From cannabis growers to tips on learning Japanese, these were some of the most read Life section articles of 2014.

Cannabis: the fabric of Japan

When Junichi Takayasu was 3 years old, a picture book about ninjas changed his life forever. What fascinated him most, however, wasn’t the assassins’ stealthy skills or secret gadgets but their usage of a very special plant.

Hihōkan: Japan’s vanishing sex museums

The real world ends beyond a thick, black curtain. On the other side is one of Japan’s last remaining hihōkan (sex museum, literally “treasure palace”) in the faded resort town of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture — a strange, dimly lit space of questionable morals and dated fantasies.

Japan inked: Should the country reclaim its tattoo culture?

Tattooing is the most misunderstood form of art in contemporary Japan. Demonized by centuries of prohibitions and rarely discussed today in civilized circles, people with tattoos are outcasts in their own country — banned from many beaches, pools and public baths. Ask anyone to explain the reason for this vilification and most will blame the yakuza and their penchant for body ink; better-informed citizens may even trace the roots of negative attitudes to the 17th century, when criminals were tattooed as a form of punishment.

Keep calm before carrying on when speaking Japanese

This is true in all types of situations. If you’re lost in Shimbashi looking for a delicious yakitori restaurant your friend recommended, don’t just jump out and yell, Oishii yakitori-ya wa doko desu ka?! (おいしい焼き鳥屋はどこですか?! Where is a good yakitori place?) at the closest Japanese person. You’re liable to scare someone.

Fukushima: animal kingdom

After undergoing a thorough medical examination and spending several weeks adapting to his new life in captivity, Kumassy was taken to a cat cafe in Chiba, joining 16 other former strays from Fukushima Prefecture at an event that was organized to pair them with new owners.

Japanese language group puts compound verbs in one place

If nouns are the bones of a language, verbs are the blood that keeps it moving. The thing about Japanese is that there are so many of them that it is close to impossible to know them all, particularly if we include combinations of two single verbs. The good news is that the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL) has recently published a large-scale database of these so-called compound verbs, available free of charge and with translations in English, Chinese and Korean.

Without kara-de-nai-to, you could be in trouble

Today, we will introduce some uses of the phrase XからでないとYない, which indicates an essential condition for something to happen. X(verb in te-form)からでないと、Yない(phrase with verb in negative form) expresses that Y cannot happen or someone cannot do Y unless X occurs. Yない is usually the negative form of a potential verb, indicating the something is impossible. X(verb in te-form)からでないと、Yない implies that if you do X, or if X occurs, Y can happen, and is used when the speaker wants to show that X is necessary for Y.

Bilingirl has plenty to teach you

Chika Yoshida, aka Bilingirl, wears many hats. She teaches English, sings, dances and makes costumes. She could be dressed up as Malificent with horns sticking out of her head, have her face painted white and talk in a squeaky voice like comedian duo Nippon Elekitel Rengo or be singing songs from the animation “Frozen” — all the while teaching English phrases and conversation on YouTube.

Kenya Hara: the future of design

Sitting at a plain white table in a meeting room high up on the 12th floor of a narrow building in central Tokyo, product designer Kenya Hara asks me to picture a shallow plate in my mind. “Now imagine a slightly deeper plate,” Hara says, “that gets deeper and deeper and eventually becomes a bowl.”

Tokyo combats flood threats with second mammoth reservoir

Below the condos and boutiques of Tokyo’s upscale Minato Ward — which includes Roppongi Hills, home to Goldman Sachs Group’s Japan headquarters — a boring machine has carved out the city’s newest defense against floods.

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