Oona McGee

Half-Japanese Oona McGee hails from Sydney, Australia, where she worked as a journalist and copywriter before making the move to Japan over a decade ago. Now she spends her days exploring the streets of Tokyo with her laptop and camera, always in search of new cafes, restaurants, events and stories to share with our readers. As an experienced food and travel reporter, Oona has travelled extensively through all 47 prefectures of Japan, and is constantly researching new destinations and drawing up itineraries for her next adventure.

All Stories by Oona McGee

Man jumps into tiger enclosure in China and asks to be eaten

On February 16, horrified onlookers watched as a Chinese man jumped into a bengal tiger enclosure at Chengdu Zoo in Sichuan province, south-west China. The man taunted the two tigers for twenty minutes, offering his flesh to them and asking to be eaten.

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Artists use SD cards and Febreeze to create Japanese crests for the modern age

There’s a lot of art enmeshed in everyday Japanese life. From the pictographs of the kanji writing system to the aesthetics of traditional practices, it’s easy to take for granted the visual symbolism on which a lot of the culture is based. One of the most striking examples of Japanese design is the kamon, or family crest, used for centuries to signify a family name or clan and often seen on the sleeves of formal kimonos and ceramic roof tiles of traditional homes. It’s estimated that there are as many as 30,000 family crests in Japan, and while many Japanese would struggle to identify a large number of them, some crests, such as the chrysanthemum Imperial crest and the Tokugawa shogunate hollyhock design, are easy to identify.

Artists are now using the digital medium to create a number of new kamon to the delight of netizens nationwide. What makes these unique is the fact that the images inside the crest are not flowers or scenes of nature but more modern logos and tools familiar to us through advertising and the digital age. The crest above, for example, might look like a cross design made up of four stylised rectangles, but if you look closely you’ll see something more commonly used in digital cameras: SD memory cards. Featuring everything from Twitter logos to Febreeze bottles, these unique crests are perfect for the tribes of today.

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Snowfall in Tokyo sees customers clearing shelves across the region

If you’re in Tokyo today you’re probably indoors staying warm and gazing out the window at a very different scene thanks to Tokyo’s first real snowfall of the season. Hopefully you’ve stocked your kitchen with more than a battered bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise and stray packets of ramen seasoning because if you’re thinking of heading out to the shops for a quick snack, there’s a good chance you won’t find anything there. It seems the city is full of nervous shoppers acting like bears going into hibernation, hoarding stocks despite an abundance of 24-hour convenience stores and fully-functioning delivery services. After seeing these photos, we’d hate to see supermarket conditions in a blizzard or even worse, in a major catastrophe.

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Keep warm this winter with cosy knitted sweaters for your nails!

Chunky cable knits might not seem like a natural choice for fashionistas, but when it comes to winter nails, there’s nothing hotter than a knitted design. The new trend sweeping through Japan has us thinking about mugs of hot tea and romantic evenings by the fire. The varieties we’ve found will warm you up just by looking at them!

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Life-sized 3-D maneuver gear goes on display at Osaka’s new Attack on Titan museum

The wildly popular manga and animated series, Attack on Titan, continues to charge on, picking up speed and treating us all to a bevy of fan-related events before its live-action film debut in 2015. Now, for a limited time only, Osaka will play host to a very special “Survey Corps Museum”, with original illustrations, exclusive merchandise and awesome, life-sized 3-D maneuver gear. If you’re a fan of Attack on Titan, then take a look at what’s waiting for you in Osaka for the next 16 days…

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Unusual flat-pack daruma voted Japan’s most fascinating souvenir

If you’re looking for a unique Japanese gift that’s light in your luggage but heavy in tradition, then this is the item for you. It’s called the KD Daruma (Knock-Down Daruma) and it’s modelled on the centuries-old, round, good-luck talisman which symbolises Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. This modern take on the daruma features a flat-pack design and clever assembly so unusual it’s just been awarded first prize as Japan’s most fascinating souvenir in a competition held by the Japan Tourism Agency. We take a closer look at the details to see what makes this little novelty so charming.

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Suntory to release new beer designed specifically for consumption with Japanese food

There’s been a lot of research into the mystery of umami, the mild, pleasing savoury flavour that’s said to exist at the heart of Japanese cuisine. Often referred to as “the fifth taste”, alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter, umami was first discovered by a Japanese professor and only officially recognised as a proper scientific term in 1985. Now, almost thirty years later, the delicate flavour is finally set to meet its perfect partner in a beer called Wazen (lit. Japanese meal). Due for release on April 8, the beer is being billed as “the beer for Japanese food”.

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Grated radish art from Japan brings the cute to your favourite dishes

If you’ve been keeping up with the amazing 3-D latte art trends going on in Japan’s barista world right now, then you might want to take a look at their savoury counterparts popping up in grated radish form. Instead of swimming in cups of coffee, these adorable home-made creations are taking dips in winter hot pots and stews. Join us as we take a look at some of the cutest critters on offer, from Ghibli characters to sleeping cats, and see just how easy it is to cook up some edible cuteness at home.

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FamilyMart cancels release of foie gras bento due to complaints over animal cruelty

Popular Japanese convenience store chain FamilyMart has cancelled the release of a foie gras and beef patty bento ready meal due to customer complaints. While news of the cancellation will no doubt please animal rights supporters, some Japanese netizens have opposed the decision, arguing that the consumption of foie gras is no worse than the consumption of beef.

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Rika-chan finds a playmate in cute Kumamoto character Kumamon

If you’re a girl who grew up with Japanese relatives, then this Rika-chan doll probably brings back some childhood memories. Created in 1967, her popularity in Japan rivals that of Barbie in the West and her impressive accessories collection contains all sorts of Japanese-related goods including futons, Hello Kitty hats and kimonos. Now Rika is adding to her collection by collaborating with one of Japan’s newest and most popular characters, Kumamon, the official mascot for Kumamoto city in Kyushu. The new friends, with their matching black, red and white outfits, will be released on February 1 by Takara Tomy.

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Wander into the magical land of Ghibli in this fairytale forest town

The only thing more gorgeous than the characters from Studio Ghibli’s animated movies would have to be the magical lands in which they live and play. And if you’re looking to play in a forest town where Totoro might be lurking, this unique shopping town in Japan’s Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, is the perfect location.

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Attack on Titan characters come alive in awesome new Subaru TV commercial

If you’re waiting anxiously to catch a glimpse of the live-action Attack on Titan film slated for release in 2015, then this is a TV commercial you won’t want to miss. It’s the latest ad for Subaru Forester and while the car looks pretty flashy, all eyes will be darting around the vehicle to check out the awesome titans in action. Screened tonight, with a lot of hype around its debut between the hours of 9:00pm and 10:30pm in Japan, the ad is like a teaser for the live-action film to come. In a country full of weird and wonderful collaborations, this tie-in promotion with a car and people-guzzling giants is the one joint venture we’ve all been waiting for.

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Love Japanese sake? These 10 breweries recommended by Japanese alcohol enthusiasts will wet your whistle!

There are three requirements for brewing up a perfect batch of Japanese sake: rice, water and cold weather. Now, with many breweries opening their factories for a limited time during the winter months, it’s the ideal time for visitors to Japan to learn more about the national tipple. Tours walk you through the brewing process as it happens, with tips and information often provided by the master brewer, or tōji, himself, followed by a sake tasting to top off the experience. If you’d like to get far away from the well-worn tourist path and into the heart of some fantastic drinking experiences, we’ve got the list for you.

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Meet the $1,200 Attack on Titan figure that sold out in two hours in Japan

It wasn’t long ago we brought you news of an amazing DOLK doll loved by manga artists for its unprecedented 80 moveable parts and surprising elegance and beauty. Now, the company has teamed up with respected manufacturer I.O.S (Immortality of Soul) to bring joy to another legion of fans, this time with a 60-centimetre figurine based on a popular character from the hit anime series Attack on Titan.

As fans will know, this young man’s name is Levi, and his following is so huge that pre-sale orders for his doll were filled within just two hours of opening, despite a hefty US$1,200 price tag. We take a closer look at the awesome figure and find out what makes it so special.

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Five of Japan’s most unique snow-covered hot spring bathing sites

If you’ve ever experienced a soak in a hot outdoor spring, or rotenburo, in the middle of the snow, you’ll know the incredible sensation of extreme cold and heat on your body is an experience that’s hard to beat. With the best of the snow still to come in January and February, we’ve found five of the best snow-covered hot spring destinations perfect for a weekend getaway. From water slides to goblin masks, this collection of winter snowscapes will help you beat the winter chill in the most unique way possible.

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Thomas the Tank Engine locomotive coming to Japan in 2014!

Thomas the Tank Engine has a huge following in Japan. Known here as Kikansha Tomasu, literally Tank Engine Thomas, the cheeky train and his group of hard-working friends are so popular they even have their own amusement park and a hotel dedicated to them with unique, train carriage-themed rooms. Now Japanese fans are looking forward to their biggest present yet: a chance to ride on a fully-working Thomas the Tank Engine steam locomotive. Set to take passengers down the hills and round the bends of the Oigawa Line in Shizuoka Prefecture, this is a really useful engine we adore!

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How to prepare for a Japanese New Year

One of the best things about being in Japan at this time of year is the festive atmosphere that extends from Christmas all the way into the first few days of January. With so many unique traditions surrounding preparations for the New Year festival, it’s a fascinating experience but it’s also easy to feel lost when it comes to joining in with the celebrations. We’ve got a handy six-point check-list to help you with the run-down to the main event on January 1. If you want to celebrate a Japanese New Year, these are the essentials you’ll need to know.

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The meaning of the mandarin and 6 other Japanese New Year traditions explained

For people in Japan, the most important event on the calendar is the New Year festival. With its focus on family and tradition, many Japanese take the first three days of the year off work to travel back to their hometowns and take part in festivities embedded in centuries of culture and meaning.

Come with us now as we take a look at some of the popular Japanese New Year traditions and reveal the spiritual symbolism and superstitions behind them.

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Japanese Christmas sweets to make at home!

With Santa filling his sack and preparing for the annual world tour, pâtisseries and chocolate stores around Japan are marking the occasion with all sorts of cute and delicious dedications to the jolly, red-suited fellow. Now you can join in the fun no matter where you are, with these adorable Christmas treats to make at home. You won’t believe how quick and simple these sweets are!

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Chinese students beat smog with martial arts moves in the classroom

Elementary students at Guangming Road Primary School in Shijiazhuang, China have begun practising a unique set of “anti-smog” moves developed for them by their teacher. Said to strengthen and protect their lungs from harmful particles, the daily exercises are being widely criticised by dubious Chinese netizens.

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