An axis for artistic and creative-types of the Asian persuasian… Redefining Otaku Culture.

Skills of the fastest mochi-pounding pros in all of Japan leave us dumbfounded

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RocketNews 24:

The making of mochi, traditional Japanese rice cakes, is a traditional activity for many Japanese families around the time of the New Year’s holiday. The term for this important ritual in Japanese is mochitsuki (餅つき), which quite simply means “mochi pounding.”

While there are dozens of mochi specialty shops scattered throughout Japan, one particular shop specializing in yomogimochi (mochi mixed with mugwort, giving it a distinctive green color) in Nara Prefecture boasts much more than delicious sweets–its second claim to fame is that it employs the fastest mochitsuki champions in all of the country!

The mochitsuki professionals at Nara’s Nakatanidou (中谷堂) shop make a great team. They’ve got the art of mochitsuki down to a tee, and it’s obvious that in the process they’ve also cultivated a mutual trust over the years. I mean, why else would they be so willing to stick their hands in the direct path of a mallet crashing down at full force?

The following video of the mochi masters at work is so impressive that it’s even garnered thousands of views outside of Japan. Remember, what you’re about to see is not sped-up or altered in any way–it’s the actual speed that the video was recorded at:

 

 

10 distinctly Japanese comfort foods

RocketNews 24:

Comfort food” is traditional cooking that tends to have a nostalgic or sentimental connection, often one related to family or childhood: the grilled cheese sandwiches your mother used to make; the thought of your grandmother’s bread pudding makes your mouth water; the way the whole house would be filled with the intoxicating aroma of roasted turkey or ham at Christmas? Because of such memories, these foods comfort us, especially when we’re longing for home or feeling especially vulnerable.

Not surprisingly, the sentimental Japanese have their own comfort foods. While you might think they’d be waxing over the octopus tentacles of home, very few of the dishes we’re about to talk about have much to do with seafood. Many Japanese comfort foods have a rice connection and may even center around the unique relationship between mothers or wives and their role in family food preparation. And in Japan, make no mistake about it–her kitchen rules!

Here are 10 distinctly Japanese comfort foods:

1. Miso soup and rice (味噌汁とご飯)

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Miso soup and its companion bowl of rice are sometimes described as a “marriage.” This is the food Japanese miss most when they leave home to live on their own for the first time or if they travel abroad and tire of “Western breakfast.”

Miso soup is hardly ever served without its faithful rice. For centuries this edible couple has been considered the main part of a classic, healthy Japanese breakfast. “Mom’s miso soup” is, quite simply, to die for. And each Mom adds her own touch to the recipe, so the subtle flavors vary according to household. So powerful is this aromatic duo that the mere thought of smelling miso upon waking up in the morning can leave a study-abroad student salivating as he or she is transported temporarily back to the mother ship.

Other than the miso base, other ingredients in the soup may include dashi broth, tofu, chopped green onion, wakame seaweed and a plethora of others. See some miso soup anime ads that bring out the true miso spirit.

Try making it! Learn how to make miso soup in the Rocket Kitchen. No miso? No problem–miso can be made at home too!

 

2. Onigiri (おにぎり)

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While women’s hands are said to be too warm to become sushi chefs, those ostensibly hot hands surely come in handy when it comes to making rice balls. This favorite snack, made from either fresh steamed rice or leftover rice from the night before, is standard fare for bento lunches and picnics. All good outdoor gatherings feature the highly portable and nutritious triangular-shaped sticky rice ball, which is geometrically formed by squeezing it just so in the palms of the hands. Each ball is filled with one of a number of ingredients from sweet salmon to sour plums, and the triangle of rice is girthed with a seaweed belt so moist, it doesn’t actually stick to your lips like the papery convenience-store kind.

According to Japanese aesthetics, any food tastes better with proper scenery, so you’ll find rice balls at every “Hanami” cherry blossom party.

 

3. Tempura (天ぷら)

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This favorite food of foreigners is also a favorite of the Japanese (even though tempura is thought to have originally come from Portugal). Surely, worldwide, everyone loves tempura! And mama’s home made has gotta be the best. But I can’t help think that the nostalgia surrounding this food (the taste of which doesn’t vary that much from kitchen to kitchen) has to do with the method of preparation: the wife dutifully stays in the kitchen throughout the meal, only emerging occasionally when the next batch of piping hot veggies are ready to be served to her expectant family. And of course a Japanese wife is happy, perhaps even ecstatic, to do this, in order to fulfill the expectations of the perfect mother who, at least in the old days, was said to “make and serves food with all her heart” (kokorokomete ryoriotsukurimasu).

Tip! Be sure to have fun with your tempura–make it colossal!

 

4. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

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A close runner up as an all-time favorite by foreigners and Japanese alike is oknomiyaki (literally “grilled as you like it”). What could be more fun than playing with your food? Mix up the cabbage with a combination of okonomiyaki flour and milk, add a raw egg, then ingredients such as mochi, cheese, fish, pork, or corn (anything really–as you like it!). Leave it on the grill to cook then top it with sweet okonomiyaki sauce!

Whether Hiroshima style or Osaka style, oknonomiyaki satisfies even the most unsophisticated pallets. It’s what I serve to my parents who don’t like Japanese food (surely the only two people left in the world). This pancake-like food is certainly interactive and gets everyone communing at the table.

Not only that, but such comfort foods pull at the heartstrings of boys when they become myopic, nostalgic adults missing their mommies. In Japan, the relationship between mothers and sons is supposed to be extra special (sorry girls!).

Watch it! A video of one man’s gourmet food trip through Japan, including oknomiyaki.

 

5. Tamago Kake Gohan (卵かけ御飯)

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This simple dish is so fast, so simple, and so good! Just a raw egg, a little soy sauce (if you like) and some cooked white rice will give you a meal on the go. One of our RocketNews24 writers who grew up eating TKG, says it’s her go-to comfort food. Just pour the raw egg yolk over the rice and mix it together: ta-da! Isn’t that convenient?! Who said you couldn’t cook Japanese food?

Make it! Try Rocket Kitchen’s Ultimate TKG

6. Nabe (鍋)

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Nabe is one of those foods in the “cooked in large earthenware pot” family. It is stewed in a vessel that sits in the middle of the table. Meat and vegetables are added throughout the entire dinner session, with each person around the dinner table reaching into the pot with their chopsticks to pick out their own vegetables or meats (or perhaps dished out by mom) as the ingredients slowly cook. This dish is only shared with family or good friends who you’re absolutely sure don’t have any contagious diseases. The constant dipping of your chopsticks into the broth to dig out mighty morsels means that you’ll be sharing your germs. On the other hand, you can console yourself that the boiling broth may kill most of the cooties someone might unknowingly be passing on. Nabe, a winter food, is usually associated with close friends and family, the equivalent of sitting around a bonfire with a guitar and singing songs together. Being invited to a nabe party is a definitive indication you’ve been accepted into the inner circle. Try yosenabe–or “fling it all in” nabe!

Make it cute! Tips on how to make your nabe look as kawaii as possible!

 

7. Okayu (おかゆ)

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When Japanese feel a cold coming on, they reach for okayu–a warm, easily digestible watery mush made from rice. It’s also the food of choice if you’re missing your teeth. Even Kiki, the heroine of the anime film Kiki’s Delivery Service, can be seen eating okayu in a scene when she is sick. So next time you’re feeling a bit under the weather, do what Kiki does and try some rice porridge!

Make it! Ghibli-inspired rice porridge

8. Udon (うどん)

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While both ramen and udon noodles are loved by the Japanese, I’m going to stick to Udon here because, well, it’s Japanese (whereas ramen in technically Chinese) and udon is the Wall Street Journal of noodles–it’s way more sophisticated than ramen. Ramen’s reputation is that of an easy, greasy food eaten when you’re in need of something filling and moreish but not especially good for you–often after a night out drinking. But while ramen satisfies, udon nurtures. The warmth of steam emanating from a large bowl of udon, and enveloping your face in the wintertime is enough to warm you to your toes. It’s no wonder that in Kagawa Prefecture, the udon capital of Japan, and where they are known to eat udon while in the bath, that they’re using the long unleavened egg dough to generate power. How cool is that?!

9. Curry Rice (カレーライス)

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Curry rice doesn’t sound like it’s Japanese, and surely its origins aren’t (Japanese curry comes from India by way of the British navy, would you believe), but the way the Japanese have modified their knock-off version is distinctly their own. It’s sweet, gooey and heaped over sticky rice! And it’s usually not spicy at all. Kids and adults alike love this cheap, easy-to-prepare food, usually made from boxed curry you buy at the store. And anything can be added to it including meat and veggies. For me, I prefer the real thing, but the fact is that Japanese kids grow up eating and loving the Japanese version. Curry rice is served in school lunches, at ski resorts, on the beach, and at restaurants everywhere. It’s ubiquitous, which means it’s a fallback food anywhere, anytime. Except abroad, where you’ll rarely, if ever, find it.

Tip! Twelve meals to make using leftover curry

10. Ochazuke (お茶漬け)

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We saved ochazuke for last because this dish is consumed at the very end of a meal. Ochazuke is most likely only encountered by foreigners who dine with Japanese, so may not be well-known to mere tourists. But most foreigners’ first encounter is similar: You’re at the end of a meal, feeling like a total pig because you’ve eaten so much amazing food. You’re sitting back in your chair, hands folded over the swollen stomach, thinking you couldn’t eat another bite of anything even if it were apple pie, when suddenly, someone at the table pipes up, “Let’s have ochazuke!” They tackle the waiter who dutifully takes away one thing from the table: the leftover rice. This is taken back to the kitchen, where the chef mixes it with green tea (and perhaps some other things). The rice concoction is brought back out to the table and presented as the last course, like a sort of savoury dessert. It’s warm, it’s delicious, and you somehow find a little extra room in your distended stomach for it before completely passing out.

Tip! Just combine green tea and rice.

 

Häagen-Dazs releases new mochi ice cream

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RocketNews 24:

There are a ton of different ways to eat mochi, with roasting it or dropping it into soup or hot pots being some of the more common. Outside of Japan, though, many people’s first encounter with mochi is in the form of ice cream-filled mochi spheres sold at specialty grocers.

But while they make a tasty treat, what would happen if you reversed the process, and instead of putting ice cream in mochi, put mochi into ice cream? That’s the question posed by Häagen-Dazs new kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream, and we’re here with the answer.

While this isn’t the American ice cream maker’s first foray into mochi-filled ice cream, it is its first time to offer this particular flavor. Before we dig in, let’s go over that lengthy product name.

Kinako refers to roasted soybean flour, although if you’d never had it before, you might mistake the powdered confectionary condiment for a mild strain of cinnamon. Kuromitsu, meanwhile, a sweet sauce made from brown sugar, and the literal translation of its name, “black honey,” should give you an idea of its dark color and syrupy consistency.

Those of you with a good memory or healthy mental preoccupation with sweets may now be recalling our guide on how to eat Shingen mochi, the representative Japanese dessert of Yamanashi Prefecture that’s named after the region’s feudal period warlord Takeda Shingen. As a matter of fact, no sooner did the kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream go on sale than Internet users in Japan started spreading the word about how much it resembled Shingen mochi, and how happy their taste buds were about that.

 

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Many sweets fans in Japan claim Häagen-Dazs tastes best if you let it sit and get just a little melty first. Following their advice, we set our cup out on the desk, gazed deeply into the eyes of our giant Mr. Sato sticker plastered on the wall, and waited.

A few minutes later we were ready to tear into our snack. Before we did, though, we noticed a warning on the lid, cautioning us “When opening, please remove the lid slowly to prevent contents from scattering.” So, using the last shreds of our willpower, we peeled the lid of carefully, and once we saw what was waiting underneath, we were glad we did!

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There is a ton of kinako inside. Honestly, it’s a complete layer that entirely covers the ice cream. Well, technically it’s covering the mochi, and that’s covering the ice cream.

Once again, being careful not to make a gigantic mess by spilling powder all over the room, we gently inserted our spoon. As we raised it towards our mouth, the mochi stretched out with its characteristic elasticity.

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For our first bite, we made sure we had all the players, kinako, kuromitsu, mochi, and ice cream, accounted for in the same spoonful, and the result was glorious. The kuromitsu’s rich flavor, coupled with the milky notes of the ice cream and the wonderful aroma of the kinako, made this a mouthful of cross-cultural decadence. While we can understand why it reminds some people of Shingen mochi, to us, its creamy quality made the flavor more like a kuromitsu milk shake.

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Taking minute bites, we also sampled the delicious ice cream, kinako, and kuromistu separately, and found that each ingredient is indeed pulling its own weight. Speaking of weight, the kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream has just 235 calories per container. So while it may not be quite as healthy as non-dessert mochi, it’s definitely something you can afford to treat yourself to once in a while.

Wasabi and sashimi bagels on sale now in Japan!

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RocketNews 24:

I’ve never been much of a bagel fan. It’s got nothing to do with a dislike of carbs, as I’ll happily chow down on sandwiches, rice bowls, and noodles. Bagels, though, have always struck me as sort of bland.

Sure, I realize there are ways to make bagels more flavorful, but a lot of the most common additions, like berries or cream cheese, don’t really do much for me. But when I found out that one of Japan’s most popular bagel chains was adding a kick to their offerings with a wasabi bagel, my interest was piqued. Then, when I learned that they also offered a bagel sandwich with tuna sashimi, my next meal was planned.

These Japanese-style bagels come courtesy of Bagel & Bagel, the redundantly named chain that’s much more creative with their product lineup than their company’s moniker. Like their watermelon bagels we tried last summer, the wasabi and sashimi versions are part of a limited time lineup, this time collectively called the Japanese Fair menu and available until February 22.

▼ The Yokohama Lumine branch of Bagel & Bagel

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Joining the non-sandwich wasabi bagel in the Japanese Fair are varieties made with mochi rice cake, edamame soybeans and hijiki (a type of seaweed), nori (yet another type of seaweed), shiitake mushroom with sesame, and kinako (a cinnamon-like flavoring) with white chocolate.

▼ Mochi (left) and hijiki edamame (right)

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▼ Nori (left) and wasabi (right)

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Intriguing as they all sound, there’re only so many bagels you can plow through in one sitting, and for this taste-test, the two that made the cut were the 200-yen (US $1.70) wasabi bagel and 490-yen (US $4.15) tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise (which sounds slightly more eloquent in Japanese as tzuke maguro to wasabi mayonezu).

▼ The wrapper says “New York style bagels,” but I don’t recall seeing any with sashimi when I visited the Big Apple.

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Initially, I was a little disappointed, since I’d expected opening the package to produce a blast of sinus-clearing wasabi aroma. No such luck, as it smelled pretty much like any other bagel. Still, I wasn’t giving up hope yet. Even with no wasabi experience for the olfactory senses, the ring-shaped piece of bread’s green color promised one for the taste buds, as did the ingredient list that mentioned both wasabi paste and powder.

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I took a bite, and found that the bagel is pleasantly chewy. Initially, there’s not a whole lot of flavor going on, but as you continue to chew, the spiciness starts to kick in. While it’s not nearly as spicy as the dollop of wasabi you’ll find served along with your meal in a sushi restaurant, it’s still tasty. This would actually go pretty well with a glass of beer, producing an effect that’s sort of a combination between a soft pretzel and spicy kakipisoy crackers.

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Now it was time for the main event, the tuna sashimi bagel, which uses the same dough as the plain wasabi bagel. This one comes wrapped in butcher paper, just like Japanese restaurants serve their hamburgers.

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Although it isn’t mentioned in the already too-long-for-its-own-good official name of the tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise bagel, the first thing that greets your eyes is the heaping helping of mizuna. While mizuna translates as potherb mustard, it doesn’t taste anything like the yellow condiment or the seeds its made from. Instead, mizuna is a crisp leaf vegetable that’s commonly found in salads and hot pots in Japan, with a flavor that’s just a touch on the sharp and bitter side but far milder than, say, arugula.

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▼ Some of the wasabi-infused mayo

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Remove the wrapper entirely, and you’ll see the tuna sashimi peeking out at you through the middle of the bagel. You’ll also notice another ingredient that’s left off the marque in the form of small strips of nori seaweed. Nori is commonly added to rice bowls topped with marinated tuna sashimi, though, so some Japanese diners might assume it’ll be included in the sandwich even without being told about its presence.

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As for the tuna itself, it’s concentrated towards the center of the sandwich and coarsely diced. It’s not as soft as the tuna in negi toro sushi, though. If you’ve ever had the variety of sashimi called naka ochi, you’ll know what to expect here, as the texture is still substantial enough to make this feel like a proper sandwich filling, and not just a bagel with a paste spread on it.

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So how does it taste? Pretty good, actually. All of the mizuna gives you the impression that you’re eating something incredibly healthy, and with a calorie count of just 286 for the entire sandwich, you really are. However, there’s so much mizuna that in your first bite, you’re likely to not even notice the tuna. The wasabi mayonnaise is there to add some variety though, with a creamy yet spicy flavor that makes the first mouthful resemble a handheld salad.

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Things start to get sashimi-style soon, though. Having most of the tuna packed towards the center means a decidedly different flavor profile between the first and second bites. It’s not just the taste that changes, either, as the sashimi provides a lot more moisture than the mizuna, even with the wasabi mayonnaise helping out the veggies.

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On the plus side, the shift in flavor and moistness makes eating the sashimi bagel almost feel like a multi-course meal. Still, since there’s only a modest amount of wasabi mayonnaise mixed in with the mizuna, as you move from one end to the center and then on through to the other side, it means you’re going from dry to moist to back to dry again.

If that ending doesn’t sound like your preferred way to finish a meal, you might find yourself hoping for a little extra moisture at the tail end. I suppose you could go to the fridge, grab a jar of mayo, and add a little to supplement what’s already there, but that seems like it would just dilute the wasabi flavor and run contrary to the bagel’s Japanese influences.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, where the restaurant Philippe’s has been serving up delicious French dip sandwiches for over a hundred years, I’m no stranger to the benefits of dunking an already assembled sandwich in a bit of extra sauce. Instead of au jus, though, a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce seemed more appropriate.

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So in the end, while the tuna sashimi bagel is just fine on its own, it’s even better if you turn it into a Japanese dip.

Mochi Deaths: Traditional New Year’s food proves deadly again in Japan

Naked men in loinclothes pound steamed rice into a mochi, rice cake to celebrate the New Year at the Kanda shrine in Tokyo on January 1, 2015. 

CBS News:

A traditional New Year’s food in Japan has made headlines again for claiming more lives.

According to Japan Today, the Tokyo Fire Department said Friday that two people died after choking on mochi, a rice cake that is especially popular to eat on New Year’s Day.

According to the newspaper, six people were hospitalized in the Tokyo area after choking on the sticky cakes and two of them died. The victims were both men, an 84-year-old and a 76-year-old, Japan Today reported.

Suffocation deaths are caused by mochi every year in Japan, especially among elderly people. The glutinous cakes, which are made by pounding rice, are extremely viscous. The cakes can become lodged in the throats of eaters whose saliva secretion may be compromised by old age.

Most of the deaths in Japan occur in January when the cakes are most often consumed.

According to the Tokyo Fire Department, mochi sends more than 100 people to the hospital every year in Tokyo alone. Between 2006 and 2009, 18 people died from choking on mochi in the Japanese capital, according to city’s fire department. In 2011, Japanese media reported eight mochi-related deaths in Tokyo in January.

Every year, Japanese authorities warn people to cut mochi into small pieces before eating it. The Tokyo Fire Department even has a website offering tips on how to help someone choking on the rice cakes.

The Guardian reported that one company, in a bid to reduce mochi-related casualties, developed a “safer” version of the cakes, which includes an enzyme that makes them less sticky.

Mochi, the silent New Year killer, leaves nine dead and 128 hospitalized

 

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RocketNews 24:

Ah mochi, the delicious Japanese sweet. It can come in all different shapes and flavors, from the loveable daifuku with sweet bean paste filling, to hot zenzai soup with azuki beans and white mochi, to such delights as mochi ice cream and even chocolate cow poop mochi.

Since mochi is a traditional New Year’s treat in Japan – you can even reserve your New Year’s kagami mochi at Baskin Robins – more of it is consumed around this time of year than any other.

But all that mochi-eating has a dark side to it. With its incredibly sticky texture, mochi causes the most choking-related deaths of any food item in Japan. Last year it killed two people during the New Year season, and after just two days into 2015 it has already claimed nine lives and hospitalized 128 others.

Typically mochi-related deaths and injuries occur in the elderly population. The victims may not chew it enough, insist on eating the traditional snack despite not having all their teeth, or a multitude of other reasons.

▼ Don’t do it! You have your whole- well, some life ahead of you!

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This year, of the nine mochi-related deaths, three occurred in Tokyo, another three in Chiba, and one each in Osaka, Aomori and Nagasaki. The Tokyo Fire Department (which also handles the ambulance services) urges people to “cut their mochi into small pieces, and when a child or elderly person is eating it, to make sure that the people around them are paying attention.”

Of course Japanese netizens had a thing or two to say about all this:

“I can’t believe they still choked even with all the warnings out there. What an embarrassing way to go.”

“We should probably start requiring a license to eat mochi.”

“Mochi, you’re a bigger killer than konjac jelly!

“Mochi: ‘Yes, just as I planned….’”

“People have been saying that it’s strange yukhoe (korean raw beef with egg) is banned but mochi is still legal, and yeah, now I understand why.”

“I bet at least 1% of these are murders, forcing the victims to eat it. Probably happens every year.”

“Wait a minute, so does this mean that, before modern warnings and everything, people dying from mochi-choking was just a regular thing? Mochi… I believed in you.”

“They should start selling small-cut, special ‘Won’t-Choke-You Mochi.’ It’d probably sell really well.”

While we wouldn’t dare dissuade anymore from enjoying a delicious daifuku, or from celebrating the new year with some zōni mochi (soup with a mochi) or kinako mochi (brown mochi covered in powder), we’d suggest that you take the Tokyo Fire Department’s advice and try not to swallow it whole. At least that way you won’t end up getting made fun of on a Japanese messageboard.

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15 beautiful Japanese sweets to cool you down this summer

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Japanese summers are hard to bear. With high humidity levels, the energy-sapping heat has such an overwhelming effect on the body there’s even a word for summer lethargy in the Japanese lexicon: natsubate.

Luckily for us, Japan has developed a number of unique ways to fight the summer heat. One of the best ways to cool down is in the sensory pleasure of traditional Japanese sweets featuring watery wonderlands, night skies and gorgeous hues of blue. We’ve found 15 of the best summer sweets that are so amazing they’re more like edible works of art.

 

Natsu Temari

This sweet resembles a traditional hand-woven handball called a temari, which children play with in summer. Natsu temari means summer handball.

 

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Lace Kan

Made from Kanten, or agar-agar, a healthy vegetable gelatin, this sweet is full of lemon and honey flavors. The kanten texture is as delicate as lace.

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Goldfish Sweet 

Fish are a popular summer motif and this one has got to be one of the most adorable we’ve seen! Available from the famous, centuries-old sweet shop Toraya, you can change the scenery of the sweet by using different colored serving plates, thanks to the crystal clear kanten jelly.

 

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Mini Aquarium Jellies 

These homemade jellies by Miki Nagata have a hint of blue added to the kanten mixture.

 

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Koi Carp Jelly 

Now you can gaze into a koi carp pond and devour it at the same time! This homemade creation includes agar, sweet red peas, sweet dainagon beans, black sesame seeds, matcha powder and white bean paste.

 

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Goldfish Bowl

Available from the traditional sweet shop Kourakuya, the attention to detail includes fish bodies gently poking through the surface of the water.

 

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Milky Way

Night skies are another popular motif to help keep cool in summer. Red bean paste and layers of blue-green hues mixed with gold flakes create a starry skyscape to transport you to the cold regions of space.

 

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Starry Evening

This sweet captures the stars and moon and encloses them in a glistening casing.

 

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Clear Stream

There are also a number of sweets that replicate water. This one uses aquamarine hues to create a running stream frozen in time.

 

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Water’s Lodge

Another one from Toraya, this sweet serves up the crest of a wave.

 

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Ice Candies

These candies are created to look just like shards of frozen ice.

 

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Shingen Mochi

This is the amazing water cake from Yamanashi Prefecture that’s such a delicate casing of pure water it disappears within 30 minutes of being served.

 

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Present from the Seashore

This sweet is presented in closed clam shells which reveal an amber jelly when opened. In the middle there’s a salty nib of dried natto, a fermented soy bean.

 

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Yoimatsuri

Literally meaning evening festival, this yoimatsuri sweet captures the lanterns, an early evening sky and all the frivolity of a Japanese summer festival.

 

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Kumo no Mine

From Toraya, this one translates to Peak of a Cloud and is such a perfect representation of a summer cloud it’s almost like a photograph.

 

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Next time you’re feeling hot this summer, you might want to look into a Japanese confectionery purchase.

 

Check out this link:

15 beautiful Japanese sweets to cool you down this summer

Link

Trending: This amazing Japanese “Water Mochi” cake

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Readers of our site may be well aware that we’re very much fond of tasty sweets, and luckily for us, desserts come in all shapes and sizes. But we honestly have to say the beautiful cake in the picture above is like nothing we’ve ever seen before! This unique piece of cake is actually so fleeting that it will literally cease to exist in its intended form within 30 minutes of being presented, so this is clearly a case where you won’t want to leave the best for last. But what exactly is this cake that looks like a transparent version of Dragon Quest’s slime?

 

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This, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently a new species of the Japanese rice-cake confection shingen mochi. A regular shingen mochi is a Japanese-style dessert made from gyuhi, a particularly soft form of mochi rice cake, sprinkled with abundant kinako soybean powder and eaten with brown sugar syrup poured over it.

Interestingly, although shingen mochi is a relatively well-known snack in Japan, it’s actually a trademark registered product, and strictly speaking, only the variety made by the Kinseiken Seika Company based in Yamanashi Prefecture in Central Honshu can be called shingen mochi. According to one theory, shingen mochi is said to have its roots in the sugared mochi cakes that the famous Japanese medieval warlord Shingen Takeda preferred as a wartime ration, giving the mochi its name. There’s also a theory which attributes the cake’s origin to abekawa mochi, a similar type of rice cake which is traditionally eaten in Yamanashi during the summer obon festival.

 

▼This is what a standard shingen mochi looks like. The mochi has a sticky yet soft, jello-like consistency that’s hard to compare to anything else, and the brown sugar syrup has a thick sweetness like molasses.

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▼By comparison, you can see that the special version of the shingen mochi, also made by Kinseiken, has quite a different appearance, almost like it’s made of crystal.

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Well, this special cake is actually made of water from a renowned water source in the Southern Japanese Alps, and they’ve solidified the water just enough to give it a shape, which is why it’s called the “water shingen mochi” (mizu shingen mochi). According to the Kinseiken website, the mizu shingen mochi is so soft that it feels like it might break with just a gentle poke, and it melts away like water in your mouth. The water cake is, in fact, so delicate that once taken out of its container and presented at room temperature, it will lose its shape in about 30 minutes, which is why you can only have them in the shop and not to take home.

The mizu shingen mochi actually first came out as a seasonal sweet last summer, and apparently they were popular enough to make a comeback this year. Indeed, there are numerous tweets raving about how awesome the cakes are!

 

▼This tweet by Mika Miura, an announcer at the local Yamanashi Broadcasting System TV Station, says, “This mizu shingen mochi from Kinseiken in Hokuto City is transparent and delightfully soft! The jelly is made from underflow water from Mount Kaikoma and has a pleasant natural sweetness. Add the rich kinako powder and brown sugar syrup and it goes incredibly smoothly down your throat. The taste really is amazing!”

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▼Here’s another tweet, this one by one Ikuo yamamoto: “Tried the seasonal (summer)mizu shingen mochi from Kinseiken. Refreshingly cool! And tasty! Enjoyed it very much, thank you. They’ll be introducing it on one of the radio programs this afternoon. It looks like crystal, doesn’t it?”

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▼And this is what Twitter user @rarapanpusu had to say: “Had some mizu shingen mochiand then went to an outlet mall today. The sensation of eating the water cake was a bit surprising, since it felt like the cake turned into water in your mouth, but it was delicious. Highly recommended!”

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▼ Twitter user @bonabona999 also tweeted about the cake, saying “Here’s the mizu shingen mochi from Kinseiken. Water-based jelly seems to be popular now, and with thekinako and brown sugar syrup, it really is quite tasty. I thought the powdery texture of the kinako might stand out too much, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

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Now, that certainly makes us want to try these unique cakes, but again, they’re only available to eat at the two Kinseiken stores, both in Yamanashi Prefecture, so it looks like we won’t have the chance to have them anytime soon. Anyone with plans to be in Yamanashi, however, can try the water cakes at the store locations below. But do take note that the mizu shingen mochi are available only on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays from June until the end of September. We’d love to hear how they taste and feel, if any of you out there have the chance to sample one!

【Kinseiken shop details】

Kinseiken Daigahara shop:
Address: 2211 Daigahara, Hakushucho, Hokutoshi, Yamanashi 408-0312
Tel: +81-551-35-2246
Open: 9a.m. to 6p.m.
Closed: Thursdays

Kinseiken Nirasaki shop:
Address: 154 Kotagawa, Nakadamachi, Nirasakishi, Yamanashi 407-0262
Tel: +81-551-25-3990
Open: 9a.m. to 6p.m.
No scheduled holidays

 

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Trending: This amazing Japanese “Water Mochi” cake

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The meaning of the mandarin and 6 other Japanese New Year traditions explained

 

RocketNews 24:

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For people in Japan, the most important event on the calendar is the New Year festival. With its focus on family and tradition, many Japanese take the first three days of the year off work to travel back to their hometowns and take part in festivities embedded in centuries of culture and meaning.

Come with us now as we take a look at some of the popular Japanese New Year traditions and reveal the spiritual symbolism and superstitions behind them.

1. The difference between ganjitsu and gantan: why are there 2 ways to write New Year’s Day in Japanese?

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Both 元日 (ganjitsu) and 元旦 (gantan) mean “New Year’s day” in Japanese. Commonly used on New Year’s cards to mark the first day of the new calendar year, there’s actually a slight variation in meaning due to the different kanji in each expression. The 日 in 元日 means day in Japanese, giving the impression of “first day“, while the 旦 in 元旦 refers to sunrise (can you see the sun peeking over the horizon?), emphasising the notion of “first sunrise“, which is quite significant, given that many Japanese will watch the sunrise with friends and family at the crack of dawn on January 1.

2. What’s with the bamboo and pine decorations at the door?

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The start of the year is a spiritual time for Japanese, when New Year’s gods are said to descend from the heavens and exist in the earthly realm. In order to guide the gods towards them, many households, businesses and sacred sites put up pine and bamboo decorations known as kadomatsu, on either side of entrance ways. The decorations, with multi-tiered bamboo shoots representing heaven, earth and humanity, are believed to attract the gods and draw the lucky spirits towards them. The gods dwell in the pine until January 7, after which time the decorations are taken to a shrine to be burnt, releasing the spirits back to their realm.

3. Why is there always a mandarin on top of New Year’s rice cakes?

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The Japanese New Year’s cake, made from two round layers of pounded rice (mochi), is commonly crowned with a bright orange Japanese mandarin called a mikan. This is actually a modern addition, as traditionally these cakes were adorned with a different citrus fruit known as daidai. Daidai are considered auspicious as the meaning of the word can be translated to “generation after generation”, representing the family’s wish for a long and prosperous bloodline. However, as the daidai fruit is large and bitter, the more palatable and proportionally pleasing mikan became widely used, while still retaining the daidai notion of health and longevity.

4. Why is it called kagami-mochi or “mirror rice cake”?

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The New Year’s mochi rice cake is another festive item said to contain the spirit of the gods. Its round shape is a homage to one of the holiest items in all of Japan, the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. According to Japanese mythology, the earth went dark when Amaterasu retreated from the world and hid in a cave. The sun goddess was eventually drawn out from the cave with a mirror, ultimately bringing light back into the world. With its round, mirror-like shape, Kagami mochi symbolises the renewal of light and energy present at the start of a new year.

5. Why are festive chopsticks tapered at both ends?

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Festive chopsticks, known as iwaibashi, are made using wood from the willow tree, which has been considered sacred since ancient times. The thickness of the middle is said to represent a full straw bag, which suggests a bumper crop of rice, while the tapered ends indicate that the chopsticks can be used to eat with from either side. When using the chopsticks, however, only one end should be used for eating as the other is reserved for the gods present at the feast.

6. What’s the significance of drinking special spiced sake?

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Traditionally served on New Year’s Day, this special sake is said to expel last year’s bad luck and help with health and longevity in the new year. Known as O-toso, using the kanji 屠 (defeat) and 蘇 (evil spirit), the medicinal herbs used in this mixture are said to assist digestion and protect against colds, perfect for the winter feasts of the New Year. The sake is served from a lacquered pot and poured into three different-sized shallow drinking cups which each family member sips from, in order of smallest to largest. Guests who visit in the New Year are also offered the special sake as a way of extending the wish for their health in the new year.

7. What’s the meaning behind the traditional New Year’s holiday food?

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Osechi-ryori, the traditional New Year’s holiday food in Japan, has a long tradition stretching back to the Heian Period (794-1185). Originally, it was considered taboo to cook meals on a hearth during the first three days of the New Year, so stackable boxes filled with long-lasting food items were prepared by December 31, for consumption over the first three days of the New Year. Although there are no problems associated with cooking during the holiday period today, many families still enjoy osechi-ryori, largely due to the auspicious associations attached to its ingredients:

Prawns (ebi) = the long beard and bent back symbolises a wish for long-life.

Herring roe (kazu no ko) = a cluster of bright herring eggs represents the kind of healthy offspring that one wishes for their family.

Black soybeans (kuro mame) = mame, also meaning “health”, is for health in the New Year.

Sea Bream (tai) = tai is fortuitous as it forms part of the word medetai, which means auspicious in Japanese.

Kelp (konbu) = konbu sounds a lot like yorokobu, the Japanese word for happiness.

Lotus Root (renkon) = the lotus root has many holes, which allow us to see through it and into the New Year.

Whether you’re in Japan at the moment or thinking about visiting in the future, New Year’s is a great time to take part in some unique events and learn more about the finer aspects of Japanese culture. Wherever you are, we hope you have a good one and all the best for 2014!

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The meaning of the mandarin and 6 other Japanese New Year traditions explained

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15 Iconic Asian snacks you need to try…

1. Haw Flakes

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Why You Should Try It: The Chinese hawthorn fruit is kind of a strange enigma, but a roll of these tangy bad boys will get you quickly addicted.

2. Dried Squid

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Why You Should Try It: Before you make that face, reimagine these as basically stringy jerky with a tinge of seafood taste. It’s a fun savory snack alternative that you won’t feel guilty about consuming.

3. Cuttlefish Chips

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Why You Should Try It: These melt-in-your-mouth snackables are comparable to famous shrimp chips.

4. Lychee Jelly

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Why You Should Try It: If you like lychee, these tiny cups of jelly are dangerously addictive. They’re packed with sweet juiciness and some even surprise you with pieces of real lychee inside.

5. Asian Rice Crackers

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Why You Should Try It: Another Asian childhood staple, these do not even compare to the “rice crackers” you find in your local grocery aisle. The golden crisps are packed with a special (albeit MSG-induced) flavor that really challenges the bland Western version.

6. Yakult Milk

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Why You Should Try It: Let’s be honest…no one really knows what’s inside a bottle of Yakult “Cultured Milk,” but we’ve stopped wondering. This Japanese product offers the wonderfully tangy taste of yogurt in a shot-sized case, and it’s become so popular, it’s now found in larger bottles in a variety of flavors.

7. Umaibo Wafer Sticks

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Why You Should Try It: “Umaibo” means “delicious stick” in Japanese, and it’s pretty accurate: These cylindrical puffs come in all sorts of yummy flavors (cheese being one of the most popular), and they offer a soft wafer-y crunch.

8. Real Mochi

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Why You Should Try It: You’ve probably already indulged in a delectable mochi with ice cream filling, but straight OG mochi is a little less accessible to the average palette. Still, the chewy snack can satisfy a slight sweet tooth while giving your jaw a great work out.

9. Aloo Bhujia

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Why You Should Try It: The spicy curry accents of these Indian dried potato noodles are highly addictive. *Disclaimer: once you open a bag, you will find tiny trails of these in your keyboards, on your lap, and in your hair.

10. Fish Pastries

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Why You Should Try It: The Korean/Japanese “Bungeoppang or “Taiyaki” snacks taste nothing like the depicted animal: It’s a fish-shaped waffle casing with red bean paste (and sometimes ice cream!) filling.

11. American Munchies in Green Tea Flavors

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Why You Should Try It: Everything is better in green tea (macha) flavor!

12. “Boy Bawang” Garlic Bites

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Why You Should Try It: A true Filipino staple, the garlic superhero snack comes in a plethora of flavors, but garlic is by far the most popular. Warning: It will do wonders to your breath.

13. White Rabbit Cream Candies

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Why You Should Try It: The classic Asian treat melts on your tongue beautifully like a blanket of milky syrup. Plus, each candy is only 20 calories.

14. Dried Mini Fish

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Why You Should Try It: As unappetizing as it may look, these extremely salty mini fish perfectly complement blander foods like rice, porridge, or bread. The Japanese version also comes with roasted almonds.

15. Sweet and Salty Dried Plums

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Why You Should Try It: If you want to take your taste buds for a ride, pop in one of these shriveled plum candies: It will start off salty, melt to sweet, and then kick you with a sharp sour.

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15 Iconic Asian snacks you need to try…