This article by Tiffany first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
While Japan has its own share of street food, street food culture just isn’t as common in Japan as it is in Southeast Asia, where locals and tourists alike flock to weekend or night markets to chow down.
That’s not to say that Japan has a shortage of comfort food. Osaka’s Dotonbori is a great place to get your fill of Japanese comfort food; and areas like Hokkaido and Hiroshima have alleys dedicated to their regional specialties: miso ramen and okonomiyaki, respectively. But actually buying and eating food on the streets, and in a market-like setting? Aside from Fukuoka, which has areas dotted with street food stalls, hardly any other areas where you can regularly expect street food vendors come to mind – especially not for Tokyo!
Nevertheless, the humble yatai at festivals are, for many, the best opportunities to try some Japanese street food. In fact, one could say that the atmosphere at a Japanese festival can be likened to that of a food market.
Translating to “stall,” yatai isn’t exclusively used to refer to stalls that just pop up at festivals. Fukuoka’s yatai open nightly, and the few ramen or sweet potato carts as you may see are also known as yatai. They also don’t just refer to food stalls, as many festivals also have stalls where visitors can play games and win prizes. In this article, though, I’ll be focusing on yatai food at festivals. It’ll be summer festival season soon, after all, so now’s a good time to talk about yatai food.
When a festival is going on in Japan, you can bet that there’ll be yatai, and after attending one festival after another, you can more or less get an idea of what food to expect. Whether it’s festivals at temples and shrines, or school festivals, there are certain foods that just happen to be associated with yatai, and here are some of them. Yatai food usually costs no more than ¥1,000, with the average price being about ¥500.
No festival is complete without good ol’ yakisoba. This simple-to-prepare dish consists of fried noodles (which is what the word “yakisoba” literally translates to, anyway), strips of pork, and cabbage. It’s then garnished with katsuobushi (bonito flakes), benishoga (pickled ginger), and/or aonori (powdered seaweed), and some also add mayonnaise to it.
Kushiyaki is a catch-all term for grilled, skewered meats, the most popular type being yakitori. Yakitori can be thought of as a another sub-category, since there are different kinds, including momo (thigh), tsukune (chicken ground into meatballs), and kawa (skin). Yakitori aside, it’s also not surprising to see beef, pork, and fish (usually known as shioyaki, which means “salt-grilled”). You’ll also occasionally see other kinds of grilled seafood, like squid and scallop.
You can read more about okonomiyaki here, but put simply, it’s a savory pancake. Aside from the non-negotiables (cabbage, okonomiyaki sauce, and, of course, the batter), anything goes for the rest of the ingredients. Okonomiyaki, after all, translates to “as you like it.” Common okonomiyaki ingredients are pork and seafood.
These are octopus balls, made of the same batter that’s used to make okonomiyaki. The sauce is even similar. Interestingly enough, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and takoyaki share some basic ingredients. (A friend of mine once made okonomiyaki, then mixed the leftover cabbage, katsuobushi, benishoga, and aonori with noodles to make yakisoba.)
Since oden is a dish consisting of various ingredients (mostly variants of tofu and fish cakes) immersed in a hearty broth made of dashi (soup stock) and soy sauce, it’s popular in wintertime, but you can still find stalls selling oden even in warmer months. Oden can be an acquired taste for some foreigners, though, mostly because of how some think that it looks unappealing.
“Jaga” means potato, and “bataa” is the Japanese way of saying butter. Put those together and what do they make? A baked potato with butter.
Brought over by Turkish migrants in Japan, kebabs are arguably one of the most popular international foods in Japan. In many urban areas (Tokyo, for instance), you’re bound to encounter at least one kebab stand, stall, or cart. Kebab vendors have been known to participate in festivals, too!
Frankfurters and American dogs
Frankfurters are pretty self-explanatory, but as for American dogs, they’re corn dogs. Don’t call them corn dogs in Japan, as you’ll most likely be met with confusion.
Choco banana and candied apples
While candied apples are not as ubiquitous, you’d be hard-pressed to find a festival without choco banana, which is, as the name implies, a banana coated in chocolate.
It’s Japanese for cotton candy, and is quite popular among children.
A specialty of Nagasaki Prefecture, castella is a sponge cake that was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Whereas castella is typically rectangular, baby castella come in small, round, bite-size pieces, and have fillings inside.
That’s pronounced “ah-geh,” by the way. Age-aisu means fried ice cream. It’s not a common sight at festivals, but for some reason, it’s quite popular at school festivals. It’s basically fried breading wrapped around ice cream, creating a contrast of hot and cold flavors.
Kakigorri | Photo by 世書 名付 used under CC
This popular summer treat consists of fluffy shaved ice, colored syrup, and a sweetener. It comes in different flavors, but if you want to try something different, go for matcha, ramune (soda pop, which I’ll get to later), or Blue Hawaii (which tastes like pineapple with milk)
Taiyaki is a fish-shaped pastry (with a pancake-like texture) with red bean paste as filling, although some variants have custard, cream, matcha, or even savory ingredients as filling.
Aside from these drinks, of course you can also find alcohol at festivals!
This is a uniquely Japanese soda, mostly because of the design of its bottle, which has a marble seal. It’s a fixture at summer festivals. Its original taste is lemon-lime, but it also comes in other flavors.
This refers to bubble tea, although it seems that the bubble tea craze never really took off in Japan the way it did elsewhere.
Bonus Points If You Spot a Yakiimo Cart
Yakiimo (Baked Sweet Potato)
Yakiimo (or baked sweet potato) is the original Tokyo street food. To indulge, you’ll have to spot a sweet potato vendor pushing around a cart or driving around in a truck equipped with a stone oven in the back. If you try to find some at a summertime festival, know that they’re not exactly festival food and definitely more of a winter/autumn thing; however, if you are here during summer and want to give it a taste, you’re more likely to find some during the evenings. Also, yakiimo vendors are slowing becoming extinct, so if you see one, don’t hesitate to get one as a real cultural treat (pardon the pun).
Read on Tokyo Cheapo
Go hunting for Shaun the Sheep in Omotesando this June in a special art and charity event called “Shaun in Japan”.
The Shaun-hunting event has already been a success in the Aardman Animations character’s native UK in the form of two “ewe-nique charity arts trails” in Bristol and London. 50 specially created Shaun sculptures were exhibited in the British capital and 70 in Bristol, a city in the far west of England. Kids were encouraged to go searching for all the sculptures in the “flock” as part of days out in the cities. The celebrity-designed sculptures were then sold off for charity at the end of the respective events.
The “Shaun in the City” trail now arrives in the Japanese capital. (Wallace & Gromit is popular in Japan, even if some of the British jokes may go over viewers’ heads!) While the trail is not as big as the original UK versions, the designs of the sculptures have been considerably localized.
“Shaun in Japan” takes place from June 12th to June 25th, and features seven Shaun the Sheep sculptures at the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku designed by Japanese artists like acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno.
No surprises but Hideki Anno’s contribute is an Evangelion Shaun!
The Shaun sculptures measure 130cm in height. Only four designs have been unveiled so far, but they include a Hello Kitty Shaun and Sugar Sugar Rune Shaun!
Aside from Anno, other designers and artists involved include manga-ka Moyoco Anno (who wrote the comic Sugar Sugar Rune), calligrapher Tomomi Kunishige, character designer Yuko Yamaguchi, manga-ka Ikuto Yamashita, and sweets artist Osamu Watanabe.
The British Council and Sanrio are also participating.
The fifth-floor Hands Cafe at the Tokyu Plaza will also offer special Shaun the Sheep menu items.
“Shaun in Japan” is also being touted as a charity event, though the details are yet to be announced.
The Chinese government has cracked down on Japanese anime, banning the broadcast online of 38 titles via various Chinese websites and online services.
There is no suggestion that it is because they are Japanese per se but popular titles like Attack on Titan (soon to be a live-action movie), Death Note and Parasyte have been blacklisted from appearing online.
Eight websites have been completely shut down and another 29 received warnings or fines, reports Kyodo.
Senior Ministry official Liu Qiang stated, “The list is the result of evaluations by investigators, reviews by the ministry and the opinions of experts. It aims to guide websites in the proper review and importation of comics and animations.”
You can see the full list of banned anime here.
It isn’t just online either. A film festival in Shanghai set to show Attack on Titan has been forced to pull the eight Japanese entries from its line-up.
According to Kyodo, the anime are condemned by the Chinese authorities because they “encourage juvenile delinquency, glorify violence and include sexual content.”
Rumors of a blacklist have been circulating for a while, with the Chinese government investigating anime like Blood C that “lure minors to delinquency and glamorize violence, pornography, and terrorist activities”. New regulations required websites to get approval to stream foreign media content.
China has a history of banning anime from television and video games.
The rainy season is upon us: get ready for several weeks of rain around Japan.
Any visit to a major store in Tokyo will mean you are confronted with a mountain of products designed to help you combat the wet time of the year. From umbrellas to raincoats, boots and towels, there is no end to “rainy season” merchandise.
Here is our pick of some the most interesting umbrellas in Japan.
Designed by Hiroshi Kajimoto for +d/H-concept, the UnBrella Upside Down Umbrella is awesome as it name sounds. No one will forget you in the rain when you unleash this umbrella! It works brilliantly and is super easy to open up and protect you from the elements.
It can stand up on its own, ideal for when you have nowhere to prop your umbrella up against. It will also keep the wet part of the umbrella inside once you’ve closed it, meaning things don’t get dripped on when you put it away after coming indoors. Instead, the water runs off while enclosed by the folds of the canopy.
Made with special water-repellant coating technology by Komatsu Seiren, the unnurella (literally, the “un-wet umbrella”) by WPC and Kazuya Koike of Doogdesign can just be shaken once and the rain droplets will be all gone. Your umbrella will now feel dry and you can take it around without fear of getting your clothes or other people wet when you ride public transport.
One of the funnest and most eye-catching entries on this list, the Vegetabrella Lettuce Umbrella looks like a romaine lettuce head.
Japan is famous for its “fake food” restaurant displays and having a general obsession with cuisine. Perhaps it’s only natural that Yurie Mano (h concept) came up with a salad-like way to keep off the rain. Folded up and wrapped in its cover, this parasol could easily be taken for a romaine lettuce. Opened up, it protects you from the elements as well as shows the world you like your greens!
The Nippon-Ichi Fujisan Umbrella is a tribute to one of the most instantly recognizable symbols in the land of the rising sun. The design on the canopy forms the famous snow-capped Fuji shape as seen from above but (and here’s the really cool thing), it’s made up of mini triangular Mt Fujis too! The name in Japanese is also a clever pun, meaning both “Mt Fuji” and “Fuji umbrella”.
A really self-indulgent choice this one but we love it. The Shippo Tail Umbrella by MicroWorks truly makes rainy days fun. The umbrella canopy is tied up with the tail of an animal, who then accompanies you around as you ward off nature’s elements. Made using leftover materials, these colorful umbrellas are environmentally friendly too. There are several different colors and three animals: monkey, cat or momonga – the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel.
So now you know how to stay dry in style, folks!
Omotenashi Tokyo: Volunteer tourist guides available for foreign sightseers, with special branded uniformsWritten by: William on June 8, 2015 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
We try to avoid ranting on this site since no one wants to read consistently negative content. However, we haven’t made any secret of our cynicism about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, whose plans currently exist of wholesale ignoring the problems in Tohoku to build a ton of real estate in the bay area, knocking down one perfectly good stadium and replace it with a calamity, and AKB48 potentially set to represent Tokyo at the opening ceremony.
And now comes these new Tokyo sightseeing volunteer guide uniforms, set to be worn by unpaid tourist guides. Inbound tourism from Asia is booming, as any trip to Shinjuku or Ginza will reveal. As part of various schemes to enhance tourist services, a new team of volunteers will be available in certain Tokyo districts to offer guidance. The name Omotenashi Tokyo was chosen from 882 proposals.
Introduced by a beaming Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, we think the volunteer guides’ uniforms look like costumes from a manga set in a Japanese fantasy version of a 1950’s English boarding school. There’s even a hat and an inexplicable bag. And don’t even ask us about the clownish tie. Oh, and of course the obligatory Japanese “rising sun” motifs and the “Omotenashi” — the Olympic buzzword — branded on the back.
Designed by Tamaki Fujie, there are two types of uniforms. From June 19th male and female pairs of volunteers (can Tokyo not afford professionals?) will be manning the streets of Tokyo offering multi-lingual guidance to lost tourists, initially as a trial run only on Fridays and weekends in Shinjuku and Ueno. From 2016 the areas where you will be able to see the uniformed volunteers will increase to include popular tourist destinations like Asakusa.
So… what do you think? Terrible uniform design or fun and effective?
We were already amused and surprised when Bandai celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Tamashii die-cast metal model series Chogokin (“super alloy”) last year with some spectacular tie-ups like Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun, Hello Kitty, and even Doraemon.
But even those did not prepare us for this: the Chogokin Miracle Henkei Hatsune Miku Rody.
It takes the Vocaloid idol and combines her with the rocking horse toy Rody. Yes, this truly is a “miracle tranformation” (henkei).
Hatsune Miku literally comes out of Rody’s body. This is one toy: Rody becomes Hatsune Miku and vice versa.
The virtual music idol has a keyboard and stand to play, while Rody has been reimagined in Miku-esque colors.
Miku even comes with an extra face so you can change her expression and her trademark Japanese leeks (also called spring onions) that she can hold like wands (these items have been part of a Miku “item war” for a few years).
Witness the transformation here.
As usual with these high-profile “collaboration” Chogokin releases, there’s a long wait between the product announcement and becoming available to buy. It’s currently scheduled to go on sale from November, so be patient.
The Bridge has shared a story about Tokyo-based Anicall developing a wearable device for pets called Shiraseru Am. Literally meaning “notifier”, Shiraseru Am is currently on pre-order via a crowdfunding campaign on the Makuake Japanese platform.
Anicall hope to raise ¥500,000 (around $4,000) by the end of July.
Shiraseru Am informs users of the behavior, feelings, and health status of pets. Integrated with a smartphone app, it will keep pet owners updated on how a pet spends its day at home while the owner is away.
The device stores a pet’s behavioral data in the cloud and lets an owner understand its behavioral patterns via artificial intelligence-based technology. Prior to shipping, Anicall’s team members have been studying cats and dogs to verify behavioral data, while the company’s neuroethologic scientists are conducting behavioral analyses.
We have seen many wearable devices for pets – but Anicall is outstanding because it allows the acquiring of data and verifying of behavioral patterns as a one-stop solution consisting of a mobile app and a wearable device.
Ostensibly aimed at dog-owners, Shiraseru Am uses sensors to monitor the pet and Bluetooth to communicate with the human’s phone. The app then analyzes calorie intake, emotional status, and health.
Mobile integration with many of these trends has never been lacking. We’ve seen several apps and products in the past that work with phones and apps, in much the same way as other health and lifestyle-tracking for humans. Perhaps the most unusual of these was the Bowlingual dog “voice translator” device that was both a standalone toy and an iPhone app.
Namie Amuro’s new “interactive” music video “Golden Touch” will have your finger tapping (the screen)Written by: William on June 3, 2015 at 8:07 am | In NEW TECH | No Comments
Namie Amuro has launched a new album, “_genic”, with a music video. Absolutely nothing innovative about that — the Okinawan singer is insanely prolific.
But the video for “Golden Touch” is being touted as an interactive music video experience.
The “Golden Touch” video doesn’t even feature the doll-like idol for once, but it does have a “dot” in the center which you are instructed to keep touching throughout the song. The video content then “responds” to this point almost as if you are controlling things.
The makers say it’s best viewed in full-screen mode.
Okay, the future of music video-viewing is not here quite yet.
This isn’t really an interactive video. You swiftly realize that the same things happen in the video regardless of whether you are touching the dot in the middle or not. It’s ultimately more of a test to see how long you can keep your finger in one spot, which feels even more ridiculous if you are watching the video on a laptop.
However, there is a very colorful array of characters and creatures to keep this 3.5 minutes of bubble gum pop lively: a disco Dachshund, a skateboarder, goldfish, a house of cards, guys in furry costumes… you name it, it’s in there. Boy, we wish we could have attended that brain-storming session.
It is a good marketing stunt for a dying industry and overseas media has picked the story up too. The video has 5 million views and counting, about ten times more than most Amuro videos on YouTube.
We want to showcase the incredible “ice cream face” art of Makoto Asano.
He posts the faces, carved out of mini Häagen-Dazs ice cream pots, on his Instagram account. He’s been working on the project sporadically since at least 2012 (with a brief dabble in non-Häagen-Dazs ice cream and even bananas!)but has only now just started to attract attention.
Since Häagen-Dazs produce so many different flavors and seasonal specials, there is a wealth of colors and textures to choose from. And Asano responds with an inventive range of faces, expressions and styles.
But we wonder: does he eat them afterwards? And if so, does the “sculpting” affect the taste?