Archive for July, 2013

Konbini Raiders: The lesser-known cousins of Popin’ Cookin’ Sushi

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Japan is known as one of the culinary capitals of the world, but at the opposite end of Michelin stars you get dagashi (da: low quality, gashi: candy). Dagashi has been around since Edo times as an alternative to fancy delicacies and ranging from the traditional (dried persimmon) to modern (fizzy cotton candy), and is marketed directly to children who have a few pennies to burn. The kiddier, the better.

Kracie, a company that produces food, as well as toiletry, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, excels at creating what they call “Educational Candy,” the just-add-water type creations that tickle children and adults alike. The line boasts the YouTube-infamous candy sushi and many other creepy concoctions.

In March this year they renewed one such candy, Dodotto Tsubupyon, a jelly-ball candy that’s dispensed from an octopus-shaped device, complete with a fizzing dipping foam. The climax of the process, documented in the video above, was the creation of the jelly balls, which looked a bit like pink frog eggs, if such a thing existed.

Although all these odd treats may seem like a fad, Kracie’s freaky foods are not that recent of a development. Nerunerunerune, a sugary foam candy that makes you wonder if they developed it in the same lab as their shampoos, was first sold in 1986 and is considered a classic for Japanese kids today. To introduce you to the granddaddy of the frankenfood family and its popular descendant, we rustled up a batch and fed it to our colleagues.

Intern Eric grimaced after tasting the foam and uttered a single “Uh-uh” while shaking his head. “I didn’t enjoy the texture or the taste,’’ he said later. ”The purple concoction was foamy and supersweet, with some sort of unidentifiable fake flavor. When combined with the crystals in the other compartment, the sugar factor became way over the top. I’d say I have a sweet tooth, but this one was too much for me to handle.”

Another fellow intern, Natasha, took a nervous bite and immediately exclaimed, “It hurts! This is acid! I thought Japanese people were health-conscious. Why do they put this in their systems?”

Being the responsible person that I am, I too sampled the shaving cream-like foam. The verdict on the purple blob is that it’s a flavor you’ll never miss.

Finally, we cooked up the cute little “Popin’ Cookin’” sushi, a modern candy classic. When we did a taste test however, we learned that the only thing that’s cute and little about them is the way they look.

Editor Shaun took a bite of the maguro sushi and, after a long thoughtful pause, said, “Because the sushi looked so real, I was expecting a maguro flavor. When it tasted sweet instead, I felt betrayed.”

Eric, who tried the tamagoyaki (cooked egg) sushi, said, “On first bite, the taste wasn’t bad. It was a lot like any other artificial, gummy candy. The texture is what got to me. The ‘rice’ wasn’t bad, but the ‘fish’ on top was a gooey, bizarre mess. I also couldn’t tell if the accompanying ‘soy sauce’ made a difference.”

Editor Andrew weighed in on the ikura (fish roe) sushi: “The ikura were like little bubbles of jelly and the nori had the texture of a stick of bubble gum. Tasted like gummy bears, but less chewy. Would have been more interesting if it did actually taste of sushi!”

If you want a glimpse of the Japanese childhood you never had, you can head to any convenience store or supermarket to find candy from the Kracie family (or outside Japan, try White Rabbit Japan‘s snack section). The packages say no preservatives or artificial coloring added, but bigger questions came to mind when the purple foam started fizzing in our mouths . . . If it’s not artificial, what’s in it? Because I’ve never seen that stuff on a farm.

Resting in peace has never been so easy

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The final frontier

The final frontier: One option for sea lovers

As Japan struggles to come to terms with growing numbers of elderly, the death care industry is evolving in response. This past week, for instance, a new website was launched extolling the benefits of scattering ashes at sea and earlier this month a new home grave went on the market.

Traditionally, funerals are a costly affair in Japan, involving a lengthy ceremony and expensive internment at a family grave. As modern office-building cemeteries become increasingly popular, other even cheaper options for burial are trending.

Sansoku Center provides information on scattering ashes at sea

Sansoku Center provides information on scattering the ashes of the dearly departed at sea

Take, for instance, forest internment. An article in Rocket News late last year highlighted this growing trend. New forest cemeteries are becoming increasingly popular. Not just viewed as a cheaper alternative to having your remains stored in a traditional graveyard, forest cemeteries are viewed as being a natural way to dispose of human remains, though, this being Japan, bodies are still cremated in the traditional manner.  Reportedly the first forest cemetery in Japan was established in 1999 in Iwate Prefecture and that since then, they’ve been rising in popularity.

Another option for those who want to get back to nature and also want to avoid costly maintenance fees for an expensive family grave is to have your ashes scattered at sea. This is a fairly new concept for most Japanese, which is probably why the web portal Sankotsu Center, which gives information out on sea burials as well as providing links to companies providing this service, was launched.

According to the website, while forest burials have to be done at designated sites, apart from a stipulation that you be a certain distance from the shore, there are fewer rules about the scattering of ashes at sea. The website has links to 24 companies who provide this service and details just how much you’ll have to shell out for a sea burial. Blue Ocean Ceremony in Tokyo charge ¥296,000 for all the bells and whistles, which includes a Buddhist ceremony, free drinks and space for 24 guests aboard a chartered cruiser. The cheapest option, where you entrust the ashes to the care of a crew who perform a short ceremony and dispose of the ashes with flowers, costs just ¥53,500.

One drawback for relatives, however, may be that with a sea burial, it’s not possible to visit a relative’s grave to carry out traditional ceremonies. But In Blooms, a company that sells funerary altars for homes, have come up with a solution that will also be handy for people who don’t have enough time to visit the family grave. Their Temoto Haka home gravestones have a compartment inside for storing a small amount of a relative’s bone inside. Made in collaboration with Art Glass, these monuments come in a range of colors to match your home décor!

Photo by Adam Kahtava/CC by 3.0

Limited-edition burgers, ep. deux

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

For the second edition of McDonald’s “Jewelry” burger series, the company released the Black Diamond Quarter Pounder. While last week’s Gold Ring left us somewhat unimpressed, the Golden Arches’ latest was a different story. This time, a beef patty was sandwiched between two brioche buns, grilled onions and mushrooms, Emmental cheese and black truffle sauce. As before, the burger arrived gussied up in an oversize, ribbon-adorned bag. I could already smell that unmistakable truffle aroma. Inside, there were two pamphlets explaining the contents of this deluxe sandwich. The burger itself came in a foil-trimmed box.

The arrival

Uncovering the burger from its elaborate serving arrangement revealed a surprisingly appetizing aesthetic: melty cheese, symmetrical mushrooms and a nearly spherical bun. We’re talking darn close to the advertisements we’ve seen nearly everywhere with Mr. Honda encouraging us to “BITE!” Continue reading about the Black Diamond →

Tweet Beat: #七夕, #鯖アニメ, #愛国競争

Friday, July 12th, 2013

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

A tweet is a wish your heart makes

May everyone’s wishes come true. Hikoboshi casually greets Orihime in English.

#七夕 (Tanabata, the Star Festival) takes place at different times depending on where you are in Japan, but July 7 is the first major date. It’s a holiday for making wishes and celebrating the once-a-year reunion of legendary separated lovers Hikoboshi and Orihime. The accompanying decorations make for great tweets, but the concise format (and this tool that allows your text to mimic the shape of a traditional paper tanzaku) is also perfect for sharing wishes.

Write your wish on a tanzaku.

Some people expressed personal aspirations or concerns:

“I want to belong to Amuse.”

“I wanna be a hottie.”

“May I become fluent in Japanese.”

“May my smartphone not break until I can buy a new one.”

“I want friends.”

Some looked outward:

“World peace.”

“May black kigyo go under.”

“May I be able to repay many favors.”

One person wrote a wish for the manga character Detective Conan, and one, instead of wishing, realized that he hadn’t done anything Tanabata-ish at all.

May all my follower’s wishes come true.

Continue reading about last week's top hashtags →

Pulsations (07.12.13)

Friday, July 12th, 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 . . .

  • Sales of adult diapers surpass baby diapers in aging Japan (from Quartz): Some say the adult variety of “incontinence products” are already beating their infantile counterparts in sales. For those looking for new business opportunities, Japan’s shrinking population may not be all bad news. 
  • Spelling your name out loud in Japanese (from LinguaLift): Whether your surname is Smith or Finklestein, for longterm gaijin, spelling a Western name in Japanese can be a headache. Here are some helpful tips to make your next pizza ordering experience less painful.
  • Japan-China white (paper) hot tensions (from Japan Real Time): Controversy in the East China Sea is nothing new, but this year’s official reports from Japan reveal a concerning trend that received a harsh reception from Beijing.
  • Volunteers building ‘Great Forest Wall’ tsunami barrier from earthquake debris (from Japan for Sustainability): On 3/11, the pines planted near the coast tumbled easily from the force of the tsunami and rammed into structures. Now, volunteers have begun planting the first of 90 million trees as part of a natural seawall.
  • Meet Yohio, the Most Kawaii Man in Sweden (from BuzzFeed): On a lighthearted note, check out Yohio (if you haven’t already). Well known for his eccentric, androgynous style, the young Swedish pop sensation is a genuine Japanophile — with the Twitter account to prove it.

Visual Pulse

This impressive little video’s artificial lighting effects will leave you thinking, “How did they do that?”

Cashing in on Fuji fever

Friday, July 12th, 2013

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lake_Kawaguchiko_Sakura_Mount_Fuji_3.JPG

Commemorative merchandise celebrating this majestic mountain has been flying off the shelves

Since the announcement that Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic landmark, had finally won World Heritage status on June 23, Fuji fever has swept the nation. As souvenirs commemorating the event hit the shelves, sales of Fuji-themed merchandise were brisk. Stores selling climbing gear to those who have been inspired to make the pilgrimage up Fuji have also been doing well.

Loft in Shibuya reported that sales of Fuji merchandise, which had been growing steadily prior to the announcement, suddenly shot up by 150% — the bestselling item being a Fuji-san folding fan that retails for ¥2,100. They’re not anticipating a downturn in trade either: When the shop gets a refit in September there’s going to be a special area in the new “Japan Souvenir” floor dedicated to Fuji souvenirs.

New products also went on sale to commemorate the occasion. Among these is a Mount Fuji wooden cup and ball game that costs a rather eye-watering ¥6,090, and a rubber stamp that incorporates elements of the famous 36 views of Mount Fuji, which would set you back ¥3,360. In addition, blue traffic cones with a snow capped peaks have suddenly popped up in car parks around the country. Formally sold mainly to businesses in the area around Mount Fuji, 300 of these cones were sold in the last month, three times the amount of typical annual sales.

The climbing season for Mount Fuji began this month and shops selling climbing equipment have been cashing in. Sales have also been boosted by the inspiring news back in May that 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura managed to scale the summit of Everest. Mizuno outdoor sports told Sankei Biz that sales of hiking gear for women are almost double that of last year, an indication that the yama girl trend is continuing to climb.

Mizuno outdoor sports store also runs hiking schools and a trip to Mount Fuji for July sold out almost as soon as it went on sale. But hordes of hikers heading for the mountain are putting a strain on local infrastructure. The authorities of Fujinomiya, one of the gateways to the mountain,  have announced that the toilet facilities available will not be sufficient to deal with the increased volume of hikers and are asking climbers to take their own portable toilets with them.

While toilets will be in short supply, Wi-Fi access in the area ought to be excellent. As of June, Yamanashi, one of the prefectures Fuji is located in, has 933 free Wi-Fi spots. Visitors surfing the web might want to download a free new app from Fuji-san Beno, which tells you what events are going on in the area during the day of your visit. More info can be found at Fujiyama Navi. The site launched July 8, and offers tours, hotels, and, of course, Fuji-themed merchandise.

More Fuji goods on our Pinterest board: Mount Fuji mania

Read more about the economics of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site at our sister blog, Yen for Living.

Photo by Midori via Wikicommons

Japan by the numbers (07.11.13)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Kimo-kawaii: a chronology in 13 steps

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Kimo-kawaii, the slang that mashes up kimoi (yucky, gross; which is a shorter, slangier version of kimochiwarui, itself) and kawaii (cute, sweet) has become an apt description of more and more things over the years. While aficionados might disagree on what defines kimo-kawaii, generally if something has an eerie, sweet creepiness that makes it hard to look at but harder to look away, it’s kimo-kawaii.

Here are 13 things deemed so in Japan, in chronological order:

1999: Dancing Baby, a funky CG animation, became a meme in United States in the ‘90s (even appearing on the TV show “Ally McBeal”), but it became so popular in Japan that Toyota put it in a Cami ad (above). Young people of the time who had already begun saying kimo-kawaii applied it here in an early use case.

Mid 2000s: Ungirls, the comedy duo comprised of Takushi Tanaka and Yoshiaki Yamane became known as kimo-kawaii, somewhat cruelly, mostly due to their looks. Over the years and depending on whom you ask the assessment seems to change from “Tanaka is kimoi, but Yamane is kawaii” to just deciding that Tanaka himself is kimo-kawaii. Or maybe not even kawaii. . . Last year on the variety show “London Hearts” when Tanaka ranked high (low?) on a list of most disliked celebs, he said everyone should give being him a try because it’s a hellish life, but he will keep doing it as long as he lives.

Kobitozukan

Kobitozukan

May 2006: ”Kobito Zukan“ originated as a picture book illustrated by Toshitaka Nabata. Literally “dwarf encyclopedia,” these weird little humanoids were first aimed at children. Adult fans, however, greatly expanded the fan base and the dwarves became a popular Nintendo 3DS video game last year. The official online store is also chock full of figurines, which one could argue are an art form all their own.

By the way, 2006 is the year that the word “kimo-kawaii” is considered to have really “arrived.”

August 2007: Face Bank, the piggy bank designed by artist Eiichi Takada that actually pigs out on your savings, went on sale. When you place a coin near its mouth, it opens and swallows the currency — a perfect way to add some kimo-kawaii to your everyday life.

2008  Noi Asano’s manga “Chiisai Oyaji Nikki” (something like “Little Old Man Diary”) about a girl who one day discovers a tiny man began airing as a series of anime shorts  last year and most recently got promoted with latte art at Double Tall in Shibuya.

nishikokun

Nishiko-kun

October 2010 Nishiko-kun (right), the mascot of Nishi-Kokubunji, was born. The “fairy” is one of many regional mascots that have become widespread across Japan in recent years. Unlike its traditionally cute counterparts, however, Nishiko-kun is a lanky, armless thing with a huge head that evokes the image of a happy manhole. His proportions have made for some especially awkward dance moves, but he remains oddly alluring, don’t you think?

October 2010 Jigokuno No Misawa‘s “Kakkokawaii Sengen” comic was collected and published. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the extravagantly eccentric singer known for being the current flag-bearer of Harajuku kawaii fashion, is a big fan of series. In fact, she had a cameo in the comic last year — of course with the artist’s trademark pudgy-faced style.

nameko

Nameko

June 2011 BeeWorks‘s “Mushroom Garden” (aka “Nameko Saibai Kit”) smartphone game series has exploded in popularity since its release two years ago. These nasty-yet-endearing fungi have gained quite the following (ask almost any elementary schooler), leading to an avalanche of merchandise, including a Nendoroid that reaches back to its “Touch Detective” roots on Nintendo DS.

June 2012 Body part jewelry makes a kimo-kawaii splash from across the globe. Handmade in the U.K. and sold on crafty website Etsy, these doodads allowed people to attach ears to their ears, mouths to their fingers and noses to their necks, among other things.

alpaca

Alpaca

Fall 2012: Later that year, the freaky-looking toy with its own language, Furby, relaunched with a smartphone app and a Momoiro Clover Z campaign (including the above commercial).

March 2013: There are plenty of kimo-kawaii videogames, but Cocosola‘s smash hit “Alpaca Evolution“ is a textbook example of how strangely addicting bizarre characters can be. Your objective is to absorb other alpacas in a cannibalistic fashion as you mutate into a more and more grotesque creature. A prequel has already been released and it looks like the merch parade is marching along.

June 2013:  Isopods are something like gigantic, aquatic cockroaches. Naturally, the Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium decided to make a life-sized stuffed animal based on the critter, because who wouldn’t want to cuddle one? As evidence to the popularity of kimo-kawaii nationwide, all 140 were sold out within a few hours, despite costing a hefty ¥6,090 (around 60 USD) apiece. Another creepy aquatic sensation is based on the NHK television documentary that captured footage of a giant squid  for the first time. With help from the National Museum of Nature and Science, the TV channel is selling a variety of tentacle-related merchandise.

shingeki3

“Attack on Titan” stamps for LINE

June 2013: “Attack on Titan”-branded LINE stamps feature a number of human characters from the anime, but also explore a kimo-kawaii side of the monstrous titans that will give fans a chuckle (or surprise/gross out the unsuspecting friend on the other end of your LINE chat).

This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do we presume to be authorities on the matter. In fact while researching we noticed Tofugu had nicely summarized the trend recently. We’re sure the wave of kimo-kawaii will be good surfing for years to come, so remember this useful word when you come across a sort-of-cute character that makes you feel kind of icky at the same time.

Additional research for this story contributed by Emily Balistrieri. (Full disclosure: Emily is the Japanese-English translator of “Alpaca Evolution.”)

RSS

Recent Posts

  • 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.

  • Flip a skirt a month in 2014

    Kaori Kato’s Skirt Flipping Calendar enters its second year, while sticky notes debut.