Montana in 読売ランド前

Night is falling on us once more as we come one day closer to the end of our journey through Japan. I, the assassin of Clan Uprising, have uncovered secrets untold from this land of sweets. These past weeks have most certainly satisfied all of our sweet teeth and given us an excuse to exercise for the rest of the summer.

My final experience was one of my favourite. Throughout our various quests we have sought out hidden areas, secrets only told to those who seek them. One such secret is the mystery of Montana in Yomiuri Land-mae 「読売ランド前」. This American state is transformed into a delicious bakery in Tokyo, just near the Yomiuri Land-mae station. The reason for the name is unknown, but the chefs at this bakery certainly do the state name proud.

My fellow Dragoon clan member, John, and I stumbled across his conversation partner Koji-san as we were trekking. Koji was more than happy to take us to his favourite pastry shop when we mentioned we were looking for a place where locals like to enjoy sweet treats. The cafe was just over a short bridge that looked over a beautiful river-side garden. As we came close we could see the cobblestone patio outside dotted with small chairs and tables. Although the patio is usually full with students coming from classes, it was early enough in the afternoon that we had the patio to ourselves.

Koji-san and John

Koji-san and John

As we entered the shop we were greeted with the ever friendly “Irasshaimase”「いらっしゃいませ」 by the store workers. They were interested to hear about us, where we were from and what we were researching. The workers, all of whom were ladies, were more than gracious as they showed us all the various pastries in the shop. They walked us through the daily routine of the shop from opening to closing, what needs to be prepared at what time and even how certain desserts were prepared. One of the most unique examples is the particular donut that they featured at their store which is different from one that we might find in Canada. The donuts are baked in a special tray much like a muffin tin and are not deep fried like the North American counterpart. This results in a softer, lighter pastry than what we would encounter. The shape is also slightly less rounded as the pastry only rises to a certain point when being baked.

The ladies were very kind in offered recommendations for both John and myself. Although the donuts were showcased, they picked out a cookie cream puff 「クッキシュークリーム」 for John and a blueberry pie 「ブルーベリーパイ」 for myself. The prices were 160¥ and 260¥ respectively. For the quality of the pastries the price was extremely reasonable. I would have most likely paid at least $5 for something of similar quality in North America.

After showing us around the interior of the shop and allowing us a quick peek of the kitchens, we headed outside to the patio to enjoy our treats. Enjoy them we did! The cream puff was fantastic with a light outer pastry and a denser cream center. There was not much of a cookie flavour so to speak, but it was delicious all the same. The blueberry pie was perfectly flaky, not too much or too little. Many Japanese dessert pies put a piece of butter on the top afterwards to add to the richness of the pastry. The blueberry pie was no different, and the butter took the flavour palette to another level. Warm and moist, the blueberry taste quite literally melted in your mouth.

Without a doubt, these were two of my favourite dessert experiences in Japan, and my favourite overall experience as we enjoyed the afternoon out on the patio. If you have a chance be sure to make your way down here and enjoy the hospitality of the lovely ladies working there.

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Machida Wagashi

Today, I set out on a quest to discover the connection between the appearance of wagashi, and the resulting taste. In the heat of the afternoon sun, I headed to a place called Machida. In a multi-storied building right beside the station in Machida, there was an entire floor filled with a variety of wagashi, springing out at you from all directions.

I chose three that caught my eye the most.

 

The first one is a picture of 「にこたま」. It’s shaped and colored like a peach on the outside. To my surprise, the taste was also very similar to a peach. You could still taste the mochi dough, and comprehend the texture that you were intaking was not a peach, but the sweet taste of the layer inside evoked very sharply the image of a peach.

The second picture is of 「青梅」(あおうめ). This wagashi also looked strikingly similar to the actual fruit. After the にこたま, I was expecting something similar with the 青梅 – a paste that tasted similar to the actual food, but wasn’t actually anything close to it. Instead of a paste, though, there was a layer of thin paste, and then within that thin layer was an actual dried青梅. In the center of the dried 青梅 was a seed. The entire wagashi instead apart from the seed was actually surprisingly really mushy, especially compared to all the similar wagashi that I’ve tried so far. The taste itself was kind of sour, but still had its innate sweetness.

Seed from wagashi

Seed from wagashi

The third picture is of 「あじさい餅」. あじさい in English is hydrangea. This wagashi in particular was presented really nicely, and a lot of minute details were added in. It was wrapped up beautifully on the outermost layer, then placed in a box in the next layer, and then arranged nicely in a separate container for the final layer. There were a lot of other wagashi that were decorated extremely nicely – such as jelly flowers of many different colors, but this one was chosen because the shop selling it recommended it on the basis that it was a seasonal taste for June. The texture in comparison to the other two wagashi was closer to the にこたま than the 青梅, but when I bit into it, it was anything but sweet. It actually had a rather mellow taste and a weird kind of overlaying one encompassing it. Looking closely at the inner contents, there looked to be some things shaped like flower petals in place of where the bean paste is usually supposed to be. I believe this was the emulation of the taste of hydrangea petals.

Although the actual food item in particular is not always present in the wagashi itself, the way that people are able to emulate the flavors to the degree that they do is one of the most amazing things that I discovered about wagashi on this journey.

AKB48 Cafe Crash

As my other comrades have stated, our long but unforgettable journey will soon come to a close. As I John, Dragoon of Clan Uprising, writing this now my mind begins to replay many memories. From visiting the Daibutsu 「大仏」, to indulging myself in Japanese history at the open air folk museum, reliving a nostalgic life as a kindergarten student, and receiving the ever loving support from a host family. Honestly, our time has passed by so fast. Helpful RA’s (Masa, Hiro, Erena, Tomoko), 専修大学 staff, ヤン先生 a wonderful and knowledgeable teacher, and lastly the students, or so I should say friends, that were made during this trip made my stay here an enjoyable one. The 専修 program is an experience which will be engraved in my heart until eternity. But alas I must cease these tears from falling for a Dragoon must always show a face of bravery and portray unmatched valor. So let us begin the final entry of greatness.

This week’s entry is about each member’s own experiences. While knowing that our main purpose is for researching sweets I could not help myself but wanting to introduce individuals to what is now a fixed niche in Akihabara. It is none other than the Japanese girl group, AKB48. Seeing AKB48, it should be normal for one to raise an eyebrow of curiosity. AKB48 is an all-girls pop group which has respectively gained popularity world-wide and are now treated as one of Japan’s iconic music symbols. How I discovered them was through listening to a particular song, “RIVER”. It talks about how life will not always provide a straight path for success when there is a river in the way, but by pushing through with determination and cherishing the united bonds of friends anything is possible. Through them, not only has it made me a fan but it has also piqued my interest, which is why I visited the AKB48 café today.

While it may seem like a distraction from our topic of sweets, I went on ahead and began my journey inside the café. Upon browsing the café due to my curiosity I decided to see what they had to offer and to my surprise I found this particular item.

It may seem like a normal parfait but it is unique in a sense that each ingredient included on the parfait is chosen personally by the AKB48 members and other sub unit groups (SKE48, NMB48, HKT48, SNH48, JKT48) and not only is it chosen by them but the ingredients also portray the particular speciality of each region/country. From SKE48>Nagoya there is Anko bean toast 「餡子トスート」, a fried cake looking toast with Anko paste that stems on Nagoya’s love for fried foods. NMB48>Osaka, known as well for it fried/grilled food variety, comes a sweet takoyaki-donut ball. From JKT48>Jakarta/Indonesia comes a delicacy well known in the South Asian region, deep fried banana. SNH48>Shanghai/China brings frozen mango pieces while HKT48>Hakata/Fukuoka features a round, red, sweet, and delicious ice cream based on the designs of Hakata’s well known cakes Hakata Tourimon and Hakata no Hito. Finally AKB48>Akihabara presents a cheap and well known treat in Japan known as Okoshi which is a dried rice confectionary. Here is what the real thing looks like!

The combination of many different ingredients made this dessert enjoyable and unique in a sense that there was always something new to try when eating the parfait. Included with the standard yogurt and flakes, the collaboration of ice cream, deep fried banana/anko toast/Tako-donut can make the customer wonder what he/she is eating. Nevertheless I found it enjoyable, a bit expensive being at 700円 but worth the try!

As stated earlier AKB48 is a girl group based in Akihabara, it is no surprise seeing their faces posted on every shop, poster, vending machine etc. Inside the actual AKB48 café/shop were many souvenirs such as towels, t-shirts, hats, key chains, and most importantly their CD’s. Being in Japan I had to purchase them. It gives a fan a sense of novelty and pride buying something from its place of origin. What was also inside, a stage where 3-4 AKB workers would put on a small entertaining live performance of stand-up comedy/songs for customers who wished to dine in the live stage. All in all, the trip to the AKB48 café/shop was an eventful one for me and while it may not suit the interests of some, the journey is definitely worth it if you are curious. If one so wishes to learn more about the history of the group magazines, profile cards, and photos are provided at the cashier. To conclude my reasoning for choosing the AKB48 café/shop was to provide a helpful insight as to why they are Japan’s top icons. They are constantly exposed to advertisements, Television shows, and the like. It would not be wrong to call AKB48 one of Japan’s famous attractions.

Treasures Under The Sea

My journey is coming to an end…

The past three weeks have really showed me the hospitality of Japanese people. To begin, the home stay last weekend allowed me to see how a regular Japanese family functions. Then for today, together with two Japanese students, a total of 6 of us explored Tokyo Disney Sea. Again, their hospitality amazed me. In both cases, they carefully planned everything and made sure us travelers would not suffer even if it brought inconvenience to them. How SWEET of them! Enough with the praising and let us go back to what this blog is about- SWEETS. I’ve been to 3 different Disney in 3 different continents (Tokyo, Hong Kong and Orlando) and conclude that the Japanese Disney has the most unique sweets.

First, I had a Tiramisu Ice Cream Sandwich. Many places have ice cream sandwiches but what distinguished this from others was its unique tiramisu flavour. It wasn’t overly sweet but enough to satisfy a craving on a hot day. Also, the price was nice as it was only 300円, which definitely wouldn’t be possible in North America.

Strolling along, we continued to find many other sweets exclusively available at Disney Sea. Every zone had its unique flavour of popcorn. Some of the interesting flavours were milk tea, strawberry and curry. The picture below is the strawberry flavoured popcorn that our Japanese host very thoughtfully bought for us all while we were waiting inline for a ride. We all agreed that it was a little sweet, or maybe it tasted extra sweet because of the sweet thought of our host.

Then, there were the“Tortas “. I tried the one on the left which was Orange & Cream Cheese, and the Chocolate on the right was shared by Linda; both were delicious. The orange and cream cheese was very tasty even though I’d consider it to be a rare combination. Not one flavour was overpowering so it was a delight to eat. The chocolate one tasted like a brownie and was good as well. Nothing can go wrong with chocolate I guess, but I’m glad I took the chance and tried the orange one.

Last but not least are these wonderful cookies that Ethan shared with us all. As you can see, there happened to be a total of 6 different kinds and there happened to be 6 of us, which was perfect. Although these cookies were eaten, we’d always remember them. Just like all the friends we’ve made here during our short but memorable month; we’d be parting soon but we will always remember…

The Omiyage Trap

During our training today, our master Akaki Sensei  brought us some treats from the ancient land Kyoto. Every place in Japan has its own famous omiyage (お土産) and it is the habit of a Japanese person to bring back omiyage whenever they travel.  From the different journeys we have taken, we’ve noticed that okashi (お菓子) has got to be the most common omiyage. For example, Kamaruka has its famous chicken shaped cookies and Kyoto has its famous Yatsuhashi  (八つ橋). However, no matter where you are, you can bet your life that you will find something that has a red bean filling. It is the most popular filling for okashi hands down.

We were told by our master that Yatsuhashi is the most popular omiyage in Kyoto. Yatsuhashi are traditional Japanese confectionaries that come in a triangular shape and can be filled with different fillings such as cinnamon, matcha and red bean paste etc. The ones we had were filled with red bean paste. Also, the wrap is raw and unbaked, which gives it a nice soft and doughy texture. There is nothing quite like that in western sweets.

Japanese omiyage okashi  have two distinctive characteristics. One is that they are ALWAYS , ALWAYS,ALWAYS  packed nicely and beautifully. Yes, it’s a trap. Since not all are created equally, not all are delicious so one is easily deceived by the appearance of the okashi.  As you can see in the pictures, there is the attractive exterior paper wrapping, then the box, and inside the box the sweets are wrapped in plastic.  Even the paper bag that they put the omiyage in is well designed. We are amazed by the effort that is put into the presentation of it all. The next characteristic is the freshness of the product. There is always an expiry date on the package. As you can see, the expiry date of this particular box of Yatsuhashi is 5.28.13. We have yet to find something with an expiry date past 4 months of the date of purchase.  Along with the attractive packaging, how can you not want to buy it?

Quest for Taiyaki

Taimu Taiyaki

The sun shone down as John and I made our way through the crowded market place on the beginning of our quest. The air was humid and full of exotic smells; the pulse of a sea of people surging all around us. We had accepted the job request at the clan headquarters earlier that day from a Non-Player Character. The NPC, Yuya, was helping us on our way and showed us where to start. The mission was a straight-forward one; find the famous local Taiyaki 「たい焼き」 shop.

With our weapons in hand we slowly pushed through the masses, careful to avoid pickpockets and thieves though the area was a safe one. As we rounded a bend in the avenue a faint aroma drifted towards us. The NPC pointed ahead to a small shop with a large open window front, Taimu Taiyaki 「たいむたい焼き」, our destination.

Taiyaki is a delicious snack in the shape of a fish that can be consumed to refill the health bar of adventurers such as ourselves. Originally made in Azabu, Tokyo in 1909 taiyaki has become a common street food. It can be found all over the place, including Japanese festivals. Fillings such as red bean, custard, sweet potato, chocolate, and even cheese are available. An ice cream version is also available with matcha, custard, and red bean flavours, which is perfect for ice cream lovers. The taiyaki at Taimu Taiyaki was 120 円 for the regular and 150円 for the ice cream variation.

Warm たい焼き

Ice Cream たい焼き

We were lucky to have discovered this shop among the bustling city streets. Their taiyaki was perfectly cooked with a golden brown skin, warm to the touch. If cooked improperly taiyaki can be very messy; this had the right consistency though and was a pleasure to eat. We were able to speak with the cook about the process and his feelings about taiyaki.

After having worked there for over a year and a half, the cook said that the process of baking taiyaki is quite simple. After the batter is prepared it is squirted into the fish molds and the filling is scrapped on top. A second mold is beside and designed to sandwich the pastry to cook. The second mold is also filled slightly with batter before the two molds are pressed together. The taiyaki takes about 4 to 5 minutes to bake fully, just about enough time for your mouth to start watering.

Clean molds

Adding batter

Red bean filling

Custard Filling

Fill second mold

Both the freshly baked and iced taiyaki were fantastic in texture and flavour. The pastry was very light unlike other taiyaki we have sampled. The filling was flavourful and rather unique, adding a twist to something that is such a common snack. Our quest for the local delicacy was complete as we left with full bellies.

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Kamakura Wagashi

Battlemage Xin reporting in! This week we set off on an adventure into the heart of a far off land known as Kamakura, which was once the samurai capital of Japan. Although each adventurer had to travel along separate paths, we all discovered the immense variety of traditional Japanese sweets that could be found along the roads in Kamakura. I could feel the magic in my battlemage blood tingling as I set off on this quest that was sure to have sweet treats to discover. We picked out several wagashi that caught our eyes, gleaming like so many gems from the shops lining the busy market. Below are listed the names, approximate prices, and a few comments on the presentation, texture and flavor of a few that we thought stood out, including  a purple taro flavoured wagashi which seemed to be rather popular.

三色団子 100円

-presented in a clean and simple manner

-no noticeable difference in flavour between the 3 different colours

-plain-type of sweetness that many people can relate to

桜のひとくち大福 (Daifuku) 200-300円

-no special presentation; wrapped up in individual plastic wrappers

-lighter, more delicate taste with a potato starch coating

-sweetness was a bit overpowering

紫芋福餅 (Sweet Potato Mochi) 700円

-organized in a box and then wrapped up

-really soft outer texture, but firmer inside

-sweetness was also overpowering

かしわ餅 (Kashiwa Mochi) 200円

-squishy-looking mochi wrapped up specially within folded leaf

-inside were red beans that added a nutty texture

-sweetness was not overpowering, and instead felt balanced due to the bitter taste of the leaf and matcha in conjunction with the sweetness of the rest of the sweet

桜きんつば (Sakura Kintsuba) 140円

-rectangular-shaped sweet wrapped up in a paper-thin wrapping

-subtle sweetness (overall not that sweet)

-slightly sour and tangy

-difference in texture between outside and inside (inside is gooey)

-tab bit of cinnamon-like taste which adds a strong aftertaste

 

Overall, although most of the mochi derivatives were rather similar in texture and taste, there were subtle differences between all of them. For example, both the daifuku and taro-flavoured mochi had a bit of an overpowering sweetness, while the dango and kashiwa mochi both had a more subtle level of sweetness. Additionally, each of them had a different level of softness, and some of them were different between the inner and outer layers.

There was a huge distinction, though, between the mochi derivatives in comparison to the kintsuba. All of the mochi derivatives had a much softer texture compared to the kintsuba. The kintsuba’s outer texture was vastly firmer, and the flavor left a stronger aftertaste. This is because kintsuba is coated in a glutinous rice flour and then cooked. The proper way to cook it is on a flat cook top so that the sides are flat and not lumpy. Seeing this recipe come together is like magic, something I know quiet a lot about.

These various forms of wagashi are delicious and small. They are perfect snacks to try out when exploring the temples of beautiful Kamakura. Battlemage Xin out! See you next week adventurers!

Sakura, Sakura..

This week, with my fellow combater John by my side, we’re bringing sakura 「桜」 to everyone’s palette. To begin, we tried sakura flavoured Swiss roll, sakura rice jelly pancakes and finally sakura dango 「団子」. As the white mage in Clan Uprising, I wondered how Sakura would taste in the different styles of desserts and what health benefits it might have. It is claimed that cherry blossoms can prevent cancer, heart diseases and reduce cholesterol levels, but whatever health benefits Sakura might have would probably be lost in desserts loaded with cream and sugar.

We first ventured into Muji to find our sakura Swiss roll and pancake. Here is a little information about Muji. The name Muji is short for Mujirushi Ryōhin 「無印良品」which is known for its simplicity and no brand approach. The company was founded in the 80s and has gained huge success throughout the years to become an international company that has stores in over 20 countries.

 

Back to the sweets, the Swiss roll was 100円 and the pancake came in a pack of 3 for 126 円. Both items were very Japanese with the sakura incorporated into it but were obviously influenced by western sweets. It was interesting that the sakura pancake didn’t smell like flowers but the Swiss roll did, even though they had a similar cake texture. The rice jelly pancake smelled like a typical western pancake. What made it unique was that it had red bean paste inside along with rice jelly. Red bean paste is also seen in many Chinese and Korean desserts. Red bean paste is commonly paired with matcha so I wasn’t expecting it to be in the sakura pancakes. We agreed that the Sakura Swiss roll was more delicious. It smelled like flowers and the Sakura added a nice hint of sweetness to the cake.

Now, turning to the traditional sweets, the amazing dango purchased in Kamakura 「鎌倉」. There were many little shops that sold traditional Japanese sweets, which was an awesome opportunity for us. We found a Sakura infused dango that cost 130円. The Sakura was very distinguishable and added a nice natural and earthy flavour to the sugar it is coated in. This was the best tasting Sakura flavoured sweet out of the three. Now we can say we know what Sakura tastes like. Quest completed and now time to return to the clan headquarters.

Sakura Dango

Cavern of Sweets

Salutations weary individuals! How have your travels been treating you? Clan Uprising here, bringing you guys a view into the most delicious episodes of sweets! This week my fellow Battle Mage, Xin, and I have ventured into the 「コンビ二」 (Convenience Store) known as 「ローソン」 (LAWSON). As previously mentioned, convenience sweets were on the list of our many priorities. Let’s take a look shall we?

Lawson's コンビに

A little background info on Lawson: It is currently placed second to Seven Eleven in Japan and sells a variety of goods like its counterpart in America, the only difference being that alcohol is also sold here. Upon entering the unknown world of Japanese convenience, we were first amazed by how wide the selection was! From 8 different flavours of onigiri to ready-prepared meals of curry rice, konbini never fail to steal a few glances from individuals.

Observing the many prices of sweets most ranged from the prices of 105yen-400yen. Essentially the portions offered were considerably large compared to American counterparts of Snickers, Twix, and Kit Katts. We decided to research 3 specific types of sweets, please note the size and price of each and compare them with the mental image you have with American-type convenience stores!



「ひやしゅわラムネ」ラムネ is a Japanese carbonated drink distinctively known for its bottle appearance with a marble inside、「ロッテ クラソキーチョコレート 1マイ」Crunch Chocolate which is a combination of malt puffs and chocolates、finally「ヤオキソ リラックマプ リン味ゼリー」which are miniature custard puddings which can be refrigerated or eaten as in. Overall the treats are a great deal, providing an awesome snack at a significantly lower price than most snacks found in a North American convenient store.

 

The「ひやしゅわラムネ」ラムネ was really quite interesting. As a hard candy it is sweet with a hint of sourness that does not overwhelm. Inside the package there are 4 different variations, and although they are slightly varied the end result is a fizzy lemonade taste that leads into a sour aftertaste. It really is like having a carbonated lemonade on a hot day.

「ロッテ クラソキーチョコレート 1マイ」 is a chocolate bar that is actually quite familiar. It is almost exactly like the Crunch bar found in North America though a lighter variation. The chocolate is prepared in such a way as to not take away from the texture, while providing a solid base for the pallet to enjoy.

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「ヤオキソ リラックマプ リン味ゼリー」 pudding cups are adorable snacks packaged in such a way as to be extremely convenient. The difference in milk quality from a North American counterpart is slightly noticeable, but the pudding is nonetheless a tasty treat especially for a younger crowd. A slightly tangy aftertaste is the only downside to these snack packs.

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Every product displayed here is truly budget friendly to any individual and the amount given is very humble. Low on money? One could definitely enjoy buying a whole days’ worth of food at コンビ二 while it might not be the healthiest choice it is definitely worth checking out the unique varieties.

Leap of Faith

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Like Altaïr we all must take a leap of faith at points in our lives. As our group of adventurers has set out across this beautiful city we have taken chances to try new tastes in the desserts we encounter. Our first week in Japan has been full of opportunities for this. This past Friday we took a trip to Tokyo Skytree located in the Sumida Ward of the metropolis. Tokyo Skytree, at a height of 634 metres, is the tallest structure in Japan.

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At 350 metres is the Tembo Deck which houses the Sky Restaurant 634, and the Skytree Café. I had heard rumours of an ice cream treat sold here that was quite unique. What we found was a Sky Tree ice cream with sweet vinegar and wafer topping on top of cereal crisps. The Japanese name is スカイソフト and I tried it with a りんごの酢 which is apple vinegar. First thoughts about putting vinegar on ice cream tell me that it would be very bitter, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was absolutely delicious! The slightly tangy vinegar drizzle blended with the ice cream to create a smooth, rich flavour while the wafer and cereal crisps added a crunchy texture.
In terms of the quality of dairy and the ice cream used there did not seem to be much of a difference if any between what we would experience in North America. This may or may not have to do with the fact that it was a soft serve ice cream.

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The ice cream itself costs ¥450 which may seem slightly overpriced for the size of the portion, but you must keep in mind that this is a major tourist attraction in Tokyo, Japan. Considering that you could probably do a lot worse than this price so I believe it is a fair price at that.
Other flavours that are offered for the vinegar topping are blueberry ブルーべりー, lychee レイシ, and the FUJI apple I tried. The café also offers soft drinks, vinegar sodas 酢ソーダ, children drinks, coffees and teas, and various simple snacks and sweets all in the Skytree motif.

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