Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gashapon / Gachapon Capsule Toys in Japan

Wow.  This is my 201st post on the blog.  It is kind of fitting as gashapon were one of the first things I actually ordered from Japan 10 years ago.  Gashapon is a trademark of Bandai, so everyone else uses the term Gachapon.  Gasha or gacha is supposed to sound like the turning of the knob to drop your capsule from the machine.

Bank of capsule machines
Bank of capsule machines
Gachapon Machines
Everyone has seen these machines.  Bandai has successfully infiltrated them everywhere, especially at our local mall or cinema complex.  In Japan, there are special shops just for these machines and places like Yodobashi camera in Shinjuku or Akihabara amongst many others have hundreds of the machines in one place.  I you like capsule toys, you'll feel like you have died and gone to heaven the first time you see one of these motherlodes of gashapon machines.  Best of all there are usually many that you'll want to try with your 100 yen coins.

Gashapon mchines at the mall.

Types of Capsules
The capsules come in various sizes and shapes.  The larger the capsule, the more expensive they can be.  The cheapest gashapon are 100 yen, but the most expensive I've seen are one coin (as in 500 yen coin, but you need to feed in five 100 yen coins).  Almost all of these dedicated gashapon hotspots have change machines.  They are switching some of the machines to more cylindrical capsules so they can put bigger and more expensive prizes in some of the machines.

Types of Toys
You'll find everything from keychains, cell charms, mini styluses, pencils, notepads, mini-figures, tiny guns, little cars and trucks, models of bugs / fish, etc.  The variety is pretty much endless.  Not all of these are just targeted at kids either.  Many of the toys are based on Japanese anime and are pretty good quality for the price.

Some gashapon prizes.

One of the Coolest Gachapon Prizes
I got little gachapon machines that actually vend tiny little capsules.  They don't take coins or tokens, but they work and they are soooo cute.  This was awhile back though.
Pretty amazing that one of these little machines fit in the capsule at the left when disassembled.
Closeup of tiny gachapon machines.
Japanese Gashapon Fun For Everyone
More Japanese Pop Culture Posts

Cup Noodle, Pretz, and more from Candysan

I received my box of snacks and noodles from Candysan that I ordered a few weeks ago.  This is my first time ordering from them, because they sold the limited edition Brazilian Cup Noodles I had read about.  Their selection of candy / snacks, pricing, and shipping were pretty good, so I'll be giving them another order at some point.  Well here is the unboxing of the yummies I received.

There was some packing that was stripped out, but this was a nice box of Japanese yummies!  I'm still slowly working my way through it.
Here are all the candies and snacks laid out.  You have Pretz, cup noodles, cup instant rice, gummies, puccho chews, etc.
This is something I haven't tried before.  It is basically microwave, curried rice.  Everything is dried, so you add water and nuke for 3 to 5 minutes depending on your microwave.  Should be a flavour similar to their curry cup noodle.
Curry rice is apparently cat approved.
Brazilian Chicken Cup Noodle.  BBQ style with more spicing.  A World Cup Special.  More on this ramen in an upcoming post.
Brazilian Chicken Bowl Ramen, based off Nissin's famous chicken flavour.  Looking forward to this.  My daughter ate one of them and said it was yummy with a spicy peppery kick.
Three flavours of Pretz.  You have ume (plum) on the left, Beer Pretz Onion flavour in the middle, and Soy Pretz.  I've had the Soy Pretz so far and it is nice with a deep, smokey soy flavour that isn't overpowering.
Attack on Titan Puccho with a little cellphone charm in a blind box.  I got one of the Titan heads and the chewy candy with the gummy balls embedded in it is always yummy.  See my Puccho Kumamon post too. 
Ume puccho flavour Puccho.
Lemon and Lime mini gummies.
Watermelon and melon gummies that unfortunately melted into a glob due the heat in Japan or during shipping somewhere.  Still yummy, but I don't order any chocolate from Japan from May to Sept as the temperatures can get warm.

A very fun package to open and digest.  My money well spent.  I was also at the local Asian market and picked up a few additional Japanese snacks to supplement this.

Salt Pretz
Green Tea Nestle Crunch.

Areo Green Tea
Green Tea Kit Kats.  There was green tea overload going on.  I skipped out on it this time.
Pudding Kit Kats that you are supposed to bake in the oven to brown. 
Calbee potato chips.  From the left: curry, pizza, Japanese BBQ pork.
Nissin Cup Noodles from Hong Kong.  These are decent and you have seafood flavour on the left and crab on the right.
The Nissin Instant Ramen from Hong Kong.  There are some pretty good flavours now.  You have Black Garlic Oil, Shoyu / Tonkotsu, and Tonkotsu on the bottom.  All very tasty and these are the ones you can usually find in Canada.

More Puccho Fruit Chews!

More Japanese Pop Culture Posts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ordering Candy, Instant Ramen, and Collectibles From Japan

I've been asked a few times about where to order things like Cup Noodles and various types of toys and candy from Japan.  This is especially true from my Nissin instant ramen mini-reviews.  I've used a few sources from Japan and here is a list of them.  I usually avoid resellers from the USA, UK, Canada as it usually costs much more and the selection isn't usually as good.  Shipping from Japan is cheap if you select SAL for packages under 2 kg, but it takes a few weeks.  Over the years, delivery to Canada by post has been reliable for me.
Look what came in the mail!  Not really, but my cat sure likes boxes.
Now, if you live in the United States and Canada - check to see if you have a T&T Market or a Daiso in your area.  They have food / candy / snack items in stock and you don't have to pay for shipping unless you cannot find it.  If you have a Daiso, I'm jealous as that is a great 100 yen store for way more stuff than candy.

Big Disclaimer for this blog post.
You always order online at your own risk.  I'm not endorsing any of the sellers below!  I am just saying that I have bought stuff from them and they have delivered the goods without any problem to me, so I'll use them again, since I'm a satisfied customer.  If you have problems with them, then that is between you and them.  Always watch your shipping costs for SAL as sometimes the one or more items are too big or heavy to go this way and it ends up being shipped EMS which is way more expensive, but quicker.

If you are shopping for anime collectibles, toys, and figures, I used the two online shops below many times over the years: - my first choice for pricing and selection.
A recent order from AmiAmi! - my second choice, but they have an excellent selection for model builders.
Many of these came from HLJ.

If you are shopping for snacks and candy, instant noodles, and canned coffee, etc. - I've just shopped here once, so far, but I'll definitely try them again as they had good pricing and selection for snacks and cup noodles I couldn't get here (I got the limited Brazilian Chicken Cup Noodles from them).  They seem to have a very vibrant community on Facebook.
My first box of snacks from Candysan.  I'll review later. - I've just shopped here once too, so far.  They carry much more than food items and have an array of interesting merchandise, such as the Mogu brand of cushions, toy claw machines, etc.  I like the fact they do carry the more deluxe Nissin instant ramen products along with other interesting food and candy items.
My first box of Nissin Raoah and other items from Coolstuffjapan.  More ramen reviews coming up.

There are many other shops out there, but these are the ones I have tried.  I don't use as they don't ship without using courier services.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Tokyo Excess Guide To Edmonton Attractions

I blog a great deal about Tokyo and Japanese pop culture related items, but I'm based out of Edmonton.  This particular post done in the spirit of fun, and in the style I would compose a post about Tokyo travel, to highlight some of the cool things that are worth seeing or knowing about my home city.  Yes, I know Edmonton is nothing like Tokyo, and I would never seriously compare the two.  So read on and enjoy this short article.
Edmonton City Hall
When is the best time to visit Edmonton?
Summer of course, if you don't want to bring a parka.  I don't even really want to be here in the winter.  Summer is glorious, with long days as the sun rises early and doesn't set until 11 PM.  There is usually lots of sunshine and it is great for barbequing.  Summer is when Edmonton also has great festivals, you can enjoy long walks in the various parks or along the river valley, and eat and drink on the patios at restaurants and bars.

One thing I cannot emphasize more is that we can have some fabulous sunsets/sunrises and that the skies are big and blue here.
Science Fiction Set In Edmonton and beyond.
Churchill Square, City Hall, AGA, and Downtown
The Taste of Edmonton and other events are held down in Churchill Square, a very nice town square in front of City Hall.  All cities need a civic space that is something like this at their center.  City Hall is also quite interesting with its big glass pyramid and clock tower.  In Tokyo, the metropolitan city hall building would hold the entire square inside its top outdoor level, but that building is HUGE.  The city has done a nice job making it lively during the day.  Do visit the Art Gallery of Alberta while you are here.  The AGA often has some very cool exhibits on, some of which would be at home in the Mori Museum in Tokyo.  If you like the AGA, the Provincial Museum may also be worth a visit.

The big pool in front of city hall which is full of kids on a hot day.
Inside City Hall
Churchill Square with the AGA in the background on the right side.
The wonderful curvy surfaces inside the AGA.  Supposed to look like the northern lights.

Districts to Visit
I'd be writing about Shibuya, Shinjuku, or Akihabara for Tokyo normally.  In Edmonton, you visit Old Strathcona and 124 Street for some outdoor shopping, arts, eating, and walking.  If you are planning on going to the mountains and are on 124 Street, Mountain Equipment Co-op is a great place to get gear without having to look for a sale as they are a co-op.  I get most of my gear here.

Old Strathcona is chock full of places too eat (including some affordable Italian at Chianti's) and plenty of little shops to explore.  Up on 124 Street there are some very nice galleries, more shops, great Greek food at Koutouki, and of course the Duchess Bakery (was listed as one of the best bakeries in Canada).  Farmer's markets seem to be springing up everywhere and there are supposed to be three in Edmonton's downtown / Old Strathcona.  The grand daddy of farmer's markets is the one in Old Strathcona.

West Edmonton Mall
West Edmonton Mall is big enough to be its own district as it is one of the world's larger malls.  I'm putting the mall in this section as it is worth seeing if you have never been there for Galaxyland, the waterpark, and just to look around.  The T & T supermarket is a great place to shop for Asian foods or even to get a quick meal.  If you are collecting toys, anime, manga, and comics you can visit the following stores there: Comic King, Chapters for a large selection of manga, HMV for the city's best selection of anime, Comex Hobby, Collectors Edge, West Edmonton Coin and Stamp.

Bloggers make a big deal out of the various summer matsuri (festival) in Japan.  They are definitely fun and you can visit the temples / concession stands there, but Edmonton can hold its own for summer festivals.

Heritage Festival
The big one I look forward to every year is the Heritage Festival, which is a huge multi-cultural affair with booths and tents being set up by various cultural associations for what seems like every country on earth (it isn't of course, but it is a BIG festival in August).  There are demonstrations of crafts, ethnic dance, music, other arts, shopping for nicknacks, and of course you can eat yourself silly.  There are many other festivals such as the Fringe Festival for theater, the Street Performers Festival, Canadian Finals Rodeo, Jazz Festival, etc. K-Days with the big fairground and the Taste of Edmonton  also run at the same time.  Taste of Edmonton brings 50+ local restaurants together to showcase the food they can prepare.

Seeing Gardens
Don't miss the Muttart Conservatory for the different biomes they have under their pyramidal glass atriums.  It is a very nice place to visit and you can even stroll down to the riverside from there.

Devonian Gardens - Japanese Garden
Devonian Gardens - Japanese Garden
Devonian Gardens - Japanese Garden
The Devonian Gardens south of the city are beautiful and they have a great Japanese Garden too.

Transit / Trains
Tokyo has trains, bullet trains, and then more trains.  I like trains - they run better than buses.  We have the LRT or light rail transit.  It is interesting that both Calgary and Edmonton get their rail cars from the same company in Germany, but the trains are different.

South Campus Station
Corona Station - looks pretty cool from the right angle.
LRT cars.
Plenty of commuters that bike and then train it to work.
Right now, one main transit line serves the city, but more are coming.  Only the Churchill Square Station and the the Southgate Station are anything like a Tokyo train station as they connect underground or are very close to malls and other amenities.  Southgate is my favourite as you have department stores, shops, food court, and supermarket within a few minutes of the stop (even though the city and the mall operator couldn't quite get agreement to bridge the 40 feet or so between the mall and the station).  Corona Station downtown is worth a mention as it allows you to exit up to trendy 104 street with all of its nice restaurants, a Sobey's, 7-11, and weekend farmer's market (do check it out for a meal if you are in the area).  

You can visit the Royal Alberta Museum (the provincial museum) to get a great overview of the human and natural history of the province.  For a more immersive experience with pioneer history, a visit to Fort Edmonton Park is recommended.  You can see many original buildings from the 19th and 20th century and actors bring it to life.  A working steam locomotive will take you around the grounds.
Walk across the kilometre long High Level Bridge between Strathcona and the Provincial Legislature.

Speaking of old trains, you can cross the High Level Bridge by old street car from Old Strathcona to downtown.  There is even an old Japanese trolley car that was in operation in 2012, but is now undergoing maintenance.

Provincial Legislature
Edmonton is the provincial capital of Alberta.  The large sandstone legislature building just had the dome refurbished.  It is an impressive building with free tours and the grounds are very pretty.  The reflecting pools in front of the building often have people wading around in them, especially on Canada Day when it is a zoo.  There is also a massive below ground set of public tunnels here that can be a bit of fun to explore!

Lego model of the Legislature inside the public tunnel system there.
Note Darth Vader and Imperial troops that have entered the grounds.  Imperial troops have entered the base... crackle.... szzz.

Comics / Anime / Science
Anime and manga are one of the things that allowed Japan to have a massive soft power cultural export that has influenced generations of film makers, children, and adults.  We Canadians have mounties, bears, beavers, maple syrup, and the fact that we're usually friendly (mostly harmless).  However, Edmonton does have a number of places to shop for anime goods, comics such as Happy Harbour, and Warp One.  There are several big hobby shows too (with the big convention down in Calgary as the Calgary Comic Expo).
We don't have a giant Gundam robot, but we have huge feet and stockings at Southgate.
The Telus World of Science should also be checked out as they do have a variety of very interesting science exhibits.  They also have hosted fantastic exhibitions such as the Harry Potter and Star Wars Identities.

Food Trucks
There are piles of food trucks now in downtown Edmonton around lunch time.  In Tokyo, it can seem like there is a konbini (convenience store) on every corner near a train station, but here, it can almost seem like there is a food truck on every corner.

Little Village Lamb Burger and Greek Potatoes
You can get all types of things like lamb burgers, gourmet sandwiches, poutine, Vietnamese, and many, many more.

Chicken for Lunch Experience
There is always a line here for her Chinese food in the Scotia Place food court at lunch.  Amy is famous for there "crack" chicken which is a very tasty fried chicken in little strips / nuggets.  I like curry Thursdays myself, but they also have spicy Fridays, and Butter Chicken Wednesdays.  They have a syndicated show called The Quon Dynasty on TV or on Youtube, etc.

Eating Japanese Food
Nudoru Ramen Bar on Whyte Ave. Very tasty noodle soup.
Tokiwa Ramen at the Brewery District downtown. My favourite ramen place in the city.
Nomiya - good for their ramen, sushi, and tapas.  Hit their happy hour for food.
Wasabi - my favourite sushi place in town.  Restaurant has a long history here.
Mikado South Edmonton Common  - best upscale sushi and robata grill.
Kyoto downtown location - always good for lunch and their lunch bento.

Convenience Stores / Dollar Stores
The Japanese convenience stores or konbini are just better in terms of the food offerings and snacks.  7-11 has upped their game here for snack foods, but I'd say the Japanese version is still better.  However, we do have slurpees!  Daiso and some of the other 100 yen stores are pretty sweet for the types of products they offer back in Japan (or Vancouver), but Dollarama is the closest you'll come here to that with some decent offerings.  Our big drug stores kind of fill a niche between konbini and supermarket as some of the big London Drugs or Rexalls have pretty good selections of everything, including snacks.

Instant Noodles
No Ramen museum here, but I will mention that Edmonton does have an instant noodle plant in the form of Noodle Time.  I prefer Nissin myself (out of Japan or Hong Kong - not USA).

Edmonton is awesome at recycling and you don't need the crazy 5 different bins and extra education required in Tokyo.

Give Edmonton a visit if you're in the area, or pass through on the way to the Rockies via Jasper.  There is also some cool architecture too in the city too, but I'm not really going to cover that.  As a parting picture, the Kaye Clinic reminds me a bit of the Tokyo International forum in this image.

Other travelogue posts for Japan, Canada, and more.