Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Morning Musume

Morning Musume ("Momusu"), a 15-strong group of pre-pubescent girls, are the ultimate triumph of marketing over common sense. Operating on a revolving door basis since 1997, the line-up frequently changes as "older" members are retired and even fresher faces are brought in. As you'd expect, their fanbase consists mostly of young girls, ...

Ken Hirai

Ken Hirai is the king of Japanese R&B, one of J-pop's booming genres. Although he is a "pure-blooded" Japanese, his curly hair and distinctively Caucasian profile set him apart from other J-Pop singers. He released his debut album, 'un-balanced', in 1995. One of his singles was used as the theme for ...

Ayumi Hamasaki

"Ayu" is instantly recognisable for her unfeasibly large eyes, which some tabloids suggest are surgically enhanced. A master of self-promotion, she has patiently built her reputation by frequently changing her clothes and hairstyle (she's responsible for Japan's cowboy hat craze). By writing her own lyrics, she has managed to set herself apart ...

Purikura (Print club)

Print club (or purikura) is a special covered booth which takes novelty pictures. Once the picture has been taken, cartoons, mangled English and "cute" stuff can be electronically added before they are printed out. Surprisingly low-tech by Japanese standards, it's massively popular among young people. Print club machines can be seen all ...

Karaoke

In only 20 years, karaoke ("empty orchesta") has become synonymous with modern Japan. As the legend goes, it was born in Kobe, when a canny restauranteur encouraged customers to sing over a backing tape when his act didn't show up. This is probably rubbish though. Japan's karaoke culture's way ahead of the ...

Blood type

Many Japanese people believe that your blood type indicates something about your character, much like horoscopes in the West. There's little or no scientific basis for this, but the general beliefs about blood type are: Type A - calm, composed, level-headed, serious, reliable, trustworthy. Appearing aloof or superior, they are often surrounded ...

Bob Sapp

Bob "The Beast" Sapp is a failed American football player who has found fame in K-1 martial arts, which is massive in Japan. Far from the best K-1 fighter, he has earned considerable fame and popularity by selling his dignity to Japanese TV. Exploiting his strange brutal/cuddly persona very effectively, his gurning ...

Ken Watanabe

Ken (Kensuke) Watanabe, with his distinctive charm and physical presence, has been one of Japan's top actors for over 20 years. Although he's played a range of characters, he's most famous for his work with a sword, earning him a lead role alongside Tom Cruise in 'The Last Samurai'. His 2004 divorce ...

Hayao Miyazaki

After his award-winning breakthrough, 'Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa' ('Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'), he formed Studio Ghibli with producer Isao Takahata. The studio has been a massive success, notably producing international hits like 'Mononoke Hime' ('Princess Mononoke') and 'Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi' ('Spirited Away'). His work is remarkable ...

Takeshi Kitano

Known in the West as a maverick indie director, "Beat" Takeshi is best known in his home country for small screen buffoonery. After dropping out of university, he worked as an MC in a strip club before forming part of a successful TV manzai duo ("The Two Beats"). He earned his fame ...

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