Refuge from the cold

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like a mostly cloudy day with a chance of rain and a high of 10C. Pretty much perfect weather for running...if only my condition was good. I'll be lucky to finish this race at all...ha ha! Tomorrow and the rest of the week are looking more spring-like with daytime highs in the low teens and mostly sunny weather.

Here in Japan, the most common way to cope with the cold temperatures of the winter months is to take refuge at a kotatsu, a low table with a heater attached to its underside and a blanket that you place over your legs to trap the warmth around your legs and feet. The effect is so comfy that kotatsu have even been installed at some restaurants and at least one movie theater in Japan, but the drawback is that even as your lower half gets nice and toasty, the kotatsu leaves your upper body exposed to the surrounding chill.

Now, though, we’ve stumbled across a solution to this problem. Sure, it may not be the most elegant-looking solution, but it definitely seems like an effective one.

Chinese shopping site TMall will be happy to provide you with one of these contraptions, which essentially function like a full-body kotatsu. They even come with sections that you can open up to stick your hands out of in order to use a smartphone or read a book.

▼ Or, like in this picture, you can share part of it with someone close.

There’s even a hood so to keep the top and back of your head warm. But while these devices look like the ultimate winter refuge, their original purpose is actually somewhat different, as they’re home-use saunas designed to be used with a steam/heat pump that channels warmth through a hose that attaches near the base of the box.

This is being sold by TMall for just 266 yuan (about Y5,000), which seems like a serious bargain. Granted, at such a low price, we’re not sure if the machinery is sturdy enough to handle constant use until spring, so I'd recommend keeping a close friend who has a kotatsu that you can visit if your machine breaks down.

Have a great day!

Yep, yet another, nother new Kit Kat flavor.

Good morning everyone,

Have you been lost about the weather without my daily reports? Fear not. They're back. We can expect pretty nice weather today with mostly sunny skies and a high around 12C. Tomorrow isn't looking too good'll be mostly cloudy with a chance of rain or snow and a high of around 7C.

Nestlé Japan have always been innovative with their Kit Kat flavors, creating not only uniquely Japanese flavors such as matcha and sake, but special local Kit Kat variations only available in specific areas of the country.

Happily for those of us fond of chocolate, the latest addition to their line of region-specific Kit Kats has recently been released, and the new flavor combines two delightful elements — hot springs and sweet steamed buns!

This is actually the second time Nestlé Japan has offered a line of Kit Kats available at limited hot spring locations across Japan. Last autumn, they released a “luxury matcha” flavor which was also for sale only at select hot springs, and the response was apparently good enough that they’ve come up with a second flavor!

The new item even has a flavor that’s hot spring-related, inspired by a Japanese sweet that is traditionally sold in hot spring areas. That’s right, the new “Kit Kat Mini Onsen Manju Flavor” is based on the onsen manju (literally, “hot spring steamed buns”), a dainty steamed sweet filled with red bean paste that is widely sold at hot spring spots across Japan.

These specialty buns were originally made using water from hot springs or were cooked with steam from the hot springs, but nowadays, sweet steamed buns sold in hot spring tourist spots are generally marketed as onsen manju

▼ Onsen Manju, steamed buns filled swith sweet red bean paste, are an excellent snack to enjoy while strolling the streets of a Japanese hot spring resort.

▼ And this is the Kit Kat inspired by the sweet steamed bun.

To emulate the look and taste of the onsen manju, the Kit Kat is coated in light brown-colored chocolate, and they’ve added cream containing red bean powder between the crunchy wafers inside!

Plus, the Kit Kats will come wrapped in packaging decorated with adorable characters from the “100 Views of Cats” (Neko Hyakkei) line of products, which have been promoted and become popular as hot spring souvenirs nationwide.

▼ The package illustrations featuring the 100 Views of Cats series have a nostalgic feel and also include various seasonal images as well.

If you’re a fan of both Kit Kats and hot springs, the Kit Kat Mini Onsen Manju Flavor is available at a price of 900 yen for 14 mini-size pieces, at the following hot spring locations:

  • In Hokkaido: Noboribetsu Onsen
  • In the Tohoku Region: Akiu Onsen, Iwaki Onsen
  • In the Kanto Region: Kinugawa Onsen, Nasu Onsen, Kusatsu Onsen, Haknoe Onsen
  • In the Chubu Region: Yuzawa Onsen, Atami Onsen, Ito Onsen, Isawa Onsen,  Gero Onsen, Unazuki Onsen, Hida/Takayama Onsen
  • In the Kinki Region: Arima Onsen, Shirahama Onsen
  • In the Chugoku/Shikoku Region: Dōgo Onsen, Tamatsukuri Onsen
  • In the Kyushu Region: Beppu Onsen, Yufuin Onsen

A steamed bun may be a tad difficult to take home with you, but these Kit Kats should stow away very nicely in your luggage! It looks like from here in Hiroshima, our closest place to visit would be Dogo. Or is Tamatsukuri closer? Hmmm...well, neither one is very close, actually. I guess I'll just wait till one of you visits one of the places above and brings me back some Kit Kats.

Have a great day!

Sexual tension

Good morning everyone,

Ahh...back in Hiroshima. It's so great to be back (that's sarcasm). I wish I was back in Guam...

You're sitting next to someone when it happens — their leg brushes yours and no one pulls away. Suddenly, you can hear your heartbeat in your ears and every nerve in your body screams for you to just lean over and kiss them.

It's a moment you've likely experienced, and one that's easily described as "sexual tension." But what does that even mean? It's a concept that's hard to describe without talking about how it feels: butterflies in your stomach, every little hair on your arms standing up, sweaty palms. But what actually causes it and how do you define it? Can you even define it? (According to Merriam Webster, the answer is no.)

Merriam Webster does have a definition of plain old "tension" though, describing it as "a state of latent hostility or opposition between individuals or groups." And that's pretty accurate when you're talking about sexual tension, too, according to Daniel G. Amen, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Except the "groups" in this case are opposing areas of your brain.

Your prefrontal cortex (aka "judgement center") is duking it out with the pleasure centers in your brain over whether you should or shouldn't make a move. The more risk that's involved, the more these two areas of your brain will have to fight. If your crush is relatively low-risk (like someone who you already know finds you attractive because they swiped right, for example), then the tension might be fleeting. But if you've been longing after a friend or someone who's already in a committed, monogamous relationship, then there's much more risk involved — and a lot more tension.

In cases like these, sexual tension could actually save you. "If you don’t play it out in your head, then disaster is waiting for you," Dr. Amen says. So go ahead and thank your prefrontal cortex for all of the bad relationship moves you didn't make.

Does that mean we can just define sexual tension as the pesky voice of reason in your head and move on? Kind of, but thinking of it as something that stops you from doing what you truly want would be a disservice, because the judgement center and the pleasure center of your brain don't just battle it out over someone who's decidedly terrible for you. Sexual tension can be a positive thing.

Remember how amazing it can feel when you finally kiss the person you've been playing knee hockey with for months? The bubble of sexual tension that's been building bursts and you're flooded with the happiness of knowing that making a move wasn't so risky after all. That's a beautiful feeling, and one that only exists because sexual tension rustled the butterflies in your stomach in the first place. If you're lucky, you'll have moments of sexual tension throughout a long-term relationship.

How is that possible with the will-we-or-won't-we risk off the table? Because the question of whether or not your crush likes you back is just the big risk — not the only one. "Maybe the momentary release goes away," Dr. Amen says. "But I’ve been a psychiatrist for 35 years and let me tell you, there are a lot of people in lasting relationships who still have the hots for each other."


That's because relationships are full of little risks, too. Will your partner think the lingerie you bought is sexy? Will you get over your first big fight? Will your partner be interested in changing things up during sex? All of these moments reawaken the sexual tension between you, and provide plenty of opportunity for it to be released.

Does this still happen in Japan? It's hard to experience it when you spend most of your time staring into your phone...

Have a great day!

Get your Starbucks fix at your local convenience store

Good morning everyone,

I hope the weather is warming up in Hiroshima, otherwise I might freeze to death!

Starbucks Japan recently announced on their website that Starbucks and Suntory Beverage & Food will be releasing a new bottled clear sparkling drink in two flavors: The “Starbucks Sparkling Refreshing Taste (Non-calorie)” and “Starbucks Sparkling Peach Splash (Low-calorie)“. What’s even better, the drinks will be readily available at convenience stores, specifically at 7-Eleven stores to start.

Sparkling water has seen an increase in popularity in the Japanese market in recent years as a healthier alternative to regular sodas, which is apparently one of the reasons Starbucks has decided to release a line of clear sparkling beverages in Japan.

The drinks will come in a stylish, slim bottle with a simple design that matches the concept of a refreshing clear beverage. The ingredients in the drinks include caffeine derived from coffee cherries, as well as coconut juice containing minerals such as phosphorus and sodium.

▼ The Starbucks Sparkling Refreshing Taste (Zero Calorie) is a carbonated drink with no added sugar that should do a good job of quenching your thirst.

▼ The Starbucks Sparkling Peach Splash (Low-calorie) is a mildly sweet drink that contains peach juice and apple juice.

Both drinks will come in a 390-milliliter plastic bottle, and the Refreshing Taste (No-calorie) will be priced at 130 yen, while the Peach Splash (Low-calorie) will cost just 10 yen more at 140 yen.

The sparkling beverages will go on sale at 7-Eleven stores across Japan starting February 27, but they’re calling this release an “advance sale”, so hopefully, you’ll be able to find these drinks at more locations in the near future. The beverages may not be typical Starbucks fare, but we, for one, always welcome a new refreshing drink — we just hope these will still be available during the hot summer when we’ll need them the most! I might actually be tempted then...but, to be honest, I'm not much of a fan of soft drinks. I'll stick with ice coffee or beer.

Have a great day!

New Super Mario movie! I hope it's better than the live-action one in 1993...

Good morning everyone,

It's another gorgeous day in Guam (I hope). How about Hiroshima?

An animated movie based on the iconic Mario video game franchise about plumbers Mario and Luigi is in early stages after Illumination Entertainment reached an agreement with Nintendo to produce the film.

Nintendo of America confirmed the news Wednesday in a tweet: “Nintendo and Illumination are partnering on a movie starring Mario, co-produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and Chris Meledandri!”

Miyamoto is the creator of Mario and many other Nintendo properties, and Meledandri is the owner of Illumination Entertainment, along with Universal Studios. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Nintendo and Illumination were near an agreement for a movie about Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. The games and spinoffs have sold more than 330 million units.

Illumination has produced the “Despicable Me” series, “Minions,” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Nintendo agreed in 2015 with Universal Parks and Resorts to build attractions based on Nintendo characters including Mario and Luigi.

Nintendo made a deal that spawned 1993’s live-action “Super Mario Bros.” starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper, but the movie performed poorly at the box office.

WSJ reported in November that the “Mario” movie would be animated by Illumination’s Mac Guff studio in Paris and that the project was in the early stages of development. That means it will be several years before the movie is ready for release in theaters.

Video game movies have a mixed record in Hollywood. Three were released in 2016 — Sony’s animated “Angry Birds”; Legendary’s live-action “Warcraft,” which performed well in China; and New Regency’s live-action “Assassin’s Creed.” “Angry Birds” turned in a decent performance with a sequel in the works for 2019.

Will it be on your list of movies to see? I might...but I'm a bit old for Super came out after I was already in university.

Have a great day!