Elise Hu

Japan has the world's highest number of people age 65 and older. And a growing number of elderly people there are dying in accidental choking deaths. For the past 10 years, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the vast majority of those deaths have been senior citizens.

Japanese purikura photo booths, which produce selfies that you can decorate and print out, predate Snapchat filters by at least a decade. At about $3.50 a pop, they are still attracting hordes of Tokyo teenagers.

Japanese toilets have come a long way from the early 20th century, when many people in Japan still used "squatters," which were built into the floor.

Western toilets became popular after World War II. And today, signature Japanese toilets offer the world's most futuristic and automated technology when nature calls.

South Korea in recent years has become the hot place for beauty product innovation, and it is often called the cosmetic surgery capital of the world.

In the dense megacities of East Asia, millions of people dwell in high-rises with very little green space. This isn't an ideal setting to raise big dogs or more unusual pets. Cramped quarters aren't great for domesticated pets in general.

At the height of the Cold War, in the 1960s and beyond, South Korean students were taught — and believed — some startling falsehoods about Communist North Koreans. One of these gained credence and lasted far longer than the Cold War itself.

Over the course of my reporting in Seoul, some interviews with North Korean defectors and older South Koreans have revealed a South Korean notion that North Koreans are really more like ... beasts.

When South Korea's mountain town of PyeongChang hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games next year, a white tiger and a black bear, respectively, will serve as mascots. They've been introduced as cuddly icons of Korean history and folklore.

Cup Noodles, the dorm-room staple that cooks in three minutes, turns 45 this month. There's no better place to celebrate than its very own museum in Yokohama, Japan.

"This is the museum that really honors the creator of instant ramen and Cup Noodles," says museum manager Yuya Ichikawa, who leads me on a tour.

The North Korean regime's network of overseas restaurants have enjoyed a bit of renown this year, after the defection en masse of 13 restaurant workers from one of the Pyongyang dining outposts in Northeastern China this spring.

Those restaurant workers are now in South Korea, having absconded in a coordinated defection that is the biggest mass-defection from North Korea in history.

Samsung Electronics is recalling its brand-new smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, after dozens of users reported the devices exploded or caught fire.

Samsung traced the problem to a flaw in the phone's lithium battery, and issued a voluntary global recall.

Samsung is offering to replace all 1 million devices already in the hands of consumers in 10 countries, and it's recalling the shipments of the Galaxy Note 7 that have already gone out.

A zombie flick is smashing box office records in South Korea. Train to Busan has been seen by an estimated 11 million Koreans — a fifth of the population — and broken numerous records, including the highest single-day ticket sales in Korean film history.

The plot isn't complicated: Everyday South Koreans find themselves trapped on a speeding bullet train with fast-multiplying zombies, creating the kind of claustrophobic feel that freshens up the zombie trope. But beyond a fast-paced summer thriller, it's also an extended critique of Korean society.

Japan is home to many local festivals, but some of the best known are the ones in which men run and jump around nearly naked — not for dirty reasons, but for ancient religious ones.

The hadaka matsuri or "naked festival" dates back centuries in Japan. Men perform in traditional fundoshi (loincloth) to purify themselves before gods, to bring luck and prosperity or to welcome new seasons.

Japan's emperor is hinting he wants to leave the Chrysanthemum Throne. 82-year-old Emperor Akihito gave a rare televised address Monday — only his second in history — in which he reflected on his advancing age, the tough daily schedule of his ceremonial post and the toll it was taking on his health.

Seoul is the home of Korean pop music, or K-pop, which is quickly becoming one of Korea's biggest exports. It's a multibillion dollar industry that, for the last decade, has been dominated by girl groups.

Management agencies churn out groups that look alike and embody a girlish, doe-eyed innocence. But critics say there's a dark side to the bubblegum images being spread around the world.

Packing your child's lunch calls for a whole different level of preparation in Japan. There, moms often shape ordinary lunch ingredients like ham or rice into cute little pandas, Pokemon or even famous people's faces. It's called character bento, and there's considerable pressure to produce these cute food creations.

Tomomi Maruo has been teaching how to make character bentos, or "kyaraben" for short — at her home for the past 13 years.

In the central Japanese mountain village of Damine, children have kept up an unbroken tradition of performing Japan's classical theater, kabuki, year after year for more than three centuries. But as people age or leave for opportunities in cities, the village is running out of performers.

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Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

North Korea is a mysterious place — even to South Koreans. Curiosity about life in the north has sparked a slew of new South Korean TV shows.

There is the Amazing Race-type program, in which North Korean women are paired up with South Korean men to take on various challenges, like trudging through mud carrying a bucket of water on their heads.

In Taiwan, it's not enough just to get your dog groomed regularly. These days, owners are asking for their four-legged friends to become geometric shapes, like spheres and squares.

In the South Korean capital, an independent business owned by local artists is taking on Korea's arguably most famous celebrity — the entertainer and musician PSY. The real estate rift is representative of a fast-changing, modern Seoul, where skyrocketing rents in up-and-coming neighborhoods are forcing out longtime tenants and raising concerns about gentrification.

At issue is a cafe and artist residency in Seoul's Hannamdong neighborhood.

Step off a bustling Tokyo street, down a short flight of stairs, and almost instantly, you can wind up in Fort Worth. Or at least it feels that way.

Takeshi Yoshino and his wife opened the tiny tavern called Little Texas 10 years ago as a tribute to the state they love. Yoshino's passion for country music first led him to the Lone Star State more than two decades ago.

President Obama and the Pentagon are hosting South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, this week. At the White House summit Friday, the two leaders are expected to reaffirm one of America's longest-running alliances in Asia. But the tough policy question they have to tackle is what to do about South Korea's unruly northern neighbor.

For the first time since World War II, Japan can use its military beyond its own borders. This change in interpretation of the nation's Constitution proved highly unpopular, sparking weeks of demonstrations in Tokyo.

"I didn't even care about what democracy looks like. I didn't even care. But now I realize, it actually matters," said Wakako Fukuda, a 20-year-old college student who demonstrated for days against controversial security bills eventually passed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party.

In Tokyo, workers have started tearing down a Japanese landmark — the Hotel Okura. The Okura is a treasure of 1960s modernist design and has hosted every American president since Richard Nixon, Hollywood royalty and actual royalty.

"The service there is something very special. The lobby attendants, the women in their kimonos, the men in their tuxes," says former U.S. ambassador John Roos, who served in Japan during President Obama's first term. "It's a place that people from all over the world have come to stay and to admire."

North Korea has returned a New York University student and South Korean national who had been detained in Pyongyang since April.

21-year-old Joo Won-moon was in North Korean custody after he crossed the border from China into North Korea, hoping to help strengthen ties between the two Koreas.

"I thought some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have a good effect in the relationship between the North and the South," Joo told CNN in an interview in May.

Weddings and baby showers are real-life milestones to spend with your actual loved ones. True, but in South Korea, a cottage industry exists to help real people find fake friends to fill seats at such life rituals.

At a recent wedding in June, Kim Seyeon showed up as a guest even though she is a total stranger to the bride and groom. She makes about $20 per wedding she attends as a pretend friend.

"When it's the peak wedding season in Korea, sometimes I do two or three acts a day, every weekend," Kim says.

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, top chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: We go to Seoul, South Korea, to make banchan — those endless small plates of pickles and veggies that traditionally accompany rice or soup.

In Seoul, a gay pride parade 15 years in the running is at the center of heated controversy between LGBT groups and Christian activists, who threaten to do what it takes to stop the marchers.

The growing visibility of South Korea's gays and lesbians has led to louder opposition from church groups in recent years, and this weekend's event has organizers preparing for confrontation.

This week, Japan and South Korea are marking the 50th anniversary of an important treaty — the one that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries. The two nations signed the landmark 1965 treaty after years of war and the Japanese colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

But to celebrate, both countries are having to hide ongoing bitterness.

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