History

Anime’s Great Deception – The Difference Between Anime and Cartoons

Even as a child, I sensed something different about cartoons like Robotech and Voltron. Compared to other shows, they struck me as serious, dramatic and stylish. Each episode contributed to a longer narrative and when … [Read more...]

Ashigaru – Japan’s Overlooked And Underappreciated Warriors

Samurai get too much credit. Japan’s foot soldiers, the ashigaru, started as nothing more than farmers pulled from the fields to swell a daimyo’s army. Yet as time passed they became a professional fighting force included … [Read more...]

The Epic Diplomacy of Winter Sonata in Japan

It’s no secret that Japan and Korea have a strained relationship. It wasn’t even 20 years ago that Korea lifted their ban on Japanese media (it was partially lifted in 1998, and fully lifted in 2004). While they aren’t the … [Read more...]

What Is a Butsudan? And Why Are People Paying $630,000 for Them?

Have you ever been to a temple in Japan and thought, "I wish I had some of this amazingness in my house?" Then the Japanese butsudan (仏壇) is for you. A butsudan is a small, household Buddhist shrine. Its exterior often … [Read more...]

Kappa: Japan’s Aquatic, Cucumber-Loving, Booty-Obsessed Yokai

The kappa is one of the most famous traditional yokai in modern day Japan. Even if you think you've never heard of it, you've probably encountered a reference at your local sushi bar. Ever wonder why cucumber roll is kappa … [Read more...]

The Secret Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gundam – And Other Stories

In August 2014, Japan’s defense ministry announced a new “Space Monitoring Force.” It will utilize personnel from the Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the country’s air force. This new team is supposed to become active by … [Read more...]

Printed, Painted, and Sculpted Kitties – Cats in Japanese Art

Cats are an obsession in modern Japan. Most people have heard of cat cafes by now, but did you know there are cat shrines and even cat tourism?  Tama the cat was appointed stationmaster of a Wakayama train station … [Read more...]

The Taming of the Shroom: The Umamitastic World of Japanese Mushrooms

Mushrooms are an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, and there are so many varieties to choose from.  Hopefully this guide will make things a bit easier on you.  It will tell you what a mushroom is, their types and … [Read more...]

Have a Rice Day! Rice Cooker History, Features, Futures, and More

My brother had warned me, "Once you go rice cooker, you don't go back." He was right. I had grown up in a household where we cooked rice in a pot, on our stovetop. In college I used a hotpot to the same effect. Then … [Read more...]

25 Reasons To Join The JET Program (And 8 Reasons Not To)

If you're reading this, you must have some kind of interest in the JET Program. This isn't a decision to be made lightly, though. As a JET alumni myself, I've experienced (and heard stories of) the incredibly positive … [Read more...]

Hideo Nomo, Baseball Rebel With a Cause

2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Masanori Murakami's Major League Baseball debut. Sent to the San Francisco Giants farm system for developmental purposes, Murakami sparkled when he took the mound in the minor leagues. … [Read more...]

Don’t Get Sued! Libel, Slander, and Defamation Laws in Japan

Scandal erupted back in 2007 when a Japanese weekly magazine, Shukan Gendai, reported that Asashoryu, a grand champion sumo wrestler, had bought his way to the top, paying off opponents in exchange for winning matches, and … [Read more...]

Japan’s Sacrificial Lamb – The Okinawa Military Base Controversy

Despite its small size, Okinawa sure has giant problems. Due to its strategic location, Okinawa has struggled as a pawn in Japanese and US affairs since before World War II. Today, the independent kingdom turned … [Read more...]

Japonism: How Japan Shaped Modern Art

Art is pretty awesome. One of the most awesome things about art is how it can bring people together. Throughout history, neighbouring peoples have constantly exchanged aesthetic ideas, inspiring the form and content of … [Read more...]

Christians in Kyushu, Part 3: The Last Stand

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 to understand the history of Japanese Christianity that bring us here! When last we left our holy heroes, the situation for Christians in Japan had gone from tenuous to … [Read more...]

Tanuki: The Magical Canine with Gigantic Balls

The fox and tanuki seem quite similar at first glance. They're both smallish, wild canines native to Japan that play a prominent role in the country's folklore. In real life, both are adaptable and successful over a wide … [Read more...]

Christians in Kyushu, Part 2: The Shogun Strikes Back

Be sure to check out Part 1 before engaging in this epic second part. When we last left off, Oda Nobunaga, the padres' most powerful patron had just perished.  The next great unifier to take his place was a general of … [Read more...]

Ken Takakura and Bunta Sugawara: The Death of Yakuza Cinema

2014 has proven a sad year for Japanese cinema with the passing of two legends: Ken Takakura and Bunta Sugawara. Although close in age, the two came to represent opposing eras of yakuza cinema - Ken Takakura's honorable … [Read more...]

Japanese Horror Fiction: Emotions Unearthed

The New Year is bright and shiny and new and you're probably thinking about your resolution to study more kanji, while Halloween is far in the rear-view mirror. Well, I’m firmly of the belief that Halloween should be … [Read more...]

Christians in Kyushu, Part 1: Guns and Rosaries

In 1543 the first Europeans arrived in Japan. Two (maybe three) Portuguese merchants aboard a Chinese ship were blown off course and forced to land on the island of Tanegashima, just south of Kyushu. Only six years later, … [Read more...]

An Exclusive Interview with the Seikan Tunnel Stations

The Seikan Tunnel is an undersea tunnel running from Honshu, Japan's main island, to Hokkaido, its northernmost island. A train station can be found at each end of the tunnel: namely Yoshioka-Kaitei Station (Fukushima, … [Read more...]

Spiders in Japan: The Tiniest Kaiju

Arachnophobes be warned. Today's article is all about our little eight-legged friends. Spiders, and monsters inspired by them, have held a place in Japanese culture for centuries. Japan is also currently dealing with the … [Read more...]

Bushido: Way of Total Bullshit

The term bushido calls forth ghosts of Japan's hallowed samurai class.  A class so bent on preserving honor, they'd rather slit their own bellies in ritualistic suicide than live a shamed existence. In The Last … [Read more...]

Beauty is in the Language of the Beholder

Is a rose in full bloom beautiful? How about a decaying flower losing its petals? Are straight teeth or crooked teeth more aesthetically pleasing? Would you rather put a gilded porcelain vase or a warped, weathered piece … [Read more...]

Megane Culture: Japan’s Love Affair with Glasses

Glasses. I choose to wear glasses. I own contact lenses, and I can finance laser eye surgery, yet I still choose glasses. Glasses just make sense. Perhaps if my profession deemed eyewear to be an obstacle, say skydiving or … [Read more...]

Rascal’s Secret Plan: the Raccoon Invasion of Japan

Ah, mother nature. Forests and hills, rivers and oceans, blossoms and bees. Truly, the beauties of the natural world are essential to a happy life. Of course, mother nature has another, harsher side. Storms, droughts, … [Read more...]

Miyagi 3 Years after 3.11: Slogans Are Cheap

It's been three and a half years since the disaster struck Japan. After writing about the situation in Fukushima prefecture, I was able to visit the tsunami disaster areas in Miyagi prefecture. Three and a half years … [Read more...]

The Skeletal Structure of Japanese Horror Fiction

Mankind has been telling scary stories ever since we decided to start telling stories at all. It only makes sense—a lot of scary crap happens in life. The horror genre was born from folklore and oral tradition that … [Read more...]

Over a Thousand Years of Service: Japan’s Oldest Businesses Reign Supreme(ly Old)

Businesses die like anything else. I used to give joke directions to a house where I lived that involved a whole sequence of useless instructions like "turn left where the dry cleaner used to be." If you've lived in the … [Read more...]

Dealing with Disaster: Three Years After Fukushima

Living in Tokyo, I don't hear much about Fukushima's disaster recovery. Three years after the disaster, Tohoku's recovery only directly affects me through little donation boxes supermarkets and drug stores. The actual … [Read more...]

Shunga: Japan’s Ancient Erotica

Vending machines selling school girl's panties?  Grown men reading pornographic comics in public?  Gender segregated train-cars to protect women from gropers? Ear-cleaning parlors with very happy-endings?  With situations … [Read more...]

Japanese Legal Loopholes: How Japan Looks Innocent While Breaking the Law

One of the big questions I asked myself while in Japan was "why?" Just "why." Not the usual, little "why's" that accompany a trip to a foreign nation like, "why are squatty potties so hard to use?" Rather, I couldn't help … [Read more...]

The Standard of Japanese Female Beauty: Ono no Komachi and the Akita Bijin

Ono no Komachi 小野小町 was a poet of unparalleled beauty and renown. Not only was she one of the most famous and well respected poets of the early Heian Period 平安時代, the golden age of Japanese poetry, but the rumor and awe … [Read more...]