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Japan’s Unusual Obsession with Moss

As a very insular society, Japan has developed a culture that can be very interesting and sometimes bizarre to the outside observer. For example, in recent years, many Japanese have become infatuated with moss. Nature excursions centered around observing the thousands of species of Japanese moss have exploded in popularity to the point that the demand for a place on these trips far exceeds availability.

Selling moss-related products like moss-containing jewelry has also become a lucrative market. You can buy rings that have tiny containers holding moss instead of stones. For many young women in Japan, love of these plants has become a part of their identity. These young enthusiasts call themselves “moss girls” and organize moss-themed events such as viewing parties, where they make drinks inspired from the plants.

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Japan’s Stylish-Looking Trash-Collecting Samurai

The Gomi Hiroi Samurai – “trash collecting samurai” – are members of a street performance group who walk the streets of Japan collecting trash with their katanas and trusty garbage grabbers.

These modern-day samurai are part of “Issei Ichidai Jidaigumi”, a performance group that originated in Kyoto but has since opened branches in other Japanese cities as well. They sport a very similar look to the samurai of old, but often spice up their appearance with stylish hats, and modern footwear. They are known for performing samurai-inspired songs, dances, and sword shows at various public events, but in the last few years, the Tokyo branch of the Jidaigumi has been making national news headlines for their theatrical trash-cleaning endeavours. They basically turn collecting street garbage into a performance worth buying tickets to.

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Female News Anchor Suspended for Calling Male Colleague ‘Handsome’ on Live TV

A Kuwaiti female news anchor was recently suspended by the Ministry of Information for jokingly calling a male correspondent ‘handsome’ during a live TV broadcast.

Basima al-Shammar a news anchor for Kuwait TV, was covering Kuwait’s municipal election last weekend, when she made the mistake of jokingly complementing a male correspondent live on air. In a video that has since went viral, Al-Shammar can be heard telling her male colleague, who didn’t know he was already on live TV and was still adjusting his traditional headgear, that he didn’t need to fix his looks because he was already handsome. In the Western world, this would have passed as a simple compliment, but in Kuwait, it was perceived as flirtation on the female anchor’s side.

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The Shocking Story of a Cuban Community Who Chose to Infect Themselves with HIV to Escape Persecution

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would voluntarily infect themselves with one of the deadliest viruses in human existence, but for “Los Frikis” – a Cuban punk community living under the regime of Fidel Castro during the 80s and 90s – injecting themselves with HIV-infected syringes was the easiest way to escape persecution and police harassment.

Los Frikis, the name than became synonymous with punks, metalheads and pretty much anyone who didn’t fit in with mainstream Cuban society, came together during the late 1980’s. Their music, dressing style and culture were influenced by that of similar communities in the United States and other European countries, something that didn’t sit well with Fidel Castro’s communist regime. Most of the bands also sang in English, which only made things worse for Frikis in general. Although the language was purely an aesthetic choice, speaking English in those days was considered a huge no-no.

Breaking social norms was a risky affair in 1980s Cuba, and the Frikis paid a high price for it. Many of them were rejected by their families, harassed, arrested and forced to do manual labor for their “crimes”. Los Frikis would meet in safehouses located in run-down areas, but other than that they didn’t have many places where they felt accepted. Tired of the constant persecution, many of them  took up a form of protest that can only be described as extreme – infecting themselves with HIV by injecting the blood of their sick friends into their veins.

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Fair Beauty – Vietnam’s Obsession with White Skin

For most Vietnamese women, white skin is synonymous with feminine beauty, sophistication and high social status, and many of them cover themselves completely even in the middle of summer in order to protect their fair complexion from the sun’s rays.

In Vietnam, as in the majority of South East Asian countries, dark skin has always been associated with poverty and peasants working in paddy fields exposed to the mercy of the elements. So while in the Western world tanned skin is seen as healthy and beautiful, in countries like Vietnam, Japan or Indonesia, it is so frowned upon that it can sometimes be enough to drive away potential suitors in arranged marriages among middle-class families.

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Manipur, the Indian State Ruled by Korean Pop-Culture

Despite being a part of India, the northern state of Manipur can culturally be described as Korean. Ever since local authorities banned Bollywood movies and Hindi TV channels in a bid to “stamp out Indianisation”, a vast majority of the local population have turned to Korean pop-culture. They are now big fans of Korean films and music, and have adopted various elements of Korean culture. 

It all started with Airarang TV, a 24-hour network from Seoul, being broadcast in Manipur. As the channel grew in popularity, so did the demand for more programming from Korea. It wasn’t long before Korean cinema caught on as well, with pirated DVDs flooding Manipur’s markets.

To understand the Manipuri fascination with Korean pop culture, it make sense to first look at why the ban on Indian cinema was imposed in the first place. “Since the late ’90s, the people of Manipur are facing a cultural forbiddance imposed by a radical, fringe institution in the name of preserving the local culture,” writes Mahitha Kasireddi, in an opinion piece in the Indian online publication, Youth Ki Awaaz.

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Meet the Moranbong Band – North Korea’s Version of Spice Girls

Believe it or not, North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, is actually a big fan of K-pop music. In fact, he’s so passionate about it that he hand-picked every member of the girl group ‘Moranbong Band’ – his country’s answer to the Spice Girls.

As a result of Kim Jong-un’s endorsement, the band has been playing sell-out gigs across the country. Their first concert was so popular that the streets of Pyongyang were apparently deserted during the broadcast. Often dressed in conservatively sexy attire – with skirts cut well above the knee and hair clipped short – the Moranbong girls have received good reviews from local critics as well.

Although the band has been around for a few years, they appeared to have fallen out of favor in late 2013. But after a six-month hiatus, they were back to performing in April 2014 to rave reviews from Korean media, thus reclaiming their status as queens of North Korea’s pop scene, and the darlings of primetime TV. Their comeback concert featured ‘colorful numbers’ such as ‘O My Motherland Full of Hope’, ‘Our Father’, and ‘We Think of the Marshall Day and Night’.

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Aptly Named Aztec Death Whistle Makes the Creepiest Sound You’ve Ever Heard

The Aztec death whistle produces a sound so horrifying, it will chill you to the bone. Described as the ‘scream of a thousand corpses’, the death whistle sounds like the cry of the un-dead, or the torment of a human being burned alive.

Interestingly, the skull-shaped whistles were discovered 20 years ago by archaeologists, but were dismissed as mere toys. Most studies focused on how they looked, but no one really thought to blow into them. Now that the fearsome sound of the whistle has been discovered, it is attracting the attention of scientists, musicians and historians alike.

According to 66-year-old mechanical engineer Roberto Velazquez, who has spent several years recreating the sounds of his pre-Columbian ancestors, the Aztecs played the mournful ‘Whistles of Death’ just before they were sacrificed to the gods. Some historians believe that the Aztecs used to sound the death whistle in order to help the deceased journey into the underworld. Tribes are said to have used the terrifying sounds as psychological warfare, to frighten enemies at the start of battle.

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Ghana’s Hilariously Awful Hand-Drawn Movie Posters

The West African nation of Ghana is home to a subculture of artists who create outlandish versions of popular Hollywood movie posters. The art form was at its peak in the nation during the 1980s and 1990s, commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Movie Posters’. During this time, artists would let their imagination run wild in order to create posters that would never fail to draw audiences to Africa’s dilapidated cinema halls. So they used their artistic license to add weapons, scenes and characters that didn’t even exist in the original movie!

The art form began to lose momentum in the 2000s, when Ghanaians purchased their own TVs and VCRs, causing several movie houses to close down. But over time, the lurid hand-painted posters have only increased in value. In fact, several Western art collectors are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. Some of the artists who have been out of work for several years are now finding a new lease of life in reproducing posters of more recent movies for art aficionados.

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Izhikhothane – South Africa’s Bizarre Money-Burning Sub-Culture

Izikhothane, which loosely translates to ‘brag it’, is a South African subculture of youths who dress themselves in designer clothes they can barely afford. They arrive in minivans at public spots and participate in elaborate dance-offs against rival gangs. During these performances, they indulge in burning wads of cash, destroying their clothes and spilling expensive food and alcohol on the streets. Why, you ask? To show off, obviously.

“To be Izikhothane, you have to be like us. Buy expensive clothes, booze, fame, girls, driving, spending. And when you are dressed in Italian clothing it shows that you’re smart,” said one gang member. In a nation where almost 50 percent of youths are unemployed, this sort of blatantly extravagant act is rather surprising. Most of the Izikhothane are funded by their working class parents with modest incomes.

There’s also a huge generation gap between these youths and their parents. Most of the Izikhothane belong to a generation that grew up after the end of white minority rule, unlike their parents. According to one kid, “Being born free means we can shop where we want and the country is no longer under oppression. We can express our views without being imprisoned.” Some use the extravagance as a means to escape their poverty, and for others it is just a culture of bling.

Izikhothani

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The Harmless Far East Eses – Thai Men Dressing Up Like Mexican Gang Members

In an interesting new trend in Thailand, young men are choosing to dress themselves as Mexican gangsters. Their clothes (or lack thereof), hairstyles, and tattoos are all inspired by criminal gangs in Mexico and the US. They have even formed their own gangs – Balcony Pain, Fratez, and D Sixty, to name a few. But of course, copying dressing style won’t really make criminals out of decent men. None of these young copycats actually appreciate the brutal violence associated with real-life Latino gangs, they are just really big fans of the gangs’ fashion style and brotherhood mentality.

More than anything else, these men appreciate the ‘clean and simple’ gangster aesthetic because it suits the Thai weather very well. You’d actually be surprised to know that most of them hold nine to five jobs as teachers, policemen and bureaucrats. Some are family men who ask their wives’ permission before getting inked. Needless to say, they don’t fight, shoot each other or deal in drugs. They’re more like this large brotherhood of style-conscious men who bond well over their passion for gangster lifestyle and clothes.

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North Korea’s Amazingly Choreographed Human Mosaics

Take tens of thousands of children, place them in the largest stadium in the world, arm them with giant colored flip-books containing hundreds of colored panels, train them to move in perfect unison and you get the awe-inspiring human mosaics of the Arirang Mass Games, in North Korea.

The Arirang Festival Mass Games held in Pyongyang, are the largest and most impressive exercise of state propaganda in the world. The event runs from August to October, and offers an incredible spectacle of perfectly choreographed gymnastics, dancing, singing, and of course, praising the achievements of the communist nations’s eternal leader Kim Il-Sung.  The games aren’t held every year. They are suspended in case of national emergencies, like when flooding ravages the country and the Government decides the hundreds of thousands of performers are better put to use repairing the destroyed infrastructure. But when the trained human pixels get the chance to perform on Rungrado May Day Stadium, in front of a crowd of 150,000 people, they make the performers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony look like a group of children staging a simple school play. Every 20 seconds for a period of two hours they switch the panels of their flip-books to create stunning mosaics honoring Korea’s cultural heritage and its political regime.

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Jinichi Kawakami – Japan’s Last Real Ninja

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.

Jinichi-Kawakami

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The Fattening Farms of Mauritania – Force-Feeding Young Girls in the name of Beauty

While the whole world is obsessed over getting thin, it seems there are far-flung places in the world today where fat is still considered a thing of beauty. Not in a good way, though. In the West African nation of Mauritania, it is so important for girls to be fat that they are sent away to fat camp – the opposite of the western version – during school holidays, to put on oodles of weight.

According to women’s rights campaigner Mint Ely, girls as young as five are subjected to the tradition known as Leblouh each year. Leblouh is an attempt to groom young girls for potential suitors, involving the consumption of gargantuan amounts of food; even vomit, if it refuses to stay down. Ely says that in Mauritania, a woman’s size indicates the space she occupies in her husband’s heart. So to make sure no other woman can ever have room, girls are sent away for Leblouh at special farms where older women will administer the necessary diet. It’s rather appalling to know that 5, 7 and 9-year-olds are expected to consume a daily diet of two kilos of pounded millet mixed with two cups of butter and 20 liters of camel’s milk. Their daily consumption comes up to a whopping 16,000 calories.

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Eitaro – Japan’s Only Guy-sha

Three years ago, Eitaro lost his mother, a dedicated geisha, to cancer. Ever since then, he and his sister have been carrying on her legacy, running a geisha house and overseeing a group of six other geishas.

26-year-old Eitaro first performed as a female dancer at age 10, at one of his mother’s geisha parties. He started taking dance lessons at the age of 8 and when he was just 11-years-old, he performed at Japan’s national theater. He was clearly a natural geisha, and a trivial thing like gender wasn’t going to stop him from following his calling.  Eitaro’s mother, a skilled and charismatic geisha, dedicate her life to reviving Tokyo’s geisha culture, after the last geisha house had closed its doors during the 1980’s Japanese real estate bubble. As a boy, Eitaro grew up watching her perform, and just like his sister, Maika, he was fascinated by her elegance. But, three years ago, they lost their mother to cancer, and it became their responsibility to carry on her legacy. Now, Eitaro is the master of an ‘okiya,’ a geisha house in Tokyo’s Omori port district, and together with his sister and a groups of six other geishas, entertain customers at geisha parties.

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