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Hokkaido photo

Hokkaido is taking the air out of tourism

Hold on to your gas!
Apr 29
// Soul Tsukino
A downloadable guide put out by The Hokkaido Tourism Organization to help foreigners understand the customs of Japan's northernmost island sparked a bit of an outrage recently when it was found it to be offensive. C...

Manga and Recovery: Reopening a comic museum in Kamen Rider's hometown

Apr 12 // Yussif Osman
The people of Tohoku are unique in all of Japan, they have their own dialect, their own food and attitude, they're louder, more themselves than the rest of what is quite a conservative country. I found the people very brave and very proud, heroically living through and beyond what befell them in 2011, and so it doesn't surprise me that many of the most iconic and heroic manga characters originate from this amazing part of Japan. As I get off the bus at Ishinomaki, a town in Tohoku's Miyagi prefecture, severely affected by the tsunami, I have certain expectations, I basically expect devastation. But that's not what I find. Instead, I'm confronted by statues of Kamen Rider and his contemporaries. The members of Cyborg 009 are striking poses and Astroboy is with them. This way, people who arrive at Ishinomaki station by Robocon covered train or bus, get a flavour of the true character of this place instead of just associating it with tragedy, the way much of the world has. Instead, travellers are met with colour and hope. Among the heroes which adorn the city, there's also Robocon and Sea Jetter, plentiful in murals and wall art alongside posing statues. Amazingly, many of these statues actually survived the tsunami, defying tragedy itself and becoming symbols of hope. And there is sincerely something super heroic about this place, the way people continue to live and who they are. People laugh and gather, eat heartily and celebrate what they share at every opportunity, they work through dark hours, from 2am onwards, harvesting catches from the sea and come to one another's aid, to pull their lives out of the rubble and build something new. Miyagi is home to the world's largest temporary housing camp for displaced people in the world, in the form of the kasetsu units, but many of these kasetsu have been converted into entrepreneurial hubs, restaurants and bakeries; people make more than the most of what they have, in fact they redefined their entire situation. In the town of Funakoshi, a fisherman named Nakasato (in the absence of the town's traditional leadership) brings his community together to rebuild and aspire, they gather in the local school and celebrate their harvests of seaweed and fish whilst putting together plans to move their town uphill, away from the waters. In Ishinomaki, an amazing woman named Hashimoto cooks nightly a feast for volunteers and community members, bringing immense warmth to the oceanic cold. The town holds children's festivals and local organisations like It's Not Just Mud whom I worked with, build amazing playgrounds and return to the sea to swim and reclaim the community's heritage. Throughout my time there, I found people speak little about what befell them, instead they speak of the present and the future, making plans and moving forward. For some, that's opening a sake store or reopening a community antique shop, others are focused on their next harvest of clams or their next shipment of crafts, others are planning the reconstruction of their town and others looking forward to the next gathering, to the next community meal. I found the manga characters which adorn the city allegorical (and I believe the community does as well) to the state of the community itself. Sea Jetter defies the calamities of the sea themselves, Cyborg 009 are a family and team who through working together can achieve anything, Robocon and Astroboy are both gentle and mighty and Takeshi Hongo, the Kamen Rider, all in all represents every act of tenacity and heroism. So though as a manga fan, I may have been looking forward to the reopening of the UFO-shaped Ishinomaki Mangattan, or Manga Museum, I couldn't imagine how much it meant to the people who actually lived there and their children. The days following the re-opening ceremony are immensely moving, costumed characters await at the doors to greet children and they're all there, from the members of Cyborg 009 to Kamen Rider. The community has been making steps towards recovery gradually, but this is a milestone, this is to celebrate all that. Artwork adorns the second floor above the gift shop, including concept art and original manga pages, as well as a movie theatre where never before shown short adaptations of manga are seen. And on the third floor is something out of a dream, a manga library containing a boundless collection of ongoing and completed series from Dragonball to Sailor Moon and Prince of Tennis. Among the celebrated creators in town is Osamu Tezuka, manga pioneer and arguably the father of modern manga. But here, I'd like to place particular emphasis on Shotaro Ishinomori, creator of both one of the first superhero teams in Japan in the form of Cyborg 009 and the iconic tokusatsu series Kamen Rider. Ishinomori was a native of Tohoku's own Miyagi prefecture, making the region home of Kamen Rider, the Cyborg team and Ganbare!! Robocon, which Ishinomori also created. The result was that the Mangattan's official name would actually be the Ishinomori Manga Museum. In fact, Ishinomaki itself is often considered the home town of Kamen Rider. In my time in Ishinomaki, I would also be confronted with a high density of promotional art for the upcoming film 009 Re: Cyborg, a continuation of the Cyborg 009 series, based on an Ishinomori story, entrenching the characters' presence in Miyagi and presenting the community's children and people with yet something more to look forward to as they continue to pull their lives back together. Ishinomori's work may have brought joy to people across Japan for decades, but I believe most vitally it has helped lift the hearts of local people and augment the sentiment that there are things to look forward to, that life is worth living and that we should never give up. Remember every cheesy yet cool moment from a manga? Well in Ishinomaki they mattered, they and their characters still do. I once had a disagreement with a friend of mine shortly after the tsunami, he said that the last thing people would care about after the disaster was manga or anime, but after going there myself, I found that that was very, very far from the truth. I hope that in time, Tohoku will be known for what it's culture and what its people celebrate and have achieved, rather than for what befell them, for hope, pride and the Tohoku way.
Ishinomaki Manga Museum photo
The role of manga in post-tsunami Tohoku
Everyone knows what happened in March 2011, everyone has heard about the tsunami and the earthquake and Fukushima, that's why I went, but what I discovered when I arrived is something the world hasn't paid the same level of a...

Cat Island photo
Cat Island

Japan's Cat Island gets lots of love to fight food shortage

A Purr-ty big response!
Feb 29
// Soul Tsukino
Aoshima is a small island in a remote part of the Ehime prefecture of Japan. It's the kind of small island you mind find a martial arts master residing, or the kind of place you'd take a high school class for a trip (don't forget the commemorative metal collars!). The whole island is only about 8 miles around and is occupied by about 16 people- -and oh yeah... Aoshima
Ninjas photo

Japan uses their ninja skills to increase tourism

Ninjas are back in business
Mar 10
// Salvador GRodiles
I know that I joked around in the past about 2015 being the Year of the Ninja, but Japan's recent tourism-related move might as well turn my made-up holiday into a real thing. Long story short, the Japanese government have de...

Universal Studios photo
Universal Studios

Universal Studios' Attack on Titan and anime attractions are pure nightmare fuel

Zombies, Monsters, and Nudists, Oh My!
Feb 02
// Josh Tolentino
I took a trip to western Japan last year, and my big regret of the trip was not finding enough time to visit Himeji castle, the best-preserved traditional castle in the country. I think it's time to add another regret to the ...
Manga apartment photo
Manga apartment

When you visit Japan, try a manga apartment

Behold the manga apartment
Nov 03
// Josh Tolentino
What's the first thing you want to do when you visit Japan? If your answer is "Sit around reading manga in the first room I arrive at," then Slow Curve has just the lodging for you! Slow Curve have announced that they're work...
Attack on Titan photo
Attack on Titan

Colossal Titan now terrorizing various landmarks around Japan

The chibiest of Colossal Titans
Jun 18
// Kristina Pino
Most tourist attractions and gift shops in Japan aren't complete without a huge selection of various cute phone straps and keychains you can buy as a memento. You can find them with Hello Kitty, Stitch, One Piece characters, ...
Ultraman photo

Ultraman prefers Hawaii as a vacation destination

And so should you, apparently
Mar 22
// Josh Tolentino
Japanese tourists love Hawaii. I can't blame them, it's lovely, but part of the reason is surely its proximity to Glorious Nippon, making it an easy port of call for tourists who don't want to go too far. Hence the thriving t...
NagiAsu photo

Real life locations found for Nagi no Asukara

Otaku tracks down the locations
Feb 13
// LB Bryant
One of my favorite anime studios right now is PA Works because of the beautiful series that they have created over the last couple of years. From Hanasaku Iroha to Tari Tari to Angel Beats, it's hard to deny that they've crea...
Travel Osaka photo
Travel Osaka

Osaka leads the way to free WiFi in Japan

Yay, technology!
Feb 03
// Kristina Pino
It's been a long, and I mean long, time coming, but one city in lovely Japan has finally, finally gotten with the program and decided to offer free WiFi. And surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on how you look at it), ...
Onsen photo

Dogo Onsen celebrates 120th anniversary with art show

Stay in rooms of modern art in Matsuyama
Jan 31
// Brad Rice
Are you planning a trip to Japan sometime this year? If so, you might want to consider an excursion to Matsuyama. It'd be a 5-hour train ride from Osaka, but you'll be visiting a rare historical sight and get to stay there. D...
Japan photo

Tokyo travel agency is letting us all go to space

Should Japanator go? I think yes.
Jan 07
// Amber Hunt
Hey, do you have ¥25 million to spare? If your answer was yes, then this is your invitation to go to space. Yup, I said it, travel to space. A new Tokyo travel agency is allowing this to happen, and nearly 600 people have...
Travel Japan photo
Travel Japan

CNN names Japan among top destinations for 2014

As if we didn't already know
Dec 16
// Kristina Pino
It's that time of year when every travel outlet and publisher is talking about 2014 travel. CNN just revealed a list of 11 countries they deem top destinations for next year, and Japan sits comfortably among the likes of Ecua...
Japan photo

Send your stuffed animals to Japan

Is this cute, or weird?
Nov 28
// Amber Hunt
Did you know you could send your stuffed animals to Japan? Forget going, why not just send your furry friend there?! Unagi Travel, created by Sonoe Azuma, is a company based in Tokyo, and focuses on giving your animals tours ...
Harry Potter photo
Harry Potter

Osaka is ready for the opening of Wizarding World

Get on the Potter Train
Nov 25
// Kristina Pino
Rocket News reports that Osaka is already gearing up for next summer's opening of Wizarding World, which I remember writing about here way back in 2012. It doesn't seem like that much time has gone by, but we're almost there!...
Inflatable Building photo
Inflatable Building

Need a concert on the go? Blow up this concert hall

Rad architecture to hit Tohoku
Sep 25
// Josh Tolentino
No, that freaky purple jellybean-thing you see in the header above isn't the next candidate for a Japanator Eats segment, nor is it a titanic sculpture of Grimace in repose. It's actually the next big venue for hot music and ...

JapanaTour: Where to start when planning a Tokyo vacation

Sep 21 // Kristina Pino
For the devoted otaku Of course, this entry had to go first. So you're going to Tokyo and you're looking for all the nerdy stuff? Great. Here are a few places you can make pilgrimages to: Square Enix Artnia at Shinjuku (directions) Akihabara's Electric district (shops, maid/butler cafe, arcades - see also: JapanaTour part 1, part 2) Ikebukuro (Japan Guide's Ikebukuro page) The Ghibli Museum (warning: you need to reserve entry passes way in advance; access) Harajuku (where all fashion dreams come true) Gundam Front (don't miss out on the huge robot at Odaiba!) For the hungry traveler Great food can be found all over Tokyo, so this section was a little tougher to compile. Here are some suggestions: Asakusa (specialty snacks, street food) Theme Restaurants (costumed staff, themed decor/menu, overall cute experience) Kaiten (conveyer belt) sushi Chanko (the glorious soup of Sumo champions) Ramen (the dry packaged stuff you buy for cheap at the grocery store just isn't the same.) Okonomiyaki For the sight-seer Some folks just want to "be a tourist" and see all the "cheesy" (or cool) sights! Here are some suggestions in that area: Ueno Zoo (from Ueno Station) Yoyogi Park (for a relaxing picnic, yeah?) Tokyo Skytree at Oshiyage Shibuya (Shibuya Crossing, Hachiko statue next to train station) Harajuku's Meiji Shrine (follow signs from the train station; afterwards, stroll over to Yoyogi park for that picnic I mentioned) Asakusa's Sensoji (goes great with Ueno Zoo and Skytree Town) Tired of the big city? Take a day trip: Tokyo Disneyland (access) Kamakura (See the Daibutsu, and other lovely temples. It's the closest to Kyoto you'll get without actually going to Kansai; Japan Guide listing) Mount Fuji (the climb is so worth the view. Also Fuji Q; check out the official website for climbing season dates, tips, and directions) Yokohama (Japan Guide listing) This is, of course, not an exhaustive, or even an extensive list. I'd like to point out the title of this post, where it says "Where to start..." before anyone freaks out. Tokyo has so much to offer, and frankly you can spend weeks there and still not discover everything there is to it. I didn't even mention all of Tokyo's districts in this list! That being said, do feel free to add suggestions of your own. The more the merrier! Want more posts like this in the future? Your opinion matters. [Header image courtesy OnlyHDWallpapers, all other images have been snapped by yours truly]
Vacation to Tokyo photo
A few handy tips, because we care
In case you're planning a trip to Japan in the future (like for the 2020 Olympics), or even if you're there right now for Tokyo Game Show and are looking for suggestions, here's a list you didn't ask for but totally need. I've even gone through the trouble of sorting it based on interests/activities rather than just making it a numbered list.

Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #30 - View

Cheating again
Aug 30
// Kristina Pino
Since I'm boring today and I had to go to work, I don't have an awesome picture freshly taken for your viewing pleasure. So instead, I'm tossing up another picture from last week's visit to Enoshima, this time a view from the top of the Sea Candle, which is a tower that doubles as a lighthouse. [full image in the gallery!]
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #27 - Tokugawa

Checking out some history
Aug 27
// Kristina Pino
Today, I went on an excursion to the home of Mitsukuni Tokugawa, also known as the Koumon of Mito, the Seizanso House. It's located in Ibaraki, the prefecture I live in, and not too far from my current home base. Koumon (1628...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #24 - Beach

Aug 24
// Kristina Pino
Nothing too wacky or witty for you folks today, since really what I did was hit the beach to read and relax. Sme interesting things went on throughout the day for sure, but really today was all about lounging around. I'm not ...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #22 - Peeking

Looking back
Aug 22
// Kristina Pino
Peek-a-boo! I did some hiking today, and the view just kept getting better and better as I kept climbing higher. This photo is taken at Enoshima, which is a lovely little island nearby Kamakura. [see the full image in the gallery!]
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #21 - Dress up

Aug 21
// Kristina Pino
How do you know it's summer in Japan, besides by the heat and the noise from Cicada? It's all the women dressed up in kimono and yukata everywhere ya look. Obon is over, but I'm still seeing lovely ladies dressed up and out on the streets. I've moved again! I'm in beautiful Kamakura now, which reminds me quite a bit of Kyoto. Refreshing.
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #19 - Oversize

So tall...
Aug 19
// Kristina Pino
A sea of huge lily pads in the foreground, and a sea of modern buildings in the background. Sometimes, these contrasts are fun and interesting. One of the things I love about Japan is the juxtaposition of traditional and mode...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #18 - Akiba

Roaming the streets
Aug 18
// Kristina Pino
Today, I spent a few hours wandering about Akihabara. Since it's Sunday, the main electric district area is closed to vehicle traffic from 1-6 p.m., so everyone is free to roam safely up and down the street. A friend tells me...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #16 - Lavender

Lavender fields, forever!
Aug 16
// Kristina Pino
Since I'm taking a one-day break from vacation to catch up on things, I'm actually posting an image from yesterday in today's daily thingy thing. This is a patch of lavender I was lucky to catch looking remotely in bloom, sin...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #15 - Cheese

Aug 15
// Kristina Pino
I heard you like cheese, so we made this huge map of the world according to cheese. We have surmised this is really the only map that matters. The cheese map of the world. Taken at the Furano Cheese Factory in Hokkaido, where I was at today. [Cheese Check out the full-size image in the gallery!]
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #14 - Stay Cool

Japan, y u so hot?
Aug 14
// Kristina Pino
Note: No deer were harmed in the making of this photograph. Yes, it's alive. It's just really tired, you guys. The summer heat in Japan this year is pretty terrific, and though it's generally milder up here in the north (Ho...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #13 - Pathways

Where will you go?
Aug 13
// Kristina Pino
I spent the better part of my afternoon today hiking around a volcano and checking out the natural hot springs and geysers. But even in the face of these hot monsters (the waters at the geyser springs reached 80 Celsius, mind...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #12 - Marimo

Straight from Hokkaido
Aug 12
// Kristina Pino
One of the things I definitely didn't want to miss while visiting Hokkaido was having a look at some marimo, or algae balls. They're a national treasure of Japan, and are specifically from one protected lake area of Hokkaido,...
Daily Japan Photos photo
Daily Japan Photos

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #11 - Sapporo Manhole

Check them lids!
Aug 11
// Kristina Pino
For every city, town, and village in Japan, there is a unique design for their manhole lids. This is the design you'll see if you look down at one in Sapporo. One of the things I do whenever I visit a new place in Japan is tr...
Maid Cafe NY  photo
Maid Cafe NY

Rejoice, New Yorkers: A Maid Cafe is opening soon in NYC

The Big Apple is getting their first maid cafe!
Aug 07
// Salvador GRodiles
Congratulations, people of the Big Apple; Horizon Enterprise Group, Inc. is going to have a Grand Opening of New York's very first Maid Cafe! And from the looks of it, the people that are bringing this treasure to NYC are exc...
Daily Japan Photo photo
Daily Japan Photo

Kristina's Summer Vacation: #4 - Glory

The most special sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun
Aug 04
// Kristina Pino
Yesterday night, I climbed Mount Fuji for this view - the sunrise over clouds and landscape. Have you ever climbed a mountain? 
Gigapixel Tokyo photo
Gigapixel Tokyo

Check out this insane gigapixel panorama of Tokyo

God's eye view from Tokyo Tower
Aug 01
// Josh Tolentino
Wow. So this must be what it's like to see things as God does. That and similar thoughts seem like an appropriate reaction to seeing this amazing "Gigapixel" 360-degree panorama photo of Tokyo. The photo was taken by photogr...
TGS '13 photo
TGS '13

Destination Japan announces Tokyo Maximum Tour 2013

Five nights of fun, for a price.
Jul 29
// Tim Sheehy
Our good friends at Destination Japan have confirmed the details for this year's Tokyo Maximum Tour, the official tour of the Tokyo Game Show 2013. The five-night escorted tour features a visit to the Tokyo Game Show, along with a full tour of Tokyo including trips to popular hot spots such as Akihabara, and Odaiba. More details after the jump.
Capsule hotels photo
Have a look around!
In this video, you get a quick tour of the general dorm facilities at a capsule hotel in Japan. Obviously, I left out stuff like the shared baths and the lobby/common area, since that would involve either a) being arrested o...

What does the JET expansion mean for Japan?

May 09 // Brad Rice
One of the immediate benefits of expanding the JET program is that Japan will see an increase in its foreign workforce, something it's been craving for several years. Japan had difficulty attracting talent since the late 2000s, due to the financial collapse and a stagnation of the job market. Having more than double the number of young foreigners coming to Japan means a moderate spike in spending as people acclimate themselves to their new lives, followed by more local growth as they make themselves a part of the community. The country is still grappling with a low birthrate, and increasing foreigners is a quick shot in the arm to the overall health of the Japanese economy. I don't mean to say the foreigners will all immediately take up Japanese spouses and churn out five kids within three years -- they'll just provide a short-term increase in the number of people with spending power.  For the average Japanese citizen, this increase in JET teachers will be most valuable in the rural areas of Japan. In the cities and other densely populated areas, JETs and private English language schools are more commonly accessible, so any family that wishes their kid to get a decent English education can pay to do so. As for the farming communities, hours outside of any minor or major city, they will get a JET. That means kids who would quite possibly never run into a native English speaker in their lives suddenly have one dropped on their doorstep. They'll learn a lot more about the English language, for sure. And because English language comprehension is a part of the college entrance exam system, that means a few more kids will be able to go to college. But will this be sustainable? There's no word of JET salaries increasing after they were slashed by the DPJ. We saw some of the English language schools go belly up -- notably NOVA and GEOS -- which is an indication of over-saturation in the private English-teaching world. Higher salaries are going to be critical in determining the overall success of this. If Japan wants to attract quality talent, they are going to have to make a competitive offer in order to attract good teachers -- not just a chance to live in Japan. JET has long been criticized for the hit-or-miss nature of its teachers, and while the program has been good as a whole, this is a good opportunity to establish more stringent requirements than a college degree. I'm not proposing that you only hire people with Masters in Education -- that'd be too stringent -- instead I would rather see a longer recruiting timeframe and bootcamp in order to make sure the teachers are at the level the students need. Remember, one bad teacher can screw up 30 kids. These things do need to be handled with care. The proposal strikes me as a bit of a pipe dream, unless the Japanese government is willing to dip into some heavy spending in order to spur on the economy. People will sign up for the program, without a doubt. In the US alone, the job market for newly minted graduates is still rough, with no clear signs of abating. But that does not necessarily mean the quality will be there, and if it dips at all -- especially if the JET salaries stay low -- the program could be cut down once again. Other parts of this overall growth plan is luring Japanese companies back from overseas via tax breaks and offering tax breaks to households spending on housekeeping and babysitting. Ultimately, the JET expansion is just one facet, but it shows that the LDP is focused on Japan's growth and prominence outside of its own borders.
JET Expansion photo
Will the program spur the economy?
A few days ago, Josh brought word that the ruling Japanese political party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is planning to more than double the JET program over the next three years. All of this is part of Prime Minister ...


Have a finger lickin' flight

Guess I won't be getting sushi in this bird
Nov 29
// Hiroko Yamamura
Who says coach class airplane food has to suck? Apparently the Colonel has something else in mind! From now until February 28th, Japan Air Lines will be offering Kentucky Fried Chicken on a few select...

Conquering fear and picking up Japanese again

Nov 15 // Brad Rice
One of the blessings in disguise of Japan is that in Tokyo and Osaka, people in the service industry will always try to help you in English, no matter what level they speak at. I don't know if it's a persistent disbelief that I might be able to speak Japanese, or they just really want to accommodate me. Either way, it made life much easier upon landing in Japan. In my first few hours of Japan time, I rented a SIM card, made some inquiries at the hotel, and purchased a few goods at the local convenience store. While I mostly used set phrases and a dash of English, it gave me hope knowing that I could survive basic business transactions and possibly the entire time in Japan. Not just in language, but in sports, games, and just about everything in life, little successes are necessary. They help build confidence, and solidify the fact that the tightrope you're walking isn't some insurmountable task. Quarterbacks in American Football talk about using short, easy-to-complete passes as a confidence builder. They realize that the 60 minutes of gametime they're in is just like every other 60 minutes of play. The opponent might be different, but now you have the reassurance to play at your best. For me, handling those little interactions gave me the reassurance that I was at worst, a little rusty, and not completely hopeless. Then I went out to dinner. My friend and I decided to go to a Japanese place the hotel recommended. It was early and a weekday, so barely anyone was there. I noticed that this basement restaurant had none of the plastic food I so fondly remembered from my time living in Osaka. That served as a great visual aid to identify what food was offered. When we cracked open the menu, I panicked. I couldn't read any of the kanji. Nothing looked familiar. There weren't any printed pictures. It was all on me to get us food, and I had no idea what to do. I called over the waiter, figuring talking with him might get me through this. The man, clearly uncomfortable when I started asking questions, could only recommend the sushi set. "What's good here?" Sushi set. "What are the people in that room having?" Sushi set. "What's your favorite dish here?" A long pause, followed by sushi set. The sushi was good, but I felt defeated. Crushed. Embarrassed. It sucked having all these years of study, and be stymied attempting to talk with a waiter. It wasn't that he had to push the sushi set, but he figured that's what foreigners came to Japan to eat. Sushi. Which is all fine and good, but my inability to get the conversation past that point really shamed me. At that point, this crippling fear took hold, telling me that this would be the sum of my experience in Japan: awkward, half-hearted conversations that amounted to nothing more than a transactional nature. I couldn't let that happen. I would hate myself for spending $3,000 to travel half way around the world just to speak Japanese at a service industry question and answer level. I resolved to talk with more people. To push myself into that uncomfortable zone and do something about my Japanese. I needed to get past the fear and self-loathing. The next night, I went out for a walk, looking for someone to talk to. Starbucks was packed with couples and everyone at Ueno Station was too busy staring into their phones-- truthfully, I was too afraid to approach those people. Even though this was the only time I would ever see or interact with these people, I felt like it'd leave a permanent mark on me. Even when I resolved to do better, the actual execution proved to be too difficult. On the way back, there was a security guard standing alone in front of a bunch of potted plants. At 11pm. Curiosity won out and I stopped and asked him what he was doing.  Guarding the plants, he said, so that no thief comes by and steals them. He was committed to taking his job seriously, but he didn't suspect me as a thief and was friendly enough. I stuck around and asked a million questions -- about his job, what his family life is like, and what hobbies he has. It was awkward at first, but when I explained that I wanted to improve my Japanese, he was more than willing to talk. The guy told me about having to pick up this work after moving down from Fukushima, and how his Korean wife is doing a lot better here than where they lived. I told him of my travel plans, and he gave a few recommendations in the area. By the end of the chat, which lasted 15 or 20 minutes, I felt much better. I could have a conversation after all! After that conversation, I felt in control of my time in Japan. I worried less about what people thought of how I spoke, and as a result my confidence skyrocketed. I would seek out conversation more often, asking store employees questions whenever I could, just to keep the ball rolling. My best encounter was in one of Tokyo's department stores, where on a slow afternoon I struck up a conversation with a young employee selling some British line of heavy fall clothes. We got into a 20-minute discussion about men's suiting, what's available in New York City, and what we like to dress ourselves in. It was great. Not only did we share similar styles, but I barely had to search for words and had no real issue expressing my opinions. There were stumbling blocks later in the trip. I would get tongue-tied, or they didn't have the time to deal with a foreigner, but it didn't faze me. Fear is extremely powerful. It can ruin your plans and stop you from growing in whatever you pursue. But if you can push past the fear of failing, the fear of looking stupid in front of someone, you can make great gains. Love him or hate him, Tim Ferriss had some great words when he spoke at TED. Take a few minutes and watch, see if it resonates with you. Language learning is never easy, but you can't hide behind books and flash cards forever. If you want to get back to where you were, or push yourself in a new direction, talking with someone who is willing to spend the time with you is the most rewarding thing you can possibly do. In this age, it doesn't matter if you live in Grand Forks or San Francisco. The Internet, with Skype and italki, allow you to communicate with people all over the world who can and want to speak their language with you. What's holding you back today?
How I survived my Japanese vacation
I always felt that Japanese was one of those languages that if you didn't maintain constant use of, you're screwed. There's so much to know in terms of vocabulary, kanji, and grammar, that any lapse in practice spells utter d...


Achtung! Fans make Girls und Panzer World of Tanks skins

It looks lordly now
Nov 12
// Josh Tolentino
It looks like armored-warfare-as-feminine-sport anime Girls und Panzer's making a few waves, not just in the moe crowd, but among military nerds as well, particularly players of's free-to-play online tank battle...

Tokyo Sky Tree Town and aquarium are ready for your money

May 14
// Bob Muir
The Tokyo Sky Tree isn't just for TV broadcasting. It's also expected to be a major tourist attraction once it opens to the public on May 22. On May 10, the Japanese media got to check out Tokyo Sky Tree Town, the area surrou...

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