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.

Posted by Oona McGee

Make chocolate from cocoa beans with this new chocolate making kit!

If you’re a chocolate lover, then you probably know something about the humble cocoa bean. But what does a cocoa bean actually look like? And how does it become a smooth, delicious piece of chocolate?

Now there’s a simple kit to answer all your questions. Even better, it promises to take you from bean to chocolate in a matter of hours. We take a step-by-step look at the process and discover what it takes to create a little piece of chocolate heaven.

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Go back to the 70s and 80s with a retro iRecorder for your iPhone

There’s no denying that smartphones are awesome. They can send messages, let you browse the web, take photos and play thousands of songs, all while fitting into your pocket, ready to be used anytime, anywhere. But for some of us, none of that convenience can compare to the fun of fitting a cassette tape into a cassette player and pressing play.

Now there’s a gadget that lets us have the best of both worlds: the joy of thousands of songs combined with the lost art of old-school push button technology. Now that fluoro’s back in fashion, there’s never been a better time to pull on those leg warmers, download some Madonna circa 1985 and experience music the way it used to be.

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10 things that surprise foreign women in Japan

Travel website Expedia recently conducted a poll to find out what women were most surprised by when they came to Japan. The top ten results revealed that ladies were fascinated with aspects of everyday culture, but none more so than when it came to bathroom habits. With three of the top ten responses relating directly to bathroom life, it seems there’s a lot going on in the ladies’ rooms of Japan.

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Specialist French fry stand “And the Friet” opening today in Tokyo

If you’ve ever yearned for an authentic potato chip in Tokyo, then it’s time to get excited because specialist french fry shop, “And the Friet”, is set to open in the Hiroo district today!

The Belgian-style stand will offer six types of cut, half a dozen potato varieties including a Belgian variety flown in especially, and a choice of seasonal dips and sauces. It’s time to get your friet on!

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University students start a JK fan club, confuse twitter users everywhere

Clubs are a big part of student life in Japan. From junior high school all the way through to university, students spend hours away from home with their classmates, immersed in an extra-curricular endeavour of choice. While sporting clubs, music clubs, and culture clubs are common, it’s not everyday you come across a JK club. So when a group of university students posted their pamphlet for new recruits online, even Japanese netizens were left scratching their heads. Could this be a group of JK Rowling enthusiasts? A Japan/Korea appreciation society? The real answer turned out to be just as perturbing, with Japanese commenters still wondering why.

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Impress house guests with toilet paper origami!

Hotel and restaurant bathrooms have really done a number on us by introducing a new level of hospitality through toilet paper etiquette. When the next sheet of paper on the roll is folded into a neat triangular point, we’re made to feel that extra bit special, safe in the knowledge that the area has recently been attended to, as if the place was just done up in anticipation of our arrival.

One lady in the United States has taken the triangular toilet paper fold to a whole new level, incorporating traditional Japanese origami concepts to produce a book of cute, funny and surprisingly beautiful designs to dress up the toilet roll in your bathroom. From swans to candles, who knew toilet paper could be so adorable?

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New “Privacy Glasses” protect your identity and your image

Protecting your privacy can be a difficult task in today’s world of information technology. With surveillance cameras on every corner and a recording device on every smartphone, there’s a good chance your image has been captured somewhere without you even knowing it. Safeguarding your mug in the future is set to become even more difficult with advancements in facial recognition technologies and wearable computers like Google Glass.

So what can you do to ensure your identity remains intact? In Western countries the answer would be simple: put on a pair of sunglasses. In Japan, however, sunglasses are a much less common sight, and many consider them to be worn only by those trying a little too hard to look cool, and in more extreme cases associate them with the yakuza lifestyle. Researchers at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo have addressed this issue by designing a non-threatening pair of white shades to protect both your identity and your public image, dubbing them the “Privacy Visor”.

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Bangkok brothers get banged with a Starbucks lawsuit

Starbucks has a policy of seamlessly blending their coffee outlets into remote tourist locations around the world. So when two brothers in Bangkok set up their street-side coffee cart business under a familiar looking green logo, Starbucks was quick to assert that this was not one of their operations.

Damrong and Damras Maslae are now in hot water as the global coffee franchise is coming down hard and suing them for copyright infringement.

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How a foreigner’s Halloween prank in Japan started a debate about the imperial system

As we’ve seen, Japanese people are enamoured with the idea of Halloween. From limited edition sweets to pumpkin-orange accessories, the holiday in Japan is centred around all things cute, and very occasionally creepy. So what do you do if you’re a foreigner in Japan who wants to give the locals a taste of the prankster spirit that usually lurks around the corner on a traditional Halloween night?

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LED tatami floors take us to the tea ceremony of the future

Japan is known for its dichotomy of unique tradition and state-of-the-art technology, so tatami mat floors that light up during a traditional tea ceremony should really come as no surprise. Although the photo above might look like an illusion or a Photoshopped image, it’s actually a real tea ceremony room in Yokohama, Japan. The eerie yet peaceful glow is thanks to a company that uses LED lighting to illuminate traditional Japanese flooring. And the results are absolutely stunning.

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Hamamatsu train station unveiled in miniature form

There’s no denying that the world looks a whole lot cuter when it’s scaled down to miniature form, and even ordinary train stations are no exception to the rule. Hamamatsu station, in Shizuoka Prefecture, has been given the mini-me treatment, thanks to one of its renowned residents, award-winning modeler Takuji Yamada. On display in the city centre, people from all over Japan are gushing at the model’s remarkable quality and it’s amazing likeness to the original.

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Period pain? There’s a comic for that!

There’s a five-frame comic doing the rounds on Twitter that’s got all the ladies talking. Called “The day of period pain”, it’s being praised for authentically depicting that dreaded time of the month and proves that, in Japan, there really is a comic about everything.

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Giant rubber duck arrives in Osaka!

Rubber ducks invoke a sense of bath-time fun and childhood wonder no matter how old we get. Their bright colours and kind expressions are so pleasing that one artist has super-sized the fun by creating giant, inflatable versions that travel around the world.

One of these has recently taken up temporary residence in Nakanoshima, Osaka, where it will be appearing for one week only. To add to the excitement, a local hotel is serving up limited numbers of ‘rubber duck plates’ featuring the cutest rice creation you’ve ever seen!

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Japanese customers are raving about a bath mat made from soil

This bath mat is so popular that it’s sold out on many of its retail websites. The reason for its popularity? It’s said to feel so good and absorb moisture so well that it surpasses anything that’s come before it. Oh, and it’s made entirely from soil.

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Obachan power strikes again as middle-aged women buy giraffe for local zoo

Obachan are a powerful force in Japan. While the term literally means aunt, it commonly refers to middle-aged women who have done their time in the lower ranks of the female order and are finally at an age where they can do and say as they please. Stories of strong-willed obachan are not uncommon in the news, with some forming their own political party and others even starting their own rock groups. Proving that nothing is out of their reach, one group of obachan in Hokkaido have now done something that no one ever imagined they would: They raised over 54 million yen (US$548, 000) and bought a giraffe for their local zoo.

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Meet the new model set to make manga artists’ lives a whole lot easier

When it comes to replicating human poses and natural movement, artists often look to anatomical models. Traditional figures do have their limitations, though, with the lack of details making it difficult to recreate the lines of a raised shoulder or a clasped fist. But things are set to change, with a new figure on the market called the S.F.B.T-3, (Special Full-action Body Type v.3). Ten years in the making, this girl has 80 moveable parts in her body, allowing for an unprecedented number of poses and anatomical designs. We take a look at the doll’s amazing details and see how it performs in some popular anime poses for the illustrator’s eye.

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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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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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