With nothing better to do in his native Ohio, Mike took a leave of absence from all responsibilities in life and came to Japan for the first time in 2006. After several years of what amounted to an extended vacation with occasional Japanese lessons, circumstances led Mike to finally settle down in Tokyo and get serious about life in 2009. He’s worked at magazines, a Japanese ad agency, and currently works in the entertainment industry. He also co-founded and writes for the humorous Japan news website Tokyodesu.com.

All Stories by Mike

Chinese man marries “pregnant” woman, partner later revealed to be male con-artist

Beijing police have arrested a man who, while impersonating a woman, convinced another man to marry him and loan him tons of cash—all while maintaining that his victim had made him “pregnant.”

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Life imitating anime: Japanese people tell us about their most “anime” moments

14 Japanese volunteers tell us about moments in their lives that seemed to come straight out of an anime.

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Musician claims game publisher EA tried to buy his endorsement of Star Wars: Battlefront

At least one minor celebrity has posted an angry rant on social media alleging video game publisher Electronic Arts tried to buy his endorsement of the upcoming Star Wars-themed game.

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Purikura evolved: Design and print your own nail art with Sega’s new “Nail-Puri” machines【Video】

The machines are available at arcades and amusement centers in the “purikura” section and offer over 1,500 designs.

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Colorized photos of old-timey Philippines bring the past to life

Black and white photos of the Philippines from as far back as the late 1800s look shockingly modern with just a splash of color.

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Cheapo News: We found this supermarket chain selling stupid cheap bento in west Japan

If we had to pick one thing that represented how Japanese food maybe isn’t quite as healthy as generally perceived, it would probably have to be the bento lunchbox. Bento are readily available practically everywhere in Japan—when not being handmade for you by a parent or spouse, usually in the shape of Pokémon characters and the like—and are widely consumed by office workers and other day laborers as a cheap, convenient lunch.

Despite healthy origins back in the old days, bento—perhaps by design—have become increasingly unhealthy, with your standard box available from a retailer or food truck usually weighing in at a thousand calories (or frequently even more) and containing a bunch of fried food in addition to huge portions of rice.

But heck, when a filling, albeit cholesterol and calorie-packed bento sets you back only a measly 200 yen (US$1.50) over at discount supermarket Lamu, well, we’ll happily do the extra time on the treadmill.

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Japanese web-comic stars a cute, panty-flashing girl…who is also a cigarette

Some day in the distant future, some type of intelligent alien life form will buzz past our planet in their highly advanced space ships and may decide to use their enormous, pulsating, telepathic brains to perform a quick scan of its inhabitants and cultures. They will no doubt be pleased to learn that our video games are just the greatest, and that we have devices that fill bananas with liquid chocolate. They will be saddened by our constant war and conflict and the Star Wars prequels.

Then, they will scan over Japan, with its bizarrely muscled figurines and its increasingly outrageous manga – such as this one that features a character who is a living cigarette modeled after a beautiful young woman – and go, “lolwut?” and speed off into the stars, yelling “NEEEEERRRDS” out the window of their space cruiser.

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This changes everything: New device injects chocolate into bananas

Sliced bread. The smartphone. A computer that sits on your lap. The flying buttress. Occasionally, a new person or thing comes along that proves to be a total game changer; something that completely redefines the way you look at and interact with the world around you.

This unassuming device is one of those: A contraption that literally injects chocolate into a banana, forever rendering the humble banana into an amazing new food group and essentially negating any nutritional value the protein-packed fruit once had (not that this bothers us).

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Fashion retailer ZOZOTOWN hires unexpected, but familiar, model for “L” size hoodie

ZOZOTOWN, the Japanese fashion retailer with a name that kind of sounds and looks like they’re shouting at you, is a pretty big deal in Japan.

The company, which operates an online marketplace, primarily markets to women – so much so that you’d be hard pressed to find a Japanese teen or 20-something girl that doesn’t have at least a few items of clothing purchased there – which makes their choice of a certain bearded model for a new clothing line all the more unexpected.

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Smartphone smash Neko Atsume heads west, we talk to the localization team behind it【Interview】

As further proof that cats rule the Internet and humanity at large, the relaxed, mostly goal-less mobile app time waster, Neko Atsumewhich tasks players with simply collecting a bunch of cartoon cats and kind of just watching them do stuff—proved a massive success in Japan despite a distinctive lack of explosions, destruction and, er, constantly running from left to right that are the typical hallmark of successful mobile games.

In fact, the game is so popular among cat lovers (read: everyone) that the Japanese version of the game began trending abroad, even though the large majority of fans surely had to resort to Internet guides to make any sense of the Japanese kanji plastered all over the in-game menus and inventory.

Said fans were in for a great surprise, though, when last week, developer Hit-Point updated the game with full English support thanks to renowned localization agency 8-4. We had a chance to sit down with the 8-4 team and chat about the behind-the-scenes work that went into localizing the app for an English speaking audience.

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Super Mario Maker update doubles down on creepy “Skinny Mario” with weird easter egg【Video】

Super Mario Maker, the toolkit/game for Wii U that allows Mario fans to build their very own levels using a vast array of items and characters from the games’ universe, is without a doubt a huge hit. Players had been craving the ability to DIY their own levels for the classic series pretty much since the original handful of games were released for the original NES.

One addition to the game that players never expected to see was the inclusion of the crazy “Weird Mushroom”—originally a glitch in the first Super Mario Bros.—which turns Mario into “Skinny Mario,” a creepy, distorted Mario whose lanky limbs wiggle about all over the place with each (giant) jump.

Skinny Mario was, to put it lightly, not well-received by the gaming community, and Nintendo had a golden opportunity to fix it when it released the first update to the game a few days ago. Except, instead of doing away with Skinny Mario, Nintendo actually decided to include even more, super creepy, Skinny Mario appearances.

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10 things one Japanese expat is always sure to stock up on when returning to Japan

Any expat, exchange student, or anybody who has otherwise spent a long period of time abroad will tell you that, while the local food is exciting and fun and delicious for a while, eventually you’ll start to experience intense urges for the comfort foods and products of your native land. For some, these urges may be occasional, mild pangs, but for many, the urges are so strong they can’t resist stocking up on boxes and boxes full of their favorite items from home every time they head back.

Recently, a Japanese female expat who has been living in America for years introduced our sister site to the top 10 items that she likes to stock up on when she visits Japan:

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Japan Post gets moe fever with 2016 anime-fied New Year’s postcards

If you thought having to send a couple of Christmas cards to close friends and far-flung cousins during the holidays was annoying, wait til you get a load of the nengajo (New Year’s card) tradition here in Japan. Not only is one obligated to send nengajo to family and friends, but you’re also obligated to send them to co-workers, bosses, anyone who regularly provides you a service, anyone whom you regularly provide a service to, your landlord, your mother’s landlord, Crazy Uncle Jeb over at the asylum, the stray cats in your neighborhood, and your mortal enemy (just to let him know you’ve got your eyes on him).

In fact, you’ve gotta send these things to so many people, it’s not uncommon to drop by the Japan Post near you and see people purchasing stacks of hundreds of these things. And unless, like me, you avoid any and all human contact, you’ll probably also come home one winter day to find your mailbox stuffed to the brim with the things. So, given their ubiquity, it’s no surprise that Japan Post (who prints and distributes loads of nengajo every year through both their yubin-nenga.jp website and physical post office locations), occasionally tries to mix it up with some very nontraditional designs.

This year, bizarrely, the running theme seems to be… moe. As in those super-cute anime girls and dreamy, slightly effeminate anime guys who are all the rage in Japan.

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We pig out at Aizuya, the Michelin Guide-featured takoyaki shop

In Japan, takoyaki (somewhat unappealingly translated as “octopus balls”) is known as “B-Class Gourmet” food. Takoyaki is the domain of sometimes shady street vendors and national chains where there are literally no chairs whatsoever on the premises. They’re meant to be consumed while still blazing hot, fresh off the special cratered griddle used to make them, chewed and swallowed at lightning speed while you suck in air to make them just cool enough that they don’t burn a hole in your esophagus on the way down.

Therefore, takoyaki is not, one would think, within the purview of the Michelin tire company’s prestigious Michelin Guide for world-renowned restaurants. But, surprisingly, the 2016 Michelin Guide contains not just one but several restaurants specializing in takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and other “B-Class Gourmet” foods famous around Osaka and the Kansai area.

One of those featured restaurants, Aizuya, is, it turns out, actually rumored to be the restaurant that flat-out invented takoyaki. And since that sounds like a good premise for an article, and gives us an excuse to stuff our faces with this delicious local street food, we went to check it out.

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Stunning Saitama rice field art snags Guinness record

You may have already heard about rice field art: Those complex works that use dyed or naturally colored rice grains to create gorgeous patterns, or that turn the whole rice field into a canvas for a massive “painting” that can only be fully appreciated from the skies. Also, because Japan, Ultraman is sometimes involved.

But the phenomenon, once a niche practice for small Japanese cities that otherwise had nothing in the way of tourist destinations, has caught on to the point that the Guinness Book has actually recorded, for posterity, the current world’s largest work of rice field art.

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“Once-in-a-millenium beauty” dominates Tokyo Halloween event

The last couple of years have been benchmark ones for Halloween in Japan. What was once a holiday marked mostly by the infrequent sighting of a handful of mildly embarrassed-looking, costumed foreigners on the Yamanote Line train has grown into a massive industry.

In fact, Halloween has become just as much a holiday about 20 and 30-somethings dressing up as sexy nurses, sexy zombies, sexy superheroes, and other sexy-choose-a-nouns as its American counterpart. But while those costumes were no doubt getting plenty of attention on Shibuya Crossing last night, the Japanese Internet had already decided the undisputed Queen of Halloween was this far more conservatively dressed “once-in-millenium beauty”.

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Crazy-looking car is basically one giant airbag, will appear at Tokyo Motor Show next week

If you saw this car on the street, you’d half expect a comically large number of clowns to come piling out of it. But it turns out despite its Looney Tunes-esque look, there’s a noble—if somewhat bizarre—concept behind this new car from Toyoda Gosei.

This is the “Flesby,” a new concept car that Toyoda Gosei will display at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show next week, with the “concept” being essentially that the entire outer body of the car is one gigantic airbag. Let’s take a look.

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Meetings and more meetings: Foreigners list the pros and cons of working at a Japanese company

It’s no secret that Japan may be headed for a bit of a labor crunch, as the population ages and many older workers reach retirement age with fewer young up-and-comers to replace them. And, while the Japanese government seems reluctant to take measures to replenish the shrinking workforce with foreign laborers, non-Japanese workers are nevertheless entering Japanese corporations and workplaces in record numbers.

But Japanese offices are also notorious for their long hours, slow pace of advancement, and frequent, long meetings. Traditional Japanese companies seem stuck in an old-school work culture even as companies in the rest of the world offer increasingly progressive work-life balance programs, workplace perks, and office hours.

With this stark contrast in mind, our Japanese sister site tracked down seven non-Japanese workers to get their for-realsies impressions of what it’s actually like to work at a Japanese company.

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Amazing tool fixes ingrown nails, looks like a torture device

The somewhat euphemistically named process of “denailing” has remained a popular torture method since medieval times and, according to the sort of creepily detailed Wikipedia page for the method, it remains in use today.

There are a few good reasons for that. It apparently leaves no permanent marks or injury – after the nail grows back, of course – and requires only the most basic of tools to pull off. It also objectively hurts like hell and there’s something about the tips of the toes and fingers being manipulated that leaves a person feeling unbearably vulnerable.

All of which has us wondering why anyone would voluntarily use this tool, which is clearly just a re-purposed torture device, to fix their ingrown toenails, regardless of how amazingly well it supposedly works.

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“Yohjo Simulator” lets you wreak havoc as a little girl with a penchant for headbutting【Video】

Thanks to the runaway popularity of wacky physics games with the word “simulator” in the title (yes, I’m looking at you, Surgeon, Goat and Tabletop Simulators), it was only a matter of time before a Japanese developer decided to out-weird their Western counterparts with a distinctly Japanese “simulator” game.

That game is Yohjo Simulator, and of course it’s bizarre and unsettling.

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