Why are the Los Angeles Dodgers wearing the caps from Nagoya’s professional baseball team?

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

Is the storied L.A. franchise ripping off the uniform of the Japanese club, or is this just a case of “What goes around comes around?”

Unlike a lot of other teams in professional baseball, the Dodgers don’t really tweak their uniforms very often. When they relocated to the West coast from Brooklyn in 1958, they adopted their iconic interlocking LA logo. They’ve kept it for every game since, barring about a half-dozen games in 2011 and 2012 in which they donned caps with the Brooklyn B to honor their roots and legendary former Dodger Jackie Robinson.

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As one of the most enduring logos in professional sports, just seeing it instills a sort of pride in Los Angeles sports fans. Come spring training, though, the Dodgers will be rocking a new design in selected games which replaces the initials of their home turf with a D.

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It’s not a bad look, and rendering the D in the classic font in which “Dodgers” is written on the team’s jerseys makes it instantly understandable what the letter stands for. The shift is also sort of appropriate for spring training games, which are played in Arizona of Florida (with the corresponding state highway signs on the side of the hat). Some local spectators catching an exhibition game might even be more enticed to buy a cap and support the team since the new design won’t have the side effect of making them look like they’re ready to start singing “I Love L.A.”

Since the start of spring training is still a few months away, you can’t buy a blue and white D cap yet. Well, at least not in America. In Japan, on the other hand, they’ve been available for almost 30 years.

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That’s the cap worn by the Chunichi Dragons, who play their home games in Nagoya, from 1987 to 1996. But before you go calling foul on the Dodgers for lifting the Dragons’ logo, here’s the jersey the Dragons wore during that same span of time.

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Hmm…where have I seen something like that before?

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The Dragon’s uniforms from the late 1980s to mid-‘90s were just the Dodgers’ with the text changed, but the exact same font, spacing, and number placement. The above Fernando Valenzuela jersey is from 1983, and the Dodgers had been using this design for several years prior to that.

This isn’t the only instance of a Japanese team heavily borrowing elements of its uniform from an American club. Unless you notice the subtle difference in hue, it’s extremely easy to mistake the Hiroshima Carp’s hats for the Cincinnati Reds’. For many years, Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants copied the uniforms, colors, and even name of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants.

In the Dragons’ defense, they’ve gotten a little more original in the uniform department in recent years, and have even switched to caps with an interlocking CD logo. Taking that into consideration, there’s really nothing wrong with the Dodgers rocking the D caps during spring training. The Dragons aren’t using them, and really, the Dodgers are just taking them back.

Just how fast is Japan’s new maglev train? See for yourself…

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RocketNews 24:

It may not be due to begin ferrying passengers between Tokyo and Osaka for another 10+ years yet, but Japan’s magnetic levitation (maglev) train is already zipping up and down a special section of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, and it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Check out our video of this thing in motion – oh, and try not to blink because you really might miss it.

The Japanese maglev broke world records last week when its parent company, Central Japan Railway Company, announced that it had recorded speeds of 590 kilometres per hour (that’s 366 mph) on a stretch of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, smashing a world record that has stood for over a decade.

But these are all just numbers; what does a train travelling that fast actually look like? Well, you’re about to find out…

Scheduled to start serving the public between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, the line is set to be extended all the way to Osaka by 2045, making it possible to travel between the two cities in just 67 minutes – roughly half the time it currently takes by bullet train. It’s going to be a long time coming, but with speeds like that, we’ll probably have clawed back our lost time after about a week of commuting.

If you’d like to check out the maglev for yourself, head over to the Yananashi Prefecture Maglev Exhibition Center website for more info.

Medicom Toy (Japan) x Oakley Frogskins Bearbrick for BEAMS

Longstanding Japanese toy label Medicom Toy outfits its hallmark Bearbrick model with a pair of Oakley’s Frogskins sunglasses for a new release for compatriot retailer BEAMS. The collaboration embodies Oakley’s slick vibe on an equitably smooth translucent Bearbrick, featuring the brand logo on the chest alongside a screen of the silhouette on the toy’s face.

Arriving as a special, limited-edition gift at BEAMS locations in Harajuku, Nagoya, Yokohama and Shibuya, pick up this iteration of the Bearbrick beginning April 17.

Butter-flavored Kit Kats come to Japan as new specialty store opens in Hokkaido

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RocketNews 24:

In the year since it opened in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, we’ve become big fans of the Kit Kat Chocolatory, the specialty store for the chocolate-covered wafers that’re especially popular in Japan. As a matter of fact, somewhere in the course of our multiple visits to procure the latest and greatest Kit Kat flavors, we’ve forgotten what life was like before the shop opened.

But while we’re living in the land of plenty with two different Chocolatory locations in Tokyo (the second is near Tokyo Station), not all of Japan is so fortunate. Until now, only residents of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya could claim their town had its own Kit Kat paradise.

That’s about to change, though, as a new Kit Kat Chocolatory is opening soon in Hokkaido, and bringing a new flavor with it: butter.

Part of the reason Kit Kats have rocketed to popularity in Japan is the way parent company Nestle has wholeheartedly embraced the Japanese practice of making limited-edition sweets that pay tribute to local culinary traditions. As one of the few regions of Japan with ample pasture space, Hokkaido is home to a large number of the country’s dairies. That’s why when the newest Chocolatory opens March 7 in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital city, shoppers will be able to purchase not only more orthodox chocolate Kit Kats, but also the Chocolatory Special Butter flavor.

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The flavor was picked as the winner in a contest organized by the Tsuji Group culinary school, likely beating out other foodstuffs associated with Hokkaido such as milk, cheese, and melon (the region is also famous for its salmon and sea urchin, but we’re assuming no one was quite adventurous enough to seriously propose them as Kit Kat flavors).

The Special Butter flavor will be available in packs of 12 (seen above) for 1,200 yen (US $10.20), or in four-piece boxes (pictured below) for 400 yen.

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While the Special Butter Kit Kats will initially be sold only at the Sapporo Chocolatory, located in the Daimaru department store, they’re expected to make their way to other branches in due time. On the other hand, the Sapporo location will remain the only place where you can buy the 1,350-yen Kit Kat Chocolatory Special Sapporo Assortment, a 12-piece collection of four flavors, including Special Butter.

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Also, to celebrate the new store’s grand opening, all Chocolatory branches in Japan will once again be selling Chocolatory Special Sakura Green Tea Kit Kats, made with Uji matcha green tea, white chocolate, and edible cherry blossom leaves.

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The Sapporo Chocolatory is expected to, as always, draw large crowds, especially on opening day. If you’re hoping to get your hands on some of the buttery goodness the store is offering, we recommend getting to the Sapporo Daimaru no later than 10 a.m., when the doors open, and preferably sooner.

 

Shop information:
Kit Kat Chocolatory Daimaru Sappor Branch / キットカット ショコラトリー大丸札幌店
Address: Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Kita 5-jo, Nishi 4-chome, 7 Banchi Daimary Sapporo basement level 1 (inside Hoppe Town section)
札幌市中央区北5条西4丁目7番地大丸札幌店B1 ほっぺタウン内
Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Website

First Kit Kat Chocolaterie shop with cafe opens in Kyoto

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RocketNews 24:

Chocolate lovers around Japan were understandably thrilled when the Kit Kat Chocolatery, the world’s first Kit Kat specialty store, opened in the Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store about a year ago. Of course, we were pretty excited too, and when we visited the shop on opening day, we could see from the crowd that plenty of people felt the same way.

After a year, it seems the Kit Kat Chocolatery has been a success so far, as they’ve just opened their fourth shop in Japan, this time in Kyoto. And what’s even better, this Kit Kat Chocolatery comes with a cafe attached! Plus, they’ve released some new Chocolatery products as well, so we thought we’d share the news with all our sweets-loving readers!

Kit Kat shop pic

As we’ve previously reported, the Kit Kat Chocolatery features items produced by renowned pastry chef  Yasumasa Takagi, and his special creations exclusively for the Chocolatery were certain to attract attention, particularly as Kit Kats have always been popular in Japan. But just how successful has the Kit Kat Chocolatery been since its launch a year ago?

Well, according to Nestle Japan’s recent press release, the two Chocolatery shops in Tokyo (the Seibu Ikebukuro and Daimaru Tokyo stores) and the third shop in Nagoya (the Matsuzakaya Nagoya store) so far have welcomed over 400,000 customers and generated roughly 900 million yen (approx. US$7.6 million) in sales. No wonder they decided to open a fourth shop! And the historic city of Kyoto, which attracts a huge number of tourists from both within Japan and abroad, certainly seems an excellent choice of location.

As a matter of fact, Kit Kat actually already has ties with Kyoto, as one of its products, the “Kit Kat Matcha Green Tea for Grown-ups (Kit Kat Otonano Amasa Matcha),” has been designated a “PR Partner” by the Prefecture of Kyoto for promoting the Uji Matcha green tea, which Kyoto is known for.

▼Here’s an image of what the new shop in Kyoto looks like. It just recently opened on January 28 on the B1 floor of the Daimaru Kyoto Department Store.shop_daimarukyoto03

Now, as we’ve already mentioned, this is the first Chocolatery shop with an eat-in cafe, and their menu definitely sounds tempting. On offer at the cafe are: the “Kit Kat Sablé” and “Kit Kat Sablé Matcha Flavor” cookies, both baked with rich dough containing crushed Kit Kat crumbs (350 yen [US$2.96] a piece); the “Kit Kat Parfait” consisting of chocolate flavored soft serve ice cream made with chef Takagi’s original chocolate topped with Kit Kats (600 yen [$5.08]); the “Café Affogato (Affogato al Caffè) Chocolat” made with NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto® Espresso poured over chef Takagi’s original soft serve chocolate ice cream (300 yen [$2.54]); and the “Café Mélange,” a beverage consisting of NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto®’s Lungo regular blend coffee topped with whipped cream (350 yen [$2.96]). Goodness, just introducing the menu makes us seriously crave sweets and coffee! And if you just want something simpler, they also have regular NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto®’s line of Lungo coffee, Espresso, Cappuccino, Tea Latte and Uji Matcha Green Tea Latte available for approximately $2 to $3.

And now, let’s take a look at the new Chocolatery items that have just recently been released.

● The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Kyoto Assort” (1,350 yen [$11.43]/12 pieces)16144189087_4ce9ddb61b_zThis package containing 3 pieces each of the “Strawberry Maple,” “Plum,” “Matcha Greent Tea and Kinako Soy Bean Powder” and “Ginger” flavors, comes in an original package decorated with an illustration of Kyoto’s famous five-story pagoda and is available only at the Kyoto Daimaru Store.

● The “Kit Kat x DISH Special Collaboration Kit Kat with CD” (Special Kyoto Package Version)” (600 yen [$5.08])KK 4These Kit Kats come with a CD of the tie-in song “Kit” featured in the short musical film “Your Story” which stars the four-man rock band DISH. The box has a blank space on the bottom where you can write a personalized message if you’re giving it to someone as a present. The package pictured above is a special edition box sold only at the Kyoto Daimaru store, but a regular version will be available at all Chocolatery shops from February 2.

● The “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Plum (Ume)” (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)16330077725_22d2d2e4ce_zThe slightly sour flavor of plum makes a refreshing combination with the sweetness of chocolate in these KitKats. They’re currently available only at the Kyoto Daimaru store but will be sold at the rest of the Chocolatery shops too from February 2.

●The “Kit Kat Sublime White” (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)KK 3These Kit Kats made with quality white couverture chocolate are rich, yet not too sweet. They’re now available at all Chocolatery shops, but only 300 are sold each day, and each customer is limited to a purchase of three pieces.

And for your reference and enjoyment, here’s a recap of the other choco-licious items available at the Chocolatery shops:

▼The ever popular “Kit Kat Sublime Bitter” made with bitter couverture chocolate containing 66% cacao (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)KK 5 sublime_R

▼The ”Kit Kat Sublime Raspberry,” which also contains couverture chocolate with 66% cacao combined with the refreshing flavor of raspberry (300 yen [$2.54]/piece)KK 6 sublime raspberry_R

▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Ginger,” made using cream containing ginger powder (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces) KK 7 special Ginger_R

▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Cream Cheese,” which contains powdered cheese in between the wafers (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)KK 8 Cream Cheese_R

▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Matcha Green Tea and Kinako Soy Bean Powder,” which uses quality Uji Matcha green tea (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces)KK 9 Matcha Kinako_R

▼The “Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Strawberry Maple“, made from white chocolate containing strawberries, with a touch of maple flavoring added (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces) KK 10 Strawberry Maple_R

▼The “Kit Kat Chocolaterie Special Orange Cocktail” with a refreshing orange flavor (400 yen [$3.39]/4 pieces, 1,200 yen [$10.19]/12 pieces, available only in Tokyo)KK 11 Orange Cocktail_R

Well, the folks at Nestle Japan must have a ball thinking up special Kit Kat flavors to drive chocolate lovers mad with craving. Not that we’re complaining, as long as they continue coming up with delectable looking treats for us! We can never have too many choices of chocolates, after all, can we?

 

[Details for Kit Kat Chocolatery Daimaru Kyoto Shop]
Business Hours: 10am to 8pm
(Closed when Daimaru Kyoto is closed)
Address: 79 Shijo Street Takakura Nishiiri Tachiurinishimachi, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
                  Daimaru Kyoto Department Store B1 Floor
Access: 1 min from Hankyu Kyoto Line Karasuma Station
                2 min walk from Karasuma Subway Line Shijo Station
Tel: +81-75-211-8111

A guide to the regional ramen of Japan

Photographs courtesy of Nate Shockey, Mark Roberts, and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

 Lucky Peach:
A bowl of ramen consists of four basic elements: the broth, the tare, the noodles, and the toppings. The broth is generally a mix of pork, chicken, seafood, and vegetables, with each shop crafting their own blend. Most mix various parts of pig and fowl, some add more complex elements, and some never reveal their secrets. Though most diners categorize ramen into shoyu, miso, shio, and tonkotsutypes, many shops specialize in just one style, referred to simply as “ramen” on their menu. This guide details the basic characteristics of a number of established regional styles; it only scratches the surface of the myriad varieties of ramen being served every day across Japan.

Tare タレ: Also known as kaeshi, tare is the strong, salty flavored essence placed at the bottom of each bowl. Shoyu tare, based on a reduction of soy sauce and other elements, is the most common. The tare—shoyu, miso, shio, or otherwise—roughly determines the ramen’s “type.”

Shoyu 醤油: Soy sauce but so much more. Strictly speaking, most ramen is built upon a shoyu base, but the amount of variation in taste and style within the category is immense.

Miso 味噌: Fermented bean paste. Coming in many shades of brown, miso makes up another common ramen category. Though only a few regions specialize in this style, many shops offer their own home-blended miso-based bowls.

Shio 塩: Literally, “salt.” Typically lacking shoyu in the base, light-colored shio ramen is built upon a reduction made from dried seafood, seaweeds, and other salty ingredients with lots of umami. Many shops offer shio ramen, but only the city of Hakodate selects it for local pride.

Tonkotsu 豚骨: Pork bones and the ramen made therefrom. Unlike the varieties listed above, tonkotsu’s name and taste are derived primarily from the broth rather than the tare.


Asahikawa Ramen (旭川ラーメン)

1-asahikawa-withlineLocated at the base of the mountains smack in the middle of Japan’s northernmost island, Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second-largest city, and is best known for its zoo and a rich ramen tradition. Uniquely Asahikawa-style ramen emerged in 1947, at the shops Hachiya (which began its life as an ice cream parlor) and Aoba. Asahikawa ramen is a blend of pork and chicken stocks and a seafood broth, making for a rich and complex soup with a shoyu base. The bowl is topped off with an insulating layer of lip-scalding melted lard to prevent the soup from losing heat in the frigid winter months. The current nationwide trend of blended “double” soup traces its roots to the Asahikawa ramen tradition, which is celebrated with an annual summer ramen festival.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, lard.
Famous shops: Aoba (青葉), Hachiya (蜂屋).


Sapporo Ramen (札幌ラーメン)

2-sapporo-withlineThe northern city of Sapporo is one of Japan’s most famous ramen destinations, best known as the birthplace of miso ramen. Although Sapporo had its share of noodle shops before World War II, it cemented its place in ramen lore in 1955, when a customer at the noodle house Aji no Sanpei asked the chef to dump some noodles in his miso and pork soup. A new classic was born, and Sapporo ramen has since evolved into a rich and fatty soup accented with minced pork, ginger, and garlic. (Traditionally the miso base, broth, and vegetables are cooked together in a larded wok before being transferred to the bowl.) Sapporo miso ramen was the first regional style to take off nationally in the 1960s, and the city remains a ramen mecca, boasting a “Ramen Alley” with over a dozen shops.

Style/tare: Miso.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, minced pork, ginger, garlic, butter, corn.
Famous shops: Aji no Sanpei (味の三平), Sumire (すみれ), Shirakaba Sanso (白樺山荘).


Hakodate Ramen (函館ラーメン)

hakodate-forwebRamen came to Hakodate the same way it came to the rest of Japan—via the slow boat from China. For reasons lost to history, the standard soup served by the Chinese community in Hakodate had a thinner and lighter broth than the soy-based soup that took hold in Yokohama and Tokyo. As a result, this bustling maritime town is home to a mild, yellow chicken-and-pork broth boiled long and slow. Hakodate is the only city in Japan to claim shio ramen as its own creation, and the style is dominant within the town’s precincts. Toppings tend toward the standards, and noodles are cooked to be quite soft—comfort food on a cold winter day.

Style/tare: Shio.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo, nori, spinach, fish cake (naruto).
Famous shops: Miss Jun (ミス潤), Seiryuken (星龍軒).


Akayu Ramen (赤湯ラーメン)

akayu-forwebOne day in 1960, Sato Kazumi, the founder of ramen shop Ryushanhai, dropped a dollop of miso paste into the leftover soup and noodles he had taken home to eat with his family. After a bit of tweaking, Sato developed one of Japan’s most unusual ramen styles—sweet and mild ramen topped with an angry red ball of blended miso, chili, and garlic that slowly dissolves into the soup. Pop it in your mouth all at once and you’ll breathe fire like the Dragon of Shanghai that gives his shop its name. Thick, wavy, and chewy noodles topped with a dusting of powdered aonori seaweed swim below.

Style/tare: Miso.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, fish cake, miso-chili-garlic paste, powdered laver (aonori).
Famous shops: Ryushanhai (龍上海).


Kitakata Ramen (喜多方ラーメン)

kitakata-forwebThe small town of Kitakata boasts the highest ramen-to-resident ratio in the country, clocking in at roughly one shop for every 300 inhabitants. Kitakatans are known to eat their light, clean, shoyu-based soup for breakfast, and they’ve even developed a ramen burger made of pork sandwiched between griddled noodle patties. Order soba here and you’ll probably be served ramen instead. In the bowl, Kitakata keeps it simple, with a no-frills soup and minimal toppings. Noodles are hand-cut to be flat, wide, and curly; high water content makes them toothsome and chewy. Let’s hope the town escapes the ill effects of the nuclear meltdown at the not-far-enough-away Fukushima reactor.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots.
Famous shop: Genraiken (源来軒).


Shirakawa Ramen (白河ラーメン)

shirakawa-forwebAs in most cities in Japan, ramen in Shirakawa dates back to the prewar period, when it was served in Chinese restaurants and street-side stalls. Takei Toraji learned to sling noodles at those stalls before opening up his own shop, Tora Shokudo, where Shirakawa ramen proper took shape. Despite idolizing the bumbling postwar comedic folk hero Tora-san to the point of cooking with a bottle in one hand, Takei managed to develop a refined ramen characterized by light, simple soup and hand-kneaded noodles. Like most local styles across northeastern Japan, Shirakawa ramen features an unadorned shoyu broth that draws its taste from an abundance of local mineral ­water, which also makes for springy noodles with lots of give in the chew.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, fish cake, nori, wontons, spinach.
Famous shops: Tora Shokudo (とら食堂), Kafutei (火風鼎), Suzuki Shokudo (すずき食堂).


Tsubame-Sanjo Ramen (燕三条ラーメン)

tsubame-forwebWhat’s the cure for living in a part of the country known mostly for freezing temperatures and silverware factories? Lard, lard, and more lard. The twin cities of Tsubame and Sanjo lay claim to one of the most unusual and unhealthy ramen variants anywhere in ­Japan—an already rich broth made of pork bones, chicken, and sardines is topped with an almost obscene amount of suspended pork fat. There’s enough lard and raw white onion shaken on top that it’s almost impossible to make out the extra-thick, linguine-like noodles hidden below. They say that the salt and calories go a long way to replenishing the body after a day’s work making forks and spoons.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, bamboo shoots, chopped white onions, lard.
Famous shops: Fukuraiten (福来店), Ryûkaitei (龍華亭), Ramen Jun (らーめん潤).


Tokyo Ramen

tokyoramen-forwebToday, Tokyo is home to an almost unimaginable variety of ramen styles and trends, but buried amid the thousands of shops, there is such a thing as traditional Tokyo ramen. Drawing from the soy-based broth brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants more than 100 years ago, Tokyo’s shoyu ramen is made from pork, chicken, veggies, kombu seaweed, shaved bonito flakes (katsuobushi), and other dried fish. The standard bowl contains scallions, nori, roast pork, and bamboo shoots set atop curly noodles, and nowhere in the metropolis is very far from a neighborhood shop or late-night pushcart slinging this nostalgic standard. This simple-seeming yet subtly complex style is probably the most recognizable image of ramen for millions of hungry slurpers around the world.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, fish cake, nori, spinach.
Famous shops: Chuka Soba Manpuku (中華そば萬福), Harukiya (春木屋), Sakaeya Milk Hall (栄屋ミルクホール).


Tokyo Tsukemen (つけ麺)

tsukemen-forwebRamen’s popularity has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and one of the most notable trends has been the rise of tsukemen. As much a different concept of ramen as a regional style, undressed tsukemen noodles are dipped into an accompanying bowl of fishy, barely diluted broth before slurping. Though tsukemen has taken the ramen world by storm of late, it traces its history to the early postwar era, when the now-legendary “God of ­Ramen,” Kazuo Yamagishi of ­Tokyo’s Taishoken, ­decided to offer his customers soup and noodles separately. The sweet, spicy, vinegary broth clinging to extra-fat noodles has spawned literally thousands of imitators—tsukemen has staked its claim in the noodle ­pantheon.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo, fish cake.
Famous shops: Taishoken (大勝軒), Tetsu (哲), Rokurinsha (六厘舎).


Tokyo Abura Soba (油そば)

tokyoaburasoba-forwebLiterally meaning “oily noodles,” abura soba is ramen sans soup. Instead of sitting in broth, freshly boiled noodles are placed atop a thin layer of concentrated flavor essence (tare) and mixed by diners, who add vinegar, chili oil, and other toppings before stirring and slurping. This seemingly postmodern snack actually dates back to the mid-’50s, when a series of shops located in the suburbs west of Tokyo began serving soupless bowls. More recently, places like Junk Garage and Bubuka have upped the ante, adding a mess of toppings like raw eggs, mayo, hot peppers, chopped garlic, fried noodles, and, of course, lard to create a beast somewhere between noodle nachos and a heart attack in a bowl.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo, vinegar, chili oil, mayo, raw egg, garlic, lard.
Famous shops: Chinchintei (珍珍亭), Bubuka (ぶぶか).


Yokohama Ie-kei Ramen (横浜家系ラーメン)

yokohama-forwebMost ramen histories trace the introduction of ramen to Japan to Yokohama, where it arrived with Chinese traders in the late nineteenth century. These days, Yokohama is better known for ie-kei ramen, a viscous, salty, and fatty tonkotsu-shoyu style pioneered at Yoshimuraya in 1974. The shop’s many imitators add the character ie(家, meaning “home”) to their names in tribute to the founder of this open-source ramen. When ordering, diners can calibrate the firmness of the noodles, the amount of suspended fat, and the saltiness of the soup to the delight of their tongue and the detriment of their arteries. Yokohama is also home to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, a must-visit for any noodle aficionado.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu-shoyu.
Toppings: Three sheets of nori, stewed spinach, garlic, ginger, spicy bean paste.
Famous shops: Yoshimuraya (吉村家), Rokkakuya (六角家), Budoka (武道家).


Nagoya “Taiwan” Ramen (台湾ラーメン)

taiwanramen-forwebDon’t show up in Nagoya looking for “Nagoya ramen,” or you’ll go home hungry. The city’s best-known noodle dish is kishimen, the flatter and curlier cousin of udon, but Nagoya also has its own ramen legacy. “Taiwan ramen” is Nagoya’s claim to slurp fame—the name originates from the Taiwanese-born chef who ran the ramen shop Misen back in the ’70s. Wanting to give the locals a taste of home, he whipped up a reimagined version of Taiwanese danzimian, piling on ground pork, Chinese chives, green onions, and hot peppers. Taiwan ramen enjoyed a moment of fame in the ’80s, when a capsaicin-based diet craze swept Japan, and locals still love it. Apparently it’s a regular menu item in the corporate cafeteria at the Toyota headquarters in Nagoya.
Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Ground pork, Chinese chives, hot peppers, scallions, garlic.
Famous shops: Misen (味仙).


Kyoto Ramen (京都ラーメン)

kyoto-ramen-forwebGiven Kyoto’s cultural reputation, you might expect its ramen to be a rarefied and refined reworking of the humble noodle soup. But the old capital is home to two distinct types of down-home ramen: the thinner assari-kei shoyu ramen, and a thick, gritty chicken-soup kotteri-kei ramen, both of which are referred to as “Kyoto ramen.” The former is a blend of pork and chicken broth, with a dark soy base; the latter is a rich porridge-like soup culled mostly from chicken, topped with spicy bean paste, chives, garlic, and pungent local kujnoegi onions—it’s quite popular with the town’s large student population.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Assari-kei: roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, nori; some shops offer pats of butter. Kotteri-kei: roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, spicy chives, minced garlic, chili bean paste, white pepper.
Famous shops: Assari-kei: Shinpuku Saikan (新福菜館). Kotteri-kei: Tenka Ippin (天下一品), Tentenyu (天天有).


Wakayama Ramen (和歌山ラーメン)

wakayama-forwebWhereas eastern Japan is dominated by thinner shoyu ramen, western Japan is the kingdom of rich, porky tonkotsu soup—and Wakayama is the happy medium where the twain meet. Known by locals aschuka soba (“Chinese noodles”), Wakayama ramen is based on a strong soy sauce tare and a heap of long-simmered pork bones. The noodles resemble the long, thin, firm threads of Hakata ramen, but you won’t fail to find a pink-and-white fish cake of the kind that pop up often in Tokyo. Most shops also offer hayazushi—traditional western-Japanese-style vinegared-mackerel sushi pressed onto rice and wrapped in an edible leaf.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu-shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, fish cake.
Famous shops: Ide Shoten (井出商店), Marusan (丸三), Marutaka (丸高).


Tokushima Ramen

tokushima-forwebThe smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku is not known as a ramen hot spot. Udon is the ruling noodle in these parts, but Tokushima prefecture garners ramen ­respect for serving up a satisfying and complex shoyu soup. As the story goes, resourceful Tokushimans made broth out of the leftover pork bones from the many ham factories located nearby, and mixed in some extra-strong aged soy sauce to craft a tasty bowl not far removed from its cross-strait kissin’ cousin, Wakayama ramen. Add a few strips of thinly sliced pork belly, then break a raw egg on top of it all, and you’ve got a delicious dish. Tokushima ramen is sometimes divided into “black,” “yellow,” and “white” styles, in descending order of the strength of the soup served at a given shop.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu-shoyu.
Toppings: Scallions, pork belly, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, raw egg.
Famous shops: Inotani (いのたに), Shunyoken (春陽軒).


Onomichi Ramen (尾道ラーメン)

Onomichi ramen emerged as a distinct style in the years after World War II. It’s a relatively straightforward formula: take a lot of chicken, a little bit of pork, and add some local seafood—but it isn’t Onomichi ramen without a big helping of cooked lard and suspended pork fat on top. A shoyu base and homemade flat-wavy-chewy noodles round out the bowl. Onomichi got its own stop on the bullet train in 1988, and passengers have been known to get off the train just to grab a bowl. The city’s most famous shop, Shukaen, was founded in 1947, and most tourists don’t leave town without making a pilgrimage.

Style/tare: Shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, lard.
Famous shops: Shukaen (朱華園).


Hakata Ramen (博多ラーメン)

hakata-forwebAny devotee of Hakata ramen knows that the best way to find a bowl is by following your nose. Broken pork bones are cooked over a high flame for days at a time here until the marrow seeps out, giving off a rancid odor that belies the smooth and creamy broth. While eating at street-side stalls along Fukuoka’s Nakasu River, drunken diners can order unlimited extra servings (kaedama) of the thin, unrisen noodles to dump in their soup; a true Hakata ramen fan will have his noodles dipped in boiling water for barely a second before slurping them almost raw. The final component of Hakata ramen (which is also known as Nagahama ramen) are the tableside toppings, including sesame seeds, garlic, pink pickled ginger, spicy mustard greens, and soy base to strengthen the soup.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, nori, pickled ginger, garlic, spicy mustard greens (takana), garlic.
Famous shops: Ganso Nagahamaya (元祖長浜屋), Ichiryu (一竜), Ippudo (一風堂).


Kurume Ramen (久留米ラーメン)

kurume-forwebFew towns have exerted as great an influence on ramen history as Kurume. In 1937, Miyamoto Tokio’s street-side stand Nankin Senryo started serving porky tonkotsu ramen; ten years later, a pot of bones left simmering too hot for too long at the nearby shop Sankyu proved to be a happy accident when the chef found the stinky and milky-white marrow-infused soup to be highly delicious. The broth with the beastly stench quickly earned devotees, and Kurume ramen spread across Kyushu, giving the southern island its distinctive style. Bits of fried lard, lots of melted marrow, and tableside offerings of sesame, pickled ginger, and garlic give Kurume ramen a pungent punch.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, nori, pickled ginger, sesame, spicy mustard greens, garlic.
Famous shops: Taiho (大砲), Tairyu (大龍).


Kumamoto Ramen (熊本ラーメン)

kumamote-forwebTonkotsu ramen spread from its birthplace in Kurume to take root in Kumamoto prefecture, where locals started cutting it with a little chicken broth. Like all Kyushu prefectures, Kumamoto serves straight noodles, though they’re a bit thicker and softer than those to the north. In addition to the standard toppings, most bowls of Kumamoto also feature pickled mustard greens, sliced wood-ear mushrooms (kikurage), bean sprouts, and cabbage. What sets Kumamoto ramen apart, and keeps its fans devoted, is a heavy hand with the garlic, laid on as both fried garlic chips and the black liquid known as mayu, made from garlic burned in sesame oil. If you’ve ever eaten at the worldwide chain Ajisen, you’ve probably tasted a bastardized version of Kumamoto ramen.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, nori, wood-ear mushrooms, cabbage, garlic chips, burnt garlic oil.
Famous shops: Kodaiko (こだいこ), Kokutei (黒亭), Keika (桂花), Komurasaki (こむらさき).


Kagoshima Ramen (鹿児島ラーメン)

kagoshima-forwebKnown for its strong liquor, incomprehensible dialect, rebellious spirit, and mutton-chopped elders, Kagoshima is Japan’s Deep South. Kagoshima played a key role in ending the feudal shogunate and establishing modern Japan in the nineteenth century, and, as it turns out, their ramen is ahead of its time too. Kagoshima ramen cooks have been using their local brand of black pig (known stateside as Berkshire pork) since way before it was cool. The only ramen in Kyushu that doesn’t trace its origins back to Kurume, Kagoshima ramen features a surprisingly mild broth of pork, chicken, and veggie stock finished with burnt onions. Noodles are cooked quite a bit past al dente, and can be either quite thin or quite thick, reflecting influences from both Okinawa and Taiwan.

Style/tare: Tonkotsu-shoyu.
Toppings: Roast pork, scallions, bean sprouts, wood-ear mushrooms.
Famous shops: Noboruya (のぼる屋), Komurasaki (こむらさき), Wadaya (和田屋).

A delicious way to celebrate the Year of the Sheep — cute sheep bread!

sheep top

RocketNews 24:

As we follow the Chinese zodiac here in Japan, we too are celebrating the Year of the Sheep this year. Not surprisingly, that means we’ve seen an abundance of sheep-themed products for the New Year, including some in edible form. Famous bakery chain DONQ is just one of the many companies that offered such sheep-related food items, and their selection of sheep breads was so cute, we simply had to share them with you. Just take a look at the pictures, and we think they’ll get you in the mood to start off the Year of the Sheep in good cheer!

Headquartered in the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, DONQ has been in business for nearly 110 years, with over 120 stores across Japan. Befitting a chain spread across the country, they sold a variety of sheep-shaped breads in different areas of Japan over the New Year’s holiday, and while they’ve now finished selling these breads, the different creative designs certainly make for entertaining viewing. So, here are pictures of the baked sheep goodies from DONQ according to the area where they were sold:

●Hokkaido Area: “Fluffy Lamb Bread” and  “Happy Red and White Sheep Bread Set
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The set of two sheep breads in the center, done in the traditionally lucky colors of red and white, contained strawberry cream cheese and custard cream respectively, and was priced at 389 yen (US$3.25). The slightly smaller white “lamb” breads surrounding the red and white sheep contained custard cream and sold for 260 yen ($2.16)

●Kanto Area: “Chinese Zodiac (Eto) Bread Sheep
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These fellas, who look like they’re sleeping blissfully, were melon breads filled with custard cream and cost 281 yen ($2.35) each.

●Tokai Area:  “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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These cute sheep-year breads with googly eyes were made from melon bread and priced at 238 yen ($1.99).

●Kyoto/Hokuriku Area: “Fluffy Sheep
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These soft-looking sheep breads were filled with chocolate cream inside and sold for 303  yen ($2.53).

●Kobe Area: “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)” and “Osechi Cuisine Bread
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In the front here we have smiling sheep breads that were filled with chocolate cream, priced at 238 yen ($1.99). The set of New Year’s osechi cuisine-themed breads in the back cost 562 yen ($4.70) and included snapper-shaped bread containing custard cream, melon bread in the shape of a traditional hagoita wooden paddle, crispy prawn crackers and bread filled with chestnut and sweet potato paste.

●Chugoku/Shikoku Area: “Mr./Ms. Sheep 
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These sheep shaped creations contained custard cream and sold for 281 yen ($2.35). The chocolate legs look precious!

●Kyushu Area: “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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These adorable round sheep with a white cookie-like surface were priced at 281 yen ($2.35).

There were also two beautiful sheep breads from Johan, another bakery chain belonging to the DONQ group:

● (Johan) Kanto Area: “The Dream Pursuing Sheep 2015
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This artistic bread was made from a cocoa flavored base bread filled with raspberry jam and chocolate cream and was priced at 260 yen ($2.18).

●(Johan) Nagoya Area: Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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And the last of the sheep breads from the DONQ group this year is this soft-looking creation filled with custard cream, which sold for 260 yen ($2.18).

So what did you think of all the darling little sheep in baked and edible form? They look absolutely sweet, and judging from the descriptions with all those custard and chocolate creams, we’re sure they tasted plenty sweet too. The time for New Year’s bread may be over for this year, but we’ll certainly be looking forward to lovely zodiac breads from DONQ again next year, when it will be the Year of the Monkey. Until then, we wish you a splendid Year of the Sheep!