Preston Phro

Preston Phro (or simply Phro as most know him) is a Coloradoan attempting to fit in in Tokyo. (Surely, he would succeed if not for his unruly hair.) He puts his master's in classical Japanese literature to good use by writing silly stories and articles for the Internet. Having lived in Nara, Osaka, and Yamaguchi before moving to the Kanto area, he's quite happy to finally have a place to call home! When not writing, he enjoys annoying his wife by plucking at his shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese instrument not entirely unlike a banjo) and pestering her with questions about Japanese history. He also occasionally attempts to remember all the stuff he's forgotten since university.

All Stories by Preston Phro

Can robot taxis help rural Japanese towns facing depopulation? This touching commercial says yes!

Google’s self-driving cars have gone from being a quizzical project that only the geekiest of geeks cared about to a very real possible future. Of course, Google isn’t the only company making forays into automated transportation, so it’s hardly a surprise that Japanese companies are also working on such technology.

But where Google’s self-driving cars basically look like tiny adorable bugs, Japan’s Robot Taxi is looking to solve the various transportation issues facing Japan—both urban and rural—with one magic bullet. Will they be successful? We have no idea, but this touching commercial will definitely have you rooting for them!

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Playful leaping cat melts hearts online as it entreats its fellow feline to play

An energetic cat can sometimes seem less like a fuzzy animal and more like a spring bouncing wildly around the house. Fortunately, not every cat is so hyperactive, but there certainly plenty that are — and they love attention too! But nothing shows the dichotomy of excitable kitties and lazy cats like these tweets of one Twitter user’s adorable rescue cats.

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Marutaro the hedgehog is still as cute as a button, and now he’s a family hedgehog! 【Pics】

When we first met Marutaro the hedgehog last year, he was just about the cutest thing we’d seen in months. Now, over 12 months later, we have to say that’s still the case! And it looks like the adorable little spike ball is only getting more and more popular—popularity that we’d say is well deserved.

In case you haven’t been following Marutaro on Twitter, we’ve decided to round up a few of our new favorite photos and videos of the little guy being adorable, as well as some family photos. Get your fill of loveable cuteness below!

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Lifelike dolls created by legendary Goyo Hirata amaze Twitter users, leave us speechless

Japan is full of national treasures, from beautiful nature spots to old architecture, but one of the most interesting classes of national treasures is the living kind. Masters of their crafts, these national treasures often represent the heights of Japanese arts — including doll making! But we’re not talking about G.I. Joe figures or Barbie dolls, we’re talking about works of art that look less like toys and more like real people frozen in time.

Goyo Hirata was exactly that kind of artist, and once you see some of his creations, you’ll agree that he was definitely deserving of the status of Living National Treasure. Though Hirata passed away in 1981, his work is still celebrated today and no less amazing.

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High school students’ teacup ride blows up online, looks more fun than the Disneyland one

For many of our readers, the “culture festivals” held at high schools and colleges will already be familiar thanks to their prevalence in anime and TV dramas produced in Japan. Even if you’ve never been to Japan yourself, you probably already know that the classes turn their rooms into fun little shops, offering food and entertainment for their families, friends, alumni fellow students and teachers.

While most of them aren’t particularly elaborate, every now and then, a class with will show up with a project that goes above and beyond. This year, one of those projects exploded online, capturing the attention of thousands of Twitter users. The idea? The students made their own “tea cup” ride! It’s just like what you’d see at Disneyland, but entirely mechanical and way, way more awesome!

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These “Fuchineko” cat figures from Caffe Veloce will make any drink a hundred times cuter

One of the few good things about mornings is the coffee. There’s nothing quite like a jolt of caffeine after rolling out of bed! It’s hard to improve on the formula of coffee, but Chat Noir may have found the perfect ingredient: Cat figures!

Now, for a limited time only, the company is offering adorable cat figures to customers who buy three drinks, so be sure to stop by Caffe Veloce or any of the company’s other cafes for your morning cup of joe and earn yourself one of these awesome black kitties!

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Hotel offers guests the chance to experience the 1,000-year-old lifestyle of the Heian Period

Japanese history can be a lot of fun to explore, from the Sengoku era to the modernization of Japan in the Meiji Period. We’re sure everyone has their own favorite time period, but one that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves is the Heian Period. Lasting roughly from 794 to 1185, the period was a relatively peaceful time in Japan that saw a blossoming of culture in everything from literature to music.

Unfortunately, we can’t just hop on a plane and go back in time to see everything for ourselves. But there is a hotel in Shikoku where you can experience a bit of the Heian life for yourself complete with period costumes, games, and architecture! So whether you’re a history buff or just need a major change of scenery, you’ll want to check out Gosho Yashiro no Mori!
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“Don’t we have photos of Mr. Sato with a new iPhone?” “No, he spent two days at the wrong store.”

As you probably know, the newest iPhone was released last week to much fanfare the world over. Now, usually a new iPhone would be big news for our Japanese writers, who seem to have a bit of an addiction to Apple gadgets and can’t resist lining up to get them on day one But, as you may have noticed, we don’t have photos of Mr. Sato in a weird costume grinning with the new device this time round. What happened? Did we forget to write the article?

Well, no, we didn’t forget to write it…but someone did forget one important detail. In particular, Mr. Sato forgot where he was supposed to be waiting.

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Chop up paperwork with katana scissors inspired by the swords of Oda Nobunaga and other samurai

If you’re anything like us, you spend a more than healthy amount of time day-dreaming about cutting down enemies with a katana. Not that we really have any enemies or even people we’d glare at on the subway. Heck, we’re pretty peaceful, loving folks here at RocketNews24! But that doesn’t change the fact that Japanese swords are just freaking awesome.

Still, there’s not much cause to walk around with a sword strapped to your hip these days. Fortunately, Nikken Cutlery has found the perfect compromise: scissors inspired by the swords of Oda Nobunaga and other samurai!

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Winter is coming—Get ready with these amazing cat-themed kotatsu covers, cushions, and hoodies!

Depending on where you are, winters in Japan can be bitterly cold or actually rather temperate, but due to a general lack of insulation, it seems like most Japanese homes are always a little cold. But this general chilliness gave birth to that magical piece of furniture, the kotatsu. Basically a covered table with a heater attached, the kotatsu is often the centerpiece of a Japanese living room and a great way to get in some family time.

And with these new cat-themed kotatsu covers, cushions, and hoodies, it’ll be twice as difficult to pull yourself away from the kotatsu on a chilly winter morning!

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Japanese coffee maker’s commercial is dark, milky, and udderly crazy 【Video】

Not everyone loves Japanese TV, but we have to admit that one thing it has going for it is absolutely bonkers commercials. You can find weird, unsettling, funny, emotional, or even just hilarious commercials the world over, but it sometimes seems that Japan has a particularly high concentration of them. Maybe there’s something in the coffee…

And speaking of coffee, Japanese coffee brand Blendy has produced one of the most bizarre commercials we’ve seen to date, mixing absurdist comedy with unsettling, dark undertones. Oh, and milk. Lots and lots of milk.

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Are Japan’s national universities actually getting rid of their humanities departments?

Earlier this year, news of a letter sent to presidents of national universities—purportedly telling them to get rid of or modify their humanities departments to better “benefit” Japanese society—spread across the Internet. Since then, it has even been picked up by some high-profile English sites, with considerable (and understandable) consternation. And you can believe there were academics in Japan who were incensed at the idea as well.

But is it actually going to happen? It turns out the short answer is a weak “probably not.” The long answer, though, is a bit more complicated.

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Enliven your next lunar party with these beautiful Moon Glasses

Moon watching parties and festivals abound the world over—and with good reason! There’s nothing quite like drinking in the light of a full moon, is there? It’s magical and fun in just the right proportions. And now, thanks to the Korean design company Tale, you can buy the perfect glasses for your next moon viewing party!

These beautiful Moon Glasses mimic the phases of the moon as they’re filled, going from a new moon to a full moon as your pour in your liquid of choice. 

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“Cute-but-ugly” photos of hamsters trending as Twitter users celebrate their quirky pets【Photos】

We just love hamsters—from their adorable butts to the way they look napping, they never fail to put a smile on our collective faces. But we suppose we’d be lying if we saidthat  hamsters are always cute. After all, not many people look “pretty” when eating! And sometimes hamsters just look so weird in a way that we can’t quite explain. Basically, they’re 90 percent “totes adorbs” and 10 percent “WTF, mate?!”

But even at their ugliest, hamsters still manage to be cute, as the popular Twitter hashtag #AllJapanCuteButUglyHamsterChampionshipSeries so ably demonstrates. Check out some of the best photos below and prepare to go “Awwww!” at all sorts of silly-looking hammies!

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“Photos” of Hatsune Miku watching herself perform on TV are strangely adorable

Music Station is well-known in Japan for its weekly music performances featuring new and popular artists from both Japan and overseas. The program recently entered its 30th year, which was celebrated with a special 10-hour show called Music Station Ultra Fest. The show featured numerous performers, from Momoiro Clover Z to Koda Kumi to X Japan, as well as fan favorite Hatsune Miku.

Inspired by the event, fantasy artist Shu Mizoguchi decided to tweet a pair of “photos” of Hatsune Miku at home watching herself perform on TV! Check out his CG models and more of his fabulous artwork below!

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Japanese Twitter user wows Internet with hologram wristwatch, cat tank, and steampunk creations

For as long as we can remember, holograms have been one of the coolest science fiction technologies that still haven’t quite lived up to the promises of our favorite films and TV shows. We’re a long way from chatting with Mark Twain on the holodeck, basically, but that doesn’t mean current “hologram” technology isn’t cool!

One of the neater everyday hologram-like technologies you can easily buy is a propeller clock. In fact, using a simple microcontroller, some LEDs, and a spinning motor, you could even build your own propeller clock. But this enterprising Twitter user decided a propeller clock wasn’t enough and ended up making a propeller watch! It’s not entirely practical, but it is completely awesome!

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Japanese businessmen list the top 10 manga characters they wish were actually their bosses

One of the great things about fiction, regardless of the genre or medium, is the way it lets us envision the way we want the world to be. Fiction can have a profound effect on us and even serve as an ideal to strive for. Which, now that we think about it, is kind of like what a good boss should be — a role model for their workers!

So, taking this thinking to its natural conclusion, we have to wonder: What fictional characters would make the best bosses? Jack Sparrow might be fun to watch, but we would hate to be in his crew! A recent online poll asked a group of Japanese businessmen in their thirties which manga character would be their favorite pick for their boss. A good question, indeed. Find out how they responded below!

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Watch this magical cloth return to its origami form after being stretched out

Origami is one of Japan’s most well-known art forms. At its simplest, even children can enjoy it, and at its most complicated, it can be used for commercial purposes and designs. Now, one company has created special pieces of cloth that will automatically refold into their original origami forms after being stretched out. There doesn’t seem to be any particular, unique benefit to these pieces of fabric, but we sure want some!

Check out the mesmerizing video below!

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That moment when Google Maps tells you there’s a crab claw somewhere…and there actually is!

Japan is full of places with unusual names, like Kinugawa (“Angry Demon River”), which caused all the flooding earlier this month. So, it’s understandable that when someone sees a place marked Crab Claw (“カニの爪” pronounced “kani no tsume”) on Google Maps, they might think it’s the name of a hill or some quirky little fishing village.

But one Japanese Twitter user decided to investigate and went to get a look at what this “Crab Claw” actually was. It turns out Google Maps wasn’t being coy or silly — it was being 100 percent literal!

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These Edo-period sketches of human skeletons are oddly adorable despite being totally creepy

The Edo Period was a time of great change for Japan, in just about every way possible. Perhaps one of the areas of biggest change, though, was science and medicine, thanks to the numerous scholars who spent years learning not only from Western sources but also from their own work.

One of the pioneers of medicine in the Edo Period was Toshuku Neguro, an ophthalmologist who sketched the first Japanese diagram of the human skeleton. While it was likely a fairly gruesome job, Neguro’s sketches are somehow almost…cute?!

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