The evolution of techniques for chasing Japan’s kogao ideal.

They say the only constant is change, and that’s definitely true for fashion and beauty trends. Especially in a country like Japan where people take so much pride in their personal appearance, the definition of the “in” look is always evolving, and Japanese cosmetics maker Kate recently took a look back at Japan’s major makeup trends of the past 25 years.

The journey begins in the late 1990s with the “suntanned gyaru” look which skyrocketed in popularity as the fashionable young ladies of Japan drew inspiration from J-pop recording star Namie Amuro. But they weren’t just applying bronzer in admiration of the tropical tanning properties of the sunshine in Amuro’s home prefecture of Okinawa, but also to help achieve the coveted kogao look. Kogao literally translates to “small face” and refers to defined yet delicate facial characteristics, and many felt that the bronze foundation that was in vogue in this period helped bring their facial features visually closer together.

The next stop on the cosmetics timeline is the late 2000s, with the “mote OL” (“popular office lady”) look. The objective here was to make the rest of the face look smaller by making the eyes bigger. Upward-angling eyebrows and volume-boosting mascara worked towards that effect, while foundations went back to lighter shades.

The early 2010s came with a sudden boom in the popularity of Korean pop music in Japan, and with it increased admiration for K-pop idols’ makeup techniques. This became known as the “oruchan makeup” style, coming from an approximated pronunciation of …continue reading


Melon bread or train tickets, which can we buy here?

Japan is home to many quirky train stations, like ones that have stationmaster cats, or ones that have no entrances or exits.

But recently we heard about Sekiguchi Station, which has a reputation for looking exactly like a Lawson convenience store. Was this a strange coincidence? A case of mistaken identity? Or something deeper?

Since we happened to live nearby the station, we decided to pop on over to Sekiguchi Station to investigate it ourselves. Seki, known for its handcrafted swords and handcrafted sword ice cream, is in the countryside of Gifu Prefecture, which is already pretty rural. Getting to the station requires a bunch of transfers to progressively smaller stations and train lines, until…

▼ …you arrive at the station shelter in all of its glory.

▼ Seki Station is so small that it doesn’t have a station attendant, or even a ticket gate.
You take a ticket when you get on the train, and pay when you leave it.

▼ Here’s the schedule, with the train only coming through 21 times per day in each direction.
Don’t miss your train, because we’re not in Shibuya Station anymore!

▼ A few steps down is another, smaller shelter.
And then, across the metal fence is…

▼ A Lawson! …continue reading

In the US, 2020 is called the year of Karen. According to Wiki, “Karen is a pejorative term for women seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal. “ A bit different from “Karen” is the Japanese 自粛警察or jishuku keisatsu. Jishuku keisatsu means “police who monitor if people are practicing self-imposed restraints.” As a matter of fact, 自粛警察 was one of the most popular words in 2020.

On January 7, 2021, Japan declared (宣言するsengensuru) a state of emergency (非常事態hijojitai) in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures for the second time. However, the declaration relies mostly on voluntary (自発的な jihatutekina) compliance (従うことshitagaukoto) as the past national experience had led the nation into war. So the government can only suggest strongly not to do this or that. Some take this as orders (命令meirei), while others take it as strong suggestions. The latter (後者 kousha) goes out for a drink or two or three. While some people in the former (前者 zensha) become 自粛警察 trying to control the latter group with their own sense of justice (正義 seigi).

自粛警察 use posts and letters to threaten (脅すodosu) some business owners anonymously as seen in the video news here.

For the Japanese, rules (規則ルール kisoku, ru-ru) are not grey but black and white. It cotradicts (矛盾するmujunsuru) their importance of ambiguity (曖昧さ aimaisa) to avoid (避けるsakeru) conflicts (対立tairitsu) and uncomfortable feelings. Rules are clear. Rules make it easy to live because you do not have to think. But you lose the ability to think. Here is an interesting case when considering what rules mean to the Japanese.

The most recent declaration of a state of emergency in January in Tokyo requested restaurants to stop serving alcoholic beverages by 7 pm, and to close by 8 pm …continue reading


King of the Monsters is also King of the Quads.

Following a COVID-19-related delay, Godzilla is set to return to the big screen next month for his marquee matchup with some big gorilla in Godzilla vs. Kong. But the King of the Monsters is headlining two new projects this spring, and the second is anime TV series Godzilla Singular Point (also known as Godzilla S.P.).

Compared to the serious action angles of Godzilla vs. Kong and CG anime film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, or the somber tone of Shin Godzilla, Godzilla S.P. looks ready to embrace the kaiju genre’s potential for goofy fun. Even old-school giant robot Jet Jaguar shows up in the above preview! But it wasn’t until today that we got a look at what the S.P. Godzilla will look like, and now that his design has been revealed, all eyes are on his thighs.

Yes, it would seem that in addition to his usual imperviousness to bullets and missiles, this Godzilla is also immune to any and all temptations to skip leg day. The tusk-like protruding fangs are also a dynamic touch, but it’s this Godzilla’s physique that really sets him apart, especially with this pose that makes him look like an offensive lineman in the NFL (mental note: pitch “kaiju football” as the next Godzilla project).

If you’re wondering who to thank for those super-thick thighs, the credit goes to Eiji Yamamori, a veteran anime artist who’s resume is filled with Studio Ghibli credits. Yamamori has served on a key animator for every Ghibli theatrical feature since 1994’s Pom Poko, a stretch that includes Princess Mononke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle, and he was also a key …continue reading


Encountering this Frappuccino is all down to timing…and bad luck!

Starbucks never rests in Japan, where they’re constantly adding new limited-edition Frappuccinos to the menu, hopping from seasonal delights to new combinations so often it can be hard to keep up with them all.

Not all Frappuccinos are made equal, though, and when one becomes so popular it sells out, customers can be left feeling crushed at the missed opportunity to try the limited-time flavour. However, it’s not all bad luck, because when a limited-edition Frappuccino sells out, customers get the option to order an off-the-menu Frappuccino, and this is such a rare occurrence it’s been dubbed the “Phantom Frappuccino“.

▼ There’s a silver lining to the “sold out” signs when you’re at a Starbucks in Japan.

Currently, Starbucks has a couple of Valentine’s Day Frappuccinos on the menu in Japan, one called the Melty Chocolate and the other called Chocolate on the Chocolate. They’ve proven to be so popular that a number of stores have already sold out, but when one menu item disappears, the phantom menu appears, and that means customers have the option to order the Hojicha Cream Frappuccino.

This Frappuccino was on the menu as a seasonal exclusive at the beginning of last year, and now it’s become the phantom Frappuccino of the season, much to the delight of customers like our very own K. Masami, who loved its depth of flavour, thanks to the star ingredient, roasted green tea.

▼ Previously, the Coffee and Cream Frappuccino with Coffee Cream Swirl was on standby as the Phantom Frappuccino.

…continue reading


From the relatable to the amoo-sing, there’re idioms for Japanese language learners of all skill levels.

Based on the lunar calendar and a 12-year cycle, the Chinese zodiac plays an important role in multiple Asian countries. Rather than interpreting constellations, like the Western horoscope, the Chinese zodiac prescribes attributes to each year in its cycle that cover a wide range of topics, such as one’s personality and life events. Japan celebrates the start of the new year on January 1, when it also gets a head start on the upcoming Chinese zodiac animal. With celebrations for the Lunar New Year now underway across Asian countries and communities, it’s the Year of the Ox all over, so to celebrate we’re introducing five Japanese idiomatic expressions which feature the stubborn but dependable ox (or cow, since the Japanese language uses the same word for both of them).

1. Gyuuin bashoku — drink like an ox, eat like a horse

Ever ate way more than you needed to just because you can? Like how an ox drinks water and how a horse demolishes a pile of hay, this saying is the perfect way to summarize that you’re eating past your stomach’s limit. If your waistband suddenly feels a little too tight and you want to use this phrase, simply attach the verb shita (“did”) to declare “gyuuin bashoku shita” and revel in all the gluttonous glory.

▼ Don’t mind me… itadakimasu!

2. Kyuugyuu ichimou — nine oxen, one hair

Alternately kyuugyuu no ichimou, …continue reading


It’s…a little different that we were expecting.

The online buzz has been all about Clubhouse, the social media app in which people use live audio chat to meet and exchange ideas. The fervor is only heightened by the fact that it’s an invitation-only system.

Even in Japan, where the name of the app is rendered as “kurabu hausu,” it has quickly become THE online place for discourse and networking. As luck would have it, our very own Takashi Harada has gotten his foot in the virtual door of this highly exclusive meeting place.

He first searched “kurabu hausu” and came to the download page, judging by the huge number of five-star reviews he knew he was in the right place. This must have also been why those sea chanties were trending a while back.

Next, Takashi tried to think of a way to get an invite, but to his surprise the “go to house” option was already unlocked in the app, and before he knew it, he was in!

…continue reading


Celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan

If you have been living in Japan for a while now, you might have noticed that the shops here are really on top of the holidays. No sooner do the clocks strike 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 25 than the Christmas trees turn into New Year’s decorations, which then change to ogre masks faster than you can say mamemaki (bean throwing) for setsubun.

But if you regularly shop in places like Loft or Tokyu Hands, you might have noticed another display slowly taking over retail spaces: Valentine’s Day. Rows and rows of gift boxes, wax paper, ribbons and the like in every shade, plus veritable mountains of chocolates, sprinkles and other ingredients to tease over eager crowds of women.

Two kinds of chocolate

Valentine’s is celebrated differently in Japan than in most countries overseas. Here, women prepare chocolates or other sweets for the object of their affection, as well as for the other important people in their lives.

Some, like giri choco (obligatory chocolates, the term for chocolates given out of obligation to others) are usually store-bought and, while quite nice, not something to get very excited over. Many women give these to their male co-workers, bosses and even their fathers and brothers.

On the other hand, honmei choco (true love chocolates), are only given to your crush, boyfriend, husband or someone to whom you want to confess your love. These tend to be home-made, but can also be purchased at luxury chocolate shops, high-end department stores or even imported.

You may be asking yourself: what do the men do in return? Well, you’ll have to wait until next month to see a return — specifically Mar. 14, or White Day. It can be a nerve-wracking …continue reading


Source: Tokyo Times
Japanese nationalists at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on National Foundation Day in the snow

Ten years ago, I had the good fortune of wandering over to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine at just the right time, on just the right day, and just as the rain very briefly turned to snow. The shot below is my favourite from those fortuitous few minutes, and should you want to, several more from the same set can be seen here.

Since then, February 11th, National Foundation Day, has been a noted day in my diary, and I’ve been back to see the same spectacle almost every single year. Of course it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever get a series of photos that match those first ones, but there’s no harm in trying, and anyway, despite my utter distaste for what these uniformed nationalists stand for, I find the whole thing absolutely fascinating. I also have a grudging respect for them, as there’s none of the noise and bombast that is all too often an integral part of such gatherings. Instead, they quietly march up to the shrine, very solemnly pay their respects, and then depart en masse in a similarly restrained manner.

This year was no different, but in regards photography, the low winter sun and resultant shadows made shooting difficult, so this is the best I got. A shot I like, but at the same time it’s not all that different from others I’ve taken.

With that in mind then, it seemed like a good idea to add another shot from yesterday, as well as a couple of previously unseen images from two years ago. Photographs that document some of the other people who tend to make an appearance on February 11th.

To be fair, their behaviour is equally respectful, but compared to the main group, I really don’t know what to make of them. So here they …continue reading