Kamata Shoten lychee-flavored ramune soda

Central Trading Company, 8150 Olive Boulevard, 314-993-4303

Americans, in addition to being greedy, short-sighted, dim-witted and chubby, are boring. We, for instance, prefer our carbonated beverages to arrive with twist-off tops in basic plastic bottles. In faraway places like Japan, however, they do it differently. Take Kamata Shoten brand ramune soda flavored with lychee. Spy it at our new favorite Asian grocery, Central Trading Company, and there's no way in heck you're not buying a bottle.

This ramune comes in a glass decanter shaped like an alien, with two big indentations in the head as eyes and a sturdy, cylindrical body below. It looks like a sex toy. The bottle holds a scant 6.7 ounces of clear liquid and its top is wrapped with plastic, on which is a diagram that explains how to open it. Duh, we think to ourselves, we know how to open bottles. You twist the top.

That doesn't work. We fiddle with the top some more. It's silver, and what seems to be some sort of glass stopper is plugging the mouth hole. We twist harder, but the lid isn't budging. We stick it in our mouth and try and bite it off. Ouch. Is this a joke? We retrieve the instructional diagram from the trash. Apparently it has something to do with a plastic "tool" that we discarded. We try using our teeth again. Ouch. No luck.

Then, in desperation, we poke the tool into the glass marble thing, and with a pop, a clear fizzy drink pours all over our lap as the glass-stopper is revealed to be a marble, and it drops down into the drink. How cool is that? The alien head's neck is thin, so the marble sits suspended in the head rather than falling all the way to the bottom.

Ramune is a generic term for a Japanese-style soda, and it comes in many flavors -- melon, peach, lemonade, kiwi, etc. Hello Kitty even makes ramune soda. The ingredient list for this lychee-flavored ramune is pretty simple: sugar, glucose and fructose are the top three ingredients. From there, the rest are acids and flavorings. Not much to it, and the first sip confirms that ramune soda is for the kids, not the adults. It's for the anime set, with its stylish bottle, doe-eyed demeanor and saccharine taste. Tip the bottle and the marble rolls up toward the spigot, which gets problematic as the liquid is consumed -- the marble rolls up and plugs the opening.

And the lychee? Well, no. No real lychee flavor to be found anywhere. It's more like cream soda, sweet and spineless. If you're not a fan of sugared carbonated beverages, you'll hate this. But really, who cares what it tastes like? Ramune isn't about substance. It's about style, about form over function, about superficiality and appearances -- all of which makes us wonder why Americans haven't gone nuts for the ramune lychee-flavored soft drink.