Posts Tagged ‘hanami’

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 . . .

CONTINUE READING about spring snacks →

J-blip: Google Street View Cherry Blossom Edition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Google Street View

People come from all over the world to get a short glimpse of Japan’s blooming cherry blossoms. Google is taking advantage of this worldwide sakura passion to show off their virtual-tour map feature with Street View Sakura Edition, which shows cherry blossom scenes not only in normal pictures but also as 360-degree panoramas. It’s actually more like Path View, as in most of the scenes you can navigate off the main roads.

While you don’t get to see petals actually scattering to the ground, it’s always warm and sunny on Street View, even as clouds and rain are subduing some of the peak viewing days in the real world this spring. The Blossom Edition features sites from Kyushu all the way up to Aomori, including about 50 different spots, and gives information such as the number of cherry blossom trees, the area they cover and, in some cases, the history of the locations. Even someone in Japan wouldn’t be likely to have the luxury of seeing all these locations without this technology.

If you are in Japan and looking for spots to look at the blossoms, check out our post on hanami technology. But hurry! The blossoms came out ahead of schedule this year and won’t last long. For more virtual cherry blossom viewing, check out our page of reader  cherry blossom photos and hanami experiences from last year.

Prizes for every picnic as spring campaigns blossom

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Pretz Party Box “men-only” edition contains cute actress Umika Kawashima

Spring is the season of fresh beginnings in Japan. As the financial and school years draw to a close and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom at the end of March, farewell parties, graduation parties and, of course, hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties get underway. During this time a ton of food and booze gets consumed, making spring the perfect season to launch special campaigns to lure potential customers.

Our pick of this year’s campaigns is the “Pretz Party Box” campaign by Glico, the makers of Pretz (a popular savory stick-shaped snack). Those who enter the competition get the chance to win a special box that will be delivered to their party. There are five kinds of boxes available for five different kinds of party and each appears to contain human cargo ready to burst out and liven up your party. The hanami version, for instance, offers drummers in bear suits and cheerleaders shaking pom poms. (Those who like quiet contemplation beneath the blossoms need not apply: Applicants must submit a picture of themselves having fun at a party, and the wilder the party looks, the better the chance of winning.) The birthday box is packed with “human candles” and the “men’s only” party box contains cute actress Umika Kawashima. The website is worth a look for its animation alone.

Cherry blossoms are as certain to turn up on packaging in the spring as they are to bloom on trees. Confectionery makers, Lotte, for instance, began selling special sakura-themed sweets from March 6. They’re also running a tie-in campaign with Rurubu, JTB’s travel magazine, to encourage customers to travel to scenic cherry blossom spots. The back of each package has information from Rurubu editors on choice cherry blossom spots. Lotte is also running a competition to win branded picnic sets plus a copy of Rurubu for a destination of your choosing.

Picnic sets and crates of beer are the standard cherry blossom season prizes on offer from beer companies and this year is no exception, with Kirin offering all of the above for their Nodogoshi campaign and Suntory offering 1,000 12-packs to those who bookmark a webpage for a hanami spot on the associated Yahoo! Japan app.

Last year’s hanami was a rather gloomy affair as the country mourned the huge loss of life caused by the tsunami and experienced ongoing unease over the nuclear crisis. Many took their cue from the authorities who advised citizens to practice self-restraint and cancel rowdy festivities. The start of these spring campaigns signals a return to normality for this year’s hanami, which looks set to be a significantly more joyful affair.

Hanami dilemma: to jishuku or not jishuku

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

This year’s hanami in Tokyo is set to be one of unprecedented sobriety. In respect to the recent tragedy in the Tohoku region, the cherry-blossom-viewing parties traditionally lubricated with liberal amounts of alcohol are being discouraged by park authorities. Many officials are calling for citizens to show self-restraint (jishuku).

Revelers from hanami past (Yoshiaki Miura photo/The Japan Times)

As our sister blog Yen For Living pointed out, this seemingly well-intentioned approach makes little economic sense and is only adding to the woes of the service industry, which is already suffering from rolling blackouts and shorter business hours.

However, according to Tokyo Walker, one izakaya chain is taking a unique approach the dilemma of whether we should revel or not. The Takada-ya chain of pubs, which has 54 branches nationwide, launched a special party course menu from April 4.  The course, which includes dishes such as tempura and shabu shabu, costs ¥3,000 for groups of four and upward, and ¥500 yen of that will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross and other such organizations.

Takada-ya is already participating in the relief effort. With the cooperation of other businesses they’re working to distribute food to those in the disaster-struck areas. In Hitachinaka in Ibaraki Prefecture on March 20 and March 30 in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture they served up warm soba noodles. They plan to do the same in the future in Fukushima and elsewhere in Miyagi.

Takada-ya isn’t the only company to find a loophole in the jishuku guidelines.  American Bar Oldies, in Katsushika-ku, Tokyo, will be hosting a drinking party to raise money for victims of the disaster on Sat from 7pm (reservations are necessary). According to the bar owner’s blog, his high school friend, who was getting a bit sick of the atmosphere of self-restraint, suggested the idea.

Not everyone believes it’s necessary to do your drinking indoors out of respect. A sake brewer in Iwate has made a video in which he calls for people to enjoy drinking sake made from the regions hit by the earthquake to stimulate economic recovery. Elsewhere on the web, a site called Save the Tohoku Nihonshu has been launched to showcase the sake of the disaster-hit breweries.

So for those about say “kampai” under the blossoms, do it with respect and buy a nice bottle of Tohoku tipple from your local sakaya.

Japan by the numbers (04.05.10)

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Crowd-sourcing sakura viewers

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

sakura3

Crowds in Ueno Park view ‘em while they last. (Satoko Kawasaki photo)

Everyone’s talking about the unpredictable weather, and this year they’re doing something about it. Crowd-sourced cherry blossom reports are taking the place of the official announcements that were put out by the Japan Meteorological Agency every year since 1955. This year, the agency declared the beginning of the season by measuring a tree at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and ended the official predictions. This opened up the blossom-predicting business to private weather companies and Web sites.

Several companies are competing to replace the official JMA blossom report, giving office-bound nature lovers plenty of options for desktop tree-tracking. Weathermap Sakura takes a scientific approach, with charts, graphs and indoorsy-looking columnists predicting peak bloom times.  Weathermap’s sakura Twitter feed sends status reports on viewing spots, comparing this year’s full-bloom date to the historical average and last year’s date.

Not to be confused with competing private forecaster, Weathernews, which also has an interactive map. Its main selling point is photos and “My Sakura” reports from some 20,000 users keeping tabs on the state of the blooms. The site’s “SakuraSimulator” lets armchair forecasters slide a time bar to track the daily cherry blossom front as it spreads across a satellite image of Japan.  (Those who really like to plan ahead can have a go at the 100-year simulation.)

Japanese portals Excite and Yahoo! both launched sakura sites this spring. Excite has info on 500 flower viewing spots around the country, and Yahoo! ups the ante with 1000. They have similar searchable information that includes the number of trees at each spot and supplements like picnic recipes, cherry blossom crafts and sweet shops near popular parks. Maps and data can be sent from a PC right to a cell phone from a one-click email box or QR code on each page.

Both portals are packed with the one item more indispensable than portable hand warmers: user-generated content. Both have galleries of thousands of photos submitted by registered site members and blog posts about their blossom viewing experiences.

The blossom information on Idoldog is also crowd-sourced — by dogs. Well, by their proud owners. Hover over the cherry blossom icons on the map to see photos of pets amid petals uploaded by users.

These galleries may or may not lead to better blossom predictions, but they do provide an outlet for the millions of photos of the flowers people snap every year, macro lenses and tripods in tow. It kind of makes us wonder what people did with all the lovingly crafted pictures before there were so many places to upload and share them.

Tools you can trust for the perfect hanami

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

In Japan, when the little pale pink cherry blossom petals start appearing in late March to early April, it’s a cause for celebration, organized celebration. So what could be so hard about having a party under the snowy branches with friends or coworkers? Plenty. A pre-season hanami “fail” survey this year by goo Research found 10 ways a hanami can go wrong.  It can be hard to get the timing right. You can get rained on, end up at a place with no toilets, or pick a place with few trees. Even a best-case scenario can have you and your friends starting out sprawled in the sun and ending up a freezing mass, huddled and hungry on your cold, blue tarp in the unpredictable spring weather.

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

The survey,  translated by What Japan Thinks, found that the number one problem hanami party organizers have had was finding and keeping a good spot. With more Japanese people carrying smart phones, sophisticated applications are coming to the rescue, including new iPhone apps from AAA, Weathernews and iSakura.

The iSakura app, from BayardNetwork Co., appears to be one of the most popular. It has info on 1,000 cherry blossom-viewing sites across Japan and has been hovering in the top 10 free downloads in the Japanese iTunes store. It can search for flower-viewing venues by name, area, train line or highway exit or by using GPS to find the nearest spot. The database is also searchable via specific conditions, such as night viewing, free entry, availability of parking and public toilets, and whether beer, sake or snacks are sold on site. For each location, in addition to those details and the venue phone number, it tells how open the blossoms are on a 10-degree scale from budding to full and offers the capability to jot down digital notes.

The second most common problem blossom party organizers reported was running out of food and drinks. The Domino’s delivery iPhone app, also featured in the Apple store as a hot item, uses GPS to deliver right to wherever you are, even when you’ve lost track of where in the sea of tarps that is. It also has 20% off coupons within the app until April 25.

Continue reading about hanami-friendly apps →

Japan by the numbers (03.24.10)

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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