Amy Chavez

Amy Chavez lives on a Shiraishijima, a small island in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, with 563 other crazy people. She also writes for the Japan Times, blogs for HuffPo, and has authored two books: Japan, Funny Side Up and Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment. She loves running really long distances, skiing super steep mountains and sailing the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Her motto in life is: "Surround yourself with beauty and peace."

All Stories by Amy Chavez

Confessions of a gaijin: 12 things we do that we’d never admit to Japanese people

In Japan almost everyone hangs out their laundry to dry rather than using costly, energy-guzzling clothes dryers. Foreigners have no problems complying, but one quickly learns that underwear is special–you don’t hang it out with the rest of your clothes where others might see it (or try to see it). The “smallies” are to be hung up inside. When you think about it, it does make sense. But other things are harder for foreigners to get used to and yet others just don’t make sense at all to us so are harder to incorporate into our lifestyles here.

Pooling responses from expats living here in Japan and the RocketNews24 staff, today we’re sharing the most common things that we just can’t quite embrace like the Japanese do, no matter how hard we try. Join us after the jump as we reveal the secret life of gaijin…but shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

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10 Japanese quirks we could live without

As much as we at RocketNews24 love living in Japan, and have learned many life lessons here, we can’t deny that there are some things about the country that simply drive us crazy! It turns out some of these points are universally dreaded by foreigners living here–little quirky things that we just can’t really get used to no matter how long we’ve been in the country.

These are not things that are any big deal overall, but if you’re already having a “bad Japan day” where nothing is really going right, or you’re missing your family, food and cat back home, then encountering  just one of these things can be enough to push you over the edge.

After pooling some common quirky Japanese things we “love to hate,” now allow us to get a few of these things off our hairy chests!

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Just when you thought you knew it all – 17 life-changing lessons learned in Japan

When you first set foot in Japan, it’s hard not to be impressed by the efficiency and social order. The streets are clean, trains run on time, and the people are quiet and polite, yet possess enough of the bizarre to be intriguing (cosplay, line-ups for chicken ramen-flavored ice cream or Lotteria 5-pattied tower burger anyone?).

Living in Japan, or even just visiting, can be a life-changing experience. No one returns to their country the same person as when they left. Here are some of the things that make such an impression on foreigners, they cause us to think a second time, and alter the way we think, act, or view the world. In short, they prompt us to make life changes. Just when you thought you knew it all…

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How to make okonomiyaki at home【SoraKitchen】

Okonomiyaki is one of the most popular foods cooked at home in Japan. One of Japan’s Top 10 Comfort Foods, the dish is fun to make with family or friends and best of all, it’s easy! Okonomiyaki is also popular with foreigners who when visiting Japan can sample the dish at any of the myriad specialty restaurants dedicated to this vegetable-rich meal.

So, what exactly is okonomiyaki? And how do you make it? Glad you asked!

Read on to find out more about this simple dish: watch a how-to video showing you how to make it, check out photos that show you some unusual ingredients, and get inside tips from Kazuko who regularly makes the dish for her seven grandchildren.

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Predicting Japan’s next big earthquake–should we worry? Probably

Japan is home to 110 active volcanoes, 47 of which are monitored continually by the Japan Meteorological Association (JMA). Japan also holds seven percent of all the active volcanoes in the world.

Last year, Mount Ontake in Nagano Prefecture exploded without warning, killing over 60 people, many of them hikers. Mount Hakone in the hot springs resort town near Mount Fuji is on level-2 alert. Mount Fuji itself, a dormant volcano and World Heritage site is being looked at with a wary eye by many and authorities are advising hikers to wear helmets, dust masks and goggles when climbing. The volcano that most appears in the news, however, is Sakurajima, located off Kyushu, which is also one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

“Dutchsinse,” a self-proclaimed “News Personality” who has a cult following on Facebook and YouTube gives a near daily video update of volcanic and earthquake activity around the world. He recently highlighted Japan’s volcanoes and earthquakes and warns that pressure building in the region of Sakurajima, along with other multiple large eruptions in the Pacific region, could be a sign of something bigger to come.

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The Mother of all Bentos–a Japanese meal that’s to die for

If you’ve been to Japan, you may have been told about the two most common table etiquette faux pas, both related to funerals and death. If you’re not very familiar with Japanese customs, these gaffes are way too easy to commit because on the surface, nothing seems obviously wrong with them.

Since we at RocketNews24 believe that unraveling the mysteries of Japanese culture is part of the fun of traveling and even living in Japan, in this article we’re going to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no gaijin has gone before: We’re going to reveal the meaning behind the mother of all lunch boxes: the funeral bento. It’s big, it’s bulky, it’s boisterous, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous.

This veritable feast in a box contains a seven-course meal which is big enough to share with the deceased. Yep, that’s right. Join us while we eat with the dead. Read on!

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Japan Bucket List II: 8 places you need to visit to really understand Japan

We at RocketNews24 believe that to truly understand a country’s people you need to know something about their history and where they came from. So following last week’s popular Japan Bucket List: Things you need to do to really understand Japan, this week we offer you eight places that contributed greatly to the development of Japan, its culture, and people.

Get ready to take your understanding of the Japanese people a step further with eight historical places that have helped shaped them into the people they are today. Let’s go!

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Japan Bucket List — 8 things you need to do to really understand Japan

Your first trip to Japan is bound to be a whirlwind visit as you try to pack so many things into a short period of time. Do go to Tokyo and see the white-gloved train pushers, the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, and many of the scenes depicted in anime and manga. Do go to Kyoto and see the shrines and temples that are simply amazing.

But as a country that has so much to offer, it can take years to really get to know and understand Japan, even when you live here. So if you want to take your understanding of Japan a step further, we’re here to suggest a few things you’ll want to experience in order to better understand Japanese culture: things that give you insight on what’s behind the Japanese way of thinking.

These experiences will help you understand who the Japanese people are, and why they act the way they do. Get ready to move from tourist to cultural expert after the jump!

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Vanishing Japan: Five things to see before they disappear completely

Call us nostalgic, but we at RocketNews24 hate to see traditional Japanese culture slip away. From ancient pilgrimage paths to geisha and kamishibai, we love Japan’s oldest traditions as much as the anime favorites and cosplay trends of today. We just adore Japan and hate to see any of it disappear.

Today we introduce you to five icons of Japan that you need to see now before these few vestiges are completely lost!

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Monjayaki, the popular Tokyo dish you’ve probably never heard of 【RocketKitchen】

When people think of Japanese food, most think of sushi, sashimi or even some of the more popular Japanese comfort foods like okonomiyaki or udon noodles. If you’re a tourist, however, you’ve likely never experienced one of Tokyo’s most popular dishes: monjayaki. But don’t feel bad; even some Japanese people who don’t live in the Tokyo metropolitan area (75 percent of the population) have never tasted it. This is one reason why Tsukishima Monjadori, a street with over 100 monjayaki restaurants, ranks in the top five sight-seeing spots in the capital for Japanese tourists (FYI, the other four are Harajuku, Tokyo Disneyland, Odaiba and Tusukiji Fish Market).

Monjayaki is simple but complicated: it has just a few easy ingredients and can be made in under three minutes yet it requires instructions to make, and even eat, properly. It helps to know, for example, that monja is not usually eaten with chopsticks, and that there’s a good reason why.

Read on to learn more about this unexpectedly delicious fare: watch a how-to video showing you how to make it, check out photos that show you how to eat it, and get tips from a master monjayaki chef.

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10 distinctly Japanese comfort foods

Comfort food” is traditional cooking that tends to have a nostalgic or sentimental connection, often one related to family or childhood: the grilled cheese sandwiches your mother used to make; the thought of your grandmother’s bread pudding makes your mouth water; the way the whole house would be filled with the intoxicating aroma of roasted turkey or ham at Christmas? Because of such memories, these foods comfort us, especially when we’re longing for home or feeling especially vulnerable.

Not surprisingly, the sentimental Japanese have their own comfort foods. While you might think they’d be waxing over the octopus tentacles of home, very few of the dishes we’re about to talk about have much to do with seafood. Many Japanese comfort foods have a rice connection and may even center around the unique relationship between mothers or wives and their role in family food preparation. And in Japan, make no mistake about it–her kitchen rules!

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10 things you probably didn’t know about Pearl Harbor

The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 marked the day the United States entered World War II. Over three thousand Americans lost their lives in the attack and in 1962 the USS Arizona Memorial was constructed over the sunken battle ship USS Arizona to remember those who lost their lives that day.

But you already know that. This article will tell you some other things about Pearl Harbor that you may not know.

Join us after the jump as RocketNews24 visits Pearl Harbor and helps you bone up on your WWII trivia.

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Is it true that Japanese go to Alaska to copulate under the Aurora? 【Myth-Busters】

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There’s a persistent story in the north that the reason Japanese people come to see the Northern Lights has something to do with conceiving children under the aurora. Since we see many retired visitors, I’m dubious. Can you bust this myth?”

–A reader in Alaska

I don’t know about you but just the thought of making love under the aurora brings to mind some questions: how does one copulate in subzero temperatures and manage to survive? Are there special suits for this? And is using a hotel considered cheating?

Join me as I uncover the answers to all these questions, and expose much more, after the jump.

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10 amazing Japanese holidays you won’t want to miss–in February!

Riding on the heels of Setsubun, a day when Japanese people playfully admonish the demons in their houses (no anti-demon spray necessary; it turns out that most Japanese demons quickly flee the house if you throw beans at them), you probably think all the fun for February is gone. Cold, lonely, and demonless, you haven’t left your heated kotatsu table in days. But no worries! February still holds an enormous amount of fun, with plenty of unofficial holidays to warm up for. There’s Manga Day, Bra Day, Cat Day and Mount Fuji Day just ahead! Discover the story behind ‘You idiot!’ Day and the origin of Japan’s postal code symbol revealed on the annual Postal “T” Day. There’s even a day dedicated to Seaweed, Kabuki and Japanese surnames too. And just when you thought the wacky Japanese couldn’t come up with anything more bizarre, we’ll tell you about Listen to the Angels Whisper Day in Hokkaido.

We present you with 10 amazing February celebratory days in Japan that you won’t want to miss.

Ok, let’s jump into February!

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A criminal organization’s activities vary depending on where they are in the world but all such groups use bribery, violence and fear to achieve their goals. The growing threat of gangs in Asia is partly due to their booming economies that attract criminals with the prospects of taking a cut of the wealth. Globalization is further helping these gangs to spread their activities, making it easier to smuggle everything from weapons and drugs to people and exotic animals across borders. Money laundering, counterfeiting and document forgery are even easier when a group has a presence in multiple countries. Sound like Armageddon? Read on.

In this article, we look at mob activity in Japan, China and Indonesia and the threats they pose to the public as well as to tourists. We also delve into what experts think the future holds for transnational gang activity. Just a warning: things ain’t lookin’ pretty.

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Is Japan’s “Daughter in a box” a myth?【Myth-Busters Series】

This is the first article in our brand new “Myth-Busters” series that attempts to provide definitive answers to readers’ questions about Japanese culture, language and concepts. If you’ve ever asked yourself “Is it really true that the Japanese…..?” then just ask us! We’ll let loose the RocketNews24 hound dogs to track down the answer.

Our first myth-busters topic, prompted by a question from a Canadian reader, is hakoirimusume (箱入り娘) or “Daughter in a box,” used to describe a girl who grows up protected by her family, as if being kept in a box. The term originated in the Edo Period (1603-1867), but do such shielded daughters still exist today?

Our hound dogs are on the trail! Results after the jump.

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‘Cows can marry’ and other fascinating bovine facts from India

You’ve heard about India’s sacred cow, the Mother of Civilization, a gift from God that has become a part of Indian iconography, religion and culture. The cow protection movement began in 1882, and ended the slaughter of the animals in what was then British India. The cow is revered because it is unique in that it offers five products to humans — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — all of which are useful to everyday life in India. In addition, the beast of burden has traditionally been used to help plow the fields and pull carts for transportation. If you’re one of those people who likes to dress up your dog, or cat, or buy them their own kotatsu, then we can only imagine what you’d do for a pet cow if you had one! You’ll have no problem understanding the high regard Indians place on the gentle bovines.

Because we at RocketNews24 love all animals, cows included (although some of us delight in their taste while others of us would rather give cow cuddles), we can totally understand the pampering, dressing up, and general all-round generosity the Indians heap upon their beloved cows. We just hope cats don’t catch on to any of this.

Just how far will Indians go to pamper their bovine friends? Glad you asked! Our bovine journalist is about to reveal some fascinating facts about cows in India.

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10 things we love about living in Asia

If you have friends who moved to Asia and you can’t figure out why, this article is for you. If you’re the one who moved to an Asian country and you have a hard time explaining why to people back home, then this article is for you too. If you’ve visited Asia and absolutely loved it, then we think we know why, so please read on. And lastly, if you’ve never visited Asia, then you should read this article to find out why you should get your butt over here without delay!

A little while back, we listed 10 things we love about Japan. But we realized that many Asian countries have similar awesome traits. So today, we’re going to expand our love and share 10 things we absolutely adore about Asia!

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Four things women are banned from doing in Japan【Women in Japan Series】

Women have been prohibited from doing certain things (entering places, using facilities, etc.) for as long as civilization has existed. Restrictions are still common, albeit usually in religious contexts only. While religions themselves evolve and change with the times and bans are lifted, it doesn’t mean all of them get an update.

As women, we all know the purported reasons behind these bans: women are “impure” because we menstruate (the same impure biological process that allows us to give life to men), we are the physically weaker sex, and we distract men with our beauty. Yada, yada, yada.

Today, in our Women in Japan Series, we take a look at four things women are still not allowed to do in Japan. I’ve divided them into bans and semi-bans. Bans allow no women; semi-bans allow women–but only sometimes.

Of course, it’s high time these restrictions were lifted. While much headway has been made in the past, such as the lifting of the rule preventing women from climbing Mount Fuji, other bans are proving more stubborn despite protests by Japanese women’s groups. Will these restrictions be lifted anytime soon? Only the Japanese people can decide.

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Why aren’t there more female entrepreneurs in Japan? Pull up a chair… 【Women in Japan Series】

According to the Global Entrepreneur Development Index (GEDI) that measures favorable conditions for women entrepreneurs, the US and Australia are ranked first and second respectively, while Japan places fifteenth, just behind Peru. Yet Japan fulfills many of the requirements to create a successful female entrepreneurial environment such as education, skills and access to capital.

In addition, women in Japan can overcome obstacles such as low salaries, long work hours and scant child-rearing options by owning their own businesses and calling the shots. So, what’s holding Japanese women back? It turns out that a large part of it may be Japanese women themselves.

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