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Following the ‘Girls’ to Japan

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Two episodes of the fifth season of HBO’s hit show “Girls” turned its lens to Japan. While the show focuses on four millennials trying to make it in New York, season five takes plucky Shoshanna Shapiro out of the Big Apple and sends her to Tokyo for a new marketing position.

Here, she experiences both real and surreal aspects of life in Japan. At times, her itinerary feels like Buzzfeed clickbait (think “10 crayzee things to do in Tokyo!”), including highlights such as feet-eating fish, cat cafes and S&M bars. In its defense, the show also highlights normal points of life in Japan, including buying onigiri snacks for work, slurping ramen after drinks and chilling at an urban hot spring with friends.

And even Shoshanna, who is essentially kawaii incarnate, can get bogged down by the realities of expat life in Tokyo. She’s not exactly fluent in Japanese, her friends constantly remind her about her foreigner status and she has to deal with cultural differences in the dating scene.

But during her stay in Japan, Shoshanna visits a variety of classic tourist spots and experiences traditional pastimes. Now that season five is finally airing in Japan on Star Channel, we’ve mapped out her time abroad so you can see where the Tokyo adventures took place.

Mitaka house


Since Shoshanna is the quirkiest character on the show, it’s only natural that she stays in one of the quirkiest condos complexes in Japan, titled “Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka in Memory of Helen Keller.

Located in Mitaka, less than an hour from inner Tokyo, Shusaku Arakawa’s famous complex features a brightly colored facade and ball-shaped rooms. The architect has said he designed the building, which was completed in 2005, to keep tenants alert and forestall the inevitable: death.

Shibuya Crossing


This sight will be familiar to anyone who has been to Tokyo, and even those who haven’t.

Millions of people brave the Shibuya “scramble crossing” every year. Surrounded by giant video billboards evoking scenes out of “Blade Runner,” the crossing is the city’s top selfie spot. Naturally, Shosh, wearing Hello Kitty headphones, navigates the five-way intersection with aplomb.

Taketori-no-Yu Spa


Shoshanna takes like a fish to water by embracing Japan’s bathing tradition. This “super sento” in the Tokyo suburb of Tama, which has giant baths, massages and dining halls, is not exactly your typical neighborhood bath.


For Shoshanna’s second visit, she and her former boss Abigail (played by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Aidy Bryant) indulge in “Doctor Fish” foot baths, where little fish actually nibble the dead skin on your feet (for ¥500). Actress Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna) said that “it doesn’t just tickle, it kinda really hurts.”

Moon Romantic


Shoshanna makes her move on shy work colleague Yoshi at the aptly named Moon Romantic (青山 月見ル君想フ) while her and her friends see the Japanese band Flip.

The venue features a variety of performers throughout the year, ranging from piano players to up-and-coming rock stars. Unlike the more famous and slightly grungier “live houses” in the city, Moon Romantic, located in the up-market Minami Aoyama, is decidedly more clean-cut.

Trump Room


Shoshanna gets a first-hand taste of S&M at Shibuya’s Trump Room, a nexus for trendy scenesters that boasts dozens of chintzy chandeliers and mirrors.

As the bar has a revolving door of DJs and themed nights, don’t show up looking for latex-clad dominatrixes on any night of the week.

Golden Gai


After a long day, Shoshanna and her gal pals go out for drinks in a small hole-in-the-wall izakaya in what looks like the Golden Gai area, a sliver of Shinjuku that is jam-packed with tiny bars and has been a magnet for tipplers since the 1960s.

Pro tip: Most places have only a few counter seats each, so don’t bring a large group of friends along for your pub crawl.

Takeshita Dori


One location that should be obvious to any visitor of Japan is Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori, where Shoshanna takes Abigail on a trek through what she calls “Katy Perry’s vagina.”

The street’s pink-centric fashion shops and creperies attract hordes of young people and tourists.

Pro tip: If you’re allergic to crowds, squeals and pink, steer clear.

Temari no Ouchi Cat Cafe


After being laid off from her marketing job, Shoshanna does the responsible thing and becomes an assistant manager at Temari no Ouchi Cat Cafe.

Located in Kichijoi, this cat cafe is one of the most elaborate in the city with its Ghibli-like decor. And while other cat cafes simply serve tea or coffee, Temari no Ouchi has full meal sets along with cat-shaped cookies.

Afuri Ramen Ebisu


If the ramen at Afuri looked delicious, the good news is that you can go ahead and try it yourself.

Not your average fat-laden ramen, the noodles here are on the lighter end of the spectrum. The signature bowl of yuzu shio ramen is not be missed. You can slurp on Afuri’s ramen at seven locations, but we’re impressed that Shoshanna chose the flagship shop in Ebisu.

Nishi Shinjuku

Shoshanna’s final moments in Japan have her walking in the early morning hours through Nishi Shinjuku.


The street has all of the things you’d expect from a jaunt through Tokyo, except people.

And if you want to peer even further behind the camera, you can view these behind-the-scenes videos the first Japan episode and the second Japan episode of “Girls.”

Bonus: Are you jealous of Shoshanna’s talking alarm clock? Well, you can now buy it on Amazon.

YouTubers in Japan with 100,000 fans and counting

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

As more and more people turn off the TV in favor of the Internet, YouTube Japan is recognizing some of its top celebrities who are drawing in millions of people to their videos.

The company threw a big celebration for more than 20 YouTubers living in Japan who each have over 100,000 subscribers. The channels range from expats explaining Japanese culture to girls giving out makeup advice. Here are some of the channels honored at YouTube’s event.

1. Bilingual Chika’s fun and informational videos aim to help Japanese people learn English and to help everyone else to understand Japan. Her videos range from simply explaining grammar points all the way to reproducing English fairy tales.

2. Chihiro shares her beauty tips with the world with monthly favorites and test trials of 100 yen store makeup — Chihiro reviews it all. Scattered within these reviews are also a number of vlogs about her life.

3. Daichi Beatboxers name pretty much says it all: Daichi Beatboxer is a beatboxer named Daichi. His channel consists of performances, experimental content and collaboration videos with artists such as Hikakin.

4. Einshine’s channel has one primary theme: anime. Whether it be in his videos about gaming, vlogging or animation, the topic of anime almost always seems to make an appearance.  

5. Kobasolo is a musician, producer and charismatic goofball. Showing off his talent in full blown music videos or covers, Kobasolo’s musical skills really shine through.

6. Kumamiki’s channel is a collage of different do-it-yourself and do-yourself-up videos. In addition to her beauty and makeup tutorials, Kumamiki also vlogs and tries out a variety of food.

7. Melodee Morita is a TV reporter and director who has made her way to YouTube. On top of her travel videos, her videos feature tips on how to act, eat and exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

8. Rachel & Jun are more than just a friends. This married couple shows a unique perspective on living in Japan as both a foreigner and native to the country. Whether filming together or alone, their videos tend to revolve around topics relating to Japan.

9. SekineRisa’s channel is a guide for all things glamorous. Her videos include travel, shopping hauls, makeup tutorials or a combination of the three, and Risa does it all in style.

10. Sharla in Japan is almost like an Internet tour guide for all those looking to visit or learn more about Japan. When she’s visiting theme cafes or discussing Japanese fashion, Sharla always seems to do it with a smile on her face.

11. Takutaku is a gamer with a focus on horror games. His take on games such as “Hide and Seek and “Entity helps make the games feel a little less terrifying.

12. Dekakin runs channel where, whether combining nine hair products into one or drinking cold water in a bathtub full of ice, his humorous personality is the star.

13. Haiji’s channel is a collection of food vlogs that are sure to make your mouth water. When he’s enjoying cheap sushi or ordering two large bento at once, viewers might feel a mix of hunger and jealousy.

14. Miki Pon provides makeup and hair tutorials for every season and every cost. Those who love her style can mimic it in the real world with her product collections.

15. Suzukawa Ayako is a family-oriented mother who loves her kids and cars. Her videos range all the way from visiting museums with her children to assembling models of toy trains.

So there you have some of the top vloggers in Japan. While they may not be household names just yet, their dedicated group of fans are probably refreshing their channels right now hoping for a new video.

Funassyi — Japan’s favorite shrieking pear

Friday, May 15th, 2015


In a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the British comedian dove into the weird and excessive world of Japan’s yuru-kyara. During his on-air explanation of the nation’s many mascots, Oliver highlighted Funassyi, the giant yellow pear who is the unofficial mascot of Funabashi in Chiba, and included one of his more explosive moments on TV.

Need to know more about Japan’s most popular pear?

At first Funnasyi was rejected as the official mascot of his hometown but unlike other successful official mascots, such as Kumamon of Kumamoto Prefecture, Funassyi has come to symbolize Funabashi despite its lack of government sponsorship and become just as popular as any yuru-kyara.

Funnasyi has appeared in national commercials for the Asahi, released a CD single, and been crowned the Grand-Prix winner at an international trade show for character and brand businesses best license in Japan in 2014 as he traveled across Japan and the world to spread his pear-y special brand of energy.

Here are just a few of highlights from 2014:

Funassyi’s popularity hit a milestone last year when, as he was being featured on CNN in June, the news reporter couldn’t help but laugh throughout the broadcast when she saw the mascot flapping his arms around.

In July, Funassyi tried to kickstart a fashion trend by donning a black cap with a “274” logo (a play on the numbers 2-7-4 with can sound like “fu-na-shi”) and appeared in a TV commercial for Shimamura, a fashion shopping center. The fast-running pear with non-stop squealing had fans wondering how he survived the summer heat in his suit.

In September, FUNAcafe, a collaboration event of Funassyi and Shibuya Parco’s The Guest Cafe & Diner, served a special Funassyi-inspired menu including the “funa” burger (with his face on the burger), nashi pear cake, nashi pear tea and even dandan noodles.

The character’s popularity went international when he visited Hong Kong in October, attending a local shopping mall event and bringing Japanese yuru-kyara culture with him. Judging by this video, Funassyi’s fans in Hong Kong are just as passionate as those in Tokyo.

In December, the toy company “Kitan Club” released a Funnasyi-style version of its famous Cup-no-Fuchiko cup-straddling toys. The brands are literally embracing each other as the tiny figurines can cling to each other in three different kinds of positions and as expected of Cup-no-Fuchiko both can sit on the edge of the cup. The announcement climbed to the top of Fuji Television’s weekly Twitter rankings, beating out the hot issue of Japan’s strict state secrets law.

Funassyi is expanding his brand aggressively by creating Funassyi stories everywhere in Japan. Funassyiland, a Funaasyi goods store, opened in Fukuoka in December. According to Asahi Digital News, Funassyi devotees from as far as Tokyo were making the trek.

Funassyi’s naturally fragile yet good-natured personality seems to be a starting point.

The pear rounded out 2014 on Nippon TV by rocking out with his hero, Ozzy Osbourne, performing a headbanging rendition of Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Funassyi got a little wet and wild when Osbourne dumped a bucket of water on him before pushing him into a swimming pool.

In the same month, whilst making a cameo during a commemorative concert for The Alfee, Funassyi took an untimely tumble but nothing went pear-shaped: the resilient character sprung back into action minutes later.

Without a doubt, Funassyi was a hit in 2014 but only time will tell if the rest of 2015 will keep rewarding the fruits of his labor.

YouTube’s #DearMe campaign looks back to look forward

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

With International Women’s Day right around the corner, YouTube launched its #DearMe campaign, encouraging women to reflect on their past and post video messages with advice to their younger selves. The project became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter within an hour after its launch.

YouTube recruited a range of women from a variety of countries, backgrounds and professions, including blogger Grace Helbig, actress Felicia Day and the band Pentatonix. The selection also included many women living in Japan. Here are a few of the #DearMe videos highlighted by YouTube.

Bilingirl — YouTuber

Subscribers:  383,324

“As I lived each day of my life, trying new things and gaining new experiences, I discovered that there was more to me than just small eyes and a flat face. I learned that confidence comes from my accomplishments and not my appearances.”

“The best make-up is a girl’s smile, so don’t forget to smile!”

Rin Rin Doll — model, blogger, TV personality

Subscribers: 5,570

“Your achievements aren’t defined by other people. Wear what you want to wear. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of obstacles coming your way — you’re going to be OK. You’re strong, and I believe in you.”

CONTINUE READING about YouTube's #DearMe campaign →

Tweet Beat: #七夕, #鯖アニメ, #愛国競争

Friday, July 12th, 2013

The Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags for each week. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

A tweet is a wish your heart makes

May everyone’s wishes come true. Hikoboshi casually greets Orihime in English.

#七夕 (Tanabata, the Star Festival) takes place at different times depending on where you are in Japan, but July 7 is the first major date. It’s a holiday for making wishes and celebrating the once-a-year reunion of legendary separated lovers Hikoboshi and Orihime. The accompanying decorations make for great tweets, but the concise format (and this tool that allows your text to mimic the shape of a traditional paper tanzaku) is also perfect for sharing wishes.

Write your wish on a tanzaku.

Some people expressed personal aspirations or concerns:

“I want to belong to Amuse.”

“I wanna be a hottie.”

“May I become fluent in Japanese.”

“May my smartphone not break until I can buy a new one.”

“I want friends.”

Some looked outward:

“World peace.”

“May black kigyo go under.”

“May I be able to repay many favors.”

One person wrote a wish for the manga character Detective Conan, and one, instead of wishing, realized that he hadn’t done anything Tanabata-ish at all.

May all my follower’s wishes come true.

Continue reading about last week's top hashtags →

Japan by the numbers (07.11.13)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Pulsations (06.02.13)

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Visual Pulse

Japanese feline Internet sensation, Maru, has turned 5 years old. In his latest video, he can be seen trying to squeeze his frame into just about anything. We find his attempt at a paper envelope particularly entertaining.

Fighting for their lives, local governments shell out for matchmaking services

Friday, May 24th, 2013

If you’re single, looking for love and live in Itoigawa city, Niigata Prefecture, the local government will be happy to pick up the hefty tab for registering with an online dating agency. According to a recent article in J-Cast, the municipality of Itoigawa has taken the unusual step of partnering up with professional matchmakers Zwei in the hopes that young local singletons will find love through the web.

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Itoigawa municipality is offering to pay sign up fees for marriage hunting website Zwei

Declining birth rates threaten the future productivity of Japan, so it’s in the best interests of local government to help romance bloom between residents via konkatsu (marriage hunting) activities. By lending financial support to machikon (large-scale singles mixers),  konkatsu seminars, day trips and group dates, the local government obviously wants its citizens to make babies.

Unfortunately there’s little hard data available to show whether spending public money on konkatsu activities actually leads to  marriages. In March 2011 the Cabinet Office published a survey on marriage and family structures. Out the 1698 municipalities that took part, 552 had actively supported konkatsu activites. However, 283 of these had stopped these activities because of a perceived limit to their effectiveness, lack of funds and a decline in demand. Some simply held one event and that was it.

Itoigawa, however, don’t seem to have done too badly. Since it began supporting konkatsu activities in 2007, 18 local couples have tied the knot. Feeling it could do better and hearing about a similar scheme in Inami, Wakayama Prefecture, where the municipality helped citizens out with Zwei’s fees, Itoigawa decided to call in the professionals.

Single people aged 20 or above who’ve been living in Itoigawa for more than a year and are up to date with their residency taxes can get the initial fees of ¥63,840 (roughly $621) paid by local government; however, they will have to foot the monthly membership fees themselves. Zwei offers quite a comprehensive service, not only organizing omiai (interviews to gauge marriage potential between parties), but also mixers where people might find someone special.

It’s too early to say if this scheme will be a success. In Wakayama, four people applied for financial support with fees for Zwei in 2011, though it’s not known if any of these led to marriage. Nobody applied in 2012, despite inquiries from parents with unmarried children.

One of the key stumbling blocks might be the stigma attached to online dating in Japan. The launch of Xlace, another konkatsu website, back in April this year, however, does seem to indicate that the market is slowly growing; whether other local governments will also enlist help from online dating agencies to stimulate couple generation remains to be seen.


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