Tofugu » Just For Fun A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Thu, 10 Sep 2015 20:37:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From Katana to Rocket Launchers: The Unique Weapons of Ancient Japan Fri, 07 Aug 2015 13:00:00 +0000 When I imagine a samurai, I envision a warrior with a sword. And not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for cutting down foes with supreme efficiency. A Japanese battlefield conjures up more variety, with spearman and archers entering the mix. However, Japan’s ancient warriors also plied less glamorous, lesser-known and therefore possibly more […]

The post From Katana to Rocket Launchers: The Unique Weapons of Ancient Japan appeared first on Tofugu.

When I imagine a samurai, I envision a warrior with a sword. And not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for cutting down foes with supreme efficiency. A Japanese battlefield conjures up more variety, with spearman and archers entering the mix.

However, Japan’s ancient warriors also plied less glamorous, lesser-known and therefore possibly more interesting weaponry. Implements like the jutte and kusurigama allowed users to defend and combat the katana. Fans, smoking pipes and other weapons disguised as everyday items meant one had to be wary at all times. Other weapons, like rocket launchers, seem more fit for manga than actual battlefields.

Tofugu covered Japan’s Secret Weapons of World War II. Next we’ll delve deeper into Japan’s tradition of unique implements of violence, protection, and destruction by exploring weapons used long before the modern era. Dive into our comprehensive list of Japanese weapons from the Edo period and before.

Japan’s Famous Blades – The Katana

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Katana

Photo by Rama

Japan’s most famous weapon needs little introduction. Japanese blacksmiths’ method of repeatedly heating and folding the steel made a katana’s sharpness and strength unique among the world’s swords. Strong enough to be used defensively but sharp enough to cut through limbs, the katana earned the reputation as the soul of the samurai – a reputation that lasted long after the samurai abandoned the sword for the pen.

Japan’s Not-So-Famous Blades – Tekkan and Hachiwari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkan

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hachiwari

At first glance, the tekkan and hachiwari may not look impressive. The dull, heavy blades served as striking weapons made for hitting armor-clad enemies with maximum impact. Sergei Mol explains, “The tekkan was specifically developed (for use) against opponents wearing armor and is therefore necessarily heavy so that it can be used against the armor’s weak points” (64).

Also dull and heavy, hachiwari resemble the tekkan but employ a short hook at the base which may have been used to hook an opponent’s armor or to gain leverage to pry the armor apart (Cunningham). Instead of the katana’s deadly finesse, the tekkan and hachiwari aimed for heavy-handed disarmament.

Fans of War – Gunsen, Tessen, and Gunbai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Gusen

Photo by BrokenSphere

In ancient Japan even implements intended to provide relief from summer’s heat and humidity became weapons. But the gunsen and tessen, foldable fans reinforced by metal plating, were only relied on as a last resort (Deal 167). Police officers and night watchmen used these blunt, nonlethal instruments to beat perpetrators into submission (Cunnigham).

The subtle, but mighty fan could even defeat entire armies. Battlefield commanders carried fans as symbols of rank, but these large, solid “gunbai” also served as means of communication to deployed forces. Visible from long distances, motioning the fan directed actions on the battlefield. Today sumo referees use gunbai to alert viewers to the victors in sumo matches.

Smoke Your Enemies – Kiseru Battle Pipes

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kiseru

Image from Brooklyn Museum

Imagine you’re a pilgrim wandering the hillsides of ancient Japan. Weary from the long journey, you decide to take a break under a tree’s shady branches. Just when kick back to enjoy a puff from your trusty pipe, some ruffians show up demanding money. What do you do?

If you’re a badass, you beat those inconsiderate jerks with your pipe. Although not all were designed for fighting, a glance at pipe’s size and weight might give away its user’s intent. “Many pipes were made of metal and were… three to four feet long. Several edicts point to the fact that such pipes were used in brawls… Some pipes were fitted with regular guards, just like swords” (Ratti 323). Battle pipes became so common, martial arts schools devised techniques in their use (Cunnigham).

The Sickle – Kama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kama

Photo by Katorisi

According to legend, the kama started out as a farming implement, used to cut grass and crops. However, Don Cunningham believes that the kama evolved from the jingama, a similar sickle used for clearing campsites. Either way, the weapon gained popularity among low-ranking bushi and could be used for cutting and slashing.

The Ten-thousand Power Chain – Manriki-kusari

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Manriku

Although the manriki-kusari (sometimes called fundo-kusari or weighted chain) gained fame as a ninja weapon, police officers actually adopted the weapon to disarm and capture criminals (Cunningham). No matter the wielder, the versatile weapon had many advantages. The collapsable chain could be rolled up, concealed and easily transported. It could be used for climbing, restraining an enemy, and could be wrapped around body parts for extra protection ( Mol 125).

In battle, a user could shorten his grip and taylor the length as a situation called for. Once in motion, a manriki-kusari moved at speeds that rendered it invisible. An experienced practitioner could swing the chain around himself to keep opponents at bay. Thanks to its weighted end, the manriki-kusari doubled as a projectile; its metal weight could be thrown to strike opponents. Yet unlike other throwing weapons like darts or knives which had to be retrieved to be used again, the manriki-kusari’s weight returned to the hand of its wielder via its attached chain.

The manriki-kusari could also ensnare and immobilize an opponent’s weapon. The swinging chain could not be cut by a blade and would instead wrap around it, making it particularly affective against the katana (Mol 125). Once the chain entangled an opponent’s weapon a skilled user could disarm an opponent.

But manriki-kusari had disadvantages too. A difficult weapon to master, a manriki-kusari user could injure himself with the flying weight. Despite its adjustable nature, the manriki-kusari proved weakest in confined spaces like crowded or wooded areas where the chain could not be swung freely, limiting its power (Mol 125).

The Best of Both Worlds – Kusarigama

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kusarigama

Photo by Worldantiques

Law enforcement also made regular use of kusarigama, which combined the manrikigusari and kama (Cunningham). Enemies could be kept at bay by the swinging weighted chain and then slashed with the blade in close combat.

The Japanese Mace – Chigiriki

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Chigiriki

Made of wood or metal, this staff featured a weight attached to a chain at the top that was used to trip, strike, or disarm an opponent (Campbell 63). With the chain concealed within the shaft, chigiriki could be disguised as an ordinary walking stick or staff.

Death From Afar – Yumi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yumi

Photo by Fukutaro

The original samurai weapon, the Japanese bow has a long and storied history. Isolation from other cultures allowed Japan to develop its own unique archery tools and techniques.

Japan’s oldest hunting an ceremonial bows date back to 10,000 BCE (Friday). Without the wood binding technology of other countries, Japan developed very long wooden bows, some over 2.5 meters, to maximize their power (Friday 69). A low grip developed to account for the bow’s length, its use from horseback, or to achieve maximum power. “Whatever the reason for its initial adoption,” Friday writes, “gripping the bow two thirds of the way down its length maximizes its rebound power and minimizes fatigue to the archer far better than the more familiar centered grip” (70).

Thanks technological limitations, Japan developed an innovative bow with a distinct shooting style that predated the katana, matchlock or rocket-launcher.

 Death From Not-So-Afar – Fukiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Fukiya

Image from Golgo 13

Fukiya are, without a doubt, ninja weapons, as depicted in the 17th century Mansenshukai ninja scrolls ( Blow-darts made little noise, were easy to transport and could double as flutes, pipes, or breathing straws. In a pinch bamboo or paper could be used as substitutes. Poisoning the darts made the weapon extra effective.

But Fukiya weren’t solely used as weapons. The tube could launch notes and messages to allies. Hunters also used fukiya to fell birds.

Today Fukiya has evolved into an international sport, similar to archery ( Capable distances range from 10 to 90 meters. Practitioners list the weapons simplicity as one of its charms.

Fire Arrows and Bohiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bohiya

Photo by Worldantiques

Fire arrows and miniature rockets called bohiya could wreak havoc on wooden buildings, fortifications and naval vessels. Although originally fired by bow, the Japan’s introduction to gunpowder and firearm technology lead to portable, ignition-powered arrow launchers resembling rifles (wiki). “The incendiary material on the fire arrows was made from rope that had been waterproofed by boiling it in a mixture of water, the ashes of burnt cedar leaves, and a certain iron substance, all wrapped in paper with a fuse… During one seas battle we read of bohiya ‘falling like rain’ “(Pirates, 31).

Bombs Away – Horokubiya

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Horokubiya

Also used in naval combat, horokubiya mimicked a Chinese technique that encased explosives in iron, ceramics or paper. The bombs were filled with gunpowder and metal shards (Pirates 31). According to Stephen Turnbull’s Fighting Ships of the Far East these bombs would be launched from a rope spun overhead or via handheld catapults resembling lacrosse sticks (40-41).

Samurai Rocket Launchers – Hiya Taihou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Hiya

Photo by Worldantiques

That’s right, ancient Japan even had its own rocket launchers. In the mid-1500’s, Portuguese firearms inspired Japanese to build their own guns and an evolved form of fire-arrows launched from portable, gun-like firearms. Mini-cannons called hiya taihou battered enemy troops and fortifications with explosive rockets made of thick wooden shafts and metal tops (wiki).

Firearms – Tanegashima (Japanese Matchlock)

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Matchlock

Photo by ryochiji

At the end of the 16th century Japan made some of the world’s best firearms. And when the West had given up the matchlock for newer technology, Japan continued to innovate, even devising ways to protect the ignition mechanism from rain. The short stock and elegant style became a trademark of Japanese firearms (Ebrey).

Despite the katana’s prominent place in Japanese warrior imagery, projectile weapons always served an important place on the battlefield and firearms proved no exception. Warlords took advantage of firearms lethal power and matchlocks became a lethal force on Japanese battlefields.

Throwing Death – Shuriken

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Shuriken

Photo by kaex0r

Widely known as throwing, ninja, or Chinese stars, Turnbull translates the term as “hand-hidden blade” (Ninja 61). Although they came in various shapes and sizes, the classic throwing star with multiple points spun in flight and therefore required less skill to throw than long throwing knives or other shapes.

Can You Dig It? – Kunai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kunai

Photo by alelag

Kunai are dagger-like throwing weapons made famous in ninja anime like Naruto. However, the flat, trowel-like kunai made a better tool than projectile. Ninja used kunai for scaling and digging holes into the wattle, daub and plaster of castle walls (Ninja AD 61).

 Watch Your Step – Testubishi or Makibishi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Makibishi

Black Belt Magazine dubbed these weapons “thorns of surprise.” Small metal spikes resembling children’s jacks, testubishi were thrown on the ground to slow opponents down and prevent chase. Spikes were long and sharp enough to penetrate thin soles wore at the time. As writer Tiko Yamashita points out, “They could also be wielded offensively in a counterattack.” Wielders had to plan ahead, however, as the little spikes could become a disadvantage to the thrower as well.

Death In the Palm of Your Hand – Yawara

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Yawara

Photo by Evan-Amos

Sometimes called kubotan, yawara are small grip weapons that fit in the palm of one’s hand. Though they may be pointed, yawara usually have blunt ends at each side made for striking an opponent and proved especially effective on pressure points (Nardi). Rounded or hexagonal, a yawara’s greatest advantage lied in gripping the weapon, which strengthened its user’s punch and prevented hand breaks (Gambordella).

Not Just For Falling Trees – Ono

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ono

Photo by Worldantiques

Japan’s stone axes predate those of iron and steel and made ono a preferred weapon of Japan’s ancient yamabushi or warrior monks. “The yamabushi used these pole-axes (some six feet tall) in the thick of battle, whirling them around at varying heights; or in individual encounters” (Ratti 322).

Not Just For Fighting Fires – Tobiguchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tobiguchi

Photo by Fg2

This axe-like tool acted more like a hook and was used to clear debris away from burning buildings. “Even during a fire it was important to be armed… and one had to be prepared for the possibility of someone taking advantage of the situation and attacking” (Mol 103). As proof of their use as weaponry, some Tobiguchi featured a hook to aid disarmament. The fire tool known as “kite beak” earned the nickname “kenkatobi” (喧嘩鳶) or “fighting kite” as it popularity among commoners (Mol 104).

The Long and Short Of It- Bo and Jo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Bo

Image from IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Dating back to the prehistoric aborigine, “the bo, or long wooden staff, is the most archaic of weaponry in Japan”(Lowry 21). Warriors took advantage of a bo’s length, striking from afar or swinging it around to ward off enemies.

Bo come in many shapes and sizes. For example, the maru-bo is round while the hakaku-bo hexagonal. While the average bo measured 5 to 6 feet or about the height of its user, the shorter jo’s length was dictated by the wielder’s preference. “The humble jo seems quite plebeian. And yet, the jo possesses many of the attributes of all three of these revered arms: the striking stroke of the katana, the thrusting reach of the spear, and the reversible striking power and indestructibility of the bo” (Lowry 21).


List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kanabo

Photo by mamboo

The most lethal looking of the “bo” family, the metal spiked kanabo came shaped like a bo or tapered like a bat (Brown) and specialized in bludgeoning enemies. Perhaps that’s why it’s the preferred weapon of Japanese oni, a type of demon or ogre that frequents Japanese folktales. In fact, the image of an oni with kanabo is so powerful it became immortalized in a kotowaza (proverb), “oni with an iron club” (鬼に金棒 or Oni ni Kanabo) which meant invincibility.

Not Just For Nails – Otsuchi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Otsuchi

Photo by Bejnar

The giant battle hammer was used as a battering ram and probably smashed down more doors, gates and walls than enemies (Pauley 131).

Rise to New Heights – Kyoketsu-shoge

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kyoketsu

Photo by Budoka720

The kyoketsu-shoge consists of a hooked dagger attached to a rope with a ring-shaped weight at the end. The double edged dagger could be used for stabbing while the ring swung overhead and distracted or ensnared the enemy (Mol 121).

Disarmament – Jutte

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Jutte

Photo by renfield kuroda

Since only top ranking police officers could carry swords, lower ranking police officers relied on alternative weaponry like the versatile jutte. The jutte could deflect sword attacks and disarm a suspect with minimal injuries. Jutte required close proximity to be useful, but once in range the weapon could strike, entangle the clothes, restrain and even throw enemies (Cunningham).

While many claim the kagi or hook of the jutte could be used to entrap a sword blade, David Cunningham believes the kagi served to “prevent (the jutte) from slipping through the wearer’s obi (belt). The kagi may have also been used to entangle the clothes or fingers of an opponent” (67). Common among the era’s police officers, the jutte came to symbolize the job.

Restraint – Sasumata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sasumata

This long pole could entrap perpetrators with the u-shaped fork at its end. The pole’s protruding spikes entangled a suspect’s clothes, aiding capture. But sasumata weren’t limited to subduing criminals and “firefighters used similar tools to hold up ladders or manipulate buildings’ beams and other structures” (Cunningham 96). Today spike-less, smooth sasumata survive as restraining tools that can still be found in Japanese elementary schools, used to pacify rampaging children (an extreme rarity).

Rope-a-Dope Edo Style – Torinawa

Police used special ropes called torinawa to arrest subdued criminal suspects. “Cord loops or metal rings were often used instead of actual knots to bind the suspect… Binding someone without employing knots apparently avoided the disgrace associated with bondage” (Cunningham). Like chain weapons, versatile torinawa were easy to transport and could be hidden under the belt or robe of an officer.

The Ladies’ Choice – Naginata

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Naginata

Photo by Alton

Although used by both sexes, naginata became the standard weapon of upperclass female warriors. Also known as “the woman’s spear,” women of the ruling classes practiced and often mastered the weapon (Ratti 247). Although it resembles a spear, a naginata’s curved blade allows for sword-like strikes instead of simple stabbing motions (Ratti 247).

Climbing Claws – Shukou & Ashikou

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Ashiko

Shukou and ashikou are short spikes worn over the hands or feet. Although meant for climbing, in a pinch they could double as weapons.

Claws of Death – Tekko-kagi

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekkokagi

Photo by Sevar

Worn over the hands, tekko-kagi’s protruding metal claws could be used for scraping and striking. Descriptions of the techniques vary. Serge Mol explains one practice where the user wields a dagger in one hand and wears a tekko-kagi on the other. The claw allowed users to slash and defend with natural hand motions. With proper technique, even katana could be ensnared, disarmed or broken.

 Death Rings – Kakute

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Kakute

Photo by Hyakuraiju

Contrary to intuition, users wore these rings with their spikes hidden in their palms as the kakute’s main advantage lay in its grip. One ring would be worn on the middle finger while a second ring could be placed in the thumb. Serge Mol writes, “The main purpose of the weapon was to gain a firm hold on an opponent, with the teeth digging into pressure points to cause pain… The surprise effect of this weapon would cause an opponent to lose concentration, making follow-up techniques easier” (111). Like tekko, kakute could be dipped in poison for added effectiveness (Levy 67).

Cat Scratch Fever – Nekote

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Nekotte

Image from SNK’s King of Fighters

These sharp, claw-like weapons fit over the finger tips and could be dipped in poison for lethal results (Levy 67).

Okinawa’s Weapons

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Weapons

In 1609, Japan occupied Okinawa and outlawed conventional weapons to prevent rebellion. These limits inspired creativity and lead to weaponless karate and kobudo, Okinawa’s unique weaponry (Yamashitra 23).

Tinbe Rochin

Okinawa’s tinbe rochin, a short spear and shield combo, differs from Japan’s shieldless, bladed warrior culture. “The usage is more akin to a combination of Zulu fighting and European sword and small shield fighting” (rkagb). The vine, cane, metal, or turtle shell shield parried attacks, allowing users to counter opponents with upward strikes from a short spear (rkagb). Unlike the agricultural, fishing and Okinawa’s other tool-based weapons, the tinbe rochin harkens back to the kingdom’s ancient battle culture.

Danger Sticks – Nunchaku

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Okinawa Nanchaku

Image from Enter the Dragon

One of the most famous, glorified and downright cool weapons, legend has it that nunchaku originated as a grain pounding tool in Okinawa. Constructed by connecting two sticks with a rope or chain, nunchaku could be swung around the body for defense or wiped outwards to strike an enemy.The short sticks and foldable chain meant nunchaku could be tucked away for secrecy and easy transport.

Three Pronged Attack – Sai

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Sai

The heavy, three pronged sai traces its roots back to ancient China (rkagb). Okinawan sai are often used in pairs, though a third may be carried to replace one that has been thrown (Seiler 29). Similar to the jutte and due to their widely spaced prongs, sai made effective defense against longer weapons like bo and katana.

Side-handle Baton – Tonfa

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tonfa

Photo by Yo

This straight wooden rod with a short, perpendicular handle started as a digging tool, cookery hook, or as the handle to a grain grinding stone (Nishiuchi). Practitioners use the tonfa as a defensive guard and striking weapon. Masters could wield the weapon in a fluid spinning motion, relying on its “centripetal force,” akin to nunchaku. Tonfa are thought to have influenced the shape of modern police batons.

Paddle Your Foes – Eku Bo

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period eku

Another classic instance of a trade tool becoming a weapon, the eku bo or fisherman’s oar was about six feet in length. Eku bo techniques resembled those of a standard bo staff, but the wide, heavy end made the eku bo unbalanced and more difficult to master (wiki).

Knuckle Dusters – Tekki and Tekko

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Tekko

Image by chris 論

In western terms tekki and tekko would be described as brass knuckles, but I prefer the term “knuckle duster.” Two similar theories explain the weapon’s origin, both involving horses.

The International Ryukyu Karate Research Society explains that “the use of the tekko appears to have originated when bushi in Okinawa used the shoes of their horses as a make-shift weapon to defend themselves against a surprise attack” (McCarthy). However, others describe the weapons as “iron stirrups gripped by the straight bar so that the curved upper portion wraps around the knuckles of the fist” (Seiler 36).

Although tekki made speedy striking weapons, they also offered defense against weapon strikes. However, their small surface area and closeness to the hand meant users had to be precise (and brave) to rely on tekki for defensive techniques (Seiler 36).

Death By Hoe – Kuwa

What originated as a simple farming hoe, the kuwa consists of two parts, the long handle and the blade. “When holding a kuwa with the butt-end facing your opponent and the heavy metal end to the rear, the metal actually serves as a fulcrum and helps increase the speed and dynamics of the shaft. What results is a tool that can keep pace even with fast weapons, but can then follow up with punishing, heavy blows”(Ikikaiway). Although the blade dealt maximum damage, a strike with the blunt side of the blade could stun an enemy. The blade could also be used as a hook, to trip opponents.

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Complete!

List of Japanese Weapons from the Edo Period Arsenal

Photo by T. Enami

Japan’s ancient fighting weapons ranged from working class tools like the kuwa and kama, to those created with deadly intent like the kanabo and katana. Jutte, sasumata, and other weapons meant to subdue opponents proved necessity is the mother of invention.

The overall variety of Japanese weapons inspires the imagination and continues to spark interest in ancient Japanese battle culture. Funny that Japan, a country that takes pride (for the most part) in its peaceful, safe reputation has such a weaponed, violent heritage.

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Emoji – Japan’s Talking Pictures Thu, 18 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 Confession: I am an emoji hipster. Before your mom was sending you grinning emoji or that cute boy was texting you heart-eyes emoji, my study abroad friends and I were using our 2009-era SoftBank phones to send each other long, complicated rows of emoji, most of which involved the poop emoji. (As one does.) But […]

The post Emoji – Japan’s Talking Pictures appeared first on Tofugu.

Confession: I am an emoji hipster. Before your mom was sending you grinning emoji or that cute boy was texting you heart-eyes emoji, my study abroad friends and I were using our 2009-era SoftBank phones to send each other long, complicated rows of emoji, most of which involved the poop emoji. (As one does.)

But emoji aren’t just for anyone with a smartphone these days. Moby Dick has been translated into emoji. The March 2015 issue of Wired featured emoji on the cover. Coca-Cola has put emoji in their URLs as part of an advertising campaign. Emoji are even being presented in court cases as evidence. Earlier this year, a man was charged with running an online black-market. During the trial, his lawyer argued that the emoji in his client’s text messages were legitimate pieces of evidence. The judge agreed.

Obviously, emoji have arrived and people like me get to be dreadful snoots about it. Though emoji have come from Japan visually intact, the cultural meanings behind them have been lost or given new, Western meanings. So before I begin writing this entire article using emoji alone (don’t tempt me), let’s look back to find patient zero. Let’s see if we can shine a spotlight on the sorta secret history of emoji. (And explain why Drake’s “praying hands/high-five” emoji tattoo doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.)

Pre-Emoji Emoji

smiley emoji koamoji emoticon

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re familiar with kaomoji (顔文字), which literally means “face letters.” (Like how emoji or 絵文字 can be translated as “picture letters.”)

Kaomoji and the West’s emoticons primarily sprung out of a need to more clearly communicate emotional intent on early web forums and message boards. As any denizen of the internet knows, a winky face can mean the difference between a sarcastic quip and a straight-faced insult.

Emoticons first hit the scene on Sept. 19, 1982 thanks to Scott E. Fahlman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He suggested using :-) as a “joke marker” after someone posted a fake mercury spill message and other message board users mistakenly thought it was serious. The rest is, as they say, history. ;)

The origin of kaomoji is much murkier, though the general consensus seems to be that the first kaomoji (^_^) appeared a few years later in 1986 on a Japanese forum. Unlike emoticons, kaomoji can be seen as an extension of Japan’s kawaii or cute culture, and are heavily influenced by manga and anime, focusing more on the eyes than the mouth and incorporating things like apostrophized sweat drops and slash-marked blushing.

(Psst – And if you want to bone up on your kaomoji and impress or irritate your friends, Tofugu has a disturbingly comprehensive kaomoji guide!)

Made in Japan


Photo by Mytho88

Although Japan’s big cellphone companies, like Docomo and SoftBank, are currently facing some stiff competition from Apple and other Western companies, back in the ’90s, business was booming and Japan was at the forefront of cellphone technology. Internet access and large color screens were already standard features long before Apple got into the mobile phone game. As cellphone usage exploded in Japan, kaomoji naturally made the jump, too. Just like on message boards in days of old, kaomoji were used to garnish conversation and make emotional intent more obvious and clear. This is, of course, is especially important in a language like Japanese, where so much meaning is gleaned from context rather than exactly what’s being said.

In 1998, Shigetaka Kurita was part of the Docomo team working on i-mode. i-mode would become Japan’s most widespread mobile Internet platform and push the nation’s cell phone tech ahead of the rest of the world. Docomo had previously introduced the idea of emoji – sort of.

In the mid-90s, Docomo had added a heart symbol to its pagers. The favorable reaction from high school-aged customers didn’t go unnoticed. Sure, people could text each other kaomoji with their cellphones. But Kurita figured there had to be a simpler, more straightforward way to express emotion via text message.

Not being a designer (yet being told to design the emoji anyway), Kurita looked to manga for inspiration. Manga artists use sweat drops, waterfalls of tears, and heart eyes to make their characters’ emotions larger than life. Kurita used these same cues when creating the first set of emoji (176 12×12-pixel characters). Kurita thought Docomo’s various cellphone manufacturers might polish up his emoji designs. Instead they ended up using his work as-is, which Kurita admits isn’t the most sveltely designed. But it didn’t matter. Emoji took off. 

Gaining a Foothold


Photo by wackystuff

There was just one problem (for Docomo, at least). They couldn’t copyright Kurita’s emoji set, because each emoji was such a small amount of pixels. Competitors like J-Phone (which later became SoftBank) took the concept of emoji and ran with it, adding more and more emoji to their products. But Docomo emojis only worked on Docomo phones and J-Phone emojis only worked on J-Phone… phones. If a Docomo user tried to send a smiling cat emoji to a J-Phone user, that user would only see a hot mess.

Still, emoji were incredibly popular, unseating their more complex kaomoji cousins. It didn’t take long for emoji to start sneaking into other text spaces, like MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger (remember those?). As Apple turned to the Japanese market, they wisely gave the people what they wanted with their iOS 2.2 update in 2008: emoji.

The Journey West


Photo by TaylorHerring

Japanese iPhone users finally had their emoji. But if you were anywhere else in the world or weren’t sure how to mess around with your iPhone settings, no emoji for you. Still, the floodgates had already opened and there was no going back. Especially once emoji were incorporated into the Unicode Consortium in 2010.

Unicode is an international encoding standard for displaying characters on phones and computers. It’s basically the Esperanto of computing languages and scripts. By bringing emoji into the fold, Docomo and J-Phone users could start exchanging emoji. Even better, once emoji were added to Unicode, Apple introduced emoji as a standard international keyboard option a year later, giving emoji its true international debut.

There’s only one person who wasn’t a fan: Scott Fahlman, the guy who invented emoticons. He stands by his opinion that emoji are ugly and undermine using one’s own creativity to express themselves online. (Personally, I think he’s just jealous there’s no poop emoticon.)

Decoding Emoji 


Even though emoji’s code has been universalized, so that they can be unleashed indiscriminately across platforms, the meaning behind each emoji doesn’t always make the jump as successfully. Because the emoji we all know and love were intended for a Japanese audience, things can get a little lost in translation.

There are a ton of Japanese food emoji, like:

  • 🍡 Dango

  • 🍱 Bento

Their meanings are fairly obvious, but some are a tad subtler.

  • 🙆 Like the girl holding her hands above her head? Typically, it’s used to denote excitement or awe (or ballet, I suppose). But in Japan, making a circle with your arms means “OK” or “correct.”

Then there are the emoji whose slightly more scandalous meanings have been lost entirely.

  • 👯 Those dancing girls in black leotards that are usually used as a shorthand for “best friends” are actually Japan’s version of Playboy bunnies.

  • 🏩 I nearly choked the first time someone sent me the love hotel emoji. They must have thought it was just another emoji for hospital or “get well soon.”

Where we don’t see meaning, we inevitably make our own.

  • 💁 The girl holding her palm up can mean, “how may I help you?” in one culture. In another it’s a sassy hair flip.

  • 🙏 Two palms pressed together can mean a prayer to the Almighty or begging someone’s forgiveness. (Though an argument could be made that those two interpretations are oddly similar.) Some even see it as a high-five.

Emoji’s original purpose may have been to clear up miscommunication. But culture is its own language and it’s not always a universal one.

Making Faces


Photo by Fred Benenson

Emoji clearly aren’t going away any time soon. More have been recently added to the iPhone catalogue, mostly to give users more racial options when it comes to their “girl getting haircut” and “old lady” emoji. But in the same way that message board users in Japan adapted the West’s emoticons into more culturally relevant (and let’s face it, way cuter) kaomoji, Western smartphone users have taken emoji and grafted on their own cultural meanings.

Shigetaka Kurita probably never imagined or intended emoji to be used in a mosaic-style New Yorker cover. Or for the word “emoji” to enter the Oxford Dictionary. Or for Twitter users to reimagine famous works of art as lines of emoji. But people are always going to bring their own culture and creativity to the table, making emoji more than the sum of their pixels. And that’s pretty 👍.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile]


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Sonny Chiba vs Bruce Lee: The Debate Finally Put to Rest Mon, 08 Jun 2015 13:00:00 +0000 “He’s the cat they call The Street Fighter! Yeah he’s pretty cool. He’s no Bruce Lee, but who in the hell is?”(Phillips) It’s the Asian cinema equivalent of Batman versus Superman, of Ali versus Tyson, of Schwarzenegger versus Stallone. The divisive debate offers endless speculation and an opportunity for fans to show off their depth of knowledge on […]

The post Sonny Chiba vs Bruce Lee: The Debate Finally Put to Rest appeared first on Tofugu.

“He’s the cat they call The Street Fighter! Yeah he’s pretty cool. He’s no Bruce Lee, but who in the hell is?”(Phillips)

It’s the Asian cinema equivalent of Batman versus Superman, of Ali versus Tyson, of Schwarzenegger versus Stallone. The divisive debate offers endless speculation and an opportunity for fans to show off their depth of knowledge on the actors. Of course, a dispute once limited to fan circles and conventions has been given a new dynamic thanks to the world wide web.

Bruce Lee burst onto the international movie scene in the 1970s and his hit, The Big Boss (Fists of Fury in the US) led to a string of movies that showcased Lee’s martial arts skills and philosophies. His definitive film, Enter the Dragon would serve as an exclamation point to his untimely death at 32 years of age.

Meanwhile in Japan, another superstar’s career bloomed. Sadaho Maeda shocked audiences with the graphic violence of The Bodyguard and The Street Fighter. Better known as Sonny Chiba, some would declare the budding action star Japan’s answer to Bruce Lee. Others would label him a blatant rip-off.

The debate continues today, fueled by Lee’s growing legend and Chiba’s ongoing career. Who had better movies? Who was the more accomplished martial artist? Who would win in a fight to the death (or, less dramatically, an exhibition match)?

Please read on as Tofugu throws its hat into the ring and puts the debate to rest once and for all… or just adds fuel to the action-packed fire.

The Man Called Sonny

Sonny Chiba vs Bruce Lee

Photo from The Street Fighter

Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1939, Sonny Chiba had dreams of becoming an Olympic gymnast. After his high school graduation, Chiba enrolled in Nihon Taiku University’s physical education program and began the rigorous training to fulfill his ambitious goal (Ragone). Taking aim at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Chiba remained a serious candidate for the team until an injury sustained while doing part-time construction work forced him to change course. (Interview 2004)

Chiba would take up bodybuilding and martial arts, learning karate from World Karate Grand Master and Kyokushinken Karate founder, Masutatsu Oyama. “In his senior year, he was given the honor of coaching (karate) at the university”(Ragone). Martial arts became a mainstay in Chiba’s life and a key ingredient in his acting career.

Though athletics and acting may seem worlds apart, Chiba bridged the two. As a fan of Hollywood films, Chiba found inspiration in an unlikely source: James Dean.

If it weren’t for James Dean, I would have never become an actor… His acting rings with truth… Movies are all lies. The point is whether or not we can make the audience believe… to have them think what they’re seeing is the truth. And that’s exactly what James Dean’s work brought home to me so powerfully. (Interview 2004)

Thanks to James Dean and the influence of Hollywood films, Chiba hoped to change the Japanese movie industry from within. But first he would have to become an actor.

“Chiba auditioned and won the Toei Studios’ 1960 New Faces Contest, and he began traveling down the road of acting.” (Ragone) Japan’s studio system, which pumped out films with industrial efficiency, worked Chiba hard, casting him in roles that ranged from war dramas to sci-fi adventures. The exposure paid off and his popularity grew.

Thanks to his success, Chiba would be cast in roles outside the movie industry. In fact, Chiba earned his international nickname through an advertising campaign for the Toyota Sunny-S. “The ads were successful, and the name stuck with him – especially with Toei’s overseas advertising department, who started to bill him as Sonny Chiba.”(Ragone)

Enter the Dragon’s Shadow

Photo from The Bodyguard

Bruce Lee’s success sent shockwaves throughout Asia. His fame and fortune fueled a worldwide kung-fu boom as studios around the world scrambled to exploit the genre’s sudden popularity.

In 1973, Lee’s death would inspire a flood of knock-offs and look-a-likes. The phenomenon gave birth to a whole genre of Bruceploitation films, with studios clambering to cash in on the actor’s likeness and image at any cost.

Lee’s onscreen passion and intensity inspired Sonny Chiba as an actor. Lee’s marketability and Enter the Dragon‘s enormous profits inspired Toei and the studio attempted to cash-in by reviving the martial arts genre for Japanese audiences.

It’s no coincidence that Chiba’s roles in karate-themed action films boomed following Lee’s death, from 1973 onward. With his muscular build and hard-boiled attitude, Chiba would be the man to herald a new wave of Japanese action films.

In the slew of karate films that followed, Chiba became the prototypical karate master, mixing Bruce Lee’s martial arts action with Charles Bronson’s hard-hitting style. The Street Fighter and The Bodyguard garnered the most fame, thanks in part to Japan’s gritty 70s cinematic style.

Photo from The Street Fighter

Since Chiba emulated Bruce Lee’s trademark coos, caws, body-tension and crazy-eyes during the peak of his karate-action movie era, many accuse him of being a Bruce Lee copycat. Although those moments were undoubtedly Lee inspired, Chiba lent his own flavor to these action films, using brute violence and blunt force where Lee would have used grace and finesse.

Furthermore, while Lee’s characters walked a moral high ground, Chiba’s characters could be ambiguous and self-serving. He admitted, “For me the most enjoyable role to play is the bad-guy” (Ross).

During that time in Japan (1970s), there was no action movie character like the main character in The Street Fighter. There was no precedent, so everyone greeted the character, and myself, with great applause and pride in Japan during that time.(Yamasato)

The Street Fighter took everyone, including the US ratings board, by surprise.

The Street Fighter was such a shock to the American rating board… that it became the first action film to get an “X” rating for violence… including throats ripped, eyes gouged, testicles torn asunder” (Donovan).

Thanks to his own personality and the style of Japanese films at the time, Chiba never entered the ranks of shameless Bruce Lee rip-offs like Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, Bruce Le, Lee Bruce or Dragon Lee. Slick choreography, a blunt hard-hitting technique and trendsetting, graphic violence earned Chiba a worldwide fan-base. Chiba’s later roles would only feed his popularity, as he cast off Lee’s shadow and exhibited his own unique talents and style.

Unique Aspirations

Photo from Karate Warriors

Sonny Chiba owes his fame, in part, to his hard work ethic. His career has spanned over five decades and includes over 130 movies. Thanks to the studio system he sometimes starred in two to three movies a year! He also earned fame for his television roles, particularly the ninja master Hattori Hanzo (more on that later).

Yet Sonny Chiba didn’t focus on acting alone. The Hollywood-influenced independent thinker hoped to change the Japanese film industry.

First, Chiba took it upon himself to improve the quality of Japan’s stuntmen and physical actors, creating The Japan Action Club in 1969. The JAC brought a standard and professionalism to Japan’s action movie production “providing able-bodied stuntmen and martial artists for any studio who was able to hire them”(Ragone). Chiba did his best to help promote young stars and propel the Japanese film industry into a new era.

The members of JAC became popular idols with the Japanese public with a huge merchandise-chewing fanbase. This following helped Sonny Chiba Enterprises to swell into a powerful company, which not only offered a huge line of goods, but spawned mountains of magazine articles and photo books. (Ragone)

But Chiba’s ambitions didn’t end there. Chiba explained, “I… believe that the dramatic story, or the natural story, is very important… (A movie) can’t be mere spectacle”(Yamasato). Chiba looked to Hollywood’s film industry to provide the blueprint for improving Japanese film.

But Chiba felt stifled by Japanese studios and production teams. “American movies are more open to actor’s ideas,” he said (Interview 2004). Chiba believed an actor’s job didn’t lay in speaking lines alone, but in contributing to the shaping of the picture. An actor’s ideas, particularly those of one with Chiba’s experience and know-how, could make a film more realistic, more compelling (Interview 2004).

Chiba believed that Japan’s films would have more global appeal if they incorporated Hollywood sensibility, style and techniques. Japanese film could then expose a world audience to Japanese culture.

True to his ambition, Chiba would abandon Hong Kong inspired action films and their contemporary settings for historical, Japanese-centric roles.

The Karate Master Goes Samurai and Ninja

Photo as Hattori Hanz0

One of Sonny Chiba’s most celebrated roles came after both The Street Fighter and The Bodyguard, as the charismatic sword swinging historical legend Yagyu Jubei. Still revered today, Jubei gained the reputation as a rebel thinker and “champion of the masses.” A tragic figure whose mysterious causes of death range from assassination to heart-attack, Chiba declared Jubei his favorite role, a complicated character who “had no choice but to kill.”

As the historical figure and war hero Hattori Hanzo, Chiba helped create some of Japan’s most famous ninja imagery. The popular television series and movie fueled a renewed interest in one of Japan’s most mysterious historical archetypes. The spillover is thought to have helped spur the Western ninja craze as well. Chiba would once again take the Hanzo name as Okinawa’s resident master sword smith in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol 1.

Photo as Yagyu Jubei

Although he played hundreds of roles over the span of his career, Chiba didn’t bat an eye when asked his favorite director or character to play. “I feel that my best characters were in director Kinji Fukasaku’s work.” (Yamasato) Chiba calls Fukusasaku “a master of tempo.” The men complimented each other’s styles, creating a unique breed of potent, sordid films. Chiba’s most notable, charismatic works would come under Fukasaku’s unique direction.

It comes as no surprise that Chiba’s favorite role as Yagyu Jubei was with Fukusatsu’s direction in Yagyu Ichizoku no Inbo, or The Yagyu Conspiracy (Yamasato).

A Very Sonny Filmography

Although he starred in countless action-packed roles, Chiba never considered himself an action star. “I do not believe I am an action star,” he explained, “but an actor in action movies”(Yamasato). The following is a mixed selection of Chiba’s most notable roles, with a couple of wildcards thrown in for good measure.

With over 130 films to his credit and several television series, picking just a handful proves a challenge. Here are some of Chiba’s most noteworthy films and performances. If you’re looking for notoriety, watch The Bodyguard or Shogun’s Samurai. If you want to get crazy, watch Soul of Chiba. However, my personal favorite is Karate Warriors.

  • The Bodyguard (1973) Also known as Karate Kiba, The Bodyguard‘s brutal violence made it an instant cult classic. When Chiba offers to protect anyone willing to offer information on Japan’s dangerous drug cartels, a mysterious woman steps forward and Chiba’s life spiral’s into violence; as if he’d have it any other way.
  • The Street Fighter (1974)When gangsters attempt to kidnap the heiress of an oil empire, karate tough-man Tsurugi (Sonny Chiba) jumps at the opportunity to protect the girl and take the baddies out as violently as possible. The Street Fighter is one of Chiba’s most well-paced action films and it lies somewhere between Hong Kong and Hollywood styled action.
  • The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974): When a jewel heist proves too much for the police to handle, they hire a professional criminal to get the job done. In the vein of films like The Dirty Dozen and Wild 7, and with a touch of Lupin III for good measure, Chiba and company must go beyond the law to aid the law. Karate Inferno delivers with campy lowbrow humor and intense karate action.
  • The Bullet Train (1975): Known as Shinkansen Daibakuha in Japan, The Bullet Train features two superstars, Ken Takakura and Sonny Chiba, in a high-octane thriller about a train armed with a bomb set to explode if the train slows down. Sound familiar? Many cite The Bullet Train as the inspiration for for 1994 Hollywood blockbuster, Speed.
  • Karate Warriors (1976): Inspired by Kurosawa’s YojimboKozure Satsujin Ken features a badass street fighter, played by Chiba, versus a samurai and son, à la Lone Wolf and Cub. Surprisingly, the movie-influenced mishmash blends into one of Chiba’s best works. Although its outstanding fight scenes featuring a mix of karate blows and samurai sword play will please action fans, Karate Warrior’s well conceived story makes it a stand out among Chiba’s other action films.
  • Soul of Chiba (1977)Also known as Violent Death! Way of the Evil Fist, this “Japanese-Hong Kong co-production set in Thailand” costars Bolo Yueng of Enter the Dragon fame in an as-crazy-as-they-come, low budget kung-fu flick(coolasscinema). Chiba plays a kung-fu master searching for his master’s killer. Fans of cheesy kung-fu movies with equally cheesy dubbing should love this unique Hong Kong and Japanese collaboration.
  • Shogun’s Samurai (1978): Better known as The Yagyu Conspiracy in Japan, this movie marks Chiba’s most notable adventure as the sword swinging, eye-patched badass Yagyu Jubei. When the ruling Tokugawa shogunate dies, intrigue and violence abound as a conspiracy is uncovered and his sons battle for the throne. Shogun’s Samurai sees Chiba teaming with his favorite director Kinji Fukasaku for a stylized jidai (samurai period) action classic.
  • Shadow Warriors (1980)In the long-lived television series also known as Kage no Gundan, Chiba played various members of the legendary ninja lineage Hattori Hanzo. Made famous in Kill Bill Vol 1, this television series and movie popularized ninja and ninja tropes in Japanese culture.
  • Samurai Reincarnation (1981): Makai Tenshō marked the return of Yagyu Jubei, this time in a fantasy setting that allowed for two fan-service showdowns: Yagyu Jubei vs. Miyomoto Musashi and Yagyu Jubei vs. his father.
  • The Stormriders (1998): Sonny Chiba gained popularity in China for his roles in the martial arts fantasy epics based on the Chinese comic book series.
  • Kill Bill Vol 1(2003): Quentin Tarantino considers Sonny Chiba one of his favorite action stars. In fact, Jules Winnfield’s bible quote in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the opening sequence of the American version of Chiba’s The Bodyguard. Despite his string of cult hits in the US, Chiba would get his biggest western exposure when he reprised his role as Hattori Hanzo for Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol 1, this time as the legendary sword-smith living in Okinawa.

Sonny Chiba versus Bruce Lee

Round 1: Film Career

Photo from Karate Bear Fighter

Bruce Lee became famous thanks to his films. But his biggest notoriety came off screen, as a philosopher and demonstrator. Sonny Chiba’s career spans over five decades, with over 130 roles spanning various genres. Chiba also created his own production company, directed two movies, and created the JAC to better the standard of action movies, whether he was in them or not. From a pure career standpoint, it’s hard to top Sonny Chiba.

Winner: Sonny Chiba

Round 2: Philosophy

Photo from Enter the Dragon

Chiba took hard-hitting roles but often played characters of questionable morality. He admits it’s more fun to play the bad-guy. Although Chiba cultivates a positive philosophy offscreen, promoting karate and work ethic, onscreen Chiba’s characters didn’t always practice what he preached.

On the other hand, from The Big Boss to the unfinished Game of Death, Lee infused his movies with ideology. His legend lives on thanks to his approach to fitness and unique philosophy which is embodied in his unique fighting style, Jeet Kune Do. Want to know more? Watch his famous interviews, or read Striking Thoughts or Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Winner: Bruce Lee

Round 3: Unique Image

Photo from Game of Death

Since, at one point in his career, Chiba emulated Lee it would be easy to give this round to Lee. But we cannot deny Chiba’s influence in Japan. His representations of Hanzo and Jubei planted the seeds of the ninja boom that would inspire characters and imagery both at home and abroad.

Yet Bruce Lee inspired his own genre of Bruceploitation films. His yellow and black jumpsuit from Game of Death became iconic and was even worn by Bride when she slayed countless enemies with Hanzo’s blade in Kill Bill Vol 1‘s climax. Bruce Lee’s image is, without a doubt, more recognizable than Sonny Chiba’s.

Winner: Bruce Lee

Round 4: Martial Artist

Photo from Karate Bullfighter

The founder of Jeet Kune Do became famous for his speed and power put on display in movies and demonstrations. On the surface, it’s hard to argue against Bruce Lee in this category. But legend has blurred reality and the lack of concrete fact, video or competitive accomplishments make Lee’s accomplishments as a “real” fighter questionable legends at best.

Bruce’s own students and friends offer no confirmation on his true fighting ability. When asked about reports of bursting 700-pound punching bags and throwing seven punches in a second, Lee’s student and famed kickboxer Joe Lewis responded:

Please, drop all the stuff you’ve heard. Martial arts is full of nonsense. Only believe what you have seen or can prove… Bruce was not a fighter. He was an actor and a teacher. He was a great teacher… Bruce Lee was a wealth of knowledge. (Divinewind)

Lee’s friend, actor and karate legend Chuck Norris offered similar doubts, “Would I have beaten Bruce Lee in a real competition, or not? You’ll forgive me for answering with another Bruceism: Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory” (Sattler).

Lee’s most famous confrontation, with martial artist Wong Jack Man remains shrouded in mystery. Lee bragged that he beat Man, who turned tail and fled. But Man contended that Lee fought dirty: “According to Wong, the battle began with him bowing and offering his hand to Lee in the traditional manner of opening a match. Lee… pretended to extend a friendly hand only to transform the hand into a four-pronged spear aimed at Wong’s eyes” (Dorgan, Hayes)

What isn’t questionable is Lee’s multi-styled legacy. Lee explored styles ranging from kung-fu to fencing and this philisophical legacy lives on today in the booming sport of mixed martial arts (as seen in the UFC and One Championship).

When it comes to martial arts, Sonny Chiba is no slouch. The athlete turned actor holds high rankings in kyokushin karate, ninjutsu, gojuryu karate, shorinji kempo, judo and kendo. Chiba helped spread the benefits of karate to the masses by providing an alternative hero; a karate master in the midst of kung-fu overload.

Both men mastered and promoted multiple fighting arts. Although neither touts a tangible fighting legacy, their films and fame inspired fans around the world take up martial arts.

Winner: Tie

Round 5: World Stardom

Photo from The Storm Riders

Both stars conquered box offices around the world. Lee’s popularity extends into Japan while Chiba made a name for himself in China, even taking roles in Chinese movies. Both men made inroads in the west and lent their talents to western films. Based on these accomplishments alone, discounting notoriety (next round), it’s hard to declare a true winner.

Winner: Tie

Round 6: Notoriety

Photo from Avengers Age of Ultron

Lee wins this round, no question. Robert Downey’s Bruce Lee shirt in the latest Avengers film proves that Bruce Lee’s place as an influential icon hasn’t faded in the slightest.

Even in the West, Bruce Lee is a household name. T-shirts bearing his image, his books, his movies are all readily available. In contrast, although you might come across a few of his movies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Sonny Chiba t-shirt or book at the mall, even in Japan. In The Asian Influence on Hollywood Action Films, Barna Donovan explains, “Although Chiba earned a sudden cult fan following (in the US) he did not have the sort of staying power in American popular memory as Bruce Lee did”(96).

Winner: Bruce Lee

Round 7: Cultural Ambassador

Photo from Kill Bill Vol 1

Although Lee took kung-fu too new heights of popularity, in reality he wasn’t a kung-fu man. Lee’s art was Jeet-kun Do, as influenced by western boxing and fencing as it was Chinese kung-fu. In fact, Lee left China where where he could freely make movies and explore his philosophy.

In On the Warrior’s Path, Daniele Bolelli gives an in-depth examination of Lee’s deviation from mainstream Chinese thinking:

Lee stood in firm opposition to the most dogmatic aspects of Chinese tradition cherished by Confucianism. By rejecting Confucianism and choosing to embrace the antiauthoritarian viewpoint of philosophical Taoism, Lee allied himself with the fringe-dwellers… the misfits of Chinese culture. (161)

Although Lee provided all Asian men with a powerful role-model and representative, he never became a clear ambassador of Chinese culture. I didn’t learn anything about Chinese history or traditions from his films.

Barna Donovan agrees, “Lee always looked at kung fu films as a way of introducing the world to the far east… Hong Kong studios, however, hardly had such an ambitious cultural agenda”(96).

Chiba embraced Japanese culture and made spreading Japanese culture one of his main goals. His roles as Hattori Hanzo and Yagyu Jubei are steeped in Japanese history and culture. These movies helped fuel the karate and ninja booms that flourished in the 80’s.

Winner: Chiba

And the winner is…

Photo by Benson Kua

Bruce Lee by an inch.

While Chiba is a legend in his own right, Lee’s legend and influence crosses cultures, race and sport like no other. World audiences respect Chiba, but want to be Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee has received countless homages, from Hokuto no Ken’s Kenshiro to the Street Fighter gaming series’s Fei Long. MMA fighters cite his influence. Former UFC champion Anderson Silva embraces Lee’s words as if they were his own. Silva’s personal documentary Like Water starts off with archival Bruce Lee footage.

Without a doubt Bruce Lee occupies a special place in the global consciousness. All of these accomplishments come despite his early death and Lee belongs in the ranks of immortal legends like guitar god Jimi Hendrix, worldwide sports and humanitarian icon Muhammad Ali, or Chiba’s own influence, James Dean.

Place Your Bets!

Photo from Way of the Dragon

The big, unanswerable question remains: who would have won in a fight?

Lee is the fan favorite. His speed and power need to be seen to be believed. His style, Jeet Kune Do, embraced an amalgamation of styles and “effective” techniques. Lee’s battles with challengers in the street and on movie sets are legendary.

But Chiba makes a worthy dark-horse. The master of many styles trained under Masutatsu Oyama, a man who fought hundreds of men, battled bears and killed bulls with his bare hands. Like Lee, Oyama created a unique style then discarded techniques he deemed ineffective. In many ways Oyama is the prototypical Bruce Lee.

Chiba’s judo, a powerful grappling art, spices things up. Grapplers like jiujitsu and wrestling practitioners ruled the early mixed martial arts era. Even muay thai practitioners, a style known for destructive striking, succeeded thanks to grappling techniques in the clinch.

If I had to place a bet, I’d put my money on Lee. Fact or fiction, Lee had a fighting reputation Chiba lacks. Plus Lee possessed impressive reflexes and power. And his aim to intercept oncoming opponents is proving effective in today’s mixed martial arts’ scene.

Peas In a Kickass Pod

Photo from Karate Bear Fighter

Watch any Bruce Lee movie and you’ll note his morality, fluid grace and skillful execution. On the other hand, Sonny Chiba often played morally ambiguous characters and relied on brute, blunt power.

While Bruce Lee’s gift to the world is his philosophy, Sonny Chiba focused on the Japanese film industry. And thanks to his movies and the formation of the JAC, Chiba helped shape the Japanese film industry in a way that is, at long last, gaining recognition.

Under-appreciated for years, Kill Bill Vol 1 helped bring Sonny Chiba back into the international spotlight. His performance as Hattori Hazno won the respect of critics and exposed Chiba to wider audience than ever before. Kill Bill Vol 1 helped Chiba fulfill his Hollywood intentions. Tarantino’s script gave Chiba the chance to play a pivotal, charismatic role in the series and gave viewers a taste of Japanese action culture.

Sonny Chiba claims he traveled to Hong Kong to meet Bruce Lee in 1973. But the plan was ill-fated and Chiba arrived to news of Lee’s death. “If I could have met him, I think we could have had some exciting, interesting conversations.” (Ross)

Although it’s fun to speculate about who would have won in a fight, in reality that’s not important. Ultimately both men proved themselves as actors and philosophers, but not as actual fighters.

Despite anyone’s take on the debate, the real winners are film fans. Thanks to Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba, we have a library of awesome martial arts movies to watch. And while their influences can still be felt today, few of today’s films have the charismatic grit and style of the Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba classics.

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The Other Side: What Do Japanese College Students Think of English? Fri, 29 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 Tofugu readers tend to be dedicated to improving their understanding of Japanese language and culture. So I think many reading this can agree that learning a foreign language can be a reeeeeeal pain. Learning a new way of thinking is a struggle no matter what country or culture you’re from. It’s hard for me to understand certain concepts in […]

The post The Other Side: What Do Japanese College Students Think of English? appeared first on Tofugu.

Tofugu readers tend to be dedicated to improving their understanding of Japanese language and culture. So I think many reading this can agree that learning a foreign language can be a reeeeeeal pain. Learning a new way of thinking is a struggle no matter what country or culture you’re from. It’s hard for me to understand certain concepts in Japanese, as I’m sure it is the other way around.

This got me thinking.

Each year, my university invites a handful of international students from one of our partner schools in Japan to come and spend a few semesters living and studying on our campus. Many of these students are dedicated, long-time English language learners and members of the English Speaking Society at their university in Japan. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to ask a few questions and see what these students thought about learning English.

Meet the Students (Kind of)


For this study, I interviewed 5 exchange students: Mizuta-san, Ota-san, Suzuki-san, Watabiki-san, and Yoshiyuki-san. Out of respect for their privacy, I’ve withheld the participants’ school and their first names. Let’s meet our English student participants:

Name: Mizuta-san

Hometown: Hiroshima

Major: Science

Year: Junior


Name: Ota-san

Hometown: Hiroshima

Major: Science

Year: Sophomore


Name: Suzuki-san

Hometown: Aichi

Major: Economics

Year: Sophomore


Name: Watabiki-san

Hometown: Osaka

Major: Chemical Engineering

Year: Junior


Name:  Yoshiyuki-san

Hometown:  Hiroshima

Major:  Chemical Engineering

Year: Freshmen

The Questionnaire


Let’s see what they have to say, shall we?

Q. How long have you been studying English?

Mizuta-san: Nine  years.

Ota-san: Since junior high school, about eight years.

Suzuki-san: For seven and a half years.

Watabiki-san: For nine years.

Yoshiyuki-san: Eight years.

Q. Do you consider studying English a passion of yours?

Mizuta-san: Yes, I do.

Ota-san: Yes, I think you shouldn’t study for study, but should study for fun.

Suzuki-san: Yes, I do.

Watabiki-san: Yes

Yoshiyuki-san: No.

Q. Do you want to move to an English-speaking country?

Mizuta-san: Yes, I do. If I have the chance.

Ota-san: Yes!

Suzuki-san: Yes, I do.

Watabiki-san: No. I love Japan.

Yoshiyuki-san: Yes.


Photo by EO1

Q. What in your opinion are the hardest parts of learning English?

Mizuta-san: Speaking English without hesitation.

Ota-san: I don’t have confidence in my sentences.

Suzuki-san: A lot of slang and accents which are different from country to country.

Watabiki-san: We have no problem living in Japan without English. There are no chances to use English in daily life.

Yoshiyuki-san: Enriching my vocabulary.

Q. How is this different from Japanese?

Mizuta-san: We need to be more emotional in English than in Japanese.

Ota-san: Because I’m afraid of making mistakes.

Suzuki-san: Maybe it is relatively easy for us Japanese to understand Japanese slang or accents in different parts of Japan because Japanese is spoken only in Japan. But English is an international language. So I often face difficulties in understanding what native English speakers say, because it is hardly possible to acquire all of those words.

Watabiki-san: We use Japanese everyday.

Yoshiyuki-san: I just have fewer opportunities to listen to English than Japanese.

Q. Why is this “hardest part” difficult for you?

Mizuta-san: Because we are not used to doing it, and I feel a little afraid of making grammar mistakes in English.

Ota-san: It’s really hard to check sentences. I don’t have confidence in translation tools or electronic dictionaries, because they often make mistakes.

Suzuki-san: There are too many English slangs and accents across the globe.

Watabiki-san: No opportunities to use english Each day.

Yoshiyuki-san: I’m poor at memorizing.


Photo by Wonderlane

Q. How have you helped yourself compensate for these difficulties?

Mizuta-san: Practice and memorize English I learned in English classes.

Ota-san: I make sure to study grammar.

Suzuki-san:  I make some time to talk with native English speakers on a regular basis. I try to understand as many different  things as I can.

Watabiki-san: I study when I can.

Yoshiyuki-san: I’m learning more English words by reading a book for the Eiken test.

Q. What are the easiest parts of learning English?

Mizuta-san: Reading.

Ota-san: Grammar

Suzuki-san: English sentence structure is simpler than Japanese.

Watabiki-san: Learning Vocabulary.

Yoshiyuki-san: Grammar.

Q. Are these “easiest parts” similar to Japanese or different?

Mizuta-san: Different, but simple.

Ota-san:  Different.

Suzuki-san: The latter.

Watabiki-san: Some English  words are used in Japanese as if they are Japanese words, but most of them are different.

Yoshiyuki-san: Different but simple to learn.


Photo by Clark

Q. Why do you find these things easy?

Mizuta-san: Because my English classes in my school days had focused on reading English.

Ota-san: English is systematic and the meaning is clear in sentences. On the other hand, Japanese has many kanji, which you have to memorize, and the meaning often depends on the context of sentences.

Suzuki-san: Japanese seems to have a lot of expressions to explain the same thing.

Watabiki-san: I have two reasons: first, everyone can easily improve their vocabulary if they study, and second, there are relationships among English words. For example, “ped” means “foot” so “pedal,” “biped,” “pedestrian” all relate with “foot.”

Yoshiyuki-san: I have done well in grammar tests since I started studying English. In junior high, I found I liked English grammar more than my classmates did.

Q. How did you begin learning English?

Mizuta-san: As mandatory education in middle school.

Ota-san: I started because we have to study in junior high school.

Suzuki-san: It was a compulsory subject in my junior high school.

Watabiki-san: Almost all Japanese start learning English when they enter junior high school. First, we learn easy words and sentences like “hello,” “nice to meet you,” and so on.

Yoshiyuki-san: My mother made me go to English school when I was 11.

Q. If you were going to teach an English speaker Japanese where would you begin?

Mizuta-san: I would consult the International faculty at my home university.

Ota-san: I would start with greetings.

Watabiki-san: Same with how I was taught. I would teach them “konnichiwa” means “hello” and “arigatou” means “thank you.”

Yoshiyuki-san: Greetings.


Photo by fo.ol

Q. In your opinion is it harder to teach an English speaker Japanese or to teach a Japanese speaker English?

Mizuta-san: Both of them are equally difficult.

Ota-san: For me, it’s harder to teach an English speaker because with a Japanese speaker I can teach in Japanese. It is difficult to teach delicate nuance in English.

Suzuki-san: The former.

Watabiki-san: It is harder to teach an English speaker Japanese.

Yoshiyuki-san: To teach an English speaker Japanese, I think.

Q. What were the best methods and activities to learn English you have had?

Mizuta-san: I think singing songs in English is the best.

Ota-san: Reading foreign books that I’m interested in. For example, novels and science books.

Suzuki-san: Shadowing.

Watabiki-san: I force myself to use only English when I practice and not Japanese.

Yoshiyuki-san: Living in an English-speaking country. I did a homestay in Australia for two weeks

Q. What were the worst methods and activities to learn English you have experienced?

Mizuta-san: Memorizing single English words with Japanese translation.

Ota-san: This may not be what you expect, but for me it was textbook exercises. In Japan, school teachers teach grammar a lot, but the students don’t get deeply in touch with English. Junior high school English textbooks are really thin.

Suzuki-san: Just memorization of English words and phrases. It is important to use the words not just memorize.

Watabiki-san: I have no idea.

Yoshiyuki-san: Reading English sentences silently.

What Do Japanese College Students Think of English

Photo by takomabibelot

Q. What are the characteristics of Japanese education or the Japanese people that influence how you learn English?

Mizuta-san:  Japanese English education is likely to be focused on reading English rather than speaking, so most Japanese people feel difficulty when speaking English.

Ota-san: Classes teach reading and grammar a lot, but I hardly learned listening and speaking.

Suzuki-san: Japanese English education just focuses on reading or writing. So most Japanese cannot speak or listen to English. Even some Japanese English teachers cannot.

Watabiki-san: I think the Japanese are generally shy and introverted so we tend to study English alone, only reading books or listening to CDs.

Yoshiyuki-san: They make us recite English sentences.

Q. What kind of activities do you enjoy most in the classroom and why?

Mizuta-san: Singing songs and pair work. Because we can speak English in those activities.

Ota-san: Talking with English speakers, because I can really get in touch with another culture.

Suzuki-san: I enjoy conversation, just because I like speaking English.

Watabiki-san: Having a conversation with people whose English skills are different from mine.

Yoshiyuki-san: I like small-group activities. It is easier than telling the whole class my opinions.

Q. What kind of activities in the classroom do you dislike and why?

Mizuta-san: Word quizzes, because they are boring.

Ota-san: Memorizing grammar.

Suzuki-san: I hate just translating English into Japanese in class, because it is meaningless when I communicate with English speakers.

Watabiki-san: Having a conversation with people whose language skill is equal to mine. I can’t learn and I can’t teach.

Yoshiyuki-san: Giving a presentation. I don’t like speaking in front of a large audience.

Q. What kind of activities to do with the language do you do outside the classroom?

Mizuta-san:  Hanging out with foreign people.

Ota-san: Reading books and watching movies in English.

Suzuki-san: Listening to English music.

Watabiki-san: Improving my vocabulary with books and dictionaries, and listening to English CDs.

Yoshiyuki-san: I made a speech for ESS (English Speaking Society). I liked learning how to make a speech, and trying to overcome my weaknesses.


What Do Japanese College Students Think of English

Photo by Yarian

Thanks again to all five dedicated students who took the time to answer my questions. It was really interesting to see how many of their responses lined up. Especially in regards to the benefits of practicing speaking and listening instead of just reading and writing.

Writing and compiling this interview definitely motivated me to dust off some of Japanese textbooks. If you have any language learning sentiments or stories of your own, please share them in the comments. Stay diligent with your studies!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The Fabulous World of Japanese Socks! Wed, 20 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 Recently I was talking with a group of people who had all lived in Japan. The conversation turned to socks, as it does. Everyone agreed that they missed Japanese socks passionately. One person, who was taking a trip to Japan, had already earmarked sock-buying time while he was there. If you haven’t lived in Japan, […]

The post The Fabulous World of Japanese Socks! appeared first on Tofugu.

Recently I was talking with a group of people who had all lived in Japan. The conversation turned to socks, as it does. Everyone agreed that they missed Japanese socks passionately. One person, who was taking a trip to Japan, had already earmarked sock-buying time while he was there. If you haven’t lived in Japan, you might not think that socks would inspire such affection, but that’s probably because you haven’t experienced the wonders of Japanese socks.


pink tabi

Photo by Nozomi

If we’re going to look at socks, we should start with the traditional tabi. Tabi (足袋) are ankle high and recognizable by their split toe design and hook fastenings. The split between the big toe and the other toes means they are suitable to wear with traditional Japanese footwear such as geta and zori that resemble sandals with a strap that attaches to the sole between the toes. Traditional tabi are made of stiffer material than socks. This is good since it provides some protection for your feet (is it just my weird feet or are zori super painful to wear?).

Tabi are still worn today when people dress in wafuku, traditional Japanese clothing such as kimono. I have a pair that were required for a kimono class, and tea ceremonies are good places to spot tabi. The best places to buy tabi are department stores and specialist kimono shops. Unlike a kimono, a pair of tabi are not very expensive. The traditional colours are white and black, but these days you can find all kinds of cute coloured tabi.

jikatabi soles

Photo by Ton Schlösser

Jika-tabi (地下足袋) are a variation of tabi. They are tabi-boots with rubber soles. Although they are a 20th Century invention, you’ll probably have seen them on the feet of “ninjas” in movies. In reality they are worn by rickshaw pullers, workmen, farmers and construction workers, though they are not as popular as they once were.

The jika-tabi name illustrates something important to keep in mind: it means tabi that connect with the ground. From this you can infer something about regular tabi: that they should never touch the ground. The Japanese attitude toward the boundary between inside and outside can clearly be seen with the use of socks. Just as you never walk with shoes in the house, you should also never pop outside in your tabi (or any kind of socks.)

Sock Etiquette

shoes at genkan

Photo by Erik

In Japan your socks are on display far more often than in some other countries, thanks to the traditional code of leaving your shoes at the door. Your feet and socks can be on show many times a day and people aren’t shy about commenting on them. Wearing dirty or worn out socks is a big faux pas – if you want to make a good impression, you must have nice socks.

There are some regional and generational differences about sock etiquette when visiting someone else’s home. Younger people are often more relaxed. However, there were exclamations of horror as a lady in my calligraphy class told a tale of how a visitor had had walked on her tatami with his bare feet! Outrageous! This is just anecdotal evidence, but I can still recommend wearing socks you wouldn’t be embarrassed by while you are in Japan. Take into account the TPO (that’s a bit of Japanese English that means Time, Place and Occasion). For example, sports socks are not appropriate in a business setting.

But having impressive socks to show off is no hardship, because luckily for you there is a fantastic selection of all kinds of socks in Japan.

Modern Tabi

modern tabi socks

Photo by pekochan

Modern tabi take the split toe design of traditional tabi and pair it with modern materials. They stretch and pull on like a normal sock and don’t have a clasp closure. Personally, I never found them very comfortable, but some people swear by them, claiming they have health benefits. Split-toed running shoes have also become popular in recent years, so split toed socks suit them perfectly.

I’ve noticed a difference between modern tabi socks inside and outside Japan. In Japan they are just another kind of normal sock. You can find them in a range of colours, from ones suitable for work to wacky character socks. Outside Japan, where they are available, they still fall into the category of novelties, and tend to be very Japanesey-kitsch, patterned with sushi, ninjas or other Japanese cultural stereotypes. It’ll be interesting to see if they break out and become more mainstream outside of Japan.

Five Toed Socks

five toed socks

Photo by Bert Kimura

If one toe split was good, five must surely be better. Or at least that’s the thinking behind 5本指の靴下 gohon-yubi no kutsushita. Five-toed socks are basically gloves for your feet. They were invented in Spain, but popularised in Japan. Japanese researchers at the University of Tsukuba even did research that showed five toed socks improve circulation in comparison with standard socks. They also supposedly help prevent athlete’s foot. Despite their health benefits, five-toe socks are not considered very fashionable, but if you visit a sock shop in Japan, there will probably be a five-toed sock section.

Warm socks

socks galore

Photo by Chris Gladis

These socks might not be cute, but they are cosy. I lived in Hokkaido, so I valued any socks that would keep my feet warm. There are many brands of socks which claim to have warming properties. My favourites were Uniqlo’s Heat Tech range and the slightly cheaper versions I could find at my local Aeon department store. Look out for them if you want toasty toes. They are a seasonal item, more common in the winter. There are cooling socks which use a different blend of materials in the summer too.

Character Socks

kawaii socks for sale

Photo by Ricado Sosa

Chances are your favourite Japanese character or mascot comes in sock form. You can find socks emblazoned with the faces of characters from the big hitters like Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma to more obscure characters like Hokkaido’s Marimokkori or the bean dog Mameshiba. Manga and anime characters also frequently make appearances on socks. Wearing character socks is a fun way to brighten up your day with your favourite character in a subtle way.

Screen printed socks

screenprinted socks

Photo by Cory Doctorow

I haven’t seen screen printed socks much outside of Japan, though perhaps the fashion has spread and I’m just not aware of it. The obvious attraction is that you can have a bright, detailed image on your feet. Woo cute koala feet! The downside is that these socks are usually made of synthetic material so are not as comfy as cotton socks. Whether you want to make that trade-off to have astronauts or macaroons on your socks is up to you.

Fuwa Fuwa Socks

fuwafuwa socks

Photo by Ranee Flory

フワフワ or もくもく socks are fluffy just as their onomatopoeic name suggests. Whenever I was chilling in my house, I was wearing fuwa fuwa socks. Thanks to their softness, they are a great alternative to slippers. I bought mine at the 100 yen store. They usually come in pastel colours and cute animal designs.

Chair socks

chair socks

Photo by joannej

In Japan, even the chairs wear socks. You might be thinking, why would a chair possibly need socks? However, consider that tatami mats were not designed to withstand western-style chairs with legs. The socks help to keep the chair legs from scratching or denting the floors. If you want to clothe your naked chairs, the best places to find them are 100 yen stores.

Slouchy “Gal” socks

gal socks

Photo by Ogiyoshisan

ルーズソックス Loose socks, (or more accurately legwarmers) were a must-have in the 90s among school girls, but it was the gal subculture who went to extraordinary lengths to have the most slouchy socks possible. Some girls wore socks that were longer than their own height in order to achieve an extreme effect. These socks are sold by length, often over 1 meter long and usually come in white. Fashion is a great snake that eats itself, and so in 2014 slouchy socks returned as retro. You can find them in stores that cater to teenage girls.

Kon-Hai 紺ハイ


Kon-hai, or navy-blue high socks are the fashion successors to loose socks. In the 2000s, loose socks were out and knee high navy blue socks came in. They are also sometimes called 紺ハイソ or 紺ソク. They are worn with Junior and Senior High School uniforms. They are distinctive for their navy blue colour and for often having a small, embroidered logo near the top. This logo can be anything from a generic horse, to Rilakkuma, to the Statue of Liberty. Of course, the association with school girls feeds into the fetishisation of this section of society. However, in everyday life, they are just normal socks worn by normal girls.

Sock Obsession

zettai ryoiki

Photo by Beryl Chan

Now, I like socks. I like wearing them. They keep my feet warm and comfy. But after doing the research for this article, I’d be a fool not to know that some people like socks for different reasons. Looking for information on Japanese socks can take you to some very sketchy corners of the internet, but an article on socks would not be complete without mentioning of the fetishisation that surround them. Socks are a part of many school uniforms and are part of the cultural icon status of school girls. Another aspect of these socks as icon is 絶対領域 Zettai ryōiki. The phrase zettai ryōiki comes from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and is a reference to defensive shields. In terms of socks zettai ryōiki refers to the area of skin revealed between the bottom of a skirt and the top of thigh high socks. It is common in character designs in manga, anime and games, as well as in real life, either as cosplay or as a fashion statement. A great amount of mathematical analysis has gone into this phenomenon. This is not really my kind of thing, but as long something it isn’t hurting anyone, it doesn’t bother me. And it certainly hasn’t put me off Japanese socks. It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Japanese socks are just another part of “otaku” Japan, but reality is far more broad and complex. There are socks in Japan for every taste, and now I’m going to tell you how to find them.

Sock Recommendations


tabio shop

Tabio’s goal is to be the finest speciality sock store in the world. They’ve been opperating since 1984 and seem to have been doing a good job so far. You can find Tabio stores in Japan, France and the UK, but all the socks are made in Japan. Tabio is where you go for grown-up socks. Their range of socks is extensive, coming in a variety of lengths, colours, materials (including alpaca and silk!) and styles. If you are looking for a style of sock, Tabio probably has it, from five-toed socks, to walking socks, and of course a modern version of the tabi sock with a split toe. There is even a whole selection of wedding-after-party socks. This is the pricier end of the sock market, with socks ranging from about 800 yen to over 3000 yen. Tabio has an English language online store in the UK as well as Japanese online store.


socks at uniqlo

Photo by alisdair

My partner is a huge fan of Uniqlo’s men’s socks. They come in significantly more than a rainbow’s worth of colours (50 to be exact), they fit true to size, and they last a long time. Before leaving Japan my partner stocked up on Uniqlo socks. He’s slowly adding the unworn pairs to those already in circulation so his supply lasts until he can get back to Japan for more (or Uniqlo comes to Canada.) When a colleague going on a bussiness trip to Japan asked him what souvenir he’d like, he said Uniqlo socks. Such is his love for these excellent and very reasonably priced socks.

Uniqlo’s women’s socks are also very nice. They come in a wide variety of lengths, from footies to ankle socks to knee socks, as well as tights. Living in Hokkaido and now Canada, I’m particularly fond of the Heat Tech line at Uniqlo. They often come in two or three packs and the patterns and colours change every season. You can’t go wrong with Uniqlo socks. They are comfortable, colourful and hard wearing and priced reasonably for the amount of wear you can get out of them. You can find Uniqlo stores all over Japan. Luckily for us sock lovers, Uniqlo has expanded overseas too and you can shop online for all the socks (and other clothes I suppose) you want. They might not be as exciting as some other socks, but they are dependable.


right angle socks

Photo by ORAZ Studio

The no-brand brand Muji has some nice socks. It was my go-to place for comfortable ankle socks that last. Much like most of Muji’s products, they aren’t flashy, but they are good quality. But Muji does have one particularly innovative sock, the 90 degree sock. Apparently the right angle design keeps you from getting tired, although having never tried it, I can’t vouch for that.

Village Vanguard

village vanguard shimokita

OK, that’s enough sensible socks. It’s time for some fun ones. A good place to start is Village Vanguard, which describes itself as an “Exciting Book Store.” Not exactly the first place you’d look for socks. But if you go inside you’ll find a lot of fun socks, particularly character socks, as well as a bunch of other wacky, fun stuff. If you are looking for souvenirs to make your friends laugh, Village Vanguard is a good place to go, and not just for socks. It has an online store, but it can’t recreate the overwhelming experience of visiting in person.

Sock Dreams

Finally, if you are in the US and looking for Japanese socks closer to home, my recommendation is Sock Dreams. This company is based in Portland, Oregon and has a good selection of Japanese socks, particularly modern tabi, as well as socks from the US and around the world. They also have a bricks and mortar shop, if you prefer that over online shopping.

Buying Socks

sock store

Photo by fletcherjcm

It’s not hard to find specialist sock stores in Japan. If you walk around any shopping area in a big city, you’ll probably come across more than one. There are also often displays of socks in department stores. Buying socks is pretty easy too, but here are two tips to make it even easier. Japanese socks are sized by Japanese shoe sizes. Here’s a conversion chart so you can work out your size:

japanese shoe size chart

The second hint is to look for offers on three pairs of socks. I almost always bought socks in threes, saving money with this kind of offer in many different stores. If you see a display with a range of socks and a sign with the number 3 and a price then you are probably looking at a good discount. Sometimes if you miss the offer, the sales assistant will explain it to you, so if you don’t speak Japanese and someone selling socks is trying to explain something to you, look around for these signs. For example, these epic luchador socks illustrate a typical offer, 3 for 1000 yen or 400 yen each.

luchador sock sale

Photo by Simon Q

I hope you have happy sock hunting and happier feet!

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BAKA! Japan’s Most Popular Profanity Mon, 11 May 2015 13:00:00 +0000 “Baka” is the most commonly used Japanese swear word. It usually means foolish or stupid, but can take on a whole range of meanings depending of context, relationship, and various other factors. In kanji, it’s usually written 馬鹿. When separated, the literal meaning of those kanji are 馬 (horse) and 鹿 (deer). These kanji were selected simply […]

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“Baka” is the most commonly used Japanese swear word. It usually means foolish or stupid, but can take on a whole range of meanings depending of context, relationship, and various other factors. In kanji, it’s usually written 馬鹿. When separated, the literal meaning of those kanji are 馬 (horse) and 鹿 (deer). These kanji were selected simply because of their sounds “ba” and “ka”, but there are several other combinations that would have served the same purpose, such as 母娘 (Mother-Daughter), 馬娘 (Horse-Daughter), 破家 (Broken-House), 莫迦 (Trillions-Beautiful voice), 馬稼 (Horse-Earning money), and 跛家 (One foot-House).

It’s also commonly written in Hiragana as ばか or in Katakana as バカ. On the internet, it is sometimes written as “ヴァカ” or “βακα.”

Although baka can be used in several ways, there is certainly a negative connotation attached to it (it is a swear word after all). Thus it’s not typically used in public or legal situations.

For example, if you say “baka” to a subordinate in your company, you may have to spend some time in HR watching videos on an old VCR for a few hours. There is a certain amount of caution that needs to be exercised before pulling this puppy out of your Japanese language arsenal.

Therefore, we are going to study the word “baka” so as not to be 馬鹿 by misusing it.

The Origin Of Baka


Photo by GalaxyFM

There are several theories on the origin of baka, which regrettably means we can’t be sure which one is correct. The oldest written usage of baka is in Taiheiki (a Japanese historical epic said to have been written by Kojima Houshi in the 1370s). At the time the word was not 馬鹿 but 馬鹿者 (ばかもの / stupid person). So the theories which take into that 馬鹿者 was the first usage of the term are more believable than others. There’s a multitude of interesting theories but today we’ll focus on just five of them.

#1 A Story from the Shiki (The Records of the Grand Historian from China)

During the era of the second emperor Kogai of the Qin dynasty, his eunuch Choko planned a rebellion in an attempt to usurp his power. He wanted to find out which courtiers were on his side and came up with an idea. He brought a deer to the Imperial palace, offered it to the emperor and said, “I’ve brought you a very rare horse”. Understandably, the emperor got confused and asked, “Isn’t this a deer?”

With a divisive line drawn, Choko then moved towards the courtiers asking, “This is most certainly a horse, is it not?” Those who were afraid of Choko replied, “Yes, this is a horse” and those who did not fear him answered, “No, it’s a deer”. Choko later killed the courtiers who answered deer. From that, the phrase “指鹿為馬” (しかをさしてうまをなす / Pointing at a deer, calling it a horse) arose to describe using power to insist that something is one thing though it is clearly another.

It’s believed that baka comes from this story and this theory is actually the most widely accepted. However, one inconsistency is that the ‘ka’ part of ‘baka’ is actually a Japanese reading and wouldn’t have been read this way in Chinese.

#2 The Sanskrit Word “Moha”

Another word that can be read as “baka” is the kanji 莫迦, which is from the Sanskrit word “moha”, meaning “ignorance” and “illusion”. In this theory, it’s theorized that monks began using baka esoterically and it came into common usage later on. This theory was put forward by an Edo period Japanese scholar, Sadakage Amano, and is used in most major Japanese dictionaries, including the Kojien. However, some studies question this theory since “ignorance” was not among the meanings for baka when it was first used.

An interesting addition to this theory is that in Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh which has its origins in Sanskrit, the word “baka” means “stupid person”.

#3 Wakamono (Young People)

In Japanese “若者” (wakamono) means “young people”. In this theory, the “w” of wakamono was for some reason changed into a “b” when referring to young people as stupid and, thus, “馬鹿者” (bakamono) came into being .

Kunio Yanagida, the father of Japanese native folkloristics, said that the editor of Kojien, Izuru Shinmura, presented this theory but didn’t leave any documents supporting it when he died. So the truth of this theory is still uncertain. What is known, however, is that Shinmura was unwilling to accept the Sanskrit theory of “Moha” for the Kojien.

#4 Bankrupt Family

The word “破家” (baka) in the Zen Buddhist scripture means ‘a family bankrupted’ and it’s said that “馬鹿者” (bakamono) came out of this to refer to a person as “someone that is so stupid that they could allow their family to go bankrupt”. This theory was presented by a professor at Tohoku university, Kiyoji Sato, and adopted by a Japanese dictionary 日本国語大辞典 (Nihon Kokugo Daijiten).

#5 The Family Name 馬 (Horse)

In Bai Juyi’s poetry anthology 白氏文集 (Hakushi Monju), there is a poem about a wealthy Chinese family with the name 馬 who spend all their money on stupid things and eventually go bankrupt. It’s considered 馬鹿者(bakamono) was born as a 馬家者(bakamono), which can be broken down as 馬(Horse)-家(Family’s)-者(Person). This theory was presented by Osamu Matsumoto in his book “全国アホ・バカ分布考” (Zenkoku Aho・Baka Bunpu Kou).

How To Use Baka #Nuance


Though we can’t be sure how it came into being, we know that baka eventually emerged to take its place as the nasty little word we know and love today. That said, let’s go over how it’s being used presently and learn how to “mind your Ba’s and Ka’s”.

The often observed implications of the word are “insufficient knowledge”, “insufficient thoughtfulness”, “insufficient understanding”, or “abusing the stereotype”. The meaning changes depending on the person who says it, the person/object/situation it is directed towards, and the situation in which it is used.

I know that sounds confusing. With so many possibilities, surely you’ll have trouble knowing exactly when to use it. However, unlimited possibilities mean you pretty much can’t get it wrong. The beauty of the many nuances is that you can just blurt out ばか at any random time and people will automatically correlate the meaning most suited to the current situation. You (mostly) can’t lose!

Be aware though that its usage is quite different regionally. For example, in Kanto (Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa), baka is generally used for mild ridicule, whereas it’s the go-to word when you really want to curse someone out in the Kansai region (Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga). Thus, it’s important to note that people take this word very differently depending on where they’re from.

If you know a bit of a certain dialect, you may have heard the synonym “阿呆” (あほ / Aho), which is the most commonly used profanity in Kansai. Although both are very similar words, there are slight differences between them. Baka is often used when someone’s will or effort to understand is lacking, whereas aho is used when someone’s ability to understand is completely lacking. So aho is generally the more nasty of the two.

The place where one must practice the most discretion though, is Hokkaido. People from all over Japan have moved to Hokkaido so there is no way of immediately knowing which side of the Aho / Baka fence someone might fall on. The nastier of the two words may differ depending on the area of Hokkaido you’re in. Hokkaido-ans also have their own regional version of baka, which is はんかくさい (Hankakusai) or in the old dialect たくらんけ (Takuranke), but more on that later.

How To Use Baka #PositiveMeaning


Baka is often used to mock someone, but it can also be used in a good-natured way. Like the English word “silly”, it could express stupidity, foolishness, and irrationality, but can also describe ridiculousness, an inebriated state, or even feelings of endearment for someone. If you tell that beautiful woman walking down the street or the handsome guy from accounting that they are baka, you’re not likely to get a phone number. But watching how baka is used between people can reveal the kind of relationship they share.

Someone who is really into something can also be called baka. In this case, “baka” means that you are so keenly interested and involved in something that your attention for other people or other things is lacking. For example, there is a famous movie called “釣りバカ日誌” (つりばかにっし / Tsuri-Baka-Nisshi / Fishing Fool’s Diary) in which the the main character is a salaryman whose top priority is fishing. This particular meaning is often self-appointed and sometimes denotes a sort of respect.

Some more examples of this usage are: 野球馬鹿 (Yakyu-baka) meaning someone who is really into baseball. If you are really into learning Japanese, you might call yourself日本語馬鹿 (Nihongo-baka).

Baka can also be used for someone who works so diligently and purposefully towards a sole endeavor that they become a master of that one thing. For this type of 馬鹿, there is another expression, which is “愚直の念” (ぐちょくのねん / Guchoku No Nen). 愚直 means simply and stupidly honest and 念 refers to a sense or feeling. An example of this usage is the title of the manga『空手バカ一代』(からてばかいちだい / Karate Baka Ichidai / A Karate-Crazy Life).

How To Use Baka #Combination


The most common word paired with 馬鹿 directly translates as something you might have combined with the phrase “dummy” or “meanie” when you were three. 大 (おお / oo / Big) is commonly added to the beginning of baka and is used when someone is being really stupid, or大馬鹿 (おおばか / oobaka ) a “Big Stupid”.

This is also used when somebody goes a little kooky. Instead of using 大, young people often add激 (げき / Geki / Intense) or 超 (ちょう / Chou / Very) which form to become激馬鹿 (げきばか / Gekibaka / Intensely Stupid) or 超馬鹿 (ちょうばか / Choubaka / Very Stupid). It’s not the exact same pronunciation as the character Chewbacca, but it’s good way to help you remember.

Another common word paired with 馬鹿 is 馬鹿野郎 (ばかやろう / bakayarou / stupid man). I supposed the equivalent in English would be something like “dude”, as 野郎 (やろう / yarou) is slang for ‘man’. However, unlike dude, it can take on a bad meaning like jerk, schmuck, or other more inappropriate names. Combining 馬鹿 with such a word can come off pretty strong, but if you’re through the roof 馬鹿野郎 is not strong enough. For intense situations you need the big guns.

If you add 大 in front like 大馬鹿野郎 (おおばかやろう / oobakayarou / Incredibly stupid person) then you’ll definitely cut the offending person down to size.

Sometimes, 野郎 (Yarou) is replaced with a neutral word, such as 者 (もの / mono / person), or with a more nasty word like たれ (tare). When you add 小 (こ / ko /small) instead of 大 in front of 馬鹿, as in 小馬鹿 (こばか / kobaka), you get the meaning of ‘to look down on someone’.

Examples of Usage


Photo by Andrew Dobrow

To get a better idea of when and where you should use each instance of baka, I’ve put together some situations so you use the right baka at the right time.

#1. To rail at someone who made a mistake or did something stupid.
“ ばか!” “ばかもの!” “ばかやろう!”

#2. To regret that you or someone else did something stupid.
“馬鹿なことをした” (I/You/He/She/They did such a stupid thing.)

In this case, you can add a suffix like 馬鹿なことをしたよ(yo), 馬鹿なことをしたな(na), 馬鹿なことをしたね(ne), 馬鹿なことをしたもんだ(monda) to the end for adding some more specific nuance. As for ね (ne), here is the explanation what kind of meaning it will add.

#3. To look down on someone who doesn’t know something you consider to be common knowledge.
“〜も知らないの?馬鹿だね” (You don’t even know ~? You are such a simple minded person)
“テストで0点取ったの?馬鹿だな” (You got a score of 0 on the test? You must be pretty dumb.)

#4. Someone who can’t think objectively or rationally about something.

“親馬鹿” (おやばか) – 親 (おや- Oya) means parents and combines with baka to become 親馬鹿 (Oyabaka) means ‘overly-fond parents’. In this case, a parent loves their child/children so much that they can’t think objectively or rationally when it comes to them.

#5. Someone who is only well learned in one subject and lacks common knowledge. In this usage, the meaning of baka is similar to otaku.
あいつは数学馬鹿だから。(あいつはすうがくばかだから) (He is crazy about math.)
あいつは野球馬鹿だから。(あいつはやきゅうばかだから) (He is crazy about baseball.)
あいつはサッカー馬鹿だから。(あいつはさっかーばかだから) (He is crazy about soccer.)

#6. Something that is useless or broken.
ネジが馬鹿になる。(ねじがばかになる) (The screw loosened and won’t fasten anymore.)
嗅覚が馬鹿になる。(きゅうかくがばかになる) (Your sense of smell has become stupid.)

#7 Used as a prefix to express something extraordinary.
馬鹿正直 (ばかしょうじき) (Super honest)
馬鹿デカイ(ばかでかい) (Super big)
馬鹿騒ぎ (ばかさわぎ) (Party out)
馬鹿受け(ばかうけ) (Super funny, Very popular)
馬鹿売れ (ばかうれ) (Sold very well)

Baka Dialects


I briefly mentioned the Hokkaido dialectal differences for baka earlier, but why not learn each prefectural dialect, as well? Some places just use ばか and don’t have dialectical variation, but most have fun ways to call people stupid. (Note: Some regions in the prefecture may use different expressions. The Japanese dialects are not perfectly divided by the prefectural boundary.)

Okinawa: ふらー
Miyazaki: しちりん
Nagasaki: ばか

Which one is your favorite? Mine is にとはっしゅ in Saga. It sounds cute, doesn’t it?



Photo by Steve Voght

Harlan Ellison once said “the two most common elements in the world are hydrogen and stupidity.” With so many ways to be stupid, we humans need just as many ways to call it out. So study up on these variations of “baka”, so you’re ready for whatever dumb situations life throws at you, or so you can accurately describe yourself when you absent mindedly find yourself in baka whirlpool of your own making. Whether talking about your love of fishing or blowing off some steam with some casual Japanese swearing, be sure to use 馬鹿 responsibly, effectively, and maybe even a little bit foolishly.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1 / 2 / 3]

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The Dragon Ball Training Guide to Self-Improvement Wed, 29 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 Olympic judoka and UFC champion Ronda Rousey turned some heads and busted some scouters when she appeared at this year’s Wrestlemania wearing a Dragon Ball Z t-shirt with an image of Vegeta and the phrase, “It’s over 9,000!” “You think there’s a bigger Dragon Ball Z fan in mma than you?” an interviewer once asked. “No!” She scoffed, then explained […]

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Olympic judoka and UFC champion Ronda Rousey turned some heads and busted some scouters when she appeared at this year’s Wrestlemania wearing a Dragon Ball Z t-shirt with an image of Vegeta and the phrase, “It’s over 9,000!”

“You think there’s a bigger Dragon Ball Z fan in mma than you?” an interviewer once asked.

“No!” She scoffed, then explained how Dragon Ball Z inspired her to train and admitting that she had a big crush on Vegeta. “I would have gone cartoon for (Vegeta)!” she says before bursting out laughing. “Dude, he knocked up Bulma and then ditched out to go train… that’s hardcore.”

But Rousey isn’t the only celebrity or sports figure inspired by the likes of Goku, Vegeta and company. Marcus Brimage, another UFC fighter, claims Dragon Ball inspired him to be a fighter. MMA pioneer Carlos Newton called his style Dragon Ball Jiu-Jitsu, and mimed a kamehameha as a victory celebration. In other sports, Spanish tennis sensation Rafael Nadal is also a fan of the series, “I have all the DVDs, from the first one to the last one.”

Rapper Soulja Boy made a rap inspired by Dragon Ball (warning it’s both vulgar and horrible). Apparently smoking up makes him look like Gohan. Other artists, like XV, Machine Gun Kelly, J-Live, Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA, Lupe Fiasco and Childish Gambino (to name a few) make Dragon Ball references and word play, know what I’m saiyan?

The action series, Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama garnered worldwide fame. With all the powering up, transformations, wishes, special techniques, colorful characters, and violent battles, kids’ll tell you Dragon Ball is fun to watch. But underneath all that action lies life lessons and sound advice for self-improvement.

Like the athletes and lyricists mentioned above, we can all use Dragon Ball as inspiration. The series motivated me to work out, take my running hobby to the next level, and improve my Japanese. And Dragon Ball continues to inspire me to buckle down and get things done today. So next time you need motivation or seek to kick it to the next level ask yourself, WWGD? (what would Goku do)?

Not Awe But Inspiration


When Dragon Ball Z first hit Cartoon Network and gained mainstream popularity in the US, fans discussed the show with awe.

“How cool would it be to be strong like Goku?”

“Did you see when he trained at 100 times gravity?!”

“Wish I could fire off energy blasts!”

Everyone talked about the show’s crazy, over the top moments. They mimicked kamehamehas, did the fusion dance, and argued over power-levels, remaining spectators instead of applying Dragon Ball‘s lessons to the real world

Ronda Rousey couldn’t train with her cartoon crush Vegeta, but she took inspiration from Dragon Ball and became a champion. Rafael Nadalalso hasn’t turned Super Saiyajin (yet), but watching him will convince you he can. I haven’t run Snake Way, but I’ve run a marathon and an ultra-marathon in its place.

Sure we may never blast a big bang attack, drink of Korin‘s “sacred water,” or instantly alter our hair color. But we can take the lessons and strategies that lie beneath all the lightning fast punches, teleportations and power blasts and use them to improve our lives.

Getting Started

Commit and Make Sacrifices


When you want to make an omelet, you have to crack some eggs. Set a goal and commit to it. But remember, commitment means sacrifice.

Kid Gohan’s (forced) commitment to training meant he couldn’t study, enjoy being spoiled by his mother, hang out with his woodland pals, or enjoy his favorite hobby, crying. Later in the series, college-age Gohan commits again when he sits still for over 24 hours, allowing Old Kai to unlock his hidden potential.

When we make a goal, we have make sacrifices to achieve it. Gonna pass the JLPT? Invest time in studying. Gonna lose weight? Better forego movie theater popcorn and a skip those bar crawls. Like Gohan, we all have to make sacrifices when we commit to a goal.

Create a Routine


Piccolo removes his weighted hat and armor before battle. Kid Goku often stretched and warmed up with calisthenics. The Z Warriors prepped for battle by donning their battle gear – at least until said outfits got torn to shreds.

Tell your body and mind that it’s go-time by maintaining a routine. Create a regimen around whatever you’re preparing for. Do the same warm up, down the same drink, use the same writing utensil, and repeat the same mantra whenever you practice.

In A Fighter’s Mind Tim Ferris writes, “Routine can help us enter Musashi‘s mind of no-mind or the zone… It’s a kind of relaxed super-competence.” Routine can help our minds relax, fall into a rhythm and perform without distraction, overcoming the distractions and nervousness when we finally face our challenge.

Reach and Then Redefine Your Limits and Goals


Goku didn’t rest on his laurels when he pulled off his first kamehameha, or when he beat Piccolo to win the Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament. Goku’s constant progresses redefined him and what it meant to be Saiyajin throughout the series.

In his book 10-Minute Toughness, Jason Selk calls this the “Plus One Concept,”

The best way to climb a mountain is to take one step at a time. (The) +1 concept (is) the idea that success can be achieved by meeting a string of basic, incremental goals in the present that will will ultimately lead to excellence in the future… Believe in yourself and your ability to make gradual improvements, and the results will follow.”

As with Dragon Ball‘s cast of characters did, expect gradual “plus one” improvements as you work your way to your goal.

When you achieve one goal, set another and aim higher. Passed the JLPT level 4? Congratulations, now aim for level 3. Ran a 5k? Try a 10k. Watched 20 episodes of Dragon Ball in a day? Next time watch 21.

In Turn It Up! Jeffrey Spencer states, “Even though most people want an easy life and think it will give them the life fulfillment they seek, my experience tells me that the happiest people are those who perpetually seek goals and whose lives are appropriately challenged, so they remain alert and focused on moving forward to a better future.” New challenges keep life interesting, satisfying and therefore happy.

The Two-Fold Path To Improvement

Surround Yourself With Badasses


Okay, maybe Krillin isn’t the best example, but thanks to a series of badass teachers and foes, Goku became one of the baddest beings in the universe.

Goku learned the kamehameha from Master Roshi. He pushed himself to learn King Kai’s Kaio-ken technique and the Genki Dama because of Vegeta. Majin Buu led him to Super Saiyajin 3, Beerus pushed him to Super Saiyajin God, and the list goes on.

Like Goku, surround yourself with people above your level. “Badasses hang out with other badasses…. Make friends with successful people. If you want to become better then you need to allow the good influences of other people to rub off on you. Let them bring you up to their level” (

Whatever your goal, find a great training partner or a rival. Let them push you. Learn from them and improve. Want to learn Japanese? Find a senpai or native speaker. Want to get better at a martial art? Train with a higher belt rank. Want to become a great cook? Learn from a master chef.

Had training with mediocrity satisfied Goku, he would have never defeated the likes of Piccolo, Vegeta, or any of the other threats to earth. Thanks to the laundry list of badasses Goku faced and trained with, he became the supreme badass we know today.

Blaze Your Own Path


Holy contradictions Saiyaman! Rich just finished telling us to surround ourselves with badasses, but now he’s telling us to blaze your own path?! Aren’t they opposing strategies?

Yes and no. Just look at Goku’s wardrobe. He entered his first tournament wearing Master Roshi’s 亀 (kame/turtle) logo and donned King Kai ‘s 界王 (world king) logo before changing to his own 悟 (go/enlightenment) logo.

After enjoying the tutelage of various masters, Goku becomes his own master. During his solo voyage to Namek, Goku trains alone – improving his techniques and making them his own. When he finally arrives on Namek, its under his own “悟” mark.

Although one needs others to learn from and aspire to, self discovery is also essential. By blazing our own paths we can make others’ teachings our own and find what best works for us. Study Japanese from teachers, converse with native speakers, and then review alone to make what you learned concrete. Learn new techniques from masters and then practice alone to perfect them and make them your own.

While advocating both training with badasses and blazing your own path sounds contradictory, we can employ both strategies to reach maximum heights. Like Goku, utilize both tactics to build the best possible you.

Embrace Downtime

Push the Limits, Then Rest


Follow the Kame school tenet – train hard and rest hard. Sayajin push their bodies to the limit and recover stronger than before. Dragon Ball‘s lesson is clear – rest is vital.

Hard work needs to be rewarded with rest and recovery. “Athletes (or anyone) must learn to toe the fine line of doing what is needed without overdoing it” (Selk). Overdoing it can grossly inhibit one’s motivation, performance, and overall well being.

Similarly, mental exhaustion can lead to “difficulty concentrating, impaired creativity, and negative attitudes toward one’s self, others, one’s work and life” (Bartlett 130). In general overtraining and overstudying lead to inefficiency and unnecessary suffering. It’s probably one reason, among many, that Vegeta is always so pissy.

Good old fashioned “R & R” gives muscles time to recover and grow and allows new information to soak in. Research shows sleep is beneficial for absorbing newly learned information and technique (Claudia Nagel). So whether pushing yourself physically or mentally take a break and come back refreshed for a renewed effort and maximized benefits.



When Bulma, Krillin, and Gohan head to Namek, Krillin and Gohan make the most of their downtime and space capsule’s confined space by practicing visualization. The two meditate and envision battling one another. Although their level of psychic connection might be difficult to pull off in reality, visualization reaps big rewards.

Visualization is creating a mental picture of a situation, such as seeing yourself giving a speech, (taking a test, scoring a goal, etc.)… Also called mental rehearsal, visualization helps you overcome the mental and emotional causes of anxiety. (Verderber 35)

Through visualization, also called a “mental workout,” we imagine the execution of our goal and positive results. Countless athletes (golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Olympic gymnasts Julianne McNamara and Peter Vidmar) swear by visualization, which builds confidence, increases efficiency, combats anxiety, and gives a sense of experience.

Scientists believe that we may experience real-world and imaginary actions in similar ways… Whether we walk on a mountain trail or only picture it, we activate many of the same neural networks – paths of interconnected nerve cells that link what your body does to the brain impulses that control it…. Imagining yourself doing movements can help you get better at them. (Rodriguez)

So if you’re taking a test, imagine what it takes to perform your best – at your desk, opening your test booklet, reading the questions and knowing the answers. If your competing physically, imagine your techniques, be it throwing the perfect spiral, sinking a free-throw, and pulling off the perfect sequences in a karate kata.

Review Your Motivation


Goku and company rarely reviewed their motivation because it stared them in the face; as a matter of life or death for themselves, their loved ones, and the entire planet. In the first Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament, Nam exemplifies the power of motivation, hoping to win the tournament and prize money to buy water for his drought stricken village.

During downtime review your motivation. Are you saving the planet? Helping others? Trying to land a new job? Supporting your family? Trying to be the best you?

In Running With Kenyans, Adharanand Finn proposes that one reason Kenya churns out great marathoners is that running provides an escape from poverty. Major race winnings prove life altering for the both runners and their families. Suffering in practice and the event can’t compare to the everyday hardships the runners will face if they don’t win.

Take it from Nam and periodically review your motivations. When we are worn, training becomes tiresome, and our drive wanes, it provides a much needed spark. Review them again before the big event, fueling your resolve down to the final stretch.


Don’t Forget Your Routine, Sacrifices, or Motivation


From tournaments brimming with spectators to intergalactic face-offs, Goku always showed up, warmed up, and faced his next challenge.

Remember that routine you made? Don’t abandon it now. Remember all the hours you sacrificed, don’t let them go to waste. Continue on as you have. Different circumstances can’t phase you now, you prepared for this!

Did Goku ever show up to a fight lacking pants? Maybe once. Did Goku ever show up to a fight lacking confidence? No.

Why? He knows he put in the time and effort. You did too. Think back to all of your sacrifices and, like Goku, let your preparation fuel your confidence.

Face Your Fears


Despite training under Master Roshi with Goku, Krillin lacked confidence when he had to face his former senpai, a fellow student from Orinji temple at the first Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament. He even considered quitting until Goku convinced him to “give it his best shot.” Krillin does and handedly beats his senpai’s baldheaded ass.

Despite our preparations, many of us lose confidence down the stretch. When the time comes review your motivation and remember all your sacrifices. Don’t get scared off when the finish line is in sight.

Take the test. Make the speech. Run the race. Don’t let your fears sabotage all your preparation. Face them head on!

Let Go


Sometimes, despite all the sacrifice, despite training with badasses, despite blazing our own paths and sticking to routine and considering our motivations, things still go wrong.

We lock up during a speech. Our minds go blank during a test. We are asked a question in Japanese and can’t understand despite having studied the words and grammar being used.

At the start of Dragon Ball Z, Goku didn’t even know he was Saiyajin. A few story arcs later he faced his toughest foe, Frieza, and things were not going well. Frieza crippled Vegeta, reduced Piccolo to a bystander, and blew Krillin to dust.

What did Goku do?

He let go. He got angry. And bam! He turned Super Saiyajin. “Five minutes” or about one hundred episodes later, Goku defeated Frieza.

Bruce Lee once said, “And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit, it hits all by itself… Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.”

Stressing over the situation makes it worse. When the going gets tough, relax and let go. Chances are routine will kick in and you’ll regain your stride. Like Goku, by letting go we discover new abilities and reach heights we never knew we could achieve.

When the Dust Has Settled



One of Dragon Ball’s greatest themes is that of forgiveness. Pure-hearted Goku befriends forgives everyone – from the jerk Krillin, to the corrupted Tien Shinhan, to the devil in Piccolo, to the fascist Saiyajin prince Vegeta, and most recently the god of destruction Beerus. At this point no one should be surprised if he befriends Frieza at the end of the new movie, Revival of F.

In fact, he would have become best buds with Frieza had Frieza ever chilled out. Of course in reality there’s a point where our best interests lay in burning bridges (for Goku it came in the form of Frieza and Cell). But we can lead less stressful lives (like Goku) if we (like Goku) learn to forgive and forget.

Be a Life-Long Learner


Take it from the SSLLL (Super Saiyajin Life Long Learner) himself. Did Goku stop learning after he mastered the kamehameha? No. Was he satisfied after reaching the first level of kaiyoken? Or the second? Or third? No way. Had he been, he might have never learned the spirit bomb, teleportation, or reached Super Saiyajin…what level is he up to now?

Goku is a life long learner. He may take a rest, but he never gets stuck in a rut or loses his appetite for new experiences. And Goku’s satisfaction doesn’t lie in victory itself but in the constant act of learning, improving, and challenging himself.

Never stop learning. Smell opportunity and take advantage. Recognize and even relish your accomplishments, then move on to the next goal.

Enjoy the Journey


Vegeta spends most of Dragon Ball Z frustrated, unsatisfied, and unhappy. While Goku trains with a smile, Vegeta wears a scowl (and the occasional pink shirt). He takes no joy in the process, never achieves his goal, and subjects himself to a long, angry journey. But by the end of the Buu saga, when Vegeta finally sits back and lets it all soak in, he comes to a realization.

Yet you (Goku) showed mercy to everyone, even your fiercest enemies, even me… You fought to test your limits and push yourself beyond them, to become the strongest you could possibly be… It makes me angry just thinking about it. But perhaps it’s my anger that’s made me blind to the truth for so long. I see it now… You’re better than me Kakarot. You’re the best.

Don’t be Vegeta; or at least don’t be the Vegeta that took about 250 episodes to relax. Remember: it isn’t about the goal, it’s about the journey to achieve it. In 10-Minute Toughness, Tom Selk advises, “Remember that you stand to experience more joy and satisfaction from striving to reach your goals than from actually achieving them.”

Like Goku, enjoy the journey. When you face your next challenge, enjoy the process. No matter the outcome of the effort, value the experiences and progress made in challenging it.

Unleashing That Saiyajin In All of Us


So next time you watch Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z or any other series please enjoy it! But allow the lessons they offer to motivate you to face new challenges and become the best version of you that you can be.

RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan sums it up best, “Today I believe we’ve all got a Saiyan inside us… That’s what we’re all trying to reach, through all the chambers of our lives.”

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop – 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ・ [Mobile 1/2]


  • Bartlett, Steven J. Normality Does Not Equal Mental Health: The Need to Look Elsewhere for Standards of Good Psychological Health.
  • Be a Badass By Surrounding Yourself With Other Badasses.
  • Egan, Carol. 4 Slam-Dunk Strategies to Improve your Confidence.
  • Finn, Adharanand. Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth.
  • Nagel, Claudia. Learning Best When You Rest.
  • Petrie, Trent A., and Eric Denson. A Student Athlete’s Guide to College Success: Peak Performance in Class and Life.
  • Rza, and Chris Norris. The Tao of Wu.
  • Rodriguez, Tori. 3 Easy Visualization Techniques.
  • Selk, Jason. 10-minute Toughness: The Mental Exercise Program for Winning before the Game Begins.
  • Sheridan, Sam. The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game.
  • Spencer, Jeffrey. Turn It Up! How to Perform at Your Highest Level for a Lifetime.
  • Ungerleider, Steven. Mental Training for Peak Performance: Top Athletes Reveal the Mind Exercises They Use to Excel.
  • Verderber, Rudolph F., Kathleen S. Verderber, and Deanna D. Sellnow. Essential Speech.

The post The Dragon Ball Training Guide to Self-Improvement appeared first on Tofugu.

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10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives Tue, 12 Aug 2014 16:00:40 +0000 There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get […]

The post 10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives appeared first on Tofugu.

There was a time when I hated Hello Kitty. But once I understood her complexity and accepted her into my life, a whole world opened up. Sanrio, not unlike Marvel or DC, is an entire universe of characters, and exploring a universe is half the fun of discovering nerdy things like this. When you first get into comics, you learn about your Spider-men, Wonder Women, and Wolverinis. After awhile though, you dig deep enough to find hilariously bizarre or mind-blowingly boring superheroes like “Matter Eater Lad” and “Captain Planet”.

The same is true with the Sanrio universe. Sanrio may push the puppies, kitties, and lambies to the forefront, but underneath there’s a lot of fun to be had with the outliers. Who created them? Why? I wouldn’t say any of them are necessarily “bad”, but some can be incredibly unimaginative while others are so imaginative as to be downright bizarre. It’s these characters that I’ll be extricating for this list: Hello Kitty’s distant relatives. When these dogs, elephants, and hamburgers roll up to the Sanrio family reunion, the other characters avoid eye contact.

These oddballs defy Sanrio’s image of polished cuteness and stand out as wonderfully strange or uncharacteristically dull. Fill up your plate with mash potatoes, because I’m sending you to sit and talk politely with the side of the family Hello Kitty tries to forget.

10. Peter Davis


It’s a white dog named Peter Davis. This character at least gets points for being one of my favorite things: a dog with a bland first and last name. But the goodness stop there. Peter Davis was born in England and, what ho! Pip pip, old chap! According to his bio on, he’s very proper, noble, fashionable, and clean. Well, well Peter Davis. You’re boring and stereotypical!

9. Dokidoki Yummychums


Dokidoki Yummychums is almost Sanrio’s answer to Aqua Teen Hunger Force as they a group consisting of meat, fries and shakes. Though that’s not what makes them bizarre. It’s the idea of cute food. Linda touched on this a few months back, but what strikes me as odd about this concept is the way cuteness is tied to protection. Things that we find cute or adorable are often the things we naturally want to protect (small animals, babies, email passwords). Mixing that protection concept with food is incongruent. And hilarious.

It’s a small, but extant, mind-bender. “Me am want eat food. But me am want also protect food. Me not know what me want!”

This food-cuteness hits me in a different way as well. I love hamburgers. Definitely in my top three of favorite foods. But I never realized I wanted to hug a hamburger, until I saw Dokidoki Yummychums. And why not? Hamburgers have brought me so much joy! I can finally release my subconscious urge to hug an enbunned meat patty now that it has eyes and a face and looks like it wants a hug! And with that invitation, of course I would reciprocate. Thank you hamburger. Thank you for everything.

8. Zoujitensha


Zoujitensha, or Elephant Bicycle, is an elephant riding a bicycle. According to his bio, he is an “urbanite with good taste”. At least his design matches his personality. Both are flat and unappealing.

7. Hangyodon


Hangyodon (literally, “Mr. Half-fish”) is another example that showcases Sanrio’s ability to make anything cute. He is a monster, something traditionally created to scare and repulse us. So is he that weird? Not in and of himself. What’s weird is how popular he is.

Hangyodon has a large number of goods attributed to him. He’s high up on the second tier of the Sanrio roster, like the Aquaman of the Sanrio Justice League (pun intended?). But with such a long list of cute animal characters behind him, you would think he would get bumped farther down the popularity rankings.

Hangyodon is a smart character design because it plays on our pity for monsters. Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Shrek are all stories which exemplify this. These stories resonate because we all feel unattractive or clumsy or even monstrous at one time or another and we all hope someone will love us despite our unattractive qualities. We all want to be understood.

His official Sanrio bio says he is “a lonely romantic who wants to be a hero someday” but we don’t need words to tell us that. That’s the power of Hangyodon.

6. Country Fresh Veggies


Country Fresh Veggies. Their name describes them, giving me literally nothing to write about. It’s a basket of damn vegetables. They have eyes and appendages, so they are slightly less boring than others on this list, but not by much. Even their bio on merely says, “Today, the fields are full of just-harvested, fresh vegetables.” Nuff said, I guess.

5. Gudetamago


Gudetama is a lazy egg. His name comes from the words gudegude (lethargic) and tamago (egg). While most Sanrio characters have several hobbies and goals, Gudetama has none. He knows he’s going to be cooked and eaten and wants to get it over with.

As far as sub-characters go, Gudetama is given more attention than most. There are pictures, goods, and YouTube videos showing him sleeping…






And generally lazing about.


This goes beyond relaxation. Gudetama is dead to the world. Is there any social commentary to be found in this? Does Gudetama reflect the attitude of Japanese young people reluctant to enter Japan’s notoriously stressful workforce? Probably not any more than Garfield reflected America’s love for lasagna in 1987. Either way, the egg laziness idea is a truly genius design choice.

Rilakkuma is a very popular lazy bear character, from Sanrio competitor San-X. But do you know what else can be lazy? A cat, a mouse, a badger, a panda, a shoe, anything! It’s easy to think of a noun and assign it the adjective “lazy” (Note to self: copyright “Cecil the Lazy Shoe”). But an egg yolk actually looks lazy! Someone at Sanrio looked deep into their breakfast and imbibed it with a personality that fit its shape. And that’s creativity- looking at something from an angle that everyone else is missing.

4. Geetown Special


Geetown Special is a group of three alligators. Let’s go to the bio for more insight:

“A group of three alligators.”

Was there any thought put into these three? They have no story, they’re nearly identical, and not even in color. I understand that some Sanrio characters are merely designs for cards and tote bags, but those that are should be categorized as such. Leave the charactering to anthropomorphic things with some appealing connection to offer the recipient. Later, gator.

3. Shiri Rappers


Hula-hooping, rapping butt vegetables.

I just wanted to make it clear from the outset what we’re dealing with. Shiri Rappers comes from the Japanese oshiri (butt) and the English “rappers” (rappers). According to, the Shiri Rappers are human-friendly butt fairies who, upon hearing a human’s cry, will rush to their aid and begin hula hooping/rapping with all their might, thus dispelling the human’s sadness.

As delightfully bizarre as this sounds on its own, I’m afraid it refers to a smartphone game.

In the game, the Shiri Rappers pop out of the ground, doing their gyration dance until you tap them. And you get points. I don’t see this as helpful to mankind, unless they are serving the particular pocket of mankind that needs to poke butt vegetables in order to live.

So, my initial joy at discovering the absurdity of the Shiri Rappers was diminished slightly upon finding that their story was created to explain their actions in a smartphone game. But dammit, the Shiri Rappers are hula-hooping butt vegetables and no one can take that away from me. Thanks Sanrio!

2. Boy and Girl


Welcome to the bottom of the boringness barrel. Boy and Girl. I used to think Patty and Jimmy were unimaginative, but Boy and Girl make Patty and Jimmy look like Ren and Stimpy. These two are like Hello Kitty clones turned human and sapped of all charm and style. The salt in the unimaginative wound is their name: Boy and Girl.

Let’s say you work for a creative company and your job is to creatively use your creativity to create creative characters. If your boss asks you, “What should we name this boy and girl?” and you answer, “Boy and Girl!”, you should be fired.

1. Heysuke


Heysuke. Yes, it is an angry, naked baby, but what makes it stranger than the Shiri Rappers? Heysuke’s story on

“Who? What the heck? It’s a kind of a suspicious, mysterious baby. For some reason, it’s laughing in the nude. Where it came from is a mystery. Is it a boy? A girl? Heysuke doesn’t even know for sure. The place where it lives is right next to you. One thing is for sure, he loves to be naked. It’s birthday is January 1st.”

Heysuke is a suspicious, ever-laughing, genderless naked baby who lives right next to you! The reason Heysuke gets the number one slot is its ambiguity. Most Sanrio characters’ designs have a specific vibe and their story bios expound upon that vibe, adding detail. But not Heysuke.

It’s cute as a baby, but its angry face makes you wonder what the hell is wrong. Then Heysuke’s story bio confuses us more by explaining that it’s laughing, suspicious, and lives right next to you. Suddenly this baby feels threatening, which is a tough concept to digest because it’s a baby. Everything about Heysuke is perplexing and strange.

Oh, and Mami pointed out that it’s wearing muscle-relaxing patches on its shoulders. WTF, Heysuke?

Heysuke was introduced on January 1, 2000, so maybe it was meant to be some kind of Baby New Year. But it never caught on anywhere ever. All the other characters on this list, weird as they are, have enjoyed some kind of success, appearing on various goods and being drawn in various poses.

Heysuke was only drawn once and, as far as I can tell, no goods bear its likeness. And so it remains: laughing, naked, and staring at you.

Explore the Chara-verse!


Okay, you’re done. You did your time at the table with the weirdos. Now you can go back to your Hello Kitty and your rap music. But hopefully you’ve learned a valuable lesson. There’s a whole world of Japanese characters to explore, within Sanrio and beyond. You may find more wacky treats when you search through them for yourself. Japanese mascot characters are a universe not often explored even by die-hard Hello Kitty fans. But if you dig design, animals, colors, or fun things in general, I encourage you to delve into this multiverse. You may just find yourself voluntarily sitting at the table of outcasts at the next Sanrio family reunion!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The post 10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives appeared first on Tofugu.

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How To Shoot A Samurai Film Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:00:22 +0000 A couple of months ago I went to TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA, which is both a theme park and an active movie set. The studio has been around since about 1955. But, with the decline in popularity of traditional samurai films the studios had to make up for some of that lost yen. In 1975 they built the […]

The post How To Shoot A Samurai Film appeared first on Tofugu.

A couple of months ago I went to TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA, which is both a theme park and an active movie set. The studio has been around since about 1955. But, with the decline in popularity of traditional samurai films the studios had to make up for some of that lost yen. In 1975 they built the theme park portion: A traditional samurai village, with actors who play the parts of samurai, ninja, villagers, etc. You can go there and see how samurai films are made, take pictures with samurai, and participate in/see various attractions. I wrote about most of it here in a travel article about TOEI UZUMASA EIGAMURA.

Now, I don’t want to ruin the experience of going there for you. You should go yourself if you are able to (it’s a lot of fun!). But, I do want to give you some “pre-information” about this place so you can further enjoy the studio set. If you want to go there without knowing anything beforehand though, you can stop reading right now. But, if you want to live vicariously through my time travel experience, read on. Ready? Light. Camera. Action!

A Small Town From The Edo period… Or The Showa Period… Or Modern Times…


The most common time period used in the main town is the Edo period. The street set of the Edo period is used for a vast log of films since the periodical setting is changeable. Recently a TV movie film called 宮本武蔵 (Musashi Miyamoto), starring Takuya Kimura from SMAP, was shot here. This is despite the fact that the story’s era was a little earlier than the Edo period, when roofing tiles didn’t exist yet. So, they put some woven mats and wood on top to hide them.


Sometimes they need to shoot in a period that’s later than the Edo period. One example is a scene from one of NHK’s morning drama series: “Carnation”. This series takes place in the Showa period. They didn’t need to change the tiles for this, but they did need to change the sliding paper doors (shoji) to glass doors. They also needed to change some of the vertically written signs to horizontal ones. This set even comes with the capability to erect poles for power lines and once the cables are thrown up the set instantly looks more modern.

Since the time period of this set is changeable, a very modern film could be filmed here as well. I heard that Kamen Rider and the samurai drama “Abarenbō Shōgun” were shot on the street at the same time (separate parts of the street though). On one side was Kamen Rider on his motorcycle and on the other was a samurai on his spectacular horse.

Anyways, my point is: this set is very flexible! Perhaps that has to do with how even in modern Japanese society we keep a lot of the traditional things as well. To shoot in modern times, or to shoot in times before the Edo era… all it requires is a few small changes and it feels like a couple hundred years have gone past. If you go to a rural area of Japan, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

A Lot Of Contrivances


Since they have to make full use of the movie set, they have a lot of tricky modifications on each building and other things on the street. Do you see something odd about the image above? It’s slightly off the ground. In order to easily alter the set, some buildings have wheels on them, this one included. it requires just five or six adults to move.


Or take this for example: You can attach a new front wall to a building to make it look like a different building. If you look carefully, you will find some buildings that have double walls on the front, like the image above. The picture of the woman’s face on the wall inside (called otafuku) can be changed out if need be too.


This here is a part of the Nagaya set, which are row houses from the Edo period and are now what might be called “apartments.” Because the walls between the two residences were so thin, you could easily hear an argument between the couple next door. As you can probably expect, the well in front of the nagaya is empty, so an actor/actress has to rely on their acting skills to convincingly collect water. It is also moveable so they can expand the washing area depending on the film.

People living in nagaya usually shared one well and nagaya mothers tended to be in close proximity to the well since many of their responsibilities, such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning dishes, all required water. I know it is a stereotype, but many of them apparently liked chatting about rumors and often gossiped beside the well. This is how the phrase “井戸端会議” (Ido-bata-kaigi), which literally means “meeting beside a well” and figuratively means “housewives gossip circle” or “water-cooler chat”, came about.


Many buildings are set up to only be used for outside shops and don’t have an interior. This one, however, has a nice inside including fresh (plastic) fish and vegetables. Looks tasty!

The Only Half Bridge


This bridge is called Nihon-bashi (Japan bridge), but if you put a different name-sign in front, it can be a different bridge too.

My photo may not really show it, but it’s actually very short and steep. (Maybe slightly over 10 degrees). It’s a little trick used back in the time when CG didn’t exist. If it was shot from a lower angle, it appears very big and long on the screen. The other side is not actually a bridge, either. It’s just steps for actors / actresses to wait their turn. Because of that, there is an absolute rule that they only shoot from this side and the actors / actresses only come from the other.

Oh, and there is no water flowing underneath. If they shoot someone jumping off the bridge, they take a shot of that person going into a river in a different place. Sometimes they go on a little trip to Saga Prefecture to take such a scene. I also heard about one time when they used a pond here in the park and combined it with a moat scene shot in a different place.

A Pond With A Dinosaur


The pond I just mentioned above happens to have a dinosaur in the middle for some reason. The dinosaur has been there since the theme park started, although now it is the third generation dinosaur. Two dinosaurs were placed there at first – a mother dinosaur with her baby. Perhaps due to wear from the elements, they were later replaced with this guy. I asked the workers his name, but sadly nobody knew it.

In spite of having the dangerous dinosaur, this pond is apparently used for a lot of scenes. The depth is different between the left side and the right side to diversify the scenes. A drowned body floating is usually shot in the shallower side, whereas someone who is killed by a samurai and drops into the water is done in the deeper side. There is usually only one set of samurai actor / actress costumes and wigs made (especially for those who will be killed or drown), so only the people who are most experienced and reliable in terms of falling into the water get these scenes.

For the big stars, the water is completely cleaned and warmed up. Needless to say, the dinosaur is forced to go hunt some sheep or something when shooting needs to be done.

Red-district Yoshiwara Street


Yoshiwara was a famous licensed brothel district in the Edo period. There are two gates granting access to this street. The front gate is called “Oomon” and the back gate is called “Uramon”.


If you go in there, you’ll find the street to be very short. Yet when they shoot there, they change the signs and curtains of each house and combine them together when they edit, so that the street appears as if it is very long in a film.


The size of some of the doorways can also be altered and is done to change the appearance of the houses.


The upstairs of these buildings are only used for shooting, but you can go into the first floor of some places. However, make sure to take your shoes off if you see this sign, 土足厳禁 (dosoku-genkin).

Modern Architectures


Just as a quick side note, they don’t only shoot traditional films but contemporary films as well! So, you’ll see some modern buildings that can be used as film sets.


This big staircase inside the modern building pictured above is often used for scenes that often include some big-shot politician with confidential information getting surrounded by a bunch of press. You may see this staircase while watching a Japanese drama or film.


There is actually a pretty good chance of encountering an actual shooting while visiting, too. While I was there, they were shooting 大岡越前 (Ōoka Echizen), though photos were not allowed. While shooting, there are a lot of people standing with a fan with writing on it that says “おしずかに(Oshizukani)” which means “Quiet, please.” However, JR trains operate nearby the studio and they can’t read what the fans say. So, the assistant director always has a train schedule in hand and it is his/her job to scream, “Hey, we’ve got only 5 minutes for next train! Hurry up!”


As I mentioned above, the exteriors of the buildings in the theme park are primarily what is used for shooting. Indoor shots, on the other hand, are done inside actual studios, which are located right next to the studio park. Sadly, this area is off limits to us normal people.

As you can tell from this article, I was truly interested in the film set. I hope you enjoyed this article and it encourages you to visit as well. There are a lot more than movies in this park too, including TOEI actors and actresses dressed up in historic costume, and many other touches that add to the atmosphere of a historical town. Actually, I even was able to conduct an interview one of the samurai actors, and his interview will be coming out tomorrow! Now that you know what the set and park is like, I hope you look forward to hearing more from someone who is often on the inside. If anything, you can find out how many people he has killed.

See you tomorrow!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The post How To Shoot A Samurai Film appeared first on Tofugu.

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What is Godzilla Doing When He’s Not Knocking Buildings Down? Tue, 03 Jun 2014 16:00:19 +0000 Because the new Godzilla film (see our review) recently came out, and because we basically just love all things Godzilla, I thought I’d treat you to something that makes Godzilla about a hundred times better. Sadly, you’ll never see any of this in the new Godzilla movies, but at least now it’s confirmed that giant […]

The post What is Godzilla Doing When He’s Not Knocking Buildings Down? appeared first on Tofugu.

Because the new Godzilla film (see our review) recently came out, and because we basically just love all things Godzilla, I thought I’d treat you to something that makes Godzilla about a hundred times better. Sadly, you’ll never see any of this in the new Godzilla movies, but at least now it’s confirmed that giant rubber suits > CGI Godzilla every day of the week. Let’s take a look at some old-timey behind the scenes Godzilla photos that I came across on i09. It really makes you appreciate how much work went into each film, if anything.


The first Godzilla suit ever made was 220 pounds and the first Godzilla suit performer, Haruo Nakajima was said to have drained a cup of sweat after a day of acting.


Son of Godzilla feels a lot like those Ewok Star Wars movies to me, but you gotta love the suit and the child acting.


The Godzilla VS The Sea Monster set looks amazing. A giant pool, some wires, and a lot of tall boots.


An ape, a giant lizard, and a Shinto priest walk into a bar…


This particular Godzilla apparently had a drinking problem.


Nothing says Christmas more than Godzilla with a ton of shopping bags.


This makes me the most jealous man in the world right now.


Little Godzilla is all tuckered out after a day of smushing buildings.


Godzilla, the greatest power forward this world has ever seen.


What’s going on in the bottom right of this photo?


I hope there isn’t a person inside of that suit, still.


Oh sure, people say that Gamera was a friend to the children, but the original true friend was Godzilla.


I like to imagine the joke that the person inside the Godzilla suit said right before this photo was taken.


That guy is looking inside of Rodan’s… ahem.


Aww, look at that little guy.


The world’s greatest crossover.


Ahhh! Your neck! Your neck!!


Time for a poooolll parrtttyyy!


When Godzilla jumped the shark.


I want a trailer, a massage, and a bottle of saké, this instant!


This is not right.


It’s amazing the things they did to make things fly.


Never, ever, put your fingers in there.


Date night, part two.


All that work, only to have it crushed. Gloriously crushed.


So much skin to peel off.


Ahhh yesss. This one is developing well.


“A little more stomping, and quit looking at the camera.”


So many monsters!


Now that Tokyo’s destroyed, it’s time for Godzilla to take a little vacation.




In its free time, Godzilla would teach orphans how to read.


When you get inside a Godzilla suit, you have to learn how to walk all over again.


Original Godzilla suit, handmade by this guy.


What do you mean you don’t want to knock down the castle?


“You’ve got yourself a deal, friend. This littler Godzilla is all yours.”


I can’t imagine what it’s like to wear one of these underwater.


And last but not least, I leave you with quite possibly the greatest photo ever taken.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

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Truly The King Of All The Movies: A Review Of The Film “Godzilla” Fri, 16 May 2014 16:00:27 +0000 Godzilla. What a film. For some reason this past week I’ve been getting tons of emails from people asking me to watch and review this film, and for once I am more than eager to help out with that. Unlike the Dragonball movie review from a while back, which felt like a swift kick to […]

The post Truly The King Of All The Movies: A Review Of The Film “Godzilla” appeared first on Tofugu.

Godzilla. What a film. For some reason this past week I’ve been getting tons of emails from people asking me to watch and review this film, and for once I am more than eager to help out with that. Unlike the Dragonball movie review from a while back, which felt like a swift kick to the dragonballs, Godzilla is a great film. That’s right, I pulled some strings, called the right people, and now I’m writing this after watching this film midnight last night. So how does the film Godzilla stack up? Should you watch it? What does the official Tofugu review conclude? Let’s find out.

Plot Summary


Spoiler alert!

The film Godzilla (Gojira) starts in a mysterious fashion. Several ships explode and sink off the coast of Odo Island, Japan. Authorities who are sent to the island think the cause is underwater mines or underwater volcanic activity. Basically, they’re clueless. You and me though? We know what’s up. We’ve seen the movie posters after all. Locals of Odo Island also seem to be in the know. They tell of a “god” who lives beneath the sea that they had to sacrifice ladies to back in the day to quench its hunger. That “god” turns out to be Godzilla, and appears on the island in an extremely iconic reveal.


After some running and screaming, Godzilla goes back into the ocean. After being poked a little bit, he shows up in Tokyo, demolishing everything in his path. There’s some fighting, there’s some smashing, and there’s a lot of running away. Things are looking pretty bleak for a while, but eventually they figure out how to kill it. Don’t worry, though, as they allude to at the end of the film, this probably isn’t the only monster like this down there in the ocean. Sounds like somebody saw Pacific Rim.

A Living, Breathing, Atomic Bomb


What is Godzilla, exactly? The name comes from the combination of two animals, a gorilla (gorira) and a whale (kujira). As someone who is really into the hybridization of animals (Tofugu, WaniKani, *cough cough*) I completely approve this chimera. This may have been more from some of the earlier iterations of Godzilla though. The final product was said to be more like an iguanodon, tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, and alligator hybrid. It’s easy to leave it there and say that’s what it is, but the correct answer is a lot more interesting. Godzilla is an atomic bomb brought to life. The film was made and released not long after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people still felt that fear. Says Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka:

The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind. If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.

This is why artillery fire, fighter jets, and 50,000 volts of electricity can’t stop Godzilla. One criticism I occasionally see is that it’s “unrealistic” that Godzilla doesn’t feel the attacks of the Japanese army. Well, if you assume that Godzilla is an atomic bomb in flesh and blood form, it’s now a lot easier to understand why these weapons had no effect. There’s nothing quite like nuclear warfare in terms of its devastation and invincibility. That being said, they did try to shoot down an atomic bomb. Of course, that just made things worse for everyone and Tokyo was leveled.

There are plenty of other references to atomic bombs and the fear they held (and hold even today). Godzilla’s skin texture was inspired by the keloid scars found on atomic survivors. Godzilla also carries a dangerous nuclear weapon: “Atomic breath.” This power is “a nuclear blast that it generates inside of its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue or red radioactive heat ray” Wikipedia.


The biggest atomic kicker, though, are all the references to the use of atomic weapons by humans. Remember how I mentioned in the plot summary that a couple of boats were sunk in the beginning of this film? What I didn’t mention was that survivors came back from the ships with radiation burns. This is a reference to an actual event that took place on and near Bikini Atoll.

On March 1, 1954, the Daigo Fukuryuu Maru (aka Lucky Dragon 5), a Japanese fishing boat, got caught in some nuclear fallout after the US’s Castle Bravo Thermonuclear test on Bikini Atoll. Although the Daigo Fukuryuu Maru was outside the danger zone set up by the US military, the explosion turned out to be twice as big as expected. On top of that weather patterns blew nuclear fallout outside the danger zone, exposing the fishermen to a fine radioactive ash. The story doesn’t end well for the people who were on that boat, though. Later that year on September 23 chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died, making him the first victim of a hydrogen bomb.

Now back to Godzilla. Where were we? In the film it was suggested that nuclear testing was what “awoke” Godzilla from his slumber. Basically, the lesson here is that if you screw with nature it will screw you back, so, don’t screw with nature. Not only that, but the radiation from the nuclear testing may have made Godzilla even stronger than it previously was.


Basically, atomic bombs are no good, kids. Listen to uncle Godzilla and the lessons he’s trying to teach.

It’s Not Just About The Monster


The American version of Godzilla (“Godzilla, King Of The Monsters!”) really helps to highlight this fact. This version was dubbed (forgivable, I guess) and got a lot of new footage for American audiences (not as forgivable). They added in the character Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr) who was a reporter on his way to Cairo. He sticks around to cover the story of Godzilla acting as a kind of documentary-style narrator throughout the film.

Not only did they add footage but they removed footage too, which included (in this reviewer’s opinion) some of the best parts of the film: namely, the non-monster portions. A lot of the original focused on a love triangle between three main characters, which played into the monster-portion of the plot as well. Raymond Burr was kind of like the third (fourth?) wheel that made everyone else uncomfortable, so they suddenly couldn’t act out their dramas. This killed one of the best parts of the film. On top of this, other dialogue was trimmed. One scene, which has the Japanese Diet debating about the US’s use of atomic bombs was cut (it would make US audiences uncomfortable, presumably). Even the overall theme of nuclear holocaust was softened (if not practically muted) as well. The film become purely about the monster and not about the message.

But, the message is what I loved most about the Japanese version. Sure, the giant monster was there and was totally badass, just like the American one. But, it had some feelings. It made you think. It asked you questions. You come away wondering what’s right and wrong (more on that later), but you also come away thinking “awesome, I love seeing giant dinosaur/whale/gorilla monsters leveling a city.” All that, and you get a love triangle drama as a bonus. If you’ve ever seen any Japanese drama, you know that this is a recipe for success.

Suffice to say, if you have a choice between the original and the American version, choose the original. It’s not only about the monster.

A Message Of Hope And Shinto


Spoiler alert!

In the end, they use the “Oxygen Destroyer” which “disintegrates oxygen atoms” on Godzilla, disintegrating him to bones and then nothing. It’s eluded to that this “Oxygen Destroyer” could have been a new energy source as well, which has a lot of connections to nuclear power. With power comes responsibility to use it correctly… but, that’s obviously not going to happen. The creator of the weapon (Dr. Serizawa) commits suicide and takes the weapon along with him so that the secret of this power goes with him to the grave.

Another possible interpretation is one of hope. There has always been talk of renewable and unlimited energy. If one could simply create a reaction in water by taking all the O2 out of it, couldn’t that become a great new energy source? Perhaps what they were trying to say here is that if someone were to come up with something like this then nuclear power could be killed (remember, Japanese folks weren’t so up on nuclear things back then). That being said, this new energy source is dangerous as well. It’s certainly a somewhat grim (though somewhat hopeful) outlook on our future.

That brings us to the question: Is nuclear power good or bad? I have my own opinions, but producer Shogo Tomiyama has a more interesting one. He said that Godzilla is like the Shinto “God Of Destruction.” The God Of Destruction has no moral compass and cannot be held to our standards of good and evil. “He destroys everything and then there is a rebirth. Something new and fresh can begin.”

After reading that quote and thinking back on the film I found myself becoming less and less sure of things. Is he saying that the destruction that Godzilla causes good? Is he saying it’s bad? On one hand, some people say that the bombing of Japan was good because look at the 180 Japan made, going from warlike and imperialistic to peaceful and democratic. On the other hand, is the destruction itself really okay if the end result is “good”? I think that what they’re trying to say is that neither is true. We as humans just can’t use our own moral compasses to come to a “correct” answer. Like Godzilla itself, it’s too big for us to deal with. We can have opinions about it, but in the end there’s not much we can do to make a difference when something this big and this terrifying comes about. And, if it does… well… you just move on, and life comes back and destruction comes back and the cycle continues on and on and on…

The Final Verdict


This is a giant, smashing, atomic breathing, great film. I absolutely recommend you go see it. This is probably the best if not one of the best Godzilla movies to date, and it’s certainly the deepest and smartest one as well. There will be imitations, like a man wearing a rubber godzilla suit wearing another rubber godzilla suit (who is then wearing a CGI suit), but there’s nothing quite like Godzilla the original. It’s a classic and one of the greatest films ever made. If it wasn’t for The Seven Samurai, which came out in the same year, Godzilla would have won Best Picture in Japan. Speaking of which, that’s another good film. They’re both worth watching (so put aside an entire day to watch them).

Story: 8/10 – The more you think the deeper the rabbit hole gets. Understanding the social issues of the time will help you to enjoy this film a lot more.
Special Effects: 9/10 – Some little gaffes but overall a remarkable amount of craft was crafted.
Overall: 10/10 – Nothing truly beats Godzilla. No seriously, nothing. If you watch the other films this is almost always true.

Anyways, you should go watch this movie now. I don’t know why suddenly everyone was interested in Godzilla reviews, filling up my inbox with requests, but I hope this helps you to decide whether or not it’s worth seeing. RAWWRRRRRRR!

Bonus Wallpapers!

[1280×800] ∙ [2560×1600]

The post Truly The King Of All The Movies: A Review Of The Film “Godzilla” appeared first on Tofugu.

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SHONEN JUMP and Tofugu Debut: Kumaman, The Manga Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:45:02 +0000 We know that readers of Tofugu are big fans of manga. We at Tofugu are big fans of manga – in fact, One Piece from SHONEN JUMP is one of our favorites of all time. There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t discuss and argue about the intricacies of each of Eiichiro […]

The post SHONEN JUMP and Tofugu Debut: Kumaman, The Manga appeared first on Tofugu.

We know that readers of Tofugu are big fans of manga. We at Tofugu are big fans of manga – in fact, One Piece from SHONEN JUMP is one of our favorites of all time. There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t discuss and argue about the intricacies of each of Eiichiro Oda’s chapters (seriously, how did Usopp pull that off?). So all that being said, I really gotta say… this announcement is super exciting for me and for all of us here at Tofugu.

That’s right, FOR THE NEXT 12 WEEKS WE’LL BE WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING A NEW MANGA SERIES FOR SHONEN JUMP, and it will be all about the back story of our beloved character: Kumaman.


Although it’s only a 12 week contract we’re hoping it will turn into a longer term thing, though I guess that just depends on numbers. Ever since I was a kid it was my dream to write my own manga. It’s pretty much all I thought about. With Aya as the illustrator, and with SHONEN JUMP’s publishing power, that dream is finally going to become a reality, so we’ll be focusing most of our time on the manga side of the business, because, frankly, we were given a lot of money to do this.

The manga will be in all Japanese, but I know how you internet pirates work! Guess what? We’ve scanned and translated our own manga into English, and will be making it available to everyone for download (see bottom of the post). So don’t even bother, MangaStream! We just beat you at your own game.

Download “Kumaman: The Bear Bang Theory” Early


The first chapter, “Kumaman: The Bear Bang Theory” is a history of Kumaman and how he got to where he is in the present timeline of the manga. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say Kumaman has had a rough life! Even though the chapter isn’t out in Japan until May 2014, we’re releasing the first chapter early, because we can, and because we love you. The contracts are signed and nothing says we can’t do this (I think! That contract was super long and in these weird Chinese characters), so hopefully it doesn’t get us in trouble. Plus, we’ve already cashed the check. I’m writing this post from Vegas, after all! Hit! Hit! Hit!

If you’d like to download it and read it in it’s full glory, it’s all yours. Note: you will need some kind of PDF viewer like Preview (OSX), Adobe Reader, or even most modern web browsers. Also note that since this is a manga made for Japanese customers first, the panels should be read from right to left. It will be very confusing otherwise. We did translate everything to English though, so at least that part won’t be confusing.

Okay! Get to downloading! Chapter 1 is here! I can “bearly” wait! ha ha.

Update: Manga now available in the Tofugu Store.


I’m super excited for this Tofugu business pivot and I hope you are too. Let’s all forget about Japanese language education and all think about manga and the hot tubs full of money that come with manga publishing. Thank you, and please enjoy!

P.S. This was an April Fools joke (sorry!), but maybe someday it will become real. You never know. Thanks everyone for enjoying the comic!

The post SHONEN JUMP and Tofugu Debut: Kumaman, The Manga appeared first on Tofugu.

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