SMISKI Collectibles – Series 4 Box

There is a Kinokuniya bookstore across the river in Edgewater, NJ. We stumbled onto it while we were looking for the Trader Joe’s that’s a few minutes up the road. Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore. The first time I visited one was with my wife in Singapore. They have a large selection of Japanese and English language books, magazines, and manga.

The Kinokuniya in Edgewater also has a stationary consignment shop inside that is pretty nice. The shop is located in the same shopping center as Mitsuwa Shopping Center, a Japanese grocery store with a food court. Mitsuwa is pretty cool, too. I like walking down the aisles and looking at the products. They also carry items that we already enjoy like Ito Ten roasted rice green tea and Yakult, a probiotic drink.

SMISKI Series 4 Box
SMISKI Series 4 Box

Anyway, Kinokuniya is set up so that when you walk in, you’re in a section with a bunch of cute knickknacks and collectibles. One of those collectibles is called Smiski – Opens Japanese language website. It’s basically a blind-box item, where you open a box and get a random version of the collectible.

When I saw them, I was reminded of these forest spirit things from an animated movie called Princess Mononoke.

After a few visits, I decided that I wanted to buy one and open it. I don’t know why, but I like the idea of having them on my bookcases, or in random places in the apartment. It would be fun.

SMISKI Series 4 Collectible
SMISKI Series 4 Collectible

I picked a series 4 box. I was hoping to get the guy laying down with a smaller Smiski sitting on his head, but I got this guy that’s climbing up the edge of my books, which is also fun.

SMISKI Series 4 Collectible Sitting on my Books
SMISKI Series 4 Collectible Sitting on my Books

They’re supposed to glow in the dark, but I haven’t noticed that happening with mine. I don’t think it’s defective, though. The spot it’s sitting in doesn’t get much natural light.

I’m looking forward to picking up more of these. Maybe once a month?

Namie Amuro’s Coke Zero Ads

wall_01_1024 (1)

Once known as the “Teen Queen” and referred to as the “Queen of Japanese Pop Music”, Amuro Namie is a singer, entertainer and former actress.  She started out young, debuting as an idol in a group called the Super Monkey’s (that’s a fun name!) at the age of 14.  She’s one of the longest surviving popular female acts in Japan and is the only female artist to have had a Top 10 single each year for 14 years straight.  Not bad!

I’m just getting into the whole J-pop thing.  My experiences with Japanese culture have been restricted mostly to anime, manga, some history courses and video games, so I wasn’t familiar with her work.  I did recognize her name though.

I first found out about this ad campaign here in the Philippines when I saw a poster (pictured below) hanging up while waiting for a ride back to my neighborhood.

DSC05294

And here’s the corresponding TV commercial, though it looks this one ran in Japan rather than here in the Philippines:

Not bad for a 33 year old woman with a 13 year old son, huh?  Almost makes me want to drink Coke Zero, but I can’t stand the stuff.  I prefer the regular version, which I like to call Fatboy Supreme, because it’ll put some weight on you pretty quick if you’re not careful.

I can’t say I’m too crazy about the song, but if you’re interested, here’s the full HD video of “Wild”, which is what the Coke Zero advertising campaign is based on.

The Sake Inn

IMG_2097

The Sake Inn isn’t actually an inn, though it would be a good name for one with a free sake gimmick.  The Sake Inn is a store in Singapore that sells mostly sake, but it’s also where I picked up the canned drinks I showed in a previous post.  I’ve never actually tried sake before, though I’m interested.  My wife and I bought a bottle of sake from a Spring Kyushu Fair in another mall in Singapore, but never had the opportunity to drink it.  We got busy with packing and wound up giving it away as a gift.  Maybe next time.

IMG_2098

I was impressed with the amount of Japanese goods that were available in Singapore.  Besides sake stores there were Japanese themed bakeries, restaurants and clothing stores, like Uniqlo.  I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t as much available here in the Philippines, but maybe I’m just not looking in the right places yet.  If you’re wondering where in Singapore this sake store is, it’s in the basement of Tampines 1, located right next to the MRT station.

Samurai Car Paint Job

There was a car that was always parked near our place in Singapore that had a really cool paint job on it, consisting of the Japanese rising sun symbol and a samurai.  It’s possible that the owner of the car is Japanese.  I never met him.  It’s probably more likely that the person is just interested in Japanese culture and history.

The paint job was very well done and I liked the style, so I went ahead and took a photo of it.

Mobile Photo 03-Apr-2010 AM 02 48 45

Canned Japanese Juice Drinks

Canned Japanese Drinks
Canned Japanese Drinks

Ok, so one of them isn’t really a juice drink, but I love coffee so I couldn’t resist picking one up.  I bought these at a shop in Singapore that specialized in Japanese canned drinks and sake.  They were on a 10 for 10 SGD sale so I figured, why not?

They were all pretty good, but I liked the Grape and Apple the best, probably because they’re the flavors of juice that I grew up drinking in the US.  The only one I actually didn’t care for too much was the Grapefruit juice.  It was a bit rough.  I think I could’ve used it to remove paint from the walls.  I’ve never liked grapefruit too much though.  When I used to eat it at my grandmother’s house I’d have to douse it in sugar to bury that harsh, acidic taste.

Naruto Ramen Soup

DSC05229

If you look at the red underlined portion under the menu item ‘Batchoy’ you’ll see that the ramen includes ‘naruto’.  I don’t watch Naruto but I was really amused when I saw this.  I was wondering if it was a typo or if there actually is something called ‘naruto’.  Well, turns out that naruto is a type of kamaboko, which has the following definition on Wikipedia:

Kamaboko|蒲鉾 is a type of cured surimi, a Japanese processed seafood product, in which various white fish are pureed, combined with additives such as MSG, formed into distinctive loaves, and then steamed until fully cooked and firm.

It looks like this:

Kamaboko

Public Domain picture via Wikipedia. Originally uploaded by Kinori.

Looks like I’ve eaten naruto quite a few times without even realizing it!

One other thing I thought worth mentioning is that there’s also a town called Naruto on the eastern end of the island of Shikoku in Japan.

Spring Kyushu Fair

These are pictures from the Spring Kyushu Fair held in late March to early April of this year in Singapore.  This is what I meant about being agitated about not having a Japan blog, because I should have posted them then.  This is a bit dated, but I thought it was worth sharing anyway!

Singapore (Random) - 413

The fair’s banner was hanging in the center section of the Tampines Mall.  Tampines Mall is set up as round levels with an open center.

Singapore (Random) - 414 

This is the view from above, from I think the third floor.  The fair was set up in the middle of the mall and was jam packed with people every single day.

Singapore (Random) - 415

I was shocked at how expensive these arus melons from Miyazaki were.  If you look at the blue text on the sign you can see that 49 SGD was already the marked down price from their usual 60 SGD.  I think we went on the last day of the fair.  I tried to do a little research on the melon but there’s little available, through Google anyway.  What I did find says that the arus melon is considered “The King of Japanese Fruits” and is highly sought after as a gift for its fragrance, beautifully netted skin and great taste.

Singapore (Random) - 416

There was a booth selling selections of fine tea.  I kinda wish I’d bought some now that I look at the photo.

Singapore (Random) - 417

Singapore (Random) - 418

Photos of the crowds and some of the booths.

Singapore (Random) - 419

A lot of the booths were doing cooking on the spot, like this booth, where a girl was preparing takoyaki balls.

Singapore (Random) - 420

And what Japan fair would be complete without a booth selling sake?  The sake he was holding was actually really, really good and I wanted a bottle of it but he had already sold out.  He didn’t mind letting me have a few shots from the sample bottle though, which was pretty cool of him.  We wound up getting a sparkling rose sake for my wife, but got so busy with getting ready for our trip to the Philippines at the beginning of May that we we gave it away as a gift instead.

I’m looking forward to visiting another Japan-related Fair.  Hopefully there’ll be one in Manila sometime soon!

Japanese Sesson Grill at Manpuku, Tampines 1

We’ve gone to Manpuku quite a few times, but we still haven’t tried everything the place has to offer.  That’s not so much for lack of opportunity, but lack of desire.  You see, Manpuku as an establishment has slowly been going downhill.

Tampines 1 Opening - 009

When Manpuku first opened, the place was packed all the time.  It was fresh, it was clean, the decor was awesome and the food was a novelty.  Unfortunately, most of the choices weren’t anything to get excited about, especially for the prices they were charging.  Most of it is little better than hawker food.

A few months ago, I’m not sure exactly when, Manpuku’s customer base shrunk to the point that they did away with the charge card system.  It used to be that when you arrived you would queue up to wait for seating and to get a charge card.  You would use the card to pay for the items you wanted from the various booths inside.  Then, before leaving you went through a register check-out lane, kinda like in a grocery store.  That’s where you settled your bill.  Now, you just walk in and pay at the specific booth you want to eat from, either cash or NETS.  If you want to use a credit card you still use the original charge card system.  I suppose that system became more of a hassle than it was worth in regards to having extra employees just to ring up the bills and the owner realized it would be more cost effective to have individual booth workers handle their own cash payments.

With the lower patronage comes lower standards it seems.  The trays are usually covered in a white grime and the eating utensils still have residue on them when you pick them up.  It makes me wonder if they even use washing soap or if they just rinse them with water.  I’ve also had trouble communicating with some of the employees lately.

Mobile Photo 28-Apr-2010 PM 09 12 27

Despite these issues, there are still a few gems to be found there.  The ramen from Aoba Hokkaido Ramen is pretty good but we wanted to try something different, so we went to Japanese Sesson Grill, which is in the corner near the MRT tracks.

The food is a bit pricey.  Individual kabobs were between 2.50 and 3 bucks apiece, which seems expensive given their size.  We settled on having a set meal that came with five skewers, rice and miso soup for 13 SGD.  It seemed a fair enough price to pay for what we were getting.

Mobile Photo 28-Apr-2010 PM 09 12 57

One good thing about Manpuku falling out of public favor is that it’s less crowded and you can actually have a quiet sort of meal there.  We went to the very corner, overlooking the MRT station area.  It was even a bit cozy feeling there.

Mobile Photo 28-Apr-2010 PM 09 13 36

The food itself was better than I hoped it would be.  It’s nothing to get too excited about but I definitely felt that I’d gotten what I paid for and left satisfied.

Review: Hei Sushi @ Downtown East

Hei Sushi at Downtown East

After having a great time watching Clash of the Titans my wife and I walked down to the lower level of Downtown East to look around and decide on dinner.  We hadn’t eaten at Hei Sushi before and the conveyor belt full of sushi looked pretty appealing, so we got in line and waited to be seated.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hei Sushi but the entire experience was more than a little under-whelming.  There’s a restaurant by the pool and gym in Tampines (that I can’t remember the name of) that sells sushi off a conveyor belt and their selection is impressive.  The taste and quality is impressive as well.  I’d expected the same thing from Hei Sushi. We’d eaten a heavy lunch and we weren’t that hungry so the idea of just getting a few items from the conveyor belt is what roped us in.  The place also has an interesting method for ordering items: an interactive computer screen complete with an optical mouse on your table.  I was excited to play with it!

Computer Ordering Screen

The table we were seated at was near the front of one of the conveyor belts, so I was sure we’d get the best pick from the items coming out of the kitchen.  That would have been true, I’m sure, but no items were actually being added to the conveyor belt the entire 30 minutes we sat there.  Not that I could tell anyway.  Plates with the same, six or seven varieties, of sad looking pieces of sushi with wilted fish kept going round and round.

We initially took a few plates to try them, but after sitting for 30 minutes and realizing that they weren’t going to add anything new, we turned to the menu in disappointment.  After looking through the menu for a while we settled on an item we could both enjoy, the ika teriyaki (squid).  So, my wife took the mouse and tried to place the order.  She couldn’t get it to work, so I tried it.  The screen was frozen.  Left click, right click, it all resulted in no click.

Hei Sushi Sitting Area

At this point we were both disappointed with the place and decided to leave.  A meal is supposed to be a relaxing experience.  I shouldn’t have to face technical difficulties after already being disappointed by the small selection of choices on the conveyor belt, which, by the way, were barely a fraction of what their menu said was supposed to be available.  We were supposed to call for our bill by clicking a button on the computer screen, but that didn’t work so I had to flag down a waitress who seemed rather surprised that we were leaving after only eating 6 plates from the conveyor belt.

Speaking of those plates, they’re also overpriced.  That restaurant by the pool (wish I knew it’s name) had set the price at 1 dollar for two pieces of sushi on a plate.  Hei Sushi had the price set at 2.18 per plate, not including GST.

Now for my final complaint.  We were charged a 10% service fee.  10%!  And for what?  Being shown to a table?  Being presented with our bill?  We were never given any service to have to pay for it.  We picked up everything ourselves off of the conveyor belt.  I understand the concept behind a service fee, and I’m willing to pay it, but only when I’ve received service, and good service at that.  Hei Sushi’s service staff were pleasant, but they didn’t actually do anything for us to warrant a 10% service charge.

Hei Sushi isn’t a terrible place by any means, but we won’t be returning simply because there are better options where we can get better food at a better value.

Manpuku Restaurant, Tampines 1 Mall

A few weeks ago I was checking around the new mall in Tampines (Tampines 1) and I saw the entrance to a restaurant called Manpuku.  The entrance area was jam packed with people in line to get in and people ogling the items on display in the window:

I met up with my wife there during her lunch break and while we were walking around together we even got to see the mascot.  At the time we didn’t know what restaurant or store the mascot represented but it was fun anyways.

We both love to go out and eat, and we particularly love Japanese food, so we were excited about going to check this place out.  We finally made a visit to Manpuku today and it was great!

It wasn’t quite what I expected, in a good and interesting way.  As you get to the head of the line a greeter will ask you how many people are in your party and will then pass you a corresponding number of cards that look and act like credit cards.  The waiter will explain that as you walk around inside the restaurant, you pick different foods from the various stalls and the price of the item is charged to your assigned card.  At the end of your meal, you bring the card to the cashier by the exit and settle your bill.

That’s when I realized that Manpuku isn’t simply one restaurant.  It’s a collection of restaurants acting under one name, serving Japanese style food.  In fact, the place reminded me of a big, themed food court, though a very well appointed one.

Here are some photos we took inside Manpuku:

As you can see from the pictures, the interior of Manpuku is pretty big.  It sits at one end of the mall on the 3rd floor and stretches from front to back.  There are at least half a dozen different mini-restaurants inside, offering everything from skillet plates to sushi.

The prices have a wide range from a bit on the high side (a four piece sushi plate at 38 bucks) to the affordable (my pork okas was 9.90).  I saw quite a few dishes I want to try, and I’m looking forward to going back again.  For this trip, we wound up having a sushi set, a dish called pork okas, and a soup that my wife devoured and said was delicious.  I forgot to ask her what it was and she’s asleep now!  Just thinking about it is making me hungry again!

The above picture is the pork okas.  It has strips of pork along with cabbage, onions, and maybe a few other things cooked into an egg omelette.  It’s topped with four different sauces while it’s still on the grill, giving it a nice design that adds a visually pleasing aspect to the tasty dish.
Like I said, the place is great!  We’re looking forward to our next trip.
One special consideration for anyone planning to go there is that the place is busy.  Expect to wait for up to 15 to 20 minutes for your dish to be prepared, and, unless you’re lucky, another 5 to 10 minutes to get a drink.  A good workaround for this is having one person hold the table for you and designating someone else to order and pick-up their food for them.  That way you can leave your food at the table while making trips to get drinks, or other goodies, without having to worry about someone else helping themselves to what you’re going to pay for.