Questionable Cool Japan Business Ideas

This is purely an indulgent rant.

1. “Umai Crates”

I was scrolling through Instagram last week and the algorithms served me this ad:

After doing some research, I found out that I could get these “Umai Crates” for an attractive subscription price of US$30 per month. All I needed to do was to give up my credit card details and this business venture will happily ship a box (for free!) of instant noodles that they consider hard to find outside of Japan. They even curate recipe cards so you can make your late-night impulsive styrofoam snack into a gourmet meal that rivals the romantic suggestions that Buzzfeed’s Tasty suggests.

To be fair, Nissin is great at making you want to eat instant noodles. I subscribe to its YouTube channel, which is just a hodgepodge of slick TV commercials that each have hundreds of thousands of views. It has cup noodle museums in Osaka and Yokohama, where the company breaches the gospel of Ando Momofuku, the Taiwanese-Japanese reincarnation of Jesus Christ who turned deep-fried noodles into chicken ramen magic packs. Its matsutake mushroom cream sauce cup noodles were probably as heavenly as the bread and wine of the Last Supper (and since Nissin doesn’t sell them anymore, they are truly the stuff of New Testament legend).

But why would you want to subscribe to a box of nasty processed shit ‘curated’ by some sucker who probably went to the basement floor of Don Quijote, picked out whatever seemed exotic enough, and literally stuff the empty spaces with random selections from the spice rack? How do you even justify the US$30 cost from that? Printing on laminated color cards is expensive, probably—but is there any research value in knowing that you could add instant katsuobushi or a poached egg into soggy non-fried wheat curls in boiling dihydrogen monoxide? YouTube can probably teach you that better.

And how would you personally get through 8 to 10 servings of cup noodles per month? That’s like eating one every three nights—nights where you sit around a dim kitchen table, where the cats are asleep, scrolling through your credit card statement, wondering why you have to pay off this silly venture capital parasite from Tokyo when your blood-earned cash could be applied somewhere else. Like saving up for your mortgage payments. Or your student loans.

2. “Welcome Japan” Suica cards

An IC card is an invaluable tool to get around all of Japan. Get one of these mean green things at a JR East ticket machine in Tokyo, and you’ll be able to get on almost any train or bus or buy anything at a convenience store or supermarket without fidgeting for change. (I think the Suica card has the most interoperability out of all the systems in Japan but I’m not sure.)

So why do you need a “special edition” just for foreigners that has what undeniably are second-class features? According to the Japan Times:

[The card] can only be used for a period of up to 28 days after which the card holders will receive an error when trying to proceed with e-money payment transactions.

It may not be possible to use automated gates to exit at the destination station if the cards have been used for a journey that straddles different rail service areas.

Money charged onto the cards will not be refunded, and the cards can’t be reissued. But according to the operators, travelers will be able to keep the cards as souvenirs. The campaign is limited to travelers.

So, for the price of foregoing the 500 yen deposit, you get:

  • To lose any and all of the remaining money you’ve loaded onto your card after 28 days, and there is no way to get any of that money back
  • No cute penguin on your card (which forms part of the card’s etymology)
  • An ugly shade of blood red in your wallet that is not the color of the cherry blossom imagery the cards are meant to invoke
  • A lazily designed smattering of cherry blossoms designed to appeal to your nascent NIPPON love
  • In any case, a forgettable piece of junk plastic that you can’t use after 28 days, the time limit of which doesn’t even make sense to me, since a temporary visitor’s visa to Japan generally lasts up to 90 days; and in any case it shows that every trip you make to Japan is supposed to be your first and your last. You’re not supposed to come back after sampling the junk in Asakusa and the airport sushi at Narita!

Thanks, but no thanks.