Archive for March, 2008

Why Yes, That Comes in Green Tea Flavor

Last year on this blog I confessed my fondness (okay, “obsession” might be a better word) for Haagen-Dazs green tea ice cream from Japan. I even wrote the company and asked why it wasn’t available stateside. They sent me a couple of coupons in the mail and told me they didn’t have plans to release that flavor in the U.S. anytime soon. But now, at long last: success!! From January to August, grocery stores across the country will be stocked with limited edition green tea ice cream.

 

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The flavor is more popular than ever. J-list Side Blog recently offered up a new treat: green tea mint gum. Not sure I’d like the taste of that; I worry the mint part will overpower the subtleness of the tea flavor (sort of like when Lipton adds lemon to their iced teas; I think they should leave it alone).

Apparently there is no product that can’t be flavored with green tea. Kaboodle.com sells green tea pretzels (with “black honey syrup flavor”), green tea caramels, green tea Pocky and green tea Nestlé Kit Kats! You can read a not-so-favorable assessment of the Kit Kats at Chocolate Review, which may be the best blog idea ever and is run by a British university student.

 

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Here in L.A., Trader Joe’s sells green tea muffin mix, which is simple to bake at home. I really like them but I admit they’re an acquired taste.

For you daring types, here’s a recipe for green tea pudding. The finished product looks surprisingly scrumptious!

But the one I really want to eat is green tea pound cake.

With some actual green tea to wash it all down, of course.

Sarah S.

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March 28, 2008 at 7:35 am 3 comments

Better Than a Shoebox Greeting

I remember a few years back when witty greeting cards came into circulation, breathing new life into the age-old exchange. There was a Hallmark shop down the street and I loved to plop myself in the aisle browsing through each card for a good belly laugh or two. Heck, it was cheaper than an Archie comic.

But now in the Internet era, it must be hard to sell a tangible token of sympathy or even a belated birthday wish. These days, few are willing to spend $3.50 on a Christmas card when they can just mass-email their holiday greeting.

So leave it up to the Japanese to find ways to keep the card industry going. The pop-up cards I get from friends throughout the year never fail to entertain me:

 

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As you open and close the card these little Santas sway side-to-side, and the guys on the sleigh fly over the roof. It’s as if they’re really moving! (Though maybe the spiked eggnog made me see things. =P)

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This card shows a scene at a Japanese summer festival. In the foreground is a pool of goldfish. It’s a game kids play where they’re given a scooper made of a thin sheet of tissue. The object is to scoop out a fish before the tissue breaks. To the left are masks, usually of popular anime characters. And to the right is a recreation of colorful water balloons tied to rubber bands. It’s Japan’s version of a yo-yo. The detail on this card back a lot of good memories.

 

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And then there’s this card from my last “over the hill” birthday. You know, when I turned 18. (tee-hee) It might not be apparent what it is but basically there’s a plastic Cupie doll attached. Open the card and you’ll find he’s got on a parachute. So after you’re done with the card you can pull him out and play with him.

It’s the most random thing ever. But that’s why I love Japanese cards. (^D^)/

Himawari

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March 24, 2008 at 8:50 am

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago so even though I live in L.A., I still root for the Cubs (don’t laugh). Okay, so 2008 may mark the 100th consecutive year that the Cubs have not won the World Series, but on the other hand, it could be our year! No, seriously! Excitement in the Windy City is high because of the arrival of 30-year-old Kosuke Fukudome, a terrific Japanese baseball player who joined Japan’s Chunichi Dragons in the late ’90s.

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In 2006, he was picked for Japan’s team in the first annual World Baseball Classic and helped win the event. Flash forward to December 2007, when Fukudome is the subject of a bidding war between the Cubs and Chi-town rivals the White Sox. In the end he signed a four-year contract with the Cubbies valued at $48 million, according to Sporting News Magazine. He will start this season as a right fielder.

In the meantime, we’re in the throes of spring training. Unless you’re one of those hardcore fantasy baseball players (like Paul Rudd’s character in Knocked Up), in which case you’re studying everyone to determine who’ll make the cut on your personal team, there’s not much for the average fan to do right now except wait and anticipate – and possibly check out this book: Baseball Haiku.

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Yes, you read that right. Subtitled “The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game”, this 2007 anthology has collected more than 200 baseball-themed haiku poems from famous Japanese and American authors, including Masaoka Shiki (a master of the form who actually created the word haiku) and Jack Kerouac.

The website for the book’s publisher, Norton Independent, says, “Like haiku, [baseball] is concerned with the nature of the seasons: joyous in the spring, thrilling in summer’s heat, ripening with the descent of fall, and remembered fondly in winter.”

Works for me.

Go Cubs!

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Sarah S.

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March 20, 2008 at 7:36 am

Made in China = Paranoia?

ALERT! ALERT! Throw out your Chinese pork buns! Burn your kid’s toys! Do it or DIE!

That’s the message spreading across the globe about Chinese exports. In the U.S., it started with a major toy recall after discovering parts were detailed with lead-based paint. Now in Japan they’ve found pesticides mixed into imported meat buns (nikuman) and dumplings (gyoza). Mainstream media has been quick to jump on this international scandal and consumers are equally on their toes, scouring their cabinets for anything that looks remotely “Made in China.”

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It’s a scary thing to realize you’ve just ingested fertilizer which is why I try as much as possible to eat homegrown vegetables and organics from the local health food store. But when I’m bombarded with news about this so-called Chinese peril, I can’t help but to worry for how we Japanese and Americans will start treating Chinese people.

The other day I found my Japanese friend rummaging through a basket of condiments he’d accumulated from weekly trips to Yoshinoya. “This one’s Chinese, too…ugh,” he muttered to himself as he tossed each red pepper flake packet into the trash.

Other friends who’ve heeded media warnings have boycotted China altogether, despite the fact that only a handful products have been cited. Instead of being wary of certain products from certain manufacturers, we’ve learned to nurture caution xenophobically.

Back in the ‘90s when Japanese cars were outselling the U.S., I’d get a lot of evil stares from white-bread Americans because I looked like the enemy. Luckily I drove a Chevy, so that threw them for a loop. Other Asians weren’t as lucky. One guy named Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death in 1982 by a bat carried by two laid-off auto workers; They thought he was the root of their misfortune.

Especially in a homogenous society like Japan, it’s easy to develop an “us” vs. “them” mentality. The line between the two is drawn thickly. So it scares me when news reports seem to accuse an entire population of wrongdoing.

Sure I worry about how my Chinese pork buns are made, but I also worry about the manure-tainted spinach recalls from Northern California. Though that doesn’t mean I’ll start boycotting everything north of the Sierras.

So unless there’s a food recall, I’ll take my chances on my store-bought pork buns. They’re mighty tasty, despite the freezer burn. (^_^)/

Himawari

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March 17, 2008 at 7:49 am

This Month in Japanese Robots…

It’s cliché, but true: Japan hearts robots. Remember Aibo, the robot dog? Or those weird battling robots that could play soccer? How about Asahi’s beer-pouring robot? (Does anyone really need that??) There’s also a Japanese pop culture magazine and store called Giant Robot. Okay, that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but my point is, each year seems to bring us new robots from Japan.

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A recent article in International Business News, “Japan and Robots are an old Love Affair,” claims that Japanese robots have roots in the 17th Century. Wooden wind-up dolls with clock-like innards wearing kimonos could be found carrying trays of tea, and are considered by some to be the world’s first robots. They were called karakuri.

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Today we’ve got a cell phone robot from Softbank Mobile Corporation. It unfolds from an innocuous-looking rectangle into a little robot with a face, arms and legs. It’s programmed to comment on your phone usage (“You’re calling her often these days, aren’t you?”) via text message.

And then there’s Robovie, a sort of ambassador / humanitarian robot who helps lost shoppers at a mall in Osaka. Enjoy!

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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March 13, 2008 at 7:34 am 1 comment

A Town Named Obama

The presidential race heated up last week between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But as the days go by, Obama is building momentum as the younger, more charming senator who promises to lead the country toward “real change”.

Thousands of miles away, a Japanese fishing town is hoping he’ll come through. With a meager population of 32,000, the city of Obama (meaning “small seashore”) is rooting for their namesake, not because they enjoy universal healthcare, but because publicity for the Illinois senator lends attention their way.

More than most U.S. citizens themselves, Obama dwellers have been active participants in this year’s campaigning, following state primaries, wearing Obama tees, and covering wall-space with “I *heart* Obama” posters. And then there’s the red bean cakes printed with an anime-style mug of the senator. It sure beats bumper stickers.

Though Mayor Toshio Murakami admits that it wasn’t until Senator Obama started picking up pace when the city became an active supporter. He figures 8-10 odds in his favor.

Last year, the mayor expressed his support, searching for Obama’s address online and mailing over a pair of lacquer chopsticks, one of the city’s regional products. Next, he’s sending a good luck charm (“omamori”) from the local shrine. No doubt, if Senator Obama were to actually respond with a “thank you,” the mayor will extend a grand tour of the fishing town. And if that should come about all eyes will be on Obama, both person and place.

Now if only there was a town in China named Clinton.

Himawari

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March 10, 2008 at 1:26 pm 1 comment

Violets are Blue, and Roses are…Too? Franken-rose in 2009

Known more for its whisky than its flower development, the Japanese company Suntory Ltd. nevertheless scored a major coup in the floral world in 2004 by creating genetically modified blue roses. Since then, the Australian scientists who work for Suntory have perfected the hitherto elusive flowers and feel the time has come to unleash these freaks of nature — er, beautiful creations — on the romantics of the world. The roses are slated to go on sale in Japan in 2009, reports Inventor Spot. Other countries are sure to follow.

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According to Chinese folklore, a blue rose signifies hope against unattainable love, and Wikipedia says that blue roses signify “mystery or attaining the impossible” (probably because blue roses, are, well, impossible in nature).

So how the heck did scientists accomplish this feat?

Apparently, they found a way to “turn off” certain rose genes and replace them with genes from pansies. These allow the rose’s blue pigments to become synthesized. (I don’t get it, either.)

To be honest, this sort of genetic tampering creeps me out. Nature already provides us with such an amazing variety of flowers that it seems strange to spend time and money creating something that, to me, looks fake. (Even the name of the company, Florigene, is a bit too sci-fi for my taste.)

Commenters on Inventor Spot’s story are remarking that the flowers look lilac, not blue, which is a good point. But all the nitpickers who want a darker shade or truer blue can still go with white roses dyed blue at places like Blue Rose Florist or they can wait until the Australian scientists unveil variations on the color, as they’re expected to do in years to come.

Regardless, next Valentine’s Day you’ll have the option to think blue, not red!

Sarah S.

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March 6, 2008 at 9:01 am

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