Posts Tagged ‘sakura’

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.

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 →

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