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Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
Shinkansen chopsticks add dash of otaku goodness to lunch
By RICK MARTIN
One of the more popular items to come out of Japan last year was Kotobukiya's "Star Wars" Light Saber Chopsticks, which made the rounds on popular tech blogs such as Gizmodo, Wired and TechCrunch's CrunchGear. And while they might not have "the force" (nor the brand power) of any "Star Wars" product, Japanese company Daiwa Toy (www.daiwatoy.co.jp) has a similar set of chopsticks that will be sure to make a splash among Japanophiles and densha otaku (train geeks) the world over.
The shinkansen chopsticks — also known as the "Chopstick Express" — take the form of Japan's famous bullet trains. If you've ever taken the shinkansen, it's quite possible that you bought a boxed lunch to enjoy during your trip. Can you think of a more fitting pair of chopsticks with which to dine on a train? I don't think so.
Unlike the actual shinkansen, these chopsticks are not divided up into multiple cars, but rather each chopstick is crafted into one long, sleek car that gives the impression of a train rocketing down the tracks, a mere blur to the human eye as it zooms past. Because the form of a chopstick tapers off into a narrow tip, the illusion of perspective is easily created, making this miniature replica appear deceptively long.
For extra dramatic effect the package design includes railway tracks underneath each train, as well as a tunnel near the bottom out of which the chopsticks appear to be racing out of. While many people will buy these shinkansen chopsticks with the intention of using them to eat, the elaborate and beautiful package makes an excellent display case should you opt to show off your pair on the mantle.
Included among the varieties of shinkansen are the 0-Series train. That was the first shinkansen to be introduced, in 1964, and it was only retired in 2008. The recent N700-Series train is also available, this being the latest model to hit the tracks just three years ago. According to Daiwa Toy, the N700 chopsticks are 21 cm long and other models will be comparable. In total, four different kinds of shinkansen will be produced, giving train fans and collectors a sizable collection.
For anyone who would like to pick up a pair of their very own shinkansen chopsticks they can be purchased at Yamashiroya in front of JR Ueno Station, but you can expect to see them on sale in more and more station kiosks in the future.
Alternatively, if your Japanese is up to snuff, you can buy them online at (www.eki-net.biz/j-retail/g109001).
For overseas buyers, Jbox.com (www.jbox.com/PRODUCT/YYN408) is one online merchant that has already sent these special trains over the Pacific Ocean.
One of the most attractive features of these unique utensils is the price: ¥630 ($7.50) a pop! The Chopstick Express makes a perfect souvenir to remember your travels in Japan, particularly if you spent any significant time riding the shinkansen during your visit. But be warned: Children will probably end up playing with their food far more than before.
Rick Martin is a contributor to CNET and Gizmag. Read more of his work on his website at 1rick.com