Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Nagurareya, the human punchbag

Had a rough day? Head down to the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, where Nagurareya, the human punchbag, is more than happy to take a beating. A big hit on the streets of Shinjuku, the 37-year-old ex-boxer charges passers-by ¥1000 for one minute of uninterrupted fist exercise, during which he will ...

Issei Sagawa, the celebrity cannibal

"The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am quite happy about that." In 1981, at the age of 32, Issei Sagawa leapt to infamy for a cannibal murder the Japanese call Pari jinniku jiken (The Paris Human Flesh Incident). When captured, he was found mentally unfit to ...

Yobai (Night crawling)

Until quite recently in rural Japan, yobai, or “night crawling” would have been an introduction to sex for many young people. While a young woman slept, a silent intruder would creep into her room, slide behind her and make his intentions known. If she consented, they would have discrete ...

Aribai-ya (Alibi shops)

It doesn't really matter what you're doing, as long as no one finds out. In many parts of the world, this attitude is abhorred. In others, it prevails beneath the surface. In Japan, there's a whole industry dedicated to it. Alibi services ("alibi-ya" or "aribai-ya") do exactly what you'd expect - ...

Shikaku suika (Square watermelons)

Mmm... delicious watermelon. The only problem with watermelons is that they're much too impractical. Personally, I'd eat nothing but watermelon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if only they weren't so darned round and ungainly. Once again, the Japanese have the solution. Grown in glass boxes In the 1980s, a farm in Shikoku ...

‘Ore-ore’ sagi (‘It’s me’ scams)

A: Hello? B: It's me! A: Takeshi? Is that you? What's wrong with your voice? B: I've got a cold. Listen, I need a really big favour... "Ore Ore" sagi ("It's me!" scams) are a well known confidence trick in Japan. A fraudster calls a house. If the voice on the end of the phone ...

Kusaya (“Smells bad” fish)

Kusaya, which literally translates as “smells bad”, is a type of preserved dried fish. During the Edo period, when salt was much more scarce, the people of Japan’s remote Izu Islands would save salt by preserving the fish they caught in a salty soup (kusaya-eki). The fish would then be laid ...

Ichi the Killer (2001)

Stylish, violent, depraved, funny - Ichi the Killer is seen by many as the definitive (if such a thing were possible) Takashi Miike film. It follows Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a masochistic yakuza hitman, who is searching for his missing boss. His motivation is not so money, or revenge - it's that ...

Nasubi

For more than a year, a young comedian called Nasubi (meaning "eggplant") was the unwitting star of one of Japan's most infamous TV shows. For 24 hours a day, Nasubi was naked and alone in a small room. His only relief from hunger, discomfort and boredom came from prizes he ...

Maneki neko (Lucky cats)

Maneki neko ("Beckoning" or "Welcoming" cats) are ceramic sculptures often found in the windows of restaurants and shops. To many Westerners, the cats appear to be waving, but they are actually beckoning customers into the shop (Japanese body langauge for "come here" has the palm facing out, rather than in). Different ...

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