Megumi Matsuki

Born in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, Megumi moved to the United States at the tender age of 4 and a half, where she immediately befriended Tweety, her first English-speaking pal, and later found a hero in Chuck Jones. Her early years in Southern California were brief but eventful. One of her most vibrant memories is of hanging out on the Redondo Beach Pier at 3 AM, sipping hot chocolate and munching on a piping hot ōbanyaki while her dad and brother got in some night-fishing; she can still smell the stars and blueberry filling. In first grade, her encounter with a peanut butter cookie recipe (you know, the one with the practical AND aesthetic use of fork tines) awakened her lifelong passion for baking and sweets-making, and learned much along the way from her wizard mom. Even before she hit double digits, another move led her to Massachusetts where she supplemented her diet with colored pencils, Narnia, Rick Steves, Sega Genesis, and How-To Saturdays on PBS.

After graduating from Vassar College with a degree in art, Megumi held random jobs while making time for her creative endeavors and design work. Now, when she’s not wrestling words for RocketNews24, she may be managing her Etsy shop, AmaiAmaiSeptember; experimenting in the kitchen; or cursing the drop rate of dub-mythlits. Tentative future plans involve starting up a blog to finally share her annual pumpkin carvings and achievements in sugar. In the meantime, she dreams of drawing around the globe, strolling along Kappabashi, and conquering all the meika in Japan. Times may change this little contributor, but some things are forever; random loves that get her through life include (in alphabetical order): Adventure Time, custard cream, Darker Than Black, Richard Diebenkorn, fuzzy kitty chins, The Kids in the Hall, The Mighty Boosh, sun showers, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, and Wayne Thiebaud.

All Stories by Megumi Matsuki

Three years of character bento, Part 3: Countdown to graduation and everyone’s final reactions

Since March is the month for graduations in Japan, the final part of this series will focus on the character bento mom’s “Countdown to Graduation” bentos made for her younger daughter in high school, along with another round of familiar characters! (If you missed the past two posts, you can find them here and here).

As the telltale cherry blossoms get ready to bloom, and as young folks all around Japan prepare to close a chapter in their lives so that they can embark upon a new one, Kaori cooks up lunches that are full of not only protein and attitude but also parental advice for the future! We’ll also share some information on her book, her last thoughts regarding the immense project, and—wait, is that a token of appreciation from her laconic yet demanding daughter?!

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Three years of character bento, Part 2: Loving, hilarious mom continues to pester teen daughter

Do you remember last month’s piece which chronicled single mom Kaori’s three-year character bento spree? On the surface the project seemed to be about harassing her kyaraben-hating teenage daughter, but we learned that in the end, it was an incredible (not to mention eye-catching!) feat of parental love and dedication.

In Part 2 of this series, we’re going to put the spotlight on more of Kaori’s entertaining creations in tandem with some of her thoughts. And next week in Part 3, we’ll wrap up with the mom’s reaction to her long-awaited book, her “Countdown to Graduation” bentos, and a surprise from her daughter. So, before we get to this devoted mom’s moving, seaweedy words of wisdom and love, let the drool-fest begin! And keep your eyes peeled, you may even find your favorite character!

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Pretty kitty says “Good morning” in Japanese, not just a doting owner’s imagination!

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “Not another ‘talking pet’ video!” YouTube is positively overflowing with them, after all, despite the fact that most of the time it’s only the owners who are able to decipher what their pets are supposedly “saying” before the camera.

Many netizens agree, however, that YouTuber luckersingo’s gorgeous cat Māya is actually meowing out the three-syllable Japanese greeting for good morning, “Ohayō!” Don’t believe us? Watch this talkative kitty in action and decide for yourself!

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DyDo’s coffee drink & Nintendo collab: We get nostalgic with limited edition 8-bit Mario figures

If, like me, you’re a tad obsessive when it comes to character goods and love the kitschy cross-promotions that often infiltrate Japanese convenience stores, here’s something that’ll perk you up: beverage company DyDo Drinco recently announced its “Super Mario Bros. Dot Figure Collection” campaign, to commemorate the anniversary of both its canned coffee drink and Nintendo’s worldwide phenomenon of a game.

Read up on the collaboration’s details after the jump and bear with me while I get a little sentimental. Also, thanks to excited YouTuber and goods enthusiast Satoshi Machida, you’ll get a close-up look at the pixelated (but not pixilated) cuties!

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Three years of character bento: A single mom’s quest to connect with her cheeky teen【Pt. 1】

A decade ago, when blogger and single mom Kaori used to work nights at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) and didn’t have time to spend with her two little girls, they would leave letters by her pillow, telling her about a fight they had with a friend or how school was that day. Fast forward a few years, though, and her cute younger daughter became your regular moody, demanding teenager.

So what did this amusing mom decide to do? Kaori chose to annoy her second-born every day with something she hates: character bento! See mom yearn for a Starbucks, remind her girl to throw out empty bottles, and moan about making bento while hung over—all with the help of an X-Acto knife, some nori seaweed, and dollops of ingenuity.

While it’s impossible to showcase the entirety of her achievements in one article, here’s a “highlights version” that ultimately reveals a heartwarming tale of a hardworking mom trying to communicate with her adorable yet exasperating teen. And if you don’t care about that, then just gawk at the awesome photos!

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From San-X to Attack on Titan, yummy cake rolls take over Bean-Throwing Festival’s sushi custom

Before you start obsessing over Valentine’s Day plans, let’s turn for a moment to another February whoop-de-do: the Japanese Bean-Throwing Festival or Setsubun. Celebrated on February 3 this year, it’s an intriguing blend of evil ogres and spirits, roasted soybeans, and chomping on a whole baton of thickly rolled sushi while facing in the proper direction. These somewhat disparate ingredients commingle on this day to assure good fortune and health for the year to come.

In recent years, western Japan’s custom of eating a special type of sushi called ehō-maki (恵方巻き, literally “blessed direction roll”) for Setsubun has spread across the nation due to marketing campaigns by grocery and convenience stores; what’s more, the sushi rolls have been evolving into scrumptious cream-filled Swiss rolls! Iconoclastic? Maybe. Delicious? Yes!

So let’s jump on the bandwagon and look into this holiday a bit before drooling over this collection of sushi and their sweet doppelgängers. And Yowapeda fans, I think I spy a Makishima-maki!

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Eyelashes run amok as folks in Japan have too much fun with their falsies【Photos】

Whether you love ‘em or hate ’em, false eyelashes have become a mainstay of the Japanese makeup arsenal and are readily available in a fluttery profusion of designs at every drugstore and hundred-yen shop. One survey from 2012 revealed that 58 percent of teenage girls and 74 percent of women in their twenties have used them, some relying on their magic daily rather than reserving them for special occasions.

They became the sole subject of a chart-topping single by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, have been turned into alluring decorations that anthropomorphize your car, and even became a way to have harmless fun with your pet! But what do you do when you have so many falsies that you run out of storage space or are just too darn lazy to put them away properly? Attach them to cute plushies and manly figurines, of course! So even if your Sasuke isn’t asking to channel Elvis and his fringes, this chuckle-inducing photo collection may give you some ideas for the next time you party too hard and can’t be bothered with those pesky plastic cases.

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Can you figure it out? Japanese man creates puzzling perpetual motion machine from paper【Video】

Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought, “I’m going to achieve the impossible today and build a perpetual motion machine!”? Well, Niconico user LupinIII didn’t exactly think that, but earlier this month he uploaded a video of what seems to be an impossible object on a Japanese video-sharing site: a deceivingly simple, Escher-esque structure with four slopes, upon which a marble continuously rolls. The video quickly garnered over 250,000 views, reaching number one in the science and technology category.

Read on to watch the mystifying video at the end of the article and learn a bit more about how the crafty paper structure was designed and built!

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Give a stranger a flower: Art exhibit & a Parisienne in Tokyo leads to smile seen round the world

If you’re sad that December is coming to a close and aren’t quite ready to stop basking in the holiday spirit, here’s a story (albeit a non-Christmas one) from the heart of Tokyo that’s sure to give you the warm fuzzies. Originally made popular in English on the image-hosting site Imgur, this tale of a stranger’s unexpected act of kindness traveled back to Japan where it happened, thanks to the Internet, and subsequently brought smiles to scads of Japanese netizens’ faces.

Read their reactions at the end of the article, after learning about how Lee Mingwei’s participatory art installation and 22-year-old Alice’s seemingly small yet impactful act of courage brightened the day of a metro worker named Daisuke and reddened his ears. As one online commenter put it, “I bet this guy never imagined that his smile would spread joy all around the world!”

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We steel our hearts and sample Namikoshiken’s too-cute-to-eat, aquarium-themed wagashi sweets

Do you remember our recent article that showcased Japanese confectioner Namikoshiken’s adorable menagerie of bite-sized manjū (sweet steamed buns)? Last week, out of sheer luck and coincidence, I received a box of the Suizokukan (aquarium) variety from a family friend who went on a trip to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, where the 87-year-old company is based. So of course, this calls for a taste test!

Read on to find out more about the wagashi treats and to view close-up photos of each lovable suizokukan resident. Was this writer able to harden her heart and mercilessly sink her teeth into these little guys? Anything for RocketNews24!

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Creepy or cute? Feel the Panda Train’s intense gaze before sightseeing in resort town Shirahama

Though the “Panda Train” that runs between Kyōto and the beach resort town of Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture has been around for a few years, Japanese netizens recently have been making quite the hubbub over photos of its panda seats. Online reactions range from “Kawaiiii!” to “It looks like it’ll hug me to death!”, but most agree that they’re simply confused by the presence of polyurethane pandas on a train heading to a former honeymoon Mecca.

While Shirahama (lit. “White Beach”) is famous for its beautiful sand, hot springs, and remarkable rock formations, many in Japan are surprisingly unaware of its other claim to fame: pandas. Read on to learn more about the crowd-pleasing train and a theme park complex called Adventure World, which has a panda-breeding and research facility with an impressive track record that’s second only to mainland China. If you’re already tired of the cold this winter, this article may give you some ideas for next summer!

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30 hours of pumpkin carving! The making of my anime fan art jack-o’-lantern【Photos & video】

Every year for Halloween I carve a pumpkin for myself and for the trick-or-treaters to enjoy, usually based on a popular Hollywood movie with costume potential. To commemorate my post at RocketNews24, however, for this year’s jack-o’-lantern I chose my first ever anime theme! I went with one of my favorites from this fall’s line-up, Gugure! Kokkuri-san (繰繰れ!コックリさん), available on Crunchyroll.

Both heartwarming and twisted (for the non-anime-initiated), the series is an outrageously wacky, slice-of-life comedy adapted from a four-panel comic strip by Midori Endō. The large cast is led by Kokkuri-san and the young girl Kohina; the former is a motherly, lonely fox spirit (originally from J­apanese folklore) with both human and animal forms, and the latter is a hardcore bocchi (loner) with a cup noodle addiction who claims to be an emotionless doll.

Read on to learn a little more about the show and the design process, as well as to get a nicer view of the lit-up pumpkin. There’s also a time lapse video that condenses 30 hours of carving into just over 11 minutes!

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They’re not real?! Exploring the detailed, colorful world of Takuto Shibuya’s mushroom bonsai

Have you ever come across a beautifully colored, picture book-worthy mushroom while walking in the woods or the park? I still remember the flashy fungi I happened upon when I was in seventh grade; I was near a mountain biking course in Rhode Island and amid the grass was a cute yellow mushroom with red dots, much like a Mega Mushroom from New Super Mario Bros. I considered picking it but I was pretty sure my fingers would start to rot off upon contact, and it would have shriveled up soon enough anyway. Oh, I wondered, will the days of ornamental mushrooms never come?

Enter Takuto Shibuya, whose life-long love of toadstools compelled him to find a way to marvel at their variegated beauty at home. His book Kinoko (Mushroom) Bonsai, released back in June, includes photos of his work as well as instructions on how to make your own. But wait—this type of bonsai isn’t about replanting your find in a pot. Because mushrooms are difficult to take care of, Shibuya took a hint from the Japanese traditions of bonsai and figurines and decided to preserve their alluring forms by recreating them in clay. Read on to take a closer look at his creations as well as his process!

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Tempura, anyone? Prank at sushi chain involving deep-fried scissors lands part-timers in hot oil

In 2013, Japan saw a meteoric rise in internet photos that depict part-time workers’ silly and sometimes idiotic antics while on the clock (remember the freezer diving phenomenon?). Though the term “bakattā” (a portmanteau word that’s not restricted to part-timers and combines baka, or idiot, and tsuittaa, the Japanese pronunciation of Twitter) was coined back in 2010, it gained even more popularity last year and took fourth place in the 2013 Internet Buzzword Awards, sponsored by the Tokyo company Mirai Kensaku Brazil.

The craze of bragging about law-breaking or idiotic behavior on social networking sites has thankfully died down, partly due to publicization of the serious repercussions faced by some perpetrators. However, it seems like a couple of young guys working at a major revolving sushi chain had not been watching the news, or were looking to get fired: a photo uploaded on the evening of September 24 with a Tweet that said, “I invented a new menu item with [name deleted] today! Lololol” spread like wildfire, only to reach the head of the company by the following morning. D’oh!

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Photobook of cats in Japan goes beyond kawaii, beautifully captures many sides of feline life

For those of you who need a little break from Japanese cute culture and pampered internet stars from the animal kingdom, French photographer Alexandre Bonnefoy’s photobook may be just the ticket. Neko Land: Une vie de chat au Japon (A cat’s life in Japan) reveals the many faces of street cats, communally owned cats, pets, and cat café residents found all over Japan, from Okinawa to Hokkaidō.

Read on to view a large sample of the elegant and expressive work that resulted from his two-year stay, which portrays cats from many walks of life in a frank, but no less loving, manner. As Bonnefoy gives equal importance to their unadorned surroundings, let these felines guide you and immerse yourself in the often overlooked nooks and crannies of the varied communities around Japan.

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Small hands? Japanese Twitterer gets creative and makes handy case for the wider iPhone 6

We are well aware of the lengths Apple fanatics go to for their devices, and while waiting in line for 48 hours may make for some precious memories, one fan’s devotion gave rise to something quite tangible and utilitarian. Whether you have small hands or inherited stubby fingers like Lisa Simpson, check out the clever case Japanese Twitterer and sound engineer Gusoh came up with so that he could still easily manipulate the larger iPhone 6 with one hand! That leaves the other five digits free for, say, coffee or an iPod Touch? (I’m sure you’ve seen these busy people on the train, right?)

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Increase your EXP with this Dragon Warrior-inspired Slime Curry, don’t forget the Squelch spell

A Curry Slime draws near!

Over the years, various goods and edibles have been spawned by Slimes, the ever-popular video game baddies from the Dragon Warrior/Quest series. To get in on the google-eyed action, funky Japanese bookstore chain Village Vanguard has come up with this newest addition to its lineup of creative pre-made curries: the Slime Curry. It’s not quite as cute as the Hatsune Miku curry and it’s not quite the ghastly shade of green of this matcha one, but this gloopy little curry slime can’t wait to sidle up to your next plate of rice!

Command?

Eat
Run
Get details after the jump!

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“Hate summer homework, kids? We’ll do it for you!” A disturbingly booming business in Japan

The following is a typical scene that many families in Japan will have recently experienced, and probably not for the first time: It’s August 31, the last day of summer vacation and the fall semester is starting in less than 24 hours. The kids who played all month suddenly realize that they have to do 40 pages of kanji and math drills, write a book report for a book they haven’t read, and fill in 30 days’ worth of journal entries–an assignment that they dutifully kept up with for all of the first week of summer break. They clamor for help, and despite the scoldings and I-told-you-so’s, “nice” parents and the more responsible siblings reluctantly pitch in.

Sure, the above isn’t an exemplary approach to avoiding bad grades, but recently an even more dubious method has been getting a lot of attention: online businesses have been offering to do your child’s homework and school projects for a fee! While the homework-by-proxy racket is nothing new, recent media coverage of the growing enterprise has brought to light this questionable practice and its appalling popularity among elementary and junior high school students.

What does this teach, and not teach, future adults? Why are parents taking advantage of these services for their young children? One twisted reason will probably surprise you.

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Cute puppy goes to grandmother’s house and finds dentures for toothy grin, hilarious photo op

Here’s a small but concentrated dose of silliness for those of you who need an afternoon (or morning, or evening) pick-me-up. And it’s a good opportunity to prove that canines can be monarchs of the World Wide Web too!

Did it take a moment for you to realize what’s going on in the photo on the right? No, it’s not another before/after photo of plastic surgery or a sad tale of a dog that auditioned for a Dentastix commercial and failed; it’s what happened when a Japanese Twitterer visited her grandmother’s house with her Pomeranian pup. Reactions ranged from “Cute!” to “Ew!” to “Scary!”, but as a beloved villain with the wicked grin put it, “Let’s put a smile on that face!”

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Pizza Hut in Japan is now run by four bossy felines in new adorable campaign

In Japan, there’s the phrase “neko no te mo karitai” (literally “want to borrow even a cat’s hand”), meaning that you’re so busy, you even want the cat to help. Well, Pizza Hut took this idiom to heart in its new campaign, hiring four rough-and-tumble cats to manage a franchise called Pizza Cat! As you’ll see in the dramatic “movie trailer,” these cats are fired up and can’t wait to rescue people who’re too busy to prepare dinner.

Read on to learn more about the comical and kawaii campaign, and to watch a few of the 15-second promotional videos that reveal what would happen if cats really lent a paw. Plus, if you live in Japan you may even have a chance to win a Pizza Hut hat for cats. So are felines one opposable thumb away from world domination, or are we slowly approaching a utopia in which pets will fetch us pizza? And hey, didn’t Samurai Pizza Cats already get started on both?

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