Below are some of Japan's current wacky products and trends, such
as butler bars for neglected housewives and themed spas that treat
bathers like ramen-noodle soup ingredients. It would be wise for
futurecasters to look beyond the much-watched Japanese schoolgirls
who indulge in fads. Many Japanese trends from elsewhere are moving
into the mass market, such as shower-washable suits that help get
harried salarymen to work on time without the expense of dry
The first rule of drinking carbonated beverages is to avoid shaking
the can before opening it -- until now. Coca-Cola is testing a
carbonated Fanta drink in Japan that consumers have to shake. It
starts out as a gelatinous substance, so if you don't shake it,
nothing comes out. Coke is marketing the drink as a new taste
experience that's fun for kids. The cans are half the size of
traditional Fanta -- but cost 20% more.
Acerola, also known as Barbados cherry or wild crape myrtle, is a
tropical fruit that hails from the Caribbean but has found new life
in Japan as the country's additive du jour. Marketed as the latest
healthy cure-all thanks to its potent levels of natural vitamin C
and bioflavanoids, the fruit has turned up in vitamin-fortified
beverages such as Nichirei's new drink Acerola C 2000, as well as
flavored waters, yogurts, jams, herbal cold remedies and, yes, even
You've heard of Tokyo's maid bars, where men are served coffee by
Japanese women dressed as French maids. Now it's the ladies' turn,
with caf?s staffed by young men paid to flirt with middle-aged
female customers. No, nothing sexual happens between staff and
clientele in either venue; it's all part of Japan's fetish with
cosplay, a subculture centered on dressing as characters from film,
video games and other aspects of pop culture.
THEMED HOT SPRINGS
A spa theme park located in Hakone, Japan, called Hakone Kowakien
Yunessun, offers "amusement" baths, including a wine bath, a
green-tea bath, a coffee bath, a sake bath and even a ramen-noodle
bath. For the last, developed by famous Japanese ramen shop
Nantsuttei, bathing suit-clad customers are a key ingredient in the
broth. The bath is shaped and decorated like a real ramen bowl,
with chopsticks and noodle decorations hanging over the hot tub.
The pepper-flavored water contains collagen and garlic extracts,
believed to improve skin. A man dressed as a chef dispenses
noodle-shaped bath additives to everyone packed into the hot tub.
He also dispenses soy sauce. Real wine, coffee and other drinks are
poured into different baths in a similar fashion.
Want to live like Madonna, at least in the bathroom? Import
Matsushita Denko's self-cleaning toilet, A La Uno, which means "it
washes" in Japanese. The commode cleans itself as the water is
flushed. The bowl is made of organic glass that is easier to clean
than ceramic toilets. There is also a built-in bidet function,
which apparently appealed to the Material Girl so much while she
was on tour in Japan that she bought one to take home.
G-SHOCK GOES UPSCALE
Casio's G-Shock wristwatches have been around for 25 years but have
become a fad in Japan thanks to the war in Iraq. Sales skyrocketed
after teens saw American soldiers wearing the timepieces on CNN.
But young Japanese are adding their own twists to the Hummer of the
watch world. Specialty stores have sprung up that allow Japanese to
decorate their G-Shock watches the same way they dress up their
mobile phones and digital cameras, with trinkets ranging from Hello
Kitty decals to Swarovski crystals.
READING AND WRITING ON THE GO
Japanese high-school students are writing novels on their
cellphones. Called Keitai novels, they are uploaded to mobile
sites. The novels are attracting readers and revenue, since
consumers pay for new installments. The most successful are finding
homes in the bricks-and-mortar world too, since savvy publishers
are putting out printed versions of the completed works, which
often become best-sellers. The books work because phone-happy
Japanese say they find reality more easily in the virtual
Alfred Dunhill introduced well-heeled businessmen to travel suits.
A Japanese clothing company, Konaka, has introduced a mass-market
version of a suit for executives on the go. The company's Shower
Clean business suits do not require professional dry cleaning; they
can be washed in a warm shower and do not need to be pressed.
R.J. Reynolds has created Kool Boost in Japan -- cigarettes made
with a menthol-infused internal "powerball." Smokers can customize
the level of menthol they prefer by squeezing the filter to break
the capsule. After developing the Japanese product, the American
tobacco giant is testing the capsule technology in the U.S. with a
menthol-on-demand version of its Camel brand.