Archive for May, 2009

Forget Ricola — Mask that Cold!

Hay fever + Swine Flu = paranoia. While your chances of getting the dreaded disease are virtually nil, plain old allergies are still a major pain this time of year. In Japan, it’s not uncommon to see people wearing paper face masks
out in public, to lessen their chances of inhaling pollen or germs.

Last November, the company Pianta came out with a mentholated throat drop candy for easing the difficulty of breathing and soothing the irritable feeling in the nose and throat caused by seasonal allergies. What makes it unique is the fact that they combined it with a mask!

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You eat a candy, exhale the strong menthol and let it permeate in your mask so that you feel better. The mask is understandably popular during allergy season (from October to March) and also recently because of the swine flu. Pianta initially prepared 200,000 bags of candy (with 23 candies per bag) and sold out within two months. They sell for 200 yen. Feel better!

Sarah S.

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May 29, 2009 at 11:22 am Leave a comment

Bag up Your Junk!

I’ll be the first to admit, girls haul around a lot of junk! Here’s what’s in my purse: wallet, keys, tissue, lip balm, tweezers, medicine, umbrella, two cell phones (one for the office), Wetnaps (just in case), a Trader Joes ‘eco’-saving grocery bag, digital camera, hand lotion, cough drops, oh and did I mention a bowling ball? That’s what friends assume is in there. Oof! =P

And if you’re a girl armed with heavy load, you know what a pain it is to take stuff out. It’s while I’m driving when I get the sudden urge to moisten my chapped lips. At a red light, I reach my arm to the passenger seat, running my fingers around the bottom of my purse until I feel something plastiky and cylindrical. Out comes a water bottle! Try again. …a mini-can of hairspray! Darn, darn, darn.

The people at MUJI are ingenious, thinking to make a bag for one’s bag. I’ve seen a similar product advertised on American TV, but MUJI’s is far cuter — cute enough to make it your main purse.

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I bought my grey, cotton MUJI ‘bag in bag’ in Tokyo for only $12. I couldn’t stop staring at it through the window. It’s the texture of soft sweatpants and the inner lining has thin, white-and-grey stripes. Very cute. There’s at least 10 pockets, including one mesh and a couple pen slots. It also comes in other color schemes and fabrics, ranging from $7 to $15 — the ideal price for a bag you may never ever reveal to others.

Seems they’re selling like hotcakes in Japan. Some other friends happen to buy the same bag! I guess we were all thinking the same thing: How do I organize my junk without having to get rid of anything? Heehee.

Himawari

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May 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm 1 comment

Caramels Fresh from the Cow

Right now, Japan is crazy for fresh-made caramel chews.

They’re nothing like what you’ve had in the U.S.; these taste like sweet butter and melt on your tongue like an ice cube on a warm day. I wouldnt’ve believed how good they were until I tried it last week in Japan.

“Raw” caramels (nama kyarameru) only stay fresh for a few weeks, and just like milk from the cow they spoil quickly. I think that’s one of the characteristics of a popular dessert. Whether limited by time or production, a hard-to-get dessert is always intriguing.

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So now everyone and their momma is grabbing up these sweets, packed in cute little boxes and sold exclusively online or at select shops. The most popular caramels come from the island of Hokkaido, known for their green pastures. Whether it be ice cream, cheese or a jug of milk, any sort of dairy product from Hokkaido is considered high quality, not to mention, really tasty.

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Each caramel chew is wrapped in wax paper and placed in a box is stamped with the words “hand-made,” which makes them disappear from the shelf extra quickly.

Toy manufacturers are getting into the action, too. For 30 bucks you can have a cute container that makes fresh caramel in the microwave. It’s plastic, so even kids can make it.

Like most trends, it’s hard to say how long this ‘caramel mania’ will last, but leave it up to the Japanese to milk it for all it’s worth. (^.<)

Himawari
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May 19, 2009 at 10:33 am 3 comments

A Taste of Japan in Switzerland

I was in Switzerland a few weeks ago visiting one of my best friends. On my last night there, to my surprise, she brought out a package of Nama Yatsuhashi, Japanese mochi sweets that I hadn’t had the pleasure of eating since my trip to Tokyo! Talk about global appeal.

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Nama Yatsuhashi look like delicate crepe triangles wrapped around a lump of color in the middle — usually a fruit or red bean paste, chocolate, or even sweet potato. They’re sweet and delicious, popular in Kyoto and travel especially well (hence their tendency to show up all over the world after someone makes a trip to Japan). Eating them before they spoil proves no challenge; in fact, it’s better if you share them because if you’re alone, one second you’re chewing contentedly and the next second you look down and they’re all gone (um, not that I’d know or anything ;).

My friend’s Japanese colleague gave them to her in recognition of Cherry Blossom season and the filling inside was dark pink and reminiscent of strawberries.

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The blog Sweet Travel waxes rhapsodic over the treat. One reason they’re so lip-smackingly good to foreigners is because the dough is made with rice flour, sugar and cinnamon. You can also drizzle powdered sugar or syrup on top to complete the look. Yatsuhashi is traditionally cooked on a griddle like a pancake before it’s flattened, stretched out and folded over a designated flavor. You can find both the cooked and raw versions (nama) in stalls or souvenir shops. Yum!!

Sarah S.

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japanizmo, 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

May 15, 2009 at 12:33 pm Leave a comment

I *Heart* Free Stuff

Everyone loves a freebie. In Japan, if you look in the right places you’ll find all kinds of free stuff — tissue packs in train stations, makeup tubes in department stores, food samples in supermarkets. And now, fashion magazines are getting in on the action with ‘furoku,’ name-brand freebies.

It ranges from a cute pouch or tote to a mirror or pocket calendar. It’s neatly stuffed in a corrugated box in the middle of a magazine and a picture of it is shown on the cover.

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Of course, it’s a strategy to get more women to buy the magazine as opposed to simply perusing through it at the bookstore.

I don’t know about you but I love the idea of getting more than I bargained for. Last winter, I went overboard on free-shipping and two-for-one deals. And even though I spent more than usual, I still felt like I was on the winning side. I guess that’s the psychology of it: making the customer feel good about their purchase.

Magazine companies take painstaking consideration when choosing their freebie product. They want something both fashionable and useful to the consumer. That’s why bags — lunch packs, pencil pouches, shopping totes, etc. — are the most common items. And because the industry is so competitive, you’ll find more and more magazines dishing out stuff to stay in the race.

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American magazine share a similar notion by inserting perfume scents on advertisement edges. But it certainly doesn’t compare to stuff you can actually use.

Hopefully they’ll learn from their Japanese counterparts: Free is good! (^o^)/

Himawari

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japanizmo, 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

May 12, 2009 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Solar-Powered Bobble Heads = Happiness

Takara Tomy, a Japanese toy company, has found a way for its customers to go green and de-stress. Meet Nohohon-zoku (“carefree family”), a smiley bobble-head toy that uses solar panels. Place these shiny happy people in the sun and watch their heads do a slow, rhythmic wiggle and sway. It’s mesmerizing and oddly calming. Are they hypnotizing us??

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The figurines evolved from a previous line of bobble heads that served as business card holders or singing, dancing toys — most required triple-A batteries. No more!

Find a sunny spot on your desk and you’re good to go. In the UK, the toys are being marketed as “Sunshine Buddies,” and used as cute, inexpensive gifts. This goes to prove that the line between child’s toy and adult’s fun collectible is getting smaller and smaller (see also: cell phone charms).

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And yes, the bobble heads come in Hello Kitty and Pikachu flavor, but Winnie the Pooh is my favorite 🙂 Too bad he’s a rare item priced at $75. The regular ones go for around $10.

People are so proud of / obsessed with their Nohohon-zoku that they’re putting them on YouTube. Check it out:

Sarah S.

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May 8, 2009 at 11:38 am 2 comments

I *heart* School Bags

I gotta admit something to you: I have an obsession with Japanese school bags.

A blue book bag is a signature accessory for Japanese students. They sling it over shoulder as they walk home, or throw it on the ground as they take Purikura shots with friends. I’ve only gone to a Japanese high school for a semester so I never had my own. But just last year, I found one at a Tokyo department store, and now it’s mine!

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Maybe it’s because they make me feel young again, but I carry one around and instead of books and pencils I stash away candy and makeup. On the zipper loop, I hook on a dozen Hello Kitty key chains, and in the little side-pocket I stuff my cell phone, cramped with another dozen key chains.

Now I have to admit an even more juvenile obsession: grade school bags. I’ve yet to buy one because they run in the $300-$600 range. It’s an absurd price to pay for a 6-year-old. But strangely enough, you’ll never see a kid without one. I think it’s a peer pressure thing. Either way, they’re super cute.

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They’re called ‘randoseru’ – a hard-case backpack made with leather and silver buckles. They’re water-resistant and inside are a few cool pockets to keep notebooks and erasers.

Because they’re so expensive a lot of times they’re made into family heirlooms, being passed like a pair of vintage jeans. Luckily the style of the backpack hasn’t changed throughout the years so you could totally rock grandma’s randoseru like it’s 1899! (Or maybe not. =P )

If you’re a fan of anime, you’ve probably seen a character or two with them. It’s a classic accessory. And hopefully one day it’ll be mine… even if I have to rob a kid to get one! (^.<)V

Himawari

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May 6, 2009 at 10:31 am 1 comment

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