Archive for February, 2011

Vegetable boom growing steadily

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Despite the hallowed status of vegetables in traditional Buddhist cuisine and the healthy reputation of the Japanese diet, let’s face it: The majority of restaurants in postwar Japan are about pleasing carnivores, and most often the main-course options are limited to animal proteins. In recent years, though, vegetable-centric cuisine — not to be confused with strictly vegetarian fare — has been gaining popularity, with the number of restaurants focused on fresh produce growing steadily.

Don’t expect the waiters to be wearing Birkenstock sandals at these new style veggie restaurants, and the soup stock won’t necessarily be fish-free. The vegetables and their provenance do, however, take center-stage. This is literally the case at Nouka no Daidokoro (Farmer’s Kitchen), which just recently opened its fourth restaurant in Tokyo. At the Ebisu location, patrons enter through a fully stocked produce locker (which doubles as a veggie store), and a vegetable hothouse and veggie buffet are the restaurant’s centerpieces. On the walls, large posters sing the praises of the star farmers of Japan and at the register, the shelves are filled with condiments and snacks made from local goodness.

Yasaiya Mei, now with six locations, is slightly more up-scale but places the same emphasis on domestically grown vegetables. Quiz the staff on a particular vegetable, and there’s a good chance that they’ll not only impress you with their in-depth knowledge, but that they’ve actually been to the farm where it was grown.

Continue reading about the vegetable cuisine boom →

Businessmen come out smelling like roses

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

The Otoko Kaoru Fragrance Shirt emits a subtle scent of menthol and roses

Some Japanese men will be smelling of roses just in time for Valentine’s day. The Otoko Kaoru (good-smelling man) Fragrant Shirt was released for sale in Japan just last month and is attracting a lot of attention from retailers who have snapped up the first run of these sweetly smelling garments. A tie-in with Otoko Kaoru chewing gum, the collar of the shirt releases the same rose and menthol fragrance as the gum when rubbed against the skin.

Rose-scented micro-capsules are embedded in the shirt’s collar and if they’re rubbed or put under pressure they explode, releasing a liquid that evaporates into the air around. The scent is designed to be subtle rather than overpowering and can only be smelled when the shirt is worn. It will also gradually lose its potency over time and manufacturer’s claim its good for around 10 washes, after which the smell fades completely.

Part of the buzz around this product is down to the original Otoko Kaoru gum made by Kracie. The rose and menthol fragrance of the gum was said to be absorbed through the mouth and digestive tract after which your skin allegedly secretes the same delectable scent. Yum!  Launched back in 2006, the limited-edition gum proved so popular that it sold out and had to be slowly re-released region by region to prevent shortages. Kracie stopped producing the gum in August 2010 and has since been working with textile manufacturer Shikibo to produce the shirt. If all goes well they’re planning to produce a polo shirt and pajamas with the same properties.

The range of shirts, which cost around ¥3,000, could well prove a hit. Deodorizing shirts and suits have been popular in the last decade with middle-aged businessmen worried about subjecting others to their bad BO. We’re also thinking that the menthol rose smell will appeal to the new breed of herbivorous men who take personal grooming and hygene extremely seriously.

Going choo choo for Japanese railways

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The numbers of railway enthusiasts in Japan are increasing. According to NHK journalist Takeshige Morimoto, there are now over 2 million train fans in Japan today. Their numbers are not just limited to geeky trainspotters (tori tetsu), tetsu (rail) fans include: people who enjoy taking trips on Japans various local lines (nori tetsu), mothers who’ve caught the bug from their kids (mama tetsu) and more recently young women (tetsu chan).

The railboom trend was the subject of Morimoto’s “Railway Boom Spans Generations” program which was aired on 20 Jan. Morimoto, who presented the show, believes that in a digital world where people are feeling more and more disengaged from one another, railways provide a sense of connection to other humans.

Businesses are clearly picking up on this new wave of enthusiasm for railways. According to Nikkei Trendy, from October to December 2010, four new rail-themed stores opened up in Tokyo Station. Nippon Shokudo is our favorite: Modeled on the Cassiopea (Japan’s equivalent of the Orient express, which runs overnight from Ueno to Sapporo), the restaurant is a super-swanky replica of the train’s original dining car.

Packed lunch boxes that are sold at trains stations (ekiben) are also experiencing a surge in popularity. The varieties available have been proliferating, according to Yomiuri Online, and special care is given to utilizing local ingredients that will reflect the area where it was bought. A nationwide ekiben competition just got underway at Osaka’s Hanshin department store. On until the Feb. 1, 260 different packed lunches will be competing for the crown of Japan’s best ekiben. Due to a marketing collaboration with the manga “Ekiben Hitori Tabi” (Solo Packed Lunch Journey), this year’s competition is expected to be even more popular than previous years. The manga is the story of one man who tours the country trying out ekiben in his quest to discover the secret of making delicious ekiben.

The railway boom is also reverberating in the movie industry. In May last year a movie titled “Railways” was released. It’s the story of a 49-year-old elite businessman who quits his job when his mother becomes ill and his colleague dies. The lead, played by Kiichi Nakai, goes back to his hometown and finds solace and redemption by becoming a train driver.

If you want to see just how passionate Japan’s railroad fans get, check out the video of a hardcore tetsu mama above.

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