culture

Beautiful 400-year-old garden in Okayama about to be replaced with condominium complex

Beautiful 400-year-old garden in Okayama about to be replaced with condominium complex

Japan loves to devise top three lists, and Okayama City’s Korakuen is held to be one of the country’s three best gardens. Anyone who’s visited will tell you that it’s indeed beautiful, but Korakuen isn’t the city’s only garden, or even its oldest.

Okayama is also where you’ll find Tokoen, a garden with a history that stretches back to the early days of Japan’s feudal Edo era. Tranquil and easily accessed by public transportation, Tokoen would make an ideal spot for history buffs and nature lovers looking for a less crowded, quieter urban oasis than Korakuen.

Sadly, though, after roughly four centuries, Tokoen has closed down, and is soon likely to be demolished and replaced with a condominium complex.

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Personality test-obsessed Japan devises “Frozen” princess personality test for women

Personality test-obsessed Japan devises “Frozen” princess personality test for women

If there’s anybody in the world that loves a good non-scientifically supported personality or psychological measurement, it’s the Japanese. You’ve got the thoroughly debunked blood type indicator, Western-imported horoscopes, the “which way do you fold your arms?” test, the “how you like your meat cooked says a lot about you” test, and, of course, if you have sword-shaped fingernails, you’re a complete and utter psychopath.

Well, given Japan’s propensity for personality indicators as well as Japan’s affinity for adorable Disney princesses, it was only a matter of time before somebody mashed the two together to create a Frozen princess personality test. Jeez, why can’t they take all this superstition and just LET IT GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

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【TBT】It’s the little things: One more reason why we love Japan

【TBT】It’s the little things: One more reason why we love Japan

After a long week at the office, our Japanese writer Yoshio was in dire need of a pick-me-up. After stretching and clicking his back, he stood up at his desk, tucked his wallet into his back pocket and announced in unusually glum tones that he was popping out to the convenience store to grab a few things.

A few minutes later, Yoshio walked back into office and placed his little white plastic bag down on his desk with a tired sigh. But then he stopped. Looking down at his purchases inside the bag, he suddenly began beaming with a level of happiness that we hadn’t seen in quite some time.

“Oo! Sugoi!” (“Oh! That’s awesome!”) he softly exclaimed.

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The tricky game of wits that sometimes lurks behind a Kyoto granny’s compliment

The tricky game of wits that sometimes lurks behind a Kyoto granny’s compliment

One of the most characteristic parts of communication in Japan is the frequency with which people dish out compliments. Travelers and expats, for example, quickly become accustomed to being praised when displaying even the most basic skills with chopsticks or the local language.

Japanese people don’t just have kind words for foreigners, though, but for each other, too. Modesty and empathy are considered virtues of the highest order, so when someone shows any sort of ability, good manners dictate that you should notice and appreciate whatever small trace of talent can be found, as well as the effort that went into acquiring it while leading what, courtesy says you should assume, is a busy life.

Of course, sometimes these compliments aren’t triggered by the speaker being genuinely impressed, but rather just polite, or in some extreme cases, irritated.

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Little boy comforts scared girl at school, is manlier than your fully grown adult boyfriend

Little boy comforts scared girl at school, is manlier than your fully grown adult boyfriend

In the annals of history, there have been many men who were so cool, they practically defined the word. The kind of guys that were so naturally cool, they didn’t even seem to notice when they were doing something awesome. We’re talking about guys like James Dean, Sam Jackson, Bruce Willis, the classic crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and I guess we’ll begrudgingly add newbies like Ryan Gosling (Just kidding! We mean Marky Mark).

Now we can add this incredibly awesome little boy, who seems to be around five years old. We see him here in this video casually comforting a grieving little girl who is upset about being removed from her mother on what we presume is the first day of school. She even does that adorable kid thing where she tries her best not to cry but it’s not really working, and our heroic little boy just sort of nonchalantly tells her he’s got her back – almost like she’s a fiery explosion that he’s casually walking away from without looking at. That’s how cool this kid is.

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Why do Japanese cleaning crews bow at trains? Foreigners and Japanese sound off

Why do Japanese cleaning crews bow at trains? Foreigners and Japanese sound off

The cleaning crews who maintain Japan’s high-speed bullet trains have a mere seven minutes to make the interior of the train spotlessly clean for its next journey. Those seven minutes are carefully divided into different tasks to make sure everything gets done in the allotted time.

Another curious detail people often notice about these cleaners is the way they bow as trains are entering and exiting the station. While this act is generally thought to be a respectful gesture, the intended recipient of the bowing seems to be a matter of great debate, with plenty of conflicting opinions out there, even among the Japanese!

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Watch how traditional Japanese craftsmanship is done in a series of videos from Gucci Japan

Watch how traditional Japanese craftsmanship is done in a series of videos from Gucci Japan

One of the things about Japan that I’m always most curious about is the various traditional buildings and items that can be found, like the mikoshi. These are portable shrines of various sizes that get carried around during festive times. They’re incredibly intricate in their decorations and must require regular maintenance. This always leads me to wondering who makes these things and what is their business model? You don’t see any billboards for mikoshi manufacturers and yet the workshops and craftsmen are out there, somewhere doing their thing.

For another example, take this little mosaic box pictured above. You may have seen a similar one before, but do you know how it’s made? You might be surprised at where the pattern actually comes from and thanks to a series of videos put out on YouTube, we can get a glimpse at how traditional handmade Japanese goods are painstakingly created.

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To say kawaii or not to say kawaii? Almost half of Japanese guys don’t want to be “cute”

To say kawaii or not to say kawaii? Almost half of Japanese guys don’t want to be “cute”

It’s no secret that Japan is seriously into cuteness. Accordingly, in most situations, deeming something kawaii, or cute, is seen as high praise.

This is especially true when it comes to women. Whereas in English-speaking countries some may take issue with what they perceive as a diminutive or demeaning connotation to the word “cute,” in Japan, calling a girl kawaii is almost universally considered a compliment. Even actresses and models who would ordinarily be described as “beautiful” by English speakers earn kawaii cred if they have a kind smile, or any other sort of soft warmth to the aura they project.

But while just about any Japanese woman is happy to be called kawaii, things aren’t quite so simple for men.

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Beautiful new luxury train for Ishikawa dazzles with gold leaf and lacquer interior

Beautiful new luxury train for Ishikawa dazzles with gold leaf and lacquer interior

For the past few decades, getting around Japan has been a snap using the extremely efficient rail network that crisscrosses the country. Even better, in just a few years, not only will you be able to go anywhere on the main island of Honshu by train, but you’ll be able to do it in style, thanks to luxurious new trains servicing the Chugoku, Kanto, and Tohoku regions.

Hokuriku, the part of Japan running along the central northern coast of Honshu, isn’t about to be left out though, and its upcoming train may be the most opulent of all, with an interior decorated with traditional lacquer and gold leaf.

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Does the way you cross your arms say anything about your personality? Japan thinks so

Does the way you cross your arms say anything about your personality? Japan thinks so

Everybody, go ahead and cross your arms right now. Done? Alright. Now, try to cross them the other way. If you’re currently crossed with right forearm on top, try to switch position so that your left forearm is on top. Feels incredibly awkward and unnatural, doesn’t it?

It turns out most people have a natural bias for arm-crossing direction, with slightly more than half of most global populations preferring the left-forearm-on-top approach, although the two preferences are basically 50-50. Some people apparently cross their arms either way without even thinking about it, although this population is exceedingly small.

So why do we humans find one way so natural and the other way so incredibly weird-feeling? It may have something to do with your psychological composition, according to the (admittedly somewhat unreliable) Japanese Internet.

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All-black chicken is the second most metal bird you’ll ever see

All-black chicken is the second most metal bird you’ll ever see

There’s something about the color black that gets people all kinds of excited. In many countries, it’s associated with bad omens, mystery, the supernatural, and even magic. But in the West, it’s most commonly associated with one thing only: METAL.

And so it is that in the eyes of Indonesians, the Ayam Cemani is a prized breed of pitch-black chicken that probably portends good luck or something, but to the Western eye, it’s the second most metal bird we’ve ever seen.

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Wouldn’t you know! There’s another “beautiful woman doing things” going viral in Asia

Wouldn’t you know! There’s another “beautiful woman doing things” going viral in Asia

I’ve written (somewhat facetiously) so many times about the whole “beautiful woman doing things” trend that’s been going on in Asia since probably the invention of the Internet that just seeing beautiful women in Asian media is starting to give me headaches.

This time around, the trend has apparently jumped the shark to a degree that it’s starting to repeat itself, as we’re now treated to the second “beautiful woman being a newscaster” in under a year. This time it’s Taiwan’s Junze Zhuo, a Fox News Taiwan representative and, by all means, overall lovely lady who is drawing such tasteful comments from the Japanese Internet as, “I wish she’d grab my mic.”

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Celebrate the Tanabata star festival with beautiful Milky Way red bean gelatin

Celebrate the Tanabata star festival with beautiful Milky Way red bean gelatin

Recently we talked about a shop in Kanagawa Prefecture that sells styish kamaboko fish cakes decorated to look like the beautiful hydrangeas that bloom during Japan’s rainy season. But what if your palate runs more towards the sweet than the fishy, or your ideal of natural beauty isn’t the flowers growing from the soil, but the stars above?

In that case, one Kyoto confectioner has just the thing: sweet bean gelatin modeled after the Milky Way.

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Pokeberu, Mr. Legs, and cho beri ba: Eight Japanese words young people can’t understand

Pokeberu, Mr. Legs, and cho beri ba: Eight Japanese words young people can’t understand

After spending a year in college studying in Tokyo, I moved back to Los Angeles for about two years before coming back to Japan for work. Having always prided myself on my familiarity with Japanese slang (partly to distract myself from my terrible penmanship when writing kanji characters), I was surprised to find out how many new terms had sprung up in just the 22 months I’d been away.

At the same time, it turned out that a few of the vocabulary words I’d picked up while studying abroad had since passed their expiration dates and become obsolete. This wasn’t a one-time transition, either, as language is constantly evolving, and today we bring you a list of eight words that’ll at best make you sound like a senior citizen, and at worst simply won’t be understood by anyone under the age of 25.

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Japanese tradition and technology combine to beat the heat with USB uchiwa

Japanese tradition and technology combine to beat the heat with USB uchiwa

One of the essential items for getting through Japan’s hot and humid summer is an uchiwa, or paper fan. With its large surface area and long handle, you can work up more of a breeze with an uchiwa than a dainty folding fan.

Unfortunately, you might work up a bit of a sweat as you furiously fan yourself, which kind of negates the whole purpose of using a fan to begin with. Thankfully, there’s now a way to get around all that manual labor with a USB-powered uchiwa.

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Philippine transgender group fights for rights with handsome posterboy

Philippine transgender group fights for rights with handsome posterboy

Even as the gay and lesbian communities experience something of a global revolution in terms of being granted more rights and protection from discrimination, transgender people may be facing a significantly steeper uphill battle. While many of even the most conservative people have come to accept that they may have to share intimate spaces like locker rooms and bathrooms with gays and lesbians, we’re all still squabbling over which bathrooms transgender people should use and which pronoun to call them by.

Discrimination against transgender individuals is particularly fierce in devoutly Catholic Philippines, where hormones – and presumably also surgeries – that are essential to the transgender “transformation” process are routinely denied to those who want them. But the transgender rights group Pinoy Female-to-Male (Pinoy MTF) – composed of naturally born women who identify as male – may have found an ideal spokesmen to help in their fight.

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Japanese hostel’s visitor board reveals surprisingly deep cultural differences

Japanese hostel’s visitor board reveals surprisingly deep cultural differences

We’ve always been told that stereotypes are bad, but there are certain cultural phenom that can be measured so widely that it’s safe to say that people from certain countries at least have a tendency to behave in certain ways.

The Japanese, for instance, are said to be orderly and conformist, while Americans are said to be cowboys that like to do things their own way, even if to the detriment of others.

While this survey sticker board from a Japanese hostel – which asks where visitors hail from – may actually prove the opposite about Americans, it pretty readily confirms that the Japanese are very organized.

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Seriously a lot of people want to marry this Paraguay soccer supporter

Seriously a lot of people want to marry this Paraguay soccer supporter

You know you’re pretty famous when you have your own Wikipedia page. Sure, some people just take the shortcut of writing their own Wiki and acting like they’re a big deal (I’m looking at you, weird Dungeons and Dragons extra with suspiciously specific and in-depth Wikipedia entry), but when other people write a page all about you of their own accord, you kind of know you’re a big deal.

That’s what happened with Paraguayan model and actress Larissa Riquelme when, in 2010, a photographer caught her celebrating a Paraguay team goal at the 2010 South Africa World Cup and the globe collectively paused, sucked in their breath, and shifted awkwardly in their chairs.

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Cheaters beware – 30 percent of Japanese women have checked their boyfriend’s cell phone

Cheaters beware – 30 percent of Japanese women have checked their boyfriend’s cell phone

What are the requirements of a happy romantic relationship? A set of shared values is important if you’re looking for anything more substantial than a fun fling. On the other end of the scale, common interests are good to have too, for those lighter dates when you and your partner want to do something other than discuss your life philosophies.

Many people would say the most critical element, though, is trust. After all, no matter how attracted you might be to a person, without the ability to trust one another, your collective jealousy and insecurity will eventually poison any potential you have to be happy together. Of course, building that trust can be a long, difficult, and sometimes scary process, but it’s something you eventually have to do, right?

Not if you’re one of the roughly 30 percent of Japanese women who’ve secretly checked the messages on their boyfriends’ cell phones.

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30 common characteristics of people who fall in love with Japan

30 common characteristics of people who fall in love with Japan

Chances are since you’re visiting our site, you probably already have an interest in Japan or other Asian countries. But have you ever had a friend who knows next to nothing about Japan, but you just have a feeling that they would come to love the island country given the right incentive?

If so, you may recognize some characteristic qualities of that friend in the following list written by Japanese blogger and all-around-life expert Madame Riri. This time, she’s come up with some common traits of foreigners who grow to love Japan based on her own observations from time spent abroad. 

Do you find yourself conforming to any of the following patterns?

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