In Japan

Interview with Ken Taya, aka Enfu, the Master of Japanamericana

When the review copy of Ken Taya's art book, "Enfu: Cute Grit", arrived at the Tofugu office, I knew I had something special in my hands. It was one instance where judging a book by its cover was very appropriate. I sat … [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...]

How To Survive Japan’s Medical System

While I was living in Japan, the scariest thing for me was the thought of getting sick. Having to deal with medical issues in a language I didn't fully understand and in a system I wasn't familiar with sent chills through … [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...]

Wined, Dined, Brined, and Intestined: Acquiring a Taste for Japanese Delicacies

The world has fallen in love with Japanese cuisine. It has even been recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. You probably know all about the big stars of Japanese food: sushi, noodles, onigiri. Maybe you've … [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...]

How To Cope When Japan Isn’t Perfect

Life is life wherever it happens. Even if your dream of living in Japan has come true, you can still be blindsided by awful things sometimes. Bad things happen everywhere, but living in a foreign country can add an extra … [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...]

Wasei-Eigo: I Can’t Believe It’s Not English!

Borrowing words from other languages is a phenomenon as old as language itself. That’s why, even though you probably don’t speak French, Latin, German, Spanish, AND Japanese, you can somehow comprehend the following … [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...]

The Life Of A Junior High Night School Teacher

Last week, we learned what a junior high night school was and, as I mentioned, today we are going to hear from a teacher of one of those schools. The person I interviewed just started as a junior high night school teacher … [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...]

Japan’s Three Climates: A Virtual Journey Through the Wilds of Japan

This is a story about you. Three years ago, you began to feel restless. Not “ time to take up a new hobby” restless, but more like “time to travel the world and have exciting, new experiences” restless. So you came … [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...]

Getting Down and Dirty with Japan’s Garbage

If you take a walk in a city in Japan, you might notice something. Where are all the rubbish bins!? Seriously, you’ve been carrying this empty onigiri wrapper around for an hour now and you just want, no need, to find … [Read more...]

Yakan Chuugaku: The Japanese Night Time Junior High Where The Uneducated Learn To Read Good

In recent years, many people from different countries have been coming to Japan. Their reasons for studying Japanese are as various as their backgrounds. Due to this diversity, local governments have begun shifting their … [Read more...]

Hell’s Bells: Gamers Steer Animal Crossing up a Silent Hill

There’s no wrong way to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which, depending on the kind of person you are, can be extremely frustrating or tremendously liberating. In this Nintendo 3DS game, you are the new mayor and it’s … [Read more...]

10 Not-Japanese Foods Lost in Translation

Food is a great way to share culture, but sometimes it can be difficult. Like any other art, certain cultures value certain traits more than others. What's delicious to one may be disgusting to another. Add difficulty … [Read more...]

Interview with Medama-Sensei: The Racism-Battling Monk of YouTube

"In a couple of days, I will be gone for 1 year to become a buddhist monk in a forest monastery" is the Twitter post from last year that explained why one of my favorite Japan-video-makers had been absent on Youtube for a … [Read more...]