Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Take the kids back in time this summer

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Lunch at Ubusuna House, part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. (Rebecca Milner photo)

Last week, NHK ran a story on a “Showa Lifestyle” exhibition at a shopping center in Mito, a city two hours northeast of Tokyo. The exhibit wasn’t aimed at baby-boomers — Showa refers to the historical period from 1926-1989 — but rather their children and grandchildren.

The Mito City Museum, which put on the event, set up a mock living room circa the 1960s. Here kids could experience sitting at a low table on floor cushions, turning the dials on a black-and-white TV, many of them likely for the first time. They could also see what it was like to use an old rotary phone, a foot-pedal sewing machine and even a few pairs of take-uma, bamboo stilts, a popular amusement from an era of few luxuries.

For kids weaned on mobile phones, there may be no greater novelty than the past. They can also get an inkling of how different their world is from that of previous generations.

While the Mito event has already ended, there are plenty of other places where the family can get a taste of Showa life. At this summer’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, in rural Niigata prefecture, visitors can eat and sleep inside country homes and schoolhouses dating from the early to mid-20th century.

Many such structures outside of cities around Japan have lost their original usefulness on account of the country’s aging population and lack of attractive job opportunities there for young people. Countless such sites have been lost forever; however, there is a growing trend to label them heritage buildings and turn them into museums or hands-on learning centers.

Continue reading about the Showa nostalgia kick →

Edo-era amazake is back to beat the summer heat

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Bottles of amazake for sale at Matsuya department store in Ginza, Tokyo. (Photo by Rebecca Milner)

The annual competition for the summer’s hit drink is as fierce as usual, and all the major manufacturers have their contenders. Will it be Asahi’s new Red Eye in a can? Or Pepsi’s latest oddity, the shocking-pink Salty Watermelon soda?

According to the morning TV show “Non Stop!,” the winner may just be a dark horse: amazake.

Though it literally means “sweet sake,” this fermented rice drink is actually alcohol free and has been around for centuries. In the Edo Period, it was commonly drunk to ward off the dreaded natsu-bate (summer heat fatigue). Apparently the combination of vitamin B and glucose provides an immediate jolt of energy. The rich ate eel; the rest drank amazake.

At some point  in history, that tradition fell out of favor. These days, amazake generally only shows up at traditional festivals, namely during New Years, or at cafes attached to Buddhist temples. Now, however, a savvy Niigata producer is looking to give amazake a little more everyday cachet.

In February, Furumachi Kōji Seijōjo opened a specialty shop in the fashionable Tokyo suburb of Jiyugaoka. Here you can get hot and cold amazake drinks spiked with matcha and shiso (perilla leaf) or health tonics that mix amazake with fruit-flavored vinegar. Boosted by plenty of media attention, they’ve since opened a second branch in the basement food court of Ginza’s Matsuya department store.

Continue reading about amazake →

Housewives go DIY in attack on insects

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Lemongrass essential oil is used in homemade insect repellent

One of the major irritations of a Japanese summer, besides the current humid heat, is getting eaten alive by the tiny armies of mosquitoes, indoors or out. While most people resort to spraying on DEET, a growing number of mothers concerned about the effects of this potent chemical on their children’s delicate skin are now making their own aroma mushiyoke (aroma insect repellent) out of essential oils.

The trend, according to Tokyo Walker, has been spreading by word of mouth among mothers who are looking for natural alternatives. The magazine interviewed a housewife who began making her own insect repellent after becoming a mother two years ago. She favors a refreshing lemongrass spray that can be not only applied to the skin, but also sprayed onto cloth in her baby stroller to keep insects at bay.

Aromatherapy has been popular for a few years in Japan, so the essential oils used to make these sprays are readily available in the shops. To make a lemongrass spray you need extract of lemongrass oil, ethanol and water. Three to five drops of the essential oil should be mixed with 5 ml of ethanol and 45 ml of water. The whole thing is then shaken vigorously and put into a plastic spray bottle (easily bought in ¥100 stores). Unlike commercial citric sprays, the lemongrass is not overwhelmingly pungent, so the mixture can be sprayed on screen doors or curtains to keep out insects without overwhelming the room with the smell. Geranium and lavender essential oils can also be used for a similar effect.

In addition to being kind to the skin, these sprays also give off a pleasant scent. According to Get News, aromatic candles that repel insects are also trending. Especially popular are citronella candles that keep insects out with a natural refreshing citric scent that doesn’t carry any chemical taint.

The mosquito coil is a Japanese invention that has been a staple of outdoor gatherings for over 100 years. However, there are health concerns connected with inhaling the pungent smoke they give off, so scented candles could be an attractive alternative. Given the prevalence of the LOHAS mindset among eco-conscious housewives, it’s no wonder that natural insect repellents are being embraced.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

Today’s J-blip: Suteteko

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In the hot and sticky Japanese summer months, staying cool can be a challenge. However, a resurgence in traditional suteteko (say stet-eh-ko) is making it a little bit easier. Fear not — these aren’t your grandpa’s long johns! Contemporary sutekeko are pants made of light-weight, breathable material and fall just below (or above) the knee. Once a boutique item (that we spotted a year ago), they are now available from major retailers like Uniqlo as well as dedicated shops. Great for lounging around the house, walking your dog or even on a first date if you dare . . . If it doesn’t go well, at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing it wasn’t because of your sweaty legs.

We’ve pinned a sampling of some of the huge variety of patterns and colors. Follow this and Japan Pulse’s other boards on Pinterest.

Pulsations (07.06.12)

Friday, July 6th, 2012

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 . . .

  • Free at last! Starbucks brings easy to use free wifi to Japan (from La Vie En Tech): At long last, the wonders of easily-accessible free wifi may have finally reached Japan. Steve Nagata gives readers a run down on how to set up your devices to tap into this great power. Don’t worry, this service is much easier to understand than other “free” wifi services found in Japan. It’ll only take a few minutes and then the next time you’re asked to fork over too much cash for a caffeine fix, at least you’ll have wifi.
  • Make eco-friendly iced tea (from Being a Broad):  Of course, if you aren’t persuaded to venture out to your local Starbucks by their new Wifi, you can always stay home and enjoy a glass of home-brewed tea. Kirstin has some great tips on how to use the power of the sun (and your fridge) to brew the perfect summer teas. Eco-friendly, refreshing, and delicious? Count me in.
  • The Japanese Seasons: July (from Japan Navigator): With the rainy season (hopefully) behind us, it is time to enjoy summer in Japan. And just what does Japan have to offer in July? Festivals, mountain climbing, cloud watching, seasonal dishes, and that’s just the start. Pop quiz: do you know what the flower of July is?
  • Are Japanese Houses worthless? (from Tofugu): Japanese houses may have some flaws, but they are certainly balanced by clever architectural design and unmatched efficiency right? Apparently not. After 15 years most Japanese houses lose the majority of their value.

No video this week, but rather a comic from Lars Martinson‘s Kameoka Diaries. Click on the first one and scroll through, then head to his site to see them as they’re meant to be read.

Check out the rest!

Cool heat-blockers for summer 2012

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Though Japan is still experiencing rainy season, the country is bracing for a super-hot summer. Predicted power shortages and another season of setsuden are raising the demand for products that can help beat the heat without electricity. Here are a few of the more unusual ones.

Forget icy glasses, frozen foam is where it’s at

Frozen beer: Kirin has invented a machine that creates frozen suds on top of your pint. Working rather like a softserve ice cream machine, the device adds a frosty froth to a glass of draft beer. The froth is actually made from beer so that it doesn’t dilute your drink as it melts. According to Kirin, there are currently 252 establishments serving it nationwide, and 91 of those are in Tokyo.

Chilled foods: It’s unsurprising that manufacturers are casting around for unexpected foods to stick in the cool box. Chilled doughnuts have been around for a few years now and have proven to be more than a passing fad. Last year we had chilled Hiroshima okonomiyaki and cold curry. This spring snack giant Calbee brought out Potato Chips Zeitaku (Premium) Vanilla, which, the company claims, taste much better after being chilled in the fridge. There’s even a chilled instant ramen from Nissin (which, strangely enough, was launched in February).

Fans: Old-school paper fans have enjoyed a bit of a revival 0ver the last few years, but why waste all that energy flapping your hands around when you can get your hands on a Kurukuru Eco Fan? This environmentally friendly toy fan from Takara Tomy has been so popular that the company has had to double the shipments of the product. Thanko, our favorite store for wacky gadgets, put out this petite little fan that resembles bladeless household fans and comes in at a very affordable ¥980. Thanko has also got a product for cooling the insides of your shoes. The USB Shoes Cooler produces a cooling breeze when inserted into footwear, promising to prevent your feet from getting all sweaty.

Today’s J-blip: Bang a paper drum

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Yumiko Matsui’s “Portable Shrine (Omikoshi).”

The booming of the taiko drums and the shouts from touts at carnival games and food stalls — you can almost hear the sounds of a Japanese summer festival when you look at Japanese artist Yumiko Matsui’s delightful paper sculptures. She is known for intricately crafting scenes with a whimsical take on familiar sights, from the stands at the festivals to the billboards in Shibuya.  While you’re in a matsuri mood, don’t forget to bookmark the JT’s monthly festival listings.

Summer pick-me-ups for salarymen

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A salaryman sleeper, obviously in need of a kakigori shampoo

A salaryman sleeper, obviously in need of a kakigori shampoo

The weather is taking its toll on all of us, but there’s no doubt that things must be far worse for Japan’s army of long-suffering salarymen who are struggling to make it to work every day in the blistering heat. We thought it would be nice to take a look at a few new services on offer this summer that might make the life of these beleaguered businessmen just that little bit more bearable.

First up is the refreshing kakigori (shaved ice) shampoo that’s being offered for the first time this summer by a Yokohama hairdresser. The perfect way to cool down your hot head after a day in the office, the ice is mixed with a menthol shampoo then gently massaged into your tingling skull for that minty fresh feeling.

Then there’s Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub, a new izakaya outside Kanda Station that opened its doors Aug 18. It’s a traditional-style retreat for tired office workers in their 40s and 50s, but the hook here is that drinks are served by cute girls wearing hot pants who are happy to give you a free back massage if you request one. Ah, bliss!

Mibyou Salaryman Shindan (rundown businessman diagnosis) maybe sound depressing but it’s actually a fun new website run by health-drink manufacturer Yomeishu. Designed to help those with a poor work-life balance, it asks questions like “Do you do too much overtime?” and “Do you finish your food faster than others?” to gauge how stressful your lifestyle is. It’s worth doing the quiz just to watch the animated salaryman act out your answers. For example, if you answer yes to the question “Do you like meat more than fish dishes?” your little salaryman will chow down on a drum stick while his waist expands.

If ice shampoos, massages or internet advice doesn’t cheer up Japan’s put-upon businessman, perhaps Salaryman Man can help. This cartoon by Takashi Taniguchi elevates the humble office worker to superhero status. With the aid of his trusty meishi, he flies through the sky, defeating evil.

Photo credit: soul_flow

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