I’m not surprised by this at all. Bullying by adults after they are finished with what they did in school is way more harsh than the kids stuff. No doubt, the hierarchy in the countryside is based primarily on muscle and is only circumvented at times by the power of money. While the real rural lands are plagued now with a dearth of people and the only ones left are getting old, the less populated cities and towns are much like the hick towns in the U.S. and other western nations. it’s just a different form of the same jaded blue-collar cowboy conservatism that puts the power in the hands of the “redneck” ruffians that rule with their fists.

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

Ijime, or bullying, is sadly as much a part of Japanese school life as it is in any other country. In Japan, too, each school has a sort of social hierarchy, where the “cool kids” often pick on or exclude the nerdy/unsporty kids, and everyone gets shuffled around until the “stronger” kids are on the top and the “weaker” kids are on the bottom.

But in a society like Japan, where group mentality is so important, you’d be mistaken for thinking that after high school everyone just flutters off to become their own special snowflake and cast off the mental wounds of a tough adolescence.

In other words, if someone was bullied in school, there’s a chance they’ll keep on being bullied by the same people right on through their working days if they stay in the same town. So how does this “high school hierarchy” continue to affect…

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I’ve pounded mochi the traditional way around 50 times. Never like this, though!

Originally posted on RocketNews24:


The making of mochi, traditional Japanese rice cakes, is a traditional activity for many Japanese families around the time of the New Year’s holiday. The term for this important ritual in Japanese is mochitsuki (餅つき), which quite simply means “mochi pounding.”

While there are dozens of mochi specialty shops scattered throughout Japan, one particular shop specializing in yomogimochi (mochi mixed with mugwort, giving it a distinctive green color) in Nara Prefecture boasts much more than delicious sweets–its second claim to fame is that it employs the fastest mochitsuki champions in all of the country!

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Anime girls are here to promote the subway – in Kyoto!

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

As we recently reported, the bigwigs at the Kyoto Municipal Transportation Bureau got together a while back and had a little brainstorming session regarding how to convince more people to use the subway. So what did they come up with?

Super-kawaii moe anime girls plastered all over the place! All part of the “Let’s ride the subway” advertising campaign, which hopes to bring in an extra 50,000 passengers a day. So how are people reacting to the sudden plethora of brightly colored cuteness all over their train platforms and carriages?

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This is not made in Japan, but Toriyama Akira’s manga and anime, Dragon Ball, has spawned an industry of spin offs and rip offs. This is the first fan-made film I’ve seen made in the west that is so true to the spirit of the originals (excepting, possibly, the lack of humor that is integral to DZ) that it made the 13 minutes seem to fly by. I love it!

Originally posted on RocketNews24:


A fan-made sequel to Dragon Ball Z has racked up 3 million views on YouTube, and sent fans into a frenzy of anticipation for the following episodes – if the rest of the series gets funded. The pilot episode of Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope is based on animated special ‘The History of Trunks’, a DBZ sequel that tells the story of (you guessed it!) the young warrior Trunks.

In the words of every fan ever: “It’s better than ‘Dragonball Evolution’!” On the one hand, that’s not saying much, as Dragon Ball Evolution got spectacularly bad reviews. But on the other hand, when a fan-made film is better than one with a Hollywood budget, that’s certainly something to be proud of.

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Originally posted on RocketNews24:


With the first season of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal well underway, not only is a new generation of wannabe Sailor Scouts emerging, but thousands of fangirls of the original 1990s series are rekindling their love for Usagi-chan and her evil-fighting besties.

Marketers timed the release of this new anime series well, as the original fans are now young adults who have money to spend on Sailor Moon goods, like aprons, lingerie, and even feminine pads, which allow them to bask in nostalgia, but still pass as adults (more or less).

Some veteran Sailor Scouts are choosing to show their support in a different age-appropriate way, by transforming their nails. Sailor Moon themed nail art has become a fashion craze and is blowing up in nail salons all over Japan. 

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Great post about bathing in Japan, from RocketNews24.

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

manners banner

With the invention of indoor plumbing and bathtubs (not really news to anyone, we’d hope), the traditional public bath houses and hot springs of Japan are now used for relaxing getaways more than actual hygienic necessity. Heck, even capybara soak in hot springs to relax!

Hot springs, known as onsen in Japanese, are also becoming popular with foreign visitors, at least those brave enough to bare it all in front of strangers. For health and safety reasons, there are quite a few rules to pay attention to when soaking in a public bath. A very nicely designed etiquette poster, which recently surfaced on TripAdvisor, is very thorough and is even teaching Japanese people a thing or two about the bathing experience!

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The Rice Candy products come from Kanazawa.  They are called “Rice Candy”, because they are made from organic rice and intended to be like traditional Japanese candy, which is soft and gooey and eaten on a stick.  Image

Photograph of Japanese Amezaiku / Performer Masaji Terasawa at a Japanese festival in St. Louis Missouri. (public domain)
Author, Mike Smick

Amezaiku is the Japanese craft of making sculptures with the traditional taffy-like candy. You can sometimes see amezaiku artists perform at Japanese festivals. 


Kanazawa Ame-chan Jam

The Rice Candy Jam contains no added sugar, but is sweet only from the rice and wheat used to make the jam.  It is made not unlike the traditional candy, but has some fruits or vegetables added for flavor.  In the photo is a slice of bread with pumpkin jam on it.  It may look like organic honey and it is very similar to honey in consistency and sweetness.  The jam does taste like pumpkin, though.  So did the sweet potato jam that we finished last week!

The flavorful jams are available online through the Kanazawa Daichi store:



Bummed to know that tanuki storyteller Chris Berthelsen has relocated to New Zealand, but I loved his fun-filled stories featuring tanuki and loincloths. I wish him all the best and hope to relive this again someday!

Originally posted on Tokyo Green Space:



My super-extroverted tanuki co-conspirator, Chris Berthelsen, has relocated to New Zealand. It was touching that at our last public outing his special feature consisted of a 1964 Tokyo Olympic cloth featuring African-American athletes. Although not clear from this poor photo, the setting is Aoyama Danchi, one of tanuki’s favorite urban wild spaces.

Thanks, Chris, for all the creativity and boundary hopping. I was also super happy to hear that the original tanuki mask, made by Chris’ wife, is now in the possession of a Dutch teen in Tokyo.

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japan: A Pictoral Portrait

I wrote a book review on Japan: A Pictoral Portrait on Goodreads.com today.  The review is appended below.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on Japan, manga, games, and otaku culture, and traditional crafts and food, because of a number of projects that I am working on related to travel and other business.  On the one hand, I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the “Cool Japan” business being pushed by the Japanese government.  On the other, I believe that there are many “cool” arts, crafts, and businesses being largely ignored by most Japanese and the Cool Japan movement.

One of the important things I think that is being neglected by contemporary Japan is the Satoyama.  A documentary film narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Satoyama: Japan’s Secret Watergarden, summarizes well for English speaking audiences what is meant by the term.  The Satoyama is critical for the well-being of Japan especially because the nation is mostly mountainous.  Only about 10% of its land mass is flat plains ideal for farming and housing.

In the book, we can see how so many of Japan’s customs and traditions developed through its rough landscape.  While there is no “return to the past,” I think that there are ways of returning some of the values that can be found in tradition, and that many contemporary people are feeling stress and pain because we feel severed from those timeless ways.

Japan: A Pictorial PortraitJapan: A Pictorial Portrait by Kenzo Takada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Japan: A Pictorial Portrait is an easy book to read; after all, it is, as it says, a “Pictorial Portrait.” The photography is excellent, though one might think that the photos would be even better in a larger format. This might make it a better “living room table” book, but I found that the smaller format makes it a better book to carry in a bag/briefcase to plan a trip, even if the trip only exists in the imagination.

The book makes a trip to Japan seem a lot more desirable and impressive than it might seem for most people unaccustomed to Japan’s history, culture, and beautiful scenery. But I found the book to be a beautiful reflection of the nation I’ve learned to love over the past 25 years of my life living in Japan. There were many scenes that I have found to be extremely gratifying, as well as others that I someday hope to see.

I read the book to review some of the locations and situations that I intend to capture in a travel documentary I am planning to work on. It didn’t end up providing any specific information that I intend to use, but the book made me feel good, almost like after a very satisfying meal. This, in turn, is very close to the feeling we intend to create in our documentary, although instead of gratification, we also hope to instill a thirst for more from our audience. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in travel in Japan.

View all my reviews

I recently read The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan, by Patrick W. Galbraith.  I can’t remember ever reading an encyclopedia before – not the entire thing.  I’ve read most of an encyclopedia on Star Wars.  I’ve read some of an encyclopedia on financial terms and a few others.  But this book is quite different.  It reads well – well, like a real book.

I posted the review in Goodreads.com, but here it is below.

The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool JapanThe Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan by Patrick W. Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Otaku Encyclopedia; is exactly as advertised, an encyclopedia devoted to all things otaku. While the word “otaku” has not become mainstream vernacular, for people who are well versed in things originating in Japan or in global subculture, the word is familiar and, interestingly, becoming quite “cool.” It is interesting because the term, in Japanese, conveys quite the opposite of cool; even if the obsessive pursuits of seriously devoted fans of a complex and, often, slightly deranged medium become popular, it is the slightly disapproving public perception of the pursuit that separates the otaku from a mere fan. For every fan of games, anime, manga, idols, dolls, and related hobbies, only the devoted otaku transcend from a passive consumer to active participant.

Patrick Galbraith’s book is, no doubt, an encyclopedia. It provides an alphabetical dictionary to all things otaku. But unlike most other encyclopedia’s, it is one that is actually quite readable in its entirety, from A to Z. Not only for its short interviews with a handful of some of the people noted for their contributions to otaku history and culture, but the definitions themselves provide a great deal of information for those who are trying to understand contemporary Japan and, particularly, the Cool Japan movements that are being promoted by the Japanese government and many others.

Even though the subject matter may seem juvenile, risque, and somewhat frivolous to some, it is very informative and useful for any student of contemporary Japan. Even if you are not interested in otaku pursuits, some understanding of these phenomenon is critical to knowing modern Japan and planning the way forward.

View all my reviews


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