culture

Residents of Bangkok neighborhood don’t play by the railroad tracks, they live by them

Residents of Bangkok neighborhood don’t play by the railroad tracks, they live by them

Our recent meal in Bangkok of a five-and-a-half-pound hamburger may make Thailand seem like a wonderland of unparalleled decadence, but it’s only one facet of life in The Land of Smiles. Not everyone in the Thai capital spends their days chowing down on massive piles of beef, as we visited a neighborhood with a train line running right through the middle of it.

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Japanese people most like to drink green tea with their chips, incredibly dull survey finds

Japanese people most like to drink green tea with their chips, incredibly dull survey finds

As a hardcore carnivore (not omnivore - I literally only eat meat), I’m not big on potato chips personally, but Japan is a surprisingly junk food-obsessed country and potato chips are as ubiquitous as the Pocky and Koala March candies that otaku across the globe are familiar with.

There are a huge variety of flavors, thicknesses, textures, shapes and designs to Japanese potato chips, and the industry is apparently so lucrative that consulting firm My Voice Communications – which has absolutely no affiliation with the potato chip industry – put together an insanely exhaustive and, frankly, thoroughly boring survey about Japanese potato chip preferences.

We yawned through the full survey so that you don’t have to. Here are the major takeaways, with all most of the dull stuff cut out:

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Gadgets before flowers – Japanese moms reveal what they really want for Mother’s Day

Gadgets before flowers – Japanese moms reveal what they really want for Mother’s Day

Although the association of carnations with Mother’s Day began in the United States and stretches back over 100 years, I grew up never really being conscious of it (likely due to some combination of being a terrible son and having little interest in historical events that didn’t involve swords).

In Japan, though, most people are aware that carnations are a symbol for Mother’s Day, and a bouquet of the flowers is by far the most common gift given on the holiday. But while mothers across the country appreciate the gesture, one survey says there’s something they want even more: electronics.

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Six ways science-minded and art-minded Japanese people see the world differently

Six ways science-minded and art-minded Japanese people see the world differently

Just as you can broadly divide academic subjects into arts and sciences, in Japan people are often referred to as being “science-type” or “art-type,” with the first describing someone who holds everything up to the light of logic, and the latter for someone who applies more romantic standards.

Recently, Japanese Twitter users have been sharing their theories on the way this difference in fundamental mentality can affect a person’s attitude and feelings about such a wide range of topics such as not being too busy to see their dating partners, what happens when snow melts, or even their reactions to famous anime movie lines.

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So, the Dalai Lama walks into a convenience store in rural Japan… 【Photos】

So, the Dalai Lama walks into a convenience store in rural Japan… 【Photos】

Do you ever wonder what Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite kind of juice was? It’s hard to imagine the 26th President of the United States having to do anything as trivial as deciding between orange and apple, but after a long, hard day of riding moose and judo-tossing William Howard Taft, no amount of influence and respect is going to keep you from getting thirsty, and it’s a choice that has to be made.

But while the late Teddy’s fruit nectar preferences may be lost to antiquity, we can now say for certain which brand of tea the Dalai Lama reaches for when he visits a Japanese convenience store.

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Japanese teacher criticized for attending son’s entrance ceremony instead of her own school’s

Japanese teacher criticized for attending son’s entrance ceremony instead of her own school’s

Each April, as the new academic year starts, it’s customary for schools in Japan to hold an entrance ceremony for incoming students. The new pupils assemble in the auditorium, sit quietly while the principal and teachers make speeches, and often sing the alma mater.

For the students, listening to a bunch of grown-ups drone on about the value of education isn’t exactly riveting, and it’s debatable if the words of wisdom that are imparted really make any difference at all in their academic careers. For parents, though, this is a special day. They can appreciate the ceremony as the rite of passage it is, and it gives them an excuse to snap a picture with their child wearing their brand new uniform, which will quickly become too small for them as they grow up all too soon.

It’s a sentiment any parent can feel, even – or perhaps especially – parents who are educators themselves. However, one high school teacher in Japan is being publicly criticized for skipping her school’s entrance ceremony to attend her son’s, instead.

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Deconstructing Lolita fashion

Deconstructing Lolita fashion

Since Her Excellency Tomomi Inada, Minister in charge of Japan’s “Cool Japan” strategy, visited New York, JapanCulture•NYC has been trying to define “Cool Japan” as it relates to New Yorkers. The broad range of the term can encompass an overwhelming number of areas: Food, fashion, design, travel, the list goes on.

To focus on one type of fashion, JapanCulture•NYC turns to the expertise of New York-based accessories designer Jen Green, who attended Japan Society’s Lolita fashion discussion on February 5. In this special guest post, Jen deconstructs the Lolita look and phenomenon for the uninitiated.

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Up-and-coming band combines traditional Japanese instruments with pop metal and awesomeness

Up-and-coming band combines traditional Japanese instruments with pop metal and awesomeness

These tattooed badasses are not, in fact, extras from that bafflingly misguided 47 Ronin movie. They’re the members of the newly-signed Wagakki Band, which combines the chunky guitar chords and shredding of pop metal with traditional Japanese instruments for a totally awesome sound.

While the name Wagakki Band (Literally, “Traditional Japanese Instrument Band”) isn’t going to win any awards for creativity, the group’s head banging videos are a spectacle to behold; Sure to please fans of J-Pop, metal and old-timey Japanese imagery at once.

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Ancient Chinese characters prove that ninja cats once ruled Asia

Ancient Chinese characters prove that ninja cats once ruled Asia

Despite many of us considering them to be pets, with the immense power they wield over humans and their near total domination of the internet, cats are clearly the ones in charge. They appear with such frequency in ancient Egyptian iconography that many have wondered whether the Egyptians knew something about cats that we don’t, and no matter how many treats we give the felines we share our homes with, they just never seem to accept us as equals, let alone their masters.

And now, a photo of an ancient set of Chinese characters has given internet users in China even more reason to believe that cats were once the true rulers of the world. Behold: kanji characters depicting cats with ninja headbands!

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Advice for new employees in Japan: Never take your temperature

Advice for new employees in Japan: Never take your temperature

My very first job in Japan was with an established, well-known company that’s one of the top enterprises in its field. The company’s nationwide scale and decades of operations seemed to mark it as sophisticated and experienced enough to appreciate the value of a good employee support system, so I was a little surprised during the training session for new employees when we were told, “If you’re going to take a sick day, you have to tell your manager at least 24 hours in advance.”

The problem is, coming down with the flu isn’t like getting free shipping from Amazon, in that it usually doesn’t take more than a day. Unfortunately, my old employer never taught us how to know we’d be sick two days ahead of time, but another Japanese company has an effective way of sidestepping the issue entirely: never check to see if you have a fever.

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The honesty of children: 3-year-old’s greeting tells father how little time he spends at home

The honesty of children: 3-year-old’s greeting tells father how little time he spends at home

As we’ve talked about before, overtime is pretty common in Japan. At a startling number of companies, it is not considered in the least bit unusual to find staff, who are contracted and only being paid to be there between 8:30 am and 6 pm, still at their desks until 9, 10, or 11 at night. Others may leave the office a little earlier, but are often wrangled into drinking with the boss or entertaining clients until all hours. Others still even work on weekends and, returning home late at night, only see their family while they’re sleeping.

Dutiful partners may grin and bear it when their husband or wife is absent from home for such enormous stretches of time, but kids only speak the truth. Like this little one who, on her father returning home seemingly for the first time in a long time, greeted him like you might a guest or customer to a restaurant…

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Japanese people react to the outrageous behavior of “monster” new company recruits

Japanese people react to the outrageous behavior of “monster” new company recruits

April is upon us again, which means the start of a new school and work year in Japan. So perhaps it’s fitting that Fuji TV’s morning informational show Nonstop! recently aired a segment about new company employees. But its focus wasn’t on just any new recruits to the workplace…it was about monster recruits! Read on to find out what kinds of unthinkable behavior shocked netizens and made them lament the rude ways of the younger generation.

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What does “Konnichiwa” really mean? Understanding Japanese greetings

What does “Konnichiwa” really mean? Understanding Japanese greetings

Well, good afternoon/evening/morning/day everyone! Today we’re going to talk about Japanese greetings and what they really mean.

Just as in English, “Konnichiwa” or “Good day” is a greeting that is technically an idiom with a complex and near-forgotten past. Just as English language greetings tend to stem from bastardizations of foreign loan words and/or full sentences that have been gradually shortened over the years, “konnichiwa” is actually a shortened version of a full and meaningful greeting, because, if anything, human beings are a lazy sort with a bad habit of cutting corners whenever possible.

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Eight Japanese words we’d love to import into English

Eight Japanese words we’d love to import into English

Recently, we talked about how Japanese, while a tough language to learn, isn’t quite as difficult as some horror stories make it out to be. Still, if English is your native language, certain Japanese grammar rules, like saying “wa” and “o” to mark the subject and object of your sentences, can seem like a major hassle.

With practice, though, these things start to become automatic. Even better, the Japanese language is filled with incredibly handy phrases that we’d love to import into English.

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Five reasons nerds make great boyfriends: Japan’s geeky otaku list their pros

Five reasons nerds make great boyfriends: Japan’s geeky otaku list their pros

As cultural attitudes continue to evolve in Japan, some groups that have spent decades being socially ostracized are finally seeing the tides turn in their favor. For example, while the covers of most men’s fashion magazines are still plastered with photos of incredibly slender guys, the country has recently been showing some love for heavyset males as well.

One demographic that still tends to have a hard time landing a date, though, are the otaku, Japan’s catch-all term for obsessive fans of anime, video games, computers, and anything traditionally geeky. But could the popular image of otaku as the bottom feeders of the dating pool be a case of women overlooking their hidden merits as boyfriend material?

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Beautiful woman doing things: Unsettling art created by unexpected artist

Beautiful woman doing things: Unsettling art created by unexpected artist

Some of the best-yet-unsettling art in the world has often been created by male artists: be it Hemingway’s subtly disturbing short story, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” the dark and surreal yarns of Cormac McCarthy (We hear reading Blood Meridian automatically qualifies you as suffering from PTSD), or the insidiously impossible physics of Dalí paintings, whenever we view somewhat disturbing artistic works, we tend to assume the author is a man.

So, you’d be forgiven for thinking the drawing below comes from a male artist with a particularly tormented past:

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7 things that surprise a visitor to Laos 【Photos】

7 things that surprise a visitor to Laos 【Photos】

If you are visiting Laos, this is probably not your first rodeo in Asia, so I’ll skip the squat toilets and fleets of bicycles and get to seven things that this little SE Asian gem has to surprise even seasoned travelers.

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Divine prevention – Japan using Shinto symbols to combat litter and public peeing

Divine prevention – Japan using Shinto symbols to combat litter and public peeing

One of the trickier questions to answer about Japan is whether or not it’s a religious society. On one hand, the ideas of daily prayer, weekly visits to a temple, or consulting religious texts or advisors in times of personal crisis are about as foreign to most Japanese people as playing a game of cricket or eating a plate of grits and gravy.

Still, spiritualism is a big part of life in Japan. Most visitors to a shrine might not spend more than a few seconds reflecting on their place in the universe, but they’ll still toss a coin into the collection box in hope of pleasing the deity said to make its home there. Even as many Japanese people claim to have no religion, most homes include an alter with a place to hang photos of deceased relatives and offer incense.

The vagaries of theology in Japan are now being turned to in an effort to curb a growing problem in many neighborhoods, as people are putting up small versions of the torii gates that mark Shinto shrines to prevent people from illegally dumping waste, whether produced by their lifestyles or bodies.

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You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

So you’ve been living, lounging, working, or studying in Japan for a while now. The feelings of homesickness you first experienced are but a distant memory, and whenever you Skype with your family, you unconsciously use the word “home” to refer to your place in Japan rather than your home country. Not only that, you can finally navigate the Tokyo Metro without getting flustered, barely even notice when a girl dressed in kimono passes you in the street, and you think nothing of visiting a convenience store two or three times a day, sometimes just to flick through the magazines.

But what about all of the things you do unconsciously or that seem so normal to you now but would make you stop and stare back home? Today, we bring you a list of 10 moments that, if and when they happen to you, you can safely say, “Wow, I’ve been in Japan too long.”

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Four ways Japanese isn’t the hardest language to learn

Four ways Japanese isn’t the hardest language to learn

It seems whenever a list of the most difficult languages to learn is released, Japanese sits near or at the top. We can see why, as the language does have quirks and peculiarities that can occasionally make you wonder how anyone, even native speakers, manage to communicate with each other in Japanese.

If we’re being completely honest, we’d love to use one hand to pat ourselves on the back for our Japanese/English bilingual capabilities, while using the other to pat ourselves for surviving in what some are calling the most dangerous country on earth. But that would tie up both hands and we’d be unable to write this article. So instead, today we’re going to explain four ways learning Japanese isn’t nearly as bad as some other languages.

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