If you like to watch YouTube videos about Japan, especially by expats from the U.S., England, Australia and elsewhere who live in Japan and like to show viewers the country’s culture, sights, festivals and food, you’re probably familiar with sponsors who help underwrite these online creators.
The one that I started seeing the most often is Bokksu, a monthly box (“bokksu” is the Japanese pronunciation of box) shipped to your door that includes seasonal savory and sweet treats from different areas of Japan, with monthly themes.
We got a Bokksu package a few years ago as a gift, and we enjoyed the snacks (I ate most of it) right away, but we didn’t sign up for a subscription. Just eating the snacks didn’t appeal to me because I could go to my local Japanese supermarket (even in Denver there’s one) or some of the Asian markets (Hmart is all over the U.S.) and find most of the goodies.
But I recently got introduced to a different Japanese package service. It’s called Kokoro Care Packages, and I like the different way that Kokoro Care approaches the boxes that you can order. Like the other services, Kokoro Care Packages can be ordered individually or via subscription so you can get boxes monthly or quarterly. The boxes (like the other companies) start at around $50, and the products come from Japan.
But Kokoro Care Packages aren’t just about opening and snarfing down the treats. There is even a Japanese snacks and sweets “Raku” assortment that has some unique-sounding items (like Grains Zenzai, a dessert soup from Shimane Prefecture, and Sour Yuzu Peels from Miyazaki Prefecture) along with a variety of Senbei rice crackers.
But there’s also an “Amai” baking care package with ingredients for you to make your own sweet Japanese treats such as Salt-Pickled Sakura cherry bloom (a popular condiment in the spring!) and Hateruma Kokuto Powder black sugar from Okinawa. The box comes with recipes and suggestions for using the items.
Kokoro Care Packages’ other collections are carefully curated assemblages with names like “Redefining ‘Wa,’” (Japanese cooking essentials), “Vegan Shojin Ryori: ‘Zen’” (Shojin Ryori is the vegan cuisine that Buddhist monks subsist on), “Otsumami” (foods that pair with alcohol, which feature snacky items that would typically be served alongside drinks at a bar or izakaya like sardine jerky or smoked cod roe). There’s also an “Umami” care package that includes the ingredients you’d need to make your own dashi, the essential soup stock of most Japanese cooking. And, of course, the recipes to make the dashi.
The “Redefining ‘Wa’” box I received as an introduction to Kokoro Care Packages included a bottle of Marunaka shoyu from Shiga Prefecture that beats the old Kikkoman soy sauce hands down for depth of flavor without a spike of saltiness. I also got pure rice vinegar from Hyogo, and Shio Koji, the fermented rice that’s at the heart of shoyu, miso, rice vinegar and sake.
Plus, the Kokoro Care Packages website isn’t just an e-commerce gateway for ordering the products — it’s chock-full of information about the company’s origins and its mission to bring organic products from small, family owned farms and businesses throughout Japan.
There’s also a blog where Kokoro Care’s freelance writers (who live in Japan) post about the products and the regions where it sources the goods.
One of Kokoro Care Packages’ founders, Aki Sugiyama, is half-Okinawan and half-Japanese, and she lives in Japan, traveling throughout the country on the lookout for cool items to include in Kokoro Care Packages. The other founder, Lillian Hanako Rowlatt, is Japanese Canadian and after living and working in L.A., has moved back to Toronto to manage Kokoro Care’s marketing. Both met while they worked in finance. They started Kokoro Care Packages four years ago and haven’t looked back. Watch for the company to keep adding new items as well as nonfood stuff to their care packages.
Kokoro Care Packages carves out a different niche for themselves from the other Japanese goodie boxes. They’re not just about things you can consume. They’re things you can use.
And I love to cook, not just eat!
Visit the Kokoro Care Packages website at kokorocares.com/.
Gil Asakawa is the author of “Tabemasho! Let’s Eat! The Tasty History of Japanese Food in America.”