emissions through accumulated loyalty program points.
In Japan, he's the official mascot of Sprite, where the brand has been selling itself on the promise of shigeki (stimulation).
In Japanese, "hajikeru" means "to burst" (or go a little nuts) and Hajikeru Jackson's role is to show up at promotional events and in viral videos where he behaves pretty much like a court jester — performing funny or boneheaded stunts to get people laughing (think along the lines of the US TV show "Jackass, but gentler).
In Japan, where brands frequently try to connect with consumers on the most basic emotional level, ad agencies and design firms are often called on to help develop mascots that can embody a brand's personality.
For samples of Hajikeru in action, see videos here and here. You can also search "Hajikeru Jackson" on Youtube for more examples.
Just in case you're easily hooked on unusual Japanese products, or you're on a quest to test all of the world's unusual brews, you may want to plan a special trip to Konan City in Japan's Kochi Prefecture where one of the local micro breweries created Tosa Kuroshio Karyudo Beer to celebrate 10 years in business.
Tosa Kuroshio Karyudo is a low malt concoction brewed with rice flour and hops in an 8 to 2 ratio. Nothing so unusual there. What makes it unique is that it also contains dashi, the fish (bonito) stock that's critically important to making Japanese soups like miso shiru. No, I haven't had it—but I'm willing to bet it's a good accompaniment to sushi or sashimi.
If you can't make the trip to Shikoku, but do live in Japan, you can apparently order Tosa Kuroshio over the phone. The brewer, Tosa Kuroshio Bakshu, (tel. 0887-55-4111) is selling six-pack gift sets containing two bottles of Tosa KuroshioKaryudo and four bottles of the company's other beers—for a mere 2,937 yen (about $30).
I haven't been following this closely, but it appears that NEC has begun selling biometric technology systems to Japanese retailers that are interested in keeping track of customers. The systems combine cameras and specially designed software that can track the faces and upper torsos of customers moving through stores.
I don't know how they propose to handle the obvious privacy concerns these systems will raise, but from the point of view of retailers, the technology promises a multitude of useful applications. Not only can the systems automatically count the number of people entering and leaving, they should also be able to spot traffic patterns, identify new customers and track the behavior of people that have visited the shop previously.
If when it comes to your morning coffee or tea, you're a sipper rather than a gulper, you may be interested in this sleek mug that Thermos Japan started selling not too long ago. Holding 280 ccs (about 9.5 oz), it's quite a bit different from those you often see in the U.S. which (to me) seem more like canteens, rather than mugs (to be expected, I suppose, since when you go to most American Starbucks and ask for a "small" coffee, they serve you a 12 oz!drink).
I'm looking forward to getting one; I drink my morning 6 oz coffee so slow that it's ice cold by the time I'm half-way through.