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The Cicadas’ Song: Japan’s Summer Soundtrack

Japan's summers ring in to an annual soundtrack.  The melody rides the humid summer breeze from the mountains, down through the forests and along the rivers and roads.  Although the musicians prefer the trees, their … [Read more...]

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Tracing the History of Japan’s Mythical Lion Dogs

If you’ve ever been to a shrine in Japan, odds are you’ve seen a pair of dog-like lions flanking the entrance. If you’ve been to Okinawa you’ve seen them just about everywhere. In fact you can see some variation on these … [Read more...]

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A Long History Of Japanese Names, Part I

In modern times, there are 4 ways to write/say family names in Japanese: 氏 (shi) 姓 (sei) 名字 (myouji) 苗字 (myouji) But why are there so many and what are the differences? In order to get the answer, you simply … [Read more...]

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Kitsune: The Real and Fantastic Japanese Fox

In every culture there are beliefs about animals that are so basic, we don't even quite realize that they are folklore. In English we talk about the lazy pig and the wise owl, even though most of us have never met one … [Read more...]

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The Delicious Road: a Japanese Dessert Journey

When it comes to cross-cultural experiences, some things are more universal than others. For instance, outsiders might find it difficult to understand the Japanese phenomena of deliberately crooked teeth, refrigerated … [Read more...]

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Becoming a Child in Japan: Learning Through Curiosity and Humility

If you're an adult in your home country, you have an idea of who you are, how others see you, and how to act in a way that reflects how you want to be treated. However, when living abroad in a country whose language and … [Read more...]

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Top 10 REAL Pokemon You Can Find in Japan!

I think everyone has wished Pokemon were real at some point in time, and being a fan of the colorful and powerful roster of pocket monsters can make it easy to forget the majesty of our mundane world's animal kingdom. If … [Read more...]

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Fanta’s Guide to Teaching

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2hQGOOR5g0 A popular soft drink in Japan, Fanta has a reputation for eye-popping colors and lip smacking flavors.  Although it's available worldwide,  Japan offers the most unique … [Read more...]

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Badass Chicks in Japanese History: Murasaki Shikibu

Second in a series chronicling—you guessed it—female badassery in Japan. As you might have guessed from the inaugural article in this series, the sword-slinging samurai Tomoe Gozen seems like a tough act to follow. That … [Read more...]

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Weird Kanji – Unusual Readings and their Origins

Good old kanji! You know, the 50,000 some odd characters borrowed from Chinese that are used to read Japanese? They're daunting at first, but get easier once you know the rules. There's the on’yomi and kun’yomi readings, … [Read more...]

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Gaming To Learn Japanese

Teaching yourself Japanese isn’t easy, and let’s face it, it takes a large amount of time, effort, and dedication to make noticeable progress. After coming home from a long day of school or work, sometimes the last thing … [Read more...]

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A Bridge Across Time

Nagasaki’s Megane-bashi (Spectacles Bridge) got its name from the way the reflection of its double arches in the river combine with the bridge itself to look like a pair of glasses. In addition to its historical … [Read more...]

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Let’s All Get NAKED! Onsen and Body Image

There’s nothing better than slipping into a hot bath. You feel your muscles relax. The cares of the day float away on a cloud of steam. A butt-naked Oba-chan (old woman) is staring at you… wait! What?! Does that seem … [Read more...]

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10 of Hello Kitty’s Most DISTANT Relatives

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 … [Read more...]

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Five Ways To Experience Japan Without Leaving Home

I’m sure for a lot of us, visiting or living in Japan is high on our list of things to do. But when you can’t make the trip overseas, there are lots of ways to experience Japan without getting on a plane. In fact, some of … [Read more...]

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Lords of Kumamoto: Kato Kiyomasa and the Hosokawa

Last fall I visited Kumamoto Castle. Though mostly a reconstruction, it’s impressive nonetheless. There is currently a regular live show on the castle grounds, in which actors dressed as famous samurai stage mock fights … [Read more...]

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A Crash Course in Japanese Poetry

I remember reading Japanese poetry for the first time in the second grade. Don’t ask why it stuck with me; I just remember reading a haiku by Matsuo Bashō and thinking it was awesome. I remembered it well enough that I … [Read more...]

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Namahage – Akita’s New Year’s Ogres

泣く子はいねがぁ / “Are there any crybabies here?” may not be something you want to hear shouted through your door on New Year's Eve, but the people of Akita Prefecture, specifically Oga Peninsula, feel differently. The Namahage / … [Read more...]

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How To Shoot A Samurai Film

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 … [Read more...]

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Introducing Introduction: Mastering Jikoshokai and the ALT Self-Intro Class

Hajimemashite! It’s nice to meet you! If you come to Japan you’re going to find yourself saying this quite often. Introductions are very important in Japanese culture. It can be seen as an extension of the Japanese … [Read more...]

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Surviving Sports Festival

In Japan, summer’s end ushers in a nationwide school tradition. Students, teachers, family, and other guests gather for a day of outdoor events known as undoukai (運動会) or sports festival. Undoukai offers something for … [Read more...]

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Top Ten Real Life Kaiju of Japan

Movies like Pacific Rim and the thankfully-better-than-last-time American Godzilla have been rekindling a love for giant monsters. Kaijū have been igniting the imaginations of children everywhere since dudes in rubber … [Read more...]

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Three Legs Are Better Than Two: Japanese Soccer and the Legend of Yatagarasu

Here in Japan, the heat and humidity of summer have crept up on us, providing the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the 2014 FIFA World Cup - uchiwa in hand. Despite Samurai Blue’s (as the Japanese national team is often … [Read more...]

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Can You Dig It? Of Love and Earwax

Forget hugs and kisses. Throw away your candy, flowers and rings. If you want to truly express love for someone, clean their ears. Is It a Love Story? Image from the anime, Hen Zemi (変ゼミ) Perhaps you’ve seen it in … [Read more...]

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Is Japan Really “Conservative”?

I don’t think that I’m the only one who has experienced this but I often hear the word “conservative” being applied to Japan. At first I just accepted it as being true - because Japan is very obviously conservative on many … [Read more...]

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Meet the Ogasawara Islands!

Ah, Tokyo, that shining island paradise. Turquoise waters. Palm trees and coconuts. Grass skirts and piña coladas. What’s that you say? These images don’t leap to mind when I say “Tokyo”? Well, to be fair, grass … [Read more...]

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Translation, Localization, and Nice Japanese Things: A Q&A with Matt Alt

When it comes to Japanese pop culture, I'm like a lot of fans. Despite years of off-and-on attempts at study, I don't know the language well enough to follow the original versions of manga, anime, or live-action drama and … [Read more...]

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Mr. Heavy Metal: An Interview with Marty Friedman

Imagination time: You're one of the world's greatest guitar players and a pioneer of the metal genre. You've had an illustrious career in the U.S. and it shows no signs of stopping. You're at the top of the world! Where do … [Read more...]

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The Evolution of Karate

Karate stands alongside the likes of judo, kendo, and sumo as one of Japan’s most famous martial arts. However, as Karate Kid II taught us, karate was born in Okinawa. Not only that, but it was born in a time when Okinawa … [Read more...]

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Why Isn’t Japan Buying the PlayStation 4?

Japan is the holy land of console video games. After the Atari-led video game crash of 1983, it took the work of Japanese companies--Nintendo, then later Sega, then Sony--to bring console gaming back to North America. So … [Read more...]