Kabuki stagehand taxi service starts, offers silent cab drivers that’ll give you a story to tell

With their drivers’ faces hidden, these taxis are a peek into Japanese theater culture.

With their white-gloved drivers, automatically opening rear doors, and doily-decorated interiors, Japanese taxis are a unique slice of the country’s modern culture. But Yokohama-based taxicab operator Sanwa Kotsu, which also serves the Tokyo area, occasionally likes to add in a dash of traditional culture to its services as well.

Previously, Sanwa Kotsu let passengers engage in a bit of yabusame horseback archery-inspired target shooting from the back of its cars, and now it’s offering the pageantry of kabuki and other classic forms of Japanese stage art with its new Kuroko Taxi service.

Kuroko are the stagehands employed in Japanese theater productions, most commonly seen in kabuki and bunraku puppet plays (and, if you’re a fan of 1990s-era fighting video games, the Neo Geo hit Samurai Shodown). Dressed from head to toe in black, including a cloth face cover, kuroko’s monochrome outfits are supposed to be interpreted as not being part of the scene, and so audiences are supposed to ignore their presence and focus on the actors, scenery, and props. The irony, however, is that kuroko attire is so iconic as to be instantly recognizable.

▼ Sanwa promises that the drivers are always smiling, even if you can’t see their mouths.

Just like their stage counterparts, Sanwa Kotsu’s Kuroko Taxi drivers remain completely silent, greeting passengers with a written welcome to the cab.

As such, the company recommends the service not only for those who want a memorable, uniquely Japanese journey, but also those who just aren’t in the mood for small talk. But while the kuroko drivers won’t be doing any speaking, they are equipped to understand your words, as their cabs are outfitted with Google translation-compatible technology that allows them to understand more than 100 languages, including English, Sanwa Kotsu says.

▼ Keeping the car as clean as his clothes.

Oh, and don’t worry. When the car is in motion, the drivers remove their face covers in order to properly see their surroundings and ensure you get to your destination safely.

Given the niche marketing, Kuroko Taxis are available by reservation, with the online form found here.

Source: Sanwa Kotsu via IT Media
Images: Sanwa Kotsu

The most awesome anime fan art is fan art that’s also traditional Japanese sweets【Photos】

From Pop Team Epic to Cowboy Bebop, this professional confectioner’s anime and video game dojin works are edible!

When talking about food in Japan, it’s often said that presentation is so important that meals are practically works of art. That’s true of snacks, too, as we’ve seen even convenience store-bought sweets that are achingly beautiful.

But today we’re looking at confectioneries made with traditional Japanese recipes that draw inspiration from a thoroughly contemporary form of visual art: anime and video game character design.

Japanese Twitter user Otakumi gets his name from a mashup of otaku and takumi, the Japanese word for a master of a specific skill. In his case that skill is making traditional nerikiri sweets, which are made from sweet bean paste, sugar and sticky rice flour.

▼ Currently airing breakout comedy hit Pop Team Epic continues to inspire dessert makers.

Because nerikiri is a paste with a fairly stable consistency, it can be shaped into a variety of forms. Flowers are common motifs, but Otakumi instead chooses to recreate characters from anime and games. While he’s not averse to modern muses, like Pop Team Epic’s surreal schoolgirls, he’s also got an appreciation for the classics, with icons from Cowboy Bebop and Studio Ghibli films among his creations.

▼ The last time Spike and Vicious got together, it didn’t end well for either of them.

▼ Ironically, Spirited Away’s No-Face has one of the most memorable mugs in anime.

When asked how he got started making anime candies, Otakumi says he was already a confectioner who’d been thinking about what sort of fan art project he could do to show his love for his favorite franchises. Then it dawned on him that he could simply meld that passion into his existing work making nerikiri. He estimates each takes about an hour for him to make, including the time spent thinking about the design, which seems like incredibly fast work to us.

▼ Even the complex hairstyling of characters such as Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress’ Ikoma, Free’s Makoto, and titular leading man Gintama pose no problem.

While he sometimes gets caught up in current trends and makes nerikiri of whoever the fan favorite of the current TV season is, Otakumi primarily makes candies of characters he personally likes.

▼ Otakumi was into Devilman before the thoroughly unexpected Devilman Crybaby made the series cool again, as this tweet from 2014 proves.

▼ Mascot-type characters get a lot of love from Otakumi, with Rayearth’s Mokona, Kodomo no Omocha’s Babbit, and Kemomo Friends’ Lucky Beast having gotten the nerikiri treatment.

▼ This looks like the tastiest Pokémon Magikarp since the taiyaki sweet bean cakes they sell in Yokohama and Akihabara.

▼ Fellow Pocket Monster Mimikyu is here too.

Oddly enough, Otakumi hasn’t used his talents to salute Nintendo’s Super Mario, but he has saluted Mario’s once formidable rival Sonic the Hedgehog…

…as well as lapsed face-of-the-Playstation-brand Parappa the Rapper.

Ordinarily, this is where we’d direct you to where you can buy these candies online. Unfortunately, while Otakumi may be a candy-making pro, these are strictly a hobby, as they’re not officially licensed, and therefore not for sale. Maybe that’s for the best, though, because we don’t think any fan of these characters would actually be able to bring themselves to eat their lovingly recreated heroes.

Top image: Twitter/@otakumi_wagasi
[ Read in Japanese ]

[ Read in Japanese ]

Ninja to officially appear before Japanese parliament to outline goals and perform “other activities”

Japan Ninja Council sending delegation to speak, show their shinobi skills at National Diet House of Representatives session.

Officially, Japan is governed by a bicameral legislature called the Diet, with their members chosen by public election. Deep down, though, you and I know the truth: it’s really the ninja who’re running the country.

In 2015, a federation of politicians, tourism professionals, and historians formed the Japan Ninja Council, dedicated to preserving and disseminating ninja knowledge (and also selling gold throwing stars for fancy shinobi). This week, representatives of the council will appear before the members of the Diet for a presentation on their activities and vision for the future.

The ninja advocates will be speaking at a meeting of the Diet’s lower house, the House of Representatives, on the morning of February 22. The eight-point presentation will consist of:
● Greeting from the Japan Ninja Council founders
● Introduction of JNC officers
● Mission statement and future goals
● Demonstration of ninjutsu by Iga Ninja Group Ashura
● Report on recent JNC activities
● Discussion of overseas interest in ninja
● Lecture on ninja history by Jinichi Kawakami, “the last ninja” and head of the Banke Shinobinoden ninjutsu school
● Other activities

The expressed purpose of the one-hour presentation is to enhance understanding of the Ninja Council’s purpose and the benefits of promoting ninja history as an aspect of Japanese culture to attract domestic and overseas travelers to parts of Japan with a connection to the country’s shadow warrior heritage, especially in light of the influx of foreign visitors Japan will have during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, ninja are masters of subterfuge, and we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that this is all a ruse as the JNC flexes its muscles as the true governing body of Japan and delivers its demands to the Diet for codified legislative implementation, especially since the visit will include a demonstration of ninja prowess before its ominously open-ended conclusion with “other activities.”

Of course, maybe the whole thing is completely benign, and we’re worrying too much. Still, we’re keeping our eyes on you, ninja, and if your visit turns out to be a cover to slip your operatives into the National Diet Building so you can pull off a ruthless coup coup d’état, you can rest assured that we’ll be telling all our SoraNews24 readers about it…unless you’ve already got ways of silencing us permanently, which you almost certainly do.

Source: Japan Ninja Council
Top image: Gatag/Vectorartbox

It’s a Japanese boxed lunch in the palm of your hand with the new bento rice ball

Convenience store’s deluxe onigiri is a bento boxed lunch you can eat with one hand.

Every Japanese convenience store has shelves of pre-made bento boxed lunches, which are a great choice if you’ve got an office desk or sunny park where you can sit down and leisurely enjoy your meal. On the other hand, if you’re in a rush and need something you can munch on the go without having to bother with chopsticks or other eating utensils, your needs are better served with onigiri rice balls, which are finger food that convenience stores also have ready and waiting for hungry, hurrying customers.

However, while bento are all about variety, onigiri are usually simple and single-minded, with one type of light filling such as flakes of salmon or a pinch of mixed mountain greens. So what if you want the myriad wonders of a bento, but only have time for a rice ball? Then you’ll want the new bento onigiri from convenience store chain Mini Stop, which attempts to pack a boxed lunch into a single rice ball.

Officially called the Nori Bento Mitai na Onigiri, or “Rice Ball That’s Like a Boxed Lunch with Seaweed,” the heavyweight-class onigiri features a piece of deep-fried whitefish, piece of thick-cut tamagoyaki Japanese-style omelet, and a length of chikuwa fish sausage. These three star ingredients are set in a bed of white rice mixed with bonito, wrapped with a piece of nori seaweed that gives you a place to grip the palm-sized combo meal. Mini Stop recommends warming it in the microwave before eating, just like you would with an orthodox boxed lunch.

The bento rice ball is on sale as of February 20, priced at 260 yen (US$2.35), which is about twice what normal, single-ingredient onigiri go for in convenience stores. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it turns out to be a hit for Mini Stop and convinces rival chain Sunkus to bring back its bacon cheeseburger onigiri.

Source: @Press via Entabe
Images: @Press

This crazy box of heat from China is how we want to wait out winter

If you’re looking for us before mid-spring, you’ll know where to find us.

Here in Japan, the most common way to cope with the cold temperatures of the winter months is to take refuge at a kotatsu, a low table with a heater attached to its underside and a blanket that you place over your legs to trap the warmth around your legs and feet. The effect is so comfy that kotatsu have even been installed at some restaurants and at least one movie theater in Japan, but the drawback is that even as your lower half gets nice and toasty, the kotatsu leaves your upper body exposed to the surrounding chill.

Now, though, we’ve stumbled across a solution to this problem. Sure, it may not be the most elegant-looking solution, but it definitely seems like an effective one.

Chinese shopping site TMall will be happy to provide you with one of these contraptions, which essentially function like a full-body kotatsu. They even come with sections that you can open up to stick your hands out of in order to use a smartphone or read a book.

▼ Though in this case it looks like the guy is trying to work his knees into the box.

There’s even a hood so to keep the top and back of your head warm. But while these devices look like the ultimate winter refuge, their original purpose is actually somewhat different, as they’re home-use saunas designed to be used with a steam/heat pump that channels warmth through a hose that attaches near the base of the box.

This is being sold by TMall here for just 266 yuan (US$42), which seems like a serious bargain. Granted, at such a low price, we’re not sure if the machinery is sturdy enough to handle constant use until spring, so we’d recommend keeping a pair of lazy otaku pajamas nearby in case you suddenly have to vacate your fortress of warm solitude.

Source, images: TMall
[ Read in Japanese ]

Japan’s newest virtual YouTuber boasts 17 years of idol experience, is only 12 years old【Videos】

Racks up more than 13,000 subscribers in three days after debut with her cheeky channel.

Popular Japanese virtual YouTuber, Kizuna Ai, may be the reigning virtual queen of quirky videos with her bubbly personality and existential A.I. crises, but her competitors are already working hard climbing the same gilded ladder to fame.

Enter Chiyu, a Japanese virtual idol who has been sporadically delivering news involving games, anime and manga since 2001. The website on which she provides amusing commentary lists her as 12 years old, and on Valentine’s Day this year, Chiyu has officially made the jump to the YouTuber profession.

▼ Her favorite hobby is playing mahjong, as evident from the large tile
hanging from her hair when she explains Weekly Shonen Jump‘s golden age.

Envious that Hatsune Miku and other virtual YouTubers have legions of devoted fans creating beautiful fan art and videos of the idols, Chiyu took matters into her own hands by becoming one of them instead.

Despite Chiyu having only seven videos in her channel at the time of this writing, the budding anime girl virtual YouTuber has already amassed more than 13,000 subscribers within three days after her debut.

For a seemingly innocent YouTuber, Chiyu’s channel debates startling topics like penile measurements, Showa-era pornographic books, or reviews of sex-filled B-grade movies, all narrated using speech synthesis software. So be forewarned, some of her videos are not things you’d want to be caught watching at work or in class.

▼ Although her other videos where she discusses topics like
big names in the anime industry are perfectly fine.

Hopefully she’ll trend away from the more racy topics and gain more fans and momentum as her website articles get turned into videos, a move Chiyu has been planning for some time now.

And as long as she avoids the disastrous pitfalls made by other anime girl virtual YouTubers, we’re pretty sure it’s only a matter of time before Chiyu joins the ranks of those she has admired for so long.

Source: Chiyu, YouTube/Virtual Net Idol Chiyu via IT media
Top image: YouTube/Virtual Net Idol Chiyu

New light-up keyboard makes it feel like you’re traversing space and time with every letter

It’s a mesmerizing light show with every tap of the keys!

The future of computer keyboard technology rests in the hands of Japan. This has been made obvious by recent products like the floating letter keyboard that looks like the letters are being set free as you type and the futuristic projection keyboard that somehow works with just lights on a flat surface. Now, a new keyboard, set to be released by Japanese electronics company HKW on April 5, has cool new light-up features that are guaranteed to either increase your productivity (because you want to see the pretty light show) or decrease your productivity (because you want to see the pretty light show).

Japanese Twitter user @SAMEX_1u2y posted a video of the keyboard in use, and we can’t stop watching it. Every time they push a key, lights shoot outward to the left and the right, making it feel like you’re flying through hyperspace on the Millennium Falcon.

▼ “Look at this useless feature!! So distracting!! But so fun!!!!!”

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but at the very least it feels like a video game on your keyboard, which is pretty neat. Just watch as the lines of light shoot across the gadget! Imagine how cool (and distracting) it will look when you’re seriously typing something with both hands?

It’s not only entertaining, but functionally appealing too. It’s a mechanical keyboard, which means it’s likely quicker and more accurate to type with, and will probably last longer than your standard membrane keyboard. Plus, it’s got a typewriter like design, which feels satisfying to use, and makes a nice clicking noise!

Japanese netizens were also big fans:

“Where can I get it??”
“That’s damn cool!”
“I want this! hahaha But I can’t use it for work. My eyes will start hurting…”
“I want my school to install these keyboards hahaha”
“Oooooooooooooooooh….I want it!”
“This is too cool.”

This keyboard is not yet available for purchase, but you can pre-order it on Amazon Japan for 10,000 yen (US$93). Its LED light displays are customizable, allowing you to choose between nine different options, and to adjust the brightness and flashing speed of the illuminations. It boasts not only pretty lights and a satisfying typing click, but also a stylish facade, adjustable stand, and fade-resistant lettering.

The flashing lights are indeed mesmerizing and pretty, but we recommend not using this keyboard in the dark, lest we have another seizure epidemic like that one unfortunate Pokémon episode. Naturally, though, there are those who say the lights will hurt their eyes even in a well-lit room, and we can’t really fault them for that; for those readers, who might prefer a more down-to-earth feel to their office, we recommend the luxurious lawn-feel keyboard, instead.

Source, images: Twitter/@SAMEX_1u2y