Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Hanami! Sakura! Spring snacks have also sprung

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I am not one to require too much of a reason to throw a mini cream puff party in the office, but Beard Papa‘s announcement of karintō cream puffs was a good one; so, I take the liberty of starting this spring snack write-up with our impressions.

If you’re not familiar, karintō are those things in the snack aisle or local dagashi-ya (sweet shop) that look like dirty twigs. The dirt, however, is brown sugar and the twig is best explained as “fried.” Not fried “something” but just . . . fried. The main ingredient besides sugar is flour, and they’re crunchy like cookies despite being cooked like doughnuts. By the time you get that far, it’s only a couple leaps to the cream-puff idea.

Beard Papa‘s surprisingly delicious karintō cream puffs

Beard Papa‘s surprisingly delicious karintō cream puffs

The website copy calls it a “masterpiece confection that can be confidently recommended to karintō fans since it captures the flavor of the real thing.” Here are some comments from our tasting panel . . .

Mark: “The mega sugar hit is almost too much, but the consistency of the cream — not too light or gooey — is perfect. What makes them great is the crunch of the karintō, and I doubt they’ll get soggy and limp like the regular cream puffs.”

Rina: “It was really tasty! The outside is crunchy, but inside it’s smooth and creamy, so it’s a good combination.”

Andrew: “These are bound to be a hit with Japanese folks nostalgic for a corner-store sugar rush.”

Mizuho: “There wasn’t enough. I want to eat more! If you eat a couple karintō, you’ll want to keep eating and be unable to stop. In that way, this was very true to [the real thing].”

Alan: “This cream puff is full of yumz!”

Kate: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be a guinea pig! I was a little bit concerned with the aesthetics of its look, since my mind drew a parallel with a certain brown substance, but the taste was worth ‘the risk’!”

By the way, if you are wondering what the flecks are in the cream, they’re azuki (red beans)! An appropriate extra, but hardly noticeable in the overall caramel-y sweetness. For me, the overwhelming impression was the nostalgic taste of pancakes with syrup. The cream gives it that buttery finish. I wonder if eating karintō themselves dipped in whipped cream would produce a similar effect . . .

Beard Papa will pack your puffs with cooling pouches, so they are definitely transportable to your favorite blossom viewing location.

Here are some other snacks that might be fun under the cherry trees:

Two great tastes ... but do they belong together?

Two great tastes … but do they belong together?

Ghana chocolate-covered Kappa Ebisen? These limited-time-only shrimp chips are not new, but they are rather elusive in the konbini wild. It’s possible that someone in your hanami party might be impressed with your hunting and purchasing skills if you bring them, but it’s also possible that you open the bag and no one takes a bite. The shrimp flavor is mostly eclipsed by the chocolate coating at first, but there is a bit of a hazy aftertaste.

Who or what is The PotericanKoikeya‘s latest potato chips boast “American taste” and a wavy shape. Don’t let the hokey, red-nosed sheriff mascot stand between you and the “Sour Cream Onion” and “Cheddar Cheese” flavors, if they’re your kind of thing. Before that, though, take a moment to place your tongue firmly in cheek to applaud the website copy (an example of which can only be fully appreciated in Japanese): サワークリームの濃厚なコクと、さっぱり酸味がオニオンの香りとマッチしてSOOOO GOOOOD!!! MyワイフもFAVORITE(大好き)さ!(Translation: “The depth of the rich sour cream and acidity of the onion flavor match and are so good! My wife loves them!”) At least, they will go better with hanami booze than candy.

But speaking of candy, if there are kids to sugar up entertain, Kracie Foods has a couple new items that might keep them busy for more than a minute. One is Pazuru Choko (“Puzzle Chocolate”). Don’t expect anything so fun as a solution featuring all the jigsaw-y pieces in the bag, but “You’ll find yourself wanting to put them together.”

Secondly, the Petitte [sic] series has grown. These tiny soft candies come bunched together so little fingers can enjoy ripping them apart and sharing. With flavors mainly consisting of fruit, it makes you wonder if a bunch of actual grapes or bananas wouldn’t accomplish the rip-and-share goal just as well.

Another new snack under the “Why not just eat real food?” umbrella is Calbee‘s asparagus-bacon Jagariko. If you were really serious about hanami, you might undertake the challenge of actually wrapping some asparagus in bacon, but in a pinch, this flavor of potato stick snack might be interesting to try since it’s the result of a Jagariko fan brainstorming session.

OK, OK, enough with the random munchies. It’s cherry blossom season for crying out loud, so we know what you’re here for . . .

Sakura-themed food and drink 2014 (an in-no-way exhaustive list)

Craft beer made using cherry blossom petals from SanktGallen Brewery

•Spring Blossom sakura-flavored peach tea from Kirin

•”Melty” Sakura royal milk tea from Coca-Cola

•Sakura amazake from Morinaga

•Sakura Häagen-Dazs

•Sakura tea latte and sakura cream doughnut from Krispy Kreme

•Will the Sakuranbo (Cherry) Mocha and Sakuranbo Frappe replace the Sakura Cherry Mc -Float and -Fizz at McDonald’s? Either way, they’re pink. Don’t forget the Sakura Teritama.

•Nihonbashi Sweets sakura pudding with chunky red bean paste from Meito

If store-bought items don’t quite do it for you, take a tip from Higuccini (in Japanese) and make your own sakura-maple mixed nuts!

Finally, before you head to the park, check you local Don Quijote for the latest seasonal party wear . . .

hanami costumes

Decisions, decisions: Cho! O-hanami Afro or the Sakura Ranger?

 

Tokyo Designers Week 2013

Monday, October 28th, 2013

This year’s Tokyo Designers Week’s main event at Meiji Jingu-Gaien has had a bit of a makeover. As “Creative Fes,” it now includes a music venue, various food stalls and a market of hand-crafted goods. But, of course, the main focus remains design, and the event’s new Asia Awards, which includes categories for design schools, young creators and professionals, pulled in plenty of entries.

From architectural constructions to jewelry, we took a look at what the students and pros had to offer, as well as perused our old favorite — Designboom Mart. This year, we also found an extra favorite spot: the TAPAS Spanish Design for Food exhibition, which not only made us hungry for more, but proved that design can have a great sense of humor.

10 charming things believed by little kids in Japan

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

bug photo

Great great grandma?

Certainly everyone has some embarrassing things they thought were true as a kid. Me, I thought that chipmunks were baby squirrels. A recent 2ch forum thread (later rounded up and commented on at Itashin!) took up this at times awkward topic and we selected 10 particularly cute ones. Note that our highlights are mostly skewed toward things that seemed unique or particularly Japanese (e.g. not Santa, although he came up). Please remember that since it was just a forum conversation, these are not necessarily widespread beliefs.

When I was little I thought (paraphrased from Japanese) 

. . . that there was a city in the United States called Downtown.

. . . that when you got married kids would just show up from somewhere.

. . . that all TV was live and how amazing it was that the actors in the commercials could do exactly the same thing every time.

. . . that there was only one ambulance in the world (and how amazing that was).

. . . that during Obon our ancestors came back as bugs.

. . . that if I told a lie I would be forced to eat 1,000 needles.

. . . that the bamboo shoots in ramen were pull-apart chopsticks soaked in soy sauce.

. . . that you went from: kindergarten —> elementary school —> middle school —> high school —> college —> Tokyo University (I thought Tokyo University was where you went after college).

How about you? What sorts of things did you believe when you were a kid?

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.

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.)

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.)

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?”

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