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

The cat hairband, for when cat ears just aren’t enough

Earlier this month, the Internet was all abuzz over some awesome cat ear headphones. As creative as they may be, though, they’re really more robotic than feline in appearance, what with their glowing LED accents and external speakers.

If you’re more concerned with fashion than music, though, and you feel like you could do without all the cybernetic-style accouterments, one Japanese designer has put together an alternative form of cat-shaped headgear. Just to reiterate, that’s “cat-shaped,” not “cat ear-shaped,” since this hairband gives the illusion of an adorable kitten perched atop your head.

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Bayonetta earrings a bewitching fashion statement, technically count as half a video game cosplay

Ever since her 2009 debut, debates have been swirling around video game character Bayonetta. Was her first, eponymous outing really worth the perfect score it got from notoriously strict video game magazine Famitsu? Is the character’s constantly provocative flaunting of her sexual and violent leanings empowering the character or pandering to juvenile gamers? Was making the sequel exclusive to Nintendo’s Wii U a wise choice? And does the gun-toting witch look better with her original beehive, or the shorter pixie cut she sports these days?

Just in case you’ve already decided which side of those discussions you’re on, here’s one more question to find your own personal answer to: Do you want to buy Bayonetta’s earrings?

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Snow sculpture of anime girls with soulless eyes is bone-chilling in two different ways

The key difference between being an idol singer and a pop diva is warmth. Even if you’ve got perfect pitch and unshakable rhythm, if you want to succeed as an idol, you still need a heart-melting smile. Really, as long as you’ve got the smile, idol fans will even cut you a lot of slack on not having the other two.

So it’s a little unusual to gaze upon this trio of anime idols and feel a chill run down your spine, and not just because they’re made of snow.

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Tokyo University campus has its own sushi restaurant where great dining meets higher education

No matter how scholastically talented you are, it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach. Even the bright minds at Tokyo University, Japan’s most prestigious institute of higher learning, need to take a break from studying and grab some chow now and again.

Of course, it’s hard to give yourself a mental recharge eating bland cafeteria food. Thankfully, that’s not a concern for the students of Tokyo University’s Kashiwa Campus, who’re lucky enough to have an amazing sushi restaurant right on the school grounds.

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The City of Angels is now the City of Samurai with Los Angeles museum’s awesome armor exhibition

Like clockwork, every winter I get a serious bout of home-sickness. It’s usually triggered by a call or email from someone back home telling me about taking a drive with the top down, watching football on ordinary broadcast TV, going out for some Vietnamese sandwiches, or one of the other things I miss about life in Los Angeles.

“But,” I remind myself, “Japan has lots of cool things too! Where else can you go to the museum and see massive collections of samurai armor, huh?”

Oh, right now you can do that at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art? Touché, L.A.

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Huge six-meter (19.7-foot) anime hug pillow will prove you’re a great big otaku 【Video】

When you look at them a certain way, huggy pillows with pictures of cute anime girls on them are kind of creepy. Well, actually, they’re creepy in several ways, but for right now, let’s limit our discussion to one way in particular.

Even if we accept that there’s nothing wrong with consensual love between a man and his pillow, their relative sizes make the situation kind of weird. After all, a person’s height is far greater than a pillow’s length, so wouldn’t Miss Anime Pillow feel a little awkward cuddling with her much larger otaku owner?

It’d probably be a little like squeezing a gigantic anime pillow that’s six meters (19.7 feet) long. Of course, if that sounds like your personal vision of bedtop bliss, there’s a company giving away just that.

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Evangelion couple rings let you tell your sweetheart you love him or her like Shinji loves Kaworu

The Japanese fashion world doesn’t hold any stigmas against guys who enthusiastically accessorize. As such, it’s not uncommon for couples to buy what’re called “pair accessories,” usually rings or necklaces with similar designs, meant to evoke a sense of closeness even when the two lovers are apart.

Considering the recent boom in anime-inspired fashion and accessories, it’s not such a big shock that one jewelry maker has created a set of pair rings based on Evangelion, one of the most popular franchises in the history of Japanese animation. Nor is it surprising that the designers chose to model the rings after two characters who, even if they don’t directly show such feelings, are considered by many fans to be sweet on each other.

What is getting attention, though, is that the two character, Shinji and Kaworu, are both guys.

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Yokohama’s adorable hedgehog dumplings are packed with spikey cuteness and creamy custard

Located about a half hour south of downtown Tokyo, the city of Yokohama has a couple of big tourist draws, like its gigantic Ferris wheel and bayside parks with panoramic views. If you’re hungry, though, you’ll want to head to Yokohama’s Chinatown, which is one of the biggest in Japan and is made up almost entirely of places to eat.

As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to grab a seat in a restaurant to fill your stomach, since the streets are lined with stalls selling all manner of munchies. Some of these you might see elsewhere in Japan, like the steamed pork buns that are also convenience store mainstays. But there’s at least one treat you can’t find anywhere but Yokohama’s Chinatown, and that’s these adorable sweet dumplings shaped like tiny hedgehogs.

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Attack on sobriety! Attack on Titan teams up with plum wine maker for new anime alcohol

Along with its naked giants and high-flying fight scenes, anime and manga mega hit Attack on Titan is defined by its oppressively bleak atmosphere. Its world is one in which not only do rampaging monsters want to eat you, the ruling aristocracy is ready to kick you out of the walled city if you’re too big a drain on its resources.

Compelling as its story may be, after spending enough time in that setting, even fans of the series could find themselves needing a stiff drink. If so, they might want to reach for a glass of the soon-to-be-released Attack on Titan plum wine.

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Japanese village converted into gorgeous open-air museum makes an easy day-trip escape from Tokyo

There’s a lot to love about Tokyo. Aside from the sheer energy of being the most bustling metropolis in Japan, it’s home to some amazing modern attractions, like the Skytree, Ebisu Beer Museum, and RocketNews24 offices.

Still, even we can appreciate the occasional longing for a simpler, slower-paced time. Thankfully, even if you don’t have a time machine, as long as you have access to the capital’s outstanding public transportation network, you can catch a glimpse of Japan’s traditional rural lifestyle at this beautiful open-air museum of thatched-roof houses that’s an easy half-day trip from Tokyo.

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Six Japanese business terms you already know, even if you didn’t realize it

We’ve talked before about handy Japanese words and phrases we wish we could toss around in English. This kind of linguistic jealousy doesn’t flow in just one direction, though. Japanese businesspeople regularly make use of a number of English phrases, either because they’re more concise, precise, or just sound cooler to their ears than their Japanese counterparts.

Sometimes, though, knowing English isn’t enough to understand these loanwords, since their pronunciations can get pretty garbled in the transition from English to Japanese speakers. Feeling confident in your ability to translate English translated into Japanese back into English? Read on and see how many you can decipher.

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Historical Japanese swords turn into hot and battle-hardened Blade Boys in new mobile game

These days, one of the quickest and most popular methods for stocking a video game with a cast of attractive anime-style characters is to pick a class of item and anthropomorphize the heck out of it. There’s currently no hotter mobile game than Kantai Collection, in which players command a fleet of pretty girls who’re all modeled after World War II-era Japanese warships. If naval history isn’t your thing, you can also find titles featuring comely cars and moe mushrooms.

There’s a new entry in the subgenre though, and judging from its all-pretty boy roster of characters, it’s been designed with female otaku gamers in mind. As such, it’s no surprise that the men of Touken Ranbu are all based on something long and hard…plus sharp, as they’re all anthropomorphized swords.

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Disney Store is all grown up with new branch designed for adult women opening in Tokyo

Disney enjoys broad popularity with Japanese children, with tykes across the nation regularly getting excited for the studio’s animated films and begging their parents to take them to Tokyo Disneyland. This isn’t a recent development, though. Disney’s been a hit with kids for decades now, and while the age of many fans who grew up watching Mickey, Minnie, and their pals has changed, that doesn’t mean their love for the cartoon characters has.

That’s why this spring a new branch of the Disney Store is opening up in Tokyo, and while the staff won’t be turning away little girls at the door, it’s really being designed for adult women.

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Cosplay as Sailor Moon’s classmates with official uniforms of the anime heroines’ schools

When most anime fans think of the core cast members of Sailor Moon Crystal, they picture them in their sailor-style combat suits. But while they do indeed don those brightly color-coded getups when it’s time to do battle with the forces of evil, the teen heroines spend most of their week dressed in the uniforms of ordinary junior high students.

If you’ve ever wanted to cosplay not as Sailor Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, or Venus, but as their alternate non-magical girl identities, now’s your chance, as you can now buy official uniforms of the schools attended by the Sailor Senshi.

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Haruki Murakami’s advice on how to be a great writer: Be born with talent

Among contemporary writers, there’s no Japanese author with a bigger international following than Haruki Murakami. The novelist and translator is also highly respected within his home country, as Japan holds an especially deep respect for any of its citizens who succeed in making a name for themselves on the international stage.

As such, we imagine one young graduate student was hoping for some sage advice when she contacted Murakami and asked him for pointers on how to become a better writer. The response she got was as surprising, unique, and challenging as Murakami’s books themselves.

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The Sailor Moon wedding tiara: For when you take the step from magical girl to magical wife

Last month, we took a look at the wedding photos of an extremely passionate Sailor Moon fan who infused her love of the classic magical girl series into nearly every aspect of her ceremony and reception. Impressed as we were, there was more than pure otaku gumption that went into the wedding, as the new bride also employed the considerable skills she’s developed working as a professional event planner.

But there’s another way to add a dash of Sailor Moon to your walk down the aisle, even if you don’t work in a creative industry. Provided whatever you do pays well, soon you’ll be able to order an official Sailor Moon wedding tiara.

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Burn baby burn! The Shinto inferno of Japan’s Dondo Yaki ceremony

When entering the grounds of a Shinto shrine in Japan, it’s customary to first stop by the water basin near the gate and rinse your hands, and sometimes your mouth, in order to cleanse them. Water isn’t the only classical element held to have purifying properties in Shintoism, though, since the same can be said about fire.

Obviously, worshippers aren’t called upon to put fire on their palms or inside their mouths. Instead, Shinto priests light pyres of charms and decorations during the Dondo Yaki ceremony, with the towering blazes regularly reaching 15 meters (49.2 feet) into the air.

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Daiso wine, the super cheap vino from Japan’s largest chain of 100-yen stores 【Taste test】

If you’ve had the pleasure of shopping at Daiso, you know Japan’s biggest chain of 100-yen stores sells just about everything. An array of kitchenware, school and office supplies, and even basic articles of clothing such as underwear, neckties, and belts can all be yours for just 100 yen (US$0.84) each.

Daiso even sells food and beverages, with seasonings, snacks, and soft drinks lining the shelves. This is common knowledge among thrifty shoppers looking for a cheap place to stock up on snacks, but if you’re searching for something stiffer than a bottle of tea or cola, a trip to the convenience or liquor store is still in order, right?

Not necessarily, as we recently discovered that some Daiso branches now sell wine. As big of a surprise as that was, we were in for an even bigger one once we poured ourselves a glass, because it’s actually pretty good.

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A visit to Sushi Dai, Japan’s best sushi restaurant according to world travelers

A portion of Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market is expected to move to the Toyosu neighborhood in 2016. While part of the retail market and many restaurants will be sticking around, the upcoming relocation of the wholesale operations makes 2015 the last full year to enjoy Tsukiji as the absolute center of the sushi world.

In other words, if you’re looking to make a trip to the area to see it at its peak, now’s the time. And while there’s always something to be said for discovering a largely unknown restaurant with delicious food, on our Japanese-language correspondent Nakano’s visit to Tsukiji, he decided to dine at what travelers have voted the best sushi restaurant in Japan, Sushi Dai.

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Japanese convenience store FamilyMart inadvertently gives away pearl in pack of seafood snacks

In a lot of ways, convenience stores in Japan are more like miniature supermarkets. So while they still sell a lot of the candy and canned beverages their counterparts in other countries specialize in, you can also find plenty of edible, even gourmet-sounding food.

For example, the chain FamilyMart sells pouches of fried scallop meat, specifically the mantle, or part of the animal that attaches it to its shell. There’s a certain level of risk that comes with eating any mass-produced foodstuff, though, as one customer found out when he found what he felt was a foreign object in his pack of marine mollusks. And while generally the only thing you want to find in your food is, well, food, we suppose if we had to find something else mixed in there, we’d want what he discovered hiding in his snack: a pearl.

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