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Japan’s members-only discount site LUXA raises $5.32M

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Tokyo-based e-commerce website LUXA has announced today that it has raised 500 million yen in series B funding from the JAFCO Super V3 Fund. For those outside Japan who might not be familiar with the site, LUXA is a sort of ‘outlet shopping’ site which offers products at discount prices for a limited time, with sales typically lasting for just 72 hours for its members. The site has over 350,000 members to date, mostly people in their 30s and 40s, with products recently showing a heavy slant towards cosmetics and appliances. The company’s founder and CEO Swimmy Minami explains more about the service: LUXA aims to provide a unique online shopping experience, similar to what is offered at real-life premium outlet malls. The buyers stakeholders of various categories in LUXA will continue to focus on curating the best premium products and luxury experiences for its membership and make LUXA into an essential online shopping destination full of new discoveries. The new funds will be used to help the service grow, specifically in terms of its sales staff as well as customer acquisition, particularly on mobile where the site has seen a six-fold increase in revenue over the course of 2012….

luxa-jpTokyo-based e-commerce website LUXA has announced today that it has raised 500 million yen in series B funding from the JAFCO Super V3 Fund. For those outside Japan who might not be familiar with the site, LUXA is a sort of ‘outlet shopping’ site which offers products at discount prices for a limited time, with sales typically lasting for just 72 hours for its members.

The site has over 350,000 members to date, mostly people in their 30s and 40s, with products recently showing a heavy slant towards cosmetics and appliances. The company’s founder and CEO Swimmy Minami explains more about the service:

LUXA aims to provide a unique online shopping experience, similar to what is offered at real-life premium outlet malls. The buyers stakeholders of various categories in LUXA will continue to focus on curating the best premium products and luxury experiences for its membership and make LUXA into an essential online shopping destination full of new discoveries.

The new funds will be used to help the service grow, specifically in terms of its sales staff as well as customer acquisition, particularly on mobile where the site has seen a six-fold increase in revenue over the course of 2012.

In addition to Tokyo, the company also has offices in Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. This round of funding brings its total amount raised to 10 billion yen (or $10.6 million).

I was lucky enough to have a chance to meet with Swimmy just last week, and hear more about how Luxa has grown. He’s a bold entrepreneur, and it will be interesting to see where he steers Luxa in the future.

luxa-home

With 4 million downloads for iPhone, popular Japanese collage app hits Android [Video]

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Japanese photo application Papelook has just announced that it has surpassed 4 million downloads on iOS. The application, which very much falls in the ‘kawaii’ apps category, is a very handy way to repurpose your photos in a stylish collage which can then be shared with friends. And for those of you not on iOS, the company has announced that an Android version is being released today as well. Check out our video demo above for a general idea of how the service works. Currently the majority of its users are young women (80%), and the feminine style of the photo decorations certainly reflects that. Nonetheless, I put together a collage of baby pictures just now, and I expect I’ll make a few more like this to share with family in the future. The application has been around for a long time (since mid 2011), but it wasn’t until its 2.0 release last May that it saw some real momentum. The company says that it has about 1.2 million active users currently, which is certainly an impressive total for an app in this genre. Papelook also publishes its pape.me girls fashion magazine app for iOS which itself has 250,000 downloads….

Japanese photo application Papelook has just announced that it has surpassed 4 million downloads on iOS. The application, which very much falls in the ‘kawaii’ apps category, is a very handy way to repurpose your photos in a stylish collage which can then be shared with friends. And for those of you not on iOS, the company has announced that an Android version is being released today as well. Check out our video demo above for a general idea of how the service works.

papelookCurrently the majority of its users are young women (80%), and the feminine style of the photo decorations certainly reflects that. Nonetheless, I put together a collage of baby pictures just now, and I expect I’ll make a few more like this to share with family in the future.

The application has been around for a long time (since mid 2011), but it wasn’t until its 2.0 release last May that it saw some real momentum. The company says that it has about 1.2 million active users currently, which is certainly an impressive total for an app in this genre. Papelook also publishes its pape.me girls fashion magazine app for iOS which itself has 250,000 downloads.

Geographically, 71.6% of its users come from its home market of Japan, with 10.7% and 6.5% from Thailand and Taiwan respectively.

As for its future business, Papelook may offer print services since many people make such collages for birthdays or weddings. And given the focused audience, advertising tie-ups are possible as well.

papelook-growth

Fabless printing startup Raksul partners with Stores.jp, fulfills printing needs for e-store owners

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See the original story in Japanese. Raksul, a Tokyo-based startup providing online printing services, announced today it has partnered with Stores.jp, the e-commerce platform that lets you set up a store online in minutes. Raksul is a fabless company that provides printing services in partnership with more than 1,400 printing factories nationwide. Users can place printing orders at affordable rates because the participating printers use their downtime to finish those orders. The partnership allows the owners of online stores using the Stores.jp platform to order free printing of their store’s promotional cards, providing an one-stop solution for e-commerce owners. This makes it easier to manage their stores, since they can also do other things like set up a promotional newsletter or apply for credit card payments all in one place. With the partnership, Raksul also lets the store owners pay more attention to printing materials as promotion tools. Both startups are also planning to introduce a new service together, although the details of this are not yet known. Earlier this month, Raksul announced it had partnered with Crowdworks, a startup that crowdsources engineering and design needs for business cards and hand-outs. Raksul was founded in 2009 and raised a total…

See the original story in Japanese.

storesRaksul, a Tokyo-based startup providing online printing services, announced today it has partnered with Stores.jp, the e-commerce platform that lets you set up a store online in minutes.

Raksul is a fabless company that provides printing services in partnership with more than 1,400 printing factories nationwide. Users can place printing orders at affordable rates because the participating printers use their downtime to finish those orders.

The partnership allows the owners of online stores using the Stores.jp platform to order free printing of their store’s promotional cards, providing an one-stop solution for e-commerce owners. This makes it easier to manage their stores, since they can also do other things like set up a promotional newsletter or apply for credit card payments all in one place.

raksulWith the partnership, Raksul also lets the store owners pay more attention to printing materials as promotion tools. Both startups are also planning to introduce a new service together, although the details of this are not yet known.

Earlier this month, Raksul announced it had partnered with Crowdworks, a startup that crowdsources engineering and design needs for business cards and hand-outs.

Raksul was founded in 2009 and raised a total amount of 230 million yen ($2.4 million) during the last year from Nissay Capital, Yahoo Japan, and angel investor Anri Samata. Stores.jp was founded by Yusuke Mitsumoto who has developed a variety of web services.

Tomy’s dog-to-human communication toy introduces tots to mobile translation

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For Japanese parents looking for a toy for their baby girl’s next birthday, Tomy’s Ketai Wanko (roughly translated as “mobile dog”) might be a fun option to consider. It’s a cute stuffed dog accompanied by mobile controller that works as a mock dog-to-human translator. When the toy dog barks, you can bring the cell-phone close to its nose, and the noises are translated into language. The dog can say over 300 different phrases such as “pet me,” “sing to me,” or even “I like your what you’re wearing today.” A toy biscuit is also included, and when you feed your dog it will make happy eating sounds or even ask for more biscuits. You can learn more about how it works over on the Tomy website. Keitai Wanko can be purchased for 3,780 yen (about $40) and is available in three breeds: toy poodle, chihuahua and Shiba Inu. In its announcement, Tomy (TSE:7867) notes that as many as 30% of Japanese people have some kind of pet. But of course there are some families that can not enjoy pets for some reason or another. The company hopes that Keitai Wanko could be an alternaitve for such families to teach children…

Tomy-KeitaiWanko

For Japanese parents looking for a toy for their baby girl’s next birthday, Tomy’s Ketai Wanko (roughly translated as “mobile dog”) might be a fun option to consider. It’s a cute stuffed dog accompanied by mobile controller that works as a mock dog-to-human translator.

When the toy dog barks, you can bring the cell-phone close to its nose, and the noises are translated into language. The dog can say over 300 different phrases such as “pet me,” “sing to me,” or even “I like your what you’re wearing today.” A toy biscuit is also included, and when you feed your dog it will make happy eating sounds or even ask for more biscuits. You can learn more about how it works over on the Tomy website.

Keitai Wanko can be purchased for 3,780 yen (about $40) and is available in three breeds: toy poodle, chihuahua and Shiba Inu. In its announcement, Tomy (TSE:7867) notes that as many as 30% of Japanese people have some kind of pet. But of course there are some families that can not enjoy pets for some reason or another. The company hopes that Keitai Wanko could be an alternaitve for such families to teach children to take care of animals.

For real dogs

Tomy-BowLingual

For those with real animals to pet, Tomy has an actual dog-to-human language translator and emotional analyzer called Bow-Lingual. That was released way back in September of 2002, co-developed by Tomy, Index Holdings, and Japan Acoustic Lab.

Bow-Lingual allows owners to communicate with dogs through a wireless mic built into the dog’s collar. The product sold over 300,000 units worldwide and received an Ig Nobel Prize in 2002. There is also a Bow-Lingual iPhone app if anyone wants to give it a try. We’ve not tested it (nor do we actually speak dog) so your mileage may vary!

Alpaca bashing game inexplicably popular in Japan with 1 million downloads

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We’ve featured some strange Japanese mobile games here on SD Japan in the past, but this one ranks way up there among the strangest. Alpaka Evolution [1] is a simple game with simple graphics, but its quirkiness appears to have helped it past a million downloads since the game’s initial release for Android on February 5, and for iOS on February 23. The game starts out peaceful enough, with a herd of alpacas grazing in a meadow. But you control one of these alpaca, and with a tap or a swipe you can deal a knockout blow to one of your many brothers. Now, before we hear from the animal cruelty folks, I should clarify that the objective of the game is actually to not kill alpacas. But rather the goal is to absorb as many of your fallen brothers as you can, and evolve into a bigger, more powerful alpaca. The game was developed by a company called Cocosola, and many of its titles appear to be equally off the wall [2]. The app has been the top casual game on Japan’s Google Play store this week, and it has been a top 25 title for iOS for the…

brother-alpaca

We’ve featured some strange Japanese mobile games here on SD Japan in the past, but this one ranks way up there among the strangest. Alpaka Evolution [1] is a simple game with simple graphics, but its quirkiness appears to have helped it past a million downloads since the game’s initial release for Android on February 5, and for iOS on February 23.

The game starts out peaceful enough, with a herd of alpacas grazing in a meadow. But you control one of these alpaca, and with a tap or a swipe you can deal a knockout blow to one of your many brothers. Now, before we hear from the animal cruelty folks, I should clarify that the objective of the game is actually to not kill alpacas. But rather the goal is to absorb as many of your fallen brothers as you can, and evolve into a bigger, more powerful alpaca.

The game was developed by a company called Cocosola, and many of its titles appear to be equally off the wall [2]. The app has been the top casual game on Japan’s Google Play store this week, and it has been a top 25 title for iOS for the majority of time since its release on that platform.

I find it pretty fascinating that a game like this can be so popular [3]. There really isn’t anything to drive you to continue than the curiosity of seeing what grotesque shape your alpaca will mutate into. Currently the game is monetized with in-app advertising, but this might be yet another instance where brand merchandising represents a big opportunity. Who wouldn’t buy a plush mutated alpaca?

Check out our short video demo of the game above. If you’d like to try it out, you can get it on the App Store or over on Google Play. (Via Axelgames)


  1. The game’s title literally means ‘Brother Alpaca,’ but the company appears to have used the name ‘Alpaka Evolution’ (yes, with a ‘k’ and not with a ‘c’) for English.  ↩
  2. I especially look forward to giving Bikini Cat a try.  ↩
  3. Although didn’t that ear-cleaning game also get a million downloads?  ↩

Language Cloud gets investment boost from CyberAgent Ventures

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CyberAgent Ventures, the venture capital arm of CyberAgent (TSE:4751), has announced its investment in language education platform Language Cloud. The startup is a graduate of Tokyo-based incubator Open Network Lab, and its previous investors include Digital Garage, 500 Startups, Sunbridge Global Ventures, and Etsuji Otsuka. Since releasing in private beta in April 2012, the language-learning platform provider has been working closely with language teachers and students at 54 institutions across Japan and abroad to build the best platform for language education. Co-founder Billy Kosuke Martyn tells us that later this week the platform plans to release a major interface improvement and some key features at the TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo in Dallas, Texas. Language Cloud has already been used at Tokyo’s Sophia University for the purpose of digitally administering their placement test for students entering Faculty of Liberal Arts this April. Data accumulated from the placement tests (such as homework, quizzes, exams) can be analyzed to make recommendations to students regarding supplemental materials such as content and third-party applications. Besides improvements on the core platform, Language Cloud began building its app center where third party content and applications can be integrated into the platform and made available…

LanguageCloud

CyberAgent Ventures, the venture capital arm of CyberAgent (TSE:4751), has announced its investment in language education platform Language Cloud. The startup is a graduate of Tokyo-based incubator Open Network Lab, and its previous investors include Digital Garage, 500 Startups, Sunbridge Global Ventures, and Etsuji Otsuka.

Since releasing in private beta in April 2012, the language-learning platform provider has been working closely with language teachers and students at 54 institutions across Japan and abroad to build the best platform for language education. Co-founder Billy Kosuke Martyn tells us that later this week the platform plans to release a major interface improvement and some key features at the TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo in Dallas, Texas.

Language Cloud has already been used at Tokyo’s Sophia University for the purpose of digitally administering their placement test for students entering Faculty of Liberal Arts this April. Data accumulated from the placement tests (such as homework, quizzes, exams) can be analyzed to make recommendations to students regarding supplemental materials such as content and third-party applications.

Besides improvements on the core platform, Language Cloud began building its app center where third party content and applications can be integrated into the platform and made available to users. They have already signed a licensing agreement with major publishers where they will work as content providers in the app center. The site is currently in talks with other content providers as well as e-learning applications to further enhance the learning experience for students.

The two co-founders of Language Cloud, John Martyn and Billy Martyn, are brothers born to American and Japanese parents. They have applied their own experience growing up in a dual-language environment into Language Cloud. Billy elaborates:

There are currently a several hundred teachers on our waiting list excited to try out our product. Learning a language used to be a fragmented process, our aim is to unify the process by becoming the central hub of all learning data.

In addition to Japan, the startup has is looking to go global to markets in the United States, China, and South Korea sometime this year.

Speaking of China, CyberAgent Ventures will establish a yuan-denominated fund this May to invest soley in Chinese companies, this according to Dow Jones & Company.

Yahoo Japan offers to rescue Google Reader refugees

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A number of services are already reaping the benefits of the Google Reader’s impending retirement this coming July. Most notable among them is Feedly.com, which has seen half a million new users since Google made its announcement. But in Japan, the leading internet property YahooJapan (TYO:4689) is poised to capitalize on the opportunity as well. Currently when users log in to their My Yahoo pages they’ll see a link to a promotion of sorts by the company, whereby it explains step-by-step how to export their feeds from Google Reader to import them into My Yahoo. It also explains how to bring your data from iGoogle, which is being retired in November. Yahoo Japan’s ‘My Yahoo’ is much like the product of the same name from Yahoo proper, except for it probably has enthusiastic users. I took a quick walk though the process, and it works pretty seamlessly, although if you’re a heavy feed consumer you’ll likely want to try something a little more robust. Japanese users also have Livedoor Reader, although I’ve never tried that one myself. I suspect, like anywhere else, Feedly will be a popular choice in Japan too. I’m not certain which service I’m going to settle…

yahoo-japan

A number of services are already reaping the benefits of the Google Reader’s impending retirement this coming July. Most notable among them is Feedly.com, which has seen half a million new users since Google made its announcement. But in Japan, the leading internet property YahooJapan (TYO:4689) is poised to capitalize on the opportunity as well.

Currently when users log in to their My Yahoo pages they’ll see a link to a promotion of sorts by the company, whereby it explains step-by-step how to export their feeds from Google Reader to import them into My Yahoo. It also explains how to bring your data from iGoogle, which is being retired in November. Yahoo Japan’s ‘My Yahoo’ is much like the product of the same name from Yahoo proper, except for it probably has enthusiastic users.

I took a quick walk though the process, and it works pretty seamlessly, although if you’re a heavy feed consumer you’ll likely want to try something a little more robust. Japanese users also have Livedoor Reader, although I’ve never tried that one myself. I suspect, like anywhere else, Feedly will be a popular choice in Japan too.

I’m not certain which service I’m going to settle on for my own feeds, although I’m currently testing out Fever for no other reason than Gabe Weatherhead seems to like it [1].

What service you you plan to use for RSS feeds? Do you ever make use of RSS feeds at all these days? Let us know! (Via Impress Internet Watch)


  1. Gabe is cool. Note however that Fever is a self-hosted solution without much support. But so far, I like it too.  ↩

Japanese hit game ‘Puzzle and Dragons’ gets its own online store

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As if GungHo Entertainment’s hit mobile game Puzzle and Dragons wasn’t making enough money already, now the title has its own online store where you can buy an assortment of P&D merchandise. Currently in the store you can buy a range of products including plush toys, P&D iPhone cases, and even a P&D coffee mug. Unfortunately the store only delivers to locations within Japan, so overseas fans will have to wait until the company decides to extend this initiative. Of course, supplementing a successful mobile game with brand merchandise is nothing new in the gaming industry. We recently even saw how Finnish company Rovio is pushing its plush toys with lucky draws nationwide in Japan. Puzzle & Dragons recently cracked through the 10 million downloads mark, although to date the game owes the vast majority of those downloads to its home market of Japan. It will be interesting to see if the game can catch on overseas this year after English versions launched in late 2012. For a general introduction to P&D, check out our video overview of the game below. (Via VS Media)

pazudora

As if GungHo Entertainment’s hit mobile game Puzzle and Dragons wasn’t making enough money already, now the title has its own online store where you can buy an assortment of P&D merchandise.

Currently in the store you can buy a range of products including plush toys, P&D iPhone cases, and even a P&D coffee mug. Unfortunately the store only delivers to locations within Japan, so overseas fans will have to wait until the company decides to extend this initiative.

puzzle-dragon-shopOf course, supplementing a successful mobile game with brand merchandise is nothing new in the gaming industry. We recently even saw how Finnish company Rovio is pushing its plush toys with lucky draws nationwide in Japan.

Puzzle & Dragons recently cracked through the 10 million downloads mark, although to date the game owes the vast majority of those downloads to its home market of Japan. It will be interesting to see if the game can catch on overseas this year after English versions launched in late 2012.

For a general introduction to P&D, check out our video overview of the game below. (Via VS Media)

Japan tech this week: Remembering the past and building for the future

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We’ve had another fun week here at SD, doing our best to bring you interesting tech stories going down in Japan. But in case you missed any of it, here’s a wrap up below. Readers on mobile might want to check out the features on Readlists or in ePub format. If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here. Features Japanese startup acquisitions: An interactive timeline 03/14 Catching up with the CoolIris team in Tokyo 03/13 Online support software provider Zendesk makes its presence in Japan official 03/13 Second anniversary of 2011 Japan earthquake remembered online 03/11 Business Japan’s language learning site Best Teacher raises $530,000 from GMO-VP and SMBC-VC 03/15 Fancy showing fantastic growth, planning launch in Japan soon 03/14 Rovio holds Angry Birds lucky draws nationwide in Japan 03/12 Japanese legal portal Bengo4.com raises $208,000 from Kakaku.com 03/12 On-demand theater service Dreampass acquired by Yahoo Japan 03/11 Design Japanese-made lamp is a Stroke of design genius 03/13 Google Glass, you’ve got company! Sekai Camera inventor introduces Telepathy One 03/13 Apps This iPhone app from Japan might be the sexiest calculator ever [Video] 03/15 Domino’s Hatsune…

sakura

We’ve had another fun week here at SD, doing our best to bring you interesting tech stories going down in Japan. But in case you missed any of it, here’s a wrap up below. Readers on mobile might want to check out the features on Readlists or in ePub format.

If you’d like to get this weekly summary plus other bonus content, we hope you’ll check out our shiny new newsletter here.

Features

Business

Design

Apps

Startups

A brainwave music player so nice, Japan made it twice

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During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle. Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th. The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before. Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave…

neurowear_600
Japanese digital pop artist Julie Watai wearing Neurowear’s Mico

During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle.

Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th.

The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before.


brainwave_and_musicplayer

Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave that emerge when a user wants to listen to specific type of songs. Then by detecting your brainwave pattern with the sensor on their headset, the music player lets you listen to a series of songs you might like.

The new technology aims to help users who have a difficult time selecting song. The study used a small brainwave sensor and a music player, and the team succeeded in achieving 90% precision, in terms of choosing songs based on what test participants were thinking they wanted to listen to.

Professor Mitsukura and her team have been exploring possibilities of augmented reality (AR), facial image recognition, and sensibility evaluation. The group was previously known for having developed a real-time avatar webcam which was exhibited at Digital Content Expo 2012.