Cool Stuff to Buy
Shopping - Table and Kitchen
Hand-crafted Cedar Sake Set
Sake Set
Lightweight, smooth to the touch and pleasantly aromatic, this sake flask and two ochokko (sake cups) will add an elegant touch to your table whenever you serve cold sake. The square flask has finger joints and a beveled lid, and the Chinese character for sake (liquor) on one side.

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]
Shopping - Desktop Stuff
Retro-futuristic "Sparking Robot"
Sparking Robot
The amazing Sparking or "Sparkling" Robot has a clear panel on its torso to reveal an electric storm of sparks in its core engine when wound up. It also moves relentlessly forward with a waddling action on concealed wheels.

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]
Cafes and Combini Archives
Cafes and Combini Archives
Trends - Cafes and Combini
3D-Latte Sculptor Kazuki Yamamoto Loves the Transience of his Art
reissue cafe

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.

latte art at cafe reissue
Image: @george_10g Twitter feed
latte art at cafe reissue
Image: @george_10g Twitter feed
Trends - Cafes and Combini
Only Dried, Frozen and Preserved Foods Are Served at this Intriguing Concept Cafe
terra cafe

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 cafe
terra 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.

Trends - Combini Watch
Five Only-in-Japan Valentine's Day Chocolates
cat chocolates
buddha chocolates

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.

stag beetles
Images: Yahoo Japan Shopping (Buddha chocs), Street Girls Snap (cat chocs), Tokyu Net Shopping (Greek gods chocs), 47 Club (frog chocs), Nagasaki Castella Center (book chocs) and Internetcom KK (beetle chocs)..
Trends - Combini Watch
The traditional bean-throwing ceremony in the age of anime
setsubun demon mask
setsubun demon mask

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.

yo-kai watch setsubun kit
This traditional rite seems to have suddenly entered the age of anime, as 7-Eleven is marketing setsubun kits (soybeans, mask and a square cup to hold the beans) featuring mischievous characters from the enormously popular Yo-Kai Watch anime and videogame franchise playing the role of demon.

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.
Trends - Combini Watch
Mashed Potatoes That Look Like a Sundae
mashed potatoes

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.

Image: Lawson
Trends - Combini Watch
Green Christmas tree-shaped "Rock 'n' White" Doritos

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.

That elusive creamy stew taste comes from a white flavoring powder which resembles snow, clinging to the green branches of the fir tree-shaped chips. The limited-edition snack will be available at Japanese retail outlets through mid-February 2015.
Image: Japan Frito-Lay Ltd..
Trends - Combini Watch
Crispy Eclairs from Lawson
How do you like your chocolate eclairs? Crispy of course! Which is why Lawson now double bakes its choux pastry eclairs to a crispy, toasty rusk texture, before adding custard cream and chocolate. Mmm, hard crumbly mouthfeel! Makes you wonder what's next for the rusk treatment?
Image: Lawson, Inc.
Trends - Combini Watch
Pink Pepsi Cola - Japan-only Release
pink pepsi
Pink Pepsi Cola is coming to Japan! The strawberry-milk flavored pink version will be available in convenience stores and other retail outlets in Japan from December 9, with a limited run of 150,000 cases. In previous years Suntory has released limited-edition, Japan-only runs of other unusual Pepsi flavors, including cucumber, shiso, and chestnut.
Image: Suntory Beverage and Food Limited