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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Cat Working as Train Station Master Is Japan’s Cutest Tourist Attraction

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Tama the cat has been a part of the Japanese workforce for the past seven years. She works as a station master at Kishi station, a remote railway stop in Kinokawa City, Wakayama, Western Japan. Of course, ‘works’ isn’t exactly the right word for what she does there. Her job mostly involves sitting around, posing for pictures and looking rather stern (which reminds me of my ex-boss, actually). But Tama has been rewarded handsomely for her efforts – she has a large window office, a hat with a gold lining, a badge, and her annual compensation is one years’ worth of cat food.

Station Master Tama is special because she attracts tens of thousands of tourists each year. Her presence at Kishi station has helped revitalize tourism in a rural area that was struggling to stay afloat. At one point, the train line that passed through Kishi station saw a 15 percent annual decline in ridership. But when Tama stepped into the role of station master, in 2007, there was a sudden 10 percent jump in the first year.

Tourists continue to pour in from Hong Kong and Taiwan; Wakayama Electric Railway (the company that runs the line) said that at least 20,000 tourists visit the small town annually. The estimated combined revenue from the ticket sales and memorabilia like photobooks and commercial appearances has bumped up the local economy by a whopping 1.1 billion yen ($10.8 million). The company operates just the one line, with about 2.2 million passengers annually.

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Takeda Castle Ruins – Japan’s Breathtaking Castle in the Sky

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If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, then you’re probably familiar with Durmstrang Institute – a perfectly hidden school in the mountains for dark witches and wizards. If this school were to exist in real life, I think I’ve found the perfect place for it – Japan’s Takeda Castle. This spectacular castle is located in Hyogo Prefecture in the Wadayamacho district of Asago. It was constructed centuries ago on the summit of a 1000 foot high mountain. Today, the ruins of the castle run a quarter of a mile long and over 300 foot wide.

Takeda Castle is special because of the breathtaking view it presents on autumn mornings (between sunrise and 8 am). That’s when a thick mist hangs over the sky because of a sharp drop in overnight temperatures. The effect created by the mist is truly breathtaking – like a castle in the sky, floating on clouds. The entire site is often referred to as Japan’s Machu Picchu, after the majestic mountain ruins of Peru. The castle, in all its beauty and ancient glory, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The number of visitors began to grow after the site was featured in a 2012 Japanese film called ‘Anata e’.

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The Hauntingly Beautiful Blue Pond of Hokkaido

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If you happen to have a Mac that runs on OSX Mountain Lion, then these images are probably familiar to you. The aptly named ‘Blue Pond’ reflects such a pristine blue color off its waters, that you just can’t take your eyes off it. The pond, located on the left bank of River Bieigawa near the town of Biei in Hokkaido Island, Japan, wasn’t very well known until recently, when the computer giant decided to make it a part of their latest operating system.

Interestingly, the Blue Pond is not a natural formation. The artificial pond was created when a dam was built to protect the area from mud flows due to its proximity to a volcano on Mt. Tokachi. When the volcano erupted in December 1988, local officials decided to construct the dam upstream along the river. All the water blocked by this dam gets collected in a depression in the forest, creating the pond.

It’s not just the striking blue that sets the pond apart, but also the barren tree stumps that protrude from the surface of the water. Also, the color of the pond hardly remains constant. It keeps varying based on the season, and the viewing angle. In a certain light and angle, the electric blue pond appears to be a lovely green instead. This unusual phenomenon has no real scientific explanation. Some theories attribute it to a high concentration of aluminum hydroxide in the water. The naturally occurring mineral is known to reflect the shorter wavelength blue light, just like the earth’s atmosphere does. Of course, the water itself is colorless.

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No Grownups Allowed at Japan’s Children-Only Magical Sweets Shop

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Most teenagers can’t wait until they’re 21 so they can have a legal ID, but here’s one shop in Japan that will make them want to stay young forever – an ID proving that they’re a sixth grader or younger. Because that’s how young you’ve got to be to enter Japan’s Future Sweets Factory – a magical place filled with all things sweet and delicious. Kids get to enter the factory alone, leaving their parents behind in the lobby area.

Future Sweets Factory is located on the premises of the hugely popular Patisserie es Koyama (famous for its special roll cake), in Sanda City, Hyogo Prefecture. The entrance to the factory is through a large, colorful egg-shaped dome. Beyond the dome lies a waiting hall where children bid goodbye to their parents for a few hours. The kids proceed through a special kid-sized door to where all the magic happens, just like in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!

Inside the factory, away from their parents’ watchful eyes, kids are treated to samples of freshly made sweets. True to its name, at the Future Sweets Factory kids get to sample all kinds of sweets that are yet to hit the market. They also get to watch the chefs bake three special surprise sweets that cost only 150 yen each. The factory is decorated to suit the kids’ tastes – with cartoon characters and robots.

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Japanese Company Launches Pillow Specifically Designed for Pillow Fighting

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Did you know that pillow fighting is actually a serious sport in Japan? And that there exists a pillow specifically designed to be used in official pillow fights? And that it is the ‘Officially Recognized Pillow by the All Japan Pillow Fighting Association’? I wish I’d known all this sooner. Perhaps I’d have considered moving to Japan to become a professional pillow fighter. Such a cool job.

The association even has official tournaments. Just last weekend, they had an All Japan Pillow Fighting Tournament in Ito City. The participating fee was $20 per team, and they all competed for a grand prize of $1,000. Japanese pillow fighting has its own set of rules: it’s a lot like dodge ball, but fluffier! Each team consists of five members, who have to remain within the team’s court (about 356 square feet) at all times. From the moment the whistle sounds, all they do is throw pillows like crazy, using blankets to shield themselves. Getting hit by a pillow directly sends a player out of the game.

Sounds all right so far, but this is where things get really bizarre. During the match, the referee calls out from time to time: “The teacher is coming!” One of the teams will have to take the cue and lie down immediately, pretending to sleep. One member from the opposite team can walk over and steal as many pillows as he can. Then the game resumes. Doesn’t it sound a lot like the crazy games we invented as kids?

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Japanese Attend Crying Seminars to Improve Physical and Mental Health

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I’ve heard of laughter therapy for relieving stress, but I didn’t know the reverse existed as well. In Japan, people gather in groups to let the boo-hoos out. These ‘crying seminars’ are conducted by Takashi Saga, who calls himself a ‘tears sommelier’. “Selecting wines that matches food is similar to my job,” he said. “I introduce books, movies and videos that touch the people’s emotion.”

“Crying doesn’t have a good image in Japan,” Saga added. “People believe you should not cry in front of people, that it’s weak.” So twice a month, Saga organizes a ‘ruikatsu’ – a crying for joy seminar. When people get emotional and cry, he believes that life’s burdens, tensions and frustrations melt away. “Laughing can only release stress at that moment. But studies show the stress release from crying lasts for a week. Crying is better for your physical and mental health.”

It turns out that Saga might actually be right. Some scientific studies have proven that when we cry for emotional reasons, our tears contain the same kind of hormones released by the body during physical stress. Most people start his sessions with a poker face and a ‘try and make me’ kind of attitude. But the activities that Saga plans for his class always ensure that no one leaves dry-eyed.

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Insane Synchronization – Japan’s Unique Precision Walking Routines

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The video of a 47-year-old tradition at Japan’s Nippon Sports Science University went viral in November last year. ‘Shuudan koudou’, which means ‘Collective Action’, is a unique routine where a group of students put up an amazing display of synchronized walking.

On November 14, 77 students performed before a crowd of 11,000 people at the university’s festivities. Their walking routine was similar to military movement exercises or synchronized marching band movements. But they were far more intricate and precise. Watch the video, and you’ll know just how precise. Seriously, the way they move is simply mind-blowing.

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Bread-Obsessed Japanese Artist Turns Loaves into Beautiful Lampshades

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Yukiko Morita, a 27-year-old corporate employee from Kyoto, has a unique hobby. She combines her love for bread and her love for art into a special product: Pampshades.“‘Pan (Japanese for bread)’ + ‘lamp shade’ = Pampshades,” Morita explains on her website. These lighting fixtures made from real bread and can light up a room, filling it with the warm tones of a fresh loaf.

“I think loaves are really cute,” says Morita. “I love their round curves. I wanted a bread display in my room so I could admire it all the time. That’s how I came up with this shape.” The idea for pampshades first came to Morita when she was a student at the Kyoto City University of Arts. She was working on a project in a studio one day, playing around with a French baguette. She pulled out and nibbled on the soft parts, leaving the hollow outer shell intact. When she held it up towards the sunlight and let it stream in, that was her ‘aha!’ moment.

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Have a Hoot at Japan’s New Owl Cafés!

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If you’re a cat person and you’re in Japan, you surely must have heard of the famous cat cafés. The concept is pretty straight forward: most people live in such crowded places that there’s hardly any room for a pet, so whenever you feel like getting a little love from a furry friend, all you have to do is go to one of these cat cafés. It’s almost like going to a domestic safari while having a cup of coffee.

If at first there was this craze with cats, now there’s a craze with owls. Yes, cafés with real live owls watching you with their big eyes as you quietly sip your drink. Of course, the entire theme of these cafés has something to do with owls, so the background and the menu complete the picture. The owl cafés are pretty crowded places. Customers are not allowed to get in the cafés at the same time and scare the birds, so queues are formed outside. Careful! The weekends are especially busy, so you might want to get up early if you want to have coffee with an owl. There are quite a few owl cafés to choose from, each with its own rules, but there are a few general guidelines that should be respected when entering these places. First of all, you have to find the café, because there won’t be any flashy lights, but merely a curtain, protecting these birds of prey. After you’ve pinpointed the location and managed to get inside, make sure you listen carefully to the personnel: don’t pet, touch or hold other owls than those indicated by them, don’t handle the owls by yourself, don’t use your camera flash and don’t record without permission. What happens if you don’t follow the rules? Imagine the racket created by a dozen freaked-out owls! Lastly, make sure you alert the personnel whenever you see an owl pooping. They really don’t give a hoot about you looking at them.

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Banana Tattooing, an Increasingly Popular Art Form

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Up until a few years ago, people rarely looked at bananas as anything more than delicious fruits, let alone as an art medium. But that was before artists started taking advantage of the banana peel’s oxidation process to create amazing artworks. Today, more and more artists are becoming specialized in banana oxidation art, also known as banana tattooing.

Banana peel may seem like a strange canvas too some, but it’s also one that can yield some pretty impressive results. Case in point, the amazing artworks of End Cape, a young Japanese artist who specializes in bruising bananas. Using a sharp tool like a simple needle or a thumbtack, he spends up to five hours puncturing the peel of the tropical fruit and creating breathtaking masterpieces inspired by popular anime, traditional Japanese art and famous landmarks. The process is very similar to that used by regular tattoo artists, only without the paint. In contact with air, the bruised sections of the banana turn brown, revealing artist’s designs. Apparently, the colder the fruit is, the faster it oxidizes. By controlling the density of needle holes, End Cape is able to create different textures and shades of brown.

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The Danbocchi – A $600 Cardboard Box for People Who Value Their Privacy

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You know those moments when you’re surrounded by a sea of people and all you can think about is being alone in a tiny room? Ok, maybe that’s just me, but he point is now you can isolate yourself from the world pretty much anywhere and anytime, thanks to the Danbocchi. This ordinary-looking cardboard box is is soundproofed up to 30 decibels, so as long as you do it in a low voice, you can talk to yourself, scream, or sing without worrying about people hearing you.

The Danbocchi might seem like the perfect accessory for hikikomori, Japan’s reclusive youth, but in fact, it was designed for ordinary people who want to sing karaoke or play video games at high volume without disturbing their neighbors. If you live in an apartment with really thin walls, you probably know how annoying loud neighbors are, particularly at night, but thanks to the Danbocchi sound-dampening box, noise is no longer a problem. Just step inside, close the door, and be as loud as you can. According to the Danbocchi official site, if someone is singing karaoke at 90 decibels inside the box, it only sounds like 60 decibels to people outside of it, which is about a normal speaking volume.

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Japanese Musician Plays the Most Amazing Hand Flute You’ve Ever Heard

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Mitsuhiro Mori is an accomplished musician best known for his hand flute skills. If you close your eyes and just listen to him sing, you ca swear he’s playing a flute or an ocarina, when in reality, all he’s really doing is blowing air into his hands.  Prepare to have your mind blown!

The talented Mitsuhiro and his college friend and pianist Keisuke Usuda formed the “Piano and Hand Flute Duo Childhood”, after Usuda was so impressed with his buddy’s hand flute skills and decided they should put it to good use. The unique duo have been entertaining audiences all around the world ever since, produced several albums and appeared on numerous television shows. You may have seen your friends do an impressive hand flute or maybe watched YouTube videos of people showing off their skills, but I can assure you you haven’t seen anything quite like this before. There are some pretty amazing hand flute players out there, but almost all of them agree, Mitsuhiro Mori is in a league of his own. He can reach any note he wants and can play really fast, which is incredibly difficult. It just goes to show you don’t always need expensive instruments to make great music.

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Send Your Toys around the World with Japan’s Stuffed Animal Travel Agency

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There comes a time in every plush toy’s life when they must leave the comfort of their homes and go backpacking through Europe and the US to learn about the different cultures out there. And it’s all possible thanks to a travelling agency from Japan called Unagi Travel. Their staff takes your toys around the world, shows them a good time and photographs them with popular tourist attractions.

Ms Azuma – who works for the agency, can send your beloved plush toy anywhere in Japan, Europe or the United States for a small fee. Your toy can take a complete tour of Tokyo for only $45 and see some of the country’s most famous onsen (hot springs) for $55. Any beloved stuffed friend is welcome as long as they don’t exceed 250 grams. To keep you updated on what your toy companion has been up to, Ms Azuma will also document the trip and immortalize every moment through videos and photos. One lucky pink animal visited the Schönbrunn Palace in Austria and a melancholic bear was photographed with her footprints on a secluded beach. Another lucky pair of toys was photographed at the Great Buddha of Kamakura, and guess what? Your beloved stuffed friend can be next.

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Japanese Company Creates Garlic-Flavored Dark Beer

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Here’s some interesting news: a Japanese company has combined its popular dark beer with the pungent, intense flavor of black garlic, thus creating the unique and rather bizarre Aomori Garlic Black Beer.

Featuring a sleek black label with elegant golden writing, the black garlic-flavored beer bottle – which costs 630 yen ($6.5) – looks very appealing to any avid dark beer lover. The first sip of Aomori Garlic Black Beer doesn’t taste very different from any other quality black beer, but as the dark goes down your throat and into the stomach, the potent black garlic flavor starts to take over your mouth. Incredibly, those brave enough to actually try the Aomori Garlic Black Beer say the spicy, potent aftertaste is very addictive, making you want to drink more and more of the strange beverage.

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