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

Top 10 Japanese women throughout history 【Women in Japan Series】

Every nation has women who are remembered throughout history for the impact they had on their country. Today we present you with 10 Japanese women–game changers, if you will–who fundamentally altered the way the nation sees or experiences the world today. Most of these women have achieved fame abroad as well, another hallmark of success in Japan.

Many names you’ll recognize, but a few may be a surprise. But they are all well-known among the Japanese and are looked up to and praised by women and men throughout the country. Ready to test your knowledge of influential women in Japanese history?

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10 things that make Japan female-friendly【Women in Japan Series】

We at RocketNews24 previously told you about 10 Things Japan Gets Awesomely Right. Now we want to tell you about ten more things that are equally awesome, but especially for women in Japan. It doesn’t mean that men don’t also find these things impressive, but we’re betting that some of these have never been noticed by men, because, well, they were designed with women in mind.

Every woman likes to be pampered every now and then, and in Japan it’s just too easy to get used to some of the every day niceties we enjoy! Of course the Japanese are known for being polite, which helps tremendously to get through any stressful day, but Japan goes that extra step sometimes to make things that much nicer. After all, it’s the little things in life that matter, right?

So here’s our list of 10 things that make it so darn nice to be a woman in Japan. Get ready, ’cause you’re gonna love these!

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5 powerful reasons to be a woman in Japan 【Women in Japan Series】

It’s no secret that Japan continually lands at the bottom in global gender gap reports. In 2012, the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 101 in regard to women’s participation in the economy and politics. In 2013, Japan placed 105 (out of 135 countries), putting it behind Burkina Faso in gender equality.

Based on these findings, you may think it doesn’t seem like Japan is a very good country for women, but you’d be wrong. While there are huge shortcomings in gender gaps in the workplace, economy and politics, in other sectors of Japanese society some would would argue that Japanese women have “too much” power.

Let’s take a look at five areas where women are most powerful in Japan.

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5 tips for staying healthy while traveling in Japan this winter!

I spent two winter seasons working in the hospital emergency room (as a translator) in Niseko, a popular Hokkaido snow holiday destination for foreigners. While we had our share of broken bones from ski and boarding accidents, what impressed upon me most was the number of people who get ill while on vacation. There were just as many sudden illnesses as snow-related accidents–everything from gastrointestinal disorders to ear infections and first-time asthma attacks which too many times put people in the emergency room.

The good news is that most of these illnesses can be avoided, but different cultures pose different health risks and knowing what to watch out for beforehand can be tricky, if not impossible. In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to stay healthy while traveling in Japan in wintertime, based on my experience working with hundreds of foreigners who ended up in hospital on their vacations.

By following some simple (but not necessarily so obvious) rules, we aim to keep our snow-loving Rocketeers out of Japan’s hospitals and flying down the slopes in all their glory instead!

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Secrets of an Innkeeper: 3 Japanese guesthouse habits we could all learn from

At the beginning of this year, my husband and I took over management of a guesthouse in Japan. While we were looking forward to our new role in the community, the truth is that we were already busy enough without taking on yet another daily responsibility. But in the countryside, where it’s hard to find employees willing to come and live far from convenience stores and flush toilets, most of us are already doing double or triple duty to keep our little villages alive. And where I live, tourism is a big part of that.

So, while the countryside “slow-life” will probably always elude us, we admit that whenever Japanese people check in to our guesthouse, we both give a sigh of relief. Why? Because Japanese people are the best guests in the world! And that makes our job all that much easier.

We share with you three things that make Japanese guests the best an innkeeper could ask for.

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We try eating insects — they don’t taste like chicken

Insect cuisine is popular in Thailand, where insect farms are booming as farmers try to keep up with demand by breeding cricket snacks and ant-egg omelet meals to satisfy this growing market. And, lucky you, the bug-eating trend is going international!

Who’d eat insects, you ask? Me, of course!

Don’t act so surprised. Japan has a history of devouring insects and other fun fare, referred to as getemono or, inferior foods. While most Japanese people will turn their noses up at such “delicacies” they probably won’t deny that restaurants, called getemonoya, were once common and that during war times, eating such food was often necessary. The good news is that Jiminy Cricket actually tastes pretty good! And, he’s nutritious.

Join our vegetarian, insect-eating reporter as she crunches and munches her way through some of Japan’s finest insect cuisine that we promise you won’t find in the Michelin Guide.

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Kamishibai — the precursor to manga and anime?

When I first came to Japan, I noticed students using story boards frequently at school. They drew pictures on cardboard with crayon or marker, to assist in skits, plays and telling Japanese folktales. Story boards were especially helpful in English classes because the illustrations helped the audience understand the less-than-perfect translations from Japanese to English. Furthermore, the students could write their translations on the back of each board and narrate rather than memorizing it in English first.

Little did I know that what these students were doing was performing an updated version of a traditional Japanese storytelling format called kamishibai, believed to be the precursor to Japan’s manga and anime.

Find out where Japan’s first superheroes came from and which manga and anime started with from this original, unassuming art form called kamishibai.

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We bicycle around Kitagi, island of goats, pizza and the Vagina Rock【Photos】

We’ve introduced RocketNews24 readers to Shiraishi Island and Manabe Island in the Seto Inland Sea before, but today, we’re going to take you on a tour of a sister island in the same group. Sandwiched between Shiraishijima and Manabeshima in Okayama Prefecture’s Kasaoka Island Chain is an island called Kitagishima. It’s the largest island of the group (20km around) and you need transportation to get to the sites. There is no bus service, so if you don’t have your own car or motorcycle, you really can’t see much of Kitagi. Unless, of course, you have a bicycle! Kitagi has it’s own bike path, making it perfect for a two-wheeled day-trip.

Join our bicycling reporter as she takes you on a ride, making all your dreams come true on Kitagi, an island of private beaches, home-made pizza, cute goats, a huge granite vagina (optional). At the end of the article is an original, downloadable English map. Now that’s covering ALL the bases, isn’t it? Okay, let’s go!

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Shiraishi Island needs YOUR character ideas!

If you went to your town council meeting in your country and told them you wanted to make a cutesy mascot to represent your city, you’d probably get a few smirks from the council members. If you further told them that the character would be androgynous and hardly recognizable as any particular animal, you’d get a few laughs. Then, if you told them it didn’t even need to have a mouth, that it could be frumpy and clutsy, and that this could be a main draw to your town, you’d have been laughed out of the town hall right then and there.

But this is Japan, where characters are biiiig business. The Japanese have taken the concept of Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and The Muppets to a whole new level. With huge success. And now, one junior high school student is hoping to tap into the power of the mascot character to achieve something far more noble trying to get rich: reviving her community and bringing much-needed tourism to the tiny island on which she lives. But she needs your help.

This, RocketNews24 reader, is your chance to get involved in Japan’s mascot frenzy! Submit a character idea to represent this small Japanese island–and who knows, maybe your idea will be chosen! Interested? Read on!

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Japan’s secret garbage problem–and what you can do to help

Japan is one of the cleanest countries you’ll encounter as a traveler. The inside of the bullet train is kept absolutely spotless, taxi drivers can be seen buffing their vehicles of dust and road grit while waiting for the next customer. Graffiti is rare here and men in jumpsuits are employed to scrape off gum and anything else adhered to train station floors. Glamorous and gleaming is the way the Japanese like things. Even diesel trucks are washed down in their terminals after a day on the roads.

So it’s no surprise that the city streets are litter-free, that public trash bins ask you to separate your refuse into burnable and non-burnable bins, or that the Japanese have a reputation for taking their garbage home with them when attending sporting events.

So it may have been a surprise to some of our readers when someone commented on the trashiness of Japanese beaches in response to my previous article on Japanese beach culture, saying: “The number one beach activity in Japan is actually turning it into a giant open dump, full or empty beer cans, cigarette buds, and plastics of all kinds. It’s a big paradox when you see how clean the streets are.”

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Wacky Japanese beach culture: A ton of fun in the sun!

From whacking watermelons with sticks to burying your friends in the sand or holding sweltering Japanese style BBQs, Japan has a very specific beach culture. We’ve introduced some of these activities before on our site, but this time, we’ve supersized the experience by adding more activities–and extra cheese!

We’ll introduce 13 beach scenes that you’re bound to experience on any trip to a Japanese beach, and present most of them in a six-second Vine video. We picked one of our favorite places to Vine from: Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea where one of our writers happens to live. This tiny island of 560 people in Okayama Prefecture, is one of Japan’s best kept secrets: the beach is never crowded, the sea is tranquil, the sunsets superb, and the beer never stops flowing.

Get ready to take the plunge into the sea of Japanese beach culture with a local to show you la plage–Japanese style!

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How many have you seen? 18 must-visit sites in Japan 【World Heritage】

Visiting World Heritage Sites is a great way to see Japan. Since the sites are scattered all around the archipelago, you’re bound to be close to at least one of them no matter where you are in the country, and having gained the prestigious status by UNESCO, you can be sure you’re seeing the very best of Japan. After all, World Heritage status is not easily obtained and competition is stiff.

Join our peripatetic reporter as she takes you to each site and gives you the lowdown on what to see, how to avoid the crowds, and how to enjoy the sites on your own terms. Ready? Let’s go!

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Creepy creatures from the seabed that you can eat!【Taste Test】

Although Japanese food is known the world over and Japanese restaurants can be found in almost any major city these days, many people may not be aware of a few of the finer Japanese delicacies–such as the creepy creatures from the bottom of the sea–that you can eat.

When you think of the seabed, if you think of a place that is dark, murky, and full of scary creatures such as giant squid and sea monsters, then perfect! Because today we’re going to meet some of those guys’ roommates.

Join our not-so-intrepid island reporter who prefers to pass when it comes to dining on the low-life relegated to the muck on the seabed. She skips out on the taste tests and instead grabs an unsuspecting foreign visitor to try out some of Japan’s more esoteric treats.

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We go octopus hunting, learn how to turn octopus heads inside-out

The Octopus is a mysterious creature. So mysterious he has even been suspected of murder. But in Japan, the octopus is usually first met on the plate. Whether as an ingredient in salad or Sexual Harassment sushi the octopus is considered the most efficient seafood because there is no waste–every part of the octopus is eaten–even the head.

Today, we invite you along on a virtual octopus hunt. Join our cephalopod-hunting reporter as she shows you not only how to catch an octopus, but how to turn its head inside out. As an added bonus, by the end of the article, you’ll have a full understanding as to why the mollusk’s scientific name is “octopus vulgaris.”

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Why French tourists are flocking to a tiny island of 230 people in Japan’s Inland Sea

When people think of international travelers visiting an island in the Seto Inland Sea, they may think of Naoshima, where the International Art Festival is located, or perhaps Shiraishi Island, with its international villa for foreign guests. But French tourists are heading somewhere else–to a tiny island of just 230 people. Although the place is known as one of Japan’s cat islands, that’s not why French tourists go to this island. And even though Ken Watanabe, Masako Natsume and Hiromi Go have been there, the French go for a completely different reason than they did. Our floating reporter takes a ferry to the remote island to find out what makes it so popular with French tourists.

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Japan’s top 3 rock “power spots”

The Japanese have long had a fascination with rocks. In fact, rock worship is an integral part of Shinto, Japan’s original religion. Iwakura (sacred rocks) can be found all over Japan. Rocks can be found in any Japanese garden, whether as stepping stones or objects of admiration themselves in dry landscape gardens or Zen rock gardens. One thing is for sure: Rocks are an integral part of the Japanese psyche.

So it’s no wonder that sacred rocks are popular among the Japanese as power spots. By harnessing the energy of these rocks, the Japanese are rediscovering their roots and the power of nature. But before we tell you about the three top rock power spots in Japan, we investigate how these monoliths and boulders gained their rock star status. Our rockin’ reporter uncovers the history and folklore of iwakura in Japan and gives suggestions on how to access the power of these rocks!

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Bath noodles — Do you know about this strange Japanese bathing custom?

As soon as my husband started building an iwaburo rock bath in our house, curious neighbors poked their heads in and asked, “When are we going to eat udon?” This is local parlance for: “When will the bath be finished?”

Japanese is said to be a vague language and thus difficult for foreigners to understand, but this was rather extraordinary. Why such a strange way to ask when a bath will be completed?!

This unusual pairing, I soon learned, can be traced all the way back to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands, and an island famous for its udon noodles. Kagawa Prefecture, known as udonken (the udon prefecture) is particularly well-known for its delicious thick, starchy noodles. And we can thank Kagawa for a very strange custom: that of eating udon while sitting in a new bathtub!

Now, you probably want to know why they would do such a thing. And why udon? Wouldn’t beer and peanuts be more logical? Or, if you’re going to celebrate a new bathtub, why not go all out and have a pig roast in there? Our intrepid bathing reporter tells you why and oh, so much more about Japanese baths.

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Japan’s pit toilets: An in-depth look

Like the aroma of fresh-baked bread or the sweet fragrance of a flower shop, the stench of a toilet can be just as memorable, albeit not in as nice a way.

Despite Japan’s reputation for high-tech toilets and Washlets that do everything except brush your teeth (thank God), a surprising number of households in Japan still have the old-style “pit toilets.” These toilets have a porcelain bowl, but no running water to flush in or out. You just squat over the hole and drop your goods into a cement pit waiting at the bottom. It’s basically an in-house outhouse.

Almost all the houses are this style on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea as well as many dwellings in Japan’s countryside. Our toilet reporter takes an in-depth look at how these pit toilet systems work. We bet you’re just dying to know!

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic athletes?【Part II】

In the previous article The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? Part I, I explain the sennichi kaihogyo, or 1,000 Day Challenge, in which the Tendai Buddhist monks of Mt. Hiei, sometimes referred to as the “marathon monks,” walk the equivalent of one time around the earth–at the end of which they become living Buddhas.

In Part II, I trace the monks’ steps on the 30 km pilgrimage route, or gyoja michi, which passes through the sacred mountains and forests near the temple complex of Enryakuji. It’s a rigorous course that winds through the mountains, down into the town of Sakamoto, taking them past more than 250 spiritual places. This is the route they circumambulate for days on end over a seven-year period. For tips on the meaning behind the route, be sure to read Part I before continuing!

Rather than walking the course, I decided to run it. Running pilgrimages is a hobby of mine and I find it is a great way to combine the physical with the metaphysical. It brings joy to my runs and this fulfillment keeps the challenge. If you’re a skier, you’re always looking for more mountains. Sky divers jump at different locations. Runners look for new paths and new trails give running purpose. Leave it to your RocketNews24 running reporter to tackle the famed gyoja michi and reveal its intricacies.

I figured that running the 30-km course through the mountains would take the better part of a day. There is no map and from what I have read, Mt. Hiei can be fickle weather-wise. It has snow much of the winter and spring and there are bears. In June, when the weather was perfect, I set out with a small backpack fitted with a water bladder, some medical accoutrements and an extra pair of socks inside (for those inevitable foot and toe problems), plus an ultra light sleeping bag, just in case I got lost and had to spend the night in the forest (been there, done that!).

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The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? 【Part I】

Mt. Hiei, which straddles Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, is home to a huge temple complex called Enryakuji. The foothills of Mt. Hiei border Kyoto City’s northeast. This group of Buddhist temples is home to an eclectic group of Tendai-shu monks, dubbed the “marathon monks” for their amazing physical feats. Not all Enryakuji monks take part, mind you, as one must get special permission to engage in what is called one of the most rigorous athletic and spiritual challenges on the planet.

During the sennichi kaihogyo, or Thousand Day Challenge, the monks venerate Fudo-myo-o, the god at the center of worship in the Tendai sect. Over a seven-year training period, the monk, called a gyoja, makes a pilgrimage to over 250 sites on Mt. Hiei, one of the top three sacred spots in Japan. At the end of the challenge, he will have walked far enough to have circled the globe once. As if this were not enough to please their god, he also takes part in a fast for nine days in which he can not eat, drink or sleep. So arduous is the sennichi kaihogyo that just over 5o monks have accomplished the challenge since records started being kept back in 1585. Indeed, many monks have died en route to this ultimate quest for enlightenment.

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