Archive for July, 2012

Today’s J-blip: Mannan Rebā replaces beef liver sashimi

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

fake liver

Mannan Rebā, “liver” made from konnyaku, stands in for the real thing. Photo courtesy of Haisky

As of July 1, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare banned Japan’s restaurants from serving rebā-sashi — beef liver sashimi — a raw dish popular at yakiniku restaurants. It was only a matter of time, of course, before someone began promoting a substitute. After all, Japan is the country that brought the world kanikama — fake crabmeat.

Enter Mannan Rebā. It’s made from sheets of konnyaku (arrowroot jelly), a traditional gelatinous foodstuff commonly found in oden. Haisky, the Kagawa Prefecture konnyaku manufacturer behind the product, introduced the imitation liver last fall — before the ban was announced but after the deadly food poisonings that prompted it.

It seems to be hitting the spot. The company has so far sold over 300,000 packs of Mannan Rebā — over half of them since the ban kicked in.

Today’s J-blip: A song for Ichiro Suzuki

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

 

American indie-rock musician Ben Gibbard has released a song dedicated to Japanese baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki. Gibbard, who is best known as the vocalist for the groups Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, says he wrote the song in honor of Suzuki years ago but that today was the “best day” to release it to the public — Suzuki, 38, was just traded to the New York Yankees after more than 10 years with the Seattle Mariners. Be forewarned: The song, “Ichiro’s Theme,” is incredibly catchy.

Pulsations (07.20.12)

Friday, July 20th, 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 Japan’s excessive use of cones  (from Shoot Tokyo): Tokyo based photo-blogger Dave Powell, otherwise known as Shoot Tokyo, takes us on a visual tour of a land where the cone is king. Be sure to take a look at some of Dave’s other entertaining posts with stunning photography from Japan and abroad.
  • Former yakuza busted in nationwide sting (from Tokyo Reporter): A story with all the makings of a mob classic, but this time it’s for real. Kenichiro Nakao, a former member of the Dojin-kai criminal organization, claims he had nothing to do with the fraudulent activity he’s been arrested for — big surprise there. The more you read, the more “former gangster” sounds like an oxymoron.
  • Homemade hayashi chuuka bento (from Being A Broad): Hiyashi chuuka is a healthy dish perfect for taking to school or the office. Here is a simple recipe with different combinations of meat and vegetables as well as detailed instructions on how to prepare it. Simple, delicious and inexpensive.
  • The life of director Ichikawa Kon (from Japan Navigator): Japanese culture blog Japan Navigator profiles the long life and career of film director Ichikawa Kon, active in the industry from 1936 until his death in 2008. Within his extensive filmography he is best known for “The Burmese Harp” (1956), “Alone in the Pacific” (1963), and “The Tokyo Olympiad” (1965). A must-read for fans of Japanese cinema.

Visual pulse:

J-vlogger Ciaela and her friends translated Adele’s hit “Someone Like You” into Japanese. The result is completely professional — and just as likely as the original to get stuck in your head.

It all stacks up: tumbler bento

Friday, July 20th, 2012

The latest trend in lunch boxes does away with the box all together. Slender, attractive and easy to put together, the “tumbler bento” is the new shape of lunch on the run. The idea, which is finding favor with career women, is to pop your lunch into an insulated coffee cup before dashing out to work in the morning. The cup keeps your lunch cool (or warm) and saves space in your bag.

According to Get News, the trend was kickstarted by a story featuring model Shizuka Kondo in the May issue of women’s magazine CanCam. The charm points? Sloppy ingredients won’t spill; it fits easily into a bag; hot meals retain their heat better; cool meals stay cool; and if you skip breakfast you can always stick in your cornflakes before dashing out of the house and eat them at your desk with fresh milk. Another tumbler trick: Throw in some dry pasta in the morning and pour in hot water, and it’s cooked by lunch time.

The idea was picked up by morning TV show “Sukkiri!” which ran a segment on tumbler bento featuring enthusiastic women who’d embraced the idea. Another reason the idea is attractive is that, if you like, it allows you to be secretive about the contents of your lunch box. On the other hand, if you go for a transparent tumbler, you can show off your lunch to decorative effect with layers of rice interspersed with layers of veggies and meat. The whole thing looks a little bit like a parfait. Apparently the ideal way to eat it is with a dainty long parfait spoon.

While the kyaraben (character bento) trend still seems to be going strong with competitive housewives who’ve got the time to sculpt their children’s food to resemble cartoon characters, the tumbler bento could appeal to busy career women who are short on time but still want to show off their cooking chops. Another plus is that they’re a useful way for dieters to keep an eye on how much they’re consuming.

Check out the video above for a quick guide in English to making your own tumbler lunch. Warning: Contains rice mixed with pasta. If the very thought of that turns your stomach, please step slowly away from the keyboard.

Today’s J-blip: Suteteko

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the hot and sticky Japanese summer months, staying cool can be a challenge. However, a resurgence in traditional suteteko (say stet-eh-ko) is making it a little bit easier. Fear not — these aren’t your grandpa’s long johns! Contemporary sutekeko are pants made of light-weight, breathable material and fall just below (or above) the knee. Once a boutique item (that we spotted a year ago), they are now available from major retailers like Uniqlo as well as dedicated shops. Great for lounging around the house, walking your dog or even on a first date if you dare . . . If it doesn’t go well, at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing it wasn’t because of your sweaty legs.

We’ve pinned a sampling of some of the huge variety of patterns and colors. Follow this and Japan Pulse’s other boards on Pinterest.

Rickshaws roll back into style

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Handsome “onisan” are part of the attraction of a jinrikisha ride for the ladies

Slightly cheesy and very pricey, a ride in a jinrikisha (hand-pulled rickshaw) around Asakusa is Tokyo’s equivalent of a spin around New York’s Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. And thanks to the opening nearby of Skytree Tower, this anachronism is still fighting fit in the 21st century as jinrikisha companies cash in on the hordes of tourists who flock to Asakusa to check out Tokyo’s newest landmark.

Skytree Tower tours don’t come cheap. A 70-minute Skytree Tower Course with Kurumaya Asakusa, which takes you from Kaminarimon in Asakusa through the streets of downtown Tokyo, costs ¥12,690 for two. That price rises to ¥18,000 if you opt to travel in a rickshaw that has been custom-made to resemble the tower itself. The newly unveiled Tokyo Skytree Model lights up at night and comes complete with a tiny Skytree Tower at the back.

The surrounding scenery is not the only attraction of a jinrikisha ride. Many women also enjoy checking out the hunks whose job it is to cart customers around town. On April 4, a show on Nippon Television Network introduced the ikemen  jinrikisha oniisan (good-looking jinrikisha guys) who are admired by female visitors to Asakusa for their fit bodies. These companies obviously know that their stables of young men are all part of the attraction; the websites of Ebisuya Asakusa and Jidaiya jinrikisha companies both have profiles of these charismatic rikshaw pullers, called shafu, for potential customers to check out.

Back in the Showa Era, the jinrikisha was not the only form of transport available for sightseeing around Asakusa. Elegant pedicabs, called rintaku, as a short form for “wheel taxi,” were also pedaled along the streets. Those interested in the history of transport in Tokyo can check out a collection of latter-day carriages in the lobby of the Asakusa Central Hotel. The vehicles are kept in working order and are available for hire for special occasions. The site says that in 1947 a ride was ¥100 per hour. A wedding rental now can cost 100 times that, at ¥30,000 for three hours.

Just can’t get enough? We suspect Kurumaya’s sales target is jinrikisha companies, but we don’t know if there’s anything stopping them from selling their two-wheelers to the general public. The Skytree model three-seater is a trifle at ¥2 million. And no, that does not include a handsome driver.

Photo: Jon Rawlinson, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Pulsations (07.13.12)

Friday, July 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 . . .

  • Paying for it  (from This Japanese Life): Part 3 of the series, “On Pretending to Know about Education in Japan,” this post outlines the costs of different forms of schooling and the burdens that education places on families living below the recently acknowledged poverty line. The author argues that the current Japanese system is outdated and causing societal stagnation. Along with parts 1 and 2, it’s an interesting read for anyone who’s curious about Japanese education.
  • Nakae Architects: Tracing True South (from Design Boom): We’ve all seen pictures and plans of fascinating eco-friendly buildings. In many cases, though, especially when they’re seen surrounded by conventional structures, the design sticks out like a green thumb. “Facing True South,” a project by Nakae Architects of Tokyo, addresses this issue. Located in Kamaishi, Iwate Pref., the house utilizes passive solar design while maintaining respect for the town’s traditional look.
  • Painting Fujiyama (from One Hundred Mountains ):  Did you know there was once a U.S. military proposal to desecrate Mount Fuji by having B-52 bombers cover it in gallons of red paint? Perhaps you’ve made the trek to the summit, but did you know there is a less-travelled Maruyama Trail, which dates back to the 16th century. Learn about these factoids and more in this writeup of Harry Byron Earhart’s book “Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan” … or just buy the book.

Visual pulse: Jed Henry’s recent playful reimagining of videogame characters as they might have been portrayed in the Edo Period is given another spin, this time by veteran woodblock printmaker David Bull, who is actually rendering Henry’s illustrations in ukiyo-e. In this video, Bull gives a detailed explanation of “proofing” — the test image done before an entire edition.

The Korean beauty secrets are out

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Beauty products containing snake venom, distributed by Dodo Japan, on display at Cosme Tokyo 2012 (Mio Yamada photo)

In the West, Japanese cosmetics have developed quite a devout following, so it might come as a surprise that in Japan, women are actually becoming more interested in South Korean beauty products and treatments.

At Japan’s first-ever Cosme Tokyo fair, South Korean companies made a strong showing, taking the top slot among the non-Japanese exhibitors. In addition to shiny eyeliners, sparkling eye shadows, bright blushers and other makeup items, they presented crowd-drawing snail-slime moisturizers and synthetic snake-venom face packs.

Like K-Pop and Korean TV dramas, the popularity of Korean cosmetics has been undeniable for the past few years. And as South Korea has become a popular tourist destination, Korean cosmetic companies have begun to realize that Japanese tourists were perhaps some of their best customers. While it’s not all going to Japan, one thing is certain: Korea’s cosmetic exports climbed $600 million in 2010, up from $80 million in 2001.

Exotic ingredients aside, there’s not a lot to distinguish many of the Korean goods from Japanese cosmetics.  So what is it that gets consumer attention? While we can’t discount the lure of bright colors and cute motifs on the packaging, the most attractive draw is most likely the use of natural ingredients or the focus on natural derivatives for products. They’re also often far cheaper than their Japanese counterparts.

Skin Food, which opened its first store in Harajuku in 2009, for example, bases all its products on food extracts, using fruit, vegetable, grains and snail (well, yes, snails can be viewed as food). Missha, which is famous for its Missha BB “blemish balm” cream, uses snail and mixes it with natural plant extracts, as does Etude House, a popular line of products aimed at a younger generation — both brands opened their first stores in Shinjuku in March this year.

“Made in Korea” has become a selling point, and not only have prominent Korean brands opened up shop in Tokyo, but more Korean cosmetics in general have started appearing on the shelves of the city’s major drug stores (see DoDo Japan’s line of makeup).  A couple of new Korean-goods-specific stores have also opened in the city. In March, Chongane & Skin Garden in Shin-Okubo opened its doors to offer Korean foods, accessories and cosmetics, while  Skin holic, which opened last month, stocks a wide range of Korean cosmetics, including some of those already mentioned here.

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