My girlfriend and I were due to fly to Tokyo in April. It had been a trip we had seemingly been saving for forever, and was something we were both looking forward to. With my love of Japanese video games and shows like Pokemon, Japan had always seemed exciting to me, and getting to visit arcades and peruse overpriced-yet-interesting Retro Game shops was something I couldn’t wait for. Jade was equally as excited, as she loves Japanese street fashion, and enjoys collecting toys from the cutesy side of Japanese pop-culture like Sanrio, Hello Kitty and Gloomy Bear, so April couldn’t come soon enough for both of us.
Sadly April arrived, but not before covid-19. Our flights ended up being cancelled and we couldn’t help but mope. We both knew that covid-19 had affected everyone, and the inconvenience of our long-awaited trip being cancelled paled in comparison to some of the tragic situations that many unfortunate people were finding themselves in. But it was still disappointing none-the-less.
Before our trip, I had been talking to my childhood friend, one Dr James Morris, a professor of Japanese and East Asian religious history, based in Ibaraki Prefecture. I had initially messaged to pester him and his delightful wife Aki, asking them any and every question that I could think of about life in Japan, facilities, food, shops, hotels and more, primarily to better plan our trip and also just because I was excited and enjoyed the chatting! They were always keen to answer my queries. When it became clear that our trip wasn’t going to be happening, to try and alleviate our shared disappointment, James would send me and Jade videos of his journeys around the town that he lives (which looks utterly Studio Ghibli-esque), along with expeditions to shrines that he was visiting for his work, and excursions to toy shops and video game departments of stores. We couldn’t actually be in Japan, but getting guided tours via mp4 videos was the certainly the next best thing.
To somewhat show my appreciation for his guided tours, I had offered to send him and Aki a package of British snacks, just things I thought he might have missed somewhat since he had left the UK, and things I thought Aki might like to try. He initially seemed reluctant, (in all the years I’ve known him, he’s never seemed to be one who enjoys receiving gifts) but seemingly at my mentioning that it’d be fun to see Aki’s reactions to certain things, he agreed. However, before my package of snacks had gotten anywhere near to reaching the shores of Japan, Aki was already planning a return package full of Japanese goodies! She went a bit mad and a couple of weeks later we ended up recieving two huge packages full of all kinds of things! Because it was all so fun and interesting I felt the need to somehow make a note of it, so this is what this blog post is about.
Our huge hauls!
At this moment in time, we haven’t tried everything, as this lot will keep us going for a long time, but I thought I’d mention the few things that we have tried the past few days, or that really stood out to me. Aki had taken the time to thoughtfully put little notes on everything, explaining in English what things actually were.
Video Game Character Snacks!
Finding a grocery item that features a picture of a video game character in the UK is exceptionally rare. With the release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, I spent ages trying to find some of the limited packets of Bachelors Super Noodles and Pasta which were all adorned with Cloud, Aerith, Tifa and Barret from the game. But in Japan it seems to be a common occurrence to find food products with video game characters on them! If someone tells you that a food product won’t taste better just because it has Mario, Kirby or Pikachu on it, then they are wrong. Truthfully, I don’t know if that’s correct, as I’m not good at actually eating anything with a video game character on it, viewing it more like a collectable to put on my shelf than a food product to put in my stomach, but I’m really going to try and eat everything that’s been sent here.
“Men’s Plums!” A salted gummy plum flavoured snack.
Honestly, this candy was pretty horrendous, but only because I was expecting it to be sweet. Plums don’t usually have any connotation of being anything other than sweet, so putting one of these chewy gummy sweets on my tongue and instantly tasting salt wasn’t the best experience. Supposedly people eat these in the summer, to replace salt that has been lost through sweating. I haven’t tried another one since my initial one, so I may enjoy it more the second time around, knowing what is to come.
Star Wars and Pokemon Face Masks!
If you’re a heterosexual man in the UK, I think you’d unfortunately be scorned by friends for picking up a moisturizing/cleansing face mask, which is historically seen as a bit ‘girly’, But that’s probably down to the fact that you can’t buy face masks which look like Darth Maul or Stormtroopers here in the UK. I for one am very much looking forward to the experience of having my face nicely cleansed and moisturized whilst simultaneously looking like a nasty bastard of a Sith Lord.
The Pokemon face masks were intended for Jade, and I think she looks at them much in the same way as I do about video game themed snacks, so whether she’ll actually open them remains to be seen.
Wet wipe protective cover and little Sanrio plastic storage cases!
The packet of wet wipes was the first thing that I pulled out of the first package we received. And I was confused. Initially I had wondered if James and Aki had thought we would be so buzzed about the arrival of our packages that we’d run the risk of shitting ourselves in excitement, so they’d packed wet wipes so that we could immediately try to counter the situation if it occurred.
But nope, the reason for the wipes was because they had also sent a cutesy little stick-on wet wipe lid, which you can attach to any packet of wet wipes. This was definitely something more intended for Jade than me, as she loves cutsey things. The My Melody containers were also for her.
The next thing was something intended for me though!
Jump Ultimate Stars and Super Stars for the Nintendo DS!
I had mentioned to James a long time back that there were a few Nintendo DS games that were exclusive to Japan that I wanted to pick up during our visit, with the Jump games being one of them. Essentially the Jump series is a fighting game, featuring a multitude of characters from various anime and manga that are all pitted against each other. I haven’t played much of them yet, as Japanese games seem to be very tutorial heavy at times, but the few battles I have had have been fun, so it’s a great series if you’ve always wanted to batter the shit out of Goku using Naruto.
Unidentified Mysterious Animals!
I was instantly drawn to these products upon opening the package. Cryptozoology will always be something near to my heart, and these mysterious products bore images of the Loch Ness Monster, a Sasquatch, a dragon, Baphomet, an imp-like creature, and some red-eyed phantom. All of these would have been reasons that I would have picked up these products myself, if I’d spotted them in a store. I couldn’t imagine these being sold in country like America. Could you imagine the uproar within religious communities over there if a product was sold with a picture of a horned creature like Baphomet on the packet? People would collectively lose their minds.
Inside both of the packets were two trading cards and a packet of chewy candy balls. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to play the game that these cards are meant to be used for, and I was initially a little disappointed that I had two different Loch Ness monsters. But then I realised I had a skunk ape. I’m not sure what that is quite, but it sounds like a real-life version of Stinkor from Masters of the Universe, and that’s awesome.
This is the final thing I’m going to mention in this post as I could waffle on all day. Supposedly James’s parents had tried these seaweed strips when they visited Japan, and their reactions were apparently very similar to what Jade’s reaction was when she popped one into her mouth-
Although I found them to be quite salty with an almost fishy taste to them, I still found them to be inoffensive and I actually quite enjoyed them.
So there we go! That was just a few interesting things gifted to us by our pals in Japan! It’s certainly an experience trying prepackaged food from other countries, and everything from Japan seems to look either very traditional, uber futuristic, cute or cartoonish. And not being able to read Japanese makes everything more of a mystery, even when there are adorable little handwritten notes on everything to explain the basics of what an item is. But the experience always seems to be fun, even if the food item isn’t completely delightful to the taste.
James is an Editor-In-Chief at the Digital Orientalist, a far more grownup website than this one (although it’s still very interesting), which is essentially an online magazine run by a dedicated team of scholars, librarians, and students, all of whom share their collective experiences using digital tools in the Humanities, especially relating to their day-to-day workflow. If you’d like to check out the Digital Orientalist, you can do so here.
I don’t really give ‘shout-outs’ on this site very often, but as my girlfriend has just started a blog focusing on her crafting, jewelry, fashion, kawaii, collecting and all things pink, I should give her a mention as well. You can find her site ‘Confessions of a Magical Girl’ here.
More to come soon!