Friday, April 27, 2007

stand umbrella

This has got to be one of the cleverest product designs I've seen lately (via Jean Snow).
Available in black and in white, it costs ¥ 4,200, about US$ 36 (from 100%).
It brings a smile to my face.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

japanese pizza anyone?

Fusion cuisine, which gave us Rice Burgers and California Sushi Rolls, has a new representative in Singapore. It's a place called "Oishi Japanese Pizza" (oishi means "tasty, delicious"). Well, it's not exactly new, they've existed for some time, but I only came across one of the outlets this weekend.
They have a novel proposition, Japanese Pizza. There's the 'Teriyaki Chicken Pizza" as well as the "Wasabi Seafood Pizza" and some other combinations. I've never been to the place, so I can't really comment about their pizza. They have several outlets across the island, so I assume business is doing well and the pizza tastes really good. But I'd like to abstract for a moment from the food to comment about the concept...
Planners usually love an oxymoron because they have the potential to create an unexpected and differentiated proposition for a brand. You pick a set of meanings that people are not used to see hand-in-hand and voilà, there's a novelty (well, actually, it's a bit more complex than that, but for all purposes, think Levi's jeans and their contradictory "traditional yet young" concept).
The creation of a new concept is not perfect science however, and apparently there's a degree of contradiction that people are willing to accept. Sometimes, the proposition so defies our logic that there's a danger people will simply reject it.
My first reaction to the term "Japanese Pizza" was of incredulity (they can't be serious). Maybe this is because of my cultural background. Having lived most of my life in São Paulo, which boasts the largest Italian community outside Italy, I'm used to the traditional notion of pizza. One thing is to mix "French" and "Vietnamese" cuisines, the classic "fusion cuisine", quite another is to put together the terms "Japanese" and "pizza" in the same phrase. It's a bit of a stretch, at least for me.
Over time however, there's nothing that proves that these new concepts won't be able to overcome the initial strangeness with which they are received. Maybe this is one those cases where if you keep repeating the concept, eventually it becomes a reality. We might even come to take it for granted some day. And as I said, the pizza might be good. So, like the now ubiquitous California Sushi Roll, the Japanese Pizza might win over the world. Let's wait and see.
Next up: "Squisito Italian Sushi".
Let's brace ourselves.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

is yahoo trying to be more like google?

It's not exactly a secret that Yahoo! envies Google's success. This sentiment has usually been confined to the business arena, as both companies battle for internet's advertising dollars.
However I think this is the first time Yahoo! betrayed that sentiment so publicly. The other day I noticed Yahoo! playing up with their logo, Google-style. See below a couple of pictures of their animated logo: a (modern) windmill that lights up a (green) light bulb, before transforming into their traditional logo.
Starts like this...
...ends up like this.As Google's, it was for a limited time only. Last time I checked, it wasn't there anymore.

Monday, April 23, 2007

uniqlo's non-transparent white trousers

Japan's apparel maker Uniqlo announced that it will start selling can't-see-through white trousers made of a special new fabric developed by textile maker Toray Industries. That will bring more confidence to women who like to wear white trousers, specially during summertime, as they won't have to worry about their underwear showing through.
Some men however are already complaining about the advancements in technology, saying that the new trousers defeat the whole purpose of wearing a pair of white trousers. What's your take on that? (via japantoday)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

black cloud

This is a WWF campaign in China against air pollution. That's quite a way to make your point across.(via infoesthetics and frederiksamuel)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

pattern recognition in movies

Just a quick follow-up on the previous post.
Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the same director who gave us "Any Given Sunday" also gave us "Platoon". Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the semiotics of baseball

Why do we like a particular sport?
People will probably say, "because it's fun to watch" or, "because it's exciting to play", but frankly, that's like saying that a person is "nice". It's a "nice" compliment but as an explanation as to why we like that person, it's a rather unsatisfying answer.
Of course, there's the athleticism, the drama, the rivalry, the bonding experience, and the traditions but, ultimately, I think the imbued meanings of a particular sport is what draws us to it. What do its rules, its objectives, and its underlying system of values, tell us about it? What kind of meanings do they convey?
While these questions may sound a bit cerebral for such an entertaining activity, it's not really necessary to be a Ph.D. in Semiotics to uncover the meanings imbued in a sport. One just needs a sharply developed 'noticing' skill, as demonstrated by George Carlin in this classic comparison between baseball and football (american football, that is).
Here's a partial transcript (but rather long, sorry):

"...Baseball and football are different from one another other in other kind of different ways.

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up? are you up? I'm not up, he's up!

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve someone.

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball... you make an error. Oops!

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, blocking, piling on, late hitting, unnecessary roughness, and personal fouls.
Baseball has... the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, sleet, snow, hail, mud, ...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't come out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - we might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not that much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're perfectly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being. Preferably a stranger.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are totally different.
In football the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the object is... to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!"

The text is great but you have to watch George Carlin delivering it himself. Pure genius. See the entire performance (4:53) here on YouTube.

Monday, April 16, 2007

spring in tokyo

Spring is arguably the best season of the year to visit Tokyo. Apart from the beautiful cherry blossom, the weather is pleasantly mild. Below, some snapshots from there.
Cherry blossom season
Daisuke Matsuzaka everywhere
Election time in Tokyo doesn't necessarily mean dirty streets full of pamphlets. Below, an ad board designed for the placement of politicians' ads. Oh, and by the way, hard-liner politician Shintaro Ishihara got reelected as Tokyo governor. The recently inaugurated Tokyo Midtown (the tallest building in Tokyo and a very posh place) as seen from Roppongi Hills
The legendary Hachiko statue, in Shibuya

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I'm off to Tokyo for 10 days, so forgive me if I don't post regularly. Normal blogging will resume after the 16th.

daisuke matsuzaka's impact

In reference to this post about the state-owned TV channels, somebody asked me "why do you need to tune in to NHK to know about the latest on Daisuke? Why don't you simply watch ESPN?". Well, take a look at the pictures below.
They're from the Red Sox spring training in Florida, where 120 credentialed reporters, mostly Japanese, squeezed themselves in for a special press conference organized only for Matsuzaka (they actually don't seem to care too much about the rest of the team). And that's for spring training! They follow his every footsteps (the third picture is the NHK correspondent reporting live from Florida), so if you want to know what Dice-K had for breakfast, for example, you have to rely on the Japanese media.
Boston Red Sox's COO Mike Dee, on a Sports Business Radio interview, mentioned:
"When we announced we signed Daisuke, there weren't direct flights, believe it or not, from Tokyo to Boston. Now I know two or three airlines are in the process of adding direct flights during the baseball season. That's a clear and measurable impact of what we'll see."
I guess those extra routes must be just for the Japanese reporters then.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

periodic table of blondness

Another quick note on the latest Monocle.
The "periodic table of blondness" (pages 110-111), about the increasing similarities of TV news anchors (they always tint their hair lighter, never darker), was based on a Slate article written by Jack Shafer, which in turn, was based on Grant McCracken's "Big Hair: A Journey Into The Transformation of Self". Mr. Shafer borrowed the book's different portraits of blondes to rank TV anchors: bombshell blonde (Laurie Dhue of Fox); sunny blonde (Katie Couric of CBS); brassy blonde (Fox's E D Hill); dangerous blonde (CNN's Nancy Grace); society blonde (Fox's Janice Dean); and cool blonde (CNN's resident populist republican, Lou Dobbs). Mr. McCracken seems to be everywhere these days. No wonder, he's excellent.

monocle in singapore

Just a quick note to say Monocle's no. 2 issue has hit the stands here in Singapore about one week after they came out in the UK. Not bad. The first issue arrived almost one month late.
You can find the magazine at Borders, Kinokuniya, and Page One in Vivo City.
The highlights: the cover-page story, an interesting article about Norway; a hilarious ranking of American TV anchors based on the "periodic table of blondness"; an article about the surging trend of mobile phone novels in Japan; plus the second chapter of the Kita Koga manga.

Monday, April 02, 2007

diderot and the cute nissan pino

Grant McCracken, in his book “Culture and Consumption”, recalls an essay by French philosopher Francis Diderot. In his essay, “On Partying with my Old Dressing Gown”, Diderot described the transformation caused in his life by a beautiful new dressing gown he received as a gift. He loved the gift, but soon thereafter however, he notices that, compared to the new gown, the decoration in his room, the rug, the curtains, the desk, all looked shabby. He proceeds to replace them one by one, so that they match the new gown. McCracken describes this process as the “Diderot effect”, the way people create a lifestyle by trying to find cultural consistency in the things they buy, so that they “match”.
I just mention this idea because I came across the new Nissan Pino, recently launched (last January) in Japan, targeted at young women. Looking it as it is, it seems like just another small car.However, a visit to Pino’s website quickly tells a different story. To start with, you're welcomed by this "lovely loading" sign.Then you get it. Pino is a kawaii (cute) car. But the interesting thing about the Pino is not the car in itself, but how the cuteness meaning is created. Look at the picture below.
The car is not the center of the action. It’s more of a complement to the whole scene. And it’s the surrounding, with all its cuteness, that "contaminates" the car with meaning. Normally, as Wired’s Mark Durhan well noted, “...using cutesey fluffy pinkness to sell cars to 20-year-old women would be beyond the pale - too narrow, too sexist, too ludicrous. Not so in Japan”.
The Pino, much as Diderot’s gown, helps the girls define a lifestyle. Like Diderot’s gown, it’s not the only item, but a complementary object that, along with her keitai (mobile), her favorite pair of jeans, her pair of sneakers, her handbag, her nail polisher, and all her other possessions (all “lovely” of course, see below), creates her lifestyle and will accompany her “365 days a year, 24 hours a day”.And then comes the fun part, accessories. Girls can choose a heart-shaped cushion, a stuffed dog called “Pino Dog”, a flower-patterned upholstery, and a dozen other matching items, to help them create the desired effect.Accessorizing and personalization are not new ideas, but I hardly remember seeing them so tightly-knit behind the creation of specific lifestyles.
And if you thought the concept of “cuteness” defined only one lifestyle, you haven’t really started in this world. Pino’s campaign shows a group of three fashionable friends who strut around their different "cute styles". They portray three different types of cuteness: the “feminine cute” Yumi-chan, who is a model and loves dancing and snowboarding;......the “casual cute” Kimi-chan who wears a pair of jeans shorts and practices yoga;......and the “beautiful cute” Tamami-chan, who wears a plaid skirt and is into classic ballet. Each one of them brings her own matching accessories; a stuffed pink dog and flower-themed upholstery for Yumi-chan; an apple-shaped CD holder and a green dog for Kimi-chan, and so on. One does not have to worry about which is the best match. Pino does it for her (but of course, people are free to try their own creativity).
I don't know if this "cute strategy" would translate well outside Japan, maybe this is too much of a Japanese thing, but the concept behind it is great. Diderot would've certainly endorsed it.