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Soymilk cream to give dairy cream a run for its money?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Press conference to launch soymilk cream

Various company reps stand proud at a news conference to launch soymilk cream

Soymilk drinks have been trending in recent years in Japan. Increasingly thought of as a healthier alternative to milk, soymilk is also a convenient substitute for those who are lactose intolerant. But have you heard of soymilk cream? Created by Osaka based Fuji Oil, this new ingredient was introduced with great fanfare onto the Japanese market in April this year and since then, products containing the ingredient have been appearing on the market.

Made with the USS (Ultra Soy Separation Technology) invented by Fuji Oil, soymilk cream is created using a centrifuge that separates a mixture of pounded soybeans and water out into soymilk cream and low fat soymilk; a process that closely resembles the way dairy cream is created. Just like regular cream, soymilk cream can be used to thicken and give a creamy taste to soups or sauces and can even be whipped. It can also be used to make mayonnaise (by adding salt and vinegar) or cakes, acting as a replacement for egg whites.

The catch is that, though it has been released for sale to food manufacturers and restaurants, it’s not yet available as a basic ingredient in stores. But the fact that both Nikkei Trendy and Tokyo Keizai picked up on the launch  indicates that this latest novelty ingredient has the potential to have a big impact on Japan’s food industry. Nikkei Trendy reported that though the product officially went on sale in April, they’d already sold out due to pre-orders from food manufacturers.

So where can you get a taste of this miraculous new ingredient. Well, expre-su cafe in Tokyo Station sells a weird and wonderful sounding strawberry vinegar soymilk cream concoction to passing commuters. Furthermore, just last month Cold Stone Creamery launched an acai and soy gelato containing the stuff. With a healthy, organic image and a slightly inflated price, the product looks to be aimed at the high-end health conscious market.

Fuji Oil might do well to concentrate on selling the ingredient to manufacturers marketing luxury products. Tokyo Keizai has pointed out that a drought last year pushed up the price of soy beans and that the falling value of the yen has the potential to do further damage to companies producing soy products. It’s not all doom and gloom though, currently the market for dairy products in Japan is worth two trillion yen, while the soy product market is worth ¥300 billion, meaning there’s huge room for expansion.

Euglena — the little single-celled organism that could save the world

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Euglena, a simple, single-celled organism that grows in fresh water, trumpeted as a solution to food shortages, a potential replacement for fossil fuels and a way to reduce CO2 emissions, has been making headlines lately in Japan. Stock in Euglena Co., a company founded at Tokyo University in 2005, has soared 10-fold this year and the announcement made last month by Osaka University in collaboration with Euglena Co. that a film made from a carbohydrate found in euglena called paramylon is effective in healing wounds, is bound to further boost the huge buzz around this rapidly expanding bio-tech company.

A euglena smoothie available at Juice Zone in Shibuya

A euglena smoothie available at Juice Zone in Shibuya

Euglena, which are also known in Japanese as midorimushi, are 1mm long thin organisms that give water a greenish hue when they multiply in ponds. Though often classified as algae, they are in fact a curious mix of plant and animal, able to both photosynthesize like a plant and consume food like an animal. Incredibly, these slightly fishy-tasting oddities are teaming with almost all the nutrients humans need to stay alive, including vitamins C and B2, calcium and iron. It’s not hard to see why Mitsuru Izumo, co-founder of Euglena Co., saw its potential as an ingredient capable of solving the world’s hunger problems.

Euglena Co. has been mass cultivating the stuff since 2005 and euglena is now not only available to buy as a vitamin supplement, but has also been successfully marketed as an ingredient in confectionery.

Fancy a euglena cookie? There’s even green-tinted euglena ramen sold at a restaurant adjacent to the University of Tokyo campus. Just last month, euglena lattes and euglena smoothies were introduced to the market.

But wait . . . there’s more! Because the organism grows by photosynthesis, it’s capable of reducing CO2 emissions. Euglena Co. carried out a successful experiment in 2009 at a coal-powered thermal power plant in Okinawa. Passing waste emissions through a euglena culture tank, it was observed that the organism thrived, thus demonstrating “an effective and potential solution to the global warming,” according to the company’s website.

If that wasn’t enough, the company is now developing jet fuel, yes, jet fuel, made from euglena and plans to produce a steady supply by 2018, a promise that has boosted speculative trade in Euglena Co. on the stock market. Furthermore it was just announced that the company won the Japan-U.S. Innovation Awards’ Emerging Leader Award, pushing the profile of this high flying bio-tech company even higher.

Fighting for their lives, local governments shell out for matchmaking services

Friday, May 24th, 2013

If you’re single, looking for love and live in Itoigawa city, Niigata Prefecture, the local government will be happy to pick up the hefty tab for registering with an online dating agency. According to a recent article in J-Cast, the municipality of Itoigawa has taken the unusual step of partnering up with professional matchmakers Zwei in the hopes that young local singletons will find love through the web.

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Declining birth rates threaten the future productivity of Japan, so it’s in the best interests of local government to help romance bloom between residents via konkatsu (marriage hunting) activities. By lending financial support to machikon (large-scale singles mixers),  konkatsu seminars, day trips and group dates, the local government obviously wants its citizens to make babies.

Unfortunately there’s little hard data available to show whether spending public money on konkatsu activities actually leads to  marriages. In March 2011 the Cabinet Office published a survey on marriage and family structures. Out the 1698 municipalities that took part, 552 had actively supported konkatsu activites. However, 283 of these had stopped these activities because of a perceived limit to their effectiveness, lack of funds and a decline in demand. Some simply held one event and that was it.

Itoigawa, however, don’t seem to have done too badly. Since it began supporting konkatsu activities in 2007, 18 local couples have tied the knot. Feeling it could do better and hearing about a similar scheme in Inami, Wakayama Prefecture, where the municipality helped citizens out with Zwei’s fees, Itoigawa decided to call in the professionals.

Single people aged 20 or above who’ve been living in Itoigawa for more than a year and are up to date with their residency taxes can get the initial fees of ¥63,840 (roughly $621) paid by local government; however, they will have to foot the monthly membership fees themselves. Zwei offers quite a comprehensive service, not only organizing omiai (interviews to gauge marriage potential between parties), but also mixers where people might find someone special.

It’s too early to say if this scheme will be a success. In Wakayama, four people applied for financial support with fees for Zwei in 2011, though it’s not known if any of these led to marriage. Nobody applied in 2012, despite inquiries from parents with unmarried children.

One of the key stumbling blocks might be the stigma attached to online dating in Japan. The launch of Xlace, another konkatsu website, back in April this year, however, does seem to indicate that the market is slowly growing; whether other local governments will also enlist help from online dating agencies to stimulate couple generation remains to be seen.

J-blip: Taro Aso ‘gang style’ t-shirts

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Serious stylin'

Serious stylin’

When Finance Minister Taro Aso set off for a G20 meeting earlier this year, he did it in style, sporting a natty felt hat, pulled rakishly down over one eye. No sooner had he stepped out in public in this getup than Twitter was abuzz with comments celebrating the finance minister’s “gangster style.”

Now the outfit has even been immortalized on “Gang Style” t-shirts, sold by Osaka-based brand t-shirts Trinity. The t-shirts have been a big hit, inspiring the company to bring out Taro Aso “gang style” sweatshirts and tote bags.

The t-shirts are only ¥2,980, but if you’d like to get your hands on a hat similar to the one Aso wore, you’re going to have to shell out quite a bit more. Business Media reported that sources close to Aso have said that the hat is probably made by Italian brand Borsalino. The company itself says that a hat in a similar style to Aso’s retails for around ¥90,000. It seems that gangster style comes at a hefty price!

J-blip: Scorpionfish on the menu in Shizuoka

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Fancy a slice of scorpion fish?

Fancy a slice of scorpionfish?

It’s come to our attention that some truly bizarre looking creatures are being served up in seafood restaurants in Shizuoka lately. Ever since a new deep sea aquarium opened up in Numazu just over a year ago, deep sea seafood has been all the rage in the area. Monkfish, scorpionfish, lumpsucker and rosy seabass are being served up as sushi, sashimi or simply on a bed of rice, in local restaurants.

Pioneering this local trend has been Uoshige Shokudou, a restaurant that serves up a weird and wonderful deep sea sashimi platter that varies according to the season. The most expensive item on the menu, costing between ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 ($101 to $151), is the Japanese spider crab that lives at depths of 600 meters.

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons

Interest in final resting places never dies

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Can't afford prime real estate in Aoyama Cemetery? Have we go a deal for you.

Can’t afford prime real estate in Aoyama Cemetery? Have we got a deal for you.

With graveyards often located on the outskirts of cities, visiting the family grave to perform memorial services can be somewhat of a mission for busy families. But new businesses have now eased the burden for many with new “graveyards” built within office blocks conveniently located in cities. Nowadays these crypts can even be visited virtually by those who are physically unable or too busy to make the trip.

Syunkei-ji high-tech crypt offers virtual memorial services for busy relatives

Syunkei-ji high-tech crypt offers virtual memorial services for busy relatives

The high-tech graveyard business is growing, according to a recent article in the Yomiuri. Scheduled to open its doors in 2014, a six-story crypt just five minutes’ walk from Shinjuku Station will offer 7,000 spaces to store the ashes of loved ones. Built on prime real estate, the project indicates that it is potentially more profitable to rent out space in a building for “burial” slots rather than for offices or apartments. A similar crypt opened in 2009 in Machiya in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward has now filled 70 per cent of its 3,400 capacity.

Two kinds of new-school cemeteries are now crowding the final resting place market. The first is the simple “coin locker” variety where remains are stored in a slender box that family members can visit. The second is more high tech. Activated with an electronic key card, a robotic arm retrieves the funereal urn of a loved one from a storage shelf and places it in a special booth. Relatives can perform memorial services in peace as photos of loved ones are displayed on the screen above them.

Burial slots in these buildings go for far less than a plot in a traditional cemetery and have the added convenience that family members can get to them easily and even fit in a spot of shopping or some lunch afterward. Those too busy to get there can take advantage of virtual memorial services offered by organizations like Syunkei-ji. When you log in to make your visit, a priest chants sutras as you pray for your relative from the comfort of your own home.

In a final resting place side-note, visiting old school graveyards has become a popular pastime for some Japanese, as has the  hobby of visiting the graves of celebrities. Enthusiasts trade info on the web , take guided tours offered by volunteers and consult books such as “Tour the Graves of Celebrities all over Japan.”

A team of volunteer guides at Zoshigaya Cemetery in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, show visitors the graves of famous people such as writers Natsume Soseki and Kafu Nagai. According to Asahi Shimbun, visitors come from as far away as Shizuoka. They’re not only interested in seeing the graves, but are also drawn to the peaceful environment of these old-fashioned graveyards.

J-blip: Take splat — teenage girls delight in cream puff war

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

High school girls are taking a cream puff to the face in celebration of their birthdays

High school girls are taking a cream puff to the face in celebration of their birthdays

Cream puffs, or choux cream as they are commonly called in Japan, are flying through the air and exploding messily in the faces of unsuspecting schoolgirls. According to Livedoor News, the phenomenon of “ganmen shyu kuri-mu” (in-your-face choux cream), is trending right now on Twitter amongst high school girls. The idea is to lob a cream puff into the face of your friend to celebrate their birthday, or indeed any other happy occasion. It seems that rather than being upset at being assaulted in this way, those attacked are happy to post photos of their faces smothered in cream along with comments like: “I just got choux creamed in the face ( ̄▽ ̄)♡.” or “Thanks for my ‘in-your-face choux cream’ and thanks for the towel. This has been the best birthday.” Tweets of choux cream attacks are still coming thick and fast.

Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Koe moe apps find their voice on smartphones

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Melting the coldest of hearts and turning the most rigid of spines to jelly, certain voices can have an almost magical effect on us.  This effect has been dubbed “koe moe” (vocal charm) in Japan and, according to a recent study carried out by Trend Soken, Japanese apps with that “moe” voice are seducing smartphone users in droves. The report, published at the end of February, included a survey of 500 young male and female smartphone users. A whopping 82 percent of respondents said they had downloaded apps that have an enjoyable vocal element.

To satisfy the predilections of this growing market, some developers have been recruiting the talents of seiyu (voice actors) who have established a name for themselves in the anime industry. Seiyu have proved to be big draws for the game industry, so it’s no surprise that there is a big buzz around “Girlfriend,” a smartphone dating game in beta testing that employs the talents of more than 60 seiyu, including Yui Horie, Hitomi Harada and Haruka Tomatsu.

Moe koe apps are not limited to games. “Rodoku Shojo” (Young Girl Reading Aloud) has, according to Japan Internet, been a massive hit, with downloads hitting the one million mark this month. The concept is simple: a young animated girl in a school uniform reads a book of your choice in a sugary voice. Check out the video above to get an idea. The app “Dentaku Girl” (Calculator Girl)  a friendly face and voice on your calculator. It’s possible to get Dentaku Girl to change her outfits as she reads out calculations to you from your screen background. In this way koe moe adds a personal touch to smartphone apps, increasing their user appeal.

About 66 per cent of respondents said that they preferred a certain kind of voice in a member of the opposite sex. Preferences were revealed to be highly personal: While a high-pitched girly tone can grate on one person’s nerves like a fork down a blackboard, it could just as easily make a grown-up businessman weak at the knees. One 29-year-old guy described his preference as “a little nasal and cute.” Another 36-year-old guy admitted a weakness for a “low and calm, charming voice.” A 19-year-old woman said she was into “a deep calm voice that makes you feel tenderly protected.” While a 25-year-old woman stated a liking for “a husky voice that sounds a little decayed.”

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