Saturday, October 18, 2008


Tohato's Fuwa Maru(ふわ丸)corn snacks are these oddball semi ninja star/fleur de lis shaped thingamabobs, slightly stale feeling in da mouth, but oddly compelling. Especially after a long night of drinking nihonshu. And just as the fleeting feeling of drunkenness will pass, these corn snacks have a very ephemeral quality, almost instantly disappearing at first contact of saliva. In fact, the clever marketers at Tohato are banking on that disappearing act. Promo for the product makes statements to the effect that like a clever ninja, the Fuwa Maru are as quick to disappear as they appear. 

Drawn to this quite insubstantial - even by junk food standards - corn puff by it's admittedly handsome package, a somewhat ukiyo-e-y illustration of a darkly garbed ninja, in the konbini aisles it stood out head and shoulders for eye catchingness. A quick peruse of the Tohato site made me realize that in this big ol' world of packaging and repackaging similar things and calling them different, that the package is where manufacturers make their cases. And Tohato excels in this area of branding.

These are the same folks who market Bokun Habanero chips. A year ago they created a campaign that involved mobile phone multiplayer game playing and a traditional advertising media to determine the winner of the "world's worst war" - Tyrant Habanero Burning Hell Hot or Satan Jorquia Bazooka Deadly Hot. Hmm. You may have thought snack foods were simply about satiating some immediate desires. Looks like the stakes can be pretty high these days.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Marunaga's Kinako Mochi (きなこもち) bar is one of those wonders that tries, somewhat unsuccessfully to mashup a very traditional food to a new technology. Granted, ice cream bars have been around for some time now, but the venerable tradition of kinako covered mochi is, well, ancient. 

A couple of definitions are in order. First, mochi. Cooked rice well beaten, preferably with wooden mallets, until it has become very sticky and glutinous. Kinako? A fine powder ground from roasted soybeans. Often compared in taste to peanut butter, it has a bit more of a caramel-y taste. Fresh mochi covered in kinako is a favorite old-fashioned treat, mildly sweet and chewy with a round nutty taste.

The ice cream bar in question has a thin amber colored fondant redolent with kinako, covering a layer of ice milk which surrounds a core of mochi. It all makes some sense, but on the whole, its mild flavors and textures just don't quite deliver. And there's a fascinating thing that happens when mochi is frozen. It kinda gets like silly putty. If you grab a bite and pull slowly, it stretches. However, if you pull quickly, it breaks! A great idea for some simple childish fun, but as food, it's novelty wears off quickly.  I have yet to experiment, but I wonder if it can transfer comic images, like silly putty does?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

フレンチ セーキ

Tokyo based Kyodo Milk Industry Co., Ltd., under the Meito brand supplies a mess o' milk to the Kanto market. Apart from the usual, seemingly infinite variations on plain ol' milk - they have recently been touting a zero fat milk - they specialize in any number of flan and pudding products.  So it only seems right that they would spin off some of these ideas into drinkable form. The フレンチ セーキ (French Shake) is a quite sweet - sugar, fruit sucrose, and grape sugar are all listed as ingredients - moderately low-fat milk drink. Egg yolk and vanilla Frenchify it.  
From years ago, I recall my first taste of French vanilla when the first Baskin Robbins stores crept out of California and hit the upper west coast.  French vanilla was the exotic premium version of plain ol' boring vanilla ice cream. The cloying egg custard taste was certainly offset by a somewhat real tasting vanilla. Plus it had little brown specs as further proof of its true vanilla roots... or rhizomes... or whatever.  All I really recall, was that despite it all - and that very strange yellow color - it somehow started my love affair with vanilla flavored milk products.
How's Meito's French Shake measure up?  Not bad in that sort of Proustian way that makes me want to write six volumes of filler between the first and last lines.  Sweet it is. It's got a moderately cloying eggy taste. And it reminds me of something from way back. Exactly why egg vanilla custardy things become French, I'm not so sure, mais longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure, after a nice glass of vanilla flavored milk.  Never was that much a fan of the egg though.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


One of the stranger enigmas to hit the frozen food case is the case of the カラフルラムネバメロソーダ - the "colorful ramune bar melon soda," from Morinaga. What exactly does this all mean?  At the heart of the mystery is "ramune," which is the name of the first carbonated soft drink marketed in Japan.  It's a lemon-ish soda in a distinctive bottle, crimped at the neck creating a bubble that held a glass marble. A strange and playful invention that amuses kids and folks like me. "Ramune" is an antediluvian bastardization of "lemony." Once the floodgates of carbonation opened, Japan embraced various and sundry flavors, including melon. Great in concept, weak in execution, melon sodas can be found in many a soft drink machine during the sweltering summer months. 

So, this crazy little frozen confection has a layer of melon soda ice, covering a layer of a lemon ice. But never leaving well enough alone the whole thing is jam-packed with little citrus acidy sweet tart type candies that burst into tart mouth-numbing exclamation points on one's tongue. It may be all in good fun, but it certainly doesn't work as a taste sensation. It's more of an assault.

Of course, it's all tied into a multiple platform promotion that includes the ice cream bar, the soda, and an anime series.  Yes! 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dekavita C

Suntory's Dekavita C is in the realm of a long line of energy drinks marketed to Japanese consumers largely for hangover cures, but also for getting rid of bags under one's eyes, sexual enhancement and stamina, and God knows what else.  Like all energy drinks, it's basically carbonated sugar water with a few vague herbs or artificial flavors to give one the sense of maybe a bit of healthiness. Dekavita C boasts a number of B vitamins.  Oh, and C.  Tastewise, it's kind of the poor man's Red Bull. Like a light cassis, with a bit of a Robitussen edge, the taste follows through with quininic tannins.  A not entirely pleasant taste.  But remember this is supposed to be good for you.  And the massive jolts of sugar eventually cover up any sort of subtlety in the taste.  
Like many an energy drink Dekavita C capitalizes on the idea that by connecting with the very drink itself, the consumer connects with "energy." And this energy transforms one into... someone better, more appealing, beyond and outside of one' s self. It's a sacrament of shamanic release that let's one partake of the mysteries.  Of transcendence. Traditionally the realm of drugs and alchohol, the energy drink is attempting to usurp these venerable media, these keys to the beyond.  But let's face it.  It's still sugar water.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I can't help but think of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver whenever I pop a bottle of Bikkle, the Calpis-style milky cooler from Suntory.  Perhaps Robert De Niro may have never gone off the deep end if he had a regular supply of this somewhat sweet bifudus-laden concoction that's marketed for its wholesomeness and healthiness - chock full of calcium and magnesium. Like all drinks of it's ilk, it's sugar water - though pleasant in that sort of watery cloying keffir sort of way.  
It's got a wide-mouth bottle, so it's built for chuggin' and there's a little mascot below the 70s style typeface logo - Bikkle King. He seems to have been a bit of an afterthought, or perhaps there was little thought of him at all. Recently he's been usurped by superstar spokesmodels, PUFFY, a very popular singing duet.  The 2 girls that make up PUFFY go by the names of Jane and Sue. They caught the public attention a few years ago with their clear break from the manufactured techno-pop sound that had dominated the Japanese music scene for many years to a manufactured wholesome pop image and sound reminiscent of the Beatles and the Carpenters. If Travis Bickle had met Jane and Sue, rather than Iris, the end of the movie would have been much different.  Instead of ending like this -

It might have been something like this -

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Vanilla Soda Bar Melon Choco

I'm not sure what exactly what was on the mind
of the inventor of this one, but I'm thinking he/she/it must be some Fritz Lang-like Mabuse, straightjacketed, in a padded cell, masterminding a very twisted and convoluted plot in dominating the frozen confection market with very strange ice cream bars. Or he/she/it may just be mad.

Dr. Akagi*, as I will call him/her/it is responsible for the Garigari bar (ガリガリ), a strange and popular soda-flavored popsicle. As to what sort of soda it is, is up to question, but a quick suck and the tongue is fooled into experiencing sweet effervescence - actually quite odd and worth the 80 or so yen just to say you've tried it.

However, the Vanilla Soda Bar Melon Choco, though marketed to the same niche of pimply-faced otaku, seems to be coming from a parallel universe. Tossing aside the simplicity of the Garigari popsicles (they also come in various fruit flavors), this bizarro pop has a cuboid of the aforementioned soda ice laying beside and equal rectangular parallelepiped of a somewhat bland vanilla ice cream, all lathered with a melon fondant. Where the choco comes in in anybody's guess. Nonetheless, the flavor combinations work toward a sort of Rococo frivolity, combining a vague milkiness with bubbles and melon. I'm sure it's the perfect thing to suck on while playing Grand Theft Auto 4. Parallel universes, indeed!


* The name of the comic character on the package is actually Mr. Cookn.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Here's an odd little snack from the Kado company. Called Kyabetsu Taro, or Taro Cabbage, it has neither taro nor cabbage in its manufacture. These are super-light corn puffs with a thin (and relatively strong) coating of nori and Japanese brown sauce.  The sauce is a somewhat chemically tasting variation of the wonderful sweetened saltly soy concoction that enlivens takoyaki or okonomiyaki. That said, these inexpensive little guys are the sorts of things that contemporary restaurant food technologist chefs are trying to manufacture as haute cuisine.

If these showed up on the tables of El Bulli - and with the appropriate descriptors - they might be considered a revolutionary experiment with flavors, textures, and materials.  The review might posit the daring mix of asian and western ingredients. A texture of near nothingness with a mighty assault of nori and salt. Taking humble corn meal and elevating it to unrecognizable heights. Ah, yes, even Bustos Domenq might weigh in on this one.

All things considered though, they are a mighty addictive snack. Definitely in the realm of flavored popcorn or cheetos. Just look for the green frog cop mascot.  I believe his name is Taro-san.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

松竹梅 - いか酒

Mmmm. Fish flavored liquors! Found this one in a konbini in Kofu and, well... just had to try it. In my first travels to Japan, I bought fugu fin flavored sake. It tasted exactly how one would expect dried fish fins soaked in booze would. And to top it off, it left my mouth raw with whatever that active ingredient is in fugu that Japanese daredevil gourmets love. Being a bit of a slow learner, I could not resist this little one cup of ika sake (いか酒). The beautifully illustrated little squid phallus was calling my name.  And of course, it tasted exactly how one would expect - like dried squid soaked in booze. 
The Takara sake company, a 150 year old liquor manufacturer dreamed this one up, ostensibly creating a Hokkaido style winter warmer that would surely take Japan by storm. I'd suggest buying a bag of dried squid and having plain old sake on the side. However, I found another product out there - sake bottled in sun-dried squid skin containers.  After you drink the sake, you can eat the container.  Apparently they tried this at tourist spots in Iwate Prefecture about 40 years ago.  It really didn't go over that well.  But slow learners all, the Kimura Shoten store has decided to revive the "tradition" and try selling them again.  Kimura Shoten is the place that also makes fish-flavored ice creams. Need I say more.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I try to stay away from products that are not really of Japanese origin, but I was taken by the marketing of Dr. Pepper here in Nihon.  It's not your daddy’s Dr. Pepper. Well, it’s got the same taste – that sweet, vaguely prune-juicey carbonated goodness. But Japanese marketers have gone balls out for the otaku market with crazy sexy anime illustrations of techno-babes with things like guns and bottles of Dr. Pepper spilling out of their cleavages. Politically correct it ain't. But in pure high velocity tastelessness, they're wonderful. Lowbrow art mystery man, Rockin’ Jellybean - -is responsible for creating these buxom Dokuta Peppa girls. There are three of them on collectable cans that you can buy at many corner drink machines. But, damn, I always seem to get the one with the surfing lizard! Check out the Japanese Dr. Pepper websire here -

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Chocolate giant Meiji is like the Hershey's of Japan. Though they, like every other mega-food corp in the world, have infiltrated everything else in daily life, their ubiquitous chocolate bars are among the first things seen at the candy counters in konbis and metro snack shacks. Their Black and Meiji Milk bars have bold, somewhat old-fashioned graphics that say "I'm the chocolate that you can rely on." Somewhat like Hershey's. And just like Hershey's they make a familiar, but quite bad, chocolate.  Sure, it may be the taste you grew up with (whether in Japan or the USA), but when push comes to shove, measure to measure, the respective chocolates are really lackluster.

Nonetheless, Meiji makes 6 of the top 10 best selling chocolates in Japan.  And that's nothing to sneeze about.  

In the tireless pursuit of keeping consumers interested, they trot out different packages and ideas - which is where Panky fits in.  Panky are little dried bread hillocks slathered in chocolate.  The Japanese (and French) word for bread is "pan", thus the name of the product. And though I'm a fan of bread and chocolate, dried shokupan covered in cocoa deprived sickly sweet fondant does not make an even acceptable treat.  Ah well, they've got most of the top tier covered with their other products, so little sleep is lost worrying about the health of the company.  

Meiji, who has used David Beckham to hawk their products, have brought out teen star (now 20 years old!), Inoue Mao as the Panky spokesmodel.  She's a favorite cutie of teenagers throughout Japan and she plus a grinning, cymbal-crashing monkey seem to have caught fire with the kids.  They even made a "Making of the commercial" video.  Brilliant!

Sunday, March 30, 2008


The old tradition of not wasting anything is still being kept alive by corporate giants. On one level, this is a good thing. The rapaciousness of living rich in the first world has created an epidemic of wastefulness. Though perhaps more concerned with the bottom line than virtue, milk, soy beverage, and juice giant, Meito, has created a whey-based line of refreshments with their Milfull Mix series.

And just in time for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, they've come out with a seasonal mix for your rehydrating pleasure after a long weekend binge under the cherry trees on your blue tarp. Milfull Mix 白桃&さくらんぼ (white peach and cherry flavor) is a perfectly innocuous mix, in a lovely pink carton, that may be perfect for a quick chug before having that next One Cup. Beyond that, there's not much to recommend it. It has a very mild peachy flavor, a hint of cherry (or was that my imagination?) and a very slight milky-ness. Reach for a Calpis instead. Or better yet - how about that last spider at the bottom of the sake bottle? Remember - don't be wasteful!

Monday, March 24, 2008


Generically, this snack falls under the larger kingdom of yukashi (油菓子), or "oil candy." It's a particularly oily variation on senbei. The cracker in question is the tsuna arare (つなあられ - rope rice biscuit) in the Great Value package. One can also find these wonderful little fries marketed under the name of hineri age (ひねり揚げ - twist fry).  Whatever one calls them, they are a brilliant piece of work. Not too salty, with an amazing crunchiness and an incredibly rich oily mouthfeel, they are a perfect accompaniment to anything with alcohol in it.  The astringent tastes of sake, shochu, and beer are tamed and soothed by the unctuousness of these bite-sized twists.  The hard serrations of these clever extrusions make for maximum crunch (more surface area deep fried = more crispiness).  A perfect mix of tradition and technology. And they're cheap, too!

ポテトチップス ハム&チーズ味

In the world of Japanese chips, there are three big rulers of the kingdom, Calbee, Koikeya, and Yamayoshi. Yamanoshi dances on the nuttier edge of chip tastes and flavor technology with such things as hamburger, buta karabi, Chinese stir fry, and yakitori flavored chips, so we reached for a bag of their "ham and cheese taste" (ハム&チーズ味) chips and decided to have a go of it. And by gum, if they didn't taste like ham and cheese and potato chips all rolled into one!  Hold the sandwich, I'll just have chips with my beer.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

CRATZ チェダーチーズ

CRATZ is a line of beer snacks - you can tell by the picture of the beer on the package - that are a mix of almonds and little crunchy pretzel-like sections that come in three different flavors, Cheddar Cheese, Pepper Bacon, and Krazy Salt & Chicken. A surprisingly infectious snack, they've got a hard crunch, overwrought flavors, tons of salt, and the mediating factor of natural almonds. Sampling the Cheddar Cheese (チェダーチーズ), the palate and the nose are immediately assaulted by an ur-cheese flavor and smell. After a couple of chews, though, sensory fatigue sets in. The flavor of cheese powder, salt, and flavor enhancers lend to overload that can only be balanced with drinking a lot of beer. Insidiously brilliant!

These little buggers are brought to you by Glico, the Osaka-based food giant that staked its claim on the industrial food landscape of Japan in 1919 when founder Riichi Ezaki discovered he could extract glycogen from oysters for use in confectionery production. Hmm. The name Glico is a glycogen shortened. They hit the market with their trademark caramels, but are perhaps most famous to westerners from Pocky, the fun candy sticks, originally made in chocolate, but now in myriad flavors. 

Glico hit the news big in the mid 80s with an unsolved mystery involving the kidnapping of  then-president, Katsuhisa Ezaki, by a man who described himself as the Monster with 21 Faces (かい人21面相). Ezaki escaped, threats of poisoning the candy supply, various other news-catching criminal exploits, and the self-immolation of the Shiga Prefecture police superintendent at his failure to capture the Monster (who was now being described as the Fox-Eyed Man  - キツネ目の男) followed. 

After the death of the police superintendent, the Monster sent his last missive stating:

"Yamamoto of Shiga Prefecture Police died. How stupid of him! We've got no friends or secret hiding place in Shiga. It's Yoshino or Shikata who should have died. What have they been doing for as long as one year and five months? Don't let bad guys like us get away with it. There are many more fools who want to copy us. No-career Yamamoto died like a man. So we decided to give our condolence. We decided to forget about torturing food-making companies. If anyone blackmails any of the food-making companies, it's not us but someone copying us. We are bad guys. That means we've got more to do other than bullying companies. It's fun to lead a bad man's life. Monster with 21 Faces"

With that, he ended his moment of terror and disappeared.
It is interesting though, that a recent ad for CRATZ shows an ostensibly humorous situation, wherein the consumption of these crunchy bits creates a shape-shifting in the visages of the happy snackers - perhaps a clue to one of the 21 faces.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ポテトチップス こがしバター

Calbee's Kogashi Butter (こがしバター) Potato Chip is an OK variation on umami in snack food. There is a propensity in Japan for variations on snack foods lathered in butter (or butter analogs). At their worst, opening a vacu-sealed package an catching the exploding aroma of rancid chemical butter is enough to make one retch. These chips, though relatively boring, don't drive one reeling toward the toilet in anguish.  These at least are made with real butter powder. Whatever that is. And the chip itself has a nice thickness and crunch.

Again, the big marketing thing here is Hokkaido, the genuine center of quite good potatoes and butter in Japan. And the Hokkaido connection is made with the marketing of these chips. Hiroshima-based Calbee (on the opposite end of Japan from Hokkaido), one of the many postwar giants in the snack food industry is responsible for the manufacture of this treat. They started off in the shrimp chip biz, which they handily command, and have become one of the biggest in the potato chip industry. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

グルメセレクト クリームグラタン カマンベール仕立て

So here's what it looks like. Frente is vertically, horizontally, weblike, and at least in 4 dimensions integrated into useless consumable items. They have their fingers in Koikeya, who is the second largest snack food biz in Japan. Koikeya has a line of potato chips, Oh! Chips. Though better than Lays or any number of US mass market chips, Oh Chips are pretty much a second thought to most idle shoppers in the konbinis. Most budget brands are better than Oh! Chips. And somewhere at the bottom of this food chain, the lonely food technologists take the orders and come up with the Gourmet Selection Cream Gratin Camembert "Tailored" Chip. This mouthful of words is certainly more flavorful than the final product itself - a sad concoction of potato flakes, various artificial flavors, and God-knows-what-else. But along traditional corporate lines, I'm sure no one will take responsibility for this travesty. But if you click on this link - - here's his picture. His name is Takashi Koike and he must bear the ultimate responsibility.