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

Despite having so many maids, officials say Akihabara really needs cleaning up

While Japan’s capital does indeed have the giant TV screens and vivid neon signs that Hollywood movies use as shorthand for “Tokyo,” a lot of advertising in the cities comes from plain old-fashioned legwork, particularly in the entertainment and red light districts. Opening a new restaurant? Trying to drum up business for you hostess bar? In either case, you put an employee on the street, flagging down prospective customers and giving them your establishment’s sales pitch, and even guiding them to the entrance if need be.

However, officials are looking to shut down this face-to-face marketing practice, known in Japanese as kyaku hiki (literally “customer pulling”) in one of Tokyo’s biggest tourist draws, the anime and video gaming mecca of Akihabara.

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It’s high time for a knee-high sock smartphone game

Japan’s got a somewhat unusual obsession with knee-high socks, with enthusiasts having come up with no fewer than two days a year to celebrate their love of thin-covering legwear. Of course, the country has the other, less unusual fetish of exposed skin.

But what about smartphone users who can’t pick between the two? Isn’t there a way to satisfy both their cravings at once?

Why yes there is, with a new app that lets users swipe the screen to make a model raise or lower her socks.

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Samsung, IOC deny asking iPhone carrying Olympic athletes to cover their Apple logos

The Olympics gives the world’s most talented athletes a chance to show their abilities to people all over the globe. It also gives the world’s most wealthy marketers a chance to show their products to that same audience.

Among the Games’ biggest sponsors is Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 3 was granted the title of official phone of the Sochi Olympics in thanks of its manufacturer’s generosity. Some reports are claiming that the Korean electronics maker isn’t showing a respect for healthy competition, though, by asking athletes with iPhones to make sure they cover the Apple logo when on-camera.

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Changing attitudes about remarriage help create a new Japanese word: maru ni

Wedding planning is a big deal in Japan, where it often involves a ceremony, formal reception with coworkers (including your boss, who’s expected to make a speech), an informal after-party after the reception winds down, and in many cases a second after-party that may stretch on until the next morning when the trains start running. Putting the whole thing together can be costly and require a lot of work, but it’s all worth it when everything goes smoothly. And besides, getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime event, right?

Well, actually, that’s not always the case. As in many modern, economically prosperous societies, the divorce rate has been rising in Japan, and along with it the potential number of remarriage candidates. In an attempt to keep up with these changing cultural norms and values, one of Japan’s largest wedding planners has gone so far as to coin a new term for those who remarry: maru ni.

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Move over itasha, here come itachoko – anime chocolates!

In recent years, itasha, cars emblazoned with admirably detailed yet painfully nerdy vinyl graphics inspired by anime and manga, have been getting more and more mainstream attention. But what if you’re not old enough to drive, or you just want to express your admiration for your favorite 2-D character without spending hundreds of dollars creating a car that your friends or date will be too embarrassed to ride in?

In that case, why not turn to the world of itachoko, chocolates decorated with anime character likenesses?

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List of anime directors fans expect the most from topped by….Goro Miyazaki?!

It’s been almost half a year since Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from animation direction, leaving a empty seat at the top of Japan’s pile of anime talent. Miyazaki himself has even voiced his concerns about whether or not his juniors in the industry will be able to replicate the results that Studio Ghibli achieved when he was at the helm.

With the medium in a state of uncertainty, Japanese telecom provider NTT Docomo asked fans which director they expected to pick up the banner of the Japanese animation industry. Their surprising answer? Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro.

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Kind-hearted deliverymen hand out truckload of bread to snow-stranded motorists

Last Friday the biggest snowstorm of the last decade hit the Tokyo area. While neighborhood kids had fun building snowmen and couples who managed to meet up could enjoy snuggling up to each other for warmth on a white Valentine’s Day (not to be confused with White Day, which is a totally separate thing in Japan), actually trying to get from one part of the region to another was a major gamble.

Some of the worst off were drivers along the Chuo Expressway that runs through mountainous Yamanashi Prefecture into Tokyo. With the storm dropping over 100 centimeters (39.4 inches) of snow in Yamanashi, over 60 sections of the road were closed due to the unsafe driving conditions. Since most people don’t carry a bottle of snow cone syrup in their glove box, as time went by, the motorists became hungrier and hungrier, until some philanthropic baked goods deliverymen came to their rescue.

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Angry Korean fans not satisfied by apology from British skater who cost their country a gold medal

While the primary goal of the Olympics is to bring athletes from various nations together for a friendly demonstration of the greatness that can be achieved by the human body, the Games are also a contest to answer the question of just who is the best in the world in its events. The dedication and hard work necessary to even qualify as an Olympic athlete doesn’t come without an extremely strong desire to win, and the competitive juices naturally flow all the stronger for events that don’t get a lot of attention outside of this once every four years opportunity to shine.

But the glory of victory is coupled to the agony of defeat, and Olympic athletes represent entire nations of sports enthusiasts, who sometimes take the defeat of their countries’ athletes with even more bitterness than the competitors themselves. Such is the aftermath surrounding the speed skating collision involving British Elise Christie and Korean Park Seung Hi.

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Rabid Japanese fans label athletes who don’t bring home a medal “tax thieves”

With Yuzuru Hanyu taking home Japan’s first-ever gold medal in men’s figure skating, there’s a chance the country’s rabid sports fans will back off on the intense pressure they’ve been placing on the nation’s Olympic team. That’s sure to be a weight off the shoulders of the athletes themselves, as well as former Olympiad Dai Tamesue, who recently took so-called fans of the Japanese team to task for calling athletes who fail to reach the podium parasites.

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Somehow, underage drinking in Japan is about to get even easier

I’ve never been bothered by being asked for proof of age when buying beer. Maybe it’s because even when I was 16 I apparently already looked old enough that strangers in convenience store parking lots would ask me to buy a six pack for them, but I never took a clerk asking to see my ID as an insult. I simply accepted it as part of the societal dance necessary to procure my beloved barley juice.

Some drinkers in Japan, though, take offense at being asked for proof that they’re not minors. The Aeon Group, one of Japan’s largest retailers, has responded with a generous change in policy, and will no longer ask certain customers for confirmation of age, despite the fact that Japan’s underage drinking prevention is already ridiculously easy to circumvent.

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Anime fan’s level of obsession is a lot funnier than the reason he’s selling his collection

As media consumption patterns change in Japan, leading to less advertising revenue and lower DVD sales, merchandising is becoming an increasingly important way for anime producers to turn a profit. Not that the hardcore fans mind being given the opportunity to purchase a poster or coffee mug featuring their favorite character, mind you. And if the products happen to be limited editions, with the premium pricing such a designation entails, well that’s just a nice extra bit of otaku cachet.

One fan, though, is selling off his entire collection in one all-inclusive package. Quite often this sort of thing is the result of finding a flesh and blood girlfriend who doesn’t approve of decorating your walls with pictures of scantily-clad anime babes, but the reason for this collector’s fire sale isn’t anything nearly so happy.

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Ah, isn’t that cute? This rice omelet thinks it’s a corgi!

There are certain meats you can find at restaurants in Japan that aren’t exactly common in the western world. Whale is the one most likely to get foreign visitors up in arms, but with some pretty extensive searching, you can also find establishments serving up monkey and frog.

That isn’t to say Japanese culinary/cultural values are completely different from those of Europeans and North Americans. For example, people in Japan don’t really believe in turning dogs into food.

But turning food into a dog? That’s something the whole world can get behind.

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Japanese reporter’s luck worse than his preparation as he fails to recognize two medalists

While Japan has its own baseball and soccer leagues, the steady improvements in ability by Japanese players have ironically led to a talent drain in domestic games, as the best players get recruited to compete on bigger stages in the U.S. and Europe. These days, what really gets Japanese sports fans fired up is international competitions like soccer’s World Cup and the Olympic Games.

With the Winter Olympics going on right now in Sochi, Japanese TV is filled with nonstop onsite reports from the Russian city. In the scramble to get as much content as possible, though, one news outlet sent out its reporter so woefully unaware that he didn’t recognize the two Olympic medalists standing right in front of him, one of whom he was having a conversation with.

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Despite being some of the most iconic anime villains ever, we’re still not sure how to feel about the monsters of Attack on Titan. On the one hand, they’re giants hell-bent on eating the tasty humans hiding behind the walls of their cities. On the other hand, there’s something unmistakably, well, goofy about them. Many of them have baby-like proportions and dorky haircuts. Quite often, they shuffle around listlessly, almost as if they can’t be bothered to chase after their terrified snacks. They have no concept of pants.

Somehow, the Titans have ended up with a sort of twisted charm that makes us unsure whether we’d rather fight them or keep them as pets. Luckily, with the new Attack on Titan smartphone game, you can do both!

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Nine ways Tokyo is the number one city in the world

Tokyoites went to the poll last week to do their civic duty of picking a new governor. In the end, the people chose Yoichi Masuzoe, who has gone on record with his desire to make Tokyo the “number one city in the world.”

Of course, your city doesn’t toss out the term “mayor” and replace it with “governor” for its elected leader without already having some legitimate claims to greatness. Masuzoe has yet to specify exactly what benchmarks he plans to use in making good on his pledge, but here are nine things for which Japan’s capital already occupies the top spot.

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Mint chocolate beer sounds great, but how does it taste? We find out

Every year at Valentine’s Day, a slew of limited-edition chocolates are rolled out in Japan, where following the local custom, women give gifts to men. Unfortunately, while there are indeed plenty of guys with a sweet tooth, few of them really want candies shaped like butterflies and rosebuds.

Thankfully, there are a handful of more masculine alternatives, such as the Final Fantasy chocolates we recently introduced you to. But you know what’s even more manly than a video game about a dude killing monsters with a giant sword while his hot martial artist girlfriend cheers him on? Booze. Which is why today we’re knocking back a mint chocolate beer.

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57-year-old man acquires diver’s license to search for wife lost in tsunami

A grisly truth is coming to light as Japan’s Tohoku region recovers from the massive earthquake and tsunami that occurred in 2011. When the water receded from damaged areas, it took much of what had been struck, including the bodies of victims.

Nearly three years have passed since the disaster, but there are still residents of the afflicted area classified as missing. As the country moves on and begins to turn its focus to more pressing matters, one 57-year-old man seeking closure has decided to venture into the sea that claimed his wife to personally search for her remains.

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Costco Japan’s bulgogi bake is a melting pot of deliciousness

For the most part, grocery shopping in the Tokyo area is a small-scale affair. The majority of shoppers go to the store on foot and carry their purchases home, meaning that each residential neighborhood has a number of small markets to ensure consumers don’t have to lug their bags more than a few blocks.

However, with a little over 15 years’ experience since opening its first store in Japan, mega retailer Costco has converted a number of the locals to its “bigger is better” philosophy. As you’d expect, Costco gives customers in Japan the chance to save by buying in large quantities, and also serves up hot meals in its food court, just like in other countries.

One thing that’s different about the food court at Costco in Japan, though, is the menu, which includes a Korean fusion item called the bulgogi bake.

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Manga legend Shigeru Mizuki’s longevity seems to come from lots of burgers and desserts

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s most loved comic artists, having created the manga Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro in 1959. Although the serial ended after a 10-year run, the light-hearted story about the traditional Japanese spirits called yokai still has a strong following today, thanks to multiple animated and live-action adaptations premiering as recently as 2008.

Mizuki isn’t resting on his laurels either, despite turning 92 next month. He started a new manga series just last December, and the energetic nonagenarian has recently released a book cataloguing the eating habits that have resulted in his long life. So what does his diet consist of? A surprisingly large amount of junk food.

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Japanese women discuss the pros and cons of being a guy’s first girlfriend ever

Most socializing in Japan is done in groups, and while there’s definitely something to be said for the “the more the merrier” philosophy behind it, that same social norm can sometimes work against a person’s love life. Sure, a guy might have a thing for a girl who he’s in the same school club with, but it can be hard to take the relationship to the next level if they never have any time alone together. On the opposite side of the scale, if there’s no one who strikes a man’s fancy in his immediate social circle, expanding his network of acquaintances, and with it his dating pool, can be a tricky endeavor to pull off.

The end result is a number of men in Japan who don’t enter into a serious romantic relationship until they’re well into adulthood. Luckily, this isn’t a complete deal breaker for them, but that lack of experience does change the playing field, as shown in a survey of 206 Japanese women in their teens, twenties, and thirties who shared their hopes and concerns about being a guy’s very first girlfriend.

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