Latest News from Japan Zone & Japan Store

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year 2017

We’d like to wish all visitors to Japan Zone a very Happy New Year of the Rooster in 2017!

There are many reasons to want to put 2016 behind us, but no doubt there are many things to look forward to in the year ahead. 2017 is a year of the Rooster in the 12-year Chinese zodiac, and specifically a fire rooster, and people born in this year (the last one was 1957) are described as “trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work.”

Australia Strike Action

This is a notice for all Japan Store customers in Australia.

We have been informed that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), which oversees the Customs clearance for all inbound products into Australia, has announced they will be on strike on Friday 12th August 2016.

This will cause delays on all inbound mail, both 12th August and on the days following the strike, until the backlog is cleared.

So if you’re ordering from Australia, please allow for delays. And if you have a delivery deadline, we strongly suggest that you select Express shipping at checkout. In addition to being fast, this allows full online tracking of your package. For some reason, Australia Post does not track items sent by Registered Airmail.

There’s Life in the Old Monster

Pikachu and Pokemon Go are all the rage

All three of my kids were born in Japan, but the youngest has always had the strongest affinity for Japan’s popular anime characters. As a toddler, his world was filled with Anpanman and his weird array of bread-themed superhero buddies. In recent years he’s been obsessed with Pikachu and the 739 other “pocket monsters” that populate the Pokémon universe. Even though they’ve been around since 1995, well before my kids were born, Pikachu and friends have ridden the wave of anime’s global boom and managed to stay relevant and popular. Along with Hello Kitty, they are known worldwide on a par with Disney’s most famous characters.

At school, my son and his friends collect, trade and battle with their bulging packs of Pokémon cards. All very analog and 20th century and relatable to what I did as a kid. But the times have changed, and my case for refusing to let my son have a smartphone has just got a lot harder to defend.

Pokemon Go integration on a smartphone
Pokemon Go integration on a smartphone

An augmented reality smartphone game created by the San Francisco based Google-spin-out Niantic Labs – a joint-venture between Google, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company – Pokémon Go has been getting big headlines worldwide recently (both good and bad). Its popularity has been such that release in the UK had to be postponed for fear of it literally breaking the internet.

Although created and owned by The Pokémon Company, Pikachu & Co are generally associated with Nintendo, who published the original Pokémon games on their Game Boy platform. And there seems to be hope that Nintendo is finally in a position to reverse the steady decline in its fortunes since it enjoyed a massive revenue boom in 2006-2009, and that’s thanks to the little yellow monster. Nintendo’s market cap has risen from US$20 billion on July 6 to US$31.5 billion on July 13, 2016. The Pokémon Company has estimated the world market for its characters at US$48 billion.

But back to those bad headlines. They generally relate to cases where smartphone users get so caught up in the augmented reality that they walk (or skate!) into accidents. Or the game is used by criminals as a trap to lure unsuspecting victims with the promise of rare characters at a certain location. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, of course, so these incidents will just be added to the long list of Pokémon-related controversy – some ridiculous examples of political correctness, like the manji (reverse swastikas) and six-pointed stars on cards, or “Pokémon evolution” upsetting creationists; and others more real, like the flashing images in a 1997 TV episode that caused epileptic seizures in hundreds of Japanese kids.

One thing is for sure – Pikachu, Squirtle and pals are back in business, and business is good.

Golden Week & Shipping Delays

Michael Jordan says Get Well Soon!

Due to a staff shortage coinciding with the annual Golden Week holidays, there will be extensive delays to order shipping from mid-April until early May. We apologize in advance to all customers affected by these delays for the inconvenience. If your order is urgent, please let us know and we’ll move it to the front of the line. Where possible, we will “upgrade” shipping free of charge to make up for lost time.

Golden Week is a group of national holidays at the end of April and beginning of May. Together with Obon and New Year, it is one of the times when Japanese businesses close down completely. So Japan Store and all our suppliers are closed during this period.

The reason for the staff shortage is that Japan Store manager Jun is in hospital for surgery on a basketball injury. I hope you’ll join me (and Michael Jordan) in wishing him a speedy recovery.

Japan Store

Still No Shipping to Belgium

Brussels Airport

Following last month’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, the airport has been closed for some time. As a result we have been unable to ship orders to our customers in Belgium. There have been reports of a “partial reopening” of Brussels Airport, so we checked today with Japan Post but unfortunately they are still not accepting packages for shipment to Belgium.

At the moment we have just a couple of customers waiting for packages to be shipped, and I would like to thank them for their patience and understanding.

The Story with Sukajan Jackets

Dragon-Tiger Sukajan Jacket

See our current collection of Sukajan Jackets.

As you may know, the word “sukajan” is an abbreviation of Yokusuka Jumper, the name given to a style of satin jackets that became popular with GI’s in Japan after World War II. They’re also known as souvenir jackets. They come in a variety of colors and usually have elaborate embroidered designs on the front and back, with ribbed collars and cuffs. The most popular designs are traditional and iconic images such as dragons, tigers, carp, geishas and maps of Japan. Although they are a stylish addition to any wardrobe, for years they have tended to be associated with gangs and rebels in general.

Sukajan Jacket Designs
Sukajan Jacket Designs (1-10)

We’ve sold sukajan for several years and they’ve always been a steady seller. But over the last year or so, reasonably priced sukajan jackets (as opposed to the really flashy ones that go for $300-$500 in Japan) have been increasingly hard to come by. Manufacturers tell us this is due to a big fall in demand for them in Japan, their main market. But this has come just as they are becoming more popular outside Japan and we were seeing more and more emails coming in from customers asking when more stock would be available.

Backed up by these indicators of overseas demand, we approached one major manufacturer and finally managed to get them to sell us a batch of about 300 jackets in a dozen or so different designs and a variety of colors. These are currently selling quickly on the store and the manufacturer is now ready to take us more seriously. We are in discussions with them about future orders and what new designs might be popular. They currently have about 30 different designs to choose from but want to focus on the designs that will be popular overseas.

Sukajan Jacket Designs
Sukajan Jacket Designs (11-30)

We will soon be reaching out to our 10,000 newsletter subscribers to get an idea of which of these designs numbered 1-30 people would be most interested in wearing. Any given design will probably be made in three colors, usually black and two others from red, green, silver, grey and blue. Feel free to comment below – your feedback will be most helpful in figuring out which designs we will be selling in the near future.

Winter Weather Delays

Winter weather delays

While we’re enjoying unseasonably warm weather here in south London, heavy snow and extreme cold has been disrupting life in Japan and the U.S., particularly in the northeast. We are advised that due to winter storm Jonas, delivery delays are being experienced across the east coast of the U.S. All USPS plants have reopened and some delivery services have been resumed but deliveries will be limited by local road conditions.

In Japan we are seeing some minor disruptions to deliveries but as yet nothing too severe. We will keep you posted about any delays to your order as and when they arise.

3 in a Row for Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli have done it again! For the third year in a row, Japan’s most famous anime studio has got a best animated film Academy Award nomination, this time for Omoide no Marnie (When Marnie Was There). This year’s nominations were announced in Beverly Hills last week and the awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 28.

Based on a 1967 children’s book by British writer Joan G. Robinson, it tells the story of 12-year-old orphan Anna (voiced by Takatsuki Sara), who lives unhappily in Sapporo with her foster parents. While visiting a coastal resort to recover from an asthma attack, she meets Marnie (Arimura Kasumi), a mysterious, blonde-haired girl who Anna had seen in her dreams. “Marnie…” will be up against Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Pixar’s Inside Out, and Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep Movie.

The English-dubbed version features such Hollywood talent as John C. Reilly, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn and Vanessa Williams.

Directed by Yonebayashi Hiromasa and Nishimura Yoshiaki, it was released in Japan in the summer of 2014. It is the fifth Japanese animated film to be nominated for the award, all of which came from Studio Ghibli. But so far only the first, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) in 2002, has come away with the Oscar.

See the English-dubbed trailer on YouTube

SMAP Situation Remains Unclear

After sending the Japanese entertainment world into a flurry last week with reports that they were to split, the five members of boy band/supergroup SMAP appeared together live last night on the Fuji TV SMAPxSMAP show to apologize. Contrary to last week’s reports, they said they planned to continue with the Johnny’s Jimusho agency that has managed them over their almost 30-year career. But while each member issued a separate brief, formal apology to fans and sponsors, there was no clear statement that they would continue as SMAP. Dozens of reporters and scores of fans waited outside the Fuji TV studios late last night hoping for some clarification, but the confusion continues.

One woman in her 30s, a fan since her teens, said, “I wanted to see the show, convinced that they would definitely not split up. I came to Fuji TV hoping I might get a chance to meet them in person. I’m happy that they are not going to split just yet.”

End of the Road for SMAP?

It has been reported today in the Japanese media that SMAP may have come to the end of the road. Members Nakai Masahiro (43), Inagaki Goro (42), Kusanagi Tsuyoshi (41) and Katori Shingo (38) are said to be leaving Johnny’s Jimusho, the agency that launched them nearly 30 years ago, with only Kimura Takuya (43) planning to stay. No date has been announced but the decision is reported to have come after the chief manager who oversaw the group at Johnny’s decided she was to quit the agency. The group made their debut in the late 1980s and have remained among Japan’s most popular cultural icons for more than two decades.

SMAP (only in Japan can you find a group named Sports Music Assemble People!) was formed as a group of teenage backing dancers to other established boy bands and went through several lineup changes before their “official” launch in 1988. That 6-man lineup included Mori Katsuyuki, who left in 1996 to become a racing driver. In spite of an admitted inability to actually sing, the remaining members went on to have a series of million-selling singles, sell out dome concerts, and appear in countless TV dramas and variety shows. Their endorsements of a multitude of commercial products made sure that their faces were everywhere to be seen across Japan. Kimura was perennially voted the country’s most popular male star, even after his marriage to pop star Kudo Shizuka. No doubt all five will remain familiar faces across the spectrum of entertainment media.

Read Japan Zone’s profile of SMAP.