Japan’s Miraculous Massage Chairs

By gordonh | February 18, 2007

Before I lived in Japan, whenever I came to Tokyo on a trip I always set aside a day to visit Akihabara, the electronics super district of the world. You can get anything here, though recently prices aren’t necessarily a bargain. You will definitely see gadgets and gizmos found nowhere else in the world.

One of my required stops in Akihabara is the 4th floor of the Laox Duty-Free Store. This is the hallowed location of the electronic massage chairs. You absolutely cannot believe how amazing these things are until you try one yourself! I’ve brought co-workers, friends and family to this place to “test the merchandise” year after year. Each year, there’s a newer model with more bells and whistles, guaranteed to squeeze the stress right out of you. Pictured below is the top-of-the-line for this year. (Unfortunately, the store doesn’t allow photography so I couldn’t take any real photos of us enjoying the chairs.)

Behold, the National/Panasonic Momi Momi RealPro GII.

Check out the chair’s control panel.

It has computer controlled inflatable air bladders to massage your feet and legs, plus highly articulated arms with rollers to massage your back and neck.

The “massage chair stop” is always great after a day of walking and shopping through Akihabara.

Topics: Technology | No Comments »

Valentine’s Day & White Day

By gordonh | February 17, 2007

From TokyoMango.com:


In Japan, men carry zero responsibility on Valentine's Day except to be showered with chocolates by women who adore them. I don't know who decided this, but on V-day, women give men chocolates. Women give men love letters. Women make their proposals and confessions to the men they love. The men just sit back and wait until White Day. All they have to do on V-day is decide whether they want to accept the chocolates or not. By accepting chocolates, they are giving women the hope–no matter how false–that they may get something in return on White Day.

White Day is on March 14th, and that's when men give women flowers. But it's a month later, which means they have a few weeks to decide whether they want to respond. When–and if–they do, that's when they know they like each other. So between Feb 14 and March 14, hundreds of thousands of Japanese girls are sitting at home, pulling on their hair, nervously waiting for the day when they find out whether their feelings are reciprocated.

Why is this like the only time when women go first?

Yep, I was in the candy section of Odakyu as the lone male fighting to buy chocolate among hordes of women. The store workers gave me weird looks and were hesitant to let me buy my box of Godiva chocolates. I explained to them that the custom in America is reversed (is this not common knowledge?). They asked me about White Day and I said there isn't a White Day in the US so reciprocating isn't part of the equation. They were like.. wow… Godiva in hand, I left smiling and waving as hundreds of desperate choco-seeking women glared at me.

Topics: Culture | No Comments »

Japanese Women’s Wild Fashion

By gordonh | September 30, 2006

Here’s a topic that will be discovered by search engines and drive traffic to the site, no doubt. It’s no secret that Japan is home to some wild fashion trends and fads, particularly when it comes to girls/women. Here are some examples of common species to be found in Tokyo.


First, the famous (and sometimes notorious) Japanese schoolgirl. In the photo below, you’ll see 2 types. On the left, you see the standard Japanese schoolgirls wearing their school’s uniform. On the right, you see high school girls who have deep tans, blonde-ish hair, loose socks secured in place with adhesive, with skirts pulled up at their waist. These fashion-conscious high school girls are known as “kogals” and frequently travel in packs around the Shibuya district shopping for clothing and brand-name goods. The most notorious of these girls practice “enjo kosai” which is translated as “compensated dating”, but is really just prostitution to fund their materialistic shopping habit.

From Wikipedia:

Kogal (コギャル kogyaru in romaji (romanised Japanese), lit. “kōkōsei ” (a high school student) plus “gal” from English) is a subculture of girls and young women in urban Japan, one of several types of so-called gals. They are characterized by conspicuously displaying their disposable income through distinctive tastes in fashion, music, and social activity. In general, the kogal “look” roughly approximates a sun-tanned California Valley girl, and indeed, the similarities between the two extend to the linguistic, for both subcultures have derived entire sets of slang terms (コギャル語 “ko-gyaru-go”). Kogals are not to be confused with the ganguro subculture, although they are similar.

Kogals are known for wearing platform boots, a miniskirt, copious amounts of makeup, hair coloring (usually yellow or brown), artificial suntans, and designer accessories. If in school uniform, the look typically includes skirts pinned very high and loose socks (large baggy socks that go up to the knee). Kogals’ busy social lives and desire for new material goods leads them to be among the first consumers of Japanese cell phone technology, and their taste in clothes tends toward names such as Burberry scarves and Louis Vuitton handbags. Kogals spend much of their free time (and their parents’ income) shopping, and their culture centers on the Shibuya district of Tokyo, in particular the 109 building, although any major Japanese city is sure to have at least a small population. During the summer, kogals may sometimes be seen at the beach. They are generally not seen in high-end department stores.

Critics of the Kogal subculture decry its materialism as reflecting a larger psychological or spiritual emptiness in modern Japanese life. Some kogals support their lifestyle with allowances from wealthy parents, living a “freeter” or “parasite single” existence that grates against traditional principles of duty and industry. A small minority appear in pornography to finance their habits. More may engage in the practice of “compensated dating”, or enjo kōsai, which may at times border on quasi-legal prostitution. Internet-based usage of this term has led some Western observers to the mistake of believing that “kogal” means “prostitute”.

The kogal phenomenon emerged in the mid-1990s and its effects can still be seen today in its numerous off-shoots of sub-categories, although conservative tastes in dress and hair color seem to be on the upswing. Interestingly enough, the Gothic Lolita aesthetic has been described as a reaction to the kogal look, though the other side is that GLs merely model after Jrock cosplay.

The term’s etymology is disputed: the most common theory is that it was derived from the Japanese word for “high school”, kōkō (高校), although others claim that it comes from ko (子), the Japanese word for “girl” or “child”. The “gal” originates from English. See gyaru.


Next, we have the “70’s California surfer girl” look species commonly known as “Ganguro”, or “black face”, so named for their dark artificial tans. Here’s more info from Wikipedia:

Ganguro (ガングロ, Ganguro?) is a fashion trend among many Japanese girls which peaked in popularity from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, an outgrowth of chapatsu hair dyeing. The Shibuya and Ikebukuro districts of Tokyo are the center of ganguro fashion.

The basic look consists of bleached hair, a deep tan, both black and white eyeliners, false eyelashes, platform shoes (usually sandals or boots), and brightly colored outfits. Also typical of the “Ganguro Gal” look are cell phones covered with purikura stickers, tie-dyed sarongs, mini-skirts, hibiscus flower hairpins, and lots of bracelets, rings and necklaces.

Extreme trend followers further bleach their hair up to a platinum blond shade, get even deeper tans, wear white lipstick, multicolored pastel eyeshadows and tiny metallic or glittery adhesives around the bottom rim of the eye sockets (See Yamanba). Popular Ganguro magazines include Egg, Popteen, and Ego System.

In an interview with Tony Barrell, Shoichi Aoki, the creator of FRUiTS magazine, stated: “Ganguro was a phenomenon that was specific to Shibuya, about 1km away from Harajuku—which we have been talking about—and they were totally different so FRUiTS as a rule didn’t really take them up. Only a few times we’ve covered ganguro in our magazine. Where they came from is actually a mystery, no one really knows but there is some speculation that they were girls who were infatuated or fascinated with Janet Jackson or black American musicians or perhaps Naomi Campbell, the supermodel, but it’s still a mystery what their origins were.”

Some foreign observers speculate as to ‘who’ these ganguro are “meant” to look like. Some say that because of the blonde hair, hibiscus flowers, and extremely tan skin, they want to look like America’s west coast girls. A handful of others believe it is an obsession with being black. A more nuanced explanation is that the Ganguro girl is a unique style evolved from Japan’s own original culture in response to the media/entertainment pop culture of the West. It is worth noting that these girls generally do not study hard in school or pursue athletics or traditional artistic goals. Like certain subcultures in the West, the style may be a form of self-expression in opposition to conservative mores. The heavy tans pose a significant health risk, most notably non-specific lifelong skin damage and cancer, thereby conspicuously showing a disregard for the future.

There is some dispute surrounding the etymology of the word “ganguro”. Some academics claim that the name derives from “顔黒” (black face), but (past) ganguro practitioners themselves invariably say it derives from “ガンガン黒” (exceptionally dark). Some people see it as racist and compare it to the blackface of early 1900s culture in America.


Next, we have a close relative of the Ganguro, called “Yamanba”, named after a mythical mountain witch. From Wikipedia:

Yamanba (ヤマンバ, Yamanba?) sometimes written as “yamamba”, is a fashion trend among young Japanese women. Starting with the bleached white hair and heavy tan of the ganguro girl, the yamanba adds white lipstick, white eye makeup, and sometimes brightly colored contacts, plastic clothing, and inappropriate accessories. Some yamanba wear stuffed animals as decorations, talk with a slurred speech, and enjoy shiny neon or dayglo colors. The male equivalent is called a “center guy,” this being a pun on the Center-gai (センター街, Center-gai?) pedestrian shopping area near Shibuya station in Tokyo where yamanba and center guys can often be seen.

The term yamanba comes from a mountain hag, known as Yama-uba, whom the fashion is thought to resemble.

The contrast in that last photo is striking. I guess this is one way to express your individuality in a homogenous society.


From Wikipedia:

Lolita fashion is part of the fashion style and subculture Gothic & Lolita, which originated in Japan, largely inspired by Victorian children’s clothing and the elaborate costumes of the Rococo period. Other influences include the western goth subculture, punk subculture and french maid outfits. Skirts are typically knee length and are worn with a pannier or petticoat to add volume. Over-knee socks, knee socks or stockings are extremely popular, especially printed with roses or crowns or topped with lace. Footwear is typically cute, child-like shoes such as Mary Janes, though Vivienne Westwood Rocking horse shoes, and replicas of them are also very popular. Skirts are typically paired with either a Frilly, ruffled, or lace-trimmed Victorian blouse or a lacey ‘cut sew’ which stands for a shirt (usually tee-shirt material) that has been ‘cut and sewn’. Other garments are either dresses in one or more pieces, which are labeled one-piece, two-piece etc or a pinafore jumper skirt worn over a blouse. These blouses often have Peter-Pan collars or sailor collars. Lace-trimmed headdresses, mini-top hats worn to one side, and intricate old-fashioned jewelry are some favored accessories of Lolitas.

Though not the founder of the style, the Lolita fashion is often considered to have been made popular by Mana, of the band Malice Mizer. The fashion started in the 70s, though it did not gain popularity and media presence until the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Although “Lolita” is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous novel, and Lolita is often worn by teens, most followers of the style do not consider it overtly sexual. Adherents present themselves as Victorian children or baby dolls and prefer to look cute, beautiful or elegant rather than sexy.

Yes, they do exist. Check out the scene at a McDonald’s in Tokyo (below).

Gothic Lolita

From Wikipedia:

Gothic Lolita or “GothLoli” (ゴスロリ, gosurori; sometimes alternatively “Loli-Goth“) is a subcategory of the Lolita fashion, a street fashion among Japanese female teenagers and, to a lesser extent, men and young women.

Lolita fashion emphasizes Victorian-style and Edwardian fashion girl’s clothing and often aims to imitate the look of Victorian porcelain dolls. The Roccoco period has also been defined as an influence of Gothic lolita. Gothic Lolita applies the aesthetics of Gothic fashion to the childlike, pretty Lolita fashion. GothLoli’s name and origin is a combination of Lolita and Gothic fashion.

The term “EGL” is commonly mistaken as the blanket term for Lolita fashion and Gothic Lolita in Western Lolita culture. The name “EGL” applies only to that specific line of clothing’s style in Moi-même-Moitié, which is in the Gothic Lolita style.

Gothic Lolita is the best-known of the various “Lolita” looks. Other categories include “Classic Lolita“, which is often more mature-looking and contains more muted colours and floral prints and “Sweet Lolita” which is identified by childish pastel colours and cute prints.


From Wikipedia:

Cosplay restaurants (コスプレ系飲食店), are theme restaurants and pubs that originated in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan around the year 2000. They include maid cafés (メイドカフェ) and butler cafés, where the service staff dresses in cosplay, elegant maids, or butlers. Such restaurants and cafes have become the staple of Japanese otaku culture. Compared to “normal” cafés‘ service, maid cafés provide a slightly different atmosphere. The maids treat the customers as their master in a home. The popularity of the cosplay restaurants and maid cafes has spread to other regions in Japan such as Osaka’s Den Den Town as well as other Asian countries, such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

The maids are often dressed in cute lolita fashion or french maid-styled uniforms to look and act “kawaii” for the customers. Sometimes the maid outfit is augmented with cat or bunny ears to increase their cuteness. At maid cafes most service staff members are female and male jobs are typically limited to bar-backing and janitorial duties.

Some homepages of maid cafés have pictures and profiles of the maids.

When a customer enters the café, the maids typically give a flattering greeting such as “Welcome home, Master“(おかえりなさい、御主人様!) in order to play the role of a house servant. Unlike “ordinary” cafés, maids serve customers as if they were their masters. For example, staff sometimes kneel on the ground to mix sugar or milk in teas or other drinks. The purpose of the maid cafés and their service is to make customers feel at home and relaxed. Although exemplary customer service is typical of Japan, maid cafés take special care to pamper their patrons.

Image is Everything.

Do you believe in the stereotype that Japanese women are conservative? You may change your mind after you see the next few photos. The scenes below are common throughout the city at all times of the day. (Note that I’m not a creepy guy who goes around taking photos of unsuspecting women.I found these on Flickr, and you can too.)

Notice the exposed garter on this young lady’s right leg (below).

And it doesn’t stop even after you become a parent, apparently.

Topics: Culture | 1 Comment »

Vertical Parking - The Car Jukebox

By gordonh | September 14, 2006

In the US, parking lots are barren seas of black pavement and white lines. Thoughts of Costco and the Disney theme parks come to mind. In Japan, there’s no space for that, so vertical parking towers are used. Basically, you drive into a building housing a ferris-wheel-like apparatus that carries cars. Drive onto an open platform, and up goes your car for safe and space-efficient storage. When you pick up your car, the wheel spins until your car is at the bottom allowing you to back out, rotate on the turntable, then drive away. In some places an attendant helps you. In others, the whole process is automated by a computer. Here are some examples.

The entrance typically looks like this:

Other forms of vertical parking:

In many office buildings, you’ll find a hybrid where the parking area is pretty normal, but they store 2 cars in each spot. Here’s a photo of the parking lot under the office building I work in. There’s a control panel to raise/lower the lifts and open the gates.

Topics: Technology, Culture, Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

By gordonh | July 16, 2006

The ramen museum was a short walk away from the station. The inside is pretty neat, designed “Disney-like” to look like 1940s Japan. 10 famous ramen shops were chosen from all over Japan to represent different regional tastes and styles. There are signs to indicate the wait time for each shop, just like a theme park. Here's an excerpt from Tokyo-i.tripod.com and some photos I took.

Japan is a country filled with ramen fans, ramen connoisseurs, and certifiable ramen maniacs, and now the city of Yokohama has opened an entire museum devoted to the ubiquitous Chinese noodle. More than just an ordinary museum, it's also part historical theme park and part hyper-specialized restaurant mall. And, unlike your usual dusty museum, it stays open till 11pm to accommodate hungry concertgoers returning from the nearby Yokohama Arena.

Once you're past the entrance turnstiles, the first floor is devoted to numerous museum exhibits and a well-stocked souvenir shop. Clearly the museum's organizers racked their brains to come up with every imaginable ramen-related display they could think of, and the results are here to see — ramen-making utensils, ramen bowls (over 300), ramen shop matchbooks, chopstick wrappers, curtains and aprons. The historical development of instant ramen is painstakingly chronicled, and the invention of cup ramen (the kind where you pour boiling water directly into a styrofoam cup) is celebrated as the dramatic technological achievement it most certainly was.

Instant ramen packets from around the world adorn the walls, and overhead TV monitors broadcast a continuous stream of ramen commercials from the past 25 years. Ramen history buffs will be delighted (and the rest of us merely mystified) by a replica of the first ramen dish ever eaten by a 17th-century samurai named Mito Komon. Two life-size dioramas show the operation of an instant ramen factory, and since this is a modern museum (it opened in March 1994), there are also banks of interactive video panels. Ramen-themed video games are provided for younger visitors; the one I saw seemed to involve eating as many noodles as quickly as possible (yet more proof of the bad influence video games have on the young).

But the fun is only beginning, since the remainder of the museum (on two underground levels) is a miniature historical theme park. The date is 1958, and the place is shitamachi, a typically bustling working-class neighborhood crowded with tiny shops, houses and restaurants. The time is just 40 years ago, but it's definitely a different era, just before the rapid modernization that changed the face of Japanese cities. As a theme park, "Ramen Town" is not quite Disneyland, but it includes several nostalgic attractions — vendors selling cotton candy and old-fashioned pastries, weathered storefronts and fifties-era billboards. Behind the storefronts are a time-capsule candy shop, two old-style bars dispensing regional brands of sake, and the main attraction — eight ramen shops from around Japan, each serving its own distinctive variety of noodles.

This is ramen for serious connoisseurs, with the eight shops chosen carefully from among the tens of thousands of stores throughout the country. The major ramen capitals — Sapporo, Hakata, Kumamoto and Kitakata — are all represented, along with four legendary shops from the Tokyo/Yokohama area. The two Kyushu shops (Hakata and Kumamoto) serve their noodles in a salty whitish broth, made by slow-cooking pork and chicken bones. The Sapporo shop serves its ramen in a miso-flavored soup, a Hokkaido specialty, while the rest of the shops feature soy sauce-based soups made with various combinations of pork and chicken bones and seafood. Each shop has its own distinctive noodles and its own selection of toppings, ranging from the standard chaa-shuu (roast pork) and bean sprouts to kikurage ("wood ear") and garlic chips.

After you've had your fill of ramen, sake, and numbingly sweet old-fashioned candies, you're ready for the souvenir shop back on the ground floor. Take-out packages of noodles from each of the shops are available, along with goods sporting the Ramen Museum's logo (a squiggly spiral line representing a slice of naruto fishcake). Logo merchandise includes plates, pencil holders, tote bags and much more; there are also postcards, cookbooks, and a full range of chopsticks for sale.

Admission to the museum is Y300, or Y1,000 for a three-month pass, and ramen averages around Y900 per bowl. Sunday evenings seem to be the most crowded, with a 20-minute wait at the most popular noodle shops; other times of the week are far less congested. Parking is available, and it's only a 3-minute walk from the JR Shin-Yokohama bullet train station. Shin-Yokohama can be reached from central Tokyo in about 45 minutes, or a very comfortable 15 minutes if you splurge and take the bullet train for an extra Y800. 

Topics: Food, Places, Culture | No Comments »

The Sound Princess

By gordonh | June 8, 2006

Take a look at the photos below. Have you ever seen these devices? All Japanese women have.



This device is called the “sound princess” and comes in various models. What does it do? That takes some explanation.

Japanese women are well-known for their modesty. Despite the fact that Japan often has restroom stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and doors, they still don’t want anyone in the area knowing they are sitting on the toilet doing their “business”. Up until the 1980s, Japanese women using public restrooms would continuously flush the toilet to cover up sounds of their… well, urination noises. Tokyo alone is home to more than 10 million people, so let’s say that’s roughly 5 million women. That’s a lot of continuous flushing and a lot of wasted water! To address this problem, toilet companies created a device that makes an electronically-generated flushing noise, so the “sound cover” effect is accomplished without wasting water. It’s activated by a motion sensor, though I’m not exactly sure how this works because I’ve never been in a Japanese womens’ restroom.

Hmm, I’m at the office late tonight and nobody’s around, so maybe I’ll do some investigation…

It must be really weird for non-Japanese women to see this when using Japanese restrooms for the first time. Talk about a crazy solution to a problem that needs a lot of explanation! But hey, it works. Check out the savings below.


Topics: Technology, Culture | No Comments »

How to Load a 747-400 in 4 Minutes, 35 Seconds

By gordonh | June 4, 2006

I’m writing this entry aboard an ANA 747-400 on my way back to Tokyo from Sapporo (short overnight business trip). It’s been almost a year since I moved to Japan (albeit with a 5 month Seoul interruption) but I still can’t help but be impressed at some things native Japanese take for granted in daily routine life. At Sapporo’s Shin-Chitose Airport, they loaded this 747-400 from zero to full capacity in 4 minutes and 35 seconds (yes, i timed it). Granted, they used 2 jetways in parallel but the passengers behaved perfectly on their own and it was totally natural. 20 seconds after that, the jetways had been pulled back and the plane was backing out for departure, and the flight attendants didn’t need to tell people “sit down so we can push back from the gate” or run around closing the overhead bins bursting at the seams. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a fully rehearsed and perfected military operation. (What a difference from my recent experience in Europe, which was a nightmare with people entering the nose and tail and colliding in the aisles trying to get to their seats.) Before I knew it, we were speeding down the runway taking flight. Color me impressed.

Another cool thing is that Japanese airlines use a camera mounted on the plane’s nose to display exciting views of take-off and landing. When the plane is airborne, they switch to a belly-mounted camera facing down for dramatic landscape shots. A couple of years ago I mentioned this to a Boeing employee sitting next to me on a flight who said the Japanese airline companies are the only ones who ask for this feature - leave it to them to pay more for equipment just for “coolness factor”. Another thing I noticed recently is how clean the planes are - especially the exterior. Every time I’ve flown ANA, the plane’s metal body looks like a freshly washed and waxed automobile, unlike most airlines where you can see oil streaks and other signs of use. I think ANA’s workers must clean their entire fleet every night! Even the coffee is well-designed, with the sugar and cream packed in a hand-out kit, complete with coffee stir that clips on the inside of your cup so you don’t stab yourself when drinking. Some things in Japan are far too focused on the “how” rather than the “actual results”, but their airline industry certainly has their act together.

Note: A co-worker of mine just got back from China where he says boarding a plane is a mad elbow-jabbing stampede once the jetway gates swing open. He said the constrast with the orderly and efficient loading of Japanese planes was incredibly striking.

Technorati : Japan 747 777 ANA airliner

Topics: Places, Culture | No Comments »

Next Entries »