Casey Baseel

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Casey Baseel spent his formative years staring in frustration at un-subtitled Japanese TV programming shown on Southern California’s international channel. Taking matters into his own hands, he moved to Tokyo to study the language, then found work in Yokohama a decade ago teaching, translating, and marketing hotels he can’t afford to stay in. When not participating in the eternal cycle of exercising to burn the calories form his love of Japanese food, Casey scours used comic and game shops for forgotten classics, drags his wife around the country in a quest to visit all its castles, sings karaoke not nearly as well as he thinks he does, and counts the days until the summertime bars open on Enoshima Beach.

All Stories by Casey Baseel

Pre-fame videos of pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu reveal she once looked like an ordinary teenager

So let’s say you’re a high school girl growing up in Tokyo, the undisputed mecca of fashion and pop music in Japan. You want to break into the industry, but what can you do to make yourself stand out from all the other teens with the same ambitions, especially if you’ve got a fairly pedestrian name like Kiriko Takemura?

Simple: you slip on an outfit that’s as colorful as it is outlandish, adopt the stage name Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and bask in the adoration of fans both in Japan and abroad.

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. Kyary’s success is the result of several years spent developing her persona and image, as we can see in a pair of pre-fame videos showing her as a high-schooler still at the midpoint of her path to stardom.

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These one-eyed manga comic heroines are totally safe for work, slightly less so for your sanity

One of the most distinctive aspects of Japanese comics and animation is the size of the characters’ eyes. From a design standpoint, larger eyes make are easier to emote with, and some of anime and manga’s most expressive, and thus memorable, characters have had some of the biggest eyes. As the eyes became bigger, anime artists were left with less and less space to draw the nose and mouth, both of which are often tiny compared to those of Western cartoon characters.

But there’s only so much room on the face, and now we’re seeing the twistedly logical conclusion to the big-eyed trend in the growing popularity of otherwise cute female manga characters with only one eye.

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Nagano legislators propose banning morning practice for middle school athletes

There are a few unique things about student athletics in Japan. Team activities continue throughout the year, which makes joining one a major commitment. And instead of playing a season of games with the best teams advancing to a playoff, most sports have a few tournaments throughout the year with relatively few competitions in between.

The result of all this is a huge amount of time spent practicing, as opposed to playing games. What’s more, it’s normal for athletes in middle and high school to have mandatory practices not just after class, but before their lessons start in the morning, too.

On the surface, this seems like it should be helpful not only in producing more talented players, but in helping students learn the value of dedication, effort, and proper time management. But this system may be taking things too far, according to legislators in Nagano who are proposing doing away with athletes practicing in the morning.

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Expert weighs in with his ideas on what defines the Japanese character

For most of its history, Japan was separated from the rest of the world by the surrounding seas and an isolationist policy strictly enforced by its feudal period government. These centuries of isolation led to a unique culture, and it’s long been a favorite challenge for researchers and commentators to try to pin down just what defines the Japanese character.

Chinese news portal BW Chinese recently published a list of characteristics of the Japanese psyche, as originally put forth by Australian Gregory Clark, whose educational and professional career dealing with Japanese sociology, education, and economics has spanned more than five decades.

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Eight Tokyo observation towers – all free, all awesome

One of the best reasons to come to Tokyo is to experience the sheer energy of being in the biggest city in the world. There’s no better way to get an idea of the massive scale of Japan’s capital than with a bird’s eye view from hundreds of feet above its streets.

Unfortunately, the city’s two most famous observation towers, Tokyo Tower and its younger sibling the Tokyo Skytree, both charge hefty admission prices. But if you just spent your last bit of cash because you couldn’t say no to the chance to buy hot coffee in a can, here are eight spots that offer awesome views of Tokyo that won’t cost you a single yen to see.

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We try milk yaki, a treat from Japan’s chilly north that tastes great but somehow contains no milk

As one of Japan’s northernmost prefectures, the majority of regional delicacies in Akita are things to warm the body up. For example, Akita’s most famous dish is kiritampo, a hot-pot with chicken, vegetables, and unique cylindrical rice cakes. In recent years the prefecture’s inaniwa udon noodles, thinner than those common in other parts of Japan, have also been steadily gaining fans, as well.

But while there’s nothing wrong with some piping hot chow to fortify yourself with on a snowy night, what about dessert? Sure, you could make do with a plain old pack of cookies from the convenience store, but if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth like the locals do in Akita, you need to get your hands on the pastry known as milk yaki.

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We fall under the spell of life-sized Madoka statue at magical girl anime art exhibit

For many years, fans of magical girl anime tended to be from the same demographic as its principal characters: little girls. The genre of young girls using mystical powers to fight monsters saw its potential broadened, though, in 2011 with the television premiere of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which cast an unflinching, unsentimental eye at the physical and psychological dangers of tasking middle school girls with battling extradimensional entities.

Madoka went on to become such a hit that its original 12 episodes were retouched and repackaged into a pair of theatrical releases. This month a third film, Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion opens in Japan, and a special exhibition of Madoka artwork and statues is being held in Tokyo.

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Monster Hunter players finish their quest and earn the ultimate loot: a spouse

I think I speak for all men, and a good number of women as well, when I say we’d appreciate more direct communication in our romantic relationships. For most of us, there comes a point, usually sometime around when we finish school, where our tolerance for doubletalk and subterfuge from the person we’re dating drops off dramatically.

No one really enjoys playing mind games in their quest for love. Especially, as some people in Japan are showing, action video games like Capcom’s Monster Hunter can be a much better way of finding your soul mate.

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Private investigator’s job takes him to the darkest depths of juvenile crime in Japan

Bullying has become a major concern in Japan over the last few years. As even elementary school students increasingly communicate and connect with their peers through technology, evidence of these instances of child-on-child cruelty is often stored electronically. Unlike in previous generations, bullies today don’t have the option of simply denying any wrongdoing took place once a victim comes forward with records documenting the incident.

Of course, there’s still the need to track down the evidence in the first place. This depressing yet necessary task often falls to Hirotaka Abe, a private investigator who specializes in helping parents when their child is victimized by hateful peers.

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Anime fan and pet owner recreates Attack on Titan’s epic opening shot by shot – with cats! 【Video】

This year’s breakout anime hit Attack on Titan snuck up on a lot of people. Sure, previews for the TV series made it look like a fun adventure, but is wasn’t until sometime after it premiered that the franchise became the international success it is today, despite the comic it’s based on having been around since 2009.

Why didn’t more people, from the very beginning, realize just how much entertainment Attack on Titan has to offer? Maybe the story’s antagonists, naked giants who look like anatomy textbook illustrations, were just too repugnantly grotesque. Maybe, being creator Hajime Isayama’s first serial, the artwork on its heroes was a little too rough around the edges. How much more immediately accessible would Attack on Titan have been if they had all been replaced with a more traditionally pleasing aesthetic, like a bunch of cute cats?

Thanks to this feline-infused recreation of the show’s opening animation, now we know.

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Couple holds intimate, romantic wedding ceremony on Tokyo’s busiest rail line

Out of all the rail and subway lines crisscrossing Tokyo, the most well known and heavily used is the Yamanote Line which encircles downtown Tokyo. Stations along the Yamanote serve some of the city’s busiest business, education, and entertainment districts, and the result during rush hour is train cars that are so packed it’s comical (for everyone except the passengers themselves, of course).

This month, however, the Yamanote Line was the site of a gathering quite a bit more intimate than its usual pressed mass of sleeping white-collar professionals, as a couple held their wedding ceremony onboard one of its trains.

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Pitch black sesame garlic ramen at craft brewer’s restaurant stirs our hearts while filling our bellies

When dining out in Japan, there is a commonly accepted truism that you get the tastiest example of a particular type of food by eating it in a restaurant that specializes in it. For example, if you want good ramen, you go to a place that serves that and little, if anything, else.

Speaking of Japan’s favorite noodle dish, popular wisdom also holds that the dingier the ramen restaurant, the better-tasting the food.

So imagine our surprise when we discovered that the Yona Yona Beer Kitchen, a classy restaurant with a full menu in Tokyo’s swanky Nagata-cho neighborhood, can also whip up a bowl of ramen that’s as delicious as it is visually striking.

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Foreign visitors pick the 20 coolest places in Japan

The users of travel website Trip Advisor recently ranked Japan’s best free sightseeing spots. Of course, if you’re visiting Japan from abroad and in a position to spring for airfare, odds are you’re not so strapped for cash you can’t afford to spend a little bit to enjoy yourself, since you came all the way here.

With that in mind, the site has now compiled the 20 coolest places in Japan, as chosen by overseas visitors, regardless of whether or not they charge admission.

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Mr. Sato’s blonde ambition leads him to look for love from beyond the grave

On a recent evening in the RocketNews24 offices, while the rest of the team was discussing such weighty topics as neuroscience, classic literature, and Gundam-themed cakes, we noticed our most intrepid reporter, Mr. Sato, staring longingly at some reading material with a lascivious grin plastered on his face.

Usually when a man holding print media has that kind of expression, the cause is a photo of an attractive woman, and Mr. Sato’s case was no exception. But he wasn’t perusing some skin mag filled with spreads of F-cup teenagers, but instead a pamphlet for the movie R.I.P.D. Mr. Sato had become smitten by its photos of actress Stephanie Szostak and was determined to meet someone like her, even if that meant facing some paranormal dangers.

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We create awesome cinematic videos in slow motion with the iPhone 5s

September 20 was a special day for Apple fans, as the newest iteration of the company’s smartphone, the iPhone 5s, went on sale. The youngest member of the iPhone clan was an instant success, and while some people were motivated to buy one by the simple camaraderie of hitting the Apple store with a group of friends, Apple also touts a number of technical advantages the iPhone 5s has over older models.

One of the biggest strides lies in the iPhone 5s’ camera, which we discovered can be used to take dramatic slow motion video that looks like something out of a movie.

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10 handy products – The best 1,000 yen you can spend at the 100 yen store

Like many people who immigrated to Japan, for my first few weeks in the country, almost every day involved a trip to the local 100 yen shop. Setting up a new home requires a big investment of time and money, but at the very least, in Japan you can largely outfit your kitchen with a handful of 100-yen (US $1) coins.

And it’s not just dishes and silverware you can pick up on the cheap, but a variety of handy things to make your home life easier, as featured in a recent ranking of the top 10 convenient items from the 100 yen shop.

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Images depicting the life of Jesus in Korea rile Chinese Internet users

There seems to be a long-running debate over whether Jesus was white or African (as opposed, to, you know, Arabic, as most people born in the Middle East tend to be).

Apparently concerned that the squabble doesn’t have enough sides, a participant in a Chinese Internet forum has come forward with images suggesting yet another theory: Jesus was Korean.

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Japanese psychologist explains what the seat you choose in a theatre reveals about your personality

There are a couple things that make going to the movies in Japan different from in the US. First and foremost there’s the price. General admission at just about every first-run theatre in the country is a whopping 1,800 yen (US $18.40).

Helping to take a little bit of the sting out of that, though, is the fact is that all seats are reserved. There are two advantages to this system. First, you never have to deal with the annoyance of one guy, sitting by himself, who’s saving the dozen seats prime seats next to himself for his friends, who will totally be here any minute.

Secondly, the seat a person uses can reveal things that give you a glimpse into their personality.

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Starbucks: More expensive in China than Japan or America, but why?

It’s safe to say that no one you see at Starbucks is there because they want to stretch their java-buying budget. With locations in more than 60 countries (and seemingly every branch in the Tokyo area at maximum capacity every day between 3 and 7 p.m., the Seattle-based chain must be doing something right, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel a bit surprised at the prices they charge.

But the next time you’re sitting in a Starbucks in Japan or America, pretending to sip from an empty mug because you’re not quite ready to disconnect from the free wi-fi but don’t feel like laying out the cash for another cup, consider yourself lucky. You’d be paying a lot more for your latte if you were at a Starbucks in China.

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Japanese man arrested for shouting that he studies English (weird) before  grabbing woman’s butt (illegal)

Police from the Himonya Precinct in Tokyo’s Merguro Ward have announced the arrest of one Keiko Hatano. Mr. Hatano has an unusual given name for a man in Japan, but even more unusual is the crime he is suspected of: fondling a woman’s posterior after explaining to her that he “studies English.”

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