All posts by Nicolas

I strongly believe that: - Relationships are key to happiness - Self-development is in each one's responsibility - By helping others, you also help yourself - Diversity makes life more interesting - We must act as one world - Every person has a purpose in life. I try to live according to these values and hope to connect with many people who share them.

NOUSAKU – traditional cast techniques applied to contemporary designs

nousaku_furin_genbaNOUSAKU LogoNOUSAKU is a producer of Takaoka Casting. The region of Takaoka has been famous for casting mainly Buddhist alter fittings made of tin and brass since 400 years. NOUSAKU was established in 1916 and is managed by the fourth generation of the Nousaku family. The family and company by itself are already a subject by itself. 能 (NOU) 作(SAKU) mean intelligent creation. There is no better to describe the products made by NOUSAKU.

The production of NOUSAKU products requires four basic steps: forming, casting, finishing and coating.


Independent craftsmen who work for multiple clients make the wooden forms. These wooden forms are stored for years. The warehouse is full of hundreds of forms that sometimes are used once every few years to renew certain parts of a temple.


During the casting process these forms are used to press the shape into a special sand in a box. Once the box full of sand with a specific pattern is closed these only is a small whole left, which is used to fill in the molten metal. On one day the workers in the casting area will prepare hundreds of forms, the next day they will all be filled with metal and after cooling the newly created objects will be removed from the forms and the sand recycled. Work in the physically demanding casting area requires a lot of teamwork, whereas the next production step is performed by highly specialized craftsmen who work alone at their workstations.

NOUSAKU Casting Area-2

Each workstation in the finishing area stands for a specific task to be performed on each object. Craftsmen that are with NOUSAKU for many years master multiple workstations, whereas young craftsmen first struggle to reach perfection on very few tasks. The work in the finishing area ranges from simple polishing to the engraving of complex patterns into the objects.

NOUSAKU Craftsman

The last step of the production is the coating, which is performed by specialized companies. Different companies are used for different kind of coatings. By working together with multiple companies for creating forms and coating NOUSAKU also contributes at keeping the eco-system for the traditional craft of Takaoka Casting alive.


Other than brass, which is used for making many products such as wind chimes, NOUSAKU developed new range of products made of pure tin. Known as the most expensive metal after gold and silver, tin is very malleable and flexible. Though having nearly the whiteness of silver, it does not rust easily nor will air tarnish it readily. It is significantly antibacterial, and also known as a material with low allergic reactivity and high heat conductivity.

Its history dates back to around 1500 B.C. when the ancient Egyptian pharaohs were believed to have used tin tools. The Shoso-inTemple in Japan also contains treasures made of tin. It has been believed that water in a tin container does not spoil, and tin removes excessive bitterness from sake and produces better taste. Because it is known to absorb impurities and purify water, tin wares allow you to enjoy liquor, meals, sweets, or flowers. Tin plate cooled in a refrigerator for 2-3 minutes will keep the plate fresh and cold.

NOUSAKU uses pure tin. It is common to add other metallic materials to provide durability and facilitate cutting work, but NOUSAKU uses tin without such additives. Accumulated experience of skilled craftsmen enables us to produce these unique items. Though it depends on the shape and thickness, pure tin is soft and flexible which can be bent by hand (crackling sound called “Tin Cry” will be heard when bending). The Flexible Ware creations of NOUSAKU allow people use use the product in many creative ways.

The story about NOUSAKU is not only about an interesting craft but also about the transformation of a business. Most of its history NOUSAKU was a casting company working for other companies who would make finished products. NOUSAKU therefore almost never knew the end-customer. It is when the 4th generation of the NOUSAKU family took over leadership that an interest into the consumer grew. The company started working with designers to create new and interesting interior products, which received high recognition around the world. 10 years since the beginning of this transformation NOUSAKU is on its way of becoming an interior decoration and tableware luxury brand well known around the world.

NOUSAKU President
Katsuji Nousaku, 4th generation president of NOUSAKU

NOUSAKU has been hiring many people over the last years to cope with their increasing success. The average age in the company is around 30 and we felt a very inspiring and dynamic atmosphere throughout the whole company. This culture of growth and creativity made us very confident about the future of NOUSAKU and we are looking forward to see many more fantastic new products.

NOUSAKU Online Shop Banner

VEGETABRELLA – the umbrella that looks like a salad head

Japan is well known for it’s fake food culture with most restaurants having replicas of popular dishes in their show window. It therefore is no wonder that the VEGETABRELLA was invested in Japan.

The Vegetabrella is an umbrella that looks like the head of a romaine lettuce. It’s name is a combination of the two words “vegetable” and “umbrella”. When closed it has a very realistic resemblance to a romaine salad head. When opened it becomes a normal umbrella in light green. It is equipped with a small bag in the same green fabric as the umbrella. The ribbon to keep it closed reminds those found on salads in Japanese supermarkets. The Vegetabrella is sold in a carton box that also resembles Japanese salad boxes. Overall it is a really well designed and fully functional product.

It was designed by Yurie Mano and the design company h-concept. Each Vegetabrella is hand made by Tokyo Noble – a family owned company that specializes on the production of high quality hand made umbrellas. Their shop is close to Akihabara in Tokyo and they allow customers to choose from hundreds of umbrella parts to then assemble it in front of the client.

Tokyo Noble Shop in Tokyo

The Vegetabrella not only serves as an umbrella but it has UV protection that also makes it popular amongst Japanese women to avoid suntan.

The Vegetabrella sells for 4725 Japanese Yen (~60 USD). It weights exactly 200 grams without box and has a diameter of 80 cm. Recently it was featured on NHK World’s COOL JAPAN program, which gave it major exposure outside of Japan. Since then many blogs picked it up as well as various newspapers and magazines. It is available for sale on the NIHON ICHIBAN online shop at the Japanese retail price plus international shipping.

We are wondering if the Vegetabrella is the only fake food umbrella from Japan or if we will see more variations coming out in future. Who knows, Japan is always good for a surprise.

Top Recipes with Pickled Sakura Cherry Blossoms from Japan

List of Japanese Recipes with pickled Sakura

Sakura cherry blossoms are a classic Japanese ingredient, which not only has a very unique flavor but also adds beauty to dishes. This list of recipes with pickled sakura includes Japanese traditional recipes as well as contemporary westernized recipes as well.

This sakura tea is slightly salty and a very typical drink for celebrations such as weddings in Japan. The flower unfolds in the hot water and adds beauty to the elegant flavor of sakura.


Sakura Rice is a very simple and easy to make recipe with pickled sakura. When cooked with rice the salt of the pickled sakura emphasizes the beautiful flavor of the cherry blossoms.


Sakura Mochi is a rice cake made of sweet rice. It is THE classic recipe for pickled sakura and you can have them literally everywhere in Japan during the cherry blossom season.

Recipe by: BeBe Love Okazu

Sakura Yokan is a kind of jelly also very nice in summer. This recipe is easy and quick to make and the Yokan tastes and looks fabulously and will impress your family and friends.

Recipe by: Bohnenhase

Sakura Anko Mushipan is a kind of Japanese style muffin. Mushipan means steamed bread. It is fluffy and soft and the flavors of anko bean paste and sakura are a nice combination of typical Japanese sweet ingredients.

Recipe by: Bohnenhase

This Sakura Jelly is almost like a painting. Sakura flowers in a clear jelly (made with the pink soaking liquid of the sakura) with a base of dark cherry mousse and cherries.

Recipe by: Hunger Hunger

Sakura Cherry Blossom Cheese Cake is a wonderful blend of Western and Japanese cuisine. The soft flavor of the cheese cake is a perfect base for the subtle aroma of the sakura flowers.

Recipe by: Nina

These Sakura Cookies are easy to make and the simple cookies help to bring out the flavor of the sakura flower. The cookies look really cute and also make a perfect gift during cherry blossom season.

Recipe by: DailyDelicious

This Sakura Layer Cake combines two of Japan’s famous ingredients: Sakura and Matcha tea powder. The result is a wonderful sponge cake with typical Japanese aromas and beautiful green and pink colored layers.

Recipe by: Feast Your Eyes

A Sakura Rare Cheese Desert that is so beautiful with the pale pink on the creamy white. The delicate flavor of the sakura is a wonderful combination to the creamy aroma of the rare cheese.

Recipe by: evan’s kitchen ramblings

The Sakura Chiffon Cake is a wonderful combination of Western and Japanese flavors. The aroma of the sakura flowers blends very well with the smooth and light flavor and consistency of chiffon cake.

Recipe by: Da Washoku Kitchen

The Sakura Macaron is another fantastic example of blending Western and Japanese food culture. The result is a beautiful pink macaroni with the subtle flavor of sakura cherry blossoms.

Recipe by: Bobbies Baking Blog

Sakura Onigiri are a Japanese classic. Enjoy rice balls with the flavor of sakura. The salt from the pickled sakura naturally also seasons the rice. Easy to make – just enjoy!

Recipe by: The Delectable Hodgepodge

The Sakura Roll Cake has a very intense flavor of Sakura due to the Sakura Creme Mousseline filling. The dark pink filling also makes a nice contract to the soft color of the cake.

Recipe by: Traveling Foodies

The Sakura Cake is a very nice recipe for a Sakura Chiffon Cake. The sakura flowers on it’s top are a beautiful decoration and the subtle flavor of sakura blends nicely with the soft chiffon cake’s texture.

Recipe by: Happy Home Baking

This post is based on above recipe for Sakura Cookies from DailyDelicious but it adds a lot of nice photos and text to it, so that we thought it is worth adding it to our list of great recipes.

Recipe by: Nasi Lemak Lover

Do you know a recipe that is not listed here? Let us know and we will be happy to add it.

Nicolas Soergel – Founder of NIHON ICHIBAN

Interview with Nicolas Soergel – Founder of NIHON ICHIBAN

Interviewed by Sophie Coureau – staff writer at Chinriu Honten Limited

What is NIHON ICHIBAN about and why did you start it?

Japan is a country with a very rich heritage and abundance of great food, craft and design products.  But knowledge about these original products is very low and it also is very hard to purchase authentic products for most foreigners.

The mission of NIHON ICHIBAN is to promote Japanese authentic craft, food and design to foreigners inside and outside of Japan. Our family manages a traditional Japanese food company with more than 140 years of history. From this experience I have access to many traditional Japanese companies and also understand their challenges to market their products abroad.

This is when the idea was born to create an online shop that brings together a large number of such traditional companies to create a broad selection of products suitable for non-Japanese.

But NIHON ICHIBAN is not only about selling products. We also want to create a community of people who are interested in Japanese culture. With blogs, Twitter and Facebook we already have an active community of more than 82,000 Japan fans and more than 320 Japan bloggers. We give Japan bloggers a free platform to promote their blogs and the NIHONGO ICHIBAN site provides about 1000 pages with free material for those who prepare for the Japan Language Proficiency Test.

How do you select products for NIHON ICHIBAN?

Products need to fulfill three basic requirements to be listed in the NIHON ICHIBAN SHOP.

  • First a product needs to be genuinely Japanese and we welcome contemporary products as much as traditional products.
  • Then products need to be of high quality. I personally visit every partner to understand the products as well as the production process. We only want to offer the best products available on the market.
  • Last but not least products or suppliers need to have a story to tell. A story can be the history, the manufacturing process or a thought behind a product.

By adding products that fulfill these three conditions I believe that we will create a unique and interesting line-up for our customers.

What is your outlook for NIHON ICHIBAN?

NIHON ICHIBAN shall become the leading shop for authentic Japanese craft, design and food products. This means that we will keep adding products until we have the most comprehensive line-up covering all traditional food and craft categories.  But this will take some time as we will only expand the line-up step by step to keep the high product quality.

In cooperation with selected craftsmen and designers we now also started developing new contemporary products that also suit Western lifestyle. This will become an increasingly important part of our business.

One last word to the readers of the newsletter:

We just launched NIHON ICHIBAN and although we took outmost care to make shopping with us a pleasant experience I am sure that there are still many things to improve. Please let us know what you like and what you did not like as well as the kind of products you would like us to add to NIHON ICHIBAN.

Hungry? Today’s Menu is… Japanese Fake Food?!

If you’ve visited Japan, one of the first things that captures your attention when going out to eat is the plethora of fake food and drink menu models such as the ones seen in the picture above that are displayed outside of dining establishments in showroom display cases.

The presence of these PVC and silicon-based models make dining in Japan a stress-free experience, which is a true blessing especially for those visiting with minimal Japanese language skills.  But not only are the models helpful for tourists, they are appreciated by Japanese alike when deciding where to go for a meal and/or drink.

As for when and where the current US$100 million fake food industry began, one need not look any further than the food capital of Japan – Osaka.  Born just over 80 years ago, the food and drink model making industry has had a tremendous influence over the entire restaurant market in Japan.  The quality and appealing factor of one’s fake food models can make or even break a restaurant.  It goes to show just how much of an affect on a restaurant’s revenue stream these models have.

If you are planning to visit or currently reside in Japan, you may not know this but some of the fake food manufacturers even offer fake food-making workshops on the weekends where you can create your own personalized models. Every fake food factory has its own schedule but at the fake food facility of Morino Sample in Osaka reservations can be made under this link in Japanese only.

Guest Author: Justin from Fake Food Japan

This post has been written by Justin who is the CEO of Fake Food Japan. With his Japanese partner he  runs a factory and shop for Fake Food in Osaka and also ships worldwide from his online shop, which is in English.


What foreigners say about living in Japan

Video about foreigners voices about living in Japan

If you actually live and would like to live in Japan you must watch this video. About 1 hours of interviews on likes and dislikes of Japan from long-term foreign residents. I live here for about 12 years now and video reminded me a lot of things a now take for granted. What is it you like or dislike about Japan? Please share it with us in the comment section.

Great Sushi Commercials – Sushiro Sushi Rap

Sushiro Sushi Commercials

Sushiro (スシロー) is one of the largest restaurant chains for belt sushi in Japan with about 200 outlets. Being a national player they are running commercials in TV. They developed a new aesthetics for Sushi commercials giving it a delicious but modern style. Sushiro’s commercials are also called Sushi Rap due to the quick change of pictures and the rap like music, which is using traditional Japanese instruments such as shamisen.

Sushiro Commercial 2012

Sushiro Commercial 2010

Sushiro Maguro Tuna Campaign

Which commercial do you like most and what is your favorite Sushi?

Riusuke Fukahori 深堀隆介 – Goldfish Salvation

Goldfish Art from Riusuke Fukahori

Riusuke Fukahori was born 1973 in Aichi prefecture where he also graduated at a design university in 1995. It is on 2002 that Riusuke started using acrylic and resin to meticulously draw goldfish layer by layer to achieve a 3D effect close to a sculpture. The result are very realistically looking goldfishes frozen in time swimming in all kind of containers ranging from wooden tubs in all sizes, shells, metal boxes or bamboo.

Riusuke states that the idea of creating goldfish sculptures came to his mind during a long period of depressions when he was spending a lot of time at home. Watching his own goldfish at home cheered him up and gave him inspiration and energy to start his new goldfish art. It took until 2005 until Ruisuke got recognized in Japan and his international debut was in 2008 on the Shanghai Art Fair. He then also exhibited his art in Taiwan and Germany and recently was promoted by the ICN gallery in London.

In his book Riusuke Fukahori writes:

“Throughout their long history, goldfish have continuously been artificially bred to create various types. Although they are uncomplicated fish they deep-root in our mind and continue to entertain and heal us.”

“To think about goldfish and express them as my artwork is to look into my inner-self and seek my own identity. After looking at goldfish for 10 years I have reached this conclusion.

I will keep searching for the motivation for my activities as an artist and my identity through goldfish. While salvaged and suffered by goldfish, I will live with goldfish and stare at myself further.”

Find Riusuke Fukahori and his goldfish art on his website (Japanese only) and his book on Amazon Japan.


Riusuke Fukahori does not produce his artwork in winter. The production of artwork requires a constant temperature of more than 22 degree celsius to avoid cracks. Riusuke also only works on his creations when he feels inspired by watching living goldfish. It therefore is hard to forecast availability of artworks.

In 2011 Riusuke Fukahori published a book with pictures of artwork including the goldfish paintings.  Although the descriptions are written in English and Japanese it seems hard to proceed the book outside of Japan. You can also buy the book through the NIHON ICHIBAN SHOP for 3635 Japanese Yen plus international shipping.

Been There Done That – the travel check list for Japan

The concept of Been There Done That

Been There Done That (BTDT) is a new kind of travel guide. It is different from traditional guide books that provide tons of information but little space to plan and record your trips. The global edition covers 40 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe with world heritages, things to eat, to do, daily and monthly planners, airports, cities, hotels and much more. There also are blank areas that allow to add your own items to personalize it. The Been There Done That series is published by LA DITTA Limited in Tokyo.

Been There Done That: Japan Checklist

In 2011 Been There Done That also published a Japan edition. It includes 27 checklists covering Must Do’s, Onsen Hotsprings, Things to Eat, Festivals and much more. Japan has such a rich heritage and there are so many things to do and eat that this checklist is really useful for any Japan traveler. You can use BTDT Japan to plan your trip, to track your progress and to record your experiences. It will help you to make the best from your trip and to capture your memories and experiences.

Been There Done That: Anime Checklist

Japanese anime became very popular across the world and is becoming part of modern mainstream culture.  In 42 sections the Been There Done That Anime Checklist covers almost any topic related to anime such as events, maid cafes, stories, episode trackers, costly goods & tips, anisongs and much more. It is a great list to also check your knowledge of anime and find out where you might want to learn more.


You can combine the Been There Done That checklist with the NIHON ICHIBAN 100 lists. Just add items to the blank parts of the Been There Done That list and create your personal checklist. Find out more about the 100 Things from NIHON ICHIBAN:

Sakura tea with real cherry blossoms

100 Drinks from Japan: Pickled Sakura Tea / sakuracha / 桜茶

In Japan Sakura tea is a popular drink for celebrations such as weddings or other special occasions. It is made with sakura cherry blossoms pickled in salt – a very traditional Japanese ingredient. In Japanese Sakura tea is called “sakura cha – 桜茶” or “sakura yu – 桜湯”.

Pickled Sakura Flowers

As fresh cherry blossoms can be harvested only once a year, Japanese started pickling them in salt and ume plum vinegar in order to be able to enjoy the Sakura flavor throughout the whole year. Many households with garden and cherry trees used to make their own pickled sakura. Nowadays most people will rather buy pickled sakura flowers from one of the few companies who still make this a product.


How to prepare Sakura Tea

There are two ways to prepare sakura tea.

Take one or two flowers for each cup of tea and remove as much salt of the flower as you like before using them. Pour hot water over it and you get a light colored tea. It has a light scent of sakura flowers and an intense flavor of cherry blossoms. Although edible the flowers remaining in the tea usually are not eaten.

If you want to further remove tea, it is better to first soak the blossoms for 5 minutes in warm water. You then put one or two flowers in a tea cup and pour hot water on it. Adjust the flavor and saltiness by adding some of the salty water with a spoon.

A common variation is to add a flower or two to green tea when pouring hot water over the leaves. The result is a naturally flavored green tea.

The flavor of Sakura Tea

Sakura tea has a very authentic taste of Japan with a subtle flowery scent and flavor. When the tea flows over the palate the first sensation is the saltiness, which might be a bit unusual for Western people. Then the beautiful flowery fragrance opens up in the mouth. The very unique flavor of sakura is unforgettable (e.g. unique like rose flavor). A nice subtle aftertaste of sakura remains on the palate for a few minutes.

Sakura tea is not only a must for the cherry blossom season but a wonderful drink for a moment of peace and pleasure.

Other recipes with pickled  sakura flowers (under preparation)

Sakura Rice