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

These doughnuts from Hokkaido are unbear-ably cute!

A long time ago, in a place quite far, far away, there was an area of Japan so remote that the indigenous people called it sir etok; literally the end of the earth. Known today as Shiretoko, the peninsula at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido remains a place of untouched beauty, traversed by a unique population of brown bears.

So what does a visitor to the end of the earth bring back to the rest of civilisation as a reminder of the beauty and the bear? Given that live bears don’t act kindly to being captured, a cute alternative has popped up in miniature, edible form. Wrapped in a cosy doughnut ball, these little cubs are flying off the shelves like hotcakes. We bought a variety pack to take a closer look at what makes these adorable souvenirs so popular.

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10 common phrases that stump Japanese students of English

Learning a second language is never easy, especially when there are so many things like context, nuance, and cultural connotations standing in the way. The key to conquering these hurdles, though, usually lies outside the pages of a textbook, and the Japanese Government addresses this issue by employing thousands of foreigners to assist English teachers in its education system every year.

So where would a foreigner start when correcting a student on the finer points of English as a second language? One of the easiest ways would be to take a look at this collection of commonly misused phrases and their simple fixes, put together by David Thayne, the head of AtoZ English.

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From Sarah Brightman to Queen: Watch nine western artists sing in Japanese

If you’ve been in Japan long enough, you’ve probably seen western actors and celebrities visit the country, showing enthusiasm for the language by throwing out an “arigatou” here and a “konnichi wa” there, leaving fans and interviewers gasping in astonishment. But did you know that big-name western musicians have been showing their Japanese prowess through song for decades? We have the video proof, with all nine artists above singing phrases, and sometimes even entire songs, in Japanese. The performances are surprisingly impressive.

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Onigiri taste test: Which convenience store will win?

Walk into any convenience store in Japan and you’ll see the staples: magazines, drinks, snacks, and the ubiquitous onigiri. And when it comes to onigiri, the world-famous rice ball wrapped in seaweed, one of the hands-down most popular is the salmon variety, with salty, sweet, succulent flakes of orange salmon at its centre.

So which convenience store sells the best salmon onigiri? We decided to conduct a taste test in our offices to declare a winner, pitting the top three – 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart – against each other in a battle befitting the rice ball’s feudal origins. With a set of scales, the slice of a knife and a merchant tester, we begin.

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Long-distance kissing now one smooch closer with new silicone lips for your iPhone

Bandai, the third largest producer of toys in the world, has made a name for itself in Japan with a never-ending array of collectable capsule goods. From keychains to stationery to jewellery, and featuring popular characters like Hello Kitty and Gundam, a trip to the supermarket or shopping mall in Japan will inevitably have you passing one of these small machines, stacked up in rows of exciting possibility, enticing you to shell out that last 200 yen for the chance of a lucky score.

You might want to start saving your silver yen now because from mid-October, a new series of capsule toys will be hitting the market. The arrival of silicon lips, designed to sit on the home key on your smartphone, has got everyone talking in Japan.

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5 things you never knew about cat paws

To us, they’re the cute, spongy things you play with like miniature stress balls after a bad day. To cats, they’re essential for getting around. Either way, cat paws are amazing. Functional enough to unlock an iPhone and so adorable they resemble teddy bears. We take a look at some of the little known powers of a cat paw brought to light by astute Japanese cat owners. Do cats know the power they hold in their paws?

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Malaysian mother wows Japan with meals that are too cute to eat!

Kyara-ben, boxed bento lunches featuring cute comic characters, have been around in Japan for some time. Usually created by housewives with a lot of time and skill on their hands, getting to feast on one in person, though, is about as difficult as nailing jelly to a tree. So it’s no surprise that people in Japan were green with envy when they caught sight of these adorable meals. Created by a Malaysian mother of two of the luckiest daughters in the world, these plates of healthy cuteness have earned her a huge fanbase, with more than 250, 000 followers eagerly keeping track of the new creations as they appear on her Instagram account. From Lady Gaga to Batman, no feast is too difficult for this artistic mum!

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Suika Bar vs watermelon: which popsicle will win?

It’s summer in Japan and that means everyone is on the lookout for ways to cool down and cope with the stifling heat. For many Japanese, relief comes in popsicle form, and one of the most popular and refreshing is the Suika Bar, literally “watermelon bar”, which featured in our recent Japanese convenience store ice-cream ranking.

But what happens when you have a craving for the crunchy watermelon treat and the blistering walk to the shops is too much to bear? Our Japanese reporter recently faced this dilemma and tried to recreate the popsicle with just the fruit instead. How will the humble frozen watermelon measure up next to its manufactured cousin? We bring you the answer to this summer’s most pressing question after the break.

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The first photos ever used for Japanese tourism show Japan as it was 100 years ago

A collection of 100-year-old hand-painted photos has been captivating Japanese netizens recently, both for their beauty and their significance. Taken at the beginning of the twentieth century by the well-known photographer, Kōzaburō Tamamura, these were the first pictures ever used to promote Japan to the world. The series reveals some gorgeous scenes of everyday life and places of natural beauty, in a Japan that was previously cut off to the world for centuries.

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The top 10 sightseeing spots in Kyoto Prefecture

With more than a thousand unique temples and countless sites of natural beauty, planning a short trip to Kyoto can be no easy task. Thankfully, there’s a Japanese travel website that’s made things easy with a top ten list of unmissable places in the region. If you’re looking for a way to escape the information overload and simply visit the best that Kyoto Prefecture has to offer, then this list–complied by native Japanese no less–might just be the list for you.

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Mr. Sato shows us how to make a frozen slushie with our favourite sodas

If you’ve ever been to Japan during summer, then you’ll know how the energy-sapping, mind-melting humidity can make you want to do crazy things like wear ice-cream shorts and invest in USB-powered neck coolers. So of course we weren’t surprised when Mr. Sato came into the office insisting everyone shake their carbonated drinks and put them in the freezer. While some of our more sensible staff members made it clear that they wouldn’t be sticking around to clean up any fizzy explosions, our man Mr. Sato managed to convince us all that this would work. And work it did. In fact, this may be one of Mr. Sato’s most sensible ideas yet!

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Enjoy latte art at home with cute marshmallow cats!

From colourful anime designs to awesome 3-D creations, exciting things are going on in the drinkable art world of Japan. Now, there’s a new trend that’s melting our hearts: latte art in adorable take-home designs. Created by a marshmallow company in Nagano Prefecture, the range includes cute cats and fluffy cat paws that gradually dissolve into 2-D latte artworks. The only skill you’ll need for these is an ability to stand the cuteness!

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Fire up your fish roe: the battle tank sushi inspired by an anime series

Ōarai, a town in Ibaraki Prefecture 130 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, was an area hit hard by the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. After the tragedy though, the port town received support from around the world, including an unexpected show of encouragement from an anime series set in Ōarai and screened on Japanese TV last year. The intriguing storyline, about a group of local girls who compete in battle tank championships, sent a surge of tourists to the area, with one sushi shop taking out the big guns and offering up a unique, and entirely edible, battle tank creation.

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UNESCO declares Mt. Fuji a World Heritage site, we celebrate with unique Fuji-related gifts!

After years of waiting in the wings, Mt. Fuji is now basking in UNESCO’s privileged spotlight, finally receiving recognition for its cultural contribution to the art and spirit of Japan. What better way to celebrate than with a look at some of the modern designs inspired by the sacred mountain? From dishes to beer glasses to wind chimes and umbrellas, we’ve got some of the cutest and most unique finds for you to enjoy.

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Japanese reporter visits ice cream vending machine… at Walmart!?

On a recent trip to the US, one of our Japanese reporters, Yoshio, heard about an unusual vending machine that serves up ice cream. Excited to see how the icy treats would be delivered, our reporter made a beeline for the machine’s nearest location: the local Walmart. We filmed the machine in action and got his take on the automated ice cream experience first-hand.

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Kyoto Aquarium serving up cute breads…and tadpole soup?

Kyoto may be well-known for its traditional buildings and breathtaking temples, but there’s also a different side to the city; one that’s totally modern and cute! Kyoto Aquarium is giving us a peek into the cute innovations going on in the city with an adorable range of sweet breads, available exclusively from their on-site cafes. This month, they’re paying homage to the frogs of Kyoto and the world with a new exhibit and some very unique additions to the menu.

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A Tom Cruise movie inspires a time lapse video of Hong Kong

We’ve seen some gorgeous time-lapse videos in the past but we’ve never seen one inspired by a Tom Cruise movie. Until now. Created by Javin Lau, a Canadian expat living in Hong Kong, this video captures both the spirit of a heaving metropolis and the stillness beyond it in more rural landscapes. While the contrast in scenery is vastly different, the overbearing sense of insignificance in both environments is exactly the same. This feeling of isolation, similar to the movie Oblivion which inspired it, is now striking a chord with Japanese viewers, who are praising the video for its quiet beauty and bold images. Check out the clip after the jump.

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Bring it on down to Burger King with a month of half-price specials!

Burger King is celebrating its sixth year in Japan with a month of half price specials! From now to July 7, Burger King stores across Japan will be taking part in the campaign, with four of their popular products receiving a 50 percent price cut.

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Vote for your favourite Sanrio character!

Cast your vote in one of the cutest elections around! A total of 100 characters are in the running to be named crowd favourite in Sanrio’s annual popularity poll this year, each one primped and ready with the standard political sash and some imaginative campaign promises. We take a look at some of the elected delegates, from well-known favourites to brand new faces and some unique characters we never even knew existed. Will Hello Kitty come out on top? Or will she be knocked off her perch by a smiling high speed train, a group of android beetles, or a dog that resembles a custard dessert? Take a look and choose your favourite for 2013!

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Need a ride? Take a trip to Awesome Town with Japan’s new fleet of anime taxis!

Hokkaido and its capital, Sapporo, are known for many great things: beer, chocolate, butter ramen, and a giant snow festival to name a few. Now the city is adding a fleet of extraordinary cabs to their long list of must-try experiences. The taxis, decked out in all sorts of wild, anime-inspired designs, are proving to be a hit with locals and tourists alike. But with nothing to gain from advertising, why are the cab drivers doing it?

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