Mike

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

Autistic teen artist creates masterful sketches with help of photographic memory

Sixteen-year-old Yap Hanzhen of Malaysia apparently suffered through a childhood in which even the most simple of communications was difficult. Hanzhen’s parents say he barely spoke through most of his adolescence.

Like many children who display difficulties communicating during early development, Yap turned out to have a form of autism – a fact that his parents struggled to convince doctors and child psychologists, who were apparently quick to presume simple bad parenting as the source of young Yap’s speech difficulties.

In taking the special needs care of their young son into their own hands, Yap’s parents gave him a sketch book and pencil to help him associate thumbnail drawings with words for everyday objects, inadvertently nurturing a latent talent that would eventually see Yap touring the world, showing off his extraordinary drawings.

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People from around the world share surprising quirks of their country in enlightening video

Did you know that in the United States, you can buy an apple, literally eat it all the way down to the core, and then return the core for a refund? It’s like free apples every day.

Okay, so that’s a little far-fetched; pretty much everybody in the US would go out of business if you could just return everything when you were done using it. But it’s true that, comparatively speaking, return policies stateside can heavily favor the consumer. With the exception of certain goods, you can return most things still in decent condition as long as you remembered to keep the receipt.

And that’s just one of the quirks about various countries of the world revealed in this adorably peppy Taiwanese video:

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Enjoy delicious pork sandwiches served to you by the manager of this katsu joint…who is also a pig

We’ve already talked at length about the complex feelings we have whenever we see an anthropomorphic mascot for a food joint shucking his own kin as delicious, greasy human grub. We bet you can’t even count the number of times you’ve walked by a chicken joint whose crazily grinning avian mascot was holding up a bucket of deep-fried drumsticks, or a contented pig sitting down – fork, knife, bib and all – to a barbecue rib feast and never really thought much of it.

Well, if the usually slapdash, cartoonish mascot on the sign of your local wing joint wasn’t in-your-face enough to disturb you with implications of animal cannibalism and the idea that you might just be eating animal protein that was once a creature with enough intelligence to talk and use kitchen utensils, maybe this Kanazawa, Japan pork restaurant ostensibly managed by a live, miniature pig is just the thing to kickstart your conscience, you monster.

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The 6 volcanoes most likely to destroy, like, everything (guess which country has the most)

If volcanoes were comic or fantasy villains, they’d be more akin to Marvel’s cosmic entities or Lovecraftian horrors than the puny likes of Magneto or, uh… The Slug (I don’t know many Marvel villains). They strike only every few thousand years before slipping back into a long slumber, lurking for centuries as humanity slowly forgets the horrors they can inflict, inching closer to the looming mountains with each passing year, setting up cities at their very feet. Then, when mankind least expects it – just chillin’ ‘n shit as Dave Chappelle might say – the volcano strikes again, blasting molten rock and ash over miles and miles, smothering out whole cities in the (cosmically speaking) blink of an eye.

Yet, even as we know intellectually that volcanoes are kind of a big deal, we tend to look up at them less with abject horror and awe and more with shouts of, “Hey, check out that big-ass rock!”

Well people, we’ve got news for you: There are at least six big-ass rocks capable of blotting out not just entire cities, but entire civilizations and possibly humanity itself and you’ll never guess which disaster-prone island nation has the most.

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Product lets you build your own Rube Goldberg device – Just add tons of needlessly complex parts!

There’s something cathartic about watching – or even building – a functioning Rube Goldberg device. Maybe it’s because it presents a comforting visual embodiment of how the hopelessly bureaucratic machine we call society sometimes, kind of, actually does what it’s supposed to.

Whatever it is that makes them so hypnotizing, adults and kids alike in notoriously meticulous and bureaucratic Japan love Rube Goldberg machines – or Pythagorean Switch, as they’re known here – to bits. And toymaker Happinet has finally found a way to capitalize commercially on the nation’s love of re-arranging household objects into complicated marble chutes:

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Puzzling, ludicrously hard Touei Animation employment test proves animators deserve a raise

If you’ve been following behind-the-scenes entertainment news for a while, you’ve probably heard the reputation that animators have as low-paid peons that, despite providing a valuable and necessary service for both the obvious animated films as well as any movie that relies heavily on computer animation, often get paid meager wages and work hellishly long hours.

Some, then, might reverse that logic to assume this is all because animators are basically the burger-flippers of the entertainment world; cranking out a desirable product through simple, mindless repetition. Hence the low pay, right?

Well, if this Touei Animation employment exam “question” – among myriad other evidence – shows us anything, it’s that animation is hard work that requires creativity, sure, but also a fair bit of mental agility in addition to all those long hours.

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Amply-proportioned judge distracts from all the balls flying around at Chinese pool tourney

A female billiards judge recently made a big splash on the Chinese Interwebs – notorious for going completely bonkers any time a pretty girl does… just about anything – when photos of her reffing a local pool tournament sporting a plunging neckline went up on Chinese social media.

We presume the woman, whose name we can best romanize as Lü Meng Xi Zi, is herself a talented pool player, but as per usual with this type of story, details about the woman herself are inversely proportional to the number of pictures of her that are circulating, perhaps due to the combination of the constant leaning forward required to play pool and her choice of decidedly low-cut tops.

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Mock game box imagines what a Japan-produced, moe “Call of Duty” might look like

Back in the day, Japanese console games were king. What late-20s gamer doesn’t fondly remember the classics like Final Fantasy VII, Tactics Ogre, Street Fighter, Metal Gear, the original Super Smash Bros, and the spate of Japan-produced side-scrollers owing their lineage to Mario?

Unfortunately, while great Japanese games do exist and are still being made, general consensus on English-language gamer forums is that the vast majority of modern Japanese games have devolved into 25-hour, barely interactive CG films and creepy boob-ogling simulators.

And, with this widening rift between Japanese game fans and Western gamers, the darker, dirtier corners of the Internet can get a bit cheeky with their memes.

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Is Mario’s Birdo a boy or a girl? Years after her first appearance, the debate rages on

It’s already kind of old news that one of gaming’s few potentially transgender characters has been hiding in plain sight since the late ’80s in the form of the adorable and misunderstood Mario villain, Birdo.

But that hasn’t stopped the Internet from debating all kinds of aspects about the character’s gender identity, from whether the whole “boy who thinks he’s a girl” thing is Mario canon or whether the character is pre- or post-op. While the Western web was shocked by this stunning news a while back, it seemed Japan was politely giving poor Birdo her privacy and staying out of it, until a recent Twitter post…

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Grown man hits No. 1 on Vine by playing with action figures in front of his mom

Say what you will about the evils and pitfalls of social media, but if nothing else, it’s at least made it easier than ever for people to enjoy a small taste of fame. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Vine democratize what becomes popular and what doesn’t, what people want to see and what they don’t.

In this case, the viewers of Vine have spoken: They want to see people playing with action figures in front of their moms.

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Mediocre comedy The Interview’s biggest fan is… North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un?

After a long and arduous production, terrorist threats from North Korea, a snap decision to pull the film and then, finally, a half-baked release both online and at independent theaters not fearful of sudden SCUD missile attacks, the much-talked about film The Interview is finally upon us and reviews are lukewarm at best. “Acceptable!,” “Moderately Chuckle-Worthy!,” and “More Dick Jokes Than You Can Shake a Sausage Link At!” seem destined to adorn the box art of the eventual Blu-ray release.

But there appears to be one very unexpected mega fan of the film, if one surreal photo is to be believed…

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See? Not all My Little Pony fan art is erotic fan fic! Anime-loving MLP fans pony-fy anime stars

Artistic talent, creativity and pop culture geekery seem to overlap way more than to call it all a coincidence. Super fandom in one or another or more pop culture franchises seems to inspire a lot of creative energy.

This would all seem to fly in the face of everyone’s disappointed parents who insist we stop wasting our lives and talents on video games and go out and get a job. No, no, go out and get a real job instead of just bloggertweeting about Japanese anime and cats and OKAY MOM I HEARD YOU THE FIRST HUNDRED TIMES!

Anyway, the point of this meandering lede is that some My Little Pony fans (possibly the much-talked about Bronies and possibly their female counterparts… My Little Pony fans?) have been doing a pretty swell job of turning their favorite anime characters into MLP characters and we thought we’d share some:

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Sharp’s awesome new display tech licensed to Nintendo… who may not even use it for games

When you picture the evolution of TVs and other electronic displays, it’s hard not to be in awe at just how far they’ve come, getting thinner, more lightweight and portable than ever, with higher definition and brightness to the point that real-life basically looks pretty dull in comparison. But they’ve never really been able to shake that same boring shape: a flat rectangle.

So when Sharp announced it had developed a “Free-Form Display” that could be manufactured in virtually any shape, a lot of people more technically oriented than I am – and thus able to more easily imagine the many uses of a display shaped like a shoe or something – instantly proclaimed it a game-changer.

And when Sharp boasted about the technology, among those companies listening was Nintendo, who promptly snapped up a license for the tech and became the first company to officially announce it would use it for a future product.

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Mayonnaise and takuan sandwich proves disgusting food combinations are big business in Japan

If you’ve lived in Japan a while or even just visited, you may recognize the word “takuan” – a type of Japanese pickle made from radishes and served as a side dish – and you’ll almost certainly recognize mayonnaise as that thing that is incongruously glopped on just about everything in Japan.

You’ll probably also recognize that these two items have absolutely no business together, especially if just stuffed unceremoniously into a loaf of bread, but, you see, this combination was almost inevitable because, as we’ve proven time and time again, gross food combinations are just the bee’s knees when it comes to prepackaged foods in Japan.

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Flipping the kanji for “husband” upside-down reveals slightly worrying double meaning

The common stereotype about women among sexually frustrated, mostly parents’ basement-dwelling, men is that girls only go for attractive, rich guys, and never the nice, tender guys with warm hearts and chic fedoras.

Well, when it comes to one of those observations, anyway, there appears to be at least one cultural precedent of a diabolical hidden message that seemingly proves the stereotype right in one of the very words that defines men and women’s relationship in Japan…

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Pokémon fans’ heads exploding over guy’s classic Game Boy makeover video

There was a time not too long ago when smartphones didn’t exist and the best and only way to game on-the-go and/or avoid actual social interaction with your peers was to lug around a slightly clunky, black-and-white-only Game Boy that sucked down ungodly amounts of batteries and played just-below-NES-standard games.

Of course, the Game Boy remains a fond memory for most gamers that grew up on it, despite the fact that the device itself looked ancient even back in its heyday and had a massive library of games, many of which were really bad. But for fans of Pokémon – one of the few franchises spawned on the console – the Game Boy is like some kind of holy relic.

So imagine the head-explosions that must be happening all across Pokémon fandom following a netizen’s brilliant video of his Pokémon Game Boy makeover.

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Our hero Ladybeard shows us and the world how to properly wear the much-talked about boob shirt

The last we heard from local hero and generally awesome person Ladybeard, he was promoting English classes from a language school in conjunction with the always pleasant and surprisingly proficient-English-speaker Sailor Suit Old Man. Since then, it seems Ladybeard has seriously upped his fashion game, currently sporting the much-talked about boob window shirt that has taken Japanese social media by storm.

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Street Fighter II creator Yoshiki Okamoto talks games and his new project, Monster Strike 【Interview】

When Street Fighter II creator and retro gaming legend Yoshiki Okamoto announced two years ago that he was leaving console games forever to pursue mobile gaming projects, many probably thought he was joking. A lifelong arcade and console game creator abandoning ship to work in the much loathed and parodied mobile platform? This must be some kind of pre-retirement prank, surely?

As it happens, Okamoto was dead serious, and – far from having retired – has made good on his promise to focus on mobile games, working with a protege to crank out one of the most successful mobile games of all time: Monster Strike.

Monster Strike has reached over 16 million players in Japan and Taiwan, exceeding all expectations and becoming a cultural institution in the game’s native Japan. Sensing it was time to strike out into other territories, Okamoto, game producer Koki Kimura and his team are now working to expand the game into the west and beyond. We caught up with Okamoto and Kimura in San Francisco at Monster Strike’s North American launch party to talk about the game and the industry in general:

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One Piece New Year’s Eve Special apparently set to make series fans cry big, fat tears of pirate joy

Fans of the increasingly wacky and complex pirate world of One Piece will surely be either thrilled or horrified to know that there will be an all-new, super extra special New Year’s Eve broadcast of a One Piece animated film in Japan. As a fan, whether you fall into the thrilled or horrified category will probably depend on whether or not you currently reside in Japan, as the special is apparently set for just one single broadcast in the anime’s native country only.

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Restaurant refuses to serve couples on Dec. 24 so singles won’t be reminded of their loneliness

Ah, December 24, Christmas Eve. The time to spend with parents, siblings, drunken aunts and that one crazy uncle that’s always telling you about chemtrails after four or five eggnogs. Or, the time for romantic dinner dates, proposals and convenience store chicken, if you’re in Japan.

The holiday has long been the bane of Tokyo singles, who are forced to watch thousands of happy couples marching all over town Christmas Eve, hand-in-hand, checking out the Christmas “illumination” shows that have become so popular over the years. That it’s one of the few times public displays of affection are relatively accepted in polite Japanese society just makes it all the more difficult for lonely guys and gals to bear.

But, this year, one Tokyo restaurant has a plan to give all those Forever Alones out there a safe haven to dine in peace on Christmas Eve and, who knows, maybe even find a potential partner.

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