Archive for August, 2012

Japan’s tomato boom not yet bust

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Back in February, a seemingly unstoppable river of tomato juice was flowing out of supermarket doors up and down the country as Japanese shoppers jumped on the latest food fad to hit the nation. The frenzy had been sparked by a report written by researchers at Kyoto University that seemed to indicate that consuming large amounts of tomatoes was effective in alleviating “metabolic syndrome” (read: getting rid of your gut). Nearly six months later, although the tide of red pulp has slowed somewhat, sales of tomato juice are still significantly up, indicating that the trend is still in season.

Tomatoes are still on the menu in Japan

Kagome, who own a whopping half share in the domestic tomato juice market, report that they shipped double the amount of tomato juice in June this year compared to the same period in previous years. A Nikkei Shimbun article reports that sales of fresh tomatoes are also up, with Summit supermarket recording a 21 percent year-on-year rise in tomato sales this June.

It would be easy to call the jump in fresh tomato sales a statistical anomaly, since radiation anxiety made last year an exceptionally poor one for fresh veggie sales. But there is other evidence that home-makers are flocking back to the humble tomato. Recipe website Cookpad now has about 105,000 tomatotastic recipes submitted by users. Before the tomato boom, there were about 1,000 contributions per month for new tomato recipes. After the fad hit, that figure rose to 2,500.

Meiji Dairies Corporation, along with the Japan Vegetable Sommeliers Association, has been trying to generate public interest in the idea of vegetable chocolate fondue since last summer. Tying in nicely with the trend for gourmet vegetables, the idea is that you can savor the tangy acidity of your tomatoes alongside the sweet taste of chocolate. (You can simulate the experience somewhat by grabbing a pack of Meiji’s Chocolat de Tomato.)

The trend of appreciating gourmet vegetables has run alongside the home vegetable gardening boom, and in this sphere too, tomatoes are prominent. Home improvement store Cainz reported a 50 percent increase in sales of tomato seeds in March this year. No doubt fears over food safety and temporary food shortages after the 3.11 Fukushima meltdown has had an effect on this sudden burst of interest.

Tomato growers have been quick to cash in on the increased interest. Sasaichi sake brewers in Yamanashi, for instance, has developed a tomato liquor made from fresh tomatoes grown in the area, while in Takasaki, Gunma, a tomato ice cream has been on sale since July 27. So it seems the juice has not quite yet run out of the tomato boom.

Photo by tooony [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s J-blip: Seiyu social TV commercial

Monday, August 27th, 2012

seiyu

The diver had a matchmaking party in a sumo ring?

The latest commercial from supermarket chain Seiyu has customers calling the shots. The marketing department supplied only the vaguest scenario, “something falls.” The rest of the who, what, where and when of  the “Seiyu Social CM” were put to an online poll. Participants choose the person and the location from a multiple choice list that brings to mind a Japan-specific version of who-dunnit board game Clue.

An Yahoo News article tried out some of the possible combinations from the choices given, including: “A female shell diver is at a ramen shop having an argument when her zipper falls.” Voters, however, were far more earnest in the message they sent the company. “Supermarket” got the most votes for the “where” and “prices” was one of the top choices for what they wanted to see fall.

With voting now over, the crowd-sourced commercial is set to air Sept. 15. (Spoiler alert: The winning scenario sees a psychic at the supermarket engaging in a suspicious transaction, when a mysterious lever falls.)

Ippuku: Tokyo’s new pay-as-you-go smoking space

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

An Ippuku pay smoking space in Tokyo's Ochanomizu

An Ippuku pay smoking space in Ochanomizu. (Rebecca Milner photos)

Tokyo has taken the opposite tack from many Western cities when it comes to curbing tobacco use in public space: smoking is banned on the streets but not inside bars and restaurants. Well, almost banned — special smoking areas, usually in front of train stations, corral smokers into tight quarters around a few communal ashtrays (and inside a haze of smoke). These smoking zones are so unpleasant, they’ve been nicknamed “gas chambers.”

Hikarie smoking space

Hikarie’s clubby smoking space.

Recently, however, we’ve seen a smattering of more attractive smoking spaces — and not just ones created by tobacco companies. The new Hikarie building in Shibuya has what could be called a deluxe smoking lounge. There are benches to sit on, outlets to charge your phone, and, in the smoking space on the 11th floor, moody lighting. Most impressive however is the degree of ventilation — the air isn’t deplorably smoky.

All of this conspires to position smoking not as a fact-of-life or a dirty habit, but rather as a quality of life issue — smoking should ultimately be a pleasant experience. It’s the same logic that results in Japan having some of the nicest public restrooms in the world, with heated toilet seats and rows of mirrors (complete with hooks for hanging handbags and a ledge for holding make-up pouches and hairbrushes).

Starting this summer, a new venture is betting that, where such deluxe quarters do not yet exist for free, smokers would be willing to pay a small premium for that pleasant experience. Ippuku, which means “a puff,” is a pay-as-you-go smoking area. It features much of the same amenities as the space in Hikarie: padded rails to sit on, tables to prop up a drink, outlets for phone charging, and continuously circulating air.

Continue reading about smoking lounges for paying customers →

Take the kids back in time this summer

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Lunch at Ubusuna House, part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. (Rebecca Milner photo)

Last week, NHK ran a story on a “Showa Lifestyle” exhibition at a shopping center in Mito, a city two hours northeast of Tokyo. The exhibit wasn’t aimed at baby-boomers — Showa refers to the historical period from 1926-1989 — but rather their children and grandchildren.

The Mito City Museum, which put on the event, set up a mock living room circa the 1960s. Here kids could experience sitting at a low table on floor cushions, turning the dials on a black-and-white TV, many of them likely for the first time. They could also see what it was like to use an old rotary phone, a foot-pedal sewing machine and even a few pairs of take-uma, bamboo stilts, a popular amusement from an era of few luxuries.

For kids weaned on mobile phones, there may be no greater novelty than the past. They can also get an inkling of how different their world is from that of previous generations.

While the Mito event has already ended, there are plenty of other places where the family can get a taste of Showa life. At this summer’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, in rural Niigata prefecture, visitors can eat and sleep inside country homes and schoolhouses dating from the early to mid-20th century.

Many such structures outside of cities around Japan have lost their original usefulness on account of the country’s aging population and lack of attractive job opportunities there for young people. Countless such sites have been lost forever; however, there is a growing trend to label them heritage buildings and turn them into museums or hands-on learning centers.

Continue reading about the Showa nostalgia kick →

Pulsations (8.17.2012)

Friday, August 17th, 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 . . .

Visual pulse:

Spoon & Tamago highlighted an exhibition at The Open Space 2012 of Rhythmushi, a nifty little hand-drawn music app that has quietly been building a big fan base over the last two years. If you can’t make it to Shinjuku for the hands-on experience, enjoy the video demo here.

?t=11s

Can Japan swallow a salty yogurt boom?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Fancy some salt yogurt soup, some fried pork marinated in salt yogurt, or perhaps some salt yogurt mayonnaise? Over the last month or so, a variety of cookbooks featuring salted yogurt as a main ingredient have come on to the market. Until now in Japan, yogurt has been seen as a healthy food to be eaten on its own or with fruit for breakfast, but now it seems publishers are trying to stir up a yogurt cooking craze to rival the salt koji boom that hit the culinary scene last year.

The white stuff: A mixture of yogurt and salt can be used in a wide range of dishes

Over the last month, according to Nikkei Trendy, following a micro-trend of recipes calling for strained yogurt as an ingredient, five cookbooks featuring salted yogurt have been published in Japan. One of these was “Let’s Get Started With Salt Yogurt” by Wakako Sato. Published by Bunshun publishing company, the recipes in the book were created by researching international yogurt-based recipes and adapting them for the Japanese palate.

But we think the recipes are also heavily influenced by salt koji recipes. The cover of Sato’s book exclaims that using salt yogurt is “even simpler than shio koji,” drawing the connection clearly. Salted yogurt is touted as being a great marinade for vegetables, meat or fish. Just like salt koji, marinating meat in salt yogurt is said to soften the flesh and bring out savory umami flavors. Once you’ve finished with your marinade, add some sake and put it on the boil to use as a base for a creamy soup.

Indeed, making salt yogurt is even easier than making your own koji: Simply add salt or miso to plain, unsweetened yogurt and off you go. To make marinades or soups, use the yogurt as it is, or, to make mayonnaise or cream cheese substitutes, place the yogurt in a coffee strainer and drain off the liquid. The cream cheese substitute is simply the strained yogurt cooled overnight in the fridge. Making mayonnaise involves adding olive oil, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.

While unsweetened yogurt on its own is seen by the Japanese as a little bit like Marmite (you either love it or you hate it), the publishers of “Let’s Get Started With Salt Yogurt” reckon that even the haters might like yogurt if it’s used as an ingredient in Japanese-style dishes. The fact that alleged health benefits include helping to maintain a healthy digestive tract and giving a boost to the immune system might be just enough to sway those who might otherwise prefer to steer clear.

Today’s J-blip: rrrrrrrroll

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

roll lightpost

Have you seen these  hypnotic, strangely beautiful GIF images yet? At a rate of roughly two a week, they’ve been appearing on a Tumblr blog called rrrrrrrroll that is dedicated to the project and run by a group of friends.

roll_umbrella

Sometimes it’s a young woman spinning on an axis, at the unhurried pace of a ceiling fan set on low.  Other times it’s an object — an umbrella, or an electric rice cooker, for example — set in motion. A simple concept, yet undeniably captivating.

roll_rock

According to the group’s Facebook page, the blog has attracted more than 10,000 followers. Not too shabby for a group that only started uploading photos in April.

And a hat-tip to Tofugu for the find . . . though it was Huffington Post  that first shined the big light on the rrrrrrrrollers.

Today’s J-blip: Japanese are traveling where?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Angkor Wat, the No. 1 travel destination for Japanese, according to a recent poll

Trip Advisor polled its Japanese users on their favorite overseas holiday destinations — and the results are not what you might expect. Sure, perennial favorites like Lanikai Beach, Hawaii (#3) and Florida’s Walt Disney World (#4) make the top five, but they rank below more exotic locals like Angkor Wat (#1) and Machu Picchu (#2). And while western Europe gets plenty of nods, so does eastern Europe. Destinations in Asia and the Middle East, along with some oddly specific locales — like Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory and Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium — all make the top 50.

Are Japanese tourists getting more adventurous? Taking advantage of the strong yen? Are the survey results naturally skewed? What do you think?

Photo by cornstaruk/Flickr

RSS

Recent Posts

  • Marketers capitalize on university entrance exam time

    This week there is something weighing heavy on the minds of many students who’d like to advance to college: the National Center Test for University Admissions. It’s being held Jan. 18-19. Those with their heart set on a particular school who don’t get a good enough score may choose to spend a year, or in [...]

  • Pulsations 1.13.14

    The first batch of Pulsations in 2014 features a twist on chopstick design, a spectacular holiday illumination in Osaka and more.

  • Feelin’ lucky? The highs and lows of ‘fukubukuro’

    Whether you count fukubukuro “lucky bags” as a thank-you to shoppers, a scheme to unload less popular merchandise at the end of the year or just a way to kick off the New Year’s sales, buying a mystery pile of stuff worth [hopefully far] more than the price tag is a tempting offer to many. [...]

  • Pulsations (12.6.13)

    This collection of Pulsations brings holiday cheer in bento form, a must-see project for font-lovers, a solo stop-motion animation effort and more!

  • Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

    Joysound karaoke announced their top songs of 2013! However, just because they’re popular does not mean they came out this year . . .

  • Tokyo Eggs Benedict Bingo

    Eggs Benedict with awesome bacon, with a near lack of eggs, with raw tuna! Wait, raw tuna?! We sample a handful of Tokyo’s Hollandaise sauces.

  • Pulsations (11.19.13)

    Fashion, art and snacktime collide in this collection of Pulsations! Plus: Doraemon makes his 3D film debut!

  • J-blip: Tsutaya launches one-stop ‘lifestyle’ bookshop

    Bookseller Tsutaya moves into the lifestyle business and gives consumer more ways to use T-points.

  • Autumn crop of pumpkin, purple potato and pear products

    The change of season prompts a change of snack flavorings – great for those with a pumpkin craving.

  • Tokyo Designers Week 2013

    This year’s Tokyo Designers Week gets its creative juices flowing with more markets, music and a festival vibe.

Our Users Say

  • More Than Red: Great photos. Thank you for sharing.
  • kenji: A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!!!
  • John Moore: I believed that blue, green, purple and black were inherently boy colors, while red, orange, yellow and...
  • deepak kumar: It is commom nature of guman being to play safe.
  • Janel: Not sure I could do the avocado before I read this. But it doesn’t really look too good on that burger!
Japan Times RSS Feed

RECENT JAPAN TIMES HEADLINES

  • No items