Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lawson Station Red Chicken and Oden Food to Go

Out of the many Japanese konbini (convenience store) chains, one of my favourites is Lawson Japan.  Just like 7-11 this chain originally started out in the United States and is completely Japanese now.  Both chains are way better in Japan for the variety of offerings, especially the food and snacks.  There are plenty of sneak a peak videos on Youtube about konbini, but this post is all about the image Lawson is promoting about themselves and their food products. They've done some pretty nice marketing.

What is Lawson video?

Red Chicken / Chicken Nuggets (Karaage)
Fried chicken is a hot market segment in Japan.  Everyone has chicken drums or nuggets or skewers to bring in the old snack business into the store.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is popular, and even has a special affiliation for Christmas dinner.
Lawson has yummy chicken nugget offerings too.  They have their regular, red, and brown chicken boxes (but they have run regional flavours for their chicken nuggets to - like Kit Kat does).  The chicken nuggets at Lawson in their distinctive chicken-themed boxes are rated as being pretty darn tasty, even by professional chefs like Anthony Bourdain.

Catchy tune with their Akikoloid singing about their fried chicken.

Oden (Stew)
This is a traditional Japanese dish and it bubbles away all day at front counter of the konbini in the winter months.  It is comfort food (might even remind you of your Japanese grandmother or mom if you have one) that full of veggies and different kinds of meat and seafood.  You choose what you want to eat.  More of their Akikoloid singing is shown below.  Wonderful that they have a vocaloid mascot to mingle along with the likes of Hatsuni Miku.

Akikoloid singing about their oden this time.

Another nifty little song about Lawson's oden offerings.

The grand opening of Lawson in Hawaii - includes a segment about oden.

Fresh Coffee
Everyone is also moving into the competitive, but lucrative coffee market.  The konbini all sell canned coffee that is both hot and cold already, but everyone is moving into fresh coffee to hammer away at Starbucks and McDonalds.  Looks good to me so I'd try it, although I'm really a Starbucks guy who also likes canned coffee!  It looks like coffee consumption is also rising in Japan, and part of it is thanks to all of the convenience stores now selling fresh brew.

Coffee Commercial

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tokyo Disneysea Fun and Attractions Guide

I'm a big Disney fan and an anime fan.  This would normally mean that (Tokyo DisneySea + visiting Japan + anime pop culture) = BIG WIN.  Well, I can say that DisneySea is definitely worth a visit for any Disneyphile.  It is a unique Disney theme park operated by a Japanese partner and the localization touches are wonderful - BUT the place is crowded.  I've been to Disneyworld twice and love the place, but this park is on the high end for crowding for me.  I think it is because it is popular and there is a massive population 35 million people who live in the greater Tokyo area (Tokyo + surroundings) and they can all visit by train within 2-3 hours.
Entry Gateway
Mickey Columbus
Morning Float with the Disney Characters
Mysterious Island and Mount Prometheus
Laughable Disclaimer often found in investing blogs (at the time of writing this article I own Disney stock, but that just means I believe in the company's capabilities). Disney is a remarkable company due to its great character franchises, elaborate tie-ins, and cross-marketing for its products.  This is very similar to the Japanese method for cross-marketing anime/manga and all of the product tie-ins; something that I just nickname the Japanese anime industrial complex. For example, a Disney film like Frozen has wonderful music, princess characters that can be made into toys and characters at their theme parks, books, a theme park attraction at some point, there are video games, and all sorts of character goods from bedsheets to snack foods.  In anime/manga you have the same type of thing happening (but not to the same broad audience).  There are toys, models, manga, short novels, jpop idol crossovers, soundtrack CDs, mini-theme parks, pop-up attractions, art figures, and all other other character goods too.  Both are imaginative operations that build that all encompassing consumer experience to maximize their franchise potential.  If you like this, which I do, it is a wonderful thing, otherwise it is probably too much of a good thing.
Pokemon Cup Noodle for cross branding.
Tower of Terror at night.  Shot turned out really cool.

S.S. Columbia
DisneySea is unique with its big central lagoon (like Epcot in some ways), and a giant volcano as a centerpiece.  This giant volcano houses a secret lake with Captain Nemo's Nautilus and the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride.  Mountains and Disney parks are used to usually feature specific rides and there is even a book titled "The Disney Mountains - Imagineering at Its Peak." There is a regular Disneyland theme park there too, but I passed on that as DisneySea is "only available in Japan".  Back in 2009 I hit the park on November 2, and it was a bad time as it was a long weekend, so the park was mobbed by mid-morning.  I highly recommend you determine which attraction you want to see first, get everyone in line, and have a runner grab fast passes for the next attraction as the first thing you do. For example, grab the fast passes to Indiana Jones while lining up for Journey to the Center of the Earth or something like that.
Mt. Prometheus Caldera

Drilling Machine

Visiting a Disney park sometimes can also seem as daunting as visiting another country with a foreign language.  Just look at the guidebooks that are out there.  The guidebooks to Disneyworld can be as big as a guidebook to New York city or France.  That is like major overplanning, but it is a direct response to not enough time and long lines (competition for scarce resources).  So do some preplanning, see what you need to see, eat what you want to try, and chill out in that awesome Disney imagineering experience to get the most out of it. It does take an hour or so based on my memory to get to Disney from central Tokyo, so an early start to hit the gates when the parks open is a must.  An alternative would be to stay at one of the Disney affiliated hotels nearby the parks to cut down on travel at the beginning and end of the day.  Getting there at opening is a big advantage to enjoying any Disney park.  Also, make sure you have a sit down meal at a restaurant if you can in the middle of the day to rest your feet for an hour or so to ensure you can endure to the end of the day.  Book your tickets in advance if you can too!

Having said all of this, here are some of the best things about Tokyo DisneySea:
  1. Mount Prometheous volcano, the fantasy city on the flanks of the volcano, and the caldera.  Love all the details from the Nautilus, drilling machine, to the eruptions that occur.  I really wanted to see the park just for this.
  2. Venice is an interesting little area.  Mediterranean Harbour gondolas are a nice highlight.
  3. The Americana area with the S.S. Columbia was cool too.  Check out the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.
  4. The Arabian Coast Area is very atmospheric.
  5. Mermaid Lagoon with King Triton's castle is quite pretty.
You will also find that the Disney fanbase raves about many of the foods available at DisneySea.  Definitely try to check some of them out as food is part of any travel experience, but if you have been eating great Japanese food already in Tokyo, pick your essential experience carefully.

Some interesting food experiences here are:
  1. Gyoza Dog (aka Pork Gyoza) at the cart in the Mysterious Island
  2. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry custard Toy Story alien dumplings
  3. Curry flavoured popcorn
  4. Disney curry with rice at the Arabian Coast
  5. Tipo Torta pastry stick with a sweet potato filling
  6. Chandu the tiger tail chicken cream buns
  7. Sultan Sundae with coconut ice cream, mango chunks and pineapple syrup
There are many more of course and don't forget your Duffy the Bear souvenirs too (not my favourite, but popular over there).  Anyhow, if you're going to visit, have fun and check out the list of links below for more information.

Mysterious Island / Journey To The Center of the Earth




Japanese Pocky and Chocolate Spring 2014

This is a photo post of some Japanese treats I saw this spring.  As usual, there are tons of different kinds of chocolate.  Look for them in your Japanese supermarket or Tokyo convenience store.  Of course I didn't eat all of this as I'd be overloaded!

Peko Chan Chocolate by Fujiya.

Strawberry Pocky
Chocolate almond
Fancy Fran dessert biscuit sticks in chocolate and strawberry.
Fruity mushroom shaped white chocolate biscuits
Taiyaki Ice Cream Bars  Strawberry and vanilla.

Spicy wasabi flavoured biscuit sticks.  Very savory and tasty.
Salmon flavoured biscuit Pretz - giant footlong breadstick size.
A roe and citrus flavoured Pretz
Panda white chocolate Pretz
Choco variety pack
Ramune flavoured gummy with collagen for nice skin.  P.S. gummies have collagen already in it!

Tomato Pretz - yummy.
Strawberry Kit Kat

Green Tea Short Pocky
Milk Chocolate Short Pocky
Strawberry Short Pocky

Rum and Raisin Pocky
White chocolate cookies
Strawberry Tarts

That's all for now.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Viewing Cherry (Sakura) Blossoms Along The Meguro River by Nakameguro Station

I've never been to Tokyo in the spring so I've missed out on the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) ritual that families and companies do.  People show up early to reserve spots in parks to picnic and enjoy the mass flowering of cherry blossoms.  One of the places that I would like to view the sakura is along the Meguro River in Tokyo.  This river is cement lined on both sides now and resembles a canal with its vertical banks, but the photos that I have seen make it look so awesome.

Sakura Tree Ad at Ueno Station

The lovely, yet mildly scented cherry blossom.  By Jacob Ehnmark CC attribution license.
Meguro Canal at night with cherry blossoms.  By kazamatsuri CC attribution license.
Meguro Canal with illuminated sakura trees. By yoppy CC attribution license.

I've seen varying accounts of the number of sakura trees here from 500 to 800, but it looks really dense and beautiful in the best photos.  The trees are also lit up at night to provide a photographer's dream opportunity or a very romantic evening.  I don't have any pictures myself so this is primarily and informational post based on research I did for myself, but one year in the spring I will visit.  I can only imagine how amazing and pretty it would be if you arrived late in the season and a bit o wind kicked in to make it snow cherry blossom leaves!  This is also a classic meme from Japanese anime as the sakura are always flowering it seems.

The best viewing spots seem to be NW of the Nakameguro train station towards the Kitano Shrine.  Nakameguro is only a few stops away from Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line. Exiting the station to walk along the canal banks and cutting across the many bridges to find the best view seem to be the game of the day.  There are both wide and narrow sections to the canal with the narrow sections being quite spectacular.  From April 1 to April 10 they also hold the Nakemeguro Sakura Festival in the area and light up the trees for that.  Cherry blossom viewing dates vary from year to year based on the weather and you maybe too early or too late, so check the web for best viewing times.

More shots of what the canal looks like in full bloom, check out the links below.