It’s Boxes for Cardboard Meat Buns

Back in 2007, a sensational story hit the press: due to a burgeoning food crisis and dwindling meat supplies, the Chinese were substituting ground cardboard for the ground pork generally found in meat buns. Add to this a growing food scare in Japan, where longtime household name manufactures were shut down one after another for food safety concerns. Mix in a dash of playful cynicism for most things Chinese, and pour into notorious otaku bulletin board community Ni-Channel. Let it sit for a few months, and you’ll get an amazingly funny result that inspired corporate hand Shuman Shuman to open “Cardboard Meat Bun Shop Maririn” last December in Akihabara.

Instead of producing meat buns made with cardboard, Maririn instead serves their large gourmet-style steamed buns in cardboad, selling both “Mens’ Salt Flavored” and “Ladies’ Soy Sauce Flavored” varieties at 420 yen each. The filling includes a blend of oregano, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg mixed into Ibaraki Prefecture natural-fed “Herb Pork,” overseen by a Yokohama Chinatown Meat Bun Specialist to ensure juiciness and flavor balance. To make the experience complete, Maririn is staffed with “Red Chinese” in cute pink Mao-era costume mock-ups.

Of course no business would be complete without a spokes character, of which the shop has two, readily emblazoned on every promotional material. Spokes characters Maririn and Kourin went to kindergarten together and came to Akihabara with the intent of promoting food safety practices – or at least so says their debut single which released in March of this year. Entitled “Kowloon Baby,” it tells the story of how the duo came to be called the “unit saving the world through meat buns.”

In addition to the release of “Kowloon Baby,” Maririn also announced a summer manju parfait to compliment the rising temperatures. While hearty meat-buns are more popular as a winter-time snack, small and sweet brown sugar flavored sweet-bean filled snack breads are eaten year round. Topped with a little bit of soft ice cream, and still served in their namesake packaging, Shuman Shuman seemed to keeping up with the times.

However, what started as a profitable and popular business spawned from playful internet rumors is now closing its doors for good as of June 9, 2008. The announcement came from Shuman Shuman on May 11, along with a statement that they had intended to close the business in May from the beginning. Maririn fans are advised to come for a last tasting every weekend until the 9th, where maids as opposed to traditionally costumed staff will be serving from 11am-6pm. Customers lingering for that long lost taste in years to come should stock up now, as Shuman Shuman is also offering national delivery of frozen product for this limited time.

A recent visit of the shop showed it filled with boxes and covered with notices. However, some fans are trying to keep the spirit alive by showing their support in the form of cash, conspicuously taped to windows. Whether or not this act of good will can save the cardboard meat bun is as of yet unknown (we counted only 4000 yen), but the cardboard meat bun has definitely left its mark on Akihabara history.

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