Review – Sakuraco Japanese Candy & Snack Box

Sakura season is here! There’s no better time than to share with you the Sakuraco snack subscription box. Sakuraco were kind enough to send me this box for free but all opinions are my own. I’d been wanting to try this box for a while now, because the idea of a more traditional snack box really appealed to me. There are several others out there but they tend to focus more on modern junk food and otaku-type theming. Sakuraco stands out by offering a variety of very classic tastes and textures, and working directly with small Japanese businesses that have been producing these products for decades, if not longer. It felt like the perfect fit for a blog focusing on more traditional arts and cultures.

I received the April box, themed all around Sakura Festival. Nearly everything in the box has a sakura flavour, with a few complementary items with apple flavour and a few savoury/spicy items to help balance out the flavour profile of the box. This was a great idea to break things up a bit, as sakura can be a bit cloying on its own.

My first thought is that this box is beautifully presented. The mailing box itself is wrapped in protective packing material but once you remove that the box is beautiful. I intend to keep mine for storage, and this would also make them fantastic for gifting purposes. Once open, the box is inviting and piques your interest with a beautiful art card and a glossy magazine explaining all the products inside. This magazine is beautifully laid-out and photographed, and especially helpful as a lot of the items only have Japanese writing on them.

Once inside, I was amazed at the sheer variety and quantity of products they were able to include in a relatively small box.

I decided to create a little “sample plate” for myself, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to try everything at once. My father also helped me try out a few of the products, which I’m sure was a very arduous task for him 😉 I tried to aim for a variety of products, from sweet jellies to classic mochi to spicy and crunchy crackers. I’m reviewing the box concept as a whole but I thought I’d share my feelings on a few of these items anyway, to give you a better idea of what you might receive should you choose to sign up.

Sakura Jelly – Absolutely beautiful, very refreshing, but very mild in taste. Very soft jelly, and a slightly ephemeral experience due to the light texture and flavour.
Sakura Kuzumochi – Smaller, slightly denser, and a lot more flavourful than the larger pink sakura jelly, and my favourite of the two.
Sakura Daifuku – A delightful little sakura mochi filled with anko paste. Comforting and reliable if you like mochi. I won’t lie, these look a bit like tiny little butt-holes with the way they were folded together, and that just made me love them even more.
Sakura Kanten – A little gummy square, a bit like a french pate de fruits if you’re familiar with those. This one was wrapped in oblaat, which is an edible starch paper. It can be an odd experience if you’ve never had food wrapped in one, because it almost feels like you’re eating plastic, but it melted away quite quickly and the candy itself was delicious.
Sakura Manju – A soft, chewy dough-based manju bun filled with pickled sakura paste. I absolutely loved this one and want to eat twelve more right away!
Ume Arare – We’re reaching the more savoury side of the box now – these crackers are flavoured with salted ume, so there’s still a hint of sweetness, but tempered with sour and salty. These were sharp and unique and very enjoyable.
Chili Arare – A delightfully crunchy little ball with a kick of chili at the end. There were only two of these and frankly I regret giving the second one to my father because I want to eat more of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate, and have high hopes for the rest of the items that I haven’t tried yet. It’s clear that every item in this box was selected carefully and thoughtfully. They all fit the theme and balance very well together.

The last item in the box was this absolutely beautiful little ceramic dish. There were three different designs available and I really lucked out and got the one I’d been hoping for! Of course I had to use it right away for my snack sampler!

The only negatives when it come to the Sakuraco subscription box, if I can consider them that, are that since you have no real control over which items you receive, if you have a lot of food allergies or intolerances this might not be ideal. I have a mild dairy allergy but it only causes minor histamine reactions in me, nothing serious or dangerous, so I’m fine if I monitor my consumption, but it definitely did make me stop and think about this. The beautiful little magazine clearly enumerates all potential allergens in every item, but if you have one to a common ingredient (wheat, eggs, milk, soy, etc) then it will definitely impede your enjoyment of this box. However, this is true for any food-based subscription or surprise box, and only you can decide what’s best for you.

The other issue is that one of the items in this box was very delicate and did not survive overseas transport. It’s a shame, because I was very much looking forward to this adorable boat-shaped senbei wafer filled with flavoured crackers. I still ate them all and enjoyed it very much, but the visual appeal of the whole experience was lost, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Pros:

  • Amazing selection of sweet and savoury goods from all over Japan
  • More traditional than a lot of other Japanese snack subscriptions
  • Beautiful packaging
  • Excellent value for the price
  • Fast shipping

Cons:

  • Some items may not transport well (see the poor mangled Senbei Boat)
  • May not be ideal for people with food sensitivities or allergies

In the end, only you can decide whether or not a box like this is worth it for you personally but I can say I wholeheartedly recommend it for any fan of more traditional Japanese flavours and textures! If you’d like to check out Sakuraco for yourself, please consider using my referral link by clicking here. Thank you!

 I received this item from the retailer or manufacturer for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me.This post contains affiliate link(s). If you choose to purchase, I receive a small rebate or commission which goes to the continued maintenance of this site. 

Review – Matcha Set from Tangpin Tea

Today I am sharing with you this lovely matcha set from Tangpin Tea on Etsy. I have been on the hunt for a more complete matcha set including a whisk and when I saw this one I fell in love with the green drip glaze and reached out to the seller.

This set is comprised of a chawan (茶碗, tea bowl), a chashaku  (茶杓, tea scoop), a chasen (茶筅,  tea whisk), and a naoshi (直し, whisk stand). Essentially, the very basic elements needed to properly prepare a bowl of matcha. For actual tea ceremony there are many more pieces needed, but if what you’re looking for is a pretty, affordable set to make your own comforting bowl of matcha, it’s perfect!

Now, please bear in mind that this review is coming from the perspective of someone who has not studied tea ceremony – I am just someone who enjoys matcha and little soothing rituals!

Appearance-wise, this set appeals to me greatly. As I’ve mentioned, I absolutely loved the glaze – it’s hard to capture in photos but it almost has a cyan-to-celadon gradient to it, it’s got much more depth in person. I also like that it’s subtle, not a huge contrast against the white. It’s also available in a pinkish red and a light brown drip, all on the same white base, but I can’t speak to the depth or variation in those. I only have one other chawan and it’s got a much heavier, almost “earthy” feel to it, whereas this one feels delicate without feeling flimsy or fragile. It feels spring-like! Perfect for looking forward to the upcoming change of seasons.

The chashaku and chasen are quite standard-looking and made of bamboo, but they have a good comfortable feel to them. The whisk is well-made and I don’t anticipate it deforming or losing bits any time soon and there are no signs of splitting or warping on the scoop.

This set is mass-produced, and while it’s certainly not on par with artisan-made individual pieces, I think for the price it’s absolutely lovely! It’s great for everyday use and I wouldn’t feel terrified of using it regularly.

 I purchased this item at a discounted price for honest review purposes.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Review – Abokichi Miso Soup Bases & Okazu Condiments

You guys know I love bringing you modern, accessible products that make it easy to incorporate a bit of Japan into your daily lives. Abokichi is a Canadian company run by life- and business-partners Jess and Fumi, and is a true fusion of East and West.

Abokichi means “Fortunate Avocado,” a coinage from “abogado”, a South American fruit which has found a place in cuisines all over the world, and “kichi” which means fortunate in Japanese, to express the blessing of the diversity of different cultures in the world.

With the world still half-closed and social distancing still in effect, we’re all eating at home way more often, and it’s easy to fall into a rut when cooking. But these are a great way to stir things up without having to rely on overseas shipping or products laden with preservatives.

Currently Abokichi have two offerings, both available in multiple flavours. There’s the instant miso, which comes in regular, chili, and black pepper; and their Okazu condiment, a blend of miso, sesame oil, and flavourings, which comes in curry, chili, and spicy chili. If you want to try them all out, I suggest the Tasting Set, which has one of everything at a discounted price.

I loved everything I’ve tried so far, and I highly encourage you to check them out for yourself if you’re interested in quick and easy Japanese-inspired flavours. However, I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings about each product.

  • Original Instant Miso – A classic, with a familiar but deep miso flavour. If you’ve ever had miso soup, you’ll find comfort with this one.
  • Black Pepper Instant Miso – The same comforting taste of the original miso with the added punch of plenty of black pepper. My favourite of the three, which is saying a lot because I’m not generally a huge fan of black pepper.
  • Chili Instant Miso – The added warmth of chili brings a new angle to miso in this one. It’s definitely got some heat, but the creaminess of the miso balances it out perfectly.
  • Chili Okazu – A blend of miso, sesame oil, and chili that brings a really rich and complex umami edge to whatever you put it on. Layers of flavour that all balance well together, with a bit of tingly warmth that isn’t overpowering.
  • Curry Okazu – If you like Japanese curry rice, this is the Okazu for you! A little hot, a little sweet, and utterly delicious, this one is my personal fave.
  • Spicy Chili Okazu – Fan of heat? Try out the spicy sister to the original chili Okazu. Out of the jar, this one was almost too spicy for me but mixed with food it’s perfect for anyone who likes a bit of a kick.

Overall, I liked every single product I tried. The black pepper miso and curry Okazu were my personal stand-outs, but I feel confident recommending any of them. It all comes down to your own tastes and preferences.

If you’re looking for recipes or inspiration on how to use Abokichi’s products, here are a few things I’ve whipped up this week!

Black Pepper Miso Soup with Vegetables

This one couldn’t be easier, and it was an absolutely delicious and filling weeknight dinner. I used fresh corn and green beans because it’s what I already had cooked and lying around but I imagine it would work with other cooked veggies too.

  • One full pouch Abokichi Black Pepper instant miso soup
  • One box low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • One ear (roughly 1 cup) of cooked fresh corn
  • One cup chopped green beans
  • Three spring onions, separated into white and green parts
  • Furikake (optional)

Bring the broth and miso to a boil together and whisk thoroughly to make sure the miso is smooth and well-incorporated, and then turn the heat down. Add in your chopped corn and beans, as well as the white parts of the spring onions and simmer until everything is heated through.

Serve it topped with the greens from the spring onions and a sprinkle of furikake if you like. Personally, I think it brings another layer of lightness and texture to the soup.

This would also be delicious with tofu, fish, or chicken for added protein but with the miso it’s quite filling already!

Karaage-style chicken With Okazu Dipping Sauces

This one’s a bit more time-consuming than the soup, but definitely worth the effort. With the accompaniment of the rice, this is a filling meal for four people.

For the chicken
  • Four boneless skinless chicken breasts or eight boneless skinless thighs
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped (to taste)
  • ~1 tsp grated fresh ginger (to taste)
  • Dash of sake (optional)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup katakuriko (or potato starch)
For the dipping sauce

*If you don’t have Kewpie mayo, try half a cup of mayo and roughly 1.5 tsp each of sugar and mirin

Start by mixing the ingredients for the dipping sauces, so they have time to meld together.

Chop the chicken breasts or thighs into large chunks. Mix all ingredients for the marinade, toss in the chicken. Let the chicken sit in the marinade for a minimum of two hours.

Place a grilling rack onto a baking sheet and put into a 175°F/80°C oven (this is just to keep the cooked chicken warm). Heat enough canola or corn oil to barely submerge the chicken pieces.

Once the oil is hot, take a few pieces of marinated chicken at a time. Toss in the flour-katakuriko mixture until they’re coated but not clumpy, and gently drop into the oil, taking care not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden-brown, about five minutes for breasts or seven minutes for thighs, flipping if needed to ensure even cooking. Once cooked, place on the rack in the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all chicken is cooked.

I served the chicken with white rice topped with Okazu so I could taste them in the pure unadulterated forms, and it made a perfect complement to the chicken. I also had a bit of the dipping sauces left after the meal and used them on ham sandwiches the following day, which turned out delicious.

I hope you enjoyed this little foray into my kitchen, and if you try any of these products or recipes I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

 I purchased this item myself and chose to review it.If you have a topically appropriate craft, product, or service you would like me to review, please contact me. 

Book Review – See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now

See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now
by Ivan Vartanian & Kyoko Wada
ISBN: 978-0811869577
Buy on Amazon | Buy on AbeBooks

If you’re like me and you appreciate both traditional and modern Japanese decorative arts, you need this book. It’s an incredibly well-researched and well-written exploration of how traditional motifs, styles, and techniques of Japanese traditional art have influenced modern popular art.

Whether you’re a fan of Kunisada or kawaii, temples or Transformers, this book will probably have something to show you. Often the antique and modern art are juxtaposed on the same page or facing pages, so you can see the influences and connections directly. Everything visual about this book feels deliberate and well thought-out, which is reassuring in a book about design and art. It’s a pleasure to look at, even the text-heavy pages. It’s relatively compact but densely filled with gorgeous pictures and fascinating information.

The writing is informative and clear without being overly dry or academic, which makes it an enjoyable read for people of all interest levels. It’s not a textbook and doesn’t feel like one, but I could easily see it being an excellent academic resource.

Here’s a small sampling of a few interior pages, to give you a feel for the comparisons I made above.

Also, this is a small thing but I want to thank the authors of this book for engaging in fun wordplay in the title but not going down the lazy/obvious route of calling this book Zen and Now.

I would recommend this book for:

  • Anyone interested in Japanese art
  • People studying the evolution of art styles
  • Art history students or fans

I would not recommend this book for:

  • People only looking for books about traditional art
  • Uh… people who don’t want to learn cool things, I guess?

 I purchased this item myself and chose to review it.This post contains affiliate link(s). If you choose to purchase, I receive a small rebate or commission which goes to the continued maintenance of this site. 

Tea Time – Tenmoku Tea Cup

Tenmoku (天目, also commonly referred to as Jian Zhan 建盏 in Chinese) is a stunning style of ceramic ware, created using high temperatures and glaze with a very high iron content. The end result is a variety of incredibly rich, deep, and iridescent finishes.

I received this beautiful “Jellyfish” teacup from Tenmokus.com, who provide a wide array of beautiful tenmoku cups and teapots. I was expecting it to be pretty, but nothing prepared me for how stunning it was in person. The glaze is so luxurious and layered, the shimmering rings peering through layers of translucent blues. This cup was undoubtedly named after the moon jelly, which just happens to be one of my favourite sea creatures ever.

It also feels perfect to hold. I have large hands (to go with the large rest of me, hah) and often small Asian tea cups are too small and I end up feeling clumsy and awkward holding them. This one is still delicate, but just large enough that it feels great to hold. It’s also a bit thick, which will also make it very comfortable when holding very hot tea, thicker walls mean less heat transfer.

Their cups are shipped in absolutely gorgeous presentation boxes that serve dual purpose; not only are they perfect for gifting but they’re so thick and well-padded that the cup was very well-protected during shipping.

My only “concern” with this cup, if you can even call it that, is that it’s so impossibly gorgeous that I almost don’t want to use it. But somehow just leaving it in the box or even on display feels disrespectful. This is a cup that cries out to be used and appreciated.

I highly recommend checking out Tenmokus.com if you’re in the market for a unique, stunning cup either for yourself or for a very special and unique gift.

 I purchased this item at a discounted price for honest review purposes.