Making Party Masks in Japan

Making Party Masks in Japan

Making Party Masks in Japan

Making Party Masks

Located in the suburbs of Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, Ogawa Studio is a small brick building that resembles a stylish apartment building rather than a small manufacturer. Everything from the creating of the rubber to the packaging is all done on this premise.

Hirohisa Ogawa is the third generation president of this family business. Tracing the history of this small company reflects the trend and changes of small manufacturers in Japan. Originally, as Ogawa Rubber Co., Hirohisa’s grandfather garnered production skills and machinery to make latex balloons. As a forerunner, it was a prosperous business. But in the postwar period, the manufacturing of balloons became more widespread. In the 1960s, Hirohisa’s father made the decision to change the direction of the company and specialize only in producing rubber masks. “At that time, Japan was seen globally as a cheap, reliable source of manufacturing and we were approached by an American company to make these types of masks. We specialized in fulfilling their orders and our business was based on exports,” explained Ogawa. “However, by 1980s, the domestic market grew and cheaper manufacturing options were available in other countries. Our sales are now primarily made in Japan.”

Indeed, from the 1980s, party goods for adults became an expanding market in Japan. While party goods for children remain a small market compared to many countries, silly props for Japanese style “drinking parties” are still popular. General goods stores like LOFT and TOKYU HANDS are major outlets while the Don Quijote chain is the largest purveyors of Ogawa masks.

Ogawa Studio has a display of their past product lines. Prominently on display is the rack of Japanese prime ministers. “We sold more Barack Obama masks than the last seven prime Japanese prime ministers combined,” Ogawa comments with a wry smile. “It’s quite fun creating politician masks. We never have to pay licensing fees to make them so the investment is low. It takes about four days between a new appointment and our finished product. There is always media attention when we introduce our newest prime minister mask.”

Ogawa also makes masks based on famous animation and manga characters. Some are custom-ordered by cosplay (costume play) fans. There are trends but at Ogawa, Ultraman remains the best-seller character brand.

Indeed, the popularity of rubber masks does reflect certain cultural and social trends of the time. For example, last year there was a trend where an anonymous donor provided free schoolbags to orphanages signing his name as “Naoto Date,” the name of a professional wrestler in a famous animation called “Tiger Mask.” The media coverage of this action propelled a flurry of copycat donors across the nation. Many wore Tiger Mask costumes to bring cash or presents to orphanages and city offices. “We sold 10 times as many Tiger Mask products last year. There was even a rumor that I was the original donor,” Ogawa says chuckling. “Unfortunately our business is not that prosperous.”

Tiger Mask

The bestseller remains predictable. The geisha, the samurai and the Buddha masks outsell most trends. Ogawa figured out that one increasing use of these products are by fans at international sporting events. He is introducing a new line of masks and wigs (not as hot and shows the wearer’s face) with a Japanese flag emblem drawn on. The chances are at this summer’s Olympic games, there will be Japanese fans in London cheering their athletes while wearing Ogawa masks.

How a rubber mask is made:

(1) Since Ogawa has roots as a rubber manufacturer, it makes its own rubber from raw materials, using its own recipe to create thin, non-toxic and durable material for the masks.

(2) Two designers are constantly at work creating new models from clay molds. Using photographs and drawings, they carefully mold the special facial features of that person or character. 

(3) The molds are created in multiples. Then hot liquid rubber mixture is poured onto the molds using a conveyor belt and then cooled.

(4) The masks are taken off the molds and then colored by hand.

(5) Another worker then puts the finishing touches.

(6) Masks are packaged by hand and ready to be shipped.

Ogawa Studio Factory Tour:

Tours are free for groups of three or more on the condition that each participant purchase a mask which costs around 2,000 yen ($20).

Tours are about 40 minutes long, between 10 am to noon and from 1 pm to 5 pm on weekdays and the second and fourth Saturday of every month.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:
Okinawa Antenna Shop in Tokyo

You can enjoy the whole country of Japan in Tokyo! Visit “Antenna” Shops!

Okinawa Antenna Shop in Tokyo

Tokyo Antenna Shops Have Something for Everyone

By Ryoji Shimada, staff writer

“Men-soree!” (meaning “welcome” in the dialect of Okinawa Prefecture) is the friendly way arriving customers are greeted. In the background is the rhythm of music from the south Pacific islands. The store’s colorful interior, with fruits and semitransparent glass evocative of rippling waves, gives the impression of the tropical summer. This is the image conveyed by the shop located in Tokyo’s famous Ginza fashion district, that sells fresh foods, handicrafts and other items from Okinawa, Japan’s southern island.

“We want customers to feel like they’re in Okinawa,” says Noriko Sugishita, chief manager of the “Ginza Watashi Shop,” a so-called antenna shop operated by Okinawa Prefecture. Since the shop’s opening in 1994 customers have increased year upon year, with an estimated 1.3 million coming to shop in 2011.

“I like the tropical theme of the store interior,” says one of the store’s regular patron, a 34-year-old female office worker. She says she has come today to purchase an acerola beverage. A housewife in her 60s, who became interested in Okinawa after her married daughter moved there, says “I don’t want stuff in a bottle — it has to be made freshly.” She holds up a net filled with several small round fruits from Okinawa called shiikwaasaa (Citrus depressa).


People visit the Okinawa shop for a variety of reasons. Some have heard about some product via the grapevine or seen something on television, and come to buy it. Some are just passing by on the sidewalk and walk in out of curiosity. Others had been in Okinawa recently but forgot to buy souvenirs, or perhaps didn’t want to be bothered with the burden of lugging back heavy items. Still others are attracted after they see the shop featured on variety TV shows, or they come for special events to sample goods.

The concept behind the “antenna shop” is to promote the produce of a particular locale. Concerning the purpose of her antenna shop, Sugishita explains the marketing aspects, saying, “How do we sell things? Which products are likely to sell? For these and other reasons we want to grasp the conditions in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Through starting actual sales of some products, we can generate a positive cycle, so that our sales motivate manufacturers to produce more goods.”

Perhaps from the same perspective of nurturing producers, an antenna shop to market goods from the northern island of Hokkaido was opened in Ginza in 1997, opposite the Okinawa shop. The “Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza,” favorably located close to a train station, claims some 2.2 million visitors per year. Yoshio Aoki, the store manager, says many of his customers are people who have been to Hokkaido, or those with personal ties to Hokkaido, such as people with relatives there, or employees of Hokkaido companies who are on assignment to Tokyo unaccompanied by their families. “More than coming here to buy souvenirs, they want to use it in the regular sense,” Aoki says. He hopes they will become repeat patrons.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in 2010, Japan’s total food self-sufficiency, when measured on a calorie basis, was 39%. However for the island of Hokkaido alone, food self-sufficiency surpasses 200%. For this reason, the shop is crammed with a wide range of food products, ranging from sea foods to fruits, vegetables and rice. Presently packaged charcoal-grilled sanma (saury) and cuttlefish stuffed with rice are said to be selling well. From the vantage point of marketing, one corner of the display is devoted to new products. Out of some 100 items, only the top-selling 30% over a three-month period are retained. Some are kept on sale regularly. This system is set up to maintain a balance between offerings of new items and popular sellers.

Tokyo, with over 13 million people, is an enormous consumer of goods. This is probably the main reason why although Japan has 47 prefectures, nearly all the antenna shops in the country are located here. The stores permit customers to sample the atmosphere of the localities, and several travel agencies have even organized tours that visit Tokyo’s antenna shops. “Sometimes they come in large groups via tour bus,” says Sugishita, who adds that in such cases they will notify the shop beforehand. According to Aoki, the mood toward domestic travel was heightened in the wake of the so-called Lehman Shock of 2008, and more customers began visiting the shops following frequent coverage in the media from around 2009.

When asked whether or not foreigners also patronize the shop, Sugita responded, “Not so many. Perhaps it’s because they don’t know we exist.” But for foreign visitors pressed for time, whose stay is limited only to Tokyo, these antenna shops can be recommended as places to capture the atmosphere and flavor of Japan’s local areas.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:
Japan's best garden

Japan’s best garden

Japan's best garden
Japan’s best garden

Seeing Is Believing?

In 2011, the Adachi Museum of Art in Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture, was ranked as first in Japan by the US magazine “Journal of Japanese on Gardening.” This marked its ninth consecutive year to be accorded such recognition.

Each year since 2003 the journal has sent some 30 experts to Japan to review the gardens at traditional Japanese inns, museums, castles and others, totaling 850 sites in all. The judging standards include quality, harmony with neighboring buildings, treatment of visitors and so on. Ranked in second place for 2011 was Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, followed by Ritsurin Garden in Kagawa Prefecture.

We suppose that photographs alone won’t show what a superb garden it is. So then, how about going there to see it for yourself?

Adachi Museum of Art

Address: 320, Furukawa-cho, Yasugi-city, Shimane Prefecture

Tel: +81-854-82-7111

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:
Osaka Film Festival

Osaka Film Festival

Osaka Film Festival

Last November, the 26th Osaka European Film Festival was held. The occasion commemorated the 38th anniversary of sister city ties between Osaka and Milan, Italy, and also the 158th anniversary of Italy’s “Risorgimento” (unification). Milan’s orchestra was invited, and a pianist provided a solo accompaniment to the 1910 silent film, “Anita Garibaldi.” A 28-year-old woman who attended the event said, “I thought the film and music were perfectly matched — it was wonderful.” Other silent films at the event were accompanied by jazz and a variety of musical performances, and this old-but-new method of artistic expression garnered much attention.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:
Panda Post Box

Panda Post Box

Panda Post Box

One of the most popular attractions in Tokyo’s Taito city is the giant panda exhibit in Ueno Zoo. Celebrating the arrival of its two newest inhabitants, named Ri Ri and Shin Shin, a specially adorned post box was set up by the zoo entrance. Any letters posted here will be marked with a special cancellation stamp “bearing” the image of a giant panda or of Takamori Saigo, a famous 19th century political figure whose statue is another prominent feature of Ueno Park. It is not surprising if people who love pandas use the box to mail letters to themselves.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Shibuya Changing

Sentaa-gai, or Center Town as it is rendered in English, is the name of a famous commercial thoroughfare in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, which has become a Mecca for Tokyo youth. Last autumn, however, one of the street’s official name was changed to “Basketball Street.” The new moniker aims to reduce the street’s negative image by associating it with a popular sport. From the 1980s, Sentaa-gai’s environment had increasingly deteriorated, earning it a reputation as a place to obtain illegal drugs or where youth gangs congregated. The street subsequently became known as a hangout for equally disrespectable characters, such as dark-skinned ganguro girls known for their garish cosmetics and lurid costumes, and similarly flashy young males referred to as “Center Guys.” It is hoped the street’s new name will aid in efforts to make it a more wholesome place to visit.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Japan’s Largest “non-Japanese” Neighborhood

The streets, featuring stately rows of old western-style houses amidst the greenery, may seem a bit incongruous in Japan, and at first glance the neighborhood might even be mistaken for a recently built theme park. But these houses are the real thing. Referred to in Japan as “Ijinkan” (foreigners houses), they were constructed as residences for westerners from the mid 19th century from the “Bakumatsu” (late Edo era) to the Meiji and Taisho eras. Many such houses were constructed in the cities of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Yokohama in Kanagawa, Kobe in Hyogo and Nagasaki, but due to fires and natural calamities most of them have vanished. The one exception is Kobe, where some 40 houses remain. Nearly all of them were once foreign consuls in use by diplomats for offices or residents. Presently they serve as a window on the west, and they attract many sightseers from both within and outside of Japan.

<History of Kobe’s Ijinkan>

In 1858, Japan’s ruling Tokugawa government concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States, and similar treaties with four European nations. Japan agreed to end over two centuries of self-imposed national isolation by opening five seaports to trade. The ports were Hakodate, Niigata, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagasaki. The treaties stipulated that foreign nationals would be confined to living in designated areas. The district in one such port, Kobe, was close to the seacoast. However, the facilities there did not proceed as planned, and foreigners began building their homes further inland, such as the slopes of Mt. Rokko, which we will be introducing here. The district is somewhat apart from Kobe’s central commercial and industrial zones, and was fortunately spared from air raids on Kobe during World War II. As such, the neighborhood preserves a rare view of upscale life in prewar Kobe.

A colonial style house (right) built by and continuously lived in by an Englishman. The houses on the left had previously been apartments occupied by foreigners but they have now been combined and are used as a tourist attraction, displaying French art and furnishings.

This was built in 1903 as the residence of U.S. consul general Hunter Sharp. It is presently called “Moegi no Yakata.”

This house was the residence of German businessman Gottfried Thomas. In the backdrop is an expansive view of the hills of Kobe. It is now known as “Kazamidori no Yakata.”

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Japan’s Sake Factory Visits

January, the coldest month of the year in Japan, has traditionally been the time when fresh brews of sake are finished. Sake, which has gained great popularity even outside Japan in recent years, is made from rice which is harvested in autumn, brewed, fermented, and completed just in time to greet the New Year. For sake brewing, water is very important, which along with rice composes 80% of the final product, so areas blessed with superior quality groundwater such as Fushimi, Kyoto Prefecture and Nada, Hyogo Prefecture produce around 50% of Japan’s sake.

Sake has a very deep time-honored connection to the Shinto religion in Japan. In Shinto wedding ceremonies, the wedding vows are enacted by the couple drinking sake together, and in Shinto festivals this sacred alcohol of sake is offered to worshipers. In this way, sake has become indispensable in the daily life and at turning points of one’s life since ancient times.

Sake can be enjoyed both chilled and hot, which is relatively rare for alcohol. Enjoying a warmed cup of fresh sake during the cold winter is something to look forward to. Sake also perfectly complements the subtle flavors of Japanese cuisine as one would expect, but since it draws out the flavor of food so well, the number of restaurants in cities such as New York and Paris which offer Japanese sake has been increasing. In 2006 a sake division was established in England’s traditional International Wine and Spirit Competition, and its degree of recognition is increasing little by little. Particularly a type of sake called “daiginjoshu” which has a flavor similar to white wine is gaining popularity.

The storehouses used to preserve sake brews are called “sakagura.” When visiting a sake brewing town in Japan one can witness the scene of these storehouses lined up along the streets. Various sake brewers are assembled in Nada ward and the flavors vary depending on the maker. You can enjoy walking from brewer to brewer searching for your favorite sake.

For strolling around Fushimi, located in Kyoto Prefecture, we recommend the “Sunrise Tour” in English aimed at foreigners, called “Fushimi Inari Shrine and Sake Tasting Tour.” It includes tours of sake brewing facilities, sake tasting, and a tour of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Tour starts from the stroll through the sake brewery streets, then to the Gekkeikan Sake Museum. There, visitors can view tools used in sake brewing and related historical objects, sample water used in sake production, and take an exclusive tour of the sake brewing facility itself. Here, you can participate in sake tasting, so why don’t you try finding your favorite sake?

Next, visit Fushimi Inari Shrine famous for its path lined with thousands of red torii gates. Shinto shrines’ gods are known for granting wishes, and it is said that the Fushimi Inari shrine answers requests of prosperous sales in particular.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Study rooms in Tokyo

<Hideaway in the City>

Enter the lonely building, and ride the elevator, which smells of mildew, up to the third floor, and suddenly you’re in another world. This chic interior with wood paneling at this shop makes use of an air purifier to generate negative ions, creating a roomy and comfortable space. With its invitingly cozy stuffed furniture, this room is where company staff members who work in the city go to study foreign languages or prepare for qualification examinations. Named the “Study Café,” it is one of three such establishments in the greater Tokyo area. So far it has attracted over 600 members. Most of them visit to engage in self-study, but the cafes have also hosted various types of seminars and social events.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Lighter Ordinance in Japan

<Lighter Ordinance>

After a fire damaged several buildings at a shopping street in Yokohama last August, the cause was determined to be a cigarette lighter. Now more lighters are being designed as “CR” (child resistant), with a lockable two-step mechanism. Unfortunately children playing with lighters has been the source of many fires. Some 600 million disposable lighters are sold in Japan each year. To prevent mishaps that lead to fires, from September 27, 2011, manufacturers have been required to adopt a CR function, and sales of the so-called 100-yen disposable lighters not equipped with this function will be banned. A similar law went into force in the United States in 1994.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時: