About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

What I Like About June


June 2nd is National Donut Day!
I’ve already admitted to a weakness for donuts. And I live in L.A., where there are at least 680 donut shops in L.A. County alone—200 more than New York City and three times more than Chicago’s biggest county. That’s a lot of temptation! But mind you, I don’t go for the national franchises like Winchell’s or Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. Nor do I think it’s worth buying the “gourmet donuts” that overcharge for lemon poppyseed and maple bacon bits. I like to support the Mom&Pop places with the pink boxes. They’ve been outlasting their trendy competition for years with just plain glazed twists and old-fashioneds.

The pink boxes have their own story. It’s apparently regional and an L.A. thing, but you definitely know what’s inside when someone brings a box to work. Cambodian refugees started it all when they came to SoCal in the 70s and a few entrepreneurs got into the donut business. Originally, donut boxes were made of smooth coated white cardboard, but when the main box supplier passed away, a cheaper alternative became more popular among the Cambodian community. The pink boxes meant less cost, plus the color was better for their cultural beliefs anyway—white is associated with mourning, while red is the color of good fortune. Pink isn’t exactly red, but it’s a lot closer than white! You can’t argue with the longevity of the pink donut box, oil stains and all.

Here’s a couple of Zojirushi recipes to help celebrate National Donut Day:
Gluten Guilt Free Donuts
Donuts Baked Not Fried


June 10th is National Iced Tea Day!
I prefer iced tea over iced coffee, I think. I’d rather have my coffee hot. The problem with ordering iced tea at restaurants though, is that they never have simple syrup around to sweeten your tea. You have to dump granulated sugar in it and clink noisily as you try in vain to dissolve all of it in your glass. I’ve never understood this, since simple syrup is common everywhere in Japan. Of all the varieties of fruity teas, milk teas and lemony teas that you can get today, the version I like best is what I drank for the first time while I was living in Japan.

It’s called Brandy Tea and it’s so easy to make I do it at home sometimes when I’m craving it on a hot summer day. You simply brew some strong black tea (Lipton tea bags are fine) and sweeten it as you prefer. If you do this when it’s hot, it saves you a lot of clinking. I like mine pretty sweet because you have to compensate for the ice to be added later. Then pour it over a glass full of ice and stir to chill. The final amazing ingredient is just a small amount of cognac or brandy, maybe just a teaspoon for a tall glass of tea. Don’t worry, there’s not enough alcohol to make it a boozy drink—it just blends perfectly with the sugary, robust tea and adds a completely different dimension to an ordinary iced tea. The best way to drink iced tea, IMHO.

Here’s a couple of Zojirushi recipes to help celebrate National Iced Tea Day:
Iced Black Tea
Iced Green Tea (Sencha)

June 18th is Father’s Day! (yay!)
The day when us Dads finally get our due, even if it’s only one day a year. No, I’m not complaining. It’s great being a Dad and I love the attention, but I’m not the type to need things because I already have everything I could want. I’ll have to start dropping hints soon so my family can spend wisely on me.

Take me out to dinner? Nah—breakfast or lunch is fine at our local Hawaiian place. Corned Beef Hash & Eggs for breakfast or Loco Moco for lunch; I wouldn’t complain about either. To be honest, what I really like is my wife’s homemade Spam Musubi. We always have good quality rice in the house, a very good cooker (Zojirushi of course), and good quality nori sheets. She always slices the Spam in generous thicknesses and she uses a secret sauce to flavor it (I think it’s from a bottle, but she won’t tell me what kind). Keep fresh in plastic wrap and I’m good for Sunday and the day after for my lunch at work, LOL!

Gifts? Maybe they can get me a set of Legos so I can build the AT-AT Walker and recreate the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. Did I ever reveal that I was a Star Wars and a Lego nerd at the same time? Here’s the carbonite freezing chamber from that movie. Enlarge to see the detail!
Princess Leia (to Han just before he gets dropped into the carbonite): “I love you.”
Han: “I know.”
That’s just classic!!

Here’s a couple of Zojirushi recipes to help celebrate Father’s Day:
Loco Moco
Spam Musubi

June 20th is National Ice Cream Soda Day!
To certain people that even care, there apparently is a difference between an “ice cream soda” and a “float”. I guess the old-fashioned ice cream sodas were made with seltzer water, ice cream and a flavored syrup of one kind or another. The classic ones were mixed with chocolate syrup. A float is the same thing except with pre-flavored soda like Coke, root beer or orange soda. Personally, my favorite kind of ice cream soda is the Japanese “Melon Cream Soda” that’s difficult to get here. This is the classic (in Japan) green drink that I would always ask for when I was a kid. It’s easier to make your own than trying to find one at a Japanese restaurant here—get some green Melon Soda at a Japanese market, drop in a scoop of vanilla and you’ll see why some of us never outgrow it!

June 21st is the Summer Solstice!
The first day of summer and the longest day of the year! Living in the hot, humid days of summer in Tokyo, I used to hate summer—twice a day showers, loss of appetite, having my glasses fog up everytime I stepped into an air-conditioned building, dreading that my next train wasn’t air-conditioned, etc. But SoCal summers are the best time of year for me now! I can’t help but appreciate the longer daylight, and we don’t get humidity! I don’t miss summers in Japan. Shown below is a farmer couple taking a break from the heat after working the sugar cane fields of Okinawa.

So if June 21st is the longest day of the year (for the Northern Hemisphere), when we get the most direct sunlight, why isn’t it necessarily the hottest day, too? Because earth’s oceans take longer to absorb and release heat than the air or even land. Even though we’re getting maximum sun in June, the oceans and the land are still relatively cool from recent spring temperatures. Gradually though, the effects of the sun catches up and all that heat starts to release into the atmosphere—which is why the hottest summer temperatures start to take effect in late July or August. So logical!

What do you like about June?

Photo credits: Melon Soda by Japan Centre; Ice Tea by Przemyslaw Idzkiewicz (creative commons); Farmers by Tech Sgt. Rey Ramon, U.S. Air Force; and Bert Tanimoto

Kodomo-no-hi (Children’s Day)


On the “mainland”, or what’s known as the Continental U.S. for those of us that live here, May 5th is an excuse to go eat tacos and drink horchata and pretend to be Mexican for a day, because, who doesn’t love Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo? But in Japan and Hawaii, you’d probably see some colorful carp flying from poles that signify Boy’s Day; also known as Children’s Day in modern and more politically correct Japan. I’ve been flying carp at my house ever since my son was born, and I still do it today even though he doesn’t live with us anymore. I have four fish on my pole, which represent Dad, Mom, big brother and little sister.

In 1948, Japan declared May 5th to be a national holiday, combining Girl’s Day on March 3rd with Boy’s Day to form Children’s Day, thus taking advantage of other national holidays during the same time and cluster them into a Golden Week. If you ever have a chance to visit Japan or live there—trust me, you do not want to test the crowds during this longest holiday period of the year. People can’t wait to get out of town quick enough, so the train stations and airports are jammed.

I always thought the Japanese-Americans in Hawaii tended to hold onto their traditions more tightly than the Japanese do, which to me, is both charming and wonderful. Japan is just too modern in some ways. During my first Boy’s Day as a child, my parents gave me a traditional doll of a samurai warrior, which was supposed to convey strength, character and bravery—the trademarks of Boy’s Day. I still have the doll today, and it is awesome! Check out the detail on this thing! The warrior’s name is Benkei, a monk who served under Minamoto no Yoshitsune during the 12th Century.

Benkei was a mountain of a man at 6’7” and legend has it that he died while defending his master’s castle while Yoshitsune was inside committing ritualistic harakiri. Knowing it was too dangerous to confront Benkei from up close, his enemies rained arrows on him from afar—only to see him still standing after doing considerable damage to his body. When the soldiers dared to get closer, they saw that Benkei was dead, but he had died standing up! Whoa—a super hero for sure! My Benkei has done a pretty good job of protecting our house up to now–I think I’ll pass him on to my son so he can protect his home, too.

Even if you don’t have a samurai warrior doll of your own, you can still celebrate Children’s Day by making a paper samurai helmet with your kids. This classic origami pattern is called a kabuto, and is fairly easy to fold. If you start with a large piece of paper like newspaper, they can actually wear it on their heads—just make sure you start with a perfectly square piece, like you would any origami. And by the way, if you are a Star Wars geek like I am, you know that George Lucas was heavily influenced by Japanese historic culture. The kabuto is no exception—where do you think Darth Vader’s famous helmet shape came from?

The traditional sweet treat on Children’s Day has always been kashiwa mochi, a kind of football shaped rice cake filled with sweet red bean paste. The dessert is then wrapped in an oak leaf, which symbolizes good luck for the new generations because old leaves don’t fall from the tree until the new ones sprout. Oh, that’s kind of deep if you think about it! This is one of my favorite Japanese mochi desserts because the oak leaf actually imparts a kind of earthy fragrance to the mochi that is subtle, but quite nice.

If you can’t get kashiwa mochi but still want to celebrate Kodomo-no-hi, just use some of the recipes that you can find online or on Zojirushi.com that are fun for kids. These are just a few suggestions to get you started:
Gomoku Sushi
Tenmusubi
Soboro-don

Happy Children’s Day!

 

image sources: Koinobori by Australia Japan Society, Golden Week by Japan Times, Kashiwa Mochi by Suguri_F (creative commons), Recipes by Zojirushi, other images by Bert Tanimoto

 

 

International Housewares Show 2017

Every year, the housewares industry flocks to Chicago to attend a huge conference called the International Home + Housewares Show. If you are in the kitchenware, home furnishings or cleaning products business, you’re probably either exhibiting your products or looking for what’s new at this show, walking the halls of the enormous, multi-level McCormick Place convention center. Since my day job is marketing and PR for a major kitchen gadget manufacturer, I’ve been going to Chicago for the past 7 years. Want a tour of what the Show looks like? Read on!

Oh, and at the end, find out how to win a Zojirushi FreshBrew Coffee Maker! THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

“My kind of town, Chicago is.”
As Frank Sinatra used to sing, Chicago is a cool town, and I love it. It’s a big city in every sense, and people move with a purpose and seem to work hard. Maybe it’s the weather; you can’t be soft and live here.
Scenes from Chicago: (left) Mr. Lincoln discusses the Gettysburg Address with a modern day man. (right) The Chicago River with a peek of Lake Michigan beyond.

Getting around Chicago at night—either catch a carriage or catch a cab.

It’s starting to get hectic.
Day One, and people are just starting to stream in.
McCormick Place is awesome.

A bank of coffee servers greets the guests.

The escalators get a lot of work.

Entrance to the great South Hall, where all the kitchenware manufacturers are exhibiting.

So many exhibitors!
With over 2000 exhibitors in 3 different halls, it’s nearly impossible to see what everyone has to offer in just 4 days. There are also panel discussions, seminars, cooking demonstrations and live events happening everywhere!A bird’s eye view of the floor.

Our favorite brand…
This is a smaller booth that Zojirushi has in this section of the Show, to show their line-up of travel mugs and lunch jars. So many manufacturers had some kind of hydration product this year, it was as if everyone finally got on the same train Zojirushi has been engineering for decades!The girls are making sure everything is perfect for when the doors open.

Rick Bayless and Ming Tsai
Rick Bayless is about to do a cooking demonstration at the KitchenAid Station. Ming Tsai, who also is scheduled to do one here, jokes around and is giving Rick a hard time. Chef Bayless is famous for his modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine. Almost every renowned chef comes to this Show, either to promote their own restaurant or to show off their brand of kitchenware. All the chefs greet each other at the Show by their titles, which is always, “Chef”.Cooking demos are held everywhere at the Show, including at individual booths sponsored by the manufacturer, onstage and in banquet rooms for invited guests.

The North Hall
This hall is mainly for home furnishings and cleaning products. If you want to see the latest in vacuum cleaner technology or self-opening trash cans, this is where you want to do your research. One of my favorite companies, SimpleHuman, who design really nice high-tech furnishings for the kitchen and bath, had a booth this year completely enclosed in a shiny black cargo container. Awesome!A familiar icon: Mr. Clean!

Lunchtime!
Food at any convention center always leaves a lot to be desired. My vote for best bet at McCormick is Connie’s Pizza. They’re pretty good and it’s better than the McDonalds right across it.A quick slice of veggie pizza and a salad.

The Pantone Exhibit
Color trends are important in our industry. And who better than Pantone to set the trend, right?
The Pantone Color Watch exhibit


Announcing the Color of the Year at the Pantone presentation. Gasp! It’s going to be GREEN!

Zojirushi at IHA 2017
Zojirushi has their main booth in a section called the Lakeside Center, along with other small electrical appliance manufacturers like Kreurig, Cuisinart, KitchenAid, etc. I like the open airiness and stylish design of their booth, don’t you? The girls out front are busy the whole day cooking and passing out samples.
Inspirations from everyday life.

A line-up of rice cookers on display.


A shelf of NEW products being introduced to the world. Be sure to follow Zojirushi to learn more!

On My Way Home
On my last day in Chicago, I decided to try Chef Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill. This is his tortas stand inside O’hare airport. The food was excellent, by the way.For airport food, this is an impressive and extensive menu.

Taqueria salad, Corn & Poblano Chowder, Guacamole and Chips. Everything was really tasty; his guacamole is outstanding!

Reporting from the 2017 Housewares Show…
Hopefully you enjoyed the peek inside the workings of the housewares industry; it’s a huge conference and cannot be covered in a single article. This year’s show featured 2204 exhibitors from 47 countries, attended by over 62,000 housewares professionals in 4 days.

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

30 Days For 30 Years Giveaway!
Write a comment on my post for a chance to win this Fresh Brew Coffee Maker from Zojirushi! That’s all you have to do—so easy! Good Luck!
For official rules, go to this page: RULES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos: Pantone Color of the Year courtesy IHA, FreshBrew by Zojirushi. All others by Bert Tanimoto

 

 

National Pack Your Lunch Day

LOL! Did you know March 10th is National Pack Your Lunch Day? Well, you do now, and since I’m a devoted lunch packer everyday, I’m inviting everyone to help me celebrate this great day coming up! This isn’t to be confused with National Bento Month, which Zojirushi started in September, but we can all appreciate the advantages to bringing your own lunch from home. It’s as healthy as you want it to be, cheaper than buying, portion controlled, and probably tastes better than quickie fast food (if you like what you had for dinner the night before).

For me, the last reason is important because there aren’t many places to eat near my office that I think is worth plunking down $10 for lunch. I’d rather help with the leftovers from dinner. Mind you, if it weren’t for the microwave in the lunchroom, I’d be severely limited in what I could bring. I can only eat so many cold sandwices and salads in a week. Thank goodness for bentos though, which often can be eaten at room temperature. If you want some tips on what to pack, Zojirushi has some great ideas in their newsletter that you can find here. And if you own one of their thermal Lunch Jars, you won’t even need that microwave. You can pack a hot meal right in the jar.

What I usually do is use my thermal jar to bring a hot soup, like chicken noodle soup if I’m packing a sandwich, or miso soup if I’m bringing a Japanese dish. Then for a food container, I like to use the glass types with the locking lids because I’m always bringing last night’s curry rice or some kind of pasta dish; and I hate how the plastic ones get stained. My daughter doesn’t like the glass ones because they get too heavy in her backpack, which makes total sense for her. In fact, she goes one step further by bringing her lunch in a paper sack whenever possible—she says she hates having to bring the bulky empty container home, so she wants everything to be disposable!

What will you pack your lunch in? One of those insulated soft cases, probably? They’re very popular and they seem to work well. If you wanted to be different, you could be the guy or girl who brings their lunch in a kid’s retro metal lunchbox. They’re kind of cool, actually, and there are serious collectors out there who love them for the colorful artwork and for their place in pop culture history. The first licensed character to appear on a lunchbox was Mickey Mouse in 1935. In 1950, the Alladin company officially started the metal lunchbox craze when they put the popular TV cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy, on the side of their box. The character lunchbox, with TV stars, super heroes and cartoons, were on every kid’s wishlist for about 20 years; so they had a good run until they fell out of fashion.

I’m pretty sure I had one when I was kid—I remember the matching thermos bottle that came with it, which was lined with glass on the inside, and had its own drinking cup. Wow! Lined with glass! Can you imagine that today? A lawsuit waiting to happen!

So on National Pack Your Lunch Day, even if it’s only a PB&J sandwich and a bag of chips, bring your own lunch to school or work and give the taco truck a pass. Trust me, it’s more satisfying.

Photos by: Brooke Lark for Bradshaw International, Bert Tanimoto, Zojirushi, El Poder de las Ideas

 

American Holidays in Japan

With Valentine’s Day coming soon, it always makes me wish I were living in Japan again, where the guys don’t have to worry about what romantic thing we need to do for our significant others—because the girls make the first move on Valentine’s Day. In Japan, the girls buy the chocolate for the men. And we don’t have to reciprocate until a month later on “White Day”. Confused? Don’t be—it’s actually kind of…uh, sweet. Valentine’s Day gives the girls a chance to show their crushes how they really feel, when they may normally be too embarrassed to do so. In addition to buying chocolate for their true loves, however, the girls are unfortunately on the hook for buying for their bosses or colleagues—the “obligation chocolate”. And the obligation-giving continues on March 14th for the men, when they’re expected to repay the Valentine’s Day gifts with chocolate gifts of their own, on White Day. Oh, those evil candy manufacturers, who started this ingenious holiday! Even though “White Day” is strictly a commercial money maker, I love the Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition of the girls taking the initiative!

The Japanese love to adopt our national holidays—they’re not always celebrated in the same way, but they do a pretty good job. And it’s always in good fun.

What’s Christmas like in Japan?

There’s no way Christmas would have the same religious significance in Japan the way it does here. It’s estimated only 1% of the population is actually Christian. But Christmas is a joyous time, and Japanese people love gift giving, so it seems pretty natural. The main symbolic gesture has always been the traditional “Christmas Cake”, usually topped with all the decorations, like plastic Santas, trees, reindeer and ornaments. And happily, that rude association with unmarried women being past their expiration date (25, as in December 25) and being called “Christmas Cakes”, is no longer taken seriously. Especially when more women are in the workforce and the marrying age is probably closer to 29.

Another phenomenon is the KFC® Christmas, a brilliant marketing angle invented years ago by a Japanese executive at Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan. He simply started promoting his chicken in Christmas themed barrels, getting his inspiration from the traditional holiday turkey dinners in the U.S. The idea that “Christmas is for Kentucky” caught on, and now standing in long lines to pick up KFC® has become synonymous with the season. Who woulda thought it? The Colonel is the most famous personality during Christmastime. And well deserved, that Japanese executive eventually became the CEO of KFC® Japan.

Halloween is picking up steam

Indeed, this very American holiday becomes bigger every year in Japan, and much like its popularity as an adult holiday here, Halloween in Japan is an excuse to dress up and be someone else. It makes sense that it would catch on in Japan, where cosplay first started. So when they start making costumes, they go all out. It also helps when all the major theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan get on the bandwagon and start to feature the holiday in a big way. It used to be a scattering of American ex-pats dressing up and going to bars and nightclubs to be gawked at by curious onlookers—but no more; the dressing up part has been completely adopted by Japanese pop culture. The only thing missing is trick or treat—that part of the tradition doesn’t look like it’s going to assimilated anytime soon.

And what would Halloween be without controversy? Apparently at Universal Studios Japan last year, their new attraction, called “Tatari: Curse of the Living Doll”, drew letters of protest from the Japanese Doll Association, for using dolls that were donated to the park by a shrine. The association wasn’t keen on how the dolls were being represented as objects of terror, even though it was in the spirit of Halloween. Guess what? Dolls are creepy enough sometimes. These little ones are pretty scary with the right makeup!

Japan has pretty much made these holidays their own. Americans might say they’re copycats, and they certainly started that way, but after all these years the celebrations have evolved into something distinctly Japanese.

Images: Valentine art, Christmas cake, KFC, Halloween costumes, Tatari doll