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My Japan-box

I guess you could say my Japan-box is the bento box I wrote about on 2010/03/31, but no - this is a box neatly holding all my Japanese food items, much of which is supplied by Satsuki. The guy there should be proud - I'm pathologically unable to do "tidy", you should see my filing system. ☺

Here it is:

Box containing Japanese food.
As you can see, it mostly consists of noodles. Yummy! These photos were taken a few days ago, just before reception of a big order. Let's say at the moment I need a bigger box!

Let's look inside in more detail...

If a supplier is out of stock at the links provided, just wait a few days and try again...

Udon noodles

Udon noodles.
I thought I'd try authentic udon, and also a cheaper brand for comparison. Well, there's no comparison. The one on the right is made in China and is square-cut, like it is sliced from a big sheet, like thin tagliatelle. It is also slightly dusty.
By comparison, the one on the left, made in Japan, has soft rolled edges, and a lovely pearl texture. This is a good example of getting what you pay for. As for taste? I will let you know soon.
Odd weight for the Chinese pack - 227g is 8oz. This is either made for the British or for the American market. Who else is left using imperial measurements?

Fancier noodles

Fancier noodles.
On the left, soba, which is a type of noodle made using buckwheat. I find a mixture of this and regular noodles leads to a nice variety of textures. Why should a meal be limited to tastes when you can play with how it feels to eat it? Soba is harder and rougher than regular noodles. Soba itself comes in different strengths. The hardest soba (which I don't think you can get over here?) is like pure buckwheat. I imagine that would be like eating All Bran - useful if your insides need a polish. The soba pictured here is slightly 'heavier' than that which I used to buy at Bio-CoOp.
On the right, a specialty. Noodles with green tea. I've heard of (buy not seen) all sorts of strange flavours of noodle - fig (ummm...), sakura (cherry blossom, might be nice?). And here, green tea. Mom talked me into it, and I'm glad she did. It is nice, delicate, and slightly sweet. It would be utterly ruined by a western tomato sauce, but it beautifully carries a sweet and sour (aigre-douce in French) sauce. Not one of those cheap ones, one with bamboo shoots and pineapple chunks and such.

Soba noodles - 200g - €2.70 [Satsuki]
[there are other types - take a look at their noodle page]
Green tea noodles - 250g - €2.95 [Satsuki]

Kawaiï noodles

Wrapped noodles.
Fairly generic thin noodles ("somen"), but oddly lacking in taste - I think they are intended for soups where they will absorb and carry the taste of the broth. Certainly, that's how I use them. I picked these because, well, because I thought it was really cute having them in individually wrapped little bundles. Wrapped bunches in a mass-produced pack of... noodles. That's some lovely attention to detail, and you know what they say - God is in the details.

Dango

Dango flour.
I plan to make mitarashi dango (don't confuse with dango daikazoku!). These are little dumplings made of rice, which in the case of mitarashi, are covered with a sweetish soy-based sauce. However, while you might be able to squeeze rice into onigiri, making a dumpling out of rice would be somewhat more of a challenge.
Enter special gloopy rice flour which helps hold the whole thing together.
The one on the right, is Shiratama ko, a glutinous rice flour. It was purchased from Workshop ISSé (nice selection, but prices to make your eyes pop out on springs like a cartoon). I wanted, also, a different type of flour (Shiratama is a bit like odd little cornflakes) to give my dango more substance. I was searching for a different supplier and numerous magazines pointed me towards Kioko, but at the time I visited, their site was either down, or being redesigned. So I browsed the list and came across one with a cute name - the Satsuki that I have mentioned a number of times already. Ordering looked pretty simple, so I placed an order with an unknown vendor that had a cute name. In the time since then, I've come to know this company as both prompt and competent. An order filled on a Monday will be with me on a Wednesday.
I have noticed a few places offer some articles cheaper, but there's centimes in it really, so I'm going to stick with what I know works. The only thing I would like to change is the €6.90 postage option. It makes perfect sense for big orders, and everything is really well packed, but it has prevented me from ordering chewy sweets (I'll talk about these in a moment) - I don't see why four odd packs of sweeties can't be thrown in a padded envelope for a few euros... But, on the other hand, it would probably complicate Satsuki's computer system no end to know that sweeties could be posted, but bottles of sake are probably best not sent that way!
Anyway - Google and a cute name. That's what brought me to Satsuki. And, also, a desire for a different type of flour, namely that shown on the left.
While Google's page ranking algorithm seems to change on a heartbeat, right now Google.fr lists Satuski first when looking for Japanese food - see if this is still the case.

Condiments

Condiments.
Condiments are an essential part of any cupboard. We all know salt and pepper, but there are other things...
The big bottle is teriyaki sauce, a sort of sweet barbeque soy. It is good with meat, and between you and me, a big gloop mixed in with a tin of baked beans is delicious!
The smaller bottle is, obviously, soy sauce. There are many types of soy, just like there are many types of vinegar, however the basic is "sweet" and "regular". I have one of each.
You are advised to buy a known brand, not a store-brand. This is because the Suzi-wan pictured will keep "for up to six months" in a fridge, while the SuperU own-brand says it must be consumed rapidly. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
Another staple of Japanese cooking is seaweed. That's the big bag on the right. Granulated seaweed. I find it has quite a pungent taste, so it is best used sparingly.
Talking of pungent tastes, I picked up the wasabi powder (on the left) for a euro. Not been brave enough to open it yet - the "new hot line" of wasabi flavoured crisps blow traditional chili out of the water, as well as having incredible green colouring.

Yakitori - local supermarket or Satsuki - 250ml - €4.95
Soy - local supermarket or the extensive selection at Satsuki
Seaweed Ao-nori - 25g - €2.95 [Satsuki]
Wasabi powder - 20g - €1.00 [Workshop ISSé]
 
[as with soy, Satsuki has a range of seaweed and wasabi...
...of particular interest may be agar-agar powder (2×4g, €3.60) which can be used as a gelifiant
in preference to gelling agents derived from animals which are not vegetarian friendly.
]

Sweeties

Hi Chu.
Morinaga Hi Chu (high chew, get it?) sweets. Sublime. I offer a few to the girls at work and all who accept the offer really like these sweets.
In the words of eBay reviews - A1+++ would buy again! ☺
I wonder if these exist in, like, a big bag full!

Green apple flavour - pack of 12 - €1.80 [Satsuki]
Grape flavour - pack of 12 - €1.80 [Satsuki]
Also available: strawberry, mixed fruits, dragon fruit

Drinks

Drinks.
What no sake? Remember - I am allergic to alcohol so no, no sake...

I first wanted the coffee-in-a-can to stress out my cow-orkers; for the French are pretty specific about their coffee. I've even heard people say taking coffee with milk in it creates a poisonous concoction which is responsible for all sorts of intestinal maladies. That sad thing is, I quite it. And yes, you can taste it is derived from real brewed coffee, as instant isn't quite the same thing. Lightly milked, and sweetened (but not sickly so). Then there's melon milk. Just what it says on the can. Melon and milk (plus water, sugar, and some E-numbers). Unusual. Not bad, just... different. I've seen a lot of flavours of milkshake, but I don't think I've seen melon. This isn't a milkshake (too thin), but being a fruit-in-milk drink, it's the closest analogy.
Finally, apple juice. Apple juice is always good. You can enjoy Google's translation of the information page. Koiwai farm is a big place, nestled in the hills between two largish urban areas (in the prefectures of Akita and Iwate) right up at the top of mainland Japan, maybe 75 miles from where Hokkaido begins.

Coffee in a can - 330ml - €1.35 [Satsuki]
Melon milk - 250ml - €0.95 [Satsuki]
Apple juice no longer available? [Satsuki]
Lots of other non-alcoholic drinks.

Later, I'll talk about the various noodle flavours. Oooh, I bet you can't wait!

 

Chihiro Onitsuka - The Ultimate Collection

I always think it is bizarre when artists release an "ultimate collection". What does this mean future albums will be? The "less impressive slightly naffer ha ha you bought it, sucker! collection"?

Anyway. I was looking for "Ai Ōtsuka" on YouTube one morning after coming home from work. It was dark, I felt dead. Whinge whinge. So I typed it wrongly and got as far as oni when YouTube suggested onitsuka chihiro. Okay, I'll bite. The only other Chihiro I know is the girl in Ghibli's "Spirited Away". I looked her up. Likened by some to Dido and influenced by Jewel. Sounds like my kind of girl!

I downloaded "Gekkō" (simple version) and "infection" from YouTube and extracted the audio tracks. Not wishing to be a complete freetard, I wanted to get her album - specifically the one with both of these songs on it. Thus the hunt was on for The Ultimate Collection.

We can immediately discount iTunes. I see no reason whatsoever for service-specific software to purchase and download songs. And while it might be nice to be able to download MP3s, an actual CD is somewhat more substantial. Oh, and for what it is worth, she's not even on iTunes...

For an actual CD, I looked to Amazon Japan. Here it is (page in English, sort of), priced ¥2472 which is about €22. Paying an additional ¥2700+¥300 (about €28!) for postage, was not acceptable, never mind if/how it passes customs and if additional charges would be added.

So I tried French Amazon, who listed it at €46,95. Wow.
The French page has changed, before it listed the tracks and it listed fewer than the Japanese version. Error? There are the new and used, but most from the US for some thirty-plus euros. There's a reasonable selection, but at nearly €50 for a CD and €20 for a single, it is only viable if you have a job that pays pretty damn fine.
There used to be two tracks, both unavailable, for download. But now that's been completely removed.

For people who are on low incomes and would like something a little different to the usual manufactured pop, we're stuck. Half of my Zen's playlist has come from YouTube, Veoh, or recording animé themes off the telly... Why? Show me where I can download this stuff... legally...

A solution was eventually discovered. I know a guy who has a Japanese wife (jealous!) who was in Japan for a while (jealous×2!) and he basically said if I do him a cheque for €28, she'll get it and bring it back. All that she did, for basically the retail price in Japan! So I did and she did! Unending thanks to Nico and Akemi.

So... after all that... was it worth it?

Oh hell yes! I was looking forward to ripping the music to a better quality than an MP3 conversion of YouTube's AAC (which was probably auto-transcoded from MP3 in the first place!). But the thought of VBR quality level 2 didn't prepare me for the crowning music of awesome that is the first song on the CD, Ryūsei-gun, which means meteor shower. Encoded at average 240kbps, min 80kbps and max. 320kbps, it sounds pretty damn good with my setup (which could be improved, but...).
There's also a song called "We can go". Now, Chihiro can do her ls, if you listen to the solo vocals, but the backing singers can't, so the chorus begins: We can go to the prace... Mmm! Kawaiï!

But Ryūsei-gun. OMG, Ryūsei-gun. It has all the hallmarks of instant favourite song. That and "Watashi to warutsu wo" (Waltz with me).

 

WTF?

I was looking in the EUDict translator for "wadiwadiwa" which is used a fair bit in Ergo Proxy. After a bit of thinking, I eventually narrowed it down to "wareware wa" which means "we". But that's not the weird thing. The weird thing is the site offers a "recent searches cloud". Here's what it looks like:
Recent searches cloud
Note that entry I have highlighted, this following on from Lolita Complex. Really, if you wanna be a perv, do it in private!

 

Your comments:

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Rob, 12th July 2010, 17:36
ok, you've got me looking for her music. Couple of .flacs on usenet that will get me started! Are yesasia or cdjapan any better on prices for you?
Rick, 28th July 2010, 18:32
Aaaargh! cdjapan, aaaargh! I wanna buy, like, EVERYTHING. 
[well, not quite, but I could lose a few hundred euros in a half hour visit <sigh>]

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