Archive for April, 2012

Pulsations (04.27.12)

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are  . . .

  • On Making Ice Cream Out of Plastic in Japan (from This Japanese Life): Japan is world-famous for its varied cuisine, and pictures just aren’t enough.  This Japanese Life goes through the history and production method of Japan’s fake plastic foods.
  • The end of the line (from The Adventures of a Foreign Salaryman in Tokyo): In an unexpected break, Mr. Salaryman finds himself in a park alongside a homeless guy and another salaryman, who is looking sad. From this, the author draws an extreme conclusion.
  • Turntable Rider lets bike riders be DJs (from Spoon & Tamago): You know the feeling — you’re riding through Yoyogi Park, doing kick flips on your BMX, but it’s just not enough street cred for you. Why not DJ at the same time? Leave it to the Japanese to make “being cool” more time efficient.
  • Japanese astrology and warrior robot condoms (from Japan Sugoi): Some people choose their partner based on his or her zodiac sign. Of course, if you go this far, you might as well go all the way and choose your birth control by zodiac sign, too.

How do you say ‘super-size’ in Japanese?

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Western fast food chains are opening, re-opening and getting fancy in Japan. With over-the-top takes on familiar menu items, the country might want to start counting those imported calories. Sink your teeth into these Japanese twists on American fast food, and tell us if you still think food in Japan is healthy.

It's basically just a coffee, right?

It’s always more fun to start with dessert. The newest taste sensation to threaten the once-slim Japanese waistline is Starbucks’ chocolate cookie crumble frappuccino with white chocolate pudding, launched last week. The name is a mouthful, and so is the confection. The cup is half-filled with pudding, topped up with chocolate milkshake, layered thick with whipped cream and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and dusted with chocolate cookie crumbles. Despite the pudding base, it’s served with a straw — the faster to suck down the 700 calories in a grande, or 550 in a more modest tall.

But that’s nothing compared to Burger King’s “Bacon Bomb Burger.”  During a special campaign, you can add 15 slices of bacon to your sandwich for ¥100. They list the basic Whopper at 660 calories. Fifteen slices of bacon, at 40 calories a slice, doubles that. The Double Whopper with cheese is 985 calories before the bacon bombing even begins. The low price seems as much like a dare as a PR stunt, and people have been taking them up on it and posting the results online — see the video below if you’ve ever wondered what a thousand slices of bacon on a burger looks like. But don’t watch if you’re hungry — or if you’ve just eaten.

Speaking of double, the KFC Double Down made a big push in Japan, too, as the “Chicken Filet Double.”  The original has become renowned even in the United States for its heart-stopping excess: two slabs of fried chicken sandwiching cheese, bacon and sauce. Not to be outdone, Japan created a campaign around modifying this monster. The basic sandwich is almost 600 calories. And KFC in Japan will see America’s buttery biscuits and raise them a layer of melted chocolate on top.

Now, you may be reading this while chomping on a stuffed-crust Pizza Hut pie somewhere in another time zone, smug in the satisfaction that Japan will never out-pizza the U.S. Yawn. Pizza Hut in Japan has had the sausage crust since at least 2006 and the pizza chains have been innovating ever since. At Japan’s Pizza Huts, you can get a ring of crispy sausage baked in around the edge of most pies. The “melty camembert”  comes with bacon, camembert sauce and evenly spaced wedges of camembert cheese. It’s about 300 calories a slice.  But while the toppings are big, the slices are small. Guaranteed you’re not going to stop at one.

Dominos’ Giga Meat pizza sounds like the ultimate in home-delivered indulgence. And four kinds of meat is only the beginning. Dominos’ Japan pizzas can be ordered with the “Triple Camembert Millefeuille” crust. It has two layers of camembert cheese spread between three layers of crust under whatever else is on your pizza. If that happens to be potatoes and mayo, the highest calorie option, a 1/12th slice tops 400 calories.

With national attention to a rising rate of obesity and metabolic syndrome, or “metabo” as it’s known here, perhaps it’s no wonder that the death at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas got a lot of buzz in Japan. Could it be that the story feels like a glimpse into a fat, frightening  future?

Kokeshi back in style with a new look

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Visitors to Roppongi Art Night at the end of last month were greeted by Hanako, a 13-meter-tall kokeshi doll who towered above the crowds. Despite its size, the doll’s happy, smiling face with its pink cheeks was cuteness incarnate and exemplifies how this traditional wooden doll has been given a kawaii (cute) makeover to appeal to a new generation. Once thought to be rather sinister-looking, out-of-date souvenirs, kokeshi, according to an article in Nikkei Trendy, are now trending among young women.

Hanako holds sway over Tokyo Midtown during Roppongi Art Night

Armless wooden kokeshi dolls, with large heads displaying rigid expressions and bodies decorated a little more cheerfully with floral designs, have long been sold as souvenirs in hot spring resorts throughout the Tohoku region. However, a few years back, the lack of interest among the young in these dolls  meant they began collecting dust on the shelves. An aging population of kokeshi artisans did nothing to cheer up the features of these wooden figures.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, of course, has shaken things up further. While the number of souvenir-shopping tourists in Tohoku has dropped, public consciousness of the crisis has stimulated interest in the dolls. To do her bit to lend support, Genki Numata, a representative of Kokeshika Kamakura, launched the magazine Kokeshi Jidai. Even though it’s only available to order on the net and a few select stores, sales of the magazine have been brisk.

Kokeshika Kamakura, located far from Tohoku in Kamakura, Ishikawa Prefecture, sells kokeshi and attracts a lot of custom from women in their 20s to 40s. But to appeal to this new market, many kokeshi have been given a cute facelift, that make their features somewhat resemble the jolly matryoshka dolls that are also sold in-store. This kawaiification appears to have started before the quake with the modern illustrated “Kokeshi Book” being published back in 2010. But cuteness isn’t the only way to ensure the traditional craft does not die out. Artist SUZUKIKE has created abstract renderings of the doll with fluffy, spiked or totally blank heads, called COKESHI.

Highlighting the fact that kokeshi are back in style, the “Kokeshi Pop” exhibition took place in Shibuya’s Parco department store last month. The aim of the exhibit was to further fuel interest in the craft amongst the fashionable young set and also to encourage people to visit the beleaguered Tohoku region and give local economies there a much-needed boost.

Pulsations (04.13.12)

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • Hashimoto Toru (from Ampotan): Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, is locked in a battle with the central government over nuclear power. This looong read —  in six parts — tracks the background and political ambitions of  Hashimoto and his party One Osaka.
  • The Ultimate Guide to Reading Food Labels in Japan (from Surviving in Japan): Japanese supermarkets can be a confusing place for the allergy-prone, calorie counters and anyone curious about what they put in their mouths. This detailed guide takes some of the mystery out of grocery shopping.
  • Japan, Land of the Rising Meth (from Tofugu): Crystal meth makes you less hungry and more productive (for a short while, anyway) … and —surprise, surprise — it was made in Japan. Tofugu looks at the history of the drug, from its invention and wide use among Japanese soldiers in World War II to its hallowed place in yakuza culture.
  • First Impressions — Polar Bear Cafe (from Isugoi): The young panda is forced to find work, but the polar bear would rather have a human working in his cafe. Confused? Who wouldn’t be .. but John Howard Marshall tries to figure out what on earth is going on in the popular animated sitcom “Polar Bear Cafe.”
  • Don’t miss The Japan Times’ sakura stories for one last stroll under the pink trees.

 

Toilet with a view opens in Chiba

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

According to various media outlets, the “world’s largest public toilet” opened outside of Tokyo on April 6. Designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, the single-seater toilet, with its views of plum, peach and sakura trees, allows visitors to enjoy some beautiful scenery in Chiba’s Ichihara City while literally answering nature’s call. A glass toilet cubicle, protected by a 2-meter-high wall, is set in the middle of a 200-sq.-meter garden of potted rape blossom plants. The greenery may look a little thin now, but a bed of clover is in the works.

Room with a view

If you want to get technical, it would appear that the enormous Egyptian-themed public toilet in Chongquing, China, which has 1,000 toilets over 32,290 sq. meters, takes the prize for the largest, if it is indeed still in operation. At the least, Chiba’s toilet might qualify as the biggest individual public toilet cubicle. Naturally, the word “why?” springs to mind.   “The area around the station has an incredible natural beauty,” said architect Fujimoto in an interview with NHK. “We wanted for those who used the toilet to enjoy this scenery and that feeling of release.”

Before you set off for the wilds of Chiba, it should be pointed out that this toilet is, rather unfairly, for women only. Men, however, might console themselves with a particular toilet technology developed exclusively for them. Last October, Sega’s Toylets, a digital toilet game, began appearing in the men’s rooms of pachinko parlors, game centers and chain izakayas across the country (it had previously been available only for short trial runs). A pressure sensor in the urinal measures the strength of the pee stream, and this in turn affects the outcome of the mini game displayed on the console above. Men who fancy having a go at one of Sega’s Toylets can consult the Toylet website, which has links to the shops and restaurants where the devices have been installed.

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