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Your chopsticks can make your food taste better, claims Hashikura Matsukan, a chopstick manufacturer steeped in 400 years of history. But how can you improve on, or reinvent, something that’s been around for so long? Something that’s been refined so many times? It’s just 2 sticks that taper to a point, right? Well that’s exactly where Oki Sato from Nendo turned to, when he was asked to redesign a series of chopsticks.


 
 
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Since the announcement that Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic landmark, had finally won World Heritage status on June 23, Fuji fever has swept the nation. As souvenirs commemorating the event hit the shelves, sales of Fuji-themed merchandise were brisk. Stores selling climbing gear to those who have been inspired to make the pilgrimage up Fuji have also been doing well.


 
 
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People come from all over the world to get a short glimpse of Japan's blooming cherry blossoms. Google is taking advantage of this worldwide sakura passion to show off their virtual-tour map feature with Street View Sakura Edition, which shows cherry blossom scenes not only in normal pictures but also as 360-degree panoramas. The Blossom Edition features sites from Kyushu all the way up to Aomori, including about 50 different spots, and gives information such as the number of cherry blossom trees, the area they cover and, in some cases, the history of the locations.


 
 
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Move over azuki and sweet sticky rice. While Japanese pastry chefs may have started using cocoa a few centuries after the West, this once foreign flavour has captivated Japan's confectionery world. Japanese chocolate makers and pastry chefs were the star guests at the 17th Salon du Chocolat held in Paris this week. One of them, Susumu Koyama, 47, was even named "Best Foreign Chocolatier" -- winning out over top masters from celebrated chocolate-making nations like Belgium and Switzerland.


 
 
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European private equity firm Permira's PERM.UL is buying Japan's largest sushi restaurant chain, Akindo Sushiro Co Ltd, for $1 billion including debt, in what is set to be the nation's second-biggest buyout deal this year. The deal shows that despite the country's stagnant economy, investment opportunities into growing companies still exist.


 
 
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When the weather is swelteringly hot, there's nothing more appealing than an ice-cold drink or snack. One of these is kakigōri, a mound of shaved ice that is topped with a sweet, sticky syrup. What makes it different from a snow cone is that the ice is shaved ultra-thin with a plane rather than crushed or pulverized. This results in a very fluffy, airy ice that doesn't clump up but just gently melts as you spoon it into your mouth.


 
 
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Sushi is the symbol of Japanese food worldwide. And the most iconic, most familiar, style of sushi is known as nigiri. Credit Hanaya Yohei, a 19th-century sushi chef, for its popularity. These oblong pads of vinegared rice topped with raw fish are found everywhere these days, from cutting edge restaurants in big cities to neighborhood joints in even the smallest of towns.


 
 
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Sailor-style outfits, blazers, and stand-up collars are just some representative items from Japanese school uniforms, which are now spreading across the world as part of the "Cool Japan" trend. Behind the skirts and the sleeves, however, are decades' worth of imported culture and generational changes.


 
 
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A kimono designer is attempting to save the endangered art by introducing it to today's gadget-loving younger generation. Nobuaki Tomita has created cases for Apple Inc.'s iPad tablet computers made of fabric for kimono sashes worn by "maiko" apprentice geisha. "I want to save the true tradition in one way or another while it is still alive," Tomita said.


 
 
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The Asahi beer is ice-cold. Naoki Doi takes sips from it between bites of curry. The bespectacled tour guide has asked me and my family to eat fast: he's taking us around some of Kyoto's outstanding shrines and temples, and there's a lot of them to see. He is, he says, relieved to have some business again. In March this year, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of East Japan, sending a devastating tsunami towards the shore.