The Benefits of Taking a Language Trip to Japan

The Benefits of Taking a Language Trip to Japan

In spite of its reputation for being difficult, Japanese continues to be one of the most popular languages to learn. In fact, thousands of people each year start studying Japanese not because they plan to live in Japan, but purely for recreational purposes. According to a study by the Japan Foundation, in the US alone, 50 percent of Japanese-language students said that they’re learning simply because they want to be able to enjoy manga and anime in their original language.

As with most languages, the trend today is for people to learn Japanese online through self-study courses, but if you want to become fluent, it’s crucial to practice communicating with others as often as you can. That’s why, as any language learner will tell you, one of the best ways to learn Japanese is to take a language trip to Japan.

There are different ways to take a Japanese language trip. For example, you can take an organized study trip lasting a few weeks, or even sign on at a language school for several years. Those with an adventurous streak might even want to set out on their own for a few weeks or months, immersing themselves in the language and culture of the beautiful Land of the Rising Sun.

There’s really no wrong way to go because no matter how you’ll do it, you’re sure to have a wonderful time. However, if you’re serious about becoming a Japanese speaker (and if you’d really like to learn how to read kanji), here are four benefits of taking a language trip to Japan.

1. You’ll Be Training Your Eye As Well As Your Ear

Once you get to Japan, you’ll be surrounded by a barrage of Japanese words, both audible and written. While English is a second language for many Japanese people, you can speed up your learning by making yourself speak Japanese as much as possible. Living in Japan, even for a few weeks, will accustom your eyes and ears to the continual sights and sounds of the Japanese language, so you’ll be able to hear the different inflections and nuances that you’d never be able to hear back at home. Likewise, you’ll be surrounded by written Japanese as well — whether it’s in street signs and shop windows or newspapers and menus — and in a short time, your eye should be able to recognize quite a few characters.

2. You Can Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Japan

One of the best ways to accustom your ear to the Japanese language is to go to the cinema and the theater. In traditional Japanese theater, remember that some styles, such as noh and kabuki, emphasize singing, dance, and mime rather than the spoken word. Kyogen, on the other hand, features slapstick comedy with exaggerated dialogue that’s typically easier to understand.

3. You Can Speak Japanese 24/7 If You Want

One of the best things about a language trip to Japan is you can immerse yourself in Japanese, without resorting to English unless you absolutely have to. The Japanese are famed for their politeness, and you’ll find that people will be extremely patient and even helpful as you fumble for the correct Japanese words to say.

4. Two Words: Japanese Television

Some linguists say that there’s no better way to learn than to watch TV shows in your chosen language, and Japanese television is a highly entertaining way to not only learn and memorize words but also pick up current slang and pop culture phrases.

If you’d like to know how to learn Japanese online, the Japanese website Nihongo Master is here to help. For anyone who wants to learn, Nihongo Master online offers a wide range of Japanese language lessons for every level, whether you’re a beginner or already have several years of study under your belt.

A language trip to Japan will provide an unforgettable experience, and will likely lead to many more visits to this enchanting country. Whether you make one or a hundred visits, your time in Japan will set you on the right path for a lifetime of learning and enjoying Japanese.

The Art of the Kimono

The Art of the Kimono

The Japanese kimono is one of the world’s most fascinating garments, not only because of its beauty but also because of its history, as well as its longevity. While the kimono is an ancient garment with a history going back to Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), it has stood the test of time amazingly well and is still regarded as one of the most attractive (and comfortable) forms of clothing ever created.

Kimono Styles

In the beginning, kimono (the word in Japanese is the same in its plural form) were simpler in style and were worn with trouser-like skirts known as hakama. Sometime later the hakama was discarded, and the obi, a wide sash, was added. It wasn’t until the Kamakura period ( 1185-1333) that color combinations became fashionable, and today’s formal kimono still reflect colors and designs based on themes, seasons and even family and political ties.

Since ancient times, Japanese men and women have typically worn heavier silk kimono in the fall and winter, and lightweight linen and cotton kimono in the spring and summer.

A simple kimono, such as a household kimono or man’s casual kimono, is worn much like a robe. A classic formal kimono (such as the style that’s synonymous with geisha entertainers) is a much more complicated affair, enhanced with an elaborate obi, a wide sash that is tied around the middle and enhanced with a makura, an obi bustle pad in the back. A cord, known as an obijime, is tied in front to keep the obi in place.

Are Kimono Still Worn in Japan?

Is the kimono still being worn in Japan? The answer is a resounding yes. The kimono is still a staple costume in many types of traditional Japanese theater, including classic kabuki and noh. In real life, however, most Japanese restrict their kimono-wearing to special events and festivals, such as the November 15 children’s festival Shichi-Go-San, or Shogatsu (January 1-4), the Japanese New Year.

However, you can still see the kimono being worn in the streets of Kyoto, Japan’s center of kimono culture — although chances are that most of the people wearing kimono will be tourists. Kyoto is also the site of Japan’s famed geisha schools and teahouses, and tourists spend hours waiting for a glimpse of these talented kimono-clad performers. According to those in the know, if you want a photo, the best place to wait is in the historic Gion district at around 5:45 pm, when geisha are on their way to their evening engagements.

While in Kyoto, you can purchase a kimono from one of the town’s many specialty kimono shops, as well as rent them by the hour. When you do, be sure to pick up the proper tabi socks (with a separate big toe) and zori (kimono sandals) to complete your outfit. You can even get a geisha makeover, complete with fancy kimono, makeup and studio photos of yourself, for a reasonable price.

Taking a Language (and Kimono) Trip to Japan

Each year, thousands of people in the US learn Japanese online, teaching themselves Japanese words and vocabulary via websites. If you’re wondering how to learn Japanese online or how to read kanji, be sure to visit Nihongo Master, which offers a wide range of Japanese language lessons for every level. While you learn, Nihongo Master online also entertains you with manga-style comics and puzzles, making lessons not only more fun but easier to relate to and remember.

One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to take a language trip, where you can immerse yourself in the written and spoken language — as well as the culture — of this fascinating country. If you love the history of kimono, you can make it a kimono trip as well by taking a journey to Kyoto. For many, a trip to Japan isn’t complete without seeing at least one kimono-clad geiko (the Kyoto word for geisha) or maiko (apprentice geiko), either in performance or walking to a gig. While you’re there, be sure to treat yourself to an authentic kimono from one of Kyoto’s many kimono shops. It’s the best possible souvenir you could bring home from a trip to Japan.

Ways to Say ‘You’ in Japanese (And How to Avoid the Wrong One)

Ways to Say ‘You’ in Japanese (And How to Avoid the Wrong One)

How many different ways can you think to say “you” in your native language? In Japanese there are many different ways to refer to someone and choosing the wrong one in social situations can be hazardous to your social standing. In fact, just recently a school superintendent of Shibata City schools in Niigata Prefecture was forced to resign because he used the informal ‘omae (お前)’ during a parent-teacher conference. Yeah, this can be a “big deal” topic.

As anyone who has studied Japanese for any length of time can tell you, Japanese is fraught with pitfalls of politeness and while gaijin might get the occasional free pass for mistakes along the way, you shouldn’t automatically expect it. One wrong word can leave you out in the cold due to your unintentional rudeness. One of the words that can cause the most trouble seems innocuous enough but, once again, one slip of the tongue and you could find yourself in a world of trouble or at least quiet discomfort as the people around you process what you just said. That word is “you”.

So how does one avoid falling into one of these politeness holes when conversing in Japanese? The simplest way is to avoid using the word ‘You’ when it isn’t needed due to Japanese often omitting pronouns and using context clues to tell you who the subject of a sentence is. Another way is to instead use a person’s surname (remember: using someone’s first name means that you consider yourself familiar with them and they might not feel the same way towards you which can lead to awkward situations) along with the appropriate honorific (which we will discuss later on down the road).

If you absolutely must use the word ‘you’ while speaking Japanese, there are various forms of the word that you can use depending on the social situation and who it is that you’re referring to; here are just a few of them:

Anata (あなた) – While this is technically the default, polite way to say ‘you’ in Japanese, it’s still better to get into the habit of referring to people by their surname and honorific just in case. It’s worth noting that this form of the word is often used by women towards their spouses.

Kimi (君) – This form of the word is generally used by men in informal situations towards people who are of lower status. It’s also used by boyfriends when referring to their girlfriends so be absolutely sure of what your relationship status is before you use this when referring to someone else.

Omae (お前) – Another informal version of the word, this version can be seen as rude when used in the wrong context (see the poor school superintendent in the introduction above).

Anta (あんた) – Just because this is the shortened version of Anata doesn’t mean that you should use it casually. This form of the word can be seen as someone being admonished in a very rude way.

Sochira (そちら) – This is another informal, casual way to say the word ‘you’ but if you’re in a formal situation and/or speaking with an elder, you’ll probably want to add the -sama (さま)honorific just to be safe.

Onushi (お主) and Otaku (お宅) – These are relatively polite ways to refer to someone but are so outdated that you might never actually use them. Note: Otaku (お宅) is not the same thing as an otaku (オタク) (i.e. a superfan of a certain section of popular culture) though the latter was derived from the former.

Kisama – きさま(貴様), temee – てめえ(手前), and onore (己) – These are flat out derogatory ways to refer to someone else so if you use these in conversation, know that you’re looking for trouble.

Now you know just some of the many ways to refer to someone in Japanese. Should you find yourself in a new social situation, I hope that you’ll remember some of the lessons that you learned from this article to navigate those tricky waters!

Traveling Through Tokyo and the Importance of Timing

Traveling Through Tokyo and the Importance of Timing

When you first arrive in Tokyo, you might be tempted to hire a taxi from the airport to your hotel. If you do, be prepared to fork over a lot of yen. The better option by far is to take the train. Just follow all of the Japanese passengers–they’ll be heading the same way.

Tokyo is a lot like New York City. You’ll rely on the train to take you most places and only use taxis when absolutely necessary.

The Lines

There are five main JR lines within Tokyo that you should know.

Yamanote Line

This train line runs in a circle and connects all of the major city centers.

Keihin-Tohoku Line

This train line runs parallel to the Yamanote Line on the eastern half.

Chuo/Sobu Line

This train line runs across the Yamanote Line and provides slower, more local service.

Chuo Line (Rapid)

This train line connects Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station and provides fast, constant service.

Saikyo Line

This train line runs parallel to the Yamanote Line on the western half.

Tokyo is 845 square miles in size, which makes it impossible to walk across. You need to know your way around, but you also need to know what times you can rely on the trains. The trains stop around 1 AM, so your last ride should start at 12:30. If you miss the train, you face an expensive taxi ride back from wherever you are.

For example, a taxi from the Roppongi district to the Ueno district runs about $60 USD. Comparatively speaking, you can purchase an unlimited use ticket for the subway lines in Tokyo for 1,590 yen, or around $15 USD.

Prepaid IC Cards

Another option is to purchase a prepaid card; the prepaid IC card. These are one of the most recommended ways to get around Tokyo due to their convenience. The price is around the same as that of a single-use pass, but a prepaid card lets you use any bus or train just by swiping it over a card reader.

Other Options

A final option is to consider renting or purchasing a bicycle during your stay. Travel by bicycle is common in Japan, and it is a great way to navigate the winding streets of Tokyo. It also provides an excellent way to see the city up close and personal that public transportation just doesn’t have.

Whether you visit Tokyo for business or for pleasure, make sure you know how to get around the city without paying a huge fare–or worse, finding yourself stranded.

Phrases to Know

One of the most difficult aspects of navigating Tokyo is the vocabulary. If you do not know what phrases to look for and listen for, it can be hard to find your way around. Here are a few of the most common words you are likely to encounter.

Basu

This word is simple. It means “bus” and is pronounced how it is read.

Kuruma

“Kuruma” is the Japanese word for “car.”

Jitensha

This word means “bicycle.”

Densha

This word is one you will encounter often. It means “train.”

Takushi

This word means “taxi.”

Take the time to learn a few basic Japanese phrases and you will find it much easier to make your way around the city. Learn to ask for directions (and learn a few key phrases to listen for) and you will enjoy your trip to Japan much more than if you spend most of your time lost.

Images via Wikimedia, Pixabay

How to Use a Japanese Onsen

How to Use a Japanese Onsen

How to Use a Japanese Onsen

Japan has a unique culture and heritage. Whether you are learning Japanese or heading to Japan for a vacation, there are lots of experiences to try as a visitor. One of these is the onsen or bathing in natural springs. Here’s how to bathe Japanese-style.

Find Your Onsen

An onsen is a natural hot spring with water temperatures at 25 degrees Celsius or above. They have at least one of 19 defined minerals within the water. There are over 2,300 onsen all over Japan. Some are within resorts and hotels, whereas others are located within natural spring areas. There are many places to choose from and with a little research, you’ll find one suitable. Do check the male and female opening hours, as some onsen have separate times for men and women.

Understand the Culture

In Japan, an onsen is taken completely nude. This is part of the heritage of the country and has been in existence since the eighth century. It is a great way to get an insight into Japanese culture. Do some research before you go to understand how the onsen operate, as many do not speak English. That’s also a good reason for taking the time to learn Japanese online.

Learn the Etiquette

Japanese onsen have several rules and traditions. Understanding them will help you have a positive experience and avoid offending anyone. When you go to the onsen changing room, look for the blue kanji sign for men or the red one for women. You will need to undress completely and put your belongings in a locker or basket. If you have soap and toiletries, take them with you to the next stage.

In the shower area, find a place by the showers. You will be given a plastic stool and a bowl. It is considered bad manners to sit where someone else has left their belongings, even if they are not there. You’ll need to wash and ensure you are thoroughly clean before heading to the bath area itself. Make sure you tidy after yourself and wash down the stool. Tattoos are frowned upon in Japan, as they are connected with gangs and crime. Some people with large tattoos may be refused entry to an onsen. An alternative is to find an inn with a kashikiriburo, or private bath, where you can bathe and not offend anyone with your tattoos.

Get Into the Onsen

One of the most important things to remember is that the water temperature in an Onsen is hot and can be up to 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Some places have several baths where the temperature varies so you can start with a cooler one. Be careful when getting into the bath itself as it is hot, so take it slowly. Do not jump into the onsen, splash others or swim — this is taboo. You will have been given a (very small) towel in the changing area. This must be kept out of the water. Some people fold and place the towel on their heads to keep cool. If the towel slips into the water, wring it outside the bath. Do not put your face in the water. The heat and some minerals in the water could be harmful if they get in your eyes. Talking loudly is not acceptable in an onsen, so if you plan to practice some Japanese words, be aware that most people will appreciate a greeting but not a long conversation in the bath. If they speak to you, then you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to speak some Japanese.

When you have finished in the onsen, wipe away any excess water or sweat as best you can with that small towel before going back in the changing area. Once you have dressed, you may find some onsen have areas where you can relax with a drink to complete your experience.

Images via Pixabay

Puroresu: Japan’s Weird World Of Wrestling

Puroresu: Japan’s Weird World Of Wrestling

Mention “wrestling” and “Japan” and many people will think of sumo. However, the country is also crazy for professional wrestling, the strange mix of sport and entertainment that millions enjoy.

What to Watch

Pro wrestling is one of the most versatile forms of entertainment, and no matter your interest you may find something in Japan that’s to your taste. If you like the combat of mixed martial arts — but with a guarantee of excitement — watch the Hard Hit promotion. If you like gymnastics, try the high-flying world of Dragon Gate. If spectacular stunt shows are to your taste — and you aren’t put off by a violent display — then Big Japan Pro Wrestling could be for you. Fans of physical comedy should take a look at the Dramatic Dream Team promotion. And if you want everything together in one package, New Japan Pro Wrestling is the major leagues where you’ll see some of the best in the world at performing this athletic drama.

Where to Watch

While most towns and cities get touring shows, and a few even have their own promotions, Tokyo is truly wrestling central. Korakuen Hall in Suidobashi is the home of wrestling, with shows almost every night from different promotions. You can buy tickets in advance from the fifth-floor box office or get them on the day of the show at a ground floor window. While some shows sell out, you can always queue for standing room tickets on the day.

Right next door, the Tokyo Dome hosts an extravaganza on January 4 every year named Wrestle Kingdom: In 2018, an estimated 2,000 Westerners made the voyage to see the event in person.

Other venues hosting big shows include Ryogoku Kokugikan (where sumo tournaments also take place) and Budokan Hall. For a more intimate experience, check out Shink-Kiba 1st Ring in Koto or Shinjuku Face in the Humax Pavilion Shinjuku building, both of which are used by smaller promotions.

What to Expect

Crowds at Japanese venues vary, but in some cases, they’ll be quieter than you expect because they are paying close attention to the action. In other cases, they’ll cheer the heroes, boo the villains and get caught up in the drama of the performance. Shows are often convenient to attend, usually starting around 6:30 p.m. and finishing by 9:00-9:30 p.m., giving you time to check out the local nightlife afterward. Most venues let you bring your own food and drink, while some sell beer and snacks.

Phrases

Pro wrestling is known as “Puroresu,” which is simply a shortened version of the Japanese pronunciation of the English term “professional wrestling.” Shows featuring an all-female lineup are known as “joshi” events, short for “joshi puroresu” (or woman pro wrestling.)

When buying tickets, you’ll normally want to ask for a “shiteiseki,” which means “reserved seat.” This means you get a specific seat and don’t need to worry about working out where you can and can’t sit. If you have trouble finding your seat, you can show an attendant or another spectator your ticket and ask “doku desu ka,” which means “where is this [seat]?”

Most venues are laid out with the seating blocks listed as north, south, east and west. While the signs for these are usually listed in English, the tickets themselves may only use the kanji characters, so they are worth learning.

While watching a match, you’ll often hear the ring announcer say a phrase like “go-bun” or “ju-bun,” which means that five minutes or 10 minutes, respectively, have gone by in the match. (Matches usually have a 30-minute limit, but it can be 60 minutes for a championship bout.) When wrestlers fight outside the ring, they have a count of 20 to get back in, though this is usually made in English.

Header image via PixaBay