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Japan Holds National Hole Digging Competition

Japanese are known across the globe for their quirky contests, and the All-National Hole-Digging Contest is right up there with the wackiest.

This yearly event takes place at the beginning of February, at the Narita Dream Dairy Farm, just east of Tokyo. This year, over a thousand people from all over Japan showed up for a chance to win the coveted Golden Shovel award. There are a lot of families and groups of friends, but the most numerous are those who are ‘professionals’, who dig for a living, such as gas company workers or those who deal with the water supply.” says a public relation official of the offbeat competition.

Participants grouped in around 200 teams had 30 minutes to dig as deep as possible, without throwing dirt in their competitors’ holes. But while depth is important in such an event, contenders are also judged on the creativity of their hole, and the originality of their digging suites. So while some tried to dig as fast as they could, others preferred a different approach. For example, one of the teams used the dirt they dug up to build a small pyramid next to the hole.

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Aokigahara Forest – The Suicide Woods of Mount Fuji

Referred to as “the perfect place to die” in Wataru Tsurumui’s bestselling book – The Complete Manual of Suicide – Aokigahara is a thick, dark forest located at the base of Mount Fuji, famous as a popular suicide spot.

No one knows exactly how many bodies go undiscovered among the trees of Aokigahara forest, but the ones uncovered so far have already earned this place an eerie reputation. In 2002 alone, 78 bodies were located in Aokigahara, and by 2006, another 16 suicides were reported. Some of the victims even carried copies of Tsurumui’s book with them, which makes this even creepier. The whole place is dotted with signs that read “please reconsider!” or “please consult the police before you decide to die!” but these have little power on those determined to die here.

“We’ve got everything here that points to us being a death spot. Perhaps we should just promote ourselves as ‘Suicide City’ and encourage people to come here,” says the mayor of Aokigahara exasperated by the high number of suicides registered in the area. Locals claim they can always tell who is going into the forest to admire its natural beauty, and who isn’t planning on ever coming back. They say part of the reason people decide to commit suicide in Aokigahara forest is because they want to die at the foot of the sacred Mt. Fuji and because it’s so dense and thick that sounds from just a few kilometers inside can’t be heard outside the woods.

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The Wonderful World of Japanese Manhole Cover Art

Found across nearly 95% of Japan’s 1,780 municipalities, custom manhole covers have become an important part of national culture.

The history of manhole cover art can be traced back to the 1980s, when cities began making custom covers with designs inspired by the region’s cultural identity (mythology, history, culture, etc.). Every one of the over 6,000 custom manhole cover across Japan reflects the uniqueness of each city, keeping true to the country’s reputation for aesthetic sense.

Have a look at some of the most beautiful custom manhole covers spotted across Japan:

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LED Smiles – The Latest in Japanese Fashion

They make people look like they’ve been chewing on glow sticks, but the LED smiles created by designers Motoi Ishibashi and Daito Manabe are the new rage in Japan.

Originally created as an experiment, the LED smile is currently used in a commercial for the winter sale of a popular Japanese clothing store, and are quickly becoming one of the most sought-after fashion accessories in Japan. LED smiles are easily fixed to one’s teeth and glow different colors when you smile. Best used in the dark, these unusual gadgets change color wirelessy, through a computer interface.

Although LED smiles aren’t yet available for purchase, Ishibashi and Manabe are currently offering workshops across Japan, teaching people how to create their own.

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Tottori Sand Dunes – Japan’s Unique Desert Formation

Many people will tell you there are no deserts in Japan, but while the Tottori Sand Dunes may not be the size of the Sahara, they sure look a lot like a desert to me.

The reason most people don’t refer to the Tottori Sand Dunes as a desert has to do with the amount of rainfall in the area. Japan is known for its humidity and rain, and although summer temperatures in the sand dunes exceeds 60 degrees Celsius, t gets far too much rain to qualify as a real desert. Regardless of their technical classification, the Tottori Sand Dunes are one of the strangest sights in Japan, and one of its most popular tourist attractions.

Stretching along the coast east of Tottori City, in the Tottori Prefecture, the Tottori Sand Dunes measure 2 kilometers from North to South and around 16 kilometers from East to West. They have existed for over 100,000 years, and research suggests they were formed from  the sediments brought down from the Chukogu Mountains by the Sendai River, collected by the ocean currents and prevailing winds off the Sea of Japan.

The highest of the Tottori Sand Dunes measure around 90 meters high, and thanks to the frequent rains,they have slopes of up to 40 degrees steep, making them a favorite destinations for sand boarding enthusiasts. The best time to visit this odd place is early in the morning, before other groups of tourists have a chance to trample over the sand ripples, but moonlight walks across the dunes is also an unforgettable experience. During the summer afternoons, the exposed sand reaches temperatures of up to 65 degrees Celsius, which makes barefoot walking quite pleasant.

The Tottori Sand Dunes are not the only strange sand dunes in the world. The Dune of Pyla, in France is actually surrounded by acres of green forest.

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New Sega Toylet Lets You Play with Your Pee

The SEGA Corporation has released a wacky toilet prototype, called SEGA Toylet, that lets you play video games with your urine stream. Just when you thought Japanese toilets couldn’t get any weirder, right?

Since the conventional gaming industry is getting pretty crowded these days, Japanese video gaming giant decided to try its luck in a whole new, untapped niche – toilet gaming. It actually isn’t s stupid as it sounds; whether they try to clean the toilet bowl with their stream, or aim it at a certain point, for some reason guys can’t help play with their urine stream, so why not capitalize on that?

The SEGA Toylet features a pressure sensor strategically placed in the public urinal, and a small display that shows the data from the sensor in the form of video games. So far, SEGA has come up with four games for their toilet entertainment system:

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Kobe Luminarie – Japan’s Festival of Light

Kobe Luminarie is an extraordinary light festival that takes place every December, in commemoration of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

The first edition Kobe Luminarie took place in December of 1995, as a memorial to the lives lost in the terrible earthquake of January 17. It was entitled “Dreams and Light” and was a message of hope that two and a half million people came to see, on the first day. Following the success of the first festival, Kobe Luminarie became a yearly event that celebrates Kobe’s remarkable recovery from disaster.

Various light decorations are created from millions of small light bulbs and LEDs, from bright arches to citadels and whatever else Italian designer Valerio Festi and his team decide on. Since the name of the festival comes from the plural of the Italian “luminaria” -which means light decoration – the decision of employing an Italian team must not have been incidental. Every year, the theme of Kobe Luminarie changes, and that has people from all over the world coming back year after year, to see the new light structures. Approximately five million people attend the Kobe Luminarie every year.

Apart from the beautiful light structures, another impressive aspect of Kobe Luminarie is that it relies on its audience to keep going. Visitors support the event by putting coins in the donation boxes set up around the brightly lit structures, and this assures the funding for next year’s festival. A great way to show appreciation, considering the entrance if free of charge…

Just to be clear, Kobe Luminarie has nothing to do with Christmas, despite the common colorful-lights theme. This year, the festival of light took place between December 2-13, and was named “Il cuore nella luce” (The heart in the light).

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Only in Japan – Love Doll Brothels Are Bustling

Some people tend to compare Japanese Love Dolls with regular western sex dolls, but in reality, they are on a whole other level. Believe it or not, people actually pay big money to sleep with a doll, at the bustling love doll brothels across Japan.

The first Japanese love dolls were created 30 years ago, so that people with disabilities could enjoy some female companionship, but they quickly became an alternative for healthy men simply to shy to enjoy sleeping with real women. A lot of Japanese men are obsessed with anime and manga girls, and these realistic love dolls gave them the chance to actually fulfill their fantasies of spending some time with their favorite characters. Some have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying dozens of high-end love dolls, made of silicon, and feel much more comfortable in their presence than they would in that of a real woman. They don’t nag, they never complain and they don’t cheat. Read More »

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Yaen-koen Park

Even though the name of this park might not sound very familiar you’ve probably heard about the Snow Monkeys of Japan.

The Jigokudani Yaen-koen (Hell Valley Wild Monkey Park) is located in the Nagano mountains and since it was opened, in 1964, this park has been the attraction of tourists from all over the world, eager to see the famous snow monkeys.

The Japanese Macaques (Macaca Fuscata) are monkeys native to northern Japan and very much used to being around people. Even so, the park’s officials recommend that you shouldn’t try  touching them or even looking directly into their eyes, as this is considered, in the monkey society, a sign of enmity.

They are the most north-living species of primate, able to survive temperatures of below -15 °C. Their bodies are covered in a brown-gray coat of fur and they have red skin on their face, hands and bottom. Although they sometimes spend their time in the mountains, they just love bathing and swimming in the hot springs. In the park you can sometimes find about 200 monkeys enjoying the hot water of Japanese onsen in the spring and especially during Japan’s extremely cold winters.

The sight of monkeys in hot water with snow falling on their heads is particularly beautiful.

The Jigokudani park is located in the center of Japan, on the valley of the Yokoyu River, in a harsh environment where snow is present for about four months, reason enough to be named Hell Valley, although the monkeys seem to love this place.


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Japan’s Amazing Dekotora Trucks

Known as Dekotora, Decotora, or simply as Japanese art trucks, these incredible masterpieces on four wheels have become a symbol of Japan.

Dekotora is an abbreviation for “decoration truck”, and if you can say something about these trucks it’s that they are very decorated. That’s basically what defines the Dekotora art movement – adding as many decorations to your truck, as you possibly can, while keeping it operational. And making use of the ingenuity that defines the Japanese, they have been able to create some truly impressive rigs that blow your mind. Neon lights, flashy spoilers, manga and kabuki artworks are all part of a Dekotora artist’s arsenal, in his quest of creating the flashiest truck possible.

The Dekotora movement was born in 1975, when Toei released the first of its 10-movie series called “Trucker”, which featured a trucker who drove his overly-decorated truck all over Japan. The movie was a huge success, and people started tuning their own big rigs to resemble what they saw on screen. Dekotora truckers are very passionate about what they do, and money is no object when it comes to turning their vehicles into flashy masterpieces. They often form communities where they can show off their creations and interact with other art-truck enthusiasts. Most of them try to adorn the trucks with as many decorations as possible, while keeping them street legal, but there are those who go over the limit and create impressive Dekotora beasts that can only be admired in exhibitions.

There are three main Dekotora styles – Kansai, Kant and Retro, and starting with the late 1990s, the Gundam franchise has had a huge influence on the world of Dekotora. I guess the Japanese love robots and sci-fi,even when it comes to big flashy trucks.

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Just What the World Needed – Hello Kitty Theme park Opens in Tokyo

As if the world didn’t have enough of their annoying icon, Hello Kitty, the Japanese thought they’d open a new theme park as well.

If you’re a regular visitor of Oddity Central, you probably already know I’m not the world’s biggest Hello Kitty fan. I’ve featured quite a few strange Hello Kitty stuff, from a pink assault rifle to a Hello Kitty-themed Ferrari. Now, it brings me great…honor to present to you Hello Kitty’s Kawaii Paradise, a Hello Kitty theme park that just opened in Tokyo.

I guess the Japanese didn’t want to look bad, after their Chinese neighbors built a Hello Kitty castle, and a nice new pink theme park was just the thing. Located on Odaiba Island, Hello Kitty Kawaii Paradise opened on October 22nd, and hopes to attract as many as 700,000 Hello Kitty fans in its first year. While the despicable icon has tons of fans in Japan’s capital, not many of them bothered to check out the theme park, probably because Odaiba is quite a long way from central Tokyo, and many of them don’t care to make the long trip. Let’s just hope the place stays empty and they’ll be forced to close it down soon, because unless you’re the Pink Lady, human eyesight just can’t handle all that pink.

In case you’re interested, the 10,000 square-foot park features a big Hello Kitty shop, where you can find all kinds of accessories, toys and other pink junk, a Hello Kitty pancake restaurant, a small theater, a big statue of Hello Kitty and a whole bunch of other pink, girly stuff fans go crazy about.

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Dog Castle – The Coolest Dog House in Japan

Nanami,  a playful Japanese pooch can claim to be the only dog in the world to be living in a regular castle.

Built as a small replica of Japan’s famous Matsumoto Castle, Nanami’s castle stands 2.5 meters tall and features three rooms. At the front is the main hall, where Nanami can just lay on his belly and watch out for the mailman, while at the back he has a sand-floor room, for cooling down during the hot summer days, and a rear room to hide in during thunderstorms.

Located in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Nanami’s castle took his owner six months to complete, and cost 50,000 yen ($583). While it may not be as old and famous as the real Matsumoto Castle, built in 1504, Nanami can be proud of his new dog castle.

If you’re a fan of over-the-top dog houses, you’re going to love this veritable dog mansion.

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Sokushinbutsu – Japan’s Self-Mummified Monks

Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist priests who took their own lives in such a way that they became mummies and were revered for their spirit and dedication.

Popular in northern Japan, especially around the Yamagato Prefecture, the practice of becoming Sokushinbutsu is believed to a tantric ritual from Tang China, brought to the Land of the Rising Sun by the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Read More »

Kori no Suizokukan – Japan’s Frozen Aquarium

As a way of battling the summer heatwave that hit Japan this year, authorities have inaugurated a frozen aquarium that will keep visitors cool and entertained.

Kori no Suizokukan is located in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture and features around 450 specimens of around 80 species of marine wildlife, all captured at a nearby sea port. Visitors can enjoy a brief break from the scorching sun and admire all sorts of fish, crabs or octopuses, as well as unusual objects like action figures, bottles of sake, or flowers, all embedded in huge blocks of ice.

The Frozen Aquarium was inaugurated, in Kesennuma’s fish market, in 2002, and uses flash-freezing technology to conserve fresh specimens and keep them looking so good.

While the Frozen Aquarium is a welcome tourist attraction, visitors can only spend a few minutes inside. Because temperatures inside the aquarium reach -20 degrees Celsius, a special suit is needed to keep people from becoming freezing exhibits themselves. Without these special suits, visitors would start feeling severe pains in just five minutes time.


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The Architectural Experiments of Terunobu Fujimori

Some of his works may not even look like real houses, but Terunobu Fujimori is one of the world’s most acclaimed architectural designers. His unconventional works have been displayed all around the world, and, believe it or not, people actually want to live in his houses.

A historian by trade, Terunobu Fujimori started designing buildings late in his life, when he was 44. He was asked to design a history museum for a family from his local village, near Nagano, who had ancient ties to that place. He decided to build something completely uncobventional, in order to avoid being criticized for lack of originality, and his creation was a success.

Since then, Terunobu Fujimori has been delivering one fascinating house after another, at a rate of a house per year. Using his knowledge of Japanese architectural history and his designer talents, Terunobu Fujimori manages to create unique buildings that are ecologically sensitive and energy efficient.

The way Terunobu Fujimori designs and builds his houses is as unconventional as they look. He simply takes a tree stump and starts hacking away at it with a chainsaw, until he gets a rough model of what he plans to build. Then he invites his clients to his Too-High Tea House, standing 20 meters into the air, on two forked tree trunks, and shows them his designs. If they don’t like them, he simply shakes the house until he gets a positive answer. Galleries have offered to buy his tree stump models, but he always refused to sell them.

Although he relies on professionals for the structural and electrical installations on his houses, he handles most of the interior design, with a team of friends. He never pays them for their work, as that would be labor.

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