Making See-Through Wood at Japan’s Unique Planing Competition

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Every year, wood planing experts from all over Japan meet up for a very unique competition in which everyone tries to shave off the thinnest piece of wood possible. I don’t know how skilled you are with a hand plane, but these guys can actually peel off see-through slices of wood that are measured in microns.

If you’re not familiar with the hand plane, it’s a tool used to smooth out the surface of lumber and timber. But at the wood planing finals held during the annual Kezuroukai exhibition in Japan, participants use it not to show off their wood smoothing skills, but to shave off the thinnest strip of wood possible. They are each assigned a bench to use for about two hours, during which time they exercise their planing technique, adjusting and sharping their tools for when it matters most. When the contest starts, each competitor has three tries to shave off the thinnest piece of wood in front of a judge who uses a special tool to measure the thickness. But producing strips of wood thin enough to see through doesn’t require only proper tools and practice, but also great wood, so planers are allowed to bring bundles of whatever wood they think yields the best result. Last year, the wood planing competition was held in the port city of Uwajima, on the island of Shikoku, and the thinnest shaving was only 9 microns thick. A micros is one-thousandth of a millimeter…Just to give you an idea of how impressively thin that is, the average human hair is 100 microns across, a cloud water droplet is 10 microns in diameter, and a human blood cell measures 8-9 microns. Even more incredible is the fact that the record for the thinnest shaving currently stands at 3 microns.

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Belgian Man Makes His Own Amazing Samurai Armor

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Japanese samurai are famous all over the world, but one Belgian man has taken his passion for these medieval warriors to a whole new level by making his own authentic armor from thousands of custom metal pieces and hundreds of meters of cord.

Danny had always been fascinated by the history and culture of the samurai. He began collecting Japanese swords when he was 16 years old, and dreamed of one day owning his very own armor. He couldn’t afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars on an authentic samurai costume, and replicas, though cheaper, weren’t built for his impressive nearly two-meters-tall size. But he wasn’t going to give up on his dream too easily, and with the help of some supportive metalworking friends, the now 42-year-old bank teller set out to build his own samurai armor. Just like the Japanese craftsmen of old, Dennis assembled his protective suit out of traditional chainmail and 3,000 small pieces of metal, every one of which was hammered by hand to the correct shape and size, strung together with 225 meters of cord. It took two long years to finish the whole thing, but the end result is simply breathtaking.

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Meet Hideaki Kobayashi, the Famous Japanese Man Who Dresses as a Schoolgirl

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Ever wondered what Mr. Miyagi would look like dressed as a schoolgirl? No?!? Me neither…Who does that? Anyway, you’ll get to see it anyway, as we take a look at one of Tokyo’s most iconic characters, Hideaki Kobayashi, better known as the “Sailor Suit Old Man” or the weird guy wearing a schoolgirl uniform.

As some of you may know, schoolgirl uniforms are very popular in Japan, but mostly it’s the girls who wear them. One man decided to turn the fashion trend on its head and started wearing the outfit himself, in some of Tokyo’s most crowded places. Hideaki Kobayashi is one of Japan’s most experienced cosplay photographers, meaning he’s been attending anime and video game themed events for over a decade, taking pictures of people dressed as their favorite characters. The flashy dress code must have rubbed off on him at some point, as he started making appearances in his now-famous sailor style school uniform. He was a bizarre sight to behold even at cosplay shows, but Hideaki decided to take it one step further and wear his girly uniform wherever he went. In the Western world, most people would probably be shocked and disgusted at the sight of a hairy old man walking around town in a schoolgirl uniform, but not in Japan. Here, the Sailor Suit Old Man became an internet celebrity, sought out by young girls who wanted to take pictures with him and post them online for everyone to see. He even bragged about being mobbed for photos “like a popular celebrity”, on Facebook.

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Get Rid of Wrinkles with the Creepy Facewaver Exercise Mask

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Don’t feel like spending your hard-earned money on expensive Botox shots and plastic surgery to get rid of those nasty facial wrinkles? Then you might want to take a look at the Facewaver Exercise Mask, a new face stretcher from Japan that promises to give users a more youthful and energetic look. It’s cheaper and doubles as a great Halloween outfit.

It might not look like one, but the Facewaver Exercise Mask is actually a beauty product. The stretchy accessory wraps around your face and helps exercise your muscles while you make all kinds of weird facial expressions. This not only improves and increases blood circulation to your face, but also smooths out any wrinkles, lines and sags in just five minutes of daily use. Available only in pink, the Facewaver is made in Japan (where else?) out of out of nylon and polyurethane to fit most face sizes. Priced at $61, this bizarre invention is a more affordable way to tighten your face and cheeks, although there are yet no reports on whether it actually works. But even if it doesn’t at least you’re left with a great horror movie prop or a scary Halloween mask. So yeah, it’s a great investment any way you look at it.

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The Drinkable Masterpieces of a Japanese Anime Latte Artist

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If you’re a fan of coffee and Japanese anime, you’re going to love these amazingly detailed latte portraits of famous Japanese cartoon characters. They are the creations of Twitter user, Sugi, who only started doing latte art a year ago.

I’m a big fan of coffee art, whether it’s executed directly on a cup of joe or on a canvas, using the delicious medium as paint, so when I saw these incredible works of anime art I just couldn’t resist sharing them with you guys. If you thought latte hearts and leaves were cool, Sugi’s designs are probably going to blow your mind. The talented Japanese barista only took up coffee art last April, but she is already able to create unbelievable portraits of anime characters like Sailor Moon or Naruto in stunning detail. Using only toothpicks, chocolate syrup for the dark areas and cocktail syrups for the other colors, Sugi hand-draws two-three of her beautiful artworks every day. So far, she has created over 800 latte masterpieces, and posted photos of them on her Twitter page.

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Stunning Japanese Paintings Created in Microsoft Excel

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When it comes to painting, or even digital art, Microsoft Excel isn’t usually the first thing that pops into your head. Yet 73-year-old artist, Tatsuo Horiuchi, has been using it to create stunningly beautiful traditional Japanese artworks.

If you’re going to use software for artistic purposes, why not use something like the powerful and popular Adobe Photoshop, right? Well, Tatsuo Horiuchi’s explanation sort of makes sense – he says graphics software is too expensive, while Microsoft Excel came pre-installed on his computer. Plus, although he had never used it himself, before he retired from his job he often saw his colleagues using it to create graphs, so he thought the program could be used to draw art as well. In his early pension years, Horiuchi decided he wanted to try something new, so he bought a computer and began experimenting with digital painting. At first, he tried Microsoft Word, but he experienced problems with determining the canvas size to fit the printing paper, so he ultimately turned to Excel, which had a neat feature that automatically reduced the worksheet size to fit his A4 printing paper. Painting in a spreadsheet application was hard at first, but the ambitious Tatsuo managed to hone is skills, and during the last 10 years he has established himself as an original artist, with exhibitions all over Japan.

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Japanese Model Underwent 30 Cosmetic Procedures to Look Like a French Doll

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A Japanese model named Vanilla Chamu has recently become an internet sensation after it was reported she spent 10 million yen ($100,000) on 30 plastic surgery procedures in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a perfect living French doll.

She claims it’s her ultimate goal and the reason she has so far underwent tens of cosmetic procedures, but with her inflated lips and enlarged breasts, Vanilla Chamu doesn’t really look anything like a porcelain French doll. She just went from an average looking Japanese girl to a Western-looking woman with obvious plastic surgery, but the now-famous model says she doesn’t plan to stop altering her image anytime soon, and intends to soon undergo an extreme height-lengthening surgery. Her story has caused quite a bit of controversy in Japan, and she has been invited to numerous television shows to explain her reasons for the radical physical change. Vanilla, who’s current age is a well-guarded secret, claims she had her first plastic surgery at age 19, and numerous other since then, including  double eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty, liposuction, eyelash implants, dimple creation, and breast implants. So far, she has spent over 10 million yen on these procedures, but her sizable investment seems to have paid off, as Vanilla Chamu is now a successful model and pop singer in her native land of Japan.

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The Unkai Terrace of Tomamu – A Magical Place Above the Clouds

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Located in Japan’s Tomamu Resort,  on the island of Hokkaido, the Unkai Terrace is a unique scenic spot perched high atop a mountain peak that is often above the clouds, offering tourists breathtaking views of the white, fluffy sea beneath them.

The “unkai” (sea of clouds) phenomenon has been attracting tourists to the resort town on Tomamu for years. The natural hot springs in the area and the differences in temperature during the few hours when night turns into day determine the formation of an immaculate white blanket of clouds over the mountainous region, but only a few people had the chance to see the unique effect from above, until a gondola system was put in place. It takes early-bird tourists up the mountain to the Unkai Terrace, right above the sea of clouds, where they can watch the sunrise, take photos of the Hidaka and Tokachi mountain peaks as they pierce the fluffy fog and enjoy a refreshing cup of coffee or a bowl of soup. Although the gondola fare is pretty expensive (around $20), the view from Unkai Terrace is definitely worth every yen.

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Jinichi Kawakami – Japan’s Last Real Ninja

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As the 21st head of the Ban clan, a line of ninja that can be traced back 500 years and the only living person who learned all the skills that were directly handed down from ninja masters, Jinichi Kawakami is considered by many the last real ninja in all of Japan.

63-year-old Kawakami, a retired engineer, says he started practicing the art of Ninjutsu at the age of six. He was just a young boy when he began training under master Masazo Ishida, a man who dressed as a Buddhist monk, and didn’t even realize what he was learning until years later. He was required to endure extreme heat and cold, as well as pain and hunger. To improve his concentration, he would have to look at the wick of a candle until he got the feeling he was inside it, and practice hearing the sound of a needle falling on a wooden floor. He climbed walls, jumped from great heights, learned chemicals and making explosives and even studied weather and psychology. “The training was all tough and painful. It wasn’t fun but I didn’t think much why I was doing it. Training was made to be part of my life,” Jinichi told AFP. Just before turning 19, he inherited his master’s title, along with his old scrolls and tools. Although he doesn’t claim the title of “last ninja” for himself in order to avoid disputes with other claimants and doubters, he is recognized as Japan’s last real ninja master.

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The Fake Christian Priests of Japan – A Booming Business

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Christians make up only 1.4% of Japan’s 127 million population, but Western “white weddings” now account for around three quarters of all bridal ceremonies, which means Christian priests are in high demand. To meet their clients’ expectations bridal companies have given up on trying to find ordained ministers and have kept requirements to a minimal – men looking foreign-enough to pass as Christians who can speak a little Japanese and perform the ceremony in 20 minutes.

Japan’s love affair with Christian wedding is believed to have started in the 1980s with the televised weddings of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and was fueled by the nuptials of Japanese pop star Momoe Yamaguchi. People, women especially, were attracted by the idea of celebrating their marriage through a ritual that revolved around love and that elevates the bride to the status of princess even for a short while. Traditional Shinto weddings, on the other hand, encase women in a wig and kimono, and are focused more on the merger of two families. The Japanese simply  fell in love with the sharp dress code, the kiss and the overall image of Western weddings over their centuries-old traditions. But in order to have a genuine-looking ceremony, they wanted Christian priests, which were pretty hard to find. That started the now famous “foreign fake pastors” trend that saw companies and hotels hiring average foreign gentlemen with minimal knowledge of the Japanese language to perform Christian weddings.

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Japanese Vodka Made from Fermented Giant Hornets

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The voracious Japanese giant hornet has a quarter-inch stinger that pumps out venom containing an enzyme so strong that it can literally dissolve human tissue. The sting of a giant hornet causes excruciating pain, yet some people are willing to endure a few stings while trying to capture them to make a special kind of shouchuu (Japanese liquor similar to vodka).

A person stung by a Japanese giant hornet who doesn’t receive proper treatment soon thereafter can die from an allergic reaction to the venom. About 40 deaths related to giant hornet stings are recorded every year. But this doesn’t seem to scare fans of shouchuu from risking their lives trying to capture the main ingredient of a bizarre alcoholic drink. It’s a rare concoction that isn’t usually commercially available in shops, but a team of RocketNews24 reporters traveled to Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture in search of a huntsman who catches hornets and leaves them to ferment in alcohol for three years. According to their reports, fermented wasp shouchuu has an unappetizing muddy-brown color and smells a bit like rotting flesh. If you’re wondering about the taste of this unusual drink, it’s apparently a lot like that of regular shouchuu, but with a salty aftertaste that comes from the wasps poison. In conclusion, it looks disgusting, it stinks and it tastes really bad, so why would anyone want to drink this home-made fermented hornet brew? Well, for the health-related benefits, of course. The venom-infused liquor is said to make the skin more beautiful, boost recovery from fatigue and prevent “lifestyle disease” (whatever that is).

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The Ocellated Ice Fish – World’s Only Vertebrate with Transparent Blood

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Every animal with bones hemoglobin in its blood, which carries oxygen through its body and gives blood its red color. Every animal except one – the ocellated ice fish which has water-clear blood.

The ocean’s depth have revealed a series of odd life forms in recent years, from giant squid to translucent sea anemones, but scientists say the ocellated ice fish discovered in 2011 is among the most fascinating creatures the world over.  This unique fish lives in the ice-cold waters of Antarctica at depths of up to 3,300 feet (1 kilometer), and the only specimens in captivity can be found at Japan’s Tokyo Sea Life Park. Apart from the fact that it has transparent blood and no scales, the ocellated ice fish is not much different than most of the fish species living in Earth’s waters.  But its two special traits have researchers baffled. Because hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen through the body of vertebrates, it’s not yet clear how this species can survive without the metalloprotein which binds with oxygen. Several theories have been formulated on the subject, with some scientists speculating that the unusually large heart of the ocellated ice fish might help move oxygen using plasma instead of hemoglobin, and others saying that it may be able to absorb oxygen through its scale-free skin from the oxygen-rich waters of Antarctica. But the truth is very little is known about this fascinating creature and there are yet no facts to back up the claims.

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Japanese High-Tech Coat Imitates Girlfriend Hugs

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Studies have shown  that hugs can truly make lonely people feel better, so a group of Japanese students from Tsukuba University have invented a coat designed to imitate the feeling of a girlfriend hugging you from behind.

Hugging is all the rage right now. London has its own cuddling workshop for people in need of a hug and a professional cuddler in New York City will wrap her arms around you for a fee. But these solutions don’t work very well if you suddenly find yourself in need of a hug and there’s no one around to give it to you. Luckily, a team of Japanese geeks students have come up with a more practical, if weird, solution – a special hugging coat that emulates the sensation of a girlfriend putting her arms around you from behind. Called the Raiju Coat (Fulfillment Coat), this offbeat invention features motors attached to its back to operate the artificial “arms”, which are controlled through a computer using a USB connection. So whenever its owner feels lonely and in need of a fake girlfriend hug, all he has to do is put it on, close his eyes and imagine a cute anime girl putting her arms around him, as the coat takes hold of his waist. To make the experience even more realistic, the Raiju Coat comes with a pair of headphones that plays the sound of footsteps running from behind and pre-recorded sentences like “I’m sorry, were you waiting?”; “Watch your back!”; “Guess who?”; and “Blind side!” With such advanced hugging technology, who needs a real girlfriend?

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Hari Kuyo – Japan’s Unique Memorial Service for Broken Needles

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Hari Kuyo is a Japanese festival dedicated to old and broken needles. Celebrated every year on the 8th of February, this festival sees hundreds of women dressed in colorful kimonos, gathering at various Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples in and around Tokyo. This 400-year-old ritual involves sticking old and broken needles into soft chunks of tofu or jelly as a way of showing thanks for their hard work. I suppose this tradition springs from the Eastern system of displaying gratitude towards objects that are a source of livelihood. It also reflects on the animist belief that all beings and objects have a soul.

It’s not just about needles, several Japanese women consider Hari Kuyo as a time to value the small, everyday objects of daily life that are otherwise forgotten. Mottainai is the concept of not being wasteful about small things. Burying needles in tofu is said to symbolize rest for the needles, as they are wrapped with tenderness. It’s also about the many sorrows that women are believed to carry in their hearts, the burdens of which are passed on to the needles during many hours of sewing. So the needles do deserve a proper farewell and rest at the end of their service. According to Ryojo Shioiri, a Buddhist monk, “Sometimes there are painful things and secrets that women can’t tell men, and they put these secrets into the pins and ask the gods to get rid of them.”

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Tokyo’s Monk-Run Bar Mixes Cocktails with Buddhism

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Who says booze and religion don’t mix? That’s certainly not the case at Vowz, a unique Tokyo bar run by two Buddhist monks who serve customers delicious cocktails, religious chants and sermons.

There are over 10,000 bars in Tokyo, but none like the Vowz, in the city’s Yotsuya neighborhood. Opened by Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshinobu Fujioka, this offbeat watering hole has been bringing members of his congregation together for 13 years. ”They become totally different believers here, the distance between them and myself diminishing,”the shaved-head bartender says. “They are more connected with each other.” In the old days, people would go to Buddhist temples to socialize and have a drink, but times have changed, and Fujioka decided to adapt in order to remain close to the people. So he opened the Vowz Bar, a place where people could come in and listen to Buddhist sermons and homilies without feeling constrained in any way. ”At the temple, folks are always well-behaved and attentive, no matter how long or boring the sermon is,” head monk Gugan Taguchi says. “Here at the bar, they don’t like my sermons — they walk out.” But thanks to the friendly atmosphere and the tasty cocktails prepared by the monks themselves, that hardly ever happens.

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