Japan: Tokyo media tour

Taking a trip round Japan's capital is the easiest way to see the latest media innovations, from flat-screen-helmeted Monitorman teams to the world's longest poster ad.

For a snapshot of the new media trends sweeping Japan, take a ride on the Ginza subway line in Tokyo. There, you will find media innovations that would make your eyes pop out.

In the early 90s, a Japanese beer company introduced motion-sensitive posters at every bus stop. On a summer's day, a great-looking glass of beer spoke to passers-by using a motion-sensitive chip that reacted to anyone within a few feet of it, suggesting it was a perfect time to grab a cold beer. Of course, a vending machine was always within 20 feet of the bus stop.

More recently, we have seen a big revival of "mobile media" in the form of flatbed trucks carrying giant illuminated billboards through the busier parts of Tokyo. Some blare music to promote a new album, some carry the latest PlayStation 2 game. Others take the shape of blown-up products with hidden samplers, who jump out when the truck stops.

Of course, Japan is never short of new media gimmicks to get brands noticed. So your target group has been avoiding your ad? Sounds like a job for ... Monitorman. No, it's not a techie superhero. The drink maker Suntory was the first to recruit a team to walk around the stands during J-League football matches wearing helmets with flat-screen monitors attached showing their latest commercials.

Before you leave Ginza, make sure you visit the Nissan Experience Centre.

Most of the big car companies now have similar combinations of display centre, technology museum and futures exhibit in city-centre locations.

They're not sales venues but opportunities to enjoy the latest virtual tours showing what could soon be possible using their technology.

But it's in the subway you'll see the really interesting stuff. Start at Tokyo station, home to what locals claim is the longest ad in the world.

Last month, Mazda ran what it claims to be the world's longest poster (311 metres) to launch its Premacy model.

The Ginza subway line offers a genuine snapshot of what's happening in the world's trend-setting city. Start at the Ginza district itself and ride to Shibuya. The station walls are covered in the latest types of poster - sequence posters that run down the stairwells, video posters using flat screens to run ads while you wait for a train and every new kind of hologram and reflective surface to catch your attention. The beverage companies are particularly keen on using new types of three-dimensional holograms to give their cans extra shine and their drinks extra foam and bubbles.

In the carriages, the real fun starts. There are strip posters above the windows, door stickers and hanging posters, displaying the latest products, what the popular and specialist magazines are offering, and the attractions and concerts coming to Tokyo. They are all done in the latest styles of artwork, using the faces setting the tone for beauty, fashion and trends.

As you travel between the Tameike Sanno and Asuksa Metske stations, look to your right and you'll see the latest Renault ad through a window. "Tunnel vision" is not a new idea - people were talking about it in Japan at least 14 years ago - but now it's an everyday thing to see these ten- to 15-second ads from your carriage.

They work like a flip book, but in this case are a series of backlit posters spaced along the train tunnel wall at planned intervals so that at normal running speed the passenger "sees" a commercial. And, unlike in many cities, Tokyo trains always run perfectly, so they actually work.

Then there are people and their own media. Maybe 300,000 people ride the Ginza line every day, all of them with a story in their choice of reading material, be it magazines, books or their ketai (mobile phones) armed with i-mode, Japan's mobile internet service from NTT DoCoMo, which makes WAP look as outdated as a Commodore 64.

New functions become available on i-mode all the time. Tanita Corp has introduced i-stepwalk, which uses i-mode service data to measure how far the wearer has walked. It stores your records so you can keep an exercise and calorie diary and, if you're tired, offers games to play while resting: a great opportunity for a food or drink brand to sponsor messages.

When you get to Shibuya, you can pop into Cafe Ad on one of the Japan Railways platforms. It looks like a train carriage except every inch, inside and out, is covered in paid-for advertising. So while you wait for your next train, you can have coffee and catch up on all the latest advertising.

Then go up to Shibuya Crossing, probably the busiest street intersection in the world. It's claimed that, on a Sunday, up to one million people cross the street here, surrounded by state-of-the-art outdoor screens.

- Dave McCaughan is the director of strategic planning at McCann Erickson Japan.


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