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

Very punny: president of Domino’s Pizza Japan offering one cheesy joke a day

There are plenty of difficulties in learning Japanese, from the thousands of kanji characters you have to memorize to the fact that the language doesn’t have a future tense. Pronunciation, though, isn’t that big of a hurdle. Japanese contains only 47 syllables to master, which may sound like a lot, but is in actuality pretty paltry compared to most other languages.

One of the biggest effects this limited pronunciation repertoire has is that Japanese is filled with homonyms. For example, kyoushi could mean either “a teacher” or “death by way of insanity.” Where there are words that sound alike, there are puns, and now where there are puns, there’s the president of Domino’s Pizza Japan.

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Internet survey ranks Japan’s four favorite rice toppings

Something every guidebook mentions about table manners in Japan is that, while almost every restaurant and home keeps a bottle of soy sauce on the table, it’s there to add to things like sashimi and grated radish, and not to be poured on white rice.

This isn’t to say that people in Japan always eat their rice plain, though. A recent Internet popularity poll pitted four of the country’s top rice toppings against each other in a battle royale.

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To live and dine in L.A.: we find marshmallow ramen in the City of Angels

Among the extensive pantheon of ramen varieties is tsukemen, in which the noodles are served on a dish with a bowl of dipping sauce on the side. My first experience with the dish was in college, when a buddy took me to a tsukemen place that had opened up near our campus in Tokyo that was famous for their sauce made with fish stock. At the time it seemed like a wildly exotic concoction, but little did I know that years later my hometown of Los Angeles would produce an even more outlandish version of the dish: marshmallow ramen.

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Are you man enough for Family Mart’s line of masculine sweets?

So here’s a tricky question: do desserts count as masculine or feminine food? On the one hand, a slice of chocolate cake is just as bold a statement of your culinary decadence as a nice fried pork cutlet. In either case, it’s at least a little wild and macho to eat something with such shaky nutritional value yet unquestionable deliciousness, similar to how I rationalize eating a pack of ham out of the fridge when I’m too lazy to go buy bread for a sandwich as being a natural result of my raging testosterone.

On the other hand, sweets are, well, sweet. Truly red-blooded males can’t even bring themselves to utter the word “sweet” unless they add “taste of revenge” after it while clenching a fist and glaring at the horizon.

Thankfully, Japanese convenience store chain Family Mart is here to help end this confusion with a line of desserts tailor-made for everybody born with a Y chromosome.

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Onsen Ramen – Why go to the hot spring when the hot spring can come to you?

If there’s one thing Japan loves, it’s ramen, and if there’s a second thing, it’s hot springs (or onsen in Japanese).

We recently found a place in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward that combines both.

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French fries with sushi? Our delicious experiment in multicultural dining

One of the greatest things in Japan are kaiten-zushi restaurants, where customers sit at a counter and grab little plates of sushi that go streaming by on a conveyer belt. With instant gratification, no language barrier, and a far cheaper price than traditional sushi restaurants, what’s not to like?

One of the most popular kaiten-zushi chains is Sushi Ro, with its low 105 yen (US$1.05) prices. The fish is quite tasty too, enough so that most customers don’t bother with the various non-sushi side dishes the chain also offers. But if you can pull yourself away from the succulent slices of tuna and amberjack for a moment, you’ll be doing yourself a favor to get an order of Sushi Ro’s French fries.

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Vietnam mulling moniker modification as part of constitutional revisions

Changes are expected to be made to the Vietnamese constitution this October during sessions of the country’s National Assembly. The current constitution was ratified in 1992 as part of the doimoi political movement that relaxed many of the government’s economic controls, and was a major departure from its previous incarnation.

Although minor revisions were made to the constitution in 2001, far more extensive alterations are expected in the next round. Among the many points to be discussed is the possibility of altering the country’s official name.

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Chinese fan-produced anime poster is crammed with heroes: we lose count at 115

Who needs copyrights when you’ve got over nine dozen iconic anime characters?

The past few years have seen a handful of anime projects featuring anime characters crossing over from one franchise to the other. Famed thief Lupin III crossed paths with the great detective Conan himself in 2009, and the pirates of One Piece have teamed up with both omnivorous master hunter Toriko and Dragon Ball hero Son Goku.

But what if instead of just combining one or two series, you tried to combine all of them?

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New live-action Sailor Moon stage musical cast revealed

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon. Since the series’ start as a manga comic serial in Kodanhsa’s Nakayoshi anthology, its team of planetary-themed, pleated skirt-wearing protectors of humanity have appeared in five seasons of televised anime, three theatrical features, a live action TV drama, and numerous video game adaptations.

Sailor Moon also inspired a live-action stage musical, with 27 variations and over 800 performances during its 12-year run that ended in 2005. As part of the franchise’s 20th anniversary festivities, a new version of the musical is set to open this fall, and producers have just announced the starring cast.

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We try Japan’s latest instant noodles: pineapple ramen (with 3-D photos!!)

With so many different ramen restaurants in Japan, you have to do something pretty special to get yours to stand out. One establishment that certainly qualifies is lengthily-named Papapapa-Pine, whose claim to fame is its ramen with chunks of pineapple and broth made with the juice of the tropical fruit. But with only one branch in Tokyo, most people living in the capital haven’t had a chance to try this unique concoction.

That all changed on June 3, though, when instant ramen based on Papapapa-Pine’s went on sale at the Daily Yamazaki (also known as Daily Store) chain of convenience stores. We dispatched our crack reporters for an immediate taste test.

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Landlocked Tochigi Prefecture seeking create new national holiday: Mountain Day

It’s no secret that Japan is a hard-working society. Thankfully, there are a few times each year when more or less the whole country goes on vacation for a few days. There’s the string of holidays collectively known as Golden Week in early May, plus o-bon in August where people traditionally head back to their home towns, spend time with their relatives, and pay a visit to the graves of their ancestors.

However, there’s not much to stem the flow of work or school responsibilities between those two blissful periods, except for the oasis of Umi no Hi, or Marine/Sea Day, on the third Monday in July, which encourages people to take a trip to the beach and splash about in the sea.

Of course, this leaves June without a holiday of its own. And while Marine Day is great for people living in the coastal regions of Japan, residents of the country’s eight landlocked prefectures feel understandably left out. Thankfully, a group in mountainous Tochigi Prefecture has a solution to both problems.

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One more reason to hate Mondays: bad beef

Ah, Mondays! I’m sure you’re just like me in that you always wake up 30 minutes before your alarm goes off, bursting with energy at the idea of getting a start on spending the next five days at the office. Or, more accurately, you may be just like me in that you have a tendency to lie in order to cover up just how much you hate Monday mornings.

But when duty calls, you’ve got to go. As you struggle to convince your body to drag itself out of bed, maybe you try to sweeten the deal by promising yourself a tasty dinner as a reward for not just creating your own little three-day weekend by calling in sick. Yeah, you can make it through your shift if you’ve got something to look forward to at the end of it, like maybe some high-grade beef. And why bother cooking at home when Japan is filled with yakiniku (Korean barbeque) restaurants?

Not so fast there, cowboy. It turns out Monday is the worst day to go out to eat yakiniku.

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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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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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