TIME Magazine: Why Nintendo president Satoru Iwata mattered…

TIME (by Matt Peckham):

Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata has died at only 55 years old after battling cancer for over a year. His unexpected passing marks the end of a wildly inventive and broadly celebrated 13-year stretch helming the iconic Kyoto video games company.

Iwata, born in Sapporo, Japan in 1959, was only the fourth person to lead Nintendo since its inception as a playing card company in 1889, and the first president unrelated to the founding Yamauchi family. His ascent to the topmost Nintendo position in 2002 was unusual as it followed a career in software engineering, making him one of the industry’s only corporate luminaries with substantial hands-on game creation experience.

In an exclusive interview with TIME this spring — Iwata’s last with a Western media outlet — he talked about how personally involved he remained in helping drive and evaluate the company’s hallmark unorthodox inventions. He called Nintendo “a company of Kyoto craftsman” and joking “this is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means that the engineers can’t trick me.

At Tokyo-based Nintendo affiliate HAL Laboratory during the 1980s and 90s, Iwata helped develop some of Nintendo’s most memorable games. That list includes Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64, the opening salvo in a critically lauded and financially lucrative fighting series starring Nintendo characters like Mario and Donkey Kong that’s since sold in the tens of millions for the company. After he was promoted to president of HAL Laboratory in 1993, he continued to work personally on the company’s products, including several titles in Nintendo’s wildly popular Pokémon series.

Iwata’s move to Nintendo came in 2000, when he assumed management of the company’s corporate planning division. Just two years later, then-Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had helmed the company since 1949, decided to retire, allowing Iwata to step in and steer Nintendo through its most inventive period yet.

It was under Iwata that Nintendo ushered in the Nintendo DS, a dual-screen gaming handheld that succeeded the popular Game Boy, eventually going on to challenge Sony for the title of “bestselling games platform of all time.” Nintendo’s wildly successful Wii, now arguably the most recognizable video game system in the industry’s history, arrived in 2006, another Iwata-led gamble that paid incredible dividends following the company’s lackluster GameCube, which launched in 2001. And while Iwata’s critics often accused the company of reacting too slowly to industry trends, Iwata wasn’t afraid to enact radical change: after years of financial downturns (exacerbated by the company’s poorly received Wii U game console), he unveiled plans this March to develop games for smartphones and tablets. The world will now remember Iwata as the Nintendo leader who tore down the wall between the company’s heavily guarded iconic IP and non-Nintendo platforms.

But it was Iwata’s playful, almost mischievous and refreshingly candid personal style that so endeared him to the company’s fans. In 2011, he helped launch a video series dubbed Nintendo Direct, personally emceeing the company’s biggest surprises, often with quirky framing twists, like an effects-laden mock kung-fu brawl with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé for E3 2014. At Nintendo’s E3 2015 presentation last month, he appeared as a Muppet designed by The Jim Henson Company.

Iwata’s other significant public relations innovation was “Iwata Asks,” a remarkable series in which Iwata interviewed members of Nintendo’s many development teams, delving into the anecdotal history of some of the company’s best loved projects. It was a Nintendophile’s dream come true.

Above all, Iwata established and maintained a decorous tone often at odds with his competitors. In lieu of visually splashy, clamorous stage-led events at annual game shows, Iwata chose charmingly simple, almost dignified presentational vignettes. When fans responded negatively to a new Nintendo idea, Iwata’s reaction was often swift and direct: after an upcoming Nintendo DS game built on a hallowed Nintendo franchise was waved off by fans at E3 last month, Iwata tweeted his thanks to fans for their feedback and promised to meet their expectations.

Iwata’s health problems were first aired just before E3 in June 2014, when Iwata, who had been planning to attend the show (I was scheduled to meet with him), mysteriously backed out. At the time, Nintendo said Iwata’s doctors had warned him against travel, but didn’t say why. A few weeks later, the company disclosed Iwata was battling cancer, specifically a tumor in his bile duct. At that point he’d had surgery, and his prospects sounded hopeful because the doctors had apparently found the tumor early. When he resumed appearing in Nintendo Direct videos following E3, he was clearly thinner, but seemed otherwise unfazed. Though he again missed this year’s E3, he remained publicly active to the end, participating in Nintendo’s last shareholder meeting just a few weeks ago.

2015 best Japanese hotels, based on their breakfasts

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RocketNews 24:

Soft beds, nice views, good location; sure, these are all important factors when choosing a hotel, but what really makes a hotel, or even a trip, memorable is the food, more specifically, the breakfast.

Everyone needs a good breakfast to start their day, so why not eat the best of the best? Next time you’re in the area, you should probably check out one of the Japanese hotels with the most delicious breakfasts.

When you think back to the last hotel you stayed at, does your memory automatically cut to what you ate for breakfast there? Do soggy eggs or undercooked bacon ring a bell? Even if it was a pretty good meal that left you with fond memories, prepare yourself, because you may never look at hotel breakfasts again. You may also be finding yourself booking hotels just to try the breakfasts.

The TripAdvisor Japan website compiled the 2014 opinions and scores of hotels (and their breakfasts) posted on the site in order to create this 2015 ranking of “Hotels with Delicious Breakfasts.”

While many of the hotels have managed to hang on to their 2014 spots in the top 20, there are plenty of newcomers on the list too.

1st Place: Hotel Piena Kobe (Kobe City)

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Holding first place for three consecutive years is kind of a big deal, but after hearing about their buffet breakfast spread, you’ll understand how they’ve managed to pull it off.

To start off with, there is the sweets section filled with all-you-can-eat, freshly made pastries, like seasonal fruit tarts and strawberry shortcake. If you’re more of a fan of  savory breakfasts though, there is also a selection of traditional French-style breakfast items and, of course, traditional Japanese breakfast foods. All dishes are made from the freshest and highest quality ingredients you could ask for and being in Kobe, expect some breakfast steak too! To wash it all down, there is a drink bar of coffees and teas from a variety of specialty shops.

Usually, the breakfast itself costs 2,200 yen (US$18.50) per person, you can sometimes find deals for a room and breakfast for under 10,000 yen ($85).

2nd Place: La Vista Hakodate Bay Hotel (Hakodate, Hokkaido)

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Hotel Piena’s closest rival has held their spot at second for another year and they offer some stiff competition. Their breakfast spread offers fish and vegetables grilled before your eyes, a plethora of fresh Hokkaido seafood, and a healthy selection of well-prepared Western-style breakfast options.

3rd Place: Sapporo Grand Hotel (Sapporo, Hokkaido)

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These guys have their eyes on the prize, rising 9 spots since last year’s ranking. The Sapporo Grand Hotel offers three different breakfast venues for their morning diners. One location offers a Western-style breakfast with an on-sight bakery and cooked-to-order eggs. At another site, you can choose from three traditional Japanese-style set breakfasts, overflowing with delicious seasonal dishes. Finally, there is the buffet of grilled meat and veggies, as well as their famous creation, “ramen salad.”

4th: Hotel Keihan Sapporo (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
[2014: 3rd]

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5th: Hakodate Kokusai Hotel (Hakodate, Hokkaido)
[2014: 5th]

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6th: Century Royal Hotel (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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7th: Hotel Shiroyama (Kagoshima City)
[2014: 9th]

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8th: Hotel Rocore Naha (Naha, Okinawa)
[2014: 16th]

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9th: Hotel Nikko Alivila (Yomitan, Okinawa)
[2014: 4th]

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10th: Asahikawa Grand Hotel (Asahikawa, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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11th: Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama (Okayama City)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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12th: Rihga Royal Hotel Osaka (Osaka)
[2014: 8th]

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13th: Richmond Hotel Yamagata Station (Yamagata City)
[2014: 20th]

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14th: Hotel Nikko Kanazawa (Kanazawa City)
[2014: 13th]

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15th: Sheraton Grand Tokyo Bay (Urayasu, Chiba)
[2014: 6th]

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16th: Hotel Okura Tokyo Bay (Urayasu, Chiba)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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17th: Daiwa Roynet Hotel Naha Kokusaidori (Naha, Okinawa)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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18th: JR Tower Hotel Sapporo (Sapporo, Hokkaido)
[2014: 11th]

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19th: Laguna Garden Hotel (Ginowan, Okinawa)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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20th: Dormy Inn Premium Otaru (Otaru, Hokkaido)
[2014: Not Ranked]

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Apparently, Hokkaido hotels are proving that they are not a force to be reckoned with, as they settled into nearly half of all spots in the top 20 and took six of the top ten spots! It must be all of that fresh seafood and dairy! On the other side of the country, Okinawa held its own this year too with four on the list. While it’s easy for us to give Honshu hotels a hard time, since they are few and far between in the rankings, we can’t forget that Hotel Piena Kobe has won three years in a row! That food must be out of this world!

Butter-flavored Kit Kats come to Japan as new specialty store opens in Hokkaido

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RocketNews 24:

In the year since it opened in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, we’ve become big fans of the Kit Kat Chocolatory, the specialty store for the chocolate-covered wafers that’re especially popular in Japan. As a matter of fact, somewhere in the course of our multiple visits to procure the latest and greatest Kit Kat flavors, we’ve forgotten what life was like before the shop opened.

But while we’re living in the land of plenty with two different Chocolatory locations in Tokyo (the second is near Tokyo Station), not all of Japan is so fortunate. Until now, only residents of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya could claim their town had its own Kit Kat paradise.

That’s about to change, though, as a new Kit Kat Chocolatory is opening soon in Hokkaido, and bringing a new flavor with it: butter.

Part of the reason Kit Kats have rocketed to popularity in Japan is the way parent company Nestle has wholeheartedly embraced the Japanese practice of making limited-edition sweets that pay tribute to local culinary traditions. As one of the few regions of Japan with ample pasture space, Hokkaido is home to a large number of the country’s dairies. That’s why when the newest Chocolatory opens March 7 in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, shoppers will be able to purchase not only more orthodox chocolate Kit Kats, but also the Chocolatory Special Butter flavor.

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The flavor was picked as the winner in a contest organized by the Tsuji Group culinary school, likely beating out other foodstuffs associated with Hokkaido such as milk, cheese, and melon (the region is also famous for its salmon and sea urchin, but we’re assuming no one was quite adventurous enough to seriously propose them as Kit Kat flavors).

The Special Butter flavor will be available in packs of 12 (seen above) for 1,200 yen (US $10.20), or in four-piece boxes (pictured below) for 400 yen.

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While the Special Butter Kit Kats will initially be sold only at the Sapporo Chocolatory, located in the Daimaru department store, they’re expected to make their way to other branches in due time. On the other hand, the Sapporo location will remain the only place where you can buy the 1,350-yen Kit Kat Chocolatory Special Sapporo Assortment, a 12-piece collection of four flavors, including Special Butter.

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Also, to celebrate the new store’s grand opening, all Chocolatory branches in Japan will once again be selling Chocolatory Special Sakura Green Tea Kit Kats, made with Uji matcha green tea, white chocolate, and edible cherry blossom leaves.

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The Sapporo Chocolatory is expected to, as always, draw large crowds, especially on opening day. If you’re hoping to get your hands on some of the buttery goodness the store is offering, we recommend getting to the Sapporo Daimaru no later than 10 a.m., when the doors open, and preferably sooner.

 

Shop information:
Kit Kat Chocolatory Daimaru Sappor Branch / キットカット ショコラトリー大丸札幌店
Address: Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Kita 5-jo, Nishi 4-chome, 7 Banchi Daimary Sapporo basement level 1 (inside Hoppe Town section)
札幌市中央区北5条西4丁目7番地大丸札幌店B1 ほっぺタウン内
Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Website

“Nakanosawagawa Tree House” by Japanese architect Ryo Yamada

The 2015 Sapporo Snow Festival

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RocketNews 24:

Every February in Hokkaido brings another amazing display of artful snow and ice carvings, and RocketNews24 brings a firsthand account of the 66th annual Sapporo Snow Festival.

This year has already brought a couple of exciting stories from the festival. Whether it was soulless snow sculptures or an imposing Sith Lord, the Sapporo Snow Festival always gives you something to talk about.

The Yubari Melon Mascot! The only terrifying mascot in Japan.

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Although the city of Sapporo is very large, the sites for the festival are not that far apart. Especially the two sites that feature most of the incredible snow and ice artwork are within minutes of each other, making a lot of the festival easily accessible.

Susukino Ice World 2015, was where the ice sculpture competition pieces were shown. With plenty of amazing entries this year, it’s a wonder how the judges were able to pick just four sculptures as winners.

Overall winner of the ice sculpture contest!

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Odori Park was home to all the major installation snow works, including the international snow carving competition. Representatives from many countries were working very hard to complete their sculpture within the three days allowed.

Indonesia

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United States (Oregon)

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New Zealand

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Darth Vader and his imperial Storm Troopers might be out to steal the show, but there were plenty of other really incredible sculptures on display in Odori Park.

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For the smaller sculptures, a quick glance at them revealed a few pretty obvious themes.

Yokai Watch

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Frozen

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Studio Ghibli

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Parasyte

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The third site of the snow festival, the Sapporo Community Dome, had its share of snow art as well, but people came here to play in and with the snow, rather than admire it. The standout winner was definitely the Nissin sponsored “tube sliding” with lengthy lines right up until closing.

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Travel between the sites was really easy, with a shuttle bus running to the sites that was cheaper than taking the subway.

Night time provided a unique opportunity to show off for the crowd, performances graced the stages in front of the huge snow sculptures until the closing of each day.  The Star Wars stage had its own light show which repeated every 15 minutes.

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The real winner of the night was the projection mapping upon the Kasuga Grand Shrine sculpture, though.

If you haven’t gotten enough of the snow festival yet, here are a few more pictures to make you wish you were able to be there yourself. Enjoy!

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The dark side of The Force featured at the Sapporo Snow Festival with gigantic Star Wars sculpture

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RocketNews 24:

Last week, we took a sneak peek at the upcoming Sapporo Snow Festival by checking out an icy rendering of an idol trio from hit anime Love Live! Freaked out as we were by their unfinished yet crazed expressions, it turns out Umi, Honoka, and Kotori aren’t the most intimidating characters showing up at this year’s event.

That title goes to the massive snow sculpture of fallen Jedi Darth Vader, who rolled into the largest city in Hokkaido with the sort of backup that’d you’d expect from the Supreme Commander of the Empire’s space fleet.

The installation is being exhibited in Sapporo’s Odori Park, and thanks to its huge size and outdoor venue, photos of the work-in-progress had been trickling in from local residents over the past few days.

Those aren’t rebel resistance fighters staging an attack on the giant-sized storm troopers, though. Seen in the pictures above is the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s 11th Brigade’s 1st Snow Sculpture Squad.

▼ This shot of the scaffolding they assembled gives a good impression of just how tall the sculpture is.

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The amount of care and detail that went into the project makes us think that at least a few of the squad’s members have seen the classic science fiction films. That’s not to say this is just a case of large-scale, high-grade fan art, though. The sculpture is officially endorsed by Star Wars production company Lucasfilm, as part of the festivities surrounding the 2015 release of the seventh film in the franchise. What’s more, the design itself was carried out under the supervision of parent company and distributor Disney.

 

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Vader isn’t just a dangerous opponent in single combat, though. His lofty position in the Imperial hierarchy means he also has hordes of minions at his beck and call. As such, he’s joined in the sculpture by three storm troopers, a TIE fighter, and even the Death Star.

 

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At 15 meters (49.2 feet) tall and 22.6 meters (74.1 feet) wide, the Star Wars snow sculpture is one of the largest ever to be exhibited in the park, and required a month’s worth of effort from a team of 2,000 working with 700 truckloads of snow. Not only was it a sight to see once finished, the 500-some attendees who braved the -3-degrres Celsius (26-degree Fahrenheit) weather of the nighttime opening ceremony were graced by an appearance from Vader and the three storm troopers themselves.

The displays are lit until 10 p.m. Odori Park is open around the clock, though, meaning that visitors can see all of its sculptures, including the Star Wars one, at any time between now and 10 o’clock on February 11, assuming of course that some cocky kid doesn’t stick a light saber into it and melt it before then.

 

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Melon topped with ice cream: two great Hokkaido tastes in one crazily delicious package

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RocketNews 24:

Japan sure loves its parfaits, and while they all come with tasty toppings, the most highly regarded come crowned with fruit. But what if you turned the concept on its head, and instead took a piece of premium produce, then added a cone’s worth of ice cream on top?

You’d have our newest dessert infatuation: the fresh melon soft serve.

Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is known for a number of local delicacies, including salmon and sea urchin. It’s also where you’ll find some of Japan’s biggest dairies, plus its most highly regarded growing region for melons.

The bright minds with sweet teeth at confectioner Sapporo Yaokyu decided to combine the powers of those last two when they created the fresh melon soft serve. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go all the way to Hokkaido to try it. Instead, we waited for the dessert to come to us, or at least to Tokyo, where the Furusato Matsuri is being held until January 18.

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The event’s name translates as the Hometown Festival, but really it’s one of Tokyo’s biggest food fairs. Representatives coming from across Japan gather inside Tokyo Dome to serve meals and snacks to hungry visitors, and right in the middle of the floor space you’ll find the Hokkaishokudo, a cluster of restaurants from Hokkaido. They all looked delicious, but we passed by the local takes on ramen, seafood, and beer. Instead, we went straight to the Sapporo Yaokyu booth, where there was already a short line of people waiting to place their order.

▼ We’re not sure why Funasshi, the anthropomorphic pear from Chiba Prefecture, shows up on Sapporo Yaokyu’s signage.

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As we waited for our turn, we noticed that the fresh melon soft serve is available in three sizes, small, medium, and large, priced at 1,000 yen (US$8.33), 1,300 yen ($11), and 1,500 yen ($12.78), respectively. With all of the tasty food offered at the event, we weren’t surprised that most people were asking for the small, but even though we were feeling pretty stuffed ourselves, we decided to buck the trend and get ourselves a large.

▼ Because even before we took a single bite, we knew we were going to want to eat as much of this as possible.

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They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we don’t think that applies to desserts. After all, they don’t have covers in the first place. Sometimes you can tell you’re in for a taste treat just by looking at one, and that was clearly the message the striking contrast of orange-hued melon and pure white ice cream was sending us.

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Really, the whole thing is so enticing we were tempted to just bury our face in it and start gnawing away. Just before we could do that, though, we remembered that we were in public, and, more importantly, that we had a spoon.

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So how does it taste? Amazing, obviously! The refreshing sweetness of the melon and the richness of the ice cream hit your taste buds at the same time. The effect is incredible, and we’re not ashamed to say that for a moment, we found ourselves calling on some higher power to stop time so we could linger longer over the bliss the fresh melon soft serve was enveloping our consciousness with.

Sadly, time continued unabated, and before long we found ourselves running out of both melon and ice cream.

▼ Although as consolation, when the juices of the fruit mix with the melting cream it tastes fantastic.

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The Furusato Matsuri runs until January 18, with the doors opening at 10 a.m. each day. Popular items like the fresh melon soft serve tend to sell out before the day is done, though, so just to be on the safe side, you might want to make the Sapporo Yaokyu booth your first stop.

▼ After all, a little fruit to start your day sounds like a sensible breakfast, doesn’t it?

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