Latest News from Japan Zone & Japan Store

Ghibli Shock Fans with News of Miyazaki Retirement

Kaze Tachinu

In a huge shock for anime fans, it has been announced that Miyazaki Hayao (72) is to retire. Which means that “Kaze Tachinu” (The Wind Rises), his first film in five years, will be his last. The film is now competing at the Venice Film Festival, but Miyazaki is not attending and is expected to hold a press conference in Tokyo. The news was announced at the festival on Sunday by Hoshino Koji, head of Studio Ghibli.

“Kaze Tachinu” tells the story of World War 2 fighter plane designer Horikoshi Jiro, who as a child dreamt of becoming a pilot and went on to design the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter. “This is the first of Miyazaki’s films that has as its protagonist a real historical figure,” Hoshino told reporters. The film paints a vivid portrait of many of the key historical events in early 20th-century Imperial Japan as well as the evolution of airplane design. It doesn’t entirely forsake the fantasy of Miyazaki’s other works, with dream sequences allowing the protagonist to fly in fantastical airplane designs. The theme will be familiar to Ghibli fans, as planes and flying have been central to such films as “Kurenai no Buta” (Porco Rosso) and “Kaze no Tani no Nausica” (Nausica√ɬ§ of the Valley of the Wind).

Miyazaki is sometimes described as the Walt Disney of anime, as his works have won legions of fans and scores of awards worldwide. “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi” (Spirited Away) was the first anime to win an Academy Award in 2003. Miyazaki’s began his animation career in 1963 working on “Wanwan Chushingura” (Watchdog Bow Wow), while his first feature-length film was “The Castle of Cagliostro” in 1979). Among his other best known features are “Mononokehime” (Princess Mononoke) and “Tenku no Shiro Laputa” (Castle in the Sky).

Read the Japan Zone profile of Miyazaki Hayao.

The return of Nakajima Tomoko, porn director

Nakajima Tomoko

The onetime hugely popular comedienne (she was one half of the duo Othello) Nakajima Tomoko (42) went completely off the rails a few years back when she was brainwashed by a “mystic”, ran up millions of yen debts, and put on a huge amount of weight. We most recently reported on her situation back in February 2012 when she failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance.

Now, like some other fallen idols before her, she is getting back into showbiz via the porn industry. She held a press conference in Tokyo this week to talk about “Hachigatsu no Umi” (August Sea) her directorial debut for the female-oriented porn channel Girl’s CH. Geddit? Girls See Etchi!

Nakajima has a bit of a history, having done nude scenes and published books of nude photos and generally making a living from her better than average looks.

More Free Shipping. Yay!

Good news! We have just raised the minimum order size for free shipping from $60 to $80.

Free ShippingOkay, that’s not the good news, that’s the (kind of) bad news. The good news, which we hope will make up for it, is that we’ve greatly expanded the range of products that qualify for free shipping. It now includes ALL of our popular footwear products. So if you’re not sure what jikatabi boot size you need, order 2 sizes and get them shipped for free. Then send back the one that doesn’t fit for a refund. Or better still, give it to a friend. They’ll thank you for it, I promise!

On the info pages for products that qualify, you’ll see the above small image. You’ll also see a Shipping Information tab (actually that’s on all product pages). Click the tab and you’ll see your shipping options and prices, including how much more you need to spend in order to qualify for free shipping. Orders shipped free are sent by Economy Airmail, but we add Registered Mail so that you’ll have a way of tracking your package. Do just note that if your basket contains both items that qualify and those that don’t, you won’t see the free shipping option.

Marugo Air Jog III 12
Marugo Air Jog III 12
And speaking of jikatabi, we’ve just added a couple of new products to the Marugo range. The Air Jog III is an update on the classic Air Jog but with a more subtle design that makes the sole blend in with the upper.

It comes in two heights, short (6-tab) or tall (12-tab), and two colors, black or white.

As we say on the store, the responsive air cushioning and shock absorber ensure that these jikatabi are about as comfortable as you can get. The black models also have black soles, a more integrated look that a lot of our customers have asked for. Thank you, Marugo!

Fuji Keiko Dead in Apparent Suicide

Fuji Keiko

Keiko Fuji, a former enka legend and the mother of J-pop superstar Utada Hikaru, died yesterday after falling from the 13th-floor balcony of her Tokyo apartment. She was 62. Police are treating the case as an apparent suicide, though no note was found at the scene.

Fuji was the daughter of musicians and led a nomadic lifestyle as a child. She became a breakthrough star following her 1969 debut in the world of enka ballads. Her first single “Shinjuku no Onna” was typical of her dark and melancholy songs about women of the night, and her debut album of the same name spent 20 weeks at the top of the charts. The immediate follow up, “Onna no Blues” was also a huge hit, topping the charts for 17 weeks. No one has since broken that record of 37 consecutive weeks atop the chart.

Fuji married enka singer Maekawa Kiyoshi in 1971 but they were divorced the following year. Fuji’s musical decline began after she underwent surgery for a throat polyp in 1974. She went through a series of comebacks but never reclaimed her former glory. She announced her retirement in 1979 and moved to the US until making a comeback in 1981. She married producer Utada Teruzane (65) in 1982 and their daughter Hikaru was born the next year. The family formed a self-managed trio under the name U3 in 1995 and released a single on their own label.

Hikaru of course went on to become a huge star in her own right, but the family continued to be plagued by misfortune. Fuji and Utada divorced in 2007, a year after Fuji was held at JFK airport after more than $400,000 of cash were found in her luggage (the money wasn’t returned to her until 2009).

Japan Zone profile of Utada Hikaru

Hollywood Movie Tabi

47 Ronin, Wolverine movies featuring jikatabi
47 Ronin, Wolverine movies featuring jikatabi

Here at Japan Store we deal mainly with individual customers who just love to stand out from the crowd in their jikatabi. We often get larger orders from theater and opera companies putting on a Japanese-themed production or just after a different kind of look. But every now and again we get a slightly different kind of order.

A couple of years ago we got an order from a movie production company that was buying up all sorts of Japanese items for an upcoming Keanu Reeves vehicle, featuring a cast that includes some of the most talented actors in Japan. Unfortunately the production of “47 Ronin” has been beset by setbacks and has still not hit movie theaters. But we’re assured that it’s on the way and that you’ll be able to see a host of top stars wearing our jikatabi this Christmas.

If you just can’t wait to see Hollywood-meets-Japanese-footwear, we also supplied jikatabi to the company that made the Hugh Jackman X-Men flick “The Wolverine“, which is currently showing here in Ireland. We also recently shipped some items to Disney in California, who will be using them in the movie “Tomorrowland“, planned for release next year.

And this week we’ve received some orders from a company based at Pinewood Studios in the UK. So far no official word on what the movie will be, but we here at Japan Store have our suspicions. And regardless of the movie, we’re always happy to see our jikatabi being worn on the big screen.

Summer matsuri rush

Matsuri kids
Kids wearing traditional matsuri clothing.

It’s another hot one! Thermometers across Japan are reaching new heights as the country is hit by yet another scorching summer heat wave. But that isn’t stopping anyone from enjoying one of the annual highlights of just about any community in Japan, the matsuri. These street festivals are full of sound and frenzied activity, with the sounds of drums, whistles and flutes. Street vendors do a roaring trade in festival foods like okonomiyaki, yakisoba, taiyaki and kakigori. And most of the festival participants, the guys and gals who carry the o-mikoshi (floats), will be wearing traditional clothing. And in most cases that includes jikatabi.

The distinctive split-toe boots, in their many varieties, are our No.1 seller on this store. But with the rush of orders that always come in from matsuri organizers, our suppliers sometimes get overwhelmed and stocks run low. Right now that means we have difficulty getting many sizes of the cushioned matsuri tabi models (particularly the Double Cushion, Cushion III and Air Tabi Fit models from Rikio). Other safety and general work models are not affected by this seasonal situation.

So if you’re looking for a cushioned model from Rikio, you may have to bear with us until we get back to normal stock levels. The good news is that we’ll still be able to fulfill most orders over the next month, and that everything should be back to normal by mid-August.

If you have any questions about stock levels or what model of jikatabi to choose, please feel free to drop me a line.

Mark McBennett
Japan Zone

Order #20000!

In time-honored Japanese tradition…banzai, banzai, BANZAI!!

Banzai Cat
Banzai Cat

Congratulations to Ms. N. W. of West Virginia who today placed order #20000 on Japan Store. We didn’t run any kind of promotion campaign around this milestone order number, but we will be sending this customer a few extra goodies and upgrading the shipping to Express Mail just to mark the occasion.

Of course we couldn’t have got to the magical number of 20,000 without all the thousands of customers along the way. So on behalf of the Banzai Cat and all of us here at Japan Zone, I’d like to take this opportunity to send a big Thank You to all Japan Store’s loyal customers!

Mark McBennett
President, Japan Zone

Kabuki World Mourns

Ichikawa Danjuro

The world of kabuki has recently lost not just one but two of its major stars. The death on Monday of Ichikawa Danjuro XII (photo left) at the age of 66 follows the loss of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII at 57 in December. Both men died after prolonged illness. Ichikawa had been battling leukemia since 2004 but was able to continue his career until last December, when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He was among the performers who brought kabuki to the stage of the Paris Opera House for the first time in 2007. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide praised the late actor as a “pillar of the kabuki world” who deserved much of the credit for bringing Japan’s traditional theater to international audiences. That accolade must be shared with Nakamura, who also worked hard to bring kabuki to younger and overseas fans. Among his innovations was a collaboration with alternative rock musician Shiina Ringo. He died of respiratory failure in early December and, like his contemporary, he had battled cancer for some time. Both actors are survived by sons who have continued the family tradition and become major kabuki stars in their own right.

One sad aspect to the recent deaths is that neither actor will see the much anticipated re-opening in April of the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo.

Feeding the Snake

2013 Year of the Snake
2013 Year of the Snake
Welcome to 2013, the Year of the Snake! Unfortunately the Japan Store snake has been busy feeding on bugs over the last couple of weeks. Software bugs that were causing some issues with our popular range of jikatabi products since mid-December. Thankfully it looks like the bugs are finally gone and you should now have no trouble ordering those cool Rikio Fighters or Marugo Sports Jogs. And I’d like to extend my apologies to all of you who tried in vain to order them over the holidays, along with a peace offering – a $5 voucher good on any order over $29 (which covers any jikatabi product you can think of). Just enter JS-SNAKE2013 when you checkout and you’re good to go. The voucher is good until the end of January.

Thanks as always for your patience.

President, Japan Zone

How to Wash your Hanten

“Do I have to have my hanten dry cleaned?” is a question we sometimes get here at Japan Store. Fortunately, the answer is no. But if you just stick it in the washing machine, it will suffer some damage, especially to the cotton padding. And of course the insulation quality of the padding is a major reason why you wear the hanten in the first place, right? So read on and we’ll explain how a few simple steps can ensure that your hanten stays warm and clean for years to come.

Wash a hanten1. With the hanten folded as shown in the photo, handwash in a sink or large basin. Gently push it into the water until it is soaked through, and remove any obvious dirt and stains. Use cold or warm water and a mild (neutral) detergent. Bleach is a definite no-no.

Wash a hanten2. Without squeezing too vigorously or stretching the fabric, drain the water from the hanten. Place in a laundry net large enough to hold the folded hanten as shown.

Wash a hanten3. Use your washing machine’s spin feature to drain most of the remaining water from the hanten. Use the shortest spin cycle setting. Ensure that you do not use your washing machine’s dryer feature if it has one, as this will damage the cotton padding.

Wash a hanten4. Hang out to dry, outdoors if at all possible and as shown in the photo. The more the hanten is spread out, the better it will keep its shape and the less likely that the cotton padding will dry in clumps. Hang until the outer fabric is dry, then turn over to expose the inner lining and allow to dry fully. This will ensure that the cotton padding dries and retains its volume.

Wash a hanten5. If you must dry the hanten on a hanger, make sure it is a rounded type and not a skinny type as shown. Again, this will help the hanten maintain its shape and prevent the padding from drying in clumps.

Occasional washing as described above will ensure that your hanten stays as warm and stylish as the day you bought it. See our selection of mens and ladies hanten.