Japan is a country that perfectly combines modern snacks, mainly introduced by western corporations, and its own traditional snacks presented in modern packaging, but often imitating the traditional one.
One of them is Natto. Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. Popular as a breakfast food, it is typically eaten on rice. The packaging of Natto is something special.
The region of Mito in the Ibaraki prefecture is famous for the snack of fermented soybeans wrapped in rice straw. As a matter of fact this packaging can be described as a ‘processing’ packaging, as natto is made from steamed soybeans fermented with a culture of Bacillus subtilis, which is naturally found in rice straw. Despite natto being still available in these straw packages, an artificial culture replaces this natural process, making it possible to use other packaging materials.
From the Kujigawa area in Ibaraki comes a special natto wrapped in paper-thin wood shavings. Its wrapper is folded into a boat reminiscent of historic ferryboats that once crossed the river. Although the outer wrapper is made of paper made to imitate wood texture, the natto inside is wrapped in the shaving of natural wood. Triangular forms are also popular for wood shavings. In these portions of natto by Shimonita, the triangular shape causes a change of direction so that the shaving is wrapped around every edge. When opened, one notices the dotted pattern the beans have left on the wood, which recall ancient works in ink. Similar to the bamboo grass, this is another method to add aroma. These delicate interactions between the wrapped and the wrapper define the unique irreplaceable quality of natural materials.
An interesting packaging comes from Nagano prefecture combining the traditional with the modern. The packaging by Ganko Oyaji for fuki-miso, fermented soybean paste flavoured with Giant Butterbur, features a bowl covered by aluminium foil, and a cord handle being made from reed.
The bowl itself, manufactured by Masuki, also is made of 100% natural reed, microwave safe and resistant to water and oil.
Reed is tall woody perennial grass with hollow slender stems. Like bamboo, reed belongs to the fast growers. It can be composted and return to crop-soil-cycle. As it grows on the shore or riverbanks, reed doesn’t compete for acreage with food crop.
From the packaging of fermented soya beans to the on-the-go packaging for stir-fried ramen noodles, called yakisoba. Yakisoba is a classic Japanese street food made by stir-fried noodles, sharp-flavoured benishoga (picked ginger strips), cabbage, carrot, and pork.
Instant yakisoba noodles are an easy lunch, much like instant ramen noodles, but with one important difference. While instant ramen is eaten with broth, instant yakisoba has to be drained of its hot water before eaten. This can be an awkward exercise when on-the-go, without losing a part of your noodles or burning your fingers.
Nissan Food Products came up with a solution for this problem. The underlaying packaging lid of its UFO instant yakisoba is perforated with some small holes, which create a built-in strainer. The speed at which the water is drained is also important, and therefore Nissan created a variety of sizes and numbers of holes for different types of noodles.
The consumer just has to peel a part of the top lid opposite of the strainer, take out the little sachets with sauce and toppings and add boiling water. Close the lid again and let it stand for 3 minutes. Then remove the top lid and drain the hot water through the holes. After which the sauce and the toppings can be added to the noodles.
Like everywhere in the world the flow-pack wrap packaging is also popular in Japan, as an efficient way of wrapping confectionary. Horizontal flow-wrappers are relatively simple packaging machines and the wrapper itself is perfect to keep the products’ aroma and taste as well as protecting them.
But Japanese packaging designers play a creative role with this little bit dull packaging and invented various modifications so that the consumer doesn’t recognise the wrapper as such. The results are so much more attractive that you wonder why the rest of world haven’t followed suite.
The example, I give here, is a sophisticated longitudinal gusseted flow-pack for small cakes with sweet chestnut by the confectionary Morihachi in Kanazawa. The material used for the gusseted flow-pack is longer than average in order to fold the ends up to the back of the packaging and fix them there. The effect of the image of handicraft is enhanced by the used Japanese paper, inwrought foil with fibres of washi.
Meiji Co Ltd, an old established Japanese company in food and healthcare products, markets the Yan Yan snack. It’s typically a sweet snack and comes in a packaging with two or three compartments. One side has biscuit sticks, and the other has chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, or yogurt flavoured frosting used for dipping. The three compartment packaging has two flavoured dips.
The sticks were once plain, but recently Meiji has placed pictures of various animals on them with quotes relating to that animal. The quotes are in English, but often appear incomprehensible to native English speakers.
This snack pack looks similar to that of Nutella, and we have seen quite a few packaging dividing crackers, sticks or similar and a variety of dips in the on-the-go market. Among many others there has been the Dunkaroos packaging and the old fashioned cheese and crackers of Kraft’s HandiSnacks. Not exactly in the same design, but basically the same idea. Only, as far as I have seen, we have the Yan Yan, the Nutella packaging and the Donuts n’ Dip in this specific format, suitable for the coffee cup holder in a car.
I don’t know who introduced this packaging format first, but it certainly is for on-the-go an interesting packaging with a wide range of possibilities.
Next time we look at coffee in Japan.