Monthly Archives: July 2011

After sitting in the morning sun enjoying a nice cup of espresso, I went to do my Sunday morning shopping at the ever expensive Meidi-ya Hiroo department store. The arctic temperature in the store was a nice change of climate from the 30 degrees celcius and suffocating Honshu humidity levels present outside. Purely by accident I stumbled upon a rare endemic dish that I had needed to try: the tokoroten.

Why wouldn't people want to buy a living blue jelly for ¥100?

Originally I was introduced to the obscure stuff by the equally bizarre Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo tv-show. Unfortunately, all relevant videos on Youtube are Spanish dubs so I won’t be linking any here. Considering the character of Tokoro Tennosuke, who was made entirely of tokoroten, failed to sell himself at the supermarket for a mere ¥10, I was surprised I needed to pay ¥315 for a batch of three small cups in the real world. Then again, it was Meidi-ya whose slogan is “We love overpricing”.

3-pack of un-snacks

Tokoroten is a weird beast, which, besides the anime reference, was the main reason I needed to try it. Consisting practically only of water, the dish has lately been advertised in Japan as a diet food for the very same reason, because it’s water (Japanese wikipedia indicates the water content to be 98-99%). To water is added agar, and the gelatinous end result is shaped into “noodles”. Therefore stuffing yourself full of tokoroten before a meal can fill your stomach with water jelly, thus decreasing your hunger and making you eat less actual food. That wasn’t really my goal, but I had no option but to try the stuff nevertheless.

Maximum texture, no taste!

The pack I bought also contained a vinegar dipping sauce as well as small bags of sesame seeds for seasoning. A few slurps and it was gone. Being as the tokoroten itself doesn’t taste like anything, it was exactly like eating textured water with vinegar, an experience best described as unproductive. According to the Japanese, tokoroten is great in the summer as you can cool yourself down while having the illusion of eating. I personally prefer to keep my water as a liquid and my food as an energy source. No wonder Tennosuke was so unpopular in Bo-bobo. It’s not really worth much more than ¥10 a cup. I won’t be buying it again but I still have two cups left in the fridge so it seems I’ll be eating some more water in the days to come.


Reclaiming ‘Nerd’

Man, it’s good to be a nerd these days.

I recently had one of my pseudophilosophical meditation moments and came to think how hard it would be to have to hide or downplay a part of your personality continuously. In particular, I’ve been intrigued by the people I know who still feel the need to avoid talking about their more nerdy pastimes in order to avoid ridicule, or at least in order to believe being able to avoid ridicule.

I don’t think nerd is an all-encompassing term. It can be used to characterize a certain amount of interests, hobbies and attitudes towards things, but I fail to see how, in its present usage, it could ever include all the traditional negative meanings the word supposedly implies. I like to use nerd as a quick description of myself, and then later elaborate on as to what about me actually fits within that definition. Nerd is so loosely used nowadays that it really doesn’t mean much on its own. To some, simply knowing what a motherboard is will be proof of nerdhood, while others will require you to have been a part of the cabal and have glasses repaired with duct tape.

Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my life to always have found friends that shared some of the same hobbies and passions as I did. I was never bullied at school, and was never a recluse or even anti-social despite being a weirdo. Disclaimer: I don’t think weirdo has a negative connotation either. Partly because nobody has ever, to my knowledge, stamped the term nerd on me as a viciously negative label, to this day I utterly fail to connect it to the pool of detrimental personal traits. Again, I have been extremely lucky in this respect.

It really happens

Even as a kid, I clearly identified the things I enjoyed, and those I didn’t. Through sheer coincidence, I always received enough support around me to be able to relish my hobbies without being afraid of people not liking me. Or being able to effectively ignore those who did. Granted, I always did other things to complement the nerdy stuff. I’ve always liked sports, and immensely enjoyed football, basketball, floorball and every other team sport we played at school. This allowed me to avoid being profiled as something or other and let me fully enjoy all aspects of whatever struck my fancy.

During the France years, I don’t remember anyone ever ridiculing me over playing video games or studying, which is what I did most of the time. I liked those things, and everyone else seemed to readily accept that fact. Back in Finland in ’98, one of the first things I noticed at school were how getting good grades could get you criticized and badmouthed. This felt weird at the time; the experience at my school in France had been abundantly different. Either the shift was culture-related, an extension of Finnish jealousy, or the same thing would have happened wherever I had been at that age. “Someone is better at school, let’s make him feel uncomfortable.” That sentence did not specifically apply to me.

In the last years of primary school in Finland, I managed to gather a group of friends around me who generally enjoyed the same things as I did, something which allowed, among other things, for my general nerdy nature to flourish. We created a self-sustaining circle of people large enough to support each others’ non-conventional hobbies and shield us from the criticism of others – or at least make it less poignant. I was properly shielded. As long as there were other people who accepted what I did and liked to do, life was relatively easy.

Joona and I attended a couple of Java programming courses at the university of Helsinki at ages 14 and 15, respectively. Despite being called boy geniuses by a friend’s dad, the boy couldn’t keep up with the genius. While Joona attentively listened during lectures and passed both courses with the highest grades, I mostly slept in my seat, wrote down funny quotes from the lecturer and failed both classes. I’m pretty sure not everybody at school was pleased with us leaving two times a week during normal classes to go to the university, but I was absolutely oblivious to whatever comments may have floated around behind our backs. Sometimes it pays off to be socially as blind as a bat.

© Penny Arcade

My life in this fluffy duffy Turingian world of charm continued well beyond the age where I was old and confident enough to stand by my beliefs and fields of interest no matter what other people around thought about them. In high school, during military service or at the university, it has come as a surprise to nobody that I’m a nerd. It’s not something I shove down people’s throats, but I’m not trying to hide it either. Why? Because I’m proud of it! I have things I like, and I like liking them. Either deal with it or don’t deal with me. If someone thinks less of me because I like computers, video games and comics, they either need to be educated slightly on the issues or, if that fails, they can fuck off for all I care.

My closest group of friends still comprises mainly of the people I got to know during my primary school years. The sense of security and acceptance derived from such a close-knit group of friends allows for a very strong sense of self-esteem – even bordering on arrogance in certain situations.

As an interesting anecdote, we got a reminder a couple of years ago of how some people, especially those young and confused enough to still look for their place in society, have a tendency to interpret the word nerd as an insult.

It was probably 2008. We were playing Mölkkygolf, a Big Bang Theory-like but purely Finnish sport, in a public park, during a warm summer night. When I say night I positively mean night, not evening. After a while, a cohort of drunken teenage mutant ninja turtles girls strolled past us. While most of them were wary and preferred to keep their distance to a gang of older weirdoes who were throwing wooden blocks towards other wooden blocks in the dark, one girl was intrigued by the admittedly crazy looking game. Whether this interest was genuine or purely alcohol-induced is hard to tell. Actually it’s not hard to tell at all. The latter. Concerning the obvious questions as to what the hell we were doing in a park at this time of the night without copious amounts of alcohol (we only had a few beers), our immediate answer was that “we’re nerds, it’s what we do”. Since that one girl wanted to try the game, we quickly explained her the rules, the basics of which she never properly grasped, and thus she partook in our Mölkkygolf match for a few rounds until eventually growing tired of it.

Upon leaving with her merry friends, she shouted back in our direction: “You’re not nerds! You’re actually really nice guys!”, as though those two things were mutually exclusive.

Without a second of reflection, I retorted – and I wasn’t the only one: “Of course we’re nerds!”

Befuddled, she quipped with one last fading cry from the distance: “What!? So you want to be nerds!?”

Yes. Yes we do. That’s who we are, and we like it that way.


Instance Noodles

You Are Not Prepared!

I spent most of the midsummer days preparing to move house from Nakamurabashi to Hiroo. After a tedious dragging of luggage around the city on Saturday, I relaxed for a couple of hours before heading to Heiwajima Park for a Finno-Swedish midsummer party complete with bonfire, sauna, barbecue and drinks. As I couldn’t be certain whether or not anyone would be attending, I entered the premises empty-handed and needed a quick trip to the ever-so-useful nearby Don Quixote to replenish my resources.

During the long evening I managed to meet several nice and interesting people. Besides encountering a couple of Japanese girls who were part of the national women’s floorball team (out of maybe 100 practitioners of the sport here in total) and were moving to some kind of Köping in Sweden to get better at the trade, the evening was a relatively standard Nordic estival drinking session. In addition, it served as a catalyst for some more culinary adventures. The rest of this post will be a storyteller’s nightmare, mainly because I will be posting pictures of unrelated ramen dishes in a seemingly arbitrary manner until my phone’s memory is empty again.

Becoming a Pastafarian

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to avoid my weekly Muteppou trap and found a new tonkotsu ramen place worth visiting, Yottekoya at Ebisu station. Their tonshio (pork-salt broth) ramen was excellent, and I went out on a limb again by purposefully ordering the dish with double chashuu slices. Although I have no complaints about the rest of the bowl whatsoever, what really made my day were the said thick slices of pork. Extremely tasty and fatty, they had been lightly broiled and were by far the best chashuu in any ramen restaurant I’ve visited so far.

My only regret that day is that I managed to bypass another type of broth on the menu until after I had finished my bowl: The ジェノバラーメン (Jenova ramen). That’s my own romanization. There is close to no chance that the meal was actually referring to the Calamity from the Skies, but as a Final Fantasy reference-nerd I now have two reasons to return to Yottekoya, pronto.

Salivation, salivation, salivation is here.

My next ramen discovery had been sitting next to my home station of Nakamurabashi the whole time, but I had never been courageous enough to enter the small, homely shop before. Also, it had been closed most of the time. I don’t even know the name of the place. Faithful to my ways, I ordered the tonkotsu bowl with double chashuu slices and dug in. Although the food was enjoyable, the shop could not keep up in quality with the more famous ramen restaurants. The chashuu was straight from the refrigerator and tasted like anything I could have found in the nearby Seiyu supermarket. The broth was quite salty and the noodles were closer to the instant variety than fresh ones. All in all a decent bowl of salt and grease after a night out, wouldn’t return for taste.

Full speed ahead, captain.

Returning to the midsummer weekend, one of the Finnish attendees who had lived in Japan for north of 10 years told me about a famous Hakata ramen chain called Ichiran. Supposedly “the best”, Ichiran takes the antisocial aspect of ramen eating so far that restaurants give a small walled piece of counter to each visiting enthusiast. Functioning in a way similar to horse blinders, the visual and physical seclusion from the outside world ideally allows for people to concentrate solely on the greatness of ramen. The idea intrigued me.

Yesterday, during my afternoon exploration walk in Azabu-Juban and Roppongi, I eventually realized I was close enough to the local Ichiran branch that I could try finding it without a map. Long story short, you don’t find stuff in Japan without a map. What did happen, though, was that I walked past a very appetizing noodle shop called Kohmen. I thought it was a tsukemen shop, but what I ordered, the 熟成光麺(jukuseikohmen) with all toppings, was something I can’t quite define. Noodles in a standard ramen broth, with all toppings set aside on a separate plate. Kohmen’s homepage qualifies the place as a Chinese style noodle shop, which basically translates to ramen. Only the presentation was different. And since I just shoveled all the toppings straight into the broth bowl anyway, the difference was limited to Kohmen dirtying one extra plate.


As a disclaimer, I was pretty damn hungry. The light, salty broth and thin, curly noodles tasted excellent and fit perfectly together. The plate of toppings included half of a 味付け卵 (seasoned egg), two thick slices of fatty chashuu, bamboo shoots, spring onion slices, a sheet of nori and some crisp, oil-cooked garlic slices. I was also allowed to choose one additional item from a service menu and opted for an extra egg. Other choices included an extra serving of noodles, a small bowl of rice, a small dessert or something weird that was sold out but had been left on the menu to make children cry. I could still have used more toppings, but the quality of the meal coupled with its reasonable price (¥990) made me a believer. Upon leaving I also received a ¥100 coupon to make sure I return to Kohmen. That would not have been necessary.