Tokyo's best and worst of 2010
Best movie launch
Boasting a heady mix of nostalgia and sex appeal, the new movie version of Space Battleship Yamato, an anime series that began in 1974, sent the Japanese media hype machine into overdrive.
The most surreal moment? Seeing star Takuya Kimura -- the man regularly voted Japan’s sexiest male celeb -- distract the crew of a working warship with a vague, “Keep up the good work” speech, as baffled seamen stood to attention.
When Japan’s biggest-selling artist said goodbye, the world paid attention.
The first of Utada Hikaru’s two-night farewell concerts, Wild Life, was simulcast to 64 theaters around Japan and to viewers worldwide via Ustream.
The second show, on December 9, was the big goodbye. The relatively cozy Yokohama Arena (“only” 20,000 seats) featured a round stage in the center of the arena, allowing Utada to bid fans adieu from close range.
Since Utada has hinted that she’ll come back with a new sound after a well-earned sabbatical, for now we'll just say, “See you later."
Worst controversy with a neighbor
On September 7, a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Both Japan and China lay claim to the islands, and the issue quickly became a diplomatic nightmare.
In November, as the Japanese public bayed for answers, a Kobe-based Coast Guard officer uploaded a video of the incident on YouTube.
The footage and report were removed within 10 hours, and the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office of Japan launched an investigation against YouTube operator Google.
The controversy passed and no one was prosecuted, but relations between Japan and China suffered severe damage.
Worst headache for Japanese bureaucrats
Although the contents of nearly 6,000 classified documents sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo have been released by WikiLeaks, Japanese bureaucrats have so far gotten off lightly.
Except for Amano Yukiya, Japanese head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Amano was found to be “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
So much for improving relations with Iran anytime soon.
But the biggest headache for Japanese government workers is that now they reportedly must search WikiLeaks daily for potentially damaging material.
Best ecological export
Despite Japan’s love of waste (Who needs a croissant wrapped in three plastic bags?), Nissan became the world’s first company to introduce a mass-market electric vehicle.
Introduced in December in the U.S., the Leaf, a compact five-door hatchback, quickly racked up more than 20,000 orders. The Japanese launch followed a week later.
Best cultural invasion
While South Korea may have a more serious invasion to worry about, its entertainers continued their assault on Japan’s pop music market in 2010.
In June, Xiah Junsu of boy band Tohoshinki scooped the year’s biggest first-week sales for a solo artist, shifting 195,000 copies of his single “Xiah.” Meanwhile, Girls Generation seemed to be everywhere -- including the coveted advertising space above Shibuya’s 109 department store.
Korean acts such as Bigbang and Kara placed highly in the Oricon charts, leaving the J-pop industry pondering its defense strategy. Coincidence, then, that no Korean acts were invited to perform on annual year-end music show, “Kohaku Uta Gassen”?
Worst side effect of climate change
Summer 2010 was Japan’s hottest since record-keeping began, with temperatures in the 30s for weeks on end.
It was excellent! Or was it? The heatwave reportedly led to more than 130 deaths and 30,000 hospitalizations across Japan, and made plain the encroaching effects of climate change.
So far, winter 2010 has been unusually warm, leading to short sleeves in November and ice cream cake for Christmas.
Worst shopping experience
The Shibuya branch of Loft is one of our favorite spots for gift shopping.
In the run-up to Christmas, however, the department store's decision to play one particularly kitsch Christmas song over and over and over and over and over on a loop on every floor of the store stretched our patience worryingly thin.
Here’s hoping the poor saps who work there get issued industrial-grade earplugs.
Best new way in and out of Tokyo
On October 21, Haneda Airport opened a new terminal and runway to accommodate international flights for the first time since 2002, linking it with 17 cities around the world.
The revamped airport could make Tokyo a 24-hour international air hub, but what the news means for most of us is a much shorter journey to and from the airport: Haneda is just 15 kilometers from the heart of Tokyo, a quarter of the distance to Narita International Airport.
Airport enhancements include a full-size Edo-style shopping street, and a planetarium cafe, where star-crossed lovers can dream of destinations celestial.
Best video game launch
Almost single-handedly reviving Sony’s once-mocked PlayStation Portable handheld console, “Monster Hunter” is a big deal here, if not so much overseas.
Lines for the latest iteration, “Portable 3rd," stretched to the thousands at stores on its December 1 release date. Two million copies of the game shipped in its first five days on the market.
PSP versions of the game are best played in a linked group of four, and “Monster Hunter” parties quickly sprung up at cafes, fast food joints and even convenience stores, putting paid to the notion that video games make you anti-social. Now, where did we put our Hunting Horn?
Best frosty snack
Gelato shops continued to spring up throughout Tokyo in 2010. While few served anything an actual Italian would recognize, Grom opened a branch in August at the mouth of Shibuya’s Center-gai that put authentic gelato into shoppers’ sticky hands.
With branches in 31 Italian cities, plus France and the U.S., Grom makes its gelato on the premises and with no chemical agents. It’s lower in fat than most gelato, one reason fashionistas have been happy to join lengthy queues at the elegant icery.
Best unexpected sporting achievement
Japan was stricken with football fever when the national team advanced to the second round of the FIFA World Cup in June.
Japan’s was the first team to qualify for this year’s tournament and ranked ninth overall -- highest among Asian teams.
Since games were played in South Africa, local revelers held dusk-till-dawn soccer parties, even after Japan’s defeat.
But it was the Samurai Blue’s two wins and one draw that triggered the true celebrations -- and the rare sight of Tokyoites hugging strangers in the street.
Best new virtual singer for the otaku generation
The term “manufactured pop singer” took on new meaning this year as the popularity of Hatsune Miku scaled new heights.
The manga-esque virtual singer was designed by Crypton Future Media. Her voice is generated by Yamaha’s Vocaloid software, which can be utilized by anyone.
Though certainly not the world’s first virtual pop star, Hatsune has become the most successful -- 2010 saw her appear in various video games, chart-topping albums, cosplay contests and, in March, on the live stage as a 3D hologram.
She may be fake, but then you could say the same of Ayumi Hamasaki – and we know which one we prefer.