Hot Pulse

Get a taste of spring with cherry blossom-inspired goods

March 12th, 2016 by

sakuracombo2All of Japan will soon be in the pink as the country celebrates the sacred sakura with picnics and drinking sessions underneath the cherry trees

Part of the hanami tradition includes eating cherry blossom-flavored snacks, including classics such as sakura mochi. Now the number of sakura-themed goods are blossoming as more and more major corporations jump on board with their own snacks and items. Here’s a taste of some of the items on shelves now.

Starbucks

This season Starbucks isn’t roasting just coffee beans but cherry petals with its sakura chiffon cake. You can also wash down the sugary treat with even more sugar — either strawberry sakura lattes or strawberry sakura frappuccinos.

If you want to experience spring all year round, you can also pick up Starbucks’ cherry blossom-themed mugs and tumblers. Get a move on; these sell out fast.

Kimura Drink

Now that you have your sakura mug, why not fill it up with Kimura Drink’s sakura cola? This fizzy concoction contains the extract of real sakura leaves for an authentic taste of spring.

Worth noting that Kimura Drink has previously launched sodas with curry, tomato and wasabi flavors so they clearly know what they’re doing.

Suntory Chu-hi

If you want something with more of a kick, Suntory has got you covered with their sakura flavored chu-hi (a canned alcoholic drink consisting of shochu and fruit juice.)

Suntory’s chu-hi drink is made with real Sato Nishiki cherries and sakura liqueur. At 4 percent alcohol, it’s about half as strong as most shochu drinks, giving it a light, sweet and fragrant taste.

Sanktgallen beer

If sake or chu-hi is a little strong for your taste, you can always go with the more refined option of this sakura-mochi beer. This beer uses much less hops than your average beer and balances it out with flavors inspired by sakura-mochi — a traditional spring treat consisting of rice cake and bean paste wrapped in a cherry leaf.

This delicious beer is produced by Sanktgallen, a microbrewery based in Kanagawa Prefecture, who insists on using only the famous Takato cherry blossoms from Nagano Prefecture in its sakura beer brewing process.

McDonald’s

In the past McDonald’s has released a sakura burger, but this year they are keeping it simple.

Available now are the sakura soda, sakura float and ume fries. While the soda is just what it sounds like, the fries are more interesting. Probably inspired by its successful chocolate fries, the side comes with plum powder, which should be put on the fries and liberally shaken.

Kit Kats

It’s well-known that Nestle saves its wacky flavors for Japan. In the past the company has created a variety of Kit Kat flavors ranging from pumpkin to, yes, cherry blossom.

This year it is trying something new with pistachio and raspberry-flavored Kit Kats that come in a spring-themed box along with a sakura keychain. The company says, naturally, that the new flavor is the “perfect” hanami treat.

Lindt Chocolate

For a more sophisticated sakura treat, Lindt is rolling out its sakura macarons. The treat is filled with a cherry puree ganache. Its special macarons are available until April 12 and the company’s Lindt Chocolate Cafes.

And if that wasn’t sweet enough, Lindt also has a white chocolate cherry ice drink. Its topped with white chocolate shavings and cherry syrup.

Calbee’s sakura butter chips

Sakura butter might sound like an odd flavor, but if you’ve ever had sakura shortbread cookies, then you’ve already experienced it. What does it taste like in the form of a chip? That’s for you to find out.

Calbee has never shied away from strange flavors as it has produced shrimp, pizza and okonomiyaki chips in the past.

Red Bull

In case you need some pep in your step at the hanami party, Red Bull has a Japan exclusive for you.

Its “spring” drink, featuring a bright pink can, will keep you out of a food coma. Grab a couple of these in case your party heads off to an izakaya once the sun sets.

Baskin Robbins

Baskin Robbins is doing something really special this time around. After a 24-year hiatus it is finally bringing back its sakura salted ice cream.

The ice cream contains real sakura leaves and a hint of sea salt to contrast the light, sweet floral taste. It’s available till the end of May, so stop by your local Baskin Robbins and scoop it up.

But wait! There’s more …

You’re sure to be a hit at the hanami parties if you show up in Nike’s sakura shoes. The modern kicks have a traditional look with prints that somewhat resemble suibokuga (Japanese ink wash paintings).

The sakura line is available as skate shoes, sneakers and even high tops. So whether you’re on a short jog or taking it to the courts, you can do it while decked out in your sakura swag.

Need to have that spring feeling wherever you go? You can bring sakura experience with Itoman’s cherry blossom toilet paper.

Itoman’s cherry blossom toilet paper.

Itoman’s cherry blossom toilet paper.

This sakura toilet paper is covered with sakura print, making your trip to the bathroom almost as great as a hanami party.

Happy hanami!

Pokémon catches nostalgia fever for its 20th anniversary

February 23rd, 2016 by

It’s hard to believe, but Pokémaniacs have been trying to catch ’em all for two decades. Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pokémon with a year full of new products, re-releases and huge doses of nostalgia around the world.

Up first is a re-release of the very first Game Boy games (“Red,” “Blue,” “Green” and “Yellow”), which will be available for purchase on “Pokémon Day,” Feb. 27, exactly 20 years since their initial launch. Trainers can download digital copies of the game for their Nintendo 3DS or 2DS, or they can buy a special edition of the Nintendo 2DS.

The anniversary bundle comes with either a copy of

The anniversary bundle comes with either a copy of “Red,” “Green,” “Blue” or “Yellow.”

The anniversary bundle comes with a colored, clear-plastic handheld system, a digital copy of the game, stickers, a town map and a code to download the legendary Pokémon Mew. Those wanting something a little more modern should check out the other games coming to the Wii U and smartphones later this year.

If the original game’s 8-bit music doesn’t hold up, you can always hear an orchestrated version of the Pokémon soundtrack in person with the Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions concert.

The North American show will feature a live orchestra performing many fan favorites from various entries in the series. Currently the website only features a listing for St. Louis of all places, but promises more dates and locations in the future.

And when there is a Pokémon celebration, there must be gratuitous amounts of Pokémon swag. U.S. fans can buy a variety of 20th anniversary apparel, featuring a special logo, along with an updated version of “Pokémon: The First Movie.” There will also be limited edition trading cards, featuring some of the original Pocket Monsters, as well as Kyoto-themed toys to commemorate the newest Pokémon Center in Japan’s ancient capital.

For some gamers, this will definitely pull up memories of watching the cartoon after school and demanding that Mom buy new batteries for the Game Boy. If you’re one of them, feel free to join the nostalgia fest with the #Pokemon20 hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Post your favorite moments and memories from the Pokémon series, whether it’s Red picking his first Pocket Monster or watching your own kids join the Pokémon fandom. Users are also posting artwork and other DIY projects to the hashtag.

So whether you did indeed catch them all or if you were just content with only Pikachu, the 20th anniversary of Pokémon celebration will have something to make you feel like a kid again.

Sugar rush of sweet sushi, chocolate fossils and more as Valentine’s in Japan approaches

February 6th, 2016 by

Japan has an uneven track record when it comes to celebrating Western holidays. While many people have started dressing up for Halloween only recently, the country has wholly embraced Valentine’s Day since the 1950s. Annually, women buy premium chocolate and in bulk, generating half the country’s chocolate business being spent in February.

(Yes, that’s mostly women. Men repay the confectionary favor on White Day a month later.)

While there are mountains of high-end choco tugging at the heart strings, many vendors are trying to stand out with unique packaging and offbeat designs. Here are a few tasty examples.

Sushi chocolate

If you want to give your partner a gift with a Japanese twist, why not go fishing for some sushi-shaped candy?

Tobu's chocolate sushi.

Tobu’s chocolate sushi.

Instead of heading to Tsukiji’s fish market, go west to Ikebukuro’s Tobu Department Store where you can buy chocolate that looks like egg, shrimp and sea urchin sushi. The set, which costs ¥2,592, includes a dollop of mousse that represent the ginger gari.

Chocolate is a girl’s best friend

Takashimaya Osaka Store has morphed two favorite gift options: chocolate and diamonds.

Takashimaya's jeweled cake.

Takashimaya’s jeweled cake.

The department store’s new cake glitters as it’s decorated with diamonds in addition to frosting. You better be in love because the cake, encrusted with 125 diamonds, will set you back more than ¥14 million.

‘Poisoned’ apples

Kuromajutsu has a series of “poisoned” apples — but not any old  “Snow White” types of fruits. The company claims it has injected “magic” into these apples using a Buddhist prayer that will, supposedly, make your victim — um, that is future spouse — fall in love with you instantly.

Kuromajutsu's magically

A screenshot of Kuromajutsu’s magically “poisoned” apple.

Kuromajutsu packages the ominous apple in a black box complete with the company’s black cat logo. True love can be yours for just a bite — and ¥10,000.

Canned meat

Does your man lack a sweet tooth? Meiji has a savory solution by offering up the perfect canned meat for this Valentine’s Day.

Meiji's canned meat.

Meiji’s canned meat.

The company’s web page recommends which canned meat would go well with the men in your life. For example, your hard-working co-worker who likes sake may prefer corn beef, while your red wine-drinking boss might like grilled chicken. We can’t guarantee your Valentine will enjoy this gift, but it is sure to be memorable.

Monster cookies

At the event Cookieboy event, people can ice monster-shaped cookies designed by textile artist Takehiro Natsuyama to create adorable and delicious treats.

Cookieboy's creatively designed treats.

Cookieboy’s creatively designed treats.

Natsuyama wants guests to use his beastly cookies as a canvas and show them how to turn treats into works of art using only frosting and other toppings. Instead of keeping it a secret, you can make your Valentine’s gift with your boyfriend this year at the Cookieboy workshop

Jurassic Fossil Chocolat

Instead of searching for the perfect gift, you can make your boyfriend dig it up himself with an archaeological treat. Welcome to Jurassic chocolate.

chocolatepulse6

Jurassic Fossil Chocolat by Maquis.

Jurassic Fossil Chocolat by Maquis is a tasty set where people have to unearth the chocolate fossil hidden behind a layer of . . . more chocolate. The set even comes with a tiny hammer and brush to complete the prehistoric experience. Some of the buried dinosaurs include a T-rex, stegosaurus and brachiosaurus.

Yahoo! Japan’s Valentine’s Boy Field Guide

If none of these options sound appetizing and you’re still unsure as to what kind of sweets to give your sweetie, Yahoo! Japan has a new site where you can (virtually) ask 25 different boys what their dream date and chocolate is.

Yahoo! Japan’s Valentine’s Boy Field Guide.

Yahoo! Japan’s Valentine’s Boy Field Guide.

After you input your lover’s face type (dog, monkey, horse) and personality (herbivore, geeky, manly man), you can ask all of your burning Valentine’s questions. It’s a little unnerving watching this uncanny valley version of your boyfriend reveal his private thoughts, but his reaction is actually based on a scientific survey.

As you can see, Valentine’s Day in Japan isn’t just about chocolates and flowers. It’s a big business, and companies will continue to reinterpret the day in new and sometimes terrifying ways.

Don’t eat and drive with sake-flavored Kit Kats

February 6th, 2016 by

Nestlé Japan shows off its sake-flavored Kit Kat at Craft Sake Week.

Nestlé Japan shows off its sake-flavored Kit Kat at Craft Sake Week. | MONICA IRELAND

Nestlé Japan released a new Kit Kat flavor this week that has people buzzing. Containing an actual amount of alcohol — 0.8 percent — the new sake flavor is a perfect way to spike your mid-day snack. The packaging even warns that the treat it not for kids.

When I bit into the Kit Kat, it tasted very smooth. It has a very light and subtle taste from the sake, accompanied by the sweetness of white chocolate. It is well worth a try even if you’re not crazy about sake.

The new Kit Kat has expectedly made a splash online with many people posting their reactions on social media.

Sake is a rice wine made by fermented rice that has been polished to remove the bran. With many different types and flavors, it is one of Japan’s most famous products, and now joins the long list of flavored Kit Kats.

While most countries only get the regular chocolate, Japan has seen an array of colorful Kit Kats, including green tea, pineapple and strawberry cheesecake. We will have to wait and see what flavor Nestlé Japan comes up with next.

100 years of Japanese beauty in one minute

January 15th, 2016 by

The production company Cut has made a name for itself by creating videos that look back at the history of beauty in various countries, including China, Ethiopia, Brazil and Germany. The videos show the different hairstyles, fashion and makeup that each decade was known for, with one model trying on all of the looks.

Now Cut has focused its lens on Japan by showing the dramatic changes Japanese women have gone through in the past century —  ranging from the classic white makeup and big hair from 1910 to modern day kawaii style — all in 103 seconds

To show how accurate their looks are, Cut posted their throwback inspirations on Pinterest and explained them in a behind-the-scenes video.

1910

1910.

At the end of the Meiji Period, nihongami (traditional bundled hairstyle) was still popular but was mixed with the pompadour look that many women were wearing at the time in Europe. In terms of makeup, ochoboguchi (small lip) style was preferred as women only painted inside their natural lip line.

1920

1920.

Magazines started dictating fashion in the ’20s as wavy, permed hair became the standard look. Many women chose a mimikakushi (hidden ear) haircut with a stylish clip.

1930

1930.

In the 1930s, Japanese women embraced the international “modern girl” look, including bob haircuts and fitted hats. The hair became so synonymous with the “modern girl” lifestyle that the cut is referred to as moga (a portmanteau of modan gaaru, or modern girl).

1940

1940.

During WWII, Japanese citizens were expected to rebuke Western influences and go back to traditional Japanese ways, including fashion. Many women wore conservative jugo hair tied back into a bun.

1950

1950.

In postwar Japan, people looked to Hollywood and entertainment for inspiration, including many American actresses. One of the looks of the day is named the Machiko maki, named after the main character from the radio drama “Kimi no Na Ha.” Think of it as the Rachel of the 1950s.

1960

1960.

The ’60s was all about big eyes and big accessories. Cut was inspired by Chiyo Okumura, a famous pop singer at the time whose look influenced many.

1970

1970.

Sayoko Yamaguchi was one of the biggest stars, not just in Japan, but in the world during the 1970s. The supermodel was found in many magazines where she showed off her unique style and iconic bangs.

1980

1980.

During the economic boom of the 1980s, many girls wanted to look as cute and innocent as Seiko Matsuda, a hugely popular singer and one of Japan’s ultimate idols. Seiko-chan’s feathered hair was so ingrained into mainstream culture that it even has its own Wikipedia page.

1990

1990.

Longer, curly hair became more popular as women in the 1990s were less interested in looking simple and cute.

1990.

On the other end of the ’90s spectrum, ganguro style swept through the streets of Tokyo. Ignoring all past trends and social standards, ganguro embraced tan skin, defining makeup, and outrageous nails and accessories. If you want to witness the look for yourself, you can visit the Ganguro Cafe in Shibuya.

2000

2000.

During the recession, women tamed things down and chose a more girl-next-door approach. Cut chose a look worn by popular model Yuri Ebihara. Again, her wavy hair became so popular that people went to salons asking for the Ebi-chan maki.

2000.

While some women started dressing more simply, other women decided to go with an over-the-top agejo appearance. Agejo refers to the women who dressed like the models in Koakuma Ageha magazine, which at one point was selling 300,00 copies a month. The style brings together big hair and pale makeup that borders the line between fashionable and sultry.

2010

2010.

Current women are dressing even more effortlessly than before. Iyashikei (therapeutic) style is trending with girls who want to come off as loving and motherly by wearing yurufuwa perms and more natural makeup.

2010.

While mainstream women are going back to basics, decora girls are picking up the slack — along with anything else they can find. The Harajuku subculture likes to put on as many colorful clips, rings and stickers as their face can handle to balance out the drab days at school and in the office.

You can see more videos from Cut on their YouTube page.

Studio Ghibli on a roll with licenses for new toys

December 15th, 2015 by

If you’re still wound up about Studio Ghibli more-or-less leaving the animation industry, there are some new toys that may help ease the pain.

Toy company Nibariki has a new “pullback collection” of figurines that will race forward when wound up. Certain items are downright adorable while others are just creepy crawlers.

On the cute side, Nibariki has three “My Neighbor Totoro” vehicles, including the blue vehicle that Mei and Satsuki cling to during moving day, and the city bus their father takes to work. (Sorry, no Catbus though.) There is also a wooden buggy made from a tree that’s driven by a Totoro.

The new toys based on Studio Ghibli's movies are both darling and disgusting.

The new toys based on Studio Ghibli’s movies are both darling and disgusting.

On the gross side, there are the huge worm monsters from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” that roll with such realistic movements that it may bug you out. And just like in the movie, the red-eyed beasts will dart forward while blue-eyed ones go at a much slower speed.

All items are available on Ensky Shop’s website and cost ¥2,300, making the perfect stocking stuffer this season for your anime-loving friends.

‘Japan Sumo Cup’ is possibly the most Japanese thing ever

November 25th, 2015 by

Do you like sumo? Into horse racing? Longtime fan of “Street Fighter”? Well, then do we have a game to match your specific and varied interests.

Japan Sumo Cup” is a free web-based game that — prepare yourself — lets you play as real sumo wrestlers riding actual horses from the Japan Racing Association while competing against characters from “Street Fighter.”

No, this isn’t a joke. The Japan Racing Association developed the game with the Japan Sumo Association and Capcom to help promote an upcoming race on Nov. 29, and also created the most Japanese thing in quite some time.

In this rhythm game, players can choose from different sumo wrestlers and then compete against characters from Capcom’s popular fighting series, including Blanka, Guile and M. Bison. The best part is that there are many nods to “Street Fighter” in “Japan Sumo Cup,” such as Dhalsim riding an elephant instead of a horse.

Each fighter’s stage comes with a remixed version of their background music from the original game, and they even perform their signature moves when the race gets close. Ryu shoots out his Hadouken blast and Chun-Li does her Spinning Bird Kick.

Ryu gets an extra speed boost by shooting out one of his Hadouken blasts.

Ryu gets an extra speed boost with one of his Hadouken blasts.

In order to win, players have to tap the arrow buttons on their keyboards at the right moments to rack up combos and win the race. Since the beats match the music from “Street Fighter,” old-school players who have the original soundtrack burned into their brains will have a leg up on the competition.

With this game, the JRA and Sumo Association, long the pastimes of elderly men, are clearly trying to reach out to the next generation. It kind of reminds us of when JRA put QR codes on betting tickets in 2002 or when the Sumo Association held “gokon” matchmaking events at one of its matches.

You can place your bets now on whether or not this joint venture pays off.

“Japan Sumo Cuo” can be played for free online. The site says that more characters will be unlocked later this week.

YouTubers in Japan with 100,000 fans and counting

November 7th, 2015 by

As more and more people turn off the TV in favor of the Internet, YouTube Japan is recognizing some of its top celebrities who are drawing in millions of people to their videos.

The company threw a big celebration for more than 20 YouTubers living in Japan who each have over 100,000 subscribers. The channels range from expats explaining Japanese culture to girls giving out makeup advice. Here are some of the channels honored at YouTube’s event.

1. Bilingual Chika’s fun and informational videos aim to help Japanese people learn English and to help everyone else to understand Japan. Her videos range from simply explaining grammar points all the way to reproducing English fairy tales.

2. Chihiro shares her beauty tips with the world with monthly favorites and test trials of 100 yen store makeup — Chihiro reviews it all. Scattered within these reviews are also a number of vlogs about her life.

3. Daichi Beatboxers name pretty much says it all: Daichi Beatboxer is a beatboxer named Daichi. His channel consists of performances, experimental content and collaboration videos with artists such as Hikakin.

4. Einshine’s channel has one primary theme: anime. Whether it be in his videos about gaming, vlogging or animation, the topic of anime almost always seems to make an appearance.  

5. Kobasolo is a musician, producer and charismatic goofball. Showing off his talent in full blown music videos or covers, Kobasolo’s musical skills really shine through.

6. Kumamiki’s channel is a collage of different do-it-yourself and do-yourself-up videos. In addition to her beauty and makeup tutorials, Kumamiki also vlogs and tries out a variety of food.

7. Melodee Morita is a TV reporter and director who has made her way to YouTube. On top of her travel videos, her videos feature tips on how to act, eat and exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

8. Rachel & Jun are more than just a friends. This married couple shows a unique perspective on living in Japan as both a foreigner and native to the country. Whether filming together or alone, their videos tend to revolve around topics relating to Japan.

9. SekineRisa’s channel is a guide for all things glamorous. Her videos include travel, shopping hauls, makeup tutorials or a combination of the three, and Risa does it all in style.

10. Sharla in Japan is almost like an Internet tour guide for all those looking to visit or learn more about Japan. When she’s visiting theme cafes or discussing Japanese fashion, Sharla always seems to do it with a smile on her face.

11. Takutaku is a gamer with a focus on horror games. His take on games such as “Hide and Seek and “Entity helps make the games feel a little less terrifying.

12. Dekakin runs channel where, whether combining nine hair products into one or drinking cold water in a bathtub full of ice, his humorous personality is the star.

13. Haiji’s channel is a collection of food vlogs that are sure to make your mouth water. When he’s enjoying cheap sushi or ordering two large bento at once, viewers might feel a mix of hunger and jealousy.

14. Miki Pon provides makeup and hair tutorials for every season and every cost. Those who love her style can mimic it in the real world with her product collections.

15. Suzukawa Ayako is a family-oriented mother who loves her kids and cars. Her videos range all the way from visiting museums with her children to assembling models of toy trains.

So there you have some of the top vloggers in Japan. While they may not be household names just yet, their dedicated group of fans are probably refreshing their channels right now hoping for a new video.

RSS

Recent Posts