Posts Tagged ‘recession’

Rich Japanese flavors for lean times

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

You might have heard that Japanese food is all about delicate flavor; that seasoning tends to be muted to allow the flavors of the main ingredients to shine. Despite this, according to J-Cast, the current food trend is all about rich, strong flavors. These days packages of instant ramen, potato chips, happoshu (a beer-like beverage) and puddings are often emblazoned with the words “noukou” (rich) or “koi” (strong flavored).

Rich cream stew

Rich cream stew

A recent program on TV Asahi presented by Yohei Onishi demonstrated that in supermarkets there are now 38 products labelled noukou or koi. Out of these Koi Stew, by S&B Foods, has been a hit among consumers. There are two varieties of Koi Stew, one beef flavored and one béchamel cream. Dense, creamy sauces are the reason many Japanese shy away from French cuisine, citing the fact that they are just too rich and difficult to digest, so it’s interesting that S&B’s product has been so successful.

Richer flavors are found not only in processed foods. There’s been a trend in restaurants in recent years for ramen broths to be thicker and richer. We asked Brian MacDuckston, author of the blog Ramen Adventures for his thoughts on this trend: “It’s true, there has been a recent trend to make stronger flavors in ramen. In the past, the soup was simply a vessel to keep the noodles hot. Now, the noodles are a vessel to deliver the soup, often motor-oil-thick, to your mouth. Chefs have a difficult task, though, as the long boiling times required for thickness can easily result in a bitter broth.”

So why the change in attitudes? Economic analyst Kazuyuki Hirano states that in this bad economic climate when salaries are taking a hit, people want to indulge in small luxuries or small extravagances. In summary, the recession is pushing this boom for richer flavors. Consumers on the Asahi show commented, “If it costs the same, I’d prefer a rich taste” and “I feel deep flavors are tastier.”

 

Photo by Mekkjp via Flickr

Anyone for canned sea lion curry?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Mr. Kanso stocks an impressive collection of 350 varieties of canned goods including bear curry 

A chain of bars currently opening up in Tokyo has been getting a lot of attention for its unusual menu, which includes items such as sea lion curry and steamed Korean silkworm chrysalis. Not for the faint of stomach, Mr. Kanso, is a no-frills drinking establishment that offers an impressively diverse menu of 350 items all of which come out of a can.

The chain has its head offices in Osaka and has already been incredibly successful operating in the Kansai area. Its Shibuya branch, which opened in August, is the first Mr. Kanso in Tokyo, but in mid-November, two more stores will be opened in Yotsuya and Tamachi. Decor is quite simply a bunch of cans displayed on shelves creating a retro feel — though each store manager is free to add his/her own personal touch. Because there’s very little to do in the way of food preparation, costs are kept down and a draft beer comes very cheap at ¥350.

The cover charge at Dagashi allows you to eat as many sweets as you can

Light meals out of a can range from ¥200 to ¥2,000. The selection of canned foods come from all over the globe, but foodies willing to try something new will be keen to order dishes such as bear curry, seal curry, deer curry and sea lion curry, all of which were made in Japan.

As the trend for Showa Era nostalgia shows no sign of slowing down, bars like Mr. Kanso stand to make a tidy profit. Dagashi Bar, for instance, which opened back in 2003 in Ebisu, is now thriving with several bars around Tokyo. Dagashi bars are not only covered in Showa Era memorabilia, including movie posters and toys, they’re also stocked up with cheap sweets that were popular during that time. Table charge includes sweetie tabehodai (all you can eat), a gimmick that further encourages customers to reminisce about the good old days.

But not everyone can afford to pay table charge these days, and spit ‘n’ sawdust establishments in which customers sit on beer crates or lean against standing bars, where you sacrifice a seat in favor of cheaper drink prices have been increasingly popular in recession-hit Japan. We reckon it makes a nice change to find a bar that’s found a fresh new way to interpret cheap and cheerful.

The cheapest night out/in

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Koenji's nameless econobar

Koenji's nameless econobar

Setting the bar (geddit?) even lower for cheap spaces to drink and/or enjoy a quiet cigarette in was this new establishment spotted in Koenji last weekend. Japan Pulse already blogged about standing bars that are offering cheap drinks and no table charge in exchange for enjoying your brew in a no-frills environment. But this place takes that frugal concept even further by doubling as a refuge for beleaguered smokers who can enjoy a ciggie in a quiet atmosphere for only the price of a can of vending-machine coffee.

Alcoholic drinks, which can be bought from a hole in the wall, cost a mere ¥300, while soft drinks can be bought for about ¥130 from a bank of machines lining one wall. The bar, doesn’t have a name (such luxuries as signage were probably seen as frivolous), but it does have wide screen TVs showing sports programs to its penny pinching patrons.

For those who want to further strip away the cost of a night out on the tiles, you might want to set up a Skype nomikai with your friends. That’s right; in the digital age drinking at home alone is no longer considered sad. Plus, you’re economizing even more on travel costs when you don’t have to pay to reach a drinking venue. J-Cast reports that this trend is booming and it’s not just Skype that’s being utilized. Twitter users in Japan are using the hashtags  #wanabeer and #twinomi to group together and chat while boozing, be they at home or in a real bar.

Continue reading about online drinking →

Trends in Japan 2009: fast fashion

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Fast fashion outlets like UniQlo are doing well in the recession

Little could stop the Uniqlo momentum in 2009

It was the year that rocked luxury brand names as Versace made the unbelievable announcement that Versace SpA stores would close nationwide and more affordable brands such as H&M, Zara, Forever21 and Uniqlo began appear in areas once reserved for swanky brand-name fashion. While the world sinking deeper into recession, “fast fashion” retailers proved that there was still a way to make a quick buck. Last month Zara opened their 50th store in Japan (a bigger space in Shibuya) and H&M opened a new branch in Shinjuku. Forever 21, which doesn’t yet have the brand cachet of H&M or Zara, threw down the gauntlet in April with its Japan debut in Harajuku  and, the last time I checked, it was still full of bargain hunters.

In 2009, cash-strapped consumers also benefited from how-low-can-you-go price wars. Uniqlo’s cheaper spinoff store g.u. started selling jeans for ¥990 earlier in the year, which was followed by Don Quijote’s Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) of ¥690 per pair. However, when you consider the wages of the workers making them at factories in Cambodia and China, you might question the true cost of such cheap clothing.

On a more environment-friendly note, some young Japanese girls embraced the recessionista trend of recyling old clothes into a new look. Used clothing outlet Don Don Down  opened two new stores last month, proving that at least some Japanese are willing to wear outfits that are a little rough around the edges. Many of those scouring the nation’s flea markets were fashioning old clothes into new outfits, a process dubbed remaku (remake) and those not handy with a sewing machine could buy the eco-friendly recycled look from stores in trendy areas like Shimokitazawa or Koenji.

As long as the recession continues, the lower priced end of fast fashion is bound to continue reaping a profit (and we’re bound to see more creative and crafty ways to remix and recycle the resulting mountain of thrown-away threads). Despite the trend toward fast fashion U.S. luxury casual brand Abercrombie & Fitch felt optimistic enough to try to break into the Japanese market by opening a new store in Ginza last week. The success or failure of this significantly more expensive store will prove a useful barometer for other luxury brands hoping to expand their markets in these lean times.

Mottainai fashion makes big strides

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Second-hand and remade dresses from Akarikaoku

Second-hand and remade dresses from Akarikaoku

We reported earlier this week that fast fashion names such as Forever 21 and H&M are becoming more popular than brand names with Japanese shoppers during the recession. But it’s not just cheaper brands that are thriving; second-hand clothing stores are also doing a roaring trade.

Used clothing outlet Don Don Down opened two new stores in Japan just this month (one in Sapporo and one in Tokyo) and is due to open another in Tokushima in December. Don Don Down, whose full shop name is the rather unwieldy “Don Don Down On Wednesday,” employ a rather unusual concept to get customers through their doors: Every Wednesday the price of items is radically reduced. Thus a top that started out at ¥5,000 gets progressively cheaper each week: First reduced to ¥3,000, then to ¥2,000, then ¥1,000. The cheapest possible price for an item is ¥100. A huge range of clothes are on offer, from brand names to cheap and cheerful items, so the starting price can vary from ¥10,000 to ¥100.

Read more about recessionistas →

Cheap vino continues to flow in Japan

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Yosemite Road, 7-11's new discount wine label

Yosemite Road, 7-11's new discount wine label

The recession continues to affect the Japanese wine market in interesting ways. As we have noted in our pages earlier this year, cheap wine is apparently quite tasty in tough times, and now it seems the market for low-rent sommeliers will increase. One indication is that 7-11 wants in on the action. Starting this month, both American and Japanese 7-11 outlets will be selling their own lines of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon under the Yosemite Road label. At around ¥600 a bottle, that’s hard to beat.

Even Ginza, home to much of Japan’s luxury industry and a competitive wine-bar market, has seen a new cost-cutting measure. The wine bar GOSS, near the flagship Matsuya Department store in the heart of the shopping district, has installed wine vending machines as a way to cut down on labor costs and still provide premium vino to their patrons.

This is all happening just as the first bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau arrive in Japan. With French imports dropping an estimated 30% from 2008, 7-11 is betting that convenience truly is the ultimate luxury.

Bento packaged for the global spotlight

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

How to make an Astro Boy charabento, as show in "Face Food Recipes" and available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

How to make an Astro Boy kyarabento, as shown in "Face Food Recipes," available from Mark Batty Publisher. (Christopher D. Salyers photo)

The recession and a growing interest in cost-cutting ingenuity have resulted in an unprecedented amount of bento coverage in the international press. From The Guardian to The Washington Post, major newspapers are spilling plenty of ink over this humble yet refined Japanese tradition.

It’s easy to see why. Bento provide an extremely photogenic platform to explain larger cultural and economic realities for the beleaguered working classes, who in an effort to save money choose the DIY approach to lunch. However, in the New York Times’ opinion blog, “Room for Debate,” several well-known creative minds move beyond proletariat concerns to wax philosophic on the nature of bento and how they represent Japanese society.

John Maeda links traditional boxed lunches to the Japanese “less is more” principal, while Muji creative director Kenya Hara argues that bento preparation is an act of focusing on the beautiful and simple in an ugly, chaotic world. Denis Dutton highlights the love and care placed in a bento’s creation, while Nick Currie (aka Momus) sees bento as a triumph of aesthetics over efficiency.

It would be more than a stretch to call the interest in bento a new trend in Japan. After all, people have making boxed lunches for centuries, and even the buzz around bento boys (弁当男子), those working men who – “gasp!” – prepare their own lunches to save money, goes back at least a few years. But now the kyaraben version of bento are arguably becoming a global art form, with kyaraben contests, budding kyaraben Facebook and Flickr groups, and yes, a Kyaraben iPhone application.

Bonus links:

Recession wedding (bring your own champagne?)

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Yoyogi Park wedding

Last weekend I took part in a good friend’s wedding. Rather than a shrine or church, he and his bride-to-be chose Yoyogi Park for their nuptials. The simple ceremony surrounded by friends got me wondering about Japan’s wedding industry, a massive money-making machine that feeds off tradition and class distinctions that in past years few questioned. Was my friend’s stripped-down ceremony indicative of a movement spurred on by the recession, or was Japan’s “Marital Industrial Complex” unaffected by the economy?
It turns out that weddings are considered by many to be one of the few recession-proof
industries here. Even movie theaters and the yakuza want in on the action. Hiroshi Nagasaki at Livedoor writes that although marriages are happening less frequently and later in life, the actual price tag for a wedding is going up. Even the average wedding dress price rose by 18%. And the industry could grow even stronger if same-sex couples were legalized here, argues Luxist.

While marriage rates are definitively lower than a decade ago, questions about interest in marriage send off mixed signals. What Japan Thinks shows young Japanese women showing little interest, but there are plenty of sources stating clearly that “kon-katsu” (marriage hunting) is alive and on the rise. Ameba News considers matchmaker agencies to be another recession-proof industry, right up there with designer bag rental services, where office ladies who can’t actually afford that Louis Vuitton can still flaunt one at the next wedding they attend.

Adamu at Mutant Frog points to pricey weddings exposing Japan’s growing economic disparity, but that this cost is offset by parental support and the cash gifts your guests are obligated to bring. Those without a large network of friends and family may be out of luck, especially those with a bun already in the oven (“shotgun marriages” count for at least a quarter of all new marriages, according to J-cast).

I’m still looking into Japanese “DIY” weddings and welcome your input. When my wife and I hear of our friend’s wedding expenses, we tend to measure the price in terms of months in Thailand (as in “Do you know how many months we could spend in Thailand for that amount of money?”).? Reading Phil Brasor’s recent analysis on Naomi Kawashima’s wedding last month had us fantasizing about winter homes in Krabi and Chiang Mai, with a driver, live-in help and a personal masseuse. Economic disparity indeed.

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