Create your own latte art coffee foam sculptures with the 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino by Takara Tomy

Written by: Japan Trends on November 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

Japan has gone a bit coffee-crazy in recent times. We have seen lots of rather tony cafes and espresso bars opening up around Tokyo for hipsters to sip on froth. Starbucks is the second largest chain of coffee shops. Even convenience stores have also started offering real coffee drinks.

And certain baristas have created a social media storm in a coffee cup. Yes, it’s the latte art trend.

This essentially involves turning the foam of a cafe latte or cappuccino into a temporary sculpture floating on the top of the drink.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

While some have bordered on the truly over-the-top, Kazuki Yamamoto in particular has impressed customers with his artistic skills creating animal figures and sculptures so cute you don’t want to start drinking.

If you don’t have the budget to go to these plush cafes around Tokyo, Takara Tomy has come up with a neat cooking toy so you can make your own latte art at home.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is the latest in Takara Tomy’s growing line of kitchen toys.

It is a special blender gadget that can dispense the milk foam onto the top of your coffee without you having to take a lengthy apprenticeship under Monsieur Yamamoto et al. Instead, just a minute or so to blend, and then control the foam as it comes out of Awa Taccino.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

All you need is some milk and then the Awa Taccino will blend and dispense the milky foam in a way that’s easy to control and “sculpt” into your choice of latte art.

For the final touches, use syrup or chocolate to add extra features like a mouth, eyes, ears and so on.

Here are some ideas to give you inspiration.

japan latte art coffee sculpture foam 3d maker awa taccino takara tomy toy

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is now on pre-order and will be available in early December.

*Update*

The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino has got picked up by some major overseas blogs like Wired and Engadget, who seem to love how it resembles a “foam gun”.

Oh, and Takara Tomy made this funny commercial.

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Pepsi Pink Cola: Strawberry milk drink hits Japanese stores in December

Written by: William on October 30, 2014 at 7:50 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 1 Comment

While the world is divided into Coca-Cola drinkers and Pepsi drinkers, there would appear to be a market for strawberry milk cola.

Pepsi Pink Cola hits the shelves of Japanese stores from December 9th and over the winter season. It was previously sold in 2011.

pepsi pink cola strawberry milk drink japan

You might think it’s hardly the most winterly of drinks but actually strawberries feature in cakes popular at Christmas time in Japan.

In the past, Pepsi’s other “special flavors” for the Japanese market like cucumber, salty watermelon and shiso drinks have certainly generated a lot of publicity for the brand. In the world of Japan’s convenience stores and their hyperactive turnover of FMCG, it takes a lot to stand out. Pepsi achieve this here with both the color and the concept itself.

Pepsi Pink Cola will only be sold in Japan, priced ¥140 plus tax. We’re guessing it’s on the sweet side and tastes like strawberries.

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Summer Drinks: Our guide to the best Japanese “cool” beverage makers

Written by: Japan Trends on May 30, 2014 at 11:51 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

A major trend in Japan recently is how local beer brands are trying to reverse their falling sales as the population declines and younger consumers turn away from traditional beers.

After years of product development suicide where they foolishly put all their efforts into producing ever-cheaper beers that could circumvent the beer tax laws and be priced at post-Bubble-friendly levels, the results — daisan beer, happoushu, non-alcoholic beer — are so bad that they have damaged the reputation of the breweries for a generation.

Now they are trying to make a comeback with another approach entirely, attracting younger people to drink beer as an attractive summer beverage. And so we have seen seasonal “super cold” beer bars and beer gardens opening in Tokyo in the last four years, as well as special “extra cold” beer servers being installed at limited numbers of restaurants and beers.

Yes, foam and cold temperatures make for a perfect thirst-quenching summer drink! This has now combined with the trend for toy makers, especially Takara Tomy, to produce food toys for kids and the family to enjoy making stuff at home.

Here are some of the best results: great home drink makers that serve up ideal beverages to cool you down this summer!

Frozen Beer Slushie Maker by Kirin Ichiban

kirin ichiban frozen beer slushie maker

Originally created as a free promo giveaway to advertise Kirin’s summer beer gardens where you could get these “beer slushies”, the Takara Tomy co-produced tool was so popular it then became its own product. A beer slushie? You haven’t lived till you’ve tried it!

Beer Hour

beer hour can dispenser foam creamy head

This is the original in the Takara Tomy ARTS series of beer servers that can fit a standard can and then also give you the foamy head that a freshly-poured sud will have in a Japanese bar. Although not common overseas, the creamy cap will actually prove very refreshing in the dog days.

sonic hour beer froth foam maker

There is now the Sonic Hour Beer Head Froth Maker and the Beer Hour Cold, with an extra ice pack that keeps your beer can chilled.

beer hour cold can drink creamy head froth foam server

And for that real freshly-pumped-draft-beer sensation, get out the Beer Jug Jokki Hour Foam Maker. Just push down on the switch to create the cooling foam bubbles in your glass.

beer jug jooki hour foam maker glass

Premium Beer Server Gokurei

premium beer server gokurei super cold beer dispenser

This is the latest in the Beer Hour series, a beer server that can also give you the foamy head AND serve up super cold beers. A great addition to any summer picnic.

Fuji on the Rock Ice Maker

This special ice shape maker means you can toast with Japan’s most famous mountain in your glass.

fuji on the rock ice maker mountain

Tumeta Oicino Frozen Smoothie Maker

tumeta oicino frozen drink chilled ice cream smoothie maker

It resembles a cocktail shaker but it’s actually a chilled smoothie-style drink maker. The maker, Takara Tomy ARTS (of course), promise that the type of drink the Tumeta Oicino creates is a completely new kind of beverage, a sort of ice cream crossed with a frozen smoothie.

Fujiyama Glass

fujiyama glass keita suzuki design mount fuji beer

Not necessarily a summer drink but this still looks cool. The Fujiyama Glass will turn your glass into a beer-colored Mt Fuji. Just correctly pour in your beer with a foamy head (use the Beer Hour for best results!).

Ice Ball Mold

ice ball mold sphere maker cool down drink

And when all else fails, get out the now classic Ice Ball Mold and create perfect ice spheres which not only look awesome, but they melt slowly and keep your drink cooler for longer.

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Sharp’s Healsio Ocha Presso brews better, healthier cups of tea

Written by: Japan Trends on May 13, 2014 at 9:49 am | In LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Teapots are all well and good but they retain only around 30% of the nutrients from the tea leaves.

Sharp spotted a way to deliver better cups of tea and in a very convenient way for the person who really values their kitchen.

Enter the Sharp Healsio Ocha Presso, an “espresso maker” for tea.

sharp healsio ocha presso tea maker

Not only is this super convenient (it can make matcha green tea, chai, black tea, herbal tea, and even latte), the tea is actually healthier since the Healsio Ocha Presso brews a cuppa with 1.9 times the catechin of tea from a teapot.

Now available from Japan Trend Shop in either white or black designs, this is a very stylish-looking addition to your home.

In the best tradition of Japanese monozukuri, this is more than just an electronic gizmo for giving you a quick cup of tea. Quite the opposite, the Healsio Ocha Presso features an internal ceramic tea mortar to mill the tea leaves into a fine powder.

sharp healsio ocha presso tea maker machine matcha

The resulting tea is stronger, fresher and healthier, since the grinding is a slow 100rpm and so there is no friction, and thus no loss of catechin, chlorophyll and dietary fibers. Instead, these all stay in the tea for you to consume and benefit from.

Mill the leaves into a powder and then put the powder into the brewing pot, to be stirred and blended into a perfect cup of green tea. Now all you need to do is master the Tea Ceremony and you are truly Japanese!

See more at Japan Trend Shop.

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3D ice sculptures from Suntory Whisky cool your drink, look amazing

Written by: William on April 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

Now this is an innovative way to cool down your drink.

While we still love the quietly industrial and precise ice sphere offered by the Ice Ball Mold, there is something to be said for having “3D-milled ice cubes”. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in not understanding exactly what that means but when the results — including a miniature Japanese temple — are this stunning, who cares?!

suntory whisky 3d ice cube rock sculpture shoe temple

3D on the Rocks” as the stunning ad campaign declares.

A shark. The Statue of Liberty. An astronaut. A space rocket. Michelangelo’s David. A high-heel shoe. Design ideas were submitted by members of the public which were then selected to be made by drilling into a block of ice.

suntory whisky 3d ice cube rock sculpture statue of liberty shoe

The ice sculpture is then placed into the whisky glass to melt and cool the beverage. Artistically a bit of a waste but what a great concept!

Here’s the ad to give you more of an idea of how the ice shapes are made.

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BrewDog bar in Roppongi, opens March 1st

Written by: Japan Trends on February 21, 2014 at 11:40 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Scottish beer brand BrewDog is set to open its own bar in Roppongi from March 1st.

BrewDog Roppongi will offer ten beers on tap — six standards and four seasonal brews — plus a further ten guest beers from the UK, Japan and around the world. The bar, managed by BrewDog Japan, will also be decked out using furnishings procured from the same supplier as BrewDog UK uses.

brewdog roppongi bar

This comes amid a flurry of new craft beer and micro brewery bar openings in the Tokyo area over the past few years. Although the actual number of craft beers and smaller breweries hasn’t itself increased much (or at all) since its peak in the early 1990′s, there has been a major boom in bars. Many of these are managed or staffed by foreign residents.

While drinkers often decry the decline in beer standards in Japan, the rise of the craft beer bars shows that consumers are willing to pay more for quality beer (in larger servings than regular beer anyway) in the right environment.

Single craft beer brand bars are also itself not without precedent. For example, there is the wildly popular Yona Yona Beer Kitchen, which opened in Akasaka-mitsuke in October 2013 and serves only Yona Yona beers from Karuizawa. These include the eponymous Yona Yona Ale, Tokyo Black and Aooni, plus seasonal specials.

While this is BrewDog’s fist Asian venture, the beer’s connections to Japan are already quite firm, not least because it brews an imperial stout called Tokyo that is a very nice oaky sud (and strong). You can already get BrewDog on tap at places like the snug Beer Pub Camden in Ikebukuro, as well as in bottle form from Tanakaya at Mejiro Station. BrewDog sales doubled in Japan between 2011 and 2012.

brewdog roppongi bar

BrewDog also already has several specialist bars around the UK as well as in Stockholm last year. A bar in Sao Paulo also opened in early 2014. Its current expansion is backed in part by the firm’s successful Equity for Punks crowdfunding scheme that was massively oversubscribed.

“Launching bars outside of Europe is a huge step towards taking the craft beer revolution global,” BrewDog co-founder James Watt told BBC Scotland in December.

“The craft beer scene has really blown up in some unexpected destinations in recent years and it’s amazing how people from around the world have taken to a small brewery from Aberdeen. Three years ago we never imagined we’d now be planning to open a bar in Tokyo or Sao Paulo, and it’s a testament to the passion and loyalty of our beer fans and Equity Punks.”

We love BrewDog for its pop bottle design and its tongue-in-cheek approach to naming; Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club and Dogma are just some of their wittily denominated range.

BrewDog was founded in Scotland in 2007 and currently exports 62% of its beer to 32 countries around the world.

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Top Trends in Japan in 2013

Written by: Japan Trends on December 27, 2013 at 11:20 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Another year, another packed calendar of trends.

What were some of the main ones that caught our eye throughout the past twelve months?

Olympics

tokyo olympics 2020 abe reuters

Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games amidst great controversy, not least the continuing plight of Fukushima and Tohoku, PM Abe’s lies to the IOC that the situation was “under control”, an already ballooning budget, a non-Japanese architect handling the stadium design, and a rather bizarrely pronounced presentation by Christel Takigawa (whose bank balance — along with Dentsu’s — has done very nicely out of the Olympics, of course). Oh, and the man celebrating in the center of the picture above is Naoki Inose, the Governor of Tokyo who has lost his job over a financial scandal.

TV Drama is Big Again

amachan nhk drama series

After years of flagging TV ratings, the year scored some major television hits, not least NHK’s morning drama Amachan and Hanzawa Naoki.

Mascots (official and not so)

japan mascot character yuru-kyara

Everyone knows that Japan loves mascots. Now even the Communist Party has some cute characters. In particular, the year has seen the meteroic rise of “unofficial” pear mascot Funassyi from Funabashi in Chiba.

Ghibli strikes golds

the wind rises hayao miyazaki

Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises was a phenomenal hit in Japan, not least because it was announced as Miyao Miyazaki’s final anime film… but he has said this before. While the Ghibli/Miyazaki brand is formidable, the success of the movie is pretty incredible when you considered how uncommercial its subject matter (fight plane design!) is. The jury’s still out on its overseas reception, though.

Meanwhile, Takashi Murakami’s first anime feature film appeared to make zero impact.

Coffee

starbucks coffee japan meguro traditional japanese design

From the ascent of Starbucks to become the nation’s second largest chain — along the way opening a special traditional crafts branch in Meguro — to the fashion for convenience stores to offer their own drip coffee products, Japan has become one of the biggest consumers of coffee in the world. It also comes with its own generous portion of snobbery and hipster-dom, aided by a constantly renewing library of magazines and books about which espresso bar to go to in which area of Tokyo at which time.

Twitter Idiots

prank_photo_lawson

Bakattaa is a new word that was coined to describe one of the biggest online trends this year. It means the idiots (baka) who tweet pictures of themselves doing silly stuff. This has proved particularly problematic when the said fools are doing unhygienic stunts at their part-time jobs in restaurants and shops. This has led to bankruptcies and job losses, but the trend seems to show no sign of abating. The news today mentioned a man in Osaka who stupidly tweeted that he had stabbed someone. If you’re going to do a crime, don’t tell social media! The current generation in their teens and twenties are digital natives, and thus are still negotiating the new rules of caution and courtesy when tweeting a selfie. This is worldwide, of course. Remember the idiots who tweeted questions asking who Osama bin Laden was when he was killed? This took the same amount of typing time as they could have used to answer their own question if they had bothered to think before “sharing”.

UNESCO

mt fuji unesco world heritage site japan

Mt Fuji was given designation as a World Heritage site by UNESCO earlier in the year, while washoku (Japanese food) was also registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. However, this was soured by the continuing controversy over contamination in Fukushima and how it was affecting crops, as well as a food mislabeling scandal engulfing many noted restaurants and hotels.

Rise in Nationalism

japan state secrets bill protest

Japan is going backwards. Prime Minister Abe is set on reversing history. He has passed a massively controversial state secrets bill, forged ahead with returning to nuclear power, purchased drones and a raft of other military equipment to “protect” contested territories, announced his intent to change the pacifist constitution, and now capped off the year by visiting the most sensitive place in Japan, Yasukuni Shrine. Good job, Mr Abe. A lesson in diplomacy for the world.

Coupled with the rise of regional right-wingers like Toru Hashimoto in Osaka and the unstoppable juggernaut that is Shintaro Ishihara (when will the octogenarian die?!), these are very, very troubling times for the country. Is this Cool Japan?

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Forget Starbucks, convenience stores now offer authentic, branded coffee at the counter

Written by: Mina on December 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Here in Japan, you can get a decent meal for (arguably) as little as 500 yen. Some people choose to spend the same amount on a cup of coffee at a café or on the go. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer as to how we should spend our money, yet the majority of us are still inclined to think that cheaper is better. Needless to say, we can argue that the price of a drink at a café includes cover charge giving you the right to occupy a seat for the next couple of hours — or even more — without being disturbed.

But if we could get a coffee of the nearly equal or same quality for half the price offered at giant chains, we would be tempted at least to try it, right? And that’s where convenience stores come in and are thriving now to satisfy Japanese coffee lovers of all ages.

At Seven Eleven, a regular-size coffee is offered at 100 yen. Their coffee brand, Seven Café, is proud to present an original drip coffee machine. Simply order a coffee at the cashier, receive a cup (for iced coffee, you need to get a different cup from the frozen section and bring it over yourself), place it in the machine and press the button. There you have a freshly brewed hot coffee in less than a minute.

seven eleven coffee japan

Self-service convenience store coffee (or “konbini coffee”) has already been voted the number one trend of the year by Nikkei Trendy. Each chain has established its own brand to differentiate their product from one another.

At Family Mart, Famima Café offers a blend coffee for 150 yen (120 yen for a small cup) and uses an espresso coffee machine made in Germany.

family mart coffee convenience store cafe japan

Lawson’s Machi Café, on the other hand, boasts the “hospitality” of its employees, unlike other chains, where they make the coffee behind the counter and hand it to customers themselves.

M’s Style Coffee at Mini Stop uses two different coffee blends: one for hot coffee and the other for iced coffee.

ministop coffee convenience store cafe japan

And finally, at CircleK Sunkus you can choose from four types of (hot) coffee at its Fast Relax Cafe: Original Taste (100 yen), Organic (150 yen), Extra Blend (160 yen), and Blue Mountain Blend (180 yen). They also have iced coffee and Lipton tea on the menu.

sunkus coffee

For all coffee lovers out there, konbini coffee might now have become a serious alternative to Starbucks, which is almost as ubiquitous today as a convenience store. While convenience stores have always been appreciated for just being there, ready to serve customers 24/7, authentic coffee at the counter is certainly a great addition to their service and may even attract fans in its own right.

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Pure (sweet) natural water jelly: A new summer delicacy

Written by: Mina on August 8, 2013 at 10:33 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Japan is a country known for its great generosity when it comes to serving customers, both current and potential alike. The level of customer service can be seen in various forms of service, from marketing freebies you can collect on the street (such as packets of tissues and paper fans) to multiple layers of wrapping paper covering a gift you purchased at a department store, which make the final product look three times bigger than its original size.

Yet there is one thing we tend to take for granted: drinking water.

water_consumption

Whenever you dine at a restaurant, eatery or even a small food stall on the street, the first thing you expect to get is a glass of water or even tea. If you start to wonder, just a few minutes after taking your seat how hard it can possibly be for a waiter to bring you a glass of water and even ask “Why hasn’t my water come yet?” then that’s when you know you have fully developed the local “customer is god” mentality.

In Japan, drinking water is almost always expected to be free of charge. Growing up, I don’t remember ever buying bottled water or drinking water out of a container. At school, we just drank water directly out of the tap.

Recently I was struck by the advent of a new summer “water jello” (or “water jelly”) sweet. Water jello and other jelly drinks have been around for a while, but this is one step further. On June 21st, Cozy Corner, one of the biggest sweets chains in Japan, launched the sale of its own water jello made from pure natural water from Hokkaido.

cozy_corner_water_jelly

Four cups of water jello are sold as a set priced at 1,050 yen and come with four packs of fruit sauce: lemon, orange, grapefruit and shikwasa (Okinawan citrus).

jelly_fruit_sauce

Here this lady is showing how to make water jello at home. Simply dissolve gelatin in hot water, pour it in containers and chill them in the fridge. The first 28 seconds is making the sauce, which in her case is kuromitsu (black sugar syrup).

Although Cozy Corner’s water jelly is only available for the summer (the sale will end at the end of August) it’s probably not the kind of summer sweets that you would expect to eat in a sweat. I can easily imagine people eating such jello in a perfectly air-conditioned room, yet if I had to choose between tap water (no matter how lukewarm it may be!) and water jello on a typical summer day under the sun, I would definitely run for the tap water and be forever grateful for its supply.

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