Kit Kat Pizza!?

Kit Kat Pizza!

Just this morning I posted about Japan's Kit Kat Culture, and then this flyer for a restaurant chain called Napoli Pizza came in the mail this afternoon! What we're looking at here is their "Adults' Dolce Pizza" topped with mangoes and those Toaster Kit Kats I wrote about in my previous post! Wow! Actually it sounds kinda good! This is another fine example of how serious we take our Kit Kat Culture here in Japan! 

Japanese Kit Kat Culture

If you like reading my blog, chances are high that you're somewhat familiar with Japan in general, and the magic of Japanese Kit Kats is nothing new to you. Still, I've personally never written about Japanese Kit Kats before, and it wouldn't be right of me to go on blogging without paying homage to these favorite treats of mine.

Most everyone has eaten, or regularly eats the familiar milk chocolate and white chocolate Kit Kats that are available worldwide. Most everyone also knows that Kit Kat was created by the Swiss company Nestlé. Nestlé Japan, however, seems to have some sort of special arrangement in place since the Kit Kats here come in a huge variety. Flavors like "matcha" (powdered green tea) are already famous globally, and are one of the top-selling souvenirs purchased by visitors from overseas.

The green tea variety is already quite mundane here in Japan, however, where the flavours vary by season and by region. Japanese cuisine is very seasonal by nature, so the local Kit Kats follow suit. Some of the flavours I've enjoyed recently include Passionfruit (summer), Almond (autumn), Cayenne Pepper (autumn), Rum Raisin (winter), and two recent offerings-- Orange Peel (spring) and Toaster Kit Kats (spring) which you brown in a toaster oven! Most of these flavours are available nationwide, except for Rum Raisin which is (was) available only in Tokyo. In my humble opinion, however, the Pièce de résistance is the very newest Kit Kat flavour shown in the cover photo of this post. This is the latest edition to the "Sweetness for Adult Tastes" (オトナの甘さ) series-- Raspberry. Raspberry sounds rather plain in comparison to some of the other flavours I mentioned, but this one is so delicious it's shocking. It does not taste like Raspberry candy at all. It tastes more like fresh Raspberry Mousse. Looking closely at the product, it's obviously that there are actually bits of puréed raspberry in the chocolate. The flavour is incredible and to me is the tastiest fruit-flavoured Kit Kat I've eaten up until now.

Orange Peel"Where can I buy these?" you may ask. Actually, one of the most reliable places to get them is at duty free shops such as "Tax Free Akihabara" in Narita Airport. Another fool-proof location is the Tokyo Miyage Center (東京みやげセンター) on the lower level of the Tokyo Station shopping area near the Yaesu Entrance. Years ago, special edition Kit Kats were available at almost every convenience store. For some reason, however, convenience stores nowadays rarely have anything other than plain milk chocolate.
"一味" Cayenne Pepper Tokyo Rum RaisinToaster Kit Kat
Early this year Nestlé took things to the next level by opening a specialty shop in the Ikebukuro (池袋) location of the Seibu Department Store. It's called the Kit Kat Chocolatory. At this shop chocolate-makers sell exclusive and very limited batch Kit Kats that they make by hand every day! These special Kit Kats typically come in three frequently-changing flavours, for example, "Special Cream Cheese" which is one of their current offerings. They sell out very quickly, so Kit Kat lovers better plan on getting there before lunch time. Unfortunately these handmade chocolates come with a "special" price tag as well, but it's not so unreasonable as to make them completely unaffordable. It's worthwhile to treat ourselves once in a while, right?

Word of warning: the Chocolatory sells only hand-made Kit Kats. The other "regular," seasonal varieties are not available there, so it might not be a first choice of locations for buying gifts for friends and family.




Some of the other flavours I've enjoyed:

Dark Chocolate
Annin Dofu
Zunda Mochi, created in 2011
as a regional variety in the
Tohoku Region to show support
for the victims of the earthquake
and tsunami disaster. This Kat Kat
has the flavors of the regional
dessert that's famous throughout
Tohoku, especially in my wife's
hometown, Sendai.


Photo of the Day: Japanese Deadhead!

Spotted in Tokyo Chiyoda-ku, just outside of Akihabara. Naturally, the Greatful Dead's music was streaming out from the open windows.


Cat Café / 猫カフェ

Recently I decided it was time for me to go check out a Tokyo Cat Café, or "Neko Café" (猫カフェ) to be correct. I was a bit surprised to learn how many of these cafés have opened in Japan. There are 23 wards, or "cities" in Tokyo and pretty much every ward has multiple cat cafés, so I estimate that there must be a minimum of 50 such cafés just in Tokyo alone (and there's probably quite a few more than that)! This makes choosing a bit difficult of course, but with a little help from Google, and more recently Yelp, it's easy to find the ones that have a good reputation.

Taking into consideration both reputation and proximity to home, I chose "Neko JaLaLa" on the edge of Akihabara in Chiyoda City (千代田区) to be my initiation into the world of cat cafés. Since this was my first time, I don't have any basis for comparison, but I really enjoyed my time there!

Here's how it works. There is a max number of possible customers, and the popular places are busy all day. The cafe was full when I arrived so I had to write down my name and come back in 30 minutes (keep in mind that it was fully booked even though I went early on a weekday afternoon when I had taken a day off work). The adventure begins by choosing from a "menu," the length of time for your visit. Visits start from 30 minutes and go from there; the cost increases proportionally to the length of the visit. At JaLaLa, each visit comes with a beverage included (I chose Brazilian blend coffee). I recommend 1 hour for new-comers because you'll probably be inclined to choose 30 minutes, but if you're a cat person, trust me - this is not long enough. I ended up extending my stay for another 30 min when my first 30 minutes was up.

First the staff explains the rules, which are basically a bunch of obvious points such as no rough-housing with the cats, respecting the cats' boundaries and moods, and not using flash photography. Second, you wash your hands. Finally, you pick up your drink from a window counter that opens to the kitchen, at which point customers have the opinion of buying some cat treats to give out. I decided on some roasted bonito fish which was homemade and placed in a small Tupperware container.

Starting from this point, customers are free to relax and enjoy the café. The interior guest-space is relatively small, but not at all crowded. The entire café is also very clean and comfortable which I guess should be a given, but I figured there would be more cat hair and clawed-up furniture? No, not the case! I also found that JaLaLa has quite a decent-sized population of cats living there, and each seems to have their favourite hang-out spot. The staff members are very knowledgeable, friendly and eager to introduce the cats and talk about them to customers who seem interested in listening. They also have photo books that they made so customers can read about each feline resident.

This is Jijī. This is actually not his real name, but he gradually came to have the name Jijī due to his facial features-- because "Jijī" means "grandpa." (^_^)
The cats living at JaLaLa span a wide range of varieties and personality types. Some were sleeping, and some were inquisitive; some were playful and some were standoffish, as it is with cats in general. I found that buying the treats was a wise choice as the cats are eager to make friends with customers who have them.

As I said earlier, I had a really great time! I am pretty sure I'll venture out to explore other cat cafés, and perhaps I'll go back to JaLaLa again some time.

So why are there so many of these cafés in Tokyo? Very simply, humans love pets! Unfortunately, however, landlords in Tokyo who allow pets are extremely rare. Apartment-renting residents of Tokyo who want their pet-keeping time, therefore, need to patronize establishments such as these to get it. Luckily, although cat cafés are the most popular kind, there are other types of pet cafés as well, catering to people who like dogs, reptiles, birds and other animals.

Also of note is that at JaLaLa, I was surprised to be greeted initially in well-spoken English (my face is a dead giveaway of course). The staff switched back to Japanese after chatting with me for a minute, but during my time there I also noticed that the menus and photo books are available in English as well. It's possible that they speak other languages, too, being so close to a major tourist destination like Akihabara. But anyway, guests from overseas can definitely relax and enjoy their time there.

Nice work JaLaLa! You have a very nice business! Thanks for your warm welcome! I definitely recommend this café to all my readers!

Please forgive me for the blurry photos!


Kanda Myojin / 神田明神

Today I paid a visit to Kanda Myojin! More formally known as Kanda Shrine (神田神社) this shrine in the Sotokanda neighborhood of Chiyoda City is a special place for residents of Tokyo. Founded in year 2 of the Tenpyo period (天平2年 / 730 A.D.), the shrine is the patron of 108 different neighborhoods in Chiyoda City, including some very famous places such as Kanda (神田), Nihonbashi (日本橋) and Marunouchi (丸の内). The Shrine has been in its present location in Sotokanda ("Outer Kanda" / 外神田) since year 2 of the Genna period (元和2年 / 1616) after being relocated twice; first from it's original location in what's now known as Ōtemachi (大手町), and then again from it's second location in Kanda (神田). Both relocations were done to accommodate the expansion of Edo Castle.

Daikokuten (大黒天)
Home to Daikokuten (大黒天), Ebisu (恵比須), and Taira no Masakado (平将門), three of the Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 / Shichi Fukujin), Kanda Shrine has been a source of happiness, good luck, safety wealth and prosperity, as well as a popular wedding spot for nearly 1,300 years.

Kanda Shrine is also the center of Kanda Matsuri, one of the three great Shinto festivals of Edo (my readers might remember reading about Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa, one of the other three great festivals). Kanda Matsuri is especially famous for its highly decorative and ornamental Mikoshi (神輿), and is held in mid-May once every 2 years.

One part of my visit which was especially fascinating for me was looking at Kanda Shrine's Ema (絵馬). Ema are an important part of Shintoism in which we purchase small wooden plaques from the shrine upon which we write our wishes and dreams and hang them up where the Gods can receive them. As I mentioned earlier, Kanda Shrine is the patron for numerous neighborhoods, one of which happens to be Akihabara. Akihabara's role as the holy land of manga and anime leads many artists, both minor and world-famous ones, to the shrine. Lots of manga and anime artists and fans alike draw their artwork on the Ema along with their wishes for the Gods and so the Ema become amazing decorations for the shrine (well...even more amazing than usual!)


Photo of the Day: "Joma" Energy Drink bus, winking at me.

via Instagram http://ift.tt/1lSXWCQ

I spotted this bus a a few minutes ago outside my office in Nihonbashi. It's advertising a new energy drink called "Joma" made by BB Chocola. The driver saw me walk over to take a photo, so he made the left eye wink at me! Haha! We both started laughing. (^_^)

Health Check-up / 健康診断

The time of year for annual health check-ups (健康診断 "Kenkō Shindan") has arrived. The other day I had my second annual health check-up at the same place as last year, the Mitsui Tower Clinic (三井タワークリニック) in Chūo City, Tokyo, a few steps away from my office. This week I joined 1000s of other company employees and workers in Tokyo as we fill up clinics and hospitals all over the nation's capital hoping to get a clean bill of health.

Properly maintaining a system of national healthcare is easier if everyone is as healthy as possible, so annual health check-ups are strongly encouraged, and in some cases required, for everyone. The examinations are almost entirely covered by Japan's government health care plan, and any remaining fees are covered by employers. Some of the larger companies even employ doctors of their own to provide healthcare checkups in-house.

Just like last year, I was very surprised at the amazing level of thoroughness and attention to detail. In some cases I was given exams that I had never been given before, and in other cases I was given exams that I hadn't been given since childhood. Such meticulousness seems like it would come with a high price of time, but not so. Clinics are very well staffed, and cooperation amongst staff and doctors has achieved a level nearing perfection. I never had to wait more than 2 minutes, except for when I first checked into the clinic and waited about 10 minutes before being called in. After running the full gamut of tests, I was finished and out the door after about 90 minutes.

Like most health check-ups I've been given before, we start with the basics: height, weight, blood pressure, reflexes, a blood sample for glucose and cholesterol, etc. Where most health check-ups end, however, is just where ones in Japan start to get interesting.

Vision test and Hearing test,

Stool sample - Patients are provided with a kit in advance of the exam that includes supplies for taking a sample of our poo in the comfort of home and storing it in a container until the test! The kit comes complete with helpful and entertaining diagrams indicating how to use it. So as patients check in for their exams, you know that everyone is carrying a tiny bit of poo with them and handing it over to the doctors. LOL!

Urine sample, Heart Monitor test, Chest X-Ray,

GI examination - This is the worst part of the check-up. This exam begins with the consumption of a tiny cup full of soda powder followed by a shot glass of water; immediately the soda starts foaming up in the mouth. Next the soda powder and foam are washed down with approximately 300 ml of liquid barium which tastes like a cup of concrete that has too much water mixed into it (*bleh!*). After that, hang on while a large hospital-bed-looking device rotates the patient all different kinds of ways capturing numerous different perspectives and also being sure the barium covers all internal surfaces. After the craziness is over, it's time to down a couple of laxatives to be sure the barium exits the body as soon and as completely as possible. What a day! What makes it even weirder is that the barium maintains its white, watery concrete-looking consistency all the way through the human body...if you know what I mean...heh!

The health check-up ends with a quick doctor consultation which is merely superficial at best, but consultation is not the point of the visit so I guess points should still be given for effort. At Mitsui Tower Clinic, patients are sent on their way with a receipt and a bottle of healthy sesame tea. I'll get my results in a couple of weeks or less.

Before finishing up this post, I would just like to say, I know the images in this post are pretty uninteresting for the most part. Sorry about that; it's hard to take photos discretely in a busy clinic!


Snack Time: Green Tea Latte Oreos!

via Instagram http://ift.tt/1gNKDX7

These are pretty darn tasty!! To be honest, though, Nabisco is a little bit late coming to the game. The older version of these cookies by domestic company Meiji / 明治 has a richer, more delicious flavour (in my opinion anyway). I would definitely eat some more of these Oreos, though!


Sanja Matsuri / 三社祭

Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) is one of the three great Shinto festivals of Edo (江戸) and has been celebrated the same way each year since approximately 1605. The name "Sanja" (三社), however, comes from a much earlier period when present day Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社), the center of the festival, used to be called Sanja Daigongen Shrine (三社大権現神社). For this reason some scholars say that the origins of the festival probably date back before the 17th century. Edo is now called Tokyo, and Sanja Daigongen Shrine is now called Asakusa Shrine, but the ancient celebration continues on. Yesterday I was finally able to join the party for the first time!

In order to understand what's happening here it's important to learn a little about the tradition. During most Japanese Shrine Festivals ("Matsuri" / 祭り), Shrine Parishioners, or "Ujiko" (氏子) are seen carrying portable shrines called "Mikoshi" (神輿) on their shoulders. When a festival is held, the god who's enshrined in the Shrine leaves the main Shrine building and rides around the neighborhoods in a Mikoshi. This allows the deities to come out and be close to their Ujiko, building a sense of togetherness and communal spirituality. The music performed, as well as the vigorous motion of the Mikoshi are to provide entertainment for the god as a show of thanks for participating in the neighborhoods' festival. Mikoshi are very heavy-- much heavier than they appear even, because the framework of long wooden support beams that secure the shrines are as heavy as the shrines themselves! Sanja Matsuri boasts some of the largest of these portable shrines in Tokyo (maybe in Japan?), and that's why there are so many folks working together to carry them.

Asakusa is a particularly awesome place to enjoy a Shrine Festival and this year's Sanja Matsuri was no exception. The weather was beautiful, and all of the neighborhoods that form Asakusa Shrine's community of Ujiko were alive with a sense of celebration and excitement! I've been wanting to see the Sanja Matsuri for years so I'm pretty elated and enjoying the afterglow of the centuries-old celebration.

Sanja Matsuri is held every year on the third weekend in May. The first day (Saturday) is largely centered around the main buildings of Asakusa Shrine. On the second day (Sunday) the festivities are spread out throughout the streets of the local neighborhoods.
I took nearly 300 photos at this celebration, but I selected the 60 best photos and put them in a photo album for all of you. For any of my readers who are interested, I invite you to have a look at them here.

In the meantime, please enjoy this Sanja Matsuri video that I made!


Photo of the Day: Niimi House of Kitchenwares ニイミ食器館, Asakusa, Tokyo

Niimi, in Kappabashi (合羽橋), Asakusa (浅草), Tokyo

Enoshima / 江ノ島, part 3

Go back to Enoshima / 江ノ島, part 2
The climb back up to the top of the island was a bit more challenging than the first time around. Despite being located in the Kantō region, Enoshima is quite a ways south of Tokyo, and it was getting hot outside. On top of that, I was getting hungry and thirsty. I stopped for another short rest in the gardens at the summit before continuing my journey.

Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower "Enoshima Sea Candle"

While making my descent, I had one thing on my mind: ice cream! I was certainly not disappointed. I found a charming cafeteria called Enoshima Café, and their specialty is Enoshima coffee softserve (江ノ島珈琲ソフト)! I found a shaded table in the outdoor seating area and enjoyed the creamy frozen deliciousness while taking in the sights and doing a little people-watching.

Soon afterward I was ready for something a bit more substantial, so I headed for the beachside boardwalk. After doing a little shopping for some souvenirs to bring back home, I grabbed a table at a vendor who was making freshly grilled shellfish. I happen to be a real sucker for fresh clams (はまぐり / Hamaguri), and when I saw them I could not hold back despite their crazy price tag (¥1600 / $16 per serving [2 clams]). I also ordered a bottle of the local microbrew, Enoshima Beer, to go with them.

The Hamaguri were amazing!! They were freshest I've ever eaten (caught just several hours prior) and were plump, juicy and chewy yet tender, just they way the finest shellfish should be. 2 clams might not sound filling, but I was surprised to find myself feeling quite full. The beer was also wonderful-- like a full-bodied summer ale. I subsequently came to learn that Enoshima Beer won a special award in Japan's national craft beer championship.

Feeling content and happy, I decided it was time to head for the beach, taking the rest of my beer with me. I took off my shoes, rolled up my slacks, and enjoyed the long overdue feeling of the sand and sea on my feet. The chilly ocean water, the sound of the waves, the sight of children picking up seashells and the oceanfront views surrounded me. As I drank down the last few sips of my beer, I realized that this had really been a fantastic day!

I leisurely strolled around for a while longer, making sure to enjoy my time to the fullest. Finally, it started to get dark outside, so I figured it was time to get on the Enoden (short for 江ノ島電鉄線 / Enoshima Dentetsusen / Enoshima Railway) and start heading back home to Tokyo feeling relaxed, refreshed and elated.

Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower "Enoshima Sea Candle"