Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia manga covers

Whenever you hear about Koyoharu Gotoge’s Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, you tend to hear about the records the series has smashed in Japan since the anime adaptation aired. From taking over entire top 20 Oricon manga charts to being one of Japan’s most highly grossed movies ever to influencing political campaigns, Demon Slayer is a once-in-a-lifetime hit that captivated an entire nation. (Oh, and Gotoge is the 1st mangaka ever selected for the Time100 Next list)

However, outside of Japan, Demon Slayer isn’t as popular as one of its other Shonen Jump brethren, Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia. Demon Slayer still sells well and fans love the series over here in The United States, but manga sales charts are filled with more My Hero Academia volumes than Demon Slayer volumes.

I’ve been thinking about both series’ popularity in the context of the East versus West dynamic.

As cultural experts will tell you, Western principles are built on a sense of individualism. You deserve the freedom to choose your own path. You can make it on your own. No one should get in the way of what you want. Eastern principles are all about collectivism. Make sacrifices for the prosperity of the group. Don’t do anything that hurts other people around you. The world doesn’t revolve around you.

When I think about My Hero Academia, it makes sense that Western fans love it a bit/lot more than Demon Slayer. We all want to be heroes of our story. We want to be more than who we are. It’s about youth who are focusing on their own growth and getting away from their comfort zones to find new opportunities to become stronger.

Demon Slayer isn’t about being a hero. It’s about a guy who wanted to make his …continue reading


A good beer has character.

Despite the violent intensity of the earthquake which struck the Tohoku area on 13 February, it fortunately looks as if no lives have been lost. However, damage was widespread on the streets as well as in homes and businesses.

One such business was the Happy Food RE Fanz supermarket in Date City, Fukushima, where the quake registered as a Magnitude 6. A part of their ceiling collapsed and several items were shaken off their shelves, including cans of beer and various alcopops which were dented as a result.

Even without natural disasters, dented cans are a regular occurrence and normally get placed in a special “damaged goods” discount bin. However, the clerk in charge of the liquor section at this supermarket, Yohei Sato, felt they deserved better after all they’ve been through.

In the center of the section stood each banged-up can proudly with the following sign:

“These are the heroes who bravely stood up to the earthquake. I don’t want them to be treated like fallen and damaged products that sell at a discount. They look different but they have delicious alcohol on the inside. Please take them with you and let them live out their lives as delicious alcohol.”

Underneath the sign is a drawing of a wounded can shouting; “We will not be beaten by the earthquake!!”

These drinks were all being sold at their regular price in honor of their survival, and despite this, they’ve been selling well. One woman in her 80s who was interviewed while buying a heroic beer told NHK, “The stuff inside is the same, and once you drink it you throw away the can anyway, so I think …continue reading


Royal Australian Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and United States Navy warships sail in formation during the Pacific Vanguard 2020 exercise, 11 September 2020 (Photo: Reuters/ABACAPRESS).

Author: Yuki Tatsumi, Stimson Center

Japan’s 2021 defence budget is set to be its largest ever, continuing a near decade-long trend set in motion by former prime minister Shinzo Abe. Under Abe’s watch, Japan has increased its defence budget every year since 2005. The uptick in spending has continued since Abe left office in September 2020 — last December, the Ministry of Defense released its revised budget request for the 2021 fiscal year totalling approximately 5.3 trillion yen (US$50.2 billion).

This upward trend has at times been sensationalised as a return to militarism, with critics pointing to new capabilities introduced during Abe’s tenure. Recent examples include the indigenous development of long-range surface-to-air missiles and other ‘standoff capabilities’ to replace the cancelled Aegis Ashore missile defence program. The Aegis system will be replaced with destroyers and long-range cruise missiles based on the surface-to-air missiles already in use by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

The reality is that Japan’s defence budget now and under prime minister Abe has remained below one per cent of GDP. If one excludes expenses related to relocating US forces in Okinawa, replacing and maintaining the Japanese equivalent to Air Force One, and making the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and Ministry of Defense more resilient to natural disasters, Japan’s defence budget did not recover to the 2006 level until 2018.

Increases in nominal defence spending since 2013 have been necessary to pay for several big-ticket items, such as enhancing the SDF’s amphibious capabilities and creating more robust space and cyberspace defence systems. Spending increases were also necessary to phase out F-2 fighter jets with next-generation F-X aircraft, and most recently to replace Aegis Ashore. This hardly meets the sensational characterisations of Japanese defence spending. Rather, these moves reflect decisions to …continue reading


One of the great misconceptions I had upon moving to Japan was that its children were perfectly self-disciplined from birth. I pictured tiny automatons, listening to their parents with respect, quietly following all the rules with innate obedience and precision.

From our early trips on the trains, this certainly seemed to be the case. Children younger than my two-year-old son sat in silence and stillness on the plush train seats, whereas my child treated the captive audience of the car as his own private performance arena: dancing, jumping, doling out charming smiles to the indulgent passengers who (thankfully) never truly seemed to mind his antics. While I whispered urgent reprimands, the Japanese mothers seemed to radiate calm serenity, their children seated beside them in well-behaved glory.

My son wasn’t behaving badly, exactly. There was simply an obvious cultural difference in how he was expected to behave and what his Japanese peers were taught. I began to wonder: how exactly are Japanese families disciplining their children? How are they eliciting such perfect behavior in the first place?

Managing “Ma no Nisai” (The Terrible Two’s)

I wasn’t the only American mother asking myself this question. Finding a misbehaving Japanese toddler became something of a game with other international mom friends whenever we took our children to parks and museums. If we caught sight of Japanese toddlers having an elusive tantrum in public, we would sigh to ourselves in relief. It wasn’t just our children. It was everyone’s. Yet the Japanese parents seemed not to intervene at all. The child would sit on the ground, crying and screaming at the playground or park, and the parents seemed relatively unconcerned.

The child would sit on the …continue reading


The long goodbye has been a long time coming for Fukushima’s Akaiwa Station.

If you’re waiting for a train in Tokyo, you probably don’t have very long to wait. With so many people needing to get across and around the city at all times of the day, a few minutes of patience is really all you need until the next train pulls up and stops at the platform to let passengers on and off.

But it’s a very different story at Akaiwa Station in Fukushima Prefecture, where the last time a train made a stop was four years ago.

Akaiwa sits high in the mountains in the north part of Fukushima City, not far from the borderline with Yamanashi Prefecture. Built in 1910, its secluded location and rugged surrounding scenery have earned it the nickname “The Unexplored Station,” and it’s become an aspirational destination for rail fans.


— すこんぶ (@Sukonbu115yb) January 20, 2021

However, in the century since its opening, the local demand for rail travel has dwindled down to next to nothing. While Akaiwa used to be an intermediary point for travelers making their way through the eastern half of Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, faster trains mean less reason to stop in the area, and a shrinking local resident population has further cut down on passenger numbers. Currently, there are only three homes within 30 minutes of the station.

とうとう3月で奥羽本線 赤岩駅が廃止ということで写真を探していました( ´-` )


— しらたま (@siratama_net) January 20, 2021

So while the line that Akaiwa is on, the JR Ou Main Line, still has trains running on it, the last one to stop there did so back in March of 2017. In addition, trains stopped making winter stops at Akaiwa all the way back in December …continue reading


Earthquakes have always been largely a guessing game, and this one is no different.

At about 11 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, 13 February, a 7.3 Magnitude earthquake hit the Northeast Region (Tohoku) of Japan. It was the most violent quake Japan had seen in a while but the eeriest part is that it was said to be an aftershock of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake that occurred almost exactly ten years earlier.

It doesn’t seem crazy that an aftershock could be so delayed since ten years is literally a blink of the eye in geological terms, and some major quakes around the world have reportedly caused aftershocks that continue for centuries. Still, how was this one determined to be an aftershock so quickly?

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), who issues earthquake warnings and reports, has three criteria when determining which quakes are aftershocks:

1) Earthquakes directly caused by large earthquakes
2) Earthquakes triggered by situations caused by large earthquakes
3) All earthquakes around the epicenter of a large earthquake, 210,000 square-kilometers (81,000 square-miles) in the case of the Tohoku Earthquake

To know more about what that means, we need to understand the basic mechanics behind the the Tohoku earthquake. It was caused by the slow movement of the tectonic plate under the Pacific ocean sliding underneath the plate on whose edge Japan sits. “Sliding” is putting it mildly, however, as massive amounts of pressure are constantly being applied to miles of jagged rock.

▼ A 3-D diagram of the various plates grinding against each other right next to Japan

Every once in a while too much pressure builds up where these plates meet and something’s got to give, resulting in the sudden and powerful movements of earthquakes. However, tectonic plates can be hard to envision, so instead let’s apply the JMA’s criteria to this video of a …continue reading


You’ll need more than hot water to fully appreciate the beauty of this towel.

In Japan, you can buy a wide variety of souvenirs designed to suit a wide variety of tastes, and if your tastes veer towards magic and art appreciation, the Fushigi Towel is for you.

▼ Fushigi Towel, made in Japan.

Fushigi is a word used to mean “mysterious” or “wonderful” and the towel is both these things, plus more. Available in a range of designs, these towels tend to feature women–in fact, we searched for a towel with a man on it and couldn’t find one–and they’re often inspired by traditionally dressed “bijin” or “beauties” from famous ukiyo-e prints.

Bijin-ga (literally “beautiful women picture”) is a term commonly used for Japanese art that contains images of beautiful women, especially those seen in ukiyo-e prints from the 17th to 19th centuries. This particular towel we’re using today has “Nami Ura Bijin” printed on it, which translates to “Woman with Wave Behind“.

It’s a gorgeous print, and one that wouldn’t look out of place framed and hung on a wall. However, there’s another secret to be unveiled behind the beauty, and it’s not just the wave behind her.

The secret is revealed once the towel becomes wet, as it would when being used to dry the body. To get the best results, however, the towel can be soaked in hot water.

Once soaked, the magic happens, as part of the image disappears to reveal another side to the woman in the picture…

▼ Her kimono is magically washed away, revealing …continue reading


We taste a tonkotsu ramen 20 years in the making.

Earlier this month, Japanese ramen chain Ichiran made news when they announced they would be releasing their first-ever instant ramen. Over 20 years in development, the new noodles promised to capture everything we love about the chain’s tonkotsu pork-broth ramen, but would they really be up to delivering such a momentous task?

This was something we were curious to find out, so we stopped by our nearest branch when the new noodles were released on 15 February and picked up a pack to go. We were lucky we arrived early because the product proved to be so popular a lot of places sold out later that day.

One of the things that really piqued our interest about the instant ramen was the fact that it contained the chain’s secret hot sauce–a sauce so special only four people in the entire company know how to make it.

▼ Those four individuals are said to have joined forces to specially prepare the sauce for the new instant version.

Our expectations for the instant ramen were high as we opened up the pack to find three sachets: one containing the special hot sauce, one containing powder for the broth, and another containing liquid for the broth.

Following the instructions, we added the sachets to the noodles inside the bowl and poured boiling water over them. After a short four-minute wait, we peeled off the entire lid and were greeted with a golden, glistening liquid tinged with mouthwatering globules of pork fat, all good indications of a good, rich tonkotsu broth.

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Predicted dates for first and full bloom for cities across Japan.

Japan’s cherry blossoms are captivatingly beautiful and culturally significant. Oh, and they’re also extremely fickle.

While the sakura always bloom in spring, the exact timing tends to shift slightly from year to year. Even worse, the flowers are short-lived, losing their petals within about two weeks of their first opening.

Thankfully, Japanese meteorological organization Weathernews puts out a detailed region-by-region forecast, and revises it repeatedly as we get closer to the sakura’s arrival. They’ve just put out their latest update, and Tokyo’s blossoming date has been shifted back one day from the previous prediction, with cherry blossoms now expected to begin opening in the capital on March 19. That’s still earlier than usual, but five days slower than last year’s extremely early blossoming.

▼ Predicted dates for the start of cherry blossom blooming. Clockwise from Tokyo (東京) in the lower right, the listed cities are Nagoya, Osaka, Kochi, Kagoshima, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Nagano, Niigata, Akita, Sapporo, Kushiro, Aomori, and Sendai.

However, even more important than when the sakura will begin to blossom is when they’ll reach full bloom, because if you’re planning an excursion to go see them that’s when you’ll want to schedule it. For Tokyo, full bloom is forecast for March 28, conveniently a Sunday.

● Predicted sakura opening/full-bloom dates
Akita: April 14/April 18
Aomori: April 17/April 21
Fukuoka: March 21/April 1
Hiroshima: March 23/April 2
Kagoshima: March 23/April 5
Kanazawa: March 29/April 3
Kobe: March 27/April 4

Kochi: March 21/ March 29
Kumamoto: March 22/March 31
Kushiro: Mat 9/May 12
Kyoto: March 24/April 1
Matsuyama: March 23/April 4
Nagano: April 5/April 11
Nagoya: March 22/April 1

<img src="" alt="" width="640" height="476" srcset=" …continue reading