Tuesday, July 30, 2002


Important intelligence received from Steve the other day that the kombini (convenience store) near him has, if you can believe such an unheard-of, indeed utterly preposterous thing, is carrying Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I at once went out there to verify this with my own eyes and lo and behold, there in the ice cream cooler was indeed said ice cream in several containers (all small, of course), and astonishingly, in flavors other than vanilla. I am sure that soon though, if this store continues to carry Ben and Jerry's, which is highly unlikely given the confusing variety of strongly distinct flavors that B&J offers (variety that can only foment social confusion and lead to one person having different taste from another person, a state of affairs that will lead Japan nowhere as a cohesive nation but into the chaos and confusion of myriad choice), the store will carry Ben and Jerry's vanilla and strawberry only, as has already happened with Haagen-Dasz, reduced from the initial paradise of flavors to the parking lot of vanilla. (Later note: My prediction was somewhat off the mark; they discontinued B&J altogether.)

For a while there were rare stores that carried, for some odd reason, Haagen-Dasz chocolate, but the stores soon discontinued this barbaric and confusing practice, and settled down to the myriad spectrum of vanilla and something they call 'rich milk,' a name that accurately conveys the deep excitement and passion rampant in the Japanese ice cream marketplace, giving at least one more flavor choice than anybody in Japan ever seems to want, excepting me, of course, as usual.

So I bought all the B&J they had, knowing I'd never see this variety again once this batch was gone. The chocolate nugget crunch was delightful, and the peach exquisite, with actual freestone peaches, an explosion of flavor far too passionate for the obedient national tongue that suffers from what I call the senbei syndrome (after the 1001 local senbei (rice crackers) that all taste the same, but look different). People go into raptures about how this senbei is from Shimonoseki and that from Hokuriku, but as a non-native I just can't taste the visual difference or share the excitement.

Which is not to say that I don't like Japanese goodies in and of themselves; I do, very much, but multidimensional choice is not a bad thing; indeed it is essential in an educated, democratic society. In the quarter-century since I first came to Japan, the choice of ice cream flavors has seen some improvement; back then, when you said "ice cream" you were saying "vanilla" (except at one store on the Ginza to which I would travel occasionally for the heady experience of saying "chocolate"); now you can get 'rich milk' too.

Yeah, I know it's decadent to complain in this manner about not being able to satisfy my craving for what is after all a luxury, but decadence does have a place in life, as serving to put lesser values into perspective. One should have at least one decadent outlet for this purpose. As William Blake was too ecstatic to say about his Triple Brownie Overload, "A man does not know what is enough until he's had one of these." Vanilla alone will not serve the man who seeks wisdom.

For further radical descent of jaw regarding the strange Japanese attitude toward ice cream, click here. With many-flavored thanks to the Spinster Librarian.

[Update, October 25 2006: Not only did the store soon stop selling B&J's, they're now out of business; the place stands vacant, a mere ghost of its former glory.]