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Which Sake Are You?

Recent posts from blogs about Japan.  Shige gives us a peek at Kappa-bashi, a Tokyo neighborhood with a warren of restaurant supply shops.   The 1970 Osaka World Expo’s astounding Ultrasonic Bath of the Future never really took off, but Pink Tentacle shows us what might have been.   The lights go on at the Hiroshima Carp’s gleaming new stadium, and Get Hiroshima has the footage.  What Japan Thinks about adorable dancing emoticons in its email.  The Workaholic Hostess closes the door on the ghetto club and the Hopeless Romantic experiences temporary insanity with a killer soundtrack.  At An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla, paintings of…Godzilla.  Neojaponisme gives a word history of the zoku in bosozoku, and Melinda at Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass hits us with a sake personality quiz.  I’m a namazake.  I make people feel alive.

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In the Pines

Eric Cunningham is a graduate student keeping a fascinating blog of his time in Otaki, a mountain village in Nagano with a population of just under a thousand.   Recent posts include accounts of ice fishing for wakasagi, traditional roof construction in Otaki, and a neighbor’s water wheel, used to grind rice flour. 

Eric’s research, as far as I can tell, focuses on the relationship between modern Japanese forestry practices and the country’s declining upland communities, seeking in part to uncover traditional approaches that might alleviate some of the problems arising from 21st century pressures on local resources.  That by itself would interest some readers, but the blog also offers expansive meditations on hikes to frozen summits, including wonderful photos of alpine shrines wreathed in windblown snow, some drinking stories, and illustrated passages from Dogen’s “Mountain and Water Sutra.”  Especially for readers interested in Japanese folkways, from making soba to twisting shimenawa rope from rice straw, In the Pines is a real winner.  Here or from the sidebar.

Gaijin Smash

By now, most regular readers of Japan blogs will have wandered across Gaijin Smash.  With fairly frequent entries going back to 2004, Az has been blogging long and well enough to have attracted an audience that extends beyond the gaijin blog ghetto.  It took me a while to warm up to Gaijin Smash.  For one thing, the gaijin vein is played out.  You’re not Japanese.  Neither am I.  Let’s move along.  Add to that a persistent, trilling whining in the background of many of the posts and some readers may begin looking elsewhere.  And yet…

The thing about Az is he’s smart, he has an excellent eye for what’s going on around him, and he’s often very, very funny.  And he’s been here long enough now to have had a broad range of experiences in Japan.  Starting at the first of his archived posts, it’s easy to spend an absorbing afternoon reading his story.  Real characters come and go, and Az himself quickly emerges as a very likeable, self-deprecating man, and because he’s been at it for several years you get a real sense of his developing relationship with the country.  I hope he’ll keep at it.  Visit here or from the sidebar.

Japan Blogs

Blogs about Japan are the whole reason this site exists.  Whether you live in Japan, hope to visit Japan one day, or simply have an interest in Japanese pop culture or the Japanese language, my goal is to point you toward Japan blogs worth reading.

I’d like to ask for your help.  If you happen upon this site, and you know of a great blog on Japan written from a foreign perspective, let me know.  It can be your own blog or one you regularly visit.  My own tastes can be a bit narrow, and I’d like to introduce an element of democratic involvement in choosing the blogs on Japan that appear here.  So put us in your feed reader, and leave a comment with any questions, suggestions, criticisms or blunt insults that spring to mind.  And thanks for reading!

Frog in a Well is actually an umbrella site, containing blogs pertaining to the histories of Japan, China and Korea.  Here, we’re looking at the Japan History Group Blog, kept by a roster of students and scholars of Japanese history.  The blog isn’t updated very frequently and, alas, makes virtually no reference at all to Gundam, beer or J-Pop. But for readers who might be interested in the history of Japan and its interactions with other cultures, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here.

Recent posts include a glowing review of a Taiwanese documentary on children recruited to work in Japan’s wartime industry during World War II, an account of the confusion surrounding recently surfaced photographs initially thought to be of Hiroshima just after the atomic bombing, and an excellent little Mac dashboard widget that converts between the western and Japanese calendars.  Both interesting and useful, as any good blog about Japan should be.  Here or from the sidebar.

The Hopeless Romantic

Apparently this blog’s title came about in the aftermath of a failed college romance.  These days, though, the author (calling himself Claytonian) seems to have put those worries behind him and is keeping a very engaging personal blog of his time in Japan.  He’s recently finished the first chapter of his life here, in Kyushu, and has moved to Saitama.  In his writing, he comes through as a personable, intelligent, funny guy with something of substance to say about his daily life here.  That alone would be enough for many readers, but he’s also a dedicated student of Japanese, and fairly frequently offers posts that will be of interest to others studying the language.

Another welcome addition here is an ample Youtube presence, still surprisingly rare on Japan blogs, that gives you another point of access into Claytonian’s experiences.  An all around winner of a blog, and you’ll find it here or from the sidebar.

Nihonhacks

Problem: You’ve just arrived in Japan and are standing in the supermarket weeping softly at the price of steak, or you’ve spent all Saturday wandering the blistering streets of Tokyo looking for shoes that will fit your prodigious, paddle-like feet.

Solution: Nihonhacks.com

Thomas Hjelms keeps this blog, which is devoted primarily to offering quick answers to questions that plague some foreign residents for years.  Some of the suggestions here may seem fairly obvious, but it’s alarming how often the obvious can go unnoticed.  From where to buy ingredients for Thai food to using your new keyboard to type Japanese characters, Thomas has your back.  And best of all, he’s constantly looking for further questions or tips, so feel free to jump right in, here or from the sidebar.

Japanese film buffs who haven’t already stumbled onto Ryuganji.net are missing out on one of the web’s best English language resources on the Japanese film industry.  For two and a half years Don Brown, a Kiwi living somewhere in Japan, has kept up a running commentary on Japanese films, actors and related ephemera.  Posts run the gamut from release notices for both large-scale and minor projects, reviews, actor news and gossip and anything else Mr. Brown decides to throw on the site. 

Definitely worth a visit, and likely to become a regular stop on the web for anyone who shares the author’s love for Japanese movies and the often bizarre characters who make them.  Find it here or from the sidebar.

Get Hiroshima Blog

The most common advice bloggers receive, other than to post regularly (ha!), is to find and hold a focus.  Few Japan blogs have managed that better over the past several years than the consistently useful Get Hiroshima Blog.  Kept mostly by a British and American couple living and working in, well, Hiroshima, the blog keeps running tabs on news, events and other developments around town that might be of interest to locals, foreign or otherwise.

The blog focuses on Hiroshima and its environs but manages within that purview to include everything from restaurant and film reviews to glosses of local news stories, interviews, opinion pieces and more.  Part of the larger gethiroshima.com site, both the blog and its parent site are uniquely useful resources for prospective visitors to western Japan.  Check it out here or from the sidebar.

Despite the title, this is not just another English teacher evincing the early signs of what will shortly become full-blown alcoholism.  Melinda Joe is, according to her profile, “a graduate of the John Gauntner Sake Professional Course and a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Wine Certificate holder.”  She also writes a bar column for the Tokyo Food Page.  In other words, the lady knows her booze.

Her posts, though appearing irregularly, range from coverage of industry events to late night run-ins with sake sages in smoke-yellowed back alley pubs.  She does it all well, moving fluidly from personal anecdote to succinct and lucid appraisals of wines, sakes and food without a trace of pretension.  If you’re interested in sake, wine, or just finding a good place to eat and drink in Tokyo, this blog is an excellent place to start.  Find it here, or in the sidebar.

Alright, no matter how it may seem from time to time, Japanese pop culture has yet to infiltrate every shadowed nook and cranny on planet Earth.  And perhaps you’re one of those who finds this an enormous relief.  If so, you are dismissed.  On the other hand, if you’re an anime and manga fan who has somehow missed this blog, you’ll want to visit right away.

An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla (I don’t get it either, let’s just move on) is the blog of Patrick Macias, a “writer, editor, and internationally recognized Japanese pop culture expert” who splits his time between Tokyo and San Francisco, editing “Otaku USA” magazine and contributing to a host of projects in various media formats.  The blog itself is an interesting and regularly updated look at the scene, exploring both its history and most cutting edge concerns.  A definite daily read for anyone who’s passionate about Japan’s popular culture and its trappings.  Check it out here or from the sidebar.

Let’s Japan

This blog is a potential lifesaver for some hapless young humanities major out there, with fantasies of coming to Japan and teaching English while he (a) dates an endless parade of submissive auto show girls (b) becomes a martial arts legend or (c) gets an apartment in Akihabara and claws his way to the top of the savage otaku food chain.

The blog’s About section puts it this way:

Let’s Japan seeks to debunk the beast known as eikaiwa, or English conversation in Japan…Working in Japan was nothing close to the image presented to us back home. We were salesmen, doing our best to keep students happy enough so that they would gladly keep paying for the privilege of speaking to us a few times a week.

Let’s Japan does an excellent job of tracking news items related to the big chain English schools, and has found ample material in the aftermath of the Nova fiasco.  The writers also pull very few punches in sharing their own anecdotes about life in the eikaiwa ghetto.  So the next time a young relative or friend’s kid brother asks about teaching in one of the McSchools, you have an alternative to the standard, “Sure, or you could just fling yourself in front of a train.”  Send them to Let’s Japan.

Here or from the sidebar.

Interesting primarily because there are so few similar blogs in English.  Jade (not her real name) is an American citizen working in a Roppongi hostess club.  In her blog, she writes about her co-workers, customers both good and bad, and her alcoholic mama-san.

The blog is obviously a place for her to blow off some steam, and the tone gets pretty vicious at times, but it works well as a window into the daily routines of a hostess in a small club.  She spends a fair amount of time wondering aloud just what she’s doing with her life, and after reading a few entries you’ll wonder too.  Still, the distinctly soap opera feel of the blog can hook you pretty quickly.

Here or from the sidebar.

Frangipani

It seems a great many people who arrive in Japan wind up trying to reinvent themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention at all when they set out.  I can’t say for sure why this is.  Perhaps the relative scarcity of opportunities allows some of us to look into possibilities we wouldn’t have taken as seriously back home.

I certainly won’t try to guess at what motivates the author of Frangipani, a wonderful little blog from an Australian in Tokyo.  But it’s been fun reading her site and following her work as she’s honed her camera skills and begun to think about launching her own photography business.  She wrote recently about the “Thousand True Fans” theory, a somewhat optimistic idea making its rounds on the internet, claiming that all an artist needs to make a living is 1,000 devoted fans.  I can’t vouch for the theory’s soundness, but if her work continues in the direction it’s going, she can sign me up.  

Be sure to click around a bit; her photographs are kept in several different places.  Here or from the sidebar.

Néojaponisme

This is another group effort, and an excellent example of how well this blogging model can work.  Néojaponisme draws on the time and talents of at least four regular contributors who write brief but interesting articles on Japanese culture, covering topics from film and literature to architecture and television.  In addition to articles, the blog includes interviews, a short series of podcasts, and book reviews.  Recent entries have explored Mt. Fuji’s place in the national psyche and literature, looked at lesser-known works by popular novelist Murakami Haruki, and even answered some questions about insulation in Tokyo buildings for the miserable, shivering creatures who live in them.

This is an especially refreshing effort for those of us who grow quickly tired of “Japanese culture” blogs that stick strictly to the martial arts / tea ceremony end of things or display similar fixations on animé and manga.  The Néojaponisme guys may find all the above interesting, and indeed their personal website suggest as much, but as a team they’ve managed to sidestep any single-minded obsessions.

Here or from the sidebar.

What a find!  There are some foreigners who pick one town or neighborhood in Japan and cling to it like barnacles.  Then there are the other kind.

Meet the other kind.  From their first blog entry:

In spring 2008, two Australian writers are leaping into a very big and exceedingly ancient pond, walking the entire length of Japan, upright and erect (at least at the start), a journey of up to six months and 3,500km. Ian is hiking solo from ‘mainland’ Japan’s most easterly point (Cape Nosappu: 43, 22′ N; 145, 49′ E) to its most westerly (Kousakibana: 33, 13 N; 129, 33′ E) ; Chris is starting at the opposite end of the country, walking from the most southerly point (Cape Sata: 30, 59′ N; 130, 39′ E) to the most northerly (Cape Soya: 45, 31′N; 141, 56′ E). Though physically and psychologically demanding, their adventure will provide two intimate, ever-changing views of Japan.

This looks like it’s going to be one hell of a trip, crisscrossing each of Japan’s four main islands. Be sure to check out their About page, in which they lay out the ground rules for the project and list the twenty “Waypoints” they’re both required to pass through. They’re about a month and a half into the journey now, and as might be expected they’ve hit a few snags. Fortunately it looks like neither of them is about to give up yet. As a bonus the writing is, for the most part, excellent. Check it out here or from the sidebar.
 

What Japan Thinks

This is such a great idea, and it’s turned into an enormously popular blog.  After several years of trying to puzzle out what the Japanese actually thought about religion, Ken began to find and translate a variety of surveys and polls.   Things quickly got out of hand, and in just the last week, the blog has offered poll results on internet cafe use, where people get their hair cut, hay fever statistics, credit card use and which figure from history people would most like to meet in a seance.  Almost unbelievably, Oda Nobunaga comes takes first prize in that last one, in case you’re interested.

Ken is quick to point out that he does none of the research himself.  These are professionally conducted polls, drawn from a wide range of sources.  Ken is just making them available in English, with the occasional wry comment thrown in to keep readers coming back. 

Here or from the sidebar.

Here’s a very lively, chatty blog being kept by a young Australian in Tokyo.  She’s engaged to a Japanese man and has been teaching in an international kindergarten.  They’ll be moving back to Australia shortly, but only for a year. 

Sometimes its pleasant to read a blog that isn’t trying to flummox you with a hipper-than-thou attitude or captioned photos of cats.  Cherry Blossom Adventures is another good example of a seemingly nice person writing honestly about her life in a place she doesn’t completely understand.  Strangely addictive.  See for yourself, here or from the sidebar.

Icebox

A wonderful site from the Hailstone Haiku Circle.  From the “About” page:

The Hailstone Haiku Circle is a group of poet friends – some Japanese and some foreigners – mostly living in the Kansai area of Japan, where both Basho and Buson were born and died. We meet regularly to study, compose and share English haiku, tanka and related art forms.

The blog recently moved to its new location; an older site maintains archives going back to January of 2006.  Entries are frequent and varied, so if you’re at all interested in haiku and similar poetic snapshots of frozen moments, by all means swing by.

Here or from the sidebar.

Notes from the Nog

A consistently interesting peephole into the mind of an American yoga teacher and self-described “internationalizationer” living in the Kyoto area.  Includes local events, the odd haiku, long and thoughtful  posts on the author’s ramblings around Japan and farther afield, and a number of entries that are obviously 3 a.m. seismic rumblings at the base of the skull.  Good stuff, not least of all the most recent entry, a surprise announcement of his marriage.

Here or from the sidebar.

Chanpon

This is a fascinating project, launched by a group of alumni of one of Tokyo’s international schools.  The word “chanpon” means a blend of distinctive ingredients, or the juxtaposition of elements that, on the surface, may seem at odds with one another.   Chanpon.org explores those places where Japanese culture makes close contact, for better or worse, with American and other foreign cultures.  From the site’s “About” page:

Chanpon is a celebration of the space at the intersection of cultures, where multiple viewpoints are embraced without necessarily resolving into a coherent whole. Chanpon identity means being able to navigate and embrace different cultural styles simultaneously; it means not only direct experience with multiple cultures, but being able to blend them into a unique and tasty combination. Chanpon culture is a third culture that is not wholly defined by any mainstream national cultures, but can function as a bridge between them and a source of inspiration, innovation, and cross-cultural understanding.

Really interesting stuff to be found here.  Go take a look, either here or from the sidebar.

Sushicam

In addition to the many wonderful photoblogs maintained by Japanese bloggers, there are a growing number of excellent offerings from foreign residents in Japan.  One of the best of these is Sushicam, an eight-year old blog started by Jeff Laitila.  Jeff is an American living in Yokosuka, and the blog consists of both his writing and photography.  There are also occasional posts from guest bloggers, and hundreds of photos to look at in the archives. 

Here, or from the sidebar.

One of the better examples of a blog by a young guy just having fun, this one in Nagoya.  Tommy’s an English Conversation School teacher, far and away the most common job for people in their twenties coming over to Japan for a few years.   Tommy’s also doing a bit of web design and working on some music.  And laughing at his students’ mistakes, but in a friendly way. It also looks like he plans to try some video blogging.

Here or from the sidebar.

Beck Block Blog

Another Daddy Blog, this one from Adam Beck. Adam works for the Hiroshima Peace Center, and has been responsible for a number of interesting charity projects launched from Hiroshima.

On the blog, you can follow the day to day life of an American trying to make a living doing something other than teaching English, while raising two beautiful kids and trying to make the world a better place. Worth a look, either here or from the sidebar.

TV in Japan

Not NHK news, but clips from some of the more exuberant moments on Japanese television.  Naturally, nearly all the clips are in Japanese, but they’re good fun to watch even if you have no idea what’s being said.  Includes commercials, variety show segments, music videos and more.  Recent entries include a cross-dressing Maid Cafe, a terrifying fusion of Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald, and Barack Obama acknowledging that he has, in fact, heard of the little town of Obama, Japan.

Here or from the sidebar.

Walking with Lee

Not a foreigner’s blog, but an excellent English language blog by a resident of Tokyo. The basic idea?  Shige takes us along as he walks Lee, his miniature dachshund, through some of the capital city’s loveliest spots, morning markets and shrine festivals.  Be sure to stop by and take a look. 

Find it here, or from the sidebar.

Pink Tentacle

Unfailingly interesting, Pink Tentacle offers visitors a grab bag of Japanese pop culture both past and present.

Recent posts include 16th century drawings of fantastic beasts thought to cause illness, an eerily lifelike robot patient used by dentists-in-training (nicknamed Pain Girl!), and footage of a pianist performing on a blazing piano on the beach in Ishikawa prefecture. Stop by and check out the most recent oddity.

On the sidebar, or here.

“He’s English, he’s a man, and he’s in Osaka.”  This blog has been going steady for three years now, and judging from the comments the author has built up a solid readership.  Most of the posts are silly, and if you enjoy the kind of humor on offer here then you’re in luck, because the Englishman keeps things fresh with frequent entries.  Recent posts include the mysterious deserted city of Otsu, an invitation to “spot the differences” between Japanese and American school buses, and pages from a uniform rental catalog. 

Here or on the sidebar.

Blue Lotus

Here’s one for the foodies.  The blog’s  page says, “A Canadian girl eats her way around Tokyo.”  What it doesn’t tell you is that she cooks too!  Entry after entry details either trips to restaurants in and around Tokyo or wonderful looking meals she’s prepared at home, all accompanied by mouth-watering photographs.

With a high frequency of posts, and occasional side forays into such topics as baseball and how to make Ukrainian Easter eggs, this blog will keep readers coming back to the table again and again.

Find it on the side bar or here.

Laughing Knees

Here’s a blog that leaves Japan’s city streets behind in favor of a walk in the hills. “Laughing Knees” is a Japanese term for the shaky feeling in your legs after a long, steep descent. The blog’s writer calls himself Butuki, and describes himself like this:

A German/ Filipino/ African-American who grew up in Japan, it’s not really my genes that matter to me, but the timbre of place and kinship. If there is anything I would rather be doing, that would be a long walk in the hills, be it alone with my camera and sketchbook, or with a good, like-minded friend.

This is a great blog for anyone interested in outdoor Japan, and an excellent reminder of the country’s astonishing natural beauty. You can visit here or from the sidebar.