culture

Miyako-jima’s Paantu Festival: Traumatizing small children to bring them good luck

Say hello to your newest recurring nightmare, kids!

Held in Miyako-jima, one of the smallest of the Okinawa Islands, Paantu is a centuries-old festival which takes place during the ninth month of the Chinese calendar each year. During the festival, groups of men are elected to dress as the paantu, evil spirits covered from head to toe with mud and foliage, and are given the task of driving out demons and cleansing the island of bad luck.

Of course, like any good festival involving involving mud-covered monsters, this also means scaring the life out of small children…
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Tokyo’s sushi spirit shrine, where the souls of seafood slumber

The other day, I woke up and immediately had a craving for sushi. In and of itself, that’s not really anything remarkable, since “Man, I could really go for some good sushi,” is one of my first fully formed thoughts on just about any given morning.

Not one to deny my heart its truest desires, I headed to Tokyo’s Tsukiji, home of the world’s biggest seafood market and some of Japan’s best sushi restaurants. I ducked into one and polished off a bowl of sliced tuna and salmon, and, still wrapped in the lingering effects of my food coma, went for a rambling stroll around the neighborhood.

Since I wasn’t looking for food anymore, my eyes ended up being drawn to a shrine I’d never noticed before. I stepped onto the grounds, where I found a monument to the souls of all the fish whose lives supply Japan with sushi.

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Wow, literature is cute! Hiroshima library designs anime mascots for decimal classifications

Nowadays, whenever we want to access to the vast wealth of knowledge humanity has amassed, all we have to do check Google, Wikipedia, or the RocketNews24 search box. But long ago, you had to go to a place called a library.

With an Internet search engine you can just type in what you’re looking for, but simply scrawling, say, “history of feudal Japan” on the wall of the library will not only fail to provide you with the information you seek, it’ll probably get you thrown out of the building. Instead, you’ve got to utilize a system of numbers used to organize written works. While the U.S. has the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress Classifications, Japan has its own framework, called the Nippon Decimal Classification.

For modern youths, though, having to look up books by a numeric code feels extremely cumbersome and inefficient. So how do you get young readers excited about using the Nippon Decimal Classification? By anthropomorphizing it as a team of cute anime characters. , of course!

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Oh Boy, That’s Pretty Racist (Part Two): Japanese woman explains why Taiwanese girls suck

Earlier in our thankfully extremely sporadic series, “Oh Boy, That’s Pretty Racist,” we covered a Japanese “comedian” (I use this term loosely) who posted Vine videos as a poorly acclimated Indian guy living in Japan, complete with racist accent and affinity for curry, of course.

For our second installment, we have a Japanese woman living in Taiwan explaining the reasons people should choose Japanese women over Taiwanese women using broad cultural stereotypes that at best unfairly pigeonhole Taiwanese ladies, and at worst are outright false. Let’s take a look:

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Chinese man cleans up after his countrymen, single-handedly repairs Japan-China relations

If you’re an Apple fanboy living in Japan, you may have noticed – while waiting in a ridiculously long line for your latest gadget – that there was a huge number of Chinese nationals waiting in line along with you.

That’s because, for the last couple of years, heading out to other countries to buy up the latest Apple products and sell them for a profit back in China has become a popular pastime for China’s more enterprising scalpers.

But this year, when Apple stores unexpectedly sold out of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 + before lines could dissipate, things got a little out of hand with the remaining Chinese customers, who reportedly stormed at least one Tokyo-based Apple store and wrecked the place – in addition to leaving piles of garbage out on the streets. Which would not have gone down well had it not been for the actions of one man.

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Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines?

Something many visitors to Japan notice is the abundance of overhead power lines. Whether you’re in the suburbs, city center, or even rural communities, it’s rare to look up at the sky or towards the horizon without the view being crisscrossed by thick, black cables.

So why does Japan have so many above-ground power grids when so many other countries have gone subterranean? The easy answer is cost, but there’re also some purported advantages to stringing cables up on poles, and the country hasn’t quite reached a consensus on which is the better option.

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【TBT】The Lowdown on Japan’s Cosplay Industry

These days, cosplay functions as a 40 billion yen (US$390 million) industry and has a large impact on Japan’s economy. Now, before moving on, please allow me to clarify that ‘cosplay’ to Japan does not only refer to people dressing up as anime and video game characters, but includes all manner of live action, Western, original characters, nurses, maids, and so on. Virtually any costume worn for fun is considered cosplay over here. So what kinds of special services are available to avid cosplayers in Japan? And how are cosplayers themselves making the most out of this bountiful, infinitely tolerant environment? Read More

Survey reveals chance of marrying your first love in Japan, other romantic probabilities

In a lot of ways, romance is a toss of the dice. There’s a long checklist of items you want to be compatible on before making a relationship permanent and tying the knot, but you’ll cross the threshold for the initial spark long before that. The only way to know if the person you’re attracted to is legitimate marriage material is by going on dates and spending time together, and sometimes the potential we see early on doesn’t pan out, which is why so few people end up married to their junior high school sweetheart.

Of course, sometimes luck is on your side when you roll the bones, and for some people their first love is also their true one. A recent survey revealed just how often this happens in Japan, as well as a few other statistics about Japanese chances for love.

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Ordinarily-looking van gets transformed into amazing Japanese-style living room 【Video】

There are two paradigms you can aim for in designing a car. One is a great vehicle, accelerating, turning, and braking with speed and precision. The other is a great living or hotel room, with stylish interior appointments and spacious seating.

The owner of this van is obviously in the second camp, and has modified his ride so that it doesn’t look anything like a car on the inside, but rather a Japanese inn on wheels.

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Kamikiri, the amazing Japanese art of paper cutting mastered by Akira Nagaya【Photos】

Earlier this month, we talked about Japanese artist Akira Nagaya. An expert in kamikiri, the art of crafting intricate paper cutouts, Nagaya first caught our eye with his takes on classic anime icons such as Totoro, Son Goku, and Pikachu.

Japanese animation isn’t Nagaya’s only inspiration, as we can see in his other creations that capture the delicate beauty of nature and the changing of the seasons.

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Invasion of the moon rabbits: the delicious tradition of otsukimi 【Photos】

If you happened to be in Japan this week, you may have noticed rather a lot of rabbit-themed goods, particularly sweets. Not to worry, the Japanese haven’t gotten their dates for Easter spectacularly wrong, these lapine lovelies are part of otsukimi, a tradition celebrating the harvest moon.

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You can rest your chopsticks on a lot of different things in Japan

Sitting down to a traditional Japanese meal is made even more special by those little sticks you’ll have to manipulate to get the food to your mouth. However, for fork-loving westerners, using chopsticks, or hashi as they’re called in Japanese, can be downright frustrating when all you want to do is sample the local cuisine, not wear it on your shirt. But while you’re skewering your tempura and twirling your udon (PS – don’t do that), be sure to take a few seconds to appreciate that little tool propping up your hashi. From simple to completely bizarre, there’s a chopstick rest to suit any style in Japan.

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Reddit user claims common Tokyo chain has “best ramen ever” for just US$6, we investigate

A decade or two ago, the big Japanese food export that everybody raved about was sushi. Sushi joints cropped up all over the place, with the more authentic places employing highly skilled Japanese chefs slinging expertly crafted sushi at exorbitant prices. In places like New York City, sushi was the go-to food if you wanted to eat out but keep it at least a little on the healthy side.

Then, Westerners apparently took a look at all the diet food in their grocery stores and bland sandwich wraps in their food trucks and decided to revolt. Suddenly, wraps, sushi and other healthy foods were replaced with cronuts, cupcakes, “all the bacon and eggs you have,” and, of course, ramen. Delicious, fatty, greasy ramen quickly replaced sushi as the hip Japanese food and Westerners are willing to pay top dollar for it.

Of course, some Japanese (primarily the slightly feral citizens of 2chan) argue that, for all the money they’re shelling out, Westerners couldn’t pick out a truly great bowl of ramen to save their lives. So, 2chan was unsurprisingly amused when Reddit user lemonpls posted to a foodie subreddit that he’d found the greatest bowl of ramen he’d ever had in his life… at a common fast food chain in Tokyo.

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Japanese actor’s unfortunate choice of t-shirt has net users amused, doubting his English ability

Osamu Mukai is a well-known drama and commercial actor in Japan, best known for playing heart-throb types on prime time TV. He also apparently does not speak English or pay much attention to his fashion choices, as a recent appearance on what seems to be a typical Japanese evening talk show proves.

While the majority of the Japanese audience probably had no idea what the English on the actor’s drab green T-shirt meant, one eagle-eyed Twitter user seems to have noticed, and thus immortalized, Mukai’s unfortunate fashion choice for the world to see.

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Are Women-Only train cars illegal in Japan?

File this one under things we hope don’t fall into the wrong hands: Those Women Only train cars in Japan aren’t actually enforceable under the law.

All foreign men in Japan can recount their first harrowing experience of obliviously stepping onto a train, only to find that literally every single other passenger was a woman. There’s a moment of confusion and, if you’re lucky, a good Samaritan politely explaining that wieners don’t belong here, followed by the terrible realization that you’ve broken not only an official rule set forth by the train company but also an unwritten social rule, which is kind of almost worse. But, from here on out, you can rest assured that even though you’re committing a social taboo, you’re not breaking any laws!

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Talented high school baseball player steals 11 bases in one game, fans furious?

If you are a brain surgeon trying to get a side job flipping burgers at a fast food joint, you’re more than likely to be called “overqualified” and sent packing; yes, even if you really have a passion for perfecting the ultimate burger flip. Your services are clearly required elsewhere, despite your dreams of being Employee of the Month. But being overqualified for sports isn’t something most athletes generally have to worry about blowing back on them.

Unless, apparently, your sport is Japanese high school baseball, as one especially talented and furiously base-stealing Gunma Prefecture player learned recently.

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Fancy a change? Magazine survey picks Japan’s 10 best towns to live in

The idea of living in a high-rise condo in downtown Tokyo makes for a nice daydream. Between the high cost of housing and the inescapable hustle and bustle of Japan’s capital, though, when it comes time to actually pick a home, many people decide they’d rather live in one of Japan’s other cities, or one of Tokyo’s suburbs at least.

Underlining this trend are the results of a survey by newly formed magazine Aene which asked Japanese housewives which town they’d be happiest living in. Central Tokyo failed to crack the top 10, although the number-one pick isn’t too far away from the capital.

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Why do so many anime characters have non-Japanese names?

There are a lot of things that surprise newcomers to anime. Why are the characters’ eyes so big? How come everyone has funky hair colors? What’s up with all the panty shots?

A lot of those have simple answers. The giant eyes are an influence from legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka, who was in turn inspired by classic Disney designs. Anime artwork uses a relatively small number of lines in drawing faces, and a large palette of hair colors is a quick and easy way to differentiate otherwise similar-looking characters. Male anime fans in Japan are extraordinarily open about their love of undies.

With those questions out of the way, let’s take a look at something a bit less cut-and-dried: Why are there so many anime characters with non-Japanese names?

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The clever way Japanese drivers thank each other without saying a word【Video】

Japanese culture places a lot of importance on taking care of yourself and not inconveniencing others. Sooner or later we all end up needing a little help, though, which is why the Japanese language has a half-dozen regularly used phrases that all mean “thank you.”

But while having that arsenal of expressions with which to show your gratitude comes in handy, it won’t do you much good if you want to thank someone who’s not in earshot, such as a fellow motorist who let you into their lane on the expressway. That’s why Japanese drivers follow a bit of automotive protocol that lets them deliver a message of thanks with the push of a button.

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Last night, a fast food delivery guy gave me 10 yen and it made my day

After living here for any decent length of time, it’s easy to grow tired of the seemingly endless slew of blogs either singing Japan’s praises or celebrating its weirdness. But the thing is, there’s a reason so many of them exist. While many of the claims bloggers in Japan make are somewhat exaggerated or simply rehashes of the same experiences foreigners arriving in the country decades earlier had, there are nevertheless times when living in Japan can make you realise that the country is actually quite special.

Just last night, for example, I found myself the recipient of a tiny but powerful gesture that made me feel – after more than eight years of living here – that Japan is pretty damn cool sometimes.

Last night, dear reader, a fast food company gave me 10 yen. That’s about US$0.09.

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