Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Bears! It's all about bears. See, the watermelons come from Kumamoto. These are the little ones that (and I quote)"contain a lot of citrulline which has a diuretic effect, and lycopene which has antioxidant properties. Why don’ you get through the hot summer vigorously eating delicious watermelons grown in Kumamoto Prefecture?" 'Cause you see, kuma means "bear" in Japanese and moto means "origin" or something like that and this is where the bears come from or rather, started out. And as for the watermelon - the suica - here where they promote these little sweet ones or these heart-shaped ones that have this "diuretic effect" that you should "vigorously eat..." rather than just enjoy for the fact that summers here are ridiculously hot and watermelons are kinda perfect on hot days, but the ones from Kumamoto, like much Japanese produce and fruit, are promoted to a fare-the-well as something extremely special (and they probably are) and ridiculously expensive, which is all because of the promotion, and... well, you see where this all goes. So you're stuck with a watermelon soda, Suica Soda (すいかソーダ), which will do on yet another extremely hot day in Tokyo and is about all you can afford. You spy that happy bear (nicely designed can, by the way) smiling at you from the vending machine, pop in your 120 yen and "vigourously" suck down your first gulp. And it's good. It's cold it's watermelon-y and soda-y, but still it's not quite the same as you imagine a big slice of a real Kumamoto watermelon, which you've never tried because they're so damn expensive and you don't trust the hype anyway. Anyway certainly not as good a Hermiston melon, which you have tried and lives up to the hype and at the height of summer you can probably buy for a buck or two - and they're big! Bigger than those puny Kumamotos! So you make do with a can of cold soda, refreshing, slightly watermelon-y, fine for a sweltering day. And you dream of bears.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


There are a couple of double entendres from this bottled water's name, PUWATER. The first is in the obvious quick English reading of the label. The other is in the intended pronunciation - PEE-yu-water - signified by the umlauts over the u. The ostensible intent of the marketers naming it was the idea of mixing the words "pure" with "water" and thus, PUWATER. Methinks they were savvy enough about how English speakers would look at it all and buy it for novelty value alone.

The shtick behind this stuff is they get it from Lake Yamanaka, one of the Fuji Five Lakes. It's supposedly sluiced up from 100 meters below the lake's surface. This reminds me of old WWII movies where crack allied troops try to stop Nazi shipments of "heavy water," from alpine lakes used to make top secret weapons. We had to stop them before they developed their own bomb.

PUWATER's supposed to be soft and mellow, suiting the Japanese taste - whatever that is. And also it includes vanandium.

Vanandium - Number 23 on the periodic table of elements is a metal. Its main application is as a strengthening agent added to steel and titanium. And it's also used medically for treating diabetes, low blood sugar, high cholesterol, heart disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, a form of “tired blood” (anemia), and water retention (edema). It's apparently wormed its way into the athletic world as an aid to weight training. Oh, and it's used in homeopathy.

From WebMD

Vanadium is LIKELY SAFE in adults, if less than 1.8 mg per day is taken. At higher doses, such as those used to treat diabetes, vanadium frequently causes unwanted side effects including abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, and gas. It can also cause a greenish tongue, loss of energy, and problems with the nervous system.

Vanadium is UNSAFE when used in large amounts and for a long time. This increases the risk of serious side effects including kidney damage. Vanadium might lower blood sugar. People with diabetes should check their blood sugar carefully and watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Vanadium is LIKELY SAFE in children when taken in amounts found in foods. Don’t give children supplements. Not enough is known about the safety of these larger doses in children.

Special Precautions;

Warnings: Pregnancy and breast-feeding: If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, limit your intake of vanadium to the amount found in food. Not enough is known about the safety of taking larger doses. 

Diabetes: The vanadyl sulfate form of vanadium might lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.

PUUWATER seems to only contain trace elements of Vandium, as do some of the foods we eat.  I'm not one to go overboard on things that naturally happen. However, I generally don't like shit in my water. And I am alway suspect when a product speciously promotes something that probably shouldn't be promoted without some serious research as to the effects it may have. About half a century before the krauts were on to the potentially world-destroying effects of heavy water, radium water was a bit of rage in the U.S. Where's it now?

牛肉のおいしい カレーパン

Who doesn't like a karepan. This trusty variation on a piroshky is one of the better crossover foods ever made. I likes myself a good piroshky. I grew up on them. Mom would set up production, fry up some ground beef and onions, add some hard-boiled eggs, plenny of salt, then wrap 'em up in a yeasty homemade dough and deep fry huge batches of 'em. I'd eat them hot or cold, sometimes with a spear of dill pickle piercing the meaty filling or a drizzle of soy sauce (Mom was born in China). A perfect snack, meal, what-have-you on the run.

So, I come to Japan and here are these things - and man, some of them are better than plain old piroshky. Here they got this specifically Japanese variation of curry (カレー) that's got this fruitiness and a dark roux to thicken the whole thing up. Deep fried, often studded with crispy panko (my mom occasionally would roll her piroshky in corn flakes), they can be a beautiful thing.

And they can be shite. Case in point, the Beef Tasty Karepan from Kobeya. Kobeya is actually a fairly trustworthy bakery chain that can be found all over Kanto. Buying stuff from their bakery outlets can be just fine. However, I found this one at nearby convenience store. Apart from the general lack of freshness, which is not unexpected in these packaged products, the beef, the curry and the complete pretentiousness of the whole package left much to be desired.

I mean, what the hell is European Beef Curry, proudly emblazoned on the package, supposed to mean anyway? I know that there's still a bit of a throwback thought in Japan that things "European" hold a bit more class than the lowly "Japanese" brand. But it's the 21st century ferchrisakes! And when you think of curry or kare do your thoughts immediately go to the canals of Venice, the streets of Paris, Rome? I think not. You're forgiven if you've got some fond memories of currywurst or the vindaloos of London.

The package shows an image of a silver gravy boat streaming lovely brown curry into a beautiful bun. And old fashioned image of service à la russe, which nobody, I mean nobody does anymore. An image of some sort of nostalgia that rings hollower and hollower. Garçon, je voudrais un petit karepan pour commencer, et puis ...  et puis... forget it! Get some real karepan at a creditable outlet where they make in on the premises. You'll be glad you did.