Culture

A mascot for the pandemic

Mascots, or yuru-kyara, are incredibly popular in Japan. There are yuru-kyara for everything, from sports teams to prefectures to a toilet disinfectant (seriously). Now they're offering the world a mascot for the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The yōkai (supernatural being) Amabié was first described in 1846, during a series of severe epidemics in Japan. It has three legs, a fish-like body, and the head of a bird with long, flowing hair. The original story goes that Amabié was spotted by an unnamed man on top of the ocean waves, glowing with a strange light. It gave its name to the man and prophesied a good harvest. Then Amabié said, "Should an epidemic come, draw me and show me to those who fall ill and they will be cured,” and disappeared into the water, supposedly never to be seen again.

Nestle renames insensitive products

Classic Australian lollies Redskins and Chicos are set to be renamed so they don't marginalise consumers, confectionery company Allens has announced.

The decision was made by the brand's parent company, Nestlé, because a redskin is a slang term for Native Americans in the U.S., where it is considered offensive. Chico, which is Spanish for "boy", is also used in a derogatory way. 

"This decision acknowledges the need to ensure that nothing we do marginalises our friends, neighbours and colleagues," the company said in a statement. "These names have overtones which are out of step with Nestlé's values, which are rooted in respect."

The company has yet to announce new names for the popular treats.

The origin of the English pub

Atlas Obscura, a publication about travel and culture, notes that a pub has always been more than just a place that sells beer for the British. The pub has brought communities together for centuries, and the tavern tradition of spending the evening with your peers continues to this day. Few know, however, that pubs became popular following the plague known as the Black Death of the 14th century.

The Black Death killed nearly half of England's population after it reached the British Isles in 1348. By the 1370s, it had caused a critical labor shortage. Eventually, this proved a boon for the peasantry of England, who could demand higher wages for their work and achieve higher standards of living. As a result, households selling or giving away leftover ale were replaced by more commercialized, permanent establishments set up by the best brewers and offering better food.

The Golden Age of Television

Over the past 20 years, American television entered a Golden Age. Before the turn of the millennium, most TV shows followed familiar patterns: crime shows and situational comedies—also known as sitcoms—consisted of self-contained episodes with little plot development through a season or the run of the show.

Then, in 1999, a network called HBO took a huge risk by investing $2 million per episode in The Sopranos, a show that broke with the familiar pattern of television productions. The Sopranos invested in character development and took its time to tell a compelling story. It was a massive success that showed that audiences were willing to sit through drawn-out shows as long as they were good. HBO reproduced that early success with Six Feet Under and The Wire.

Forest bathing stress away

National Geographic answers the question: what is forest bathing? The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. It can mean “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The purpose was to offer an ecological antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with the country’s forests.

The Japanese quickly embraced this form of ecotherapy. In the 1990s, researchers began studying the physiological benefits of forest bathing, providing the science to support the idea that time spent surrounded by nature is good for us. The concept at the heart of shinrin-yoku is not new. Many cultures around the world have long recognized the importance of the natural world to human health.

The Songkran Water Festival

If you go to Bangkok during the Thai New Year in mid-April, you might get splashed with water or get soaked with a water gun. That is because the Thai celebrate New Year with a water festival called Songkran. It is a holy festival where people bless each other with water. So, in Bangkok, people with water guns take part in huge water fights.

People of all ages take part in Songkran. You should be careful when refilling your water gun since older folks might pour ice-cold water down your back while you’re not looking. Thankfully, it’s extremely hot in Thailand year-round, so the cold water feels refreshing. Some tourists join in the fun. Others don't. For example, you can find Japanese students studying English with pen and paper in the middle of the street. They act like nothing is happening even when people spray them and their notes with water.

What a fun way to spend New Year!

Kowloon Walled City

For nearly a century, Kowloon Walled City stood out as a rare modern example of an ungoverned territory. When Great Britain took Hong Kong from the Chinese, they left a Chinese enclave in Kowloon, near Hong Kong island. As the 20th century unfolded, consecutive Chinese governments neglected the governance of the enclave, the British refused to get involved, and it took on a life of its own.

By the 1980s, nearly 50,000 people lived in 300 illegally built structures connected together by an interconnecting maze of passageways and staircases. Drugs and prostitution were common in the walled city, and people from nearby neighborhoods would come to visit cheap unlicensed doctors and dentists. Residents cooked and baked goods that they sold to vendors outside the enclave.

Racism in Italian football

The Italian football world is again experiencing racism within its ranks. A series of players have been subject to racist abuse by fans, with little or no response from clubs, officials, or the media. Hard-core fans claim they have the right to abuse players any way they want, and certain clubs deny that racism even exists.

Finally, Lega Serie A, the organization that oversees the country’s highest division, launched an anti-racism campaign, but the campaign itself has been accused of racism. One of the initiatives in the campaign uses the image of a series of monkey faces in club colors. The image was created by artist Simone Fugazzotto, who often uses monkeys and apes in his work.

A long ride on Train 61

If there is one train ride that will rid you of your comfort zone, then that is the journey on Train 61, from Yangon to Bagan in Myanmar. Myanmar is an impoverished country that has been reeling from civil conflict for nearly 70 years. It has only opened itself up to the rest of the world in the past 5 years.