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

Soup not soap: Japanese public bathhouses surviving by converting into retro-chic cafés

Soup not soap: Japanese public bathhouses surviving by converting into retro-chic cafés

Japan has been going through something of a hot spring renaissance over the past decade, but at the same time, things are tough for Japan’s other traditional venues for communal bathing, sento, or public bathhouses. Despite a recent uptick in their number of foreign customers, most Japanese have a pretty lukewarm reaction to the prospect of taking a soak with others if the water isn’t heated by geothermal sources.

For the current generation, a hot bath drawn from the tap is no longer a luxury nor something that necessitates leaving home for, and so sento have been shutting down around the country. But rather than close their doors for good, a few have converted their bathing facilities into dining spaces and been reborn as stylishly retro sento cafes.

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Expat’s video “Our Japan” beautifully captures why we love it here

Expat’s video “Our Japan” beautifully captures why we love it here

What’s great about Japan? Glad you asked, since we’ve got the answer in long form right here.

But if you’re pressed for time, this amazing video, in a little under four and a half minutes, will give you a beautifully condensed version of what makes Japan so special.

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The awesome Soccer Samurai is back, and this time he’s fighting ninjas in Manchester 【Video】

The awesome Soccer Samurai is back, and this time he’s fighting ninjas in Manchester 【Video】

Back at the start of summer, our jaws dropped to the floor as we watched what might be the coolest commercial for Nissin Cup Noodle instant ramen ever, in which a man dressed in samurai armor travelled to Brazil and wowed the people of the World Cup host country with his amazing freestyle football skills.

The Japanese national team turned in a less than impressive performance in the contest, though, failing to advance past group play. Would the disappointment over his countrymen’s early exit lead the soccer samurai to retire?

Not at all, as his second video finds the samurai with a new set of armor, new, European surroundings, and now a group of adversaries: ninjas!

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Not all of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime accessory line is metallic, but it’s all awesome

Not all of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime accessory line is metallic, but it’s all awesome

One of the recurring themes in hit anime Fullmetal Alchemist is the law of Equivalent Exchange. The principal holds that protagonist Edward Elric can only use his magical abilities to create an item by first offering something else of equal value. For example, given a pile of scrap metal, he could instantly conjure a spear, or even a working radio.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to exactly duplicate Ed’s mystic powers in real life. There is a close substitute, though, as you can now exchange money for a set of awesome Fullmetal Alchemist accessories.

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Time zone quirk lets expat in Japan share opposite side of the sunset with parents in U.S.

Time zone quirk lets expat in Japan share opposite side of the sunset with parents in U.S.

For expats in Japan, one thing that takes some serious getting used to is the time difference. With several time zones’ worth of ocean separating Japan and the U.S., for example, a quick calculation of the local time is always a necessity before calling home. Even then, there’s often a twinge of sadness that comes from that vague disconnect of knowing that it might be afternoon where you are, but the middle of the night where the rest of your family is.

But while the times on the clock might never match between Japan and Florida, an American in Japan discovered that there’s one time a day when things are close enough.

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Three reasons to sleep with a huggy pillow (that have nothing to do with an anime crush)

Three reasons to sleep with a huggy pillow (that have nothing to do with an anime crush)

So today, we’re going to talk about something that has a sizeable cult following in Japan: dakimakura, also known as huggy pillows.

Hey, where’s everybody going? Come back! This isn’t about pillows with covers depicting anime girls in various state of undress (not that such things don’t exist in awkwardly huge quantities in Japan). Instead, we’re taking a look at ordinary, undecorated pillows with an extra-large size that’re designed to be embraced as you fall asleep. Not only won’t you have to hide them when you’ve got company coming over, they’ve actually got a number of health benefits, say fans of non-anime dakimakura.

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Tired of apple? McDonald’s Japan now has anko sweet red bean pies

Tired of apple? McDonald’s Japan now has anko sweet red bean pies

Have you ever wondered what the equivalent of the phrase, “as American as apple pie,” would be in other countries? For other nations, what widely loved dessert produces that same mixture of traditional comfort and nostalgia?

For Japan, you could make a strong case for anko, or sweet red beans, which show up in all manner of snacks and sweets. As we’ve talked about before, anko makes everything better, and it’s about to do the same for the Golden Arches, as McDonald’s Japan is about to start selling anko pies.

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“Bye-bye!” Chinese flying doll works a little too well, becomes one-use toy 【Video】

“Bye-bye!” Chinese flying doll works a little too well, becomes one-use toy 【Video】

Let’s play a little word association game. Ready? Chinese-made children’s toys.

I’m guessing “high quality” isn’t the first thing that popped into your head. You don’t have to go far to find stories of people buying knock-off dolls or action figures in China, then giving them to their kids or younger siblings, only to watch them heartbroken as they don’t work as implied by the packaging.

But that doesn’t mean all toys made in China are shoddy, because some do indeed work well. Sometimes even too well, as one Japanese father found out when he brought back a Chinese flying doll for his daughters.

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Holiday travelers in China get sleepy, creative and frisky on trains 【Photos】

Holiday travelers in China get sleepy, creative and frisky on trains 【Photos】

Here in Japan, we’ve still got a couple of weeks to go until our next public holiday, when Sports Day comes up on October 13. Workers in China, though, can look forward to a day off much sooner with National Day of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.

The holiday marks the founding of the nation, and many people choose to spend their time off by visiting family members. The travel rush seems to have already started, but with a country as large as China, some passengers are in for a long ride back to their home towns. But when you’re spending hours upon hours on a train how do you get some shut-eye without springing for a sleeper car? By being inventive and literally flexible, as these photos show us.

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Fan offers theory that Ghibli’s Tombo grew up to be another beloved children’s character

Fan offers theory that Ghibli’s Tombo grew up to be another beloved children’s character

While the settings of Studio Ghilbi’s anime are filled with whimsy and fantasy, their characters can at times seem remarkably real. Even if you’ve never found a forest serviced by a network of Cat Buses, for example, the emotions that Totoro’s Mei and Satsuki deal with feel so genuine that you can’t help but think of them as real people who’ll eventually grew up and continue their lives long after the movie ends.

The same goes for the cast of Kiki’s Delivery Service. But while it’s easy to imagine titular witch Kiki continuing to work in the magical courier industry throughout her adulthood, what about her friend, Tombo? One fan recently offered his theory on what the future holds for the bespectacled lad.

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Did a Dragon Quest slime car just appear on the expressway in Japan?

Did a Dragon Quest slime car just appear on the expressway in Japan?

As fun as it is to step into the shoes of a video game RPG hero for a few hours, imagine how it would be to live your whole life, day in and day out, under the in-game rules and systems. Some of the differences would be pretty inconvenient, such as a mysterious force preventing you from ever going anywhere with more than three friends at a time. Others would be a definite plus, though, such as working hard at your job periodically making you not only more intelligent, but stronger, faster, and luckier, too.

But perhaps the weirdest change would be knowing that anytime you left your neighborhood and wanted to go from Point A to Point B, there was a chance of monsters randomly appearing, like two Japanese businessmen thought was happening to them when they spotted what looked like a Dragon Quest slime car on the expressway.

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McDonald’s Japan celebrates Halloween by joining the dark burger revolution

McDonald’s Japan celebrates Halloween by joining the dark burger revolution

It’s been just over a week since the release of Burger King’s two pitch-black hamburgers, which might have left some fast food fans in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, they’re definitely eye-catching and intriguing, but their buns owe (and cheese) their sinister shade to an infusion of bamboo charcoal.

While it’s perfectly edible, we imagine some people are just a tad averse to eating charcoal. So if your palate isn’t quite that wide, but you’re still adventurous enough to eat squid ink, McDonald’s has got you covered with their own dark burger.

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Tokyo ice cream stand’s colossal eight-flavor cones might be the biggest we’ve ever seen

Tokyo ice cream stand’s colossal eight-flavor cones might be the biggest we’ve ever seen

Tokyo’s Nakano Broadway is mainly known for its anime specialty shops, but that’s not all you’ll find if you make your way to each corner of the shopping center’s labyrinthine interior. Inside you’ll also come across an old-school video arcade, suit tailor, watch store, and painting workshop for tabletop role-playing game lead miniatures.

But what we’re talking about today is what awaits visitors in Nakano Broadway’s basement: just about the biggest ice cream cones we’ve ever seen.

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Awesome treehouse café in Yokohama satisfies our longing for bagels, beer, and nature

Awesome treehouse café in Yokohama satisfies our longing for bagels, beer, and nature

Not too long ago, I ate ramen from a can on a Tokyo backstreet. It didn’t taste half-bad, but between the barkers for maid cafes and the homeless guy raiding the surrounding vending machines’ recycling bins for cans, it really didn’t make for the most elegant dining ambience.

But the great thing about Japan is the contrasting extremes you can find, and if eating in the middle of Tokyo’s concrete jungle by the soft glow of neon signs isn’t to your liking, you can always come on down to Yokohama, which has a café with plenty of natural sunlight thanks to the restaurant actually being an awesome treehouse.

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Tokyo’s sushi spirit shrine, where the souls of seafood slumber

Tokyo’s sushi spirit shrine, where the souls of seafood slumber

The other day, I woke up and immediately had a craving for sushi. In and of itself, that’s not really anything remarkable, since “Man, I could really go for some good sushi,” is one of my first fully formed thoughts on just about any given morning.

Not one to deny my heart its truest desires, I headed to Tokyo’s Tsukiji, home of the world’s biggest seafood market and some of Japan’s best sushi restaurants. I ducked into one and polished off a bowl of sliced tuna and salmon, and, still wrapped in the lingering effects of my food coma, went for a rambling stroll around the neighborhood.

Since I wasn’t looking for food anymore, my eyes ended up being drawn to a shrine I’d never noticed before. I stepped onto the grounds, where I found a monument to the souls of all the fish whose lives supply Japan with sushi.

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Big in Japan, not so much in the U.S. – Fangirl furious over Arashi concert ticket price gap

Big in Japan, not so much in the U.S. – Fangirl furious over Arashi concert ticket price gap

For many of Japan’s most successful music acts, there’s a huge gap between their popularity at home and abroad. Five-man vocal unit Arashi has been at the top of Japan’s boy band heap for years, and while they’ve picked up a few ardent devotees in the U.S., their fan base there is miniscule compared to their legions of followers in Japan.

This became even clearer than usual last week, when Arashi had a concert in Hawaii. The effective cost of a ticket bought in Japan for the event calculates out to some 100,000 yen (US$925), but in Hawaii, you could pick up a ticket for less than a fifth of that price.

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Wow, literature is cute! Hiroshima library designs anime mascots for decimal classifications

Wow, literature is cute! Hiroshima library designs anime mascots for decimal classifications

Nowadays, whenever we want to access to the vast wealth of knowledge humanity has amassed, all we have to do check Google, Wikipedia, or the RocketNews24 search box. But long ago, you had to go to a place called a library.

With an Internet search engine you can just type in what you’re looking for, but simply scrawling, say, “history of feudal Japan” on the wall of the library will not only fail to provide you with the information you seek, it’ll probably get you thrown out of the building. Instead, you’ve got to utilize a system of numbers used to organize written works. While the U.S. has the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress Classifications, Japan has its own framework, called the Nippon Decimal Classification.

For modern youths, though, having to look up books by a numeric code feels extremely cumbersome and inefficient. So how do you get young readers excited about using the Nippon Decimal Classification? By anthropomorphizing it as a team of cute anime characters. , of course!

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Invoice puts Japanese company in running for greenest in Japan, at least as far as names go

Invoice puts Japanese company in running for greenest in Japan, at least as far as names go

Whereas a lot of last names in English come from professions, such as Smith, Hunter, and Baker, you don’t find a lot of work-related ones in Japan. Generally, Japanese family names have some sort of connection to the natural environment, such as Ogawa (“Small River”), Yamada (“Mountain Field”), or Takeoka (“Bamboo Hill”).

You could debate whether or not this is the result of a deep-rooted Japanese respect for nature, or simply that for centuries the feudal system forced the vast majority of the population into agriculture. Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying the linguistic phenomenon, as proven by the signatures on this invoice from what appears to be the most ecologically oriented company in Japan, at least in terms of names.

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We try ramen from a can on the backstreets of Tokyo【Taste Test】

We try ramen from a can on the backstreets of Tokyo【Taste Test】

Akihabara has a well-deserved reputation as having Japan’s highest concentration of anime and video game shops, not to mentioned maid cafes. There’s one other thing it’s known for, though, and that’s weird vending machines.

And no, we’re not talking about Japan’s fabled panty vending machines, but rather automated sales of odd canned food. A few years back, Akihabara came to be known as the place to score canned bread. Next came the canned oden craze.

On a recent trip to the Tokyo neighborhood, however, we stumbled across something we’d never seen before when we spotted a vending machine that spits out hot cans of pre-cooked ramen.

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Thirsty? How about some cider made with Japanese cat nip?

Thirsty? How about some cider made with Japanese cat nip?

Even though you can find Coca-Cola in every convenience store in Japan, for the most part the country isn’t all that into carbonated soft drinks. So if you’re selling a fizzy, non-alcoholic beverage, you need some kind of unique hook.

Pepsi has made a habit of periodically releasing unusual flavors such as chestnut or cucumber-flavored sodas, but we’ve also seen smaller, regional producers put out some creative concoctions such as cider that tastes like tomatoes, tea, or olives. Even still, beverage makers haven’t exhausted every possible taste, as right now in Yokohama and Osaka you can get your hands on cider made with silver vine, or Japanese catnip.

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