Thursday, December 31, 2009

Servbot/Kobun Paradise

Lots of Tron & Lots of Kobun (Servbot) just arrived!

A Little Nendoroid Face Time


Friday, December 11, 2009

2010: The Year of the (Hello) Tiger

As you may or may not already know, 2010 is the year of the tiger, and of course production of goods related to the new year's signature animal is in full swing. So naturally, with Sanrio's propensity toward merchandising everything under the Rising Sun - especially when combining Kitty with culturally relevant items/places that fall under said Rising Sun - there exist Hello Kitty zodiac items.

I went to Strapya World to procure mine for this year, though I already had one from 2003 that I had forgotten about, that I'd purchased from the Sanrio Store in New York City. 2003 was apparently the year of the cow. Seeing Kitty as an anthropomorphic cow is kind of strange the first time around.

The two I'd picked up this time from Strapya were a standard 20cm (around 8 inches) mascot Kitty "dressed" as a tiger, and a chirimen (the same fabric used to make kimonos) charm. The charms were released in all 12 signs at once, however the 8 inch plush Kitty seems only to be the tiger sign all by its lonesome.

These are the usual quality you'd expect from Sanrio: well-crafted, almost no visible seams, top-notch buttons and stitching/embroidering.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Corn Kat?! Sapporo Limited Edition

So I got a shipment from napaJapan the other day, a wonderful new J-snack website that has insane amounts of product when compared with any other site out there. (Still getting around to throwing some of their graphics/links up on the blog here) They have over 360 products in stock, most of which are food items, including over 25 flavors of Kit Kat (as of this writing) as well as massive selections of Pringles, Hi Chew and other popular Japanese snacks, and some not-so-well known stuff, too! In addition to their already-established monster selection, they add new products almost daily, and if you follow the Japanese snack/food/pop culture scene at all you know that Japan loves "limited edition". So having a site that stocks new flavors of things that change their flavors almost monthly is quite a boon for anyone living outside of Japan who doesn't have immediate access to a konbini every minute of the day. (like me, for now, for one) =P So if you like what you see here, click the link above because chances are napaJapan carries it & I probably bought it there! Additionally, before I get to the actual Kit Kat I consumed today, they are super-prompt with shipping, too. I placed my order on Sunday of last week, shipped it by Airmail which usually takes 7-10 days and sometimes longer during the holiday season, and it got to me by Saturday. I was pretty amazed. Also, they use new, clean boxes and everything was packed really well.

Anyway, I'm working my way up to trying out my Wasabi Kit Kat - not quite at that level of bravery yet. ^^; Being in Hokkaido, napaJapan got ahold of a stock of the two Hokkaido regional flavors: Yubari Melon (cantaloupe for those of you residing across the pond) and Roasted Corn. The Roasted Corn flavor was my approximation of "manning up" to eventually try the Wasabi ones. If you can read Japanese, it says 北海道限定 or Hokkaido Limited, on the box.

Before I delve into the actual product, I'd like to take a minute to point out a neat feature of this version. As I said, these are "regional flavors" and are only certain ones are sold in certain locations throughout Japan (usually a fusion of whatever that area is famous for, poured into chocolate form). For instance, Yubari Melons are grown and come from Hokkaido, so that flavor of Kit Kat is only sold there. Japan may be a small country, but it has so much variation from place to place while still being largely homogeneous. While being varied, but so compact at the same time, it's easy to institute the gimmick that Nestle built into these regional flavors. When you purchase a flavor, it has a spot for an address, postage and a message on the back. Yes, that's right, you can trade or send flavors as a gift (which is also a very Japanese quality, so clearly Nestle has some sharp cookies in their Japanese offices) so you don't have to travel up and down the tokaido and thensome just to taste every flavor. They're labeled as "Kit Kat Tabi Saki Mail" near the top left of the package, tabisaki means destination or goal.

As for the Kit Kat itself, I have to say that much like the Ginger Ale flavor it was so accurate that it freaked me out. This was not, "Oh this almost tastes like Kinako," or, "Doesn't this Macchiato taste just like the Tiramisu Kit Kat that was out this Spring?" This flavor tasted like buttered-corn which, considering that they cracked the formula on artificial butter flavoring on popcorn ages ago, kinda deflates the mystique. However, it did taste like actual corn, it was bizarre not feeling the individual kernels or anything. (For comparison, there's a smoothie shop at one of our malls here that serves peanut butter smoothies and the texture of "smooth peanut butter" is one of the oddest things I've ever run across) The coloring is exactly as you see on the box (I was too lazy to take a pic of the actual thing), a pale yellow just like a cob of corn.

I'm not a huge fan of corn, though I do like it. This was more of a curiosity thing, and a chance to bolster my bulletin board full of "really cool J-snack packaging". That said, would I buy this again? If they were of the $2 variety, sure, but I wouldn't pay $8 for these again. Though they are quite good, if you like the taste of corn, I heartily recommend them. (lulz!)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Back to the Future Pachinko

I've dabbled in pachinko/pachislo collecting for about 7 years now, however I only have two machines physically in my possession so far. The last of which was purchased over two years ago now. This is mainly due to lack of space in my current living situation (I actually have space in a "common area" sense of the word and could populate that with pachinko/pachislo, if I wanted them to get ruined and destroyed by cigarette smoke and general filth ><). I could maybe fit one pachislo machine and zero more pachinko machines here.

The two that I have are set up like tiny monoliths on the floor, flanking either side of my shelves full of J-cultural items-slash-makeshift altar/shrine (specifically for my cousin's host sister from Kagoshima that was killed in a car accident here in 2003). One is Gegege no Kitaro-themed, that was the first one I purchased in early 2003. It has an LCD screen, some lights but no real frills. Its main "charm point" is the few mechanical parts it has, coupled with the traditional look to its overall playing field. It was sort of an impulse decision, as I recall ebay (where I purchased it) didn't really have a lot of dealers on board then, nor was there a crazy selection like there is now. In just 5-6 short years the selection of series that machines are based off of has exploded. All that time ago I wouldn't have even imagined there'd be a Metal Slug slot machine or four different Evangelion pachinko machines.

ebay's selection really seemed to beef up from 2007-2008, and it was during this time that I happened to snag an awesome Back to the Future machine for around $230 delivered. This machine really has it all, a bright, defined LCD screen with chibi, anime versions of Doc & Marty and everyone else when you start getting balls into the main slot and get the reels moving. It also has that awful, mid-90's-esque 3-D rendering of the Delorean, but you can't win em all, can you? It also has - oddly enough - a button for みくじ mikuji, or fortune (telling). Gegege no Kitaro is infinitely more Japanese and even it does not have Japanese fortune telling embedded in it. =P Though Japan does seem to love BttF to the point of multiple companies producing uniquely Japanese merch for the trilogy.

The playing field is fairly general, not too much in the way of mechanical parts. However, this is more than made up for by the huge glowing logo and flying Delorean from part II surrounded by lightning and hovering, all elaborately lit up, as if it was going back in time.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Kit Kit Mega Matsuri - キットカット超祭り

My cousin was in Tokyo last week and I joked to her online that she should pick me up some limited Kit Kit flavors... later that day, she had already begun collecting Kit Kats for me. I have the best itoko-sama evar! ^^

I ended up with 7 flavors, many of which I've already encountered reviews for online - and a few of which I thought ended their production run by now. I can't say that I was disappointed by any one flavor for the most part - I know that Ginger Ale still carries that stigma of childhood illness for me as I was force fed it when I had the flu as a kid, so it still makes me nauseous when I taste it. However, that was not the fault of the Kit Kat.

There were some interesting flavors in the batch:

- Royal Milk Tea

This was exactly what I had expected, maybe a little more mellow. I've had it in liquid form and on biscuits as chocolate in Kinoko no Yama snacks, so I kinda knew what it was going to taste like before I even got it in my hands. Japanese "Milk Tea" in a bottle/can from Kirin certainly tastes a little artificial but is refreshing just the same. If you've ever had this, or pretty much any other brand of Japanese bottled milk or sweetened black tea before, that's exactly what these taste like. If you haven't, it's kind of hard to describe the flavor, then. They sort of taste like a tea that's been mellowed with milk and sugar, but it's a borderline plastic sugary flavor. I really can't compare it to anything I've tasted before other than the actual bottled tea that I imagine it's modeled on. The packaging claims that it uses real milk tea flavoring - it doesn't say how much, but I can't imagine that it's anything more than chemicals just going off of the taste.

- Fruit and Vegetable

I have to admit that I was really eager to try these. The packaging promises that it uses apple, carrot and other veggie juices, 0.25%. Honestly, all I could taste was the apple, not even a smidge of carrot or anything else at all. The apple flavoring was good, but that brings us to...

- Apple Cider Vinegar

Again, I love apple cider vinegar, so I really wanted to taste these as well. And again, these claim to use a small percentage (in this case 1.4%) of "apple cider vinegar powder". "Apple spices" as well, which I guess overpowered the vinegar portion, because there's just a minuscule aftertaste of anything resembling vinegar. These tasted almost identical to the Fruit & Veggie kind. Once more, not disappointed because they did taste good, but not exactly what I expected, either.

- Ginger Ale

Ginger Ale was easily the most unique tasting of the batch. It claims usage of 0.3% of "lemon powder", and also ginger ale flavoring. And I have to say, this did taste like real ginger ale because, as I said above, I actually got nauseous as a result, so I guess it really tricked my stomach into thinking I was drinking ginger ale (and also had the flu =P).

- Matcha (Green Tea)

I haven't "tried" this one yet, because I've had matcha Kit Kat and chocolate and ice cream, before. I imagine the the formula for the chocolate hasn't changed at all, and I requested it because it is my favorite flavor and the most delicious of all Kit Kats/chocolates, in my opinion. It replicates the green tea flavor quite perfectly and I can't even articulate how good they really are. Needless to say, I try to pick these up everytime I see them for sale.

- Soy Sauce

醤油 Shouyu, or Soy Sauce, I almost expected to be disgusting, but I wanted to try them. Surprisingly, they were quite good, almost defying description. Their taste hints at real soy sauce - of which they supposedly use 0.7% - with a normal chocolate taste base. But not soy sauce in a disgusting or off-putting way, like an undertone which compliments the basic chocolate taste. If you've ever had soy sauce, you know that it is extremely salty, and it's not like salt hasn't been done in Japanese snacks before (oft-paired with vanilla or caramel), but the salt doesn't overpower here. It also purports to use みたらし Mitarashi which is water at a shrine used to purify you before you enter, as close as I could tell that's what it was, there wasn't another definition fitting anything consumable in the 2 dictionaries I checked. These are part of a regional line of Kit Kats released every so often (I want to say once a year?) throughout Japan, in this case since my cousin was in Tokyo, she got the two Tokyo flavors, this being one of them. They come in more elaborate packages, and as with any 限定 (limited edition) products, of course they cost more. ^^;

- Kinako

黄粉 or kinako, is soybean flour, and it has a very distinctive taste. To me it tastes like subtle peanut butter (wow, that'd be a great name for a band). On that note, I have to say that these are too overpowered by the chocolate taste for the kinako to shine through. It's there, but very, very lightly - and for something that's already fairly subtle, barely noticeable. Like the Soy Sauce Kit Kats, these are part of the limited edition regional line, also a Tokyo flavor, sold in 12 mini bar packs.

All in all I was satisfied with these flavors, even though some were extremely similar, and on occasion the placebo effect of what they should taste like is overridden by the plain chocolate taste. (i.e. - I think the power of suggestion by the Soy Sauce and Kinako flavors' packages and that you know what they're supposed to taste like makes them taste slightly like that because you don't want to think you spent 799yen on plain Kit Kats with fancy boxes. But that's just the cynic in me, they do taste like what they're supposed to taste like - even if it is just slightly. =P)

Since she was busy the whole week and change she was there, I really didn't know what she was bringing back until after she returned home. Coincidentally, I ran across the best little site for snacks, called NapaJapan. They have an amazing selection already, and they've only been in business for a few months, over 350 items! I have another order of Kit Kats and other J-snacks coming hopefully tomorrow, or at latest next week, so look forward to more reviews soon(ish).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cheetos Combo - Spicy Salami & Cheese Flavor チートス・コンボ スパイシーサラミとチーズ味

Got these from J-List a while back and noticed that they were about to expire the other day and consequently decided to try them. (I have a separate drawer for Japanese snackage, and as a result I often neglect eating stuff until I have a craving. I also often purchase J-snacks merely for their pretty packaging and expect very little in the way of taste in certain items.)

I really have to say, I am fairly uncertain about the existence of delicatessens in Japan. I know at least one Subway restaurant exists and I've seen on blogs and heard about through people I keep in contact with, that certain sandwiches and shops that make said sandwiches *do* exist. Regardless of that fact, the company that makes these is US-based Frito Lay. Now I assume that Frito Lay Japan has a largely Japanese staff, devising flavors that would satiate the Japanese palate. If it was a largely American staff, I would say it's ironic that Americans couldn't pin down salami flavoring in a snack, since every kid I grew up with, in their lunches in grade school had a salami & cheese sandwich everyday.

Now that the secret is out about what I think of the actual flavoring, I'll say this: if you are a person who enjoys salami and/or cheese, then these aren't for you. (Also I'm pretty sure they're a limited flavor and are no longer available. =P) If you are, however, someone that as a child enjoyed eating dog biscuits because you enjoyed mimicking the family dog... then these might suit you! I love cheese, and though I'm not a giant fan of pork products, I do enjoy the occasional piece of salami. Having said that, when I opened the bag I was greeted by an odor that smelled kinda like a cross between dry dog or cat food, a beef bouillon packet that you'd get with instant ramen and possibly onion or garlic powder.

The first thing I do when I get a salty Japanese snack now is scan the ingredients list for the kanji 魚 - or fish (and ebi, which is shrimp). Having a relatively vehement dislike for fish, as well as knowing that the staple of a normal Japanese person's diet aside from rice *is* fish, it never really dawned on me that my snacks-bought-abroad might contain some fishy additives. That is, until I bought a bag of "Thai" flavored Habanero rings from Tohato. They basically both tasted and smelled like high tide. That's why I tend to only buy things that don't really hint at having meat of any sort in them. (Which, I've kinda killed that rule in the last few months... these Cheetos, Teriyaki Doritos and Kua Aina "burger chips" which are apparently based on some famous burger shop in Hawaii's recipe and are also made by Frito Lay aaaaaand also kinda smell and taste like unsavory dog food) Anyway, it turns out that that "high tide" smell turned out to be "ebi powder", my Thai Habanero rings were dusted with "shrimp 'leavins". That experience was the final piece in a puzzle that told me I would never have a Japanese palate to tolerate most Japanese food.

As for the taste of the Cheetos, it wasn't much better than the smell. Since both flavors are mixed in the bag and the whole package is so pungent, I can only assume that the salami is overpowering the cheese flavor, because I've had "straight" Japanese cheese flavored Cheetos and Doritos, and they *are* cheese flavored. These... have no trace of cheese flavor to be found. They have the typical Cheetos shape and crunchy texture, but again, just grossness permeates the whole thing. While they don't taste like dog food per se, they certainly don't taste good. The onion/garlic powder taste shines through, and garlic powder is listed about 1/3rd of the way down the ingredients list. Pork powder, milk powder, vegetable (plant) oil, and oddly enough sugar are all near the top of the list. I tasted absolutely nothing sweet at all, nor the pork that is an essential for salami.

I bought this on the premise that the flavor would be interesting, not the packaging (which I could see before purchasing it). So when the flavor(s) disappointed, I knew already that I couldn't say, "Well at least the package is cool." It looks like any normal bag of Doritos you'd buy here in the US, only with kana on it.

If you happen to see this anywhere, do yourself a favor and pick up some colorfully-packaged dog food instead. ~_^