Category Archives: FEATURED

Arsonist at idol concert says he was imitating the Kyoto Animation arson attack

Japanese laws may need to be strengthened to stop more copycat attacks from occurring.

On 24 March, a man was arrested on suspicion of setting fire to a building in the city of Tokushima, where a Japanese idol group concert was taking place. Today, investigators revealed that the man told them he was aiming to imitate the deadly Kyoto animation arson attack that occurred in 2019.

The suspect, Shigeru Okada, an unemployed 38-year-old resident of Tokushima Prefecture, was accused of trespassing on the site of the Acty Annex building on 14 March, shortly after a local idol group had started performing at a bar on the top floor of the four-storey building.

▼ The latest image of Acty Annex on Google Maps dates back to April 2019, before the recent blaze.

According to police, the fire broke out just after the performance had started at 1:00 p.m., threatening the lives of approximately 70 people who were on the premises, including customers and the five members of the idol group, who were all able to evacuate safely outside. The manager of the bar, who is in his 50s, was able to extinguish the fire, suffering burns to his neck in the process.

At the scene of the incident, police found a knife and a blue-coloured metal fuel canister with remnants of gasoline inside. Gasoline appeared to have been deliberately spilled in the hall outside the elevator on the third floor, leading investigators to believe it was an arson attack.

Footage from surveillance cameras, and a dashboard camera from a nearby taxi, led investigators to Okada, who was arrested on suspicion of arson of an inhabited building.

During questioning, Okada admitted to the charges, saying he lit the fire in the elevator hall on the third storey of the building, burning the floor and walls. He said he was …continue reading


Introducing Furosato Nozei, Japans “Hometown Tax”

With the ever increasing problem of mass migration to the big cities, the rural areas of Japan are suffering from depopulation. The Japanese government has implemented a novel idea to help address this issue, called Furosato Nozei or “hometown tax” redirection. Under the system, tax payers can choose to redirect a portion of their city taxes to any participating rural Japanese area of their choosing. This is done by purchasing specific local goods. So what does this mean for you exactly? Essentially you can buy delicious or interesting local goods at a special high price, and then that money is reduced from your tax bill. You ultimately get free stuff!

Can I participate?


Any taxpayer in Japan is eligible to participate in the system. The reduction will apply to your city tax payment.

Whilst the system is entitled “hometown”, you do not need to have any connection to the region you choose. If there is an area you really like, perhaps a rural area you taught English in, or a friend’s hometown, you can buy that towns goods. However, due to this fact many people shop around for goods they actually want without any real interest in propping up that area’s economy. The Japanese web store Rakuten has a special area that shows only Furosato Nozei products, making this method very simple.

What kinds of things can I get?

The products available are generally in some way connected to the region you choose to support. This usually means food products, but artistic things and travel vouchers are also available.

Personally, I have participated in the system for three years. My choices have included various honeys from a town in Nagano prefecture, an assortment of preserved meats from Kyushu and lots and lots of apple juice.

Why not take a look yourself on Rakuten? The site is set …continue reading


Line up in the hall, open your shirts, show your bras – Real instructions from one Japanese school

Dress code check has people in Japan upset.

A number of Japanese school rules have been under increasing criticism over the last year for being outdated or illogical, and the one getting the most attention these days involves students’ underwear. As part of their dress codes, a number of schools have regulations in place that say students must wear white underwear.

However, school uniforms are, obviously, already designed so as not to show students’ underwear. Unfortunately, rather than take it on faith that the unseen underwear conforms with the rule, some schools exercise their authority in performing spot tests. One method is to have a teacher can check the color of bra straps pulled up through a student’s collar, but one school in Fukuoka Prefecture has used an even more shocking method.

According to a student who was interviewed by the Fukuoka Bar Association as part of a study of school rules in the prefecture, girls at the school were told to line up in a school hallway, standing side-to-side. They were then told to unbutton and open their shirts while a teacher came by and inspected their bras to make sure they were solid white.

Though you couldn’t really call the situation better if the students’ panties were checked as well, the fact that the underwear check apparently only involved their bras strongly implies that it was only girls who were checked to see if they were in compliance with the dress code. The semi-logical reason would be that boys’ uniforms, by nature of having pants, mean that their underwear would never be seen anyway, but then the same should at least be true for girls’ bras, which are always covered by their uniforms’ blouses.

▼ Honestly, that seems like something professional educators should be able to understand.

<img src="" alt="" width="640" height="426" …continue reading


Why do kids in Japan use those large leathery “randoseru” school bags?

A trend a century and a half in the making.

April is the beginning of the school year in Japan, and it’s a time when many young students strap on their boxy leather (or often simulated leather) randoseru backpacks for the first time. Even without living in Japan, you may have seen these sturdy but expensive carriers in anime, film, or one of our many articles about them.

But why does Japan of all countries use these distinctly old-fashioned western designs?

It all started around the end of the Edo era in the middle of the 19th century. After Japan was opened up to trade with other countries, western culture and fashions became a craze.

▼ Suit jackets and samurai swords weren’t exactly made for each other, but these guys made it work.

Wikipedia/Illustrated London News

This was true for military technology at the time as well, and the concept of using backpacks to free up soldiers hands was adopted. Early on they were given the Japanese name of “haino” but in keeping with the western wave of influence, the Dutch word “ransel” was also adopted into Japanese as “ranseru” or “ranuseru.”

It’s a bit of a mystery how a “do” was added to the middle of the word. One theory is that the Dutch “ransel” was conflated with the German “landser” which refers “foot soldier.” Logically it makes a lot of sense, but according to German dictionaries “landser” gained prominence during WWII. Its origins could be traced back to the late 19th century, but that would mean it was a brand new term even in German when it first appeared in Japanese.

▼ These Japanese soldiers in the 1890s probably weren’t concerned with Dutch and German linguistics …continue reading


Japanese government mulling over potential four-day working week

Three-day weekend every week? Yes please!!

Back in 2019, Microsoft Japan’s three-day weekend experiment showed great improvements in worker productivity, with reports claiming the workers got 40 percent more work done. The rest of the country waited with bated breath — would this mean the rest of Japan would follow suit, and give the country’s overworked employees more flexible work schedules?

Sadly, not much has changed, as shown by one government office recently making the news when it disciplined workers for routinely going home a couple of minutes early. The glorious promise of three-day weekends very week once again seemed like a distant dream, but now there’s a new glimmer of hope.

At a press conference on April 5th, Liberal Democratic Party politician and Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said he’d like to “examine what the government can do” about implementing a potential “voluntary three-day holiday“, where full-time permanent employees can choose a schedule where they have three days a week off instead of two.

▼ “Sorry, sir. I’m taking today off!”

At the press conference, Kato talked about the increasing need for a healthy work-life balance. By implementing a voluntary three-day holiday each week, employees would struggle less due to issues such as lack of adequate childcare for their children, caring for elderly relatives or battling illnesses. As a result, people would be more likely to stay at their jobs for longer. A voluntary three-day holiday could allow people to travel more, in turn helping boost Japan’s tourism industry, which has been hit hard due to the coronavirus.

On the other hand, some have expressed concern over the potential decrease in wages that a three-day holiday could bring. Similarly, …continue reading


Studio Ghibli producer makes bombshell anime revelations during online Q&A

Howl’s Moving Castle has a prequel? Why does Ghibli food look so good? Is Hayao Miyazaki a mummy’s boy? Toshio Suzuki spills all the tea.

One thing we love about Studio Ghibli is the work that goes on behind the scenes, and the ongoing bromance between two of the co-founders, producer Toshio Suzuki and director Hayao Miyazaki.

Following the sad passing of fellow co-founder Isao Takahata in 2018, the bond between Suzuki and Miyazaki has only grown stronger, and the synergy between the two is like Yin and Yang. The chatty and easygoing producer is always happy to represent the company in interviews while the more reserved director prefers to stay away from the limelight and concentrate on producing the work.

Suzuki’s strong, decades-long friendship with Miyazaki–and his working relationship as his producer–makes Suzuki the only person in the world who can reveal secrets about the director and his films without any fear of repercussions. So whenever Suzuki is scheduled to appear for an interview, Ghibli fans know to sit up and listen, and that’s what they did on Friday, when Studio Ghibli’s official Twitter account announced they would be holding a Q&A with the producer, to coincide with the television broadcast of Howl’s Moving Castle in NTV Tokyo’s “Friday Roadshow” movie slot that same evening.

The Q&A began with this image of Suzuki, holding a figurine of the Friday Roadshow character to his lips, with the message in Japanese reading: “I will answer”.


— スタジオジブリ STUDIO GHIBLI (@JP_GHIBLI) April 2, 2021

Answer he did, and while the discussion was focussed on Howl’s Moving Castle, other revelations came quick and fast, so let’s take a look at what was discussed below.

Q: “Why did you choose Takuya Kimura to voice the character of Howl?”
Suzuki: It was …continue reading


World’s second-oldest hotel offers new self-service stays to cope during pandemic

Japanese onsen ryokan adapts to the new normal after being in business for over 1,300 years.

Japan is home to a large number of long-established businesses, including two of the oldest hotels in the world: Yamanashi Prefecture’s Keiunkan and Ishikawa’s Houshi Ryokan.

Houshi Ryokan held the Guinness World Record title for the world’s oldest hotel until 2011, when Keiunkan pipped it at the post, taking the title after its opening date of 705 was found to have preceded Houshi’s 718 founding by thirteen years.

▼ Houshi Ryokan is so old it’s even been depicted in paintings from the Edo Period (1603-1868).

While the two hotels have been accommodating guests–including luminaries like daimyo Takeda Shingen, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and numerous emperors–for over 1,300 years, both are now sadly struggling due to the drop in visitors brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The hotels have since discounted their prices to help entice guests, which means people who couldn’t previously afford to pay the usual 30,000 yen (US$271.14) ballpark fee for a room can now fulfil their dreams of a stay and a soak in the historic hot spring waters. Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa is one of those people, and he didn’t waste any time in making a booking, choosing to head out to Houshi Ryokan for a night to remember.

▼ Arriving after sunset makes the legendary ryokan appear even more atmospheric.

Stepping into the lobby, Seiji was greeted by dark wood panels, paper-screen lanterns, and a high ceiling that exudes a sense of old-school luxury.

…continue reading


We spotted an umbrella thief in the act on the streets of Tokyo, and it left us feeling strange

Rainy-day crime gives our witness a lot to think about.

Monday morning started off just like any other weekday for our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun. After breakfast with his adorable daughter Rei, they hopped on his bicycle and he dropped her off at preschool. As P.K. headed back towards home, though, it started to rain.

As the first drops hit his head, P.K. pumped his legs, hoping to get home before it really started coming down. He could see other umbrella-less people out and about also scurrying to get indoors, and one of them was an elderly man who P.K. guessed was in his 80s. He was about 30 meters (98 feet) in front of P.K, walking in the opposite direction, and as he came up next to a convenience store he made a quick turn towards the entrance.

But the elderly man wasn’t headed inside to wait out the rain. Instead, he walked right up to the rack where customers put their umbrellas before going inside to shop. Showing no hesitation at all, he picked an umbrella out of the rack and turned back around to open and walk off with it.

At this point P.K. was just a couple meters away from the man, so he called out “Hey, wait a second…” while squeezing the brakes and bringing his bike to a stop. This caught the attention of the umbrella’s rightful owner, a burly, 50-something man who came rushing out of the store when P.K.’s voice caused him to turn towards the rack and see the theft in progress.

“The f**k do you think you’re doing?” the owner shouted, charging out of the store towards the much shorter and smaller thief. He grabbed the umbrella and …continue reading


Anime industry group doesn’t want artists to rely on CG, releases free animator drills

Animator Assignment Collection covers “First Steps Towards understanding the Principles of Motion.”

“Modern animation is all done with CG, right?” isn’t an uncommon assumption, and it is true that computers are playing an increasingly large role in animation production. However, the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA) wants aspiring anime artist to avoid becoming entirely reliant on machines when creating art.

“In recent years, the number of anime in which CG models are used for characters is increasing, but hand-drawn art is still an important part of many productions. The job of animator is to provide artwork that meets the needs of the project. Animators, professionals of motion, have a vital occupation,” says the association, and in keeping with that belief, it’s recently released a series of animator art drills that it calls the Animator Assignment Collection.

Subtitled as “The First Steps Towards Understanding the Principles of Motion,” the assignment collection is offered as a free PDF download from the AJA on its website here, and divides its drills into four sections: Form, Physics, Movement, and Application. The drills, developed and selected by veteran animator/animation director Kazushige Yusa (whose credits include anime movies in the Touch and Street Fighter II franchises) with the backing of studios such as Sunrise, Bones, Studio 4°C, and Tezuka Productions, are accompanied by example solutions and explanations.

Many of the drills give you two pieces of artwork and ask you to draw in a number of intermediary steps, which would correspond to either in-between or key animation frames. The Assignment Collection also encourages artists to keep in mind what sort of action or mood the scene is trying to create. For example, this driving drill asks for two different in-between frames, …continue reading


Japanese study finds that writing by hand increases brain activity more than electronic memos

Having trouble coming up with or recalling an idea? Try writing it down.

Electronics can do pretty much anything for us nowadays, including organizing our schedules, taking notes, and even meeting a bunch of virtual crabs.

But have you ever wondered if physically writing something down is better for you in the end?

The University of Tokyo and NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting published a study on March 19 saying that handwriting actually increases brain activity more than you would if you used a smartphone or tablet.

▼ Brain stimulation in progress?

In the experiment, researchers divided 48 participants between the ages of 18 and 29 into three groups — one for handwritten notes, one for smartphones, and one for tablets — and asked them to write down plans for the next two months based on a sample text. They were then quizzed on what they wrote down an hour after the exercise while researchers measured their brain activity via functional MRI.

The study found that while there wasn’t much of a difference in the number of correct answers that each of the three groups gave, the handwritten group’s brains showed more activity in areas of the brain that process memories and language.

Associate professor Kuniyoshi Sakai, who participated in the study, claims this is because your brain better remembers the sensation and location of where you physically write letters on a piece of paper. So while electronics like smartphones and tablets take up less space and are great for looking things up, Sakai argues that handwriting can be better for thinking or creativity-based exercises.

Japanese netizens were fascinated with the study and offered their own thoughts on handwriting versus typing.

“I knew it! I always find …continue reading