A new store in Yaesu Chikagai (八重洲地下街) makes soap out of konnyaku. We’re told it’s not edible, but then nor is konnyaku. At least not for us!
Konnyaku (蒟蒻) looks like grey jelly. When we first arrived in Japan we took it be left over bits of fish that had been mashed, blended, and then jellyfied. Actually, it comes from some form of potato, and appears as filler for all kinds of Japanese dishes. Such is it’s miserable appearance and common use, it has a grim Dickensian quality about it. Apparently though, it’s really healthy.
How you get from potato to konyaku we’ll never know. Equally baffling then that people have managed to turn it into soap.
Welcome to the store 蒟蒻しゃぼん (konnyaku shabon) who, if we got our Japanese correct, are the original purveyors of konnyaku as soap.
The first thing to notice about 蒟蒻しゃぼん’s soap is that it looks too cute for school. It also looks like some kind of oversized jelly candy that you’d love to chew. You can’t. Well, you can, and it won’t harm you, but it is soap, after all.
The next thing you notice is that you want to poke and prod it. So we did. It’s got a bit more wobble about it than konnyaku, and once you add water, it’s a lot more slippery, too.
Let us remind you again, though, that this is soap. Apparently it’s really kind on the skin (just like they say about all soap), and is good for kids (if they don’t mistake it for candy).
We gave some a go. Our’s was yellow, and banana scented. It’s a nightmare to handle but at the same time is a … quirky sensation. You feel like you might mash it up if you’re not careful. It creates a creamy lather (this is sounding a bit weird, sorry), and did feel gentle on the skin.
At 1,250 yen for a 100g ball (about the size of a small satsuma) it’s definitely on the pricey side. Where 蒟蒻しゃぼん’s soap will really come into it’s own for us expats though, is as a novelty only-in-Japan gift for the people back home. It’s cute, slightly weird, very Japanese (it’s made from konnyaku after all), and you can buy it in suitably Japanese style packaging.
蒟蒻しゃぼん has stores nationwide. We went to the new one in Yaesu Chikagai.
Yaesu Chikagai (八重洲地下街) store - 外堀地下1番通り / Sotobori chika 1 ban dori
Yaesu Chikagai website: http://www.yaechika.com/