Chilly January is drawing to a close and that means that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Here in Japan, Valentine chocolates are big business, which means shops pull out all the stops to create delicacies as easy on the eyes as they are sweet in your mouth. We’ve picked our favorites for this year, so whether you are buying for your lover or yourself, check out these dainty nibbles!
Jessica Kozuka is a freelance writer and editor living in the exciting, interesting and sometimes perplexing city of Tokyo. Her work has appeared in Wine Spectator, CNN Travel, and The Japan Times, as well as numerous other print and online media outlets. She writes a column on NPO/NGOs and volunteer work for Metropolis, the largest English-language magazine in Japan, and specializes in EFL educational materials and travel writing. Kozuka is rarely to be found without a book or two within arm’s reach, though there's no telling if they will be serious literature or frivolous guilty pleasures, and she runs a monthly book club for other bibliophiles in the Tokyo area. She's also an enthusiastic if mediocre cook and daily laments the smallness of Japanese kitchens.
All Stories by Jessica
The city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, home to the impressive Toshogu Shrine and its famous evil-averse monkeys, is a popular choice for day trips from Tokyo, what with its World Heritage sites and easy train connections. But if all you’re doing is popping in for an afternoon of temple hopping, you are missing out on a lot of what Nikko has to offer. Take our advice and take a couple of days to check out what everybody else is missing.
In 2014, Dr. Shuji Nakamura, along with two other scientists, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in creating bright blue LEDs. In 1993, Nakamura held only a master’s degree and worked with just one lab assistant for a small manufacturer in rural Japan, yet he was able to find a solution that had eluded some the highest paid, best-educated researchers in the world.
If his story ended there, he would no doubt be the poster boy for Japanese innovation and never-say-die spirit, but in the years since his discovery, he has instigated a landmark patent case, emigrated to the US, given up his Japanese citizenship and become a vocal critic of his native country. Last week, the prickly professor gave his first Japanese press conference since picking up his Nobel and he had some very succinct advice for young Japanese: Leave.
Although we just told you about why Japan is an unpopular tourist destination, if you are planning on visiting in 2015—and we really recommend you do!—there are some landmark events going on that you might want to consider as you make your plans. Here’s our list of five places you’ll want to visit in Japan in 2015.
Jan 18, 2015
When it comes to regional cuisines, Japan has a lot to offer. But what if you are short on time and can’t make it to far-flung parts of the archipelago to sample artisan cheeses or gut-burning awamori? Not to worry, you can get a taste of most prefectures in the heart of Tokyo at so-called satellite shops, supermarkets which specialize in food and products from a particular region.
We’ve picked out five of our favorites for you to enjoy, with a not-to-be-missed item from each.
Jan 15, 2015
Some rather peculiar, sticker-altered street signs have been popping up in Osaka or Kyoto over the last month. The eye-catching addendums are the work of French guerrilla artist Clet Abraham, who has done similar projects around the globe. While local residents are largely bemused, the police are not at all amused and are investigating whether charges can be filed.
Dec 20, 2014
Earlier this week, we reported that McDonald’s Japan is in the middle of a potato shortage, causing them to halt sales of medium and large-size fries. Even the meal sets will come with a measly small fries, though thankfully at a discounted price.
Rival chain Lotteria is happily pouring salt in the wound by using McDonald’s hardships to market their own fried spuds. See if you can spot the recent addition to their menu after the jump.
Dec 12, 2014
If you are a sighted person with an internet connection, chances are you have seen Katsushika Hokusai’s famous painting Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa at some point. Despite the clunky title, it is one of the most recognized pieces of Japanese art ever.
Now, thanks to 3-D printing, a company called K’s Design Lab, and Tsutaya’s bookstore-cum-lounge property T-Site, visually impaired art lovers too will soon be able to see this work by literally getting their hands on it.
It’s been unseasonably cold around Japan this week, sending most of us scurrying for those wooly mittens and knit caps in the back of the closet lest we lose a finger or ear to frostbite.
You’d think with the layers of fur and feathers they are already schlepping around, pets wouldn’t feel the falling temps quite as much, but if Twitter photos are any indication, they are looking just as hard as we are for ways to ward off Old Man Winter.
Gay marriage is still not legal in Japan, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for LGBT couples dreaming of tying the knot in Nippon. Joining big venues like Tokyo Disneyland, an ancient Zen temple in the picturesque city of Kyoto is offering gay weddings in traditional Japanese style.
If you’ve ever been to Thailand, you know that it can get really hot. It’s enough to make anyone look longingly at the nearest fountain, pond or puddle. Well, add a fur coat to that equation and I get why this Thai dog decided he wasn’t going to let a few guppies get in the way of a quick, cooling dip!
Look at the two Starbucks cups above. Can you tell which one is real and which one is a creation of colored pencils, pastels and ink? If not for a tiny bit hanging off the edge of the wood, we’d have been hard-pressed to choose.
This is the incredibly realistic work of Singaporean artist Ivan Hoo.
You may think choosing a name for your kid is hard, but in the West, we have it easy. All we have to choose is the name. Here in Japan, parents-to-be also have to choose what characters they want to write it with, a decision that has to take into account the relative auspiciousness of the number of strokes it takes to write, how well-known a particular reading is, and even if the government will accept the name they finally settle on!
Like trends for particular names, there are trends in the use of particular kanji or Chinese characters, too. Insurer Meiji Yasuda has just published the most common names this year and the kanji used for them, so read on to see what the hippest babies are sporting.
Temperatures are dropping here in Japan and that means it’s prime time for one of my favorite Japanese foods. Sure, I love sushi and a nice hot bowl of udon sure doesn’t go amiss come December, but in winter nothing holds a candle to the old-fashioned Japanese communal cooking experience called irori. It’s like cooking ’round a campfire from the comfort of your home!
Artist JR Coffron III has finally answered the question of what happens if you leave a Pokémon in its pokeball too long: they come out as undead ravening monsters.
Nov 26, 2014
I think most Japanese are completely fascinated by the nexus of beauty and horror. How else can you explain something like Kyari Pyamu Pyamu?
This week, that particular itch is being scratched by a YouTube video making the media rounds. In it, a pretty Russian spectator cheers her handball team by unleashing what can only be described as bestial hell yowling. Or the vocals for Gwar.
Even without adornment, a well-done bonsai is a sight to see. It’s amazing how something as massive and powerful as a tree can be hemmed and trimmed to create a delicate, miniature version of itself. But for some, that level of artistry doesn’t go far enough.
Now bonsai artists are adding fantastical tree houses and other structures around their vegetative creations, resulting in multi-level, gravity-defying feats of architecture that still fit under a garden cloche.
Nov 23, 2014
Remember when you were in school and had to do that dreaded health and fitness check in PE class? Turns out those trials aren’t just for little homo sapiens.
A few days ago, workers at the Pu’er Sun River national park were checking the health of their endangered charges ahead of some research projects and got some pretty adorable snaps in the process.
Nov 22, 2014
In 1974, some farmers in Xi’an, China, stumbled upon a funerary army buried with the first Qin emperor comprised of more than 8,000 terracotta soldiers. Their fierce, noble faces belied their intent to protect the emperor even in death, while their military dress and kit, all recreated in detail, gave them the means to do so.
Now an artist in San Francisco is herself recreating some of these World Heritage statues, but there’s something just a bit off about the faces…
- Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan”1
- No more photo retouches! New makeup for cosplayers claims to create photo-perfect skin2
- Cross-dressing Cosplay Idol Group a Huge Hit in China3
- New video claims one Japanese ISIS hostage killed, authenticity of video under investigation4
- Evangelion couple rings let you tell your sweetheart you love him or her like Shinji loves Kaworu5
- New magnetic “slate” lets you write on actual paper, digitize your drawings in real-time6
- Attack on Titan’s Universal Studios Japan attraction opens7
- Huge six-meter (19.7-foot) anime hug pillow will prove you’re a great big otaku 【Video】8
- Yokohama’s adorable hedgehog dumplings are packed with spikey cuteness and creamy custard9
- Japanese village converted into gorgeous open-air museum makes an easy day-trip escape from Tokyo10
- Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan”1
- Edo era Samurai were pretty gay2
- Netizens hatch adorable baby birds from supermarket eggs, provide evidence3
- New magnetic “slate” lets you write on actual paper, digitize your drawings in real-time4
- Attack on Titan’s Universal Studios Japan attraction opens5
- New plus-sized idol group hopes to broaden the image of beauty in Japan 【Video】6
- Secret backmasked message found hidden in Dragon Ball Z ending song7
- Mystery in Shinjuku as woman plunges to death on visiting restroom8
- Disney Store is all grown up with new branch designed for adult women opening in Tokyo9
- With adult responsibilities looming, Japanese teen lets loose with epic Frozen chalkboard art10
- Kyoto taxi drivers reduce convenience store robberies by 50 percent by doing absolutely nothing1
- Nobel Prize-winner Shuji Nakamura to Japan’s young people: “Get out of Japan”2
- Cosplay ideals vs. cosplay reality, a.k.a. cool vs. funny 【Photos】3
- Internet ready to shut up and take your money as preorders finally start for Cat Ear Headphones4
- Edo era Samurai were pretty gay5
- Ugly-cute makeup genius feeds off negative troll comments on Twitter6
- “Malaysian girl holding things” is our new favourite Instagram account 【Photos】7
- Teacher draws over students’ doodles to make red pen masterpieces8
- Photos of people lining up outside of the Sapporo Apple Store make us feel positively frozen9
- Netizens hatch adorable baby birds from supermarket eggs, provide evidence10
- “No one sleeps in her class!” Internet goes gaga for gorgeous Chinese science teacher1
- Hayao Miyazaki working on new project, says “I’m going to continue making anime until I die”2
- Self-taught Singaporean artist creates unbelievably realistic art on plywood3
- Buyers’ remorse in China: After a record-breaking day of online shopping, the angry selfies begin4
- 1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours5
- Tiny town in northern Japan creates gorgeous, gigantic artwork out of rice paddies 【Video】6
- Japanese high school holds annual contest to decide the prettiest “girl” in school7
- Kyoto taxi drivers reduce convenience store robberies by 50 percent by doing absolutely nothing8
- Sorry guys! Video of “sexy ice cream girl” in Taipei only delivers on half its milky promises9
- Oysters’ amazing cleaning skills shock Japanese netizens who question their shellfish habit10
- New magnetic “slate” lets you write on actual paper, digitize your drawings in real-time
- Attack on Titan’s Universal Studios Japan attraction opens
- Huge six-meter (19.7-foot) anime hug pillow will prove you’re a great big otaku 【Video】
- Yokohama’s adorable hedgehog dumplings are packed with spikey cuteness and creamy custard
- Japanese village converted into gorgeous open-air museum makes an easy day-trip escape from Tokyo
- Out of this world Valentine’s chocolates are (almost) too gorgeous to eat
- Fly-kicking good?! KFC Malaysia apologises after employees brawl in front of customers
- Here’s how a 2000-year-old Chinese art can make you more productive
- Creating your own custom etched glass is a lot simpler than you think
- Seven Japanese drugstore beauty products loved by women abroad
- Are you smarter than a (Japanese) 5th grader? Take this mind-bending test and find out!
- We try beer with whipped cream on top…because we’re fancy
- Historical Japanese swords turn into hot and battle-hardened Blade Boys in new mobile game