Cristy Burne

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Another reason I love science: blood, guts and fine dining in Tokyo’s themed bar

Ever feel like the night life in your city just isn’t cutting it?

Check out my review of Alcatraz+ER, a science-themed Tokyo pub, originally published in Cosmos magazine. I dare you to read it and not secretly wish you could be there. I still have nightmares…

Alcatraz science barPub crawl – Alcatraz meets E.R.
Ever felt it might be easier to ingest your drinks by drip? Maybe you’d prefer alcohol in a capsure? By test-tube? Perhaps a giant syringe is more to your liking? Or you might skip all these niceties and drink straight from the beer bedpan. The only hard-to-find drinking vessel at Alcatraz+ER is a glass.

One of Tokyo’s kookiest and most fashionable bars, Alcatraz+ER is a mish-mash of emergency room, prison and morgue. Just the place for fine dining and a cold one, especially if you don’t mind sharing your space with preserved body parts, blood spatters and X-rays (spot the axe).

Looking from the street you’d never know. But step out of the lift on the second floor of this nondescript building, and things quickly become a little disconcerting.

For a start, there are no people. No reception. Not even any noise. The silent walls are decorated with mugshots and chemistry equipment. At the far end of the otherwise empty room is a barred cabinet holding four buttons: “Press your blood type,” the sign commands. For those who reach through the rusty bars to hit a button, there’s no turning back.

The doors that slide open reveal a cacophony of shrieks, clangings, techno music and reruns of Silence of the Lambs. A nurse in a miniskirt appears with handcuffs and a giant syringe. She cuffs you, then leads you through a maze of dimly lit corridors (the giant floors of which occasionally reveal buried bodies) to the table of your choice.

Less adventurous diners may choose to be locked in a concrete cell and fed through iron bars at a stainless-steel table. Braver punters, unphased by bloodstains and second-hand surgical instruments, can opt to dine in a dimly lit operating theatre. On a first date? Skip those awkward moments when you’re alone as a couple by sharing a cell-for-three with a hunchback or a bloodied mummy.

And just as you start to feel comfortable using tweezers to select tasty morsels from a preserving jar, or sipping from the pot marked ‘Biohazard,’ there’s a blood-curdling scream closely followed by sirens. The place goes pitch black.

If you’re lucky, an ultraviolet glow will light the chaos before the escaped lunatic murderer finds your cell. Wearing striped prison garb with hurricane hair, he sprints through the corridors in an attempt to evade the armed guards who will eventually wrestle him to the floor. Sedation with a giant hypodermic quickly follows, he’s led away, and you’re free to get on with your drinks. Tokyo sure knows how to party.


Liebster Awards: discover new blogs!

liebsterWhee! This blog has been nominated for a Liebster Award! Yay! A huge thank-you to Brittany of the super San’in Monogatari who nominated me. It’s my first ever blogging award 🙂 🙂

The Liebster award rules are as follows:

1] Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
2] Answer the 11 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you.
3] Nominate 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers.
4] Go to the blogs you nominated and notify them of your nomination.
5] Give your nominees 11 questions to answer.

Yikes….It’s a serious business, this blog awards thing! Still, it sounds like fun, so here goes…




1. What inspires you to blog?
My stats page. There you go. I’m that shallow. When my readership dips under around a certain number of reads/day, I know it’s time to publish some new-and-incredible morsels of wisdom. Ahem. But I do think authors have to treat writing as a business, which means taking social media and blogging seriously. Since I’m rubbish at Facebook and mostly-rubbish at Twitter, this leaves blogging for me to be more serious about. 🙂

2. What do you hope readers take away from your blog?
I hope they leave with a burning desire to read and buy and gift my books. And I hope they’re inspired to try writing their own books. And I hope they feel like they just met a nice person who’s having fun living their life.

3. In a world without the internet, how would you try to accomplish the above?
Teach writing workshops. Which I also do. Writing is the best fun. It’s creative and endless and free to enjoy. Like the beach. Or the mountains.

4. Would you rather live in the mountains or by the beach?
Both? Is that cheating? Probably the beach, if I had to choose.

5. What food are you proud you tried, but would never eat again?
Natto. It’s fermented soybeans and The Best Hangover Cure Ever when mixed with soy sauce to make it vaguely edible. But seriously, I’d rather be hungover.

6. Do you have any interesting stories behind any scars?
My guts were pretty much ripped apart by surgery in Japan to remove a gangrene appendix. It looks like I was attacked by a crocodile and then shot several times. After this near-death experience, I decided I didn’t want to expire doing something I wasn’t passionate about, and so became a writer. Voila!

7. How would you pitch your favorite travel destination to someone who has never heard of it?
Ogasawara: a set of tropical islands, 24 hours south of Tokyo by boat, virtually untouched. Scuba heaven, foody heaven, slow-life-no-frills heaven. (Or at least it was ten years ago :-))

8. Your camera breaks while you’re on an exciting vacation. What do you do?
Buy a crappy disposable that’s also waterproof, use all the film, forget to develop the film when I get home. Discover the film years later and still don’t develop it.

9. However big or small, what’s something you have always wanted to try doing?
There’s lots of travel stuff I’d like to try: the Inca Trail… Kilimanjaro… Bluff Knoll with my kids… Actually, don’t get me started…

10. A favorite childhood memory?
Camping in New Zealand, back when I didn’t feel the cold.

11. What person, in any place or time period, would you trade places with for a day?
Dr Who. (Is that cheating?)



With thanks to Alphabet Soup magazine, Kid’s Book Review Curly Questions and of course San’in Monogatari for inspiration on the questions.

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.  

2. What’s a children’s book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend as a good read?

3. Describe your writing style in ten words.   

4. What book character would you be, and why? 

5. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?  

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?   

7.  How do you deal with rejection?

8. What’s your advice to someone trying to make it in your field?

9. What’s something you once read in a fictional book and assumed to be true?

10. What do you hope readers take away from your blog?

11. What person, in any place or time period, would you trade places with for a day?


And…MY NOMINATED BLOGS: Go visit them now!


…in no particular order…

…and apologies if you have more than 200 followers: I’m not sure how I’m supposed to figure that out?…

Hyakumonogatari: Translated Japanese Ghost Stories and Tales of the Weird and the Strange Awesome insights into Japan’s spooky culture and history care of super translator and Japanophile Zack Davisson.

Demons and Folklore of Ancient Japan: You won’t believe what goes bump in the night More spooky Japan from a talented teenage newcomer and freelance writer.

Writing in the Margins: A blog about writing young adult and children’s fiction, and other random observations Author Julia Lawrinson was a mentor for me when I first dipped in my pen. Her blog is personal and honest and her books are fantastic. Check them out.

As In Egg: News, Events and a Healthy Dash of Random from Children’s Writer and Poet Meg McKinlay Delivers exactly what it says with charm and quirk and all the things we love in Meg’s writing, as well as insights into Meg’s writerly process.

Mish Gittens: Writer, Psychologist, Parent, Other Things Hilarious and honest and inspiring. Well worth the visit!

Hiragana Mama Great Japan-related activity and craft ideas, perfect for younger kids.

Leza Lowitz Love Japan but tired of reading about girls in kimono trailing after the boys? Check out Leza’s debut YA: an action-adventure about the last living female ninja. Woot woot! A Japan-based author and yoga teacher.

The Rosie Black Chronicles: Lara Morgan’s young adult series Lara is a new mum and YA writer and I love reading of her successes and thoughts and ideas. Another writer with strong female protagonists. YAY!

HATBOOKS: Holly Thompson’s blog on writing, teaching, living and learning, mostly in Japan Another blog from an author living in Japan. I know how hard that can be, so love reading about Holly’s trials and successes.

Tom Avery: Some thoughts of mine on my blog Tom is a terrific teacher and children’s writer and also a winner of the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award.

Christchurch Kids Blog By, for, and about children living in New Zealand (but a great read for anyone who loves children’s books). A fab place to link up with some of Australia and New Zealand’s most interesting children’s authors.


Ta da! Hope you discover some fabulous new places to browse, be informed, inspired and entertained. Go forth and Liebster!

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Yokai featured in Monster Matsuri

Watch out adventure lovers! Takeshita Demons 3, Monster Matsuri, is out!!

I’ve blogged before on yokai demons featured in book one  and book two of the Takeshita Demons series, so…who should we look out for in Monster Matsuri?

Yokai featured in Takeshita Demons: Monster Matsuri

Akaname (Filth Licker) 垢嘗
Great news: if you don’t clean your bathroom, the akaname will. He has frog-like skin, a long hairy tongue, and a fondness for slime, mould and rot. He likes to lick grimy bathrooms until they sparkle.

Ama-no-jyaku  (Demon of Heaven) 天邪鬼
This tiny ogre loves confusion and hate, and he’ll go out of his way to create it.  He can read your deepest desires and will twist his words to lead you in the opposite direction to that which you desire.

Boroboro-ton (Battered futon) 暮露々々団
Remember that old quilt you’ve had for years and never washed? Well, by now it could be haunted. If it shuffles around the room by itself, watch out: the only cure is a good wash and full sun to dry.

Harionago (Barbed woman) 針女子
She’s beautiful and she loves to laugh, but her hair has a mind of its own. Each strand is tipped with a deadly barb and can reach through the air to capture its prey.

Hitodama (Human souls) 人魂
When a person dies, their spirit can soar to the sky in the form of a fireball. Eventually, when the fireball falls back to earth, it splatters everything in slime. The fireballs can be orange or blue or white and often appear just before a sick person dies.

Kara-kasa (Paper umbrella) 唐傘
Make sure you are kind to your umbrella! If you’re not, it could turn into a kara-kasa and hop around your house all day on its hairy leg. Umbrellas love to blow raspberries.

Kitsune (Fox) 狐
Young kitsune look like ordinary foxes, but the older they are, the more tails they grow, and the more powerful they become. When they have lived for a hundred years, they can change shape, even into human form. White foxes are linked to Inari, the god of rice. The fox’s favourite food is fried tofu.

Mokumokuren (Connected eyes) 目々連
Even walls can have eyes! Battered Japanese shōji (paper sliding walls) can be haunted by dozens of eyeballs. Don’t stare at them for too long: you can go blind.

Nukekubi (Cut-throat) 抜首
During the day you might mistake this yōkai for a normal person, but be warned. At night, while its body is sleeping, its head can detach and fly around hunting for delicious things to eat (like children and puppy dogs).

Nurarihyon (Slippery strange) ぬらりひょん
He’s bald, he likes to drink tea, and his head is enormous. Said to be the Leader of all yōkai, Nurarihyon can summon shockwaves of power with a flick of his fingers.

Nurikabe (Plastered wall) ぬりかべ
An invisible wall that blocks the path of those who approach it. If you try to walk around it, you’ll be walking a long time: the wall can extend forever.

Tsukumogami (Lost thing) 付喪神
Ever do a big clean and toss out all the things you no longer want? Beware! In a hundred years, they might spring up to seek their revenge. Tools, clothing, weapons, furniture…You name it, they can become tsukumogami.

Sagari (Hanging horse-head) 下がり
With sharp teeth and bloodshot eyes, this bizarre yōkai is a horse’s head that hangs upside-down like a bat. Usually found in trees, sagari love to drop on you unexpectedly.

Satori (Mind reader) 覚
He looks like a monkey, he smells like a monkey, and he eats like a monkey. But he can also read your thoughts.

Uwan (Disembodied voice) うわん
Usually nothing more than a sound, the uwan can be heard from inside an old building, but not from outside.

Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) 雪女
Tall, pale and icily beautiful, this yōkai is a spirit of the snow. She leaves no footprints, preferring to float above the ground, and she can disappear in a puff of cold mist.

Zashiki-warashi (House ghost) 座敷童
This mischievous yōkai haunts houses and usually appears in the shape of a child. If your house is haunted by a zashiki-warashi, count yourself lucky, but don’t forget to take good care of it. If your house ghost ever chooses to leave you, your luck will quickly end.

Do you have a favourite yōkai? If so, let me know…

Cheers and scary reading!


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Yokai featured in The Filth Licker

Cover for Takeshita Demons: The Filth LickerWoo hoo! Book three, Monster Matsuri, is out!!

Which reminds me…I’ve blogged before on yokai demons featured in book one of the Takeshita Demons series, but what about the others?

Let’s start with book two

With a name like The Filth Licker, you’ve got to expect at least one akaname to make an appearance. (And you’d be right! :-))

But who else is there?

Yokai featured in Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker

Akaname (Filth Licker) 垢嘗
Great news: if you don’t clean your bathroom, the akaname will. He has frog-like skin, a long hairy tongue, and a fondness for slime, mould and rot. He likes to lick grimy bathrooms until they sparkle.

Ashi-magari (Leg turner) 足曲がり
The ashi-magari is a mischievous spirit that comes out at night to trip you up and slow you down. You might feel it winding around your ankles, or tugging at your legs, like the tail of an invisible animal.

Betobeto-san (Mr Footsteps) べとべとさん
Ever had the feeling that someone was following you? Or have you heard footsteps but turned around to see noone was there? Perhaps it was Betobeto-san, trying to get past you. He’s quite shy, so try standing to the side of the road and inviting him to go ahead.

Hitodama (Human souls) 人魂
If a person dies, their spirit can soar to the sky in the form of a fireball. When the fireball falls back to earth, it splatters everything in slime. Hitodama can be orange or blue or white, and often appear just before a sick person passes away.

Kama itachi (Sickle Weasels) 鎌鼬
Whirling with the winds and slicing through the night, the Sickle Weasels work in teams of three to slash at their enemies using long sickle blades that extend from their paws.

Keukegen (Fluffy Thing) 毛羽毛現
Small and fluffy doesn’t always equal cute and friendly. A keukegen looks like a small, furry dog, but it spreads disease and prefers to live in dark, damp places. When written with different characters, keukegen can also mean “an unusual thing that is rarely seen” (希有怪訝).

Kitsune (Fox)
Young kitsune look like ordinary foxes, but the older they are, the more tails they grow, and the more powerful they become. When they have lived for a hundred years, they can change shape, even into human form. White foxes are linked to Inari, the god of rice. The fox’s favourite food is fried tofu.

Kodama (Tree Spirit) 木魂
Kodama live inside ancient trees, mimicking the sounds of the forest and causing echoes to bounce through the woods. Their trees are often ringed with a sacred rope called a shimenawa. If you cut down a kodama’s tree, you’re in for some very bad luck.

Oni (Ogre)
Oni are famous for their mean looks and nasty personalities. They have bad hair, poor dress sense and spiky horns. And they like to eat people, which makes them very unpopular.

Satori (literally: Consciousness)
He looks like a monkey, he smells like a monkey, and he eats like a monkey. But he can also read your thoughts. The satori prefers to live in the mountains and can only be conquered if you empty your mind.

Suna-kake-baba (Sand-throwing woman) 砂かけ婆
Living high in the treetops of a lonely forest, the suna-kake-baba is a grumpy old lady who sprinkles sand on people as they walk by underneath.

Tofu kozo (Tofu monk) 豆腐小僧
Beware, hungry traveler: The tofu kozo is a young monk who wanders quiet country roads carrying a plate of fresh tofu. Although it looks delicious, often garnished with a maple leaf, the tofu is cursed, and those who eat it will start to rot.

Yamabiko (Ghostly valley echo) 幽谷響
Don’t you hate it when someone echoes everything you say? Don’t you hate it when someone echoes everything you say? That’s exactly what the yamabiko does. It lives in the mountains and pretends to be a real echo. Not very helpful. Not very helpful.

Stay posted for a sneak preview of the yokai featured in Monster Matsuri

Cheers and scary reading!



There’s a tanuki in the classroom! Japanese language learning and yokai demons

Shingo the tanuki and the money tree

The Hyogo Centre’s Melissa Luyke with professional actor Shingo Usami in disguise as a tanuki.

Creative language teaching ideas

Today I was at the Hyogo Prefectural Cultural Government Centre as part of a series of workshops organised by Ms Yuko Fujimitsu, Japanese Language Advisor for the Department of Education as part of the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP).

We worked with Year 9 students from three schools (including my own school, Leeming Senior High School!) and spent the entire day in a Japanese environment…

…speaking Japanese, eating Japanese, thinking about Japanese geography and culture.

Yokai wall of fame

Yokai wall of fame

And that’s where I was lucky enough to come in, because a big part of Japan’s culture is its mythology, history and folklore, showcased very nicely in some of Japan’s ghost stories and yokai tales.

Language learning through art, literature and drama

There was a big emphasis on new or different teaching techniques and ideas for introducing ordinary grammar into the classroom.

The day’s activities included:

Tanuki Shingo Usami and presenter Cristy Burne compare bellies

Tanukis love to use their large bellies as drums. I’m using mine to grow a baby, but still, Tanuki Shingo’s belly is bigger!

– watching GeGeGe no Kitaro (perhaps the most famous yokai in the world) fight the awesome gyuuki (or ushi-oni).

– folding and pinning origami leaves onto a money tree (for donation to the Pray for Japan cause),

– language learning through drama (led by actor Shingo Usami), art (using the Art Speaks Japanese language resource kit put out by the Japan Foundation Sydney), and literature (me and some of the Takeshita Demons)

– Japanese story-telling and song-singing

– Lots of practise in listening and speaking Japanese, especially when it came to lunchtime (no polite request for a bento box lunch in Japanese = no bento box lunch!)

It was a great day and we have more schools coming tomorrow…


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Japanese ghost stories: of a mirror and a bell

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.

Hearn’s ghost story “Of a mirror and a bell” appears in Kwaidan and is a spooky tale of curses and regret.

“Of a mirror and a bell” is reproduced below…

OF A MIRROR AND A BELL, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama, in the province of Totomi, wanted a big bell for their temple; and they asked the women of their parish to help them by contributing old bronze mirrors for bell-metal.

There was at that time a young woman, a farmer’s wife, living at Mugenyama, who presented her mirror to the temple, to be used for bell-metal. But afterwards she much regretted her mirror.

She remembered things that her mother had told her about it; and she remembered that it had belonged not only to her mother, but to her mother’s mother and grandmother; and she remembered some happy smiles which it had reflected.

Of course, if she could have offered the priests a certain sum of money in place of the mirror, she could have asked them to give back her heirloom. But she had not the money necessary.

Whenever she went to the temple, she saw her mirror lying in the courtyard, behind a railing, among hundreds of other mirrors heaped there together. She knew it by the Sho-Chiku-Bai in relief on the back of it: the three lucky emblems of Pine, Bamboo, and Plumflower, which delighted her baby-eyes when her mother first showed her the mirror.

She longed for some chance to steal the mirror, and hide it, that she might thereafter treasure it always. But the chance did not come; and she became very unhappy, feeling as if she had foolishly given away a part of her life.

She thought about the old saying that “a mirror is the soul of a woman”, and she feared that it was true in weirder ways than she had before imagined. But she did not dare to speak of her pain to anybody.

Now, when all the mirrors contributed for the Mugenyama bell had been sent to the foundry, the bell-founders discovered that there was one mirror among them which would not melt.

Again and again they tried to melt it; but it resisted all their efforts. Evidently the woman who had given that mirror to the temple must have regretted the giving. She had not presented her offering with all her heart; and therefore her selfish soul, remaining attached to the mirror, kept the mirror hard and cold in the midst of the furnace.

Of course, everybody heard of the matter, and everybody soon knew whose mirror it was that would not melt.

Because of this public exposure of her secret fault, the poor woman became very much ashamed and very angry. And as she could not bear the shame, she drowned herself, having written a farewell letter containing these words:

“When I am dead, it will not be difficult to melt the mirror and to cast the bell. But, to the person who breaks that bell by ringing it, great wealth will be given by the ghost of me.”

You must know that the last wish or promise of anybody who dies in anger, or performs suicide in anger, is generally supposed to possess a supernatural force.

After the dead woman’s mirror had been melted, and the bell had been successfully cast, people remembered the words of that letter. They felt sure that the spirit of the writer would give wealth to the breaker of the bell; and, as soon as the bell had been suspended in the court of the temple, they went in multitude to ring it.

With all their might and main they swung the ringing-beam; but the bell proved to be a good bell, and it bravely withstood their assaults. Nevertheless, the people were not easily discouraged.

Day after day, at all hours, they continued to ring the bell furiously, caring nothing whatever for the protests of the priests. So the ringing became an affliction; and the priests could not endure it; and they got rid of the bell by rolling it down the hill into a swamp. The swamp was deep, and swallowed it up, and that was the end of the bell.

Only its legend remains; and in that legend it is called the Mugen-Kane, or Bell of Mugen.

Oooooooo! Spooky!

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Awesome fun with Kappa and Tanuki

Kappa and Tanuki celebrate Christmas - DCcardWant to see just how ubiquitous yokai demons are in Japanese culture?

Check out the awesome tanuki and kappa animations and resources the Tokyo-Mitsubishi bank put together as part of an advertising campaign for their DC card.

The ads feature a shape-shifting tanuki and a (traditionally) blood-hungry kappa. And they’re very cute!

(I can’t imagine any Australian bank advertising their credit card using a vampire or werewolf, can you?)

But seriously, if you’re into cute, or you’re interested in Japanese culture, you should check out the animations in particular (an example here). They are super-cute and the manga-like voice bubbles are a great resource for learning Japanese.

Cherry blossum viewing with Kappa and Tanuki DC cardYou can download short movies, desktop art, icons and stationary templates.

Don’t forget to scroll through the menu at the bottom of each page for extra options.