Casey Baseel

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Casey Baseel spent his formative years staring in frustration at un-subtitled Japanese TV programming shown on Southern California’s international channel. Taking matters into his own hands, he moved to Tokyo to study the language, then found work in Yokohama a decade ago teaching, translating, and marketing hotels he can’t afford to stay in. When not participating in the eternal cycle of exercising to burn the calories form his love of Japanese food, Casey scours used comic and game shops for forgotten classics, drags his wife around the country in a quest to visit all its castles, sings karaoke not nearly as well as he thinks he does, and counts the days until the summertime bars open on Enoshima Beach.

All Stories by Casey Baseel

Professor Mega Man! Legendary game producer Keiji Inafune to lecture at Osaka college

Professor Mega Man! Legendary game producer Keiji Inafune to lecture at Osaka college

Despite working for video game publisher Capcom for over 20 years, Keiji Inafune didn’t really achieve international name-recognition until the tumultuous tail end of his time with the company. Even if they didn’t know his name, though, gamers everywhere were familiar with his work, as Inafune was involved with some of Capcom’s biggest hits, including Mega Man, Resident Evil, Onimusha, Street Fighter, and Dead Rising.

Inafune got his start as a character designer before moving up to a position as a producer. Now, he’s set to add one more title to his resume: college professor.

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Space sakura have returned to Earth with cherry blossom superpowers

Space sakura have returned to Earth with cherry blossom superpowers

Rather than wading into the debate as to whether a tree covered in beautiful cherry blossoms or a piece of cutting edge technology is the more representative symbol of Japan, you could split the difference by awarding the title to one of the sakura cherry trees grown from seeds that were taken into space. Not only do they combine the country’s admiration of both nature and innovation, their seeds’ journey to the stars seems to have imparted some of them with the amazing ability to bloom in just half the time of regular cherry trees.

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We take on Thailand’s five-and-a-half-pound hamburger, and live to tell the tale

We take on Thailand’s five-and-a-half-pound hamburger, and live to tell the tale

Our Japanese-language correspondent Kuzo is currently making his way through Thailand, and while we’re happy he had such a good time at the country’s famous water festival, frankly we’re a little worried about the guy. We think all the excitement may have frazzled his brain, since he recently sent us a batch of pictures of himself eating what appears to be a hamburger-shaped novelty pillow.

Wait, that’s a real burger?!

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Final Fantasy VII concert to be held in Tokyo this summer (yes, they’ll play One-Winged Angel)

Final Fantasy VII concert to be held in Tokyo this summer (yes, they’ll play One-Winged Angel)

When Final Fantasy VII was first released in 1997, gamers around the world emotionally connected with it in a way that had never been seen before. Years later, the game still occupies a special place in many people’s hearts, with many clamoring for developer Square Enix to release a version with graphics updated to today’s standards.

But even as so may ask for a new edition of the game that looks better, you won’t find anyone asking for one that sounds better, as the role-playing classic’s soundtrack is one of the most universally-loved musical collections to ever come out of the medium. As testament to its lasting appeal, a Final Fantasy VII symphony concert will be held in Tokyo this summer.

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Suntory’s awesome miniature ice versions of the Golden Pavilion, Statue of Liberty and more

Suntory’s awesome miniature ice versions of the Golden Pavilion, Statue of Liberty and more

Although I’m a man who can definitely appreciate the simple joys of knocking back a can of tasty beer in my living room, every now and again it’s nice to treat yourself to a drink at a classy bar. You know, the kind with soft lighting, a gleaming wooden bar top, and a vested bartender with an ice pick working a block into a classy orb to place in your glass of whiskey.

But as impressive as a nicely rounded sphere of ice may be, it can’t hope to match the visual impact of an ice version of Japan’s famous Golden Pavilion or the Statue of Liberty that you can drop in your glass.

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We resist the urge to climb Denny’s Japan’s Tower Pancake so we can eat it instead

We resist the urge to climb Denny’s Japan’s Tower Pancake so we can eat it instead

Japan’s mountainous topography means that real estate is always at a premium. The towering skyscrapers of major cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka are a natural response to this, as often there’s no direction left to build but up.

We couldn’t help but wonder if the chefs at Denny’s in Japan were inspired by the country’s urban architecture when they created the newest indulgence on their menu, the Tower Pancake, which, especially for a country not exactly known for its gargantuan servings, is quite the gastro challenge.

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Sailors assemble! Artist reimagines the cast of Sailor Moon as Marvel’s Avengers

Sailors assemble! Artist reimagines the cast of Sailor Moon as Marvel’s Avengers

No one was really that shocked when Sailor Moon became a hit with its target market of little girls shortly after the anime started airing in 1992. Nor was anyone’s mind completely blown when the show started attracting older female viewers too, since its script had plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with some honestly compelling drama.

The big surprise, though, was just how many guys the show pulled in, as Sailor Moon built a male fan base of unprecedented size for what was ostensibly an anime for girls. While the central cast of five leggy ladies in sailor skirts obviously didn’t hurt, another key point in breaking down the barrier of entry for male viewers was the high quantity of action scenes in which Sailor Moon and her partners battled villains using their command of fire, thunder, and other awesome powers.

Looked at from that perspective, Sailor Moon isn’t so different from an American comic superhero team like The Avengers, something hammered home by this impressive crossover fan art.

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Sailor Moon in the City of Angels at LA art exhibit going on right now 【Photos】

Sailor Moon in the City of Angels at LA art exhibit going on right now 【Photos】

Back when I was growing up in Los Angeles, as anime was just establishing a foothold overseas, my high school animation teacher gave us a class project of reproducing an existing animated character of our choosing. As I applied the finishing touches of green and pink paint to mine, I got some quizzical looks from my classmate, and more than a few comments of, “Dude, do you have a thing for girls in pleated skirts?”

As accurate as their insights were, my choice of subject had nothing to do with my preferences in women’s fashion, and everything to do with being a huge fan of the anime Sailor Moon. Confused as my classmates had been, the series’ phase of international obscurity was short-lived, and now not only is Sailor Moon loved around the world, it’s got its own art exhibit going on in Los Angeles right now.

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Lady Gaga goes gaga for Hatsune Miku, makes virtual idol her opening act

Lady Gaga goes gaga for Hatsune Miku, makes virtual idol her opening act

With Lady Gaga’s rehabilitation from hip surgery apparently having progressed enough that the pop star is ready to contend with a grueling performance schedule, she’s about to kick off a world tour celebrating her third album. But with millions of eyes on Gaga, she needs an opening act with a fan base large enough to do justice to the scale and importance of the six-month event, dubbed ArtRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball.

Fittingly for a singer who’s made a name for herself with her provocative stances on image, perception, and reality, before Gaga takes the stage, concert goers will be entertained by a vocalist who doesn’t even exist in three-dimensional space: virtual idol Hatsune Miku.

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Sex doll idol singer’s public debut draws a shocking yet sane number of fans

Sex doll idol singer’s public debut draws a shocking yet sane number of fans

Some say that pop idols in Japan aren’t so much born as they are manufactured. A skilled producer can carefully tailor almost every aspect of his rising star’s appearance and public persona by tightly controlling how she’s presented in the mass media, which generally has a cozy, cooperative nature with recording companies.

If you’re feeling cynical enough, you might even ask what the point is in even working with a human being, if all of the individual’s uniqueness first has to be washed away in order to produce a blank slate for the producer to work with. It’s a question that, apparently, executives at record company Pony Canyon couldn’t come up with an answer to, as suggested by its newest idol, a sex doll, and the event it held for fans to come and meet her face-to-face.

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Amazing Lego artist spends six months bringing Hatsune Miku into the physical world

Amazing Lego artist spends six months bringing Hatsune Miku into the physical world

As so much of video game and animation character design shifts from sketching on a piece of paper to modeling on a computer, I’ve often wondered about the differences in the two skill sets. Not long ago, designing a character was about imagining how to express the three-dimensional human form using lines on a flat surface, but now, the arguably more valuable skill is being able to break that form down into minute building blocks, then render and reassemble them digitally.

The 3-D graphic method is a lot closer to building something out of blocks than drawing a portrait, so it’s actually quite fitting that one Lego enthusiast decided to use Japan’s favorite digital diva, Hatsune Miku, as his muse in making a life-size recreation of the virtual idol.

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Free double pickles and onions at McDonald’s Japan will help your budget, ruin your breath

Free double pickles and onions at McDonald’s Japan will help your budget, ruin your breath

At midnight on April 1, everything you can shop for in Japan got a little bit more expensive as sales tax rose to either percent. Thankfully, this three-percent hike was announced well in advance, giving consumers a chance to stockpile staples such as toilet paper, detergent, and other dry goods ahead of time.

Unfortunately, there’s one other necessary yet perishable staple of our lifestyle that we couldn’t hoard: hamburgers. With the amount we eat, that extra three percent of tax works out to a pretty hefty chunk of change.

Thankfully, at the same time as the tax increase took effect, so did a new McDonald’s Japan policy offering free double portions of pickles, onions, and sauce on the chain’s sandwiches.

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Gadgets before flowers – Japanese moms reveal what they really want for Mother’s Day

Gadgets before flowers – Japanese moms reveal what they really want for Mother’s Day

Although the association of carnations with Mother’s Day began in the United States and stretches back over 100 years, I grew up never really being conscious of it (likely due to some combination of being a terrible son and having little interest in historical events that didn’t involve swords).

In Japan, though, most people are aware that carnations are a symbol for Mother’s Day, and a bouquet of the flowers is by far the most common gift given on the holiday. But while mothers across the country appreciate the gesture, one survey says there’s something they want even more: electronics.

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Six ways science-minded and art-minded Japanese people see the world differently

Six ways science-minded and art-minded Japanese people see the world differently

Just as you can broadly divide academic subjects into arts and sciences, in Japan people are often referred to as being “science-type” or “art-type,” with the first describing someone who holds everything up to the light of logic, and the latter for someone who applies more romantic standards.

Recently, Japanese Twitter users have been sharing their theories on the way this difference in fundamental mentality can affect a person’s attitude and feelings about such a wide range of topics such as not being too busy to see their dating partners, what happens when snow melts, or even their reactions to famous anime movie lines.

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So, the Dalai Lama walks into a convenience store in rural Japan… 【Photos】

So, the Dalai Lama walks into a convenience store in rural Japan… 【Photos】

Do you ever wonder what Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite kind of juice was? It’s hard to imagine the 26th President of the United States having to do anything as trivial as deciding between orange and apple, but after a long, hard day of riding moose and judo-tossing William Howard Taft, no amount of influence and respect is going to keep you from getting thirsty, and it’s a choice that has to be made.

But while the late Teddy’s fruit nectar preferences may be lost to antiquity, we can now say for certain which brand of tea the Dalai Lama reaches for when he visits a Japanese convenience store.

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New super spicy snack coming to Japan is fine for your stomach, but not for your eyes

New super spicy snack coming to Japan is fine for your stomach, but not for your eyes

The snack aisle of Japan’s convenience stores is a fiercely competitive marketplace, and just about every week sees the release of some new flavor of candy or potato chip trying to steal the spotlight from its rivals. But while many of these pretenders to the throne of snack foods are only on sale for a few months or even weeks, the spicy potato rings called Bokun Habanero have been on sale without hiatus for over a decade.

Still, you have to keep evolving in order to stay ahead, and next month will see the release of a new Bokun Habanero that’s 10 times hotter than the normal version.

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Iraqi Shadow of the Colossus is hardcore (plus more fun with bootlegs) 【Photos】

Iraqi Shadow of the Colossus is hardcore (plus more fun with bootlegs) 【Photos】

It’s become less common with the increasing globalization of the video game industry, but not so long ago, box art for the same title could vary wildly from one region to the next. Much of this was due to the nature of licensing contracts. For example, it may have made sense to commission a popular anime artist to draw the cover for a Japanese release of a game, but without that same fan base and recognition overseas, oftentimes executives judged it was wiser to hire a struggling artist to draw new art on the cheap than to shell out the extra money necessary to procure the rights to use the anime art internationally.

But while these sorts of legal technicalities explain how North American gamers ended up with such horrible art on the packaging for Mega Man and Ranma 1/2 Hard Battle, it doesn’t explain why someone felt the need to create strange new covers for bootlegged video games in Iraq.

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Japanese teacher criticized for attending son’s entrance ceremony instead of her own school’s

Japanese teacher criticized for attending son’s entrance ceremony instead of her own school’s

Each April, as the new academic year starts, it’s customary for schools in Japan to hold an entrance ceremony for incoming students. The new pupils assemble in the auditorium, sit quietly while the principal and teachers make speeches, and often sing the alma mater.

For the students, listening to a bunch of grown-ups drone on about the value of education isn’t exactly riveting, and it’s debatable if the words of wisdom that are imparted really make any difference at all in their academic careers. For parents, though, this is a special day. They can appreciate the ceremony as the rite of passage it is, and it gives them an excuse to snap a picture with their child wearing their brand new uniform, which will quickly become too small for them as they grow up all too soon.

It’s a sentiment any parent can feel, even – or perhaps especially – parents who are educators themselves. However, one high school teacher in Japan is being publicly criticized for skipping her school’s entrance ceremony to attend her son’s, instead.

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Giant Patlabor robot stands tall in Tokyo even as film’s director calls it “useless” 【Photos】

Giant Patlabor robot stands tall in Tokyo even as film’s director calls it “useless” 【Photos】

When surveys are done asking people which neighborhood of Tokyo they’d like to live in, Kichijoji often tops the list. It’s not hard to see why, as it’s filled with fashionable cafes, restaurants, and bars (including one with an airsoft firing range), and nearby Inokashira Park is one of the capital’s best cherry blossom viewing spots.

Safety is also an important concern in choosing a place to live, and at least for a day, Kichijoji had this in spades, as the Ingram, the giant robot used in the Patlabor science-fiction films, showed up last weekend.

Even as the Ingram was standing tall though, the films’ director, Mamoru Oshii was tearing down the dreams if aspiring mecha pilots everywhere by firmly stating his belief that we’ll never see giant bipedal robots in any practical, real-life application.

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We try Wazen, Suntory’s new beer specially designed to drink with Japanese food

We try Wazen, Suntory’s new beer specially designed to drink with Japanese food

Eating and drinking are two of our favorite necessary life functions, since they’re both so much more fun than sleeping and breathing. So when we heard, back in January, about a new beer from Suntory that’s specially designed to go well with Japanese food, our three months of anxious waiting until it was scheduled to go on sale started right away.

Well, spring is finally here, and we’ve just recently experienced the joys of stepping outside without an overcoat and admiring the cherry blossoms, so now it’s time for the last item on our checklist of vernal pleasures, as we sample a can of Suntory’s new Japan-centric brew, the all-malt Wazen.

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