culture

Is Japan’s Cat Island in danger of turning into the Island of Fat Cats?

Is Japan’s Cat Island in danger of turning into the Island of Fat Cats?

There’s a Japanese proverb, “Neko ni Koban,” that translates as “Giving a gold coin to a cat.” It’s a metaphor for offering something of worth that the recipient either doesn’t need or can’t understand the value of, but it’s also a telling example of how hard it is to win a cat’s favor. Cats have no use for our money, they’re not impressed by our fashion trends, and even if they appreciate our modern sense of humor they’re too proud to let it show by openly laughing.

With so few options, in an attempt to curry favor, some people offer stray cats food (although not, in fact, a bowl of curry). But might this be causing a problem to the residents of one of Japan’s famous cat islands?

We dispatched our Japanese-language correspondent, Meg, to find out (and also pet some kitties while she was at it).

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Why are smartphones making people chew less gum?

Why are smartphones making people chew less gum?

Part of the reason smartphones have become so popular is the way in which they combine the functions of so many other devices people used to lug around instead. With the ability to browse the Internet, listen to music, play games, and take high-quality photos, it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people they need to shell out the cash for a dedicated camera, handheld video game system, or music player.

But why is it that as more people buy smartphones, fewer of them are buying chewing gum?

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Japan’s famous all-female theater company lists the ’25 marks of ugly women’

Japan’s famous all-female theater company lists the ’25 marks of ugly women’

Since its first performance 100 years ago, Japan’s Takarazuka Revue has been the country’s most respected theater company. While the troupe is known for its lavish costume and set designs, as well as its bombastic musical performances, its most distinctive characteristic is that the group is composed entirely of actresses, with women playing both male and female roles.

To their fans, Takarazuka actresses are the epitome of grace and poise. There are a lot of pitfalls that have to be avoided to maintain that pristine image, though, as shown by the company’s list of the 25 marks of ugly women.

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Sex, sushi, and suicide – Everything you need to know about Japan in infographics 【Video】

Sex, sushi, and suicide – Everything you need to know about Japan in infographics 【Video】

Hey, you! You’re a busy person! You have status updates to write; tweets about your lunch to send; videos of cats dressed as humans to watch. You don’t have time to read things like some kind of ridiculous, well-educated duck.

So instead watch this video, which tells you everything there is to know about Japan – covering population, annual food wastage, social awkwardness and much more – in just 10 minutes and 59 seconds.

Go! Time is of the essence!

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20 signs you might be in India, according to the Internet

20 signs you might be in India, according to the Internet

An Indian friend once told me that India is a country where “third world” and “first world” meet. You’ve got places that can generally be described by Westerners as “everyday,” and places that are a little more, er… interesting.

In many rural and poor areas – just like in parts of the U.S. – India sees a lot more jury rigging, improvisation, and otherwise unorthodox sights that are reminiscent of one of those “In Russia, hamburger eat you,” memes.

So, in no particular order, here are twenty photos we picked up on the Interwebs that supposedly describe India in a nutshell. Certainly, there’s a lot of cherry picking going on here, so take these pics with a grain of salt. Not all of India is like this. But, to be fair, “20 photos of regular Indian people enjoying brunch” would probably make for a much less interesting compilation.

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The demise of traditional Japanese tatami flooring?

The demise of traditional Japanese tatami flooring?

If you imagine a Japanese room, chances are you think of something like the picture above: a simply furnished room with sliding shōji doors, a tokonoma with a hanging scroll, and a tatami mat floor. These are examples of the virtues of traditional Japan that many foreigners often hear extolled (along with futon, sushi and judo). When they occupy such an important part of Japanese identity, you wouldn’t think they would be in danger of disappearing anytime soon.

However, the demand for tatami mats has gone down by one third in the last 20 years and many artisans are worried the trade will soon be lost, as more and more of them find themselves rapidly aging with no successors to continue the business. Why is it that tatami floors are becoming rare now, after enduring for so long?

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Elementary school’s morning greeting is so intense it almost makes us miss long division

Elementary school’s morning greeting is so intense it almost makes us miss long division

In Japanese schools, it’s customary for the students to start the day with a formal greeting. The teacher walks in, the students stand, bow, and say good-morning. It’s a fairly somber ritual, in keeping with the general attitude in the country that education is serious business.

One elementary school, though, does things a little differently, with a morning greeting that’s packed with more energy than most people show all day.

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Sucks to be sausupō: The trials and tribulations of Japanese lefties

Sucks to be sausupō: The trials and tribulations of Japanese lefties

I was born a lefty, but apparently somewhere along the way I decided that there must be something to this right-handedness thing, since 90 percent of the world was doing it. I made the switch to using my right hand for most things around the time I started kindergarten, and ever since, the unusual transition has been my go to excuse for never excelling at sports that favor precise dexterity over running into people as hard as you can.

Had I stuck with the cards life had dealt me, though, my daily life might have been different in a number of ways, as shown by this list of troubles left-handed people in Japan run into.

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Five things about male friendship that confuse Japanese women

Five things about male friendship that confuse Japanese women

Having grown up in a family of three boys, the male psyche never really seemed like such a complex thing to me. The three major pillars of proper conduct were sticking up for yourself, keeping your car clean, and watching as much football as possible, the virtues of which all seem pretty self-evident to me.

Still, from the feminine perspective, there’re a number of mysteries of the male mind, as evidenced this list of puzzling aspects of male friendship that’s been making its way around the Japanese Internet.

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Terrible advice for making college friends involves cold shoulders, weird stockpiles

Terrible advice for making college friends involves cold shoulders, weird stockpiles

Academically speaking, most Japanese students don’t have that much trouble with the transition from high school to college. University entrance exams are notoriously difficult, and compared to the diligent studying they had to do to get into college in the first place, most find their educational workload, especially as freshemen, to be pretty easy to handle.

Making friends, though, can be tough. Rural Japan isn’t peppered with college towns in the same way some other countries are, and many students have no choice but to move far away from home to one of the nation’s big cities to pursue higher education. And while many students abroad can look forward to meeting new people in their dorm, very few Japanese universities provide any kind of student housing. Even in the rare case that they do, having a roommate is unheard of.

So it’s no surprise that many students are keen to pick up pointers on how to make interpersonal connections in their new surroundings. Unfortunately, not all advice is good advice, as one Japanese freshman recently found out.

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Aizuchi: The Japanese art of grunting your way through conversations

Aizuchi: The Japanese art of grunting your way through conversations

Chances are, if you’ve ever had a conversation in Japanese – or even any other language – with a native Japanese person, you might have been slightly disconcerted by their constant interjections.

That’s because nodding along, saying things like “I see” (naruhodo), “Oh really?” (sou desu ka?) and just plain grunting is considered a polite way to indicate to a speaker that you’re following along in a conversation.

This technique is called “aizuchi” in Japanese and, sure, it seems common sense in any culture to occasionally give a nod of the head or look up from your riveting game of Candy Crush Saga to indicate you have at least a passing interest in what’s being said, but the Japanese really turn it into an art form.

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80% of Japanese women report being hit on by strangers, indicate dudes need to try a new strategy

80% of Japanese women report being hit on by strangers, indicate dudes need to try a new strategy

In one of the most obvious conclusions since that survey that found people tend to buy potato chips in grocery stores, a new Japanese poll found that 80% of women have been hit on by strangers on the street at least once.

It’s really not surprising given that most guys have tried the random on-the-street approach at least a few times in their lives, either because of peer pressure or through a fleeting, spur-of-the-moment impulse. It seems to us as long as you’re polite and not overly aggressive, it doesn’t hurt to try, but apparently Japanese women disagree, since the poll also found that 65% of women reject those proposals outright. Why? Well…

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These beautiful temple gardens are…15 minutes from Narita Airport?!

These beautiful temple gardens are…15 minutes from Narita Airport?!

For many visitors to Japan, their image of the city of Narita begins and ends with Narita International Airport. As such, most people plan their itineraries with the goal of spending as little time in the town as possible, unless they’re the type of odd sorts who just can’t get enough of waiting in airline check-in or customs lines.

In their rush to get into Tokyo or back home as soon as possible, though, they’re missing out on one of eastern Japan’s most visually impressive temples, Naritasan Shinshoji and its attached gardens.

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BuzzFeed’s image of post-beer ramen in Japan is soberingly off base【Video】

BuzzFeed’s image of post-beer ramen in Japan is soberingly off base【Video】

A few months ago, BuzzFeed posted a video titled What Does the World Eat for Breakfast? The video’s representative morning meal for the United States – pancakes, eggs, and bacon – was an old-fashioned if not inaccurate choice, but we couldn’t say the same thing about the funky menu selected for Japan, which was unlike anything anyone on our team, Japanese natives included, had ever started their day with.

So when we heard the same crew was back with a new video about post-drinking foods from around the world, and that once again Japan was featured, we were both a little honored to be included, and a little worried about what would end up on the plate this time.

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Amazing shows of craftsmanship to make you feel woefully unaccomplished

Amazing shows of craftsmanship to make you feel woefully unaccomplished

It’s our opinion that everybody needs at least one good hobby that they can really devote themselves to. Being good at something other than sitting at a desk and banging out Excel spreadsheets will not only make you feel more whole as a person, it’s also pretty sexy when you can whip out a guitar and casually riff out “just something you thought up over the weekend.”

The sexy part doesn’t really apply to, say, basket weaving, but hey, if it fulfills you personally, have at it.

Of course, we wasted our innate writing talents on weird Asia news and useless listicles instead of polishing up our young adult vampire novel writing skills, so when we saw this huge collection of people who are really, really, really good at one particular craft, it sort of made us feel a deep existential sadness as we reflected on what we could have been doing if we’d just applied ourselves.

So, beware, unless you’ve already mastered an impressive hobby yourself, these amazing shows of craftmanship will probably make you feel like a horrible waste of flesh:

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Cultural differences spoiling the sing-along version of Frozen for some fans

Cultural differences spoiling the sing-along version of Frozen for some fans

Disney’s Frozen is a big hit in Japan, where it’s known as Anna and the Snow Queen. It’s not such a big surprise, as Japan’s always had a soft spot for Disney and stories about the power of friendship and family, and the film’s lack of dramatic, showy romance also fits in nicely with Japanese narrative sensibilities.

So when Disney decided to bring the sing-along version of Frozen to theatres in Japan, a country where you’re never more than a few minutes from a place to sing karaoke, you’d think it’d be an amazingly enjoyable experience for moviegoers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s always the case.

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Go fly a (humongous) kite: Zama’s Odako Matsuri【Photos】

Go fly a (humongous) kite: Zama’s Odako Matsuri【Photos】

If someone in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, tells you to go fly a kite, don’t be hurt. They are probably just inviting you to the Odako Matsuri or Giant Kite Festival! And with hundreds of years of history, 13-meter paper and bamboo kites, and a bonfire using said kite as the finale, you’ll be glad you were invited.

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The awesome artwork hiding in the Japanese word processor: sakura, dragons, and sake

The awesome artwork hiding in the Japanese word processor: sakura, dragons, and sake

With over 1,800 commonly-used kanji characters, plus two different sets of 46 phonetic characters each, typing on a word processor in Japanese works a little differently than in English. Many words in Japanese have the same pronunciation but are written differently, so first you have to type the word phonetically, then select the proper rendering from a list that pops up.

The cool thing is that sometimes the selections aren’t just written characters, but drawings of the object in question. Poking around in a Japanese word processor is like a linguistic treasure hunt, and our searches turned up illustrations of mythical creatures, delicious food, and famous landmarks of Japan.

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Why do so many Japanese brides rent their wedding dresses?

Why do so many Japanese brides rent their wedding dresses?

While some couples in Japan opt for traditional Japanese-style wedding ceremonies, most choose to get married in the Western fashion. The nuptials are usually held in a secular wedding hall, but much of the décor and pageantry from Christian ceremonies carries over, such as statues of angels, readings from the Bible, and singing choirs.

Fittingly, most Japanese brides wear a wedding dress for their special day. One key difference, though, is that in Japan hardly anybody buys their dress.

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Who am I? 14 ways to say “I” in Japanese

Who am I? 14 ways to say “I” in Japanese

Long ago, when the majority of the Japanese vocabulary I knew came from reverse engineering the English subtitles on anime tapes, I was patting myself on the back for having figured out that “watashi” means “I.” So imagine my shock and disappointment when I came across a different scene showing a character so overcome with emotion he’d been reduced to stammering, with the subtitles saying, “I…I…I…,” even though he never once said watashi.

Nine times out of ten, you can make money betting against my deductive reasoning skills, but this was one of those rare occasions where my conclusion had been right, as watashi does indeed translate as “I.” It’s just that “I” doesn’t always equal “watashi,” because Japanese has over a dozen pronouns you can use to talk about yourself.

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