Archive for the ‘New products/services’ Category

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of ”Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

J-blip: Bandai’s smartphone panties

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

A new line of smartphone underpants has recently gone on sale. The mini panties, made by Bandai, are worn at the base of the smartphone, covering the home button. A home button sticker is also provided to protect your phone’s most thumbed area when the knickers have been removed. Aimed at teens of 15 years and above, the first range was introduced in March this year and sold so well that a brand new line has just gone on sale. You can find them in Gashapon machines. Costing just ¥200, the new styles include Mount Fuji, a banana print and lurid pink.

To see the full range check out Fashion Snap’s gallery.

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 →

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

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.”)

A Tale of Two Limited-Edition Burgers: Lotteria’s Twin and McD’s Gold Ring

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Limited-edition fast food campaigns are made to lure in people exactly like me. I just don’t really eat all that much McDonald’s. I’m not the kind of person who would rather starve than eat a flimsy cheeseburger, but I also need to avoid putting my system into salt shock by eating — what I admit — are pretty tasty fries.

The point for me is, when it comes to fast food, pursuing the novelty is the pleasure. Last week there were two very different novelties to pursue: Lotteria’s Twin Burger and the Gold Ring at McDonald’s.

It takes two

“Lotteria’s new Twin Burger is not to be confused with a double burger.” Rocketnews 24’s headline issued what to me was a clear challenge. “Not to be confused”? Why confuse a double burger with a sandwich that aligns a tartar-sauced, deep-fried shrimp patty with a two-tone cheeseburger on a long bun . . .  when you can make it a double burger.

Here is the curious oblong package you are handed at the register when you order the Twin Burger:

The partly unsheathed twin

The sheathed Twin

You could eat it like this and get the same 801 calories, but what fun would that be?

The unsheathed Twin

The unsheathed Twin

And so, armed with a straw, I began the dismantling process:

L2.5

Soon, a new, more formidable burger emerged:

photo-1

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. For starters, it was going to be hard to get it in my mouth without getting tartar sauce and cheddar grease everywhere. And then even once I managed to do that, what would it taste like?

“It has flavors,” I managed, after the first bite.

photo-2

“Actually, it works fine. Surprisingly edible.”

And that’s when it dawned on me I had basically created a fast food surf  ’n’ turf burger. In a way, it was anti-climatic.

The worst part was the aftertaste, but that has zero to do with whether you eat it horizontally or vertically. Unlike our next contender, the Twin is available through the end of the month (July 31), and for one coin (¥500) at that, so if you feel inspired to try this union of two popular Lotteria burgers, head on over. However, it would be a mistake to take this post as a recommendation.

Put a ring on it

On July 6, McDonald’s launched its one-day-only premium Quarter Pounder “Jewelry“ series with the Gold Ring: a kaiser roll just barely wrangling two colossal slabs of smoky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a quarter pound of beef, and the gold ring itself, a round of pineapple. The slathering of BBQ sauce, featuring over 10 spices, makes this stack a slick mess. That said, it was quite the production number.

McDonald’s president Eiko Harada was quoted, “Other companies might be able to develop the same quality of food, but they can’t offer it at the price, scale or speed that McDonald’s can.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the rest of that statement, when ever-ready intern Eric and I descended on my local McDonald’s on Saturday we laid a flavor foundation picking at our fries for well over 10 minutes before our burgers finally came, so I’m not entirely sure if that was the speed he is referring to. In any case, they did  arrive (two of the 24 the location was prepared to purvey) with a bow and a prompt to examine the included documentation. The illustration on the card below was probably the best part of the whole meal.

The invitation

The invitation

Out of the bags, into the boxes. First slide obi-like wrapper off, then life the box lid up, remove the inner wrap:

The deboxing

The deboxing

The bacon made us shudder in terror. Neither of us were able to eat it all.

photo-9

Thick enough?

I had Eric take the first bite:

Digging in.

“My first impression of the thing was pretty good,” he said. “The smoky bacon, soft Monterrey Jack and tangy BBQ sauce combined well. A few bites in, however, and certain ingredients got overwhelming. Notably, the bacon and pineapple. The former was just way too thick. I had to remove several pieces to get through the sandwich. And the pineapple made the burger tough to eat and was too sweet alongside the already sugary sauce.”

photo-11

Inside the Ring

Allow me to loudly proclaim ditto on the bacon. These shields of pork can only be called such since they come from the same area of the pig’s belly. It’s really too bad, because I think the sandwich could have benefited from the crisp that (what many would argue) “properly” fried bacon would have brought. The sauce was less sweet than feared and even had a bit of kick thanks to those 10+ spices.

As Eric walked away, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in the Golden Arches,” but I felt nothing. The utter lack of necessity, combined with a flavor that ended up still tasting somehow like McDonald’s despite being completely new, bred neither love nor hate.

This food was not only fast but fleeting. July 6 was supposedly the only day the Gold Ring would be available, but Black Diamond day is coming up fast. Adventurous eaters ready for McDonald’s spin on a truffle burger should mark their calendars for this Saturday, July 13.

Watch this space.

Pulsations (07.05.13)

Friday, July 5th, 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 . . .

Visual Pulse

A singer-songwriter and an illustrator formed a duo called MimimemeMIMI to delight your eyes and ears simultaneously. Their debut single “Sensational Love” goes on sale Aug. 14, but in the meantime, check out this clip of “Mr. Darling.”

 

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