30 December 2012

The Japanese Soba Culture - Soba noodles go round

What Is Soba?
'Soba' is a Japanese word for buckwheat and soba noodles are made from soba flour.
Soba noodles are one of the most popular dishes in Japanese food culture and it originated as a kind of fast food like sushi during the Edo (pre-modern Tokyo) period. It is highly nutritious with low calories, and it is considered healthy vegetarian food.

A dark brown colour of noodles implies high buckwheat content (the soba noodles pictured above are made of 100% buckwheat).
If not 100% buckwheat, the noodles are mixed with other ingredients such as wheat flour. Green tea and matcha soba (pictured above), 'ume (plum) soba, 'sakura' (cherry blossom) soba are beautiful with green and pink natural colours, and are gaining in popularity even outside Japan.
Soba Noodle Dishes
Cold soba noodles are perfect in the hot and humid Japanese summer. It is often served as 'zaru soba' at noodle restaurants. 'Zaru soba' are presented on a bamboo mesh called a 'zaru' and the cold noodles help to chill the body.
Combining 'nori' (dry, flavoured seaweed), thinly cut 'naganegi' (longer and thicker than Welsh onion or Japanese leek), and wasabi as toppings, you simply dip the noodles in a soy-based sauce. It is a very quick and easy meal at home, too.
You put the soba noodles in boiled water just like pasta without adding salt, drain and wash them with running cold water to remove excess starch as well as increase the flavour of buckwheat.
Soba noodles in hot broth are good for the cold winter. Unlike cold soba noodles in which you enjoy the simplicity of soba, hot soba noodles offer a variety of flavours depending on the ingredients you put on top of the boodles. 'Yuoba soba' in above picture is a good example, adding flavoured 'yuba' (bean curd skins), shiitake mushroom, beans, kamaboko (fish cake), as toppings giving the dish different textures as well as colours.
Other Soba Products
Japanese soba noodles are so popular, and soba lovers even travel far to the countryside in search for hidden soba. The term, soba, has become almost synonymous with other types of noodles such as 'yakisoba' (stir-fried noodles) and 'chuka' soba (literally 'Chinese soba' but better known in English as ramen).
Soba can be used for many different products as well.
Roasted soba is turned to deliciously flavoured tea.
Soba 'shochu' is a popular Japanese liquor distilled from buckwheat.
Pillows made from soba hulls (the outside shell of the grain) were common the past and can still be found today.
Soba Noodles Dining - Past and Present
Soba noodles have traditionally been Japanese fast food throughout its history. When you stroll near train stations, you may encounter many 'tachigui' (standing-only eateries) soba noodle restaurants or bars. They are inexpensive, quick and healthy - the ideal fast food. 
 Japanese office workers lined up in front of a 'tachigui' (standing-only eatery) soba bar at lunch time in Tokyo. Because the customers are served so quickly, you won't wait too long.
Plastic fast display in front of a Japanese soba noodle restaurant. Japanese plastic food craftsmen are world-renowned for their ability to replicate the delicious appearance of dishes.
Peeping through the door at 'tachigui'soba bar. No women are found, and it is crowded with many male Japanese office workers in dark suits gobbling up soba noodles without sitting and putting down their bags. Truly fast food!
However, soba noodles can also be exclusive and speciality restaurants are ranked as top-end Japanese cuisine. In those restaurants, soba chefs make their own unique soba boodles, often from organic buckwheat flour using high quality water.
At the other end of the spectrum are instant soba noodles. The 'Midori no Tanuki' in above picture is the most popular instant soba noodles products in Japan. You simply pour boiled water into the bowl and wait for three minutes.
Soba Noodles in Japanese Culture
Soba noodles look like spaghetti but you never eat them with forks. Always use chopsticks or we will send report you to the soba police (just kidding:-)). Most importantly, you are supposed to slurp with loud noise conveying the deliciousness of the dish. Mind you some people may have soba allergy.
Soba noodles are not just for eating but a tool for greeting. When you move to a new home, it was common to give a pack of dried soba noodles, called 'hicckoshi soba' (moving-in soba), to your neighbours in the eastern part of Japan.
The most important part of Japanese soba culture is the 'toshikoshi soba'. 'Toshikoshi' literally means year-crossing, and Japanese people eat soba noodles on the New Year's Eve as the last meal of the year. Because soba dough is spread long and thing to make soba boodles, it refers longevity and prosperity. Buckwheat is also a tough plant that survives in harsh weather, so eating soba ensures good health and fortune. It is also said soba noodles are soft and easily to chew, meaning that it cuts off bad memories and troubles in the old year to welcome a bright year ahead. 'Soba' is also a homonym for 'near' in the Japanese language, so eating soba with family on New Year's Eve implies the strong ties with family members.
Lastly, eating soba could be entertaining.
'Wanko soba' is an eating style where the soba noodles are served full mouthful quantity in small bowls. These days, wanko soba is eaten as a one-person competition throughout Japan; you try to see how many bowls of soba noodles can be eaten in a given time. Wanko soba originally came from Iwate prefecture, northern part of Japan, and the All-Japan Wanko Soba Eating Championship is held in the region every year.
Watch how fast the competitors eat!

It is quick to eat, easy to digest, good for body, and fun to eat the soba noodles. The soba noodles are not just food but it provides an important meaning for Japanese culture.
The Culture of soba noodles goes around.
*Special thanks to Ms. Hiromi Adachi, the chief, and Hanamaki Tourism and Convention Bureau for the contribution of photos and a video.

13 December 2012

Hyper Toilets in Japan

It may sound a little bizarre but the Japanese toilet phenomenon represents the entire Japanese culture.
It is clean, neat and high-tech with full automation. 
There are a number of functions such as seat heating, bottom shower jet and massage with warm water, bidet, bottom dryer after the shower, LED light in the toilet bowl, ordor-masking for standard toilets. The lid automatically opens with the sensor and it flushes the toilet without touching anywhere when you leave the toilet seat.
 (Above: the computerised control panel on the wall)
Internationally well-known and one of the biggest Japanese electronics companies, Panasonic Corporation (http://panasonic.net/products/beauty_healthcare/) has joined two sanitary ware giants, Toto Ltd. (http://www.toto.co.jp/en/index.htm ) and Inax -Lixil Co. (http://global.lixil.co.jp/) and it has been very successful.
For top-end functions, there are 'equipped with a music system, including original Toto tunes, and an "auto fragrance" function that offers a selection of four scents, including floral and citrus.'
At the peak of the toilet legend, there were toilets embedded MP3 player for you to listen to your favourite music in the toilet.
Japanese only)
It may be the cultural taboo for western countries to talk about toilets but the Japanese toilet rooted deeply in Japanese culture and people.
The toilet is a space for the privacy where Japanese people, often men, read newspaper, surf the Internet, and make calls on mobile. As a consequence, the place has to be hygienic.
The Japanese toilet culture has extended to the creation of the Japan Toilet Association, National Toilet Day, Toilet Museum, and even the Golden Toilet made by Inax Corporation displayed at Japan Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010.
A pop song, The Toilet God ('toire no kamisama) even became one of the 2010's best sellers and there are a number of gadgets related to the toilet. 
When you open the door and the lid opens automatically, you would feel you are welcome to the private relaxing space.
Just a reminder, please change your room slippers to the toilet slippers when you walk in the toilet and never come out the toilet with toilet slippers!
It is again ... cultural :-))

06 November 2012

Top 30 Consumer Hits for 2012 in Japan★

The lifestyle magazine, Nikkei Trendy, published by affiliate of the Japanese daily financial newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, has revealed 'Best 30 Consumer Hits for 2012' as well as 'Top 20 Hit Products Predictions for 2013' on November 2.

(Nikkei Trendy HP: http://trendy.nikkeibp.co.jp/, Japanese only)
Nikkei Trendy has been introducing popular electronics, new gadgets, the latest entertainment spots and unique services available in Japan and it evaluates how they affect the people's life with fully coloured pictures. 
The end-of-year hit-ranking edition in this monthly magazine has now become the national showcases which are carefully investigated based on sales, innovative ideas, and the impacts on the market and the society as a whole.
Here are the top three of Best 30 Hits for 2012.

Ranking number 3 - Domestic low-cost carriers(LCC)
Three new budget airlines; Peach Aviation (http://www.flypeach.com/home.aspx), Jetstar (http://www.jetstar.com/jp/en/home), and Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com/jp/en/home.page) opened in Japan this year. Now, consumers can make their choices on the services and costs. It has a big impact on other domectic transport industries like bluet trains and long-distance bus.

Ranking number 2 - 'Line'
'Line' (http://line.naver.jp/en/) is a fast-growing smartphone application for free-calling and free-messaging. It has launched in June 2011 and it gained over 60 million users inside and outside Japan. The stickers called 'stamp'(below) can be posted into chat windows as a means of visual expression which led the great success of the expansion.
Ranking number 1 - Tokyo Skytree (http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/)
It is the world number one tower - the world's tallest free-standing broadcasting tower with the highest point of 634 meters. Tokyo Skytree was opened on May 22, 2012 and 21 million people have visited the tower and the shopping complex called 'Tokyo Skytree Town' by the end of September. It has become the symblic landmark which brings up Japan from the tragety of the Great Earthquake of 2011.
There are many Japanese-English terms in the list of the Hit Product Predictions for 2013 in Nikkei Trendy. They are: the Japanese style 'long trail', the goods and food for anti-'Locomotive Syndrome', handy size 'tablet', 'water flavour', 'subscription' online shopping, 'synapsology', 'earth cafe', 'micro EV' etc.
The trends will overtake us unless we keep up the speed of the trend.

03 October 2012

Halloween Party★Tokyo Disney Land 2012

Tokyo Disney Land Official Website: http://www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp/en/tdl/index.html 
Japan had the hottest September in more than 110 years this year and it reached 30 degree or higher in and around Tokyo on October 1st which was the hottest day in October since 2005.

Indeed, it was very hot in Tokyo Disney Land...because of the temperature or the Halloween fever?!
The picture above is the typical early morning at the main gate of Tokyo Disney Land (TDL). Soon after the gate was opened at 8:30am, people dashed into the dreamland to get 'FASTPASS' for the popular attractions. 
The Halloween window display at TDL's World Bazaar.
The Mickey Mouse-shaped ice bar cooled the body down.
The TDL's lamppost turned to the pumpkins,
and even the bins are in Halloween colours.
Even Dumbo is wicked. 

TDL's 'obake' (ghost).

Tip and Dale are still cute even they wear the Halloween costumes.
 Minnie Mouse's Halloween costumes are always pretty with pink and purple.
Spooky?! Look up the beautiful full moon in the sky after the typhoon passed in the picture above.
TDL never disappoints the people.

25 September 2012

New Gadget ★ Bottle Lid Pencil Sharpener

People read books on electronic devices like iBook and Kindle in these days.
People send messages by e-mail rather than writing letters.
People no longer carry around pens and notepad and instead, they have a mobile device that contains all the personal information.

The sales of books and stationary will be moving downwards ... unless the manufactures do not offer the creative goods and services.

One of the most famous Japanese stationary retailers, 'Shachihata' (HP: http://www.shachihata.co.jp/index.php, Japanese language; http://www.artlineworld.com/index.html, http://www.artlineworld.com/wtb/index.html, English site), has released 'Kezuri Cap' in late May 2012 (literary means, sharpener cap) which is a bottle lid pencil sharpener. The company are well known selling stamp pad, (Japanese people even call a stamp pad as 'shachihata') and now becomes a worldwide stationary manufacture and retailer.
'Kezuri Cap' is a small gadget with a selection of four lovely colours.
Simply, you put 'Kezuri Cap' on an empty plastic bottle just like a normal lid.
One 500 ml bottle could take as much as 10 pencils' shavings.
The retail price is 315 yen.
The children make a mess with a conventional pencil sharpener.
The electronic pencil sharpener is handy but the children tend to sharpen the pencils far too much which get too short to use and go to the bin so quickly.
The concept of 'Kezuri Cap' is to reuse the plastic bottle which is environmentally friendly. As long as 'Kezuri Cap' is tightly set, the shavings won't come out even the children drop the bottle.  
It is also convenient to see how much shavings are in a clear bottle. 


It is clean, handy and ecology!
'Kazuri Cap' is a great innovative tool which is just what parents have been eager to have.