Oona McGee

All Stories by Oona McGee

Harry Potter trains and towering Hogwarts Castle appear in Osaka!

As the year draws to a close and 2014 pokes its head over the horizon, Harry Potter fans in Japan are finding it harder to contain their excitement over the summer opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Osaka. Fan photos on Twitter show how the progress is going, with an awesome train service and a near-complete replica of Hogwarts Castle that looks exactly like the one on film.

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Cats in tights are taking over the Internet

Who needs puss in boots when you can have puss in tights? Hot on the heels of the dogs in pantyhose sensation, cats are hitting back with a new fashion statement of their own: long, lean legs in tights. Prepare to be creeped out.

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New “Privacy Glasses” protect your identity and your image

Protecting your privacy can be a difficult task in today’s world of information technology. With surveillance cameras on every corner and a recording device on every smartphone, there’s a good chance your image has been captured somewhere without you even knowing it. Safeguarding your mug in the future is set to become even more difficult with advancements in facial recognition technologies and wearable computers like Google Glass.

So what can you do to ensure your identity remains intact? In Western countries the answer would be simple: put on a pair of sunglasses. In Japan, however, sunglasses are a much less common sight, and many consider them to be worn only by those trying a little too hard to look cool, and in more extreme cases associate them with the yakuza lifestyle. Researchers at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo have addressed this issue by designing a non-threatening pair of white shades to protect both your identity and your public image, dubbing them the “Privacy Visor”.

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Bangkok brothers get banged with a Starbucks lawsuit

Starbucks has a policy of seamlessly blending their coffee outlets into remote tourist locations around the world. So when two brothers in Bangkok set up their street-side coffee cart business under a familiar looking green logo, Starbucks was quick to assert that this was not one of their operations.

Damrong and Damras Maslae are now in hot water as the global coffee franchise is coming down hard and suing them for copyright infringement.

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How a foreigner’s Halloween prank in Japan started a debate about the imperial system

As we’ve seen, Japanese people are enamoured with the idea of Halloween. From limited edition sweets to pumpkin-orange accessories, the holiday in Japan is centred around all things cute, and very occasionally creepy. So what do you do if you’re a foreigner in Japan who wants to give the locals a taste of the prankster spirit that usually lurks around the corner on a traditional Halloween night?

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LED tatami floors take us to the tea ceremony of the future

Japan is known for its dichotomy of unique tradition and state-of-the-art technology, so tatami mat floors that light up during a traditional tea ceremony should really come as no surprise. Although the photo above might look like an illusion or a Photoshopped image, it’s actually a real tea ceremony room in Yokohama, Japan. The eerie yet peaceful glow is thanks to a company that uses LED lighting to illuminate traditional Japanese flooring. And the results are absolutely stunning.

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Ads in the real world to tickle your funny bone

Pictures can say a thousand words but when they’re this amusing, their stories cross international timelines and make thousands giggle around the world. This set of photos is storming its way through Japan, with people commenting and sharing and adding a few of their own contributions along the way. Proving that advertising can be hilarious when put into the context of the real world, these are some of the funniest, unintentional product placements we’ve ever seen!

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Hamamatsu train station unveiled in miniature form

There’s no denying that the world looks a whole lot cuter when it’s scaled down to miniature form, and even ordinary train stations are no exception to the rule. Hamamatsu station, in Shizuoka Prefecture, has been given the mini-me treatment, thanks to one of its renowned residents, award-winning modeler Takuji Yamada. On display in the city centre, people from all over Japan are gushing at the model’s remarkable quality and it’s amazing likeness to the original.

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Period pain? There’s a comic for that!

There’s a five-frame comic doing the rounds on Twitter that’s got all the ladies talking. Called “The day of period pain”, it’s being praised for authentically depicting that dreaded time of the month and proves that, in Japan, there really is a comic about everything.

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15 quotes from manga characters to pick you up when you’re feeling down

We all know the power of listening to music when it comes to lifting our mood and helping us get over a bad day, but in Japan many people turn to their favourite comic book characters for inspiration. Showing courage, perseverance and optimism, these characters often share insights and wise words that can be a tremendous source of support for us all. Here are some words of wisdom from 15 famous manga characters. Pick a favourite and use it as your mantra to get you through the day.

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40 amazing finds on Yahoo! Japan’s auction site

In the West, we have eBay. But here in Japan, it’s all about Yahoo! Auctions. By far the most popular auction site in the the country, it’s the one-stop shop for picking up a great deal on anything and everything under the sun. We took a look at some of the items up for bids and came away dizzy from the weird and wonderful possibilities in store. We bring you 40 of the stand-out auction items for you to enjoy.

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Meet Les Romanesques: The most famous Japanese people in France

This is Tobi and Miya. Together they make up the music duo, Les Romanesques, whose intriguing stage performances have made them a huge hit in France. Their appearance on France’s Got Talent became the most watched YouTube video in all of France, and the 4th most watched video worldwide. Since then, they’ve appeared in French TV commercials for Mazda, and even helped promote the Paris International Film Festival with Jane Fonda and the Mayor of Paris. Their entertaining performances and music videos have just the right mix of talent and zany Japanese appeal that’s got audiences around the world asking for more.

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Giant rubber duck arrives in Osaka!

Rubber ducks invoke a sense of bath-time fun and childhood wonder no matter how old we get. Their bright colours and kind expressions are so pleasing that one artist has super-sized the fun by creating giant, inflatable versions that travel around the world.

One of these has recently taken up temporary residence in Nakanoshima, Osaka, where it will be appearing for one week only. To add to the excitement, a local hotel is serving up limited numbers of ‘rubber duck plates’ featuring the cutest rice creation you’ve ever seen!

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Japanese customers are raving about a bath mat made from soil

This bath mat is so popular that it’s sold out on many of its retail websites. The reason for its popularity? It’s said to feel so good and absorb moisture so well that it surpasses anything that’s come before it. Oh, and it’s made entirely from soil.

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Obachan power strikes again as middle-aged women buy giraffe for local zoo

Obachan are a powerful force in Japan. While the term literally means aunt, it commonly refers to middle-aged women who have done their time in the lower ranks of the female order and are finally at an age where they can do and say as they please. Stories of strong-willed obachan are not uncommon in the news, with some forming their own political party and others even starting their own rock groups. Proving that nothing is out of their reach, one group of obachan in Hokkaido have now done something that no one ever imagined they would: They raised over 54 million yen (US$548, 000) and bought a giraffe for their local zoo.

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11 unique experiences for tourists to Japan

If you’ve been scouring the net looking for ways to experience the most unique things Japan has to offer, then dock your wireless device and hang up those bunny ears because we’ve found the list for you. These 11 experiences are so unique you’ll be amazed they even exist. From crazy, subculture adventures to mystical, secret classes, now you can fill up on a unique blend of pop and tradition thanks to the activities on offer from new travel website Voyagin. We’ve picked the best courses for you to enjoy.

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Meet the new model set to make manga artists’ lives a whole lot easier

When it comes to replicating human poses and natural movement, artists often look to anatomical models. Traditional figures do have their limitations, though, with the lack of details making it difficult to recreate the lines of a raised shoulder or a clasped fist. But things are set to change, with a new figure on the market called the S.F.B.T-3, (Special Full-action Body Type v.3). Ten years in the making, this girl has 80 moveable parts in her body, allowing for an unprecedented number of poses and anatomical designs. We take a look at the doll’s amazing details and see how it performs in some popular anime poses for the illustrator’s eye.

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These doughnuts from Hokkaido are unbear-ably cute!

A long time ago, in a place quite far, far away, there was an area of Japan so remote that the indigenous people called it sir etok; literally the end of the earth. Known today as Shiretoko, the peninsula at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido remains a place of untouched beauty, traversed by a unique population of brown bears.

So what does a visitor to the end of the earth bring back to the rest of civilisation as a reminder of the beauty and the bear? Given that live bears don’t act kindly to being captured, a cute alternative has popped up in miniature, edible form. Wrapped in a cosy doughnut ball, these little cubs are flying off the shelves like hotcakes. We bought a variety pack to take a closer look at what makes these adorable souvenirs so popular.

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Meet Snoopybabe, the cute cat from China taking the Internet by storm

Photo sharing sites started off as a great way to share pictures of friends and family with loved ones from all corners of the world. But then someone, one day, shared a photo of a cat. Slowly but surely, felines started taking over our domains until they had pages dedicated to them, legions of followers, and adoring comments in different languages from people all around the world. Now it seems every person and their dog has a favourite Instagram cat. But the one that’s topping them all is a kitty from China that goes by the name Snoopybabe. Creepy or cute, you be the judge, but with over 190,000 followers to date, this is definitely one cat to keep your eye on.

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10 common phrases that stump Japanese students of English

Learning a second language is never easy, especially when there are so many things like context, nuance, and cultural connotations standing in the way. The key to conquering these hurdles, though, usually lies outside the pages of a textbook, and the Japanese Government addresses this issue by employing thousands of foreigners to assist English teachers in its education system every year.

So where would a foreigner start when correcting a student on the finer points of English as a second language? One of the easiest ways would be to take a look at this collection of commonly misused phrases and their simple fixes, put together by David Thayne, the head of AtoZ English.

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