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

Big (eats) in Japan: The gluttonous gallery of ‘o-mori’

In Japanese, o-mori refers to an extra large food portion. Feeling particularly hungry? Just upgrade your regular ramen by ordering “ramen o-mori.”

Of course, some restaurants don’t feel the phrase “large portion” does their creations justice, and have come up with their own special codes such as toku-mori, giga-mori, mega-mori, deka-mori, and doka-mori. They all mean the same thing, though: gargantuan grub. Come along with us on a tour of Japan’s culinary behemoths, and bring your appetite.

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400-year-old Kyoto temple shows its 21st century attitude by going digital

Founded at the opening of the 17th century, Kyoto’s Nishi Honganji Temple is one of the city’s most prestigious Buddhist institutions. As you might expect, it has some decidedly old-school touches, such as the length of rope woven out of strands of hair donated by female believers which was used to haul building materials for the structure.

But Nishi Honganji is no historical relic. As one of the most important temples in the widely-practiced True Pure Land School sect of Buddhism, large numbers of faithful look to the temple for religious guidance. To meet their needs, the temple has come up with a modern idea that belies its 400 years of history.

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First picture from set of live-action Kiki’s Delivery Service released

First written as a children’s novel by Eiko Kadano in 1985, Kiki’s Delivery Service is the story of a 13-year-old witch who, following the traditions taught to her by her similarly magical mother, sets out to live by herself for a year to mature and learn about the world. The story achieved international fame with its 1989 theatrical anime adaptation, directed by industry legend Hayao Miyazaki and crafted by his team at Studio Ghibli.

Filming has begun on a live-action version of the story, and producers recently released the first still image from the set.

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Quiz: Can you guess which hugely popular manga artists these desks belong to?

My first apartment in Japan so small that when my brother came to visit, he joked that we’d have to breathe in shifts so that we didn’t use up all the oxygen in the room. A bit of an exaggeration, but the place was tiny enough that all of my movements had to be controlled and precise, unless I wanted to knock something over and start a domino effect that would topple everything I owned. That meant living small, with only the things absolutely necessary for life in this transient plane of existence.

I blame this lack of proper furniture for my not producing a manga comic masterpiece during that phase of my life, and not my complete lack of artistic talent or ability to craft a narrative about anything other than the trials and tribulations faced by handsome online writers as they romance their legions of female groupies. After all, just think of what I could have created if I’d had one of these desks belonging to some of the most successful manga artists in the industry…

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One Hong Kong Starbucks’ unique menu offering: public restroom blend

With locations all over the world, Starbucks has become many people’s go-to joint for a cup of joe. Even international travelers who find themselves in regions where sanitation standards may not be quite up to their own personal ones feel safe visiting the local branch of the Seattle-based coffee giant, where you can always expect a clean interior, friendly service, and fresh beans sourced from around the world.

Plus, if you visit one particular Starbucks location in Hong Kong, coffee brewed with water from a public restroom.

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Strap on your thinking caps: bath salts based on popsicle based on soup go on sale

We’ve talked before about how Gari Gari-kun, the popsicle/shaved ice hybrid, is among the most refreshing treats produced by modern society, especially during the hot, humid summer months.

But Japan is a country where a daily bath, as opposed to just a shower, is a way of life. Since most people bathe at night, this presents a problem if you’ve just cooled yourself off with a nice after-dinner Gari Gari-kun and don’t want that feeling to go to waste from soaking in a pool of hot water. Thankfully, toy manufacturer Bandai has a whole lineup of Gari Gari-kun themed bath salts, based on the some of its most popular popsicle flavors, such as soda (really a mix of apple and citrus), pear, and corn…wait, corn?!

Perhaps we should start at the beginning.

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This summer, live like Japan’s top 10 percent (of armpit odor)

Recently, a team of highly-qualified Japanese scientists assembled for a mission, the danger of which was equaled only by its importance to society. On May 22, they announced their findings to the public, revealing that a menace we have always been aware of has grown to staggering proportions.

90 percent of men have smelly armpits. Read More

Mr. Sato goes on a date with an idol, unleashes his secret weapon: canned rum

Summer is almost here, and in Japan that means two things. First, high humidity and the profuse sweating that comes with it. But second, summer is also the season of hot, passionate, romance.

Unfortunately, this spring has again found our intrepid reporter Mr. Sato unable to find a girlfriend, but he’s ready to wipe the slate clean and give it his all this summer. We decided it was best to get Mr. Sato a little practice, so he’d have a good running start before the season of love gets fully underway. To that end, he asked out idol singer Sayaka Shiotani from vocal unit Pureful. Like all women, she is powerless to resist the charms of a RocketNews24 writer, and so of course said yes.

“Honestly though, I don’t have much experience with girls, and I’m not even really sure how to talk to them,” he tells us. Well, as a wise man once said, when you’re trying to pick up girls, use humor. And if you’re not funny, use alcohol. Read More

From Russia with love (for J-pop), we present trilingual cover band Pudra

It’s taken several years, but as anime and computer generated vocaloid songs continue to grow in popularity abroad, Japanese pop music has solidified a passionate overseas fan base. Go to YouTube and do a search for the opening or closing theme of a major recent anime hit, and you’ve got a decent chance of finding a foreign fan doing a cover, either while strumming a guitar or with the vocal-less karaoke mix from the song’s single playing in the background.

But that’s not good enough for Russian band, Pudra (meaning “powder”). This quartet of teenage girls goes all out with their anime song performances, with full arrangement and polished videos. And while many foreign cover artists rewrite lyrics in their native languages, Pudra sings all of their J-pop renditions in their original Japanese. Read More

Japanese mom shows daughter how it’s done with awesome old-school gaming notebook

Every generation, something comes along that people are just sure is going to ruin kids’ minds. Recently it’s social networking websites. In the 1950s it was blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll. If you had a time machine, and for some reason got tired of riding on the backs of dinosaurs and decided to instead interview cavemen about the parenting issues they faced, I’m sure you’d find some of them complaining about how the young whipper-snappers in the neighborhood are wasting all their time with this new-fangled “fire” thing.

When I was growing up, the big menace was video games, but just like all the things listed above, they turned out to be mostly harmless (but watch out, blue jeans become quite a bit more dangerous if you combine them with fire). Video games have now been around long enough that some hardcore gamers have kids of their own, such as the mother of Twitter user maki_pq, whose enthusiasm for the Dragon Quest series far outpaces her daughter’s.
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We devour a mountain of ramen (toppings)

By far the plainest, most bare-bones name for a guy in Japan is Taro. Look at just about any sample application form in the country, and nine times out of ten the applicant’s name will be listed as “Taro.” When coupled with a girl’s name like Hanako it’s the equivalent of “Dick and Jane,” showing up in children’s stories and textbooks.

Nonetheless,the name Taro is something of a classic, and a common choice for first-born sons. But change the first kanji character Taro is written with and you get “Jiro,” meaning more or less “second son.” Jiro doesn’t have quite the cachet of Taro, as it has a perpetual little brother-like ring to it.

Restaurant chain Ramen Jiro doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone, though, especially with creations like this.
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Japanese band with American singer wants to turn music industry on its ear with free downloads and gigs

There are a couple of standard job categories most foreigners working into Japan fall into. You’ll find plenty of English teachers and IT professionals, along with some financial service providers and executive recruiters. A few of the best-looking even end up as models, actors, or writers for RocketNews24 (thankfully the boss forgot his contacts the day he interviewed me).

But American expat Nelson Babin-Coy is aiming for something a little different: indie rock star. Read More

Pigs fly (in broth form) as ANA serves up in-flight Ippudo ramen

Japan has earned plenty of foodie cred over the last few years. Tokyo has topped multiple lists of the best cities in the world to eat out in, morning talk shows showcase delicious, hole-in-the wall restaurants and bakeries almost every day, and this month even provincial Hiroshima got its own Michelin Guide.

But even with a nation of enthusiastic diners and gastronomic craftsmen ready to serve them, airline food is, for the most part, nothing to get too excited about. Unless you happen to be flying ANA internationally, that is, where you can now get Ippudo ramen. Read More

Silly Pun Leads to Great Dessert – Special Strawberry Shortcake Available Just Once a Month at Japanese Convenience Store

In almost every company in Japan, payday is on the 25th of the month. While this means every month feels a little like Christmas, it also means that if you’ve been partying a little too hard for the last 30-odd days, around the 22nd, your bank balance might be looking pretty dismal.

But no matter how much you try to cut back, man can’t live on bread alone. Looking to treat yourself to the most meager luxury possible, you might stumble into a branch of the Japanese convenience store Lawson, where there’s a special treat to brighten your day that’s available only on the 22nd of each month. Read More

Original Evangelion Design Portfolio Gives us Ripped Robots, Smiling Shinji, and One Unbelievable Plot Divergence

The anime/merchandising franchise Evangelion is one of the few animated series, like One Piece or Gundam, to have achieved true cultural mainstream status in Japan. Even people who have never watched an episode of the TV series (or seen an installment of the movie, or read a chapter of the comic, or played one of the pachinko machine adaptations, or shaved with one of the Eva razors, or eaten one of the Eva burgers… like we said, franchise) can recognize its iconic characters and giant robots.

It wasn’t always like that, though. When Evangelion (or simply Eva, as its fans call it) began airing in 1995, its robot designs took some getting used to. Whereas most anime robots were inspired by a body builder’s physique, Eva’s machines had an almost gangly appearance, with lanky limbs, stooped posture, and what appeared to be tennis shoes. Their fragile look would turn out to be a perfect match for the psyches of their teenaged pilots, but things didn’t start out that way, as shown in Eva’s early planning portfolio. Read More

We Use Lotteria’s Ramen Burger to Make a Bowl of Ramen Noodles, Restore the Natural Balance of the Universe

On May 17, Japanese hamburger chain Lotteria’s ramen burger went on sale in the Tokyo area. Comprised of a slab of seasoned pork and a handful of noodles sandwiched inside a bun, with a cup of broth on the side, the sandwich is a collaboration between Lotteria and the popular ramen restaurant chain Musashi.

Representing the convergence of two of fast food’s all-stars, the ramen burger has been a hit, with lines stretching out the door when it went on sale. But our stomachs are fickle masters, and we decided to tear the two star-crossed lovers apart once again by using the ramen burger to make a bowl of ramen noodles. Read More

With Title “Happiest Place on Earth” Already Taken, Amusement Park on Cebu Island Makes Its Claim to Be the Sleepiest

When you’re a kid, theme parks are a place where your dream can come to life. Wouldn’t it be great to feel that excitement once again?

In search of that childlike wonder, one of RocketNews24’s reporters recently visited the Lecian Grand Carnaval amusement park in Mandaue City on Cebu Island, in the Philippines. While it doesn’t have the high-tech animatronics and pyrotechnics of Disneyland, it offers plenty of old-fashioned attractions like a tilt-a-whirl and haunted house, plus a life-endangering roller coaster and very lenient napping policy. Read More

Japanese Electronics Company Releases Camera Glasses for Under US$100

With the general release of Google Glass still several months away, Tokyo-based electronics maker Thanko is already offering gadget lovers something that shares one function with Google’s wearable computer for a fraction of the price.

On April 11 Thanko released its mita manma megane, or “just what you see glasses” video camera, designed like a pair of eyeglasses. Read More

Simple Arts and Crafts Kit Produces Beautiful, Shiny Balls of Mud

Some things just don’t quite translate culturally. For example, in most parts of the West, horses aren’t really considered food, while some Japanese consider horse meat a delicacy, particularly if you don’t mar the flavor by cooking it before eating. But whether it’s a hamburger or a stallion skewer, at the end of the day they’re both ways of satisfying a meat lover’s cravings.

Likewise, kids in Japan might reach for some dango dumplings instead of a slice of cake, but they’re both just treats for someone with a sweet tooth. Which brings us to another fundamental human condition: children love to make things out of mud, and while Japanese kids don’t make mud cakes, they make mud dango.

Now, writing supply maker Shachihata is putting a new, shiny spin on mud dango. Read More

Kanagawa Junior High School Friends Set Out on an 80-Kilometer Adventure to Hakone by Skateboard 【Video】

Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, the city of Hakone is a popular weekend travel destination for people living in the Tokyo area. The town’s numerous open-air hot springs and traditional inns, several with spectacular views of Mt. Fuji, attract visitors both young and old.

Most people headed to Hakone take the train, although the mountain passes that wind through and around the town make it a popular destination for drifters, too (the kind with cars, not the kind with bindles). One group of recent Kanagawa junior high graduates thought it would be more fun to bypass motorized transportation and headed out for Hakone by skateboard, taking their video camera with them. Read More

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