Archive for June, 2007

World’s Oldest Man and Woman: Both Japanese

Remember when you were a kid, and birthday parties were a source of pure joy? You got presents, songs, cake, and, best of all, you were the center of attention?

Then sometime around, say, 30, birthdays started to creep up on you, unwanted and without warning. The cards people sent had a distinctive “neener, neener” vibe to them, and the last thing you wanted was to be the center of attention on that particular day.

Now imagine living to 111!

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That’s the age Tomoji Tanabe, a resident of Miyakonojo (a southern city in Japan, on the island of Kyushu, celebrated this year. And talk about being the center of attention: on June 19th, he received a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records for his accomplishment as the world’s oldest man.

As for the world’s oldest woman? She is also Japanese and also lives in Kyushu! Her name is Yone Minagawa, and she was born in 1893 (making her 114).

According to the Associated Press, “The number of Japanese living beyond 100 has almost quadrupled in the past 10 years, with the once-exclusive centenarian club expected to exceed 28,000 this year.”

What’s their secret?

Some claim it’s a healthy diet consisting mainly of vegetables and fish, in portions that are half the size of those typically eaten by Westerners; Tanabe himself attributes it to the fact that he drinks milk and avoids alcohol and tobacco. Others believe that soy reduces heart disease, noodles aid the digestive track, and tea provides antioxidants; each is prominent in Japanese meals.

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For more theories, you an always check out the book “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen” by Naomi Moriyama. After all, Japanese women have the lowest obesity rates in the world, and their average lifespan is 86. Japanese men typically live to the age of 79, which ain’t too shabby, either.

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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June 29, 2007 at 5:35 pm 2 comments

We Love Candy!

Last week, England’s most famous chocolate maker, Cadbury, announced a bid for a majority stake in cough drop maker Sansei Foods Co. Apparently, sales for the Japanese company – producer of Xylichrystal Mint candy – have dropped in the past year amid stiff competition.

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Candy, candy, candy. It ranks high among the things I love to hoard whenever I’m in Japan. And with so many choices out there – from mouth-puckering lemon drops to soda-fizzing gum – it’s easy to see why manufacturers are constantly racking their brains for the next new thing. It’s competing among Willy Wonka clones.

Though it’s not taste alone that gets the product sold. My favorite candies come in bright shiny packages printed with animated characters and glittery writing. Freebies are a big plus, too. Remember how exciting it was to dig into a box of Cracker Jacks? With Japanese candy you might find a sheet of stickers or a little charm that high school girls love attaching to their school bag.

Some candies even turn into collector’s items. A few years back, young girls everywhere were snatching up packs of a mint candy called Pinky. Tiny tablets the size of baby aspirin, a select few carried a heart-shaped insignia that bestowed good fortune onto whoever came across it. I was even having friends in Japan to send me packs of Pinky, though of course it’s like searching for that rare golden ticket that only money or good karma could really afford.

Japanese candy has developed such a reputation that it’s spurred fans in the U.S. to dedicate online sites on the industry. Candy Blog describes and rates each product. Another fan site has a Flash-designed slideshow displaying an array of curious oddities like hamburger-shaped chocolates and gummies with smiley-face apples.

With Cadbury possibly expanding their presence – they currently sell Mentos and Clorets – in Japan it’ll be interesting to see what flashy new products come about. After all, when it comes to Japanese sweets, it’s all about the eye candy. \(^_^)/

Himawari

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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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June 27, 2007 at 5:28 pm 14 comments

Sweet Square Suika: Worth Their Weight in Gold?

In the Simpsons episode “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” the Simpsons are forced to take a job working in a fish-gutting factory, partly because Homer has squandered the family’s savings on novelty items such as square watermelons.

Do square watermelons (suika) really exist? Indeed they do, and some Japanese people go crazy for them. The cube-shaped melons, created with this polycarbonate case, are forced to conform to a square shape as they grow.

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At a Japanese market, these peculiar goodies, often considered more of a fashion accessory than something to chow down on, will set you back nearly $100 bucks each. This is two or three times the cost of a regular watermelon in Japan.

But hey, on the plus side, it makes a great present; it’s already shaped to fit inside a gift box! Just add a ribbon and go! Also, once you get the fruit home, it won’t roll around in your fridge or take up an entire shelf. It’s stable to grasp while you slice it, too. In fact, you can stack the melons on top of one another to save more space.

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So where do they come from?

In 1981, a farmer from Zentusuji in Kagawa prefecture tried growing them on his farm in the southwestern island of Shikoku. The experiment eventually paid off. Today, hundreds are shipped each summer to Tokyo, Osaka and China.

Though you won’t find them in the U.S. (yet), they’ve caught on in Great Britain, where they’ve been sold in Tesco since October 2006.

Of course, if you’re really into watermelons, and want to prove your elite status, pick up a luxurious black rind melon. One of those babies recently sold in Asahikawa for ¥530,000 (more than $4,000!).

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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June 23, 2007 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

For That Deep Down Body Thirst…

The other day, a friend began singing the praises of a certain Japanese drink called Aquarius. “It is the best thing ever for hangovers,” he said, excitedly detailing the thirst-quenching effect he gets after a heavy night of drinking. Aquarius is a sports drink similar to Gatorade. It’s lightly flavored and contains minerals and electrolytes to perk you up without the caffeine crash.

The conversation opened to other drinks unique to Japan like cold bottled teas which taste best on a sweltering summer day when you can practically wring out the sweat from your clothes. Oolong, green tea, barley tea, British tea – you name it and they have it bottled, chilled and ready for consumption. Most brands contain no sugar so you’re left feeling clean and refreshed, which is a godsend when the humidity level reaches 80 percent.

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Talk of bottled liquid got me thinking how obsessed one can get about it. I can go on forever on the topic, yet when I think of its American counterparts my enthusiasm wanes. American drinks tend to go heavy on the high fructose corn syrup, leaving little to the imagination. Japanese drinks contain far less sugar. Even milky tea drinks like Kirin’s “Gogo no Kocha” will leave you wanting more.

Another thing that hooks me on Japanese drinks is that they sometimes come with a free toy. Yes, I’m a sucker. But make no mistake, it’s not your ordinary Cracker Jack prize. Usually you get a cool miniature collectible tied in with some blockbuster movie release. A complete collection can sell for hundreds of dollars.

But perhaps the best thing about Japanese bottled drinks is that no matter where you are you can find a good one within an arm’s reach. High-tech vending machines, a.k.a. jidohanbaiki, are at your service 24 hours a day, anywhere and everywhere in Japan. Open your front door and there it is. Run through a dark alleyway and you’ll break your nose on one. Saunter through a grassy meadow in a remote region of the Hokkaido and “Bam!” there it is again.

Let’s just say that no matter how parched their throats may get, the Japanese will never ever go thirsty. (^_<)/

Himawari

—————————————————————————
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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June 21, 2007 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

Japanese Noodles: Much More Than Instant Ramen

Admit it. There was a time in college or in your early 20s when you lived off Ramen noodles from a Styrofoam cup. They were cheap, fast and easy to make: just add boiling water and stir. The hot broth was comforting on a cold day, or when you were battling the flu.

But now it’s time to expand your repertoire. Besides Ramen, which actually originated in China and arrived in Japan during the Meiji period, noodle houses in modern-day Japan offer up several types of noodles. Don’t know your Soba from your Udon, or your Yakisoba from your Somen? Here’s a quick primer:

Soba noodles are similar to spaghetti in thickness. They’re made of buckwheat, look brownish-grey, and can be served hot or cold.

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Udon noodles are about twice as thick as Soba, and are made of wheat flour. They are usually served hot, but can also be served cold, depending on the season.
Yakisoba noodles stir-fried and easy to make at home in a pan. They are served hot with meat, vegetables, and red pickled ginger.

Somen noodles are very thin, whiteish and sticky, and, like Udon, made from wheat flour.

Once you decide on your noodle and broth type, the fun part begins: personalizing each dish with your favorite toppings. Typical add-ons to all of the above can include chicken, pork, egg, seaweed, scallions, shrimp, tempura, tofu, kamaboko (fish cake), and vegetables. You can even use miso soup as your base. The mix and matching possibilities are endless!

Don’t be afraid to slurp up the last drops; with the possible exception of Yakisoba (darn that deep fryer!) noodle dishes are usually extremely healthy, low fat and low calorie.

Dig in! You want more NOODLE??

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
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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June 16, 2007 at 4:00 pm 2 comments

Cooked to Perfection

From the moment you see “Iron Chef”’s eccentric TV host sink his teeth into a raw bell pepper you’ll know just how hardcore they can get in Japan. After all, if you’re going to have it raw it better be good.

Enlisting their most dutiful sous-chefs, competitors of the popular cooking show carefully slice and dice their ingredients into savory dishes sure to make your stomach rumble from your couch. For Iron Chef Morimoto and his Japanese compatriots, cooking isn’t just a means of sustenance, it’s a beloved art form.

Of course, gastronomic love had spread to the U.S. as well in recent years (as seen by the popularity of the Food Network), but it’s Japan where a well-cooked meal permeates every socio-economic strata to become a national obsession.

While living in Japan, I’d frequent the mom-and-pop shops where I could relish a nice dinner-for-one after work. Here, while sitting at a wooden counter table, you could get a front-seat view of the true iron chefs at work, from sharpening their knives to prepping their ingredients.

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Many Japanese eateries take pride in specializing in one type of dish and working it to perfection. A good ramen shop will serve only one style of ramen. An unagi shop only sells grilled eel on top of rice. One of my favorite places of all time was a little soba shop tucked away at the end of a dark alleyway. Every day the owner, an old man who loved to drink, would get up at 5 a.m. to knead the buckwheat dough into thin strands. It’s a ritualistic process not easily learned by a part-time hire. If fact, many Japanese cooks spend decades perfecting one particular food. My soba man spent 40 years on his noodles, which has included determining the best local ingredients, making flawless cuts into the dough, and boiling the noodles to a palate-pleasing al dente. Imagine that.

I’ve yet to spend 40 years on the earth, but by time I do I hope to become less a jack of all trades but truly a master of one. (^_^)

Himawari

—————————————————————————
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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June 14, 2007 at 3:59 pm 1 comment

G8 Summit in Germany

This Wednesday(June 6th, 2007), Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, attended the G8 Summit in Germany, where one of the biggest topics was global warming. The Group of 8 — now more than 8 — is a collection of the world’s strongest economies (The U.S., Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, the EU, and recently, Russia), one of which hosts an annual meeting to discuss what the members, as global leaders, should be concerned with. This year’s theme was “Growth and Responsibility” with a focus on the environment.

Prior to the meeting, it was reported that Shinzo Abe supported the proposal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 50% by the year 2050.

What would this mean for business in Japan?

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For starters it could mean that businesses opening in Japan may have to uphold new standards, or that the products being imported into Japan by U.S. businesses will have to learn and maintain new guidelines.

This year’s Summit Host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, agreed with Abe’s stance, but the Bush Administration does not want to be held to specific numbers, preferring instead to develop plans on what to do when the Kyoto Treaty expires in 2013.

This certainly doesn’t mean the matter is closed. In fact, just the opposite: Japan will host the G8 Summit in 2008 in northern Hokkaido island, and Abe vows to promote a heavy environmental theme.

The U.S. is the largest emitter of carbon-dioxide, at nearly 22% of the world’s emissions, with China close behind. Japan falls 4th on the list, at 4.7%.

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
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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June 9, 2007 at 3:57 pm 3 comments

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