Review & giveaway 7: Clueless In Tokyo

2 Oct

I have another book to review from Tuttle Books and, once again, they have kindly agreed to give one free copy of this book to a random visitor to my blog!

(Before that though…have you entered in the drawing for the free sets of lovely Japanese origami? There’s still time!
Click here and here and enter both drawings!)

The book that I’m reviewing here is titled “Clueless in Tokyo: An Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan” by Betty Reynolds.


I will put the details of the free drawing for this book at the end of this post.

Ms. Reynolds lived in Tokyo for seven years with her husband. They are both Americans so, of course, everything in Japan was new and strange to them when they first arrived here.

I can relate to that!

This book is perfect for anyone who has ever visited Japan or plans to visit here, anyone interested in Japan (whether they’ve been here or not), and anyone in learning about a very unique culture!
It would even be interesting to someone who, like me, has lived in Japan for a long time and are no longer shocked or confused by the everyday aspects of Japanese life found in the pages of this book…but, even after many years, still loves Japanese culture.

Ms. Reynolds drew the pictures in this book of the things that are commonly seen in Japan but that are “very Japanese”. Having lived in Japan for most of my life now, I’ve become “used to” life here and often don’t even notice these things anymore…they’ve become commonplace to me now. So, it was fun to see them with “fresh eyes” again through this book.

Clueless in Tokyo: An Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan” shows “mysterious” Japanese things including scenes found at shrines and temples, Japanese food, Japanese holidays, decorations, traditions, seasonal customs, Tokyo architecture, youth culture, and more.

It explains things that are “regular” life to the people of Japan but a “mystery” to visitors in a way that is easy to understand.

I did notice a couple of small mistakes in it though. But these errors were minor “spelling” mistakes of the Japanese kanji terms…but most of the kanji is correct and all of the English-alphabet (roma-ji) of the Japanese words are.
So, those kanji mistakes aren’t a big deal or don’t diminish the value of this book, I believe.

I recommend this book. It’s charming, interesting and fun to read!

Clueless in Tokyo: An Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan” can be purchased through Amazon here.

But, as I said above, Tuttle Books has agreed to give one random visitor to my blog a free copy of this book.

To enter the drawing for the free book, submit this form by 2014 October 11th:

McDonald’s Japan Halloween black burger

1 Oct Featured Image -- 10940

Originally posted on RocketNews24:

MB 1

It’s been just over a week since the release of Burger King’s two pitch-black hamburgers, which might have left some fast food fans in a bit of a bind. On the one hand, they’re definitely eye-catching and intriguing, but their buns owe (and cheese) their sinister shade to an infusion of bamboo charcoal.

While it’s perfectly edible, we imagine some people are just a tad averse to eating charcoal. So if your palate isn’t quite that wide, but you’re still adventurous enough to eat squid ink, McDonald’s has got you covered with their own dark burger.

View original 253 more words

Review 6: Hokusai Prints Origami Paper

29 Sep

Tuttle Publishers has given two sets of origami papers with ukiyoe prints to review.

(You can read all of the reviews on my blog by going to my ““Reviews & Giveaways” page).

One set has prints by Hiroshige and a set by Hokusai.

The publishers have kindly agreed to give a set of each free to one random visitor to my blog!

To enter the drawing for the “Origami Paper: Hiroshige Prints“, click here.

The set that I’m writing about on this post is “Origami Paper: Hokusai Prints“.


This set is similar to the other set except the papers are larger (these are 8 ¼ inches), and the prints are by the ukiyoe master Hokusai who has painted the famous “Great Wave near Kanagawa” ukiyoe print.

You can buy “Origami Paper: Hokusai Printshere.

But, as I said above, Tuttle Publishers is going to give one free set of this origami paper to a random visitor to my blog!

To enter in the drawing, simply submit this form by 2014 October 11th:

Review 5: Hiroshige Prints Origami Paper

29 Sep

This is the fifth in my series of reviews for Tuttle Publishers.

This time it’s not a book, but origami paper with famous ukiyoe prints.  And, once again, Tuttle Publishers will kindly be giving one free set of these papers to a random visitor to my blog!

The details about the giveaway will be at the end of this post.

Do you like origami? Are you interested in Japanese ukiyoe woodblock prints? How about traditional Japanese culture? Or even art in general?
If so, then you will certainly like “Origami Paper: Hiroshige Prints“!


This set contains forty-eight 6¾ inch origami papers printed with famous ukiyoe artwork by the master ukiyoe artist Hiroshige.

It also comes with an instruction sheet explaining how to fold six things such as the iconic “paper crane”.

You can buy “Origami Paper: Hiroshige Printshere.

But, as I said above, one random visitor to my blog will receive this origami set directly from the publisher.

To enter in the drawing, simply submit this form by 2014 October 11th:

Japan Quiz

24 Sep

****Updated: 2014 September 28th****

Thank you to the many people who took this “Japan Quiz” during the few days that it was on my blog!

This quiz was more popular than I anticipated, so I’ll make another one in the future.

Here are the answers to the quiz:


Here’s a short quiz about Japan.  It’s just for fun and not too difficult.

Submit your answers and I will contact you with you score.

Also, I will put the correct answers on this post after a few days or so (on Sept 28th 2014).

Anyhow, here’s my quiz about Japan with the correct answers in red. (Feel free to leave a comment on this post with any thoughts or questions you have about this quiz):


1. What is the name of the country of Japan in Japanese?

(A) Japan  (B) Japon  (C) Nippon  (D) Kingdom of Japan


2. What is the essential ingredient for sushi?

(A) Vinegared  rice  (B) Raw fish  (C) Seaweed  (D) Soy sauce


3. What are Cherry Blossoms called in Japanese?

(A) Ocha  (B) Sakana  (C)  Sakura  (D) Sanma


4. Who is the beloved robot cat from the 22nd century?

(A) Doraemon  (B) Gundam  (C) Chibi-Maruko   (D) Baikin Man










5.  Hokkaido is the __________ prefecture in Japan?

(A) northernmost  (B) easternmost   (C) southernmost  (D) westernmost


6.  Tokyo Disneyland is actually in ____________ prefecture.

(A) Kanagawa  (B) Chiba  (C) Saitama  (D) Ibaraki


7.  What is a shinkansen ?

(A) A postage stamp  (B) A bicycle  (C) A rice cooker  (D) A bullet-train


8. A koban is a  ____________ .

(A) post office  (B) police box   (C)  ambulance  (D) train station


9.  Which is a traditional Japanese toy?

(A)  Kendama   (B) Pi-man  (C) Makura   (D) Zubon

Japanese kendama toy.











10.  The flag of Japan is called “_________” in Japanese.

(A) Rising Sun  (B) Aka-shiro  (C) Hi-no-maru  (D) Taiyo-no-hata

From Kyoto: The bicycle you can ride while wearing a kimono

19 Sep Featured Image -- 10805

Originally posted on RocketNews24:


There are many things to love about the kimono, the elegant traditional robe that just screams “Japan”. But beautiful and steeped in tradition as it is, the kimono is not without its accompanying inconveniences: its long skirt, which stays pencil-straight right down to the floor, provides almost no wiggle-room and prevents the wearer from running…or even walking particularly fast, unless in comically short strides. Riding a bicycle, too, has long been out of the question – until now.

View original 303 more words

Interview with Matt Alt

16 Sep

Matt Alt is, like me, an American with a Japanese wife who lives in Tokyo.

Also, like me, he is interested in 妖怪 (Japanese monsters).

His wife and he have written a few books, including “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” which I reviewed (Click here to read my review and to enter (by 2014 September 27th) for a chance to win a copy of the book).


Matt Alt has kindly agreed to do an interview with me.

- My questions and comments are in red. Matt Alt’s answers are in black.

1. Could you give us a short self-introduction (that covers info not answered in the questions below) ?

I’m Matt Alt. I co-authored Yokai Attack!, Ninja Attack!, and Yurei Attack! with Hiroko Yoda.
When we aren’t tracking down yokai, ninja, and ghost stories, we live in Tokyo where we run a translation company.

2. Where are you from? When / why did you come to Japan?

I was born and raised in Maryland, just a normal suburban kid.

There is very little in my family’s background to suggest any underlying interest in Japan. I was obsessed with robots, though, and that coincided with the first wave of Japanese robot toys hitting the American marketplace – Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, and then Robotech and Voltron and the Transformers and the whole Eighties toy boom.

This being the Eighties Japan was getting a lot of attention as the next economic superpower, and as a result my school system set up a Japanese program at my high school. It was one of the first at a public school in the US.   Both there, and in university where I majored in Japanese, the vast majority of students were studying the language for business reasons. I and a few friends were the only ones studying because we loved manga and anime. I’ve heard that proportion has totally flipped in recent years.

3. How did you become interested in yokai (Japanese monsters) ?

I owe my interest in yokai to Hiroko, my wife and co-author of our books. I’d known about them through pop culture sources like Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, but Hiroko really pounded it home to me that these weren’t anime characters, that they were folklore with a great deal of history in Japan. As she introduced me to old woodblock prints, stories, and art, I got more and more excited — and shocked that there was so little information available about them in English.

4. I’m also interested in Japanese yokai…but don’t know nearly as much detailed information about them as you do! How did you learn so much about them?

Besides my “living database” of Hiroko, there is a great deal of scholarship about yokai in Japanese. There are a huge number of books and magazines on the topic ranging from stuff for kids to pure entertainment to scholarly treatises. Besides the usual art books you can often find abroad, the writings of people like Kazuhiko Komatsu, Katsumi Tada, and Murakami Kenji offer a lot of insight into Japanese yokai culture. Being able to read Japanese is key. We rely heavily and almost exclusively on Japanese resources when we write our books.

5. What did you imagine Japan would be like before you first came here?

An otaku paradise! That was the naiveté born of a robot-obsessed fifteen year old. But it wasn’t, not at all, and I realized I actually preferred the reality all the more.

6. What type of culture shock did you experience here? Do you visit your home country often? Experience reverse-culture shock there?

Business takes me back to the States semi-regularly and I always try to go back for the holidays. Without question it’s tough to live so far from family and old friends. But I have a lot of new family and friends here in Japan too. I don’t really get homesick or culture shock, but it is often shocking to me, with the speed of modern travel, that I can be having breakfast in Tokyo one morning and dinner in Maryland that evening. That plane flight feels long when you’re on it, but by historical standards it’s the blink of an eye.

(As for me, I rarely travel outside Japan. It’s so expensive. My most recent trip to Japan was in 2004. And I experienced a lot of “reverse culture shock”! (Click here to read my post about it.  – Tokyo Five))

7. What is you favorite yokai ? Favorite “non-Japanese” monster?

With so many yokai it’s hard to choose from. I love what you might call the weaker ones, the less malevolent ones, most of all. Tofu Kozo is one. The idea of this tofu-carrying kid being a supernatural creature. Or Aka-Name, the yokai whose idea of haunting is licking out dirty bathtubs. Those sorts of creatures are the most interesting to me, because nearly every culture has a folklore tradition of scary monsters. Annoying or silly ones, not as much.

8. What do you think of manga / anime such as “Ge-Ge-Ge-No-Kitaro” ?

As I wrote in the preface to Drawn and Quarterly’s English translation of “Kitaro,” which came out earlier this year, Shigeru Mizuki is a genius at his craft and responsible more than anyone else in the 20th century for popularizing yokai among the public at large. I’m a big fan of Miyazaki’s work as well – he weaves yokai, or yokai-like, creatures into his work very subtly and deftly. I love the mix of the historical and supernatural of “Mononoke Hime,” for example. And I really like what I’ve seen and played of “Yokai Watch.” The way it sort of remixes rather than simply parrots old yokai lore is really charming, and the way kids are reacting to it reminds me of how kids used to react to Kitaro.

9. What question are you never asked in an interview that you should be asked (and what’s the answer) ?

A lot of people interview us about yokai, but very few ask about their impact on modern culture – I’m not talking recent iterations of yokai shows like “Yokai Watch” but Japanese character and culture in general. They are very much the key to understanding the question of why Japan is so great at creating mascots and characters in general. They represent an intersection of folklore, craftsmanship (illustration), and storytelling that forms the fabric of modern Japanese pop culture.

10. Any final words? Links? Plugs?

Thanks for reading our books! If people enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them, that makes us really happy. Even though writing is sort of a side business for us (our main one being localizing Japanese games and manga and other content into English and European languages) we have many other book projects simmering on the back burners even as we speak. Stay tuned!

Thanks again to Matt Alt.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 226 other followers