Tag Archives: Japan

Japan Issues Licenses for 11 Bitcoin Exchanges

Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) has issued operating licenses to 11 bitcoin exchanges, the regulator announced today.

This follows an amendment to the payment services law, which stated that all cryptocurrency exchanges should register with authorities by the end of September.

Passed in April, the new law established bitcoin as a legal payment method, and extrapolated security guidelines for cryptocurrency exchanges.

The licensing enforces certain operational requirements for the exchanges, including high standards for cybersecurity, the segregation of customer accounts and the verification of customer identities.

Seventeen applications are still in review, while 12 firms have closed their doors in light of the new regulations.


Local cryptocurrency exchange Quoine – one of the 11 firms to receive a license – said in a press release that it will work alongside regulators “towards the healthy development of the cryptocurrency industry within Japan and on a global scale.”

An FSA executive said earlier this week that it intended to foster “sound market development” by working with the exchanges.

Japan is uniquely proactive in its cryptocurrency regulations. Lawmakers have previously stated that this was driven by the now-notorious collapse of local bitcoin exchange Mt Gox in 2014, which led to the loss of millions of dollars in customer funds.

The news comes at a time of regulatory shifts in the broader cryptocurrency landscape. Earlier this month, China issued a blanket ban on fundraising methods involving token sales, or initial coin offerings (ICOs), and local cryptocurrency exchanges have indicated they will cease domestic trading following the ban.

South Korea has also stated ICOs are illegal as of today, as well as tightening the rules for exchanges.




Amelia Earhart’s disappearance may finally be explained with one photo

Ever since Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on their around-the-world flight on July 2, 1937, what happened to the two has been one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century.

A recently discovered photograph from the U.S. Government archives may actually provide an answer to all the speculation that has circled the case and HISTORY will present the evidence in a two-hour special Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence on Sunday, July 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The photo taken on Jaluit Atoll and uncovered by Former US Treasury Agent Les Kinney, who has been searching for an answer for 15 years as to what happened to Earhart, was filed away because it was considered to be a picture of Japanese movements in the Marshall Islands. No one guessed that it might provide a clue as to Earhart’s fate.

But if you look closely, you can see a Caucasian woman sitting on the dock with her back to the photographer, and to her far left is a man who very much resembles Noonan. The person who took the photograph is believed to have later been executed as a spy.

If that is Earhart and Noonan, it would mean they survived the crash. Of course, that raises more questions about what happened to them after their her rescue.



In Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, Former FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry investigates evidence that Earhart survived her final flight, crash-landed in the Marshall Islands, and was captured by the Japanese military – dying in their custody on Saipan — and why there may have been a cover up.

The first step for Henry was to determine if the photograph is possibly Earhart and Noonan, and toward that end, he enlists the aid of photo recognition expert Kent Gibson, who rated the photo “very likely” to be Earhart and Noonan.

“When you pull out, and when you see the analysis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the viewers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan,” Henry told NBC News.

Additionally, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence” presents evidence verified by some of the most reputable professionals in the world including: plane parts found in an uninhabited island of the Marshall Islands by Earhart Investigator Dick Spink consistent with the aircraft that Earhart was flying in 1937; and an original interview with the last living eyewitness who claims to have seen Earhart and Noonan after their crash.

Will the 80-year-old mystery be solved? Tune in when Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence premieres Sunday, July 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY and form your own opinion.



Japan’s population is falling faster than it ever has before

Japan’s population fell at the beginning of this year at the fastest pace since 1968, when the earliest comparable figures started getting collected.

As of January 1, the number of Japanese people (excluding resident foreigners) fell by a record 308,084 from a year earlier to 125,583,658, marking the eighth consecutive year of declines, government data showed Wednesday.

These changes highlight a mounting demographic challenge to Japan’s economic growth that has been roughly two decades in the making. Some economists even call the situation a “demographic time bomb,”given the vicious cycle that has formed between low fertility rates and low consumer spending.

The conflict lies in the tension between Japan’s traditional work culture — which emphasizes the role of men as primary breadwinners — and younger generations’ desire to have flexibility in their personal and professional lives.

Younger people increasingly want more egalitarian relationships in which men and women can both pursue their careers and share household duties. But career pursuits have won the battle for the last decade or so, while starting or growing families has taken a backseat on a mass scale.


The number of births in Japan fell 2.9% from the previous year to 981,202 today, the lowest since comparable data became available in 1974. People at or above the age of 65 account for 27.2% of the total population, the highest ratio on record, while those 14 or younger make up just 12.7%, the data showed.

The number of registered foreign residents in Japan increased 6.9% from a year earlier, according to the data. Japan has long been reluctant to open up to immigration, since many Japanese people pride themselves on what they see as their cultural and ethnic homogeneity.

But recently, the government has been increasing its efforts to attract students and high-skilled workers from overseas.

The overall population, which combines both Japanese and resident foreigners, fell 0.1% from a year ago to 127,907,086, the data showed.



Desperately short of labor, mid-sized Japanese firms plan to buy robots

Desperate to overcome Japan’s growing shortage of labor, mid-sized companies are planning to buy robots and other equipment to automate a wide range of tasks, including manufacturing, earthmoving and hotel room service.

According to a Bank of Japan survey, companies with share capital of 100 million yen to 1 billion yen plan to boost investment in the fiscal year that started in April by 17.5 percent, the highest level on record.

It is unclear how much of that is being spent on automation but companies selling such equipment say their order books are growing and the Japanese government says it sees a larger proportion of investment being dedicated to increasing efficiency. Revenue at many of Japan’s robot makers also rose in the January-March period for the first time in several quarters.


“The share of capital expenditure devoted to becoming more efficient is increasing because of the shortage of workers,” said Seiichiro Inoue, a director in the industrial policy bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, or METI.

If the investment ambitions are fulfilled it would show there is a silver lining as Japan tries to cope with a shrinking and rapidly aging population. It could help equipment-makers, lift the country’s low productivity and boost economic growth.

The government predicts investment in labor-saving equipment will rise this fiscal year, Inoue said.

The way Japan copes with an aging population will provide critical lessons for other aging societies, including China and South Korea, that will have to grapple with similar challenges in coming years.

“More than 90 percent of Japan’s companies are small- and medium-sized, but most of these companies are not using robots,” said Yasuhiko Hashimoto, who works in Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd’s (7012.T) robot division. “We’re coming up with a lot of applications and product packages to target these companies.”

Among those products is a two-armed, 170-centimeter (5-foot-7) tall robot. Kawasaki says it is selling well because it can be adapted to a range of industrial uses by electronics makers, food processors and drug companies.

Hitachi Construction Machinery (6305.T) says it is getting a lot of enquiries for its computer-programmed digging machines that use a global positioning system to hew ditches that are accurate to within centimeters and can cut digging time by about half.

“We focus on rentals and expect business to pick up in the second half of the fiscal year, which is when most companies tend to order construction equipment for projects,” said Yoshi Furuno, a company official. Hitachi Construction declined to provide figures.

Mid-sized companies are planning on increasing spending much more than large-caps, which are projecting just a 0.6 percent increase in the fiscal year, according to the Bank of Japan. Smaller companies tend to have less flexibility in overcoming labor shortages by paying workers more or by moving production overseas.


Some companies could end up spending less than originally planned. But with demographics only worsening, companies will need to continue to search for solutions to the labor shortage problem. Japan’s working-age population peaked in 1995 at 87 million and has been falling ever since. The government expects it to fall to 76 million this year and to 45 million by 2065.


In the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2016, mid-sized companies with 100 to 499 workers advertised to fill 1.1 million new positions, the highest in five years and almost five times the number of open positions at companies with 500 workers or more, Labor Ministry data show.

Among the robot makers to report stronger revenue in the last quarter was Fanuc Corp (6954.T). Its revenue was 7.9 percent higher than a year earlier, the first increase in seven quarters.



Entrepreneur taps Skype, tablets to offer sign language service across Japan

Imagine you’re a hearing impaired person who wants to hire a sign language interpreter. The process is antiquated and lengthy. You have to send a fax to a local municipal government to make a reservation two weeks in advance, and officials then look for an interpreter whose schedule matches yours. Once they find one, you’ll get a reply by fax.

Under this system, it is impossible to get an interpreter right away to deal with urgent matters.

But Junto Ohki, a young entrepreneur, has not only relieved many people of such anxieties, but also helped change the widespread belief that sign language interpreting is something that should be provided by the public sector as welfare.

Ohki founded his company, ShuR Co., when he was a sophomore at Keio University in 2008. The company now runs a Skype-based sign language interpreting business. ShuR also created the world’s first online sign language dictionary called SLinto.

With ShuR, users can call the company, based in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, from anywhere to ask to use the service.

“I was studying IT business (at university). Though Skype wasn’t that popular at that time, I thought if we use this technology, we can remotely provide sign language interpretation for people with hearing disabilities without actually dispatching interpreters,” Ohki said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “With this, I thought I could solve many problems that my friends with hearing disabilities encountered in their lives.”

With ShuR’s service, hearing impaired people can see a doctor when they get sick or enjoy simple things like shopping.

The 29-year-old Gunma native still remembers clearly when his company offered free sign language interpretation as a trial run in 2012. As an interpreter himself, Ohki took a Skype call from an elderly man who asked, “Is it true that if I make a phone call, sushi will be delivered to my house?”

The man, who had a hearing disability, knew about such delivery services but had been unable to use a phone himself.


“Yes it’s true,” Ohki said in sign language, going on to order sushi for the man.

Twenty minutes later, Ohki received a call from the same man. When he took the call, the first thing that appeared on the screen was a plate of sushi. The man then appeared with a big smile. “What you said was true. Sushi arrived!” he told Ohki.

This kind of experience became a driving force for Ohki to develop the service further.

Ohki’s firm does not charge individual users. Instead, it sells the service to corporations that see the need for better communication with customers and employees, including those with hearing disabilities.

But it was tough to make companies understand why they should pay for the service, Ohki said.

“Most people think that sign language belongs to the field of welfare, and interpretation should be done by volunteers,” he said.

It took some time for Ohki to convince businesses that they would benefit from the service.

But thanks to his efforts, firms like JR East and Kao Corp. use ShuR’s services. For example, customers can use tablets at JR train stations connected to ShuR’s interpreters to ask how to buy a ticket or for directions.

“They were already offering multilingual services, so it was just like adding another menu item to accommodate the hearing impaired,” Ohki said.

Meanwhile, cosmetics and household goods manufacturer Kao’s customer centers use the service to respond to various questions from customers about their products.

About 400 establishments nationwide, including hospitals, shopping centers and customer support centers, are now equipped with tablets connected to the interpreters. Some companies also use the service to have internal meetings with employees who have hearing disabilities, Ohki said.

Until he started university, Ohki, who is not hearing impaired himself, had no experience with sign language or people with hearing disabilities. The only time he saw sign language was on an NHK program when he was a junior high school student.

An avid photographer, in high school he dreamed of becoming a photojournalist who reports from war zones. He even went to the United States to study English, hoping that acquiring photography and language skills would lead to becoming a journalist. While he was chosen as a finalist in a nationwide photo contest for high school students, he didn’t take the top prize. The loss prompted him to rethink his career goals and diversify his areas of study at university.

At Keio University, an old memory came back that would set him on a new course. He remembered the vivid impression from the sign language he saw on NHK and how he thought it was such a beautiful language. Though he wanted to join a sign language club, there was no such club at his university. In the summer of his first year, a female friend asked him to create a sign language club with her.

The pair, who were truly beginners of the language, founded the club and started learning to sign.

Three months later, he was asked through an acquaintance to appear on NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (Year-end Song Festival“) program. Popular singer Yo Hitoto, a Keio University graduate scheduled to sing on the program, was looking for someone who could perform her song’s lyrics in sign language, and Ohki’s newly established club was called in.

“I don’t think she knew we had only studied sign language for three months. But when I was asked to join her, I recklessly said, ‘Yes, we can do it,’ ” Ohki said with a smile.

After intensive training, Ohki and his club mates made a successful debut on NHK’s popular year-end program.

Being part of that show had a tremendous ripple effect. The club was invited to many places across Japan to demonstrate and teach sign language. TV stations and newspapers interviewed him and other club members.

“I thought about the reason why we captured media attention and I came to the conclusion that there weren’t enough entertainment programs for the hearing impaired,” Ohki said.

Ohki then began creating an online travel program with hearing impaired people. As they traveled together for the program, he discovered how difficult the life of people with disabilities could be.

“They can’t even call an ambulance or go to see a doctor because they can’t talk even if they get sick,” he said, adding that learning about their lives led him to establish his company in his second year of university.

As for the online dictionary SLinto, Ohki said the database, accessible to anyone, aims to make the process of learning sign language easier.

“When I was studying sign language, I had a hard time finding the meaning of signs,” Ohki said. “You can Google the word ‘dog’ if you want to know how to say it in sign language, but when you see a hand motion for a specific word, you can’t look up what it means. It’s like having a Japanese-to-English dictionary, but not having an English-to-Japanese dictionary.”

Using a special keyboard displayed on a computer screen, users of SLinto can choose a hand motion for a sign, such as placing an index finger in front of the stomach, and then various video clips similar to those movements will appear. Users then look for the motion they want to know about from among the video clips.

Ohki said they were currently developing an American version of the dictionary and discussing how to promote it in the U.S., which has a huge sign language-related market. The free service generates revenue from ads displayed at the bottom of the screen, he said. He has already acquired a patent for the special on-screen keyboard.

“There aren’t many services that originated in Japan that have spread around the world,” he said. “I would like to make ShuR’s service the world standard for sign language.”

Now, Ohki is looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. “More and more people with hearing disabilities from overseas will be visiting Japan for the Olympics,” he said. “I would like to create an environment where such people can stay in Japan comfortably without feeling insecure about what to do if they get sick.”



Check out this newly designed interactive restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

Art collective teamlab has created an immersive interactive restaurant in Tokyo’s ginza district. the exclusive eatery, which serves just eight guests per day, provides diners with a unique multi-sensory experience that conveys the tastes, smells, and scenic beauty of japan. the immersive space combines elegant cuisine and ceramic art with real-time projections that canvas the restaurant’s walls and tables.


Located inside ‘saga beef restaurant SAGAYA ginza‘, teamlab’s new installation is titled ‘worlds unleashed and then connecting’. ‘when a dish is placed on the table, the scenic world contained within the dish is unleashed, unfolding onto the table and into the surrounding space,’ say the designers. ‘for example, a bird painted on a ceramic dish is released from the dish and can perch on the branch of a tree that has been unleashed from a different dish.’


The sizes and shapes of the projected objects are also affected by the other dishes on the table. this creates an environment of constant change, designed to reflect japan’s changing seasons. furthermore, the projections are influenced by the diners’ behavior. ‘if you are still, a tiny bird might alight on your hand; if you move suddenly, it might fly away,’ explains teamlab. the restaurant’s menu and presentation, which changes monthly, includes a 12-course meal with dishes including black wagyu beef and seasonal vegetables.



Tsubasa Watanabe: Model mixes punk with fashion on the runways of New York

At her first test shoot in Los Angeles, Tsubasa Watanabe was surprised by the outfit the photographer was asking her to wear: Hanging from the fingers of his outstretched hand was a pair of thong underwear.

“This is the outfit?” she asked.

“Yup,” he answered.

“Ok,” she said. “Let me change.” She walked into the bathroom and gathered her thoughts.

At this point, Watanabe had been modeling for several years in Japan after walking into an agency in Nagoya in high school, so she definitely had runway experience. But belying her striking looks, she’d grown up in rural Japan in a very traditional family and was accustomed to wearing a little more clothing, even on the runways.

She debated calling her agency and wasn’t sure she should do the job. Maybe the photographer was trying to take advantage of her, maybe he thought she wouldn’t say no because she was Japanese. “This is a test,” she told herself.

When she danced her way out of the bathroom in the thong with a smile on her face, the photographer laughed and started taking pictures, which set the atmosphere at ease. “You’re good!” he said.

This was in 2005. Watanabe is now a veteran model with years of experience in New York City: She has in all likelihood walked more seasons outside of Japan than any other Japanese model in history. Her success has been the result of steadfast focus, flexibility within a foreign culture and a refusal to accept setbacks.


Watanabe was born and raised in Shirakawa, a small town of 9,000 nestled between rivers in the Japanese alps of Gifu Prefecture. She played classical piano from the age of 4 until the end of junior high school when she was not accepted into a music high school.

Even then music was a significant part of her life: She discovered J-rock and the Beatles, played in a rock band that covered power pop songs and decorated the walls of her bedroom with punk rock posters. She was somewhat of a tomboy and dressed in goth fashion. All the while, she shot up to nearly 180 centimeters in height, was naturally thin and had large eyes beneath beautifully angled eyebrows.

“My friends in high school were like, ‘Why aren’t you modeling?’” she says, but it just hadn’t occurred to her before.

Little by little, however, the fashion world began to seep into her everyday life, even as isolated as she was. She found the magazine “Mode et Mode” at a small bookstore in town and discovered the striking fashion of Alexander McQueen. When she later saw Betsey Johnson incorporate punk girls into her high fashion runway shows, she remembers thinking, “This is it!”

All she could focus on from that point onward was how to access that world.

After walking into an agency in 2002, Watanabe was soon commuting three hours one way to go to lessons and casting calls in Nagoya. Her teacher, a former model, drilled Watanabe and her classmates for hours on how to walk.

The work paid off, and she was booking jobs in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka and Nagoya. When she finished high school she faced a decision that most rural Japanese graduates would never even consider: Should she move to Tokyo or to Los Angeles?

Despite a contract offer from an agency in Tokyo, Watanabe chose LA because of inspiration from Riff Randell, the Ramones-obsessed female lead of the movie “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.”

In Los Angeles, Watanabe heard many Japanese complain about the inconvenience of living in the U.S., but it felt easy to her. “Even going to the supermarket (in Shirakawa) was so far,” she says. “LA to me was convenient.” She managed to get by without a car, relying on public transportation and walking.

A year later she moved to New York and had castings right away, quickly getting set up in her new hometown.

Watanabe purposely set herself apart from others in the Japanese community, not just other models. “I wanted to learn American culture,” she says. “I didn’t want to be an outsider who just follows their career, I wanted to be a local who lives here and has a job. From a certain point, modeling wasn’t my dream. It was just my job.”

Not everything has been easy. Shortly after arriving in New York, she booked a big designer’s show in Bryant Park for fashion week. The fitting the night before took nearly five hours and lasted until midnight, and she was running around the city early the next day for other castings. When she showed up to Bryant Park she posed for street photographers and was congratulated by a Japanese photographer for her newfound success.

However, when she tried to sign in at the venue, her name wasn’t listed. After some confusion, she discovered that they’d overbooked and she wasn’t needed. Dejected, Watanabe walked out past the street photographers and went home, crying the whole way.

Watanabe also misses Japan, mostly her family, the nature she was surrounded by and Shinto traditions. Her parents, both very traditional, haven’t visited her in the U.S., but they did sign up for the cable channel WOWOW when she was featured as one of the models in the second season of “Project Runway All Stars”; she’ll reprise this role for the sixth season later this year. Watanabe makes the trip home once a year or so, and she’s married an American and since made her home in New York.

The Bryant Park incident was the first and last time Watanabe let herself cry because of modeling. The setback eventually helped her learn to stay level and not take things too seriously.

Sixty percent of her work is runway-related, and the rest is e-commerce and fashion editorials. However, the runway is what really motivates her. “Of course, we walk the runway to show the clothes, but to me it’s a performance,” she says. “When I hear the beats backstage right before the show starts, that’s when I come alive.”

Her work has given her the freedom to pursue her passion for music in her free time, but she has settled down a little from her punk days and is working on soundtrack projects.

Watanabe used to dream at night of being back at her home in Gifu with her family. Her New York dreams were nightmares in which she was lost, wandering the unfamiliar city. “Recently I had a dream that I was in my apartment in New York,” she says. “This means a lot to me.”




Things to Do at This Flower Park in Japan This Wisteria Blooming Season

Booking a flight to Japan can be challenging for those who want to witness the beauty of the cherry blossoms during springtime. Some might be lucky enough to get a flight in early to mid-April, just in time for sakura, but there are those who settle for late April to early May. But don’t worry if you miss sakura season, there are still other flowers to see in Japan!

One of the best places to see some of the most beautiful flowers in the country is Ashikaga Flower Park (あしかがフラワーパーク), which is located in Ashikaga City (足利市), Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県). It’s home to a variety of flowers, with wisteria, or fuji (藤) in Japanese, being its main attraction. The park is beautiful and worth visiting either day or night. Here are three things to do there during the bloom of wisteria!

From mid-April to mid-May, you can witness four varieties of wisteria in full bloom — the famous 1,000-square-meter great wisteria trellis, the cherry blossom-colored pale red wisteria, the 80-meter long white wisteria tunnel, and the 80-meter long Kibana wisteria tunnel (which is the only one in Japan).

Apart from those, Ashikaga Flower Park has many other flowers for you to appreciate like petunia, rose, and azalea. All you need to do is to look around and discover them for yourself!

The oldest wisteria tree around the world is located in Ashikaga Flower Park. It’s not difficult to find since it’s the center of the great wisteria trellis. However, there’s a fence around it so you can’t go near it, but the distance is enough to see its beauty.

If you’ve brought a bento (packed lunch) with you, there are chairs and tables nearby for you to enjoy a meal with this beautiful scenery.

Take the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (湘南新宿線), the JR Utsunomiya Line (宇都宮線), or the JR Tohoku Shinkansen line (東北新幹線) from Tokyo Station (東京駅) to Oyama Station (小山駅). Get off and transfer to the JR Ryomo Line (両毛線) where you should alight at Tomita Station (富田駅), the station before Ashikaga Station (足利駅). From there, you need to walk for about 13 minutes.

Don’t worry about getting lost because, during the full bloom of wisterias, you’ll see many people going there as well. Follow the crowd and you’ll get there soon. Moreover, there are signs and street officers around the area to help you.

If you get hungry, there are stalls near the station that sell food and other items. Along the way, you’ll also encounter people selling hats so you won’t feel too hot while walking.

If you’re visiting Japan, let me assure you that a trip to Ashikaga Flower Park is something you shouldn’t miss regardless of the season! It’s a great experience to appreciate nature, especially different flowers in their full bloom.




Japan fashion’s tough road to international success

TOKYO (AFP) – He’s been hailed a “fresh new voice” by Vogue, won admiration from Giorgio Armani and bagged an award: Mitsuru Nishizaki is hot fashion talent in Japan. But that doesn’t guarantee international stardom.

Loud applause and uncharacteristic cheers erupted from the usually restrained Japanese fashion crowd at the 38-year-old’s packed autumn/winter 2017 collection for brand Ujoh at Tokyo Fashion Week.

The models strode out to upbeat techno tempo, tearing up a multi-lane catwalk in a high-energy show starring preppy-grunge, sporty-tailored chic that would not look out of place in New York.


It was eminently wearable with bright high-necked ribbed sweaters slashed at the side, a deconstructed pale pink trench coat and crisp shirts that button front and back to be styled how the wearer desires.

Shoes were trainer-meets-loafer – black with white soles and a yellow serrated grip, which he calls shark soles, worn with gypsy-style skirts, pin-stripped suits or slouchy velvet track bottoms.


Nishizaki set up Ujoh in 2009 after seven years as a Yohji Yamamoto pattern cutter. Six years later he won a design award sponsored by DHL and then in 2016 staged a show in Milan.

Armani provided his theatre for the venue, though Nishizaki didn’t meet the veteran Italian designer in person. Vogue wrote afterwards: “this is how cool girls dress now” and predicted a bright future for him.

But what does it take to make it outside Japan? To follow in the footsteps of Issey Miyake, Yamamoto – Nishizaki’s former boss – and Rei Kawakubo, 20th century masters who have flown the nest to take their place among the greats in the fashion pantheon of Paris?

What are the hurdles that need to be overcome in a country where the fashion industry is embedded in exacting standards of tailoring, where creativity at times can take a back seat to doing it the right way?


Ujoh is already stocked in more than a dozen foreign cities such as Barcelona, New York and Seoul. Still, Nishizaki’s chief ambition is to expand further abroad.

But it’s a tough road to take domestic success to the next level.

In an interview at his showroom in Omotesando, a chic neighbourhood heaving with high-fashion boutiques, he was polite and earnest, but also shy and nervous behind the wide brim of a black floppy hat.

Nishizaki appears reluctant to present a compelling personal narrative in the rags-to-riches or fashion-ruled-my-childhood style that has helped many celebrated US designers market pret-a-porter to a mass audience.

When it comes to his collections, he says he works in the style to which he became accustomed at Yamamoto: having an open mind and designing freely without pre-selecting a particular inspiration.

“It is a difficult question to answer and I wish you could give me some ideas,” Nishizaki ventured when asked if he thought it was harder to break through as a designer from Japan than from Europe or America.

But he does admit that the Japanese calendar is stacked against quick success on the international circuit.

Tokyo’s bi-annual style fest in March and October comes several weeks after the main fashion merry-go-round in New York, London, Milan and Paris comes to an end.

By then most international editors and buyers are too exhausted and saturated to board a long-haul flight to Tokyo.

“What I really should do now is rearrange my brand schedule for press and sales not only in Japan but overseas,” Nishizaki said.

Misha Janette, a Tokyo-based stylist, creative director and blogger who has lived in Japan since 2004, said a major challenge for many Japanese designers trying to cut it in the West are different tastes.

She summed up the Japanese market as conservative and casual, rather than expensive and high fashion, warning that simple clothes were “not going to sell” in Paris.

“I think the most important thing is to have a balance of show pieces, interesting things that show their viewpoint with simple off the rack to satisfy both. That’s hard,” she told AFP.

“Most Japanese brands don’t have the investment, it’s just girls and boys doing it alone out of their garage,” she said. “Instead of having this balance of show pieces and wearable pieces it becomes either or.”



Forgotten Tale Of Japan’s First Black Samurai Bound For The Big Screen

There is very little recorded history on Yasuke, the young African man believed to be Japan’s first black samurai, but his story may soon be told on the silver screen.

Lionsgate has asked screenwriter Gregory Wilden, the creator of the 1986 film “Highlander,” to write a script for an action drama based on Yasuke’s centuries-old story, according to the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline.


The Lionsgate film “is based on the true story of an African whose journey to Japan comes with conflicting background stories,” Widen told Deadline last week. “The one I’ve chosen is that he was a slave soldier after the fall of Abysinnian Bengal, a black kingdom run by Ethiopians.”


In that story, Yasuke was sold into slavery and “found himself in the care of Alessandro Valignano, an Italian missionary,” Widen explained.  “They formed a bond, and when there were complications in Rome, he was sent to Japan and took Yasuke with him,” he added.


Yasuke was an African slave in his early 20s when Valignano brought him on a missionary trip to Japan in 1579, according to historical accounts that Oxy reviewed. He stood out there because of his tall stature and dark skin and he soon became a local celebrity. His real name is unknown, but locals called him Yasuke in Japan ― likely a Japanese version of his birth name.



When Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga learned of Yasuke and his impressive strength, he hired the young African as a feudal bodyguard. Under Nobunaga, Yasuke quickly rose in the ranks to become a well-respected samurai warrior who spoke fluent Japanese.

“They presented him with a blade, and he went to work,” Widen told Deadline. 


Parts of Yasuke’s story lived on in a 1916 Japanese children’s book called Kuro-suke, about a young, black samurai who often dreams of his parents in Africa.

Mike De Luca and Stephen L’Heureux are co-producing the film, which is currently called “Black Samurai.” Lionsgate has not released any other information about the film and the media distributor did not immediately return The Huffington Post’s request for comment.