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Mobile game and SNS site tops 4 million users March 13, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in games, Internet, Japan, Mobile, Shopping.

mbga.jp, the mobile phone portal offering games, avatars and social networking, has announced that has exceeded 4 million users on March 10th. mbga.jp is run by DeNA,  a rival for Rakuten in the retail e-commerce sector with its virtual shopping mall and on-line auction services, and run by ex-McKinsey consultant (Ms.) Tomoko Nanba.

The portal opened its doors last February, and mbga.jp seems to be the front runner in the games and SNS sector, as far as dedicated services for mobile phones are concerned.
This is reflected in the age of its users, more than half (56%) are aged 19 or below, with another 32% of users in their twenties.  Mobile phones are becoming the major device from which younger users are accessing the internet, according to a Netratings report published last November. Over the last 6 years, the percentage of people in their twenties who access the internet from a home PC has plummeted from 23.6% to 11.9%, which is barely above the percentage of people in their fifties. Interestingly, the percentage of people in their thirties who access the internet from a home PC has also declined (from 27% to 24%), whereas the 40+ age groups all saw an increase. The ~19 age group has increased from 17.3% to 20.9%, but even this growth is lower than that seen by the 40~49 age group, who went from 19.5% to 24%, tying with the 30~39 age group as the most active users of the internet via their home PC. Facta has an interesting article which details the statistics quoted above in graphical form (in Japanese only unfortunately), which notes that younger people, especially once they start working, are less and less exposed to a PC, a trend which may result in another digital divide between users who can use a PC and those who rely more heavily on their mobile phones. But the numbers do bode well for services which target the mobile phone, especially with regards to a younger user group. The current teenagers and twenty-somethings are likely to take their behaviour with them even as they grow older.

The success of mbga.jp and the fact that it has survived competition against players like Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan in the PC web based businesses it runs is reflected in the share price for DeNA, which has steadily risen since the IPO in early 2005, in contrast to many of the hyped internet IPOs. The company is current valued at JPY181B, or a little over $1.5B, which must make Nanba-san the most successful female Japanese internet entrepreneur.

And in contrast to many of the internet entrepreneurs who have hit the jackpot bringing overseas business models and simply localising them for the Japanese market, mbga.jp has the potential to be a model which can be successfully exported elsewhere. Nanba-san is better qualified than most to make DeNA a global leader in mobile content, with her McKinsey and Harvard MBA background.


I love people who “just do it” February 6, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Shopping.

No, I don’t mean Nike.

I blogged about my Wii here, and in the post, I wondered out loud if there wasn’t a niche market for designer Mii (the avatar you create, with which you can play various Wii games).

Seems someone thought it might be an interesting project. (That someone should probably update his blog. Whatever, I got to scoop it because he didn’t…)

Say hello to Miistation.

The creator (or one of the co-creators, as far as I am aware) of the site tells me the concept went from idea to reality in a week.

Granted, not much heavy duty web development required, and it takes advantage of existing infrastructure (payment is via Google Checkout – in fact, I much prefer using established credit card payment schemes like GC or similar than enter credit card information and hand it over to some unknown site, so the leveraging of such infrastructure makes perfect sense).

So I guess it was mainly a matter of getting the backend resources together (the sweatshop labour – I’m joking, I’m told that the designers are not children in Southern Asia but are actually located in Japan. So, exploiting starving art students then, I guess? Monkeys typing away at a battery of keyboards? No, apparently no people or animals are being exploited or mistreated according to the people behind this)

Price-wise, I guess $5 is about right, I don’t think you could really get much lower using local resources before it becomes an act of charity. (Off-shore vendors feel free to send me a quote, and I’ll pass it along. Let’s globalize another knowledge industry, I’m sure the call center/IT/accounting back office guys and gals will be feeling a little less victimised once other industries begin to feel the power of globalization….)

I hear that this is hopefully the first of several related ideas up the creators’ sleeves (I guess it depends on whether the idea catches on). [OK, I hope the fact that the site’s catchphrase is “make mii” doesn’t mean they are going to target the lucrative portion of the internet with the catchphrase “f*** mii”…. a lightweight Second Life meets the red light district…. or “whip mii” for the S/M aficianados, or….. (OK, I’ll stop now)]

I hear that they are working on some unrelated stuff as well, which I hope wasn’t delayed too much because of their decision to create Miistation.

OK, this isn’t the next YouTube, but I really like it when someone just implements an idea, however small (especially when they are small?), to address a perceived market need. That kind of proactiveness is a valuable asset. As the title says, Just do it……

I don’t have any affiliations with or commercial interests in Miistation.com, although I do count one of the co-creators of the site as a personal friend. Hi Matt!

I wonder how long it will take for Nintendo to get on these people’s cases about having “mii” in the titles and elsewhere. Still, I’m sure there are viable workarounds for that.

Place shifting TV hots up in Japan June 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, IT, Japan, Shopping, technology.
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Sling Media goes on sale in Japan on July 8th.

It will compete against Sony's Location Free, which is being pushed quite aggressively in Japanese electronics stores of late.

Itochu (an investor in Sling Media) will be importing the devices, and IO Data will be the distributor. 

Tissue and toilet paper prices to increase by 20-30% June 11, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Japan, Shopping.

The big 3 Japanese paper producers (Oji Paper, Nippon Paper Group, and Daio Paper) have all announced price increases for their tissue and toilet paper brands.

Oji Nepia (Oji), Crecia (NPG, marketed under the Kleenex brand), Elleair (Daio) are all increasing prices by 20-30% by the summer. They blame raw materials costs and oil price for the price increase. All 3 businesses have been losing money due to high costs combined with price pressures which have prevented price hikes until now. Crecia announced their price increase in late May, and the other big 3 manufacturers have now both followed suit.

Toilet paper is linked closely with oil prices in many Japanese people's minds due to the images from the Oil Shock in the 70's when people rushed supermarkets and emptyed the shelves of toilet paper rolls. 

Can we expect housewives stocking up on tissue paper and toilet paper in preparation for the price increases again? 

Japanese convenience stores in the US June 8, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Food and Drink, Japan, Shopping.
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via Springwise

Springwise has a piece about Japanese convenience store chain Family Mart (aka Famima) in the US.

Famima USA seems to be a lot plusher than the Famima down the street from where I live (which is pretty much identical to all its other locations I've ever been in, including the ones in Taipei).

Japanese convenience stores seem all to feature ultra-bright in-store lighting, which apparently draws potential customers in off the street. None of the dark wood interior that Famima USA advertises on its website.

Not a premium convenience store in Japan by any stretch of the imagination.

I guess the nearest we have (had?) to the premium convenience store concept was high-end supermarket Seijo Ishii's "Seijo Market" store. They remodelled that store after 6 months because they found that it didn't attract the F1 and F2 segments which they had hoped to target. Apparently the store was too much like a convenience store. The store has been remodelled and is a "Seijo Ishii Select" mini-supermarket. Seijo Ishii is great for buying foreign sweets and condiments as there are plenty of convenient locations (for the even rarer to find stuff you'll probably have to go to Kinokuniya or Nissin World Delicatessen or National Azabu). Seijo Ishii has long had ready to cook/eat type foodstuffs catering for the busy/lazy.

Of the potential players looking to target the market, Seijo Ishii's parent company Rex Holdings is probably the best placed having required mid-to-high end brand name recognition with Seijo Ishii (which has the name of a prestigious Tokyo neighbourhood (Seijo) in its name), and also having the convenience store chain am/pm in its portfolio which would mean minimal additional logistical costs and low sourcing costs compared to starting from scratch.

Back to the Springwise story, I had a look around the Harrods 102 when I was in London last month, wondering around my old neighbourhood in South Ken/Brompton/Knightsbridge. I have one major complaint. Yo! Sushi. I know it is popular in London (the one in Selfridges was packed and there were people waiting to grab a stool!!!), but the stuff they were serving looked awful. The sushi bar in the Harrods food hall didn't look much better either, come to think of it.

Yo! Sushi? Crap! Sushi, more like. I guess they aren't to blame though. They can get away with what they serve because no one offers anything better. Do someone want to throw money my way so I can set up a better sushi chain (even if it is conveyor belt sushi with the rice molded by machine) around Europe? Surely it can't be hard to better Yo! Sushi.

And Wagamama, well, that certainly is NOT Japanese ramen. Which is ok, if they didn't try to pass it off as such.