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

Apparently cats enjoy cherry blossoms as much as we do【Photos】

There’s something serene and elegant about cherry blossoms. Maybe it’s their soft color, or the way the delicate petals flutter in the breeze, but the sakura are at once aesthetically enticing and deeply soothing.

Unfortunately, the flowers are also incredibly fickle, suddenly blooming and gracing us with their presence for just a few short days, before coolly vanishing, often leaving their admirers wanting more. In a way, you could say they’re like a group of adorable but capricious cats.

In that case, why not combine the two?

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Zooey Deschanel’s trendy new bag makes her look like she mugged a Japanese grade schooler

As dyed-in-the-wool Japanophiles, we’re always happy when something from Japan catches on overseas. Not too long ago, if you lived outside of Japan and liked your fish raw, or your music Japanese, you were part of a pretty small group. Now, though, it seems like every coastal city in the U.S. needs at least one good sushi restaurant in order to claim a respectable dining scene, and J-pop acts go abroad to play in front of adoring, passionate fans.

So when the writers at our Japanese-language sister site told us a new fashion trend with Japanese roots was winning over American fashionistas, including actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, we thought maybe we were about to get the inside line on the summer’s hottest look.

Then, we found out what she was wearing, and we got a chuckle instead.

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Projection mapping coming to Cinderella’s Castle at Tokyo Disneyland 【Video】

Given Japan’s unbridled love of things technologically advanced or just plain pretty, it’s no surprise that the country can’t get enough of projection mapping. High-tech artists have put on projection mapping shows at this year’s Sapporo Snow Festival, and just a few weeks ago Kawasaki hosted an event which recreated the monstrous villains from hit anime Attack on Titan in full scale.

But if Sapporo is too cold and the Titans too terrifying, there’s another display coming up that’s sure to be milder in both climate and content though just as visually impressive, as projection mapping is coming to Cinderella’s Castle at Tokyo Disneyland.

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No new Hayao Miyazaki film this year, but his first movie is returning to theatres

As a very young kid, I remember going to the arcade with my brother and pumping quarters into a game called Cliff Hanger. Like the classic Dragon’s Lair, its gameplay consisted of snippets of hand-drawn animation with occasional prompts for the player to move the joystick or hit the action button. Also like Dragon’s Lair, Cliff Hanger was ridiculously difficult, and with each of our numerous deaths, we had to once again start over at the beginning of the scene.

The repetitiveness should have bored us to tears, but instead, we were captivated by the amazing artwork on display, and with good reason. The visuals for Cliff Hanger were culled from the 1979 anime film The Castle of Cagliostro, the very first movie directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.

Really though, the proper way to experience the film isn’t on a scratched arcade monitor as you grip a set of greasy controls. This is a classic that deserves to be seen on the big screen, which is once again possible, as The Castle of Cagliostro is returning to theatres with a painstakingly remastered version.

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Worldwide debut date and time set for Sailor Moon Crystal

It’s never too early to start planning some fun summer activities, like getting a group of friends together for a barbeque. If any of your pals have even a passing interest in anime, though, don’t bother inviting them to your get-together if it’s going to be on July 5. They’ve already got plans that day, even if they don’t know it yet, because that’s the day the new Sailor Moon anime premiers.

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Amazing photography from the 1860s shows us some of Japan’s very last samurai

Between the way Japan has embraced technology and just how incredibly safe the country is, it’s easy to forget that it really wasn’t so long ago that the whole nation was still under the feudal system. Until 1868, “samurai” was still very much a viable career choice, as the ruling shogunate relied on a trained warrior class to keep the peace.

How much the traditions of Japan’s fabled swordsmen live on in Japanese society today is something scholars love to debate, and while there are points to be made both for and against their importance, there’s one thing that unquestionably remains, and that’s photography of real-life, genuine samurai.

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New Sailor Moon anime’s character artwork and voice cast revealed – Guess who’s back!

Even with the scheduled premiere of Sailor Moon Crystal just a few months away, the producers of the upcoming anime have been extremely guarded with information regarding the newest version of Japan’s most successful magical girl series ever. Up until now, the only tidbits given out were the title itself, a single piece of artwork, and some vague statements that Crystal will stick closer to the original manga than previous animated versions of Sailor Moon.

The floodgates haven’t exactly opened with the latest, and again brief, announcement, but proving that good things come in small packages, we’ve now got artwork for all five principal characters. Not only that, we now know who’ll be providing their voices, and in a move sure to make long-time fans happy, one voice actress is returning to play the same part she did in the original Sailor Moon.

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Why do so few young Japanese want to work overseas?

Back when my college days were winding down, my job hunting had turned up two promising leads. One was with a Los Angeles-based fruit exporter, and the other was with a chain of English schools in Japan. As appealing as the idea of having an inside track to some of the world’s finest citrus was, in the end, the siren song of living and working overseas was just too enticing to resist.

Seeing as how that decision eventually led me to some amazing experiences, a wonderful spouse, and a job that occasionally pays me to drink beer, I’d say it was a good call. Still, it’s not all intriguing discoveries and delicious food, as culture shock and homesickness are also parts of leaving the country you grew up in. As much as I love it, living overseas isn’t for everyone, including more than half of new college graduates in Japan, according to one recent survey.

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Lupin III springs into action in trailer for live-action movie 【Video】

Earlier this month, producers shared the first photos of the cast of the upcoming live-action Lupin III film. Fans were excited to see the band of rouges from the hit anime and manga in the flesh, and now they can see them in motion thanks to the release of the movie’s trailer.

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Sailor Moon team is ready to keep your legs warm, nose dry with tights and tissue holders

It’s hard to find a universally hated member of the central cast of hit anime Sailor Moon. Even the titular character herself, for all her whiny and lazy tendencies, is so loyal to her friends that it’s hard not to root for her.

But while having a universally appealing ensemble cast makes for a great TV show, it puts fans in a bit of a quandary when they’re buying Sailor Moon goodies. With five principal heroines, how do you choose which one’s merchandise to buy?

Easy: you don’t, and instead grab a pouch or pair of leggings that features all five of the main Sailor Scouts.

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Toilet paper featuring Miffy the bunny promises to be far cuter before you use it than after

Dutch children’s book author and artist Dick Bruna has created a number of characters, but his most popular of all is the good-natured rabbit named Miffy. Japan has embraced the character wholeheartedly, and at stores across the country you can find Miffy stuffed animals, stationary, and bento boxes.

And starting next month, you’ll be able to get your hands on Miffy toilet paper as well.

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Pirates, poems, and cows all appear on Japanese parents’ top 10 manga picks for kids

The common logic is that children shouldn’t waste their time reading comic books, but it’s a little hard for parents to lay down that blanket rule when mom and dad used to be, or maybe still are, avid manga comic fans themselves. After all, how can you tell your kids they can’t read Bleach when you’ve got a trip to the bookstore penciled in on your schedule whenever a new volume of Attack on Titan gets released?

As more and more adults hang on to their love of comics, the question seems to have shifted from “Is it OK for your kids to read manga?” to “Which manga do you want your kids to read?” with a recent poll providing some interesting and informative answers.

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The wacky world of video game advertising in the ‘80s and ‘90s

With the video game industry’s heavy reliance on Internet-based marketing, pretty much every gamer has read months’ worth of interviews and development blogs, plus seen dozens of video previews, before he plunks down cash for a major title. If anything, there’s the occasional problem of having too much advance information, therein spoiling some of the surprises when you finally get to play the game.

Things weren’t always this way, though. Before having Internet service went from being a technophile luxury to a modern necessity, video game advertising came in smaller bursts. The market was still far too small to justify the high costs of regular commercials on TV, so publishers looking to drum up sales would take out single-page, or in the case of companies with deep pockets, double-page, magazine advertisements.

Today, we look back at some of these ads from the ‘80s and ‘90s, the problem of having to catch your target audience’s attention with just a few still images, and the sometimes puzzling solutions game companies came up with.

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First-of-its-kind towel is totally worth its 5,000 yen price, customers say

A good towel is always nice to have, especially in a country like Japan where bathing is a hobby, hand dryers and paper towels are largely nonexistent in public restrooms, and the three to five months a year of blazing heat and sweltering humidity will make you itching to wipe off all that sweat.

Yes, it’s hard to overstate the value of a good towel, though some might say Japanese textile maker INI is coming close with its 5,000-yen (US $49) bath towels. That price, though, gets you a towel unlike any that’s been made before.

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Does Avril Lavigne’s Tokyo music video really have anything to do with Japan?

The lack of both L and V sounds in Japan’s language hasn’t kept Canadian musician Avril Lavigne from achieving widespread popularity here. As a matter of fact, given the country’s affinity for female solo acts, and its decades-long ready acceptance of “girls’ rock” music, you could make the argument that Lavigne has an even broader fan base in Japan, or at least one that’s split more evenly across the gender line.

So when Lavigne recently revealed she’d filmed her latest music video in Japan, maybe it wasn’t so surprising, even if a few of her choices for representing Japan were.

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Who loves revolving sushi? Only families, couples, and solo diners (so, just about everyone)

While most of the professors I encountered during my time studying abroad were relaxed and open-minded, I can clearly remember one blue-blooded educator I met who insisted that the food served at kaitenzushi restaurants, the eateries where customers pluck pre-prepared plates of sushi off of a revolving conveyer belt, wasn’t “real sushi.”

True sushi, she said, wasn’t something that you ate to satisfy your hunger, but a flavorful accent to stimulate your taste buds. It had to be prepared painstakingly in an intimate establishment with a proper pedigree, and was certainly not the sort of thing that could be prepared in any quantity similar to the vulgar amounts pumped out by inexpensive kaitenzushi restaurants.

I listened politely, consulted my wallet, and promptly went to a kaitenzushi restaurant. Vindicating my choice are the results of a new survey which shows that revolving sushi restaurants are loved by diners all over Japan, whether they’re out for dinner with the family, on a date, or even just stopping in for a bite alone.

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We hope you’re not thirsty — Tokyo shuts down its vending machines for U.S. president’s visit

This evening, U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Japan. While here, he’ll be meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the two scheduled to discuss strengthening diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Japan, and also the possibility of Japan participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Since we spend at least half of our time thinking with our stomachs, we can’t help but realize that Japan’s agreeing to the proposed trade agreement would likely mean lower import taxes on American beef. But while the possibility of a future with more meat has us excited, it comes with a gastronomic price, as the security measures surrounding the president’s visit mean that a number of beverage and ice cream vending machines in Tokyo have been temporarily shut down ahead of his arrival.

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Tokyo custom hamburger steak restaurant is all about choices, and all of them are delicious

While Japan is brimming with hamburger joints, you can also find plenty of restaurants that specialize in the meatloaf-like hamburger steak. Served on a griddle to ensure it stays sizzling hot, the lack of a bun means that with a hamburger steak the meat can take center stage.

The drawback though is that not having two slices of bread to hold everything together usually means fewer options as to what ingredients you’d like in your hamburger steak, compared to a hamburger sandwich. Unless, that is, if you stop by the restaurant Sakana no Nakasei in Tokyo, where you can customize nearly every aspect of your hamburger steak, right down to what kind of meat to use and how coarsely it’s ground.

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Patlabor’s giant robot gets taken out to the ballgame, keeps the peace in Chiba 【Video】

In planning any large-scale sporting event, organizers have to take security needs into consideration. Any time you combine thousands of people in a confined space with heightened emotions and flowing alcohol, there’s at least the chance that some individuals will be tempted to cross the line of polite behavior or even public safety, so it’s always a good idea to have a few security guards or uniformed police officers on hand.

Or, as shown in this awesome time-lapse video filmed outside a stadium in Chiba Prefecture, the giant robot from Patlabor.

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Those freaky Hello Kitty contact lenses are back, and this time she brought friends!

As cute as we thought they were, when we first heard about Hello Kitty contact lenses last summer, we weren’t entirely sure they’d catch on. Was there really a market for this kind of thing, particularly at the contacts’ price point of 5,800 yen (US$57) per set?

You should never underestimate Japan’s queen of licensed merchandise though, as Kitty-chan’s making a return trip to people’s irises, and this time, she’s even bringing a couple of her Sanrio pals with her. And it’s not just fashion that marches along, but technology and production techniques, too, as the new contacts cost less than half what the old ones did.

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