童絵解万国噺: a wonderfully bizarre 19th century Japanese fanfic history of America

Japanese historian Nick Kapur unearthed "Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi" (童絵解万国噺), a wonderfully bizarre illustrated Japanese history of the USA from 1861, filled with fanciful depictions of allegedly great moments in US history, like "George Washington defending his wife 'Carol' from a British official named 'Asura' (same characters as the Buddhist deity)." Read the rest

China legalizes eating a pufferfish bred to be nonpoisonous

Chinese fish farms have successfully bred seven generations of Takifugu rubripes and ten generations of Takifugu obscurus that lack the gene that causes normal specimens of these pufferfish species to produce a deadly toxin that means near-instant death for anyone who eats a fish whose poison has not been completely removed during preparation. Read the rest

What it's like to work at a Japanese snow monkey park

Here's a guy who went to a monkey park in Takasaki-yama in Japan and donned a monkey park worker uniform for a day to see what it was like. One reason Japan has monkey parks is to get them used to eating food there so they don't invade nearby farms. The monkeys didn't really like having a stranger tend to them, and they made their displeasure known by chattering. They settle down pretty quickly, though. My favorite part was when an experienced worker ran through the park with a cart loaded with sweet potatoes. The monkeys chased after him and picked up the sweet potatoes as the fell off the cart.

I went to a monkey park near Kyoto with my family in 2010. Here's a video:

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A cafe where the robot waiters are remote-piloted by paralyzed people

Dawn ver.β is a Tokyo cafe in Akasaka where all the table service is performed by 120 cm tall OriHime-D robots that are piloted by people who are paralyzed and work from home; it was inspired by a fictional cafe in the 2008 anime Time of Eve. Read the rest

Japan opens its doors wide to immigration

As populism and a tilt to the political right has prompted many nations to question once welcoming immigration and refugee policies and embrace xenophobia, a nation with a centuries long reputation for insularity has decided to move in the other direction. With its rapidly aging population and an underwhelming birthrate, Japan is opening its doors to large-scale immigration.

From The New York Times:

Under a bill approved by Parliament’s upper house in the early-morning hours, more than a quarter-million visas of five-year duration will be granted to unskilled guest laborers for the first time, starting in 2019.

Under the new measure, between 260,000 and 345,000 five-year visas will be made available for workers in 14 sectors suffering severe labor shortages, including caregiving, construction, agriculture and shipbuilding.

The measure also creates a separate visa category for high-skilled workers, who will be allowed to stay for unlimited periods and enjoy greater benefits, including permission to bring their families to Japan.

As The New York Times points out, over the next 25 years, Japan's population is set to shrink by 16 million people, or 13 percent. During the same period, the number of old folks in Japan will increase to make up 1/3 of the population. This leaves an incredible vacuum of caregivers, laborers and other positions that must be filled.

Not everyone is thrilled with the country's fresh, welcoming approach to immigration. But their feelings on the matter are moot: unless the Japanese start having a shitload of babies, which they're not, the nation will be in a serious bind when the bulk of their current population becomes too old to be able to keep the nation's infrastructure and businesses humming along efficiently. Read the rest

Watch this master swordsman slice a speeding baseball in two

Isao Machii is a Iaido master from Kawanishi, Hyōgo, Japan. His skills as a master swordsman have landed him a number of Guinness World Records: fastest tennis ball (820 km/h) cut by sword and "fastest 1,000 martial arts sword cuts" to name just two.

His speed and accuracy with a katana is a thing of wonder. Put on display once again in this video, after watching two speeding baseballs whiz past him, he non-nonchalantly cuts a third ball in half, fired at him at 161 kilometers per hour. Amazing. Read the rest

7 minutes of Tommy Lee Jones' fabulous Japanese coffee commercials

Tommy Lee Jones does ads for Boss Coffee's Rainbow Mountain brand of iced coffee, most of which feature him as a fish-out-of-water immigrant observing and enjoying Japanese life, taking odd jobs (cab driver, train station guard, astronaut, etc) and occasionally using his magical powers. It's like a series of clips from an early-90s science fiction show set in a parralel universe. Which it is. Read the rest

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.

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.

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