Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Omnomnomnivore Adventures: Standing Sushi Bar

Written by Stefanie Yeo

Japan may be known as the land of the rising sun, but us greedy foodies also commonly refer the country as the land of sushi, sashimi, soba, and all sorts of absolutely delicious food that will fill your belly and warm your heart. On my maiden voyage to Japan, I’m determined to try as many scrumptious treats as humanely possible!

One does not go to Japan and not eat sushi - and if you’re looking for affordable sushi, you’ve come to the right place. In the debut of our Omnomnomnivore Adventures, we tell you why the Standing Sushi Bar is one of your best bets.

Photo by: Bryan Chua

A franchise of restaurants available all over Tokyo, the Standing Sushi Bar has a unique concept, which makes it a great option for people who simply want to eat quality, affordable sushi. It has outlets in many places, including Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Asakusa.

As the name implies, you eat the sushi while standing at the counter. You enter the restaurant, settle yourself at the nearest available spot, and place your orders with the chef. You actually get to feast your eyes on the sushi being handmade right in front of you, with the skillful sushi chefs wielding their blades, meticulously crafting your delicious meal.

Our sushi chef hard at work
Photo by: Bryan Chua

I ate at the Standing Sushi Bar outlet in Shinjuku, located at 1-12 Nishi-Shinjuku, last Sunday evening. I arrived at around 6.15pm, and while there was a queue outside the restaurant, I was standing at the counter within ten minutes. That’s the magic behind excluding stools at the bar – you just step in, eat up, and get going!

Getting your food is very simple. Just order what you want, and you can keep ordering until you're sated!

from left to right: yaki-salmon mayo, samon, and oo-toro
Photo by: Stefanie Yeo

I ordered three basic kinds of sushi: samon (salmon), yaki-salmon mayo (broiled salmon with mayonnaise), and the utterly sensational oo-toro (fatty tuna belly). The fish were so fresh and the rice was cooked to absolute perfection with a consistent, sticky texture. A note of caution though: if you fear wasabi, let the chef know before he begins preparing your food, as each piece of sushi has a thin layer of wasabi nestled atop the rice, under the raw fish.

Samon (salmon) sushi
Photo by: Stefanie Yeo

The salmon sushi had a very subtle flavour, a great way to start the meal- especially when eaten with soya sauce and washed down with hot green tea. The yaki-salmon-mayo, essentially broiled salmon sushi with mayonnaise, has a slightly charred taste, which complements the salmon and mayonnaise.

Watching the chef broil your sushi with a blowtorch is incredibly exciting, and popping the piece of sushi into your mouth immediately after can only be described as an explosion of flavours in your mouth.

This method of broiling the sushi is known as ‘Aburi’, which refers to grilling the topside of the fish, leaving the rest raw. ‘Aburi’ is only available for certain kinds of sushi, and it is definitely worth eating- the combination of partially cooked fish, rice, and creamy mayonnaise is absolutely to die for.

Yaki-salmon mayo sushi
Photo by: Stefanie Yeo

Our sushi chef broiling salmon
Photo by: Bryan Chua

My personal favourite was the oo-toro sushi. The tuna belly had enough fat to provide a delicious, flavourful taste. The combination of meat and fat exuded an exquisite taste – the tuna was silky, and my taste buds were screaming for joy when I ate the oo-toro sushi.

My personal favourite – oo-toro  (fatty tuna belly) sushi
Photo by: Stefanie Yeo

The food at the Standing Sushi Bar is delicious, and they have a wide variety of sushi, ranging from the simple tamago (egg) sushi to sushi topped with creamy sea urchin. They also sell hand-rolled sushi with a variety of fillings, from pickled vegetables to salmon roe.

Did I mention the Standing Sushi Bar is value for money?! Each menu item comes in pairs, and most of the sushi cost ¥150 for the two pieces. That works out to ¥75 for one piece of sushi – equivalent to SGD$0.90.

The most expensive sushi, namely my delightful oo-toro sushi and the sea urchin sushi, cost about ¥350 per piece- about SGD $4.20. Overall, I spent about ¥1000 on my sushi- talk about affordability!

The staff at the Standing Sushi Bar is also very friendly, and their service is top-notch. Immediately after a customer leaves, they would immediately wipe down the section of the counter to prepare it for the next.

The sushi chef who handled my meal was a very jovial man, pleasant and quite obviously proud of his job. The smiles on the faces of the staff as they interacted with their patrons made me feel warm on the inside, and I’m fairly certain it was not the work of the wasabi.

On the whole, I had a wonderful experience at the Standing Sushi Bar, and it is one of the few ‘cold food’ places that I will return to time and again. The combination of good, affordable food, great service and convenient locations earns the Standing Sushi Bar a five-star rating from this happy Omnomnomnivore!

Monday, 31 March 2014

What’s flushing in Japan?

Written by Jerald Chan

You probably think that you already know about most of the weirdness (or for some, coolness) that the Japanese have to offer already. But, have you seen their toilets? It looks like something that is out of this world.

The Japanese have always been known to love cleanliness and are always one step ahead in technology. When I first saw the toilet bowl here in Japan for the first time, I was kind of dumb founded. There are so many functions to it, you might need a manual for it.

Here is a list of functions that the typical Japanese toilet bowl have:

1. Warm toilet seat

You’ll definitely be grateful for this function, especially in a country like Japan where temperatures can drop to single digits. I’m sure we’ve all gotten that sudden cold shudder when our tenderness comes into contact with a freezing toilet seat. For that, Japan has the warm toilet seat.

2. Flushing music

Ever felt uncomfortable using the toilet in public due to the noise you might make? Fear not, because Japanese technology has come to the rescue, again. When using the toilet, a sound effect of flushing water will start playing to drown out any undesired noises you might be making. This function may work manually or automatically for different toilet seats.  

The artificial flushing sound effect may get annoying at some point of time, so if you wish to stop it. All you need to do is press the large stop button.

3. Spray / Bidet

If you’re too lazy to use tissues to clean yourself up, do not fret. Japanese toilets can clean up for you too. This function may be seen in European countries as well, but is not common in all other Asian countries.

No sexism intended, the ‘spray’ function is for men only; and the ‘bidet’ function is only for women. Well, you can always try using the opposite gender’s, but just be warned that you might be in for a wet mess. If you don’t know what a bidet is, it is a tube that emerges from the back of the bowl upon activation. It will then proceed to spray water to cleanse your bottom.

Strangely enough, the spray/bidet has pretty good aim. You can even adjust the water pressure to one of your comfort.

Photo taken from: http://readwrite.com/files/files/toto-washlet-nozzle.jpg

4. Air dry

Some toilet bowl models come with an ‘air dry’ function as well. It basically works like a hair dryer for your tenderness. If you wish to dry yourself, just press the button. Extremely handy in cold weather.

5. Deodoriser

We all know that the Japanese are extremely polite and courteous - always putting the interest of others above themselves. So when it comes to the inevitable bad stench in the toilet, they have it covered too. If you feel that the stench is overwhelming, you just have to press this button that will spray a citrus smelling substance out. It’s basically a deodorant for toilet bowls.


Now that you have found out all about the futuristic toilet bowl of Japan, the question in mind now is “since it’s so cool and useful, why isn’t it used outside of Japan?”

Well, there aren’t any concrete theories as to why this isn’t trending elsewhere in the world. But most of what I researched suggested that it was due to the fact that people are uncomfortable with trying new things or even talking about such intimate stuff.

However, we all have to agree that this is definitely way cooler than your traditional toilet. And personally, I think that it’s a pretty well thought and intelligent machine.

Hopefully, this will be available in Singapore in the near future. It obviously provides a more hygienic solution and enhances everyone’s experience in the toilet. But at the end of the day, I think that it all boils down to whether Singaporeans are able to maintain the cleanliness and wellbeing of these first world machines.

The government probably wouldn’t want to fund such expensive bowls to the public if they are just going to be spoiled by inconsiderate users.

In short, we all have to learn how to take care of the current toilets before we ‘upgrade’ to the sophisticated Japanese machine of a toilet bowl.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Fresh off the hook at Jiro-san's

Written by Travis Chan

Our group had the opportunity of visiting Tsukiji Fish Market two days ago and while we left the hotel a bit too early for our brains to fully function, we were certain about one thing – that we were definitely in for a treat for breakfast today!

Tsukiji Fish Market is a wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo. Think about it as Japan's equivalent of our country's Jurong Fishery Port, except we were at the area for quite possibly THE sashimi meals of our lives, served as fresh as you can get off the hook at a small street laden with little shops that seat no more than 10 to 15 people.

The reason for our early arrival was due to the fact that long queues for the restaurants start as early as 8am, from both locals and tourists alike, ergo explaining the need for us to get there pronto!

Along with fellow travelmates Charmaine, Jerald, Nicolene and Xavier, the five of us settled for one of the smaller restaurants with a simple exterior decor that made its presence so inconspicuous, we didn't even notice that there was nobody queuing outside of it when we were walking down the street!

While the other restaurants had vibrant, elaborate visuals displayed neatly right by the entrance for potential customers to see what they're going for, this one had none of that, which probably meant that deciding to dine there was not the best decision considering there was a dubious exterior and lack of a queue compared to the other stores. But craving for an adventure, we took the risk nonetheless. How wrong can sashimi go when you're at the fishery itself anyway?

To our surprise, the interior of this little shop was stunningly different – the walls were covered entirely with photographs of the shop owner posing happily beside people who have patronised his humble restaurant previously, mostly tourists, and pictures of the menu items. The shop space was just barely 4 metres wide and could only seat about 10 people at a time.

The owner, Jiro-san, was enthusiastic in greeting us and was surprisingly rather fluent in English! He then proceeded to serve us green tea in big mugs, which we found out upon scrutiny came from various countries in the world. My cup was from a Starbucks in Switzerland, and Jerald's was a mug from Taiwan.

What made this an interesting experience was the fact that the Jiro-san backpacks often and is able to speak a total of 9 different languages, including English, Mandarin and even Thai! I can't even master my own mother tongue, and thinking about learning another 7 languages fluently just sounds like a nightmare.

He even took the effort to teach us basic Japanese, such as saying "onegaishimasu", meaning "please" and gave useful examples that we can apply to our stay in Japan. He even used Singlish comparisons to aid us in our learning - instead of saying "Ok lah" and "Thank you lah", you simply replace it with "Ok desu" and "Thank you desu". Yes, Jiro-san knows his fish, but he sure knows how to teach Japanese too!

Jiro-san's restaurant has amassed widespread media coverage over the years, including our very own 8days publication! He proudly showed us a collection of magazine clippings, mostly reviews of his restaurant, as we devoured our sashimi bowls, which we all agreed was the best breakfast we've had in our lives.

I think what impressed me the most about Jiro-san was the fact that not only was he well-travelled, but he even took the effort to learn and remember characteristics of each culture he experienced. I think we can all learn from this because learning about someone's culture is not always about asking questions. It's all about listening - and not forgetting what you encountered.

Upon mentioning Singapore, Jiro-san was immediately able to tell us about Jurong (of all places!), Singlish, and many other things that are uniquely Singaporean. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

Japan’s service standards are probably one of the highest in the world, and Jiro-san has clearly shown us that hospitality goes beyond work efficiency and smiles. I will probably patronise his humble restaurant again when I come back, and bring back this photo for him to add to his wall collection!

An English Education in Japan: Waseda University

Written by Stefanie Yeo

A statue of Waseda University’s founder, Mr Shigenobu Okuma.
Photo by Bryan Chua

Arriving at Waseda University on Tuesday morning, we were greeted by a lovely vision – cherry blossoms blooming. After our harrowing experience on the train during the peak hour ride, which included getting lost, separated, and squashed like sardines, the lovely sakura flowers were a welcome sight.

Cherry blossoms blooming in Waseda.
Photo by Bryan Chua

Waseda was our first stop on the third day of our great adventure in Tokyo. Personally, I feel that the town of Waseda is similar to Oxford and Cambridge, in the sense that the entire town is the University.

Waseda has several campuses located within the town, much like how the universities of Oxford and Cambridge have various small colleges within their universities. When I visited Oxford and Cambridge in 2011, I felt that they were serene and scholarly – similar to that of Waseda, with university towns teeming with convenience stores, bookshops and food of all sorts available at every corner.

Our first stop at Waseda University’s main campus was the Okuma Auditorium. The Okuma Auditorium was built to commemorate the institution’s founder, Mr Shigenobu Okuma, who was the 8th and 17th Prime Minister of Japan. We learnt that Waseda University was founded in retaliation, so to speak, of the elitist upper-class mentality that was held by other universities during the Meiji era.

We also found out that unlike Meiji University, which has its famous Akamon (“Red Gate”), Waseda University has no such gate. This is to symbolize the fact that Waseda University is open to everyone, regardless of social status or family background.

 FMS Tokyo Trip 2014 at Okuma Auditorium with FMS alumni Lee Xian Jie and Jeremy Boo.
Photo by Craig McTurk

After visiting the auditorium, we attended a presentation conducted by Waseda University on their English-language Degree Programmes. Despite being a Japanese university, Waseda offers undergraduate degree programs in English. One does not necessarily need to be able to communicate in Japanese to enrol in these courses – language is not a barrier to receiving an education at Waseda University.

That was something I personally found very interesting. Honestly, I would never have expected a Japanese University to have degree programmes conducted entirely in English, so this particular bit of information was intriguing.

Studying in Japan was also something that never crossed my mind, seeing as the number of Japanese words and phrases I know can be counted using the fingers on one hand. The fact that such a programme exists shows that Waseda University is truly opening its doors to students from all over the world, and diversifying its student population. This is great, as students will gain fresh perspectives from interacting with others from all over the globe.

After learning more about the English-language degree programmes, Waseda University is now on my list of potential universities. Even if I do not enrol in Waseda, I would not mind spending a semester, or maybe even a year, in Waseda University as part of an exchange programme.  

In my opinion, Waseda is making a step in the right direction by offering the English-language degree programme for foreign students - our world is becoming an increasingly interconnected and globalized one, and this is an example of how universities are adapting to our ever-changing world. 

I’ll be sharing more on the English-language degree programmes at Waseda University, particularly the School of Political Science and Economics’ EDESSA, at a later date. What does EDESSA stand for? Stay tuned to find out!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

22 Students, 1 Cup

Written by Travis Chan

We are all too familiar with instant noodles. Despite our parents' warnings that our luscious locks of hair would fall out if we eat too much, it's still our number one go-to food when those hunger pangs kick in in the middle of the night.

Yes, we all feel disgusted by ourselves after slurping up an entire bowl of classic chicken-flavoured maggi mee at 3am in the morning, but at least this revolutionary invention has saved the world from hearing more rumbling tummies than warranted.

Laziness was brought to a whole new level in 1958 when Momofuku Ando invented cup noodles sold in styrofoam bowls, and you know what that means - no more washing!

Today, the FMS in Tokyo team had the privilege of visiting the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, and let's just say we instantly fell in love with it! Apart from the usual museum exhibits like hundreds upon hundreds of cup noodles displayed behind glass walls from way back in 1958, we also got to create our very own cup noodles at the My CUPNOODLES Factory!

At just 300 yen per cup, you get to customise YOUR very own cup of noodles! From the design, to the soup flavour, and even the toppings with a total of 5,460 flavour combinations, this certainly warrants some bragging rights when you've created your own unique cup of noodles. Here's how it all went down:

1. Purchase a cup

Vending machines are located at the very start of the queue where you pay 300 yen for your instant noodles, but it's EMPTY! Look how shocked Charmaine was when she found out she paid ~SGD3.75 for a cup of... paper!

2. Clean your hands

Or rather, sanitise your hands! Nothing is worse than suffering from food poisoning from a cup of instant noodles. We had a friendly staff member going down the queue, spraying a liberal amount of hand sanitiser on both our palms to ensure the highest standards of hygiene at the "factory".

3. Bring out your inner designer

With your cup in hand, another staff member will lead you to a table with an assortment of markers to start personalising your very own cup noodles! For those of you who did badly for art classes in secondary school (including me), good luck.

4. Get your noodles in!

After designing our cups we headed straight for another queue that led us to an area resembling a factory with elaborate (and a little scary-looking) machine manned by staff dressed in aprons and headscarves behind an enclosed glass barrier, hastily yet systematically working to get the noodles done efficiently.

The first step, of course, is getting the noodles packed into the cup! My eyes only just about managed to register the massive conveyor belt with cakes after cakes of noodles laid out neatly on top of them, after having had so much to take in at the museum. They did, however, sanitise the inside of the cups before inserting the noodle cakes in. Hygiene always comes first after all!

Everything at the factory from start to finish is made interactive too! Your cup of noodles will be flipped upside down onto the noodle cake and you will be instructed to turn the lever in front of you to squeeze your noodles in tightly, leaving no redundant gaps at all!

5. Choose your seasonings

You have a choice between four soup flavours - original, seafood, curry and chilli tomato. I opted for the chilli tomato flavour as it is the only one I have yet to try, and I personally looooove my soups spicy and tangy ;)

12 ingredients are also at your disposal, and you get to choose 4 to be included in your awesome cup noodles. Choices include ebi prawns, cheese, onion and corn, but the ingredient that really takes the (noodle) cake is the naruto fishcake with the cup noodle mascot, Hiyoko-chan! I opted for the ebi prawns, cheese, dried pork cubes and Hiyoko-chan as my ingredients for the Travis Cup Noodles!

6. Seal the goodness in

After completing your concoction of flavourful goodness, your (insert name here) Cup Noodles will then be transferred to the next station where a machine seals the cup in an instant before having the cups wrapped in plastic film.

They are then transferred onto a conveyor belt that removes all the remaining air pockets and heats up the cups just a little bit to ensure the seals stay glued tightly - you wouldn't want to risk the contents losing their crispness now, would you?


7. Bag it all up!

Of course, now that you have your very own cup noodles, surely you would want to show it off to the world? Well, the factory has got that covered. With a clear plastic bag given to you, you simply have to place the cup upright in it and pump air in with the air pumps provided at a nifty little station, after which you simply have to tie a red string on top of the bag and you're good to go!

Enjoy your very own cup noodles, and I will be enjoying my own cup of Travis Cup Noodles very soon!

The Cup Noodles Museum certainly brings audience interactivity to a whole new level. It seems like I'm attending a cup noodles workshop rather than simply visiting a museum, and how often do you actually get the chance of tasting your souvenir?

Every single one of us had fun and cannot wait to try them out! If all this noodle talk has got you craving for some, hold up before you reach for that pack of maggi mee! We have not one, but TWO limited edition cup noodle sets from the Cup Noodle Museum up for giveaway!

All you have to do is to like the photo above on either Facebook or Instagram and comment what cup noodle flavour you would love to create (let your imagination go wild!). 2 lucky people will win a cup noodle set each and the winners will be announced on 29 March 2014 at 10pm GST. So what are you waiting for? Time to get your creative caps on!

Ramen in Japan!

Written by Bryan Chua

Sushi. Ramen. Anime. Manga. J-Rock. Sure, they all have one thing in common: they originate from Japan. And, sooner or later, the focus of conversations on Japan veers towards food, because Japanese cuisine is such as big part of the cultural experience. It is deemed as elegant (sometimes pricey), and just downright yummy. Although sushi may the most well–known food in Japan amongst citizens and foreigners alike, I have a soft spot for ramen.

Well, what exactly is ramen? Calling it mere noodles and soup doesn’t do it justice. In a nutshell, ramen is primarily the exquisite combination of noodles and a soup base made from boiling pork (and sometimes chicken) bones for hours to bring out the full flavour of the broth. Meat and vegetables are added later to make the ramen a complete meal.

If you ever come to Tokyo, I highly recommend these two restaurants:

The first on the list is Budoka Ramen. It is just a 5-minute walk from Exit 3B of Waseda Station, along the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line. My seniors, three Mass Communication alumni, currently undergraduates at Waseda University, recommended that I check out the ramen from this humble and seemingly ordinary little shop. Was it really that good? I had to taste it for myself.

I ordered a “staple” ramen set – Chashu Tamago (pork ramen with egg). The moment I sipped the soup, I knew this would be a very good ramen experience. The soup was red, thick and richly flavoured from the marinated Chashu. It also had tiny bits of minced meat, which helped to give the soup more body. Chewing the firm and chewy noodles added to the contrasting textures to the dish. The leek in the ramen enhanced the taste of the noodles with a refreshing and tangy aftertaste, which helped to cut the richness of the soup.

The fact that the noodles were bright golden yellow also helped to make the dish look appealing. I just slurped and slurped loudly. (In Japanese culture, slurping loudly is a gesture to indicate that the food is splendid!)

When my bowl was about ¼ full, it was time to savour the Tamago (egg). The soft boiled egg was skillfully prepared, its cooking timed perfectly to render the yolk semi-liquid and custardy, while the egg white cooked firm to the touch. It was just delicious. It was as close to heaven as I could get!

I finished my meal at Budoka by exclaiming “oishii” (“delicious!”) pretty loudly and thanked the chefs for the simple yet exquisitely prepared meal.

When it comes to ramen, one awesome meal wasnt enough. I couldnt forget the experience or the lingering aftertaste of Budokas Chashu ramen, so I explored Waseda again in search of Ippudo Ramen, the second ramen restaurant recommended by my seniors.

After walking for about 13 minutes, I finally arrived at Ippudo Ramen, in West Waseda. The traditional red lanterns, wooden shop theme and tattered Japanese navy banners outside the restaurant differentiates it from all the all the other shops located near it.

I ordered the Buta Ramen, which was again, a “staple” ramen combination. Although the soup was not as thick than the one at Budoka, it was special because a secret seasoning available only at Ippudo was added to the soup to bring out its fullest potential. Indeed, this soup left me speechless. It had this sweet yet salty taste (umami) that made my eyes light up when I encounter an unforgettable ramen.

However, the thin and limp noodles in the Buta Ramen was disappointing. When I chewed on them, the starch disintegrated (a result of overcooking, perhaps) and left me with a sticky-gooey mess in my mouth. Fortunately, that was the only downside to the dish. The egg was splendid, just as good as Budoka's version! (Im now convinced that the Japanese make the best soft-boiled eggs!)

The pork in this ramen was thickly sliced to retain the most flavour in the cooking process. The feeling of biting into a piece of thick-cut, tender buta is just heavenly. The flavourful soup oozed out of the meat as I sank my teeth into it. The meat was fresh and was the perfect accompaniment to the soup! If not for the overdone noodles, I really enjoyed the Buta Ramen at Ippudo.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend Budoka Ramen and Ippudo Ramen if you are ever in the Waseda neighbourhood. Ramen in Tokyo is generally very good; one can hardly find any lousy ramen. If you are looking for a meal that is familiar, and more or less consistent everywhere, ramen is your best bet.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

J-Pop – my first love

Written by Travis Chan

The last time I went to Tokyo in 2010 was also the last time I got to see the iconic billboard of British entertainment retailer HMV’s flagship store in Shibuya, which shut down that same year and has since been replaced by Forever 21 (right photo).

This was a major milestone in the Japanese music industry as it was an exemplification of the deteriorating state of the music industry, especially considering how Japan is the world’s second-largest music market after America.

Not only that, but walking along the streets of Shibuya today, I saw a familiar face looking down on me (literally) – a rather big one, at that. It was the then 15-year-old face of none other than popular singer Utada Hikaru plastered across the gargantuan billboard, which is also the cover to her debut album, “First Love”.

This may seem insignificant to the average traveller, but definitely not to the Japanese – “First Love” happens to be Japan’s best-selling album of all time, having sold over 7 million copies in Japan alone back in 1999. This album is largely dubbed as Japan’s equivalent of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and “First Love” was given a re-release recently on 10 March 2014, the 15th anniversary of its release.

Being a fan of Utada Hikaru’s music myself, nostalgic memories brought me back to the time in 2007 when I first discovered her music. Having debuted in an era where female pop singers were the biggest musical fad in Japan, Utada Hikaru was one of the few ladies who wrote, composed and arranged her music all by herself – that is, to me, the true hallmark of a talented musician.

I was feeling rather bittersweet too, as it was only recently that Utada Hikaru announced she was going on an indefinite hiatus, yet at the same time, only further seals her musical legacy in Japan. I’m sure most of us have at least heard her biggest hit, “First Love” at some point, or her more recent hits like 2007’s “Flavor of Life”.

Today also happens to be a Wednesday – an important day to Japanese pop music, as music CDs are traditionally released on Wednesdays in Japan. Music retailers would send in their sales numbers for each release every day to Oricon, the Japanese equivalent of Billboard in America, to be calculated, ranked and published on their website.

As a Japanese music fan, I would remember myself sitting in front of the computer when I was younger, constantly refreshing the front page of the Oricon website, hoping that my favourite singer would get the #1 spot that day.

As you walk along the roads in Shibuya, more often than not, you would see the occasional truck with advertisements of upcoming music releases in Japan, and trust me, they're not that hard to spot – not when they're blasting the songs through powerful speakers loud enough for passers-by to take notice. This method is actually considered one of the most basic forms of promotion for a musical release, which is interesting because there is no other country I can think of that does this.

Despite consistent promotional efforts by record companies, the Japanese music industry has changed drastically over the past few years. As with the rest of the world, people are buying lesser and lesser music in physical format, opting for digital formats instead as they are cheaper and more portable.

While singers could easily sell a few million copies of their CDs from the early to mid 2000s, today, selling half a million copies of an album even for veteran singers are pretty much non-existent. To put things in perspective, 2003’s best-selling album in Japan sold a total of 2,001,917 copies, while last year’s best-selling album sold merely 796,525 copies.

Japanese pop music is unique enough to be an entire genre on its own, and as an avid follower of the music industry here, I still remain optimistic that one day, J-Pop will restore its former glory and reclaim its musical throne in Asia after the K-Pop wave.