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

We hope you’re not thirsty — Tokyo shuts down its vending machines for U.S. president’s visit

We hope you’re not thirsty — Tokyo shuts down its vending machines for U.S. president’s visit

This evening, U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Japan. While here, he’ll be meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the two scheduled to discuss strengthening diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Japan, and also the possibility of Japan participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Since we spend at least half of our time thinking with our stomachs, we can’t help but realize that Japan’s agreeing to the proposed trade agreement would likely mean lower import taxes on American beef. But while the possibility of a future with more meat has us excited, it comes with a gastronomic price, as the security measures surrounding the president’s visit mean that a number of beverage and ice cream vending machines in Tokyo have been temporarily shut down ahead of his arrival.

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Tokyo custom hamburger steak restaurant is all about choices, and all of them are delicious

Tokyo custom hamburger steak restaurant is all about choices, and all of them are delicious

While Japan is brimming with hamburger joints, you can also find plenty of restaurants that specialize in the meatloaf-like hamburger steak. Served on a griddle to ensure it stays sizzling hot, the lack of a bun means that with a hamburger steak the meat can take center stage.

The drawback though is that not having two slices of bread to hold everything together usually means fewer options as to what ingredients you’d like in your hamburger steak, compared to a hamburger sandwich. Unless, that is, if you stop by the restaurant Sakana no Nakasei in Tokyo, where you can customize nearly every aspect of your hamburger steak, right down to what kind of meat to use and how coarsely it’s ground.

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Patlabor’s giant robot gets taken out to the ballgame, keeps the peace in Chiba 【Video】

Patlabor’s giant robot gets taken out to the ballgame, keeps the peace in Chiba 【Video】

In planning any large-scale sporting event, organizers have to take security needs into consideration. Any time you combine thousands of people in a confined space with heightened emotions and flowing alcohol, there’s at least the chance that some individuals will be tempted to cross the line of polite behavior or even public safety, so it’s always a good idea to have a few security guards or uniformed police officers on hand.

Or, as shown in this awesome time-lapse video filmed outside a stadium in Chiba Prefecture, the giant robot from Patlabor.

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Those freaky Hello Kitty contact lenses are back, and this time she brought friends!

Those freaky Hello Kitty contact lenses are back, and this time she brought friends!

As cute as we thought they were, when we first heard about Hello Kitty contact lenses last summer, we weren’t entirely sure they’d catch on. Was there really a market for this kind of thing, particularly at the contacts’ price point of 5,800 yen (US$57) per set?

You should never underestimate Japan’s queen of licensed merchandise though, as Kitty-chan’s making a return trip to people’s irises, and this time, she’s even bringing a couple of her Sanrio pals with her. And it’s not just fashion that marches along, but technology and production techniques, too, as the new contacts cost less than half what the old ones did.

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Stunning 22-year-old HD footage brings Tokyo of the ‘90s back to life

Stunning 22-year-old HD footage brings Tokyo of the ‘90s back to life

When looking at old photographs and video, there’s a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs. Between the visual grain and the way colors bleed together, sometimes those images don’t seem like they’re just from another time, but from another world, one somehow less defined and concrete then the one in which we now live.

Of course, that’s all just outdated technology playing tricks on you. While camera and monitors have certainly gotten better over the years, the resolution of real life hasn’t gone through any upgrades, and the physical world has always been as sharp and vibrant as what we see today. As proof, take a look of these amazing HD videos of Tokyo taken over two decades ago.

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The baffling reason three men spent 30 minutes in an Akihabara restroom together

The baffling reason three men spent 30 minutes in an Akihabara restroom together

As the world’s biggest video game and anime merchandise district, it’s easy for enthusiasts to lose track of time in Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood. For hard-core fans, an initial plan to pop into the ground floor of one of its multi-level shopping complexes, just for a second in order to check out the newest releases, can easily metamorphose into a two-hour survey of all the goodies the store has in stock.

Still, there are some things that shouldn’t take very long, even for the biggest anime nut or gaming enthusiast. So when one man heard the call of nature then spent 30 fruitless minutes waiting for even one person to come out of the three stalls in the public restroom he’d entered, he became suspicious, and with good cause, since it turns out the three individuals holed up in there were doing more than clearing out their digestive tracks.

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Disney cakes are adorable, artistic, and only available for a limited time

Disney cakes are adorable, artistic, and only available for a limited time

With the string of holidays known as Golden Week coming up in early May, all of Japan is looking forward to a couple of days off to spend with friends and family. Whether you’re visiting a friend’s apartment or going back to your hometown for a couple of days, Japanese manners dictate that you should bring a gift, with food being the most popular choice.

If you’re stumped for what kind of food to bring, here’s an easy way to play the percentages. Almost everyone likes cake, and almost everyone in Japan likes Disney characters, so odds are this set of Disney cakes will make just about everyone happy.

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Classic Japanese painting “Picture Scroll of a Fart Battle” is exactly what it sounds like

Classic Japanese painting “Picture Scroll of a Fart Battle” is exactly what it sounds like

The earliest weapon associated with the samurai was the longbow, and many were also proficient with polearms. Neither is what first springs to mind for most people when they think of Japan’s warrior class, though. To many, the image of two opposing samurai grasping their swords, ready to duel, is by far the more iconic image.

But while the bow is technically the most traditional, the polearm arguably the most practical, and the katana certainly the most dramatic, none of these are anywhere near as funny as the depiction in this centuries-old scroll of samurai battling each other with their farts.

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We visit Tokyo’s rabbit café to celebrate Easter in the cutest way possible 【Photos】

We visit Tokyo’s rabbit café to celebrate Easter in the cutest way possible 【Photos】

My wife, who’s always interested in learning more about foreign culture (no doubt in an effort to better understand her insufferably baffling husband), recently asked me how Easter is celebrated in America. “We usually hunt for Easter eggs and eat chocolate rabbits,” I told her, which quickly presented us with two problems. First, our apartment isn’t nearly large enough for a proper Easter egg hunt, and while you can get special Easter donuts in Japan, bunny-shaped candies are surprisingly nonexistent.

Stumped as to how to spend the holiday, my wife offered a suggestion. “Why don’t we go to the rabbit café?”

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Japan’s king of curry restaurants enters the instant noodle market, we taste the results

Japan’s king of curry restaurants enters the instant noodle market, we taste the results

Ironically, two of Japan’s go-to choices for a hot, satisfying meal came from overseas. Ramen is Chinese in origin, and curry came to Japan from India via contact with the British Navy.

Deciding between the two dishes can be a difficult task, which is where curry ramen, noodles floating in a curry broth, comes in. Until now, though, trying to have the best of both worlds meant giving up on the chance to eat the offerings of Japan’s most popular curry chain, CoCo Ichi. But with a new team-up between the beloved chain and instant noodle maker Ace Cook, not only can you dine on CoCo Ichi curry ramen and udon, but you don’t even have to leave the house to do so.

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Advice from Japanese women on dealing with your boyfriend’s anime girlfriend

Advice from Japanese women on dealing with your boyfriend’s anime girlfriend

Early on in a couple’s romantic relationship, there’s still a lot the two individuals don’t know about each other. Each date is another step in the gradual process of discovering things about your partner while at the same time revealing a little more of yourself.

Sometimes the surprises are happy ones. Your new boyfriend turns out to be a great cook, or have a wonderful sense of humor. Other times, though, the things you learn are much less pleasant. You notice he’s a heavy drinker. He mentions he blows half his paycheck on pachinko. You learn the bone-chilling reason all the turtles have gone missing from the park behind his apartment.

Or, maybe, that he has a crush on an anime girl.

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Residents of Bangkok neighborhood don’t play by the railroad tracks, they live by them

Residents of Bangkok neighborhood don’t play by the railroad tracks, they live by them

Our recent meal in Bangkok of a five-and-a-half-pound hamburger may make Thailand seem like a wonderland of unparalleled decadence, but it’s only one facet of life in The Land of Smiles. Not everyone in the Thai capital spends their days chowing down on massive piles of beef, as we visited a neighborhood with a train line running right through the middle of it.

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Cat greets its returning owner with so much warmth we’d swear it was puppy love

Cat greets its returning owner with so much warmth we’d swear it was puppy love

As someone who generally judges the value of animals based on their flavor, I tend to stay out of the whole cats vs. dogs argument that pet lovers so often engage in. If, for some reason though, you told me that my life depended on picking one or the other, I’d probably say I’d prefer a pooch, and then ask what kind of oddly specific sorcery you’d placed me under that cursed me to die if I didn’t choose between the world’s two most popular pets.

When you come home, you can expect your dog to run to the door, wag his tale, and slobber all over you. While I can’t say I really see the appeal of that last one, I can understand that it’s nice to have a pet that gives you a reaction when you come through the door, which is totally unlike the aloof reaction that’s so much more common in cats.

Except, of course, if you’re talking about this friendly feline.

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Hop on over to Ginza for adorable bunny rabbit parfaits and cream puffs

Hop on over to Ginza for adorable bunny rabbit parfaits and cream puffs

Ginza’s history as one of Tokyo’s playgrounds for the well-to-do stretches back further than relative upstarts like Harajuku or Roppongi. While this means you can almost always find an elegant café to stop into for a refined mid-day snack, some of these establishments can be a little intimidating with their blue-blood atmosphere.

There is at least one place in Ginza, though, where you can indulge your sweet tooth without feeling any social tension, as nothing is so far removed from stuffiness as a bunny rabbit parfait.

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One baby capybara not cute enough for you? Chiba zoo has five【Photos】

One baby capybara not cute enough for you? Chiba zoo has five【Photos】

For most groups of animals, making them bigger doesn’t make them any cuter. For example, regular spiders? Not cute. Giant spiders? Still not cute, and now terrifying.

Somehow, though, rodents are the exception to this rule, as the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is adorable. But you know what’s even cuter? The babies of the planet’s biggest rodent, like the litter of five recently born in Japan.

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With the stuffed characters of the Moomin Café, you’ll never dine alone!

With the stuffed characters of the Moomin Café, you’ll never dine alone!

Theme restaurants can be a lot of fun. Whether you’re munching on Final Fantasy desserts or knocking back a cocktail while surrounded by witches and monsters, a little break with reality can be just the secret ingredient you need for a satisfying meal.

Except, what do you do if you can’t round up a posse to go with you? Playing make-believe in a group can be fun, when everyone is egging each other on and having a good laugh, but most people feel awkward enough eating in a normal restaurant alone, let alone one that’s recreating a fictional world.

Thankfully, the Moomin Café has a solution to the solo-dining dilemma: they’ll seat stuffed versions of the beloved cartoons’ characters at your table to keep you company.

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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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