Ukai – The Fascinating Ancient Art of Fishing with Cormorants

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Ukai is a traditional Japanese method of fishing that employs trained cormorants to catch freshwater fish called ‘ayu’. For the past 1,300 years, fishermen along the banks of Nagara River have been spending the summer months catching fish with the help of the highly skilled birds. Some of the other rivers where ukai is practiced include the Hozu River and Uji River.

Fishermen who are skilled at ukai have patronage from the emperor. According to legend, samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga took the ukai fishermen under his wing, conferring upon them the official position of ‘usho’ (Cormorant Fishing Master). He is said to have enjoyed watching ukai in action and vowed to protect the art.

When the famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho witnessed ukai fishing, he wrote a poem to honor the tradition: “Exciting to see/but soon after, comes sadness/the cormorant boats.” In modern times, the master fishermen are still the official Imperial fishermen of the emperor of Japan. The sweetfish (ayu) they catch are sent to the Imperial family several times a year.

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Did You Know Japan Has a Quirky Shrine Dedicated to Curing Hemorrhoids?

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Weird shrines are not uncommon in Japan. In the past we reported about Karube Shrine, where people go to worship breasts, and the Shinto shrines where they bury broken needles in tofu. But the weirdest one we found so far has to be the Kunigami Shrine, in Tochigi Prefecture, that allegedly prevents and cures hemorrhoids.

So how does a shrine manage to cure a painful medical condition? Well, our guess is as good as yours. All we know is that according to an ancient tradition, people who wash their backsides at a nearby river and eat egg offerings are completely cured of hemorrhoids.

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The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei Put Olympic Athletes to Shame

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In the foothills of Mt. Hiei, to the northeast of Kyoto City, lies a huge, 1,200-year old temple complex called Enryakuji. The Tendai-shu monks who inhabit this place are better known to the world as ‘marathon monks’ for their amazing physical feats that put Olympic athletes to shame

Not all the Enryakuji monks are Tendai-shu; only some of them get special permission to participate in the sennichi kaihogyo, or the Thousand Day Challenge – one of the most rigorous spiritual challenges in the world. The trial lasts for seven years and involves walking a distance that is equal to circling the globe once over. During this test of physical and mental endurance, the monk sets on a journey to venerate Fudo-myo-o, the central deity of the Tendai, by visiting a series of religious sites located on Mount Hiei.

The selected monks are called ‘gyoja’ and their challenge consists of seven long years of pilgrimage  to over 250 sites on Mt. Hiei, which is one of the top three sacred places in Japan. During their visits, they need to cover a total of 1,000 long marathons, a feat that seems humanly impossible to accomplish.

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Japan’s Super Speedy Bullet Train Cleaners Have Just Seven Minutes to Do Their Job

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Japan’s shinkansen (bullet train) is one of the fastest in the world, covering a whopping 200 kilometers in just one hour. But few people outside Japan know that the high-speed train service comes with a high-speed cleaning service to match, which ensures that the shinkansen have virtually no delays. The cleaning crew manage to cover every inch of the train’s interior in just seven minutes flat! The cleaners’ performance is so efficient and impressive that it is known in Japan as the ‘7-minute shinkansen theatre’.

TESSEI is the rail service company in charge of keeping the fleet of bullet trains clean when they make their final stop at Tokyo Station. Their employees are responsible for preparing the trains before the next wave of customers arrive, and they have only seven minutes to do it. The manner in which they’ve organized themselves to complete the job is really quite impressive.

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The Japanese Bar Where Waiters Are Princes, Customers Are Princesses and Everyone Is a Girl

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Japan really does have some of the most interesting bars and restaurants that cater to a large variety of customers with strange interests. We’ve heard of restaurants catering to airsoft lovers, offering great discounts to bald patrons, using monkeys as waiters, and even a bar run by a monk. Now we’ve found out about a cross-dressing Tokyo bar that caters only to a female clientele. The waiters are women too, dressed as dashing young princes, while the customers get to be princesses for the day.

The aptly named ‘Bar Prince’ is located in Tokyo’s Nakano ward. They have a strict women-only policy for the staff as well as patrons. The boyish-looking staff don ruffle-trimmed prince outfits and swept-over hairstyles – they’re all crossdressers. Their mission is simple – to make every woman who walks through their doors feel like a princess. They even have a special name for their customers: ‘o-hime-sama’, which, obviously, means princesses.

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This Japanese Water Cake Looks and Tastes Unlike Any Sweet You’ve Tried Before

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It looks like a large drop of water, but it’s actually a cake. This Japanese invention is as delicate as it looks and sounds, but it needs to be consumed in only 30 minutes, after which it will simply turn into a sweet puddle of water.

The water cake looks like a large bowl of jelly without the color, but its makers insist that it’s cake. The strange dish is a variation of the well-known Japanese rice-cake confection, shingen mochi. Mochis are trademarked desserts, only created by the Kinseiken Seika Company. A regular type of shingen mochi is made from a particularly soft type of mochi rice cake, sprinkled with kinako soybean powder and eaten with brown sugar syrup. Traditionally, it is yellow in color, with a sticky and soft jelly-like consistency.

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Japanese Artist Carves Realistic-Looking Lobster Out of Boxwood

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25-year-old Ryosuke Ohtake is a master craftsman who recently tried his hand at ‘jizai okimono’ – the Japanese art of carving realistic wooden animals, complete with movable joints. He created a near-perfect lobster entirely out of boxwood. The sculpture is so life-like that when lifted, its claws, legs and tail move in the exact same way that a real, live lobster would.

A three-minute video clip that shows Ohtake working on the lobster with his various sculpting tools and blocks of wood, has become very popular online. In the video, he lifts the finished sculpture in his hands and shows exactly how each part moves. The details are simply mind-blowing.

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Japanese Actor Who Specializes in Getting Killed by Samurai Has Died More Than 50,000 Times on Screen

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If you’re a Japanese samurai movie buff, you know that there’s always at least one guy who dies in the most peculiar manner. He’s stabbed, or slashed, or sliced with a Samurai sword, and then he twists into weird shapes before he keels over and dies. Well, now you get to know the man himself – Seizo Fukumoto. He’s been dying in Japanese cinema for over 50 years now, and he’s one of the top ‘kirareyaku’ actors – stuntmen who specialize in being killed by the hero samurai.

Being the bad guy who always gets might not sound like much, but Fukumoto says that it’s a crucial part in the movie. “The way my characters die has a huge impact on the impression the lead character gives in a film.” The more ‘cringe-worthy’ the death, the better the hero looks. According to the 71-year-old thespian, a true kirareyaku is “the one who can make them ask, ‘Is he okay?’”

He deliberately adds an awkward grotesqueness to his movements while dying; this is called ‘buzama’ in Japanese. “Whenever we die, we have to do it in a way that is unsightly or clumsy, not graceful,” he explained. “In this buzama, we find beauty. To die in an uncool way is the coolest.”

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Heaven Is in Japan – Cafe Specializes in Mouthwatering Giant Ice-Cream Parfaits

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Cafe Olympic, a small restaurant in Nagasaki, Japan, is better known as ‘Parfait Heaven’. And for good reason – they serve a variety of jumbo-size parfaits that range in height from 1.5 ft. to a whopping 4 ft. tall.

The tallest parfait, the Nagasaki Dream Tower (120 cm), is filled with all kinds of wonderful things – ice cream, ice cream cones, chocolate cake, sherbet, soft serve ice cream, fruit, chiffon cake, coffee jello, whipped cream, corn flakes and even a slice of cheesecake. All these ingredients and more are stuffed into an extremely large parfait glass and topped off with Olympic Rings, to match the name of the restaurant and also mark the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The sinful dessert is served with a giant spoon to reach all the sugary goodness down to the bottom of the glass.

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Expensive Japanese Walking Bicycle Replaces Pedaling with Stepping

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Some inventions are absolute genius, like the Segway, while others are utterly absurd, like this expensive Japanese walking bicycle. It’s a lot like an elliptical cross-trainer that moves. It’s called the Walking Bicycle Club (WBC), and it moves when you pump your legs straight up and down, kind of like walking. It has three wheels and it’s also fitted with an electric motor that assists the user while travelling uphill.

The WBC is available in a range of attractive colors – Brilliant Red, Moegi Green, Champagne Gold and Sakura Pink. It is 1.2 meters long and weighs about 36 kg. The makers – automotive parts manufacturer Katayama Kogyo – said their goal was to create an experience that combines the joy of walking with the speed of riding a bike. The WBC, they claim, can go up to 15mph (24 km/h) and the built-in power assist motor can travel up to 12 miles (20 km) on a single charge.

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Japanese Pub Shaves Prices for Bald Customers

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Bald is beautiful at ‘Otasuke’, a new restaurant in Tokyo that has recently introduced discounts for the follicly challenged. Its management seems to have a soft spot for the bald, so they’ve slashed prices for men struggling with a receding hairline. Located in the Akasaka district in central Tokyo, Otasuke has been making headlines since its grand opening earlier this month.

‘Otasuke’ roughly translates to ‘helping hands’ in the local language. A sign outside the shop declares that the business fully supports ‘hard-working fathers losing their hair’ over their stressful jobs. ‘Be bald, be proud,’ it says. According to owner Yoshiko Toyota, she came up with the idea after volunteering in the efforts to rebuild the Tsunami-struck Tohoku region. When she saw how hard-hit the area was, she wanted to find a way to support the white-collared workers who are in turn helping out in Tohoku by driving Japan’s economy.

“I was thinking of some way to help support salarymen, but without a theme the idea was lame,” she said. “Then one day I was walking downtown and kept seeing bald guys. That was it.” Baldness affects 26 percent of Japanese men, and stress is a major factor. 48-year-old Shiro Fukai, a customer at the restaurant, said: “When you first start to go bald, it’s a huge shock, no question. Japanese businessmen have it really tough. The stress accumulates, then your hair begins to fall out.”

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Obsession with Plastic Surgery Leaves Japanese Idol Looking Like Creature from Harry Potter

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Rina Nanase, a 25-year-old Japanese idol has put herself through so much plastic surgery that she now sort of looks like Dobby the Elf from the Harry Potter films. The resemblance is uncanny – the large eyes, long nose, and pointed chin. The weirdest part is the once beautiful girl is actually proud of her new look…

In her original photographs, Rina looks like a sweet, normal young girl with a cherubic face. But in the past year, she underwent all sorts of transformations – all of which she chronicled on her Twitter account – that she seems like a totally different person. She has made several changes to her eyes, nose and chin that left her looking strange to many of her former fans. Still, Ms. Nanase was surprised to receive such negative reactions to her facial enhancements, as she doesn’t seem to think her looks have changed that much.

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Japanese Dress Rental Business Helps Men Feel Like Princesses

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Mary Mariee is a Japanese company that rents out women’s formal wear. But they’ve recently tapped into a rather new market – men who want to be princesses for a day. For only about $600, the company offers men a chance to dress up and be photographed in elegant wedding attire or ball gowns of their choice. The special package is in so much demand that the shop has dressed over 100 men so far.

The shop, located in Chubu, central Japan, boasts of an extensive collection of women’s outfits – ranging from kimonos to white wedding gowns. At first, they ran a special package for women who wanted fancy photographs of themselves. But soon, they started to receive several enquiries from men as well. The response was so overwhelming that they decided to create an exclusive package for men. “We concluded that men want to feel like princesses too,” said store manager Hitomi Iseki.

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The Tame Deer of Miyajima Island Are Starving to Death

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The deer of Japan’s Miyajima Island are quite tame – they freely roam the city’s streets and almost entirely depend on humans for food. For several years, they survived purely on the crackers and other food that tourists fed them. But in a bid to reduce their population, the government decided to ban the feeding of the deer. And now the poor animals are almost starving to death.

At one point, these small, red-brown deer were revered and worshipped by the locals. After WWII, when the number of deer had reduced greatly, people decided to invite them out of the wild and offer them food. Slowly, the deer became an international tourist attraction – people arrived by the thousands to see the tame deer of Miyajima. And of course, they wanted to feed the animals themselves. Several vendors sold rice crackers that the tourists could feed to the deer.

During this time, many reports suggested that the deer still had wild tendencies. Sign boards warned tourists that teasing the deer or getting to close to them could lead to injury. Not too long ago, a tourist blogged about her experience feeding the creatures – when her friend couldn’t get the crackers out of the packet soon enough, a deer attacked her and bit her on the knee. The girl retaliated by slapping the offender’s nose and managed to infuriate the locals, as the deer are sacred and should not be harmed.

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Dinner with a Bang at Tokyo’s Airsoft Restaurant

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EA Bar is a new themed restaurant in Tokyo that caters exclusively to airsoft lovers. Pronounced ‘air’, the restaurant has its own airsoft shooting range and a very impressive collection of airsoft guns, fashioned after lethal weapons. That’s not all – the theme extends to the cocktail menu, with all the drinks named after guns. And, to top it all off, the food is decorated with tiny army action figures.

Airsoft guns, which are replica firearms with plastic or environmentally safe pellets, have become very popular in Japan. This explains the restaurant’s success – lovers of the sport don’t need to drive out all the way to rural fields to fire their guns. After a tiring day at work, they get to unwind at a shooting range in the heart of the city, and enjoy a nice hot meal at the same time.

EA is located in Kichijoji, a posh Tokyo neighborhood. Customers aren’t bound by a shooting-related dress code, given that the restaurant’s interiors are modern and chic. Among the various dishes served are pasta, risotto and a selection of curries. Some of the drinks on the cocktail menu include a chocolate liqueur called Glock 18c, a SPAS12 with absinthe, and a vodka-based Thomson.

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