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

Gargling to prevent colds – Just an old Japanese wives’ tale?

When I was a college student doing homestay in Tokyo, I mentioned to my host mother one day that some if my classmates had been passing a cold around, and I hoped I wouldn’t catch it too. “Oh, you should gargle,” she told me.

I was a little skeptic, and not just because she had previously told me that there was a pressure point in my ring finger that would make me feel warm during the winter, which she demonstrated by squeezing it with all her might (it worked in the sense that pain produces a sensation similar to heat). I’d never heard of the theory that just gargling, even with ordinary tap water, would keep you from catching a cold, but it turns out this is a pretty common belief in Japan, which some researchers say is scientifically sound.

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Tokyo café says the best ice cream topping is two more ice cream cones

Today, let’s take a moment to ponder a serious question: what’s the best sundae topping? The old stand-by of a dash of sprinkles? A handful of chopped nuts for a little crunch and texture? Or do you find the idea of all that empty-calorie decadence troubling enough that it threatens to ruin the fun, so your vote goes to a few pieces of fruit?

We say the correct answer is none of the above. For our money, the best way to crown your parfait is with a whole ice cream cone. Of course, some of our more sarcastic readers may ask, “Yeah, smart guy? Well then what do you put on top of the ice cream cone?”

Another ice cream cone, obviously. Did you even have to ask?

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Chicken Ramen mascot grows to giant size, runs rampant on the highways of Japan

Two of the things Japan is best at making are cars and cute characters. Sometimes these two worlds combine with itasha, cars slathered with painfully geeky anime graphics.

But itasha rely largely on decals, making them a literally shallow way of mashing up automotive engineering and cuteness. Isn’t there a more dynamic way to fuse the two?

Why yes, there is.

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Government form allows Japanese romantics to officially declare their love

Generally, Japanese culture tends to handle emotional expression a little less directly than in English-speaking countries, especially where romance is concerned. In particular, couples in Japan aren’t nearly as likely to regularly say “I love you” as their Western counterparts are or be seen smooching in public.

In certain situations, though, these roles get flipped. For example, while most Westerners would feel awkward making the explicit statement, “Please be my boyfriend/girlfriend,” in Japan that exact phrase, tsukiatte kudasai, is a pretty common romantic milestone, and something that many actually expect their partner to say in order to explicitly recognize the nature of the relationship.

Now, couples can even have their affection officially recognized, as lovers in Japan can submit government documents certifying their love for each other.

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Attack on Titan bag and shawl let you gear up for fighting giants, fashionable dates

Smash hit anime Attack on Titan has a full cast of compelling human characters, but most of the merchandising and promotions that have come with the series’ success are centered on the remorseless, pantless Titans themselves. Whether it’s figurines, burgers, or even beauty products, there just seems to be more love shown for the series’ ostensible villains.

Now, though, comes a way for you to show your loyalty to humanity while also scoring a few style points, with a fashionable Attack on Titan bag and shawl.

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Little witch Kiki and Little Mermaid Bakery bake three special pastries, we eat them all

The live-action Kiki’s Delivery Service is out now, and whether the movie should be judged on its own terms or if it can only be evaluated in comparison to the 1989 animated version is a matter of individual belief. One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that the new film will give you a craving for baked goods, as several scenes feature the breads and pastries made and sold by the bakery young witch Kiki boards at.

In anticipation of these cinema-induced hankerings, Little Mermaid, one of Japan’s largest and most popular bakery chains, has released an assortment of Kiki’s Delivery Service-themed goodies. As journalists (and hungry people), we were so excited that we decided to sample the whole lot.

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Special subway cars in Kyoto are perfect for travelling anime fans

Kyoto is best known as a bastion of Japan’s traditional past, where the visual and performing arts developed during the feudal era still command the highest respect. Japan’s former capital is also making a bid to become a center for modern popular culture as well, though. 2006 saw the opening of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and the city also plays host to the annual Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair.

Kyoto’s love for anime is truly a two-way street, as the city serves as the setting for numerous animated series. Apparently the relationship between anime and Kyoto has progressed to a point where the two feel comfortable with an overt display of public affection, in the form of a special subway train plastered with anime graphics.

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Which manga heroines do Japanese comic fans wish they could be?

A complaint commonly lobbed against manga made for young men is that the main character is just a blank slate for the reader to project himself onto, allowing him to vicariously live out his fantasies. That may be oversimplifying things quite a bit, but it’s also hard to deny that many male Japanese comic heroes possess three traits that men almost universally aspire to, namely being strong, cool, and surrounded by women in incredibly short skirts.

But what about women who are manga fans? If given the chance, which female character would they like to be?

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Why are these Chinese police officers torching dozens of arcade cabinets?

I think the last truly terrible video game I bought was Gundam v. 2.0 for the PlayStation One. This was back before all you had to do was wait a few hours for reviews from gamers to start pouring in online, and I got suckered in by some touched-up stills from the game in a magazine that made it look awesome. Instead, the one and only redeemable element to the title was it had a cool sound effect for the beam rifle, but that hardly made it worth the $75 it had cost me.

I’ve played subpar games since then, but Gundam v. 2.0 retains a special place of hatred in my gaming soul. It’s the sort of game that drives one to violent fantasies of revenge. Like an evil witch being punished for her sins, or a stubbornly regenerating troll that won’t stay dead, the only just way for Gundam 2.0 to pay for its crimes is by being set on fire.

Somewhere in a box, I still have my copy of the game. Maybe if I dig it out, these police officers in China will let me toss it onto their video game bonfire.

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Ridiculously tiny apartment may be downtown Tokyo’s cheapest (with good reason)

Before marriage compelled me to look for nicer living quarters, I lived in a an apartment that was….less than spacious. At first, I ate my meals off the top of my microwave, since it took several months of rearranging my belongings to create enough floor space for a low-lying table.

In the five years I lived in that bunker, I never did figure out a configuration which would allow me to cram a chair into it, but eventually I got used to having an extremely Spartan home. Even still, I don’t think I could manage living in the apartment of one Tokyoite, which measures just under five square meters (54 square feet).

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Cute, flowery dress or detailed, disturbing anatomy model? You make the call!

With March here, winter is finally on its way out. Warmer weather, and with it the opportunity to go outside without having to layer up in sweaters and coats, is just around the corner.

For the fashionable young lady, this sleeveless pink number seems like the perfect starting point for a girlish spring ensemble, what with its bold line of frills. Don’t you think they look like flowers in full bloom?

Hold on to that pretty mental picture, because the alternative interpretations from some Japanese internet users is decidedly more grisly.

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Adorable two-yen stamp distracts us from our anger over Japan’s impending tax hike

It’s less than a month until Japan’s consumption tax jumps from five to eight percent–a change few, if any, ordinary citizens are looking forward too. Practically everything is set to become more expensive in April, including some of the most fundamental necessities of life in Japan, such as train tickets, rice, Ebisu Beer, Asashi Beer, and even microbrews such as Doppo Beer.

An extensive search has produced exactly one thing related to the tax hike for us to look forward to: these adorable supplemental postage stamps.

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Revolving sushi comes to, and around and around, your house with this home-use set

For me, one of the darkest days of 2013 was when the revolving sushi restaurant near my apartment closed down. Sure, I could always hop on the train and ride to another neighborhood for my fix, but that’s small comfort for those times when I want a selection of delicious raw fish and vinegared rice parading past me right now.

On that day, building a revolving sushi experience of my own replaced “supermodel grotto” and “garage filled with classic Mazda sports cars” as my eccentric millionaire daydream. But it turns out I actually don’t need such a hefty bank balance to fulfill this ambition, thanks to this sweet home-use revolving sushi set.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service side story being written by original author – online now and free!

Recently, my wife and I went out to see the live-action Kiki’s Delivery Service. As we waited for the film to start, we swapped impressions of the 1989 anime version of the story, which like the live-action version is an adaptation of author Eiko Kadono’s 1985 children’s novel of the same name.

My wife mentioned that one of her favorite characters was Osono, the owner of the bakery where witch-in-training Kiki boards. Osono’s actually got quite a few fans, due to her tough yet kind personality and mature outlook on life.

How exactly Osono managed to acquire those admirable traits is the subject of a new serial by Kadono, a coming of age story focused on the baker who would eventually serve as Kiki’s mentor.

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Beautiful Disney princess greeting cards fit for any regal occasion

Japan still hasn’t gone all-in on the concept of digital communications, and in many situations there’s still a lot of value attached to physical, paper documents. Sometimes this can be puzzling, like the time I applied for a job at a prestigious technological institute which required a hard copy of my resume, as email applications weren’t acceptable.

For personal relationships, though, it’s nice to see so many people in Japan still willing to put pen to paper in order to write a heartfelt message to a friend or loved one. Many even take great care in selecting the perfect stationery, and those looking to add a touch of classic femininity to their correspondence will be hard-pressed to find a better choice than these elegant Disney princess greeting cards.

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Is cola-flavored soy milk the answer to our prayers? We find out

A while back, food conglomerate Kibun and soy giant Kikkoman announced a couple new flavors for their popular Tonyu Inryo line of soy milk. In and of itself, this wasn’t too surprising, as new varieties are regularly swapped in and out of the Tonyu Inryo lineup.

One of the new flavors caught the eye of our junk food loving team, though: healthy cola. Ordinarily, the words “healthy” and “cola” are in such direct opposition that we expected the package to be contain a paradox-induced black hole, or to at least be completely empty inside. To our surprise, though, Kibun was indeed able to develop its healthy cola soy milk, and we wasted no time in trying it.

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Costume of Sanrio’s newest character lets you look like a fish without smelling like one

In its never-ending quest for new, cute things, Japan sometimes latches onto things that the rest of the world might not apply the adjective to. It’s understandable when someone sees Hello Kitty or Totoro and squeals “Kawaii!, but by some twisted criteria, The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Jack Skellington and the rabbit Usavich, with his creepy drugged-looking eyes, are als considered “cute”.

So perhaps it’s not too surprising that you can now get a costume that turns you into the latest character from adorable mascot king Sanrio, despite that character being a filet of salmon.

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Horror bar Sacrifice has spirits of both the haunting and drinkable kinds

I’ve never fully understood the appeal of horror movies. After all, what’s the point in paying good money for something that’s going to make you want to pee your pants? On the other hand, purchasing beer always seems like a wise financial decision, despite its similar bladder-assaulting properties. Now, there’s a place where both fright fiends and fans of fermented barley can get their fix, the horror bar Sacrifice.

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Fan sews amazing felt versions of Totoro, Sailor Moon, Final Fantasy Black Mage and more

As someone who learned to drive a car before he could ride a bike, there are a couple of things that slipped through the cracks on my path of acquiring basic life skills. Sewing, for example, is still an arcane art to me. After all, why go to the hassle of making my own clothes, when there are plenty of stores perfectly willing to take my money in exchange for a new shirt or pair of jeans?

But maybe I’m missing the point. After all, knowing how to sew doesn’t just mean you can design your own wardrobe, it also means you can create awesome anime and video game figures made entirely of felt.

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New ultra-stylish, extra-traditional Shinkansen has tatami floors, foot baths

The Shinkansen is already a pretty cool way to get around Japan, as it whisks travelers from the country’s cosmopolitan urban centers to its more traditional rural locales.

But what if you want to experience a bit of authentic Japanese culture while you’re zipping across Japan at 200 miles per hour? Fear not, Japan Railway has just the thing: a bullet train with tatami reed flooring and a Japanese-style foot bath.

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