"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself."
函館市 (Hakodate), a southern port city in Japan's northern island of 北海道 (Hokkaido), is the ideal romantic getaway. Permitting, you avoid their tourist brochures. I haven't the faintest clue how well they advertise in native 日本語 (Japanese), but I get the feeling their English translator is not a fan of their job. Read to believe:
Before arriving in Japan, I knew my crazy, obnoxious ways wouldn't get past Japanese customs. So I cut my hair, hid the earrings, and left behind the rainbow shoes. Though the most difficult trait to leave behind was my mouth. The days of walking out of a grocery store shouting, "JANICE!," or "My water just broke" became merely memories of my cherished past.
This lavish tongue of mine came quite in handy as a teacher at an ignorant high school just outside of Miami. The school lacked discipline, not only with the students, but especially with the teachers and parents. Often times, I would put my Howard Stern meets William Wallace voice to use captivating the minions towards freedom and order. At the Christmas luncheon I served as the bouncer, and took pleasure in denying a handful of would-be free-loaders access to bountiful holiday treats. At a Sports Careers conference, I proclaimed to all of my students "Thank you for not being ghetto like these other schools." And while at the annual Grad Bash field trip to Universal Studios, a militia of misfit female hoodlums breezed their way past the wimpy white kids too afraid to challenge minorities. When they got to me, I said with no fear, "Hell no, where do you go to school, Ghetto High?" Sure they eventually snuck past me, but at least someone spoke up.
I will be heard, for good or bad. Despite my love of commanding the troops, my ulterior motive is strictly selfless. Unfortunately, my God given talent has no place to sail in the still waters of Japan. Most affairs are quite organized with participants full of respect for one another. Until one night...
It was the annual farewell party, 送別会 (soubetsukai), and things were as they should be. Bashful spies waited for their peers glasses to need a refill, installments of raw fish an unidentified salads were placed on the table's center rotating circle thingy, and of course a parade of speeches closed many an eye. The teacher next to me and I even took bets on the length of each speech. Then later in the evening, while trying to find a polite exit from the "You are scivvy (perverted), me too!" bonding session with the phys ed teachers, there was a call for help.
The soft spoken master of ceremonies was asking everyone to return to their seats, which wasn't happening. So I vanished, and faster than you could dip your salmon into the soy sauce, I invaded the podium. And in Japanese equal to that of a fetus I shouted, "EVERYONE, SIT DOWN! THANK YOU, PLEASE!" I was like Moses, parting the red sea of drunken faces. I wouldn't know about herding sheep, but it was as easy as driving away women at a night club. In a flash, they had all returned to their seats, minus the geography teacher who's head could pass for a globe. When I made it back to my table, I was given a hero's welcome. The baseball coach gave me an authentic fist pound and poured so much beer in my already full glass that the carpet got tipsy. I knew the risks involved with "breaking protocal," but I just had to open my American mouth. I'm glad I did.
Perhaps, I'm just young. Or perhaps, just maybe, Japan gets too personal when it comes to health exams. Today my supervisor handed me my health exam packet. While looking through his, he pulled out a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be syringes.
Shocked, I asked "You have to do your own blood test?"
"Not blood," he said, "droppings." I wanted to believe that by "droppings" he meant something else.
Relief came, at least for half a moment, as he shook his head while I said "Fecal matter?" But when he folded out the pamphlet, my worse fears hit the fan.
But the big question remained unanswered. "Was this vile bag in my envelope?" Like a log belonging to a constipated man, my hand moved cautiously. But to my smiles, no bag was found!
"Maybe you are too young," said my supervisor. Whatever the reason, I'm just thankful I don't have to stab my turd. I don't even want to know where this is supposed to go down. In the toilet while it's floating about? Or do you build a paper towel foundation, 15 layers strong? But how do you even get the turd there? This sort of activity would have been enjoyable when I was a seven year old boy.
Well, at least I know I can't stay in Japan for too long. But now I'm wondering if this bizarre test will be waiting for me elsewhere.
"Love was always the goal, and my point every step of the way was that nothing is wrong with love, no matter what flavor it comes in."
While on a weekend journey to Hakodate, a southern port city in Hokkaido, I noticed quite a variety of unusual caramel flavors. "Corn caramel? Cantalope caramel?" These boys were just too odd to sit on the shelf. So I quickly snatched up a few of the 18 piece boxes. But as I hopped from one お土産 (omiyage,souvenir)shoptothenext,moreintoxicatingflavorssurfaced."Beercaramel?Winecaramel?"Rangingfrom 105 to 165 yen, they were too tempting to pass up. I knew Hokkaido, Japan's northern island was known for their caramel, but this was getting ridiculous. After the third round of purchases, my obsessive compulsive spirits overtook my soul and wallet. The goal of relaxing the day away quickly changed to storming every building with a cash register in search of additional caramel specimens. Twenty eight boxes later, I had captured every brand I could find. Though, sadly I've been made aware that more flavors such "Guarana" are hiding out there just waiting to be chewed. But without further ado, I humbly ask you to board the キャラメル キャラバン (Caramel Caravan), as we review 28 varieties of caramel, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 3 stars. Buckle up, it's going to be a sticky ride!
If you can get past the instant realization that this caramel is corn flavored, richness will invade your tongue. Though sadly the initial taste of microwaved buttery mashed corn lowers this overall enjoyable caramel down to 2 stars.
Genghis Khan Caramel
*** / Must Purchase
Gengis Khan, a Mongolian barbeque of lamb and mutton has long been a specialty of Hokkaido. The Japanese have a PHD in taking the local food and blending it into every possible お土産 (omiyage / souvenir) item, in this case caramel. I must say, that these two foods are PERFECT STRANGERS! Talk about a tasty tag team. The saucy meaty flavor stays with you throughout the duration of your chewing experience.
* / Blandness Abounds
The state of Idaho has a reputation of being boring, probably due to it also being known for potatoes. We must realize that unless they are mashed with butter and milk, or fried in a pond of grease, potatoes are as boring as your couch potato uncle (pun intended). The initial taste is that of a raw uncooked potato, and while this soon fades we're left with an uninspiring non-distinct flavor. Consequently, I have no qualms in pummeling the potato caramel with 1 star.
Soup Curry Caramel
** / Uniqueness Not To Be Missed
Soup Curry, born in Sapporo, Hokkaido, as its name implies is a liquid curry loaded with vegetables and rice. While I thoroughly enjoy Japanese Curry Rice, this particular breed is quite the spicey beast! This caramel will turn your mouth into a curry fireplace. It may be not be a shot of whiskey, but a chaser is highly recommended. In fact, despite its parade of fragrant flavors, it earns just 2 stars on account of the spice factor.
Please pass the butter, but spare me the caramel. When my beloved butter loving Grandma joined heaven's roster, I adopted her buttery ways. Though, these pint sized caramels dropped the ball. You're treated to a 1/2 second taste of butter before it vanishes into a mellow faint flavor hardly resembling caramel. "Ya best butter not bite into 1 of deez boys."
** / Melonrific
Not too sweet, not quite sour, perhaps a drizzle of tangy. Whichever way you slice it, this Melon is a winner, and fruitily speaking one of the few caramels that run the flavor marathon. The wonderful aroma of cantaloupe will stay with you throughout your chewing endeavor. Though this fun caramel finishes shy of 3 stars merely because not all God's children embrace the cantaloupe as I do. But for those who do, treat yourself to a pack!
Melon Soda Caramel
* / The Pretender
If Melon wasn't enough, say hello to the "Melon Soda" flavored caramel complete with Hokkaido's infamous "uppity" mascot Marimokkori. Just like its brothers and sisters, this caramel starts the party right. A light carbonated texture crawls over the tongue as a sprinkle of melon tickles. And then the cops come to bust the party. But unlike its siblings, you're not left with caramel. It's worse! An uninvited bubblegum flavor shows up. Quite the disappointment, as Melon Soda Caramel goes flat fast.
Sapporo Beer Caramel
* / A Foamy Frown
Three chews in, and the anticipated beer flavor decides to show up. But instead of Hokkaido's own Sapporo draft goodness, your taste buds play host to skunky beer foam. Luckily, as in reality, the foam flavor fizzles. But like so many other novelty caramels, you're left with blandness. I wasn't expecting great taste, especially with a .01% alcohol percentage, but this caramel could have at least bought a round.
This caramel is from Japan's confectionary juggernaut Glico, the company most known for its pocky. While not that excited to sample a national product, especially with the January, 2011 expiration. With most caramel expirations hovering between 2 and 6 months away, I'm guessing that Gilco's Strawberry caramel is heavy on the chemicals. Oh well. I had to salivate on this sucka for 2 minutes straight before it let me to make a dent. It felt as though the strawberry flavor was playing hide-and-seek. But then I noticed the scattering of strawberry pimples in each piece, which explained the phemonenon. The caramel though had a much different flavor from its Japanese siblings, and reminded me of an American candy, which at this moment I can't recall. Overall, it scores 2 stars merely for the wonder of its strawberry pockets, though I was honesty scared this rock hard caramel was going to take a few of my teeth as a souvenir.
Condensed Milk Caramel
** / "Been there chewed that"
Milk Caramel is a common sight. Especially at Kappa Zushi, a popular conveyer belt sushi restaurant, where even they sell their own Kappa adorned milk caramel. But the thought of a sweeter "condensed milk" was tempting. Although smooth and rich, there was nothing remarkable here. While the taste is on the 3 star level, I knock it down to 2 based on the lack of individuality.
Hakodate Wine Caramel
*** / Cheers!
Being certified white trash, I'm unable to call myself a connoisseur of the finer things in life, especially wine. Though this Hakodate Vin Rouge (red wine) caramel gave me the royal treatment. While just .05% alcohol, wonderful red wine flavors splashed across my tongue with every chew. This 3 star caramel is also quite addicting but I now I find myself asking, "Where's the cheese?" This is one wine you won't want to spit out! But for those who aren't up for a wine tasting, I suggest trying a less cultured flavor.
Nanae Sweet Apple Wine Caramel
** / Cider in Disguise
After sampling the delicious Hakodate Vin Rouge, I decided to try the Nanae Sweet Apple Wine Caramel. You really have to give the island of Hokkaido props for producing such a wide variety of home-grown local specialties. But I'm sorry to say that this particular caramel is a little confusing. While containing .05% alcohol just like it's Hakodate sibling, the wine flavor was absent. Though, it's replacement, the taste of apple cider was warmly welcomed. Though oddly, the wine flavor surfaced as an after taste. Overall, a promising caramel that needs to re-work the balance of flavors.
The name alone will send some swimming in the other direction. However, this particular flavor intrigued me. The fresh concrete color was curious. The taste, however, was lacking. The seaweed flavor is only sprinkled in what can only be described as a "quirky" caramel remix. There's nothing distinctively drowning about this caramel, but then again nothing floats to the surface. Guilty sugar snackers should pickup a box as Hakodate's Seeweed as it may carry a healthy edge.
Red Bean Caramel
* / Little Red
Given my love for the sweetness of red bean paste made from azuki beans, I was anxious to dive into this caramel. Only, it turned into a kamizake mission. For a nation that stuffs red bean paste into everything with room, it's a shock that they weren't able to properly master the caramel. There was no azuki flavor! Instead, it was just the standard caramel flavor with what appeared to be a masking of sugar. Perhaps, this caramel fails because it's unable to provide the mushy texture that makes red beans so much fun to eat.
** / Just2much
Japan has more uses for the soybean than they have shinto shrines. Soy beans are used for 醤油 (shoyu / soy sauce), 納豆 (natto), 枝豆 (edamame), 豆腐 (tofu),味噌 (miso), and in this case, 黄粉 (Kinako). Though disregard Wikipedia saying how this brown powder compares to peanut butter. It's sweet, it's fun, but it's not peanut butter. Instead it tastes like dried out hazelnut sand. Sadly this flavor should remain just a thin layer of dust atop 餅 (mochi). It was overkill resulting in a mediocre aftertaste.
** / Ocean Caramel
This Salt Caramel provided the expected: the taste of the ocean. This sure beats slurping up the water in the dolphin tank at Sea World. Though perhaps the salt concentration is too high. The salt flavor became stronger with every chew, by the end of my chewing journey my tongue was crawling towards the nearest river for fresh water.
Those who know me are well aware that my lips won't touch a cup of coffee until I am aged 35 years. Just a personal pact I made to myself long ago. Regardless, this unbreakable vow doesn't stop me from sampling "coffee flavored" goodies. Just a disclaimer that perhaps I am the wrong mortal to judge coffee flavors. Well...here we go. Clark's Coffee Caramel certainly had me guessing with its wood lacquer finish color, but the second my teeth began the initial chew, a coffee aroma blew up in my mouth. I immediately felt like I was on the set of a Folger's commercial. I suppose I was expecting something similar to Kahlua, but this caramel certainly delivers what I guess is an authentic coffee flavor, which resonates for quite some time, only fading towards the final chews. While I don't mind if I don't chew another piece, it receives three stars, for I'm betting coffee lovers will want to pop these on their mouth to fight the cravings.
Hakodate Milk Caramel
** / Bottle Fed Flavor
One of two "Hakodate Milk Caramel," this particular incarnation provides the expected, despite it's unusual bread crust color. A salivating pleasant milkyness enters my mouth like I'm a toddler suckling a bottle. The milk flavor is strong enough that I'd recommend this candy to compliment a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Though it receives a mere 2 stars for milk caramel is a common sight in Japan.
Hakodate Milk Caramel
** / Milkshake Surprise
The 2nd of two Hakodate Milk caramels has the expected milk color, though the flavor is quite a surprise. Instead of milk, you're reminded of a vanilla extract infested milkshake. I'm quite the Vanilla fiend, but it certainly an overdose which sadly knocks this fun caramel down to 2 stars.
Shio Ramen Caramel
* / The Coward
Having loved the 'Soup Curry Caramel,' I had high hopes for this salt-flavored (shio) ramen caramel. Well if there is any flavor here, it's yellow. Talk about a coward! If there was any ramen flavor, it was merely residue running miles away. My taste buds eagerly searched for flavor, but came up empty tongued.
While the color of sawdust, this butter caramel is as hard as wood. Unlike the other butter caramel, this one has a melted aroma too it, but almost tastes as if it's burnt. Nonetheless, this is nothing more than buttery boredom.
White Pudding Caramel
*** / Vanilla Me Silly
With the appropriate color, this white pudding caramel instantly delivers a vanilla pudding sensation. Though after a few chews, the vanilla overwhelms the pudding, and you're left with a milk-heavy vanilla flavor similar to the Hakodate milk caramel. Though, overall, this is an enjoyable candy for all ages.
** / The Pretender
Looks like chocolate, but tastes like plastic. This fake chocolate flavor may dazzle a few, but in a league with fascinating caramel varieties, this one gets left behind.
* / Ice Hard
Not entirely certain what flavor this caramel is supposed to be. According to a friend, the kanji used means winter. Though tastewise, this is nothing but standard-fare delivering the typical milk flavor. Sadly, it's within a hard shell branding this caramel with 1 star.
You can't help but be skeptic over a brandname such as Bambi. But there's a reason brand name juggernuts like Reese's, and M&M's have conquered the competition: they're tasty! Which is why I'm certain I've seen this Hokkaido based brand on the main island of Honshu. I'm not one to eat flowers, so this Sakura (cherry blossom) flavored caramel was alien to me. Though the second it sat on my tongue, I felt at home. It tasted just like a strawberry Brach's Milk Maid Royal, which just happens to forever be a candy dear to my heart. In fact, it's so good, I couldn't stop popping them in my mouth while writing this review. If you like a sweet berry-ish caramel, hook up with this fine piece of confectionary!
* / Ehh
Yes, another milk caramel. Besides being abnormally hard, that's all I have to say about this cliched caramel.
*** / Ripeness
I'm a sucker for sweet, and this Bambi Strawberry licked me away. At first a smoothie comes to mind, but then authentic strawberry flavors appear. And before you know it this sugary treat melts in your mouth faster than the Wicked Witch. It's high level of sweetness may keep repeated chews at bay, but this certainly ranks in the top 5. If I didn't use a 3 star system, this one would surely earn 999.
*** / Tootsierific
Sadly, Tootsie Rolls are not sold in Japan. Luckily, Bambi's Chocolate Caramels are. Except for the final chews will give off a skunky chocolate aftertaste, one can only taste "tootsie rolls" during this fun filled adventure. Though one looking for caramel flavor should chew elsewhere.
While, London and Paris may think they lead the world in fashion, I beg to differ. The Japanese got fashion down to a science. While not sporting chiseled greek builds, or family sized rear ends, the Japanese don't necessarily have "out of this world" features to work with. But what they do have is style. While in Japan, my eyes have been treated to quite a workout. Back in America, I passed checking out 75% of the population. Pink sweatpants with matching wristbands and earrings large enough for a circus tiger to leap through is not fashion. I'm also convinced that Asians as a whole, specifically Japanese women, are the most beautiful on this planet. Remember, "it's not what you wear, it's how you wear it." The Japanese can mix and match styles, hats, stockings, and skirts like it's no one's business. A forty year old woman can walk the streets in high heel boots tickling her knees, silver glittery stockings, and a jean miniskirt while looking like a model citizen. While in America, male driven vehicles would slow down to ask, "How much?"
So when I attended a fellow English teacher's high school festival, I jumped at the chance to check out the fashion design club. Though what I saw slammed my non-existent keister onto the floor. These designs were like Easter mixed with Cirque Du Soleil and a smidgen of death. I just hope that the future clothes wearers of Japan stick to the threads sold in stores, and not those in these designs. As a "Project Runway" fan, Tim Gunn would surely be saying "make it work." But, these designs sure are fun! Enjoy.