Archive for July, 2013

Next stop: French toast?

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

So what is it with Japanese and “konamono sweets” (sweets made out of flour)?  Be it crepes, doughnuts, waffles or honey toast, they seem to move up and down the trend chart on a fairly regular basis.

French Toast

Prosciutto and pickles top this French toast at Yocco’s in Nakano.

Over the past few years, upmarket and imported pancakes have been a booming food trend in Japan. Some of the more famous outlets, such as the chic Australian chain bills or the more down-to-earth Hawaiian Eggs ’n Things, are still attracting long lines of pancake lovers. Perhaps the best illustration of pancake mania came this past May in the form of a mobile app called Minna no Pankeiki-bu (Everybody’s Pancake Club), which allowed users to locate the closest flapjack cafe.

While the usual syrup-and-butter variety is still a mainstay, variations far off that theme are emerging. Anyone up for pancakes covered in hiyashi chūka (cold Chinese noodles) or shirasu (baby fish and radish)? Anyone at all?

Keep in mind, there is a precedent here for this flour power: okonomiyaki, the savory pancake-like dish made popular in Kansai, has its origins in  an Edo Period item called sukesoyaki, which consisted on a pancakes and a sweet bean (anko) paste.

While it’s hard to say whether the days of the pancake renaissance are numbered, we couldn’t help but notice the rising popularity of another Western breakfast favorite: French toast.

The new trend is all about shokuji French toast —  it’s a meal, not a dessert.  While French toast isn’t new to Japan, “Haru and Haru” called itself  Tokyo’s first french toast cafe when it opened in May last year. Not long after that came Sarabeth’s, a breakfast restaurant from New York,  famous for “fat and fluffy” French toast.” A 30-minute wait to get in isn’t uncommon.

Lobros relaunched its cafes this past March as Yocco’s French Toast Café, with locations in Jiyugaoka, Kichijoiji and Nakano. Yocco’s serves both a sweet and savory versions, with emphasis on the latter. If you’re adventuresome, you might want to try with a tall glass of cauliflower juice.

In Tokyo’s Yurakucho, the Cafe Chou Chou serves daily non-sweet “pain perdu” (French toast in French). If you’re looking for savory French toast for less than ¥1,000, try Pain Petit Pas in Harajuku. For lunch it serves French toast topped with cured bacon and smoked salmon.

Will shokuji French toast rise the heights of the pancakes and crepes? It’s hard to say. We’ll keep our eye out for an app called Minna no furenchi-tosuto-bu . .  .  hope no one decides to combine them with hiyashi chūka?

Cinderella stories inspire women to find their prince on social networking sites

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Omiai has a strict privacy policy to alay women's fears about online dating

Omiai has a strict privacy policy to alay women’s fears about online dating

According to a recent study by Trend Soken, the phenomenon of the “Social Cinderella” is one of the driving forces behind changing attitudes towards internet dating among young women. “Social Cinderellas” are women who snag “high spec guys” (i.e. well-educated, good-looking men with high salaries) via social networking sites. As stories about these fairy-tale romances spread, more and more women have begun to warm to the idea of internet dating.

Out of the 500 single women in their 20s and 30s interviewed for the study, 81% said that they felt had few chances for romantic meetings in their daily lives and 58% believed that social media was an effective tool for finding their dream man. Columnist Ai Azawa states in the report that modern Japanese women are throwing themselves into their work and are also really into self-improvement, as a result, they’ve got higher standards and are not particularly interested in settling for the men in their immediate social circle.

Azawa says that she often hears Social Cinderella stories. But how common are they in practice? Out of the 61.4% of respondents who claimed to regularly use social media, 16% said that they’d encountered a dreamy guy in this way and 9.4% said they’d even managed to strike up a friendship with the guy in question.

The study uses the term social-networking services to loosely refer to a whole slew of sites, from professional matchmaking websites to social networking sites like Facebook and Mixi, so it’s important to bear in mind that women are not necessarily signing up for dating services. One 26-year-old women questioned for the study mentions attending “meetings of social networking communities.” This could mean joining a group of people who meet over shared interests. Not necessarily aimed at encouraging people to hook up, social clubs tied to a hobby may be one of the ways that women are using the web to widen their social network as they fish around for potential partners.

There are also matchmaking sites linked into Facebook. — sites like Omiai, which currently has 270,000 registered members. Omiai caters to the Cinderella element by boasting that 2,313 of the members are guys who have annual earnings of over ¥10 million. As many are cautious about the perils of online dating, the company highlights its safety policy which allows users to remain anonymous while chatting with a potential partner.

Safety and privacy is a huge concern for Japanese women, so other social networking dating clubs take the risk out of going to meet with a stranger by bulking up the numbers. Pairs of friends who sign up for the rather unfortunately named Nikukai (meat club) service can go on double dates together at yakiniku (Korean barbeque restaurants). Nomitomi (drinking buddies) is a service that holds group mixers for singles, meaning singles don’t have to risk it alone with an unknown person.

Pulsations (7.26.13)

Friday, July 26th, 2013

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 . . .

Toji Temple Market Overwhelms Your Senses (from Japanese Streets): A collection of colorful photos shows off the bustling atmosphere of this Kyoto market which takes place the 21st of each month.

Monster parents: The bane of teachers and … hardworking potato farmers? (from Rocket News 24): Did a potato farmer allow kids to come experience harvesting in his fields really get complaints that the potatoes were different sizes?!

“Forever Alone Fail” wins over Japan (from Kotaku): Two memes meet and go viral in Japan. Nope, your “girlfriend” did not take that picture…

Takuhiro’s shoes (from Ikimasho!): Do the shoes make the man? This one seems to think so, but can you even find his under all the tape?

Crisp Illustrations of creatures from Japanese Folklore (from Taxi): Heitor Seió Kimura’s take on yokai is spooky in a refreshing way.

Video Pulse

Yasu High School in Shiga Prefecture got help from the crew of a local NHK program to film this promotional video showing off their talented soccer team:

Tweet Beat: #allstar

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

The Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags for each week. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

Politics could not beat enthusiasm for #猫の恩返し (in English, “The Cat Returns”) airing on Friday night, although Nippon Television and TBS radio’s coverage of the Upper House elections under #zero選挙 and #senkyo954 respectively both made it into the top 20 hashtags of last week.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan’s official #日本を取り戻す (“Take back Japan”) was a bit more popular than the demonstration hashtag profiled here a couple weeks ago, #愛国競争 (“patriotism competition”). Meanwhile, boys’ love otaku campaigned under their own hashtag #bl選挙 (“boys love election”).

What came closest to the top spot besides classic anime was baseball. The three #allstar (or the more useful katakana tag, #オールスター) games were played the July 19, 20 and 22.

Oshima’s face on base earlier! I’ve never seen him like this!

The first game ended in a 1-1 tie, which left some fans hoping both teams would hit a bit more the next day.

Some fans were touched as Shohei Otani and Yusei Kikuchi played together. They graduated from the same high school (Hanamaki Higashi) a couple years apart. Normally they’re on different teams, but the All-Star game had them together on the Pacific League side.

“Kikuchi and Otani giving each-other five after the other side went down 1-2-3 was cool.”

“Kikuchi will throw and Otani will protect. Awww.”

One viewer was more interested in the mascots than the 19-year-old rookie Otani:

I’ll never forgive Asahi for cutting this off and running footage of Otani. RT @manayayo Mascot commemorative photograph!

Game 2 saw the Central League team win 3-1, but not before some Osaka Toin grads got away with a comedic skit in play.

“Osaka Toin skit!”

“The Toin group is having fun, huh.”

“Wha?! What are you guys doing, Toin? lololol A Nishioka conspiracy lolololol”

“The Toin showdown between Sho Nakata and Fujinami is funny no matter how many times you watch it.”

“Cute” Takahiro Arai named MVP.

But as usual, not everyone could be pleased;  some disagreed with the choice.

It was fun doing a lot of different cheers. It really is like a festival. I’m relieved the Yakult pitchers didn’t give up any runs.

The final game, on Monday, the 22nd, was technically outside the scope of the data from last week, but the hashtag remained popular as the Pacific League won 3-1.

Hina from the Yakult Swallows official dance team tweeted a cute pic:

The last of the McDonald’s Jewelry

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Since we enjoy finishing what we start, here is our report on the third Jewelry Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s, the Ruby Spark…

My favorite number!

My favorite number!

Given our past experiences getting the Gold Ring and the Black Diamond,  I figured I could saunter down to the neighborhood McD’s around 10:30 and pick up this new one-day-only premium burger, no sweat. In reality, it required a lot of sweat, because when I showed up an employee came and said if I was hoping to get the ¥1,000 burger that the line cut off with the guy directly in front of me.

Shock and despair clouded my mind as I raced for the nearest subway station. I could think of any number of McDonald’s locations, but which one would be sure to have the goods? If my local and not-terribly-major location was sold out, could the entire country have run out? In less than 10 minutes?

If I felt a little silly getting off the train after one stop, I felt even sillier sprinting through the station; just imagine what people would think of me if they knew I was rushing in order to buy a McDonald’s hamburger!

The humiliation paid off. I received a number in a rather convoluted line (some people had cups with numbers written on them, others had plastic cards like me; numbers were not necessarily called in order), while anyone who showed up even a few minutes later was out of luck.

Continue reading about the Ruby Spark →

Crafty creators converge on HandMade in Japan Fes 2013

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

More than 2,000 creators converged on Tokyo Big Sight this past weekend for HandMade in Japan Fes 2013. While the range in styles and quality was wide, the creators did share one thing in common: they’re part of the virtual shopping/community site Creema, which is basically Japan’s version of Etsy. The inaugural event, while not yet on the scale of Design Festa, is definitely off to a strong start.

Here are a few of the creations on display that caught our eye. (All photos by Mio Yamada.)

Tweet Beat: #孤独のグルメ

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags for each week. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

With eel, I don’t really feel like I want to eat it all that often, but sure enough, when I see Goro eating it, I get a bizarre craving.

The #夜食テロ (“late-night eating terror,” a nickname lovingly applied by those who fear for their metabolisms, and embraced by the show) is back! The third season of manga-turned-drama #孤独のグルメ (“The Solitary Gourmand”) premiered July 10 and got more buzz on Twitter than #ショムニ (“‘Shomuni’ 2013″), a manga-based sitcom about office ladies, returning after a 10-year hiatus. However, Goro’s enjoyment of various eel dishes in this episode did not engage Twitter users quite as much as either the Friday Roadshow broadcast of Studio Ghibli’s #平 狸合戦ぽんぽこ (aka #ぽんぽこ, “Pom Poko” as it’s known in English) or the premieres of summer anime #watamote (“No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular”) and #kaminomi (“The World Only God Knows: Goddesses).

As in Masayuki Kusumi and Jiro Taniguchi’s manga, Goro Inogashira (played by Yutaka Matsushige on TV) takes himself out for quiet meals when he’s not working and just eats whatever he feels like.

My wife seems to equate Yutaka Matsushige with yakuza or murderer roles, so while we’re watching “The Solitary Gourmand” she’s sitting next to me saying stuff like, “He must be hungry since he killed about three people today on no breakfast,” or “There must be a weapon built in to the tip of that umbrella and any minute now he’s gonna . . . ” So obnoxious.

The fun thing about the show is that Goro eats at real restaurants. Fans like eating along.

They’re lining up outside the Akabane eel restaurant that Goro went to yesterday.

Apparently, this week’s destination, Kawaei, was overrun after the episode aired. It was quickly booked up and has been selling out of its signature dishes quickly.

This is when it’s cool to be the other kind of “solitary gourmand” — the kind who cooks along.

これでいいのか、鰻のオムレツ。 #鰻 #うなぎ #孤独のグルメ

Is this good enough? Eel omelet. — @kojuroko

Pulsations (07.19.13)

Friday, July 19th, 2013

What’s in a Japanese Woman’s Purse? Let’s Look Inside! (from Tofugu): Phone, check. Day planner, check. Face-blotting paper, check. Shout-out to Tofogu’s intern, Rachel, for a great read on what lies in the depths of a Japanese woman’s bag.

On Getting by in Japan (Without Speaking Japanese) (from This Japanese Life): The author of this post wishes he could have read this upon arriving in Japan two months back. Plenty of helpful tips for the less fluent among us gaijin.

Japanese Tattoo Stockings (from Spoon & Tamago): Tattoo taboo is notrious in Japan, so several companies have rolled out a new variety of temporary ink. Designs of origami cranes, mirror frames and other images can give you the edgy look without the all the pain and shame.

Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? (from Just Hungry): A lunch set from your favorite sushi joint could cost you ¥1,000 and nearly as many calories.

Shigeru Ban Wins Competition to Design ‘Cite Musicale’ in Paris (from DesignBoom): Japanese architect Shigeru Ban just won the design competition for a revitalization project in southwest Paris. The compelling design is slated for completion in 2016.

SDF: Looking for a Few Good Women — to Date (from Japan Real Time): The nation’s Self-Defense Force has plenty of bachelors who are single and ready to mingle. Finding that man in uniform may not be so tough, after all.

Google Tour of Hashima Island (from Google Street View): A coal-mining facility for nearly a century, the haunting haikyo of Hashima was made famous with the release of last year’s mega-hit “Skyfall,” which used the island as locational inspiration for several scenes.

Visual Pulse

This vibrant music video for pop artist Cuushe’s “Airy Me” comes to life through 3,000 hand-drawn sketches. (Don’t watch if you’re disturbed by illustrated entrails.)

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