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

No need to fear dark and stormy nights with this light-up umbrella

A common image of the Japanese city is a concrete jungle of towering skyscrapers, tinting the night sky with the vibrant light from countless neon signs. But while you definitely can find those urban landscapes in downtown districts like Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Osaka’s Namba, take a short train ride into the suburbs and things can be very different.

My own apartment is in the most populous ward of Japan’s second biggest city, but one block away from the shopping arcade there are no sidewalks to be found, and street lights are few and far between. Add in a storm that cuts down visibility even more, and a walk home from the station can be a little unnerving.

Thankfully, PC and cell phone peripheral manufacturer Century has a solution for both problems with their light-up umbrella.

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Three nations come together in friendship to share their dumpling wrapping skills

The dumplings known in Japan as gyoza are typically filled with diced cabbage and pork. Most of the time they’re also packed with enough garlic to make them as dangerous a temptation for office workers on their lunch break as a frosty mid-day beer.

Even though China, Japan, and Korea all have distinct food cultures, being so close to one another on the map means that some things are bound to cross borders. Case in point: all three countries love gyoza, and rightly so!

But while they’re united in their love for the food is universal, it turns out each nation has its own unique way of wrapping them, as our Japanese correspondent living in Germany recently found out.

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How many RocketNews24 reporters does it take to eat one family’s worth of udon?

Although it’s often overshadowed by ramen and soba, udon is the final member of the triumvirate of Japanese noodles. With a spongy, absorbent texture, it allows diners to really enjoy the flavor of the broth or dipping sauce it’s served with. This airier structure also means you might need a larger serving to get as full as you would from a meal of ramen or soba, however.

With this in mind, and very little in his stomach, our reporter Mr. Sato headed to a branch of popular udon chain Marugame Seimen, where he fearlessly ordered the largest bowl of udon on the menu, the Family Udon.

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Relax on Titan! Rilakkuma joins Recon Corps, becomes protector of humanity

It can take a while to wrap your head around the concept of “character goods” in Japan. It’s a term used to refer to licensed merchandise such as notebooks, stickers and figures featuring the likenesses of fictional characters. What sets character good apart from plain old cartoon or movie merchandising, however, is that its characters generally don’t appear anywhere else, and are created solely for the purpose of having an excuse to produce their associated knick knacks.

It’s a tradition that was firmly established by Hello Kitty, and carried on by newer characters such as Rilakkuma. A blending of the words “relax” and “kuma” (Japanese for “bear”), Rilakkuma is exactly what you’d expect, a bear who loafs around, usually depicted in the prone position.

But what if the world had greater things in store for Rilakkuma than just yawning and eating stack after stack of pancakes? If humanity needed a savior and destiny called, could he be bothered to pick up the phone?

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What did Japan wish for at this year’s Tanabata festival?

Held each year on July 7, the Tanabata festival has its roots in the folktale of a young married couple, symbolized by two stars in the night sky, who toil away at their trades separately, able to meet just once a year. It’s a little like the situation in many Japanese families where the husband gets transferred by his company to another prefecture and his wife stays behind to continue her own career or look after the kids. Just replace “office workers” with “cowherd and daughter of the king of heaven” and “prefectural border” with “the Milky Way,” and you’ve got a close approximation.

The story of the two lovers finally being able to see each other has taken on a broader connotation of wishes coming true, and Tanabata is commonly celebrated by writing a wish down on strip of paper, then tying it to a stalk of bamboo.

Department stores and shopping centers usually have displays where visitors post their wishes. Since they’re then on display for others to see, you can get a glimpse of current trends by checking them out. “My family’s safety,” “success in business,” and “health” are three old-standbys of Tanabata wishes, but what else were people hoping for this year?

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Classic Ghibli anime impresses with its story, makes some viewers want to kill themselves

Sometimes, it’s only after the fact that you realize just how close you came to dying.

After eating dinner a few nights ago, my wife was flipping through the channels on TV. “Oh, that’s right, Whisper of the Heart is on. Do you want to watch it?” she asked.

Now ordinarily a cute girl asking me if I’d like to watch anime with her gets an automatic “Why yes, I would.” But at that point there were just 20 minutes left before the end, and I said I’d rather just rent it from the video store down the street some other time, so we could watch it from the beginning.

That decision may have saved our lives.

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Why settle for sand castles when you can make sand Aztec pyramids?

Sometimes, going to a neighborhood park as an adult allows you to enjoy it in a whole different way than you did as a kid. Grown-ups are much more likely to appreciate how certain flowers blossoming heralds the changing of the seasons, or to be soothed by the chirping of birds nesting in the trees overhead.

On the other hand, past a certain age other aspects are surprisingly depressing. The swings and slides that made you feel like a daredevil are a bit less thrilling once they only go as high as your shoulder, which can really hammer home the point that your childhood is a distant part of your past.

But an anonymous Japanese park visitor has shown us there’s one piece of playground equipment that can grow with you.

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Five ways guys blow their chances at singles’ parties in Japan

Japanese society is, by many measures, on the shy side when it comes to love. Full-grown adults often keep having a boyfriend or girlfriend a secret because they’re afraid of being teased or questioned about marriage, and if you see someone dressed up nicely carrying a bouquet of flowers, they’re far more likely to be going to a farewell party for a coworker than a date with a special someone.

However, there is one way in which Japan is refreshingly upfront with its romantic ambitions: the singles’ party known as a gokon. Literally meaning “matching party,” at a gokon you get an equal number of unattached men and women together, usually at a restaurant with plenty of alcoholic drinks, and see if there are any compatible pairs in the group.

As a guy, the combination of booze and girls seems like an ideal situation. But the flip side is that you’re also being judged by a panel of the opposite sex, so there are some serious pitfalls to look out for, and women in their 20s and 30s were recently polled as to the surest ways a guy can blow his chances at one of these parties.

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Stop the itching from a mosquito bite in minutes with this cool trick!

For the most part, there’s very little danger from the animal kingdom in Japan. Even hiking in the mountains far from civilization, bears are rare and wolves are non-existent. Sure, the poisonous fugu blowfish can kill you, but it only poses a threat if you’re too stingy to eat it at a restaurant and insist on catching and cleaning one yourself without the proper know-how.

The are a couple of animal annoyances though, such as massive, territorial crows that claim suburban trash pickup sites like street gangs, plus schools of jellyfish that don’t have the courtesy to wait for summer to be completely over before showing up to ruin the fun of playing in the surf. By far the worst offenders though are the mosquitoes that are prevalent during the warmest months of the year.

But this year we’ve got a secret weapon to deal with the itchiness of the inevitable mosquito bite, and we bet you’ve got one in your kitchen already, too.

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Unlimited refills of limited availability beer at Park Hyatt Tokyo

The five-star Park Hyatt Tokyo, known to many as one of the locations used in the movie Lost in Translation, has plenty of things going for it, including luxuriously appointed rooms, ample business facilities, and a full array of spa services. But we already live in the area and have an office nearby in Shinjuku. Plus, the natural stunning good looks of the RocketNews24 team preclude the need for any beauty treatments. So what can the Park Hyatt do to get us through their door?

How abut offering two types of beer you can’t get anywhere else, and free refills to boot?

Yeah, that’ll do it.

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Feed your heart, mind, and stomach at Roppongi Hills’ LOVE Exhibition and Hatsune Miku Café

Aside from being an upscale shopping center, Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills complex is also home to the Mori Art Museum and a 54th-floor observation deck. We recently paid the building a visit to check out two concurrently running events, the LOVE Exhibition and Hatsune Miku Café.

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How many fish would you like on your pancakes? ‘Lots, please!’ says Kanagawa café

Just over an hour south of downtown Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture’s Enoshima Island and the nearby coastline are a prime summer destination. There’s a little something for everyone, whether you want to frolic in the water or on the sandy beach, visit a shrine hidden deep inside a cave and learn about the legend of the fearsome dragon who fell in love with a beautiful local girl, or just try out your pick-up lines at the numerous oceanfront bars.

This spring, the Aloha Beach Café opened up on Enoshima island. The restaurant specializes in the Hawaiian-style pancakes that are all the rage in Japan right now, but also offers one menu item you could only find on the Kanagawa coast.

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We learn the terrifying secret of Silent Hill ramen

Since 1999, Konami’s Silent Hill horror series has been spooking gamers with its mysterious, reality-bending setting and plotlines, not to mention its collection of grotesque, otherworldly creatures like the appropriately-named Pyramid Head, a giant with a large, triangular head who stalks the game’s protagonist while carrying an enormous blade.

Konami has recently formed a partnership with a number of ramen restaurants across Japan to serve Silent Hill ramen. But just what exactly happens when you use a horror story that’s dripping with gore as the inspiration for food? We headed to Hajime, a Tokyo restaurant that offers the terrifying noodles, to find out.

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We design and field-test a hands-free burger holder

Here at RocketNews24, we like to keep abreast of the pioneering developments in the separate but equally important fields of technology and hamburgers. Having already marvelled at the fries holder from McDonald’s and recently hearing that Burger King had developed a hands-free Whopper Holder, we were immediately filled with a level of avarice that usually makes people buy a pair of overalls and move to the Yukon to pan for gold.

Unfortunately, Burger King’s shoulder and neck-mounted hamburger holder is only available as a giveaway for customers lucky enough to win one, and since the promotion isn’t being held in Japan, we were left with only one option: design and built one of our own.

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The Japanese government teaches us the proper way to dry a book

Despite its image as a high-tech country, a lot of Japan’s government paperwork still takes the form of bound collection of hard copies of legal documents. The National Diet Library has the responsibility of housing countless numbers of these collections.

However, like a fiery balrog, water is the bane of physical printed documents (which admittedly have a bit of a problem with fire, too). The National Diet Library occasionally has to deal with restoring books that have become wet before water damage sets in. Recently, the library revealed its simple, easy to copy technique for properly drying out a soggy book.

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The restaurant that powered the team behind one of Nintendo’s biggest hits

Kyoto has a long-standing reputation as a center of traditional culture, justified by its numerous significant temples and shrines, not to mention the artwork they house and their surrounding gardens. However, the city is also home to a site of great importance to modern pop culture: the headquarters of video game maker Nintendo, responsible for many of the titles that shaped modern gaming.

There’s a saying in Japan, though, that you can’t win a battle on an empty stomach, and that goes for designing great games, too. We recently visited the restaurant that powered the development team of one of Nintendo’s biggest hits ever.

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Pray for rain – Six great wet weather deals in and around Tokyo

I love summer. Cold beer! Warm sunshine! Cold Beer! Hot sand between my toes on the beach! And how can I forget lukewarm beer left in my glass after waking up from an impromptu nap brought on by all the cold beer proceeding it?

Unfortunately, summer in Japan also means plenty of rainy days, as humidity levels are at their highest across the country. Thankfully, it’s not all bad news on rainy days, and as long as you’re willing to take an umbrella with you when you go out, you can score some great deals in the Tokyo area.

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Dragon Quest slime salt and pepper shakers ironically perfect for keeping your spices dry

Despite “dragon” being right there in the title, the Dragon Quest video game series doesn’t really have an iconic dragon. Japan’s most widely-loved role-playing franchise doesn’t feature a particularly popular protagonist either, as each installment features a new, mostly mute hero.

Instead, mascot duties fall to the weakest enemy in each of the games, the lowly slime. Because of its cuteness and the almost complete lack of threat it poses to the player, the slime has become a fan favorite, with a shape as instantly recognizable as a Coca Cola bottle.

The franchise’s numerous titles for home and handheld consoles allow gamers to get their fix from the sofa or on the train, but now there’s even a way to enjoy Dagon Quest at your kitchen table.

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Stay cool guys! Just in time for summer, we find the best deodorizing sheets

Right now, the temperature and humidity in Tokyo are in a race to see which can climb faster. Yes, Japan’s hot, sticky midsummer is on the way, and for most of us, the deodorant we put on before we leave the house isn’t going to last more than a few short hours before it washes away in the rivers of sweat pouring off of our bodies.

Thankfully, men’s grooming product maker Gatsby is here to help with their deodorizing sheets. One of our reporters recently tried out several items from the company’s curiously extensive lineup of “body paper,” as the products are called in Japan, and then gave us his impressions on which is the best to keep yourself from smelling like the locker room after the annual joint training session of the varsity Greco Roman wrestling team and hot yoga club.

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Say what? Animal figures live in your fridge, speak in adorable Japanese regional dialects

Regional dialects can be a powerful thing. Call out “partner” or “boyo” and I might not even realize you’re talking to me, but just say the word “dude” and you’ve got my complete attention.

Despite its small land mass, Japan’s language is filled with dialects, largely the result of mountains, not to mention centuries of civil war and travel restrictions, making it hard for people different from different areas to mix for much of the country’s history. Occasionally these unique speech patterns pop up in unexpected places, like when a coworker from Osaka stubs his toe in the office, or a drinking buddy from Akita’s accent starts showing after the fifth round of beers.

And now, you can hear Japanese dialects in your refrigerator.

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