TIME Japan

Springtime for Tokyo as Cherry Blossoms Show Their Colors

Japan's Meteorological Agency announced on March 29 that the city's cherry blossoms had reached full bloom, five days earlier than in an average year

TIME Food & Drinks

You Can Now Buy Kit-Kat Bar Sandwiches in Japan Because Why Not

First Kitchen

Another day, another bizarre fast food hybrid

Japan — home to the the mayonnaise pizza and the macaroni, shrimp and white sauce burger — has unveiled its latest feat of bizarre fast food fusion.

Behold: the Kit-Kat bar sandwich. The creation became available last week for a mere 220 yen ($1.81) from the chain First Kitchen.

And in case you needed a closer look:

While we love the candy bar, it looks somewhat less tempting when garnished with whipped cream and orange peel between two slices of white bread. A Twix sandwich, on the other hand…

Read next: 5 Fast Food Restaurant Meals That Are Healthier Than a Salad

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TIME Crime

How a Religious Sect Rooted in Yoga Became a Terrorist Group

Wearing gas masks, members of the Japan
JIJI PRESS-JSDF—AFP/Getty Images Wearing gas masks, members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) clean up subway cars late on March 20, 1995

March 20, 1995: Twelve people are killed and thousands sickened when members of a religious cult release nerve gas in the Tokyo subway

Shoko Asahara admired Hitler, so it was perhaps fitting that when the cult leader set out to terrorize Tokyo, he used a nerve gas called sarin, first developed in Nazi Germany. The Nazis had never used the highly potent chemical, which they’d originally produced as a pesticide, against Allied forces during World War II. Asahara is one of the few people in history to have unleashed it on the public.

On this day, March 20, in 1995, 12 people were killed and thousands were sickened in Tokyo when members of Asahara’s cult, Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin during the Monday-morning rush hour in one of the world’s most crowded subway systems. Members of the cult used the tips of their umbrellas to puncture plastic bags filled with liquid sarin on five crowded cars before hurrying off at subway stops and leaving their fellow riders trapped with the toxic gas.

It was an unusual move for a religious movement based on Buddhist and Hindu principles and centered on the practice of yoga, but Asahara was an unusual spiritual leader. TIME described him, in a 1995 story about the gas attack, as a long-haired, bushy-bearded bully, “usually pictured wearing satiny pajamas,” who claimed he could levitate and promised to give his followers superhuman powers.

And although Aum Shinrikyo, which translates as Aum Supreme Truth, began as a yoga school in 1987, it evolved into a doomsday cult focused on the apocalypse that Asahara said was on its way. He prophesied that government efforts to shut down his sect would signal the beginning of the end, and that Armageddon would take the form of a chemical attack by the U.S., leaving only his own followers and 10% of the rest of the world. Asahara’s cult attracted a substantial following, despite his paranoia and violent tendencies. TIME explained:

By 1994 Aum boasted 36 Japanese branches with 10,000 members and a raft of international offices. Some, like the one in midtown Manhattan, offer little more than cheap videotapes of the master’s lectures to fewer than 100 members. But in Russia, another country experiencing a spiritual land rush, the cult has been successful: it has six offices and somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 adherents.

The cult’s popularity took a hit after the subway attacks, especially when Asahara and 11 other members were convicted and sentenced to death. But diehard devotees stayed loyal, and the group, which has since changed its name to Aleph, even attracted some new members. TIME interviewed a disciple in 2002 who said that the spiritual leader’s inscrutability was part of his appeal.

“It was always hard to tell what he was thinking,” she told TIME. “He never did what you expected him to.”

Read TIME’s 1995 story about Shoko Asahara, here in the archives: JAPAN’S PROPHET OF POISON: Shoko Asahara

TIME Japan

Japan Investigates Death Threats to Caroline Kennedy

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo on March 17, 2015.
Kimimasa Mayama—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo on March 17, 2015

And a similar threat against another American envoy

Japanese police are investigating phone calls threatening to kill U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, authorities said Wednesday.

The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, reports that Tokyo police are looking into calls to the U.S. embassy threatening Kennedy and similar calls about Alfred Magleby, the U.S. consul general based on the southern island of Okinawa.

The death threats came last month from a caller speaking in English, Japanese media reports, and police were looking into suspected blackmail.

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was knifed by an anti-U.S. activist in Seoul earlier this month and was hospitalized for several days.

Michelle Obama is planning a trip to Japan from March 18 to 20.

[AP]

TIME Japan

Scarecrows Outnumber People in Tiny Japanese Village

Getty Images

It's 150 scarecrows vs. 35 elderly residents

A village in Japan has four times as many scarecrows as people. And it’s all thanks to one woman — and more than a decade of work.

Tsukimi Ayano said she made her first scarecrow 13 years ago in the likeness of her father as a tribute to him after his death. Since then, she’s made more than 350 life-sized dolls but, like their human counterparts, they don’t last forever, so about 150 of them remain in Nagoro, a village in southern Japan.

Still, with a population of 35, the scarecrows outnumber the people in Nagoro by a good amount, acting as replacements for…

Read the rest of the story from out partners at NBC News.

TIME Japan

Japan Eyes Matchmaking, Paternity Leave to Lift Birth Rate

Policy proposals come amid an aging population

The Japanese government is so worried about the country’s low birth rate that it’s thinking about getting into the matchmaking game.

A new draft policy to increase Japan’s flagging birth rate includes support for matchmaking, leave policies, and fertility centers in order to jump-start baby-making and address the country’s aging population. While the national government may not be sponsoring its own matchmaking efforts, it will be support local governments sponsoring speed-dating events, the Japan Times reports.

The number of births in Japan fell to a record low for the fourth year in a row, with just over one million newborns in 2014 compared to 1.269 million registered deaths. By 2060, nearly 40% of Japan’s population will be over 65, and elderly citizens already make up a quarter of the population. The birthrate has fallen from 4.54 children per mother in 1947 to 1.43 in 2013.

Matchmaking is one of several measures proposed by the government to fight the inevitable population dwindle if Japan doesn’t get its birth rate up. Other measures include expanding the scope of free nursing care, building more fertility centers, and increasing paternity leave. The government says it hopes that by 2020, 80% of men will take paternity leave immediately after the birth of their child, and 13% will take paternity leave to help care for children at some point in their careers. (Currently only 2% of men take time off for childrearing.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is expected to approve the policy.

[Japan Times]

MONEY Millennials

This One Question Can Show if You’re Smarter than Most U.S. Millennials

Millennial office
Leonardo Patrizi—Getty Images

Young people in the United States ranked nearly last in a new international test of skills. See how you compare by answering this one question.

Let’s say you see an advertisement that reads:

Apply for a loan
Up to $70,000
Terms of the loan
Pay only $103 per month for each $1,000 borrowed
Payable in 12 equal monthly payments

What’s the annual simple interest rate on the loan?

If you answer correctly—you’ll have to read on to find out—you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to marketable job skills.

According to a new report from Educational Testing Service (ETS), which designs the GRE and other exams, American millennials lag far behind young people in other countries when it comes to all the top skills that employers seek.

Those include literacy, ability to follow basic written instructions, problem-solving while using technology—and math.

To arrive at these findings, ETS administered a new test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies to thousands of people across 22 developed countries.

Out of all millennials, Americans ranked last for numeracy, tied with Italians and Spaniards. Gen Y-ers stateside also got lower reading comprehension scores than peers in 15 of the 22 countries. (Japan ranked number one across all categories.)

That sample question you saw above was described by ETS as 5/5 on the difficulty scale for numeric literacy. The answer, by the way, is around 24%.

You can see a longer list of sample questions here and read the full report on the ETS website.

More from Money.com:

Most Americans Fail This 3-Question Financial Quiz. Can You Pass It?

Europe Just Got Even Cheaper for U.S. Travelers

This Is How You Write a Perfect Interview Thank You Note

TIME natural disaster

Reflections on the Earthquake in Japan, 4 Years Later

Japan Earthquake cover
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY ALY SONG / REUTERS The Mar. 28, 2011, cover of TIME

On Mar. 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan

It has now been four years to the day since an earthquake and tsunami upended Japan. These days, the country continues to rebound from the devastating natural disaster that struck on Mar. 11, 2011, with cleanup — nuclear and otherwise — and reflection ongoing.

In the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake, those questions were all the more urgent.

TIME devoted a special report to the aftermath of the disaster, taking a look at Japan’s nuclear power industry as well as its national character. The insights drawn from those investigations are still worth heeding, even today. As TIME’s Nancy Gibbs wrote in the aftermath of the quake:

It only started as a natural disaster; the next waves were all man-made, as money fled to higher ground. Fear and uncertainty sheared $700 billion off the Toyko Stock Exchange in three days. Japan makes nearly a quarter of the world’s semiconductors and most of its gadgets. Sony suspended production at seven plants; carmakers slowed output, fearful of gaps in the supply chain; power companies scheduled rolling blackouts. How can a global recovery take hold if the world’s third largest economy is out of business, even temporarily? Meanwhile, Switzerland announced a freeze on new nuclear plants, Germany shut down all its facilities built before 1980, and the U.S. Congress called for hearings on nuclear safety. The flooded Japanese plants will never reopen. But demand for power only grows.

We sleep easy in the soft arms of clichés: hope for the best, prepare for the worst; risk varies inversely with knowledge; it’s a waste of time to think about the unthinkable. But Japan shook those soothing assumptions. No amount of planning, no skills or specs or spreadsheets, can stop a force that moves the planet.

Read the full special report, here in the TIME Vault: Japan’s Meltdown

TIME conflict

Behind the World War II Fire Bombing Attack of Tokyo

Fleet Planes Headed To Tokyo
Interim Archives/Getty Images Carrier-based fighter planes Tokyo-bound over Japan during World War II, 1940s.

The bombing campaign started 70 years ago, on Mar. 9, 1945

When the United States launched a bombing operation over Japan on Mar. 9, 1945, firebombing was hardly a new tactic. But the scope of the damage was unprecedented: as TIME framed it the following week, the fire in Tokyo destroyed “approximately 9,700 acres, or 15 square miles,” versus a single square mile that was destroyed by a Luftwaffe attack on London in 1940.

“This fire left nothing but twisted, tumbled-down rubble in its path,” Major General Curtis E. LeMay reported, according to TIME.

What changed?

For one thing, the firepower available to U.S. pilots was on another level. The hard-fought and ongoing battle for Iwo Jima proved worthwhile, affording the American pilots an airfield within striking distance of the enemy capital, and planes also flew in from Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The hundreds of aircraft each carried several tons of incendiaries for a combined total of about 700,000 bombs. Though Japan did have anti-aircraft defense, it was aimed thousands of feet higher than the low-flying bombers flew.

Secondly, that firepower came in a new format: the M-69. The new bomb—a pipe full of gasoline jelly enhanced by a secret ingredient that had been developed by the oil company Esso; this jelly is now better known as napalm—created fire that was hotter and harder to put out than fires created by other common incendiary materials. “Dropped in loose clusters of 14, or ‘amiable’ clusters of 38, the finless oil-bombs are exploded by a time fuse four or five seconds after landing. Thereupon M-69s become miniature flamethrowers that hurl cheesecloth socks full of furiously flaming goo for 100 yards,” TIME reported shortly after the attack. “Anything these socks hit is enveloped by clinging, fiery pancakes, each spreading to more than a yard in diameter. Individually, these can be extinguished as easily as a magnesium bomb. But a single oil-bomb cluster produces so many fiery pancakes that the problem for fire fighters, like that of a mother whose child has got loose in the jam pot, is where to begin.”

Thirdly, areas of Tokyo—and other Japanese cities that were also targets—were particularly liable to burn. Though some buildings had been reinforced with concrete after recent earthquakes, many were pre-modern constructions of flammable materials. That meant a building didn’t have to be struck to burn: a firestorm spread throughout the city,

And finally, conditions that day were favorable to the bombers, with good visibility and wind.

The fatalities from the bombing raid were, as Kirk Spitzer explained for TIME.com in 2012, on par with those caused by the atomic bombings that would come a few months later, even though historical memory of the former has faded significantly more.

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Honors Instant-Noodle Inventor Momofuku Ando

Google

Peel off lid. Pour boiling water. Steep for three minutes. Stir well and serve.

Thursday marks the 105th birthday of Taiwanese-Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando, whose instant noodles revolutionized the food world, and Google is honoring this king of quick cuisine with a new Google Doodle.

As TIME wrote back in 2006, “In 1958, Momofuku Ando, an unassuming entrepreneur living in Osaka, created the instant noodle — and a continent has been feasting on his invention ever since.”

However, the road was not easy for the founder of Nissin Food Products. Ando struggled to find the right balance and create noodles that were tasty but did not become mush when boiled. The secret, learned from his wife, was to spray the noodles with chicken soup and then fry them in tempura oil.

The instant noodle, a dietary staple for every college student from Asia to America, had come to fruition.

Ando was born during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in 1910, moved to Japan at the age of 23 became a Japanese citizen following World War II. He died in Osaka on Jan. 5, 2007, at the age of 96.

Read next: New Google Doodle Honors Inventor of Flat Map Gerardus Mercator

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