Watch: horses drag 2000-pound sleds in Japaneses competition

Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan's major islands. It's here that the practice of racing giant draft horses is being kept alive. The horses race against each other by dragging heavy sleds (weighing between 900 pounds and 2000 pounds). The horses are fed four times a day and race once every two weeks.

Image: YouTube/Great Big Story Read the rest

Conan's Japanese rent-a-family is told to laugh at all his jokes

You may remember that, in Japan, you can rent fake family members to fight loneliness (or for other reasons, like you want your kid to have a "dad"). Well, Conan O'Brien has been filming in Japan and, while in Tokyo, he hired a new wife, daughter, and father. He told them right from the start that they must laugh at his jokes (his real wife is "tired" of them, he says) and they do, even when it's inappropriate. It's funny, as are the other "Conan Without Borders" videos he and his crew shot in Japan. You can watch them all at the Team Coco website. If you love vending machines like I do, don't miss the one labeled "Tokyo."

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Interview with the top male host in Japan

Akaya Kunugi makes a nice living entertaining women at a host bar in Tokyo. One of his clients even bought him a $370,000 car. In this Asian Boss video, Akaya, who was formerly homeless, describes his duties as the number one host at the largest and most prestigious club of its kind in Japan.

They also interview one of his 19-year-old clients, who said an evening with Akaya at the club costs at least $700. She once bought a crystal magnum decanter of Louis XIII cognac at the club for $110,000.

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Scotty of Strange Parts takes a tour of Akihabara, Tokyo's geek culture headquarters

Akihabara got its reputation for being Tokyo's "Electric City" -- both for its consumer electronics as well as for its electronics components stalls. In more recent years, it's become more well-known for anime, manga, claw machines, game arcades, capsule toy shops, maid cafes, unusual vending machines, and vintage video game gear stores. Scotty of Strange Parts took a tour of Akihabara with Only in Japan's John Daub.

My daughter and I love Akihabara. Here's a few photos and a video from our last visit:

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This cat in Japan has the most disturbing meow: 'ololiloliloliloliloliiiloli'

This is Chibi Maru, a Japanese cat with a demonic cry! His human companion LLR伊藤智博 recently posted this video of Chibi Maru vocalizing in a most unusual way. He seems to say, "Ololiloliloliloliloliiiloli," reports SoraNews24.

Is the cat angry? Defensive? Summoning the devil? Something ain't right with its ears folded down like that.

“Chobimaru is talking again…Scary…” tweeted @llritotomohiro, who says this is the second time the kitty has emitted this guttural, rhythmical series of sounds...

A few other cat owners even chimed in to say they’d had similar experiences with their own animals, often as portents of trouble soon to come.

“Did Chobimaru throw up after this? When my cat sounds like he’s casting an incantation, I always run to grab some newspapers and tissues.” “My cat does the same thing! After he makes this kind of noise, he throws up. It’s nice of him to always give me an advance warning.”

However, @llritotomohiro, while thanking everyone for their concern, was happy to report that Chobimaru was in fine spirits. After his minute or so of chanting, he returned to normal, eating dinner as he always does and playing energetically in the house.

The internet did its thing and put his scary vocals to a dance beat:

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Japan's new cybersecurity minister admits never having used a computer

Yoshitaka Sakurada might not be Japan's best pick for the cybersecurity portfolio: confused by a USB drive, he was forced to admit he'd never even used a computer. Read the rest

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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