Tokyo Blog, Tokyo Story

The blog of Stephen David Smith, Tokyo, Japan 2018

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Japanese Illustrators for Monocle

Reading Monocle, I always wondered who did the illustrations in most of the issues. There are guest illustrators from time to time, and one of them is a Japanese guy called Akira Sorimachi. His work reminds me a little bit of the guy that did Uncle Tory for Suntory Whisky, Ryohei Yanagihara in that it has the same retro feel. Recently Sorimachi has created a poster for Monocle (part of which can be seen above), and also a range of cards. Monocle’s illustrations are superb, and most of them are done by Japanese illustrators. Other artists who have created illustration work for Monocle Magazine include Satoshi Hashimoto and Gaku Nakagawa. Check out their work below.


Alsok TV Advert

Just a quick Japanese television commercial post as I’ve been loving this one just recently. Done in the style of a retro action TV series opening montage, it features Japanese women’s wrestling star Saori Yoshida as all 3 members of the Alsok Security Squadron! It may seem trivial to most, but this is one of the reasons I live in Japan. This style of advertising for a mainstream service like home security blows my mind!


Kuniyoshi Exhibition At Mori Art Museum

Rapidly becoming my favourite gallery recently, due to the fact that they had Metabolism – The City Of The Future and now the warped ukiyo-e of Kuniyoshi, which looks like it’s going to be great – Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills is hosting a two part exhibition, the first of which ends tomorrow (17th January 2012). So firstly sorry for the late notice, but the second part is on until 12th February so plenty of time to catch it.

Kuniyoshi has been coined Edo’s ultimate graphic designer, and if you look at some of the work on the exhibition’s website it’s easy to see why. He certainly stands out from his better known contemporaries Hokusai and Hiroshige with his depictions of ghosts, demons, fantasy stories, folklore and other such lurid subject matter. It seems he was also a cat-lover.

I wasn’t familiar with him until this exhibition started, although I recognize a few of the works. but now I’ve seen it I’ve been looking through the other pieces by this artist on Wikipedia and they’re unbelievable. When you consider when these were made and when you consider the state of Japanese visual communication nowadays, you realize just how important this guy was.


SoftBank Ramen!

Mobile phone provider SoftBank is now offering instant ramen in store featuring the famous white dog on its packaging. What’s more, all you have to do to get your hands on some is go into the shop and show interest in a product or service! I don’t know exactly what this entails, but you can bet they are going to run out of these pretty damn quick, so get down there as soon as possible if you’re in Tokyo and want to get your hands on one of these surely collectable instant ramen pots!


Japanese Kanji for 2011

At the end of each year the Japanese public chooses a kanji that best sums up the year as a whole. The kanji for 2011 has been chosen as kizuna meaning bond or connection between people. The kanji is then ceremoniously calligraphed onto a large white canvas at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. I was there in December so I was aware it was going to happen but I had forgotten to post about it until now.

The reason for the choice has been put down to the strengthening of bonds between the Japanese as a nation and between Japan and the rest of the world as a result of the earthquake and tsunami and the aftermath of which dominated 2011. I’m definitely glad it was a positive one in the end. It would have been so easy to have selected something negative after what happened last year.


Western Movie Stars in Japanese TV Ads

A couple of TV advertisements have been showing in Japan just recently featuring some major stars from the west. First up, we’ve got an incredible spot featuring non other than Jean Reno as Doraemon! This one’s for Toyota I think.

To follow that, we’ve got Bruce Willis promoting the Daihatsu Mira e:s, which we are led to believe is a car. How the stars actually entice you to buy one of their cars isn’t clear to me, but they get people talking, and they end up going slightly viral, or ending up on blogs like this one.


Suntory Tory’s

Suntory Tory's

In a similar vein to the previous post, I thought I’d post another character which I kind of like and it can currently be seen everywhere, from trains to Izakaya to TV as a result of the Japanese Highball boom. Highball is simply whisky and soda in a tall glass with ice and maybe a slice of lemon. Regardless, Suntory has made it one of the most popular drinks in Japan through an aggressive advertising campaign featuring Uncle Tory. He’s the old guy you see in the picture above. Here’s another pic of him enjoying some Suntory time.

Suntory Tory's

There’s a pretty interesting story behind this guy because he was actually originally designed back in 1958 by then Suntory employee Ryohei Yanagihara. Tory has since been popping up in Suntory advertising campaigns ever since and again he’s back this year and is one of the real advertising icons of 2011. The style is all retro European animation meets Saul Bass which is win-win as far as I’m concerned!


Illustration in Japan

Japanese Illustration

Looking through a collection of recent photos, I realised I had quite a few pictures I’d taken of signs and logos where I really liked the illustration they used. That lead me to realise that this is a major reason why I choose to live in Tokyo. The visual language of the Japanese would be considered so esoteric by people back in the UK. For me, it’s enigmatic and familiar at the same time, often incorporating European and American iconography that is then twisted or exaggerated or even overlayed with oriental elements to align with the tastes of the Japanese. The above rabbit motif for example I saw on the sign above a cleaners, and the below image is stuck to the door of my elevator in my apartment building.

Japanese Illustration

It’s basically warning you to avoid getting your hand trapped in the elevator door. This overlaps somewhat with another area of visual communication loved by the Japanese: diagrams and infographics. These can be found everywhere, from leaflets to toilets, even on restaurant menus. Here’s a typical example:

Japanese Illustration

Although the above diagram looks pretty hard to fathom, there are much worse to be found, especially in pamphlets and promotional material from banks and mobile phone companies. I don’t think anyone understands them, they just look reassuringly informative. The next one I took outside a restaurant in Kayabacho. It’s obviously a Sumo wrestler, so often associated with food, but I just liked the style of the way it was drawn. If you were so inclined, you could easily create a flickr set full of interesting restaurant signs from Tokyo. Sometimes you even get robotic crabs or mechanized moving chopsticks lifting noodles out of a ramen bowl. White, back-lit boxes like this one are very common though.

Japanese Illustration

One place you might not expect to find good illustration is on a carton of milk, but in Japan it even finds its way onto those. Like in the following example which is a mark for the Japanese milk industry. It’s similar to the rabbit at the top of this post in the sense that it’s got all the hallmarks of vector-based illustration software written all over it (literally). Even so, it’s well executed and I liked it when I noticed it on the side of my carton of milk I bought from the supermarket. I think it was Meiji brand.

Japanese Illustration

One final one I wanted to post is one I’ve been seeing everyday on the train since Suntory started this new campaign to promote its black oolong tea as a health product. According to the scary looking guy in the next picture you can reduce the amount of fat your body gains when eating fatty foods by drinking it. Love this character. He’s obviously from an old animation show but I don’t know which one. Please let me know if you know who this guy is:

Japanese Illustration

UPDATE: I’ve been told that this guy is actually a slightly modified version of Boris Badenov from 60’s animation Boris and Natasha. He may also have appeared in Rocky & Bullwinkle? Thanks to Melissa Pouridas for the info.

UPDATE 2: Another reader (check the comments thread) has told me that this character is from a manga and anime and his name is The Laughing Salesman or Warau Serusuman (笑うセールスマン). I watched a couple of episodes and this guy is seriously disturbing. Whether or not the character was inspired by Boris Badenov is open to debate. Warau Serusuman first appeared in the manga BIG COMIC in 1968 as Black Salesman and Boris Badenov first appeared in Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1959. Boris’ hat and trenchcoat is very generic so it could be argued that the link is tenuous at best. Thanks to British artist Wil Overton for the info this time.

Here is an episode for you:

TV アニメ「笑ゥせぇるすまん」 第1話 「たのもし… 投稿者 spyagent0011

UPDATE 3: On the salesman’s business card, his name reads Moguro Fukuzou – a very strange name in Japanese, but his real name all the same, and his occupation reads Kokoro no Sukima (ココロのスキマ) which I think means cleansing of the heart. So, he’s a quasi-supernatural character who spiritually purifies base and vulgar salarymen!


One of my photographs gets printed on the back cover of the 2011 Hobonichi Brochure!

Hobonichi Brochure

I’m certainly not a professional photographer, so I’m particularly pleased to have one of my photographs printed on the back cover of the new 2011 Hobonichi Techou Brochure! I mentioned the Hobonichi Techo line of personal organisers in a previous post because they’re actually really well designed. It looks like next years collection is going to feature a collaboration with non other than Yoshida & Co.’s Porter bag label. Thanks go to Erica for sending it in – it’s the one on the right with the rainbow in the picture above. Taken back when I used to live in the projects!


Docomo – Who is my Boss?

Docomo - Who is my Boss?

UPDATE: Insiders at NTT Communications (in the same groupd of companies as Docomo) tell me the viral could be a build-up to Docomo’s launch of Micro SIMs sold without handsets, or even the release of its first unlocked handset (legislation in Japan has ruled that carriers must now sell phones unlocked so the customer can switch carrier and keep their existing handset).

There’s a new campaign taking place right now for Japanese mobile phone carrier Docomo, and it has a really crappy URL: However, despite Docomo’s inability to choose a good web address for their viral, they have certainly poured a lot of money into this campaign, with posters literally all over the city and even taking over the huge screens at Shibuya crossing. If you check the website, you’ll see that it’s counting down to something which is going to happen on the 11th May 2010. What could it be? And why is Darth Vader involved? And why is it called ‘Who is my Boss’? Tune in for an update on the 11th (Tuesday).


Noh at Meiji-jingu

Noh at Meiji-jingu

This past Monday saw a performance of Japan’s ancient musical drama, Noh at Meiji-jingu in Yoyogi park. I got there with a friend at around 11.45 ready for the start at noon. At the beginning the stage was covered in white cloth, which men in Japanese traditional dress removed about 5 minutes before to reveal a beautifully polished stage. The setting was perfect, with a wedding procession passing through the inner courtyard of the shrine shortly after we arrived, and then, with just 60 seconds to go before the start, a booming Taiko drum heralded the arrival of the performers and for the duration it was completely silent. The man you see in the picture above is playing the part of a Samurai telling of how he lost in battle. There’s no hope of understanding the dialogue however, as it’s spoken in an archaic form of Japanese with peculiar enunciation. Still, I would definitely recommend seeing it if you have a chance, it completely blew me away.


Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

Wakadaisho Vintage Skate Shop

In Shimoktazawa (where else?) you can find a store called Wakadaisho, stocking retro skate clothing and accessories. They even have late 1980’s Vision Street Wear sneakers and Santa Cruz screaming hand T-shirts. Powell Perelta’s great logo T’s are also on offer, so for me, this is a must visit on my next trip to Shimokitazawa.

Via CNNGo.


New Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

Uniqlo Shibuya Dougenzaka

When I bought my UT Four Tet T-shirt the other week, the bag was advertising a new Dougenzaka branch. A little research on the internet confirmed this. There’s now a big Uniqlo on the Dougenzaka thoroughfare of Shibuya. With all the Uniqlo stores dotted around Tokyo, you’d think this was of very little importance unless you live near in or around Shibuya, but I’ve noticed that the big stores do tend to cater for their respective neighbourhoods. It’s the same with other ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M – Harajuku is stocked differently to Ginza. Also, in the smaller stores, popular items sell out fast, whereas you have more chance of finding the best of the new season at the really big stores in Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and the speciality UT (Uniqlo T-Shirts) store in Harajuku.

This new store opened just this month, on the 5th of March and is being referred to as the new Uniqlo flagship store. It’s attached to Shibuya Station apparently although I’m not sure yet as I haven’t checked this out for myself. It’s also rumoured to be stocking items only usually sold in the London stores (although I think this may have been a limited offer and may already be over). On top of this, it’s supposed to also specialise in the sale of Uniqlo’s range of jeans, UJ.


Uniqlo x Domino Records T-Shirts: Four Tet

Uniqlo Four Tet T-Shirt

I was in the Ginza Uniqlo store, recently expanded with a dedicated building for men, this is now one of the best Uniqlo stores in the city (the others being Shinjuku, and the newly opened Shibuya Dougenzaka store). Whilst browsing I saw the new Uniqlo x Domino Records collab featuring T-shirts of The Kills and Four Tet. I love Uniqlo and I love Four Tet, so this is a win-win situation for me this spring. Plus, they only cost ¥1500 (£11 / $16)! Perfect wear for Hanami season. Visit the Domino Records website.

UPDATE: If you head to the Ginza store and are wondering where the +J range has got to, you can find it on the 5th floor of the women’s building next door.


3Waves Japan Market Research

3Waves Japan Market Research

3Waves Japan Market Research is a full-service qualitative research agency based in Tokyo that serves the overseas market exclusively with a team of bilingual and bicultural consultants, and they chose me to build their website. The project was a joy to work on because they’re great people, but I also got to build a Flash weather widget for Tokyo, as well as scrolling interfaces, dynamic XML-driven slideshows, and a component in Flash that interfaces with the WordPress blogging platform. All-in-all it was a bit of a tour de force and we’re all over the moon with how it turned out. Have a look for yourselves, or even better, contact them about your market research requirements in Japan. Unfortunately they’re so good at what they do they’re in very high demand already so get them while you can (the launch was January 1st 2010).