The next time someone asks, “What’s your favorite thing about Japan?”, I know what I’m going to say.
When I was growing up in England, the only thing you could buy from a cute little musical van that drove around the neighborhood was ice cream, and for the approximately eleven-and-a-half months of the year when it was too cold to eat an ice cream, you had to make do with a “mix-up bag” (like pick ‘n’ mix, but without the “pick” part – that is to say, without the element of choice) which consisted of ten gummy sweets no one ever liked anyway.
Sure, in city centers and at events in England we have vendors selling fast food. But our burger and falafel trucks don’t drive door-to-door playing old-fashioned jingles like an ice cream van does. In Japan, however, there are a bunch of tiny vans, privately owned, that each specialise in one product and each have their own song. And it’s not just food, either. The things you can buy off the back of those little musical trucks are amazing.
Let’s take a look at five of the best.
Warabi-mochi is a squishy Japanese sweet that’s coated in soybean flour. Despite the name, it’s not actually mochi, being made from bracken starch rather than glutinous rice. It’s often eaten in summer, and is sold from miniature trucks.
When a tiny warabi-mochi truck rolls around the neighbourhood, its speakers project the crackly voice of an old man singing about how delicious and cooling the snack is.
2) Baked sweet potato
When autumn rolls in, though, the warabi-mochi song is replaced by one that advertises a piping hot treat: baked sweet potato. “Ishi yaki-mo, yaki-imo, yaki-imoooooooooo” [stone-baked potato] goes the song, which is also sung by a groovy old guy (the same man, perhaps?!) When baked, the red skin of Japanese sweet potato turns a darker purple, and the white flesh goes golden.
The tofu truck (or bicycle trailer!) is recognisable by its distinctive trumpet tune. That, and the fact it’s a truck that only sells tofu
Well, OK. It actually sells other products made from soy beans, too. But that’s still pretty specialised.
4) Laundry poles
Delicious sweets and fresh tofu brought to your door are one thing, but what about household items? A pole to hang your laundry outside is a household essential, but if you go to a shop to buy it, getting it home could be tricky. It won’t fit in the car, and you can’t walk it home, unless you want to carry it with a friend like some kind of terrible comedy act.
In Japan, there’s a specialised door-to-door truck for that. They are called saodake-ya, meaning “bamboo pole shop”, because (you guessed it) back in the day, the poles all used to be bamboo. And these trucks also have their own song, this one by a lovely lady singing “Take-yaaaaaaa, saodakeeeeeee!”, which means“bamboo seller, bamboo poles”.
Central heating not being the norm in Japanese homes, kerosene space heaters are a popular option. Accordingly, these trucks go door-to-door selling kerosene. This not only saves Japan’s ageing population from having to work out how to get a heavy bottle of kerosene home, but also provides us with another jingle, this time a children’s song.
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