Category Archives: Japan Does It Better

Japan Does It Better 16: Canned Cocktails

japan Does it BetterDrinking is pretty prevalent in Japan. I’m kind of a lightweight there…especially in Naoto’s family where even his mother could drink me under the table. (And, as you know from my happy hour and cocktail posts, I do enjoy my cocktails!) Most often, the drink of choice is beer, especially for picnics or small parties or in the izakaya. At the izakaya, it was easy because I would order sours while everyone else enjoyed their Japanese beers. But in picnic or small party situations, I was worried that I would be left out because I hate beer. (Don’t give me the whole “acquired taste” schpeal…I’ve tried.)

Then, on our first trip to Japan, his sister took me over to the grocery store shelf that held the canned cocktails. Canned cocktails are just pre-packaged cocktails, often made with shochu and fruit juice. They aren’t as tasty as an Old Fashioned or a Tom Collins but they are good enough for a picnic. They are light and fruity and carbonated, easy to drink (and sometimes they sneak up on you…) Canned cocktails come in all sorts of flavors. Naoto’s sisters sent these home with him to give to me. The STRONG brand one is lemon and it is a potent 9% alcohol (hence the name). The Slat brand one is made with the açai berry and blueberry and it contains orange pulp (according to the red label with the orange icon). Slat is a much weaker 3% alcohol…there’s a little something for everyone’s tolerance!

Maybe the American equivalent of a canned cocktail is a Mike’s Hard Lemonade (gross) or a wine cooler (double gross), but trust me…the Japanese versions are tastier and I love that they include real fruit.

Portable options for non-beer drinkers…Japan Does It Better!!

To see more JDIB posts, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 15: Powder Sheets

Japan Does It BetterLet’s talk for a moment about showering, shall we?

Have you ever showered in the morning, then realized that the weather reports are all wrong again and it wouldn’t be raining yet again, in spite of all the warnings from the weather person and your iPhone? So, you put on your gardening clothes and pop over to the garden to water your poor, thirsty tomatoes that you’ve neglected because of said weather reports. You water the plants in the hot sun and try to get on with your day (which involves seeing more people than your cat at home), but you are a little bit sweaty from being in the humid Chicago air. Do you take another shower? Do you skip the shower and feel sticky and gross for the rest of the day and hope that no one notices?

Well, Japan has a solution for this…actually Biore has a solution for this, but it’s only available in Japan (in spite of all my letters to Biore asking them to make them available in the U.S.)

Biore makes these powder sheets that are perfect for a little freshening up throughout the day. My sister-in-law introduced them to me almost ten years ago and I’ve been a devoted follower ever since. I bring a summer’s supply home with me each time I visit Japan. (They are significantly cheaper in Japan so it makes sense to stock up.) The powder sheets are kind of like wet wipes, but they leave a cool powdery finish behind, perfect for clearing away sweat and leaving your skin soft and refreshed. Some are lightly scented like citrus (pictured above) or baby powder or fresh soap but the scent is light and clean, not overpowering. The powder finish helps to absorb perspiration throughout the day, so you feel nice and clean long after you use the little sheet. I carry a pack of powder sheets in my purse for sweaty emergencies on the go. They are the next best thing to a shower. (And really, who has time for a shower?)

Biore Powder Sheets…yep, Japan Does It Better!

For more JDIB posts, go here.

P.S. Apparently Ban has introduced something similar in the U.S. I haven’t tried them yet to compare. If you’ve tried them, please let me know what you think. Hopefully Biore will take note and bring theirs to the U.S. too!

 

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Japan Does It Better 14: Baskets For Your Handbag

bunbougu cafeHave you ever thought about how gross the bottom of your handbag is?

Here in the states, unless there is a spare chair at the table, our handbags usually end up on the floor at restaurants and bars. This is mainly because–at least where I live–hanging it on the back of a chair is like asking someone to take it. So the options are holding it in your lap or setting it on the floor by your feet so you can keep track of it. It’s a pain and it’s disgusting, but those are the only options.

This is where Japan Does It Better. In Japan, it is considered unsanitary to put your handbag on the floor. So, most restaurants have bins or baskets at each table for your belongings (handbags, shopping bags, diaper bags…) The handbag baskets above are at Bunbougu Cafe and they are huge enough to hold a long day’s worth of stationery shopping.

A safe, clean place for your belongings…another way Japan Does It Better!

To see more JDIB posts, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 13: Furu Pote

seasoning packets for friesBack on our first trip together to Japan in 2011, Naoto and I stayed with his mom for a few days. We watched her regular TV programs with her at night and enjoyed a game show about restaurants. A “food expert” (I can’t remember if it was a famous chef or a food critic or what) ate every menu item from a fast food restaurant and rated each item. Sometimes the food expert had high praise, but as you can imagine, the best TV was when the food expert criticized the best sellers on the menus.

Lotteria was a featured restaurant and I became obsessed with going there and trying Japanese fast food. We finally went with Hisae and Norio (my sister-in-law and brother-in-law) and I enjoyed a shrimp burger, fries (better known in Japan as furaido potato) and a melon soda. Hisae got fries too. But she had a little pouch of powder that she sprinkled on top, giving them a salty seaweed flavor. I was amaaaazed (and disappointed that my fries were plain ol’ fries.)

Apparently, furu pote (fries shaken in a bag with seasonings) are popular in several fast food chains in Japan and across Asia.

During our trip in March, we went to Lotteria and I got to try the fries for myself. I got the butter soy sauce flavor packet and Naoto got the seaweed. I enjoyed every bite of my fries and every sip of my melon soda. And still I wondered where this concept was in the US.

For the past three years I’ve thought Americans would eat up furu pote like crazy. (Of course we would have to name it something else.) We could have sour cream & onion flavored fries, BBQ flavored fries, cheddar flavored fries. Where was this kind of thing in the home of the french fry?

Well, last week I came across this article announcing McDonald’s plans to introduce flavor packets for their french fries. If you try it, let me know what you think. I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s since 1996 and a little flavor packet isn’t going to change that. But I’m excited to hear how they taste.

So, even though the idea skipped across the ocean and is finally here in the US, when it comes to flavored french fries, Japan Does It Better!

P.S. To see all of the other JDIB posts, go here.

 

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Japan Does It Better 12: Hot Dogs

Japan Does It Better, hot dogsI’ll be the first to admit that today’s JDIB post is rather controversial…especially since Chicago is (unarguably) the hot dog capital of the world. I do love a good Chicago-style, dragged through the garden (onions, tomatoes, relish, cucumbers, sport peppers and a pickle spear along side mustard and celery salt, never ketchup!) hot dog on a poppyseed bun.

But there’s something about the Japanese hot dog that’s just better. First, the dog is nicely seasoned. It has more flavor than any American hot dog I’ve ever tried. It’s not quite spicy like a Polish sausage, but there’s flavor in there! And it’s really juicy and has a nice snap. (No one likes a mushy hot dog, Oscar Meyer!) But the best part–the part that highlights the Japan dog and helps it shine–is the bun. Oh the bun! I love a good poppyseed bun, but this is so much better! The texture is light and fluffy with a nice toasty “crust”. And the bun is often grilled to perfection, making it the ideal vehicle for a simple dog and a little mustard.

So, as much as I love my Chicago dogs…I have to say, even with something as American as a hot dog, Japan Does It Better!

The picture above was taken at the cook out. I know the hot dog is blurry, but it was the best I could do with my mouth watering.

To see my other JDIB posts, go here.

P.S. No hate mail, please…I’m lookin’ at you Chicago & NYC!

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Japan Does It Better 11: Melon Soda

melon soda, Mister Donut, Japanese drinks, FantaOh sweet melon soda.

I should preface this post by telling you that I hate cantaloupe. And when Naoto offered me a melon soda a few years ago on our first trip to Japan, I recoiled. The word “melon” and the intense green color kept me from getting my own, but I did taste his. And then I proceeded to drink it all.

Melon soda doesn’t taste exactly like cantaloupe…there’s a melon-y flavor but it’s not overpowering. The soda is sweet and creamy and perfectly carbonated and so refreshing! Most restaurants offer fountain melon soda, which is typically Fanta brand, and that’s the best way to enjoy a melon soda. But you can also find it canned or bottled in convenience stores and vending machines (and in Asian grocery stores here in the U.S.!)

Most of my melon soda consumption occurred at Mister Donut during this trip. During my alone time, I would often pop into Misdo in the afternoons and order one to sip on while I wrote postcards. (It’s easy for non-Japanese speakers to order a melon soda because it’s called “melon soda”.) Fanta, melon soda, Mister Donut, Japanese drinksCheers to melon soda…Japan Does It Better!

To see the other JDIB posts, go here.

Japan Does It Better 10: Apple Juice

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The first time I visited Japan, I was given a box of apple juice on the train. (It was an organized work trip…I did not accept apple juice from a stranger.) I was thirsty, so I accepted the juice even though apple is right down there with grape as my least favorite fruit juices. To my surprise, the apple juice was amazing. I mean, it was so good that I spent the rest of my trip seeking out boxes of it in every vending machine on the streets.
What makes it so good, you might be asking? It actually tastes like an apple, slightly tart and perfectly crisp. It is almost color-less and it is made with red and green apples (who would have thought?!) to give it that perfect balance of taste.
What I don’t understand is this:
I live in America, home to apple pies, apple crisp, apple turnovers, apple fritters, Johnny Appleseed, apple farms, apple picking…how can we be so wrong about apple juice?
I actually emailed Minute Maid to ask where I could find the red/green apple juice blend at home. They told me that their products are developed for the tastes of a particular country…I guess I’m in the minority in the US?
Crisp, refreshing apple juice…another reason Japan Does It Better!

Japan Does It Better 9: Hygiene Masks

Japanese hygiene maskWhen you are out and about in Japan, it is not uncommon to see people wearing surgical or hygiene masks in public. The first time I saw this, I thought that the people wearing the masks were recovering from serious illnesses and protecting themselves from germs. And while some people do wear the masks for this reason, most are wearing them out of courtesy for others. In Japan, if you have a cold, you sport a hygiene mask so that you don’t spread the germs to your fellow commuters, coworkers and family members. As a frequent rider of the subway in Tokyo, it gave me great comfort to see the hygiene masks on the train, especially during rush hour when I was commuting face-to-face with my fellow passengers!

Do they really work? As far as keeping cold germs in, it seems they do. (Maybe they actually work, or maybe it’s human nature to back away from the ill mask-wearer…) But wearing one for protection isn’t very effective. Naoto is a good example of this. On our flight home from Japan in 2011, he wore a hygiene mask and I didn’t. He was sick for a week.

Naoto has a box of masks in the closet. He wears them around the house when he has a cold so that I don’t get sick. Thankfully, he rarely gets sick and when he does, the mask keeps me safe from his germs. (Knocking on wood…)

So, courtesy with colds…another reason Japan Does It Better!

P.S. When I write these posts, I base them off of my experience with Japan and I do a bit of Googling to see if there is anything interesting to add. My “research” led me down a surgical mask information vortex. (Feel free to click on the links for the full stories.) It turns out that some people wear the masks to avoid social interaction, to disguise the fact that they are not wearing make-up, to disguise the fact that they haven’t shaved and (the best!) to feign a cold so they don’t have to go out drinking with their bosses after work!

And, an NPR story, just for good measure.

For the rest of the JDIB posts, click here.

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Japan Does It Better 8: Kit Kats

matcha and sakura kit catsYes, Kit Kats are totally an American treat…but man, are they ever better in Japan! On my first trip to Japan, I was browsing some tourist shops in Kyoto and I came across Matcha (green tea) KitKats. I was very intrigued, so I brought some home to try and to give to friends. When I tasted one for the first time, I realized that it was going to by verrrry difficult to part with those tasty green treats! They were so good–sweet, and crispy with just the right amount of green tea punch–and I didn’t know when I’d be back to Japan, so I didn’t want to give them to anyone! I ended up being super strict about giving them away.

Is she Matcha KitKat worthy?

Nope.

Guess I’ll eat it myself.

Sakura Matcha KitKatWhen we traveled to Japan together for the first time in 2011, Naoto and I found Sakura (cherry blossom) Matcha KitKats. They were just as fabulous as the matcha ones–a little bit sweeter with hint of flowery taste complementing the green tea. YUM!matcha kit kat packagingI love the fact that they are made for gift giving. There is a place in the back for you to write a message for your recipient–the perfect omiyage! Inside each box, there are three small, individually wrapped KitKat pairs.

Now when Naoto and I go, we buy several boxes to bring home so I don’t have to get all hoard-y with them. I actually mailed out a bunch to my pen pals and I think they were a welcomed sight in mailboxes all across the country. Even with giving a ton away, I have five (ahem, now four) bars left in my pantry for an I-miss-Japan kind of day. (Yesterday was one of those days…while drafting this post, I had to take a break to eat a Sakura KitKat.)

pumpkin puree kit kat barWhen we were there in September, we picked up some Pumpkin Pudding Halloween KitKats. They were…interesting…not my favorite.

It seems that we have a lot more taste testing to do with Japanese KitKats. I found this article that reviews a “care package” of crazy flavored Japanese KitKats. Who knew there were so many more? I’ve rarely seen the matcha or sakura flavored KitKats in regular grocery stores in Japan (just at the airport and tourist shops), so I ‘m going to have to do a bit of research and hunting when we go back this year.

Matcha & Sakura KitKats…yet another reason Japan Does It Better!

P.S. For the rest of the JDIB posts, go here!

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Japan Does It Better 7: No Shoes

minnetonka moccasins, no shoes in the houseWhen we first moved into our apartment, we had new hardwood floors installed and I decided we would officially become a “no shoes” household. Naoto and I were both accustomed to taking our shoes off at the door, but in our old apartment, with its worn hardwoods, we didn’t really think about asking our guests to take off theirs. But the hardwoods in our new apartment were the most expensive upgrade to our home and I wanted to take good care of them. Wet shoes, snowy, salty shoes, un-maintained high heels, rocks…they were all the enemy (not to mention dog doo, spit, food, dirt and other unmentionables from the outside world).

But my mom pointed out that as a good hostess, you want people to feel comfortable in your home. For some people, that means keeping their shoes on. I know deep down that my mom is right, and I do want to be a good hostess, but it’s hard–especially with the snowy, slushy weather we’ve been having–to not cry when I think about muddy boots traipsing across my floors and rugs.

This is where Japan Does It Better…

In Japan, there is no question whether or not you should remove your shoes. Everyone removes their shoes. You walk into a tiny vestibule, take off your shoes and step into the rest of the home. Outdoor shoes never step up into the rest of the home. And most people have an array of house shoes that you can wear if you choose.

The aversion to outdoor shoes being worn indoors goes beyond homes in Japan. In some restaurants and shrines, you are asked to remove your shoes. Oftentimes at izakayas there are lockers where you place your outdoor shoes to keep them safe while you eat. (It can be hard to keep track of your locker key when you drink too much!) Some places have communal slippers you wear while inside, other places you just wear your socks. I often wonder how the communal slipper thing would be accepted in the US…I am pretty germ-phobic, but I never thought twice about putting on communal slippers in Japan. (Everything just seems very sanitary there.) And luckily, I’ve always had cute, hole-free socks in my suitcase during my trips to Japan!

What do you think? Shoes, no shoes? Would you think it was weird to take your shoes off in a restaurant?

No shoes indoors…just another way Japan Does It Better!

For more JDIB posts, go here.

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