Self-serve beer machine in all-you-can-drink restaurant

It's in a Japanese "all-you-can-drink" restaurant, which sounds like a splendid idea. Note how it performs a correct angled pour, with headspit finish, to provide a superior pint. Read the rest

Profile of Japan's female bonsai master

Chiako Yamamoto is the first and only female sensei of Japan's revered bonsai masters. She shows trees of various sizes and ages, including those she inherited from relatives generations ago. Read the rest

Tokyo street interviews: Should Japan accept more foreign workers?

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently implemented a goal to introduce 500,000 foreign workers to Japan -- which is experiencing an aging and declining population -- by the year 2020. Currently about 2% of residents in Japan are foreigners. Asian Boss hit the streets of Tokyo to get reactions to the program. Opinions range from positive to dead set against it. One of the most cited reasons for not allowing a large influx of foreigners is because they do not understand Japanese culture and will have a hard time fitting in. One woman said Japanese in general like Americans but dislike non-Japanese Asians. Another woman said she was "scared of foreign drugs coming to Japan."

Read the rest

Senko hanabi: Japanese sparklers light the summer nights

Summer in Japan isn't summer in Japan unless there are fireworks—and lots of them. Cities and towns, temples and ports; somewhere near you, on one of these hot and outrageously humid summer nights, there will be a fireworks show. It will be loud, and it will be incredible.

The quiet side of summer pyrotechnics, though, is called senko hanabi. Senko in Japanese meaning an incense stick, and hanabi (literally flower fire) is the word for fireworks. The senko hanabi is one cool little dude with a lot of meaning and charm packed into a very short and very serene ten seconds.

First, one of these delicate sparklers looks like a roughly 20 centimeter long, tightly twisted, rainbow-colored piece of tissue paper, with one end not so tightly twisted. That’s the top. There’s no stick inside, so the way to burn one is to pinch the top, holding the senko hanabi vertical, while you light the bottom. After a second or two, a molten bubble will form. Here’s where you have to have a steady hand. If you’re not careful, that tiny shimmering ball of fire will drop off and the show is over. If, however, you can hold it very still, you will be able to enjoy the serene, mesmerizing, indeed almost hypnotizing beauty of a Japanese senko hanabi.

This beauty is divided into five stages that go like this:

1. Bud. The fire bubble looks like the bud of a flower. 2. Peony. When the first burst of sparkles appear, breaking the surface of the tiny molten ball, the shape is said to look like a peony. Read the rest

Instant noodle action figures

Graphic designer Taishi Arimura creates all sorts of delightful and whimsical work, including these cool instant noodle action figures. Read the rest

Japan's 6.7 earthquake swallows homes in landslides, kills at least 9 people

Japan was struck with a magnitude 6.7 earthquake at 3:08am local time in Hokkaido, causing several landslides that swallowed a number of houses.

According to The Japan Times:

A landslide along a long ridge in the rural town of Atsuma could be seen in aerial footage from NHK. The 3:08 a.m. quake also cut the power supply to nearly 3 million homes in the prefecture while grounding flights and disrupting train services.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put the death toll at nine while the Hokkaido Prefectural Government said about 300 people were injured in Sapporo and other cities.

The government said later in the day that about 340,000 homes had regained electricity.

Aftershocks have already hit, one of them a magnitude of 5.3 just minutes after the earthquake, according to Business Insider. Residents have been warned that more may follow in the next few days. A tsunami is not expected. Read the rest

Lactic acid bacteria chocolate, another delicious treat from Japan

It’s not like I need another reason to eat chocolate. But if I were looking for one, I think the South Korean company Lotte might have found it. Probiotic chocolate. Or more specifically, Lactic acid bacteria - (lactobacillales) fortified chocolate.

In Japanese it’s called nyuusankin, and I’ve seen the characters written on all kinds of foods throughout the years. But it was just recently, while poking around the impulse item shelf of my local supermarket waiting to check out, I spotted this box. Of course, I bought it with very little internal debate, even less guilt. I mean, chocolate, right? Healthy chocolate.

I went home and searched around online to see what I could find out about Sweets Days Nyusankin Chocola Almond. It only gets better folks. These little chocolate covered almond nuggets of goodness also contain polyphenols and fiber.

Lotte, you don’t have to try so hard, you had me at lactic acid bacteria.

Photo: Thersa Matsuura Read the rest

"U.S.A." music video, by Da Pump, is all the rage in Japan

Why? Read the rest

Chaos Soup: Japanese tomato smoothie with cream cheese

Kirin Sekai no Kitchen has recently started selling a product they call Melting Chaos Soup. It's sold beside the bottled water and teas. Now, I'm not a fan of tomato soup or juice, but I liked the label so picked one up. I noticed the small pictures of tomatoes, cheese, and what I thought was basil running around the bottle. But it wasn’t until I got home and read it and then really looked that I noticed the basil wasn’t basil, it was mint, and there was one item I missed. Peaches.

Yes. Melting Chaos Soup boasts a brand new genre in drinks. It says it’s like a smoothie soup that changes flavor from moment to moment. Shake well, open and give it a sniff, then bottoms up. It’s a mix of tomato (55%) and peach juice (12%), cream cheese, and mint.

After opening and tentatively smelling, it actually took me a few minutes to get up the nerve to take the first swig. It really did smell exactly as promised, like tomato mixed with peach juice then throw in a hint of mint. I did finally take a sip, and then another. Another. I'm not sure if chaos would be how I’d describe the taste, although it did changed from moment to moment. The surprising thing was I didn’t hate it. I kind of liked it. If I could change one thing, though, it might be they add more cream cheese.

Photo: Thersa Matsuura Read the rest

Bee spit is the special sauce in this Japanese Voice Care Candy

Are you one of those people who use your voice a lot? Work, home, a side hustle like a podcast perhaps? If you are, then I've got the candy for you. While searching for chocolate one day, I ran across these Voice Care Throat Lozenges (by the Japanese company Kanro). The Japanese is fine, but I love the English tagline: "Let's Sing in Your Best Voice!".

Now I'm like you and just guessed these are like any other cough drop or hard candy. The package tries to tell you differently though. The front boasts that the candies were developed jointly with the Tokyo College of Music (Ongaku Daigaku), and it sounds like they spent a lot of time trying to develop a product that really does do wonders for your throat. The back notes they are for people who “talk a lot, sing a lot, people who want a clean throat or just want to feel refreshed.”

Along with various unidentified herbs (the ingredients only mention "herb extract" along with orange, apple, and olive leaf essence), propolis seems to be the special sauce of Voice Care Candy. Propolis, if you don’t know, is sometimes called bee glue, think bee spit mixed with beeswax. It is used by bees to seal small gaps in the hive. Traditionally, it was also used as a medicine to treat cold sores, genital herpes, and mouth pain after surgery, not that there was much evidence showing that it worked for any of those things. Read the rest

Warabi Mochi: a gooey Japanese summer dessert, now in chocolate mint

There’s a gelatinous, slightly chewy, delicious-when-served-chilled dessert in Japan called warabi mochi. It is made from starch, water, and sugar. Simple. The usual way it's served is generously covered in soybean flour and then squirted with some brown sugar syrup.

It's interesting to note that the original starch used for making warabi mochi was derived from the bracken plant (a fern-looking thing). However, that method proves a bit time consuming in these days of immediate gratification as it takes 10 kilos (22 lbs) of bracken root to extract a mere 70 grams (2.4 ounces) of starch. These days, other similarly textured starches are being used instead. Think sweet potato starch and tapioca.

Now, warabi mochi is often considered a summer treat because it's light and served cold, perfect for hot days when you don't have much of an appetite. You know something else that has become a summer treat in Japan? Chocolate mint everything. It's like you can't find anything chocolate mint flavored until August first and then the chocomint floodgates are opened. I guess it was inevitable that East should meet West and some genius at 7-11 would dream up a chocolate mint warabi mochi dessert. This sounds like a bad idea, but I bought one anyway. I found tucked inside the jelly-like warabi mochi exterior mint whipped cream and loads of chocolate chips. It turns out chocolate mint warabi mochi is amazingly good and it might be only reason I'm sad to see this typhoon-riddled, flood-plagued, heatwave-infested summer end. Read the rest

Japanese Whisky: beautiful book about the best booze east of Glen Garioch

Beautifully produced and incredibly satisfying, Brian Ashcraft's Japanese Whisky is more than a handsome primer about some of the world's best booze. It's also an assured and familiar exploration of the drink's history and culture in the world's fourth-largest whisky market, complemented by outstanding photography and dozens of tasting notes.

Five dead after air conditioners break down in Japanese hospital

Five octogenarian patients died after air conditioning units at the Fujikake Y&M Daiichi Hospital in Gifu City failed. While some patients were moved to the cooler second floor, others were left in the hot floors for a week.

Four of those who remained died between August 26 and 27, with the fifth dying on August 28. The recorded temperature in Gifu on the 26th was 36.2°C (97°F). The hospital reported they were using fans to cool the patients and that the deaths were from chronic illnesses. An investigation is being conducted on the suspicion of professional negligence.

Japan is suffering from a heatwave with the some of the highest temperatures on record. The heat killed 133 people in the month of July alone and sent thousands to hospital.

Read the rest

Review: Blendy Black Lemon Coffee from Japan

In Japan when I see the name Blendy, I imagine coffee. Usually I think instant coffee, or some kind of stick thats contents can be stirred into hot water to make a cup of joe in various flavors. Normal flavors like latte, espresso, or farm latte (there really is a farm latte.)

Farm latte aside, when I think Blendy, I usually don’t think about anything too outside the box.

That changed when the other day a new product caught my eye. Black Lemon Coffee. The catch copy reads: “Ice coffee with a new sensation”. Indeed. Before trying it, I read around the hashtags on Twitter, and it looks like the new bottled beverage has a lot of converts, with some fans saying it’s a cross between coffee and herbal tea, others exclaiming it’s their new summer obsession.

Then I tried it. Me? I’m afraid I’m a nope. The taste of Blendy’s Black Limone coffee was exactly how I’d imagined a cup of cold sweet coffee would taste if someone snuck up and squirted lemon in it. Give me coffee or give me tea. Please, don’t give me lemon in my coffee.

Photo: Rich Pav Read the rest

Moon Viewing Burger: a McDonald's meal you can only get in Japan

Every fall in Japan, McDonald's releases a Moon Viewing Burger (Tsukimi Burger). Basically, it's a burger with a perfectly round fried egg in the middle somewhere.

This year added to the regular lineup is a new Golden Tsukimi Burger. Not only do you get a golden bun (that smells like butter!), but also a thick slice of golden-colored cheese. Read the rest

LA has a cool exhibit about making robots at the new Japan House

A couple of weeks ago Carla and I went to the newly opened Japan House in Hollywood to see a presentation about prototyping of robots. Japan House is a combination gallery, shop, event venue, and restaurant at Hollywood and Highland that "seeks to foster awareness and appreciation for Japan around the world by showcasing the very best of Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, technology, and more."

The current exhibition at Japan House focuses on the work of professor Shunji Yamanaka, who leads the Yamanaka Laboratory at the University of Tokyo. Visitors can pick up and inspect 3D printed prototypes of lifelike robotic creatures that look like insects, lizards, and otherworldly animals. Many of the robots are outfitted with motors and they move in lifelike ways.

Professor Yamanaka gave a presentation of his work that evening. I learned that he was the inventor of the card-activated gate that's used by millions of Japanese every day when they ride the rail system. I used these gates dozens of times when I was in Japan this summer to ride the subway, activating the gates with a stored value card called SUICA. (You can also open the gates with a smart watch, like the Apple Watch.)

Professor Yamanaka also co-created, along with Takayuki Furuta of the Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology, a robot called the CanguRo (Spanish for kangaroo). The robot can be ridden like a motorized scooter or it can roll alongside you and carry heavy items. Here's a video of it in action:

“Prototyping in Tokyo” runs until 10 October 2018, Monday - Saturday from 10 am - 8 pm and Sunday from 10 am – 7pm. Read the rest

Have you ever heard of the superstition "Don't Pee on the Worm"?

One of the most baffling superstitions I've ever heard while living in Japan came from my mother-in-law. One day we were walking on a trail with my kindergarten-aged son when we looked down to see there was an earthworm crossing our path. We stopped, but before I could find a stick to nudge him out of the way, my mother-in-law screamed, grabbed my son, and yelled, "Don't pee on it!".

I didn't know where to start. I think I started by explaining that her grandson doesn't usually make a habit out of dropping trou and piddling on every bug he happens to come across. But, also, was the looming question, why? I mean aside from the fact it's not a cool thing to do to such a tiny creature. Why? So I asked. She went on to lecture me about how little boys like peeing on worms (It's what she said, really.) and how if they do, their little boy parts will swell up and start itching terribly. It's an awful thing, she told me.

Oookay. Keep in mind, this was pre-Internet, so there was no way for me to whip out (heh) my phone and check. I decided it was probably a silly old wives' tale made to keep rambunctious little boys from doing mischievous things. I even heard it a couple times after that fateful day, from different people. But still there was no insight into why this idea even started in the first place. Then one day, many years later, I was watching a Japanese TV show doing a bit about superstitions and this one came up. Read the rest

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