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Sony searches for cool factor in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district

Company hosts events to give creators a taste of its latest tech

Tinashe performs at a Sony event at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, on March 15.    © Getty Images

TOKYO -- As Sony looks to continue its rebound from years of disappointing sales and a dearth of hit products, it is hosting a number of high profile events in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district.

The idea is to give young artists and others the chance to try out the latest technology and products still under development. The Japanese consumer electronics company's earnings are recovering rapidly, but Sony has some way to go to restore the brand's shine. The Shibuya events are one step in that effort.

After years of restructuring, Sony's consolidated net profit is forecast to jump 44% on the year to 705 billion yen ($6.22 billion) in the fiscal year through March, based on U.S. accounting standards. That compares with an initial forecast for a 2% rise to 500 billion yen.

The turnaround has given Sony the wherewithal to sponsor big events in Shibuya, which it hopes will raise its profile and restore its reputation for cool as it takes on companies like Apple, Google and Amazon.

Sony was the first company to sign up for #SCRAMBLE, a public-private project sponsored by Future Design Shibuya and the Shibuya City Tourism Association. The company has co-hosted a number of events in the district since mid-October as part of the project.

It also showcased new art and gaming technology at WOW Studio, a three-day event through Nov. 4. One eye-catching piece of gear was a digital pen that can write anywhere: walls, tables -- without leaving a permanent mark and attracting unwanted attention from the police. The pen is an example of Sony's push into augmented reality, which superimposes electronic data onto the real world.

At an event in Tokyo's Shibuya district through Nov. 4, Sony showed off an electronic pen that can be used to put virtual graffiti anywhere. 

Exhibits also included technology shown off in March at South by Southwest, or SXSW, an annual arts festival in Austin, Texas, in the U.S. It is unusual for a corporate giant to make an appearance at SXSW, which is better known for drawing tech startups.

Back in Japan, Sony chose Shibuya as its stage because of the district's popularity with young people and its reputation as a magnet for entrepreneurs, which could help it drum up business overseas.

Sony has business units that combine entertainment and technology. "We always need to collaborate with creators," said Shigeki Mori, head of the company's brand strategy department. "#SCRAMBLE provides the place and the opportunity, while Sony brings in the latest technology and ideas to foster collaboration among people, creators and companies," Mori said.

On the night of Oct. 20, as a DJ played for a crowd in front of Hachiko -- a dog statue that is a Shibuya landmark -- lyrics appeared to float in the air. They were actually projected onto a transparent monitor. The effect was an illusion, but Sony, once synonymous with high-tech hip, believes events like this will translate to real profit.

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