Fun historical fact: one of the Japanese daily newspapers, during the Occupation, was prevented from publishing an editorial (accurately) describing the Constitution as being written by the occupying powers. They instead described the new Constitution as "smelling of butter", which the censors missed due to lack of familiarity with the idiom.
(I once had call to describe a client's request to micromanage which engineers were working on their account as "The client believes my work product might smell of butter" because my coworkers were dancing around the obvious issue so delicately that a Japanese colleague didn't understand what they weren't saying. That got some stares. "What can I say; I learned nuance from the best.")
FWIW, the word “batakusai” has become so ingrained in the language that one might not think of butter, the food topping, when you mention the word. (much like how you don’t always directly think of Jesus Christ specifically when you casually blurt out “Oh my god!”)
FWIW I never heard of that either, despite living in Japan on and off for a couple of years, marrying a Japanese woman, and being decent at Japanese
My guess is that it's just a 1960s meme that's fallen out of use
Actually, I've never seen or heard of any of the butter-related stuff.. Maybe those butter tools are a regional thing, or they're relatively unknown. I've never seen them on TV, and I couldn't find any butter dishes for sale when I was looking for one in Tokyo, so I ended up having to use a plastic box from the dollar store.
My in-laws were furious when I kept hiding butter in a tray outside of the fridge so it'd stay soft, and all their friends agreed with them that I was being a crazy foreign fool
My first day in Japan, I switched on the TV and was immediately thrust into a program where different designs of nail cutters were being analyzed. The angle of the cutting blades, etc; The cutting of the nail was inspected in slow motion video capture, and an Excel sheet of how far the nail flies, how neat the cut was, etc; was filled and a Winner was arrived at. I've never seen anything like it and I watched all 30 minutes of that program! It was a fascinating demonstration of what I believe is called "kaizen". I really like the attention given to everyday objects in Japanese design.
> It was a fascinating demonstration of what I believe is called "kaizen"
It's not kaizen, it's the perpetual appetite for novelty rather than anything else. Also Japanese TV programs are anything but legit, everything is scripted ahead of time and there's not such thing as a winner which does not happen to buy ads on the same network.
Japanese tools are insanely good. I bought a specialized plastic cutter from a Japanese company a couple years ago. It was expensive, but I couldn't find another that took less than 4 weeks to ship.
It's built more like a smartphone than a cheap hand tool. Fully machined, no parting lines, very tight tolerances. The plastic is quite strong, maybe nylon. The steel cutter is definitely hardened and non magnetic so possibly stainless.
And in Japanese fashion, as far as I can tell this company only makes plastic cutters
Talking about nail clippers: I always found it weird that nail clippers seem to be the most common device for cutting your finger nails outside of Europe. Over here we have specialized scissors for this which seem to give a lot more control and better results. Anyone seen these elsewhere? I guess they’re a bit harder to use?
Nail scissors have a better cutting action but nail clippers are much easier to use, especially with your less-dominant hand.
I'm a huge fan of Stylfile clippers , which have a scissor-like cutting action but clipper-like form factor. They were created by one the wonders of the UK version of The Apprentice (but don't let that put you off!).
> Nail scissors have a better cutting action but nail clippers are much easier to use, especially with your less-dominant hand.
The main problem is not hand dominance of the user, it's chirality of the scissors themself. When you cut with scissors in the correct hand with a conventional grip, you force blades closer together which helps with a cut, but put the same scissors in the other hand and your fingers will now drag the blades apart.
Hence there are three solutions: you can have a pair of scissors with opposite chirality, you can try to grip wrong chirality scissors such way that you don't drag their blades apart, or you can have high quality scissors with pivot pin tight and strong enough that you will not experience that effect.
The scissors in swiss army knifes/cards for example are both high quality and allow for alternative grips.
Japanese designed and manufactured tools are always a delight to use. Whenever I go to Japan I always find myself picking up some new beautifully designed and made object. The last time I was in Tokyo it was lighters. I bought probably $300 of various lighters from Tokyo Pipe Co. I don't even smoke!
Unfortunately it's getting harder and harder to find products actually made in Japan, and despite what many people want to believe, Japanese obsession with perfection makes a big difference in the quality of manufactured goods. Makita doesn't manufacture in Japan anymore, and quality has suffered. Fujifilm stopped making several of their lines in Japan, and quality suffered. Very sad.
Some of the higher end Makita stuff still is. If you spend enough on a circular saw, they still make them in Japan. They also make a 6" and 12"(!) handheld power planer (not the stationary "lunchbox" style) that are AIUI made in Japan. That 12" planer goes for a couple grand US. That's the KP312 if you're curious.
Japan, incidentally, has a long timber framing tradition that's still relatively common in modern construction. This is part of the reason you'll see Makita and Hitachi tools in your US timberframer's kit; they still make the tools in Japan for the active local market.
I think their more expensive drills are still pretty nice - the ones AvE keeps blowing up (what the hell is his business anyway?) were bargain bin ones. It's just sad that makita has any bargain bin lines at all.
I looked at what the best drill-drivers I could reasonably buy were, and there's almost nothing that's not made in China these days. Even Hilti makes its battery powered tools in China.
It's not nail cutters, but perhaps other readers would be interested in NHK World's (English-language) programme which explores a different aspect of Japanese culture each episode, usually through the lens of a specific object (scissors, coffee, stationery, expressways, etc…): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilPC-uJ8Yuw
My grandfather bought a knife in Japan while on a business trip in the 80s. The owner of the shop used to call him once a year (now they communicate via email) and ask if he needed to ship it back for any repairs. The repairs are free.
At this point, he considers this guy a friend. It’s a really interesting relationship. In my experience, the only similar relationship that most Americans might have is with the person who cuts their hair or with a bartender.
I don’t cook much and I don’t need any fancy cooking knives, but I still enjoy browsing in knife shops in Tokyo and Osaka. (I've lived in Japan since the 1980s.) The breadth and variety is amazing, and the knives are often beautifully displayed.
Two shops I remember particularly fondly are in Osaka: Kunishige [0, Japanese only] in the Tenjinbashisuji shopping street and the Sakai Ichimonji  shop in Namba. The latter is in a street full of restaurant suppliers, and several other cutlery shops are nearby. There are similar shops in Kappabashi in Tokyo .
even mass produced japanese products are beautifully designed. my last acquisition is the beautiful Pilot MYU. Vintage, but new. Gorgeous. I am so worried about the integrated nib that i am not enjoying it as much as I probably should..only one other matches the passions the MYU can evoke. Parker 51. American.
My personal favourite is Uni's Kurutoga (クルトガ) mechanical pencil that automatically turns the pencil lead a fraction every time you lift it. This means that the tip is always neatly rounded and never slanted.
I love this pencil so much that I have three, with different lead in each. It’s completely brilliant. And a bargain, or it was. I really like the venerable Pentel P200 series but I only use the 0.7 and 0.9 because there’s no Kurutoga.
Like Parker.. the design is based on the nose of jet planes. I am horrified now as I remember how ..as a child..I used to play with my grandfather’s MYU..lidless and nib tearing the air while nosediving.
As a French guy, I like the "grater" knife, I may even buy one, but the "right angle" one feels weird.
But I may have an alternative explanation. The article talks about order and Japanese sensibilities, but to me, a right angle cut in a butter slab doesn't look particularly pleasing.
Instead, what I think it is to make precise cuts easier when the butter is hard, for example if it came out of the fridge. In this case, it can require a significant amount of force to cut through the slab, and making a straight cut can be difficult. With the tool, you push straight down, so you can use more force. And the right angle shape stabilizes the blade during the cut.
A French girl once asked me, "Why is there no salt in your Norwegian butter?" This really got to me. It forced me to ask existential questions like, "Should there really be salt in butter?" But the fact is, putting salt in stuff is an old conservation method. Because of it, unsalted butter was looked upon as fresher, and thus of higher value when used as spread or in cooking. As far as I know, the idea of unsalted butter was actually popularized by French gourmands! But as newer and cleaner dairy production methods came about, the production of unsalted butter became more common. On top of that, the colder climate in Scandinavia means that unsalted butter keeps for longer than in warmer countries. So that's why Norwegian butter isn't salted. But yeah, as for the "grater knife;" I think it just made it to the top of my wish-list for Christmas!
But Norwegian butter is salted. It's just that you can also buy unsalted butter (and extra-salted butter, lactose-free butter (only sold in smaller 250g sizes while "normal" butter is also sold at 500g), and butter from sour cream. And a couple more. The salted variant is the "normal" butter (center in the picture in the link), the rest are variants. https://www.tine.no/merkevarer/tine-sm%C3%B8r/produkter/tine...
Yes! In Sweden nobody puts actual butter on bread, we have loads of different butter-based "spreads" for that. Bregott (literally "spread good/well/tasty") is probably the most common and engineered to be spreadable straight from the fridge.
Proper butter is for cooking but primarily for baking.
I am 45, have been interested in cooking for 20+ years, read many cookbooks and so on. I learned about butter dishes and the idea of having butter out on the counter to make it spreadable from the internet. I dare say that practice does not happen here.
It does happen; I've met a few older Swedes that used actual butter, but nowadays most people seem to be eating Lätta or Bregott. The situation's the same here in Finland -- butter on bread is mostly an old people thing and most people just buy the local equivalent of Bregott.
In Denmark most of the butter is salted and the Danish are definitely a butter nation. I'm wondering how nobody tried to introduce some of this "japanese butter tools" to Denmark. There might be a business case here.
Kerrygold in Germany is sold in the standard gold wrapper but unsalted. I was really surprised having come from the UK where it's salted and utterly delicious. If you want the salted stuff you have to hunt for silver labels, and I have only started to find these recently and only then in the biggest supermarkets.
I've heard that unsalted butter makes it easier to measure the salt to put in a recipe, since you don't need to reverse engineer the salt content of the butter. But in practice I don't find this very compelling because (in my experience) the salt is pretty standardized. I generally convert my own recipes back to using purely salted butter so I don't have to stock two kinds of butter.
I almost always cook with unsalted butter (unless all I have is salted, or it's a recipe I'm familiar with and comfortable with salted butter in) because it provides more freedom to control salt-fat combinations, and salt levels are one of the things I am most likely to find wrong (in either direction) with unfamiliar recipes.
I occasionally also use sold-as-unsalted butter in directly-served applications, because it lets you play with different finishing salts instead of just getting it mixed in with the butter.
I use unsalted butter for all my cooking and use. Never grew up with salted butter and don't miss it. The vast majority of my family and friends back home (new england) use unsalted margarine (which I refuse to allow in the house).
I'm interested though, I've seen salted butter and wondered who was buying it. Now I know—literally everyone around me.
I'm almost certain that salt was never added to butter as a preservative and your "cleaner" method theory is unsound: there is nothing about churning that would accidentally introduce salt. Salted butter is probably best thought of as a subset of compound butters.
Salted butter was a popular spread in restaurants and consumers wanted it in their homes.
I don't want to get between a Frenchman and his butter, but I just use a potato peeler for cold butter. I find it works well enough. I've also used a cheese slicer, but I found it harder to control the thickness.
We don't cut our butter, but instead use a regular knife to scrape curls off the top for spreading. (changing sides every now and then so the top of the butter winds up with a dihedral "roof" shape) Depending upon temperature of the butter, one has to use different speeds and feeds, but the correct ones for easily spreadable curls come quickly with practice.
 other scraping folk arts: hand-carved toy "christmas trees" with wood curls (originally, I think, suitable for use as tinder. These days we use chemical blocks as starters) and raclette, a dish involving scraping molten blobs off a wheel of cheese.
This is not very far from the standard American 4oz stick, as far as I understand, and for most Japanese households it might be enough.
Beyond that size you can commonly find 150g and 200g slabs in supermarkets, and huge 450g slabs in bulk-oriented supermarkets (like Hanamasa or Gyomu) and specialty shops (like Tomiz). I tend to use butter quite regularly for cooking so I'm generally buying the 450g ones, as it is quite expensive here.
I guess the reason many people here mention they've never seen these kind of tools in Japan, is that you wouldn't find them in a normal house. Relatively few people bake at home here (or even OWN an oven) and butter is mostly used for toasts. If you have an insatiable kodawari (pedantry) for nicely cut butter cubes, I guess you could just go ahead and buy the pre-cut sticks.
Yes, the toast bread is quite thick (though usually not as much as this), and the butter is frequently served as a perfectly slice on top. So perhaps having tools for perfectly slicing butter in right angle out of bulk-size slabs is not so surprising.
Yeah I see a variety of forms. Usually sticks which I prefer also but also "two stick"ish and "four stick"ish slabs. I also see logs of rolled butter, which are about three sticks worth or so rolled into a cylinder. I also see square slabs, maybe the mass of a stick or so, and sometimes tubs. The tubs are convenient for spreading but not as much for baking.
I usually prefer the sticks, as you don't have to cut the larger slabs.
In Canada we have both a slab of 4 sticks, but also 4 individual sticks in a cardboard box. I like that one a lot, since a stick of butter is too little and a slab the size of 4 sticks is too much. 4 sticks in one pack is perfect.
As a side note though, it’s not just packaging. I’m originally from Germany, and we don’t use salted butter there. In Canada it’s all salted butter by default.
You definitely get the sticks in Cape Town, South Africa (along with packets of ham that say “edible” in big writing on the front). The butter is also ungodlily expensive, and margarine is in very common use
probably less healthy than real butter. "Vegetable oil" is almost always canola oil, which is more appropriate in your automobile crankcase than in your body. Temperate oils in general aren't good for you: they evolved to have their nutrients available at colder temperatures for a germinating seed to grow in the spring. They rancidify readily as it gets warmer.
I would love to see some peer-reviewed sources on those claims, specifically that canola oil is actively bad for you, that "temperate oils" are bad for you in general, and the rancidification claim (I keep mine in a cupboard and I have literally never had it go rancid).
I cook mostly with (actual genuine) extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil, since I prefer the smell and taste over the more commonly used canola/sunflower oil, and yes you can fry in olive oil just fine. But I still want to see some credible research that supports your claims.
That's OK. I'll let you do your own clerical work on this topic.
A couple of interesting points to consider: refined, bleached, deodorized oil such as canola oil is highly processed. Your link warns about highly processed oil in general. Considering how little we seem to be able to nail down scientifically the nutritional value of fat, the focus of the article around the role of fat in diet has a level of certitude I find suspect.
> Your link warns about highly processed oil in general.
No, it specifically says that there are concerns about them and goes on to explain why those concerns are generally misplaced, e.g. in relation to the use of hexane and the amount of trans fat present.
It also explains that the levels of trans fats are higher in animal fats, especially in beef fat and milk/butter, which you conveniently chose to ignore.
As you can also see, there are references at the bottom of the page, for your further edification.
In contrast, you have provided absolutely no references to your claims, and you apparently refuse to do so.
All form factors are wrong. They expose the butter to air.
The proper form factor would be a cartridge for a caulking gun. The extra leverage provided by the mechanism means that cold butter works fine, and the protection from air means that warmth doesn't cause much loss of quality.
Israel: The most common form used to be 100g slabs wrapped in paper (with lines printed for 25g blocks) for locally produced butter. Recently I'm seeing more of the 200g slabs, which are the same size except double the height. Also more varieties of imported butter.
454g is one pound, which is a very natural bulk unit for butter in English customary measures, so it's not too surprising that it survives in Canada. We Americans may have contributed to the survival of the size, but I'm sure we didn't introduce it.
If you live in the US, you can actually purchase these products from amazon.co.jp (Amazon Japan). They support switching the website language to Chinese and English. When you switch to English, everything including the comments are translated.
You do need a separate account on this website and you cannot delete the account (unlike Amazon US).
Shipping from Amazon Japan is faster than from Amazon US if you are not an Amazon Prime user.
Yeah Amazon JP is great, plus it's handy to already have one if you plan to make a trip to Japan. Both times that I went, I already had an account so it was super easy to order the SIM I wanted from Amazon to my hotel a couple days before arriving.
As far as shipping to the USA, YMMV, but when you can order items with delivery here then it's super awesome and generally fairly quick (aside from during COVID times with slower logistics).
It was a tourist one (something like 10GB for 21 days). You just open the package and activate it with a credit card on the company's website. I think you need to provide flight info for your return trip leaving the country and that's how they verify you're a tourist.
The UK is my go-to source for black market medical products. You can get contacts shipped without a prescription because its not required in the UK. Also some OTC cosmetics and sunscreen is way better because they don't drag their feet on approving new ingredients for 20 years like the FDA.
If you're in the northeastern US, you might be able to find Amish butter. By mass it's cheaper than Irish, and I can't tell a difference in taste or texture between the two. I definitely can between either and regular stick butter, though - I won't use that in sauces any more.
I'm in the northeast and I've seen this in grocery stores and bought lots of it. I'm not convinced it's 'Amish' in any real sense, though: I switched from Kerrygold to it, and found it basically good but really salty. Ended up switching to Cabot, which is also regional. Maybe I'll go back around to Kerrygold for good measure :)
Pretty much all I use butter for is omelets, but that's every breakfast.
If you're in San Francisco, try buying a block of butter from Daily Driver on 3rd St in the Dogpatch. https://dailydriver.com/
The owners own a creamery up in Marin, and they make their own cultured butter in house. At $14 for an 8 oz block it is much more expensive than the stuff at Safeway, but it has a totally different taste.
On the west coast, Straus butter (and other dairy products) are pretty easy to find and I think they are quite good. Their butter is high-fat, but it isn't cultured - locally made, cultured butter seems to be a niche for small craft producers and is harder to find than the European imports like Kerrygold.
European butter is 82% butterfat; most American brands are 80%.
American milk can't be sold in Europe because of how adulterated it is with hormones and antibiotics. Meanwhile, European dairy products intended for export to the states still have to satisfy European dairy standards.
as an english person, these tools all seem to be for working on butter that’s fresh out of the fridge; they’d be impossible to use on normal, room-temperature soft butter.
There’s something funny about inventing a tool to solve a problem that only exists for such a simple cultural reason (assuming butter goes bad quickly if not refrigerated)
Also, really odd how this article thinks of normal, unsliced butter— normal to everywhere else in the world but the US as some kind of pre-technological tradition.
edit: a friend pointed out to me that in lots of other places in the world, butter probably just melts to the point of becoming useless, so it has to be kept refrigerated, which is something I never considered before, feel pretty dumb about that
It’s not bad but ‘need for order’ and ‘would be too visually chaotic for Japanese sensibilities’ are borderline. Japanese people eat sloppy katsu curry and noodles that are no less chaotic than shredded butter. Also, plenty of people in Japan do not live or work in immaculately organized quarters.
Also, as most of the commentators from Japan here noted - most people here have never seen or heard of these utensils.
There are obviously some differences in how the Japanese eat stuff, but in general I can't say that Japanese are noticeably fussier when it comes to daily dining habits.
I think visitors often get the wrong impressions because what they see is:
1. Nice restaurants (not necessarily expensive ones), which are very particular about how they serve their food.
2. Enthusiastic hosts who go out of their way for infrequent guests - especially guests from abroad.
It all boils down to omotenashi - to be exoticizing a little, that's the Japanese spirit of treating guests with the utmost welcome.
To be more down to earth, this is all about cultural expectations. Restaurants and cafes try to present a perfect-looking dish, because this is how they are judged by their customers. Some (not all!) hosts might go out of their way and serve using their best dishes, trying to make restaurant-looking food to make good first impressions on a guest.
I am so jealous. Canada seems to do it the worst. Unless you pay for the premium stuff, it comes in 1-lb blocks. Well, 454g blocks, but they aren't fooling anybody. The block is a huge square extrusion about the size of 4 American sticks of butter. It's utterly unweildly and in the decade I've lived here, I haven't seen a butter dish made for these bricks. I'd love to hear from other Canadians how they manage these things.
A chef friend of mine treated me to a spread of different butters, salted and unsalted, sourced from various areas in Canada.
There's top quality butters to be had, but the supermarket stuff isn't it. Maybe try a local farmer's market if you're not up for huge blocks? I find they have wonderful honeys and butters if you find the right one.
Haven't found one of the big blocks you're referring to. Where are they stocked?
I read that tasting butters, e.g. eaten with bread, or finishing in dishes like risotto, need to be better quality but for pastry and cooking, cheap butter can be okay since the delicate subtle flavors gets cooked off and muted. I wonder how much of that is true though, maybe there's some threshold tradeoff of how much the taste of a final dish would improve.
For something like an omelet (which I make every day for breakfast), it's bland enough that you'll be able to tell because the flavor of the butter used is a substantial part of the end result. I daresay there are things you could cook that are spicy enough that you'd lose any distinctions, but I'm not used to 'monter au beurre' with any of those. My loss, perhaps?
I (and my family before me) just cut them into pieces. We have small bowls that will take about a 1/4 square section, so we cut off a fourth along the short axes of the large block, leave that in the dish on the counter, and put the rest back in the fridge. Salted butter keeps at room temperature for longer than it takes for the butter to be eaten.
> Both Westerners and overtly Western things were referred to as bata-kusai, "kusai" being Japanese for "stink."
Although that is a literal meaning, -kusai functions as a suffix which creates an adjective from a noun indicating that something has the quality of that noun, and that the quality is undesirable. In this role, it doesn't indicate a smell.
It basically means "-like" or "-ish", with a negative slant.
For instance "ao" refers to the blue/green color and also to an unripe state of plants or immature state. "aokusai" refers to a raw vegetable taste or smell, like cut grass, or something unripe for consumption; also to an inexperienced person, greenhorn.
"inakakusai": unsophisticated hick, country bumpkin.
The format of the butter in Japan is similar to the European one in shape, but not in size. The typical size is Japan is 250g which is much smaller than what you find in Western Europe, and way more expensive per gram as well. Also, butter is regularly out of stock because of the JA mafia.
This is not Japanese Only. I'm Belgian, and my mother (a boomer) has all of these. However, they are not 'tableware': they are never put on the table for a guest to be used; they are reserved for the cook's use only. The cutters also have notes on them like (25g,50g,...).
I'd seen most of these before too (UK/Ireland), a butter curler is common and cheap. However the right angled curler is new to me; it seems to be a consequence of their butter dishes being different tho? My butter dish (and most of the ones I've ever seen here) looks like: https://www.porzellantreff.de/en/Friesland-Ammerland-Blue-Bu... (a flat plate with a cuboid lid), so straight butter knives with a curler edge can work right to the last of the butter, where the photos in the article show a cuboid dish with a flat top - the right-angled knife is going to be needed to reach the butter when the butter has been used to below the rim of the dish.
My folks had a variety of butter curling/ribbon ing/noodling implements, which was strange because we lived in Indonesia with locally-available butter options from a can or pretty wild water buffalo butter custom made by local farmers for the crazy expats.
I've lived in Japan for a long time too and while the dishes are familiar, I've never seen anything like the knives presented in the article. They look more like novelty items you'd get from the home shopping channel than a staple of every Japanese household (still neat though!).
true story: i had always made cream and butter from fresh milk. milk from cow every morning, quick boil. skim cream off the top. collect for a week or so. churn to make butter and buttermilk.
when i moved to the united states many many years ago...i kept trying to extract cream from full fat milk and couldnt figure out why i kept failing. having never had store bought homogenised milk before, i had to learn full fat isnt truly 'full fat'. gnarly!
Totally OT: I wanted to read the article but the constant moving items on the right column and the whack-a-mole game to add them to adlbock got me off the site. Oh, wait there's a reader mode I forgot to try. /rant