Pick Up Calligraphy To Improve Your Japanese!

Pick Up Calligraphy To Improve Your Japanese!

Introduction

Don’t jump to any conclusions about calligraphy just yet. Whatever it is, this article will change your mind! It doesn’t matter if you’re the last person on Earth to be doing any sort of art. You’re not doing calligraphy for art, but for learning Japanese!

There might not be a direct link in your mind just yet. Books are for learning — how can an art form be useful in terms of improving your Japanese? Well, just like how Netflix can improve one’s Japanese ability, so can calligraphy! Both are unorthodox ways of language-learning, but if you do it right, you will beat the norm of language education and master the fun methods of going about them!

Enough talk about if calligraphy will help and move on to how calligraphy will help improve your Japanese! Let’s take a look at what calligraphy really is, how it relates to Japanese culture and ways to go about making calligraphy work for your Japanese language-learning!

What is Calligraphy?

Before we get into it, let’s break down what calligraphy actually means. Calligraphy is a visual art form, particularly related to writing. It is more of decorative handwriting usually produced with a broad-tip tool like a pen or brush. 

Just like how every individual’s handwriting gives the one writing a unique insight into their personality, calligraphy is like giving these standard characters and alphabets a special form in a more elaborate and expressive manner.

Calligraphy has its roots in ancient history. Dozens of cultures, not only the Japanese culture, have some form of calligraphy in them. Because each culture’s calligraphy form differs from the other, it’s easy enough to figure out which calligraphy is whose. That’s the beauty of this art form.

Even being an ancient practice and art, calligraphy has remained a strong influence in today’s modern society. Calligraphy is present in all sorts of things, everything from the modern designs and paintings to preserving the ancient craft with classes educating on them. 

Calligraphy in Japanese Culture

Even though calligraphy is present all throughout the world, it has a special significance in Japanese culture. To the Japanese, it is not only an art form but it is also a means of communication as well as a Zen practice — evoking wisdom and harmony just like the entirety of Zen itself. Japanese calligraphy is known as shodo (書道), translating to “the way of writing”. 

Calligraphy skills can be passed down from generation to generation, preserving the authenticity and skill from the first generation when it was first introduced in the sixth to the seventh century. Even though the practice of calligraphy in Japan originated in China, just like how the kanji (漢字) characters are borrowed from them as well, the Japanese calligraphy developed their own unique touches throughout the centuries.

The basics of Japanese calligraphy are with the use of a bamboo brush dipped in sumi () ink — a type of ink made from perfume, animal glue, and pine tree soot. There is an emphasis on beauty and balance in Japanese calligraphy. Each brushstroke is like a meditative and spiritual offering, similar to other aspects of Japanese culture like the Japanese tea ceremonies and Japanese flower arrangement art.

Styles of Japanese Calligraphy

Under the broad category of Japanese calligraphy, there are various styles of calligraphy included. The three basic styles of shodo are: kaisho (楷書), gyosho (行書) and sosho (草書).

Kaisho style of calligraphy is the regular, block-style script. The “kai” () in “kaisho” holds the meaning of “correctness”.  Those who go to shodo school (a school specializing in educating the Japanese calligraphy) start off by learning this style of calligraphy. The block style is known as the basics of Japanese calligraphy — much like a foundation. There is an order for every stroke and has to be perfectly executed. 

The second style of calligraphy is the gyosho, which is the moving style — a perfect description of the technique used for this style of calligraphy. Gyosho is more of a semi-cursive script and is less formal than the kaisho, focusing on the fluidity and free motion of the brushstrokes. Once the brush touches the paper, the calligrapher won’t leave the paper until the very end. It’s all in one stroke with the intention to continue to the next character. This style of Japanese calligraphy often opens up more creative expressions for calligraphy artists. 

Last but definitely not least, there is the sosho calligraphy style which is the cursive Japanese calligraphy. This is arguably the most difficult style of calligraphy. The literal translation of sosho is “grass script” and this style has the effect of grass blowing in the wind where the characters flow into each other. Don’t be surprised to see some strokes eliminated from some characters — that’s to create the smooth writing. You can sosho calligraphy in abstract Japanese art, especially Zen art, where energy is transmitted into the works.

How Can Calligraphy Improve Japanese?

How can an art form such as Japanese calligraphy help in one’s Japanese language ability? Well, there are a few ways calligraphy can improve your Japanese solely because it’s an art form! Here are the top ways calligraphy can be your ultimate language learning aid for your Japanese studies!

Exposure

If — and when — you pick up calligraphy to improve your Japanese, there will be numerous times where you are faced with words and kanji characters that you have not seen before. Naturally, you’ll get curious about it and its meaning, and then look it up. At the end of the day, you’ll be exposed to more Japanese words and kanji characters just by picking up Japanese calligraphy! 

Visual Learning

There’s the saying “a picture speaks a thousand words”. Japanese calligraphy art creates pictures and visuals of various Japanese words — be it in hiragana, katakana or kanji, that doesn’t really matter. Your brain is more prone to absorb and process information through a visual form like pictures, and you’re more likely to remember the new things you learn because of the visual learning aspect of Japanese calligraphy! 

Repetition in Writing

Of course, no one starts off as an expert. When you first get into Japanese calligraphy, you’ll find yourself repeating the same characters and words over and over again to master the brushstrokes and form. There’s this notion of repetition, and we all are aware that repetition is key when it comes to learning something new. Through calligraphy, you’re bound to memorize the ways to write a kanji character and eventually recognise it when you’re out and about in Japan. Imagine doing that for quite some time for a lot of Japanese words and kanji characters — you’ll be a pro in no time!

Conclusion

Who would’ve thought that something as intricate as calligraphy can be a fun way of improving your Japanese! You don’t have to be an artist to take up Japanese calligraphy as a hobby, especially if your main intention is for it to be a learning tool for your Japanese language learning. Look at it this way: not only will your Japanese language ability improve, but you also picked up a new skill that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s a win-win, in my opinion!

The Famous Japanese Vending Machines

The Famous Japanese Vending Machines

Introduction

It can be because you’ve been to Japan or you’ve read it somewhere online, but there’s no doubting the fact that Japan is vending machine heaven. There is an abundance of them that it is said to have one vending machine per 23 people! Available all day every day, these vending machines are just reflections of the convenience consumer society as well as the Japanese’s reliability.

The most common vending machine you’ll see on the streets of Japan is the standard one that offers drinks. Don’t be surprised if you come across some unusual ones — that’s the charm of Japan. Some of us may have the nostalgic memory of vending machines being more of a tug of war to get a bag of chips or a chocolate bat out of the machine but rest assured the vending machines of Japan are as peaceful as they get.

The Japanese Vending Machines

One could never guess the number of vending machines there are in Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun has the highest density of vending machines in the whole world, just slightly over 5 million in the whole country! Sales from just these vending machines alone are more than $60 billion annually!

The use of vending machines started as early as the 1960s. In the same year, the supply of 100 yen was increased so that citizens can use vending machines easier. How are these vending machines so successful in Japan? It’s mostly because of the high population density and the need for convenience from the people.

With so many of these vending machines, you’ll be surprised at where you can find one. Even the most unexpected places, expect to see one. There’s even one on Mt. Fuji’s summit!

What Japanese Vending Machines Tell About Their Culture

Much can be said about the culture of the Japanese people from just the obvious existence of the vending machines in Japan. It is arguably part of their culture as well. The implementation, expansion, and success are all because of the people of the country as well as how the country functions.

Cash-based society

While most countries in the world are moving on to being a cashless society, Japan is rather stuck on being a cash-based one. The people have such a heavy reliance on physical cash. Not all restaurants, shops, and public transportation stations accept credit or debit cards — in fact, quite a number of them only accept cash.

The people of Japan not only carry paper bills but coins as well. In Japan, the coins come in high denominations like 50 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen. That’s equivalent to about USD0.50, USD1, and USD5. Who would’ve thought that a five-dollar bill comes in coin form in Japan! 

Because of the abundance of coins that everyone is carrying around, it’s much more convenient to pop in a coin into the vending machine. It gets rid of the jangling change while at the same time rewarding yourself to a refreshing drink!

The high cost of labor

Japan is facing some serious declining birth rates and an aging population. Because of those factors alongside a lack of immigration to Japan, labour is scarce and costly. The vending machines in Japan are a big-time solution to this problem as it eliminates the need for sales clerks. It’s also cheaper to set up a vending machine as these machines only need periodic visits for replenishment, emptying the cash, and occasional maintenance.

Fascinated by automation

Japanese people are obsessed with automation. No other country has as much automation as Japan. You’ll definitely believe this fact if you’ve heard about the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. The Japanese heavily rely on and trust in their automated systems. Because of this fascination, vending machines are so popular among the local citizens. 

Types of Japanese Vending Machines

Because vending machines are so popular, one can assume there will always be constant improvements and upgrades to cater to the market demands. As the vending machine industry in Japan expands, so does the technology used to create these types of machinery. Let’s look at the types of Japanese vending machines you can find in Japan! 

Classic vending machines

The classic Japanese vending machines are pretty self-explanatory. They are the most common kinds of vending machines that you find in Japan. You can easily spot a classic Japanese vending machine. Most of the time, they give off a retro vibe and only have coin slots. Depending on where you are in Japan, these classic vending machines might have a design on them If you’re in one of the busy cities in Tokyo, then they’re most definitely having some sort of advert or animation design on them as a promotion. If you find yourself in a neighborhood street or an extremely local town, chances are the vending machines there are plain white.

Touch-payable vending machines

An upgrade from the classic vending machines includes not only a note slot but also a reader where customers can use their IC transport cards to pay. These readers are not even the ones you have to slot in the card itself — they are touch payable! That saves you the hassle of rummaging through your pocket or bag for change to get a can of refreshment — talk about convenience. Plus, you won’t be piling up a stack of 1 or 5 yen coins!

Touch panel vending machines

The latest generation of Japanese vending machines are the ones with touch panels. This type is the most recent type, only being around for just over a year. These touch panel vending machines aren’t widely available even in big cities, let alone ones outside of them. Big stations in Tokyo and Osaka are the ultimate places to find them.

Some of these touch panel vending machines even have CG displays that show messages according to season or events like Halloween or spring cherry blossoms. Other times, expect TV-like commercials or weather forecasts for the day or week. Regardless of what it shows, there will always be something showing on these touch panel vending machines.

If you think that’s all for the touch panel vending machines, you’re wrong! They even show the details of the drinks they offer including descriptions of the drinks, volume, calorie count and, of course, price. Talk about high-tech!

How To Use A Japanese Vending Machine

You might think, “why would I need to know how to use a vending machine?” They are pretty simple to operate, but most of them do not have any English explanations for operation or drinks. While it may be straightforward for most, it’s best to generally know how all of the Japanese vending machines function.

1. Insert Payment

As with all types of vending machines everywhere, you will first have to insert your payment — bill notes or coins. Once you’ve inserted the sufficient amount, the lights on the vending machine will light up. 

Vending machines in Japan accept only 1,000 yen bills, and every other coin except for 1 yen and 5 yen. This is a great tip so you can take a mental note when heading towards a vending machine. It’s not a great feeling to be already in front of one and not have change for a can. But if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a touch-payable one, just swipe your IC card and you’re good to go!

2. Choose your drink

After you’ve inserted payment, you have to select your beverage by pushing the lit up button underneath them. Most of the time, the names of the drinks are in kanji (漢字) or katakana (カタカナ), so it might be a bit difficult to find your desired drink. Even with the displays of bottles, some of them aren’t exactly clear what they are. Coffee can be a latte and plain water can look like a carbonated sports drink. Here are some useful Japanese words to keep a lookout when browsing through the selection at a Japanese vending machine:

— water

ジュース — juice

お茶, 御茶, 緑茶 — green tea

コーヒー coffee

ミルクティー milk tea

麦茶 — barley tea

ココア — cocoa

砂糖, 微糖 — with sugar

無糖, ブラック — Coffee (black) or without sugar

3. Take your change

After you’ve selected your beverage, the can will fall into the hole at the bottom of the machine. Don’t forget your change! Quite a number of people do. The coins will fall into the change tray at the side, so take them before you leave the vending machine!

A helpful tip

Similar drinks can vary in price at different vending machines. The ones in the city centers are usually priced higher than the ones you find on residential streets. Keep a lookout for 100-yen coin vending machines, where almost all the drinks are priced at 100 yen!

Things You Can Buy At Japanese Vending Machines

So how are Japanese vending machines any different from vending machines everywhere else in the world? For one — and probably the most significant one — is that these vending machines not only offer beverages but also other sorts of unusual and interesting products. Here’s a list of some of the more common products offered by Japanese vending machines!

Cigarettes

No, you didn’t read the title wrong — you can find a cigarette vending machine in Japan. And only in Japan! You don’t even have to pop into a konbini (コンビニ) for a pack of cigarettes, just get your convenient pack of cigarettes on-the-go. The country is still a major smoking country, which is why this is even an option.

Alcohol

While there are fewer of these types of Japanese vending machines, there are some still available in certain areas in Japan. Alcohol vending machines exist — everything from a local beer to a flavoured Japanese vodka are offered. If you’re really interested in seeing one of these in person but would prefer not to roam the streets of Japan for one, most hotels often have them.

Natto

Natto (ナット) is a Japanese fermented soybean that is one of the essential ingredients in a power-packed breakfast, complete with the required nutrients. There’s no surprise that natto is offered as one of the products in a Japanese vending machine due to its high popularity. One of the best places to have a look for yourself of a natto vending machine is at Ikejiri-Ohashi station.

Fruits

Everyone will need a quick energy boost once in a while, and what’s a better natural energy boost than a quick fruity bite? Head over to a fruit vending machine — there are tons of them including ones that offer bananas, apples, and even strawberries. From peeled to unpeeled, ready-to-eat slices to the whole fruit, you’ll be spoilt for choices. Some of them even offer dippings like honey — what a treat! Shibuya station has a banana vending machine and Kasumigaseki station has an apple one — just for your reference in case you don’t feel like strolling aimlessly in search of these tasty treats in machines.

Dashi

Most, if not all, of the Japanese cuisine, is defined and dependent on dashi (だし), an umami-rich stock that’s made from dried kelp and bonito. It’s the foundation of the local dishes. It’s no wonder this staple ingredient is offered in Japanese vending machines! A vending machine manufacturer called Dashidouraku is the one that came up with this genius idea, so if you’re ever running out of dashi, just a quick run to the nearest dashi vending machine will solve all your problems.

Umbrella

Japan’s weather can sometimes get unpredictable. When the weather forecast says it’s going to be sunny the whole day but then it suddenly starts pouring, pop by the nearest vending machine that sells umbrellas! These umbrella vending machines are often conveniently located, like the one at JR Suidobashi station.

Oden

The more unusual option of them all is an oden vending machine. An oden (おでん) usually consists of a few ingredients like boiled eggs and processed fish cakes stewed in a light soy-flavored dashi broth. Get yourself an oden in a can at one of these oden vending machines!

Mystery

Need a little bit of excitement on your Japan trip? These mystery vending machines are definitely going to give that to you! There’s not usually just one specific vending machine that offers surprise products. Rather, it’s one of the options of a regular vending machine with an option of a product wrapped in white paper and has a question mark on it. It can be anything from chocolate snacks to a surprise drink. A relief or anticlimactic — either way, it’s a joyous mini roller coaster ride.

The Wrap-up

There’s no doubt that Japan is the King when it comes to vending machines. The Japanese people depend on them so much and it’s becoming one of the biggest highlights of the Japanese culture. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, keep an eye out for all the various types of Japanese vending machines! If you’re already living in Japan, keep a tab of the kinds of Japanese vending machines you’ve encountered — there are so many more that have not been mentioned here. The Japanese are so creative and innovative, so expect anything and everything in a Japanese vending machine!

10 Interesting Facts About the Japanese Language

10 Interesting Facts About the Japanese Language

Introduction

We can all agree that Japan is a wonderful country with a rich culture and beautiful traditions. People from all over the globe dream to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun at least once in their lives. Everything from arts and literature to religion and language in the Japanese culture is intriguing. There’s always something more to ponder on even after thousands of questions already answered.

The Japanese language is not short of its own intriguing facts. Those who have learned or are learning the language will figure out that there is some stuff about the Japanese language that is unique to itself and no other language has it. Here are the 10 — even though it’s not limited to only these — interesting facts about the Japanese language!

1. There are multiple ways to say “I”

It might sound unusual for some of us who only have one way of saying “I” in their native language. In Japanese, there are so many ways to say “I” that you’d lose count after 10! In fact, there are over 20 variants of “I” in Japanese — how cool is that? Here are the top 5 ways of saying “I” in Japanese that you’ll hear more often:

  1. Watashi () — This is the most common way of saying “I”. Foreigners who are learning the Japanese language will probably be familiar with this first than the rest. Watashi is used both casually and formally, which is what makes it so special. 
  2. Boku () — This way of saying “I” is less formal than watashi. It’s more often used by males. Even though watashi is ranked higher in the formality ranking, it is still acceptable to use boku during formal occasions like meetings.
  3. Ore () — Similar to boku, ore is only used by males. However, in terms of formality, it’s the total opposite. Ore has a harsher tone than most, and sometimes it can even be considered rude. 
  4. Jibun (自分) — On top of “I”, this word can translate to “myself” as well. In a way, jibun is used to refer to yourself as a second person which can make things confusing. Regardless, the Japanese still use jibun for “I”. 
  5. Atakushi (あたくし) / Atashi (あたし) — These two have a fine line to differentiate them. They’re both used by females only, and it’s often used in informal situations like speaking to a familiar friend or junior.
  6. Ware () — This is one of the higher ones in terms of formality. You won’t hear this word to refer to “I” outside of a speech or business meeting, but it is still commonly used. The plural form of this is wareware (我々).
  7. Washi () — This way of saying “I” is more often than not heard in the Kansai region. You won’t really hear it being used other than by the people from Kansai (they are known to have an interesting dialect in the Japanese language in general). The older men and women are the ones using it.

2. One pronunciation, various characters

In the Japanese language, there are three writing systems. One of them is kanji (漢字). What’s amazing about kanji is that multiple characters that look significantly different from each other can have the same pronunciation. Let’s look at an example of how one way of reading or pronouncing can have various different characters with different meanings:

Pronouncing “shin” (しん) can be for:

— true

— new

— believe

— stretch

— god

— heart

— parent

— advance

All of the above kanji is pronounced as “shin”. Even with 8 mentioned, there are still countless other kanjis that have the same pronunciation!

3. One character, various pronunciations

The opposite is also true. The above shows that one pronunciation can have many characters, so it’s also possible for one character to have various pronunciations. Let’s take a look at one example of such a situation:

The kanji character for “person” is . This specific character has various ways of pronouncing it. It can be read as hito (ひと), jin (じん), tari (たり), to (と), ri (り) and (にん). While all of the pronunciation relates to the original meaning of person, the exact meaning depends on the context. How it’s pronounced is also based on that. Hitori (一人) refers to “one person”, and has the “ri” pronunciation for the kanji character. Therefore, depending on what it’s attached to and the overall meaning, the pronunciation of the kanji character will change accordingly.

4. Romaji roots are in Christianity

One might think that the romanisation of the Japanese language was created when Japan had trade relations and interactions with the European countries in the 16th century. That’s not exactly how romaji (ローマジ) came about. Its roots are actually in Christianity!

In the 1500s, a Japanese Catholic wanted to promote the Jesuit religion in Japan to the European missionaries without having them learn the complicated ways of the Japanese language. He created the romaji to ease the process. 

The first-ever Japanese-English dictionary that made use of the romaji was published by James Curtis Hepburn in the 1800s. Because of that, the Japanese romanisation is now also known as the Hepburn Romanisation!

Romaji now is used to aid non-native Japanese learners when it comes to studying the language. As Japanese sounds are clear and pronounced, the romaji reading is quite accurate for these learners to sound out the Japanese characters.

5. Japanese verbs have no conjugations

You might think that picking up another language is hard because there’s so many complications to languages. Take a look at English — there are so many conjugations of just one verb. The verb “see” can be conjugated to “saw”, “have seen” and so on. But in the Japanese language, there’s no such thing. The language is pretty straight forward, making it easier to learn! All the learner needs to memorise the main verb!

6. There are no articles

Another feature that makes the Japanese language easier to learn than most languages is that there are no articles in the language! In English, there are articles like “an”, “a” and “the”. But in the Japanese language, there’s no way to differentiate the difference as there are no particles. That’s why it’s much easier for English speakers to learn the Japanese language as it is for the Japanese to learn English, because for them, there is much more to learn.

7. Japanese is one of the world’s fastest languages

How does one measure the speed of languages? Well, there are ways to go about them. There are such things like syllabic rate, informational density and information rate. These are all confusing, so let’s explain it in easier terms. 

There have been studies that compare the various languages. Even though with proper research, testing languages for their speed and information density can be a bit hard to measure. Languages have their own dialects and the speed is affected by the various personalities of people. But these studies take the average speakers to do the testing.

From it all, it is found that the Japanese is the fastest spoken language in the world! It has at least eight syllables per second, beating French, Italian and Spanish!

However, even though the Japanese language is the fastest, that doesn’t mean it delivers the most information. In fact, the Japanese language delivers the lowest amount of information based on their information density per second. In other words, even though a lot has been said, not a lot of information is being given. That’s not surprising though — it takes all eight syllables in the Japanese language to say “not”. 

8. Japanese is not a tonal language

Compared to the neighbouring countries’ languages, it’s surprising that Japanese is not a tonal language. A tonal language is one where the tone is relied on to convey the meaning of words. There are fewer distinct syllables and use the inflection to differentiate between similar words.

Mandarin, Cantonese Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese are just some examples that rely on tone. All of these are in countries in East Asia where Japan is at as well, making it surprising that the Japanese language isn’t a tonal one.

This is not a bad thing, though! For those of us who are trying to learn Japanese, this comes as a relief. Tonal languages can be harder to learn and get used to. However, just like every other language, the Japanese language does have a certain rhythm and flow. That’s pretty easy to catch if you’re exposed to the language speech enough.

9. There is no plural form

This may come as a surprise to some but the Japanese language does not have plural forms! In English, to differentiate if it’s a single item or multiple items, we can add “-s” at the end of the noun. The sentence structure changes as well. It goes from “this is a book” to “these are books”. In the Japanese language, however, for both of the English sentences above, it is just “これは本です”. 

The form of the word doesn’t change, whether or not it’s singular or plural. While there are counters to explain the quantity like takusan (たくさん), one has to usually take a guess or assume the quantity based on the first sentence.

10. Japanese has no relations to other languages

A popular belief is that the Japanese language is related to the Chinese language. While the Chinese characters are used as one of the Japanese writing systems, there is no genetic relation to the Chinese language family. In fact, the Japanese language is one of the most unique languages in the world! There is no direct derivative language that makes the Japanese language. It is unique, just like every other aspect of the Japanese culture.

The Wrap-up

Who would have thought that there is so much power in the Japanese language. With so many ways to say one thing as well as one way to refer to multiple things, it’s a unique language that is not at all difficult to pick up. After all, there aren’t any articles, verb conjugation and plural forms of nouns. That just cancels out a whole chunk of grammar that one would have to learn if it were English. If you were considering whether or not to learn Japanese, these interesting facts are definitely deciding factors for you!

Japanese Honorifics: What Are They?

Japanese Honorifics: What Are They?

Introduction

Whether it’s from an anime or Japanese drama that you watched, a manga you read, or from learning Japanese, you’ve bound to come across suffixes that are used to address people. These are called Japanese honorifics and they’re just like our version of “sir” and “ma’am”.

It’s quite a big deal in Japanese culture — the use of honorifics indicates the kind of relationship you have with the person, conveys formality and respect, and is a form of politeness. There is an honorific suffix for every situation; both informal and formal honorifics exist. That just goes to show how important they are in the culture.

The list of honorifics can go for as long as one can imagine, but here we’ll take a look at the most common ones that you’ll hear quite frequently in Japanese shows and movies, mangas and even on the streets of Japan!

Honorifics in Japanese Culture

Before anything else, let’s talk a bit more about honorifics in Japanese culture. For us as English speakers, we might not be so familiar with the concept of honorifics. While we don’t have such an extensive range of honorifics, we do have some terms like Mr., Miss, Mrs., and Dr. The difference is that, for us, they’re prefixes rather than suffixes.

In Japanese culture, the hierarchy factor is quite significant. Honorifics play a huge role in understanding the complexity of the unique communication system of the Japanese. Different honorifics are used based on criteria such as age, social status, a field of work, job title, and your place (whether it is superior, inferior, or neutral) to the other person. Depending on these, they’ll reflect in your conversation with the other person — with some people, you’ll have less of a formal language while with others, it can get quite formal. 

Japanese honorifics are attached to the end of the person’s name, and it’s usually the last name. It’s not that common in Japanese culture to call a person by their first name unless you’re extremely familiar with that person. Another thing to note that it’s also extremely rude to call someone just by their last name without any honorifics, so let’s try not to offend anyone!

There are also occasions where you shouldn’t use honorifics: when talking about yourself, when the other person asks you to not use them (in Japanese, it’s called yobisute 呼び捨て), when talking to someone from your family or inner circle (uchi, ), and when talking to someone from your outer circle (soto, ) about someone from your inner circle. 

Sometimes, you can also drop the “o” (お) prefix to make it more colloquial. For example, you can drop the “o” お from “oka-san” お母さん to be “ka-san” 母さん. It’s like a jump from saying mother to mum. Take note that you can’t do it for all — sometimes it can come off as rude, so check with your Japanese friends first!

There are tons of honorifics in Japanese culture — how does one know which and when to use them? Let’s take a look at the common ones and the situations we can use them for.

-san

The most common honorific is -san (さん) and it’s on the higher end of the formality spectrum. It can loosely translate to Ms. or Mr.. Most of the time, this suffix is used among colleagues at work, fellow students at school, and also acquaintances that you’re not so familiar with — regardless of age or gender. 

This Japanese honorific is probably the one you can use confidently without offending anyone but at the same time without going overboard. When you’re unsure of what Japanese suffix to use, go for -san — it’s the safest bet. The worst response you’ll get is the other person telling you to not be formal and drop the suffix; in that case, that’s a win for you!

-sama

A step higher from the -san suffix is the -sama (), and it’s the most formal honorific of them all. This Japanese honorific is used to refer to deities like God (kamisama, 神様), royalty (ohime-sama, お姫様) and in extremely specific situations towards people of higher status. 

A most common one you’ll hear in Japan is okyakusama (お客様) which refers to the customers. In Japan, customers bear a sense of social superiority, hence you’ll often be referred to with -sama attached to your name if you’re at a store. It’s similar to “Mister” or “Madam” in English, but twice the formality.

You can also try to use -sama to flatter people casually or be sarcastic. For example, you can add -sama to the slang male term for “I” (ore, ) to make ore-sama (俺様), which is like “my royal self”.

-kun

This Japanese honorific is most often used for younger men and male teenagers; like a male classmate or younger brother. Occasionally, it can be used to refer to young women, but that doesn’t happen as frequently. The suffix -kun () has the same kanji as kimi (), which is an informal way of saying “you” — so the formality level of this Japanese honorific is not as high as the other two mentioned earlier.

This Japanese honorific is usually used by people who are seen as superior, like when a person of higher status talks to a younger person. The rules aren’t as strict and straightforward for this one though; sometimes it can be a casual reference to a cute boy.

-chan

The female version of -kun is -chan (ちゃん). This Japanese honorific has an endearing tone to it and is mostly used for children. It doesn’t limit to just that though — most of the time, grandmothers are called oba-chan (おばちゃん) and other female members of the family use the -chan honorific as well.

While it’s mostly used for girls, some boys also use -chan. Rather than it being a feminine honorific, it just adds a sense of cuteness to a person’s name. It also indicates that you’re familiar with the person. 

Because it’s an informal honorific, be careful not to use it for people you’re not familiar with. It might come across as rude and uncalled for. 

-senpai

I bet you’ve heard of the phrase “notice me, senpai”. This Japanese honorific, -senpai (先輩) is used for people of higher status or higher up the hierarchy chain. This term is usually used in school, at work and in other similar situations. There’s a level of respect attached to this honorific, as it is someone that’s above you.

The opposite of a senpai is a kohai (後輩), which means junior, but you don’t usually use it as an honorific or suffix. 

-sensei

Last but definitely not least is the -sensei (先生) honorific. Sensei actually translates to “teacher” on its own, but as an honorific, it can be used for any authority figures like teachers, doctors, politicians and lawyers. There’s a level of respect attached to this suffix as it acknowledges that the person has achieved a certain level of mastery in a skill.

Conclusion

And there you have it, the most common honorifics in Japanese culture! While there are quite a few more, they’re not as common and not as flexible to use as the ones mentioned above. Plus, we can go through life in Japan with just these honorifics without ever touching the other ones, so why bother? Get accustomed with these suffixes and try using them with your family and friends first — who knows, they’ll end up calling you -chan by the end of it!

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction

Who doesn’t like a good cup of freshly brewed tea? The Japanese definitely do! They love it so much that they have their very own ritual, dating back to the 14th century! You’ll be surprised at how serious they take their tea. There are even schools in Kyoto dedicated to educating the proper ways of performing the Japanese tea ceremony. 

This classical Japanese art of refinement is more than just the act of drinking tea. Deeply ingrained in the culture, the Japanese tea ceremony encompasses everything from refined presentation to serene aesthetics. Discover this delicate art of the Japanese tea ceremony in this article — everything you need to know including the tea etiquette and tools is just a scroll away!

What Is A Japanese Tea Ceremony?

The Japanese tea ceremony has a few ways to call it: chanoyu (茶の湯), chado (茶道), and even “The Way of Tea”. This tea-drinking ritual focuses on receiving guests and serving matcha green tea with traditional sweets alongside — all the while using prescribed special tools and detailed actions.

It’s not any kind of tea ritual. The Japanese tea ceremony has a specific procedure to go about it that’s only unique to Japan. The Japanese have been drinking tea for the longest time. It was only in the 16th century that the tea-drinking ceremony became a ritualized practice. Till this very day, it has been preserved and considered part of the Japanese culture. 

The Japanese tea ceremony has an aesthetic of simplicity and understated, known as the wabi-sabi (わびさび). This style has influenced a huge part of Japanese art and culture as well as cuisine. What you see today in Japanese culture had some roots in the Japanese tea ceremony in some way or the other.

History of The Japanese Tea Ceremony

China has been practicing ritual drinking for as long as anyone can remember. It was only introduced to Japan in the 9th century. This came about when a Buddhist monk brought back from his travel to China a tea plant. He then served the emperor of the time the tea. Since then, tea plantations have never been the same — the emperor gave an imperial decree to cultivate a widespread tea plantation in the country. 

For three centuries, ritual tea drinking wasn’t consistently practiced. Only in the 12th century did it become a regular thing. Initially, the Zen monks drank tea to stay awake when they were having long meditation sessions. It naturally became an active part of Zen ritual now. The 13th century was when the tea-drinking scene became a symbol of nobility and status. Only the luxury could afford tea then. There were tea-tasting parties among the samurais and warriors where they had to guess the right variety of tea. 

It wasn’t long after, in the 15th and 16th centuries when two of the most influential figures in Japanese tea history popped up. Murata Juko set the core values of Japanese tea ceremony that are still practiced and respected till today: reverence, purity in blood and spirit, calmness and freedom from desire, and respect. These values were the exact opposite of what the tea ritual was about at the beginning in Japan. However, ever since Juko, the Japanese society gradually picked up the tea ceremony on their own.

The other influencer, Sen Rikyu, brought to the table a style of Japanese tea ceremony that is now known as the wabi-cha (侘び茶), which means simplicity. This Japanese tea ceremony style is one of the most popular ones in the present day as it puts emphasis on four key principles: respect, purity, tranquility, and harmony. Rikyu strongly believed in the unique encounter between people and no meeting can ever be reproduced the same way again. This belief is strongly present in this style of the Japanese tea ceremony. The wabi-cha has also inspired the style of teaware aesthetics of a similar concept — simple yet seemingly rustic.

Cost & Duration of A Japanese Tea Ceremony

You might think a centuries-old traditional experience would be charged at an exceptionally high price. Think again! It’s actually not that sky-high cost! The average cost of a tea ceremony experience depends on the location and the number of people that participate in the ceremony. A group Japanese tea ceremony experience can go as low as ¥2,000. A private booking ranges from ¥4,000 to ¥12,000.

When it comes to the duration of a standard Japanese tea ceremony, it’s best to put aside at least two hours and at best three. The duration of one can vary depending on the location as well, so it’s best to check beforehand before booking so you can plan your day accordingly!

The Basic Etiquette of Japanese Tea Ceremony

You’d expect a highly-regarded cultural ritual to come with a set of etiquette to abide by — you’re spot on. There are more than a few rules that it’s hard to say if the Japanese themselves know them all. Here are the top three ones to keep in mind:

Sit in a seiza position

The traditional Japanese way to sit in Japan is the seiza (正座) position. It is known as the proper way of sitting by the people. This way of seating involves placing your knees on the floor and resting your bum at the top of your feet. The top parts of your feet are expected to be flat on the ground. Don’t forget to sit up straight, now! 

It might get a little bit of getting used to, but it’s all part of the experience, am I right?

Appreciate everything

The Japanese tea ceremony is all about appreciation. Look around the tea room and take in every tiny detail. Every item, from the utensils to the wall art, is picked out and prepared specially for the tea ceremony. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about the ceremony or even the tea room. The Japanese are more than happy to answer them! It’s even considered polite.

Appreciation also comes in another form, and that is not leaving any drink or food behind. Consume everything served to you. Don’t worry, you won’t be full by the end — it’s not a full course meal.

No touching with open palms

Quite a handful of people aren’t aware of this but try not to touch things with open palms during the Japanese tea ceremony. Instead, use a closed fist as a default hand position throughout the entire ritual. You might even impress the host for knowing such an etiquette!

What To Wear During A Japanese Tea Ceremony

As a foreigner, we’re sometimes lucky enough to get the foreigner pass. But let’s not take advantage of that, especially if we’re in the country to experience the truest cultural experience it can provide. The proper Japanese tea ceremony attire involves traditional Japanese wear like the kimono. Most tea houses offer kimono rental services so customers can fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Alternatively, dressing modestly without showing off unnecessary skin does the job. Tight-fitting clothes might get uncomfortable since you’ll be sitting on the tatami mat floors for a few hours. Also, since guests are required to take off their shoes, wearing white, clean socks as a substitute for the traditional tabi is like paying respect to the Japanese culture.

How To Drink Tea During A Japanese Tea Ceremony

When the tea is served to you, bow (or nod) once and then bow again before drinking it. Pick the tea bowl with your right hand and place it on your left. Turn the bowl in a clockwise direction so the front design is not facing you anymore. Then drink the tea in two or three sips — and don’t forget the slurping noises (the Japanese take that as a sign of appreciation). Be sure to not touch the design or pattern on the bowl as it goes against the mannerisms. After finishing your tea, take some time to admire and appreciate the tea bowl. Once you’re done, turn the bowl so the front faces the host, and then bow to express your gratitude.

Tools Used During Japanese Tea Ceremony

When you’re at your tea ceremony experience, you’ll notice quite a few tools that are quite foreign to you. During a Japanese tea ceremony, there are very specific tools used for specific steps. While it’s great to ask questions, save the questions for other curiosity you might have rather than the tool names. Here are some basic ones that are required to carry out a proper tea-drinking ritual. 

Matcha (抹茶)

The Japanese matcha is a special type of Japanese green tea where the tea leaves are grounded into fine powder form. Unlike the standard green tea where you can get loose tea leaves, the matcha only comes in powder form. The flavours are so much richer because it encompasses all the initial nutrients, preserved in every grain.

Fukusa (福砂) 

The fukusa is a silk cloth used for cleaning other utensils as well as to serve the tea. The color varies for women and men. Women are often associated with the color red or orange while men use the purple colored one.

Usuki () 

The usuki is a tea caddy. This is a type of container that holds the matcha powder.

Kama (かま)

The kama is a Japanese tea pot usually made of iron and is used to heat the water for the tea. 

Cha Shaku (茶杓)

The cha shaku is a ladle used to scoop the matcha powder out of the tea caddy, or “usuke”, and it’s considered one of the most important tools in the ceremony. The size of the scoop can be up to 8 ounces per scoop.

Cha Wan (茶碗

Instead of a teacup where tea is usually served, matcha tea is served in a tea bowl known as the cha wan during a matcha tea ceremony. This is a ceramic pot, and the size and shape can vary depending on the type of tea as well as season.

Cha Sen (茶筌)

Who would’ve thought tea has their own type of whisk. In Japan, the cha sen is a bamboo whisk specially for whisking the matcha tea until the green powdered tea is perfectly frothed. 

Steps To A Japanese Tea Ceremony

Come prepared for your tea ceremony experience by educating yourself beforehand about the exact procedure and how it all goes down. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of it all, from preparation to the aftermath:

Step 1: Invitation

The host would send out formal invitations to the guests a couple of weeks prior to the actual tea ceremony date. There’s no one type of invite — it comes in all shapes and sizes. They’re mostly chosen to suit the aesthetics of their tea room and experience.

Step 2: Tea Room Preparation

The tea room that will hold the ceremony will be prepared accordingly based on the season. Depending on how the host likes it, the tatami mats can be changed, tools used for the ceremony can be switched out and decorations can be swapped. Sometimes, a preparation can just be a clean sweep of the area as well as a supply check.

Step 3: Receiving The Guests 

The host of the tea ceremony would then formally invite the guests into the tea room. The guests are required to wash their hands as acts of purity and take their seats according to rank. Occasionally, the host will offer traditional sweets. 

Step 4: Initial Cleaning of the Tools

At the start of the Japanese tea ceremony, the host will ritually purify the tools of the tea ceremony set by cleansing them individually.

Step 5: Preparing the Matcha 

After that, the host will go on to prepare the thick matcha. Following that, there will be another round of cleansing of the tools. The thin matcha is then prepared after the cleansing. Look forward to the confections that are being served during this time.

Step 6: Cleaning the Tools

After the formal tea ceremony, the host would once again clean the tools. After each tool is cleaned, it will be passed down so that the guest of honor can examine and appreciate the craftsmanship of the tools.

Step 7: The Departure of Guests

At the end of the tea ceremony experience, the host will show the way out for the guests. As the guests depart, the host would bow to each of them individually.

Conclusion

The Japanese tea ceremony is so full of history and culture that it is just too big for some of us to comprehend! If you think the theory of tea ceremony is intriguing just by reading and hearing about them, wait till you experience one for yourself! Nothing beats a first-hand encounter, especially with something as unique and mesmerizing as the Japanese tea ceremony!

The Various Names of Japan

The Various Names of Japan

Introduction

Most of us know Japan this present day simply as what it is: Japan. For the local Japanese people, their home country is known to be “Nihon”. How can one country have various names? This one does.

That’s not all there is to it. It may come as a surprise to some, but Japan wasn’t recognized as Japan or Nihon the whole time in history. There have been a few different names that contributed to the build-up to the current proud names. We’ll stroll through the historical times of Japan, even far before the country had any written records about themselves; the country was a verbal one than it was a written one for an extremely long time, so in truth, we’ll never truly know exactly what the earliest people of Japan call themselves.

Regardless, let’s follow the advancement and changes of the various names of this island nation to grasp the concept of its respectful names today.

Oyashima, The Eight Islands

Kokiji (古記事), which translates to “Records of Ancient Matters” or “Account of Ancient Matters”, is the oldest Japanese text in history to ever exist, dating back to 500AD. This ancient text consists of accounts like Japanese myths and legends, all written in classical Japanese writing system which is the Chinese kanji (漢字) characters but read and pronounced with Japanese sounds.

One of the texts in the kokiji tells the story of the birth of Japan. It is said that the first Gods (in Japanese mythology anyway), named Kunitokotachi and Amenominakanushi, created two beings. They were then ordered to create the first lands by using a heavenly spear that was given to them to stick into the sea. When they pulled out the spear, eight drops of saltwater were created which then made self-forming islands. These islands are known as modern-day Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. At the start, these islands were collectively known as Oyashima (大八洲) which means “The Great Eight Islands”.

Even though there are written accounts of the birth of Japan, it is unclear and unknown whether or not the people of Japan at the time referred to themselves as people of Oyashima.

Nakoku Kingdom

Moving on from Oyashima, let’s introduce the next name of Japan in history. In the past, before the country became one whole, there were various groups of people that make up Japan. One of them was from modern-day Fukuoka and they were the first-ever ones with written records of the names of Japan. 

In the ancient Chinese historical records during the Yayoi Period, there were writings about the “Nakoku” (奴国). It was said that the Guangwu Chinese Emperor gifted the first Japanese envoy who visited China in 57AD with their own imperial seal. Now, this imperial seal, which translates to “King of the Japanese Country of Na, vassal to the Han”, is a national treasure.

There was another Chinese record that showed that the Nakoku returned the goodwill in the form of New Years’ tribute, much like what a real, legitimate country would do. Other than these records, there aren’t any others about the Nakoku Kingdom or any other groups of people during this time.

Wakoku, The Land of Wa

While the Nakoku Kingdom sounded very mysterious, they were just a representation of a part of Japan rather than a whole. The first written record of Japan as a whole country instead of separate islands is during the Three Kingdoms period in 220AD to 280AD. The ancient Chinese texts referred to Japan as Wakoku (倭国) — there weren’t any explanations as to why they were called that by the Chinese. 

Let’s take a look at the kanji characters for Wakoku. “Koku” () refers to “country” and it’s as straightforward as it gets. What’s quite interesting is the “wa” (倭) kanji. This kanji is to refer to Japan as a country but the kanji itself has two different meanings behind it. It could mean “submissive people” because of the strokes of kanji looking like people bending down and carrying grain on their back; it could also mean “dwarfism” due to the physical structure based on the kanji strokes. 

For the longest time, the former meaning is more often regarded. But after a long while, the Japanese people realized that the latter term is a more derogatory term and wasn’t too happy about it.

The People of Yamato

There’s a group of native Japanese people that resided in modern-day Honshu during the 6th century and they were the largest group of them all. They were known as the Yamato and they also used the same kanji character used in Wakoku to write their name Yamato (大倭). In the 8th century, the Yamato became the representative group of ancient Japan somehow.

At one point, the Yamato decided that they didn’t want to use the 倭 kanji due to its negative meaning; they then changed it to a different kanji, 和. This kanji has the meaning of harmony, balance, and peace, but it wasn’t originally pronounced as “wa”. Despite that, Wakoku went from 倭国 to 和国 and Yamato went from 大倭 to 大和 — both pronounced the same as before, just with different meanings due to the change in kanji characters.

If you notice to this day, the 和 kanji is used for various things related to Japan like Japanese food (washoku, 和食) and Japanese clothing (wafuku, 和服).

Nihon, The Land of the Rising Sun

After the ruckus of Wakoku and Yamato, we will finally see how the name we now know and love came about. Around the same time in the 8th century, the idea of “The Land of the Rising Sun” and “Sun Origin” popped in peoples’ heads. 

There are actually quite a few renditions of how the name originated. There’s this book called “The Old Book of Tang” where it tells the story of the Japanese envoy, who visited China in the beginning, going back there and requesting a change of the country name because he disliked the previous name. 

Another one is from a Japanese text called “The True Meaning of Shiji” where it mentioned that the Chinese Empress Wu Zetian was the one who ordered the change of name.

Regardless of how the change came about, what matters is it did. The country name then switched to Nihon (日本). The kanji of this name had the literal meaning of “origin of the sun”, probably referring to the location of the country being on the east of China, and to the Chinese, that was where the sun rises from.

What makes Nihon the perfect name for this country is that it perfectly coincides with the Japanese mythology about the sun goddess, Amaterasu. She plays a huge role in Japanese culture, even to this very day!

Nihon vs Nippon

Now, I know we’re all thinking: “Is it Nihon or Nippon?” The simplest answer to it is that they’re both the same! Everything from how it is written to the meaning has no difference. You can say Nihon or Nippon to a Japanese person and they will know exactly what they’re referring to: their home country. 

If you’re still not satisfied with the explanation, there’s actually a very slight difference; it’s how the words are being used in situations. “Nihon” is generally used as the regular name of Japan, while “Nippon” is used when referring to the country in official situations like stamps, banks, and money. I guess, to the Japanese, “Nippon” sounds more official and formal than “Nihon”.

Japan

Now, if the Japanese call their country Nihon (or Nippon), then why do the rest of the world call it Japan? Here’s where it gets a bit lost in translation — quite literally, actually — and there are quite a few story variations of how the name came about. But all of them have one thing in common: it all balls down to the pronunciations and identification of the kanji of Nihon.

Let’s take a look at the two kanjis. 日 can be pronounced as “jitsu” on top of “ni”. 本 can be read as “hon” or “pon”. If you combine these two, readings like “jitsu-pon” are also possible — and they can sound similar to “zipang” or “japon”. 

Just like how the Japanese have a few ways of pronouncing one kanji, so do the Chinese. They have more than a few ways of reading depending on their dialects — Cantonese pronounced it as “Jat-bun”; the Mandarin Chinese pronounced it as “Rib-ben”; the Shanghainese pronounced it as “Zep-pen”; the Fujianese pronounced it as “Jit-pun”.

There had been quite a bit of Portuguese-Japan trade in those days as well. Stories about how the Portuguese pronounce the country’s name “Cipan” came up. There were others who believed that it came from the Malay word of the country’s name which is “Jepun”; that sounds extremely similar to the Chinese pronunciations. 

Among all the speculations, there’s one story that’s the most popular. Who hasn’t heard of the extremely well-known Italian explorer Marco Polo? He was the first-ever person to introduce Japan to the rest of the world by writing about the country in his travel diaries. It’s debatable on whether or not he actually traveled to Japan, but in his writings, he referred to Japan as “Zipangu”. It’s not even certain where he heard that from — maybe on his adventures, or maybe from traders’ pronunciations. Because tons of people read Marco Polo’s adventure stories, it sheds light on the country Zipangu, which over time evolved into what we now know as Japan.

Conclusion

What a long history roller coaster Japan’s country name went on — from the Great Eight Islands to The Land of the Submissive People, and now proudly the Land of the Rising Sun. Whether you pronounce it as Nihon or Japan, they both hold the same meaning of the sun origin. With all these changes, you’ll never know what Japan is going to be called next — if it ever changes. We’ll have to wait and see, and let the magic of time do the work!

Conversational Japanese vs Business Japanese: Which is Better?

Conversational Japanese vs Business Japanese: Which is Better?

Introduction

Just like any language, there are various areas to cover when one decides to pick it up. The Japanese language is huge. There are various tiers and each tier comes with special words and grammar that are applicable plus useful. A Japanese learner might find this intimidating and be more demoralized than motivated, but don’t be.

Technically, there are multiples types of Japanese ranging from the most basic to the most complicated, the informal to the polite and formal. These can all generally be classified into two categories of Japanese — conversational Japanese and business Japanese. You can go either way and depending on which one you choose, they come with their own perks and benefits. 

Before starting to pick up the Japanese language, or even for those who have, it’s best to decide which direction to go for. Let’s take a look at these two categories and break them down to help with the decision making process.

The Basics of Conversational Japanese

Conversational Japanese is exactly what it sounds like — the kind of Japanese that you use in daily conversations and day-to-day interactions. This type of Japanese is more casual and often consists of less formal vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar. Sometimes, the grammar and sentence structure is so flexible that there’s no right or wrong to them!

Conversational Japanese is the one that’s most often heard in television shows, dramas, and movies. It’s no question that you’ll hear them being used when you walk past a group of people on the streets of Japan as well. This type of Japanese is used among friends and family as well as close and casual colleagues. Don’t worry if you’re not sure who to speak conversational Japanese with. The Japanese people are very understanding and appreciative of those who are learning the language and appreciate all sorts of efforts!

Why Learn Conversational Japanese?

The most obvious question is: why should you learn conversational Japanese? There are various reasons as to why. First and foremost, it is the easiest choice of the two. Conversational Japanese is usually just basic and lower-intermediate Japanese grammar and vocabulary. Once you’ve got the fundamentals of the language structure down, you’re as good as anyone at conversational Japanese! If there is a word mentioned by another person that you don’t understand, the explanation of the meaning is often always using simple words — so you’ll definitely be able to grasp it. Don’t get too caught up in grammar and sentence structure as well when it comes to conversational Japanese. In this type of Japanese, you can structure your sentences a few different ways to say the same thing and no one will penalize you on it!

The second reason why you should learn conversational Japanese is because it’s what you’ll most often use in Japan. If you’re meeting a Japanese friend, it’s more natural to speak in conversational Japanese because it’s informal and more casual. The vocabulary words that you pick up in conversational Japanese will probably pop up again in the future, so it’s extremely useful. On top of it all, you’ll be able to watch a Japanese drama or movie and be able to follow most, if not all, of the conversation!

Who Should Learn Conversational Japanese?

If you’re wondering if conversational Japanese is suitable for you, think about why you’re learning the language. Are you learning Japanese because you want to be able to speak to other Japanese people casually and make more native friends? If your reason for picking up the language is similar to that, then conversational Japanese is perfect for you!

The Basics of Business Japanese

The other type of Japanese is business Japanese that uses keigo (敬語), which is the honorific Japanese speech. This type, as it suggests, is the kind where you would use in a business setting. Whether it is in the office, to your colleagues or seniors, or in a meeting, it’s undoubtedly more formal than conversational Japanese. Business Japanese consists of more complicated words and phrases, sentence structures and specific grammar to use in this kind of setting. You might even require to be familiar with more kanji (漢字), the Chinese characters and also one of the three writing systems in the Japanese language (whereas in conversational Japanese, you’ll be able to pass without requiring many kanji characters).

As mentioned before, this type of Japanese is more formal than the other one. So you won’t hear it being used as often. Unless the Japanese drama or movie you’re watching is in a business or formal setting, you won’t be as exposed to it in those mediums.

Why Learn Business Japanese?

If it’s slightly more difficult and more substantial than conversational Japanese, why learn it then? Well, first of all, it’s extremely useful and important. In fact, it is crucial in the particular environment. Japanese companies and business workers expect a certain level of formality in speech. Not only is it required in situations like meetings and interactions with other colleagues in the office, but it’ll also definitely impress them with your fluency in a complicated level of the language.

It’s not just the language but the etiquette and mannerisms that come along with it. Most expect specific customs when dealing in a business environment. Some of these etiquettes include a certain way of dressing and movement. Even handing over a business card has a particular way.

Who Should Learn Business Japanese?

Business Japanese is extremely necessary for those who are planning to work in Japan or are required to liaise with Japanese clients. It is considered professionalism and the bare minimum in meetings and those of the likes. You will also want to be able to understand what the other party is talking about, since the vocabulary that comes with business Japanese is a few steps up from conversational Japanese. 

Which Is Better: Conversational or Business?

So, which is better, conversational Japanese or business Japanese? The answer is, there isn’t one that is better than the other! Both conversational Japanese and business Japanese have their perks that the other doesn’t. It is more of a matter of preference and personal choice, and what the Japanese learner is learning Japanese for. 

If you’re learning Japanese to converse casually, conversational Japanese is substantial. If you are working in a Japanese company or plan to, or have Japanese clients that you want to impress, then business Japanese is the better option. Either way, the Japanese people will appreciate every ounce of effort!

The Wrap-up

At the end of the day, whatever category of Japanese you choose should be of your choice. Because you’re the one learning it, and if you pick the right kind of Japanese, you’ll enjoy the learning process more. The Japanese language is a tricky one sometimes, but with a full heart of motivation, it’s as easy as ABC! Ganbatte (頑張って)

Tattoos in Japan

Tattoos in Japan

Introduction

Japan has built quite a reputation for itself when it comes to tattoos. Tattoos have made a mark (pun intended) way back in the history of Japan, as far back in the 5,000BC. The ancient tale of Japanese tattoos carved the scene of this art-on-skin today. The quality and techniques of Japanese tattoos are unquestionable. 

Japanese tattoos are highly regarded because the skills of Japanese tattoo artists have been passed down from generation to generation. People all around the world look up to Japanese tattoos while the locals have almost the complete opposite outlook. Despite the negative association, tattoos still take up a significant portion of the Japanese culture. Discover the backstory to this Japanese body art and how it has evolved to this day.

A History of Japanese Tattoos

FELICE BEATO c. 1870 in JAPAN. They have TRADITIONAL TOP

Just like every other aspect of Japanese culture, Japanese tattoos have a rich and long history. Japanese tattoos are also known as wabori (和彫) which means Japanese-style engravings. its existence that dates back to the fifth millennium BC. During this time, it was believed that people had tattoos to mark their social ranks. Some also had them as a superstitious belief to fend off evil spirits. 

The irezumi — a criminal punishment

Irezumi (入れ墨) refers to the general act of putting ink onto the skin. The use of irezumi for symbolism and superstitious reasons started to fade around the 7th century. It was then used as punishment instead of severe crimes like murder and treason instead of the death penalty. Tattoos were a way to identify criminals in those days. They were disowned by their own families, outclassed, and even banned from participating in any combined activities.

These irezumi can be found on any part of the body. The most common areas were the face and arms. The intriguing part is that the irezumi designs weren’t categorized by the act of crime. Instead, it was categorized by the region that the crime was committed. Examples include the Hiroshima criminals being identified by the dog symbol tattoo and the Fukuoka criminals had lines tattooed all the way around their upper arms.

The tebori — a tattoo style invented by the former woodcarvers 

It took centuries before the use of tattoos became more than just a symbol of crime. Tattoos were prohibited at the beginning of the eighteenth century. At the same time, they became a decorative art form inspired by woodblock prints. These woodblock prints were often created with a unique style of art called Ukiyo-e to illustrate plays and novels. Ukiyo-e artists team up with woodcarvers to manifest these woodblock prints. The artists would draw or paint the design on a block of wood and then afterward the woodcarvers would simply carve it out.

Their tremendous hand-eye coordination skills of the woodcarvers were not paying off. They weren’t earning anywhere close to enough. Because of that, they sought out other potential works and it was then that the tebori (手彫り) came about. Tebori is a type of tattoo unique to Japan as it is based on the carving techniques of the ancient woodcarvers. 

Not only did this conversion of woodcarvers to tattoo artists result in a spike in numbers of tattooed people, especially in the lower social class citizens, but it also influenced the style of Japanese tattoos today. These woodcarvers-turned-tattoo artists were inspired by Ukiyo-e style of art for their tattoo designs— everything from folklore to religion.

Decorative tattoos — marks of the Yakuza

The lower class citizens migrated to modern-day Tokyo about the same time as the birth of tebori. These migrants included the Yakuza, who consisted of people like gang members and outlaws. The Yakuza would be seen with a bunch of tattoos. These tattoos symbolized courage as well as loyalty — because of the extreme pain to get the tattoos and also the permanency of it. 

Outlaws with punishment tattoos took advantage of the rise in decorative tattoos to cover up their existing tattoos. Their punishment tattoos were covered up with larger ones befitting the style of tattoos back then. This evolution of tattoos— from marks of criminal acts to decorative body art — brought about the association of organized crime with tattoos in the present day. 

Horimono — The Golden Age

Despite the hype of tattoos in previous centuries, it only peaked in Japan during the late eighteenth century. It is because of a Chinese folklore story that got translated into Japanese, completed with Ukiyo-e illustrations. This folk story, known as Suikoden, narrated the journey of outlaws fighting their corrupted rulers and became the heroes of the common townspeople. The people of Edo strongly relate with the characters of the narrative and its boosted popularity was because of that.

There were various artists that illustrated Suikoden in different versions that included tattoos in their art. Nothing beats this woodblock print artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi. He portrayed the popular characters of the story with full-bodied engravings. This revolutionized Japanese tattoos by birthing a new style of tattoos known as the horimono (彫り物) which translates to “things that have been engraved”. 

The beginning of the nineteenth century can be known as the Golden Age of horimono. Full-bodied engravings were seen in more than just Ukiyo-e prints. Other forms of the Japanese art culture like plays and songs portrayed characters fully tattooed in the horimono style.

Unfortunately, every good thing has to come to an end. And so did the horimono. This tattoo style suffered a dramatic decline during the Meiji Restoration when the strict, oppressive regulations were implemented. In the mid-1900s, the ban was lifted, and the tattoo scene in Japan started growing again.

Today’s Japanese on Tattoos

Regardless of the substantial historical evidence of tattoo culture in ancient Japanese culture, there has long been a standing link between tattoos and illegal activities. It is proven to be difficult to change this specific mindset. The automatic judgement of one being classified as a “bad guy” when he’s seen with a tattoo has been occurring throughout the country for a while. 

There have been a number of experience exchanges of tattooed people in Japan. It’s a balance of positive and negative feedback, and glances on the streets are more of curiosity than disapproval.

Some Japanese do have their own tattoos. Many of them just keep it well hidden and covered. Exposing or revealing them is rather rare in Japan due to social reasons and the need for employment. These prevailing rules and social norms in Japan have had various rebellions, but it seems like the progress for change is going at a snail’s pace. At least there is progress, right?

The Ban of Tattoos in Public Facilities

While it is still tolerated to expose body art in places where one normally expects it to be — in subways, public streets and most restaurants — some very specific places implemented a strict ban against tattoos. For example, almost all bathing facilities, like the onsen, and public facilities, like a public spa, gym, and swimming pool, forbid entry to anyone who is seen with tattoos on their body. Some believe it’s to prevent contamination of the waters and consideration for other users. There are others who believe that it’s to keep out the Yakuzas from onsens.

Due to the increase of tourism, especially from the West, Japan has seen more and more people with body art roaming their streets, and eventually demanding access to their facilities. As a temporary answer to this, there have been special facilities that are just for people with tattoos, and a few onsens have made their ruling slightly more lenient. This includes allowing tattooed people to just cover up their tattoos to allow entry to these public facilities. 

Tattoo Studios in Japan

Tattoos have long existed in history, perfecting the Japanese-exclusive techniques and skills. It’s no surprise that the tattoos scene in Japan is far from amateurish. Some might even say they’re one of the top few experts!

Despite its relaxed laws on tattoos, there is still a bit of coldness on the matter. From public perception to the difficulties attached to it, tattoo businesses aren’t exactly having a walk in the park. Tattoo studios in Japan aren’t like the ones in other countries where you’ll see them evidently on the streets. Even though the standard, western-style tattoos parlours are still available, the most popular type of tattoo studios in Japan is the private studio.

Private tattoo studios are extremely popular in Japan. These private studios are generally home-based. The place consists of a separate room or area dedicated to the proceedings of tattooing inside the tattoo artist’s own home. Sometimes, it could be a separate apartment altogether where the artist rents out the room just for his work. It’s not uncommon if there isn’t any signage to indicate where the studio is. Don’t worry, they’re not shady business — it majorly has to do with the negative associations of tattoos.

Don’t let that sway you from going under the needle in Japan. It’s all a matter of knowing where to look for quality, authentic wabori.

Enjoying the Tattoo Life in Japan

There have been obvious shifts in how tattoos are viewed in Japan over the past few years. The Japanese are more and more influenced by the West and Japan’s booming tourism. Because of that, the younger generations have started to loosen up. Don’t take it personally if an old granny stares at your body art with disapproval. The youngins would definitely have more appreciation. In fact, it might even be a fascination.

Even though Japan is changing when it comes to tattoos, it is still best to be safe than sorry. Take extra measures to cover up your tattoos when visiting sacred places, public facilities, beaches, and ryokans. Despite the supposed strict ban in bathing facilities, many travelers and locals alike have noted that they were let off with covering them up temporarily just to get into the onsen.

The Wrap-up

Tattoos have come a long way in Japanese culture — from using this form of body art as a criminal punishment to now an appreciated art form. Regardless of the still-existing disapproval, Japan is being more open-minded about it now than it was centuries ago. Progress is key, and who knows where The Land of The Rising Sun will be in a few decades from now when it comes to tattoos.