The Voices of Zojirushi – Seitaro

We’re so excited to introduce you to Seitaro, a Manager in our Technical Support Department, and a team member who embodies Zojirushi’s founding belief that we succeed when we improve our customers’ quality of life through our daily work. The Technical Support Department is primarily responsible for repairing products, but also manages an inventory of spare parts, conducts product testing, and manages service centers in North America.

Seitaro joined Zojirushi two years ago, and we found time to talk to him as part of our Centennial Anniversary celebrations!

Tell us a bit about your background? Where is your hometown? What are your favorite foods? And what do you love about Japan and Japanese culture?

I’m from Hiroshima, Japan, and of course my favorite foods are Japanese! I love onigiri, miso soup, tamagoyaki (Japanese egg omelet), mezashi (dried sardines skewered together in a neat row), surumeika (dried squid), grilled ika (squid), chawanmushi, yakitori and sushi!

A favorite lunch, nigiri sushi bento

I find that the Japanese dedication to craftsmanship and the dedication to studying foods—even existing ones—are inspiring. And also the precision, the durability of Japanese machinery products, and their almost obsessive dedication to ease-of-use, too.

Was that what inspired you to work at Zojirushi?

Yes. Zojirushi contributes to society by providing electric products to consumers regardless of their race, sex or age. And I wanted to do something that made me feel useful in society, and I thought I would be able to do that at a long-established manufacturer like Zojirushi.

Our corporate philosophy is Creating a Quality of Life. How does your position at Zojirushi create a better quality of life for our customers?

By repairing products, we help reduce trash waste for the environment and monetary waste for our customers. Zojirushi continues to design products that are lasting and customer centric, and our dedication to customers by continuing to operate a repair department means we really invest in quality of life for our customers.

A customer’s rice cooker undergoes testing

What is your most memorable Zojirushi moment?

I received a repair request for a Zojirushi product that was over 30 years old, and I was genuinely surprised to see how carefully and lovingly the product had been used over the years.

Our corporate slogan is “Inspirations from everyday life.” What in your everyday life has inspired you to provide better service to your customers?

When I go on business trips or when I go on vacation, I note the hotel or restaurant facilities, furniture or equipment they use, and the way they treat and interact with customers, and use these experiences to make our customer experiences better.

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Seitaro’s joy in creating better customer experiences is one of the reasons we believe he embodies Zojirushi’s philosophy. We hope you enjoyed learning about his perspectives. Stay tuned next month to meet another Zojirushi star!

An Acquired Taste of Japan – Natto!

We all know that Japanese food is delicious, that it’s based on a culinary tradition that produces such delicacies as sushi and ramen, kaiseki ryori and shojin ryori, that reveres the umami and inherent goodness of food.

But do you know about the more unique foods of Japan?

We start off 2018 with a new series about Japanese food—all about the dishes that perhaps take some time to be loved! Natto is one of those dishes, and is a food that any child raised in Japan is familiar with.

Natto is a dish made of fermented soybeans, full of probiotics, B & K vitamins, fiber and minerals. It’s traditionally eaten along with rice for breakfast… and is a most acquired taste!

There are multiple varieties of natto produced in Japan, and the most commonly prepared type is called itohiki natto, or “stringy natto”. The strings are a result of how the soybeans are prepared. Raw beans are first soaked for several hours, and then steamed until softened. The beans are inoculated with either Bacillus natto or Bacillus subtilis and then allowed to ferment for about 24 hours at around 104°F. When removed from the fermentation container, the beans have a pungent aroma, similar to mild ammonia, and are surrounded by gossamer threads of biofilm, giving them a sticky, slippery texture.

Slippery and slimy. It’s no wonder that legends abound about its origin! Some say that natto was discovered accidentally about 1000 years ago, when warm, cooked soybeans were placed in a sack made of rice straw and transported by horseback. The warmth of the animal fermented the cooked beans, and when the sack was opened at its destination, natto was inside!

Natto is being studied by modern food scientists and microbiologists because of its superfood properties and long-term health benefits experienced by people who traditionally eat this unique food. Dr. Ralph Holsworth, a biomedical researcher, has coauthored several studies about the enzyme nattokinase, a byproduct of the fermentation process, that have shown that the enzyme assists in the prevention of arterial plaque formation. Dr. Ann Yonetani, a food scientist and microbiologist, has also studied the benefits of natto on the human microbiome, stating that although more scientific data needs to be generated, the probiotics found in natto are more likely to survive through the digestive tract and colonize the intestines with beneficial bacteria, compared to other probiotics.

Japan isn’t the only country that lays claim to natto, although it may be where the dish comes from. A version of natto is found in the “natto triangle”, including Thailand, Northeastern India, Korea and parts of China. Commercial manufacturers and artisanal cooks make natto in the US and numerous varieties can be found at Japanese markets.

Natto is a must-try unique dish of Japan! Check it out and tell us what you think!

The Voices of Zojirushi – Jesse

2018 marks our 100th anniversary! Zojirushi started as the Ichikawa Brothers Trading Company in 1918 in Osaka, Japan, and since then, we haven’t stopped!

We were founded on the deep belief that we succeed when we work to improve our customer’s quality of life through the creation of innovative products. Our employees are such an important part of fulfilling our mission, and we’d love for you to get to know them!

Jesus is one of our friendly Customer Service Representatives based out of our offices in Torrance, California. He goes by Jesse, and has been with Zojirushi for a whopping 24 years! Jesse embodies our company’s mission, and we caught up with him to talk about what he likes about working with customers and what inspires him about Zojirushi.

Customer service always has a variety of Zojirushi products on hand nearby to help walk customers through the use and care of them

Zojirushi believes in putting their customers first, and as a Customer Service Representative, what motivates you to be customer-focused?

I enjoy assisting people, interacting with them and striving to make a positive difference in their day. I would say working at Zojirushi provides me with the opportunity to help new people, and that is something that motivates me. My children also inspire me. I see them doing their best in whatever they do—homework, sports—and that motivates me to do my best and provide the best customer service possible.

Our corporate philosophy is Creating a Quality of Life. How does your position at Zojirushi create a better quality of life for our customers?

Our customers have a better quality of life when I’m able to solve a problem they’re having with one of our products or just by answering their baking questions during the holidays. One less thing to worry about!

Much of our product design focuses on practicality, quality, craftsmanship, sustainability and stylishness. Do you have a favorite Zojirushi product that you believe embodies these qualities, and how do you believe we embody those qualities in our services?

Safety, usability, practicality, quality, craftsmanship and stylishness. That describes the Travel Mug (SM-YAE48) to me! Also, we really believe in self-improvement and honesty. We’re always trying to improve our products and when we have an issue with the product, we do our best to correct any problem. That shows that we really care.

Zojirushi Travel Mug SM-YAE48

What’s the best dish you’ve made using one of our products, and if you could dream up your own perfect Zojirushi product, what would it be?

I would like to see a Zojirushi waffle maker! It would be so much fun if it could make waffles in the shape of our elephant logo. I’d love it as much as I love to make pork chops with roasted vegetables in the Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10). They turned out really good!

Zojirushi isn’t just about products. It’s about our company’s values and the wonderful Japanese culture that informs what we do. Have you been inspired by Japan during your tenure here?

I have never been to Japan, but I would love to see the cherry blossom trees and see people wearing kimonos, the ones made with beautiful silk colors.

Finally, if you could tell people one great thing about Zojirushi, what would it be?

I have been here for over 20 years so it’s hard to narrow it down to just one moment – let’s just say I have a few! Meeting Mr. Ichikawa, the President & CEO of Zojirushi, is definitely up there. I look forward to coming to work and I’m happy to be here at Zojirushi America. I feel appreciated, acknowledged and rewarded.

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Jesse is such a great team member, and we hope you enjoyed learning about his perspectives. Stay tuned next month to meet another Zojirushi star!

Japanese Street Food: Tachigui Soba!

tachigui02What’s better than slurping hot soba noodles when you’re out in the cold? Slurping them when they’re hot, fresh, cheap and at a tachigui-style restaurant!

Tachigui, which means “eating standing up”, is a popular style of eating in Japan, especially for quick meals while traveling, commuting or going out for the evening. Tachigui-style eating was first introduced in what is now Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During that time, restaurant owners catered to laborers and working class people who needed inexpensive yet nutritious, fresh and flavorful food… the perfect setting for serving soba noodles in soup broth. To minimize costs for space and service, tachigui shops offered standing areas for people to just eat and go.

This style of eating spread across Japan and in modern day cities, tachigui-style restaurants can be found in close proximity to rail stations and commuter areas. Soba noodles in hot soup broth are still the most popular dishes served at tachigui restaurants, but hungry people can also find sushi, barbeque and takoyaki at tachigui stalls.

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Customers eat at a tachigui soba shop in a train station (photo by Nesnad)

Dining at tachigui restaurants is an experience. Since many are located at or near train stations, they offer only counter space for diners. Diners purchase meal tickets called shokken for the type of dish they want from vending machines located at the stall. Meals range from the barebones noodles and soup to various toppings such as tempura, kakiage, eggs, fish cake and more. Once a diner purchases a ticket, they hand that to the server, and wait a few minutes for their bowl to be delivered. Tea and condiments are served freely on the counter.

Meals are inexpensive yet incredibly fresh. Soba noodles are parboiled and freshened before being served to patrons. Basic soba soups start at around 250 yen or $2.50 and soups with many toppings won’t cost more than 500-700 yen or $5.00-7.00. Regardless of price, people from all walks of life and economic circumstances eat at tachigui stalls.

Soba noodles are the perfect dish for a cold December going into the New Year and whether you’re eating tachigui-style soba noodles or toshikoshi soba, we hope you stay warm and have a great New Year!

Japanese Street Food: Winter Oden

oden02With the cold months of winter beginning, it’s time for oden.

Oden is a one-pot dish full of vegetables, fish cakes, tofu, eggs and konnyaku, all simmered in seasoned dashi broth. It’s pure comfort food, full of savory ingredients that have soaked up hot seasoned broth, perfect for the cold months of winter.

Oden is enjoyed by everyone in Japan, from children on their way home from school to homeward bound working professionals stopping at street vendors for oden and sake. When made at home, oden includes special ingredients loved by each family member. One of the characteristic ingredient is konnyaku, a jellied yam cake. Those who enjoy oden choose the ingredients to add to their bowl, sometimes adding chikuwa (fish cake), ground fish balls, kinchaku (fried tofu pouches), daikon radish, boiled eggs or vegetables like cabbage and potatoes. Oden is best when garnished with hot Japanese mustard.

Oden is a cross between a nimono, or simmered dish, and nabemono, or hot pot. The name oden is derived from dengaku, which refers to pieces of tofu and konnyaku skewered, basted with miso paste and grilled. Dengaku was typically served during colder months, and around the time of the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573), the dish was modified to be simmered in seasoned broth.

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A shop advertises oden

Oden is prepared with variations depending on the region in Japan. In Tokyo and its environs, the broth is made from dashi and koikuchi shoyu, or dark soy sauce, and is typically salty in flavor. In the Osaka area, broth is made from dashi and usukuchi shoyu, or light soy sauce, with hints of sweetness. Oden from the Kyoto area has a sharp and sweet taste and in Nagoya, the broth is miso-based.

No matter what style of broth oden is made with, the warmth and savoriness of the ingredients characterize comfort during the coming winter. Oden can be found at street vendors, izakaya restaurants, and even at convenience stores where the clerks will either assemble your oden for you or let you make your own creation at the self-service counters.

One of our favorite oden recipes can be found here, and we hope you will try it out during this winter season.

Until next time, stay warm and don’t forget to look out for our last post about Japanese street food for 2016!