Cultures usually mark important anniversaries with a ceremony. In Japan they produce special food… in a can.
2015 is the fourth centenary of the death of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun and whose rise to power signalled in the start of the stable Edo Period. To celebrate, Hagoromo Foods, probably most famous for their “sea chicken”, has created two special canned dishes with ingredients related to Ieyasu.
The “meat sauce” cans feature either eggplant or haccho miso, which is a specialty of Aichi Prefecture.
Priced ¥800, the cans are being sold only in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures from January 16th.
Each can is 250 calories and serves 2-4 people.
The eggplant might sound a bit random but it’s associated with the idea of hatsuyume — the first dream of the year. Apparently the first Tokugawa ruled was fond of eggplant, along with Mt Fuji and falconry. So if in your first dream of the new year you see all three, then you are in for an auspicious twelve months.
Canned food in Japan can be pretty awesome, even the stuff sold at the convenience store. You can also spot some pretty original canned offerings at vending machines, including soups and desserts.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has entered the coffee shop market in Japan, in a direct challenge to the McDonald’s McCafé format. From November 28th, the Colonel’s Cafe in Kobe will be serving French press espresso and hot teas such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling, as well as cheese cakes and other desserts.
A new type of menu requires a new type of interior. The iconic red has been jettisoned for plants, snazzy flooring, and wooden tables seating 26. In other words, a Japanese city cafe. Much like McCafé, the regular KFC menu will also be available (fear not, the “C” from the name hasn’t warped into “coffee”).
A few years ago McDonald’s started opening stylish, spunked-up branches in key areas like Aoyama, Harajuku, Shibuya and so on. Certain restaurants later added standalone branded McCafé “barista” coffee bars offering cakes and lattes alongside the regular McDonald’s counter, starting with the Omotesando branch. KFC also has some of these “luxury fast food” outlets (check out the one in Shibuya near the Apple store, for example). Ever the underdog trying to prove itself, KFC boldly opened a whisky bar in Shimokitazawa in 2012.
For its first coffee shop, KFC has opted to go down a slightly different path to McCafé, opening the debut cafe in a mall at JR Rokkomichi Station in Kobe at the end of this month. McCafé has succeeded, though, because while it expanded the McDonald’s menu to include espressos and fitted in with certain higher-class environs, it ultimately remained the cheap choice and still undercut the prices of Starbucks et al. In my (relatively few) experiences visiting these “posh” fast food restaurants, the clientele is the same. The menu upgrade is intriguing but in the end, the new format is only a cosmetic one that makes the chain sit better in areas like Omotesando.
A quick glance at the Colonel’s Cafe menu reveals the prices are a little higher than expected, certainly more expensive than dirt-cheap coffee shops like Doutor. But if shelling out nearly ¥500 for a Mexican coffee sounds too much like a trip to Starbucks, rest assured the ordinary cheap KFC coffee will also be available.
We will have to see if people like the Colonel’s Cafe before branches start appearing in Tokyo. KFC does have at least one guaranteed income boost coming up next month. KFC is actually most popular in Japan at Christmas, where everyone lines up outside in the cold to get chicken on Christmas Eve.
Japan is a nation obsessed with food and also, so people say, childishness. And so it is only natural that the two things would be combined at some point. The result is cooking toys, which Takara Tomy in particular has been really pushing over the past three years.
The latest is the Okashina Tamago Mawashite Purin Egg Flan Maker, which allows you to cook egg flan just by moving a lever back and forth for two minutes.
Part a game, part a genuine way to make a dessert, the video promoting the product is frankly remarkable.
This cooking toy trend has been rolling out over the last couple of years now.
Takara Tomy started it off in 2012 with the Takara Tomy Gurefuru Chuchu, a kind of mini-blender attachment to make orange juice inside the fruit itself.
Just watch this video and you will see the instant appeal of the product!
Invariably the products are all marketed with a suitable silly video, usually with an annoyingly catchy song and music. And sometimes dancing too.
Another recent example is the Maracas de Popcorn, which combines making popcorn with a musical instrument (yes, these are also maracas).
No surprise that there is also a funny video.
Besides the tone of the marketing, something common to most of the cooking toys is also that they do not require batteries or electricity for the most part, instead relying on a bit of elbow grease and the enthusiasm of kids. They are also actually very simple technologically but rely on the fun pop design, and the accompanying “action” (or even dance) to appeal to kids and parents.
Dutch electronics maker have stolen the limelight from local manufacturers with this new must-have home item, the Philips Noodle Maker. The automatic raw noodle maker can churn out ramen, soba, udon and spaghetti noodles in minutes!
How does it work? Well, it’s super simple, as the best home appliances always are. You just put in your choice of ingredients (flour, of course, and water and egg, though you could also add other things to give your noodles some color) and then press the start button. According to Philips, you can make 500g (17.6 oz) of pasta/noodles in 15 minutes.
There are four different caps that will shape the mix into the raw noodles shape you want (ramen, udon, soba or spaghetti). These can then be stored neatly in the drawer at the bottom.
Much better than dry noodles and no kneading needed!
The Japanese go mad over these handy home cooking appliances. Much like the excitement over the Gopan machine that could bake bread out of rice a few years ago, now everyone seems to be talking about this noodle maker.
Currently only available in Japan and some limited Asian markets like Hong Kong and Taiwan, JapanTrendShop is now offering it for global deliveries.
Glico’s Papico ice cream has upped the marketing for its summer campaign and this apparently means appealing to the inner moe in every Japanese consumer.
The frozen snack has relaunched with new packaging featuring an updated slinky female mascot in three designs, though we wonder if the results are little too much for non-otaku.
As the summer heats up, it’s the peak season for beer companies and ice cream bands.
It seems that otaku motifs are seeping into all walks of life now. The question is whether skimpily-dressed schoolgirls on the wrapping of a ice cream would make you buy it.
Papico is a tube containing ice cream that can usually be seen being sucked furiously on by school kids in the hotter months. One pack contains two tubes and there are multiple flavors.
The packaging for the “white sour” version has traditionally featured the Papico character Howaitosawa/Whitesawa (a joke on “white sour”), a sweet young girl — a sort of Japanese Milky Bar Kid — who has appeared on the wrapping in various forms since 1975. Glico found that without the girl, sales actually dropped.
This is how the packaging has changed over the years.
Out with the old, as the adage says. Glico launched a contest in April and May to have people re-design the packaging and the girl by submitting illustrations via pixiv. The winners were then picked from these and have made their way onto the final product, which went on sale on June 9th.
Here are the three winners.
And here are some of the unsuccessful entries.
In some ways we shouldn’t be surprised as Papico is the same Glico product that is currently running a campaign with idol group AKB48, including recruiting a new thirty-something temporary housewife idol into the band. We guess they really were intent on changing the image of the product!
Don’t worry. If you’re a fan of the original retro Papico White Sour design, it’s not going away for good. Once the moe-packaged Papico products are sold out, Glico says they won’t be making any more.
It’s nearly summer. The rainy season will soon be upon us, along with cockroaches, humidity and the usual host of great summer matsuri festivals.
And loads of summer food. One of the best is kakigori, or shaved ice snow cones.
We also spotted these great artistic kakigori “ice sculptures” by Kome Hachi Soba in Okinawa City. Some are very creative and even political!
There has been a lot of hipster nonsense with “3D latte art” in Japan in recent times, fuelled by social media users fairly easily impressed and baristas with arguably too much time on their hands between serving overpriced cups of the black stuff.
However, these kakigori sculptures by Yoshirou Nagayama are pretty cool. Of course, they only last a few minutes so your time to appreciate them is limited.
See what you can spot here. Are these eagles?
There are even Osprey aircraft versions, referencing the controversial accident-prone US V-22 Osprey military aircraft whose presence in Okinawa has been fiercely contested by locals.
Vending machines come in all shapes and sizes, and seem to sell everything from books to snacks, drinks, used panties and more.
But how about a vending machine that lets you have a private dance with an idol?
For one day only, Shibuya’s Marui City will let fans do just that.
It’s being organized by Ezaki-Glico, one of Japan’s biggest sweets makers, and especially as a promo for their long-standing Seventeen ice cream brand. While it is common to see Seventeen vending machines all over Tokyo, this is a whole new kind of experience.
The idol in question is a newbie, Ayami Muto, who is making her debut this spring.
On April 26th, brand ambassador Ayami Muto will be dancing on a big display on the Seventeen Ice Original Vending Machine, which changes depending on the flavor of Seventeen ice cream you choose. Ayami’s costume colors will also be different in each video to match the flavors, of which there are, not surprisingly, seventeen.
Dancers will have their movements digitally regenerated as computer graphics, to be put together later as a special animated video. If you dance correctly matching Ayami’s choreography then you can get yourself a complimentary ice cream — perfect as the weather turns hotter.
Vending machine boffins will probably have already spotted that this ice cream idol vendor is very similar to the Dance Dance Revolution vending machine from Coca-Cola that was a big hit in Korea in 2012.
Dancing with Ayami is free and Ayami herself is expecting to turn up in Shibuya as well at around 14:00, though we expect a dance with the physical idol might be asking too much.
Check out the vending machine from 11:00 to 19:00.
Spring always brings a flurry of sakura (cherry blossom)-themed products, from sweets to stamps, phone apps and more.
But we never imagined there would be a pink cheeseburger any time soon!
As the cherry blossom season kicks on from around March 20th, the bloom making its way up the archipelago of Japan till it hits the capital and creates mad hordes of picnicking drunk weekenders in early April, McDonald’s is celebrating the real arrival of the warmer spring climes with a sakura burger.
Yes, you read that right.
What could a cherry blossom burger be like?! Well, in a nutshell the Sakura Teritama is a pink bun with sakura mayonnaise sauce. Inside you taste buds will experience a fried egg, ginger teriyaki pork, lettuce and cherry blossom radish mayo. It first went on sale in 2012 but this year’s version is apparently slightly different.
You can get your first taste of the Sakura Teritama burgers from March 21st (the spring equinox) and the Sakura Cherry float and soda from March 14th.
Another year, another packed calendar of trends.
What were some of the main ones that caught our eye throughout the past twelve months?
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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”.
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 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?