Hand-crafted from fragrant cedar wood by a traditional carpentry atelier in Akita Prefecture that has won the Good Design Award for its products. [US$48, €42.24]
The clip on its head allows it to be used as a handy memo holder. The retro-futuristic design gives it timeless appeal. [US$ 15]
Latte art pioneer Kazuki "George" Yamamoto delights in surprising his customers by drawing a manga character or cute animal in the foam of their coffee. It might take an extra minute to get your order, but it's worth it.
In a single day, he draws an average of fifty latte foam pictures and sculptures, in addition to running the cafe and managing the staff. You don't need to make a request: if he's in the right mood, he'll personalize your coffee with your portrait drawn in chocolate in the froth.
George is one of the pioneers of 3D latte art. "I started it in Osaka. It got picked up internationally and we had customers coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan." Last year, George moved to Tokyo to the Reissue coffee shop in fashionable Harajuku.
The Terra Cafe Bar is a sleek new cafe with wooden deck terrace down in the industrial warehouse and office district of Tennozu Isle, Tokyo. It's run by Terrada Warehouse Company, the huge storage company whose headquarters is located just behind the cafe.
Terra's unique selling point is its reliance on preserved foods (hozonshoku). The cafe sells only dried, tinned, pickled, frozen and preserved foods. The eat-in menu includes frozen bread, retort pack soups and tinned curries and stews. There's a bank of 25 microwave ovens down one wall where you can heat up your orders.
Everything is rather back to front in Japan when it comes to St. Valentine's Day. Chocolate manufacturers have to appeal to customers (women forced by social pressure into buying gifts for their male co-workers), so the designs are traditionally female even though the recipient is male. That's why there are so many cute cats, frogs, teddy bears, anime characters, and ubiquitous Hello Kitty chocolates.
It works out in the end though, since "giri choco" (obligation chocolates) are usually eaten by women anyway - the wives and girlfriends of the male office workers who look forward to enjoying the bounty of their partners' popularity at work.
Here are some of our favorite unusual chocolate designs for 2015.
Buddha Chocs. The image of a serene Buddha head statue is faithfully reproduced in these gold-wrapped chocolates from the Matilda Chocolate Collection.
Cat Chocs. These cute chocs with cat faces are produced by Felissimo Japan and Belgian chocolatier ChocoFino.
Much to the surprise of visitors, cardboard demon masks are a regular sight in convenience stores and supermarkets this time of year, as families with young children prepare for the annual Setsubun bean-throwing ceremony. "In with good luck, out with demons" is shouted during the ceremony by children as they pelt a mask-wearing demon (or parent) with dried soybeans.
The special kits, from candy company Denroku, are Y200, while a regular Y100 bag of soybeans (at 7-Eleven and elsewhere) usually comes with a free, somewhat more old-fashioned demon mask.
Following the success of Potato Cream, the mashed-potato specialty shop in Tokyo's Jiyugaoka, convenience stores and supermarkets are boarding the gourmet mashed potato train with products that look closer to desserts than side dishes.
Lawson's mushroom and vegetable salad has a rich, 'shroomy gravy studded with pumpkin and broccoli over a layer of whipped potato cream.
It may resemble an ice-cream sundae, but it's actually a dolled-up variant of the old British favorite, gravy and mash. Other varieties include Thai green curry and Italian tomato sauce. It'll be interesting to see how long this trend lasts.
Do you enjoy Doritos, but often find yourself wishing that they came in different colors, like green, and whimsical shapes, like Christmas trees? Maybe with more of a creamy, corn-chowder type flavor? If so, then you're the target market for these new, Japan-only, corn cream stew-flavored "Rock 'n' White Doritos" - in convenience stores from November 17.