What has happened to Harajuku Fashion?

What has happened to Harajuku Fashion?

Tokyo is famous for its wild and crazy, pure and creative, limitless and shocking fashion. The locals agree that Harajuku is where all the action happens. There is a special kind of energy that flows in the area, and anyone who’s ever been there has felt it.
 
Gossip began to spread in the fashion world at first about the “death” and the demise of the Harajuku essence.
Recently, this topic of discussion became widespread. Everyone was paying attention. This area was the birthplace of legendary streetwear brands: BAPE, Undercover, and Neighborhood. How can it be out of creativity? 
 
Media, especially international media, can sometimes blow things out of proportion. Here’s a not-so-short rundown and a little insight from a certified fashion pro.

The rise of Harajuku style

person in harajuku fahsion jacket in Japan with glasses in street.

Image Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson
There isn’t a specific style to describe Harajuku fashion. From gothic lolitas and weekend cosplayers. To the retro rock ‘n roll to kawaii put-together. This mix of non-mixing is what made Harajuku oh so special and enticing.
 
There were many “zones” in Harajuku that make up the neighborhood. From the reigns of designer labels such as Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. To pioneering Japanese streetwear labels like A Bathing Ape and Undercover. It’s safe to say Harajuku had it all.
Even the ones that were not flashy in style were a style. As streetwear became prevalent, subcultures formed. To this date many have studied them, making them legendary
 
Many associate the oversized, laid-back casual look to be Japanese-sty. As well as the all-black look. It took elements from Japanese tradition, as well as Western influence. Like lolita and kawaii made styled neon evocative of Japanese style.
It only goes to show that, even though these looks are total opposites, they still resemble the same thing. There is no one style to Harajuku fashion.

The decline and fall

Lolita girls in full harajuku fashion

Image Credit: Elvin
Many who saw of the shifting of styles said the decline and fall of Harajuku fashion was imminent. The change in Harajuku’s fashion scene judged as drainage of its original essence.
 
Harajuku used to be an organically-born, creative hub. Now it’s become managed by big name brands and companies. Tourism boomed and globalization forever changed the once sacred fashion area.
It became a tourist attraction. 100 Yen stores filled every corner joined by even businesses and banks.
 
Many creatives had to adapt and became main stream. Others disappeared. Having to adapt to different modes of access and prices, it is no wonder the Harajuku scene changed in a huge way.

Evolution of Harajuku 

Harajuku fashion ladies standing in a row posing

Image Credit: Elvin
The styles of Harajuku fashion have changed a lot since its early days. The truth is it’s evolving. The evolution of something means it will not remain in its original form.
 
Harajuku fashion has never been one specific style. And it doesn’t only describe the crazy and loud fashion that are famous. It refers to a special zone of no judgements, and limitless creativity.
If the past few decades have told us anything it is that fashion changes so fast. And those things that create the most change are usually weird!

Harajuku’s present and future

Harajuku fashion girl with denim dress in busy street

Image Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson
The colors may have faded from the streets of Harajuku, the passionate souls still exist. This neighborhood has become the heart of people who want to express themselves.
It has become a safe zone for some, and home to others. People interact and connect. And new talents are often discovered. 
 
People all around the world come to Tokyo to experience the Harajuku vibe. While it may not be what you see in magazines, it is the modern-day Harajuku. It’s still oozing with energy and bustling with new fashion tribes. It’s still the spot where fashion trends are born and made.
 
It is safe to say that Harajuku is not dead. The Harajuku people are always trying out new clothes and styles. It’s a change, not an end. Who knows, in the next century, this is what they could define as Harajuku fashion.
If you really want to be on the cutting edge of Japanese fashion learn Japanese with Nihongo Master! The All-in-one, fun and easy way to master Japanese so you can keep up with all those Japanese bloggers out there!
Where To Shop in Japan

Where To Shop in Japan

We all have a soft spot for a good ol’ shopping trip. There’s this buzzing feeling we get looking at all the fresh buys at the end of the day. Japan will bring out even the smallest and deeply burrowed shopaholic out to play. The Land of the Rising Sun is not only reputable in quality and range of products in all categories but it also produces quite a substantial amount of Japan-exclusive ones that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. 

 

The key is to know where to look. However, the country is huge and for travellers with only a limited amount of time in the country, it’s impossible to cover every inch of land for the best goods. For that very reason, a shopping guide like this one exists, highlighting certain areas in the main cities Osaka and Tokyo as well as tips and tricks to fully benefit what Japan has to offer shopping-wise.

Shopping in Tokyo

The main fashion city itself, Tokyo, is obviously the best place in the country to get your fashion buys and rare finds. Everything you can ever imagine is right here in this city — exclusive local brands including local designer ones that went global to international brands with Japan-only items you can’t get anywhere else.

Tokyo has the best mix of old and new fashion finds one can ever ask for. Looking for the latest collection of a local brand? Tokyo has it. Have a thrill for the vintage stuff? Stop your search — Tokyo’s your treasure chest.

The various areas of Tokyo are better at certain types of shopping than others. Depending on what you’re looking for, you should head to the one that has the biggest range of them. Let’s find out which ones are for what!

Local Brands Shopping in Shinjuku & Shibuya 

Japan is full of successful brands and designers — some are even ventured internationally and are globally-recognised. Even if you can get them in your home country, there’s no better place than to get Japanese brands and designer goods than in Japan itself! Shibuya and Shinjuku house these local brands — you won’t see anywhere else in Tokyo full of local brands, both commercial and luxury. 

Lumine is probably the best place in Shinjuku to get your shopping fix — trust me, there are 3 different shopping malls you’ll get confused as to which to head to first! There’s also the Keio Mall if you fancy. 

Shibuya has Takashimaya and also Shibuya109 which is the top choice for locals when it comes to shopping. In Shibuya, it’s more shops on the streets than there are shopping malls. You’ll find a 7-storey building of Loft and huge outlets for brands like Uniqlo, Zara and Bershka — can anyone ask for anything more than that?

You might think, why should anyone get these brands in Japan when they have retail stores all around the world? You see, there are quite a few reasons for it — the first being arguably the most important one: price. If you take into consideration the currency exchange, importation and other related matters, it’s only reasonable that the prices overseas for these Japanese brands are higher than in their home country. Don’t be surprised if you find the same one you saw back home in Japan that’s for half the price! Why wouldn’t anyone want to save that cash for the same items?

The other important reason is that some of these internationally-known Japanese brands have Japan-exclusive designs and collections that you can only find in-stores in Japan! Not even the online store has them listed — talk about exclusivity! Can you imagine being the only few special ones in your country to own the design — your friends would die to get their hands on one but they can’t, unless they travel to Japan themselves — specifically to Shibuya and Shinjuku!

Trendy Shopping in Harajuku 

If you’re looking to skip the big-name brands but still be in the loop with the latest fashion trends, you’re best off at the most fashionable part of town and that is Harajuku. There’s no better place than here for the trendiest and most innovative designs. Most of the shops you find here will be locally born and raised, with a mixture of those you’ve heard before and the ones that you wish you had.

Depending on what style you’re looking for, even in Harajuku itself, there are various places for that — but rest assured that you’re going to stumble upon those that you cannot find anywhere else, even in other cities in Japan! 

For the more commercial stuff, Takeshita Street is probably what everyone will recommend you to go for — fair enough, that is the most popular bit of the area. However, if you walk further down a bit and explore a bit more, you’ll probably come across Laforet, one of my most favourite shopping malls in the whole country! Here, you’ll be able to get a range of fashion styles — from the extreme Japanese subcultures like Lolita and goth to the cutesy, feminine aesthetics and the streetwear. Jewelry, fashion accessories and body care products — you name it, they got it!

If you’re keen for a bit more adventure, Cat Street just a bit down from Harajuku Station in Omotesando is swarming with local boutiques and shops. This bit of town is known for its cute, aesthetic cafes so pop by some of them for a shopping break! 

Luxury Shopping in Ginza

Local brands are exciting but you’re looking to spend a bit extra on a purse or shoes — maybe even investing in a few coats — head down to Ginza for the best luxury shopping experience one can ask for!

Local or international, name any big brand or designer and you’ll see a tall building with their name on it. Not to mention complete with impressive architecture and fancy interior designing. While some brands have the whole building to themselves, there are also shopping malls that house a wide variety of brands, making browsing easier for you so you don’t have to walk down the whole street for window shopping!

Ginza is also one of the more distinctive areas for the fanciest restaurants in all of Japan! Bet your wallet wouldn’t be the only one starving after all that shopping, so book your seatings in advance to make a proper, treat-yourself day out!

Shopping in Osaka

Don’t get too down if your Japan itinerary doesn’t have Tokyo in it — that doesn’t mean it’s the end for your shopping adventure. The second-largest shopping city is none other than Osaka! Trust that the City of Takoyaki is booming with their own wonderful shopping scenes that are unique to the Kansai region. 

Just like Tokyo, Osaka has various areas that are best for various things. Don’t be too worried about missing out on Tokyo shopping — Osaka is just as good, if not better! Some local brands are based in Osaka and don’t have shops in Tokyo, so you’re getting the exclusive! A slightly local touch is infused in the shopping scene in Osaka and the items as well are more “Japanese”. 

Trendy & Bargain Shopping in Namba

The Namba area is arguably the best area in all of Osaka for your shopping fix. More specifically, your trendy and bargain shopping fix. This is where both locals and tourists alike come to get their doses of shopping spree every so often. The stuff you get here, they’re not just affordable — they are of quality as well.

Tokyo has Harajuku, Osaka has Amerikamura. It’s called Amerikamura because of its American influence, but rest assured the neighbourhood has its unique Japanese touch to it, too. This area is basically where all the creative and hip kids hang out. No doubt a hot spot, you’ll see crowds of the younger Japanese generation over the weekends, chit-chatting, busting out the speakers and blasting their hip music. Not to mention that the neighbourhood is full of both international and local hip brands, selling inexpensive clothing and accessories.

What’s a visit to Osaka without dropping by the Dotonbori area in Namba? Not only is the neighbourhood home to the giant Glico Man sign, but it’s also where you can find the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade. This shopping street is extremely long, consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of named and unnamed brand shops. You’ll no doubt shop till you literally drop here!

Branded Shopping in Umeda

Image Credit: jpellgen (@1179_jp)

You can’t conclude a shopping spree without at least some branded shopping. Head down to the Umeda area of Osaka for your branded shopping fix. The northern area of the city is full of the best shopping malls like LUKUA which is just right in front of the JR Osaka Station to Grand Front Osaka. There’s even a connecting passage to link these two huge shopping malls together, making your shopping experience more convenient! Everything from Daimaru Department Store to the famous Tokyu Hands can be found here — even Japan’s lifestyle clothing brand Uniqlo. It’s a one-stop shopping mall for all!

You cannot miss HEP FIVE, especially since it’s the shopping mall with the iconic Ferris wheel on the rooftop. This one has over 300 shops, a mixture of Japanese chain stores to unique local boutiques. It might look like there are only female clothing stores found here, but there are in fact clothing stores for men as well as accessories like shoes, jewelry and even bags! HEP FIVE even has a cinema in it, so you can pop by for a movie break in between your hefty shopping.

Nostalgic Shopping in Tennoji

Like mentioned previously, Japan is one of the best places for vintage and thrift shopping. Tokyo has its own areas for this kind of shopping, and so does Osaka. The nostalgic and historical Tennoji is perfect for such shopping. While there are quite a few newly built shopping malls like Avetica Underground Mall and Kitetsu Abeno Department Store — you’ll be able to browse through your favourite local brands like Uniqlo and Tokyu Hands — trust that there’s quite an abundance of quaint, decades-old specialty shops lying around.

The ambiance of Tsutenkaku and Shinsekai is full of nostalgia, so expect their stores to have the same kind of goods. They’re affordably priced as well, and based on my experience, what you get here, you cannot get in Tokyo. Believe me, I wanted a bomber jacket that I saw from a store in Shinsekai once but didn’t get it, thinking I could get it in Tokyo. I couldn’t.

Conclusion

You’ve got the shopping spots down and the tips and tricks to shopping in Japan in general, so what else are you waiting for? The Land of the Rising Sun has no shortage of shopping — it might even be the exact opposite, especially with the fast-paced turnover rate! So grab a couple of your shopping bags and shove them in your suitcase for your Japan trip, you don’t want to not have space for your new buys and rare finds, do you?

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Introduction

Japan is not only the neon signs and bustling streets of Tokyo. One of this country’s best charms is the breathtakingly beautiful nature that offers unique experiences during the different seasons throughout the year. 

From pristine clear blue oceans that home tropical fish and coral reefs to unparalleled landscapes, Japan proudly has 32 national parks throughout the country. Each offering its own unique ambience and experience, these national parks are extremely well preserved and nothing short of magnificent. Here are 10 of the best ones to peak your interest.

1. Ogasawara National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site located 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are more widely known as the Bonin Islands. These subtropical islands are only accessible by boat, with stunning coves and secluded beaches making up the beautiful scenery. Home to many faunas, flora and mammals in the turquoise waters framing the islands, this secluded beauty is nothing short of an adventure. 

Hiking and scuba diving aren’t the only activities available on the Bonin Islands. Dolphin and whale watching is an extremely popular activity, alongside kayaking and other fun water sports. With much to see and do, Ogasawara National Park is a golden gem of all national parks in Japan.

2. Nikko National Park

Home to the stunning and designated World Heritage shrine, Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. As such, it is definitely worth visiting and witnessing the autumn colors during the season. History abounds this park, with countless of shrines and temples nestled in the landscapes. Another must-see shrine here is the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji.

Natural wonders such as the famously known onsens and waterfalls beautifully decorated this phenomenal park. The water of Kegon Falls plunges into the pool below with thick forests on either side of it. Mountains and lakes frame the landscape of Nikko National Park, with the mesmerizing Lake Chuzenji lying between them. Located near Tokyo in the Kanto region, this park makes a good day trip or overnight trip from the bustling city. 

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Anyone would know of Mount Fuji, and this famous mountain is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Argumentatively the most visited parks in all of Japan due to its extremely iconic mountain and its close proximity to the capital city, this park comprises a vast array of natural wonders. With over a thousand volcanic islands dispersed along its shores and waterways snaking around the hills, valleys and mountains, every corner here is picturesque.

The famous hot springs activity is scattered all around this area, more prominently in the Hakone vicinity which is a go-to destination for locals and tourists alike for their onsen fix. Other activities like diving are also available at the Izu Islands, which is what they’re famously known for. Old lava fields, waterfalls and ancient forests fill up the in-betweens of this stunning national park.

4. Shiretoko National Park

Another World Heritage site, the Shiretoko National Park still has traces of untouched nature in its midst. Located right in the northeastern bit of Hokkaido, the vast areas that comprise the national park is filled with undiscovered, untamed and unimaginable beauty. The main draw to this national park is the five lakes, known as the Shiretoko Five Lakes, that dot the primeval forest. Roads only cover about one-third of the park, while the rest is reserved for the adventurers ready to explore the area by foot or boat.

Another highlight of this park is its large population of brown bears. During the summer season, an extremely popular activity to do here is bear watching from sightseeing boats. A fair number of rare, endangered wild species homes in this vicinity too. This well-preserved national park is definitely a must-visit to experience its unparalleled beauty first-hand.

5. Kerama Shoto National Park

Lying off of Okinawa are a bedazzling archipelago of islands that are so majestic and dreamlike due to their appearance. The most well-known and often visited are the Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island, two of the number of islands that comprises the Kerama Islands. Not short of the tropical nature, the pristine and turquoise waters surrounding the islands gently crashes onto the creamy white sand, making the beaches so enticing to lounge upon.

Depending on the time of the year, whale watching activity is offered as tours. The “Kerama Blue”, which is the crystal clear waters that extends out, attract numerous divers and snorkelers to revel in the electric colors of the coral reefs. If you’re lucky, you might even see some sea turtles lazing onshore or floating around. 

6. San’in Kaigan National Park

The San’in Kaigan National Park hugs the Sea of Japan, and is largely known for its enormous Tottori Sand Dunes, hills of loose sand that can only be found in the part of Japan. During winter, the Tottori Sand Dunes is layered in thick snow, making them a fascinating and unique scenery of snowy hills by the shore.

This national park is also part of San’in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark as it contains geological heritages that are scientifically special, important and valuable. The Kasumi coast is often designated as a national site of scenic beauty, encompassing of oddly-shaped rocks, sea caves and cliffs that resulted from erosion of the raging waves of the Japan Sea. The picturesque Kinosaki Onsen Town is also part of this national park, a widely known area for its amazing hot springs.

7. Akan Mashu National Park

One of the oldest national parks in the country, Akan Mashu National Park and its surroundings have long been protected and well-preserved for all to enjoy. Located north of Japan in Hokkaido, the area is sprawled with forests that accompanies the volcanic craters, mountains and lakes. With diverse ecosystems and a large range of activities to do, visitors can spend weeks here without a moment of boredom.

Here you can find the three freshwater lake calderas of Akan, Kussharo and Mashu. From the Lake Akan that reflects the colors of Ainu culture, the active volcano Meakan-dake can be seen clearly with Mount O-kan and Mount Akan Fuji to complete the picture. Lake Mashu is known for its extremely clear waters and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. Nearby the vicinity of Lake Kussharo, where part of it is tempered by underground hot spring, is the most-visited Kawayu Onsen. A mysterious and fascinating experience awaits you at the Akan Mashu National Park.

8. Yoshino Kumano National Park

Located in the Kansai region, Yoshino Kumano National Park is the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot across the whole of Japan, as it homes more than 30,000 cherry trees. Rising up high into the mountain peaks and dipping down low into densely wooded alleys, this park is well-decorated with rapid rivers, pristine beaches and grand shrines. Bursting with flora and fauna along with the World Heritage sites and pilgrimage routes, this park offers an abundance of opportunities and activities for all.

One of the most iconic attractions is the Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine. The tallest waterfall in Japan, Nachino-Otaki Falls, is accompanied by a three-story pagoda and protected by the Nichi primeval forest surrounding it. The spiritual grounds of Kumano is no stranger to visitors, with the cobbled paths winding through the jagged mountains, have been well worn by the soles of pilgrims. A nature-filled experience awaits you at this magnificent hotspot of attractions.

9. Towada Hachimantai National Park

Tucked away in the Tohoku Region is the Towada Hachimantai National Park, centering around the Hachimantai mountains and Lake Towada. A primal viewing location of the colorful leaves during the autumn season, a myriad of colors spring forth and spring out life among the forests during summer. Traditional onsen baths can be found here as well due to the volcanic nature of the area.

The mountainous regions offer a number of lovely trails and paths for hikers to enjoy the wilderness. Mini waterfalls lined down the lakes take plunges into the pools of water below, creating a gushing calm sound that fills the area.

10. Yakushima National Park

An island of natural wonders, Yakushima National Park is heavily forested and nestles in the warm, sub-tropical waters south of Kagoshima prefecture. Best known for its extensive and hauntingly beautiful forests that oozes a moody ambience and twisted with fairytale-like trees, the extremely wet climate allows for crystal-clear rivers tumbling down the high peaks.

Home to species of deer and monkeys that cannot be found anywhere else, a hike in the Yakushima forest opens up opportunities to see the Yakushima macaque and Yaku deer. On summer days, endangered loggerhead turtles are spotted on the shores of the beaches, and snorkelers can enjoy the colorful coral reefs in the waters. Much like other parts of Japan, natural onsens are also found here. The unique Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen located on the south coast is a must-visit. It’s right by the rocky shoreline, so it’s only accessible twice a day when the tide is low. One-of-a-kind experiences await you here at this spectacular national park.

Conclusion

Even though Japan is home to a big number of 32 national parks, each one of them has something different and unique to offer that none of the others can. Furthermore, visiting at different times of the year also largely affects the experience as the sceneries change throughout the year.

From beautifully lush forests, high mountain peak landscapes and white sandy beaches, to heritage attractions, iconic shrines and temples, the Japan national parks, especially the top 10 above, are oozing with nature and history to offer to the world. Why not put them on your Japan bucket list?

4 Culturally Significant Japanese Festivals (Podcast Recap! S1E2)

4 Culturally Significant Japanese Festivals (Podcast Recap! S1E2)

Introduction

In our second episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we looked at Japanese festivals — one for each season,  introducing the background, practices, and traditions; and talking about some of the key festival language. 

Japan’s festivals follow nature, an essential part of Japanese traditions.  There’s always something going on every month – whether it’s a wild, dancing celebration, or a time of paying sombre respects. 

Let’s have a look at what we covered in EP2 of NM podcast!

Summer Festival: Obon (お盆)

Image Credit: Julian

Obon (お盆) is a summer festival that takes place from August 13th to August 16th every year. This Japanese summer festival is all about family — reflecting on one’s family roots while welcoming back the ancestors’ spirits to the world of the living. Obon is a little like Halloween — plenty of old Japanese ghost stories are set during this time of year.

There are a total of 4 days of the festival:

The first day is the practice of mukaebi (迎え火),  lighting welcoming fires on the doorstep to guide the returning spirits home on the first day of the festival. There’s also the custom of visiting family graves known as ohakamairi (お墓参り). Some families would also decorate the altars with offerings like flowers, fruits and sweets.

The second and third days are for kuyo (供養) — a tradition of holding a memorial service for the dead. Following that, families have a traditional lunch together called the shōjin ryōri (精進料理), a fully vegetarian cuisine developed in the temples of Japan. 

The fourth and final day concludes the Obon festival with okuribi (送り火), a ceremonial bonfire to see off the spirits — takes place. Sometimes, there might even be bon-odori (盆踊り) dances to go along with it. You’ll also often see floating paper lanterns with messages attached to them by the river.

Autumn Festival: Tsukimi (月見)

For the autumn festival, we have tsukimi (月見): “moon viewing”. It’s a traditional ceremony to express gratitude as well as pray for a successful seasonal harvest. Some believe that this Japanese festival dates as far back as the Nara period of 710 to 794 AD. Initially, Tsukimi was a moon-viewing party for the aristocratic elite. Now, during this autumn festival, some people visit shrines and burn incense, as well as make food offerings of their harvest to Shinto gods.

Decorations are quite important for tsukimi, and the most common one is decorating a vase with susuki (ススキ, pampas grass) because it is believed to protect the area from evil and acts as an offering to the moon god.

While dango (団子, white dumplings) are often used for decoration as well it’s not only for that purpose — it’s custom to eat them during this festive season. There’s a special type of dango during tsukimi, and that’s tsukimi dango (月見団子).

If you’ve heard of the “Man on the Moon”, the Japanese’s tale is slightly different — they say the pattern of the moon’s craters look like an image of a rabbit pounding rice into mochi (もち) rice cake paste with a mallet. I told the full myth of it during the podcast — give it a listen if you’re interested!

Winter Festival: Shougatsu (正月)

Our winter festival is something we all celebrate our own various ways, but the Japanese call it shougatsu (正月), the Japanese New Year festival. The festivities start well before the first of January and run through January 7th or even January 15th for some regions! Most companies and businesses are usually closed from December 29th till January 4th.

The traditions of Shougatsu are a combination of expressing gratitude for the past year and wishes for health and prosperity for the upcoming year. Many people travel back to their hometowns to spend time with family and loved ones. 

The most important practice of Shougatsu is hatsumode — it refers to the first shrine or temple visit of the year to pray for good luck. The prayer involves providing an offering — coins are tossed into offertory boxes. Then, visitors can draw a fortune paper.

On January 2nd, the Imperial Palace is opened to the public — one out of two days in the year — to pay respects to Japan’s royal household as well as to hear the Emperor addressing the crowd of well-wishers.

Spring Festival: Hanami (花見)

Last but not least, our final Japanese festival is the spring festival, hanami (花見), which translates to “flower viewing”. Instead of appreciating the moon, this spring matsuri is all about appreciating the blooming cherry blossoms. 

It only became a huge festivity when Emperor Saga and the Imperial Court started throwing picnics and parties especially for flower-viewing in the Heian period. initially, sakura () )were used to predict the harvest cycles for that year. Throughout time, it became to represent so much more — but I won’t spill it here; you’d have to listen to the podcast to know more!

Sakura season isn’t a set period of time every year — it constantly changes and also depends on the exact location in Japan. Hanami is a much-awaited festival, so much that there are forecasts for it — predictions for the blooming are covered on the national news!

The Japanese people set down their mats under the blooming sakura and chat the afternoon away while appreciating the beauty of the flowers.

Vocab Recap

In episode 2, we dropped quite a bit of vocab in it. I mean, we did go through 4 major traditional festivals, so it’s kind of a given. Here are the words we used, for listeners who’d want a visual list:

Matsuri (祭り) — festivals

Mukaebi (迎え火) — welcoming fire

Ohakamairi (お墓参り) — visiting family tombs to sweep and tidy them

kuyo (供養) —  a ceremony to memorialise the deceased

Shōjin ryōri (精進料理) — traditional Japanese vegetarian cuisine

Okuribi (送り火) — the bonfire which sends the spirits back to the afterlife

Jūgoya (十五夜) — night of the full moon during tsukimi festival

Meigetsu (名月) — the harvest moon

Mugetsu (無月) — no moon during tsukimi

Ugestu (雨月) — rain moon during tsukimi

Dango (団子) — white rice cakes on skewers

Susuki (ススキ) — pampas grass 

Ikebana (生け花) — the traditional style of Japanese flower arrangement used

Mochi (もち) — the delicious rice paste which the rabbit is mashing on the moon

Ganjitsu (元日) — new year’s day

Hatsumode (初モデ) — the important first shrine visit of the year

Omikuji (おみくじ) — the fortune-telling slips sold at temples

Oomisoka (大晦日) — the last day of the year

Toshigami (年神) — tradition of cleaning, redecorating and preparation of houses and meals for the arrival of the New Year Gods

Otoshidama (お年玉) — small money gifts for New Year’s

Osechi ryōri (御節料理) — traditional New Year meal

Ozouni (お雑煮) — traditional soup, part of osechi ryōri

Saisen (再選) — offering

Saisen bako (賽銭箱) — offering box

Nengajo (年賀状) — New Year greeting cards

Akemashite omedetougozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます) — Happy New Year

Sakura () — the cherry blossom trees which this festival celebrates

Mankai (満開) — the full bloom period 

Umeshu (梅酒) — deliciously sweet Japanese plum wine 

Sakurasenzen (桜戦前) — cherry blossom front

Kaika (開花) — blooming of cherry blossoms

Conclusion

That concludes our summary of 4 seasonally-inspired, historically-rich, culturally-significant Japanese festivals which show the breadth of the culture here. They show how the Japanese respect nature, how they view life and death, and how close to their hearts they hold the age-old tradition of getting very, fantastically, stupendously drunk. 

If you want to know exactly what I’m talking about, what are you waiting for? Pop on your phone, open up Spotify or Apple Podcast and search “Nihongo Master” to listen to our podcast series!

Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Etiquette (Podcast Recap! S1E11)

Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Etiquette (Podcast Recap! S1E11)

Introduction

As you can guess by the title, it’s another recap of the Nihongo Master Podcast, and we’re going to look at what we talked about in Episode 11 — Japanese etiquette.

Manners make the people, and the people make the country. Every country has their own set of unspoken customs and rules, and it’s undeniable that there are just some things you can do in one part of the world which are considered taboo in another. The Japanese are famously known for their politeness, and we have their highly-valued customs to thank for that. 

We looked at four sections and each with 2 do’s and 2 don’ts: speech, business, dining and daily. We went into detail on how to act and scenarios, but here, we’ll only give a rundown of what we talked about — for the full version, give episode 11 a listen!

Speech

How you speak to others is pretty important in any country, and when it comes to Japan, they take it to a whole new level. It’s something you’ll encounter literally every day, from business to everyday situations, that everyone in Japan has to master.

Rule #1: Do be humble

There is a famous Japanese proverb that goes, “minoru hodo koube wo tareru inaho kana” (実るほど頭を垂れる稲穂かな), which translates to “the bough that bears the most, hangs lowest.” It basically means that the more successful you become, the more humble you should be. 

The most common scenario is when one succeeds in something, like getting a promotion at work — if you start boasting, it’s considered having a bad personality. Someone with a good personality is one who denies or rejects compliments instead of straight-up agreeing to them right away.

Rule #2: Do use the proper form of politeness

Always use the proper form of politeness. Formality is taken extremely seriously in Japanese culture. How you talk with your friends or siblings is drastically different from how you talk with elderly people and superiors — in the latter scenario, you’re expected to speak in the respectful form of the Japanese language.

Rule #3: Don’t be too direct

The Japanese would rather leave things up for interpretation than give you a straight-up reply. Say your coworker invites you out for a drink after work, but you don’t particularly want to go — a simple “chotto…” (ちょっと) does the trick of rejecting an offer politely and saving you the awkward bluntness.

Rule #4: Don’t stare during conversations

The last rule for Japanese speech etiquette is to not stare when you’re having a conversation with another. Instead, nod the whole conversation away to show that you’re listening — whether you understand it or not — and make sure to glance around from time to time to avoid direct gaze.

Business

We also looked at everything business. Since such a huge chunk of most Japanese people’s lives is devoted to their work in office cubicles, there’s a similarly huge chunk of cultural etiquette devoted to it too.

Rule #1: Do respect the hierarchy

There’s a chain of command. How you speak to anyone that’s above your position should be in the appropriate politeness form. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with age and depending on how high up the chain of command they are, there are different forms of keigo (敬語) you need to use. 

Rule #2: Do prepare business cards

Japan can be extremely high-tech in a lot of ways, but in reality, the people are pretty old-school — LinkedIn won’t do the whole trick. Business cards are treated as an extension of oneself, so every card is handled with care. 

We talked about the proper way to give and receive business cards in Japan, so give the episode a listen if you’re interested to know more.

Rule #3: Don’t call people by their first names

In Japanese culture, it’s social taboo to call someone by their first name the first time you meet them, but it’s social suicide to do that in the office. First names are personal to Japanese people, and calling one by their first name gives off a sense of familiarity that’s reserved for their inner circle like family members and close friends.

In the Japanese language, honorific suffixes act like Mr. and Mrs. — a title to show respect to the person you’re addressing. Usually, you attach this to your boss’ name or anyone of higher rank than you. Give episode 11 a listen for a few honorific suffixes recommended!

Rule #4: Don’t bring your pride to work

Always be a team player. Japanese companies promote collectivism and shun the sort of individualism that you’ll find in Western firms. It’s all about the team spirit — this mindset is the complete opposite of European or American companies where competitive spirit is a positive thing. In Japan, competition is discouraged. 

Dining

The third category we looked at was dining. I’ll bet it was the food of Japan which got a fair few of you interested in the culture in the first place. While ramen and sushi have become dinnertime mainstays around the world, the customs that go along with them were mostly all left behind in Japan.

Rule #1: Do have proper chopstick manners

One of the big-time Japanese dining rules is to know your way around the ins and outs of proper chopsticks usage — you eat almost everything with it in Japan. If you can work a pair of chopsticks, you’re about halfway there — you just have to keep in mind the acts that are strict no-go’s. 

One is to never stick your chopsticks upwards in a bowl of rice. Want to know more? You know where to go (*cough* episode 11!)

Rule #2: Do drink up

Japanese people love a good pint of beer or two, and it’s a common sight to see a group of businessmen at an izakaya as soon as it’s the end of the workday. Sometimes, your boss might even join in. Don’t forget to raise your glass and say “kanpai” (乾杯) with everyone else before you start drinking.

Rule #3: Don’t count your change

When you’re all done with that delicious meal, it’s time to pay up — after settling the bill which you split and the waiter comes back with a tray of change, try your very best to not count it!

Rule #4: Don’t hold back your appreciation

For a conservative society, the Japanese aren’t afraid to shout out their satisfaction from one end of a restaurant to the other. In Japan, the louder you slurp your noodles, the better. Why, you ask? We explained it a bit more in the full podcast episode.

Daily

Last but not least, the final category we looked at is daily customs. Things around here are different — enough to get anyone confused and even overwhelmed. And the worst part of it all is that none of these things is spoken about — here’s a rundown of what we highlighted in the podcast episode.

Rule #1: Do respect transport customs

There are a couple of transport customs in Japan — one is to not drink or eat on any transportation. It’s not a strict no, but you’ll definitely get a few stares if you do.

An even stricter custom is talking on your cell phone on public transportation — no noise should be coming from your phone, and silent mode should be on at all times.

Rule #2: Do pay attention to timekeeping 

Japan’s timing is: you have to be early to be on time. If you’re on time, you’re considered late. Whether it’s to meet a friend or for a business appointment, it’s better to be early — I’d say ten minutes before the agreed time is the safest bet.

Rule #3: Don’t show off too much skin

In a conservative country like Japan, even the way you dress has to be pretty modest, so try not to show off too much skin. Just like you have to show humility when speaking, the same sort of mindset applies to how you dress. This rule applies to both women and men, so the feminists out there can relax a bit.

And it’s not only the skin, but it’s also the colors too. How? Well…episode 11, I guess…

Rule #4: Don’t disrupt the flow 

Japan is filled with all sorts of systems designed to make everyday life flow in a regimented fashion, so don’t be that guy that makes waves in a peaceful ocean.

There are a couple of key ones — like don’t cut into any line, and not smoking anywhere and anytime you want. You have to obey the mutual flow like joining at the end of the queue and look for designated smoking spots.

Vocab Recap

As usual, we have a list of vocabulary words that we used in the podcast episode:

Seikaku (性格) — personality

keigo (敬語) — honorific language

Youji ga aru kara, chotto… (用事があるから、ちょっと) — “I have some things to do, so…” 

Kuuki yomeru (空気読める) — to read the atmosphere 

Sou desu ka (そうですか) — is that so?

sokka (そっか) — casual form of the above

Wa (和) — the Japanese concept of harmony

Kaisha (会社) — company

Shachou (社長) — company president

Buchou (部長) — department manager

Kachou (課長) — section manager

Meishi (名刺) — business card

Jimusho (事務所) — office

Douryou (同僚) — colleague

Senpai (先輩) — senior or superior, but can also refer to people who are older in school

Kouhai (後輩) — people who are below in rank, but can also refer to people who are younger in school

Yūshoku (夕食)— dinner

chōshoku (朝食) / asagohan (朝ごはん) — breakfast

Chūshoku (昼食) / hirugohan (昼ごはん) — lunch

Gohan (ご飯) — cooked rice

Kome (こめ) — uncooked rice grains

Izakaya (居酒屋) — a Japanese bar 

Kanpai (乾杯) — cheers!

Betsu-betsu (別々) — separate

Genkin (現金) — cash

Itadakimasu (いただきます) — Let’s eat!

Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした) — thank you for the meal

Basu (バス) — bus

Densha (電車) — train

Sumaho (スマホ) — a katakana word for smartphone

Hayai (早い) — to be early, but it can also mean fast 

Osoku (遅く) — to be late

Osokunatte gomennasai (遅くなってごめんなさい) — sorry I’m late 

Shou ga nai (しょうがない) — it can’t be helped

Kajuaru (カジュアル) — casual 

Fōmaru (フォーマル) — formal

Kitsuen (喫煙) — smoking area

Kinen (禁煙) — non-smoking area

Conclusion

By the end of the episode, we now know how to act in a business environment, the way around a pair of chopsticks, and how to speak without putting your foot in your mouth. To be well versed in the Japanese etiquette, head over to Apple Podcast or Spotify and give Nihongo Master Podcast a listen!

Popular Jobs in Japan

Popular Jobs in Japan

Japan has hundreds, if not thousands, of fast-paced and driven industries that keep the country going. When asking someone in Japan what their job in Japan is, you can expect the same few answers in rotation — there’s generally a handful of jobs that are more popular than the others, based on what the country needs. 

And, surprise surprise — Japan’s economy is focused on service, technology and development. Can you already think of a few jobs that are in abundance? In this article, we’ll look at the most popular jobs in Japan, split into two categories: general and as a foreigner.

General Popular Jobs

“General” just refers to…well, the general public, regardless of whether or not you’re a local. Jobs in this category have vacancies probably all year round because they are in such lucrative industries that won’t see the end in Japan. In fact, some might even say the country’s economy is reliant on these industries. Let’s look at the top five common jobs you can often hear about or encounter in Japan.

Hair Stylist

I know at least ten friends in Japan who are in the beauty industry, particularly the hair business. Walk down any random street in Japan and you’ll come across at least five different hair salons.

Because the industry is so highly concentrated, there is quite a demand to fill the position holes in the salons. Whether or not you have any experience at cutting or grooming someone’s hair, you have quite a chance at getting a job as a hairstylist — as long as your Japanese ability is at a conversational level or more. The business that hires you will put you through training before sending you on your merry way to serve customers, so don’t worry about that. 

Sales Staff

Another common job in Japan is definitely sales staff — anything from sales representatives and support staff to sales managers. Japanese companies have products that they are needing to sell, whether it is domestically or internationally. Usually, if the company is looking to sell domestically, they will just hire a local out of convenience since locals are more accustomed to the local traditions, culture and customs.

For the companies that are looking to access the international market, most of the time, these jobs are with technology, automobile and banking companies. But from time to time, you’ll get openings from other industries like publishing. If you’re bilingual and can speak two languages — Japanese should be at least one of them — then you should definitely consider this job. They are known to pay well and provide stability. If you don’t have the Japanese language ability, don’t be bummed out because you still have options in the sales staff department.

Service Staff

Service is a huge aspect of Japan — tons of restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and convenience stores are scattered on every street in Japan. What’s more, hotels and resorts are recently booming due to the rise of tourism in the country. Because of such demand, there are hundreds of job openings in the service staff industry day in and day out, without fail.

Because Japan is primarily using the Japanese language, to be part of the service industry, you would have to be able to speak the language. A lot of the local service facilities wouldn’t need their staff to speak any other languages except Japanese, so that’s a crucial requirement.

Your bilingualism will be considered an asset and extremely useful in certain parts of the service industry like the hospitality department, especially in areas that attract more foreign guests. Hotels and resorts are the way to go if you want a notch above the rest with your multiple language ability.

Banker

Japan has a huge banking industry — due to that, they are in need of more staff to fill their position gaps in various departments. More and more locals are taking on these jobs as well as foreign staff. The bigger investment banks, especially, can afford to hire workers from overseas and provide and support their workers with well-paying roles, including positions in the IT sector.

Depending on the company, you may or may not require the Japanese language to get in. If it’s a small business, chances are, you would need to have at least basic Japanese to get by. If it’s a larger one and they’re actively seeking foreign workers, then you might not need to pick up Japanese for your job. 

Researcher

Japan is constantly looking to improve every industry in the country, from products and technology to medicine and science. There will always be a position open for a researcher of any type including data scientists and analysts. With this job, there are specific skill sets that are required to fulfill the roles of the job, like a strong background in statistics and computer science. 

The demand is extremely high for the job of a researcher, hence many with the required skills often snag up these jobs. Bigger companies are also stretching outside of the country due to the small talent pool in Japan, so us foreigners have a higher chance of getting hired in this industry. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you won’t even need Japanese for your job!

Popular Jobs For A Foreigner

On to the next category and that is the list of common jobs as a foreigner in particular. While the first five common jobs mentioned are still considered jobs that are able to be acquired by a foreigner, those are more common for locals.

In some other fields, foreigners are the ones that bring a competitive advantage over hiring a Japanese person. Usually, these industries require constant interaction with foreign customers or require another language other than Japanese — English, most of the time.

Let’s take a look at the most common jobs in Japan as a foreigner — both that require and don’t require Japanese language ability.

English Teacher

First up is definitely the job of an English teacher. I’ve been there; I’ve done that. If you have at least a bachelor’s degree, you don’t need any level of Japanese or prior experience to land a full-time job here in Japan. It’s probably the easiest job to get out of them all. You can choose to teach at a variety of teaching institutions including public schools or English conversational language schools known as eikaiwa (英会話), which offers one-to-one tutoring.

However, there’s a catch: they don’t pay all that well because it’s such a crowded market. Nonetheless, it does offer invaluable experience and gets you a legitimate working visa as you live in a foreign country. Give and take, am I right?

Tourism Roles

Source: Mads Bødker from Flickr

As we all know, the tourism industry in Japan is booming in recent years — it’s picking up at such a fast pace that the locals are unable to keep up with it. That’s where the foreigners come in — travel agencies and tourism-related businesses require foreigners to fill in the roles in their companies to assist with interactions with non-Japanese clients. One common and easy-to-get role is being a tour guide.  

In the case of jobs similar to these, you might be required to have at least conversational level Japanese to communicate between your company and your clients. Salaries and benefits can vary depending on your experience and skill set since it’s such a competitive market. One of the best parts about being part of the tourism industry is that you get to travel yourself!

Translator/Interpreter 

Source: Laura from Flickr

This is the perfect job if you’re confident in two of the languages that you speak. There is quite a demand in the translation and interpretation industry not only in Japan but also the rest of the world. In Japan, the biggest industry that is in need of translators and interpreters is the gaming industry as Japan is quite well known for its animation and video games. Most of the time, game companies need their works to be tested and finalised locally before releasing it worldwide.

There are also other alternatives like freelance work and part-time work as well. Jobs like this involves assisting businessmen travelling to Japan for work or translating written works. 

IT Professional

After English teaching, the second most common job in Japan for a foreigner is an IT professional like software programmers. That is because the talent pool among the local Japanese for programmers is small, so companies reach out to international talent pools to fill the roles in their company. That benefits us, most definitely!

The best part about this job is that it requires minimal to no Japanese language ability most of the time. As long as you have the required skill set, you’re good to go.

Engineer

Last but definitely not least of the common jobs as a foreigner in Japan is engineering. In fact, its commonness comes right after the job of an IT professional. The country is reputed for its advanced engineering, and it comes in all shapes and sizes — from automobile engineering to computer engineering.

Japan is not going to stop developing its engineering industries, hence these companies are looking overseas for talented engineers. No Japanese is required for most companies — especially the bigger ones. Because these companies are looking to expand or already expanding their business overseas, you’ll be dealing with more foreign clients than local ones.

Conclusion

With such a wide range of common job opportunities available — even those that require no Japanese to some Japanese — there is nothing stopping you from getting a full-time job here in Japan. It’s not that difficult, especially when you know where to look for your specific skill set. Get searching and sending out your applications; you’ll be landing one and packing your bags for Japan in no time!

Top 10 Japanese Online Stores

Top 10 Japanese Online Stores

I have to admit — I’m a shopaholic. But who doesn’t like shopping? There’s always that part of us that wants to get the new collection’s pair of trousers, or for some of us, it’s anything that’s made and designed in Japan. 

Whether you’re in Japan or overseas, it’s kind of hard to shop in-store — especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of stores go online, and recently Japan has been following suit. Hooray for us! 

So if you’re looking to get your hands on some Japanese-made or Japanese-designed fashion products, here are top 10 Japanese online stores — some even offer international shipping!

1. Uniqlo

Image Credit: ???????????????? ????????????????????????

 

First off, we have the famous Japanese lifestyle fashion brand that offers casual clothing pieces, Uniqlo. They offer everything from basics to new collections, but everything is timeless you can wear right now as well as ten years from now. That’s the beauty of this brand. 

They’re not stagnant, though. It is constantly expanding its categories as well as partnerships. The past few collaborations include Walt Disney, famous artists as well as local talents like anime illustrators to produce every piece of clothing on the rack including graphic tees.

Not to mention their top-notch quality — Uniqlo is dedicated to providing only the best of products. You won’t see a slip up in quality in any aspect; the fabrics are always soft on the skin; designs are constantly innovating; comfort has always been the key.

Uniqlo ships domestically in Japan and, depending on where you are in the world, Uniqlo does ship internationally too. 

2. GU

Under the same company as Uniqlo, GU is considered like the discounted version without compromising quality. It’s an extremely popular clothing brand that offers both basic pieces as well as modern and trendy ones — all at affordable and, dare I say, cheap prices!

Not only are there modern designs but also collections to include traditional Japanese pieces like yukata and kimono. What’s more, GU does occasionally feature quirky ones that reflect Tokyo’s fashion scene — from eye-catching prints to funky embellishments, you’ll be taken aback by what this classic brand comes up with. 

This brand is also extremely supportive of collaborations, especially with local artists and brands. One notable one is their collaboration with a popular anime series, Sailor Moon, offering graphic tees and other exclusive pieces.

GU, unfortunately, doesn’t offer international shipping — but you can find ways around that.

3. Rakuten

Image Credit: Toomore Chiang

 

This online Japanese marketplace is much like a combination of Amazon and eBay — This e-commerce website is the largest one in all of Japan. From brands and manufacturers to normal consumers, you get sellers that offer not only clothing products but also Japanese cosmetics, household appliances, electronics and much more. Prices of products can have a huge range, giving you the choice without compromising the quality.

Rakuten also has an international website that includes Japanese resellers who are willing to ship their products outside of Japan. While it’s not as big of a marketplace as Rakuten Japan, you’ll still be able to access Japanese products when you’re out of the country. 

4. Zozotown

Since 2004, This online Japanese clothing store provides an online platform for brands to sell their products online. Zozotown is the largest online fashion retail website in all of Japan and has various offshoots including ZOZO, a custom-fit clothing brand, and ZOZOSUIT, an at-home measurement system.

Zozotown has a huge selection of not only Japanese brands but also international brands including Adidas and Nike with exclusive pieces. They act as the middleman for Japanese customers to get their hands on international brands, and the same for the other way round — for international customers to get their hands on Japanese brands.

Zozotown offers international shipping — they have two separate shopping pages: a Japanese one and a US one. The Japanese one only supports domestic shipping but the US website ships to the US as well as other countries in the world.  

5. WEGO

Image Credit: Doran Thai

Harajuku is the most iconic place to be when it comes to Japanese fashion — multiple subcultures were born in this neighbourhood. WEGO is a Japanese clothing company that is famous for its combo of casual and Harajuku-style designs.

This Osaka-based local brand aims to cater to a fashion-forward audience of their mid-20s, and is famous for its exclusive collaborations with other major brands like Kappa and Disney. Now that WEGO has an online store, there’s no need to run down to the nearest WEGO outlet when the next collection drops. Simply go onto their website to browse through their designs.

Unfortunately, WEGO doesn’t support international shipping just yet — but there are platforms that act as the middleman for it.

6. Salz Kimono

Salz Kimono offers the chance for people — regardless of whether or not you’ve been to Japan — to get a taste of Japanese souvenirs. This online store offers authentic Japanese products including vintage kimono and yukata, as well as original designs like graphic tees, dresses and unique accessories.

Alternatively, you can even make use of their customization services where you can custom-make your own kimono and even zori sandals! 

The best part about Salz Kimono is that this online Japanese clothing store ships internationally — and fast!

7. Mercari

Mercari is an online customer-to-customer marketplace, one I use quite often. What’s great about Mercari is that you can find one-of-a-kind pieces of impeccable condition at stellar prices — even though they’re mostly second-hand, you won’t even notice it! 

There are two Mercari shopping pages: the Japanese one and the US one. If you want Japan-exclusive items, it’s on the Japanese Mercari. 

8. Punyus

One of the most famous Japanese fashion brands is Punyus, founded by Naomi Watanabe. Naomi Watanabe is a famous Japanese comedian — her aim for this brand is to challenge the sizing standards of the Japanese fashion industry. Japan is known to offer extremely petite sizing, but Punyus offers sizes up to US 16, proudly showing off their body inclusive factor.

Punyus aims to spread the word of body positivity through every piece of clothing and new designs. In fact, even the brand name loosely translates to the Japanese word for “chubby”. Punyus designs are a refreshing take of the Japanese fashion scene, bringing in modern styles of streetwear, hip hop and even “kawaii”. 

Many big-name celebrities including Lena Dunham publicly support Punyus’ movement.

9. BAPE

Image Credit: Fabian Reus

If you’re a fashion enthusiast like me, you probably have heard of BAPE — also known as A Bathing Ape. It’s popular for its modern lifestyle and streetwear aesthetics, started in 1993. BAPE has become such a successful clothing brand that it has successfully landed collaborations with big names such as Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Kid Cudi.

The brand doesn’t forget its Japanese roots, though — local collaborations like the one with Hello Kitty still takes the Japanese fashion scene by storm! Sadly, BAPE Japan website doesn’t ship outside of the country — but there are other BAPE shopping platforms that potentially do ship to yours.

10. Amazon Japan

Amazon Japan is like Rakuten. The Japanese version of Amazon is one of the most famous e-commerce sites in the country and offers products that are only available here. It’s also great for getting unique clothing pieces from resellers and manufacturers at affordable prices.

Not all Amazon Japan sellers offer international shipping — but most of them do. So don’t be bummed out just yet; make sure you set the filter on Amazon Japan for “international shipping” before you start your browsing. 

Conclusion

Well…what are you waiting for? What’s stopping you from going on to one, or all, of these sites and get a head start on your monthly shopping spree? Even if we’re quarantining at home, we still have to look fab — why not be fab in Japanese brands?

4 Culturally Significant Japanese Festivals (Podcast Recap! S1E2)

Top 3 Essential Japanese Phrases You Must Know! (Podcast Recap! S1E1)

Introduction

If you don’t already know yet, Nihongo Master has a podcast! Our podcast series talks about basically every area of Japan — culture, nature, history and of course, language. Everything from informative to contemporary topics, you name it, we got it!

We’re bringing podcast recaps to the blog section — for listeners to be able to refer back to the content we covered and for our blog readers to have a sneak peek of what we talk about in the podcast. Win-win, right? 

Our podcast series started off with a few keystone pieces of survival Japanese which will help you navigate the complexities of everyday life in Japan. These simple pieces of vocab are the Swiss army knives of the Japanese language, useful in every place, context, and at every level. 

Let’s briefly look at the top three essential Japanese phrases we covered in Nihongo Master podcast, EP 1!

Daijoubu (大丈夫)

First up, we have daijoubu (大丈夫). There’s a few meanings to this phrase — it can be a yes or no depending on the situation, and it roughly translates to “it’s okay”. It’s so flexible that you’re gonna be using it every day! Depending on the context — daijobu really is a real multipurpose lifesaver for first-time visitors to Japan! 

We looked at three different ways of using it:

 

  1. You can use it as a rejection. Tounger generation uses it more often than the older generation, and it’s a softer tone than saying a straight-up “iie” (いいえ, no), implying more or less “there is no need for you to take the trouble” or “it’s okay”.

 

  1. You can also use it to say “don’t worry about it”. It’s kind of like saying “it’s okay” or “no worries”, or even to accept an apology. 

 

  1. The third way of using it is to ask if something is allowed or okay to do. There’s a lot of customs in the Japanese culture that are extremely foreign to some of us. They have rules we have no idea even existed, and some activities are carried out in very specific ways. So when it doubt on whether you’re about to totally disgrace yourself or not, use “daijobu” as a question to check first. 

Onegaishimasu (お願いします)

The second essential Japanese multitool phrase on our list is onegaishimasu (お願いします). It’s used like the English word “please”. Onegaishimasu is just as versatile as daijobu but for completely different situations. It has a more positive colour, and represents the richly polite culture of the Japanese.

Similarly, we talked about three ways to use it in the podcast:

 

  1. First off, we looked at how to order food with this phrase. It kind of translates to “give me” when ordering. We had a few examples in the podcast episode, and dropped more than a few vocabulary along with it, but generally it’s saying the orders you want and adding “onegaishimasu” at the end”. If you don’t know the name of it, just go “kore onegaishimasu” (これお願いします) to mean “this one, please.”

 

  1. The second usage is when you’re making requests and asking for help. If you’re seeking someone’s assistance, sliding in a polite little “please” is always a good idea — and we all know the Japanese are nothing if not polite. Onegaishimasu not only has the meaning of “give me” when ordering food, but also “help me”.

 

  1. The third way of using this phrase is when accepting offers. The Japanese are very generous in general, with a big gift-giving culture which you’ll often find yourself on the receiving end of if you land a job here. They’re also very generous when it comes to customer service. 

Sumimasen (すみません)

Our last multitool phrase on the list is sumimasen (すみません). Sumimasen doesn’t really have a direct translation per se— it depends on how it’s used. Depending on the context, sumimasen can be anything from a sorry to a thank you, which is pretty bizarre — but the closest translation to help you understand its most common usages is “excuse me”.

We looked at two ways of using this phrase:

 

  1. We can use this phrase to apologise. It’s the most common way of usage. Some would say that sumimasen is the more formal version of gomennasai — others would disagree and say it’s the casual version. 

 

  1. Another way of using “sumimasen” is to get someone’s attention. The closest meaning to this way of usage is “excuse me”.

Vocab Recap

With every episode of Nihongo Master podcast, we have a vocab recap in each section to tie it up neatly. It’s also great for those interested in adding more Japanese words into their personal dictionary. 

And we’re making it easier with a recap online as well! Here’s the vocab recap from the three essential Japanese phrases podcast:

Konbini (コンビニ) — convenience store

Fukuro () — bag

Zenzen (全然) — not at all

Kutsu () — shoes

Bīru (ビール) — beer

Eru saizu (エルサイズ) — L size

Hotto (ホット ) — Hot

Rate (ラテ) — latte

Sōsēji (ソーセージ) — sausage

Piza (ピザ) — pizza

Bātā (バーター ) — butter

Chikin (チキン) — chicken

Karē (カレー) — curry

Kore (これ) — this

Eki () — station

Made (まで) — until

Ga aru (〜がある) — I have

Atatmemasuka? (あ貯めますか?) — Do you want it heated up?

Oriru (おりる) — to get off

Conclusion

And that is a brief insight of our very first episode of the Nihongo Master podcast – we have daijobu, the all-rounder; onegaishimasu, the key to politeness; and sumimasen, the subtle social tool. Clip these three onto your nihongo keyring and you’ll be opening all sorts of doors in no time. Even without the fully-fledged Japanese language abilities to hold a proper conversation, these little gems of vocab can set you on your way to effectively communicating in the majority of basic everyday situations. 

We covered even more content in the podcast. If you want to know how to use these phrases in detail and with examples, give our Nihongo Master podcast a listen — we are on Apple Podcast and Spotify, as well as other podcast listening platforms. 

4 Culturally Significant Japanese Festivals (Podcast Recap! S1E2)

A Comprehensive Guide to the Art Culture of Japan (Podcast Recap! S1E10)

Introduction

If you love art, you’d love this episode where we talked about the rich art culture of Japan. Art is one of the best windows into the character of a nation and culture, and Japan has one of the richest artistic traditions in the world.

It’s here that probably the most famous image in the world was created: Hokusai’s The Great Wave. But in this episode, we looked at more than just the big names — we explored some of the most significant styles of art styles that were cultivated in the courtly halls and artisanal workshops of this unique island nation.

We focused on four iconic Japanese arts that shaped the Japanese aesthetic tradition the most: ukiyo-e woodblock prints, shodo calligraphy, shikki lacquerware, and ikebana flower arrangement. 

Ukiyo-e – Woodblock Prints

Image Credit: Katsushika Hokusai, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We started the episode off talking about ukiyo-e, which is an art style hugely popular in the Edo Era that involves the use of woodblock printing for mass production of paintings. The word Ukiyo itself actually means “floating world”: a term used to describe the pleasure-seeking life of Japan’s medieval urbanites.

Ukiyo-e started off as simple as it could get: black and white prints used for illustration inserts found in books. It wasn’t until the mid-Edo Era when the people demanded for more that coloured woodblock printing became a thing. In those days they were most often made to advertise beauty products or kabuki shows! 

And they were introduced to the West as…wrapping papers!

We talked a bit about the evolution of ukiyo-e and the process of woodblock printing in detail in the episode, so give it a listen for the full rundown. But here’s a basic overview of how it goes: there are publishers who commission the prints to artists, who then give their painted pictures to woodcarvers, who then give their craft to printers. 

As we said, it’s a method of mass production — so why are some prints more valued than most? Listen to the episode to find out!

What I can tell you is that Hokusai broke away from the tradition of printing beautiful women or kabuki actors, and started painting religious figures and landscapes instead. Ukiyo-e has travelled a long way since its early days — from being just a quick, simple piece of mass entertainment for the locals to inspiring the best Western artists of their generations.

Shodo – Calligraphy 

Image Credit: Ángel Medinilla

The next Japanese art we looked at has been around since the early 5th century — Shodo calligraphy. It has its own set of philosophies: to connect the mind and body through art. Even though skill and practice is important in Japanese calligraphy, artists have to also master mushin (無心), a state of mental rest and zero thoughts when your heart is free of any disturbances. This is a concept lifted straight out of Zen meditation. 

We talked a bit about how calligraphy came to Japan in the first place and how it became a hot new fad at the time — but I won’t go into it in this summary article; you’d have to listen to the episode!

Anyway, we also looked at the various styles of shodo, with each style reflecting the trends of the time it was created, or even just of the ruling ruler of the time.

The first one is kaisho, the most basic style of shodo, and it translates to the “square style” that became the standard style of Japanese calligraphy. These brushstrokes are the closest to the original style of Chinese calligraphy but it’s also the easiest to read because of the clear-cut, box-ey aesthetics.

Gyōsho is where cursiveness comes more into play. The strokes aren’t as clearly defined and deviate quite a bit from the standard printed characters, This “moving style” is like the calligrapher’s style of how writers write on paper: without lifting the pen, or brush in this case. 

The last one, sōsho, takes the extreme end of cursive and resembles the wind-blown grass — this style looks pretty abstract to say the least. Sōsho’s technique is to convey the smooth and flowy sensation of writing, with each character integrating with the next. 

There’s a bit more elaboration in the episode, and we emphasize how shodo is more of getting into the right state of mind. Whether you’re a master painter, or your handwriting looks like a toddler’s scrawl, this ancient Japanese art can be a lot of fun to practice. 

Shikki – Lacquerware

Image Credit: Dennis Amith

We then went on talking about shikki, Japanese lacquerware. These are covered with layer upon layer of sap from poison oak trees used to make the lacquer. Shikki has quite a history; it’s probably the oldest Japanese art on this list. Long story short (the long story being in the podcast episode), it goes back to the Jomon period (14,000-300BC) and crimson red and black were the most common historical colours. 

Each prefecture has their own unique method of production, and because you can’t get that kind of lacquerware anywhere else except there, these pieces became the perfect souvenir. How is one prefecture different from the other? We highlighted a few areas in the episode! 

Anyway, back in the olden days, getting the materials for this art required some real creativity. Red lacquer was created with refined tree sap and red pigments, while the black lacquer is from the soot of burnt pines, canola oil and sesame oil. The Heian period saw a shift in shikki technique — a new style called Makie to make gold or silver lacquerware. It was regarded highly back in the day and today it’s a prized artifact. How is it done? Episode 10, people! 

One thing’s for sure, though — it sounds like an intense process that requires truckloads of patience, but without a doubt, the results are more than impressive — Japanese lacquerware is said to be able to endure the harshest of conditions and last for decades of constant use. The 1998 Winter Olympic medals even used shikki techniques!

Ikebana – Flower Arrangement

Image Credit: Robyn Jay

This last Japanese art is my personal favourite: ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. The name is a combination of the Japanese word ikiru (生きる, to live) and hana () for flower.

Ikebana is just as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside — ikebana compositions are more than throwing a few stems into a bowl and calling it a day— they’re tied to the ideas of reflection and inner peace. Ikebana is practiced in silence, allowing the ikebanaists to concentrate fully and only on the nature in front of them. 

What’s the history? It’s tied to religious practices, both Buddhism and Shinto. So, if you’re interested, go check the episode out for the full backstory!

What I will tell you here are the different ikebana styles. It all began with Rikka, which translates to “standing flowers”. This is the orthodox style — very orderly, with the tallest flowers in the centre.

The Nageire style is a bit more like punk than classical, and the name literally means to “throw in”. This was an extension of Zen Buddhism; more particularly the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, in which imperfection is considered beautiful.

The Moribana style came after, and has stuck as the most popular one of them all. There are three elements in a Moribana composition and they can represent one of three things: heaven, man and Earth. 

What’s consistent throughout all ikebana styles is the importance of seasonality and the flowers’ symbolism. Pick a size too small and it completely disrupts the flow of the whole composition. 

Vocab Recap

Here’s our list of vocabulary words from the episode:

 

E (絵) — painted pictures, sketches, and book illustrations

Hanmoto (版元) / Shuppansha (出版社) — publisher

Eshi (絵師) / Gaka (画家) — artist

Bijin (美人) — beautiful woman

Haiyuu (俳優) / Yakusha (役者) — actor

Kaku (書く) — to write

Bungaku (文学) — literature

Egaku (描く) — to paint 

Kami (紙) — paper

Washi (和紙) —Japanese handmade paper 

Fude (筆) — writing brush

Efude (絵筆) — paintbrush

Shokki (食器) — tableware 

Chawan (茶碗) — rice bowl

Hashi (箸) — chopsticks

Omiyage (お土産) — Souvenir

Washoku (和食) —traditional Japanese cuisine

Kin (金) — Gold 

Gin (銀) —silver

Ikiru (生きる) — to live

Hana (花) — flower

Kabin (花瓶) — vase

Kudamono (果物) — fruit

Wabi sabi (侘び寂び) — the Japanese aesthetic basically meaning “perfect imperfection”

Saizu (ザイズ) — size

Iro (色) — colour

Conclusion

We can always learn something new from history — like taking away a thing or two from the ikebana art to construct the perfect bouquet, and match it with a handwritten letter using the techniques of shodo calligraphy. There’s so much we can take away from Japanese art no matter your level, so why not dip your toe into it by listening to Nihongo Master Podcast episode 10?

Weird Museums in Japan

Weird Museums in Japan

Museums are wonderful places to wander about and get lost, interpret displays and discover new information, and just drown in the peacefulness of the environment. Each country has its own set of exhibition that brings forth the interesting bits of the country, and you can get a feel of the land just by visiting a few museums.

Japan is known to be particularly unique and uncanny, and those factors are definitely reflected in the types of museums available in the country. Instead of a nostalgic trip down memory lane of historical events or an inspiring journey through an artistic arrangement, Japan does it differently — some might even say weirdly. 

From cup noodles to sewage systems, here’s a list of unique museums that you’ll definitely want to visit during your time in Japan.

1. Cup Noodle Museum

Source: Holly from Flickr

Who doesn’t like cup noodles? Anyone who says they despise it actually doesn’t, because it’s so convenient, tasty and affordable. The Nissin Cup Noodle Museum at Yokohama celebrates the humble creation that changed the world. Take a few notes on the history of cup noodles and Japan’s original take on this life-changing cup.

With their own noodle park and an art gallery that’s dedicated to the popular convenience store food, this cup noodle museum also has a mini cinema that shows visual displays of a chronological run-through of the cup noodle. You can also make your own cup noodle at their laboratory including making your own soup. Shop and eat as much as you want at the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum!

2. Meguro Parasitological Museum

Source: Guilhem Vellut from Flickr

If you’re thinking about bringing a date here, think again. Established in 1953 and located in Tokyo, the Meguro Parasitological Museum introduces you to over 300 specimens of parasites. From leeches to tapeworms — including a 25-foot long tapeworm that will definitely blow your mind, if not your appetite — this two-storey museum covers everything nematodes, trematodes and malaria parasites. 

The only kind in the world, this showcase of parasites and creatures of all kinds that dependently live in or on other organisms (including humans, in fact) is a strange exhibition that reels in visitors from their curiosity about it. While most of the information is not in English, the illustrations are detailed enough to provide enough context. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

3. Ghibli Museum

Source: Ray_LAC from Flickr

A special dedication to the Studio Ghibli led by the award-winning Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, the Ghibli Museum is all about their amazing works. Consisting of various areas like the main exhibition space, children’s play area, rooftop garden and a theatre that screens film excerpts exclusively shown here (and nowhere else in the world), this interactive exhibition features both permanent and temporary exhibits. 

Much like a walkthrough experience of the animation world, you’ll learn a thing or two about the history of animation, the development process and the lead-up to the final production. Other than the educational aspect of this museum, the Ghibli Museum has beautiful interiors and exteriors that reference various characters including those from Spirited Away and Kiki the Witch.

4. Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Source: Aapo Haapanen from Flickr

Everyone thinks of ramen when the talk of Japanese cuisine, and what better way to celebrate the country’s unofficial national dish by presenting all variations of ramen throughout the country in a museum?

This two-storey exhibition is built to look like the Shintamachi townscape which was the old town of Tokyo. Wander the alleyways and explore the nine restaurants presenting vastly different and unique recipes. Catering to a variety of audiences including vegetarian-friendly menu options, this ramen museum introduces the various culinary techniques of making ramen from all around Japan.

While it’s more like a curated fancy food court especially for ramen rather than a museum, nothing is more museum-like than bringing back a souvenir. Make your own ramen, complete with personalised packaging, as a memento of this incredible visit.

 

5. Paper museum

Source: Wndrenvy from Flickr

You may wonder if there would be anything worth seeing at a museum that dedicates itself to paper, but Tokyo’s Paper Museum is anything but dull. Paper has a place in Japan’s history, and presenting the different forms of them in a curated exhibition is unique and informative.

This peaceful environment features various aspects of paper like paper toys, karuta playing cards and origami, as well as a collection of approximately 10,000 books relating to paper. There are even workshops that you can participate in — I mean, who doesn’t want to make their own one-of-a-kind paper?

Think of the possibilities for a souvenir — from eccentrically patterned washi paper postcards to origami kits, you’ll be surprised at the excitement gained from what seems like a boring display of white sheets.

6. Tokyo Sewerage Museum

Who doesn’t like a free activity? Tokyo Sewerage Museum is free for all to enter and participate. Unlike a standard museum where it’s mostly displays with description, this one involves interaction with the exhibits.

Get a glimpse of the hidden, mundane side of Tokyo: the public relations that is the support of the sparkling city you see above ground. Presenting the disposal and cleaning of used water, including the history of the development of wastewater treatment in Tokyo, this museum lets you experience working in the sewerage pumps, pumping stations and other facilities that can be found in an average system. 

Among the various exhibit is the famous sculpture of a man sitting on a toilet while he reads the newspaper. But that’s not the highlight of the museum. About 25 meters deep underground, on the B5 floor, is the Fureai Experience Room where you’ll be able to stand on a bridge overlooking an actual, working wastewater tunnel. Not your average day-to-day, am I right?

7. The Criminal Materials Department at Meiji University

Source: paazio from Flickr

Head on down to the basement of the Meiji University Museum where the free-entry museum showcasing a collection of criminal artifacts and instruments can be found.  With a diverse collection of exhibits at the museum in the university, the Criminal Materials Department run by the School of Law gives a glimpse into the history of crime and punishment in Japan.

From original tools as well as replicated ones for catching criminals in the Edo Period to books and displays that demonstrate trial, torture and even execution, follow the development of the evolution of punishment in Japan. Exhibition titles like “Culprits of the Edo Period”, “Torture and Tribunal” and “Execution and Correction” are intriguing and tempting even though it does give a chill down the spine.

8. Kite Museum

Source: NelC from Flickr

While it doesn’t sound as interesting as it actually is, the Kite Museum introduces the Japanese children’s main source of entertainment in the olden days. Also used during traditional festivals decades ago, kites of all shapes and sizes with a variety of prints including hand-painted dragons, butterflies and faces are presented proudly. 

The only one of its kind in the whole wide world, the Kite Museum is located above a popular restaurant called Taimeiken. Not only does this exhibition gives an insight on the significance of this favourite pastime, but you’ll also be able to purchase rare, handmade kites as souvenirs. 

9. Sand museum

Source: jj-walsh from Flickr

A collection of sculptures made totally from sand by sculptors and designers from all around the world, this open-air indoor museum is one of its kind. Located in Tottori where you’ll find the magical creation of nature, the Tottori Sand Dunes, the glass-sided building of the Sand Museum provides an excellent view of the natural hills of sand. 

Much like the dunes itself, these carved figures, buildings and landscapes made of sand are prone to degrade over time, but that’s just the charm of it. Each year has a different theme for the sand sculpture exhibit, so every visit a fresh experience with new displays to appreciate.

10. Tobacco and Salt Museum

Why tobacco and salt, you ask? Well, so did every other person that ever step foot, researched or seen the Tobacco and Salt Museum in any form. The answer is simple, but not obvious at all: these two items have shared history for once being goods controlled by the Japan Monopoly Corporation.

Located not far from the famous Tokyo Skytree, for just 100yen you’ll be able to explore the history of these products as well as their roles in history and culture. With both permanent and temporary exhibitions, it’s definitely worth a visit if you find yourself around the area. Their popular exhibit, The World of Salt, shines light on the difference between Japanese and foreign salt — it may not sound as interesting as it seems, but it sure is an interesting bit!

The tobacco section highlights the history of how tobacco came to Japan, replicas of Edo Period tobacco shops as well as others from the 1900s, and various displays of cigarette packets and cartons, pipes and cigars, and other smoking paraphernalia from not only Japan but all over the world. 

If that hasn’t piqued your interest, on the third storey there’s a display of their own ukiyo-e collection — a genre of Japanese art that has taken the world by storm.

 

Conclusion

It’s no doubt Japan has the record-breaking number of intriguing exhibitions in the entire world, and while it’s not the average place to take someone on a museum date, it does make an interesting day out. From paper crafts to the functions of the sewage, you’ll definitely be surprised at the takeaways from these unique, out-of-the-ordinary exhibitions.