Gorgeous, illustrated Japanese fireworks catalogs from the early 1900s

The Yokohama Board of Education has posted scans of six fantastic catalogs from Hirayama Fireworks and Yokoi Fireworks, dating from the early 1900s. The illustrated catalogs are superb, with minimal words: just beautiful colored drawings depicting the burst-pattern from each rocket. Read the rest

Unmanned roadside stores in Japan

One of the things I've always really liked about Japan is that once you get out of the big cities, you start coming across these things called mujin hanbai, literally "unmanned selling." Mujin hanbais are simply small, open-faced huts with shelves and a roof. Owned by a nearby local farmer, more often than not, they're shoddily -- but cleverly! -- built, and stumbling across one is always a treat.

You see, early every morning, a farmer will totter over and stock the shelves with freshly picked fruit, vegetables or even flowers. They'll set out a price tag (often just a propped up, torn piece of cardboard) and leave some kind of container for the passerby to drop in his or her coins. At the end of the day, they'll return to collect their profits and hurry home to get some sleep before they're up at dawn to pick more produce to once again stock their little unmanned shop.

Some mujin hanbai are just people who have family gardens and grow too much to eat. Others are farmers with bigger fields, but have vegetables or fruit that, while perfectly delicious, might be blemished or oddly shaped and cannot be sold to a supermarket. All those misfit veggies find themselves on an outdoor shelf to be sold using the honor system.

That is what is so endearing about this whole system. In my 28 years of living in Japan, I've never seen or heard about anyone taking advantage of these unmanned, self-serve, roadside stores. Read the rest

What it's like to drive in Japan

I'm pretty used to driving on the left side of the road, having driven in Rarotonga, New Zealand, and Australia for several months. But I would be nervous to drive in Japan, because the roads are narrow and I am nervous I wouldn't be able to read the signs. But this video makes me think I should rent a car the next time I go there.

This video tells you about international driving permits, speed limits, rest stops, car rental, tolls, and other tips.

Video: YouTube Read the rest

Don't eat this iPhone case!

You know those super real-looking food samples on display – sampuru – in front of restaurants all over Japan? Now, imagine a mashup between those and your phone case.

Here's Rakuten's nice line up of delicious-looking coverings for your phone.

There is everything from sushi to pizza toast to curry and tacos, from bacon and eggs to shrimp tempura, and so much more. You can also set your phone into a stand shaped like a small bowl of ramen.

If you would rather keep your old case but still want to be in on the food fun, watch this video till the end.

Read the rest

Pop-up restaurant serves last meals of death row inmates

Tokyo-based art collective Chim↑Pom has opened a two-week pop-up restaurant that serves up the last meals once requested by real death row inmates.

For example, before being executed by firing squad in 1977, Utah double murderer Gary Mark Gilmore ate a burger, a hard-boiled egg, and mashed potatoes, and drank three shots of whiskey. Here is Chim↑Pom's version of Gilmore's pre-execution eats:

The Ningen ("Human") Restaurant is located in Kabukicho, Tokyo's red-light district, and is open until October 28 (2 PM to 9 PM).

(Spoon & Tamago) Read the rest

Einstein's Theory of Relativity Tested at Tokyo Skytree

On October 3rd, two high-accuracy clocks were placed in Tokyo Skytree. One was installed on a ground floor meeting room, while the other went all the way to the observation deck, 634 meters up. They were put there by a group of scientists from The University of Tokyo. Why? To test Einstein's theory of relativity, of course.

An engineering professor at the University of Tokyo, Hidetoshi Katori, made the time-keeping devices -- called optimal lattice clocks -- back in 2005. They're believed to be some of the most accurate in the world.

According to Einstein's theory of relativity, time should move faster on the observation deck than at the bottom floor. Professor Katori is hoping to prove just that. His clocks will be left in place for two months before the data is to be analyzed. Theoretically, after a single month, the time difference between the two clocks should be 0.13 microseconds. To give you an idea of how tiny a microsecond is, if you wanted to create a lag of a single second, the clocks would have to stay in place for 700,000 years.

If this experiment is a success, then next it will be tried on Mount Fuji.

More on the experiment can be found here at Asahi Shimbun and this video (Japanese). Read the rest

Booze in a 'juice' box

In Japan, you don't have to drink your sake from a cup or a glass or even a bottle. If you're in the mood for a little imbibing on your walk home from work and don't want to worry about having to recycle a bottle or a can, or maybe you would just rather sip your booze from a straw, then these neat, one-serving cartons of sake are for you.

Onigoroshi (Demon Slayer) is the brand I find in every convenience store I've ever entered in Japan. Shelved with the wine and other spirits are these cool cartons, 180 ml of 13-14% alcohol goodness with a straw.

While picking up a couple mini cartons for research, I noticed a new one I'd never seen before. It's bigger, holding 270 ml of sake and touted as ureshii ookisa or Fun Size!

I like the idea, just make sure you don't slip one into your child's lunchbox.

Photos by: Thersa Matsuura Read the rest

What Japanese frozen meals are like

When we spent 5 weeks in Japan this summer, we bought a lot of prepared meals from convenience stores. They were really good. In this video, we see how a family who moved from Canada to Japan makes great dinner spreads using frozen meals. Read the rest

Artist creates miniature replicas of the rooms of Japan's "lonely deaths"

Japanese artist Miyu Kojima's dayjob is cleaning up apartments whose occupants have died "lonely deaths" (kodokushi/孤独死), where someone socially isolated declines unnoticed for months or years; the scenes of their death are both sad and grisly, as often they lie dead behind closed doors for a long time before they are missed. Read the rest

Ooey gooey DIY candies

These candies have been around for awhile in Japan, but I can't help but think that with the slime craze that's been all over Youtube for the last few years, kids in other countries might truly appreciate the ooey gooey goodness of Japanese Nerunerunerune candies.

The company Kracie was established in Japan in 1887 as the Tokyo Cotton Trading Company. It produces everything from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics to -- you guessed it -- candy.

But what is special about Kracie's super cute sweets is that they are actually do-it-yourself treats. The two I made are called Nerunerunerune (kneading, kneading, kneading). Powder is shaken into a plastic receptacle, water is measured and stirred in, beautiful colors are made (lavender and yellow in my case). Next, a second package is added and the vigorous kneading or stirring occurs. The goop changes colors again. It fluffs up and turns into very fragrant slime! Finally, the dollops of sticky goodness can be dipped into either rainbow-colored crushed pop rocks or tiny sweet tarts and eaten.

It feels a bit like child alchemy. Yummy, yummy, sweet and sticky child alchemy. Read the rest

Flavored eel bones: a crunchy yummy snack

I’m no stranger to eating bones. As a child I was like a cat hearing the lid being peeled off a can and flying into the kitchen to see what’s for dinner. Every time my mother opened some canned salmon, there I’d be, standing by her side waiting for her to drop some of those soft, greasy, salty fish bones into my hands. But I haven’t done that in years.

Fast forward to the other day, when I came across a bag of similar-looking bones in my local supermarket here in Japan. A quick look and I noticed they weren’t salmon bones, nor were they soft or greasy. They were eel bones.

Dry roasted eel bones, in fact. The package tells me they are chock full of calcium, vitamins A, B2, D, and E. Who needs potato chips when for 200 yen you can get 26 grams of eel bones to nosh on? Not only that, but Kyomaru makes several different flavors, too: spicy, salt, soy sauce, wasabi, and sweet sesame seed flavored.

Photos by: Thersa Matsuura Read the rest

Little Green Terracotta Army Men

Forget Little Green Army Men in Yoga Poses; they're totally 2016; the contemporary Little Green Army Man is a mashup with the terracotta warriors: they're $41 from Hobbylink Japan. (via Super Punch) Read the rest

Architects redesign Japanese tunnels into artworks

The Kiyotsu Gorge lookout tunnel is a huge engineering marvel amidst spectacular beauty. Artists and architects recently repurposed it as an art installation replete with reflective surfaces, colored lights and sculptures. Read the rest

Self-serve beer machine in all-you-can-drink restaurant

It's in a Japanese "all-you-can-drink" restaurant, which sounds like a splendid idea. Note how it performs a correct angled pour, with headspit finish, to provide a superior pint. Read the rest

Profile of Japan's female bonsai master

Chiako Yamamoto is the first and only female sensei of Japan's revered bonsai masters. She shows trees of various sizes and ages, including those she inherited from relatives generations ago. Read the rest

Tokyo street interviews: Should Japan accept more foreign workers?

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently implemented a goal to introduce 500,000 foreign workers to Japan -- which is experiencing an aging and declining population -- by the year 2020. Currently about 2% of residents in Japan are foreigners. Asian Boss hit the streets of Tokyo to get reactions to the program. Opinions range from positive to dead set against it. One of the most cited reasons for not allowing a large influx of foreigners is because they do not understand Japanese culture and will have a hard time fitting in. One woman said Japanese in general like Americans but dislike non-Japanese Asians. Another woman said she was "scared of foreign drugs coming to Japan."

Read the rest

Senko hanabi: Japanese sparklers light the summer nights

Summer in Japan isn't summer in Japan unless there are fireworks—and lots of them. Cities and towns, temples and ports; somewhere near you, on one of these hot and outrageously humid summer nights, there will be a fireworks show. It will be loud, and it will be incredible.

The quiet side of summer pyrotechnics, though, is called senko hanabi. Senko in Japanese meaning an incense stick, and hanabi (literally flower fire) is the word for fireworks. The senko hanabi is one cool little dude with a lot of meaning and charm packed into a very short and very serene ten seconds.

First, one of these delicate sparklers looks like a roughly 20 centimeter long, tightly twisted, rainbow-colored piece of tissue paper, with one end not so tightly twisted. That’s the top. There’s no stick inside, so the way to burn one is to pinch the top, holding the senko hanabi vertical, while you light the bottom. After a second or two, a molten bubble will form. Here’s where you have to have a steady hand. If you’re not careful, that tiny shimmering ball of fire will drop off and the show is over. If, however, you can hold it very still, you will be able to enjoy the serene, mesmerizing, indeed almost hypnotizing beauty of a Japanese senko hanabi.

This beauty is divided into five stages that go like this:

1. Bud. The fire bubble looks like the bud of a flower. 2. Peony. When the first burst of sparkles appear, breaking the surface of the tiny molten ball, the shape is said to look like a peony. Read the rest

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